Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hillbillies vs. Rednecks: What’s the Difference?

One winter in Chamonix, a gaggle of Canadians and a Kiwi moved into the apartment next door to mine. They threw a lot of parties, as one does when one is young and living in the literal mother of all ski towns. Once, I was at one of those parties, and someone on the other side of the room shouted, “Hey, redneck!”

I turned around and shouted, “What?”

Everyone laughed because, to my surprise, they weren’t talking to me.

I grew up in West Virginia, where a lot of people I know use the terms redneck and hillbilly interchangeably. But I’m here to tell you that there’s a difference.

I once watched a program on The History Channel (I think) that characterized rednecks as country people from the coastal plains of the American Southeast, and hillbillies as the descendants of Irish, Scots-Irish, German, Italian, and Swiss immigrants who settled in Appalachia. See, you have to be bred in Appalachia to be a hillbilly; you have to be from the hills, it’s right in the name. It’s really nothing to do with your lifestyle or beliefs or political leanings or level of education or whether or not you wear shoes. It’s an ethnic term, sort of.

A stereotypical redneck is a white person from the rural American South; there’s some debate as to the origin of the term, which I’ve discussed before. It may have originally referred to poor whites who worked outside in the sun, but I know someone (and I have a good idea who) is going to jump up in here to point out that it actually refers to unionized coal miners who wore red bandanas around their necks to identify themselves during the West Virginia Mine Wars.

These days, the word redneck has evolved, as words tend to do, to mean any country person, or even any person who identifies with traditionally rural values, or enjoys traditionally rural activities, or even just thinks they would, because it turns out you don’t have to live in the country to be a redneck. You can be a redneck and live in the city, especially if it’s a Southern city like Atlanta or Houston. You don’t even have to be American. I spent a couple of weeks in Finland several years ago, and the people I met there were enormous rednecks. When I told them this, they swelled with pride, which is a key requirement.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #121: Procrastination

I’ve been putting the meow in homeowner since May 2012, and here’s what I’ve learned: To be a homeowner is to put things off. In my garage is a stack of flooring material that I bought two years ago, but haven’t installed yet, for example.

Psychology Today defines procrastination as “a downward spiral of negative emotions that deter future effort” which…sounds about right, actually. According to an Atlantic article appropriately titled, “The Procrastination Doom Loop and How to Break It,” procrastination is all about feelings. I, for example, don’t feel like tearing up the carpet in two rooms and replacing it with laminate flooring, so I find other things to do instead, like sleep and pity myself.

Procrastination is a circular problem. The more you procrastinate, the more “anxious, guilty, and even ashamed” you feel, so the more you procrastinate, so the more you hate yourself, and so on. While modern advances in technology have made procrastination, like so many other things, easier than ever, procrastination has a long and storied history. As long ago as 700 BCE, the Greek poet Hesiod rails against procrastination in “Works and Days”: Do not put your work off till to-morrow and the day after; for a sluggish worker does not fill his barn…a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin.


If you, like me, are prone to procrastination, you’re in good company; the great Leonardo da Vinci completed only 20 paintings in his lifetime, instead filling his spare time with doodle after fantastic doodle of helicopters, stunningly accurate maps, and naked men doing jumping jacks. It took him 16 years to finish the Mona Lisa because he worked on it for four years, then stopped working on it, then worked on it again, and…well, you get the idea.

English writer and possible founder of the English novel Samuel Johnson took seven years to produce an edition of Shakespeare’s plays, which job he was assigned in 1756, because he got another idea and got distracted. OH SAMMY, I KNOW THE FEELING. That distracting idea became his collection of essays, The Idler. Writers have always struggled with procrastination; some of us, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, get interrupted by an opium delivery, get high and forget to finish writing Kubla Khan. I would never do such a thing, of course. Instead, I’m more like Margaret Atwood – I put off writing until late in the day, then when I finally get around to it, I end up staying up half the night, then sleep late the next day and wake up feeling like crap, both physically and emotionally. But at least we know that procrastination can’t stop us from achieving great things; even the Dalai Llama admits that, as a student, he’d only work “in the face of a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline.” Then again, Dalai Llama-ing is, as I understand it, one of those careers that chooses you. Perhaps, the next time you’re stuck in the doom loop, remember some of the other famous procrastinators that have walked in your shoes: Saint Augustine, Bill Clinton, Victor Hugo, Frank Lloyd Wright, Franz Kafka, Marcus Aurelius, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

