Category Archives: rural
Your External Brain and the iDrain
I read recently how having a smartphone is like having a slot machine in your hand. Every time you pick it up, you wonder what you’ll get. You’ve just got to know what you’ve received since you put it down. On your email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Three cherries?
A friend said, “Having this object within your reach is addicting.” I thought she meant that having the Encyclopedia Britannica in hand to answer your every question in the moment was addicting. She meant the slot machine.
There are other effects: texting neck, thumbs supposedly growing larger, people losing the ability to read facial cues, families texting instead of talking within the home, device lights bedside ruining sleep, mysterious waves irradiating our brains…who knows? For sure: teens hiding in their darkened rooms gaming (weird) instead of fleeing their parents (normal) to run around in the woods (healthy).
A woman on a plane told me she’d instructed her grandkids, “Leave those things in the car.” Horrified, they asked, “What will we do?” Her response: Talk to each other.
When people go on such “screen diets,” limiting their hours on devices, they feel freed yet perilously untethered. When we misplace our phones we absolutely panic, the cost and nuisance aside. We are disconnected, lost at sea. An animal cut off from its herd. Danger!
I once asked a techy friend a techy question and he said he knew the answer at one time but no longer needed to commit anything to memory because his External Brain had all the answers. How many times have you looked up a fact on your device and immediately forgotten the answer? Because you don’t need to know it any more.
Your “multi-purpose mobile computing device” has crazy stuff inside: a magnetometer, proximity sensors, barometer, gyroscope and accelerometer (Wikipedia!). Is all that in our internal brains?
The stats about smartphone use – 3 hours daily for adults, way more for teens – boggle. A decade ago it was 90 minutes. Apps are designed for addiction, with intentionally varying (slot machine!) reward patterns that tease your brain’s reward circuitry. We’re hooked.
With my phone, I mainly communicate – a lot. I’m hooked on communicating. I stress when I realize I haven’t responded to a missive, when the reality is that people send so many that they are hardly waiting for my answer.
If your kid constantly consulted an encyclopedia, you’d be thrilled. That’s the gorgeous Internet. But how many people are doing this? I do searches and read various newses, but mostly I’m texting and forwarding funny stuff. I “Google” with tremendous urgency things like, “Who’s hosting SNL?” or “What does Serena Williams weigh?” Not: “What is a Rhodes Scholar?”
So despite what most impresses about our devices — the world at our fingertips — many use ours mostly to spread joy. Nice! Until: suddenly the day’s over and your free time went down the iDrain. Your room untidy, tasks incomplete…and that class you were gonna take? The bridge club you were to form? All gone. When I’m in Boston I’m texting Vermont and when in Vermont I’m texting Boston when, really, who cares what I’m up to? Why do I have to “report in?” Send a photo? Suggest a restaurant?
I mostly quit Facebook. Because every time I went in, OOPS, there went another :45. I could’ve learned a musical instrument in the hours I wasted reading rampant, silly pandering in there – “Beautiful!”, “That roast looks delicious!” or, the worst, “You look like sisters!” where a woman and her daughter are pictured. Madness.
The line for phone etiquette is ever moving. First, it was rude to talk on your phone in an elevator with trapped others listening to the asininity of your half-convo. Then that became fine, then to be on your phone at a meal. Then to set your child up at a restaurant with an iPad, no earbuds. We don’t look up from our phone when people speak to us. We answer their questions while typing. Lately, I don’t look at them while we’re talking no matter what I’m doing. I first ascribed that to the increased concentration required in your 50s for word retrieval and recalling the names of celebrities. I’m staring a chair leg trying to describe a movie (Ryan … Gosling? Wait: Reynolds … er … O’Neal? Let me check my External Brain.) No, I’m not old; I’m just rude.
What’s the solution? Tweet suggestions to #rudeandgoingblindfromlooking10inchesawayallday. Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and good day.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @uvgvt. Or by opening your mouth and forming words I receive with 2 sensors on my head.
Sign, Sign, Another Week of Signs
Another week, another protest. This one against the “non-ban.” Alt-facts and the temporary lift of the “non-ban” aside, Winooski gathered for the smallest, proudest protest of the Land, held in the center of its infamous rotary. Even the sun participated.
