On October 1, 2019, two new books of mine will be released! One of them is a short story collection. The star is a little ghost named Franklin, who just doesn’t get the whole haunting thing. Interested to read the first 2 parts (of 4) of Franklin’s story, and to see the Table of Contents for the book? Then click on the Download link below!
As promised, when my Facebook Author page reached 200, I wrote a story based upon poll results. Here’s the Evil Item of Clothing story…
“He was shot in both eyes?”, Detective Horne said, incredulously.
“Yes, apparently so, although the killer was a bit off with the left eye – it was slightly off center. Right appears dead on.”, Crime Scene Investigator Carr noted. They found themselves at the scene of a murder – the victim, 25 year old Campbell Smith.
Campbell was known to the police force, as he frequently pressed his luck with the women in town. Perhaps he’d even gone too far a few times, to hear some of the ladies tell it. But it was 1947, decades from the MeToo movement of 70 years in the future. Women knew to stay clear of Campbell, and perhaps he’d crossed the wrong woman this time. Or perhaps it had been a fight over some other illicit thing. The dark alley they stood in was home to many potential crimes, of passion, of power, or of vice. And while the case stayed open for the requisite amount of time, no leads ever panned out, and the death of Campbell Smith was never solved. Carr and Horne, though, kept it somewhat alive over the following decades.
It was 2019, and Whitney Smith had developed a new talent over the past few weeks, one that amused her new husband of just under a month. It seemed that she’d found that the cushions on their couch were just rough enough to pull off a minor miracle.
Whitney and Rodney had moved into the old townhome, which had sat abandoned for a number of years. The neighborhood was coming back – and they were among the first to join the party. An old coal town that had died out amidst the energy crisis of the 1970s, it was now the home to several new families and businesses. All thanks to a tech giant that had opened a new corporate office just a few miles away. Both Whitney and Rodney worked for that company, transfers in from the West Coast, excited to start married life in a new place.
“Are you doing it again?”, Rodney asked, as they sat watching TV. He couldn’t help but notice his wife shifting oddly against her seatback.
“Almost… almost… GOT IT”, she replied. Feeling a sense of freedom, she slipped her arms deftly into her shirt one at a time. She then reached up under her outer garment and emerged with the offending item – her bra. Tossing it across the room, it landed in a pile of its siblings. Rodney just shook his head.
“How many do I have over there?”, she idly asked. He did a quick count.
“Must be Wednesday”, she said with a laugh. Indeed, it was.
Later that week, due to the fact that newlyweds are not flush with money and, thus, bras were not expendable, Whitney walked over to the corner of the room that had become her upper torso undergarment repository. Picking up the pile, and realizing she couldn’t remember the last time she washed a few of these items, she pushed them down into the laundry chute. Older homes had such conveniences, although this was the first time they had decided to make use of it. Coming down to the basement, Whitney opened the chute, to find a surprise.
40 years earlier, Investigator Carr found Detective Horne as the latter pulled a shot glass out from his desk drawer, and a bottle of scotch. It had been 30 years since Campbell Smith’s murder, yet the two cops recalled it as one of the oddest of their career thanks to the twin bullet holes.
“You here to tell me I don’t need this?”, Horne said to Carr.
“On the contrary – given what I’ve been reading about over the past few months, we might both want to take a drink”, Carr replied.
“What ya got?”, Horne said, pouring two shots and placing one across the desk.
“It’s on the Smith case”, Carr began, “I guess I’ve never been able to give it up. Found this crazy idea after reading some newspaper ads.”
“A shot in the dark… well, two shots… is how we got into this mess. Maybe it’ll help us get out. As long as we have two shots of our own.”, Horne said, finishing the sentence and the shot.
“OK, stick with me. This is a bit weird.”
“Go for it”
“OK. So, do you know who Mary Phelps Jacob is?”
“Yeah, not many do. Popular belief would have it that she invented the lady’s brassiere in 1914. However, I’ve uncovered something a bit more… sinister?”, Carr said, with confusion.
“You aren’t sure of your own story?”, Horne asked.
“It’s just too weird. I found it in an old historical text, and I’m still digesting it.”
“Well get it out – especially if it will help us stop talking about this case after this long.”
“OK… OK… so… apparently the brassiere was actually invented by the Devil.”
Horne looked at Carr with incredulity.
“The guy with the horns, tail, and penchant for punishment?”
“OK… and you read this?”
“I have a friend who is studying ancient religious texts. He told me about a few books that the Council of Nicene ruled as too scandalous to include in the Bible. One is the Book of Basanizo, which translates to torment in Greek. It tells of the creation of restrictive clothing, a punishment straight from Old Scratch himself.”
