Monday, September 15, 2008

do. not. ever.

...tell me your dreams. "Oh, my god," you say, "I had the weirdest dream last night!" and I say, "I find other peoples' dreams deeply boring," and you say, "Yeah, aren't they? But my dream, wow, I'm telling you, it was weird!" And then you tell me the whole thing in mind-numbing detail.

Newsflash: we all dream. All dreams are weird. All other peoples' dreams are boring. There are no exceptions.

I do not give a shit about your dreams. Ever. I will not listen. If you force me to listen (if, say, I'm naked on the massage table, or my mouth is full of dental implements, or I'm in the back of your cab) I will cross you off my Christmas card list. For life. The only person with an exemption to this rule is Kelley because I love her and twenty years of delight buys a certain amount of leeway--but even she knows to use her exemption sparingly.

So don't, just don't.

And while I'm at it, here are some other things that piss me off:

  • people who misspell Ursula K. Le Guin's name, or Samuel R. Delany's. Take a minute. Look at those names, look at the vowels, look at the spaces, look at the initials. If you can't be bothered to get it right, don't bother to talk to me. These are giants of the field. Show some respect.
  • people who talk as though their conversational partner is two miles away in a howling gale. Use your inside voice. Better still, just shut the fuck up and die. You're as fun to have around as the moronic dream-tellers.
  • people who answer the phone in the middle of a conversation or a film or dinner. It makes me want to hurt you. And I warn you: my social conditioning doesn't always hold.
  • people who let their dogs bark. I can't even talk about this one without getting homicidal. Insert the vitriolic diatribe of your choice.
  • people who feel the need to have the last word, who just can't resist the last little stinging verbal slap. My new resolution: you slap me verbally and I'll punch your fucking teeth out. Fair?

If I spent another five minutes on this I'm sure I could double my list, then double it again, but right now there's a cold beer singing my name and batting its eyelashes. So I'm going to walk away.



  1. I think that if you walked into one of my dreams, my whole mid-section would be sore from uncontrolled laughter by the time I woke up. You're hilarious!

    The best--and worst--part is that you do mean those warnings you're handing out. I know I'm giggling partly because I'm nervous. I'll get my writing pad out and do six whole pages of Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany.

    Really getting comfortable in that red Cardinal-person hat, aren't we?

  2. Do we even want to know what you would do, if you didn't exercise social conditioning, when someone spells Kelleys name wrong!

  3. Even more boring than hearing about real-life dreams: reading them in fiction.

    I always skip lengthy italic passages. They rarely add to the story.

  4. karina, I'd prefer a crown

    janine, you know this is my way of exorcising the rage so I don't actually have to hurt people, right?

    jen, best not to know, at least until you've absolutely digested your breakfast...

    ssas, but the joy of fiction, is that you *can* skip them, skip skip skip, no one gets hurt.

  5. .grin.

    I completely relate to the rage exorcisms. Most of the time, though, when my rage about things like what's in today's blog gets high, I lose all that beautifully violent eloquence.

    I kick things. I chop wood. But oh...I read today's blog and thought: damn. If I could only make my words feel like a high-velocity jab in the solar plexus...maybe it would help.

    Thanks for the clarification, though, Nicola. I did spend about an hour wondering if I ever wrote on this blog about my dreams. .wry smile.

  6. I just wonder what set you off??

  7. I am in 100% agreement with your list.

    The one thing I would like to expand on is dogs barking. Big dogs, can be a annoying, but it's little shake and piddle ankle biters that are the worst. People who let their ankle biters bark all day should be locked in to a room and forced to listen to a really bad bagpiper for 24 hours.

  8. I think someone might be having a bad day....hope that cold one helps!

  9. Rant and rave and then ram that car into that VW. No wait your not Cathy, Cathi, Kathie, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh...

  10. Everyone, here's the thing: I'm not in a bad mood, nothing set me off, per se. I wrote this last night and it published on a time delay.

    About a week ago I read a blog where someone who should have known better spelt Le Guin's name wrong. I stamped up and down, and grumbled because, y'know, I can. And then the other night, having dinner with the neighbours (we have several sets of really fine neighbours) we did one of those table questions: what really pisses you off about people? And I thought of the name-spellers, and then the idiot dream speilers and I thought, huh, that would make a good blog.

    So, as I've said, I'm not having a bad day. Quite the opposite in fact. I'm currently feeling all slitty-eyed with satisfaction. Life is good. And for tomorrow I've already prepared a cheerful little blog.

