moving out, and moving on...

sold i moved to Somerville after graduating college in 1995. i had been a country girl growing up, and although as an adult i wanted to live in the city, i wasn't quite comfortable in the Big City of Boston. somerville had all of the conveniences of a city, while still having some green space and more of a small-town-feel community. my first apartment was on Highland Ave, right next to the fire station, and in less than a year i moved one building up the street. when my dad offered me help with a down payment, the Casa was the result. it was the third place i lived on the same street, but this one was mine.

i fell in love with my house at first sight, in a way i think you only can with your first house. i picked it out with my friend Jade, and she remained my roommate for years, until it was time for her to move out, and move on, with her boyfriend (now her husband). over the years i had many roommates, and many tenants, and there are a couple of dozen people out there who once called Casa Highland home. each set of people was it's own little family for me. i was lucky to have a house that i loved, and to live with people that i loved.

but about a year and a half ago, i realized it was time to move on.

the conveniences of the city, which once lured me in, were now no longer quite so sparkly. more and more of my life was happening outside of the city. shayne moved out, kathryn was moving on to graduate school, and it became time to think about my next steps. the house that i once loved so fiercely was now just a monetary obligation that was more of a touch-down pad to sleep and shower than it was a home. my boyfriend, my family, my friends, and my job, all lured me out of the city and out of my house on a frequent basis.

deciding to part with the house was a surprisingly difficult decision to me, and yet once i made it, the rest was easy. i sold it instantly, realizing the new owner could afford to make all of the updates to the house i never had time or money for. i got a huge dumpster and emptied the house out. hired movers and moved out in a late winter snow storm last year.

for me, moving out and moving on, also meant moving home. i have always been a country mouse at heart, not a city mouse, and my mothers huge 2-family antique farmhouse had an open apartment. it was a touch down pad while i planned my next move. and the first night i slept in my new apartment, i felt like i was home. my country life is peppered with wildlife sightings, and mouse problems, and bugs, and i can go on my back porch at night and gaze at all the stars in the sky. i am happy here.

but again, my next move beckons, as Ned and i look for a place of our own. these houses are just stages. they are each a home, each a family, and each a different part of a life that feels truly blessed.

these shells that we wrap around ourselves can be big or small, shiny or plain, some are crenellated with decorations, and some can be as dull as an old tin can. but if we are lucky, they cover us and keep us safe and give us room to grow. i am thankful for the shelter they have given, for the families they have housed, and for the opportunities that they have each granted.

it seems odd to keep a blog (or a flickr account, or a twitter account, etc.) named Casa Highland, when the Casa has since been sold and flipped for condos and is no longer recognizable. but i think i carry the best of the Casa around with me. i hope that all of her previous occupants do, too.

in many ways, any place i live is Casa Highland. she is the old shell i carry in my pocket for good luck, and she reminds me where i came from.


two thumbs up to somerville...

tuesday night, before the results even started coming in, i fired off this email to Joe Curtatone, the mayor of Somerville:

Dear Mayor Curtatone,

This morning I woke up bright and early, looking forward to doing my

civic duty and being part of this historic election. I work for the
Commonwealth, outside the city, and actually used personal vacation
time to make sure that I had a chance to vote. I knew I would be
late for work, and I accepted that because voting is important, and I
feel that with *this* election things are particularly important.
Not only is the presidential election going to make history, but the
ballot questions are provoking and important for the future of

I parked in Davis Square so that I could get to work as quickly as

possible, so as to not needlessly squander my limited vacation time.
I fed the meter, even though it was 6:45 AM, and walked down to the
Dilboy to vote.

I am not about to complain that it took me over two hours to wait in

line and cast my ballot. I am thrilled with the voter turn out, and
am happy that people are motivated. The line was pleasant, the
volunteers were above reproach, and I didn't even complain when I
found that I had been booted to the inactive voter rolls for missing
the primary. It was fixed quickly and easily, and I voted with pride.

I was dismayed, however, to find out that while I was patiently

waiting in a two block long line to vote, the City of Somerville took
the opportunity to look at my expired meter and ticket my car! I had
no chance to feed my meter. I had put in the maximum number of
quarters that I could. And had the voting line been reasonable, I
would have made it back to my car.