True fact: the Burlington area is famously refugee-friendly, has been for decades. That’s Vermont for you. First in so many things, including outlawing slavery, allowing blacks and women into its (first in the nation) private military college, first state college, and of course the first rope tow. Let’s not forget: first in civil unions. Yay, ‘mont!
Here’s some more signs, mostly last-minute, with heart.
On Cheering Oneself and the Bladder Diaries
Fall is a time of endings. A time to bask in nostalgia and perhaps mourning. Some exceptional people have left our plane recently and it’s easier in autumn, somehow, to wallow in the loss. I go right down to bottom; I’m not a shallow diver. Anything less feels like I’m not getting the job done right.
In middle age, I try not only to navigate but enjoy life’s vicissitudes. When I’m up I know I’ll go down and – mercifully – vice versa. Our experience on earth is to be a rich one. We are not to be stuck in one mood; that would be annoying. So when Stick Season gets a tad dreary, just picture how we all recently hopped aboard the Foliage Express, cruising around in awe in a magical world of dappled, colorful light and canopied dirt roads, the sun low in a Superman-blue sky as we wondered how musicians who penned all-time great songs (Billy Joel; Phil Collins) also wrote such toads (Tell her About It, 1983; Sussudio, 1985).
Living here has mental health advantages. As an auctioneer at a fundraiser recently put it while auctioning off a dinner at someone’s home, “And their back yard is a gorgeous natural wonderland … which describes about 97% of Vermont.” True. Most of us can walk less than a mile and see a lovely slice of paradise. Of help during dark tymes.
And like humans everywhere, Vermonters throw feel-goodevents. Randolph’s New World Festival, Woodstock’s Lobster on the Green, the Tunbridge World’s Fair. All that dancing and eating and merrymaking, the grease of many nations, the musicians and animals and maple and historic historicness of it all … we just had that. We’ll have it again. For now, in blustery weather, why not lift your voice in song? Join a choir or chorus or hospice group. Sing in the car. Public restroom. Feed store. Do it. Cheering!
A friend sent me an article about High Functioning Anxiety. The poor person who wrote it was clearly living a life of self-loathing eased only, if cleverly, by X-treme busy-ness. No stranger to combatting distress with busy-ness myself, I felt bad for the author but had to wonder: why are so many people so miserable in modern tymes?
A Dalia Lama op-ed piece noted that modern man has more literacy, less infant mortality, less poverty and less hunger. He suggested our despair stems from people not feeling they are needed or contributing. Add to that, IMHO, the unreal images of love and careers projected on all our screens, plus Lord knows what environmental stressors. Hell, when mankind had few choices, struggling to survive pestilence and droughts, we were grateful for a meal and a bed and a set of teeth. Now, that’s not enough. The friend writes: “Laura Ingalls Wilder had a terribly hard life, but did she sit there and worry? No, she did not! She went and twisted hay for fuel during the Long Winter.” So what’s the answer?
A trip to Bethel. Whodathunk? The renovations of its town hall and churches, the post-Irene bridge, cozy eateries, good meats at the Central Market, the Little Library in a cleaned-up downtown, pop-up “university” Bethel U, … cheerful progress! I’ve been a fan of Bethel since 1969, because we could exchange our parents’ beer cans for fishing lures and because I hate change and it never, ever changed. But this change is good. You and Bethel: perfect together.
So once you’ve sufficiently enjoyed your dark, autumnal introspection, bask in Vermont’s boggling natural splendour, ponder fun tymes you’ve had, read Little House on the Prairie, consult the Thanksgiving Argument Generator online, daytrip to Bethel, and for God’s sake, sing. Time marches on. Before you know it you’re in your 50s keeping a bladder diary. Good warbling, and good day.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @uvgvt
Squirrels and Tigers and Hares — Oh My
When I’m not buying discounted Valentine foodstuffs, reeling from presidential debates, or marveling at the driving etiquette of certain states, I endeavor to cheer and motivate Dear Reader and, in so doing, activate my own laggardly winter self. In tymes of crippling global bizarreness – political, fiscal, climate, you name it – we could all use a little pep talk.
