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Yule Gift Guide 2012, part 1: Accessories

I am one of those people who loves finding great gifts for people, especially around the holidays. The massive “You MUST buy (expensive) things to show people how much you LOOOOOOOOVE THEM” commercial push around Thanksgiving and Christmas annoys the living crap out of me–particularly the pervasive idea that you have to spend a lot of money in order to buy thoughtful, interesting gifts for people. With the economy the way it is, dealing with these attitudes (which seem like they are on display EVERYWHERE–thank you, free market!) can be especially hard for people who are unemployed, underemployed, or whose employment is in some state of flux (shout-out to my fellow temp workers).

This year, I have decided to do a gift guide mostly designed for those who are on a limited budget. Of course, if you do not have a budget, you can still give gifts (Design Sponge has some great ideas in this post); for those of us who aren’t crafty, or whose crafting skills are limited, smaller gifts may be a good compromise.

People who hate shopping–or who say things like “The person for whom I am shopping [HAS EVERYTHING/is hard to shop for!]”–might find that this helps. I have YEARS of experience with hating shopping, and for finding gifts for people with discerning and/or bizarre tastes.

I’m dividing these up into categories; today’s installment focuses on accessories under $20 (not including shipping), and future installments will focus on music, books and DVDs, things you can wear, beauty/personal care items, things you can eat or drink, and (possibly) big-ticket items from all of these categories that are over $50 (in case your budget is less limited). I hope that you’ll be able to find something for a person on your gift list–or something for yourself. In any case: LET ME HELP YOU. First up: accessories!

pillcase

Do you know someone who takes pills? If so, this pill box featuring two dapper cats ($8) from Etsy seller che655 will make a great gift. I recently purchased this very Dickensian Yorkie pill case and love it.
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5 Things People Need to Stop Saying About Unemployment

I have a confession to make: I am one of the millions of people in this country who has struggled to find work, particularly in the past year. I have a Master’s degree that I obtained fairly recently, but like many people I am still stuck in the weird “qualified but unqualified” limbo that seems to be common amongst a number of job seekers in the U.S. I do have a part-time contract job that pays pretty well and that I enjoy, but I am still far from my goal of “finding a paying job with benefits that isn’t going to make me collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of the day, thereby making my health problems worse.” This may seem like a highly specific goal, and it is, but I have my reasons for it, mostly having to do with disability-related things (with which many readers of my blog will be familiar!). If that shakes up your image of entitled and whiny Gen-Y kids who just don’t understand that life isn’t fair, you may want to read on.

I know putting this on a public blog is risky, more so because there are employers out there who do things like specify that the unemployed need not apply to their open positions (WTF?). I am also, however inadvertently, inviting internet tough folks to clog up my comments section with “well-meaning” crap nuggets of advice about how I am Doing It Wrong with regards to looking for employment. I probably won’t publish those comments, though–not because I am “against free speech,” but because I have had EVERY THOUGHT you could possibly throw at me about those exact topics. Really.

So, in no particular order, here are five things that people need to stop saying about unemployment and/or to unemployed and underemployed people. Because seriously, it is getting old.

“Well, I was unemployed once, and I got through it.” [May come with a barrage of unsolicited advice on How to Find a Job that would have worked 15-20 years ago.]  I notice that this one is commonly used by Baby Boomers who may or may not just want people who can’t find jobs–particularly young people–to shut up. The youth unemployment rate in this country is incredibly high, and although I don’t want to be all MY GENERATION HAS IT THE WORST–because goodness knows that older people have to deal with ageism on the job market in a particularly insidious way, regardless of how much career experience they have–this piece of advice rings quite hollow after a while. We know you’re only trying to help us during a difficult time, but here’s how you could actually help us Gen-Xers and Millennials out: Know when to stop talking, or stop typing if you just need to comment on an article online.

And if we resist your “advice,” it’s not because we’re being rude or obstinate for no reason, or because we hate you. It’s because many of us have more than enough to deal with right now. Maybe we don’t want to think about how much it sucks to be un(der)employed right now, because we think about that all the time. Maybe we already spend untold hours on cover letters, targeted resumes, networking, and all of the things that we’re supposed to do in order to get a job. Many of us are doing all of these things (and more!) as it is. Empathy: Try it sometime!

“Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten a degree in Women’s Studies/English/Art History, then!” Sure, let me queue up my time machine, go back eight years to my first term of undergrad, and pick a STEM major! Never mind that I would be terrible at one of those. I had the audacity–as do many people–to pick a field that I was, and am, actually pretty good at, and that I enjoyed. I EVEN GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE IN IT, so clearly I am just a waste of space because of my stupid, useless degree.

Had I been a STEM major in college, I probably would have caused something like this to happen–which would have given me an entirely different set of problems.

I know people love to rain down the hate on Humanities majors for their lack of “practicality” for what the market demands, and my guess is that people in the so-called “soft sciences” such as Psychology and Sociology get a lot of this as well. And sometimes there are other obstacles to going into STEM fields, as this wonderful comment at Ask a Manager details. I would add that while you’re busy prattling away in comments fields about your amazing Electrical Engineering degree, we’re the ones who are doing some pretty important things that you don’t see. Who do you think writes that snappy content for your company’s website? Who do you think edits your memos, corrects the grammar and spelling of your scientific papers, or turns your vague and already-kinda-been-there ideas about web 2.0 into viable social media plans? If it weren’t for “creative” types in the arts and humanities (from a variety of majors), where the hell do you think all of your entertainment would come from?

Poster for the 2012 film "The Avengers"

The guy who wrote and directed this total flop got a “useless” degree in Film.

Where do you think media criticism comes from? Journalism, opinion pieces, magazines on a huge variety of topics (including tech, business and science)? Blog posts that you pretend not to read at work? Books? And yes, weird academic papers that almost no one reads, like my B.A. thesis on the Heaven’s Gate cult? (That last one may weaken my argument a bit, but still.) I can hear the cries of indignation now: ZOMG HOW COULD YOU HAVE WRITTEN SOMETHING SO USELESS? Here’s how: I know how to put sentences together and shape a bunch of those sentences into paragraphs that expand upon a substantial and cohesive argument, keep momentum going throughout long-term projects (even when the end seems as faraway as a spaceship containing friendly aliens that will welcome your earthly soul to their peaceful home planet after a short ride through the galaxy), and read, summarize and analyze a variety of materials from different forms of media critically. Useless.

“Just think POSITIVE!” Okay, Captain the-Sun-Shines-Out-of-Our-Behinds. Perennial awesome person/journalist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an entire book about this trend, and as I covered in my review of Bright Sided, she is much better at building an argument against “positive thinking” than I am, because I tend to get super wordy when this topic comes up. Because it is that goddamned infuriating, particularly when applied to a HUGE PROBLEM like mass unemployment that is closely intertwined with structural failures. With the positive thinking crowd, we see the mistake of depicting individual actions as the determining factor of whether someone will succeed or fail, even though that is not really how it works. If “just trying” positive thinking and affirmations alone could get me a job, I would have SO MANY JOBS, because I have tried it and the job of my dreams did not exactly appear from the heavens fully-formed.

“You can’t go get a job at McDonald’s/in retail? You must think you’re too good for those kinds of jobs.” Not exactly; there are so many people who need work right now that even temping, retail and yes, McDonald’s are not magical employment panaceas–there was, for example, that widely-reported story about old Mickey D’s receiving one million job applications for 62,000 job openings. Take a moment and think about those odds for a bit.

As for being “too good” for certain jobs: If, say, Sephora offered me a job tomorrow, I would probably take it because I need a job and am interested in makeup (and yes, I have applied to work there). It’s not that I think I’m too good for those kinds of gigs; it’s basic math, because a whole heck of a lot of people need work right now. Also, there is a little thing called being “overqualified,” which pretty much means that Sephora might not want a sales associate with a Master’s degree, much less a Master’s in Women’s and Gender Studies. Admittedly, the notion of a Women’s Studies nerd selling cosmetics and beauty products is pretty hilarious, but that seems a bit more suited for Alan Ball’s next black comedy series than for real life.