We do the residents of Somerville a huge disservice by fining them

for executing their right to vote, and for completing their civic
duty. If there was ever day when Somerville should have looked the
other was, this was it. It shouldn't be a day about making money.
It should be a day about everybody boldly stepping forward into a
new, unknown, future together.


-- katherine

today, much to my surprise, i had this reply:

Dear Katherine -

I apologize for the inconvenience and applaud you for waiting in line to

vote. We saw a record number of voters come out to the polls in
Somerville on Tuesday - it truly was a great day for our city, our
state, and our country.

On Tuesday, our Parking Controls Officers were instructed to be mindful
of the long lines and the polls and to issue tickets accordingly.

I spoke to my Director of Traffic and Parking, Dear Katherine -

I apologize for the inconvenience and applaud you for waiting in line to
vote. We saw a record number of voters come out to the polls in
Somerville on Tuesday - it truly was a great day for our city, our
state, and our country.

On Tuesday, our Parking Controls Officers were instructed to be mindful
of the long lines and the polls and to issue tickets accordingly.

I spoke to my Director of Traffic and Parking, Jim Kotzuba, and he will
dismiss your ticket. I have cced Jim on this email so you can provide
him any pertinent information.

Again, I apologize for this inconvenience.

Best -

Joe Curtatone

many thanks to the mayor, and to somerville, for making things right. if you got ticketed while voting, i suggest you send an email!


way past Dunbar...

in the early 1990's, an anthropologist named Robin Dunbar came up with what he believed was the magic number in social groups. not a theoretical number, or an imaginary number, but an actual hard number. 148 to be exact. by researching monkey brains, and monkey behavior, Dunbar came to believe that a basic social group could be no larger than 148 without a breakdown in core values. groups larger than 148 had to rely on an increasingly complicated series of norms, rules, and laws to keep the community intact. 50 monkeys need no rules. 500 do. by rounding off 148 to 150 (since we humans love round numbers) we have Dunbar's Number.

evolutionary psychologist have done what evolutionary psychologists do, and they have extrapolated from little monkeys to great big human monkeys, and said that much of the same exists in our cultures. deep in our monkey brains, when our groups get too large, our rules get more complex. or anarchy breaks out. or crime increases. or more people start paying attention to britney spears and lindsey lohan like they matter.

david wong, in a stroke of what i consider to be utter brilliance, has dubbed the number of monkeys in our world to be our individual monkeysphere (and no, this is nothing like the ball you run around in in the game Monkey Ball, although in my mind it looks as such). i have a monkeysphere, and so do you. and much as you exist in my monkeysphere, i am apparently in yours. david wong is not in my monkeysphere, nor i in his. so he's just not a real monkey to me. he's a theoretical monkey, and i will care about him a little less because of this. monkeyfilter, anyone?

craigslist used to be a very small monkeysphere, particularly in boston. the boston CL was the first to break off of san francisco, and for a long time it was very small. i think at one point the forums (my community, my monkeysphere) was probably no more than 10 people. the laid back community policing policy of CL allowed this to remain a stable group. sure, we fought. we bickered. we drank together. we dated. and slowly the size of our community began to increase. these days, it's hard to go more than 24 hours without hearing a reference to craigslist. it was mentioned on my morning radio, and in the news, and on Twitter. i am mentioning it right now, and i assume you know what i'm talking about. and you probably do.

the monkeysphere of craigslist became increasingly crowded... and the Terms of Use became increasingly complicated. what was started as a side project for Craig in 1995 has ended up as a web site that gets over 10 billion hits a month. yeah. that's billion-with-a-b. and i can see why. i have made friends there. i have sold furniture. i have found, uh, six different boyfriends. i got my tenants that way. i gave away a studios worth of yarn. i have used it to hear about people's deaths and to celebrate their lives. i get info there. and give advice. craigslist is a one stop shopping site in a way that amazon hoped to be and probably never will be. in a world where google is king and yahoo is queen, craigslist is the unquestionable and irrepressible jester.

but i think it's too large for the feel good "fighting evil one post at a time" philosophy that has ruled it for the past 20 years. with it's small staff, and community moderation, it still attempts to live within the monkeysphere. and yet i believe that it went way past the threshold for Dunbar's Number somewhere in the early part of the century. just a quick look at the fact sheet shows how boston was created in 2000, and then each year the number of new cities grows. by the time the timeline gets down to 2006 (just six years later!), the sheet simply states "More than 130 new cites were added". They don't even name them. because these cities are no longer Real Monkeys!