“You know this sounds crazy”, Horne said, pouring another shot.
“Yeah… but it gets worse… Ever hear of Lilith?”, Carr replied.
“Uh… no”, Horne said.
“Well, Lilith is a sexually wanton demon of the night. Apparently she wasn’t too happy with Satan’s invention, and decided to create her own version to help even up the playing field.”
“Wait… so a demon developed lingerie to compete with the Devil himself?!? How much grass have you been smoking, Carr?”, Horne demanded to know.
“I swear – it’s in the book”.
“I think you and I both need to retire – this job has cracked us”.
Dumping the pile of bras on the washer, Whitney counted six. Thinking that this was the right number, she soon realized that it was Saturday, and she’d been able to go without a bra thus far. Eyeing the oddball garment, she realized it was much older. A style popularized in the 1940s. Having a penchant for vintage clothing, she began to wonder if it might be useful the next time she cosplayed. As it wasn’t in too bad of shape, Whitney wasn’t weirded out about used undergarments, and it looked like it was a sister size to hers, she washed it and thought nothing more about it. A lucky find in the chute.
Until a year later, when cosplaying as a 1950s housewife, that she bent backward to stretch her back and heard gunshots. Peering forward, two slight scorch marks had formed on the front of her blouse. And she was quickly asked to leave the convention center before something more than a cardboard cutout of Han Solo was damaged. Lilith’s invention, the bullet bra, had struck again.
One of the great things about being a professor is that we’re essentially trained to be project managers – people who are specialists in a given topic area but also trained through graduate school to be self-sufficient. It surprises many to learn that when I’m assigned a course to teach, I receive very few ‘mandated’ guidelines. Yes, periodically we have required sections in our syllabi on university policies, or perhaps my curriculum committee (of which I’m a member) requires certain courses to use the same book or have a common assignment. But otherwise, no one tells me what content I must teach, what assignments I must give, or how to evaluate my student’s work. The same is true in the realm of scholarship and service – I am expected to select my own projects, manage them to completion, and provide service to my institution and discipline. When it comes to my formal workday, I’m expected to be in the classroom to teach when assigned, to be available for 10 office hours a week, and to be available for meetings as needed. Beyond that, there is no 8-5 expectation on professors – we’re asked to fit our lives around specific class times, not a traditional workday (Which is also why, at my institution, we don’t get personal leave).
However this level of freedom can be challenging for some. Recently one of my colleagues posted on Twitter a request:
As someone who has worked from home a lot in my past (I lived 50 minutes away from my undergrad institution, 120 minutes away from my graduate institution, and a 2 hour commute away from my postdoc), I’ve picked up a few tips I’m happy to share.
1. Have The Essentials At Home
It is extremely important to have everything you need in your home workspace. In 2010 I bought a 27” Apple Cinema Display for work, and while pricey ($999) I fell in love with it at work. So when I had enough money, I bought a second one for my home office. There is absolutely no way I’d be able to do as much work at home if I didn’t have a large monitor on par with what I have at my office. The portability of a laptop, in my case a 2015 MacBook Pro, is key for a mobile professional – but you need to have a good place to park it at home where you can enjoy larger full-sized screens and peripherals. Also included in the setup is a full keyboard with number pad (essential for entering data), and an external trackpad so I don’t have to reach forward to touch the one on my Mac. Finally I have a set of wireless headphones (Beats Solo 3’s) that I can use to block out the world if need be.
However physical setup is only one part of the essentials – you also need to be able work on anything you need, anywhere you are. To do this, I leverage cloud storage extensively (OneDrive is my preferred storage provider these days, I purchase a home version of Office 365, which provides MS Office + 1 TB of space), as well as iCloud storage. I also install TeamViewer (Free for personal use) on my computer on campus so that I can securely connect up to it remotely in case I do happen to leave a file there. I also never use USB drives if I can avoid them – it’s horrible to have just 1 version of a file, and even worse if you lose the USB drive that the file is stored on, or if the USB drive fails!
2. Have a working To-Do Setup, With Start Dates
One thing I realized years ago was that I needed a To-Do list, and more importantly, I needed one that didn’t show me things I couldn’t do just yet. Having dozens of tasks ahead can be daunting, but it’s even worse when you see things that there is no way you can complete – perhaps you’re waiting on someone else, or they’ve told you “We’ll make a decision on that 3 months from now”. Leave the to-do on the list, and you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything. Take it off, and you never remember to put it back.
So years ago I started setting “start” dates on all of my tasks, so that I wouldn’t see them on my list until the first day I could do them. This helps me focus much more on what I need to do, versus what I will do down the line. It also means that I don’t fear putting a task on my list for the far future. I’ve actually had people remark to me “Wow, I can’t believe you remembered that” – it wasn’t memory, it was the item I put on my to-do list a year ago!
