Quiet, Please!
Published on March 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I rant about people who talk and use cell phones at the movies.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve never been particularly concerned with etiquette.

Using the proper fork, keeping elbows off the table, not wearing white after Labor Day — these are not the sort of things that matter to me, and I don’t see why they should.

But there’s a certain type of rudeness that really gets on my nerves.

And because I’ve been going to the movies a lot lately, I’ve been encountering this type of rudeness quite frequently. In fact, I’ve experienced it at each of the three movies I’ve seen in the past week-and-a-half. At every screening, there’s been a moment when I’ve looked around, trying to figure out who’s responsible for the asinine chatter distracting me from the film.

In one case, it wasn’t asinine chatter that distracted me — it was a man with a cellphone that beeped repeatedly and kept lighting up. Decent people are embarrassed when their phone goes off in the theater. Not this guy. His phone beeped again and again, and flashed nearly a dozen times. I was sitting next to this guy at a screening of “Amour,” and I finally decided that I couldn’t allow him to ruin my filmgoing experience."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Related: Here's a piece from Earth Island Journal about how noise is bad for your health

Procrastination As A Lifestyle
Published on February 4, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about one of my bad habits, procrastination.

Here's an excerpt: 

"Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been running behind.

It all started when I was sent to readiness — an extra grade between kindergarten and first grade. Officially, I ended up in readiness because I was socially withdrawn and had poor motor skills; unofficially, because I was young for my age. While my better-adjusted peers from kindergarten went marching off to first grade, I joined the immature kids who had trouble tying their shoes and remembering their phone numbers.

I spent the next several years trying to get to where I thought I should be.

My reading and writing skills were quite good; my penmanship and coloring, not so much. So I spent a great deal of time learning to color within lines, instead of just scribbling wildly all over the place, and to write neatly. After spending second grade in a lower-performing math group, I acquired flashcards and got my mom to teach me the multiplication tables over the summer. I vowed never to be assigned to a lower-performing math group again.

And I wasn’t.

But this gradual transformation into a good student was accompanied by the development of a bad habit: procrastination.

When I fell behind, it wasn’t because I was struggling to master my work, but because I had chosen not to do it until the last possible second. Occasionally, my tendency to push deadlines as far as I could got me into trouble. But as the years passed, I became pretty adept at gauging just how long I could avoid doing something and still get everything done.

Occasionally, someone would suggest that there was another way to do things — a saner and healthier way."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Calling Names
Published on January 21, 2013 by Sara Foss

I'm not big on name calling, but I do make exceptions, some of which I describe in my column this week at the DG.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’m not a big fan of name-calling, at least in a public forum.

My opposition stems not so much from the fact that it’s rude, but a belief that it’s bad strategy. When you call someone a wingnut or a fascist or some other derisive name, they are going to be less inclined to listen to you and more inclined to call you names, leading to a vicious cycle of name-calling. You see this all the time in the media or on the Internet — incensed people, screaming past each other.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem, but the least I can do is not participate in it.

However, I’m only human and occasionally a situation arises where name-calling seems not only appropriate, but imperative.

Like the emergence, last week, of the so-called Sandy Hook 'truthers.'

Perhaps you’ve heard of them — the people who think the Sandy Hook shooting was an elaborate hoax engineered by the media, government and a large cast of duplicitous actors, as part of a strategy to drum up support for gun control.

One of the truthers’ main targets is Gene Rosen, the Newtown man who took in six scared schoolchildren on the morning of the shooting and is now receiving phone calls and emails accusing him of lying and asking him how much money he is being paid.

The Sandy Hook truthers get my blood boiling.

They are insane. And stupid. And hurtful. And bad.

I see no need to listen to them, or try to understand them or learn about their crazy conspiracy theory. I’m sorry, but these aren’t people you can have a meaningful dialogue with and I don’t want to nod politely while some unhinged lunatic explains how the deaths and funerals of 20 first-graders and six adults were faked. The only thing I want to do when it comes to the Sandy Hook truthers is call them names. In fact, I can’t think of enough names to call them."

Click here to read more.


Running For a Flu Shot
Published on January 13, 2013 by Sara Foss

In my column at the DG, I write about how I finally decided to get a flu shot.

Here's an excerpt:

"My flu shot record is sporadic.

Sometimes I get one, and sometimes I don’t.

This lackadaisical attitude can probably be explained by the fact that I’ve never had the flu. And the fact that when I’m not sick I find it difficult to imagine being sick. The flu has been picking off colleagues left and right, but I rarely get sick, which gives me a feeling of invincibility. My thinking goes something like this: 'I don’t need a flu shot, because I feel great!'

I didn’t always think his way.

