Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: December, 2020

It Isn’t the End Yet

Anyone who thinks that everything will be different once the clock hits midnight tonight is delusional. Sure, a lot of Really Not Good things have happened this year, but all of the problems resulting from those things aren’t going to magically be solved once it’s 2021. If anything, I suspect it’s going to be an uphill battle.

If this year has shown us anything, it’s that our assumption that people will do what’s right during a crisis is wrong. There is always a subset of people who won’t do what’s right, reasonable or rational. And when the world climbs out of the hole (hopefully some time next year) and we finally have breathing space to make plans on what to do if (when?) something like this happens again–contingency plans will have to be built in to take into account, well, the selfish people. Otherwise we’re doomed to repeat history.

Anyways, maybe this is a good time to look back at what I had posted at the beginning of this year. I had a list of non-resolution resolutions:

  • Post more to this blog.
  • Post more consistently to my postcard blog.
  • Write more regularly (instead of just binge writing during NaNoWriMo  events).
  • Submit stories to places more often.
  • Read more books (and reduce the size of my to-be-read pile).

Post more to this blog. This certainly did not happen. I think I posted less. It’s only in these past couple of days that I’ve tried posting regularly again. I don’t know how long that will last once work gets going again. I technically work for an “essential business” that makes medical devices. Because of the pandemic, things have been extremely busy. I suspect after the holidays, there will be more cases and thus more demand for medical supplies. And in an indirect way, this will mean more work for me.

Post more consistently to my postcard blog. Well, this was one of the things that did happen. Posting about postcards does not take that much effort and because I wasn’t able to spend any of my free time elsewhere, this was where some of my free time went. Once everyone is able to freely travel again, however, my posting frequency might take a nosedive.

Write more regularly. Nope. Definitely did not happen. I was mostly stuck writing reports for work and after writing reports, I’m usually too mentally drained to write for fun.

Submit stories to places more often. Because of the above reasons, this did not happen either.

Read more books. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time or brain space to read more books. I read nine books and started a bunch of other ones which I’m in the middle of right now–so maybe I could round it up to ten. It’s a rather dismal number, but I suppose it could be worse. I would be absolutely happy if I could read a book a week, but my current workload would really have to be cut back a lot.

So yeah, whatever I thought would happen at the beginning of 2020 certainly did not happen. As for 2021, I think it would be best if I kept my expectations low.

Postcard Set Review #2: Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford

I’m afraid how I obtained this particular set of postcards was rather more prosaic. I saw Lost Ocean on sale at Target and I bought it. That’s pretty much it.

In general, I don’t like coloring. I know for others, it’s a calming activity. For me, it’s the opposite. I find myself too constrained by coloring within the lines and picking an acceptable color scheme. It’s just putting color on art that someone else has already created. Coloring to be the grunt work to be done after the creative people are done with it. But those are my own hang-ups about coloring. That doesn’t mean that other people can’t enjoy what I find distasteful.

Anyways, with coloring postcards, I always send them as is and I figure the recipient can color them however they wish. Lost Ocean seemed to be a fun theme as themes go. However, I do know that some postcard enthusiasts insist that it is the sender who must color the postcard before sending. The rationale is that the sender must put in their own effort into the postcard that they send. For me, I’m willing to put in any effort except coloring. My rationale is that once I send a postcard, it belongs to the recipient. And if a coloring postcard is sent to someone, why shouldn’t they be the ones coloring it? After all, it’s theirs.

Postcard Set Review #1: Wildflowers of California by A.R. Valentien

I’ve been thinking for a while about a series of reviews on postcard sets (books, boxes, or otherwise) that I’ve bought and personally used to send to other people. While these reviews will be more like “lightning” reviews and the frequency would be sporadic, it’s more for my own documentation and edification. Feel free to skip to the pictures below if you don’t feel like reading blather.

Several years ago, when I was still living in San Diego, I was browsing the gift shop of the San Diego Natural History Museum and came across this postcard book: Wildflowers of California. I was just beginning my postcard hobby at the time and this seemed like a pretty good deal, getting an entire book of postcards rather than purchasing them one at a time at a dollar a piece. I didn’t think too much about the artist or the subject matter at the time, only that I liked it because I like nature illustrations in general and flowers seemed like a fairly inocuous thing to mail to other random people without possibly offending any sensibilities.

This was also where I first encountered something that was published by Pomegranate–which I later learned also made a lot of other stationary and specialized in printing postcard books of fine art that could be found in a number of different museums. There’s definitely a certain style to postcards printed by Pomegranate. The card stock for postcard books is durable but slippery. I’m always afraid that any ink will smudge if it gets wet and the surface is not good for writing with ballpoint pens which require a rougher surface.
It was only later that I learned who Albert Robert Valentien was and why I was only able to find this postcard book at the San Diego Natural History Museum. It’s a shame that it’s too difficult to find a copy online and another shame that Valentien never saw his work (which took a decade to finish!) get published. His illustrations are really quite wonderful.

