Saturday, September 24, 2016

Toronto: Art on Art on Art

My hostess, Sandy, and I walked over to Toronto's Chinatown several times, either looking for groceries or passing through to somewhere else.

This little flyer art - what else does one call it? I don't know - was affixed to a shop window with outsized fresh apples, oranges, and grapes - surely juicy and sweet, all of them - alongside someone's graffitti.

I Love You Still. Chinatown, Toronto, Ontario. June 2016.

"I love you still."

The drawing and message, so simple, but troubling. Or sweet. Or sweetly troubling. Or troublingly sweet. I've looked at the drawing and its message many times. It continues to tantalize. Is it a message of love or a message of worrisome subjugation?

The juxtaposition of the provocative drawing and the straightforward fruit reminds me of a window in a cafe in Rodeo, New Mexico. Salvation? Or pie?

Salvation or pie?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Toronto: Brains

Brains in Toronto. June 2016.

Over the course of my series on Toronto, I think you may come to the same conclusion I did: Notwithstanding its tame veneer, there is something just a little whack about Toronto.

I present Exhibit A, to wit:

I've seen many cities and towns that sponsor art events that focus on a particular animal or object. A few examples:

But in Toronto, it's brains. Brains.

Brains in Toronto. June 2016.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Visit to Toronto: Preview

Toronto skyline from Toronto Islands. June 2016.

After my fine visit with friend Suzanne, in Washington, D.C., I flew directly to Toronto to visit my friend and former TLG colleague, Sandy, for two weeks.

Toronto was about:
  • Brains, hearts, uteri, and other organs
  • What Torontonians stand in line for
  • Universe-bending subway cars
  • Jaw-dropping architecture, with "jaw-dropping" useful in both the negative and positive senses
  • Islands
  • Music and dance
  • Being intercultural
  • Living spaces 
  • Getting to the airport
  • The inexplicable untidiness of going through US customs from Toronto
  • Tattoos 
  • A Georgian reunion

Toronto lighted sign. June 2016.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Washington, D.C.: Glasses Replacement

Well, this sounds like a boring post, doesn't it?

When you've got glasses in hand when you need them, then it is boring. When your last pair of glasses break in two while you're on the road, then it's exciting.

Since fourth grade, vision - or lack thereof - has been an important part in my life. 

Until 2010, without corrective lenses, I was "legally blind" (in the lazy, layman use of the term). There were years of Coke-bottle glasses; a painful, stressful, tearful adolescent episode with hard contact lenses ("if your daughter's motivated enough, she'll adapt to the contacts"); more years of thick glasses; and then years of daily, soft-contact lens rituals. The soft contact lenses were pretty good, but my prescriptions were difficult because I had an astigmatism on top of the severe near-sightedness, and soft lenses do not provide as sharp an acuity as hard lenses do.

And then the onset of presbyopia ("old-age" farsightedness).

And then crept in an unexpected inability to see well while driving at night, with the lights of oncoming traffic blinding me to the road in front of me. Over time, this troubling development shrank my world. It affected my road trips, obviously, because it curtailed the number of hours I could drive in a day. It affected my ability to drive to another community to take in evening cultural activities such as movies, live music, or theatrical performances.

I also had noticed that when I walked down stairs or on uneven pavement, my depth perception was slightly out of whack.

I had considered laser surgery over the years, but the benefits of same, weighed against the cost of the procedure and potential short-term and long-term risks, did not offer a clear ROI over maintaining my usage of contacts (plus, now, reading glasses). Furthermore, even the best laser results would be no better than using soft contact lenses.

But new life events flipped the board, changing all of my calculations.

The crash of 2008 led to my job elimination two years later, and I found myself competing for jobs with attorneys and PhDs who'd also been cashiered - and what employer wouldn't snatch up an alphabet fish who could be had for pennies on the dollar?

Oh, and my marriage eventually crashed, as well.

The above two events would result in an end to my health insurance coverage. No, wait. They would result in an end to affordable health insurance.

(Sidebar: I had a good health care plan with my job, and when I lost that, I was able to go on to my husband's employer-related health care plan. A political system that compromises an individual's access to affordable health care due to a job loss or a marital dissolution is a system that compromises an individual's right to self-determination. A single-payer, national health care plan along the lines of Medicaid or Medicare would give Americans more freedom of choice in their life decisions.)

About a year before my health insurance sunset, I'd re-considered laser surgery (I had also looked at an alternative surgical procedure, PRK).  

I began the screening process for the surgery, and I made it past the first couple of routine benchmarks, including the preliminary screening for sufficient corneal thickness.  But when it came time for the final vetting step, during which the doctor had a personal look-see into my eyes, I failed. My near-sightedness was so severe, I needed more corneal thickness than most people, and mine didn't meet that higher standard.