“But what,” you say, “should we do about procrastination?” Dear readers, what you need is a deadline, and here’s the thing: It has to be a deadline imposed from outside. Unfortunately for me, no one is going to march up in here and order me to finish my floors by a certain date, and don’t look at Jim, he knows what side his bread’s buttered on. If that’s not an option, you should convince yourself that the chore isn’t work. Hmmm, that doesn’t really sound like a feasible solution, either. What the hell, science.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Post Round-Up the First

I’ve been writing this blog for so long now that it’s depressing. Check out my previous Thanksgiving holiday posts:

When I got the idea to do this, I thought there’d be more Thanksgiving posts. In my defense, I’m not very good at being a blogger. I have commitment issues. I’ll round out the list with a (recently requested by one of my readers) list of previous Halloween-related posts:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How I Keep My Cats from Scratching the Crap Out of My Furniture

Ha ha, I don’t. I took my new kitten to the vet for his final round of booster shots the other day and the vet asked, with visible trepidation, “Are you thinking about declawing?”

I explained that I don’t believe in declawing and she sagged with relief. “Good,” she said, and smiled. “I don’t believe in it either.”

I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating: Declawing a cat is form of torture. When you get a cat declawed, they just chop off its toes halfway. It’s as if someone chopped off your fingers in between the first and second knuckle. And they don’t carefully remove them at the joint, either. They use a guillotine clipper, which is a surgical tool that operates like a cigar cutter, and they just chop the toes off. It causes all kinds of physical problems for the cat, like risk of infection and crippling arthritis, and psychological problems, too, because it leaves the cat unable to defend itself.

But anyway, I digress. Jim and I got a new couch recently, after our old couch collapsed during a party. The cats have already scratched the sh*t out of a two-seater Lazy Boy that was left in the house by a previous owner. I still keep it half out of a need for auxiliary seating and half because I keep hoping that the cats will focus their furious destructive energy on it instead of on the good furniture that I actually paid money for.

I mean, I also bought a giant cat tree for the cats. 

This freaking cat tree is as tall as I am, and I’m fairly tall for a woman. It’s bigger than some apartments I’ve had, and it incorporates no fewer than ten scratching posts. Now, it’s possible to train cats to scratch only specific things. When I only had Fatty, I had him trained pretty well, but then I got Max and he’s stubborn. No matter how many times I tell him “NO!” and squirt him with the water bottle, he just keeps doing what he wants to do. I’m 79% sure he’s pretending to be stupider than he is so I’ll let him get away with walking on the counters. He’s stubborn about that, too.

This beautiful douche.

The problem with that is that Fatty immediately decided, “Hey, if he gets to do whatever, I’m going to do whatever, too!” So now we’re back to the ripped and shredded square one.

I’ve tried putting cat repellent on Jim’s recliner, but the beautiful, stubborn douche still scratches it. After we got the couch, I bought some of these cat scratch guards to put on it:

I’ve been pondering them for years, but I’ve always been skeptical. They’re just strips of plastic that you pin to the corners of your sofa, chair, or ottoman, and they’re supposed to deter scratching. I always thought they’d just scratch the whole rest of the couch, instead. But neither Jim nor I wanted the new couch scratched up. It cost us $300, and we paid an extra $100 to have it delivered and the old couch taken away. We bought it at Big Lots, and they don’t deliver, but they gave us the number of a guy with a pickup truck, which is every big as questionable as it sounds. When I first agreed to the price, I thought I was getting ripped off, but that was before the dude and his two helpers spent the better part of an hour shoving it through my narrow, narrow doorway. They had to take the doors off, and one of the guys had to lie down on my stairwell in order to guide the couch up the stairs as the other two guys shoved from outside with all their might. It was worth $100, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, I digress. Jim and I didn’t want the cats scratching the new couch, so I ordered the cat scratch guards on Amazon right away. They came in a giant box with lots of padding, just in case the thin strips of flexible plastic might get broken in the mail.

