Category: Blog Page 2 of 15

Mr. Trump--I mean, Toad.

I want off Mr. Toad’s wild ride.


Toad is very rich and a bit of a fop, with a penchant for Harris tweed suits. He owns his own horse, and is able to indulge his impulsive desires, such as punting, house boating and hot air ballooning. Toad is intelligent, creative and resourceful; however, he is also narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense.


Let’s call him Mr. Toad.

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A robot screaming dramatically, "Everything is RUINED!!"


Recently1that’s a relative term, I wrote about the ways in which my brain betrays me, and questioned what a “normal” emotional experience was. Today, I’m going to continue talking about what it’s like in my head by sharing one way I disarm anxious thoughts–with the help of something I call Anxiety-Bot.

Please note: This post is most emphatically not advice. I’m not saying this is what anyone should do, because I’m not in a position to provide that sort of advice. All I’m doing here is sharing my own personal experience.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. that’s a relative term


What do we mean when we say that everyone has off days?

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Adventures in Oaxaca, Pt. 2

Puebla, where Rachel and I are tonight, is a grey city. At least, it has been since we got in a day or so ago. We left Oaxaca yesterday morning, after booking a room on Airbnb with a young architect living in the heart of Puebla’s Centro district. When our jam-packed bus pulled up on the side of the highway and dropped us off, we tried to secure directions from the driver in the cold grey rain, and the best we got was a rough idea of where to catch a cab.

But we made it to our host’s address–an eight-story tall complex called Edificio Vaca, or “Cow Building”–and before long, were settled into the comfort of his apartment. Today, we explored a very small stretch of the city, and before we go out for dinner, I figured it was time to update the blog with some more Oaxacan adventures.

A Day of Mezcal

One of the experiences we were looking forward to most when we left the States was a mezcal tour. The state of Oaxaca is known for its mezcal–a complex agave spirit that’s a close relative of tequila–and Rachel and I had both enjoyed the liquor since we first tasted it in our favorite bar in Eastern Washington. Lucky for us, Alvin Starkman, a Canadian ex-pat with a deep love for mezcal, lives in Oaxaca City and gives day-long educational tours about the spirit. We signed up immediately.

The tour took us to four or five different rural production facilities, allowing us to see every stage of the process. At our first stop, for instance, Alvin showed us the three-still setup belonging to palenquero (producer) Felix Ángeles Arellanes, where fermented agave juice went into a clay pot, condensed on a metal cone, and dripped out a bamboo shoot. At another facility, crushed roasted piñas–the juicy heart of the agave plant–were sitting in a trough, and we sampled the molasses-sweet liquid they were floating in. By the end of the day, we had not only a thorough understanding of not only how mezcal was made[1], but also a glimpse into the culture and industry surrounding it.

And, of course, we got to sample mezcal. Over the course of the morning and afternoon, we must have tasted at least a dozen different mezcals. There were fruity pechuga mezcals, named for the poultry breast (pechuga) that, along with a basket of fruit, is inserted into the still on the final distillation. There were crisp, sharp mezcals, and–our personal favorites–smoky mezcals that tasted, oddly enticingly, like burnt rubber.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful way to spend a Oaxacan day. The worst part: packing our five new glass bottles of mezcal for the plane.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin

Our candy apple-red bus was bumping and bouncing down the streets of Tlacochahuaya, a small self-identified Zapotec community outside of Oaxaca. Tlacochahuaya[2] was Stop #1 on our tour with Fundación En Via, a local organization that supports working women via microloans.

I looked out the window, and as we passed, saw a wonderfully self-referential piece of faded graffiti. All it said:


Walk? Maybe?

Being a pedestrian in Mexico is a world apart from being one anywhere in the U.S., save perhaps for New York City. Cars respect traffic lights, more or less (which gives Mexico one up on NYC), but as long as they have a green or a yellow, taxis and buses will barrel down urban streets with a downright harrowing velocity. Here and there, you’ll see painted crosswalks, but more often than not, crossing the street means dashing out in gaps between oncoming traffic–or when the streets are clogged, dancing between the hoods of honking cars.

In Oaxaca, a handful of street corners actually have crosswalk signals, but these are relics in and of themselves. Based on careful study, I’ve deduced that when they are actually functioning, a timer on top counts down the seconds left to cross, while a figure in white LEDs below moves in a smooth walking motion, speeding up with 10 seconds left on the clock. However, the overwhelming majority of these signals in Oaxaca are on the fritz, so instead, they simply sputter and flicker in unpredictable patterns, occasionally sparking red as part of the “stop” signal accidentally illuminates.

We didn’t much rely on the crosswalk signals.

