Decluttering alternate universes

Trying to get rid of clutter isn’t difficult because throwing things in a cardboard box is beyond the skill of the average human. It’s difficult because it’s not about getting rid of items, but rather about destroying alternate universes.

A bunch of beads and wires aren’t craft supplies you never used. They’re an alternate universe in which you wear badass wire jewelry that you’re too much of a diy punk to just buy from someone else. And in this universe, you don’t do that thing where you kink up the wire and then throw it back in the drawer because now it has a bunch of little micro-bends.

An old school ID from a school that you didn’t actually attend is an alternate universe in which you did go there. You transferred of your own volition, and felt good about it, and had different (i.e., actual) job opportunities when you graduated, and things are better in that universe.

messy apartment

This is an alternate universe in which I never moved out of my messy old apartment. It’s not just some picture of my old apartment, ok?

I’m looking at a pile of crap on my desk right now. There are only a few things that can simply be put away without dramatics and wishful thinking. Everything else is an alternate universe, even if it’s not one that’s a major divergence from the established timeline. What kind of person, besides nihilistic madmen on Doctor Who, has the heart to go around wantonly destroying alternate universes? And the simple alterna-folk who live in them?

I can understand why books and articles on decluttering are so popular; I just sat down to clean my desk, and instead started to write about thinking about cleaning my desk.

The problem is that, from what I’ve seen, a lot of this advice is based around dubious mental tricks. You can see them in any women’s magazine in a dentist’s office.

Sally from Nevada sends us the following decluttering gem:
I like to get together with a friend and pretend I have terminal eyebrow cancer and need to sell all my wordly possessions to pay for an experimental Himalayan salt treatment. What would I still keep? What would I “sell” her to save my eyebrows?

Even advice like “Throw out anything you haven’t used in the last six months” is a mental trick. It imposes an arbitrary standard that has nothing to do with why you own a particular item, why should or shouldn’t get rid of it, and why you’re not going to. It also doesn’t make much sense if you apply it to tools. You might not use your precision screwdrivers frequently, but it doesn’t make any sense to throw them out just because your glasses or computer haven’t broken recently.

It’s tough to say goodbye to something that represents a possibility, even a possibility long past. I don’t have a handle on that at all, but I think the key is in keeping the things that are keys to places you still need to go from time to time.

But I also think that even your alternate universe self has alternate universes to destroy. Maybe one of them is yours.

Spirit Notes Fading is out!

Spirit Notes Fading cover

This is my book. I bet you figured that.

If it’s news to you that I have been working to put out a short collection of  short stories, that’s because I’ve been basically awful at announcing it, or telling people at all.

So let’s get that out of the way: I published Spirit Notes Fading a few days ago. Currently, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book is a short collection of fantasy short stories, all fairly different, but with a few threads in common. Magic, music, journeys, and a sense of eerieness come up across the four stories in the collection. Here’s the summary:

A punk band struggles to save their show when it’s upstaged by the wail of a real banshee.

Across impassable seas and beyond lonely cities, two wayfarers journey across a vast continent.

A tired wanderer fights his impulse to run when he is hunted down with a magic photograph.

An ocean-sick miner steals a submersible to escape from the oppressive priest caste of a deep-ocean settlement.

When I say, “I published Spirit Notes Fading,” I mean that I self-published it, and I did all the work myself, except for some of the proofreading. I wrote the stories, revised them, copyedited them, designed the cover, designed the interior for both print and digital versions, and converted everything into the correct formats. There is a general idea that self-publishing is easy, and that anyone can just slap up anything with basically no work put into it at all. There’s a bit of truth to that; you can take a lot of short cuts; you can skip a lot of steps. To publish my own work with diligence, I had to level up a lot of skills. I’ve actually spent a few years working on those skills, because although I didn’t know until a few months ago that I was going to publish Spirit Notes Fading, I knew that I was going to publish some book.

I keep wondering about things I should have changed. Story-wise, edit-wise, format-wise. Did I leave too many tree branches in the cover? Is it just a mess? That kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of the work I did, and I think I met the standard I set for myself.

However, as I said, I’ve been ridiculously inept at announcing it. “I have a book coming out!” is the sort of thing you’re supposed to announce on your blog, your newsletter, and whatever social media you use. Aside from promotion, it’s an accomplishment. Sharing accomplishments is generally considered an ok thing to do, right? As long as you’re not being showy, narcissistic, and ridiculous, like so:

“Wow, that’s a great story about your dead uncle. It reminds me of how I wrote a book.”

“As the author-publisher of the short story collection Spirit Notes Fading, I think I’d like to order a hamburger, no bun.”

“Hi, can I get a couple of scratch cards? Oooh, I can barely scratch off this silvery stuff, my hand is still so sore from all the computer work I did to publish my recent short story collection.”

But I’m so far on the introverted end of the spectrum that I feel weird even mentioning it. Even on my own website! In the past week, there were three times that I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile and it went kind of like:

“Hey, long time no see! What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Working. Need more hours.”
Some talk about other stuff.
“Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. That’s the kind of thing you tell people, right?”

And so this, right here? This is me telling you. I wrote a book. You can read it, if you’d like.

