Day 188: Get a life coach.

What the hell does a life coach do?

According to the Wikipedia — or, more specifically, to a Wikipedia article with “multiple issues” — really, the thing is pretty unreadable, but you get that sometimes when anybody can edit a thing —— anyway, “life coaching is a practice that helps people identify and achieve personal goals,” and life coaches do this “using a variety of tools and techniques.”

Well, glad we cleared that up.

Life coaches aren’t therapists, they aren’t counselors, they aren’t psychologists or psychiatrists or psychoanalysts: they don’t bother with the past, apparently, only with the future — though how that’s possible I don’t know, since dealing with goals for the future has to take into account where one is in the present, and an (honest) assessment of one’s present has to involve looking at how one arrived where one is, which involves dealing with the fucking past.

Life coaches are bullshit artists, then: con men and snake oil salesmen, whose goal is to make people feel good about themselves without actually changing their lives — because actual change in the sucker’s client’s life might make the life coach obsolete — so that the people give the life coaches money.

Of course, I’m basing this less-than-flattering assessment on one section of a poorly-written Wikipedia article. Maybe I should see what some actual, professional life coaches have to say. bills itself as “the way to effortless success” — and, as anyone who’s ever done anything worth doing knows, “effortless success” does not exist.

Bill Blalock promises an “ongoing partnership that helps clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives” (emphasis his) — that’s a sentence that doesn’t really say anything. He does acknowledge that the coaching process might initially be “discomforting and even painful,” and that it can be “difficult” to talk about one’s “issues.” On the other hand, before becoming a life coach, he “held management positions at Frito Lay, Inc., Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc, Ernst & Young LLP and Cadbury Schweppes” — and one should never trust middle management.

I cruised Tina Ferguson’s site for a few minutes — it’s pinker than I like — but I have no snarky comments to make, because I can’t make sense of anything she’s saying. Alright, I do have one snarky comment: what kind of successful life coach asks her readers to send her money to blow at Starbucks? I mean, if any of you want to send me money to spend on beer coffee, that would be awesome — but if I was already charging people to spout bullshit at them, asking for tips for the bullshit I gave away for free would be tacky.

So, I think I stand by my initial assessment. Life coaches: people who take your money and make you do stupid things that aren’t really going to do you any good.

Why would I want one? Isn’t that why I have this stupid Book?

Day 138: Learn a new knot.

I’m not good at knots. I can tie my shoes, I can tie a square knot, and I can make some knot-shaped objects, but that’s the extent of my knot-tying abilities.

Or it was, until today. Today I doubled the amount of knots I know how to tie.

Before learning a new knot, I had to select a knot to learn – and, this being 2011, I went to Wikipedia and looked up ‘knots’. If I’d been at home when I was doing this, I might have looked in my Boy Scout Handbook, but I was in my office. (For the record: I was never a boy scout; I was a cub scout for one meeting, and then the troop vanished mysteriously, and that was that. But I do have the book, and I’m always prepared. Not clean, sober, thrifty, or reverent, though.)

I somehow landed on the “trucker’s hitch” page, which sounded good – where was this knot when I was trying to secure my new hot water heater a few weeks ago? – but which also turned out to be a category of knots, rather than a particular knot. I decided on the “Alpine butterfly knot” – because why not, dammit – which can be useful by itself, or in combination with a half-hitch or double-half-hitch.

The Alpine butterfly is actually pretty easy to do: two twists, a fold, another fold, a pull, and BAM! a knot. I practiced in my office, in the dark. A woman I don’t know walked past, looking pleasantly lost. She gave me the briefest of “what the fuck are you doing” looks, and I gave her back my best “tying knots in one’s office in the dark is totally normal, alright?” looks back. Then I closed my door.

I didn’t actually get to use the knot today: nothing appeared that said “tie me with an Alpine butterfly knot!” It must knot not have looked enough like a hammer to me, because I saw no nails.

