Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Keys, Wallets, and Other Objects

Things matter to me. I cannot explain why, but physical things provide comfort and security. Sometimes, simply knowing where my things are is enough to calm my mind. There are days and nights, though, when I have to find something and see it to relax. My pens, notebooks, and favorite pencils are like that. Some nights, I have to check to make sure my writing materials are nearby and okay. I'm not sure what would happen to them, but after the flooding in the last house and this house, I worry about my writing being safe and secure.

Last weekend, my wife and I planned to run errands. I wanted books on local plants, local birds, and I am still searching for a good Art Deco history text. When we were at the bookstore, I realized I didn't have my wallet. It wasn't a need — my wife had her keys and wallet — but I couldn't relax without having my wallet. It makes no sense, but I couldn't focus on the book quest or anything else. We ended up driving back to our house so I could retrieve my wallet.

We wasted an hour because I couldn't focus and relax without my wallet. There's nothing special about the wallet; it contains no photos and only the basics you might expect. If it had photos of my wife or special mementoes it might be logical to want the wallet. It has some cash and my insurance cards. Big deal. But I want my wallet with me.

I insist on writing with a particular brand of mechanical pencil, something I've mentioned on this blog before. The pencils are special; I cannot explain why, but I've used them since college. Seriously, the Pentel QuickerClicker models have been my choice since high school. When I cannot locate the right pencils, I cannot write in my journals. Yes, it is stupid, but that's how my mind works: locating the pencil becomes a priority when I'm trying to write.

Things are security. They include memories and emotions. My wallet? It's old and a bit worn, but it has been with me for years. I actually had my wallet from high school until a few years ago, when I finally convinced myself it would never be useful again. (It was a black denim wallet, matching my old acid-wash black Levi's 505 jeans.)

My wife is amazingly tolerant of my need to have some things on hand. She is more accepting of this impulse than I am some days. My wife realized I was tired, especially after battling the flu and anemia. She was fine with the round-trip to retrieve my wallet. I was upset for much of the day, feeling stupid for forgetting the wallet in the first place. I couldn't ignore the wasted hour, the wasted gasoline, and a general sense of frustration that refused to fade.

At least once the day was over I could sit with our cats and watch movies. Even on the worst of days, when my mind is completely useless and unfocused, a purring cat always helps.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Overwhelming April, Moving Day Approaches

The next 60 days or so are going to be extraordinarily busy for us. My calendar is cluttered with a mix of school, household, and personal project deadlines. Hopefully things settle down substantially by the end of this summer — just in time for the next school year.

Classes end on April 19, followed by finals week and grading. Because we get the keys to our new house on April 13, I'll be balancing the end of school against the need to get the house ready. The day before we close on the new house is packed with events, well into the evening. I am presenting a special seminar on the future of publishing during the day and attending a literary journal reading in the evening. The entire month is filled with such days.

I'm hoping my wife and I will be able to move into the new house by mid-May, before renovations start on our current house, and before summer school starts.

On April 18, I'll be attending a tribute to artists with autism at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. As I mentioned, classes end April 19 and we're moving so I politely declined exhibiting anything at the autism event. I'm simply too busy, unfortunately. It would be good to be more involved in some creative projects locally, but that might have to wait until next year.

I'm not sure how my colleagues at the university manage to write articles, attend conferences, teach, and have any outside interests. Maybe it is because this is my first year and I'm still not settled into a good routine.

My wife and I hope that in a year or two I can skip teaching summer school and use that time to focus on my personal writing and hobbies. This year, though, we need the extra income from teaching summer school.

Since I've also been ill twice this month, it has been difficult to update my blogs and websites. Now, with the end of school and the big move ahead of us, I'm not sure how I can return to my blogging schedule. It is frustrating, since I like schedules.

I have several blog topics on the to-do list, so please be patient and they will appear.

Right now, I need some sleep!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Returning to a Schedule

You probably noticed I took something of a leave from blogging much of this month. My wife and I took turns being ill with the flu, which upended our schedules, including our writing projects. Because work had priority, we had to delay website and blog updates while we attempted to recover the lost two weeks. Recovery has been a little slow, at least for me, since I was already dealing with some minor physical issues.