When I was a kid, I got sick frequently, coming down with colds and more serious ailments, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, every winter. Unhealthiness was the norm rather than the exception, and unless I was very, very ill, I went off to school and about my business as if nothing was wrong. Who knows how many kids I infected?

But that was a long time ago, and on days like today, when I’m healthy and functional, I find it difficult to remember what it’s like to be really sick. I can remember that I was sick, but not how it felt. In fact, sometimes when I’m feeling tired and in need of a change of pace, I find myself wishing I would come down with something. Not something super serious (like the flu).

However, the ominous news reports about this year’s flu outbreak have officially freaked me out.

Clearly, this was not the year to skip getting a flu shot.
When The Gazette made flu shots available last fall, I should have gotten one. Or I should have thought to make an appointment at my clinic and gotten one there. But I did neither of these things. And now I want a flu shot."

Click here to read the whole thing.

New Year's Resolutions For Everyone
Published on January 7, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the New Year's resolutions I've made, for myself and others.

Here's an excerpt:

"I usually make a few New Year’s resolutions, and I’ve found that the key to being successful is keeping my goals simple and realistic. I also try to make several resolutions, because partial accomplishment is better than none at all — if I keep one-third of my resolutions, I generally feel pretty good about myself.

However, this year I’ve had trouble coming up with a list of resolutions.

Instead, I’ve been thinking of resolutions for others.

Like my cat Clem.

Lately he’s gotten into the habit of waking me up exactly 30 minutes before my alarm goes off. He does this by meowing piteously, and swatting me in the face with his paw. I have no idea why he acts this way. My theory is that he wants attention and figures I’ve slept enough. Which is a bit rich, considering how much he sleeps.

In any case, I found myself penning Clem’s New Year’s resolution early one morning after his crying snapped me out of a very pleasant slumber: 'I, Clem, will resolve to let my owner sleep as late as she wants for all of 2013.'

I’ve also got a list of resolutions for Congress that I began developing when I realized that the new year was shaping up to be very much like the old one, dominated by battles over the debt ceiling and taxes.

My desire for a clean slate has never been quite as intense as it was on Jan. 1, when I realized that the federal government is operating on some kind of nightmarish, Groundhog Day-like loop, with the same debates and arguments reoccurring every three to five months, with little to no resolution. When I heard about the stalled relief bill for Hurricane Sandy victims, my reaction was not so much outrage as déjà vu. So perhaps Congress could do us all a favor and resolve to become a functional branch of government again. At the very least, they could retire the term 'fiscal cliff,' which I never want to hear again in my life."

Click here to read more.

Bonded By Tradition
Published on January 1, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Christmas cookies, gifts and traditions.

Here's an excerpt:

"Because Christmas is a time of tradition, any change to my holiday routine tends to throw me for a loop.

For instance: As soon as I arrived at my parents’ house in Maine, I headed to the refrigerator to grab a handfull of buckeye balls, my favorite Christmas cookie. Buckeye balls are small, chocolate covered balls of peanut butter and sugar, and they are divine. I was actually considering making some this year, but one thing led to another, and I never quite got around to it. Which didn’t strike me as a huge problem, because my mother makes buckeye balls every year, and always gives me some to take home.

But this year, I couldn’t find the buckeye balls.

'Where are the buckeye balls?' I asked, after a search of the refrigerator proved fruitless.

'I decided not to make them this year,' my mother said.

'But they’re my favorite cookie!' I said.

'I warned her,' my father said, as if to imply that this exact conversation was something he had foretold.

'It’s fine,' I said. 'I don’t need buckeye balls. There are plenty of other cookies.'

When my sister Rebecca arrived, she, too, expressed shock at the lack of buckeye balls.

'No buckeye balls!' she gasped. 'Everyone knows that buckeye balls are your favorite cookie!'

'It is a widely known fact,' I agreed.

'Enough,' my mother said. 'I will make buckeye balls. But only half a batch.'

I insisted that this was unnecessary, but of course I was delighted. And when the buckeye balls finally made their appearance, I grabbed several and stuffed them in my mouth. Every time I ate one, it was a reminder of how much my mother loves me."

Click here to read the whole thing.

No Guns For Me
Published on December 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about guns, and how I've never owned one, and don't want to own one.

Here's an excerpt:

"I am not a gun owner, but I’ve long accepted that people have the right to own guns.

And I do have friends who own guns.

They own them for hunting, or protection or simply because they like guns.

My friend Keith, who grew up in northern New Hampshire, was given his first gun at the age of 7. He learned to hunt, and by the time he was 18 owned about a half dozen guns. But since moving to Key West, those guns have been in storage.