So, that’s that. Today’s lesson? Learning a useful skill = boring blog post.

Day 86: Go to the wrong side of the tracks.

I’m tempted to pull the sort of thing with this phrase that I pulled with “hobby” a few weeks ago – or, rather, I was tempted to do so, until a bit of poking around in the vast soup of knowledge and nonsense that is the internet convinced me reconstructing the history of this idiom was going to require looking in actual books in a library somewhere, and I’m just not up for it tonight.

Not up for looking in books, that is: I’m just going to make this shit up as I go along.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the “tracks” are train tracks. The definite article in the idiom implies that there is only one set of tracks passing through the town – although there we’re assuming that the “wrong side” exists only where the tracks pass through some sort of community, and that the sides are neutral with respect to one another in those places that the track runs through the open countryside. I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make, but we need to be clear about it.

So. Train tracks. One set in town. I think we’ll have to assume that, especially if the town had a station, there must have been a few small spurs of track associated with the station, because practicality seems to necessitate such things. For the sake of the idiom, though, we won’t consider these separate tracks, but part of the tracks.

So. There’s one major set of train tracks running through town. How do you tell which side is the wrong side?

This is, I think, the crux of the matter. We all know that the “wrong side” is the “poor side” – the question is, as it seems to me, whether the less-than-nice side of the tracks was wrong or poor first. That is, is there something inherently undesirable about the wrong side of the tracks which means that the poor people have to live there because the bougies won’t, or is the poor side of the tracks “wrong” precisely because that’s where the poor people live?

One explanation – which I find highly dubious – is that the wrong side is wrong because it’s the side that all or most of the train exhaust ends up on, due to “prevailing winds.” It seems like, for this to be the case, the train tracks would have to run perpendicular to the prevailing winds. Right? Maybe not.

Furthermore, the immediate vicinity of the tracks on both sides are subject to air pollution and noise and hobos and stray railroad spike impalements and who knows what else – so why is it that one side is right and the other wrong, and not that both sides get “righter” the further from the tracks one gets?

This is all more or less pointless, as most places don’t just have one set of tracks anymore. Which particular set of tracks here in Sherman is the set that has a wrong and a right side? Wait, shit – if each set of tracks has a right and a wrong side, how does that work where they overlap? Can one area be really wrong, or both wrong and right and therefore neutral, or the right side of a lesser track and the wrong side of a major track and therefore wrong, but not as wrong as it could be?

Sorry, I got myself sidetracked. Wrong-tracked. Whatever.

We live only a few blocks from a set of tracks. It’s a relatively minor spur, but in the absence of an official pronouncement on the rightness or wrongness of sides of various sets of tracks, I’m going to say it’s the one. The one. And so: our house is on one side, and the Montessori pre-school Jack goes to is on the other side, and the tracks are roughly the halfway point. Either we live on the wrong side, or he goes to school on the wrong side, but either way, we visit both sides of the tracks five days a week – seven, actually, as the park, our church, and my parents are all also on the other side of the tracks from us.

So, dear Book, fuck you. I win this round.

Day 79: Become an expert on today.

The Book instructs me to “read all the newspapers” and “watch all the news bulletins” – and I can tell you right now that I absolutely did not do that. All the newspapers? There are thousands of them, far more than I could read in a week, let alone a day. I might have been able to get through a few of the big ones: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, maybe The Times (UK). It would have been a long and boring day, I think, because newspapers don’t really excite me. I scan the headlines on a daily basis, but usually that’s enough to satisfy my curiosity.

The Book then presents me with a quiz – and, true to form, most of the things it asks me are not things I’d’ve learned by reading all the newspapers. World population? Weather in Zambia? Number of astronauts in space? Number of faked orgasms? First topic on Jerry Springer, whose show is still on the fucking air?

Instead, I went to the fount of all knowledge, and learned about things that happened on this day in history – and I’m going to give you all the highlights, to save you the work of deciding what you think is interesting, noteworthy, or important – because that’s what you pay me for, right?

