The Blessings of Traffic

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I’ve done my share of cursing at traffic. Who hasn’t? In doing so, however, I miss out on the blessings of traffic. That’s right. I said “blessings of traffic.” What do I mean?

Let’s start with “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is the ability to be in this moment, to focus on everything around you without concern for the meeting you’re about to miss. It is not only seeing the car in front of you, it is hearing the cars to either side and feeling the bridge vibrate under you. Mindfulness creates a web of connections you might not otherwise make. Traffic is an excellent place to practice mindfulness. You will certainly get immediate feedback if you fail.

If mindfulness doesn’t appeal to you, there are other things to bless traffic for. It is an opportunity to sing loudly without worrying about what others might think. I’ve belted out music, and was probably badly out of tune. No one knew at the time. Oh, I could probably be seen (none of my windows are tinted), but I got more “thumbs up” or “horns” than strange stares. More often, though, people ignored me.

Not into singing? Audiobooks. Learn something new, catch up on developments in your field, emerse yourself in a fictional world. More than once, I’ve changed into a slower lane during an exciting part of an audiobook so that I could be sure to finish the scene before arriving at my destination. Another good type of book to listen to? Self-help/self-improvement books. In the privacy of your car, no one is going to see a book cover and snicker at you.

If you have a passenger, talking is good. Just stay away from emotionally charged subjects. But talking about plans for the weekend, or the awesome weekend you just had, is a good way to keep a positive energy going.

Sometimes, I turn everything off and enjoy the quiet. No music, no books. I let the part of my mind not tied up with driving wander. This post is the result of one such incident. Other times I’ve come up with plot lines, or solutions to a dead-end in a story. Sometimes I’m able to resolve problems going on in real life, or at least reframe the problems so that they either are no longer problems, or a way to solve them becomes apparent.

Traffic can be a pain. It’s usually uncomfortable. And it often happens when you’re in a rush. Yet there are little easter eggs to be found. It’s merely a matter of stepping back from the frustration and consciously thinking of alternatives to swearing.

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Going Minimalist Today.

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My major activity for today was going to the Blanton Museum of Art. Admission is free on Thursdays and parking is cheap. I did a write up of it for my museums and parks blog. http://wp.me/p2eejD-l

4 Myths About Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

Self-defense is one of those topics where everyone thinks they know what it is, but can’t seem to agree with each other. I’ve heard some pretty wild assumptions about self-defense, both directly and indirectly. Let me address some of the myths and assumptions I’ve come across.

1. Self-defense is about beating up an attacker. Um. No. At least that is not the purpose. The purpose of self-defense is keeping yourself safe. Sometimes an attacker gets beat up, sometimes he doesn’t. As long as the person remains hostile, you can continue pounding back. Once he stops (i.e. he is no longer attacking you), you have to stop, too; otherwise it becomes assault, not self-defense.

2. There are no shades of grey in self-defense. I’ve heard people say that self-defense is either necessary, or it’s not. I disagree. People tend to think of self-defense as a verb; an action that stands on its own. Self-defense is an attitude, not a verb. As with any attitude, there are degrees in how forcefully you pursue it. For example, it is certainly possible to focus on awareness training to the exclusion of physical training.

3. If I am attacked, the law will be on my side. Actually, from the law’s viewpoint, you and your assailant are citizens with equal protections under the law. It is not unusual for someone to be prosecuted for knocking out an assailant. In fact, if you find yourself in a situation where you physically need to defend yourself, expect to be taken to both criminal and civil court–especially if you defeat your attacker. When police arrive on the scene, more than 90% of the time, the person still standing was the aggressor. Even if your assailant swung first, if you’re the only one standing when the police show up, you’ll be suspect #1.

4. Once the fight is over, I’m done with the situation. I’m afraid not. Surviving the situation is only the first part. Then you have to survive the criminal and civil courts. Whether you succeed or fail in the courts, you also have to come to terms with what you did in order to survive. Being assaulted is a traumatic experience that essentially rewires your brain. Most people relive the experience for months or years after the event.