A Mini Thought on Megafauna

In a recent article on, James Davis Nicoll muses on the existence of megafauna in the Star Wars universe. I’m not a Star Wars fan, but it did get me thinking about the implications of megafauna in a science fiction story that was built on a better scientific basis than that franchise. Because if megafauna exists in the universe, what does that say about the environment that they were formed in? And what does it say about the civilization(s) that either allow them to exist or have to put up with their continued existence?

If there is an expansionist society in the fictional universe, I would suspect that any megafauna present had evolved to take advantage of the new niches that the civilization had created in their bid to take over galaxies. Sort of like how invasive species have become dangerous nuisances on our world due to humanity’s behavior. And similar to our world, maybe this fictional universe would also have scientists and hunters going around trying to eradicate these pesky megafauna.

Or perhaps someone deliberately set out to create the megafauna and then things went horribly, horribly wrong. Things going horribly wrong often make for interesting stories.

Tape Obsession

I don’t have a tape obsession. I just like buying washi tape on sale, even when I think I won’t need it right away. That’s how I ended up with 767 rolls of it (I counted yesterday). I’m definitely not hoarding anything because I use washi tape on stationary fairly liberally and I actually finish rolls with some regularity. I just happen to obtain them faster than I can use them, I guess.

My inadvertent washi tape collection is more of a result of my postcard hobby more than anything else. I know you don’t need washi tape on postcards. All you need is the postcard itself, a writing utensil to write your message and the address you’re sending it to, and stamps. (One might argue that stamps aren’t even necessary. Technically, you could just go to the post office and have your neighborhood postal worker slap a metered sticker on it.) But  somewhere along the way, I discovered you could put washi tape on a postcard and make the message side of it seem a bit more lively.

There are some people who are obviously very old school when it comes to postcards. It must be a certain size. It has to be a tourist card made in your location. It must be handwritten (cursive, of course). And the stamps must be “beautiful” (whatever that means) and be stuck on there with the old style gum adhesive that a lot of countries have already abandoned in favor of the sticker. Washi tape, stickers, stamp art, colored pens other than blue or black, postcards made of anything but paper or just a centimeter too wide or long–which old school postcard enthusiasts consider absolutely verboten. So if I’m sending a postcard to one of these people, I do stick to the bare minimum. Except for the stamps. I use the most recent I have available and if they gnash their teeth and scream to the heavens that it’s yet another sticker stamp, well, too bad. The other ones aren’t easily obtained any more.

As for everyone else, I decorate. I am no artist or designer, but there’s a certain satisfaction with turning the blank white side of a postcard into a pop of color. It’s my chance to put my own imprint onto the postcard in a visual message, rather than a verbal one. And washi tape helps achieve that in a fun and easy way. Taping things can be relaxing, too.  But I view this more as a postcard adjacent activity rather than something that I would just do for its own sake. If washi tape didn’t exist, I would be busy doing some other type of decoration and I don’t think my enjoyment of writing a postcard would be any less.

Unlike some washi tape fans, I do not have a favorite brand. I am barely aware of brands, to be honest. Mostly when I see washi tape in a store, I first look at the price and then the length of each roll. And then I calculate whether or not it’s worth it. This is why I typically buy washi tapes in sets rather than in individual rolls. And I’m sure I’ll find a use for whatever designs happen to be in those sets.

Anyways, to end this long rambling post about stationary, I’m including a picture of some washi tape with cute designs below. If you have ever bought washi tape, how did you choose the ones that you purchased? What do you do with your washi tape? Has your washi tape stash turned into a collection hoard rather than a working stock? Or are you totally new to the world of washi tape?

A Current Thought on Ebooks

There are still people around who will still insist that ebooks are rubbish and that reading should be done with physical books. I get the sense that they’re afraid that the physical book will go the way of the dodo and they’ll be forced to only read ebooks all the time. To some people, having the book as a physical object is something that they find comfort in. Personally, I think there’s room for both physical books and ebooks. And having people from either side trying to advocate for their way of reading as correct is a pointless exercise. There are multiple purposes to reading and physical books and ebooks may be better suited for one purpose or another.

So it was with interest that I read the essay “Confessions of a Kindle Convert.” I would say that I agree with the points made in it. Having an ebook is so convenient. I can literally access my entire Kindle library from my phone and read wherever I find myself, whether it’s waiting in line at a store or traveling somewhere. And if there’s a book that I want to read that’s not currently in my library, well, I can buy it right then and there. Instant gratification. As for making me a more adventurous reader, I think that’s true, too. I’ve been able to read some really crazy stuff that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be found on most bookstore or library shelves.

