If you frequent the comment box, you’re familiar with Ken Rolph, our resident Australian (actually, he’s residing in Australia and we all gather wherever via the magic of the internet.) He posted this to a forum we both belong to, and I asked permission to post it here, which he granted. I think all of us can relate to the tech-woes.
I have just effectively had a quarter of the year trashed by big companies and their technology. Early in January I got my MacBook Pro upgraded 2 system jumps, and there are still things I can’t do. The helpful Apple Centre geniuses mentioned that this machine would be declared “vintage”, by which they meant “buy something new or go away”.
My ISP was bought by a large telecom and shut down. We naturally had to move to something else, so on 15 January we signed with a new, large telecom for phone and internet. They would supply a cable modem, wonderfully fast and fully featured. We didn’t have a cable, or even a pipe, so we had to go through all that. A technician finally put a cable into our study, leaping from the skirting board to the desk in an elegant arc that would be easy to trip over. He turned the modem on and went on his way with a cheerful, “Just start up your browser. It’s all automatic.”
Which was partly true. The modem took control of our portal and tried to access the registration page. Then came back an error message that said we couldn’t register at that time, and to try again tomorrow. In cheerful innocence I believed it at first.
For the next 45 days our browser would do nothing else but go around this loop. We called for help and went through another loop. The person on the end of the phone (in the Philippines or India) could not solve the problem. They would pass it on to an activation team, and someone would call me back the next day. They never did. No one could or would explain what the problem was. At the end a technician admitted that there was a problem with the new software that was trapping thousands of new users in this loop.
Unwired was to shut down on 28 February, so we were getting a little desperate. On 22 February, out of the blue, our local federal member of parliament rang up. She was a student of Jan’s and wanted her help in a local project. There’s a federal election coming up and this makes political parties a bit ready to connect with local voters.
We mentioned our problem with the telecom. The MP said to drop photocopies of our dealings down to the electorate office on Monday morning. Which we did. That afternoon the phone began to ring with apologetic telecom technicians, activation team leaders, official apologisers. We had 6 returned phone calls over the next two days. On 28 February, at midday, a technician turned up (not at the appointed time, of course) with a new user name and password scrawled in texta on a piece of cardboard. He did something to the modem and we were away and registered in an instant.
The next couple of weeks were spent updating our online presence. This creeps up on you over the years. I had a two-page list of places where my email address was used in a meaningful way. It took a long time to update because of all those passwords. The most security conscious financial institution kept me going for an afternoon. Log in and add a new password. Wait for an email telling me that I’ve added a new email and need to confirm it. Change the new email to be the primary one. Wait for an email . . . Delete the old email. Wait for an email . . .
Last week we sat down to calmly survey the damage and look for the way ahead. Exactly 3 months ago we had a home network linking seamlessly 4 computers and 2 printers. Relatives and friends could come with their laptops, phones, pads and I could just add their MAC number to our access list and all would work slowly but reliably. Now nothing worked with anything else. So I pulled it all apart and put the cables in a drawer and started again. One cable modem wirelessly to one Mac, with a colour printer plugged directly to it. The rest of the stuff didn’t fit into the picture at all. So we thought we would get some new technology. Jan bought an iPad mini. I got out an iPod which I had acquired some time ago and never been able to use because of software incompatibilities. Now it worked. We set up Jan with her own personal email address. Up till now she had to use the school one or mine. Of course the incoming/outgoing mail settings were different from the leaflet that came with our new modem, but I was able to read the account the technician had set up on my machine.
Then, in the snail mail, we got a threatening letter from our new telecom wanting to cut off our service because we hadn’t paid any of our accounts. What accounts? It seems that although the technical department could not give us internet access for 45 days, the billing department efficiently sent our January and February bills to an email address we never had and are never likely to have. I got that sorted out.