After getting this bad news from the doctor, I remarked almost off-handedly that I seemed to have this little blind spot in one of my eyes, noticeable only when I applied eyeliner on one of my lids. Whereupon we discussed how I hadn't had my eyes dilated in some time, which he promptly rectified. And that's when something entirely unexpected revealed itself.

I had cataracts. In both eyes! Wha!? How could that be possible - I was far too young for such a thing!

This was dismal news. The common wisdom is that one must wait years for cataracts to "ripen" before insurance will cover cataract surgery, and in the meantime, one's sight continues to deteriorate and affect one's daily quality of life.

At some point in the year that followed that doctor visit, it became clear that I had a time certain for when my health insurance coverage would end. So I was in an unlikely situation of hoping that my cataracts would deteriorate as fast as possible so I could have the surgery with the assistance of health insurance.

As the deadline loomed closer, I called the insurance company to find out for sure what the requirements were for the company to cover cataract surgery. That's when I learned a critical piece of information: There was no arbitrary "ripeness" number that dictated yes or no for the surgery to be covered. The coverage decision relied on the doctor's assessment that the surgery was necessary.

Long story only slightly shortened: Two or three months before my insurance deadline, I made an appointment with the doctor to check the status of the cataracts. By that time, my research had shown there was a connection between cataracts and night blindness and depth perception. When I visited the doctor, I emphasized how these issues affected my daily life, both professional and personal. After the doctor's staff verified, through testing, the night blindness, I got a green light for the surgery.

I paid extra for toric lenses to offset my astigmatism. After considerable research, I opted not to go with a multi-focus option for my lenses, which would have (in theory) corrected both the near-sightedness and the presbyopia. Too expensive. Also, for me, the risk of less-than-stellar outcomes put me off.

The cataract surgery. A procedure so fucking easy to undergo, with immediate, astounding, life-changing results. My God. For the first time since childhood, I could wake up and live my life without glasses to correct my near-sightedness. Without contacts. I could go anywhere in the world and not worry about access to clean water or contact solution or replacement contacts or broken, lost, or stolen glasses to correct my near-sightedness, without which, remember, I was "legally blind."

I could again drive at night.

Sure, I still had to wear reading glasses when necessary, but these are easy to come by and there are work-arounds for their absence.  

My cataract surgery opened up the world to me in ways not possible - or much more difficult - than were available to me beforehand.

Whew, long story, eh? But maybe someone's reading it who will realize s/he has the same symptoms I did, to be dumbfounded at the prospect of having cataracts.

So ........ with that long detour story complete ... let's get to the glasses in Washington, D.C. 

One of my cheap pair of glasses broke in D.C. I did have my primary reading glasses with me, but that was my only pair left. From past experience, I needed to go get another fall-back pair of glasses. (Guatemala had claimed a pair in April.)

Normally, Dollar Tree is my go-to place for reading glasses. Each pair costs one buck. I've bought 10 at a time and distributed them around my home and my gear. I wasn't staying in a Dollar Tree kinda neighborhood, so I walked a few blocks to a CVS and bought a pair of readers for about 15 bucks. Ooh, that hurt a bit. But I try to put these outlays in terms of the cost of a meal at a medium-priced restaurant. A meal will only provide an hour or so of satisfaction utils, but a reusable good such as a pair of glasses will last, if not years, then at least months.

For what it's worth, I don't carry my prescription reading glasses with me in my purse. This is because I handle the glasses so much when I'm out, pulling them out of a pocket and putting them back in, opening and closing them, that it puts too much wear on the hinges, contributing to their early demise. (I can attest to this after having replaced two pairs of prescription glasses because their frames fell apart. Maybe three.) I leave the prescription glasses at home and take the cheap, non-prescription readers with me when I'm out and about.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The 1500th Post

Canning jars on red-and-white checked tablecloth.

Did you ever hear the story about The Penny Jar? The one where a bride and groom are to put a penny in the jar every time they have sex during the first year of marriage, then remove two pennies every time they have sex thereafter. Typically, it takes a lifetime to empty the jar of pennies.

So it goes sometimes with blog posts.

I started this blog on September 28, 2010.

Eighteen months later, I published my 500th post in March 2012.

Seventeen months after that, I published my 1000th post in October 2013.

Now, three YEARS later, I'm writing my 1500th post.

I could argue that my life got so big between October 2013 and the present, that it's been difficult to keep up with writing about it. There's truth there.