and the moderators can't keep up. the people who flag inappropriate posts can't keep up. and the trolls keep multiplying because we are not real monkeys to them. people throw the n-word around because they can. people call each other "homos" and "fags" because they can. hitler is widely used to begin, or to end, arguments (please see "Godwin's Law"). people are sexist, racist, classist, elist, pain in the ass jerks, because we are well past Dunbar. and in the end, unless craigslist keeps up, it will kill the website for useful content and it will become another 4Chan-like free for all website. it will still be current, because of it's huge hulking mass and power, but it will have no real impact for the goals that the website claims to espouse. sadly, imho, craigslist will either need to give up it's faith in "community moderation" or give up it's belief in mission "restoring the human voice to the Internet".

craigslist is no longer the human voice. and why? because it has one too many monkeys.


what would you pay?

at work today, i got to place an order with one of our vendors for "human semen". what does human semen cost? apparently $359.10 for 25 ML.

which sure seems like a lot.

but it got me thinking....

what does NON-human semen cost?

for comparison, i checked on bull semen. i picked this for a few reasons. mainly, i was pretty sure i could find the answer on the internet without stumbling across some pervy bestiality porno site. but also because my grandfather was an (attempted? failed? i dunno) bull breeder of his favorite big-ass bull. it seemed fitting somehow.

a little research showed me that bull semen costs about $20 a straw. a straw is roughly equivalent to 1/2 a ML. so some fancy math shows me that bull semen costs about $1000 for 25 ML.

a few thoughts on this:

is bull semen more expensive than human semen because the bull doesn't donate voluntarily?

$20 is the cost for semen from a mediocre bull. the fisher scientific catalog does not specify the quality of the human. can we assume equally mediocre?

we recently purchased something at work called the Ultra SpermFinder. it's mission is to allow slides from rape victims to be scanned electronically for sperm, which is an incredibly time consuming thing to do by hand. the hope is to help clear up some of the DNA backlog. but it made me wonder..... could we use the Ultra SpermFinder to... well.... find sperm and perhaps not have to pay through the nose for it? and, if so... could an enterprising young scientist perhaps devise an UltraBullSpermFinder and really make a fortune? go ahead and do it! i give you the idea for free!!


i've been getting in the spring spirit...

it's always surprising to me that i am a born and bred new englander. the winters are incredibly hard on me. i don't know if it's true seasonal affective disorder or not, but winter bums me out. i spent a few years hunkered down in front of a light box. i usually up my anti-depressant medication. but at the end of it all, i just get mopey. i forget what it's like to have fun. to have energy. i just want to sit down in the dark and eat buckets and buckets of cheese.

and then the weather turns. the sun gets warmer. my mood brightens. and suddenly i want to eat salad. i realize that i miss my friends. and i start to feel better.

this year i celebrated the turn of the seasons by heading to canada. not the obvious choice for how to welcome back spring. i didn't plant new growth to honor persephone. i headed to where it was colder and darker. and watched the red sox play the blue jays.

baseball is, i suppose, as much as a sign of spring as cadbury easter eggs are. and it's more my style. and less fattening.

so my boyfriend, his sister, and i, made a pilgrimage to watch the sox. we drove up to toronto and explored the city. we watched our team lose. and yet still my heart was lighter upon my return.

maybe it's time for me to put away the cheese and remember how much i love lettuce.


when uniform & rhythmic is wrong...

most of us are raised to believe in a natural order of things. we believe there is a rhythm and a back-beat that everything is pulsing in concordance to. phi, the divine number. the golden ratio. the divine proportion. mathematics teaches us that certain uniform standards repeat over and over again. we can witness this in nature. in religion. in the arts.

but what about when chaos is the norm?

i, along with approximately 3 million other americans, have epilepsy. a part of my brain kind of goes into spasm, and creates wave after wave of neurological connections. the problem is that the brain is meant to behave randomly. the sharp, jagged, messy lines of an EEG are the norm, as we are messy and complex beings. the sharp, rhythmic, syncopated spikes on an EEG are evidence of a disorder.