“If the cats scratch up this couch…” Jim began, while I was showing him the cat scratch guards.

“I’m not getting them declawed,” I interrupted him, even though we'd already had this conversation.

“…then we’ll just have to buy secondhand couches from now on,” he continued.

But I’m happy to report that I applied the cat scratch guards to my couch over a week ago, and so far, they seem to be working. Even the beautiful douche hasn’t scratched the couch, which is just as well, because my next step is to fit him with Soft Paws, since he’s clearly the problem.

Then he'll look dainty, like this fellow.
~ Image by Myllissa on Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Got Fat, but That’s Okay

If you’ve been following along at home or know me in person, you’ve already noticed that, over the past few years, I got fat. I started getting fat when I stopped smoking cigarettes in 2012. I filled the void with food, which satisfies my ongoing need to put something in my mouth repeatedly. After the first fifteen pounds, I expressed concern about my weight gain to my doctor.

“You’d have to gain a hundred pounds for it to have the same effect on your health as smoking,” he assured me. He was confident, and pleased that I’d taken an important step towards better health. The poor fool didn’t realize I’d take it as a challenge.

Seriously, though, I didn’t mean to gain seventy pounds. It just kind of happened. Thirty pounds ago, I downloaded My Fitness Pal onto my phone and did a really good job of controlling my weight. Then I started grad school. I still did a pretty good job during the first semester. Then I met Jim, and started to put on happy fat. Then I lost my student ID and couldn’t get into the rec center to use the pool, and things went downhill from there. I was busy, and stressed out, and it turns out it’s really easy to eat while you’re studying and that eating is almost as soothing for the nerves as smoking cigarettes. Honestly, when Trump won the election I thought about taking up smoking again, but my friend Mark talked me out of it. “There’s no need to be piling on more bad things,” he said, so I kept not smoking and stayed fat.

But I don’t let it bother me. I figure if I’m going to make a major change related to my body, it’d better be “accepting it as it is,” because I wasn’t going to get better looking as I aged, anyway. My body is going to gradually deteriorate until it dies, and the sooner I accept that, the better off I am, probably. Mentally, at least.

Besides, I’m the good kind of fat. I’m Rubenesque. That means I still look good with my clothes off. Now, if I can just learn to pose for a photo without planting my feet super wide like a sumo wrestler, I’ll be set.

If there’s one thing that I regret about getting fat, it’s that it took me so long to realize I was attractive in the first place. I was thin and super hot from the ages of fourteen to thirty, at least, but I didn’t actually notice I was super hot until I was like, twenty-eight. I walked around thinking I was average-looking, at best, which is sad when you think about all the money I could’ve made as a stripper. Guess I wasted that opportunity. Way to go, Thin Me.

On the other hand, it’s in the past. Thin Me had some obvious self-esteem issues, which Fat Me has addressed by eating them. In all seriousness, I’m a lot happier as a fat person than I ever was as a thin person. I suffered from non-diabetic hypoglycemia, the cure for which is apparently gaining about thirty pounds (I’ve always been an overachiever). For years I was moody and really unhappy a lot of the time, and I never realized until I got fat how much of that was linked to my constantly-crashing blood sugar levels because, no matter how much I ate, I could never seem to gain weight.

Guess I solved that problem.

Monday, November 13, 2017

What Are You Wearing to the Nuclear Holocaust?

As of the writing of this post, Trump has been in office for 297 days, and presumably will be in office for another 1,162 days, although I don’t think anyone, at this point, expects him to last that long. Maybe he’ll be ousted. Maybe he’ll quit. Maybe he’ll be arrested. Maybe all three of those things will happen. Or maybe he’ll just drop dead – the man is 71 years old, and according to tweets I’ve read, Trump weighs 345 pounds, eats nothing but McDonald’s, never exercises, and only sleeps four hours a night because he has to burn the candle at both ends to make time for all his angry tweeting.

Ah, yes, the angry tweeting. Just the other day, Trump used his Twitter platform to publicly antagonize Kim Jong-un some more, calling him “short and fat”:

As a proud Millennial on the Oregon Trail cusp, I thought I’d seen the last of fearing nuclear annihilation, but I guess I was wrong. We’re in a race against time. Can we make it to the end of this presidency before nuclear war breaks out? Probably not. So, it’s time to plan your nuclear holocaust wardrobe.

