Monthly Archives: January 2013

Psychiatrists side with newspaper hoarders, er, readers

Overlooked by mainstream media, a new disorder was added recently to the updated version of the American Psychiatric Association’s official guide to classifying mental illnesses: Cleaning Supplies Blindness.

The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders,” to be officially released at the APA’s regularly scheduled annual meeting in San Francisco in May, now lists Cleaning Supplies Blindness between Obsessive Compulsive Behavior and Post-Traumatic Clutter Disorder. This change will significantly affect how patients are labeled and limit the number of cleaning supplies they may subscribe to at any one time.

cleaning suppliesCleaning Supplies Blindness is characterized by a frantic housekeeping session followed by the random distribution of cleaning supplies in open places. Patients often proclaim they are finished cleaning even when bottles of Fantastik, dispensers of dusting spray and used sponges can be observed in supposedly “clean” rooms. In severe cases, patients actually use cleaning supplies in their interior decorating schemes, such as aquamarine Windex bottles as table centerpieces in Art Deco rooms, mops used as door stops or Andy Warhol paintings of Tide. In patients beyond the point of no return, they actually venerate bottles of Lysol or Febreze.

A clear warning sign: Bottles of hand soap on the edge of the sink are joined by dishwashing liquid and irrational tirades about “dirty sinks” which are marred only by water spots.

Most troublesome for the loved ones of victims of Cleaning Supplies Blindness is the penchant of patients to rant and rave about stacks of books and piles of dog toys; sometimes patients actually secretly throw away old newspapers belonging to roommates and spouses, leaving dust rags and unused vacuum cleaner bags in their place. Patients are often considered highly hypocritical.

Patients who meet the criteria for having Cleaning Supplies Blindness are treated with exposure therapy, meaning they must cope for prolonged periods of time with clutter considered by other people to be useful and beautiful (like out-of-circulation slick magazines, recipes torn from periodicals and attractive baskets full of electronic device chargers). Unfortunately, effective treatments are rare and the associates of such patients must simply learn to accept and live with the diagnosis of Cleaning Supplies Blindness in their loved ones.

Cleaning Supplies Blindness previously was considered a part of the Anal-Retentive Spectrum of Behaviors. Dr. John Smith, who leads group therapy sessions for loved ones of victims in an effort to prevent explosive retaliation, says the change is based on extensive research that has been going since Procter and Gamble introduced Swiffer cleaning products in 1999.

“It’s something that we need to deal with,” he said, “because it contributes to self-delusions of cleaning superiority among its victims and it really has highly irritating effects for collateral players who simply appreciate easy access to unread newspaper and magazines, however high their piles get.”

Book reveals complex nature of Steve Jobs’ success

Readers with any interest in biography, business, technology or the company of Apple would appreciate Walter Isaacson’s 630-page tome on Steve Jobs.

I found it fascinating. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the great Christmas present.

Isaacson’s biography of the Apple icon is a bit workmanlike, but it successfully illumines the man behind the Apple Macintosh computer and iEverything.

I knew Jobs was a creative genius. This book shows in detail how he contributed to the inventions to which he’s credited, without underplaying the contributions of others like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Apple chief designer Jony Ive. Isaacson interviewed more than 100 family members, friends and adversaries for the book, and his research shows. I was particularly impressed with the volume of comments from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jobs’s quintessential competitor.

What I didn’t know was what an “asshole” Steve Jobs was (that’s Isaacson’s word). Isaacson’s descriptions of Jobs’s vulgar language, his treatment of anyone he didn’t consider an A player (including hapless waiters) and his arrogance in the face of criticism make him sound like a tyrant. His soft side as a parent is barely perceptible. Isaacson also spends a lot of time describing Jobs’s strange diet (which doesn’t make him an asshole, per se, but is evidence of his sometimes strange perspective). Primarily a vegetarian throughout his life, he sometimes spent weeks drinking only carrot juice or eating only apples. Early on in his career, numerous people complained about Jobs’s body odor because he failed to shower regularly, under the misguided assumption that his fruitarian diet prevented B.O. Reading between the lines, Jobs’ thought his shit didn’t stink.

What a jerk.

Still, I admire his business philosophies and design aesthetics. Isaacson packages the story in such as way as to make me believe the genius would not have been that way without the asshole.

One might wonder if Isaacson really needed so many pages to describe Jobs’ life. I never found him wordy, and I read straight through. I can’t imagine the reams of information he had to comb through. The author repeats some details a bit much (like descriptions of Jobs’ diet and bad language), but that approach actually offers a way for someone who only wants to know about, say, Jobs’ career at Pixar or how the iPod came to life, to dip into only those chapters and still have context.