Flufforaptors: on having baby chickens

Baby chickens turned out to be fascinating, and I didn’t expect that.

Baby chickens in a box

Classic milling-around-before-we-do-something-insane baby chicken behavior.

Despite being on board with keeping chickens as part of a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve always kind of viewed chickens as fairly dull farm animals. To be fair, I had spent very little time around flesh-and-blood chickens. That just changed. My partner and I have had baby chickens for nearly a week. We’ve spent much of this time suffering from something called Chicken Hypnosis, because that’s what we named it. Chicken hypnosis occurs when you try to do a thing, but are unable to because you walk by the chicken box and end up staring at their antics for twenty minutes.

After five days of Acute Recurrent Chicken Hypnosis, we’ve learned a few things about baby chickens.

Baby chickens are baby dinosaurs.

The idea that chickens are descended from dinosaurs is something I’ve heard people talk about a lot the last few years. Within a few hours of having chickens and watching how they move and function, my partner and I agreed. They are totally dinosaurs. He nicknamed them Fluffosauruses, because they are indeed adorable, fluffy, vicious little monsters. I like Flufforaptors, because they do kind of move like velociraptors.

Of course, this is all kind of dubious. We can watch the chickens and say that they move how dinosaurs move, but our idea of how dinosaurs move comes from Jurassic Park and various documentaries. And for all I know, they based their ideas on how dinosaurs move on the movements of living birds.

Baby chickens are fast.

Back to that velociraptor comparison. For some reason, I imagined that baby chicks would bounce around like fluffy little anime monsters. Maybe I didn’t actually know what chickens were before we got them. I didn’t even realize that I’d imagined them moving this way until I saw them dashing across their living area, tearing up the mulch behind them with their little talons. Once their wings started coming in, they began to use them for extra bursts of speed. Which is so cool to watch.

Baby chickens do not give a shit that you named them.

Or at least that you named the three of them you can tell apart from the others. Maybe when they’re older, they’ll learn what their names are. Human babies take awhile to learn their names, after all. But I also think that chickens just don’t give a shit. You named us Suntop, Redbeak, and Chickotay*? That’s beneath us. We’re the scions of dinosaurkind, and we’d basically eat you if you weren’t three hundred times our size. Or something. We’re chickens. Counting isn’t our forte.

Baby chickens are a mosh pit.

The chickens sleep in a clump, something I’m told they’ll do until they’re older and learn to roost. At various times during the day, they nestle into clump formation and take what I can only assume are power naps. Other times, they’ll bundle together and just kind of mill around. Then one of them will jump into the group and disrupt the whole thing, and basically, it turns into a mosh pit.

awful baby chick illustration

It also does my vector graphics skills no justice. I want those five minutes of my life back.

Finally, this picture does baby chickens no justice.

They may have been little balls of golden fluff for the first couple days, but they still had cold reptile eyes and pointy little talons. Like many of my favorite creatures, both real and fictional, they are both cute and vicious. Chickens in a yard tend to eat bugs. At two days old, they ate** a bunch of ants I kidnapped for them from the garden. Any sort of cartoony illustration of Easter chicks is really just a caricature. Especially if there’s a bow involved.


*Speaking of Star Trek Voyager, chickens can live longer than Ocampa.
**Or at least brutally murdered.

Snowfall

Snowfall mutes the world. It dulls the machinescape that is modern life, even in a small town. It makes familiar places foreign while softening rough edges and concealing the ugly and the industrial.

Walking through the snow is at once a return home, and a journey to a new frontier. Blanketed in austere sameness, old favorite trails become the haunts of frigid spirits, repetitive mazes where it could be all too easy to become lost. In the loneliness of snowfall, you can say words aloud that you never have before, and the wind carries them between towering pines, and they are lost.

Snow-covered New England Village

Quaint snow-covered villages are a New England specialty, and also its chief export commodity. If you buy yours from elsewhere, expect the same plastic seams as a bootleg Ninja Turtle.

When the snow falls, I am like a spy in a foreign country. Everyone cries out against the tyranny of snow—it makes us shovel, it makes us cold, we must clear our cars, we hate it, we hate it—but I am at home under the rule of snow. When the foreigners around me decry the snow, call for its execution under the rays of the spring sun, I halfheartedly raise a fist. “Grrr… snow. Yeah, down with snow. Or something. I guess.”
Unless I’m in the mood for a conversation. Unless I have the energy for a conversation.

* * *

Would you like to join a secret club? There aren’t many of us. No matter the differences in age or opinions or any trait you can think of, we are bonded by a love of the cold. There is an instant kinship between those of us who come alive when the world is frozen; when everyone else complains about roads and gloomy skies, the two people who say, “I like the cold,” and “same here,” know that they are kindred spirits. And they can laugh about how people are always telling them to put a jacket on.

* * *

Frozen didn’t convey the same sense of wintery-ness that I felt reading The Snow Queen as a kid. But it was a good piece of pro-snow propaganda, and I liked the parts where no one wore jackets when they probably should have. I got through one July reading A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin and fervently telling myself, “Winter is coming. Winter is coming. Winter is coming.” And then it kind of didn’t.