On Friday afternoon I got a call from a bubbly voice henchperson of our telecom. She said they had noticed that I just changed my email address and wondered if everything was okay and working properly. I gave her a sardonic account of the past three months. She didn’t seem the slightest bit disturbed. Either she was used to hearing the story, or she hadn’t yet done the official grovelling apologiser course. Inevitably we got to the date of birth question. She said I sounded younger than that and that my attitude to technology reminded her of her dad. She said it might be a generational difference. She said we was twenty . . . well, you know what I’m going to say. The driving force underlying all art and commerce of Western Civilisation — the energetic 23-year-old woman. I ended up agreeing that the new service was all fabulous. Later I thought about not being like someone’s dad and 1967 — a great year for music.
Saturday. I got some Beach Boys music for the iPod and went into the garden. The darn device locked itself on CoverFlow and wouldn’t shift. So I couldn’t change the volume. So I couldn’t hear above the noise of the lawnmower. Jan called for help with her new iPad, which had gone to a blank blue screen and wouldn’t shift. I said, “I’ve had it with technology. I’m going to read a book.” So I went and sat of the teak seat under the shade of the melaleuca tree in the back garden. Later Jan bought me a cup of tea, and very unkindly pointed out that there was a contradiction between escaping technology and reading a Kindle DX. I said that’s not technology. That works.
My new definition of technology. Offers you heaven: leaves you in hell. You can’t get it to a stable point where you can just use it for work and play. Someone has to keep moving the bits. It’s like a carpenter having to spend all their time fitting new handles to a hammer head and never getting to use it to hit a nail. I said to myself, I wish I still had a typewriter.
Sunday the grandkids came and I was thoroughly escaping technology. In the garage I found some old boxes we hadn’t got around to in our pre-retirement cleanup. I pulled out a vinyl LP of Also Sprach Zarathustra, which was #1 on the hit parade around the time when the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey was showing. I asked #1 grandson what it was. He replied with all the confidence of his 4 years that it was a DVD. I hear that cheap turntables are available again.
Also in the box were the last few audio cassettes we still have. One was a large wraparound plastic pack containing 6 cassettes of the Beach Boys; the Capitol Years. I started listening to it in the afternoon. It reminded me a earlier times when I thought things were possible. There used to be a booklet with it. I wondered if I could find a copy still around. After all, we have this wonderful internet stuff which contains all human knowledge. So I googled. I couldn’t find the booklet. I couldn’t find any mention at all the cassette version. A Wikipedia page mentioned a 6 LP and a 4 CD set. Frequently I find that information on the internet is inaccurate, misleading or simply missing. Of course it only contains what people put there.
Over supper Jan and I considered what to do. Then we remembered that we are old and rich, so we said, right, we’ll just buy new stuff. After she went to bed I sat holding the Beach Boys cassettes and thinking about the inadequacies of the internet and its many betrayals. It only contains what people put there. But wait, I’m a people! So I signed up to be a Wikipedia contributor and made my first addition.
This morning I sat pondering what to do with the old technology. Then I realised that I do have a typewriter. There is a functioning Macintosh and a functioning laser printer, which work together. All my problems had been with connectivity. I could still write and print out things for editing. And I can cable the two Macs together and pass stuff via the drop boxes.
One day, perhaps, I can get back to a point where I can use all this technology to do actual work.
I wanna be her when I grow up January 22, 2013Posted by philangelus in pensive.
Tags: blindness, elderly, resiliency
Sorry I posted such a sad story yesterday. Let me tell you a less-sad story so maybe you’ll keep coming back.
This woman’s name I don’t remember, but my dispatcher said I’d be bringing her to “the meeting of the blind,” something I later learned was a monthly occurrence.
I ended up at a trailer park on the border of Angeltown and Nowhere At All, with excellent directions. I loved when they gave me directions better than “There’s a tree on the corner — you’ll turn a few blocks before that.” Try to imagine life in the days before Google Maps could get you anywhere — actually, imagine Apple Maps after it’s belted half a bottle of bourbon. Anyhow, this woman gave me quaint landmarks like street names, and directions like “left” and “right” instead of “it’s around there somewhere.” I pulled into her driveway behind a Monstrously Old Brown Car.
