Savvy Steinbeck

“We value virtue but do not discuss it.” -John Steinbeck

I came across this post today and it struck me as an interesting point for discussion. I’m not sure who said this to me, it may have been my Dad, but a saying I grew up with is this,

It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and a single poor decision
to destroy it.

I have generally found this to be true. It takes a long time to establish yourself as a responsible, trustworthy person in the eyes of others, but one poor decision can flush all that hard work away.

I don’t necessarily think it’s true in all cases. Certainly some people make many mistakes and are still thought well of, but I think that people in general have a much easier time remembering negative occurences.

For example, let’s look at Bill Clinton. From what I understand, he was a very successful president. The nation flourished while he was in office and he did a marvelous job brokering good relationships with other countries.

What is he remembered for, though? Is it his foreign policy? His positive effect on the economy? No, it’s his blunder with Monica Lewinski. He spent eight years serving his country and all it took was an hour (+/-) to cast a pall over all his accomplishments.

What I wonder is whether this is a cultural thing. Do we, as Americans, sink our teeth into bad news like a hungry dog on a steak or is this just human nature?

John Steinbeck seems to have nailed it on the head in saying that, while we value virtue, it’s not really our favorite thing to talk about. A recent example is the popular show “Extreme Home Makeover.” This show orchestrates the construction of beautiful homes for families across the country and then we never hear from the families again. We never hear about how they’re faring, what they’ve done with their extreme good fortune, nothing.

But, when a family forecloses on their dream home because they mortgaged it to start a lawn-mower business (What’s that saying about shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves?) it’s on the front-page of MSN. I bet there are a lot of families who have done great things with the blessings they received but none of those great things will land them on the MSN homepage.

What do you think? Do you agree with Steinbeck that we don’t like to talk about virtue? Is this just an American thing?

Clothed in Good Sense

At the behest of a friend of mine, I checked out a blog today that offers advice for women about how to dress at work. I thought it would be a site with some advice about how to dress your figure and when you should or shouldn’t wear open-toed shoes. What I didn’t count on was it being filled to the brim with adorable dresses, coats, and shoes so cute that I considered going out and finding a high-paying job just so I would have an excuse to wear them.

As I’ve said many times, working in sweatpants is fantastic. I love that I can take breaks to fold laundry, cook dinner, and play with my puppy if I so desire (and I frequently do.) I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.

However, cute shoes will not be ignored.

There, now that I’ve just spewed girliness all over your monitor, here comes the pragmatic side that Wes loves so well. Some of these dresses cost upwards of $300.

Wait, that figure needs more emphasis…$300

When I first saw that price-tag, I wondered if the dress came with a personal valet who would handle its care and mending. I mean, wow, that’s just a lot of money for clothes.

The way I feel about clothes is pretty conflicted. I love clothes, I love shoes, and I have been known to squeal when confronted with cute purses, but I think there could not possibly be a worse use for money than expensive clothes.

Think about it: One wrong turn o’the wrist with some red wine, one unfortunate sharp edge on an open drawer, one ice cream too many and your $300 dress is now useless. It’s too much of a gamble to have nice clothes because there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth before the garment becomes unusable.

Shirts in particular bedevil me because shirts seem to incur the most damage of all, don’t they? They catch all your crumbs, they absorb most of your sweat, and they are usually the first to tell you that perhaps you should consider switching to sorbet. I love cute blouses but I just can’t, in good rationale, justify spending loads of money on the untrustworthy shirt.

Pants are a bit different, because a good pair of jeans is worth its weight in gold, but not by much. I’ll never, ever, spend hundreds of dollars on jeans because, really, what is the point? I can get jeans from Old Navy for $30 that cover my bits just as well and no one but maybe .005% of the population can tell the difference. No, no, will not spend loads of money on pants, which at a moment’s notice can rip at the knee and leave you debating whether anyone can possibly pull off cut-offs in this present age.

Don’t even get me started on expensive jewelry. I have trouble seeing the point here as well because there’s no guarantee your umpteen thousand dollar jewel isn’t going to fall off after your ring/earring/necklace catches on an unfortunate piece of cashmere. I’d much rather fly to Paris for the weekend than have a diamond necklace.

How about you, are you a clothes-horse or do you consider an expedition to Ross the ultimate big-game hunting?

Molto Bene!

In the ongoing saga that is, “Life After Graduation,” I have begun a new chapter. You see, I’m reading this book called The Know-It-All and I’m loving it fiercely. It’s about a man who decides that he’s going to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover. It’s a massive undertaking and he chronicles it in just such a way that is poignant and amusing and loads of fun.

He has many reasons for reading the EB cover to cover, but the one that resonated most with me is that he feels he’s getting dumber. I can totally relate. When you’re in school, your professors are constantly telling you what to read to better yourself. You’re never at a loss for stimulating reading material and it’s your job to grow more knowledgeable.

Enter “real life.” Luckily, one of my jobs requires me to do research constantly so that helps, but if it doesn’t involve work-related issues, chances are I’m not reading it. I read constantly, but fiction, while fun and occasionally redolent of a few fun facts, is hardly the proper medium for giving the ol’ cortex a good workout.

I was at the library this weekend and I stumbled across the audio book section (literally, it was a narrow aisle and someone scooted past me and I fell onto the audio version of a Dean Koontz novel) and I noticed that there are language programs you can listen to on CD. So, being of a mind to stop my intellectual lethargy, I perused the selection and made my choice: Italian.

I am going to learn Italian. I have already finished two CDs of the program and feel I have a solid grasp of the cadence and pronunciation of the language. I doubt I could read it or write it but I can probably have a very slow, very short conversation in Italian at this point.

