What are we talking about today?

I'm currently in transit. Good-bye to my beloved Austin, hello next adventure. Come along for the ride!

20 October 2016

In Daylights, in Sunsets, in Midnights, in Cups of Coffee

When I heard that the Rent 20th anniversary tour was happening, I was pretty happy. When I found out that it was launching in Bloomington, Indiana, just a 90-minute drive from my hometown, I was, well, over the moon.

So my sister-in-law and I plotted to head down to see Rent just a couple days after we returned from our grand Wicked adventure, taking along my niece and two of her friends. They were a mite excited, too. At the last minute, my sister-in-law fell ill, leaving it to my hapless brother to drive three teenage girls and me to Bloomington to see a show he was not that excited about in the first place. He's a good sport, my brother.

We ended up in the balcony with a decent view of the stage, and the cast did not disappoint. Seeing the girls enjoy the show so much would have been worth driving a lot farther (although I did tell them that they can't sing along in live theatre, no matter how badly they want to)--living in a little town in the middle of Indiana isn't the worst thing in the world, but it does put certain limitations on how often one gets to see live professional theatre. The set is gorgeous and the cast is fantastic, although if I had to pick a pair of favourites it would be Aaron Harrington (Tom Collins) and David Merino (Angel).

If the tour is coming to you, it's definitely worth seeing. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this one for kids, since it has some pretty heavy themes, but if your kids are ready for it, then on you go (the three girls with us were by no means the youngest people in the theatre in Bloomington). It's a beautiful show with great music. No day but today, y'all.

19 October 2016


Right now, here in Su-Land, we're considering options of where to live from a wide array that includes:
  • Close to work, but not walkable or bikeable to anything else
  • Walkable but not near a useful bus line
  • Walkable and bus-able, but expensive
  • Cheap but with no other redeeming qualities
  • Practically perfect in all ways except no car-free ways to get to work
  • A compromise that makes everywhere equally difficult to get to
You can understand why this has my brain shooting steam into the atmosphere and my eyes spinning round in my head. The lack of truly good options is underwhelming.

Like this. On all the streets. NOW.
Source: Joe Zlomek on freeimages.com.
And I'm hardly the only person with this problem. Everyone has to balance transportation vs convenience vs amenities when choosing where to live. And it may be that the trade-off I choose is that I get a car because my commute is otherwise impossible, a choice that many lower-income folks don't get to make, which makes me one of the privileged ones.

Not for the first time (or the last), I wish that US cities would try just a bit harder to make active transportation a practical reality for more people. Not just people who live downtown, or in a university district, or in gentrifying neighbourhoods (it's a common refrain in Austin that low-income and non-white neighbourhoods only get sidewalks when white people move in), but everywhere. I'll even wait on bike lanes if we can just get a sidewalk network built out. Come on, y'all, get with the program.

And in the meantime, I'm seeing how the puzzle pieces fit together best for me.

18 October 2016

Bringing Life to the Streets

A couple months back, I read Janette Sadik-Khan's Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, which describes her tenure as NYC's transportation commissioner and the incredible things that happened for transit, bicycling, and walking in New York with her at the helm. This isn't a review so much as a fun place to put all my thoughts. And my first thought is: if you're any kind of an active transportation user or advocate, you can't go wrong reading this. And possibly sending a few copies to your city council.

Herald Square.
This used to be a through street at
at five-way intersection. Opening
it up for people not only offers a
place to stop and enjoy the city,
but it also made all the remaining
red light cycles shorter.
First things first: I'm so glad my initial visit to NYC was after these changes were implemented. As a bicycle advocate and an avid reader of Streetsblog, I knew these things were happening and read about the fights, but by the time I got to see them in person they were on the ground and a foregone conclusion. Part of me wishes I'd seen the "before" in person so I'd have mental images to compare it to, but... it's not like I've never experienced poorly designed streets before. Experiencing the "after" is pretty great.

Like this, for instance: the four squares connected by Broadway--Times Square, Herald Square, Madison Square, & Union Square--I've been to all of them. This was one of my goals on my second visit to NYC this summer, although I didn't know at the time that the four squares were all ones that had been transformed (or, for that matter, that they're all connected by Broadway). Madison Square is near the Flatiron Building, Herald Square is where Macy's is, and Union Square is the nearest subway stop to Strand Book Store, so that's how I ended up seeing them all. (Draw what conclusions about me that you will from that collection of landmarks.)