The play’s the thing, wherein we’ll catch the…Queen?

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Today was the penultimate Readers’ Theater session before summer break. One more to go (in June). Tonights plays were all based on telephone conversations. The first one, which required all in attendance to participate and even double up in some instances, was the radio drama that got made into the movie “Sorry, Wrong Number”. Basically the plot boils down to [spoiler alert, if anyone cares]:

Old Lady: I just overheard someone planning a murder!
Telephone Operators 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and Police Sergeant: Yeah. Sure.
Old Lady: *strangled*

The others were all more modern, and short (less than 10 minutes each). They were also amusing. Even the “suspense” ones were funny most of the way through.

In addition to “Sorry, Wrong Number”, I ended up participating in two others, both two person skits. The first was a “discussion” between a guy wanting to buy tickets and another guy trying to sell the tickets. Turns out they knew each other. Honestly, nothing all that interesting. To me it was just another bizarre-place-to-run-across-someone-you-know story.

The second was one of those annoying-operator-in-a-time-of-crisis stories. At least that’s what it started out to be. I’d volunteered to read the part of the operator. We were getting into it, and things were flowing nicely. About two thirds of the way through, however, and I discover the operator was supposed to be played by a woman. Oops.

So I figured, “What the hell.” I changed a couple of things on the fly, added a little improv, dropped a line or two, and voila: My name was George the telephone operator, and I was talking about my cheating husband, who was cheating with That Bastard, Brian. And I was complaining to this poor guy who was trying to get the number of a psychiatrist because his wife is psychotic.

Many compliments were given for changing the script on the fly to match my character. Though I still think I should have given him a Boston accent. Oh well. The trials and tribulations of a cold reading.

The “Benefits” of Situational Awareness

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Folks, contrary to what your big brother or prima dona drama queen friends taught you, driving is a COOPERATIVE activity. Especially in the rain.

–Something I posted on my Facebook page

A while ago I posted a few articles I wrote on self-defense. Situational awareness plays a large part in keeping yourself safe, especially in everyday activities like driving. Seeing someone edging closer to the dashed lane stripes can give you an important clue they’re about to jump into your lane…even if they don’t have a turn signal on. (I always laugh cynically when they jump into my lane THEN activate their turn signal for about four blinks before turning it off again. Yes. I know you wanted to switch lanes. Thank you.) It’s also critical to knowing where your escape points are. (i.e. where other vehicles aren’t)

Today it rained. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft, but nearly constantly. So when out driving, I put a little extra distance in front of me and keep a sharper eye on those around me. It was during one of my area scans that I noticed it: the guy behind me had a very…odd…look on his face. The fact I could see his expression told me he was too close to begin with, and I wondered if he was paying attention. Keeping that in mind, I put checking my rear view mirror on my “check frequently” list.

Over the next mile or so, his expression changed occasionally, but he never looked anywhere but in front of him. No checking the mirrors. No checking the lanes. I could almost see the tension in his neck. If he was that caught up in something, or zoned out…. I put even more distance between me and the car in front, in case the guy behind me needed more reaction time.

Just before my exit, I checked one last time. In the second or so it took me to be sure of what I was seeing, a woman sat up.

Really? Talk about slippery surfaces. And in traffic.

‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night

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Writing, at best, is difficult. Under “inspiration” it’s easy to get lost in it, but that’s the simple part. Even for stories written under “inspiration,” the steps and tasks required (not recommended, but REQUIRED) to get it into a readable condition are daunting. Many books have been written on writing and getting published. Yet of all the people who try, very few even get a story to the manuscript stage, much less getting it published.

Why do I have “inspiration” in quotes? Because “inspiration” is merely the falling into place a series of thoughts that were already present, though unrecognized as a story. Yes, it makes writing the rough draft easier, but it is not required. The story elements were already in the writer’s mind. The writer’s most difficult creation task is to hunt down, dig out, or otherwise come up with those elements and place them in a pattern that makes sense to anyone else who reads the result.