Maybe your Valentine’s Day wasn’t quite dreamy. No matter, this Hallmark folly is more obligation than holiday, much as I love my annual “balentine” from my mommy. St. Pat’s Day does nothing for many — a drinking day vaguely involving snakes and saints, and if you’re not religious, it seems rather a long, festivity-less haul until Memorial Day. It is.
It’s an odd time of year in an odd year in odd tymes. Who could sleep with all the award ceremonies and farcical debates? A church friend said this has been the winter of our discontent … we had “nothing to play in outside” … had to go to Jersey for snow. When the sun came out (twice?) the temperature plummeted. We felt thwarted. Restless. The global news helped none, and personal problems abounded. Mankind seems to be going through…something. I hope it gets us somewhere good.
When things aren’t going ducky in one life area (say, job), it’s easy to extrapolate the badness onto every other area (money, health, marriage), then just smear it all over the past and the future. It’s a combination of rewriting history (with a dark ink) and catastrophizing about the future. Then everything seems quite terrible indeed. And in your mind, it is. That’s when the compensatory measures kick in – overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overreading. I’m not saying your worries aren’t valid. They probably are. I’m saying that in a dreary time of year, one distressing thing can make you don the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. You pick the color.
Overwhelmed? Hiding? Not thrilled with where the choices you’ve made have gotten you? Or maybe you made very few choices. You just went with the flow and now you’re gasping for air on a debris-littered bank since the water level suddenly dropped. It’s not too late, you know, to take your life in hand. I won’t claim it’s never too late to do anything, because that’s a lie. Time marches on. Trains leave the station. Windows close. Boom. You have to get clever with workarounds.
Patience is not my greatest virtue. My Chinese Zodiac year is that of the Tiger; tigers question authority, detest incompetence, and are impatient. With age, at least, we improve at handling disappointment and delaying gratification. Which helps, because when you don’t get cranky you retain the clarity to plot an alternate route.
As we encounter pot holes and frost heaves and flat-out roadblocks, let us allow the recent Black History Month to inspire in us a serious pondering of Plan B (“another approach”). Maybe it’s time to try a new route. Switch jobs. Move. Quit something you’re failing at, expand something you’re good at. Good at everything you do? Test yourself; try something new. But if it’s not mostly fun, forget it. Life is hard. Plenty of miserable tasks and situations will be thrust upon you. Don’t add to the pile.
Hell, this crazy weather could force us inside for weeks. Lie around, in the bath or under an ocean of blankets, and let your mind float away. What don’t you do that you’d like to? Or, if you can’t do it, what can you do instead? What are you going to plant, lit. and fig.? Which annual that will last a year; which perennial that you will enjoy — or endure — year after year? Dahlias or skunk cabbage? Use your intuition and look for a Sign. I do.
Ride the rails, knit, bowl. Give or get a massage. Get a pet. Walk. Do something for someone. Take a class. Soon this weird winter will end and you’ll be running around like a crazed March Hare, full of P and V. But remember: vigilance! Turn off CNN (“There’s a rabid squirrel ripping through American neighborhoods … is it coming to YOU?”); it should be called the Alarmist News Network. And I always forget seasonal nuisances until their return. Black flies, cluster flies, black ice … pot holes. I hit one so wide my car couldn’t possibly straddle it. It was really more of a sinkhole, a lunar cheese hole. The car groaned. As did I. As will you. Ponder your spring … with vigilance! Good day.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
As Today, So The Year
A friend told me years ago to be careful what you do on January 1 because it sets the tone for the whole year. Is this true? Who cares, why take any chances?
That means that no matter how bad you want mayo corn during today’s sporting event or movie, you should probably wait until tomorrow.
Recipe: Buy popcorn. Add mayo from fixin’s bar, or byo mayo packet to venue. Apply mayo to side of bucket for proper management of unruly corns. Use a fork if you can find one (unlikely). Serves two [nutters understood].
This Is For All The Rattled People
Perhaps you, dear Reader, like your humble Columnist, hates change. Tradition is one of the hottest numbers in Fiddler on the Roof for a reason. This column is for those whose holiday traditions have changed to the point where, as he says in It’s A Wonderful Life, everything’s all “screwy.”