The Beetles That Oughtn’t Exist

The streets of Oaxaca’s Centro Historico are beautiful, lined with bright storefronts and old stone architecture. If you tear your eyes away from that, however, and look at your feet, you will inevitably spot a peculiar sight: large brown beetles. Or, rather, large brown beetle bellies, because the chances of seeing one right-side up are utterly infinitesimal.

A brown beetle, belly-up on the ground

These beetles are the pandas of the insect world, as far as I’m concerned; a species that should have been picked off by natural selection generations ago, yet still, inexplicably, keeps on ticking. About the size of a middle-sized strawberry, these beetles lope along the ground at a comically lethargic pace until they reach either a steep incline (like, say, a wall) or a steep decline (like, say, a curb). Upon encountering this startling change of elevation, they attempt (inevitably) to traverse it, only to fall (inevitably) and land (inevitably) upon their hard-shelled backs.

Then they die.

Really. Sure, they don’t go gently; they flail their little legs in the air and attempt to rock back and forth to right themselves. Some of the cleverer ones spread their wings to give themselves extra leverage. But it rarely works, and the beetles usually give up and die there. The streets (and, really, all paved horizontal surfaces) of Oaxaca are lined with belly-up beetle corpses, only a few inches away from those treacherous curbs and cornerstones.

Pen Perils

For how much I love my pens, I have a shamefully bad track record with them. Ever since I got my first Parker Jotter, I’ve suffered the semi-regular misfortune of misplacing my everyday pens. Frustratingly, I never know how it happens; even when I have a designated spot for my beloved pens (in a jacket pocket, in a pouch, clipped to a pocket), there will inevitably come a time when I reach for the pen in its place and realize, with a sinking feeling, that it’s not there anymore.

Rachel and I, along with our guide, Carlos, were barely 10 minutes down the dirt road that lead out of Latuvi, where we spent the first night on our trip to the Pueblos Mancomunados, when I tightened the chest straps on my backpack and noticed something odd. I was expecting a sharp bit of pen-shaped pressure on my chest, since the straps sat right over my pen pocket, but there was nothing.

Then I remembered I had handed my pen to Rachel to sign a guestbook before we left Latuvi, without telling her it was my pen.

Damn it.

Carlos radioed back to the office, and we pressed on. Within fifteen minutes, we heard a whizzing behind us, and a smartly-dressed worker from the Latuvi Tourism Office dismounted from his bicycle, fished around in his pocket, and handed me the runaway.

I had hopes that that would be my only pen-related mishap on the trip, but this story has a sad ending. When we visited the Monte Alban ruins outside of Oaxaca City a few days later, my pen once again went missing, and this time, it was gone for good.

I will be traveling with cheap plastic ballpoints for the rest of the summer.

Not Quite What It Says on the Tin

As Rachel noted, there was an endlessly amusing disparity between what our itinerary for our trip in the Pueblos Mancomunados said we would do, and what we actually did.

Itinerary for Latuvi: “Visit Doña Julia to learn the process of pulque and tepache, visit the group of women who produce jams, and after a long hike, enjoy a steam bath with a massage and scrub.”

Actual experience in Latuvi: Drank some tepache and looked at a squirrel in a cage. Asked about the steam baths, were told it would take a couple hours to warm up and that it might not be possible. Wasn’t possible. Walked around town. After dinner, watched some kids play basketball, got asked if we were in line for the municipal office. Bought two cans of Modelo and drank them in our cabin. Dared to shower without knowing if the boiler was on.

Itinerary for La Nevería: “Walk around town, take a bike ride, learn to bake bread in adobe ovens, go with a farmer and learn about his daily activities in the field or the greenhouses, and memorize some Zapotec words while speaking with some members of the community. You can also make a trip into the community to learn about medicinal plants of the region.”

Actual experience in La Nevería: Watched a guy paint some signs. Tried to follow a game show on fuzzy TV screens. Explained we had a homestay, were taken to the home of the tourism administrator’s family. Were shown to a lovely concrete room with four beds, Santa bedspreads, and two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. Asked about the bread-baking, were told we could help someone shuck corn for an additional fee. Walked around in the rain.

By our third night, we’d learned to simply disregard the itinerary’s optimistic ideas.

Our visit to the Pueblos Mancomunados was really quite great, to be sure. It just wasn’t filled with adobe ovens and Zapotec legends, as the itinerary may have had us believe.

Rollin’ On

We leave Puebla tomorrow, and take a bus to our final destination in Mexico: Mexico City, where we plan to see some museums, visit the Teotihuacán ruins, and experience the major Mexican metropolis. Stay tuned, because I’m sure I’ll have more to share.