There are some people who will insist that they cannot read on screens and so will never buy ebooks. To that, I just shrug. That’s fine. If you only want to read physical books and ignore ebooks altogether, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t tell me that I need to change my reading habits to match yours. I got used to reading on a screen in grad school after I decided that printing out reams of paper just for journal articles was a waste. (I definitely did not want to end up like another grad student whose desk turned into a towering fortress of dead trees and printer ink.) For me, having a library of ebooks is practical as I don’t have very much physical space in my home in the first place.

That said, I would say the existence of ebooks and physical space limitations has an enormous influence on what sorts of books I purchase. I am far more experimental and impulsive when it comes to ebooks. I have so many ebooks that, well, we should probably not talk about how many ebooks I have in my library. Just know that it’s a ridiculous number and that I should make a concentrated effort to get some of them read. I still buy physical books, but I am far more picky about what I end up taking home with me. It’s not only about the author or subject. It’s also about the publisher, the condition, and even sometimes the edition.

While there are certainly some downsides about ebooks–most which I feel stem from far deeper systemic inequalities which aren’t inherently the fault of the technology itself–I think ebooks has just made the reading experience so much easier. People shouldn’t be ashamed of reading an ebook instead of a physical book. Being a snob about physical books in particular  just paints one as a materialistic rather than cerebral. Because in either case, you’ve read the same words and the author has gotten their ideas across to you.

Gift Wrapping

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays–whatever you celebrate or not, I wish all of you who read this the best. If you decide to read on, I’ll be blabbering about gift wrapping because, well, why not.

Frankly, I hate gift wrapping. I can do it, but certainly not as efficiently as a clerk in a Japanese department store. Instead, I use gift bags whenever possible. No fuss, no muss. And people really only care about the gift anyway. As a bonus, you can save the environment and reuse the bag. Wrapping takes too much effort–the results of which will end up in the trash anyway. Anyone insisting that using wrapping paper is more virtuous than a gift bag is someone who clearly values arbitrary traditions over other people’s time or the enormity of their carbon footprint.

I was also reminded of the futility of gift wrapping after watching the SNL skit “Christmas Morning.” To be honest, that skit made me more angry and sad rather than amused. There’s just something about the holidays that make some people even more selfish than usual. And as for the people who try to make it awesome for everyone else? More likely than not, they are the least rewarded.

On a related note: decorations. I don’t do these either. When I got a flyer at the beginning of December from property management at my apartment complex about a holiday decorating contest, that flyer went right into the recycling bin. I am not spending any money on something that will only benefit other people’s sense of aesthetics. When people have asked me about decorating my home for Christmas, I simply reply, “I’m thinking about it.” Sometimes I’m conflict adverse and I don’t want to get into an argument with someone who will insist that I must put up a Christmas tree in my living room. And that if I don’t do so, I’m living a sad and depressing life.

I guess ultimately, I don’t really understand people’s obsession with the glittery veneer of the holidays and the urge to show off how awesome their holiday is–that despite the pandemic their life is still perfect and Instagrammable. And that includes the wrapped gifts, the photogenic dinner spreads, the smiling cherubic faces. It’s an extraordinary effort for a fantasy. Maybe I’m too practical, but I prefer dealing with reality where I’m sleeping as much as my cat, watching too many Youtube videos, and eating a pizza just because I can.

Books as Gifts

I’m going to just come out and say it: giving books as gifts is a bad idea. The only exceptions are when someone explicitly has a wishlist of specific books and says, “I want to get X, Y, Z” or when you know someone so intimately well that you are absolutely certain that what you pick will be well received. If you want to give books as gifts but still have a fuzzy-wuzzy  feeling for what the recipient will like, get a gift card to a bookstore and they can pick whatever book they want.

The reason I say this is that I’m kind of annoyed by people who insist that everyone needs to read so-and-so book. And the so-and-so book is almost never an academic textbook that at least has a veneer of objectivity. It’s always some pop culture fiction or memoir or self-help book or the Bible. But even if they were suggesting an academic textbook, I don’t think it’s going to change my life. Because I’m one of those weirdos who don’t think that a single book has changed my life. And if I’m on my deathbed, one of the things I’m not going to regret is not reading a particular book. There are things in life that are way more important than getting obsessed with one book.

Even so, I still think reading is very important–I just don’t believe in getting hung up on one book or even a set of particular books. I’m more interested in the process–in digesting the words, engaging critical thinking skills, and using the imagination. Certain subjects do intrigue me more than others and that’s where my reading tastes come in. And to be honest, I don’t really think anyone really knows my reading taste truly. While I do sometimes mention what books I’m reading or do an occasional review here or there, I do not meticulously record all  the books I’ve obtained for all to see.