“You need to try harder to find any job that will take you.” Certainly, there are some good tips out there that job-seekers can follow to improve their candidacy for some positions (I quite like Ask a Manager’s many posts on searching for jobs). However, the continued emphasis on individual actions in the face of some pretty intense structural odds is extremely troubling, particularly because capitalism is a system that is designed to give a lot of privileges, legs-up and such to a relative few, while the rest of us are stuck being told that we need to think positive, try harder, and generally keep running on the rat wheel until our hard work rewards us, too–often while facing stagnant wages, non-existent health benefits, and/or unpaid internships cleverly marketed as “work experience” that will supposedly look great on your resume.

Those of us who can’t find work, or enough work, are always to blame somehow: too little education, too much education in a “useless” field, too little time devoted to networking and volunteering, too little pressure on ourselves to look positive, confident and not bitter to employers even in the face of seemingly endless rejection; we have the wrong outfit, wrong resume, wrong cover letter, wrong work experience, wrong attitude.

And once you get a paying job, there is zero guarantee that it will pay a living wage; recent statistics, furthermore, point to the chilling fact that less than half of all jobs in the U.S. currently pay over $35,000 per year. How ’bout that “invisible hand of the market” holding people down instead of taking care of everything, like some said it would? Whee, capitalism! Unfortunately, the response in comments sections all around the internet is usually something to the effect of “Who gives a shit about poor people, right…they should take responsibility and get off welfare! The wealth of the top 10% will trickle down, because Reganomics works! I’m not [middle/lower/working] class, so I don’t need to care about them.” often with a piping-hot side of “OMG ILLEGALS ARE TAKING OUR JOBBBBBBBS.”

Mitt Romney giving the thumbs-up.

In the time it took me to write the above paragraph, Mitt Romney most likely made more money than I will ever see in my lifetime. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

Being unemployed/underemployed sucks, and you most likely know someone who is in that situation. For the love of Cthulhu, please re-think what you say to your friends, relatives, and fellow internet denizens who are going through this. If it happens to you—and I hope it does not—you will be glad that you stopped saying jerky things and generally acting like an ass to people who really don’t deserve it.

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This is what I have been doing since my last update

Here is a quick sketch of me buried beneath a pile of job applications. Fun!

I have some other cartoons on similar topics that I am eager to post, so I’ll get those uploaded soon.

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Quick update: My work, elsewhere

Hi, readers! I know I’ve been neglecting ye olde blog (and hopefully I will start to do better on the whole “updating it regularly” thing soon!), but I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of things in which I have been involved lately:

Last week, I wrote a guest post for Tiger Beatdown on Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist, and how it relates to the pop cultural depiction (or lack thereof) of depression and pain, women and emotion, plus the unintended backlash that the expectation of “strong lady characters” has wrought. Go and join the discussion if you feel so inclined. Content warning for discussions of some graphic violence that the film depicts.

s.e. smith and I recently wrote an article (on disability culture on the internets and online feminism, naturally) for the latest print issue of Bitch Magazine, which is currently available for purchase or download. I also did the illustrations, which is kind of (read: EXTREMELY) exciting for me. We were interviewed at length by Kjerstin for the Bitch Radio podcast as well. Hooray!

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Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers, part 2

This feature has been divided into two posts, since the first one was getting a bit long. You can view part one here. So, continuing with making silly comments about holiday albums! I know, Christmas was yesterday, but why not keep the momentum going?

Cover of Jewel's album "Joy: A Holiday Collection," which depicts the singer in some sort of heavily-edited, blue/gray tinted winter wonderland.This is your blue-grey toned Photoshop filter on “Unrecognizable” mode.

Cover of Bette Midler's album "Cool Yule," which depicts Midler standing happily in a snowy environment; she wears a white dress and a very large hat that appears to be made from red flowers.I’m totally coveting her hat. The rest of it (including the weird font), not so much.

Cover of James Taylor's album "James Taylor at Christmas," which depicts Taylor standing in front of a plain wall while dressed in warm clothing and holding a wrapped box.James Taylor looks quite nicely dressed up for Winter. Too bad he seems to be standing indoors, in front of a wall made of feces.

Cover of Hilary Duff's holiday album, which depicts the singer standing outside and next to a large sleigh while smiling happily. A wrapped gift floats above her head.There are times when words and/or speech disappear for me, and this is one of those times. Also, I can’t help but notice how there is a present directly above HiDu’s head. I don’t think she’ll be quite as happy when it falls from the sky. Is she able to make gifts levitate magically? This remains unexplained.