In the coming weeks, I hope to return to my normal schedule of posting to each of my blogs at least once weekly. Ideally, I will manage to post on some of the ideas I've jotted down and you'll see two or three posts a week the blogs.

Unfortunately, as I'm recovering we're getting ready to move into a new house. I'll be ending the school year, moving, and preparing to teach summer school. At least I know where my hours go each day: they are consumed by a dozen things other than my writing. I do keep telling myself that sleep should be optional, yet my body disagrees.

Thank you for understanding.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Social Network Overload

To promote this and other blogs / websites I have created LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ accounts, pages, groups, and so forth. Years ago, I also used Friendster, then MySpace, LiveJournal, Yahoo 360, Google Orkut, and maybe a half dozen other social tools. The only online space I use daily remains Facebook.

Maintaining the loose, weak connections of online acquaintanceships is demanding. It takes time to send Tweets every day or to post to Google+ and LinkedIn. It requires planning and effort, especially if you are using these media to promote your "brand" in this age of freelancing.

It is too demanding, it turns out, so I usually find myself checking Facebook because that is also where some of the news sites I follow post links. Facebook is sort of an "all-in-one" even if it is far from perfect.

The other Internet options are more flawed than Facebook, so it wins by default. I'm not sure how long ago I last logged on to LiveJournal or any Yahoo Group. The communities faded away some time ago, existing as artifacts of ancient Web history. The only "users" of some websites and mailing lists are spammers' "bots" sending scams to each other.

Twitter proved rather dull. I still skim the feeds, but the noise ratio keeps rising. That's too bad, because there are some fun Twitter users I enjoy. If you follow me on Twitter, I'm sorry I don't post more updates. I just don't see a reason to share little things. Nobody cares if I'm at the local mall or skating at the park — and if someone does care, I worry that it is to find out when I'm not home. (Yes, thieves use social networking. Why help them?)

When I tell myself I will use Google+ or LinkedIn, I visit the sites and see not much is posted by friends or colleagues. In many cases, the posts are simply forwarded messages that are also on Facebook.

Some autistic teens and adults tell me they are compulsive Internet citizens, from Web surfing to sending text messages they feel a compulsion to be connected to something. They find the Internet a way to connect to the "other" in ways that are challenging in person.

At the same time, the Internet is fraught with complications. Minor discussions turn into heated debates. Some people "troll" looking for arguments. There are misunderstandings, especially when sarcasm or irony is involved. The half-life of some virtual friendships can be measured in days or weeks, instead of months and years.

I don't believe most of the people I've met online are "friends" in the true sense of the word. There are good people online, I know, but for the most part these are not the people I could call in an emergency. Some people are also good, and would help a complete stranger as best they could online, but a virtual friend can't give you a ride to the emergency room or help you when the basement floods.

Oh, I do respond to posts from time to time, but nothing like I once did. I don't even read the mailing lists I helped found, which indicates how I have prioritized my online time.

One good excuse for spending less time exploring online: I'm working a lot of hours. I believe that alone has altered my habits more than anything else. Okay, that and moving, buying a new home, and taking up regular exercise. Online exploration is that "extra" that gives way when I'm busy.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Day of Errands

The bad news / good news: my wife is recovering from the flu. It has been tough on her, and she's still exhausted. The semi-good news, for once I didn't get sick and was able to help around the house. I hope I did okay when she needed someone to take care of the house cleaning and cat care. When she's sick, I feel lousy. I want to do whatever I can for her.

If there is an upside to the last few days: we've both continued to lose a little weight.

Today she felt a bit better so we went to run a few errands. The errands were a mixed-bag.
We went with three goals: I thought I needed new pants, I wanted to find some ice skates, and we were going to look at Art Deco design books.

1. The pants quest was a bust. While my waist is down an inch or more, my thighs are not getting smaller and probably won't. Years of walking, cycling, racquet sports, and skating have a side effect. Even a tailor at Men's Wearhouse commented on my legs, asking what exercising I did. While I'm no Eric Heiden with tree-trunk legs, I'm apparently still in decent shape.

