Status Check

It took many months, but one of my few Twitter followers was removed not for trying to take the nation by force, but because he’d died.  If I learn to tweet from beyond perhaps I’ll score a few more followers.  The situation, however, is one of the oddities of our socially mediated world.  I was trying to find some information on a potential author the other day and the only online presence I could locate was LinkedIn.  I clicked on the profile only to see the latest update was “Deceased.”  More than that, the Experience column indicated that “Deceased” continued from the date of passing up to the present.  I guess once you’re gone, your gone for good.  Social media, however, will perhaps find a way to keep you alive.

When I’m gone, I imagine WordPress will shut this blog down because nobody will be paying for it.  It’ll probably take a while for Facebook or Twitter to figure out I’m in the new category of “deceased.”  I do hope Academia.edu will keep my downloaded papers there for free. Real immortality, it seems to me, lies in the writing of books.  They too will eventually disappear, and who knows about the real longevity of social media.  It’s pretty difficult to believe Facebook wasn’t even around at the turn of the millennium.  I drive a car that’s older than Facebook.  I keep thinking of LinkedIn listing “Deceased” as a vocation.  Isn’t it really the ultimate vocation for all of us?  If you can’t be found online, do your really exist at all?

While experts debate social media, my job prevents me from using Facebook or Twitter during the day.  After work I’m anxious to get on to the other things in life that virtual friends and followers have to wait.  Early in the mornings I write and research.  I have mere minutes a day to look over social media.  I check Facebook only for alerts.  Life is short.  Is social media making it better?  It’s easy enough to be overlooked in real life, so why indulge in it virtually as well?  Of course, many see social media as a place to vent their spleen.  Why not try to inject some good into the virtual world instead?  There is hope for the dead, for they may still publish.  Their tweets may become somewhat less frequent.  Only the most callous, however, would drop them as friends for being dead.  Let’s just wait for Zuckerberg or Musk to notice.  It may take a few months.


Heat Pump

We’re preparing our home to welcome a new resident.  It’s not human.  Those of you who are home owners know how you move from crisis to crisis, paying to repair this just in time to start paying for that.  Our current issue is a dead dryer.  We knew it wasn’t long for this world when we moved in.  The previous owners, as most working class folk do, let things go until a machine forces  the issue by dying.  Being concerned for the environment, we like to replace appliances with more environmentally friendly ones, if we can.  They are, of course, much more expensive.  With the dryer it was also a space issue.  Snuggled together like young lovers in bed, the washer and dryer leave less than an inch clearance total from either wall.  The first issue we faced—modern dryers are bigger.

Small and energy efficient is what we wanted.  I learned about heat-pump dryers.  They don’t require a vent and they’ve been used for decades in Europe because of both space issues and environmental friendliness.  Here they cost more and you’ll have to wait because they’re in demand.  We decided to side with the environment.  Then there’s the problem of the old vent.  I gingerly walked out the old dryer and was amazed at the detritus I found.  Now, I’m an archaeologist at heart, so instead of sweeping it all in the trash, I sorted through it.  I found a dollar bill.  And 32 cents—this helps defray the cost of the new dryer.  Three guitar picks and a heap of cosmetics.  A box of rubber bands for braces.  There was ancient history in this pile!  The lighting’s bad in that corner so I put on a headlamp like a phylactery.  Let there be light.

I had to use most of my tools to tug the old vent out.  You have to stuff the hole with insulation and put some furring strips in place to hold the new drywall.  Cut out the patch to fit the hole and mud the whole thing up.  Why bother painting where nobody will see?  By the end of the weekend we were ready for our new resident.  It still wouldn’t be here for at least a couple of weeks.  The clothesline is strung in the backyard where the even better method of using nature’s dryer is free.  For those days without sun and on which we have time to do a load, we’ll be glad for our heat-pump dryer.  Particularly when the weather starts growing cold again and global warming enacts its chaos.  Hopefully we’ll have a stop-gap solution by then.