Cover of LeAnn Rimes' album "What a Wonderful World," which depicts a photograph of the singer surrounded by holiday trimmings.I had no idea that Glamor Shots was still around.

Cover of Bright Eyes' holiday album, which shows a black-and-white photograph of two horses in the snow, with a sleigh behind them. The photograph is placed on an off-white background.This is Bright Eyes’ Christmas contribution, which is so morose-looking that I now have an incredible urge to buy it.

Cover of Dolly Parton's album "Home For Christmas," which depicts Parton, dressed in white, sitting in a sled in a snowy outdoor environment.I want to buy this one, too, but for different reasons. Dolly Parton, you are my favorite implant-sporting woman.

Cover of Il Divo's album "The Christmas Collection," which depicts four young men in suits gathered around a table. They appear to be enjoying some alcohol.The International Male Catalog presents: CHRISTMAS!

Cover of Celine Dion's album "These Are Special Times," which features a sepia-toned portrait of Dion holding a small gift up to her face. She appears to be inhaling it.Christmas is the biggest sepia season of the year! Is there a reason why Celine appears to be smelling this package?

Cover of Charlotte Church's album "Dream a Dream," which features a likeness of the singer done in what appears to be oil painting.Thomas Kinkade’s first-ever celebrity portrait session goes tragically, terribly wrong.

Cover of Josh Groban's album "Noel," which depicts Groban smiling slightly at the camera while surrounded by gold-toned holiday lights.Someone got a little excited with the Photoshop on this one. Is it just me, or does Josh Groban look like he’s all, “I’M STEALING YOUR SOOOOOOUL” instead of smiling coyly?

Cover of Kenny Chesney's album "All I Want For Christmas...Is a Real Good Tan," which depicts Chesney sitting on a beach while wearing a red tank shirt, khakis, and a Santa hat.All I want for Christmas is for album cover designers to stop using computer graphics for nefarious purposes, such as putting little Santa hats on cover photos.

Cover of "NOW! That's What I Call Christmas Volume 3," which depicts the obxnious NOW! music series logo in a snowy environment.There are three of these?

Cover of Billy Gilman's album "Classic Christmas," which depicts a young blond boy sitting in snow and making a snowball while smiling at the camera.Billy Gilman: I, TOO, AM STEALING YOUR SOOOOOOUL.

Cover of the Victoria's Secret holiday compilation, which depicts a thin woman dressed in hot pink underwear, high heels and a Santa hat toting a large sack of gifts into the frame. She looks very happy.Merry Christmas! You get…I kind of don’t know what is going on here.

Cover of Brad Paisley's album "Christmas," which depicts an electric guitar festooned with holiday lights. There is a white cowboy hat perched atop the headstock.No, that’s not phallic at all.

Cover of KT Tunstall's album "Holiday Collection," which depicts the singer standing outdoors and smiling. The image has been edited to include a yellow ribbon on top of the photograph.I hope whomever designed this was severely reprimanded, both for making the normally lovely KT Tunstall look jaundiced, and for sticking her in a short-sleeved top OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING TUNDRA (or implying it, using the magic of cut n’paste). And then having the audacity to slap a bow onto such an atrocity.

I hope all of you who celebrate the holidays had a lovely time, and in case you didn’t get what you want this year, take heart: a Justin Bieber holiday album can’t be far behind.

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Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers, part 1 (UPDATED)

A couple of years ago, I posted a bunch of images of holiday album covers on my Livejournal and attempted to make humorous comments about said images. Like obnoxious Salvation Army bell-ringers (and yes, that organization really is obnoxious, although I suppose one could just go with “noxious”) and insulting advertisements that pressure us–even in horrible economic times–to SPEND SPEND SPEND in order to show people that we really love them, holiday albums seem to be one of the more irritating (or hilarious) mainstays of the winter season in North America. There are many reasons as to why I find the holiday season ridiculous. This is just one of them. So, without further ado, I present “Rating Holiday Albums Based on the Covers,” now updated to include some holiday-themed albums released since mid-2008.

I got most of these images from music communities on Livejournal, because people on these communities seem to love holiday music. Good for them (also good for me, since I get to make a post like this).

Portions of the original post have been edited substantially, mostly to re-do repetitive jokes and fix some language and grammar issues.

Onward!