She told me her story as we drove: her husband had died a couple of years ago, and afterward, she had gone blind.
She did exactly what anyone would do in that situation, of course. She organized a city-wide support group for blind senior citizens.
That was how this woman spent her days now: on the phone organizing support group meetings and telephone-counseling the elderly who were losing their vision. Right. She was living on her own even though I believe she had family in the area who wanted her to live with them. She apologized for getting a ride from me, but her son had to work. She told me how stubborn the city hall folks were about providing more elderly transportation services and how they kept limiting public transportation. I could tell City Hall would be her next target.
Two huge losses in a few years, and yet she was so upbeat.
When I brought her back home, she pointed to the Monstrously Old Brown Vehicle. “That’s my car.” And then she added, “I can’t bear to sell it. That would be admitting I’m never going to drive again.”
Blind. Never driving again. Good call. Just don’t admit it, and you’ll be fine. And she was.
I understand that kind of spirit doesn’t come out of nowhere. She’d cultivated her resiliency over a lifetime, somehow, day by day. But you know what? When I grow up, I wanna be like her.
The ghost of her memory January 21, 2013Posted by philangelus in pensive.
“I’ll be your driver today, Mrs. Penn,” I said when she answered the door, this tiny white-haired woman with a nasty dog at her heels.
She grinned and said, “It’s Miss, not Missus, and you can call me Shirlee.”
She’d grown up with an unusually-spelled name back in the days when you just didn’t do that. (I’ve changed it, by the way — a google search on her real name turns up her, and only her.) Over time, as I drove her to various appointments, I learned more about her life, how she’d been born in that same house where I’d picked her up, how she’d never married — and bits and pieces I found myself fitting together even when she herself didn’t. Relentlessly cheerful, she never spoke badly of her family, and I didn’t yet know the word “toxic.” I knew she was alone, but I also knew she had family in the area. I met her sister once, a bitter woman who showed up only because a doctor wanted a family member there.
Shirlee annoyed me sometimes, and I didn’t let it show. She didn’t get why I wanted to stick to a schedule, or why she shouldn’t spend twenty minutes in the house after saying “I’ll be one minute — I just need to get my purse.” She liked that I brought a baby with me to her appointments. At some point, I believe her nephew moved in with her, into that crumbling house crammed with a lifetime of junk and darkness.
I don’t know why I’m thinking of her. The ghost of her memory came to me while I was knitting another shawl.
It would have been Christmas 1999 that I bought her a gift. It wasn’t much — a pretty sachet and some scented soaps, and then I wasn’t sure how to get it to her. But of course, God looks out for fools, drunks, the United States of America, and me: the dispatcher called a week before Christmas with a same-day appointment, so I tucked the gift in the back seat. After her appointment, Shirlee asked me to stop at Walgreens, and I figured she wanted to get a prescription. No, she spent an interminable forever wandering the aisles and then bought a gianormous teddy bear for one of her nieces or nephews. Irritated, I still helped her back to the car with a smile and an assurance that no, I really had nothing else to do today.
When we got to her house, she gave Kiddo 1 the teddy bear. He hugged it, and I thanked her and said she hadn’t had to do it, and then I reached into the back and handed over her gift and card.
She said, “Oh, you didn’t have to — ” and then stopped. It was wrapped. There was a card. Her eyes widened. “You didn’t know I was going to give him that!” And in that moment, she realized I’d actually bought a gift for her, planned it out and meant to do it.
And she started to cry.
I felt like garbage afterward, that maybe this lonely woman got one Christmas gift that year, and it was a lousy sachet and some soap. Wendy told me, “At least she got something,” and my Patient Husband said, “You can’t make up for a lifetime of unkindness.” But I never expected her to cry.
I just felt so helpless.
