Saturday, August 25, 2012

Missed Opportunities

I am not an inventor nor an entrepreneur. However, I have noticed (and one probably cannot reach late middle age without noticing) that there are a great many useful products that simply do not seem to be commercially available. I have written a little about this before, specifically, about the difficulty in finding bras that fit.

It is often said that more than half of all women wear bras that don't fit. I am sure it is not because women don't realize that they are purchasing the wrong size, or that women are not savvy shoppers. It is far more likely due to the fact that bras typically are only available in a very limited range of standard sizes, designed to fit average 25-40 year-olds. The trouble is, many or most bra-buying women are younger or older, shorter or taller, slimmer or more chubby, or more or less buxom than the standard sizes allow for. Shoulders might be broader or narrower, and breasts might be smaller, larger, higher, droopier, or more wide-set than the average figure, as well. Could it be that manufacturers don't really care? Perhaps they realize that because this item of clothing is a staple, women are likely to buy an ill-fitting bra rather than nothing at all, and so see no need to cut into their profit margins by designing and selling a wider range of choices.

Another garment that appears to be entirely absent from retail stores is pants designed to fit middle-aged men with potbellies. This is rather amazing, considering that the majority of North American of men of a certain age have expansive waistlines. Most men seem to deal with this problem by wearing a belt and cinching the pants low on their hips, below the belly. This is a problem, because then the front of the pants hangs much lower than it should and the pants do not drape well. Another way to cope with it is to wear suspenders. Although many men's wear stores carry suspenders, they tend to be the type with little wimpy spring loaded metal clasps that have a tendency to spring open whenever the unfortunate man bends over. I have it from an authority on the matter that the only decent suspenders are the sturdy type with loops that fit over buttons sewn onto the waistband of the pants. This style of suspenders is nearly impossible to find, and trousers with buttons on the waistband even more so. My informant sews his own buttons onto his pants. A final solution is to purchase longwaisted pants with a gigantic waist size, and pull them up over the stomach. These are kept up with either suspenders or a belt. However, this fashion faux pas is seldom observed, except on elderly men in remote rural areas.

Another place where retailers miss the boat is in marketing a range of technical sportswear for older people. On the whole, baby boomers have always been a fitness conscious, outdoorsy demographic. They also have lots of money to spend on high end sportswear. Unfortunately, the designers and marketers seem to believe that all skiers, hikers, kayakers, and so forth are lean twenty-somethings, with sticklike arms and legs, and teeny little waists and butts. Many of my skiing friends are still wearing warmup pants or ski jackets that they bought twenty or thirty years ago when the styles were more baggy, and pants were cut to come up to the waist rather than riding on the pelvic bones. I myself am in this category. I would love to buy some trendy new technical ski pants, but I just can't find any that fit. The market is missing out on the whole demographic of well-to-do active boomers who don't happen to have their youthful figures any more.

I could go on and on about this topic. What about modular drivers' compartments in cars that could be customized to fit the vehicle owner? This would be much more comfortable and safe. What about adjustable height desks, tables and kitchen counters?

Of course things are slowly improving. We now have ergonomic keyboards and keyboard trays, adjustable office chairs, trays to put one's purse on inside women's public washroom cubicles, and molded modular shower surrounds that have shampoo shelves. There now are cars with built-in baby seats, or easy to access car seat anchors. In years past, the absence of these products were pet peeves of mine. Maybe at the rate things are going, I'll be able to buy new ski pants before I'm eighty.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wine Belly

In some ways, I think that I am not totally normal. I am not and never have been very "girly" in my tastes and interests. As a child, I was a cross between a reading-obsessed honour student and an athletic, outdoorsy tomboy. Pink was my least favourite color.

As an adult, I still notice certain differences between myself and my female friends. I don't wear makeup, ever. I tried nail polish once when I was five years old, and never again since then. I have never colored my hair. I have never been on a diet. I enjoy food, and am happily omnivorous. I am not very interested in shopping. I do it, of course, by necessity, but I don't particularly enjoy it as a pastime. I don't find the lives of celebrities at all interesting. I don't watch TV, which means that many conversations at social gatherings go right over my head.

However, there is one thing that I share with most of my friends, both male and female -the enjoyment of a good glass of red wine. Sometime we drink too much red wine. On the whole, though, I am not much of a drinker.

In recent years, much of the popular literature suggests that moderate drinking, one glass a day of red wine, is actually good for your health. Most of the press has focused on the cardiovascular benefits of red wine, although some articles report that one drink a day of beer or spirits yields similar health benefits. The resveratrol in red wine (which comes from the skin of the grapes) is supposed to have excellent anti-aging properties, including lowering blood sugar, fighting cancer, and providing cardiovascular benefits. Red wine is also said to counteract harmful cortisols, stress-induced hormones.

However, to date, there is still little research on humans, especially longitudinal studies, to back up these claims. For example, from what I have read, it seems that the amount of resveratrol in a glass of red wine is so miniscule that it is unlikely to produce the benefits that have been touted. But we hear what we want to hear. I like to enjoy a glass of wine some evenings; therefore it is gratifying to think that I am also reaping health benefits.

One thing that is clear, though, is that wine has calories in it. They are also the kind of calories that are quickly metabolized by the body. Depending on the type of red wine you are drinking, you will imbibe about 125 calories per five ounce glass. Two or three glasses of wine several evenings a week will add up pretty quickly, calorie-wise. One way in which I am similar to most of my friends is that I am not eager to end up with a wine belly.

So, I am going to continue to have a glass of wine with friends once in a while, or when I come home from work all stressed out. I am going to enjoy every drop of it. But I am not going to fool myself into thinking that the wine is medicinal, or that it is calorie free.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Story of My Life

One of my writing interests over the past ten years has been autoethnographic writing. This is a more scholarly research-oriented branch of autobiographical writing.

Often people intending to write stories of their own lives become stymied by the question of where to begin. An obvious beginning point is one's birth; however, this is not necessarily a good place to begin. One reason is that choosing to start there immediately makes the whole enterprise overwhelming. Whatever spark of idea or zing of experience motivated the desire to begin writing a personal story at once become swallowed by the impossible bigness of the task. For if you start with your birth, suddenly your story becomes the story of your whole life, tedious stuff and all. All of this account must be placed into an accurate chronology. It becomes hard to decide what to leave out. You no longer have a story but rather a record or an account.

Another reason why one's own birth is not a good starting point is that as soon as you write, "The night that I was born was dark and stormy..." or whatever, you have already, inadvertently and insidiously, fallen prey to autobiographical trope -- a standard way of thinking and writing about things, a formula from within the genre of autobiography. To my mind, the constraints of genre templates might help the publishing industry to describe the place of a work within a body of writing and to market it, but for writers, formula stifles story.

I am presently reading a novel by Diane Setterfield called "The Thirteenth Tale." In the book, an elderly writer, Vida Winter, has hired a biographer to write the "true" story of her life. Miss Winter says:

"'I shall start at the beginning. Though of course the beginning is never where you think it is. Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born... Yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.'" (p. 58-59)

Setterfield makes an interesting point. An autobiographical tale is never just about oneself. It is, from one's own point of view, about me in my world enmeshed in the the social relationships, physical contexts, and time periods (culture, way of knowing) that makes my life. The story of me, is by necessity, also a story about other people.