Friday, July 30, 2010

LOFT LIFE: Getting fit for decades to come--I hope

In my never flagging zeal to stem the advance of the aches, pains, diseases and decay of old age, I have entered into a new fitness program: boxing.
I know, kickboxing is nothing new. But, I mean actual boxing. For my birthday I requested an Everlast 70 lb. punching bag. The one the professionals use. Now, not being your actual athletic type, I didn’t realize what this meant. All I can say is it’s a good thing we have 20 foot ceilings in our loft apartment, because this 70 lb. baby requires a stand that is 7 feet high! Wow. I am so glad we live in a loft apartment. This wouldn’t have worked in the two-story colonial.
I don’t know why, I just felt like putting on gloves (included in the Wal-Mart deal), was sure it would be something I'd do every day. Well, I mean putting on the gloves and punching the bag. Maybe even kicking it when I get braver. It’s a kind of workout that seems more fun than just treadmilling to a TV show.
My concern is that I might break a thumb or a wrist doing this. So I called my daughter, who does kick boxing, and who has quite a bit of fitness training, for advice. I like it that she’s surprised by my attitude, that I am not winding down, I’m revving up, even in my old age.
She did want a picture of me at the punching bag to verify I wasn’t fibbing. Then she  proceeded to answer my questions: “Well, you probably won’t overdo it, because you won’t be able to hit it very hard at first. In fact, why don’t you just first get used to it, push the bag, get a feel for it.”
I did that, it helped.
She called again a week later, suggesting I might want to get a personal trainer to show me the moves.
“Where does one find a boxing coach these days?” I asked, picturing Carol Channing in Thoroughly Modern Millie, taking boxing lessons, and liking that image of me too. (You may have noticed by now, from reading my stuff, that a lot of really good life suggestions can be had from the movies.) 
“Just put it out there,” she suggested, because in my family there is kind of a mystique about me that when I say I want something, it usually appears at my door, or close by soon after I state my need or wish. “I think it’s God,” she said. “Kind of like when a child tells a parent they want something, but the parent doesn’t do it right away. The parent waits to see if this is a real desire or just a whim.”
So OK. I put it out there for Him to hear.
Do you know, the NEXT DAY the front page of the paper I only get on Sundays and Thursdays had a picture on the front page of the Local section of a female with boxing gloves on!  Under the picture was a caption that said she was training for a match at a martial arts studio--only 3 miles from my apartment. Wow. God is a parent who responds fast. 
Maybe He thinks I need this sooner than later. After all, almost daily I count up how many Christmases I probably have left, and how many vacations. Maybe I will have more if I get a boxing coach and do the punching right.
In any case, I am sparring away, feeling better every day about it. I feel stronger. I was grating cheese the other day and 10 minutes of grating a hard Turkish cheese didn’t tire me at all--which it usually does.

I will go to the martial arts studio as soon as we return from our trip.
Oh, and I also got a Water Pik TM. They promise healthier gums in 14 days. 
So with my healthy gums and stronger upper body, I expect to add a couple of decades to my life. Hmm. Maybe I’d better put that out there for Him to hear too. :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

