Damned dishes

There’s a shot by American photographer Bill Owens that conveys my day-to-day routine fairly well.  It’s of a woman with her hair in rollers holding up a portly baby against the backdrop of a cluttered kitchen.  When I first saw it, I couldn’t settle on her expression — is she forlorn and giving up on the suburban dream of a bright and peaceful life in a McMansion with 2.5 kids and a dutiful husband?  Is she content even with all the work she can’t seem to keep up with, because she has a clear place in the universe as Wife/Mother?


From some digging, apparently the photograph has a caption at the bottom that the version I saw had redacted:  “How can I worry about the damned dishes when there are children dying in Vietnam.”  When he was interviewed about why he liked to include captions on his photographs, Owens commented “Sometimes when you photograph a person, they have something completely opposite to say…you find contradictions.”  He was surprised that a suburban housewife going about her routine would have such lofty political concerns.

Then there’s me.  Going about my boring work-toddler-sleep routine.  My hair’s not in rollers (who has time for that?), but my baby is (slightly) less chubby and the kitchen sink is usually clear (I like to eat off paper plates).  But there are streams of philsophical consciousness that punctuate an otherwise banal day.   And maybe that’s the type of blog post I should try to find more time to write.



The Second (Blog) Coming

What beast is this, that slouched toward Washington, DC to be born? Oh, right, it is my wriggly little “sun”.  I’m a mother now, with the attendant burden of societal expectations on what a mother should be and should do. Indeed, it’s expected that I spent 24/7 doting on my newborn when he’s awake, and thinking of him when he’s sleeping. Motherhood is a title that promises blame should my wee bugger act like anything but a silent tidy toy baby.

son sun

Twenty centuries of stony sleep on this blog have been vexed awake by this son/sun.

Given those stressors, why am I wasting time rebooting my blog with new posts, or watching World War Z to inspire my zombie apocalypse short story, or looking up game guides for Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked? Why am I not at Mommy Baby-Wearing Support Groups or handweaving my son’s first blanket or harvesting organic kale and heirloom tomatoes for mushy first baby meals? Because that ain’t me. I love my son more than anything, but hey, he’ll have to accept that his mommy’s a geeky weirdo. And more likely than not, he’ll be a geeky weirdo too.

All of this is a short way of saying, I’m back so be prepared: Some revelations are at hand.

Walking plates

Healthy eating is a battle of willpower. Success at the Atkins or Paleo diets, or even just avoiding a helping of peanut butter pie can depend on saying ”no” and sticking to it, even against the weight (har har) of our past eating habits. Healthy eating is a lifelong commitment, requiring good decisions over many years.

It takes some serious mental gymnastics for a sweet tooth like me to choose broccoli over peanut butter pie.  Logically, I would eat the green stuff because it has a lot of the good stuff (nutrients) and none of the bad stuff (sugar, fat, preservatives).  Alas, my internal Spock does not always prevail, and often it takes a few seconds for the logic to win out over the caveman instinct that makes rich, sugary treats so alluring.

Healthy eating isn't a cakewalk.  Oh, wait...

Healthy eating isn’t a cakewalk. Oh, wait…

What if there were some way to make dinner actively help you eat better? Could we turn plates into allies? In the future, maybe plates will detect when we have eaten too much junk food, activate legs on the underside to jog away to remove the temptation, and give our self-discipline a chance to kick in. Your dinner would literally run away from you. And if the plate of broccoli was closer than the plate of peanut butter pie, I know what I would (grudgingly) reach for.

Mom alarms

There’s a hodgepodge of alarms on the market, and they take a carrot or stick approach to waking up. Some aim to make mornings pleasant — for example, alarms that play your favorite radio station. Others try to make sleeping in unpleasant — like most alarms with obnoxious beeps.

One way to make either type of alarms more effective might be to verbalize the reward or risk with the voice of a loved one. Maybe in the future we won’t wake up to beeps or radio broadcasts, but to our mother’s voice reminding us to get out the door or risk getting stuck in traffic.

"Time to get dressed! And don't wear those colorful polka dot pants. You look like a leopard who fell into a rainbow."

“Time to get dressed! And don’t wear those colorful polka dot pants. You look like a leopard who fell into a rainbow.”

The voice of a mother, father or other guardian has a stronger emotional effect on us than a dull electronic beep. We associate voices of parents with many important lessons — the value of hard work, or the importance of honesty, for example. Even a simple reminder to “Wake up, or you’ll be late for work” can bring up other wise advice that our parents taught us, which can inspire us to get up.  Another benefit of a “Mom Alarm” is that it can be more convincing than a dry robotic voice. A parent’s words have authority because of their lifelong role as a mentor. We might think twice about hitting the snooze if it feels like Mom’s in the room to scold us.