I'm stuck with jeans and off-the-rack pants that fit my legs, but fall off my waist. The tailors at Men's Wearhouse must appreciate me.

2. The ice skates started as a bust, with the large chain advertising skates in the Sunday newspaper not having any of the model on clearance in stock. However, the young man suggested we try the store located closer to Pittsburgh.

With a detour by Steak n' Shake (for mocha and dark chocolate milkshakes), we headed towards the city. I'll spare you the details of our meandering journey (GPS didn't have the closed roads marked), but we did make it to the store. They had four pairs of men's skates in the styles on sale. For $25, we left with some good skates for me. Two or three years ago, we purchased skates for my wife, also on clearance! We're set for skating, now.

3. The book quest was a reminder of why bookstores are struggling. My wife found several books on her wish list at Half Price Books. We love this chain and highly recommend HPB to anyone. But, art books are harder to locate than most others. Maybe people into art don't sell the books back to used bookstores? So, we went to a national chain on the way home.

The two national bookstore chains we visited today seem to be toy stores and gift shops. The stand-alone, massive store was a cafe with a few books in the way. The one store had less than a single bookcase of art books. The second store, the massive store, had two poorly stocked bookcases as the "art" section. It was pitiful.

I know bookstores are struggling, but at least offer a semi-decent selection so I can browse. HPB is wonderful, in that way. I can browse their stores for hours.

But, it was a nice sunny day and we ended up with a pair of skates for me and books for my wife.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Iron-less Man

I've been dealing with anemia for a few years. To help, I take an iron supplement, ferrous gluconate. I cannot take ferrous sulfate, which though more common has unpleasant side effects.

You'd imagine an iron supplement would be a simple purchase. But, we've also thought it would be easy to locate a half dozen other items, too. My wife reminds me that these stores only carry the items that sell to 80 percent of customers. Anything in the unlucky 20 percent is a special order. Apparently, I'm in the 20 percent.

A few months ago, I couldn't fill a prescription meant to reduce my blood loss. It was a "special order" that never arrived. Walmart called twice to apologize. I never did fill the prescription.

Friday, the only local store with the over-the-counter iron I take was Kmart. Not even the two "drugstores" carry the iron pills. We will probably order online in the future.

The old corner drugstore is a memory in most places. I remember going to the small drugstores as a child. One even had a soda fountain. There was Ivanhoe Drug, in our little community of 1400 people. In the "big city" we had Main Drug, Roy's Drugstore, and several Thrifty stores. My grandparents always shopped at Main Drug, but it fell victim to the national chains and warehouse stores.

Main Drug was primarily a drug store. Yes, there was a soda fountain, but you didn't go to Main Drug to buy clothes or groceries. You went to fill a prescription, buy cough syrup, or get the best milkshake on Main Street.

Today there are chains, often across from each other, and near discount stores and grocers with pharmacies. We have five choices between two traffic lights, each a national chain.

The two drugstores in our township carry more snack food and toys than medicines. Good luck finding my eye cleanser or my iron pills. But they have plenty of chips and cola. Walgreens, RiteAid, CVS, or whatever it is, they all seem identical, from their angled entrances to the giant candy isles and "As Seen on TV" whatchamacallits at the end caps.

The grocer has a small pharmacy and health care area. It seems to be dedicated to cold and allergy relief.

Walmart and Kmart have the best pharmacies. That's disappointing, but at least you can browse and shop while filling a prescription. Since few people shop at Kmart, you don't have to wait long. Still, their registers (not the clerks) will slow your exit. Kmart needs a new POS system.

The search for iron reminded me how lousy the health supplies and service are at most store pharmacies. We had so many issues with Target pharmacies in Minnesota that I vowed never to use them again. Target lost prescriptions, filled them incorrectly, and made a general mess of things. Not one store, either, but three different Target stores.

With so many choices, you'd want to believe one or two might be useful.