Usually by now I’m shopping Harriet Carter, cranking up the treacle spigot on Hallmark TV, shaving years off my age at pharmacy checkouts (nothing says holiday hospitality like the fine wines of Rite-Aid), fending off rabid skunks and inventing statistics in time for the family argument at Thanksgiving, just having a gas. But the year’s events, including my parents’ leaving the Upper Valley, have altered tradition considerably.
My own woes are small. My mother, God love her, has baked me 52 birthday cakes. She couldn’t mail #53. Sniff sniff! I never went to Silver Lake’s state park, and I missed the Barnard Fire Dept. tag sale, Bethany Church TNT Auction, Tunbridge World’s Fair, knitting fireside with my Bostonian golf pahtnah, and other key events that mean, well, life in Vermont — either because the people I did those things with weren’t around or I thought them depressing to do alone. Relocating to a condo, I haven’t been to the dump in a year. Vermonters understand the social importance of the dump on Saturdays. I’ve never even seen a garbage truck here. We dump it. We give and get at the FREE table. We love it. I got my recipe for gravy (nod to the Valley News) at the dump. I miss it. I miss all those people and events.
Sadness sometimes means feeling sorry oneself – which our forebears pooh-pooh’d as self-indulgence but I believe humans are allowed to do – or sometimes sadness means grieving losses from change. The world ever changing, for the messier, my people are suffering. They’re losing their hair, teeth, bodies, savings, their minds. They are concerned about their parents — if they’re even alive — and their kids. And about Europe. Africa. The Americas The whole planet for God’s sake. It’s a lot to worry about. Troubling dreams besiege us. We are sad. Rattled.
Friends move away. Kids grow up. People and pets die. I’ve found that just getting out there and doing holidays differently instead of lamenting a past now gone does create a useful diversion. In California I spent many an odd holiday, with weird foods and people, but the casseroles exploded and turkeys were dropped and people fought and laughed – business as usual.
In the history of Vermont’s 14 counties on PBS, my favorite part was when, decades ago, a visitor noticed there were no squirrels in Winooski. His host advised this was because Vermonters ate them. I’ve spotted beefy squirrels across the Land this fall – big, meaty, good-eatin’ rodents. That turkey deep-fryer sitting in the barn? Fire it up and drop ‘em in there. So they don’t have wings. Big deal. Invite others who have no family and go local this Thanksgiving, with the bounty of your own back yard.
Some traditions remain. I will lovingly wash the dust from my decorative light-up Pilgrim’s little plastic fanny by autumn’s hazy light. We’ll buy winter boots on sale from a log cabin-y shoe store chain where the shoes are, seemingly, cobbled by elves. We’ll haul out the holly and spark up A Vibraphone Christmas and do a secret mitzvah. Nothing helps like helping someone else – fact. But if you can’t work that up, and sometimes you just can’t, slog back a hearty glass of Poor Me and have it. If you go through that terrible feeling, you’ll be on to the next. Emotions are fleeting.
Melancholy? Don’t give up! Things can turn around in a heartbeat. Something wonderful can enter your life. Leave a space open in your heart. Nature abhors a vacuum, as do the Great Oz and all other magical forces. Lost someone? Take in someone new. You might change their life. You, dear Reader, have changed mine, and for that I am thankful. Good gobblin’, and good day.
Trotting out an old column’s Turkey Day Sniglets® for your holiday pleasure:
Bloatilla – The fleet of bloated bodies littering the living room post-meal.
Candensation – Glistening moisture layer that forms on canberry sauce.
Exconversation – Labored dinner conversation with your sister’s creepy new boyfriend.
Goo-Goo Goggles – What your son must be wearing to see any merit in his new girlfriend.
Coochie Cool – The appeal of your niece’s cute new squeeze.
Loonesta – The senseless postulate posed by a crazy relative so late in the meal it puts you to sleep.
Yankee Panky – What the Pilgrims did after the feast to increase their number.
The Other Energy Potion
Every young person I meet lately at a cash register or whatever is, like, all shaky. I think they’re pounding that bottled 12-hour AWAKE chemical crap.
Try this, kids. Slopeside Syrup. You won’t get rattled and it tastes good, too.
White Flaggin’ It on the High Seas of Life
I knew when my credit card bill was $666 that June would be a weird one. When flooding left debris resembling an exploded Swiss Family Robinson’s house all over the state and friends e-mailed about escaped prisoners on the lam, some Vermonters wanted to hunker down with Game of Thrones indoors. But… summer. It’s short in VT. Out you go.
