Hey gals, let’s all go edit Wikipedia!

Today the New York Times reported that less than 15% of Wikipedia’s 100,000+ contributors are women. That’s a sobering thought when you consider that a Wikipedia article is usually in the top three hits when you google anything. It’s even more sobering when you consider the fact that, as a result of this bias, Wikipedia articles are heavily skewed in favor of more, um, manly topics. For example, “A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.”

Sounds like a call to action, ladies!

Have you ever edited a Wikipedia article? Do you have an account there? No, me neither. So went and created one. Moander28, that’s me. And then I went and looked at that friendship bracelet article, thinking that would be an appropriate place to start closing the gender gap. And guess what? I found a typo! A missing period! Yay! Something to edit!

So I bravely clicked on the edit tab. Whoa. Can I just say, this is not exactly user friendly. Maybe there is a reason why boys are more interested than girls in getting their hands dirty here.

I don’t know about you but I find that just a tad intimidating. Maybe Wikipedia could take a leaf out of WordPress‘s book, hmmm? Anyway, notice the missing period after the word counselor? It’s the last sentence before the History and traditions section. Well, I typed in the period, marked “m” for minor edit, and hit save. I did it! I edited a Wikipedia article! I’m one of the elect almost-15% now!

How about you? Go on, edit an article, I double dog dare ya!

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Vent? You want me to VENT???

Most of the daily prompts have been stupid not really my thing, but this one: “What’s going on in your life right now that’s driving you nuts?” — oh ho, the timing could not be more perfect because I have a great big grievance welling up inside me. Here goes.

I am fucking sick and tired of being the only person who cares about stuff. There is only so much you can force another person to do.

Example. Over the years I have taken quite a bit of flak from my parents about being late for things. My parents believe it’s disrespectful to be late and so do I. Left to my own devices, I am on time. But I have three kids and a husband who none of them give a shit about punctuality. I can tell them we need to be there half an hour earlier than the actual time and we are still ten or twenty minutes late. And you should see me going hurry up, hurry up; put on your shoes; where’s your jacket; Hubby dear, this probably isn’t the best time to start that new project; no wait where are you going come back here we have to go to grandma and grandpa’s house — you get the picture. I can hustle and nag until my voice gives out but it’s like herding fucking cats. And then we arrive late and my mom gives me flak. Like I don’t already hate being late because she raised me well and I believe it’s rude to be late.

Actually, I’ve kind of made my peace with that situation. I have accepted the fact that I can’t herd cats. I’m not late for my own appointments, after all. No, I let my mom’s flak wash right over me because I am the duck and she is the water rolling off my back. So, I’m certainly not beating myself up over this, but it is still frustrating that I can’t make us be on time.

But now the same thing is happening at work. We have a big deadline suddenly looming that we’ve known about for months and I’ve been trying to get the information I need from the people who ought to have it, and I’ve been hustling and nagging and once again herding fucking cats. Do I care more about this than my boss? Is that the problem? Or am I not nagging properly? Or is it just my bad luck to be surrounded by people who mean well but can’t put two thoughts together in a linear fashion to save their lives?

And while it’s fine to be the duck with my mom, work is infinitely more complicated because we’re not just late for dinner. There are consequences to missing this deadline. And there are personalities and politics and complexities to this situation that I cannot even begin to describe, not least of which is the fact that I am very deeply emotionally invested in this endeavor.

What a mess of a post this is. Every bone in my body is going delete delete delete but what the hell I’m gonna hit publish NOW.

A guilty pleasure

Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries, by Molly Caldwell Crosby. This is a book about a truly hideous disease: epidemic encephalitis. It’s described in excruciating, gruesome detail. The symptoms, the desperate victims and their families, the heroic doctors working round the clock trying to discover its cause and cure… it’s grueling.

So why is this book so fun to read?

Well partly it satisfies that voyeuristic disease of the month schadenfreude thing. You know what I’m talking about, you know you do.

And partly also, it’s the writing style. It doesn’t read like nonfiction. It reads like a lurid bestseller. At times, it goes overboard. With sentences that begin: “It was almost as if…” Now, sloppy writing like almost as if may be acceptable in trashy fiction, but for investigative journalism, not so much. Ditto, the detailed descriptions of weather, cloud formations, dappled sunlight streaming in the windows of doctors’ offices eighty years ago. Not only is that not necessary to our understanding of the disease, but it seriously detracts from the author’s credibility. I mean, come on. Was that in the patient’s chart???