  11. It definitely did make a good blog post.
    I keep reading and muttering...yeah!...every few words.

  12. Other people's dreams bore me too. I'm content to entertain myself if you need to talk about it, so you can tell them to me; just don't expect me to repeat it back or marvel that it's some kind of omen.

    And the cell phone thing as well; never understand what is so important that can't wait, or why the phone has to be answered just because it rings. Incredibly rude.

    The thing that's bugging me right now is the neighbors in the house next door; they let their kid cry and scream non-stop. I hate to think what they are doing to that kids psychological development. I usually just respond by turning up the music, but one of these days, I'm going over there....

    I thought the post was pretty funny/entertaining. :)

  13. Best. Rant. Ever.

    Aaaahhhh, I feel better now for having read that.

    The other day a friend called me on her cell phone and yammered at me about I-don't-even-know-what for about 20 minutes before saying, "Well, I probably ought to go, I'm walking with (insert name of mutual friend here) and I think she's starting to get annoyed."


    (A quickie note to Jennifer: as a parent of two wee ones, I must point out that there are times when kidlings just have to cry and scream. My own are famously mellow, but I have no doubt that my neighbors have been tempted once or twice to call child protective services on my ass...)

  14. Linda has left the building to go be in charge of some saintly activity...

  15. janine, I hope you also got to thump the table to your 'yeahs!'

    jennifer, yes, it was designed to entertain, not frighten. Well, maybe to be just a little repressive :)

    stephanie is the friend who phones while with another friend well-mannered in other ways? I find that people rarely have just one blind spot/bad habit.

    linda, I hope you're having fun with your bad saintly self.

  16. I would like to have boring dreams but I tend to have dreams that wake me straight up out of a decent sleep saying WTF? So please crawl inside my brain and tell it to be more boring when I am out cold; ya know, when I'm supposed to be boring.

    Just for fun, here's a partial list of things that make me crazy:

    * Smokers
    * Getting trapped behind slow walking smokers on a New York City sidewalk
    * People who write the words "fictional novel" in a query letter
    * People who insist that I listen to their inane reenactments of some television show from the previous night
    * People who tell me that I'd like (insert your favorite sport here) if only I'd learn more about it. I know the rules of most sports. Growing up with a dad and two brothers saw to that. And I still HATE SPORTS! Hate talking about sports, hate watching sports. (Yes, that includes the Olympics.)

  17. colleen, people ask me: what do you do? I say 'I'm a novelist.' 'Well, cool, fiction or non-fiction?' 'Novels. Big long stories. Stories. Fiction.' Tuh. Also 'very unique' gets my goat.

  18. Alas, I can't say that my cell phone-toting friend is particularly well mannered. So you're right, it's not her single blind spot. But that was exceptionally rude, even for her.

    What I really couldn't wrap my mind around was why the friend she was with didn't tell her to hang up the fucking phone after five minutes of blahblahblah.

  19. Sometime rudeness is so shocking it's almost awe-inspiring--and certainly gob-stopping. It's appalling to be badly treated by someone you think is a reasonable human being--it's literally unbelievable for a minute or two. We don't want to believe it.

    I think that's why sexist/racist/homophobic (etc etc--oh so very man ceteras...) remarks are so difficult for the recipient to counter. We can't believe it. That's why allies are so very necessary.

    But, yeah, twenty minutes is just astonishing.

  20. That was quite a list.

    Pet peeve 1 - rude able-bodied people on public transport. Awful, asshats sitting and watching while some poor person who actually needs the seat flails and lurches about.

    Pet peeve 2 - ill disciplined children. How difficult is it for people to train their children?

  21. I know I couldn't describe my dreams because I would never be able to find the words that could conveey what it was like in the dream. If I knew someone who could do this, I would listen to their dreams.

    Barking dogs get to me, too, except when they are barking at something that I really need to look at. That is part of socializing the dog. I hate it when my neighbors don't know how to do that.

    I think i will look into Ursula K. Le Guin because I have heard so much praise for her. My first lover was a fan, but at that time in my life I didn't like scifi that much. I'm glad my horizons did open...


  22. Depending on your taste I'd start with either The Wizard of Earthsea (fantasy) or The Left Hand of Darkness.

  23. Dreams are interesting to the person having them, just like memoirs. Please confine telling of them to your girl/boyfriend, mother, best friend...anyone with a vested interest in paying attention.

  24. An addendum to the cell phone rule. Do not continue through any retail sales transaction while remaining on the phone. It is rude to the sales person, to the people in line, and to the person you are talking to. If I were the cashier/sales person I'd ask you to step aside until you were finished with your call so the other people could go through the line.
    But that's my own pet peeve.