I went to Burlington’s Discover Jazz festival. Personal favorite: Aaron Goldberg trio. Brilliant musical wizardry (Harvard smarty pianist! New Zealander bassist! Floridian drummer! Hot Brazilian influence!). Try his The Now CD, first tasting Trocando em Miudos (initially seems like he’s tuning) and Lambada de Serpente on YouTube. Smokin’.
When cops and sirens abound (the escapees), distraction proves key. In world gone mad, it’s time in to look after numero uno. Pop into a pond or brook and feel the love. Stagger vigilance (ticks, poison ivy, rabid coons, escapees) with laffs (a comedy at one of America’s 80 remaining the drive-in theaters?).
I had a boss once with the lethal combination of wildly vacillating mood swings and the most beautiful face money could buy. Only young employees could endure her diabolical stunts; our team of four’s outlet was, you guessed it, laffs. Email was brand new then and as I struggled with her computerized calendar I’d think, “Wow, everyone’s working really hard; it’s so quiet in here.” Stifled snickers would betray that the girls were all in fact emailing each other, not working at all. It was the right move. When in Hell, manufacture Heaven.
Some events are so terrible you cannot distract yourself. Then you can do one thing: ask for help. From friends, fam, and whomever you call God. You’ll get help. As a local spiritual expert maintains, “Prayer helps even when you don’t believe in it.” That means prayer for yourself or prayers from others (think: It’s a Wonderful Life). In one particularly bad period after 9-11, I was losing it in California. I prayed (read: pridelessly begged the universe). One friend wrote, “Do you want me and [her 4 year-old] to fly out and drive you back in a truck?” Another phoned, Do you want me and [our childhood friend, each with two kids] to just come out there and get you?” I was so galvinized with hope by these kind offers from busy helper-mothers 2,000 miles away that I was able to pull it together and move to Vermont without their (further) help. It was the right move.
Little fact for you: SOS does not actually stand for anything (those krazy Germans!). It is, however, easily remembered even when you are wigging out, and it’s the only 9-element signal in Morse code, thus instantly recognizable because no other symbol uses more than 8 elements. Number nine? Three blasts signifying the international distress call? 999 is the number for the Coast Guard? That devilish 666 reversed! There is God in asking for help. Fuzzy numerology.
New England is a tough place (weather, money, weird Puritan legacies) and we must navigate carefully. You are the captain of your ship. Hoist up you mainsail and your jib (the helper sail!), patch any holes, keep your rudder free of barnacles and giant squid, choose well when and where to drop anchor (Vermont?) and, for God’s sake, when surrounded by the enemy or your ship is going down, send out your distress signal and hoist the little white flag that says, “I. Give. Up.” Some helper-mariner will see it, cruise in, and get you the heck out of there. Let him. It’ll be the right move. Good day.
Provocative Autofill of the Month:
When “Things You’re Not Supposed To…” is entered, Google autofills with:
-Eat with braces
And Let’s Not Forget the Amateur Craftspersons
…whose work brings untold joy to All, including this piece lovingly crafted by an amateur New Hampshire Flügenkrafter in good standing.
What, pray tell, is flügen? Go here.
Learn it. Love it. Live it.
Dear Certified Finalist
It seems I have already won one of a number of prizes, including either $10,000 cash, an iPad Air, or $150 cash in hand. Not sure what the diff is between “cash” and “cash in hand.” Probably the former is “cash” towards the purchase of a fully-loaded convertible at the auto dealer I am to report to to claim my “prize.”
Any unclaimed prizes will not be awarded. Ah. There it is! The house ensures the outcome of this “contest” by mailing the winning numbers to deceased “winners.” Something. The house always wins.
The return addresses amuse. This one reads:
THE OFFICES OF/RECORDS OF DECLARATION/DISBURSEMENTS DIVISION/NATIONAL CORRESPONDENCES OFFICIAL RECORDS
Wow, like a bunch of official-sounding words spat out of a BINGO cage, a cousin to the CBS.
Thank you, Disbursements Division! Catch you at the auto dealer’s. When I come up with the other $60K for the convertible. Which will be never. Convertibles: not so practical in Vermont.