All your [video game reviews] are belong to us

Are video games in the same intellectual category as literature, films and paintings?  I think so, because video games are just as much about the human experience and expressions of creativity as those other mediums.  I believe the future will see the gradual social acceptance of video games as more and more of us experience the genre through smartphone and tablet apps.  In preparation for that glorious time when us geeks no longer have to cower in dark basements with our consoles, here are some gaming reviews.

1. Fallout 3 by Bethesda

Rating: 5/5

Fallout 3 was released in 2008 and was so popular that it set expectations for open world role-playing games like Skyrim. For me, what Fallout 3 did differently is that it made side-quests fun for their own sake. Side-quests are a common element in RPGs but are often tempting to skip because they are tedious or boring. In Fallout 3, the side-quests are actually fun because they tell a self-contained story that add to the detail of the entire open world. To finish all the side-quests can easily take over fifty hours, but they are interesting enough that you want to try them all.

2. The Stanley Parable by Galactic Cafe

Rating: 2/5

The Stanley Parable was a surprise hit in 2011, and has a cult following. It’s about an employee who wakes up to an empty office and tries to figure out what happened. The game is forever — after each ending, you resurrect and can try a new path that leads to a different ending. The problem is that it gets boring very quickly and isn’t really a game, so much as a critique of the idea that you can have “choice” in video games with predetermined endings. As my friend put it, it encourages you to break the rules by following other rules. As interesting as video game philosophy may be in a lecture hall, I don’t enjoy it when it takes priority over the gameplay.

3. Goat Simulator by Coffee Stain Studios

Rating: 3/5

What’s it like to be a goat? You can find out in Goat Simulator, a buggy 2014 release that received mixed reviews. You play as a goat who can explore a small neighborhood and wreak havoc on its residents. You can gallop, jump and head-butt around construction sites, homes and picnics. It’s simple but buggy, because it wasn’t meant to be a blockbuster hit. And that’s fine, because Goat Simulator doesn’t aspire to be more than a quirky look at life through the eyes of the goat. A game that doesn’t have an “end”, a mission or a boss fight makes it acceptable to explore aimlessly, which makes Goat Simulator a guilt-free experience good for a few plays.

Hug drugs

Pills offer the promise of cure with the lure of ease.  Feeling sad?  Take an anti-depressant.  Feeling anxious?  Take a tranquilizer.  A pill-sized solution to our problems is alluring. When work, family and hobbies compete for our attention, it makes sense that we want an easy way to stay healthy.

But the innocent-looking shell of a pill hides the risks of addiction and dependency.  Over the long-term, pills may not work as well as non-chemical treatments.  For insomnia, cognitive behavioral therapy can be more effective in the long-term (and with fewer side effects) than sleeping pills.  For anxiety, switching to a less-stressful job that doesn’t take away your evenings and weekends might work better than a tranquilizer.

Can’t read my doctor’s writing again, is that fiend or friend?

Maybe in the future, doctors won’t prescribe drugs anymore, they will prescribe experiences.  We may rely on chemical fixes for some conditions, but find that a big hug or a good laugh is the best medicine for others. Feeling aimless?  Try preparing for a marathon to focus your energies.  Feeling anxious?  Take a week off and go hiking in the Rockies.  Maybe a week at Disney World will be the next Prozac.

Sleep chores

Why do we sleep? Why do we spend almost a quarter of our lives unconscious? One day. we may discover a pill that relieves us of this need. But until that happens, there might be ways to make eight hours of shut-eye productive.

Usually, our bodies are paralyzed during sleep so that we don’t move and hurt ourselves. Sometimes, this paralysis is missing and our bodies are active while we are unconscious. For example somnambulism, also known as sleep-walking, makes people do weird things with little memory of what happened, and people who sleepwalk can cook a meal, drive a car and even kill a person.

What if we could control what we did while we were unconscious? Instead of sleepwalking, what if we could be sleepworking? In the future, we may discover how to be unconscious and also productive by controlling the process that leads to sleepwalking so that we can be sleepworking instead. We might learn to do laundry or pay bills at night while we sleep so that we don’t have to waste mental energy during the day on dull chores.  Now how’s that for a good morning?


Oh boy, sleep!  That's where I'm an expert tax accountant.

Oh boy, sleep! That’s where I’m an expert tax accountant.