'I can’t seem to find myself able to get rid of these objects,' Keith wrote, in an essay about his relationship with guns. 'At some point I guess I will have them shipped down to Key West. I will lock them in cases and hide them away. Maybe go to the range once or twice with the rifles. Maybe teach my daughter to shoot. Or I could sell them, buy diving equipment and a spear gun and teach her to fish. Either way, it is my choice.'

Just as it’s my choice not to own a gun.

The Second Amendment is not a mandate. People might have the right to bear arms, but they also have the right not to bear arms. I exercise my right not to bear arms every day, and unless America descends into the sort of post-apocalyptic barbarism depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” I plan to exercise it for the rest of my life. And I think I should be able to walk into a mall or a school or a movie theater without taking my life into my hands."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Bests of 2012
Published on December 19, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I list some of my favorite things of 2012.

Click here to read it.

Just Say Yes
Published on December 16, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about why I usually agree to do things ... even things I don't necessarily want to do. 

Here's an excerpt:

"This might come as news to my immediate family, but I’m usually pretty agreeable.

When my friends ask me to do stuff, I’m generally inclined to say yes, even if it’s not something I’m super interested in. I’ve always believed that when you extend an invitation to a friend, what you’re really saying is: 'Let’s hang out and spend time together.' The activity itself is often inconsequential, because what matters is seeing your friend.

However, not everyone thinks this way.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve invited people to do stuff, only to get a reply denouncing the proposed activity. 'I don’t really want to see that movie,' such people will write. Or: 'I don’t like that band.' On a bad day, such replies really get on my nerves, and I have to restrain myself from writing something akin to: 'I invited you to the movies because I want to hang out! We can do something else! Just offer a counter-proposal!'

Although you have to draw the line somewhere.

For instance, I’ve rejected proposals to do karaoke, play dungeons and dragons and see Morrissey in concert.

And I’d do it again.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Life Without Irony? Why?
Published on December 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about why I could never live a life without irony.

Here's an excerpt:

"The New York Times recently printed an opinion piece titled 'How to Live Without Irony,' and my immediate reaction was 'Why would I want to do that?'

But the topic interested me, and I soon found myself absorbed by the piece.
The author, an assistant professor of French at Princeton University, suggests that ironic living is running amok and that the consequences are grave: People — especially younger people — are too cynical and mocking to actually care about stuff. Much of Christy Wampole’s attack is aimed at hipsters, whom she lambastes for their weird hobbies, offbeat fashion sensibilities and attachment to unusual gadgets. At times, the piece takes the form of a confessional:

'I, too, exhibit ironic tendencies,' Wampole writes. 'For example, I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of ‘Texas, the Lone Star State,’ plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. . . . If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least [or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition], it seems we’ve made a collective misstep.'

Wampole isn’t the first person who’s tried to make me feel guilty about my self-aware mocking ways, and I doubt she’ll be the last. And though her essay is easy to make fun of, I don’t completely disagree with her. For instance, she thinks it’s good to care about stuff, and so do I. Where I disagree with Wampole is in her diagnosis of the problem. I don’t think irony, or hipsters, are to blame for apathy. You can actually be sarcastic and wear vintage clothing and buy vinyl records and still care about stuff."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Too Much Giving?
Published on December 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss whether it's possible to give too much, as well as my hatred of the book "The Giving Tree."

Here's an excerpt:

"It takes my family almost the entire day to unwrap Christmas presents.

We do stockings before breakfast and tackle the gifts under the tree after we eat. And in recent years, the number of presents has grown. There are gifts under the tree for my brother-in-law, and my sisters and I give more than we used to, having become grown-ups with jobs.

But neither the existence of my brother-in-law nor adulthood can fully explain the surge in presents. Much of the blame lies with my parents, specifically my mother. Whereas most parents begin cutting back on gifts for their adult children at some point, my parents have taken the opposite tack.

My father has recently shown some signs of wanting to restore some sanity to Christmas morning, and last year, as our gift-giving stretched into the afternoon, he turned to my mother and said, 'You got too much stuff.'

At Thanksgiving, my father made an announcement.
'Christmas is going to go much faster this year,' he said. 'Your mother and I are only giving each other one present.'

The new rule apparently has an exception: stocking presents. That makes me wonder how many gifts my mother will attempt to cram into my father’s stocking.

I don’t like buying gifts, and giving them makes me anxious, but I do enjoy getting them.

However, I can acknowledge that perhaps there is such a thing as 'too much.'

Click here to read the whole thing.

My Struggle With Depression, and How Exercise Helped Me Get Better
Published on November 28, 2012 by guest author: Kristina Ingvarsson

Depression is a word that carries a big stigma and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I have suffered from depression all my life, but didn't know I was battling a medical illness until I let it go too far and got really sick in 2005. It took me two years to get well and seven years to recover. During this recovery period I learned a lot about the illness, myself, and how to prevent it.