In Herald Square, Sadik-Khan's work is immediately apparent to anyone who knows about the changes in NYC in the last decade. The changes in Madison and Union Squares that she described in the book were a pleasant "Huh, what do you know?" when I read about them. All four work beautifully as places for people to gather and enjoy the city.

No prizes for guessing what catches
my eye in this photo every time
I look at it. 
Ms. Sadik-Khan was in Austin last year giving a great talk about the before and after in NYC. (I got tickets early and got to the venue early on the night, and only heard later that the waitlist line stretched around the block. It's not often I get in on high-demand events. Incidentally, I also got my boss a ticket when I got my own, or else he would have been standing in line, too.) I, of course, got very distracted from the on-the-ground changes she showed us during the slideshow--I just wanted to look at the Broadway billboards in all the Times Square photos and not the street. Many of the same pics are in the book and it turns out I still have that problem. Which is part of the reason a teeny tiny bit of me wishes I'd seen it in person before--it's such a great pedestrian plaza now that I have a hard time imagining it any other way. And apparently, so do people who've lived there the whole time.

This is huge: "Reporters started to figure out the counterintuitive fact that bike lanes and plazas were the budgetary equivalent of change found between the sofa cushions compared with our road infrastructure investment." Everyone who works in or reports on transportation needs to get this. Providing active transportation amenities is so cheap compared to building a lane of traffic for primarily car use, with the added benefit that bikes and pedestrians don't damage the infrastructure just by using it. (Yes, your car is heavy and does some damage to the road every time you drive on it, which is why roads require near-constant repair.)

Another thing that resonated with me: "But if you're on foot, small smartphone maps aren't as user friendly for exploring and getting the lay of the land as an old-fashioned map." YES. The paper tourist map I picked up at the airport turned out to be much more useful than my phone about 95% of the time, even for finding transit. The same is turning out to be true in Cincinnati, by the way, except the paper tourist maps in Cincy don't bother listing transit lines. This quote is in the context of NYC posting maps in kiosks around the city for wayfinding. Bonus: the maps are oriented the way you're facing, so no mental compass required.

And finally, I still can't believe I didn't coordinate my NYC trip to coincide with Summer Streets. It's not like I didn't know that it happens, and just up the street from the hotel I stayed in, to boot. I missed it by one week.

Basically, reading Streetfight made me appreciate all the more all of the the things I saw and experienced as a matter of course on my trips to NYC. I'm already looking forward to what I'll see next time.

17 October 2016

#NaNoWriMo Prep: You Can Do This!

NaNoWriMo is almost here! I can't even remember if November was worth being excited about before I started doing NaNo. This is year #7 for me, my first in a new region (Cincinnati), and I have a fresh idea just waiting for me to do something terrible to it. In the meantime, here's my collected tips for getting the most out of your November.

Rule #1: You can do this. You can.
Whatever your life circumstance--full-time job, kids at home, triple major undergrad, high school student--lots of people just like you have done NaNoWriMo successfully before. That doesn't mean you won't face challenges, or even that NaNo is definitely the right thing for you to do this year. But if you want to NaNo, don't write yourself off without first considering strategies for facing your challenges head-on. (More specific advice for students below.)

Rule #2: If your social media accounts aren't helping you, they're off-limits.
Unless you have a supportive community who gets what NaNo is all about and shares inspiration instead of filling your timeline with whatever nonsense is in season, you don't have time to fritter away on social media. For me, it's best to keep Twitter and turn off everything else. Blogging may fall into this category, depending on if it helps you or not. Make your choices early and stick to your guns!

Rule #3: Commuting time is writing time.
Carpool or take the bus. It's valuable writing time. Bonus: you'll save gas and create less pollution. Plus, you can transcribe bizarre conversations directly into your novel. It's a win-win-win-win. Change the names of your carpool buddies in your novel before you get it published, though.

Rule #4: Minutes matter!
Sitting in the pickup/dropoff line? Five minutes between classes? Waiting for a work meeting to start? Have a little Word War with yourself and see how many words you can get in those few minutes. If you've never been able to write in short spurts before, NaNoWriMo is a great time to flex those dormant writing muscles and see what they can do for you. To make this work best, be sure you're syncing your novel across all your devices.