Soft Wired

A museum of discarded electronics.  I’ve been thinking that might be a good use for all the tech we’ve had to buy over the years that quickly becomes outmoded.  (Useless, that is.)  As I look over these devices I can recall just why they were purchased.  Mostly it was to solve a more immediate problem.  You perhaps overspend so that you can avoid disrupting the tech services you’ve learned you can’t live without.  Then new tech comes along and you need new hardware to do the same thing you’ve always done.  Soon you’ve got a museum’s worth of old tech.  I tried to get my mother on the internet by sending her an old computer that I bought with grant money back in my Nashotah House days.  When it was all set up, it was discovered that it was too old to connect to the modern internet.  I’ve lost track of how many computers are in the attic, but at least now there’s one less.  The thing these all have in common is that they require electricity.

Image credit: Mircea Madau, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago I wrote about our eclectic electric issues.  While our utilities company and electrician try to sort out who does what (it turns out that our house was never properly wired up from the mains), we’ve got a dilemma.  Since we all work from home and we all use computers, how are we going to work on a day when the electricity has to be off?  (Let’s hope it’s after this cold snap is over.)  We depend on electricity in this electronic world.  The solution may be to buy some new tech.  A battery-powered hot spot and fully charged laptops might be able to get us through an hour or two with no electricity.  We’ve become so dependent on the juice that the thought of being without it is scary.

The solution, of course, will quickly become outmoded as 6G and 7G, on to infinity, await in the wings.  They will all need electricity.  A house that was never properly hardwired can be a tricky thing.  Electricians and linemen have to have weekends too.  In a world where constant connectivity has eliminated snow days, such force majeure on a personal level holds no, well, force.  Aligning three employers who say it’s okay to step “out of the office” for a few hours at a time not of your own choosing will be impossible.  So we buy a new tech solution and hope it’s fully charged.  And when we’re fully wired up again the new device can eventually go in the museum of obscure electronics.


Body Doubles

Learning about how Dark Shadows developed has freed me a bit, I think.  The stories between the original program, the novels, and the movies were never consistent.  I’d made that most fundamental of Fundamentalist errors—I’d assumed there was only one story and it went in only one way.  This helps explain, but not excuse, the Burton-Depp version of the story.  In any case, now I can read the novels with minimal baggage.  Understanding childhood is important if we survive long enough for it to haunt us.  Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers is a departure, even for Marilyn Ross.  Something critics sometimes overlook is just how literate the original, and subsequent, program was.  Ross occasionally attempts to cash in on that without feeling tied to the story line.

This plot relies on the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Indeed, as a daily show Dark Shadows couldn’t really utilize a “monster of the week” format effectively (although it seems to have given the idea to those who later did).  The novels, however, could draw on such cultural tropes.  Both major releases of Body Snatchers (there was a remake after Dark Shadows ceased, in 1978) were considered terrifying by implication: how could you tell if someone took over the body of someone you know?  Who could you even trust, if such a phenomenon were possible?  Since such things aren’t common down here, it’s easier to suggest they come from outer space.  So it is that this installment has the weird juxtaposition of a vampire and werewolf having to outsmart aliens who take over human bodies. Kind of an early monsters vs. aliens scenario.

Again, not to seek too much depth where it doesn’t naturally exist, this scenario raises interesting questions.  How would terrestrial and extraterrestrial supernaturals interact?  I’m not sure W. E. D. Ross was up to this kind of gothic-sci-fi mash-up.  He was, after all, primarily a romance writer.  (Although, a recent trip to a library book sale and used bookstore in the same day led to the realization that paranormal romance is a burgeoning field.)  I recently read an article disputing the “willing suspension of belief” that is said to accompany such ventures.  As an adult I know that these novels are what must be considered cheesy, quick, and formulaic ephemera.  Still, I couldn’t help being pleased to see Barnabas and Quentin cooperating here.  If aliens ever do decide to invade, we’ll need all the help we can get.


Sexist Instructions

The thing about cars is there’s so much that can go wrong.  And when it does it’s costly to fix it.  Yet, even when working from home, we need them.  We have two, both quite old in car years.  One is approaching twenty.  We bought it new—the first time we’d ever been able to achieve such a feat.  This was one of the new Beetles and it has had never-ending electronic issues.  Warning lights come on that seem to be a malfunction of the warning lights—if you ever wanted an existential situation that’s one right there.  How do you know if there’s something wrong with your engine or is it just something wrong with the warning light?  A worrisome one came on just as winter was settling in and we didn’t need to drive it much before inspection time and we let it sit a little too long.

