Thursday, December 31, 2009

A year in pictures

New Year’s has become one of my favorite holidays. It’s not that I generally do anything special, but I do feel a sense of optimism and renewal, if for no other reason than that I still haven’t learned that the next year will probably be just as hard and I will stay just as single. Well, it’s a fairly benign delusion.

Anyway, being a rather traditional sort, I made four resolutions for 2009. I wavered horribly on keeping my thoughts pure, and even if I am doing pretty well now, it in no way counts as keeping it. My borderline OCD habit of playing with my hair continues unimpaired, and I am just lucky that it is not full-blown trichotillomania. And while I did complete one screenplay (Past Present, formerly Dark Secrets) in one month (January), I did not keep that pace up for the rest of the year (though there are reasons why that is not so bad, which I may get to in another post).

I did manage to keep one resolution, but it was kind of the easiest. I did take and post a different picture of me every month. I ran a little late one month, and certainly many of the pictures are lame, but I did it.

The reason I made the resolution in the first place was because I really hate having my picture taken. I hate the way I look in pictures. I am not thrilled about the way I look in 3-D, and having it flattened and then saved makes it worse. Hate.

However, there are valid reasons for allowing your image to be captured on film, and possibly this distaste for one’s image can be unhealthy, so I went for it. The goal was to just become inured to it, I guess.

It was semi-successful. I do cringe less now, so I guess I have built up some immunity. I had also entertained this hope that I would somehow become better looking (re: thinner) over the course of the year, but I am about the same (that is another topic for a different day). Maybe I need to appreciate my current incarnation more before I can reach my full potential.

The primary benefit has been in seeing other’s comments. People are nice. They use words like “cute” and “great smile”. This has been weird for me, because what I see is more along the lines of “Egad, that stomach! And those thighs, and arms, and, for crying out loud! I don’t have trouble spots—I have a trouble body! And sure, I know I brushed my hair today because I remember doing it, but there is absolutely no evidence of it happening. I’m dressed like a ragamuffin, and why am I such a dork?” So there’s a bit of a disconnect.

In some ways this is not a surprise, because when I run into people they are always telling me that I haven’t aged, and I look exactly the same. In my mind I am thinking that I cut my hair short and grew it long again two or three times, and that I have gained at least five dress sizes since high school, and I know of the existence of fine lines, but really, the things that make people look like they have aged are weight gain and hard living, and I don’t live hard and I was already fat, so there is less room for people to notice decay. (Thinning hair can add age too, but that hasn’t been an issue for me yet, and some people really rock the bald look.) So, okay, I look good for me, because I didn’t have a lot to lose. But I don’t really think people are thinking this; I just think it might be a subconscious factor.

On another level, the niceness makes sense, because it would just be completely inappropriate for people to make mean comments. Social networking would probably be a lot less popular if people used it for personal criticisms.

Also, people are probably more kindly disposed, because after all, I know that I would never think as mean thoughts about someone else as I do about myself. (Well, I do think that heavy people wearing skimpy clothing is a bad idea, and no one needs to see the jiggling. Still, even when you’re skinny, bad skin can make it look unattractive, and even if you are one of the select few who can look good uncovered, you are ultimately just contributing to your own objectification, so give modesty a chance!)

Anyway, this is where it gets tricky. Any improvements that I should make require clear eyes, and a realistic take on where improvement is needed, and yet there is a line there where seeing that negative becomes destructive, and cruel. I’ve never been really good at that balancing act. I like myself a lot better now than I have at past times, and there are ways in which I am balanced, but I still have a mental block that attractiveness can ever exist in the presence of fat.

So I guess taking the pictures is in some way a step of trying to fit the behavior to the goal instead of the reality. I’ll give an example. Once upon a time, I would try and excuse away compliments, either explaining why it wasn’t really that good, or denying, or so on. I learned that this made people try and assert the compliment more. (The same thing happens with thanks—if you say “No problem” or “It was nothing”, they keep going. A good “You’re welcome” can nip that in the bud.)