Rule #5 (for students only): Do your homework first.
Even better: you still have a whole bunch of October left to get ahead in as many classes as possible. But once November hits, you still should finish classwork before NaNo-ing. You're spending too much time, money, and effort on your education to slack off just because it's NaNoWriMo. Think of writing time as your reward.

Rule #6: Convenience foods are okay.
Obviously, you don't want to hit the drive-thru every day or you'll be both rounder and poorer once NaNo is over. But having some freezer meals, microwaveable foods, and ready-to-eat fruit and veg on hand will make your life a touch easier, especially if your kids can handle preparing those things on their own.

And most importantly...
Rule #7: You must always be doing something.
This one is also more geared for students, especially if you're early in your educational career and your time management skills aren't quite there yet. NaNo is a great time to give those a kick-start. The critical thing to remember in November is this: if you're awake, you're doing something. Keep your novel and any reading for class handy so you can grab one or the other when you have a couple free minutes. Make to-do lists so you don't forget things. Take time for your relationships, don't neglect your self-care, keep up with your life stuff so you don't get fired--but whatever you do, keep moving.

Don't be intimidated! NaNoWriMo is lots of fun and has launched bunches of great ideas for thousands of writers around the world, so don't be afraid to jump in. And while you're at it, let's be buddies.

13 October 2016

Words Can

This one's been gnawing at me for a few days, so here goes. I keep seeing folks saying all over social media some variation of, "They're just words.* That's all."

No. "Just" words do not exist. Words have power. Words matter. Words can wound or heal (but it takes a lot more to heal than to wound, despite that stupid "sticks and stones" tripe). Words start wars. Words create relationships and rip them apart. I've cut people out of my life because of their words. People have cut me out of their lives because of my words. We've all heard of, and possibly have known, teens who committed suicide because of bullying--because of just words. Because they didn't see a way to go on through the wall of words assaulting them on a daily basis. Maybe because they didn't have anyone nearby to offer the right kind of words.

Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that any words are "just" words.

Words have weight, in this case quite literally.
Source: Daino_16 on freeimages.com.
Debate is healthy. Debate is a cornerstone of a free society. Debate is what happens when this many humans get together in one place and have to make decisions. Now, I wouldn't necessarily characterize a lot of what happens on Facebook as "debate" so much as "I need a drink," but at least I know it's not unprecedented: in his book Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years, Tom Standage describes the furious printing of pamphlets and taking sides that followed Martin Luther's 95 Theses and created the Reformation. My favourite bit of that story is someone sending Luther a heated personal attack, and his response was to tell the writer, "At least the last guy brought data." (That's my paraphrase. What he really said was much fancier.)

By the way, here's a little online debate tip to avoid that sort of scenario: Your first response to someone posting a thing you disagree with shouldn't be "You obviously think ____." First of all, no, you really can't determine what someone is thinking from a couple of statements. And even if you could (you can't), what does it matter? Your issue is what they've said, not every thought they've ever had. Make that the issue. Starting with something like, "Can you clarify what you mean by ____?" or "Do you have a source for ____?" is a better way to (possibly) get into a productive debate instead of (immediately) setting the place on fire. (Of course, getting into a disagreement on social media is pretty much a one-way ticket to a dumpster fire anyway, so proceed as you will.)

And finally: it's tempting to rant about the perceived others, even not in an election year--rival sports teams or disliked actors can also fall into this category. Please keep in mind that always giving "my team" a pass for bad behavior while ranting about the folks on the other side is not exactly cricket, and over time will diminish the chances of being taken seriously about anything. It's also a foundation of democracy to hold our own folks accountable.

Words matter. Words have power. Let's give words the seriousness they deserve.

*In case it's not abundantly clear, "mere words" are what is meant here, not other meanings of "just."

Also, if you've come by to tell me why I should support the candidate you support, please feel free to keep on moving. Why you're voting the way you're voting is your decision and none of my business.

06 October 2016

Rolling Along, SORTA

Wednesday is (in theory) my usual transportation day here at Cheekyness, but my days are so messed up that it can't possibly matter. So, here we are.