And yet, the first draft is just that: a FIRST draft. After all that sweat and head-to-desk action, a writer must not only be willing, but should actively search out parts of his precious creation to cut, mutilate, or outright delete. It is this step that balks most would-be authors. It is difficult to first write with sufficient compassion and empathy to draw in a reader, then turn around and be ready to ruthlessly alter or trash some (or even all) of weeks of work. (Granted, the amount of time spent varies with the length of the piece in question.)

Writing is a craft: carving out a story from a mass of ideas (rough draft), cutting away large chunks to reveal the basic form (revisions), using a finer tool to further refine and define the form (editing), and polishing the final piece for viewing (proofreading). Leave out any step, and you end up with a flawed piece.

More and more, writing is becoming like the music industry. It is not enough to be “good” or “very good”. In order to become widely known, you have to be “excellent” at the very least, and “amazing” is even better if you want to compete at the A-list level. This is the value of beta reader. Beta readers provide feedback. Good beta readers provide useful feedback. Having a team of good beta readers can often lift your work one or two levels. But be warned: beta readers and friends are two separate circles. There may be overlap, but not all friends are beta reader material. Likewise, there are some really excellent beta readers who you may not get along with.

I am very fortunate in that the overlap between friends and beta readers is very tight. I have very few beta readers I am not friends with (or at least willing to be friends with). I have more friends who are not beta reader material, though due to lack of interest rather than lack of ability. Even those, in certain circumstances, I would feel comfortable asking to read through a piece for me. In many ways, the difference between a friend and a beta reader is: a friend is someone who cares about you, a beta reader is someone who cares about your writing.

Random Topic: The origins of knock-knock jokes

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*Warning: the facts in this post may or may not be true. Enjoy!*

What is humor? Depending on the era you’re talking about, it is: a liquid in the body that determines health and well-being, what you and/or others consider funny, or ice cream. The most common usage is, of course, the second: what is considered funny.

Literature recognizes three levels of humor: common, low, and refined. Common refers to potty humor, slapstick, and things everybody has experienced. Low humor includes things such as humorous stories, puns, and the absurd. In other words, humor that requires a certain minimal amount of thought. Refined humor requires more than minimal thought. “Jokes” in the refined humor category are not always obvious. In fact it is not unusual for humor at this level to be completely missed by those around you.

The key to the differences between the levels seems to be the amount of world knowledge and experience that is required to understand it. Common is called “common” because everyone understands the references, whether they actually find the joke or incident amusing. Low is called “low” because that is the level of education and experience necessary to “get it”. Refined is called “refined” because it refers to knowledge, experiences, and attitudes that have been distilled to such a degree that not everyone, or even most, would appreciate the humor.

Where, then, do knock-knock jokes fall on this continuum? Given that the majority of knock-knock jokes are based on puns and homonyms, I’d peg them at “low” humor. But why are they a part of our culture? Where did they come from?

The first recorded knock-knock joke was less of a formula joke, and more of an unfortunate incident involving the evolution of language. Privacy has value. This is a concept that even our cousins the neanderthals understood. The invention of a solid door revolutionized privacy. All the most up to date chiefs had one. The problem was that doors were so effective at creating privacy, they blocked or muffled sound. One chief fell victim to this muffling problem in a rather embarrassing way.

The chief’s consort at the time was a woman named Gunthag. (Don’t laugh. It translates into “Beautiful Woman”.) Unfortunately, she had a twin brother by the name of Gunthorn. (“Beautiful Man”) The chief waited one evening for a visit from Gunthag. Upon hearing a knock on his prized door, he asked “Who?” He thought he heard “Gunthag”, so he decided to surprise his consort by opening the door in the buff. What the person had actually said, though, was “Gunthorn”. That chief discovered in a rather “common” way that Gunthorn had the same taste in men that Gunthag did.

If I recall correctly, that was the same chief who invented the “peep hole”.

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