I gotta tell you, it feels good to learn something and struggle to understand something. It’s a tad frustrating sometimes, as I am wont to only enjoy things I am immediately good at, but when I finally do understand it feels fantastic.

One thing that amuses me is that the program forces you to learn humility. At the end of every unit, the CD professor dude tells you to respond to your conversation partner on the CD. The conversation partner spews out all kinds of words you haven’t learned yet really fast, so that the only response you can possible have is, “I don’t know, miss,” (AKA Yo non capisco, signorina.) Then the CD says, “End of unit” and you learn what your conversation partner was saying in the next unit. It’s pretty funny.

Once I have a firm grasp of Italian, I’ll have a decent understanding of all three romantic languages. Next up, I reckon I’ll take on Russian or Japanese (Wes speaks both of these and I think it’ll be fun to converse in another language around the house.) After those, who knows? Maybe Turkish!

Which language would you learn if you had the option?

Paranoia Perfected

I just fell asleep in my office chair for about 30 minutes when I was supposed to be working. Wes came upstairs for some water and woke me up to make sure I was fine and man, was I confused! As chagrined as I am that I fell asleep on the job, I’m feeling good after the nap and now I’m ready to go.

We had a very busy and very good weekend. We ate way too much (I tried frog legs for the first time. They taste like chicken thighs that have been marinated in vinegar. You’re not missing much,) slept way too little (we stayed up until 1AM this morning discussing religion with a friend,) and saw The Dark Knight again, which is just as much fun the second time around.

The reason we were so out and about is that one of Wes’ friends is in town this weekend and we wanted to make sure we took advantage of his newfound geographical accessibility. As a result, we spent a lot of time in bars with other guys Wes has been friends with for years.

On Friday night (at around midnight) we started talking about guns and Kevlar and all sorts of incendiary nouns. I was curious about Kevlar and so we delved into the topic and let me tell you, Kevlar is a lie!

So, I’m certain you’re familiar with Kevlar. It’s touted as a super-reliable bullet-proof material that will save your life in a gun-fight. Members of the police force wear Kevlar vests to protect their squishy organs from the violent caress of bullets, and cars are sometimes reinforced with Kevlar to make them safer.

Well, it may be tough (Did you know it’s actually a weave? Like fabric?) but it’s not quite what it seems. You see, it’s bullet-proof as long as the person shooting you is using a toy pistol and is standing on a balcony 2,000 feet away and is hoping the bullet will ricochet off a rubber tire before it gets to you. I may be exaggerating a tiny bit, but the point I’m making is that Kevlar is not all bullet proof.

It’s bullet proof for certain guns, but by no means all. So, if you’re wearing it you’re basically just hoping that the maniac who wants to shoot you either couldn’t afford a better gun or is afraid of the kick-back from a larger caliber.

Also, the term knife-resistant is a heaping pile of misinformation. So, knife-resistant sounds like it means it will stop a knife but what it really means is that a knife will probably only go half as deep into your soft squishy parts. If someone impales you with a 6 inch knife, you better believe you’ll be cursing the 3 inches that busted through. Knife-resistant my foot!

I also learned about the venerable 50 caliber bullet. Apparently it’s kind of a big deal. I guess if someone shoots one of these bad boys at you and it misses you by a foot, your insides will still get all scrambled from the sheer force of its personal portable shock wave.

The reason I wanted to know all this is that, when we have beautiful babies I need to make sure they’re protected. After learning about the fallibility of Kevlar and knife-resistant materials, though, I’m cancelling my order for the Kevlar footie pajamas and knife-resistant snow-hat-and-mittens combo. Also, now that I know about the nigh unstoppable force of a 50 caliber bullet, I’m convinced there’s only one course of action left for us to take: We’re going to have to move to our own planet.

The Road to Bagel Perdition

Friday has recently become bagel day for me. There’s this bagel shop by my work, called Noah’s Bagels, and it’s my new happy place. There are fresh bagels, incredible sandwiches, and delicious coffee beverages all in one place!

This morning I ran out of the house without eating breakfast so when I got to work I was starving. I asked my colleagues whether they wanted anything, took orders, and left on my bagel-acquiring mission.

I was not seen again until an hour later.

Now, if this bagel shop was in the heart of Seattle, my hour-long ETA might have made sense. No, no, this bagel store is literally five minutes (if not less!) from my work. So how, do you ask, is it possible to spend an hour fetching bagels?

It’s all too possible if you only know to get to the bagel store through one parking lot entrance. Some construction workers were digging up the parking lot and they told me I needed to go around. I blanched, but then steeled myself by rationalizing that surely there were more entrances to the parking lot and they’d be easy to find.

They were. What wasn’t easy to find, however, was the exit. I couldn’t find the same entrance I’d used to enter the parking lot and inadvertantly found a different one. It let me out on a street I’ve never seen before and, before you can wish on a star, I was lost with three bagels, a hot chocolate, some frozen peas, and a bag of pizza rolls.

I eventually figured out where I was and got back but it took me a lot longer than it should have. The reason? I have a tiny cerebellum. Yep, your cerebellum, located in the back, more primitive section of your brain, is what helps you get oriented. Apparently, mine’s growth was stunted (I blame the Power Rangers. For no specific reason, exactly. Just because) and now it’s public knowledge that I couldn’t find my way out of a wet paper bag.

My physiological psychology professor told me that men tend to have larger cerebellums than women, and this is because they needed a strong sense of direction when they went hunting/gathering. I’m not sure about this, probably because I’d like to think my cerebellum is small to compensate for the sensational amount of awesomeness that I’m working up in my frontal lobe, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

In all reality, my cerebellum is probably the size of a pea and everything else is, well, used for storing away useless facts like what a cerebellum does and what part of the brain is first impacted by alcohol (the cerebellum too, if you’re curious.)

I guess this just makes me less primitive…?