The battery, naturally, died.  We have an old, seldom used battery jump-starter, which, in the cold of the garage, also died.  We’ve been trying to find time on the weekend when both my wife and I are free (rare) so that I can drive it a ways to try to recharge the battery, but with someone home who can rescue me if I get stuck.  So it was we came to buy a new jump-starter.  These new ones are the size of a cell phone on steroids—much smaller than the old kind.  Ours came from China, I’m guessing, and the instructions are sexist.  They imply that women can use this because it’s easy.  Part of the description reads “It can be used more than 30 times, giving you peace of mind, no matter where you are, if the battery runs out, you can start it without looking for women who are not smart at night in an empty parking lot, such as a college campus or forget you.”  I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the writer had a past he’s trying to deal with.

I was indeed once left stranded because of a dead car battery.  It’s a story I’m saving for my autobiography, if I ever write one, but let me assure you all the people responsible for that abandonment were men.  Men with a car that wouldn’t start while I sat in the middle of nowhere in the dark.  (This was before cell phones.)  I didn’t want to buy a sexist device.  Both men and women have batteries die and I’m always a little scared to jump-start a car.  At least now we can get the Beetle rolling again and drive toward a future where women are rightfully seen as equal to men.  And I hope that instruction writer has found some help, perhaps with therapy.


Tax Season

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from the Internal Revenue Service that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Penn was governor of Pennsylvania.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Steve also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Northampton, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the county and district of Northampton:) To be taxed with Kay his beloved wife, being great with patience.  Well, not exactly biblical (with apologies to Luke), but this came to me upon having to go to Bethlehem to collect our tax documents from our accountant.  There’s something biblical about living in the Lehigh Valley.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

I don’t complain about having to pay taxes.  I only wish far less of the money went to pay congressional salaries.  And far less to the military.  Otherwise, I realize that in order for infrastructure to be up-kept, for the many services that make life possible for so many people, those of us who earn enough—even if not exactly flush—owe something to the system.  I’m saddened that the very wealthiest feel they’ve earned the privilege of not paying taxes. Modern-day Herods, I think, ready to kill babies in order to maintain personal power.  Still, those of us who pay participate in the most basic kind of charity.  So we make our annual trip to Bethlehem.

These days many people feel that if they don’t like other people they shouldn’t cooperate with them at all.  Even finding out that a certain Trump has been defrauding the very government which he purported to lead, and has been doing so for many years, doesn’t dissuade some of them.  I think our accountant, who looks gaunt and who doesn’t overcharge, could fairly claim a bit of back taxes that might be due.  Community is an endangered concept.  It’s a place where people support one another, and perhaps even care about others.  When I logon to Nextdoor.com I’m distressed to see the trolling and inappropriate emojis that show up.  The internet makes us all think we’re clever, ready with the snappy comeback.  Even to a recent story about a dead homeless man found in a park.  We need each other.  Society can’t move ahead if everyone keeps everything to themselves.  So it was we drove our rusty, four-cylinder donkey even unto Bethlehem.


Eclectic Electric

It all began with the internet going out.  Less than a month ago the modem was replaced, but the tech this time thought it could be the co-ax cable.  We went outside and he fed the cable through, but when he got to the box he noticed a problem.  “Your electrical drop isn’t attached to the house,” he said.  Sure enough, he was right.  “I can’t replace the rest of the cable until that’s fixed—it’s an electrocution risk.” So I called the electric company.  They said I’d need an electrician to secure the conduit to the house, but they’d send somebody out to look.  The tech must’ve been in the area because he arrived just after I spoke to our electrician.  “Your cable has never been permanently connected to the house,” he observed.  “It should be.  We can do that, but you’ve got to get an electrician to attach that conduit.”

The funny thing about this is actually two-fold.  One is that our home inspector didn’t notice that the electrical cable was not secured to the house (once the tech pointed it out to me it was perfectly obvious).  The second is that the former owner of the house claimed to be an electrician.  In fact, he runs a electrical contracting business.  The electrician we pay has said, on one of his many jobs here, “I don’t think he was an electrician.”  I, for one, believe the guy we pay.  So now we have to have him come out and secure the conduit.  Then call the electric company and have them permanently connect the cable (the house has only been here since 1890, so do a few weeks matter?).  Then we call our internet provider and have them replace the cable that’s been causing our internet issues.