Anyway, I started thanking people for compliments. Even though I believed they were wrong about whatever they thought that they saw in me that was good, I would just accept it. Although there were other steps that were needed before I could sincerely appreciate the compliment, it was a step in the right direction.

So, since I do not want to be the frustrating person who does not cooperate with the photographer, and since I do not want to hate the way I look, I have taken multiple pictures this year, and shared them on my profile. I do not love any of them (I hate the pictures someone else posted from a friend’s baby shower—I would completely eradicate them if I could), but I am dealing with them.

I am making some progress. With this last one, I could kind of see what people mean about the smile, at least. I usually do look happy. I generally am happy, so probably there is some sincerity to it. Also, I do have good teeth. Okay, I have always known that, but it’s nice to know that it counts for something.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I am not offended by this phrase.

First of all, I remember people saying (and singing) Happy Holidays long before they worried about political correctness. It made sense. Over a relatively short span you have three federal holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Many people had additional work holidays on the day after Thanksgiving and eves of Christmas and New Year.

I suppose there was also a vague awareness of other events in there, like Boxing Day, Epiphany, Santa Lucia, and the official start of winter, but even if you only focused on Christmas, it was more than one day. There are parties and preparations where it really becomes a holiday season that lasts for a while. It is the holidays.

When I was pretty young schools started throwing token nods to Hanukkah, where we would sing one Hanukkah song amidst the twenty Christmas songs. I don’t remember singing any overtly spiritual songs, but one friend did remember singing Happy Birthday to Jesus in choir class, and did not feel completely comfortable doing so.

(I think if you are going to be religious in a public school, there are much better song selections than that. “Happy birthday to you” is overrated anyway, and throwing our Lord and Savior into a song that you would sing to a three-year old, and where people commonly add parts about smelling like a monkey, does not seem particularly reverent.)

Now it seems like there is controversy over everything. Certainly, I think some people carry it to far, like the school where the children learned two Hanukkah songs and no Christmas songs—okay, that does seem like overkill. But I am more concerned with the other side, where “Christian” people seem to feel like any attempt to refrain from shoving our traditions down the throats of others is a war on Christmas.

Really? Is Christmas under siege? The television is running Christmas specials and movies and commercials with Santa and elves. The stores are running sales, and have aisles full of cards and wrapping paper and decorations. Yes, there are a few small shelves of Hanukkah merchandise and maybe there are some Kwanzaa cards (the Kwanzaa focus tries to stay non-commercial, so Kwanzaa-themed merchandise would be kind of a Pyrrhic victory), but really, Christmas dominates the scene. Does the cashier wishing you “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” really victimize you that much?

And let’s remember that the separation of church and state does have the potential to make government better, but that is also necessary as a protection to the public. Do you really want the schools teaching your children about Christmas? Can’t you do it better? Because even if you take away the religious aspects, different families do different things with Santa Clause too.

I am sure that many schools get carried away, but let’s remember that most of them are making decisions not based on state law, but on what they think will work for their student body. If they go too far, get involved and try to make things better, but keep in mind that consideration of others could be considered a Christian value. If there are others who don’t share your beliefs, they are still your brothers and sisters, they have the right to their own beliefs, and making others feel persecuted and isolated is not a good path to conversion. Well, okay, isolation does work for cults, but is that the message you want to send?

I keep seeing various people saying that they don’t feel the holiday spirit this year. Let’s face it, the bad economy and the turmoil in the world has taken a toll. Just as we started to recover from the police shootings and domestic shootings, a new one happens that was both. These things are hard.

At the same time, our reactions and our behavior can rise above these things, or it can send us further below. Taking offense, trying to force your beliefs on others, and looking on sensitivity to the feelings of others as a weakness does not fit in there. Saying “Merry Christmas” with a sense of spite, like “Ha! In your face!” does not fit in there. As those sentiments spread through society over politics and religion and other areas, beyond Christmas, good feelings get pushed out.