LOFT LIFE: A pause for the comma

I believe I suffer from comma phobia. You heard me right. I have a sincere wish to avoid the little rascals altogether. They frighten me. I think it started when I proofread school papers for my daughter, and she would get downgraded from my removal of her commas. This was then exacerbated when my best friend, Gail, a former college professor, raised her eyebrows at my journalistic use of commas, far sparser than her academic comma usage.
Let me also tell you, it is a point of honor for me that I scored 99th percentile in punctuation and grammar on my high school achievement tests. Every year. It is the only academic area where I can say that--except for my ability to recognize and name every instrument in the orchestra. But, that’s irrelevant here. I could diagram sentences with the best of them; I rarely got below A+ on any English grammar, spelling or punctuation test. 
So it rattles me that I am insecure in my use of the innocent comma. 
I think some of the confusion stems from the transition from high school and college writing to journalism, where different expectations for comma usage exist, as I have already said. But, something inside tells me it is more than that.
Lately I find myself insecurely adding commas where commas have never gone before. It’s a mixture of respect for Gail and her ilk, and fear of seeing them furrow their brows at my dearth of commas. I can almost hear the clicking tongues of the schoolteachers as they read my well-thought out commas. 
I am no longer sure whether or not my meaning is clear without them; I end up giving the comma the benefit of the doubt, then I subject myself to more pain and suffering by re-reading my text and wrestling over whether to remove many of them.
I realize I cannot have this conversation with just any Tom, Jane or Sally, but  I know you care. I implore you to consider how much anguish we writers endure for the sake of clarity versus creativity, and accuracy versus enjoyable reading. Therein is the real problem: for some, enjoyment has nothing to do with accuracy; for others it is the very rock on which they stumble when their rules are not followed, and they cannot, for the sake of incorrect grammar, allow themselves to enjoy even an artistic sentence or phrase. It’s the old chalkboard squeak or the symphonic dissonance that they just cannot bear.
Much of the dilemma has become clearer to me in the reading of Lynne Truss’s delightful book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, where she devotes an entire chapter to the worthy, small, but mighty, comma. (Truthfully, she is mostly an apostrophe kind of gal, but she does wax humorous in the comma chapter). Since the title of her book belies her disdain for misuse of the comma, I guess those little dears are important to her too. I mean, in case you haven’t figured it out, her title refers to Pandas who eat shoots and leaves. But, if the comma is erroneously inserted where it doesn’t belong, you will think the Panda has visited an eatery, had some dinner, shot the patrons, and exited. All because of a comma. Imagine!
Truss carefully explains that where the college student (or professor) might write: red, white, and blue, the journalist, me, would likely (definitely) spare you the "third degree" and write: red, white and blue. Actually, I get as frowny over Gail’s excessive use as she does my lack of. It seems to me that Gail and her colleagues simply insert commas, willy-nilly; I pride myself on deciding whether inserting that comma will better clarify the meaning of the sentence or not. If not, I restrain myself. I consider that a virtue.
The most illuminating part of Truss’s explanation is the origin of the little mark, and how it was used as much to allow the reader the proper tone, like in music, where pauses become part of the joy of reading aloud, as it was for clarity. She points out that the whole problem began when we started reading silently.
So, now, I really get it. This is the pith of the matter: I write for audio--always have. My stuff is meant for radio, bedtime sharing, reading aloud to one’s self. I think audio. Maybe that is why I need to be alone to write. I can’t have other noises around, or I don’t know what my words will sound like.
There you have it. I am giving myself permission to place commas only where they will “sound right." I will know. Hopefully, you will agree. Not sure I will persuade Gail though.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Loft Life: Sharing