We like our quirky old house.  It does seem, however, that many owners have neglected various aspects of it.  And that our home inspector was a somnambulist.  We’re just trying to get it up to code.  Well, actually, we’re just trying to get a secure internet connection because three livelihoods rely upon it.  Shoddy work has consequences, and caveat emptor reigns.  Few things are more basic to modern life than electricity.  Or even the internet, for that matter.  These things are fragile, it turns out, in ways difficult to imagine.  There’s a lesson hidden here, and it reaches back, I suspect, before the taming of electricity.

Image credit: Mircea Madau, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Wordle

Each year in late capitalism seems to begin with a new fad.  This has been pronounced with the pandemic (which I almost wrote as “academic”) keeping people indoors.  Last year sea shanties were the rage with many of us finding ourselves humming something about a wellerman during the oddest times.  This year’s initial fad seems to be Wordle.  In case you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon, Wordle is an online game that is best described as Mastermind with five-letter words.  Mastermind, in case you were born after the Republican Party turned evil, is a game where you have six colored pegs that one person sets in a board a sequence of four.  The other player can’t see them, but has to try to replicate the colors in the right sequence.  At each guess the one who selected the sequence gives the guesser the following information: which pegs are the right color and which pegs were the right color in the right place.  (It occurs to me that explaining Mastermind could have been left out and I could’ve just described Wordle.  But what’s the fun in that?)

In any case the Wordle player has six chances to guess the right word based on the same clues: the right letter in the wrong place (yellow), or the right letter in the right place (green).  The hook is that you can only get one puzzle per day (otherwise many of us would be starving to death and out of work).  As a kid, I have to say, I could play Mastermind for hours.  I even brought our daughter up on it.  There’s something beguiling about trying to figure out what’s in somebody else’s mind.  There is a dark side to it, however.

I read a lot.  Lately I find that when I’m reading I’m secretly scanning for five-letter words that might be a good initial guess for Wordle.  The ideal word has no repeated letters and at least two vowels.  You need to narrow down the vowels first because every word has to have one of those six letters, since “y” functions as a vowel.  The other day I was thinking “s” has enough lubricant to function as a vowel too, but I digress.  Isn’t that the point of Wordle, though?  To digress?  There’s so much despair in the world with autocrats in power and the planet melting down that we need a little boost.  If only I could let myself read normally again, all might be well with the world.


Underestimated

Under-printing, ironically, can create great demand.  Books are generally under-printed because publishers don’t see much of a market for them.  Back before the days of inexpensive print-on-demand (POD, in the lingo) books may not have even existed as electronic files.  Often a publisher won’t print a book unless it anticipates that it can make back its costs.  If they think it won’t sell that well, they’ll print just enough.  And they might even melt down the typeset plates to reuse them for other books.  I’m not sure if that happened in the case of a book I’ve been looking to consult, but something has made this under-printed book extremely rare.  It’s not on Internet Archive.  WorldCat shows it in only two libraries world-wide, the nearest one over 3,000 miles away.  Its price used (and there seems to be only one copy) is $46,000. I can’t tell you what it is because you might buy it before I can.

For the purposes of my research, this is actually the only book on this particular topic.  (The subject isn’t even that obscure.)  The book is cited everywhere this topic is mentioned, and at least one person on Goodreads has actually seen a copy of it.  I have to conclude that all those who cite it must live within driving distance of one of two libraries worldwide.  For the rest of us the book is simply inaccessible.  As an author this is one of the worst fates imaginable.  Even if some price-gouger is selling a copy for $46,000 the author gains nothing from it.  Royalties are null and void for used book sales.  The only profiteer is the person who happens to have found a rare book (from the 1990s!) and is determined to ensure only the most wealthy will be able to purchase it.