  • Henry IV of England died in 1413 – he had health problems. Henry V, his son, became king the next day. Later, Shakespeare wrote a bunch of plays about all of them.
  • In 1600, in the misleadingly-named Linköping Bloodbath, five Swedish nobles were publicly beheaded. Sorry, everyone, but five dead Swedish dudes doth not a bloodbath make.
  • Napoleon, in 1815, marched into Paris – not long after his escape from Elba – to begin the Hundred Days, which ended shortly after the Battle of Waterloo.
  • In 1916, Einstein published his general theory of relativity. Nearly a century later, there are still only three people who understand it.
  • Some dude named Fred Rogers was born in 1928. Not sure why this is a big deal…
  • The stupendous David Thewlis was born in 1963 – “Oh, just a friend of Maudie’s…”

There you go. Now you’re as much of an expert on today as I am, for whatever that’s worth.

A few final things, which actually pertain to the day we’re having, right now, in 2011, except in those places where it’s already tomorrow: today is the vernal equinox – the first day of spring, you spongy plume-plucked strumpets! – and Wyclef Jean was shot today, though in Haiti, not Reno.

Should’ve gotten his glock back, I guess?

Day 73: Get a hobby.

Hobby is a word with an interesting history. I looked it up – in the OED, where else? – because the definition I carry around in my head is both precise and nebulous: I can think of plenty of things that are hobbies, and I understand the connections between these disparate activities, but I didn’t think I could articulate the definition in a lucid, concise, and accurate manner.

The OED does lucid, concise, and accurate pretty well: 5. A favourite occupation or topic, pursued merely for the amusement or interest that it affords, and which is compared to the riding of a toy horse (sense 3); an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted (in the speaker’s opinion) out of proportion to its real importance.

Notice the bit about the “toy horse” – that’s a hobby-horse, which is, at its simplest, a wooden rod with a horse head at one end. This sense of “hobby-horse [4]” dates (in print, at least) to 1589, and by 1676 “hobby-horse [6]” also meant “a favourite pursuit or pastime” – and it wasn’t until 1816 that this sense of “hobby-horse” was shortened to “hobby” in the sense quoted above.

So: hobby-horse [4] as toy horse (1589) begets hobby-horse [6] as pastime (1676) begets hobby [5] as (somewhat childish and foolish) pastime (1816). As an aside: the dates in the OED are the dates that words first appeared in print (or manuscript, in some cases, and electronically, possibly, in others) – because there are records of these things – but, for example, “hobby” was probably used in speech to mean “a favourite occupation” much earlier than 1816, if only because people like to shorten things. Personally, I’d probably get tired of saying “hobby-horse” after about twenty minutes.

The earliest definition of “hobby” is a small or middle-sized horse; an ambling or pacing horse; a pony, and this definition dates (in print, in modern English) to about 1400 – and it comes from an older Middle-English word. So there. This (original) sense of the word “hobby” persisted until at least 1860, which may account for why “hobby” [5] didn’t become short for “hobby-horse” [6] until 1816.

There are, amazingly, a few other senses of “hobby-horse” worth mentioning. For a few brief years around 1820, a “hobby-horse” [5] was a kind of push-bicycle, a contraption that seems both ridiculous and ridiculously inefficient, or at least less efficient than walking – except maybe going downhill. It was forty years after this when somebody finally got the idea to add cranks and pedals, and the precursor to the modern bicycle was born.

The best sense of the word “hobby-horse,” however, first appeared in Shakespeare’s Loves Labours Lost (1598) (and again in Much Ado About Nothing, a few years later): A lustful person; a loose woman, prostitute. That’s right: a loose woman. This sense is, arguably, still present in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the first volumes of which were published in 1759 – but probably none of you will ever read it, because I seem to be one of the few people anywhere who actually enjoys it, so you don’t need to remember that any time Uncle Toby’s hobby-horse comes up, there’s a joke about prostitutes.