    As for dogs, endless barking is a pain in the ears but I do appreciate a dog barking to let me know that something is going on as the beagle next door does. Just because a squirrel raiding the bird feeder is as important to said beagle as the occasional drunkard in the alley is a matter of perception. I find that praising the beagle for letting me know of any trouble works to quiet her down.
    For problem barkers I offer to train their dog for them...

  25. Absolutely. Talking on the phone in the presence of other real live human beings is just plain rude, in almost every circumstance.

  26. Ok. This pisses me off. People who cannot drive/navigate. Please just stay off the road; give it up or get a nav unit. I know, LA is a Big City. Lots of freeways, lots of roads, but if you haven't figured it out after many years of living here -- just call me up, I'll tell exactly which freeway, which exit, which road to take. (Where to go.) It's really not that hard to figure out. Please don't make it worse than it has to be. Jeez louise. I really don't get it.

  27. So. You had a good time with your commute...?

  28. Yeah. Sorry about that. But that venting stuff really seems to work. :) I had blown off steam by the time I caught up with my friends. And it's really true about a lot of drivers in LA. They never seem to learn their way around.

  29. Hey, no apology necessary. Ranty pajamas R us.

  30. Do you consider In Cold Blood a non-fiction novel, or have a different designation for it?

  31. I don't have a designation for it, but the term 'non-fiction novel' is, to me, an abomination. Something is either non-fiction or a novel. It can't be both.

  32. I feel like an intruder, adding to these personal comments. Please feel free to tell me to take a hike (or do something more colorful) if anything I write is inappropriate or exceptionally stupid. The last thing I want to do is show disrespect.

    There's something ironic about Ursula K. Le Guin's married name. In print, "Le Guin" is ALWAYS spelled as two words, both capitalized. I collect signed first editions and own several of Ms. Le Guin's. I have seen her sign her name, in person. She signs it "Leguin." I kid you not. I have a dozen genuine copies of her signature (some on signed bookplates). There is sometimes a very small space between the "e" and the "g"; the script "g" may be slightly elevated above the "e" before it and the "u" after it, but it is a standard script lowercase "g" that CLEARLY never reaches the height of the "L" two letters before it.

    At first I didn't know what to make of this. I thought my signed copies of her books might be forgeries, but then I saw her sign her name with my own eyes: "Ursula K Leguin." Given my previous confusion about the proper spelling of her name -- a confusion that had to be resolved, as she is one of the finest writers of our day -- I finally decided that the difference between how her name is spelled and how she prefers to sign it is (a) none of my business (she can sign her name "Ernest Hemingway" if she wants to) and (b) absolutely hilarious, given the angst that this question has produced. (When all else fails, I opt for laughter.) I can mail you photocopies of Ms. Le Guin's signature if you would like to see it for yourself; perhaps you will disagree with my reading of it.

    Also: in categorizing Truman Capote's IN COLD BLOOD, many people have had trouble finding an appropriate label for what kind of book it is (and some have just called it whatever they wanted). There was a similar problem when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (to use one transliteration of his name; there are others) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO was published in English in three volumes between 1973 and 1978 (according to the Wikipedia; I was in college and grad school then but don't recall the exact dates of publication). Some called it a memoir; others called it a history; there was even some question about small parts of it being fictionalized. The only consensus I recall was that of a few critics who asserted that it defined a new literary category, not merely non-fiction, history, or memoir but something with elements of all three that in places resembled a novel.

    There is some interesting work in psychology on how the mind/brain actually performs categorization, but it contradicts how literature and many other things are (artificially) categorized and would only muddy the waters and generate disagreements.

  33. Dave, that's very, very interesting. She's signed a bunch o' stuff for me; I'll have to go look (tho', hmmn, now I think of it, she probably just signed it 'Ursula'--I tend to sign my books 'Nicola' to people I know, unless they ask otherwise). Thanks for letting me know.

    Literary categories are the bane of my professional life! One of my dearest wishes is that now bookselling is moving online, we can merrily meta-tag books with as many descriptors (as opposed to definitions) as we like.

    At some point, it would be cool to hear your summary of how the mind/brain (and isn't that distinction, on its own, a squirmy can of worms?) and lit categorisations coincide/split. Generating disagreement and discussion is a Good Thing.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  34. In brief, and with the deepest respect:

    You probably know that cognitive science is the multidisciplinary study of mind and brain; in this exploding era of the cognitive neurosciences, "brain" in the previous definition is replaced by CNS (central nervous system) more and more frequently (after all, your spine knows how to walk; your brain regulates and commands it). I am a retired cognitive scientist, and the definition that is coming to be most widely used among my peers is: "Mind is what the brain/CNS does." (NOTE: We have not yet found all the information transmission and processing systems in the human body. There is evidence of muscle memory, hormonal information processing we don't yet fully understand, and who knows what else.)