Some time later, it might have been my last trip driving her when she asked if we could go visit her old school house, so we wandered down this rural road I’d never been, in a backwoods between two thriving towns; widing alongside a lake, she told me about how cold it used to be to walk a couple miles to a one-room schoolhouse, told me about woodstoves and other students. And then after we found the spot her school used to stand, I dropped her off at home, and I don’t think I ever saw her again.
I did go to her wake. Her nasty sister glared at me, like how dare someone come to the wake because they liked Shirlee. As my Patient Husband said, you can’t make up for a lifetime of unkindness.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of that teddy bear.
The way things open and close January 1, 2013Posted by philangelus in family, pensive.
Tags: cats, death, pets
She arrived in our house after we’d been married a few months, part mistake and part fate the way good things always are.
We had seen teeny-tiny kittens in the pet store, so I went to the animal shelter to ask if there were any laws about selling kittens too young to be separated from their mother. The shelter folks said no, but I looked at the cats. She was there, newly turned in after someone found her wandering around a parking lot in downtown Ithaca. Out of the cage, she stood on my Patient Husband’s shoulder just like our goofy kitten did, so I put our name on a list, and a week later they called.
The two cats got along great, but that was seventeen years ago. Our family has transformed from me and my Patient Husband living in a terrarium with two kittens…to seven angels, four kids, and up to as many as eight cats for six teeth-clenching weeks one summer. Stormy died two years ago. Last year we acquired the brain-damaged kitten (because every household needs a furry beast that will never grow up, a furry beast that finds twist-ties wherever they hide and plays with them on your bed in the middle of the night.)
She hadn’t been doing well, and the vet said there were two separate problems. She lost weight, and in the last week, she looked skeletal. She still was in good spirits, but she couldn’t jump on the bed any longer. Whenever I went into the bathroom, she’d follow because that was her domain, and she’d look at me expectantly as if waiting for something good, but she didn’t want food. Or cold water. Or her treat. Nor even to sit on the toilet lid, her kitty-throne.
On Sunday night, Kiddo2 and I sat up with her, petting her, brushing her, talking about her. She purred, and in the morning she was still with us. She spent the day in her basket by the window, then moved to her spot under the bed, and sitting underneath where I was reading, she died.
God answered our prayers: her death was peaceful and quiet, and the ground wasn’t so frozen we couldn’t dig a grave. I carried her basket outside, and we laid her in the ground wrapped in her blanket. Stormy’s ashes had been waiting for two years in a locked box in a plastic bag sealed with a twist-tie, and we sprinkled them over her now.
Back inside, I set the basket in its place in front of the window. So much for the physical realities of death. I sat in bed to knit and feel miserable.
Orion, our brain-damaged kitten, went to the basket and sniffed around it, then pounced. His head came up out of the basket, and in his mouth he had a twist-tie: the twist-tie that had been on the bag of Stormy’s ashes. And he began to bat it around.
I guess there’s a lesson somewhere in there if you care to find it, that death and life are intermingled in ways we don’t truly understand — pain and play, youth and age, endings and beginnings. But I didn’t have the energy to find them. Instead I just watched the kitten play with a twist-tie, unaware of the way things open and the way things close.
I wouldn’t have gone back either November 22, 2012Posted by philangelus in pensive, religion.
I have a question: Did Jesus like people to follow the rules?
Jesus said that not one jot of the law would pass away, and he certainly followed the rules himself (see the bit about paying the Temple tax) but there were times he didn’t (picking heads of grain on the Sabbath). But what about breaking the rules he’d set out?
I’m a little flamboyant with the phrase ‘breaking the rules’ though, so I’ll just cut to the chase. Luke 16 shows us ten lepers who ask Jesus to heal them. Jesus doesn’t say he’s going to do it; he just tells them to go show themselves to the priests (which sounds a lot like “fill these stone jars with water” and “bring it to the steward” because at no point does he say “and then a miracle occurs.”) And they go.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, on the way there, they notice they’re healed, and one of them turns back to go tell Jesus thank you. Jesus says, “Weren’t all ten made whole?” and asks why only the foreigner (a Samaritan) came back to thank him.