While this sense of “hobby-horse” never appears in print as just “hobby” – at least in the estimation of the editors of the OED – I find it hard to believe, given the closely-interrelated histories of the two words, that no instance of the word “hobby” ever puns on “hobby-horse meaning loose woman.” It’s just too good not to have happened.

Thus: I’m interpreting today’s task as “get a loose woman” – and I’m going to re-interpret that as “get a woman loose.” So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a wife to massage.

QED, motherfuckers.

Day 55: Pancake day.

My wife makes the pancakes in this house.

If I were doing this in strict accordance with the Book, I’d’ve been the one making them – but last night, when I told Lorna today was pancake day, she said “Does that mean I get to make pancakes?!”

She was so excited I couldn’t tell her no. And, really, she makes a better pancake than I do. Lorna doesn’t work from a recipe – she just throws flour and eggs and buttermilk and who knows what else into a bowl in some mad, mysterious alchemical process, and amazing pancakes come out (well, they go on the griddle first).

So this morning, we had pancakes. The kids & I went to the store to pick up some necessaries: buttermilk, maple syrup, chocolate chips, bacon. We came home. Lorna made the pancakes, I cooked the bacon, the kids ate the pancakes, Lorna and I ate the pancakes. Everybody had bacon, because who doesn’t like bacon? I washed the dishes, because that’s my job on pancake days.

The great thing about pancake days – and we have them fairly often – is that there are always leftover pancakes. We had pancakes again for lunch, and we’ll have them for an afternoon snack, and probably for breakfast again tomorrow. I might have one when Jack wakes me up at one in the morning.

I love pancakes – I didn’t know until today, though, that (at least according to Wikipedia) pancakes are thought to be the earliest prepared food: that is, not something hunted or gathered, but something cooked. Grains and glandular secretions, everything a growing boy needs.

It’s a good thing I didn’t read up on pancakes before we made them this morning, or I might have been tempted to try something a little crazy – like these, for instance (though probably not with veal, because I don’t feel right about eating baby cows – adult cows, fine, deer, fine, sheep, squirrels, rabbits, just not baby cows).

I won’t go so far as to call pancakes the perfect food – they’re close, but I think burritos are actually the perfect food. Now, if there was such a thing as a pancake burrito

Day 50: Make people notice you today!

To accomplish today’s task, I committed an act of vandalism.

Nothing like this, though. No, I vandalized (the) Wikipedia.

One of the criticisms that comes up when (the) Wikipedia is being discussed is the fact that “anyone can edit” it – which means that anyone can vandalize it. And vandalism on (the) Wikipedia isn’t always ridiculous and obvious – sometimes it’s a subtler spread of misinformation (through lies, damn lies, and statistics). How much the latter happens, I don’t know, but I still use (the) Wikipedia, and I tell my students to use it – it’s an excellent place to begin learning about something, though it’s by no means the place to stop learning about that thing. It is, I’ve found, largely reliable and informative (and it’s often obvious when a particular article is neither).

My own vandalism was pretty blatant, albeit tucked into a few obscure articles. It involved werewolves.

If you click those links, though, you won’t see anything about werewolves, because my account was suspended (for vandalism, of course) and my edits were reverted almost immediately. It really was shockingly fast. There were several other Wulfstans I had intended to werewolfize, but by the time I got to the fourth one (less than a minute after I’d werewolfized the first Wulfstan), the ban-hammer had been dropped.

I felt mixed emotions. I was stunned at the celerity with which my attempt at cyber-vandalism had been thwarted. This also made me sad. I was impressed, though, at how well (the) Wikipedia responds to this sort of bullshit – and then I realized I’d been banned not by an automated process or vandalism-bot, but by a particular user, a person who spends a not-insignificant part of his/her day watching the “recent changes” page for this sort of shenanigan. I’m not sure how that makes me feel, to be honest.

But: at least someone noticed me today.