    Mind is not a structure (nor are most of our several memory systems); it is a process, an activity. We have recently learned that what was thought to be "noise" in the resting brain appears to be quite purposeful and not at all incidental to the functioning of the CNS.

    I should check on the categorization literature before summarizing it; things are changing in psychology quite rapidly these days. A little history can't hurt, though.

    In the 1960's, categorization was most often thought of in terms of sets and subsets, proper or overlapping, that sort of thing: "A dog is a mammal. A mammal is an animal. Thus a dog is an animal." Also: "A horse has legs. A desk has legs. Thus a horse and a desk are both instances of 'Things that have legs.'" Then in the 1970's a psychologist named Eleanor Rosch began doing cross-cultural studies in categorization (as did Berlin & Kay in the late 1960's, with language and color categories) and she found "natural categories" that all people seem to possess.

    Cutting to the chase, psychologists turned their attention from "An X is a Y" to "How good an instance is X of category Y?" They began looking at categories as prototypes defined by many instances of greater or lesser closeness to what people think of as the categorical ideal. What is the prototypical mammal? What features is it most likely to have? What other mammals are most like it, and in what ways? As you can see, things started getting complicated.

    Context turns out to be important. "How is a raven like a writing desk?" is an old riddle. I have a newer one. "How good a desk is a horse?" In most contexts, a horse is not at all a good instance of a desk. If you're riding out by your neighbor's ranch, however, and after talking with him over the fence that divides his land from yours you decide to buy 100 of his cattle, you may need something to write a check on. In that case, your horse may be the closest thing to a desk you have available while you're writing the check out (perhaps on your saddle), and your horse in that context is a fairly good (functional) instance of a desk (and both are instances of "Things you can write checks on").

    We're still working out many of the details of how concepts and categories work in the mind and brain. Whatever we learn, it will probably be surprising (to me, anyway).

    Thanks for putting up with my meanderings.

  35. Meanderings are my daily bread :)

    I've been following, in broad outline, the developments in cognitive science the last couple of decades, but it never, ever hurts to have a summary from a professional.

    While we're on the subject, what do you think of the wacky idea I've seen floated here and there that mind happens where body interfaces with world?

  36. PART I of II

    It isn't a wacky idea at all. It focuses attention on certain aspects of mind, aspects that deserve attention and study.

    Cognitive science has been fighting an uphill battle in arguing that mind is a collection of information processes. My advisor in grad school, Herb Simon (who would have been 94 on June 15), was one of the authors of the Physical Symbol System Hypothesis [] that argued mind (intelligence) could arise in many different media, as long as a sufficient symbol system is present for its instantiation. This was and in some circles still is a very controversial claim.

    A more recent and seemingly contradictory claim is the Embodiment Hypothesis, associated with Rodney Brooks, Francisco Varela, George Lakoff, and a number of cognitive scientists who hold that humanity's physical form has shaped its affect and cognition. If we want to understand who and what we are, we must understand the effects our physical embodiment has had throughout our evolution. Different supporters of the Embodiment Hypothesis emphasize different aspects of it -- Brooks, for example, spent years doing bottom-up robotics research at MIT that emphasized how much could be accomplished without a top-down, centralized intelligence governing all aspects of behavior -- but they all emphasize the importance of body in understanding behavior.

    To the frustration of at least one of my colleagues (another of Simon's graduate students), I hold that these hypotheses do not conflict with one another and both should be observed, albeit to different degrees in different contexts. I have stepped away from the position that mind can be well understood without understanding brain (body) as well, because parts of our physical symbol system are built into the CNS.

    What does it mean to say that mind happens where body interfaces with the world? Because I am a scientist, the first thing I must do is strip the assertion of all metaphor. Metaphor is great in poetry, philosophy, and the explanation of established science; it has little or no place in the fundamental building blocks of science, where the most we can allow ourselves are tight analogies that don't lead us off onto pathways of poetic vision. I can brainstorm as creatively as most -- I've even worked on the computational modeling of emotion -- but when push comes to shove I have to know EXACTLY what I mean by every scientific assertion I propose.