I’ve known people who sell used books online.  Those who want to move books try to undersell the unfortunate under-printed title by pricing a bit lower than the competition.  There is no regulation, however.  You can charge whatever you like.  The funny thing is, if someone eventually forks over $46,000 for this book, and then has it appraised (it is a paperback from the 1990s), its actual worth is probably at most in the hundreds of dollars.  Back when we watched the Antiques Roadshow we always knew that the poor person who brought in a book would be disappointed in the appraisal.  Last time I was in Oxford I saw rare books from the 1400s for sale for far, far less than $46,000.  I only hope that my books, as obscure as they are, are never deemed that expensive.  And I would encourage publishers to print a bit more generously, for the sake of knowledge.


Better Things

It’s only a store brand, but still.  Maybe like me you remember opening a box of Raisin Bran and pouring out the first bowl.  And finding only bran.  Maybe a raisin or two.  By the time you munched your way to the bottom of the box you’d get a bonanza in that last bowlful.  It was more fruit than cereal.  Then they somehow figured out how to suspend raisins so that didn’t happen.  My mind hasn’t caught up yet, I guess.  I was down to the last bowl, and I was eagerly anticipating it.  Especially since the day before I’d only had three raisins and it was clear that the end was near.  Then the last bowl.  One raisin.  That’s a lot of bran to start your day, like C. S. Lewis’ always winter but never Christmas in Narnia.

Speaking strictly for myself, I like to save the best for last.  When I receive snacks in my Christmas stocking, I keep my favorites until all the others are gone.  In my personal myth of scarcity I’m quite aware that good things run out.  And they’re not always easily replaced.  Therefore I tend not to buy the things I like best.  This is the kind of psychology that drives economists mad.   As a child I was taught to put others’ needs before my own and that lesson has dovetailed with the running out of good things.  Of such things monasticism was made.  The raisins are now near the top of the box, but the crumbs are still on the bottom.

I often find breakfast to be the most philosophical of meals.  Perhaps it’s because I write my blog posts in the early morning.  Perhaps it’s because others are awake when I eat lunch and supper.  Perhaps it’s because that valuable things are rare.  It’s the nature of what we find most meaningful.  We live in a culture of largeness and acquisition.  What we truly want, however, may be very small indeed.  Ours is a culture of choice and plentifulness.  Raisin Bran is a choice, as is the store brand.  And it’s even possible to open the box at the bottom and return to my old form of expectation.  I doubt I will ever outgrow the idea, however, of trying to save the best for later.  It’s a form of optimism, after all.  And isn’t it best to start the day with the knowledge that better things are coming?


Just Curious

I’m constantly reminded of the dangers of it.  Interdisciplinarity, I mean.  We all know the cliched image of the myopic professor unable to function in the world because he (and it’s normally a he) has spent all his time on one subject.  Such people do exist, and they are generally institutionalized.  (What else can society do with them?)  More recently, however, the emphasis in higher education has been on interdisciplinary pursuits.  Many modern doctorates span two areas and many modern professors show themselves as adept at activities beyond their “day jobs.”  It is difficult, however, to be an expert in more than one thing.  In my own case, I had interdisciplinarity thrust upon me.  I’m therefore constantly being reminded of how tricky it can be.

While hot on the trail of a new angle recently, I found what I thought was the only book on a subject.  (All these years and am I still so naive?)  I started reading only to discover that the topic had been explored many times before by scholars, beginning in the decade I was born.  Clearly, if I wish to speak intelligently on this topic I should go back and start at the beginning.  So it is with interdisciplinary work.  Ironically, the book I was reading was itself interdisciplinary, demonstrating that old Ecclesiastes was right all along.  

My own research journey has been one of restlessness.  Others have seen this more clearly than I have.  Once at the Nashotah House bookstore I had a discussion the the manager about rocks.  This particular woman was certainly smart enough to have been on the faculty, and she saw things those of us that were didn’t.  I concluded by saying I didn’t know why I’d been so taken by geology to which she replied, “If it wasn’t geology it would be something else.  You’re curious.”  She knew me better than I did.  My curiosity about geology was deep and intense.  (It still is.)  I realized suddenly, it seems, that I knew too little about the very ground upon which I walked all day.  What could be more basic than rock?

On my desk

If anyone bothers to look at my full list of publications it quickly becomes clear that geology is absent.  I never became an expert, but I still read about it and pick up interesting rocks.  A small piece of rose quartz with a fresh fracture face stopped me in my tracks one very cold morning recently.  I’m sure plenty has been written on the subject.  The safest thing, however, is to become an expert on one thing.  Safest, but dullest.