All my life, when I’ve heard that story, I’ve resolved to be more thankful. And the last time, I realized, that’s not the point at all.
The point was, nine of them followed the rules and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. The one who didn’t was the one raised outside the Jewish system, the Samaritan, who probably didn’t care so much for the rules of Jewish society as much as he cared, “Sweet! I’m healthy again!”
We don’t know that the other nine weren’t going to track back and find Jesus to thank him after they did what he said to do. But I can tell you right now that if it were me that happened to, that I would go and do everything Jesus had told me to do. And yes, a large part of that would be for fear that he’d take away the good thing if I didn’t complete the task he’d set me. (And no, he didn’t. God doesn’t take the gifts away if you’re insufficiently thankful.) But also because, well, when God tells you to do something — you do it.
I’ve read about Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt for turning back to look at a burning Sodom. Would I want to be turned back into a leper? No. Therefore, if Jesus said, “Go show yourself to the priests,” there I would have been, showing myself to the priests. And then I’d go over to Burdick Chocolates to pick up a little thank you gift for Jesus to show him just how happy I was.
So what did Jesus expect, I wonder? Didn’t he want people to do what he said?
Kind of a scratch-your-head moment for your friendly neighborhood rules-conscious Philangelus.
The perfect parent October 11, 2012Posted by philangelus in family, pensive, religion.
Back when I had Kiddo1, my mother told me not to try being a perfect mother, but instead to be a good-enough mother. Since there are no perfect mothers, you’d pretty much kill yourself trying to live up to the standard. The advice sounds good, and I think the theory is sound, but of course we never know what’s good-enough. You can always find a way you fell short.
At church, the homily was about God as a perfect parent, and the priest (who, I might add, has no biological children) said something about how we can see glimmers of God’s perfect parenting in the parenting we see around us. My reaction to that is always to compare myself to “a perfect parent” and of course we get the big “SURVEY SAYS….X.”
Today, though, it struck me: when I picture a “perfect parent,” I also picture a perfect child. These perfect parents in my head are painting at the kitchen table, or doing crafts, or going for long walks in the park, and the child is pliant, clean, cheerful, well-rested. I don’t picture the perfect parent dealing with a child who’s screaming “I HATE YOU ALL!” because he can’t find his left sneaker, or a child who’s still on the couch twenty minutes after saying she’ll set the table. I’m certainly not picturing the perfect parent dealing with a child who’s destroying someone’s property during a meltdown or being physically violent.
If God is a perfect parent, and none of us are perfect…well, the conclusion here is that I’m missing the point. That the state of the child is not a verdict on the state of the parenting. Because if God is the parent to us all, and people are people (think of the person who infuriates you the most, or the person whose behavior leaves you shaking your head) then there’s something more to perfect parenting than rearing perfect children with their loving smiles and their clean clothes and their crafts at the kitchen table. In other words, perfection is in the loving response to the child rather than the child as a product.
I haven’t processed this yet. Feel free to tell me where I’ve missed the boat.
When a cliche turns backward September 26, 2012Posted by philangelus in pensive.
About a week ago I came across the story of an aspiring rapper who died in a fatal car crash. The driver was drunk. What made his story all the worse was that right before he died, the guy had posted to Twitter that he and his pals were driving drunk, but you only live once.
YOLO. That’s the acronym: you only live once.
I’ve been seeing that a lot lately, usually useful for excusing stupid decisions. “I could either go to that concert or sleep the night before my SATs, but hey, YOLO.” Or ridiculously stupid decisions, like “We’re driving drunk because YOLO.”
And here’s my question: the more aware you are that you only live once, shouldn’t you be more careful with your life, rather than less?
How on earth did “this is precious because it’s the only one” come to mean “so ruin it”?
I understand not living your life encased in styrofoam. You only live once, so go take that art class. Fall in love, get your heart broken, but you only live once, so trust enough to love again. That kind of thing. You don’t want yourself cut off from the life you can have, the pure feelings, the excitement, the struggle and the feeling of triumph when you master something that was just too difficult for you to do before.