(One might argue that my LibraryThing account is a document of my reading tastes, but I would say it’s only partly my reading tastes since I haven’t updated that in years and even when it was “current” it was only a list of books I’ve reviewed at one time or other–not the entirety of my actual reading diet or the entirety of my actual library.)

Well, that was a long-winded way to say that I would rather people not gift me books even though I’m a reader. It’s been a rare thing that I actually enjoy a book that someone has deliberately given me. Recommendations for me have also generally fallen flat. Most of my favorite books have been found through serendipity more than anything else. And perhaps  that’s part of the journey–that I discover these books myself rather than having them handed to me without any effort, wrapped in a bow.

Impossible Islands

The reason why I call this post “Impossible Islands” is that, well, it’s impossible to get to an island right now with all the travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Which is really too bad. I love traveling, when it’s for fun and not work. And when I’m thinking about what place to go next, I almost immediately think about islands or some other remote area. It’s probably due to my sense of adventure (since real life isn’t too terribly exciting) and my introvert’s tendency to love isolation.

But that said, I’m not going to rush off for an island vacation once travel restrictions have eased. I suspect everyone will be rushing off to vacation once restrictions have eased and anywhere that had any tourist activity before the pandemic will have many times more once it’s over. And if I want to find a place that is an island of tranquility, I’m going to have to think outside the box in terms of vacation locations.

The most obvious unconventional island is to just stay at home and not interact with anyone. But that’s pretty much been the norm for the past couple of months so I don’t think this would count. I don’t particularly want to immediately travel to obscure places either. Because other  people will be traveling at the same time and since there are only a finite number of thoroughfares, there is bound to be a hoard of people on that same road even if they’re not exactly going to my destination.

No, my thought is to harness the wonders of technology and the Internet to figure out where  all the traffic is going and what places people are visiting–which can easily be seen by Google Maps. That would give more real time information on where the crowds are gathering.

As to what locations that could be predicted to be “islands”: perhaps places where people aren’t restricted to any more. Like grocery stores. Maybe when people aren’t so worried about toilet paper and bread flour and are spending more time in restaurants, the dairy aisles will be empty and the fruit stands lonely.  If there are enough people feeling too starved for human interaction, they will flock to crowded attractions to see and be seen.  And maybe it will be easier to go to those places where you can hike alone and hidden without stumbling upon another human being crazed with cabin fever.

The Breaking Willow

Another article that I’ve recently read that made me think, was this one in The Atlantic about anxiety in children. I think there have always been anxious people. It’s just that recently, people are more open to admitting to having anxiety and seeking treatment for it.

Obviously, as a human, I do have anxiety sometimes. I don’t think I have more than the typical normal person, though. I tend to think of myself as go-with-the-flow. I’ve noticed that for some circumstances which I can easily shrug off, others become extremely high strung and panicky.  There are people I know who become extremely anxious and even have nervous breakdowns under situations that I would consider no big deal and I often think, “If they had my job–well–they would never survive handling my job.” 

My job is a never-ending series of tight deadlines which I normally thrive on because I really like Getting Things Done. Other people hate deadlines and just want to do things at their own pace. There’s nothing wrong with that. They just work differently than I do. So when I hear people complaining and stressing about their job, about how everyone expects them to get things done Right Now, all I can think of is that maybe they need to find a job that better suits them. Even if under some circumstances, finding another job isn’t practical. (And then my second thought would be to chastise myself for having no empathy because my first thought shouldn’t be that they are ill-suited for a high stress job, it should be that they need to find help to deal with their anxiety.)

Anyways, I know anxiety isn’t always about deadlines and it can have all sorts of triggers–some rational, some not. Maybe it’s uncertainty about a situation or the fear of being a failure to society or those you love. Maybe it’s fear or anger or potentially realizing that  you’ve been wrong all this time. Maybe it’s from a past trauma or just part of your personality. Whatever it is, I definitely do not have an answer. I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist. I only have my own personal experience to go on which probably isn’t relevant to anyone except myself.

As for helping children with anxiety–well, I was thinking that parents could help with that by modeling good coping strategies. My parents were fairly level headed–if something happened, well it happened. And we would just deal with it. Being very practical minded helped in situations that could have otherwise been quite stressful. Of course, now I’m of an age where some of my peers have children in elementary and middle school. I don’t have any children myself so I don’t really have anything relevant to say in terms of child-rearing–but from my observations of my peers, they seemed worried a lot. It’s definitely an uncertain time. And I think no matter how hard they may try to hide and pretend rather than being forthright about it, children are clever and observant, and it would be foolish to think that a parent’s worry wouldn’t rub off onto their child.