Cover of 98 Degrees' album "This Christmas," depicting four young men standing in front of a festive red background.

Could anything be less appealing than what looks like a J. Crew ad in record form? Let’s not forget to tell Nick Lachey to stay out of it.Cover of Aimee Mann's album "One More Drifter in the Snow," which depicts a white woman sitting on a plastic reindeer in an outdoor environment.I kind of love this one. Probably because of the plastic reindeer and also the font used.

Cover of The Carpenters' "Christmas Portrait," depicting an illustrated image of Santa Claus paiting a portrait of Richard and Karen Carpenter as an elf holds a paint pallette.

AHHHHHHH!!

Cover of Jessica Simpson's album "Rejoyce: The Christmas Album," which depicts a tan white woman with blond hair staring at the camera in front of a red background.

It’s beginning to look a lot like spray tan. . .oh, I mean Christmas.

Cover of Christina Aguilera's "My Kind of Christmas," depicting the singer standing in front of a plain wall while wearing a black crop top. The image is sepia-toned.

I don’t think the sepia tone nor the tank top that C. Ag is sporting here are particularly winter-appropriate.

Cover of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers' album "Once Upon a Christmas," which depicts Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers smiling while surrounded by a large Christmas wreath. They stand next to a reindeer with large antlers.

Based upon the cover alone, I must listen to this album at some point. God, this is a brilliant album cover. It’s so deliriously terrible.

Cover of Mannheim Steamroller's album "Christmas," which shows a painting of a decorated, soft-focus holiday tree in dim light.

This looks like one of those bizarre ads that the Bradford Exchange puts on the back of Parade Magazine every Sunday.

Cover of Mannhein Steamroller's album "Christmas in the Aire," which depicts a snow-covered fir tree in an outdoor environment.

It’s the first Christmas tree ever constructed solely from bat dung!

Cover of Billy Idol's album "Happy Holidays: A Very Special Christmas," which depicts a be-suited Billy Idol singing into a microphone and pointing at something out-of-frame.

God, Billy Idol looks more like a skeevy lounge singer than ever before. I wonder if someone can talk him into doing a Christmas album with Scott Weiland. [Edit: I got my wish, sort of! See below.]

Cover of Aly and AJ's "Acoustic Hearts of Winter," which depicts two blond women relaxing in a wintry environment.

Somehow, I am reminded of the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Cover of Girls Aloud's album "Chemistry," which depicts four women in a kitchen environment wrapping gifts, placing a gift beneath a large tree, eating a cookie from a cookie sheet, and preparing a turkey, respectively.I am pretty sure that there is a Gender Studies dissertation just WAITING to be written about this cover.

Cover of Jackie Evancho's album "Heavenly Christmas," depicting a young blond girl wearing a festive dress sitting beneath what appears to be a large wreath.

No 11-year old with whom I have ever come into contact has had posture this good. Maybe Jackie Evancho is just that bad-ass, though.

Cover of Mariah Carey's second (!!) Christmas album, which depicts Carey sitting in an outdoor environment amongst holiday decorations while wearing a red dress with white fur trim.

If Mariah Carey’s album covers were as interesting and polished as her voice is, her second (!) holiday album would not be on this list. C’est la vie.

Cover of Tori Amos's album "Midwinter Graces," depicting Amos floating in the sky while wearing a long sleeveless dress.

Call me a Tori Amos fandom Luddite, but I vastly prefer the album covers of hers that prominently feature things like mud, firearms, and dead chickens rather than someone getting over-enthusiastic about CG. Check some of the inner booklet art, too:

Image of Tori Amos, wearing some kind of very shiny red dress with a huge circular collar, leaning over a sleeping angel while hoisting a lantern

Tori’s outfit looks like something that you would see in an early-1980s David Cronenberg film, and I think this is a major improvement over the cover of Midwinter Graces for that exact reason.

Cover of Scott Weiland's album "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," depicting Weiland standing in front of a dark background while smiling and wearing a collared shirt, tie, vest and fedora.

WEILAND, WHAT HAPPENED HERE. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU JUST STEPPED OUT OF A BANANA REPUBLIC HOLIDAY AD. HONESTLY.

Part two will be posted soon. Until then, feel free to post your favorite (or least favorite) holiday album covers in the comments.

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