Between October 2013 and September 2016, I lived in or traveled to:
  • Lafayette, Louisiana (one year)
  • Opelousas, Louisiana (one year)
  • Antigua and Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (one month)
  • Longmont, Colorado (three weeks)
  • Washington, D.C. (one week)
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada (two weeks)(stories yet to come)
  • Back to Louisiana for a month (stories yet to come)
  • Move to my 2016-2017 home for a year (stories yet to come)

I did some scary things. 

Maybe not scary, per se. More like fearfully exhilarating things, like riding a roller coast. Like, ooh, that was scary, now let's do it again! Like: 
  • Learn to dance, practice it in the wild, put myself out there to be chosen and rejected, look stupid while learning, and experience transcendent dance joy when all the energy forces align. 
  • Engage in a brief romantic dalliance. (Maybe "brief" and "dalliance" are redundant?)
  • Actually get up in front of an audience and read aloud some of my work. On more than one occasion. Jeesh! 

There were professional adventures. 

While in Lafayette, Louisiana, just at the moment when I maxed out on the number of English-learner students I could handle, the company offered me stable hours to do teacher recruiting and on-boarding. I worked with a phenomenal team of women who lived in the Netherlands, Ireland, Romania, and Serbia.

I had the pleasure of collaborating with my lovely team mates for a full year, when I struck out again on my own.

As a freelancer, I've got more flexibility over my income and schedule. As usual with this line of work, one of my job benefits is meeting tremendously interesting people.

And personal challenges. 

No one paddles her canoe from Port A to Port Z in life without being hit by tempests that threaten to swamp the boat. Several storms rocked my little canoe in the past three years, and I didn't like it one bit. But I clung on and kept on rowing.

Still am.

And I am still one lucky woman.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Washington, D.C.: Busboys and Poets

The Last Poets album cover for This is Madness. Source: CD and LP.

While in South Louisiana, I became entranced by spoken word artists, introduced to me by Festival of Words and then expanded upon by Alex Johnson's (aka Poetic Soul) Lyrically Inclined. I told my hostess, Suzanne, that tapping into the spoken word scene in D.C. would be nice. So one evening we checked out a poet at one of the Busboys and Poets - at 5th and K. 

Sidebar: Unbeknownst to me at the time, the South Louisiana artists who introduced me to today's spoken work spoiled me. Their power and artistry grabbed me by the viscera and made me drop my jaw in admiration. My subsequent encounters with spoken word in Boulder, Colorado, and in D.C. were pale, pale.

The featured poet at Busboys and Poets. Good stuff, for the most part. Not memorable. Not like South Louisiana's girl, Shacondria iCon Sibley, who is blow-you-away good, as you can see below:

There was also a singer who performed at Busboys and Poets. Kameron Corvet. One of the two videos I took below:

The video also gives you a sense of the venue's ambiance.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Washington, D.C.: Connectivity

Internet cafe, Vakhtangisi, Georgia (Caucasus). March 2012.

Upon arrival at the home of my D.C. hostess, Suzanne, I didn't expect to have a connectivity issue, but I did. For surprising reasons.

But first, some backstory

In Antigua, Guatemala, in April, I had some internet connectivity issues at the beginning of my stay, but they got ironed out after the first week.  My airbnb hostess had two internet hubs, one inside the main house and the other "out" on the guest-bedroom wing. The connection next to me was both weak and frustratingly intermittent. When I attempted to log in to the in-house wifi, I just couldn't get in.

My experience in troubleshooting technological problems is that, most of the time, the cause is something stupid. It's not that the user is stupid; it's that the cause of the problem is simple. 

The challenge in troubleshooting is that there are so many possible causes of a problem, and it can take patience, perseverance, creative thinking, and dumb luck to identify and fix the issue.

An example, also from Antigua: One day, my remote mouse stopped working. The mouse operated with two AA batteries in its body and a usb plugged in to my laptop. I did due diligence on likely causes. I changed the batteries, although the usual sign of impending battery death hadn't occurred, and it was sooner than usual for the batteries to need replenishment. Nope. I unplugged and replugged the usb into the same port. Unplugged and replugged the usb into different ports. Nope. Checked the installation of my mouse driver; uninstalled the driver and re-installed it. Checked the settings for the mouse and keypad. Researched possible causes on the internet. Tried solutions that had worked for others. Still no go. Dammit. And then I thought for a bit. Were there any changes to my laptop that occurred prior to my mouse's demise? Well, yes, but it made no sense there'd be a connection. But I'd tried everything else. The night before my mouse went into a coma, Cortana, the "helpful" Windows 10 "assistant," had got on my last nerve with her busybody self and I'd shut her down.

I turned Cortana back on and my mouse suddenly resurrected. Well, fuck me. Is that stupid or what?