And let’s remember, the trappings of Christmas often have very little to do with Christ. You can find Christian symbolism and tradition, but there are pagan roots. Many early Protestant denominations were very anti-Christmas as a Popish pagan remnant. Some Christian religions now still eschew holidays because of how they can distract from what is really important, and other Christian groups decry the commercialism of Christmas and encourage people to cut back. Are they the enemy too?

If the Christmas spirit is the spirit of Christ, then it follows that it is the Spirit. Well, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

I am a true Christian. I don’t just believe in living Christian values, but I also believe that salvation comes through Christ, that He was literally the Son of God, and that angels and shepherds and wise men bore witness. I believe that He conquered sin by suffering and death by resurrection. I believe the words of the prophets, who foretold that He would come, and tell us that He will come again. I believe that obedience is necessary, including ordinances like baptism.

But, I also believe that God is no respecter of persons, and that there is a plan in place for those who do not believe or do not get a chance to learn in this life. I believe that we should share the Gospel, but we need to do it through love unfeigned, and not in a spirit of contention. And I believe in modern revelation, which lets me know that Jesus was born on April 6th, not December 25th. Some people will tell you that some of those beliefs prove that I am actually not a Christian, but it’s not their call, and I will try and maintain a spirit of love for them too.

You know what we added to our Christmas display this year? Monkeys. Nope, they do not have a thing to do with Christmas, but they were cute, and on sale, and cheaper than the penguin, which we also considered, and which also has nothing to do with Christmas.

If we had a giant manger scene on our front lawn, that might remind some people or teach some people about the true meaning of the season, and that could be good. If they saw me as a bad neighbor though—spiteful, judgmental, and easily offended—I would be bearing a false witness, and sending the wrong message.

If you feel it in your hearts to say Merry Christmas, great, I will say it back to you and wish you the best. If you say it to someone else, and it bothers them, apologize. Feel Christ-like love for them, so that they associate Christmas with love, and greater consideration, and with peace and good will.

If you are not particularly religious, but you do still celebrate Christmas, and you find that somehow your Christmas shopping, because it causes you to be thinking of others, softens your heart, and you like that feeling, great. Hold on to that. It does feel good to care about others, and to not be focused on your self.

If you don’t celebrate Christmas—I still wish you joy. Because whether you know it or not, I know that you are a child of God, and every year my heart becomes softer towards you.

Christmas used to be a lot of exciting buildup followed by a let-down for me. Now the holiday season feels a lot like the rest of the year, but the rest of the year feels like peace and love and celebrating small moments. I enjoy it, and it stays me with. It makes me happy.

Happy holidays to you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Requiem for a mouse

Saturday morning my sisters said the computer wasn’t working. It seemed to be hanging on the simplest functions, and I was worried that the hard drive was going out. I tried different things, as you do, and realized that the problem was that even though the point function on the mouse was just fine, it had lost its ability to click. Thus ends the long saga of my special mouse.

My first two terms of college, I took a typewriter. Personal computers were still pretty rare. One roommate had a word processor and that was impressive. After a break for earning money, serving a mission, and earning more money, I returned to U of O for Spring ’95, and found that the situation had changed. PCs were becoming essential, and I was going to have to get one. As fall approached I went to Circuit City and purchased a Compaq 486 running Windows 3.1. This was a generation behind, but that made it cheaper.

Off I went to school, and all was going well until after a few weeks the mouse quit working. I called tech support and they said they would send out a new one, but what they ended up sending out was this remote control device that supposedly had mouse functions but was not working well—besides, I wanted a mouse. Rather than call back I walked over to the campus bookstore and checked out the offerings. I had no technical knowledge to go on. I still needed to be price conscious, but I thought getting the absolute cheapest ($5.00) one might be a bad idea, so I got the second cheapest, a Logitech. (I think it was about a $11.00, but definitely not more than $15.00.)