    The human body interfaces directly with the world via effectors and sensory receptors. These are not simple, unidirectional mechanisms. Their sensitivity and range of activity change to some degree with the environment. Plunge one hand in hot water and the other in cold, hold them there for a short while, and then put both in the same lukewarm water; one hand will feel warm and the other will feel cold (in the same water), because both have adapted to different temperature ranges. On a dark night, step out of a well-lighted room, turn off the lights behind you, and look out over a landscape illuminated only by the stars; at first you'll be able to see almost nothing, but within about 20 minutes your eyes will have dark-adapted so well (unless you are visually impaired) that you'll be able to see objects as if the dark night were deep twilight and the number of stars visible overhead will seem countless (this will not work in a city or a well-populated suburb where there is no deep darkness, of course).

  37. PART II of II

    Take a glass jar with a metal top that is very difficult to open by hand. With completely dry hands, place one hand palm down on the lid of the jar while the other hand holds it cradled to your chest. Close your eyes. Let your jar hand become part of the glass and without squeezing it laterally let your lid hand become par of the metal. Move your hands, concentrating upon them completely, until one of your hands is the glass jar and the other is the metal lid. Applying the minimum force possible, simply turn the lid, not as if you were forcing a foreign object to rotate but simply by keeping your hand as one with the lid and turning it. In most cases, this synergy between you and the jar/lid will enable you to open the jar -- not by force, but by an agreement between your hands, the metal, and the glass.

    The information processing at the interface between the human body and the external world is complex and is a part of mind. The information processing that takes place within the human body, much of it in response to the outside world, is also a part of mind.

    I used to play the piano. One piece, Moussorgsky's "Pictures a an Exhibition," I practiced for an entire year before playing it for anyone else. It is made up of a series of segments, each representing a different work of art, and the promenades between them. I practiced each segment hundreds of times, and as I practiced both the nerves and the muscles in my hands and arms "learned" to play the piece more and more accurately and easily. Parts of my memory for that piece of music resided in my hands and arms, and to a lesser degree in my shoulders and back.

    Does it stretch the definition of mind to include in it my playing of "Pictures at an Exhibition" or some other piece of music? If mind is everything the body does, then we need a new science of action and reaction to describe those aspects of the body's behavior. As things stand now, the fullest definition of "mind" would be "the information processing the body does in the context of perception and action in the external world."

    We don't want the definition of mind to become so broad that it is vacuous, which is what would happen if "mind" came to be synonymous with "behavior." Mind is all about information processing. It can arise in physical symbol systems, biological or inorganic. Information processing is influenced by the physical processor in which it takes place, hence the Embodiment Hypothesis. How is it influenced? That is outside of my areas of expertise at present. I have a number of books on it I've been meaning to read for several years.

  38. PART III of II

    Body interfaces with the world in sophisticated ways, and mind is there, but not only there. I used to be in the mind building business; some of my friends still are. An exercise I've performed for the last 33 years is to observe myself when I'm puttering about in the kitchen: preparing meals, but especially cleaning up after them. I've been programming computers since 1967, so as I'm cleaning the dishes and straightening up the kitchen, I think about each movement I make, each piece of knowledge I use, and each inference I draw in such a way that I could program a general-purpose household robot to perform exactly the same tasks as I am. I've been going over this in my head (and taking a few notes) since 1977 -- 1976, actually, when I began my senior thesis on 3-D visual object recognition in human beings and machines using only contour cues, with a general-purpose household robot as the AI testbed for my proposals.

    Think about something straightforward that you do and break it down into its elemental actions, perceptions, knowledge, inferences, and decisions. You can understand that picking up a glass and looking at it requires dozens of separate actions, perceptions, and decisions -- and then you can chunk them together into a single macro-operation and study other things you do, simple on the surface but complex if how to do them had to be conveyed in their entirety to a machine (or a human child, who learns so very much so very quickly).

    Think about building a computational model of a human child. Too daunting? How about a pet cat or dog? And don't forget to build in the social and emotional components as well as the cognitive ones.

    Can you think of a better, more intriguing job to have out of all the jobs there are in the entire world? To understand understanding in its many guises: and that's just one of the perks.

  39. Dave, wow, I'll have to print your comments and ponder them over lunch. Thank you for taking the time.

    I hear you on the necessity of specificity. That's what sorts the dilettante from the serious, IMO. And, oh yes, on how amazingly *swift* our adaptations are, in sensory and processing terms.

    As for better jobs, no, I can't think of one. I think you and I are in the same game, to a degree: understanding systems of understanding. Life is good.

  40. I'm genuinely glad you can write "Life is good" and mean it, Nicola. People who have sampled many belief systems and constructed one that works for them are rare. May you thrive in all your endeavors and draw strength from those you love.