Isn't the flower-ish logo totally adorable? Cutesy name,
cutesy logo--SORTA has it all! Source.
When I started researching Cincinnati, one of the first things I learned is that the local transit authority goes by the acronym SORTA, which inspires a lot more giggles than confidence. (SORTA = Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority) Researching apartments reasonably near transit lines turned those giggles to apprehension in a hurry--this city has a bunch of bus lines that only run a few times per weekday, meaning lots of locations are unserved or underserved on evenings and weekends, which unfortunately happens to be the time that I usually like to go to a bookstore, or a theatre, or church. Or possibly to work, depending on what happens in the next couple of weeks.

That is a surmountable obstacle, probably, or at least a bridge I can figure out how to cross three or four miles down the road. In the meantime, I tried one of those limited service bus lines today, and dang, if it didn't get me home in less than half the usual time. I don't know how that bus wasn't more packed. If I had to choose, I'd choose service at more times over faster services at fewer times, but since it's not up to me, I plan to enjoy that limited express bus as often as possible.

Fares are also tricky here. Well, kinda. Lots of transit services have fares based on how far you're going, rather than a flat fare, but I've lived in flat-fare-land for the last 16 years and am having to readjust my mind to living in a place where more miles = more money. I bought a 30-day pass on the app covering both of the zones I travel through, so it's not really that complicated for me, but I do sit back in amazement at other people who do this every day without giving it a second thought. The last time I lived in a place with this kind of fare system, I gave it a second or third thought every day.

And lastly (for now), the app. I knew it was kind of a new thing, because one day it magically appeared on the website where there had been no mention of it before, but even if I hadn't known the reaction of the drivers would be enough to tip me off. First of all, the type on the app is WAY too small, so that every one of them has to squint to see what they're looking at. Secondly, they mostly act surprised that I have a mobile pass but then they remember me later, so I guess that's a plus. And thirdly, a couple of them have asked me how I like the app pass. So yeah, definitely a learning curve happening here. If Cincinnati Metro were to ask me, I'd tell them that the next update needs much bigger print, so the drivers and I can all read it.

And that's my first week with Cincinnati Metro. Don't worry; I'm sure there will be plenty more to share as this city and I get used to each other.

04 October 2016

Reading Challenges Update: September

Here's what happened with my reading challenges in September. I completed the I Love Libraries challenge and thought about bumping up my level one final time, but... with moving and job hunting as my current reality, and NaNoWriMo on the horizon, maybe adding library books to the mix as one more thing to keep track of is not a good idea. Edit: I just noticed that my Mount TBR Challenge is supposed to be 24 books, not 20. Took me all the way until October to notice.

So my reading picked up a bit in September, and now that I'm back in the land of public transportation, I've gotten a LOT of reading done the last three days. I've read more in October than I read in August and September combined... but you'll have to wait a few weeks to hear more about that. (Or we can just be friends on Goodreads, and you can reader-stalk me in real time.)

Links are to and images are from Goodreads, where all my reviews are written.

I Love Libraries Challenge CHALLENGE COMPLETED (36/36 books)
M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal, Richard Hooker & William E. Butterworth III (I borrowed this one from a Little Free Library!)

Read It Again, Sam (3/4 books so far)

Woman Challenge CHALLENGE COMPLETED (34/20 books)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
The Good Life, Jodie Beau
Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (DIY), Raleigh Briggs
Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make, And Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, Robyn Jasko, Jennifer Biggs (Illustrations)

Mount TBR Challenge (13/24 books so far)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
The Good Life, Jodie Beau
Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (DIY), Raleigh Briggs
Tent of Blue, Rachael Preston (Note: I did not finish this book; it just wasn't for me. However, it is now off my TBR list, which is what's required for this challenge.)
Common Sense, Thomas Paine
Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make, And Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, Robyn Jasko, Jennifer Biggs (Illustrations)
Paradise Valley, Dale Cramer
Reinventing Mona, Jennifer Coburn (another DNF that's now off my to-read list)

Goodreads Challenge (55/100 books so far)
M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal, Richard Hooker & William E. Butterworth III
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling, Eben Weiss (BikeSnobNYC) & Christopher Koelle (Illustrations)
The Good Life, Jodie Beau
Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (DIY), Raleigh Briggs
Common Sense, Thomas Paine
Homesweet Homegrown: How to Grow, Make, And Store Food, No Matter Where You Live, Robyn Jasko, Jennifer Biggs (Illustrations)
Paradise Valley, Dale Cramer

What are you reading this month?



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