* * *

Anyway, it’s in the mid to high seventies outside now, and that’s about all I can take.

The universe “takes care of it”

There is a certain view that if we just sit back and stop worrying, the universe will take care of it. But there’s more than one meaning of “take care of it.” Sometimes, “take care of it” is what the villain says upon learning that the hero, or one of the hero’s plucky associates, is alive and well and making trouble. Turning to Henchman Number One, the villain says, “Take care of it.” And you know that the Henchman off to murder/ ambush/ kidnap/ maim someone.

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Let it not be said that the universe doesn’t look out for us, for surely it does. Sometimes like a benevolent guide, sometimes like a sadistic yet curious mad scientist.

Sometimes, that’s how the universe is too. Here’s a real life example:

Me: So I was thinking that I’d leave for work early and stop to get that computer mouse.

Universe: That’s one idea. But, ooh, how about instead the heat and hot water at your apartment stop working? And you can make a phone call about that.

Me: I hate phone calls.

Universe: Would it be better if a glass shattered on the floor right before you have to make the phone call?

Me: No, not really.

Universe: Ah, well, too late. No big deal, right?

Me: No, I suppose not. The glass broke in large pieces.

Universe: Right! Look at you, taking care of stuff like a champ.

Me: Yeah! I even still have time for lunch.

Universe: You know you have to clear off your car, right?

Me: Fine, no time for lunch. At least I have time to eat in the car.

Universe: No, now there’s blood. You have to take care of this.

Me: Blood? Where the hell is it coming from?

Universe: Your finger.

Me: Fine, I’ll put on a band-aid.

Universe: No, you can’t reach those.

Me: Well, then I’ll awkwardly wrap my finger in a napkin that I can kind of reach.

Universe: There you go. Now you can have lunch.

Me: No, I can’t. My finger is awkwardly wrapped in a napkin.

Universe: If you drive fast, you’ll have time to eat a few bites of sandwich before you walk into the building.

Me: That actually worked. You know, I’m not even in a bad mood. Despite all this.

Universe: Ok, that’s great! Now, how about you meet the person who was hired for that job you asked about all those months ago, but you didn’t follow up on it because you’re a big wimp and now you’re stuck making $10 an hour with the least flexible job in the world?

Me: Hi!

Universe: Good job. Now, how about that bad mood you mentioned earlier?

Me: Yes. I am totally depressed now.

Bulletproof coffee: underwhelming

I have now tried both bulletproof coffee and the bullet journal. I have not tried putting these things together, though if I did I imagine the result would be an artful-yet-greasy coffee ring.

Here’s my take on bulletproof coffee, also known as coffee with butter in it. The bullet journal deserves its own entry.

First off, I dislike food/recipe names that require explanation. Especially if they’re being brought to a potluck, which I guess I wouldn’t do with bulletproof coffee. Is there any reason this stuff couldn’t just be called buttered coffee? I’ve seen the term used as an attention grabber in headlines, but never actually heard anyone use it.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing about the stuff for years. It’s popular with paleo diet and rewilder types, which makes it seem like something I would have tried 6 years ago when I was unemployed and did time-consuming things like prepare paleo food. For some reason, the fact that it seemed like something I would have already tried in another era of my life, combined with enthusiastic testimonials, made me not want to try it. Even though I love coffee, butter, and coffee experiments.

Here are some of the claims about buttered coffee:

  • Energy!
  • Weight loss!
  • More delicious than expected!
  • Tons of energy!
  • Breakfast and coffee combined!

I’ve also seen articles raving about how it’s better for you because it doesn’t have sugar in it. I think obtaining a cup of coffee without sugar in it is more easily done by simply not adding sugar.

My love of coffee experiments won out. I tried the common method of blending coffee with coconut oil and good quality butter. Here is what I found:

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Here’s one example of what a breakfast might look like. Breakfast should never look like a liquid. Even smoothies are better with a sorbet consistency.

  • Energy? Duh, it has caffeine.
  • Weight loss? No idea. I drink iced coffee most days, and a coffee with this much fat will not work iced. Therefore, I will not drink it most days.
  • More delicious than expected? It was about what I expected. Is it so hard to imagine what butter and coffee would taste like combined? It’s a little bit creamy, and fairly rich.
  • Tons of energy? No, just a normal amount. My breakfast tends to contain a lot of fat anyway, so maybe I’m more accustomed to this than the non-fat yogurt crowd.
  • Breakfast and coffee combined? Ok, I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I did fall for this one. I was hungry again in about an hour, and since I assumed the coffee was my breakfast, I didn’t bother to eat anything to soak up the acidity.

Despite being underwhelmed by buttered coffee in its standard form, my partner and I now drink buttered coffee as part of our Sunday morning breakfast routine. Like the author of the article on the New England Coffee blog, I too needed to tinker with the standard buttered coffee recipe. Dirtying the blender for a cup of coffee? Too much work. Inspired by the mocha recipe in the article, our version mixes butter with steamed milk that we pour over strong spiced coffee and a touch of maple syrup.

Buttered coffee, breakfast tacos, and Sunday morning cartoons. We’re in our thirties and everything.