but when you tell people that you have epilepsy, the first thing they offer to do is to shove a checkbook in your mouth if you go into convulsions. um, folks? this is very VERY wrong. stay away from my mouth. i have a form of epilepsy that never has a single convulsion. so back off! and even if i did have convulsions, the well meaning folks who want to pry your mouth open and shove stuff in it under the misguided belief that they are keeping you from swallowing or biting off your tongue -- they tend to do more damage than good. by and large, your frenulum (how's that for a college word!) is the membrane that keeps your tongue from falling down the back of your throat. okay, technically when you are unconscious your tongue can fall to the back of your throat and block your airway. but i'll risk it.

if i ever do have a convulsive seizure, i have more faith in my frenulum than in your checkbook.

having epilepsy doesn't have much of an impact on me. i stay away from strobe lights, and thus will never see the Blue Man Group perform, and i can't go see the Big Apple Circus. i can't donate blood in most states, even though epilepsy is not a blood born disease. i need to have a note from my doctor that states i am safe to drive. and if i don't take my medicine i can see and hear things that aren't there, and everything starts to taste like sterno.

i have taken drugs for this condition for the past 13 years.

the meds make me groggy. make me gain weight. damage my skin. make me terribly likely to develop a sunburn. make me heat and cold intolerant, like a little lizard. they can mess with my sleep and my alertness and can make me feel a little muddle-headed. if i didn't have health insurance my epilepsy medications would be costing me $480 a month. for one prescription. that doesn't even have a street value. no inner-city kids are popping handfuls of neurontin for fun.

but i take them like clockwork.

i take them to keep my brain messy and complicated, like nature truly intended.


behind the scenes at Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

(WARNING: for those of you who really really care about the show and cry every week, you should probably stop reading now!)

for the last week or so, my work has been overrun with do-gooders in blue shirts and hardhats. in their quest to build a house for somebody in every state, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition just finished up a house in Maynard, MA. Paul Giunta was severely injured in a car accident when he was driving home from the hospital where his wife had just given birth. he was paralyzed and has been living in a house that can not accommodate a wheelchair. Paul Giunta was forced to live with his parents since getting out of the hospital, while his wife raised their three kids in their non-accessible house.

the Giunta's live just down the road from the lab, and the empty lots around us were used as staging areas for the over 500 volunteers and contractors who came to tear down the old house and build the new.

i learned a lot about the show just by sitting on the sidelines, chatting with the security guards, and secretly letting some of the crew use our bathroom.

having EM:HE come to town is a bit like having the circus come to town. everybody dresses up in their finery (matching t-shirts and hardhats) and their is an infectious aura of good will. huge trucks roll in non-stop. many are delivering, or removing, building supplies. but some bring soda to the volunteers (pepsi and coke both came), some bring things the family will need (an entire truckload of lands-end clothing), many bring the media, both local and national, and tour-buses and a fleet of golf carts drive the spectators and VIP's to and from the build site.

needless to say -- it's chaos.

some of my staff were devastated to get a behind the scenes look at the show. it had never occurred to them that they would do the "surprise early morning door knock" more than once. i think they did it five times, over two different days. ditto with the trademark "MOVE THAT BUS". they often bring in a fake family in a limo to get the shot just right. and they move the bus a few times.

to me, this was as expected. this is, after all, pageantry. but to my staff, it was a little like learning that there is no santa claus.

what did surprise me, however, was the length EM:HE went to include the entire community. the goodwill is genuine. and in a country where people are jaded and sarcastic, everybody was genuinely happy for the Giunta's. So they did the bus trick a few too many times. at the end of the day, a family that has seen hard times got a new handicap accessible house. the neighbors who put up with the mess and the noise and the chaos? they all got presents. every neighbor was given either new appliances from Sears, or cold hard cash. it's hard to begrudge those around you when you hear the hum of the ice-maker in your new stainless steel fridge. the show planted one of their security guards at the entrance to *our* parking lot, just to make sure that our meager parking wasn't poached by onlookers. and over 50 different local tradespeople were given a part of the project, so at the end of the day, even though workers and security and staff were bussed in by the truckload, we could all feel like we were part of a little Home Makeover magic.

many congrats to the Giunta's. we wish you all the best.