The “story” is presented more or less chronologically, which may not be literary, but it’s sort of required in a standard biography. Isaacson writes a nice summation at the end though he comes off like a bit of a sycophant (“History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford”; perhaps so, Mr. Isaacson, but history will tell us that so you don’t need to).

steve jobs coverThe cover is perfect for a biography of a man who found simplicity to be sophisticated. Though Jobs had little to do with the words inside (other than provide 40 interviews with Isaacson), he did influence the cover before he died. It’s only the words “Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson” and a backgroundless image of Jobs gazing out at the reader with his legendary stare. It’s as menacing as it is pure.

Other Minnesota Transplant posts about Steve Jobs:


The Power(Point) of magical thinking

“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

~ Steve Jobs

After reading “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, I learned the founder of Apple who died in 2011 was a foul-mouthed narcissist who routinely dressed down employees, vendors and clients by calling them “shitheads” and much worse in corporate meetings.

I used to admire the man and his innovative thinking. Now, I just admire his innovation and appreciate his aesthetics.

Still, I love the philosophy on PowerPoint from the man who coined “Think Different.”

Slide presentations can be effective and powerful in a lecture setting where a single speaker is talking authoritatively to a large group. The best slide presentations rely heavily on images and short headlines designed to underscore the point being made by the speaker. Even Jobs used PowerPoint in his Apple product launches.

But in a business setting, PowerPoint is often gee-wizardry designed to overpower weak thinkers or mask weak thinking.

It’s not surprising, given Jobs’s contempt for ineptitude, that he would refuse to listen to PowerPoint presentations in his boardroom because he apparently much preferred to get into people’s faces and intimidate them into his way of thinking (different). But even without the rudeness, he had a point.

I can’t tell you how many bad PowerPoint presentations I sat through during my years as a corporate drone. I was mute witness to thousands of slides filled with statistics, complicated diagrams and words, words, words, often created by an MBA who was trying to prove her superior intelligence. Sometimes I even helped create such works of dazzling BS in my role to make a weak-thinking boss look good in front of a board of directors.

Not my best work.

Just for fun (because I’m arrogant and rude like a supercilious CEO sometimes, too), I dug up an example from my past (slightly modified to protect the guilty) of a “shitty” slide (in Steve Jobs’s parlance) that was used as more of a crutch for the speaker than to underscore a point for the audience:

shitty slideLots of pretty colors, huh? It’s like an explosion of baffling brilliance. You know you’re in trouble with your deck when you have to say, “You can’t read this one, but … .” For the eagle-eyed, I especially love this particular slide because it mentions “Oprah” as part of the strategy on the same level as “Bus. Cards” (because there wasn’t enough room for “Business Cards”). Thank goodness Oprah has a short name. And she’s so accessible.

Jobs was profane when he encountered such incompetence, and I wish I would have read that he learned a little more compassion before he died of cancer. In my case, I’m just grateful I’m no longer sitting in a boardroom full of shitheads patting each other on the back for crappy PowerPoint presentations.

Tomorrow: My book review of Walter Isaacson’s biography

Happy birthday today to my dear sister who served as a punching bag while we were growing up (I’m sorry) and is a wonderful sounding board now that we’re adults. She’s a lot of great things in this world, but she’s an especially good mother to my nephews. And she reads books the same way my mother does: Perpetually (authors adore readers like that).

In honor of her birthday, I’m reblogging this gem from Minnesota Transplant in 2009. Fortunately, the weather in her part of the world isn’t nearly so cold for her 44th birthday as it was for her 40th.

Minnesota Transplant

My sister and her husband, who live in Central Minnesota, were watching “3:10 to Yuma” together one evening not long ago.

If you’ve watched that movie, you know it’s a Western starring Christian Bale, and it has a lot of shooting, as Westerns are wont to do.

So, it’s a cold winter night in Central Minnesota, and they’re cuddled up on the couch watching a shoot ’em up Western.

When suddenly! A shot rang out!

My sister, who is a worry wart anyway, was spooked. My brave brother-in-law (a level-headed commercial airline pilot) did not immediately assume it was a gun shot. Instead, he came to a more logical conclusion (at least, logical for a lifelong Minnesotan):

“Do you think that could have been one of the Coke cans in garage fridge exploding?”

Indeed it was. It was so cold that a soda can in the fridge out in the…

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Embrace sloth

“We think if we’re not working, we’re being lazy. But continuous exertion impedes our creativity.”