An "onset" of depression would be like a dark cloud rolling in and sweeping me into a fog, making me feel heavy, tired and  uninterested. In my mind all I wanted to do was go out to the woods, dig a deep hole, and lie down in it looking up at the tree crowns. That was my depression vision. Every onset prior to 2005 had only lasted two to three days, and then things would go back to normal. Every time "the cloud" dissipated it was a great relief, like a sigh coming out of me, and I would think, "What just happened? What is wrong with me?"

Life went on until July 2005, when the world slowly crashed over a couple weeks time, and I fell deep all the way to the bottom of the barrel with no way of getting out. Something sensible in the back of my mind whispered that I needed help so I picked up the phone early one morning at work while crying uncontrollably and called the employee help line. That was the start of the turning point, and learning that I had a medical condition where the chemical balance in my body would get out of balance, and cause these onsets of depression.


New Adventures, Old Traditions
Published on November 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my boredom with routine and also the value of traditions.

Here's an excerpt:

"Some people can listen to the same CD over and over again.

I’m not one of those people.

Even my most recently purchased CDs seldom get played more than once in a row, and I usually buy several CDs at the same time to ensure that I have a variety of new music to keep me entertained.

I have a similar attitude toward almost everything I do.

I rarely rewatch movies, though there are exceptions: I picked up a copy of the 2008 Coen Brothers comedy 'Burn After Reading' after reading an essay on how the film resembles the Petraeus scandal, and I’ve been keeping my eye on the film schedule at Proctors, because I’d like to see 'The Wild Bunch' on the big screen.

Proctors is screening the American Film Institute’s top 100 films, which is a great idea and something I wholeheartedly support. But I have yet to attend a single screening, for a simple reason: I’ve seen all of those movies. And if I’m going to repeat myself, rather than expose myself to something different and new, there should be a good reason.

As a result, I hardly ever reread books, preferring to tackle works (and usually authors) that are new to me. I like to check out new venues for art and music, and read essays and articles that can introduce me to things I’ve never heard of or thought about before. I like to try different foods, and visit new restaurants and bars."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Super Glue For Life's Problems
Published on November 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent battle with super glue, my tendency to postpone solving problems, and my confidence that they can, in fact, be solved.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve had the same pair of glasses for about five years, and when I was on vacation in Colorado they broke.

I didn’t step on them or throw them off the hotel balcony or drop a pile of bricks on them.

I simply tugged on them while taking off my hat, something I’ve done a million times before. And they snapped, the piece of the frame that extends over my ears suddenly detaching from the lenses.

'My glasses broke,' I announced, since I was far from home and this seemed like a problem my friends would have to help me solve.

Just a few days earlier I’d been wondering whether my glasses would last forever. I hate to buy things and glasses are a total rip-off — they really shouldn’t cost as much as they do. The Internet tells me that glasses are sometimes made of titanium and steel alloy, but mine are made of cheap plastic, and although they were the least expensive glasses in the shop, they still cost $250.

I examined my broken glasses and discovered that I could snap them back together, which proved to be a good temporary solution, despite the fact that sometimes they came unsnapped and fell off my head, causing my friends to laugh at me. In an effort to put an end to the mockery, I went out and bought some super glue and this seemed to do the trick. It was so effective that I tricked myself into thinking I didn’t need a new pair of glasses at all. Until last week, when they fell apart again."

Click here to read the whole thing.

That Feeling Should Have a Name
Published on November 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

On my recent trip to Denver, I managed to meet up with a friend I hadn't seen since I graduated from college 14 years ago. Which is a long time, but it didn't seem that long until I really thought about it. Until I thought, "When was the last time I saw Abby?" and realized it was over a decade ago.

Anyway, it was a nice little visit, involving me, my friends Dave and Melissa, who also know Abby from college, and Abby's husband. As always, I was struck by how easy it can be to reconnect with old friends, and returned home thinking that if Abby and her husband lived in Albany, we would probably hang out all the time. (There's no question that if Dave and Melissa lived in Albany, we would hang out all the time.)

Abby had a similar reaction to our reunion, and in any email later that week, she wrote, "It was like I had seen you all yesterday. I don't know if that feeling has a name, but it should." Abby's right: That feeling should have a name. Maybe it does, but I don't know it. If anyone has any suggestions, thoughts or answers, please let me know. Because it's a great feeling, and I wish I could experience it more often.

I've always believed that you do reconnect with the people you care about. Though I doubt there's research to back up this theory - I suspect it's something I tell myself to feel better, since my network of friends is rather farflung, even though it has no scientific basis. I've always drawn on this Richard Bach quote for hope: "Don't be dismayed by goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends."

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