3. Be Mobile
I didn’t have an office for the first half of my professional life. I lived completely out of a bag, setting up shop at coffee shops, fast food restaurants, libraries, and in my car. As a former Windows Mobile MVP, I learned a number of tricks for staying productive while away from a dedicated workspace. They include…
- Having a dedicated set of mobile tools – power cables, chargers, mobile mouse, anything I could possibly need. I don’t take all of them everywhere everyday, but I do keep them in a special case at home, so I can easily pull out what I need for that day. Also makes traveling a breeze – everything is in one place, and I don’t have to tear apart my home every time I pack – my bedside charger stays where it is, for example.
- Exploring all possible productivity applications to see if they’re worthwhile. Some are, some aren’t. For example, recently I’ve been using Siri Shortcuts on my iPhone and iPad to script my nightly journal entry, to quickly open up files that I use frequently (e.g., open this specific spreadsheet), and more. Lately the mobile Microsoft Office suite has really stepped up it’s game – I can pull up pretty much anything on my phone or iPad that I can bring up on my computer.
- Upgrade your tools as needed and use them to your advantage. See this as an investment in yourself and your productivity. While it’s tempting to tell people “Look, I just use my phone to make phone calls”, you’re basically saying to them “Look, I use this thing for just a small fraction of what it can do.”
4. Stop saying “I don’t have time”
I’ve heard people say “I don’t have time to learn X” or “I don’t have time to work on Y”. To them, I say “You can’t afford NOT to learn X” or “work on Y”. XKCD comics has a good example of what I mean here – this one. Think of learning new skills as an investment – one that crosses over from work to personal life, office to home productivity.
5. Have a Clear Goal
Finally, when I’m working remotely, I realize I need a clear goal of what I need to do. When working at my office, this happens somewhat naturally – my mind natively thinks of things that I do at work. However when I’m out of my office, I need to remind myself (with the help of my to-do list) what needs to get done, when it needs to get done, and what today’s task builds on for the future. It helps me avoid distraction, because I know what needs to get done. I’m not wandering aimlessly at home thinking “Wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to watch TV right now” – I instead have the thought “It’s going to be great to get this done before I go to my office tomorrow morning”.
Working from home (or anywhere other than your office) is a freeing experience, and something that I definitely think is useful for an academic – part of our jobs is to be in tune with the world around us, lest we become antiquated. However it can be challenging, and ultimately everyone finds their own solution. Just keep plugging away at the problems you find in your own system until you have it up and running smoothly!
I teach psychology for a living, and each and every time I talk about the Big 5 personality traits, I reflect a bit on my own mental makeup. If you’re curious, it looks something like this
What stands out?
Aside from the fact that I don’t tend to favor the middle in any factor, the one there that might seem amazing is Emotional Stability – the 99th percentile. What is Emotional Stability you ask? Well, it’s the opposite end of the the spectrum commonly known as Neuroticism. You can also think of it as Emotional Reactivity. And as you can see from the above… I basically don’t react.
Now not reacting has benefits. I rarely feel depressed or anxious (by rarely, I mean perhaps 2-3 times per year for a period of about 1-2 hours), I don’t “freak out” over many things, and I tend not to panic. In fact, I am the epitome of the phrase If you see me running, try to keep up.
However when you have a very neutral to positive mood the majority of the time, it also means you don’t react to positive events the same way as most people. Tons of good things have happened to me in my life – far too many to name. And for the most emotionally charged, good or bad, I always feel that I don’t emote enough compared to most. And while it’s somewhat normal for some to be stoic at funerals (as opposed to throwing oneself on the coffin), I’ve had a few instances on the opposite end of the spectrum where I clearly did not communicate to others the level of positivity that I felt. Here’s an example: October 16 this year.
At work I have the privilege of leading a small team of dedicated professionals, and this year on the somewhat-dubious holiday of Bosses Day, they showered me with gifts. Playful certificates, donuts, a gift certificate, and a personalized mug that read “World’s Best Boss” on one side, and something fairly transgressive (a.k.a. profane) on the side that faces me if I were to drink from it.
Now when I saw this on my desk, my mood elevated quite a bit. The day wasn’t bad by any stretch, but after seeing their hard work, my little grinch-y heart grew three sizes, to steal a seasonal phrase. And while internally my mind kept thinking “That’s so nice of them, I’m touched they thought of me, that they came up with original ideas, and that they understood exactly what I would love to have the most on Bosses’ day”, the best I could do was go out to them and thank them repeatedly.