~ Erica Jong

A handsome mustache

Today, my Beloved shaved the mustache and goatee that have made a home on his face for years. He looks like a different person: When he finished and looked in the mirror, he said, “My God, I look like my dad.”

Many mornings, I look in the mirror and I wish the reflection were kinder, but fortunately, I never say, “I look like my dad.”

*To be fair, my father is a handsome man. And he might even make a handsome woman. But I don’t aspire to be “handsome.”

“We can’t be lovers because we both have mustaches. But since you’re a lady and I’m a gentleman, I’ll shave mine off.”

~ Jarod Kintz

Lucky 13 ways to make new friends

“Making friends is hard,” I heard someone say the other day.
I don’t agree. OK, making real friends isn’t as easy as clicking “accept” on Facebook; making friends takes effort, but it isn’t difficult. You just have to go looking for people and then invest a little time in them. I’ve made three major cross-country moves in my adult life, which is nothing compared to some nomads, but it gives me a little experience in how to make friends in a new place. Probably most of my friends were made at work, but that’s not the only place.
If one of your new year’s resolutions is to make more real friends, here is a list of places — besides work — where you could find new friends:
  1. Book club: Check the library or a bookstore — ask people who work there because they might know of non-public groups you could get involved with. I love book clubs.
  2. Dance class: I just watched “Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie about a guy who has bi-polar disorder and takes up dance. How about beginning ballet or belly dancing? Even Zumba classes, which is sort of dancey fitness, might be fun.
  3. Professional group: All kinds of professional groups exist, especially for women. I attended a Smart Skirts gathering once in Chicago. Very cosmopolitan. Google can help here or ask a former professor what kinds of groups she might recommend or belong to.
  4. Politics: Small communities are always looking for volunteers for park boards and other groups. Also, your local Washington or state representatives might need volunteers for their campaigns. The library might have a Friends of the Library group or a library board. 
  5. Parent group: Whether you’re a mom of twins or preschoolers, a single dad or a stay-at-home one, a stepmother or something else, there’s probably a group for you.
  6. Church: With more “spiritual” than “religious” in America nowadays, church might not your thing, but you can certainly make friends at one where you’re comfortable. Not sure which church/temple/shrine to visit? Try this quiz.
  7. Poetry slams and book readings: Consider taking up writing poetry and reading it out loud at coffee bars. OK, I know this is a stretch, but even attending such an event and talking with the people who do read their stuff might be appealing.
  8. Community education: Take a class in making meatballs or photography or anything else that might interest you. You’ll find people with similar interests.
  9. Direct sales: During my time in the direct selling industry, I saw thousands of women make lifelong friends  You don’t even really have to sell much. Good companies have regular meetings where you can meet other people selling and using the same products. Pick a company whose products you love — like a food company or Pampered Chef if you like cooking, or jewelry if you like fashion, or Stampin’ Up or Creative Memories if you like crafts, or a candle company or Longaberger baskets if you like decorating your home. You can find a list of companies here
  10. Leisure sports: Find a dart club or bowling league or bike group or jogging club. You’ll get exercise even if you don’t make friends.
  11. Toastmasters: I loved Toastmasters, a club where you learn and practice public speaking. (This would be good for your resume, too.)
  12. Knitting or quilting: Want to take up a new hobby? Almost every yarn store and fabric store offers classes and clubs for learning together.
  13. Alumni group: Find other people who graduated from the same school as you. LinkedIn should have groups to find where you can make posts about alumni meetings or outings.
 Have you used I haven’t tried it, but if you have, let me know — depending where you live, there are dozens of options for all kinds of interests. Not finding what interests you? Create a meet up of your own.
Good luck on your friend quest.

If you appreciate nonlinear storytelling and big words, this blog post is for you (and so is this movie)

Tonight, my Beloved and I watched “The Burning Plain,” a cleverly constructed drama from 2008 about a sommelier, a crop duster in Mexico and a woman having a steamy affair with a Latino.

[I just had to throw “sommelier” out there. One of the characters actually is a sommelier, but when I used that word to reconstruct the story for my Beloved, whose attention lapsed momentarily, he said, “What? What’s a sommelier?” “You know, the woman at the restaurant in the beginning?” “You mean Charlize Theron?” “Yes, her. She’s a sommelier.” “Who uses the word ‘sommelier’ in everyday conversation?”]

[A sommelier is a wine expert in a restaurant.]

I’m as big a fan of nonlinear narrative as I am of big words, and “The Burning Plain” tells its story in a compelling nonlinear way.