Yeah, this book is definitely in the Guilty Pleasure genre. Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing. Which I… um… do.

Not random, but sort of amusing

Well here it is, another day, another blank wordpress screen. What to write, what to write…

I was thinking of posting some random facts about myself, as many bloggers like to do when inspiration runs dry. However, I have a problem with the idea of random. If I were to post some truly “random” facts about myself, like if I had every single fact about myself written on a folded piece of paper in a big bowl and I reached in blindly and pulled out a few? Ewwww. Probably not such a good idea.

Yeah, people don’t really mean random when they say random. What they mean is amusing, or quirky, or not related to anything in particular. I can do that.

Here’s one: I live next door to my dentist. Not only that, but I think this is hilarious and every time the topic of dentistry, or even just teeth, comes up in conversation I feel compelled to work it in somehow. Furthermore, we didn’t join her practice because she lives next door. It’s just a coincindence; my husband’s family has been a member of her practice since before she joined it. It’s convenient though. One time when my son chipped his tooth she examined him while standing in our shared driveway. You know what else? She gives out colossal amounts of candy at Halloween.

Smilla: first impressions

Well, four people voted on my poll and two of them voted for Smilla’s Sense of Snow, so that’s what I’m reading now. The poll was sort of silly, since I actually own all of these books and I can read them any time I want. But it was a fun excuse to try out the poll thing anyway.

Anyway, Smilla. I am on page 68. So far, so good. My BFF read this recently and when she was about halfway through she told me I had to read this book and I would love it and the main character actually reminded her of me. Hmmm. She is my BFF and all, and we do have pretty similar taste in books, but still. Bud at Older Eyes recently wrote a hilarious post about how he finds himself “repelled by other people’s enthusiasms” — and I have the same problem.

On the other hand, when someone you’ve known since age 10 tells you the main character reminds her of you, well, that’s not to be taken lightly.

So, Smilla. First of all, I hate her name. Try saying it out loud: “Smilla.” Hard not to giggle and feel like a jerk for being such a stupid provincial monoglot.

Other than that? She thinks math is beautiful (so do I!) and she craves solitude (so do I, oh so do I!). She’s a sad, tortured soul, though, and I hope I’m not too much like her.

The story is unfolding very nicely, with a perfectly-proportioned mix of present action and backstory. The prose, translated from Danish, is solid and evocative. The suspense is building. The setting is coming into sharp focus (Copenhagen, mostly, with detours into Greenland). It’s a cold, wintry book: a sharp contrast from my previous read, which was set in Haiti. Here’s a sample:

I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself. Cantor illustrated the concept of infinity for his students by telling them that there was once a man who had a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and the hotel was fully occupied. Then one more guest arrived. So the owner moved the guest in room number 1 into room number 2; the guest in room number 2 into number 3; the guest in 3 into room 4, and so on. In that way room number 1 became vacant for the new guest.

What delights me about this story is that everyone involved, the guests and the owner, accept it as perfectly natural to carry out an infinite number of operations so that one guest can have peace and quiet in a room of his own. That is a great tribute to solitude.

Nice!

Normally I love

to click on the “New Post” link.  The site of a blank edit screen just waiting for my blather gives me quite an adrenaline rush. But tonight? Tonight I have a bit of a headache and I’ve been sort of sad today, too, thinking about the fact that it is Jacqueline du Pré’s birthday. She would have been 66.

Yes, it really does take a village!

U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin

An article called “Breast-Feeding: It Takes a Village to Help Moms Succeed” popped up on my facebook page like ten times today. I am a bit of a birth junky, see, and quite a few of my cronies are doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, and other assorted earthy crunchy types. And they were all sharing this article today.

To sum up: the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “call to action” for us all to do more to support nursing moms. Like employers should provide places to pump that aren’t bathroom stalls. Like hospitals should have lactation consultants on staff. Like maternity nurses should not automatically feed newborns formula or sugar water. Yeah!

Apparently I am in a pretty small minority (thirteen percent!) of moms who managed to continue breastfeeding their babies for at least six months. I nursed each of mine for around a year, give or take. I did have trouble getting started, especially with the first one. I did end up pumping at work. Pumping at work actually turned out to be one of the highlights of my day. Because my closest colleagues at that job happened to be a couple of carefree single guys fresh out of college and boy did it freak them out. Tee hee.

Anyway, I think this call to action is awesome.