Sole Food

Perhaps its the pandemic.  Or at least the knock-on effect of shipping delays and supply-chain interruptions.  I can take it.  Unless, that is, it interrupts my soul food.  You see, my father was from South Carolina.  I grew up eating things like grits and black-eyed peas.  Then I probably went for a good two decades without eating either.  Like most people, however, I experience breakfast malaise.  Cold cereal every single day gets old after five-plus decades.  If we have reasonably healthy leftovers in the fridge I’ll sometimes have those.  Several years ago I started cooking breakfast for myself on weekends.  (My family wasn’t interested in my concoctions.)  When I became vegan I couldn’t keep cooking my usual weekend egg, so I turned back to soul food.

On a typical weekend I’ll have grits and black-eyed peas.  As a vegan, I really like beans.  There are so many varieties of legumes and each has its own charms.  Although we don’t eat all of them, there are over 40,000 different types of beans.  Even of those cultivated for human consumption I’m probably still pretty much a novice.  But lately our local grocery store has been having bean trouble.  Since the pandemic began we’ll occasionally go in and find the canned bean shelf bare.  Last week they had no black-eyed peas.  I fretted about it all week.  Was there a national bean shortage?  Was this the new toilet paper for a new year?  As the weekend drew near I decided I’d walk a mile on a snowy Friday to a local health food store where, I was pretty sure, there would be at least organic beans.

Dried beans are, of course, available.  I don’t trust myself to cook them properly.  It takes hours of soaking and boiling and always ends with some uncertainty.  Something about toxins and digestion just don’t mix.  Early on in the pandemic we didn’t horde, but slowly collected necessities, just in case.  Then in the summer it looked like Covid was over so we ate our supplies.  Bemused, I realized how many cans of black-eyed peas I’d storehoused.  Perhaps I had more foresight than I thought.  Supply chains are still stressed.  Backlogs take a long time to clear.  I have accepted that new appliances, cars, electronics might take quite a bit longer to get.  Specialty food items too.  I accept such things with a certain stoicism.  But my soul food, well, that’s a different matter entirely.  Don’t take my soul away!


Twilight on Christmas

We have too many ornaments for the single Christmas tree we can afford.  There are few reasons for this.  One is that I married into a family with Christmas ornaments.  While on my own I never set up a tree and I owned very little beyond books and some LPs.  Besides, I went home for Christmas.  Another reason is that although I seldom think of Christmas before December, we tend to buy ornaments as souvenirs.  Not for everywhere we go, but we did start a ship sub-collection when visiting coastal locations.  We also have a moose sub-collection.  I spent quite a bit of my early adulthood out in the woods looking for moose, generally in Maine.  Then there’s the “other sub-collection.”  The one that’s be relegated to it’s own mini-tree.

To understand this, let me begin by noting that Christmas is the birthday of Rod Serling (shoutout to my friend John Morehead for pointing this out).  Rod Serling is one of the reasons—he can’t take all the blame, of course—that I’m interested in strange things.  The Twilight Zone affected me profoundly as a child, and probably had more impact on my life trajectory than I might’ve realized.  The “other sub-collection” consists of the weird ornaments.  It began with a Cthulhu ornament I found online a few years back.  Then, at a fair trade shop in Ithaca, I found a yeti ornament.  How could I not support fair trade?  This year at Christkindlmarkt I found an alien head made from a recycled Christmas tree trunk round.  It seems my strange Christmas ideas aren’t unique.

Bethlehem styles itself “Christmas City.”  The celebration in the Lehigh Valley is palpable.  My family generally spends a December Saturday strolling up and down Main Street, visiting the quaint shops.  Last year one of them had ornaments of sasquatch skiing.  I didn’t buy it, thinking someone might pick up on my pointing it out.  This year I went back to the store but they didn’t have it any longer.  A quick online search, however, revealed many options for a cryptid Christmas.  What can I say?  These things make me happy!  This year I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ghosts and the holidays.  It’s an ancient connection that has been lost to the commercialization of Yule and Saturnalia and other December celebrations.  So, Rod Serling was actually born on Christmas day.  I hope that however you celebrate this day it will bring you joy, no matter how weird.