It’s kind of a long story why we don’t fork out the $150 a month for cable TV and broadband Internet to have in our own personal space--our loft apartment. It started when I read the pamphlet on Cox Cable and was reminded of my dealings with Charter. We had cable back in 1995 for a year.  I found that most of what we were paying for, we didn’t want, and the few things we enjoyed weren’t worth the $150. There were many outages, and dealing with the company was less than pleasant, so we cancelled. Later we got Dish Network, which we really enjoyed. 
But, when we got tired of the slow speed of dial up--which took us much longer to tire of than it did for most, I went online and investigated Charter’s broadband-only choice, keeping Dish, even though they didn’t offer a fast Internet option. I ordered Charter’s hardware for wireless online and set up an appointment online. It seemed like a good choice until the day of the appointment when no one showed up. After several emails and phone calls, I  heard the Charter rep say, “Oh, now I see the problem. You owe a balance of $2.33 from 1996.” This was 2006.
“A," I said, "I do not have a balance due that I know of, because no bill to that effect was sent to me, or I would have paid it. And, B, are you really telling me you are going to forfeit the $2000 per year we are willing to pay for Charter because of a balance of $2.33 which we do not owe?”
He replied, “Well, I see your point, but it is too late. It has already gone to collection.”
That slippery slope of frustration, escalating to uglier emotions began to creep in, and I was reminded of why I hadn’t had cable for ten years
“You are going to ruin my credit over $2.33 which I do not owe?” I panicked.
“I cannot help you, but I will give you the phone number of collections,” he offered.
I sighed, took down the number, and called collection.
“Oh we sent it back,” they informed, they too realizing the idiocy of it all.
A different rep at Charter confirmed it had been sent back and then cancelled. By then I knew I just couldn’t do cable, even if it were the fastest and best Internet available to us in our rural town.
So seeing the Cox brochure brought all that back, and I just don’t want to deal with a cable company. I do hear people in the library discussing their own frustrations with Cox billing mixups, confirming my choice.
And, one of the attractions of the loft life we were shown when we were considering this particular loft complex was the offer of a library “hot spot” which had free wireless. Since it is in our building, and we only have a short walk down the hallway to the library, this felt like a really good option.
I had visions of meeting clients in the library to interview them for resumes, and then having access to the Internet to email their final copies to them, right there in their presence. I thought Jay and I could make a date of it at times, and take a walk down the hall to tune into our Netflix Instant Play feature and watch a movie or a TV show there. I saw the library as a way to get me out of my three rooms, nice as they are, and feel a bit like I am “going to work.” 
I've been using the library wireless arrangement now for six months. I have yet to post a flyer for resumes. I've done a couple just because I met people who needed them. It didn’t happen in the library. Jay and I did watch Season Four of Dexter there, but often someone came in, right in the middle of the show, and we had to turn it down so low (due to our superior sense of good manners and sharing, it being a library and all) that we could hardly hear it, which did affect the tension of the show, and that, of course, made it less entertaining. So we rarely do that any more either.
I do walk down to the library daily from my loft, because it does seem like a good idea to designate it a work space.  More often than not, there are people there, making work less productive. Conversation is optional, but one does have to appreciate that community is part of the charm of loft life, and really something I now look forward to.
What I did not count on were the negatives of the public space. They aren’t too serious.
One, as I have said, is that quiet is a given. People do answer cell phones, and most step outside to be polite. There is conversation--students discussing  study questions, business people working out their plans, and parents with children. It is a small space, and there are only two tables with four chairs each, set on opposite sides of the library room, with ceiling-to-floor bookshelves on both sides. 
The lights in the library are very bright, to the point that I have considered wearing my visor to shade my eyes from the harshness. Turning the lights off is possible if I am alone, but inevitably someone comes in who wants to read or look for a book, and the lights must be on for that.
In the winter, there is heat, and it is almost unbearably dry and hot. Hydration is necessary to make it more than a half hour or so which I imagine is just the time period the management is expecting. And, if you do stay, and continually hydrate, that requires unplugging, packing up and leaving to visit the apartment, and then re-packing and going back, in the hopes that the outlet will still be available.
Which brings us to the final problem of the outlet, because there is only one and the distance from the table at the other side of the room is too far to use this outlet. This forces people to either share a table, even if the other one is vacant, or to let their laptop batteries dwindle.
I’m discovering some cultural differences in the concept of sharing and what we Americans call “personal space.”
There’s an Asian couple (I mention their ethnicity because I believe their culture has different rules for personal space), who sit at the other table, and when their batteries run out, they come over to where I am sitting, next to the outlet, and instead of taking a seat at the table and plugging in, they drop to the floor beside me, really right under me, and sit on the floor to plug in there.
“You can’t sit under my body,” I say, feeling very uncomfortable with anyone even hanging over my shoulder, let alone sitting at my feet.
“Just testing,” the Asian man says. “Battery out, just testing,” he repeats.
I tell him he cannot sit there. I motion to the seat beside me at the table. He doesn’t want to do that. I know he isn’t “testing” because I know he has been at the other table long enough for his battery to be low. It is his way of getting a few more minutes.
Another time, his wife did the same thing, which is why I am convinced that they do not have a problem with sharing spaces in close quarters, and that it is a cultural thing.
I remember Asian friends telling me that in their countries they live with several families in one house.  Another observation was in the ‘80s when many Vietnamese families shared houses while they got established in jobs, careers, and could move out and have their own houses.
I suggested this economic method to my children and was met with astonished stares and wrinkled brows. Americans are big on space. They do not share well in small spaces. 
I am sure my annoyance with this man and woman sitting on the floor seemed as unreasonable to them as their floor-sitting seemed to me.
It would help a lot if the management would install an outlet on the other side of the room. At least then, four people would have access instead of two.
But, even with these deficits, I am still reluctant to fork over the big bucks for loft connection. I could do AT&T, but am told that to get speed, it is expensive. 
I am considering an IPad, because I would not need wireless from Cox if I purchased the 3G model. Then, I would only need the library for laptop work, and could do email, listen to music and Internet radio, view movies, and play games in the comfort of my own loft. I would also have a lighter portable so I might be able to lift my luggage better when traveling. (see I’m sorry I’m a woman story, April 2010). Something tells me to wait for 4G, or at least Christmas for the second generation of the IPad.
Until then, I will continue to share, work and converse in the library, and hope there will be no more floor sitting. I feel some concern that as the lofts become fully occupied, the eight seats may become less available and my system will have to change. 

I see tours for prospective renters, always stopping to tout the benefits of free wireless in the library. It doesn't escape me, either, that I look like a permanent fixture on this library portion of the tour. The upside is, maybe with more tenants, they will be able to afford another outlet. :)