Playing games

I love games! Word games, board games, card games, role-playing games, guessing games: I love them all. And I have noticed lately that not only are games fun, but they can also be a vehicle for self-discovery. Surprising self-discovery.

We’ve been playing Settlers of Catan quite a lot lately. In case you’re not familiar, it’s kind of like Monopoly except instead of Atlantic City you’re on an island; and instead of real estate you’re trading natural resources; and instead of building houses and hotels you’re building roads, settlements, cities. We recently got the “Cities & Knights” version which among other things adds barbarian invasions into the mix. It’s kind of interesting. You know the barbarians are coming, and you can beat them back if you have enough knights activated.

The first time we played this, I surprised myself by my own reaction to the coming invasion. “We need to be prepared! We need a strategy! We need to start planning NOW,” said I, smacking the back of one hand into the palm of the other. And I immediately began stocking up, saving, planning, getting ready to meet the barbarian horde. The player with the most knights gets an extra point for being the “Defender of Catan” and boy did I crow when I got that card.

This advance planning thing? This is not me. I don’t have a retirement account. I haven’t written a will. I make all my most important decisions in thirty seconds or less. I don’t even know what’s for dinner tomorrow. Where did this come from???

Another thing happened when we played Settlers. Like I said, I whooped and crowed when I got my Defender of Catan title. My husband commented that he himself didn’t have any knights, none at all, because he is a pacifist. He was joking — making an excuse for his lack of foresight (because he’s no better at planning than I am) — but for some reason it really pissed me off.

“Yeah, people like you can afford to be pacifists because people like me are defending your land,” I spat. “My armies are keeping you safe. Without me you wouldn’t have the luxury to call yourself a pacifist.” I said pacifist like it was a swear word and suddenly I felt all this sympathy for the military-industrial complex. Ok, this is really not me. I subscribe to The Nation, ya know? Where did this come from???

Papillons

If I had to pick just one piece of classical music to listen to over and over again for the rest of my life it would probably be Papillons by Robert Schumann. I first got to know it when I was a teenager and my sister was learning to play it. Which means that I heard it over and over and over again, each section. Fast, slow, hands separate, hands together, with the metronome, without the metronome, with the music, without the music, a measure at a time, straight through from beginning to end. My sister was a pretty good pianist, and she was a very good practice-er. (Those two things don’t always go together, btw.)

Papillons is a gorgeous piece of music. It consists of a bunch of short movements that are played all as one, so it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the next begins. And they are very closely intertwined, with melodies in one showing up in another, not quite a theme and variations but close. It’s very romantic and deep, and you can listen to it forever and ever and never get sick of it.

There’s one thing that always puzzled me, though. Why “papillons”? Papillons means butterflies in French, and I’m sorry but this music does not even remotely remind me of butterflies. It’s got some very loud and thunderous parts, and even the lighter softer parts are just… not… butterfly-like. Yes I know Schumann was insane and all, but still. Here’s my favorite pianist, Murray Perahia, playing a section from the middle. Tell me, do you hear any butterflies in there?

And then I went to a recital given by a music school professor who played the piece and lectured from the piano *swoon* and I found out the real scoop. Are you ready?

Schumann based this piece on a chapter of a novel! It is supposed to depict a masquerade ball. If I recall correctly, it takes place in a gigantic mansion, and the hero goes from room to room observing people in different costumes — kind of like the way butterflies metamorphose from caterpillars, you know — and getting progressively drunker and drunker. By the end of the piece, which ends not with a bang but with a very charming musical whimper, he is passed out on the floor and the sun is rising.

Ridin’ that train, high on hypnagogic imagery

When I was fresh out of college I used to ride a commuter train several times a week, 30 minutes each way. I was always exhausted during that phase of my life, and after a while I figured out how I could bring on a sort of dream-like state, which my father the psych professor tells me is called hypnagogic imagery.

This is what I would do: I would sink down into the seat, close my eyes, empty my brain, and simply focus on the feeling of the train’s forward movement. If I could really sink in and feel nothing but the movement of the train, I would soon be able to open my eyes again and look out the window of the train. Yes, that was the goal: to look out the window. Because when I was in that twilight state I could look out the window and see landscapes that weren’t really there. Open farmland, forests, mountains. Sometimes in surreal psychedelic colors. And most interestingly, a part of me was always aware that really I was still in the dreary suburbs. That really my eyes were still closed. That really I was half-asleep.

My life at that time mostly sucked. I wouldn’t go back to it for anything. But I do miss those train rides.