I’ve watched several Netflix documentaries about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One woman interviewed had been exposed to the bomb’s searing flash of light, but she told documentary filmmakers that the long trousers and sleeves she’d had on that day had protected her skin from the burn others in her air raid shelter had experienced.

If you’re outside when the bomb falls and you manage to survive the initial blast, you should take shelter immediately, and if you have access to a shower, you should remove and dispose of your clothing and take a decontamination shower. Wash your skin gently, to avoid inflicting new cuts, tears, or irritation, and shampoo to remove nuclear fallout from your hair, but don’t use conditioner, as this can cause the radiation to bind to your hair.

Of course, once you’ve survived the initial blast and fallout, you’ll have to make a new life in the irradiated hellscape that once was our great nation, or, like, move, or something. FEMA recommends wearing long sleeves, long pants, and sturdy shoes. I recommend wearing a helmet of some kind, and leather jacket, if you have one, or a denim jacket covered in duct tape if you don’t, because there might be zombies, or Mad Max-style wastelanders, or bears or something.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

My Eyebrows Are Probably Out of Style by Now

Guys, I have a confession to make – I have a unibrow. Unchecked, it crawls across my face like a long, fat wooly bear presaging an especially harsh winter.

I don’t know if I always had a unibrow; I didn’t notice it until I got old enough for thick, dark hair to start growing in all kinds of strange and exciting new places, including on top of my toes and out of my belly button. At the age of twelve or thirteen, I started plucking the band of thick hair that grew across the bridge of my nose.

“If you pluck that too much, it’ll never grow back,” my mother would say in a warning tone that nevertheless gave me hope for the future.

But, as I’ve already established, my mother wasn’t interested in teaching me how to, as they say, “be a woman,” so, aside from the removal of enough hair to grant them plural status, my eyebrows remained unshaped. This changed one day when I was sixteen. I went to the hair salon a few blocks from my house to get my hair trimmed; I wore it in a short, masculine cut that my mother approved of, but that wasn’t well-suited to my curls.

“I’m going to wax your eyebrows,” the hairdresser announced as he snipped away. I met his gaze in the mirror. He looked concerned.

“Uh, I only have enough for the haircut,” I said.

“I’ll do it for free,” the man replied, too quickly.

So this hairdresser, whose name I didn’t know, applied hot wax to my face using an implement that looked a lot like a tube of lip balm. I won’t say that getting my eyebrows waxed was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced; in fact, on the scale of painful things that have happened to me, getting my eyebrows waxed is near the bottom, above mild-to-moderate sunburn but below getting stung by the same wasp twice. 

Once the man had applied and then ripped away both little strips of fabric, the hairdresser returned my glasses and invited me to regard my new visage in his hand mirror. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see what my new eyebrows looked like; my eyes were watering too heavily. But I must have feigned delight convincingly, because the man said, “You can groom them at home with a pair of tweezers. Just always remember to pluck from the bottom of your eyebrows, never from the middle or the top.”

I walked the few blocks home, eyes still watering. When I let myself into the house, my mother looked up from her book and gasped. “What happened to your eyes!?” she said.

“I got my eyebrows waxed,” I replied.

My mother cocked her head to one side. “I think you’re having an allergic reaction,” she said.

I went into the bathroom and squinted into the mirror at my now quite-inflamed eyes. “I’m never getting my eyebrows waxed again,” I said to my mother, who was hovering in the bathroom door.

And I never did. But once the swelling went down, I found that it was easy enough to maintain the shape myself with a pair of tweezers, just like the hairdresser had said. For years, I followed the hairdresser’s advice, always plucking from the bottom of my eyebrows, and never the middle or the top. But in recent years, I’ve had to start plucking the occasional gray eyebrow hair. 

Besides, it turns out that puberty is just the start of novel hair growth adventures in this life. I’ve also started to grow really long eyebrow hairs – which I feel the need to pluck before they can grow more than an inch long. I used to know a guy with really long, bushy eyebrows, like Poirot’s mustache but if he wore it on his forehead. That’s not the look I’m going for.