So getting back to connectivity issues in my Antigua airbnb. I'd done all of the troubleshooting on my end that I could think of or find in my research, wanting to rule out my own laptop as the offender. All to no avail. My airbnb hostess kindly contacted her service provider and, lo and behold, the provider's technician discovered that the speed was lower than what she was paying for, and he ramped up the speed and maybe changed out the router. This was great, and solved some of the problem for me.

But it still wasn't quite fast enough or reliable enough to do my online work, so I tackled again my inability to access the wifi in my hostess' living room. I made sure I had written down the password correctly, as dictated to me by my hostess. Yes. After more troubleshooting that availed nothing, I asked if I could take a look at my hostess' router, which had on it the pass code she used. I wanted to confirm that the password I had was the same. Voilá! My hostess had inadvertently mistaken two digits of the pass code. Problem solved and I was able to conduct my online work in my hostess' living room.

Internet club, Kostava Street, Rustavi, Georgia (Caucasus). September 2011.

Back to D.C.

So. I arrived at Suzanne's place, assuming no issue with her internet connectivity. I'm in a big metropolis. In the US of A. In the nation's capital, for goodness sake!


Chapter 1: No wifi?

That's when I learned that Suzanne has no wifi at all. Well, maybe she did, but she had no idea how to tap into it with her modem. She did not have a stand-alone router, that's for sure.

And really, it made sense. For Suzanne. She's got a small space. She lives alone. She works long hours most days of the week, so she isn't even in her place for much time in the evenings. She doesn't use her laptop that often (more on this later), so she's just always wired her laptop directly into her modem.

When I understood the situation, I thought: "I can roll with this - no problem!"

Chapter 2: One port?

Got out my direct-wire cable to plug it into the second wired port on Suzanne's modem. Oh, hmmm. There's only the one port.

No problem! Suzanne rarely used her laptop, so I'll just use the sole port, right? Oh, hmmm. I need the password to Suzanne's connection to connect my laptop into her service.

Electronics bag.

Chapter 3: Password? What password?

No problem! Suzanne can give me her password. Oh, hmmm. Suzanne tried her damnedest to find that password, but to no avail.

Chapter 4: Granny Laptop

No problem! Suzanne graciously offered to let me use her laptop to do my online work (which requires the speed and application space for VOIP).  Oh, hmmmm. Suzanne's laptop is geriatric in its slowness, burdened with goodness-knows-what CPU-sucking bloatware, and using, if I'm remembering correctly, Windows Vista.

Chapter 5: Last resort: Customer service

Oof. Now it looked like I was going to have to take the dreaded step of calling the computer "help" desk of Suzanne's provider. Goal: Get Suzanne's password or get her wifi enabled so I could go back to those earlier plans. Well, damn. The experience wasn't as horrific as I had feared, based on past traumas, and in fact, eventually I discovered that Suzanne's modem was so old as to be considered stegosaurial. It was not wifi-enabled, for one. And it only had that one port, for another. And, if I remember correctly, it didn't support the current internet speeds available to Suzanne.

No problem! Suzanne could switch out her ancient modem for a spankin' new one at no cost to her! Wifi possible! More than one hard-wire port! Faster internet! Woohoo! Oh, hmm. We've got to go pick it up.

Chapter 6: The urban hinterland

No problem! Suzanne has a car and we'll just whip on over to the provider's nearest bricks-and-mortar store. We're in a bustling metropolis! There'll be one really close! Maybe I can just walk over there! Hahahahahaha!

No, no, no. The closest store is a pretty fur piece away, and it's Saturday morning, with everyone running their errands, and there is road construction. But eventually, mission accomplished and we've got the new modem/router. In a very fashionable bag with handles, no less.

Chapter 7: The cable

Problem solved! Errrr, wait. Suzanne's laptop. Didn't work with the new cable provided by the provider. We needed to go out into that congested snarl of Saturday shoppers to a Best Buy and find .... giggle, giggle to my pre-teen sense of so-called sexual humor .... a "backwards compliant" cable.

[Wait while I laugh some more at this new-to-me term. I even asked the sales guy: "What is it you're calling this again? Backwards what? And it means what again?" To myself, I'm thinking, no, it  has nothing to do with 50 Shades of Gray.]

And who knew that not all cables out on the market at the same time have the same capacity to funnel data through at the same speeds!

There was one more cable-related situation, subsequently fixed, but really, I have a life to lead.

Chapter 8: Happy ending

Suzanne now had wifi, which even if she doesn't give a whit, her future guests might. And she can connect her phone to same if she wants, as can her future guests. Suzanne has faster speeds - a little - that can push through the morass of her heavily-laden, elderly laptop's bloatware and old-fashioned operating system.

And I had a connection!

Chapter 9: The moral

Sweat, perseverance, creativity, and profanities will out.