Another Article

Some insecure people feel the compulsion, but really don’t know why.  Speaking strictly for this insecure person it’s because (I think) I’ve been ignored most of my life.  I didn’t cause trouble so teachers seldom paid me any mind.  (I’m pretty good about obeying rules.)  I was a middle child with less than a year at youngest status.  I was abandoned in a house at the age of one for God knows how long when my father went out on a bender.  Who knows?  In any case, this piece isn’t really about any of that.  It’s about the compulsion to write articles.  I don’t know why I keep volunteering to do this.  They get me nowhere.  You’re not paid for them, and you get little exposure.  I seem to be addicted to appearing in print.

This blog is purely an electronic phenomenon.  It exists nowhere in print.  I post on it every day in the hope that, like a Pioneer probe, it will connect with somebody who comprehends.  As a non, but erstwhile, academic I am not compelled to write.  In fact, it sometimes complicates things.  (If you believe that freedom of written expression exists you’ve never read a publishing contract.)  So print publication appeals to me.  I had an email from a volume editor the other day and I couldn’t place the name.  I opened it to read that the volume had been accepted as I was struggling to remember what I promised I would write for him.  I had to do an email search to locate the chain.  So that’s what I said I’d do! (The previous article I’d committed to I remembered well, since the proposal was long overdue.) 

Print publication, you see, takes a long time.  An erstwhile editor (likely an academic), gets an idea.  They wrestle with it a while and then write it down.  Pitch it to a publisher.  The in-house editor has to pitch it to the editorial board.  Often after peer review.  It can, in my defense, take months—plenty of time to have forgotten I said I’d contribute.  Then the book has to be written.  That part can take years, but in edited collections many hands make light work.  After the disparate pieces are finally cajoled in (one editor had to keep after me for four months), the editor, well, edits them.  Then they finally get sent off to the publisher.  The production process takes about a year.  The volume comes out and you get a congratulatory email or two, and then it’s forgotten.  I’m not sure why I do it, but I’ve been published by university presses for taking these on.  When I was teaching I couldn’t seem to get their interest.  Now that I’m writing about horror they’re starting to notice.  But then, that’s how monsters behave.


Riddle

It’s an age-old question: how many Ph.D.s does it take to screw in a lightbulb?  I haven’t figured it out yet, so if you have the solution please let me know in the comments.  It’s like this—I’m a short person living in a tall house.  Even while living in apartments I had bought a six-foot ladder and an eight-footer, to reach various things.  A bit of an acrophobe, I tend not to use the latter ladder unless it’s really necessary.  Then the landing light went out.  It’s a dark time of the year and a light over the stairs is really a matter of safety.  The stairs continue up from the landing and this particular ceiling light is eleven feet above the ground.  Given how far I can safely (debatable) climb an eight-foot ladder, I can’t reach the ceiling with what I’ve got.

We had to buy a 28-foot extension ladder to reach the roof.  In its collapsed position it’s 14 feet and requires two people to carry.  I’m not sure we could get it around the corners in the house, and even if we did the math doesn’t work out to fit it in an eleven-foot space with stairs every direction.  I decided to ask YouTube.  The solution there is to buy several two-by-sixes and some heavy-grade plywood and build yourself a temporary platform.  With the pandemic-induced shortages, and therefore price increases, such a platform would cost about $100 to build, and then I’d need to unbuild it after screwing in the light.  Or we could buy another ladder.  Maybe a different house while we’re at it.

Imagine

The thing about ladders is they come in standard lengths.  Around here, anyway, a ten-footer isn’t an option.  The best bet is a multi-position ladder.  Retail cost somewhere upwards of $150.  To someone afraid of heights it feels like the safest of many less than optimal options.  Apart from perhaps carrying flashlights in the evenings that come so early now.  Still, that raises the specter of cost.  How much does it cost to screw in a 5-dollar (LED, of course, to help the environment) lightbulb?  It seems to be a $100 repair, no matter how you do it.  I could try custom-building my own ten-foot ladder.  Or I could try making some tall friends.  Apparently you can rent ladders as well, but of course we’d need to rent the truck to get it here as well.  Or we could learn to live with a shadowy stair this long winter that’s just getting started.  How many Ph.D.s does it take?  I don’t know, but the answer will be more than one.