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Sunday, January 20, 2008


Life expands to fill its container.

Alternative title: if I became officially obsessive-compulsive tomorrow, there would be no noticible difference in this blog.

I spent more than an hour this morning drinking green tea and watching heavy clouds blow slowly over our living room window. I had to force myself to do this pleasant thing: my mind was so full of things to do that I was overwhelmed, and adding 'watching clouds for at least one hour' to my virtual list seemed like a wise, moderating thing to do. If I don't have time to watch clouds, I'm living incorrectly; I am thus pretending that by watching the clouds, I have corrected a grave error in my lifestyle.

I've previously described a sort of anxiety that sometimes strikes me on Friday night, when I realize that I will have upwards of 48 hours which I have not sold to an employer, in which I might accomplish some of the many, many goals I have set for myself. I have enjoyed discussing this situation with other motivated people, from a mother of a young child who, upon leaving her distant job to stay home for a few months to manage the baby and deal with contractors repairing her new home, who couldn't believe that she ever had time to ALSO work a full time job, to a retired friend whose life is filled with singing, acting lessons, and volunteer work. These friends are a relief, because I can commiserate with them about the fullness of life in a way that is not possible with a few young friends who spend their weekends watching television, drinking alcohol, and shopping, which they often summarize in one word: "bored." I simply cannot imagine having time to be bored.


For my own amusement, here is the to-do list that was interfering with my relaxation this morning, because of the obvious improbability of completing even a fraction of the items on it today:
wash laundry (towels, bedding) * mop the kitchen floor * dust the bedroom * review (and recycle) the week's non-social mail * print cyanotype photograms of pasta (three new shapes!) * print cyanotypes and develop them in different concentrations of acetic acid for my forthcoming article at * adjust cyanotypes with both acidic and basic chemicals to see how it affects their tonal range * test out sodium carbonate addition to fixer while printing vandykes to see if denser browns can be achieved * work up a shopping list of supplies needed for my photography projects (hypo clear, Polaroid 667, and ?) * figure our where books go in my Google books library once I "add" them, and how to share that library (if possible) * publish a web gallery of pinhole photos * publish a list of reviews of all movies I've rented through a DVD-by-mail service * publish a gallery of the first 48 color contact sheets made during my 2004 sabbatical (because they are pretty, and because they illustrate the concept of 'digital asset management' as something that sucks up my time) * scan orchid photos for my agency * brighten my protea ferrotype gallery so it looks good on the average monitor (and not just my ViewSonic or Steven's Mac monitor) * put a second coat of sandarac varnish on just about every wet collodion print I've made recently * publish new galleries of my most recent wet collodion session * publish a gallery of the images I've taken with the Kodak Duaflex my dad found in my grandfather's attic * publish my camera museum page (or modify Words About Pictures to include the same information) * put away laundry * cook something for dinner * bake two cranberry apple pies * make envelopes using some cool paper I've recently acquired * write letters * catch up on social e-mail * breathe * organize the postcards I've received from my postcard exchange group, and figure out who to send what to * prepare Happy New Year cards for the people on my postcard mailing list who don't know why I've stopped sending them (because the printer can't handle my monochrome work) * clean up my various messes around the house * lounge around * drink even more tea while blogging about tea (two new types!).
The way I usually manage such lists is to take on the five most necessary things, and leave the really fun things for later. But that's not very satisfying. (Happily, I've left off the many things I've already accomplished today. I'm pretending that makes me seem more balanced.)

This list changes all the time, of course, and I work out variations of my current priorities in the paper diaries (which I bind by hand, when I have time) that I fill so rapidly heading to and from work on my long commute.

And to think I wonder why I can't keep up on my reading.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)2:20 PM

Thursday, September 06, 2007

  Conformity, culture and food. Part of the reason I always informally interrogate people about what they ate for dinner as kids is that I'm interested in the influences that lead people to choose the foods they do. Americans on the whole are having a lot of health problems (like that amazing 50% cardiovascular disease rate) based on the foods they choose, and I've been very interested in how much people think about what they choose eat, and what attachments they have to specific foods. I'm also interested in culture-specific foods, since many of the foods I love now are not from my own ethnic background.

Something I am figuring out is that there is an idea of what "normal" is that our fiercely conformist culture relies on when making these decisions. I have always known people who were pressured in their youth to take up some habit (smoking, drinking really cheap crappy beer) because their peers did it, and it was the "normal" thing to do. I have always known that advertising has a huge influence, and that otherwise reasonable people I know will go out and buy something that looks stupid on them because an ad-filled clothing magazine says that it is the "normal" and fashionable thing to wear.

But I don't think I've really understood how wanting to be normal affects how people make food choices.


When my father had a massive heart attack and required a triple bypass, I was certain that he would take his doctor's horror at his description of his pre-bypass diet as a sign that something wasn't right. He was given some instruction on the subject, which he wasn't especially interested in. I bought my dad a bunch of books by Dean Ornish on how you can restore your heart's health through dietary changes. However, I should have known from reading the old newsgroups that my father wasn't going to be interested. He didn't want to eat for heart health - he wanted to eat the diet he considered to be normal, to show that he had recovered. Changing his diet would make him feel more like a patient, or someone who was recovering from a life threatening condition - and even if that were true, that wasn't "normal." (Unfortunately, having heart attacks in one's 40s is "normal" on my father's side of the family.)

My father, who is prone to going on a fad diet every year or so, even went on the horrifically high cholesterol Atkins diet a few years ago! He eventually decided that it was unbalanced. (Duh.) But even when he went on it, he thought that was a "normal" thing to do, health consequences be damned.

I have friends who go on fad diets routinely, but I've never really thought of those seriously. Fad diets don't work in the long-term. All diets that reduce your caloric intake enough can make you lose weight, but if they aren't healthy enough to use on an ongoing basis, the weight loss will fail when people return to their old habits. I've always thought of fad diets as forms of temporary insanity on the part of my friends, rather than culturally-influenced food decisions. But they are out there, and there are new ones coming out all the time!


I may have mentioned that a friend of mine said he doesn't eat any rice other than white rice (of which there are many types, of course), because he is Chinese, and that's what Chinese people eat. Even though that's not exclusively true - not here in SF, where there are Chinese people in every type of restaurant, eating things that are only "normal" in parts of the world quite remote from eastern China where he was born - he remains certain about the bounds of "normal" rice eating practice.


I also may have mentioned that I told a girlfriend at work about how one of my sisters-in-law was going to make me and Steven a lovely veggie primavera pasta dinner, and my girlfriend said, "Oh, is that in again?"

(Can you imagine? Deciding on whether or not to eat home-cooked food on whether or not it is "in?")


Watching my father choose his meals post-bypass, it's plain he was being influenced by his own idea of normal diets, and by trends and fads that were popular (and conventional, and "normal" for the time). Since I've never really cared what people around me were eating - since my own tastes are spicier, hotter, and more veg-oriented than most of my relatives and peer group - I haven't really thought about the desire to be "normal" in dining choices. But it's there as an influence. I might start asking about that in my food interviews.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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