YOLO, so learn to play the violin, take driving lessons, visit Japan, adopt a couple of dogs, learn French.
But at the same time, since YOLO, protect the gift and treat it as something there’s only one of. And don’t drunk-text to Twitter that the car is taking curves at 120 miles per hour and your drunken friend can’t keep his tires on the ground, but that’s great because you only live once.
Five people died in that crash. Five people who only lived once and won’t again.
Comfort with limits July 26, 2012Posted by philangelus in pensive, religion.
I woke in the middle of the night with a realization about humility.
Humility in America gets a bum rap because we’re more used to “false humility.” You: You’re so beautiful! Beautiful Person: Oh, no, I’m terribly ugly. False humility isn’t a virtue as much as an annoyance, but the real deal is harder to pin down because it doesn’t call attention to itself.
I’ve been reading about saints and they have humility in a way that’s less the opposite of arrogance than it is the opposite of fear.
What if we define humility as comfort with our limits? Not laziness or not working toward our potential, but a deep acceptance that we have limits?
Arrogance strikes me as the belief that oneself should have no limits, that there should be nothing which the self is not capable of if only we work at it hard enough, or long enough, or conditions are right. It doesn’t have to be in-your-face, I’m-so-great arrogance, even though it normally takes that form. But the precondition of arrogance is that the self is something infinite in potential, that if you’ve set your mind to an accomplishment, it’s just a matter of time before you succeed. Therefore failure is an affront and something to be hidden. Therefore weakness is something to be denied. Therefore others’ weakness and failure is a threat to the self, because it’s an admission that oneself might have weaknesses and limits.
People who are truly humble have reached the conclusion that they’re finite and aren’t going to accomplish everything they want. They’ve accepted that failure, at least on occasion, is inevitable if they handle things on their own, and therefore they’re willing to ask for advice, willing to accept help, and are spontaneous with their gratitude. (You’ll notice that arrogant people seldom, if ever, say thank you. It’s not in their vocabulary because if they thank you, the thanks presumes you gave a useful service, whereas the arrogance presumes they never needed your service in the first place.)
Pauline Griffin, after reading one of my Seven Archangels novels, commented that the Archangel Michael was humble. I said to her, “No, he’s not humble. He just knows who he is and what he can do, and accepts that his strength comes from God.” She said, “And that’s humility.” See? Truly humble people slip it by you, even when you’re writing them.
As far as I know, there’s no law demanding perfection, either in politics or in religion. As Mother Teresa said, God never demands success, only that we keep trying. (Rough paraphrase.) It may be that accepting the existence of limits is the first step toward true humility.
gas receipts March 30, 2012Posted by philangelus in pensive.
Last week en route to the grocery store, I had a terrific story idea. In the parking lot, I scrawled some notes on the back of the closest available paper, a gas receipt, and shopped without fear of forgetting.
(Normally I have a pad/pen with me, btw. It was a casualty of transferring between bags.)
At home I transferred my notes into the computer and tossed out the paper. Why? Because I don’t do anything with the gas receipt after I get the gas. The machine asks me “receipt required? Yes/No” and I tell it yes. I take my receipt and throw it away.
About seven years ago, at the gas station in Angeltown, I pulled up to the pumps, ran my card through the slot, and fueled up. I replaced the pump, got back in the car, and pulled up to the street — and then the gas station attendant came up to me, panicked: Ma’am, you didn’t pay!
I pulled back in, and somehow he proved to my satisfaction that the card hadn’t read properly when I put it through, so I paid, and everything was fine.
But ever since then, whenever I get gas, I tell the machine I want a receipt, just so I can prove to myself that the machine registered my credit card.
Over the past seven years, how much paper have I wasted requesting receipts to insulate myself against the possibility of a card-read failure?
And here’s the other question: how many other ‘gas receipts’ do we all collect in our lives, useless wastes of time and effort and resources, just to ensure that we don’t get harmed by the mistakes of others?