Later, I heard through the grapevine, that my reaction, the reaction of someone with an emotional stability of the 99th percentile, was a bit confusing. With some wondering if I truly liked the presents or if I was just being nice. This is one of the most misunderstood thing about us emotional stable types – our emotions don’t get “big” enough by most standards.
Over the next year, I’m looking forward to a ton of events that are going to be positively charged – vacations with friends and family, a family wedding, and more. However at each one, I’ll likely feel just a little bit of self-consciousness about my reaction. So if you see me (or other non-neurotics), and we say we’re happy, please just believe us. And if you’re one of those people who is on the other end of the spectrum, who wrestle with anxiety, mood swings, and more, it might be some solace to realize that you also have the ability to experience more passionate and “loud” emotions.
Oh, and before I finish this “mind rant” of sorts, I should probably point out that I wouldn’t change my personality – I’m quite happy with who I am, while also maintaining a growth mindset. So perhaps this year I’ll invest some time in learning to act excited. If that sounds crazy, it’s actually a method of therapy for those on the Autism spectrum. While I don’t have a problem recognizing a suitable reaction, I do have a bit of work to do to regularly produce it!
Students and Staff alike often wonder…
… What is in this mysterious manila envelope taped to my office wall. Well, here’s the story. Friday, September 2, 2016 was the last day of a crazy week. My first year as FYS Coordinator, I had a ton of things going on at the beginning of that school year. And this was about 2 weeks in, when I sat at a point of utter exhaustion. After speaking about this exhaustion for quite a few days in advance, I walked into my office to the following scene.
So now you know… inside that envelope is the contents to remedy another Friday emergency!
They say that you never stop learning, and I hope that’s true because there is still so much for me to learn. Like how to remember to update my blog regularly. About 3 months ago I started trying to make at least one entry in my Day One journal per day, just to have something to look back on. Perhaps this school year I’ll try to extend this mindset to my blog. Averaging a new post every 4 months… I don’t think I can get any worse!
An artist named Mike Meulstree took my Monday Haiku from a few months ago and made a very nice piece of art! Hope the struggle isn’t too real for my readers and friends today!
Listen, we're all on the struggle bus. It's Monday. —-#Haiku by @jonwestfall
Lettering by yours truely
—-#handlettering #type #design #thedailytype #goodtype #letters #typespire #handtype #handmade #typegang #phldesign #thedesigntip #moderncalligr… https://t.co/oDEJzAHcAa pic.twitter.com/edl4WivAeF
— ‼️firstname.lastname@example.org 🐘 (@artisticdork) May 7, 2018
Monday arrives now
Be most kind to each other
The struggle is real
In Fall 2016, my church in Cleveland (Our Lady of Victories) began using a new mass setting in addition to the previous two in regular “rotation”. The reason was pretty simple – the two we have include one that is great for stark services and simpler seasons (Missa Simplex) and one that is great for big formal celebrations (the much maligned at times, Mass of Creation). While both are nice settings, we were missing an element of liveliness and energy that the Mass so richly deserves. So along with the music director, the cantors began ‘trying out’ new settings privately, and we eventually settled on Mass of Joy and Peace.
Joy and Peace is a very upbeat setting, which (in my opinion) is much more fun to sing than either of the two others. Apparently others agree as well, giving rise to some very interesting arrangements online. My favorite being a contemporary arrangement by Daniel Houze. Moved into a rock beat, this version certainly hits the criteria for the concept of a “joyful noise”. The comments on YouTube, however, are less than positive. Several commenters lament the fact that it’s “too Protestant” or “liturgical abuse”. I find this quite ironic since the word “joy” is right in the title – apparently anything that sounds too joyful isn’t “Catholic” enough. Overall this makes me a bit frustrated as a young Catholic active in music ministry as a cantor. Apparently there is a very fine line somewhere that we are expected to hit – not too dirge-y and not too happy, or else our faith and reverence are called into question. Coupled with a widespread problem of participation in mass (In the past 20 years, I’ve only seen a handful of congregations that I would classify as “conscious, active, and full participation” as advised by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal), and you start to see the problem.
So what is the solution? Finding the middle line but broadening it with wide acceptance. If you don’t like the ‘energy’ of your mass setting, you can still participate, just not as loudly. If you feel sad during the mass rather than happy, speak up (and sing up). And if you find a church that has the right mix of traditional hymns with present-day worship, support it. In my case at OLV, I feel that many are supportive of the idea of energetic praise, we just need some of the ‘old guard’ to join in seeing the mass not as a simple ‘ticket punch’ (e.g., if I die this week, God knows I was here this Sunday, so I’m good) but as an expression of…. well… joy and peace!
My poor blog sits here
I still love you my sweet prose
life gets in the way