The new WordPress Gutenberg editor does not currently support footnotes. This is silly, but here we are. Here are my footnotes from this post, preserved awkwardly until I can reintegrate them more elegantly:

[1] For more on that, check out Rachel’s blog post.

[2] Pronounced “tlock-o-cha-why-yah”, more or less.

The infamous ambiguously-colored dress

The Dress

So, the internet’s been blowing up today because of this picture of a dress:

No one seems to be able to decide if it’s white and gold or black and blue. Well, okay, the resounding evidence is pointing one way, but it might not be the way you think, and that’s what’s tripping people up.

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[Content note: This post mentions struggles with self-acceptance and self-sacrificial mindsets.]


On my way out the door, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Something about it–maybe my outfit, maybe the way my hair is doing a thing–makes me smile. Before I step out, I pull out my phone, thrust out my arm, and–selfie.

Peak hipster selfieLast week, I finally got around to one of those tasks I’d been putting off and went through my cell phone photos from the last nine months. Most were quick snapshots that I freely discarded; the rest I tagged and categorized on my computer. In doing so, I confirmed what I’d been strongly suspecting: I’ve been taking a lot of selfies.

Oh, selfies, the phenomenon we love to hate. Scroll through the opinion section of any site frequented by readers over 35, and you’re guaranteed a column decrying selfies and the narcissistic, tech-addicted generation that takes them. Occasionally, when a researcher at the University of Everything’s Changing and I Don’t Like It or the What’s Wrong With the Youths Institute publishes a study confirming Millennials’ inflated egos with Science, you’ll even find selfies outside of Opinion.

“Selfies are for the selfish,” opines Kelly Iverson, senior at Kansas State. At Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan calls them “a cry for help,” arguing that “young women take selfies because they don’t derive their sense of worth from themselves, they rely on others to bestow their self-worth on them.” Gizmodo declares that the selfie stick–a monopod that allows you to take pictures of yourself from farther away than arm’s length–is an “enabling device that deserve[s] a permanent ban“.

In other words, smartphones and Millennials are ruining everything. Again. Pass the salt.

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Tag Aliases

Food for Thought: Tag Aliases

Know what feature I’d like to see in content management systems? Tag aliases.

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Out of Juice

Out of Juice

I run on battery power.

There’s a well of energy inside me, and right now, it’s charging. I’m in a familiar place, doing something I enjoy. Sitting on my couch with my computer, my battery is humming contentedly as its indicator changes from a red sliver to a full green cell.

Charging battery

There are a handful of circumstances that act as my charging stations. Visiting my parents and sitting at their kitchen table, for instance, or relaxing in their living room. Curling up in bed with R and watching Netflix. Staying with a close friend in Portland. Making a long car ride across the state by myself. Doing things I feel good at. In all of these situations, I plug into the cozy familiarity and let it fill my battery up.

I try to keep my battery as full as possible, because it’s a mess when I go into emergency shutdown mode.

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Six Things or Whatever from 2014

Alright, 2014 is practically over. Pondering that fact earlier this week, I knew I wanted to write something, but I couldn’t decide what. I considered writing a list of my 12 favorite (or least favorite) books I read this year, but writing a bunch of book reviews sounded too exhausting. The idea of simply writing “GOOD RIDDANCE” in bold, 128-point font struck me as appealing, but I eventually backed down, feeling I owed myself a slightly more substantial piece of writing.

This is what I ended up settling on: a list of six things, or whatever, from 2014. It’s not exactly six things that happened to me this year, nor is it six things I enjoyed. It’s just six things. Or whatever.

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The New Real World

The New Real World

My friend T lives in the Seattle area. He plays Magic and is quick to respond to bullshit with biting wit. Another friend, H, loves her whiskey, owns many guns, and has an adorable Lab named Annie Lou.

These two people are my friends. I’ve also never met them face-to-face, in what many would consider the “real world”. I know them–and have since I was in high school–thanks to Kingdom of Loathing, where we’re members of the same in-game social “clan”. We’ve never drunk beer together, sure[1], but I’ve typed a lot of words into clan chat over the years, and they have too. We know each other better than I know many in-person acquaintances.

Using the word “friend” to describe relationships that have never seen so much as a handshake might seem strange. Some might scoff at it, saying that my generation of technology-addicted Millennials is just fooling itself, and that we’re living in an increasingly isolated, asocial world. These criticisms are part of an even broader argument: that the internet and “real life” are two non-overlapping spheres, and that activities in the former are somehow less valuable, less meaningful, or less real than activities in the latter.

You know what? It’s almost 2015. It’s time to accept that the internet is real life.

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