It worked great, but I didn’t really think about it much at the time. I finished college, took various jobs, and eventually landed at Intel, where I started to become more tech-savvy. I saw how frequently one could have problems with a track-an-ball mouse, but I never had problems with mine. Maybe this is why when Julie (who was now also an Intel employee, but I had gone from contractor to hired to laid off and then back to contractor) got a new HP through an employee program, well, it was a good computer and nice to have an upgrade, but I kept using the mouse, letting the HP one go with the old system. The Logitech kept chugging along.

Time went on and I built a PC (the clear acrylic case monstrosity), and as I was selecting all of the sleek new components I did buy a new mouse, but I couldn’t bear to switch it out, so I kept using the Logitech.

When the hard disk on the clear one started to go, and it was reinforced what a pain that case was to work with, it was time for an Antec, and I built an even fancier new computer. Sure, it could have made sense to change out the mouse, but at this point it was kind of a challenge—how long could it actually keep going? Well, that was 2007, I think, so I guess about two years.

That brings its total to fourteen years. Do you have any idea how long that is in technological time? Microsoft has released seven operating systems (assuming we count NT, which was not usually used on PCs, and 7 which is still not in large use, but still). Back then, people still used 5 inch floppies, printers connected through a parallel port, and USB didn’t even exist. People frequently had computers without even worrying about an internet connection. (The web started really becoming cool about three years later, if I recall correctly.) I can’t remember how large the hard drive on the Compaq was, but in 1998 or 1999m, I remember thinking how cool a 1 Gig hard drive would be—anyone care for a 200 Gig drive? Because that’s kind of small now. Shoot, you can put 1 Gig on your keychain and it’s nothing. The processors have changed so much, I don’t even know how to express it in a way that does it justice. Gordon Moore probably could. Also, the mouse outlasted Circuit City.

Julie’s first comment on the new mouse was to express pleasure that it had a wheel, because that makes it easier. Well, that is a fancy new invention, like optical mice with infrared wireless connections. Sure, my mouse was not fancy, but it was a trooper. It has seen me through a 20-page term paper (Historigraphy of the Buffalo Soldiers) that required an incomplete and bled over into the next term, my only ever A+ essay in French (on Moliere’s Dom Juan), and created the page layout for the History Department newsletter.

That mouse has navigated through submitting well over a hundred job applications while I was unemployed, helped me enter over 7500 names into Personal Ancestral File, and played way more games of Freecell, Minesweeper, Spider Solitaire, Diamond Mine, and various Netives applications than any productive person should.

With that mouse, I have written a novel, six screenplays, a children’s book, and the first episode and bible of a television series, as well as countless letters, blogs, and journal entries. Sure, there was always a keyboard there, but I am very much a mouse girl for navigation and commands. (Not to mention all of Maria’s chat and Facebook use, which is very mouse-intensive.)

So, it’s an impressive achievement, and there’s a part of me that feels like it deserves honorable burial, and more of me that gets—Hey, it is an inanimate object, and should be recycled. However, I do appreciate good craftsmanship and durability, so the real resolution is that Logitech has me as a customer for life (over the course of which I could purchase as many as four more mice).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where has Gina been?

Good question! I’ve been right here actually, and I have even been writing a lot. It just hasn’t been blogging.

At the time of my last update, I had been to the Writer’s Conference and looking for my next steps there, and I had just started a new job. Jobs take time—way more than forty hours a week—so that had an impact, but I will not complain because I needed the job, and it’s been a pretty good one.

For the conference, well, one person was supposed to get back to me, and did not, which was disappointing, but more to the point, I tried starting a new screenplay and it was not flowing at all. There were a lot of adjustments to be made to my new schedule, and I took other projects on, but also I felt kind of at loose ends. Every now and then, you need to make sure you are still on the right track.

Since the last post September 1st and today, I have written about 46 journal pages. Some of that is capturing e-mail exchanges and letters that I have written to other people, but a lot of it is me trying to figure out what I should be doing, and sometimes heading in the wrong direction, and then finally getting to where I am now, where I am not only ready to blog again but excited about it.

So, expect to be caught up on things over the next few posts, including what I am not focusing on as well as what I am. However, I think the next post will be a memorial.