At first, I was impressed with Kim Basinger, who I had assumed was a has-been, but she oozes sexuality and desperation so effectively, I both loved and pitied her.

About halfway through, I figured out what was going on, but by then I was caught up in the characters and wondering how the story would resolve. Brilliant storytelling.

[“Memento,” the story of a man with short-term memory loss told in reverse order, is another one of those movies that compels viewers to watch it a second time to put all the pieces together.]

Though I have no proof other than deja vu and coincidence, I believe linear time is a human construct. I’m not convinced everything actually happens in sequential, chronological order; I think we human beings with our puny understanding simply experience it that way. So to see a movie that plays with chronology and tells an interesting story fascinates me.

As the final credits rolled on “The Burning Plain,” I said the same phrase I uttered at the end of another nonlinear flick, “The Lake House,” a time-travel romance starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock: “I wish I could write a story like that!”

To which my Beloved, ever the optimistic cheerleader even as he scoffs at my vocabulary, replied: “Why don’t you?”

If I was really clever, I would have written this post in a nonlinear narrative fashion.

But I’m not that clever.

Pastor’s finish line

Just five months ago, I met Pastor Gleason for a run around Hampshire, and he mentioned he was seeing a doctor the next week.

“I found blood in my urine,” he said. “But I’m feeling good enough for a run.”

We began, as always, with a short prayer during which he asked for safe passage on the streets. I told him we’d take it easy but to do that wasn’t sacrificing anything for me. This man, at 59, could run 7-minute miles when he wanted to, so sticking to my 11- or 12-minute pace was literally a walk in the park.

Pastor always slowed his pace for me when we ran together once or twice a month as part of the church’s Walk R Run club. Usually, we were joined by walkers so I had him to myself for 40 minutes to chat about running, religion, the news or our families. On that run, I talked about my book, which was about to come out, and he talked about his brother, who had died recently.

After we finished and we were downing bottles of water while I stretched my calves in the parking lot, I wished him luck with the doctor and we parted.

It was our last Walk R Run club outing.

The blood in his urine turned out to be a symptom of kidney cancer. Pastor died yesterday.

I wrote about him last month here when he appeared briefly at church for a baptism. I had hoped it was a good sign, but I could see aggrieved concern in his wife’s eyes.

I will miss him for so many reasons. I enjoyed running with him and hearing about his marathon goals. He also supported my writing; he was a regular commenter on Minnesota Transplant. And he was a good pastor to me.

I will always be grateful to him for welcoming us into his church even though he knew my Beloved and I were “living in sin.” He wasn’t judgmental like that. He married my Beloved and me, and he confirmed my stepson.

He once commented here that his favorite Bible verse was John 8:12:

 “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

If Pastor had penned John’s line, it might have been “run” instead of “walk.” In any case, he was traveling in light.

When I was in fifth grade, another pastor of mine died of cancer. I remember being impressed with the church filled to capacity, and I remember singing the hymn “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” At 12, I thought it strange to sing such a joyful song at a funeral, but I now realize how appropriate an Easter message was:

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

I’ve thought of “I Know My Redeemer Lives” as I mourn Pastor, too. God always protected us runners on the roadway, and I’m confident He prepared safe passage for Pastor Gleason on his final journey.

A memory of mail that sticks

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I joined stamp club.

Stamp club wasn’t like the band twirlers, who had sparkly outfits and cute marching boots. They got to learn impressive gymnastic routines while throwing their batons in the air.

That was a cool group.

I wasn’t that cool.

But stamp club had stamps!

For a girl who played office with her mother’s tape dispenser and a rickety metal TV tray, postage stamps were a must-have prop, as crucial as notepaper and a telephone (preferable one with push buttons — “Yes, Mr. Kadiddlehopper? You want me to take dictation? I’ll be right in”).

Back then, in the stone age, stamps had to be licked to affix. People back then mailed things, too, I guess, rather than Drop-Boxing or Instagramming or Facebooking important paperwork.

In any case, stamps prettied up an envelope, and we cavemen found it fun to collect the colorful bits of paper.

stampsI bring up stamps at all, not because I’m waxing nostalgic for stamp club, but because I want to remind you to invest in Forever stamps now. The U.S. Postal Service is charging a penny more per letter beginning Saturday, Jan. 27; first-class postage goes up to 46 cents.

Honestly, it amazes me that I can send a letter across the country from my yard to a friend’s house for just 45 cents, so 1 cent more doesn’t bother me. But saving money is still saving money. So get thee to the post office today.