June 2006 Archives

An interesting morning

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As I was leaving the apartment to move my car at 8am, I opened the door and found three detectives standing there.

They hadn't knocked yet, so after an initial awkward exchange of laughter, I was like "uhh, can I help you?"

I've mentioned before that we get the mail still for the previous resident, Franklin Darwin, and I've also mentioned what happened here two months before we moved in. (Still creeped out)

It turns out that our buddy is in fact a convicted class-3 sex offender and continues to fail to register, so since this was his last known address, they've been searching our building and neighborhood asking after him. They assured us he is a coward and would not be coming back here - Eric joked "to pick up his Ikea furniture perhaps." See, we have the rapist's bookshelf (thoroughly sterilized), and we're very attached to it. As in, we'd come back from the dead for it.

At any rate, I had to excuse myself to go move my car, and much like the time when I declined an invitation to come behind the pastry counter at my favorite bakery and "have whatever you want," I passed up the offer to be excused from any tickets I may receive should I fail to move my car. You don't really get a more perfect reason to not move your car... but unlike the pastry debacle (which GOD I still can't believe that was the one time in my life I got shy about pastry!) this would not have been immediate gratification, and instead would have been a pain in the neck to sort out.

When I got back I began packing (I'm leaving for NJ at 10am to visit with my grandmother & aunt who are flying in from Hawaii - woohoo!). Somehow Eric and I got into a debate about whether burping was, in fact, flatulence. He quipped, "A quick visit to Wikipedia should sort this out..." and lo, we stumbled into the funniest article I've ever read, as well as a potential career when I finish grad school.

Hahaha enjoy my flatus.

Goofing off with my computer

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Looky what I learned to make...

And since this post is purely gratuitous anyway, here, I copied Amanda and made a designhergal:

That's me, painting, with Iggy & Smokey. What's great is that I have a skirt just like that and wear it quite often with a black t-shirt. Eric said I should edit it to make Smokey plumper and Iggy's white areas larger but considering the size of my illustrated feet, I think it's safe to say anatomical accuracy is not the highest priority here.

Victory at Last

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A while ago I bought a sewing machine and couldn't wait for it to get here. Once it arrived, I stared at it dumb-founded and realized I knew absolutely nothing about sewing machines. It's moved from room to room of our apartment, mocking me, taunting me with its promises I can't fulfill.

Finally this evening, with no small amount of frustration and colorful language, I learned to thread it. I grabbed some scrap fabric to see if I'd threaded it correctly and - magically - it worked! I sewed a bag shape and even used the free-arm to sew down the top in a pleasant roll-over (realizing only after sewing the sides that it would have been easier to have done this first). I'm going to make a handle thingie and have a cute summer bag - woohoo! (Will post photos when it's finished)

Now I am not so scared to start learning garment construction, as the elusive machine has become my great new friend. Next step, using the skirt pattern I bought (also several weeks ago) and actually learning to sew!

I also got over my knitting indecision / paralysis and have selected my next project, a shrug, perhaps to wear over a dress I will also make (dare I dream?). Knitting supplies are nowhere near as inexpensive as I have been led to believe, but it is important to realize that there are only a few occasions in one's life where it is necessary to buy circular needles. When the yarn and supplies arrive, I will be sure to share.

I've never knitted a non-scarf garment before, so I'm mildly anxious but pretty excited. I'm also going to attempt the lace on that one, which will be my first such effort, so here is hoping I don't lose my mind with frustration. It's strange how crafts can cause just as much aggravation and pleasure as painting, though I guess anything one plans to make can get that way.

I'm also working on modifying the six foot wide monarch butterfly wings I made last fall for Halloween with various reflective pigments and glazes, for an upcoming party (which I will hopefully describe with photos soon).

Oh and I need to make or locate some art for a show that hangs this weekend. I have no idea what to do for that (if only butterfly wings fit the theme...).

Weekend photos

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Will post more soon, but I put up photos from this weekend.

Saturday, our friends Hope & Kristian came to visit and we met up with friends at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island (click to open set):

After getting thoroughly soaked in the rain, we all came back here and hung out (gorging ourselves on Mexican and beer milkshakes).

Sunday, we went out for a delicious brunch in Park Slope, then Eric and I drove upstate for our friends Rick & Heather's engagement party:

Afterwards, we had a lovely visit with Eric's mom in Ridgefield, had amazingly peaceful sleep, and drove home today in the rain.

Am so exhausted!

This past Saturday I went down to New Jersey to visit my family, prompted by Father's Day and enticed by some of the most beautiful weather of the year. When I arrived, my father was power-washing the deck, which I found strangely endearing - there is something about men and new toys that is always adorable, and this is quite a manly power-washer.

We decided to go for a hike with the dogs in nearby Hartshorne's Woods. The way my father put it, "Hiking in the woods is about their favorite thing in the world to do." Talk about an understatement. We packed the overjoyed dogs into the car and as we turned around a corner to start heading up the highlands, Otto perked up on my lap and began peering over the dashboard sniffing - he knew where we were and began squealing as we pulled into the parking lot.

My dad and I enjoyed a lot of great conversation, and I found myself time and again blown away by how wonderful it felt to be out in the woods, enjoying nature. I don't realize, day after day sitting in air-conditioned apartments and classrooms, how much I miss the outdoors, but once I get back, it feels like coming home. Which I guess technically, it is.

While hiking, I talked to my dad about the Song Dynasty landscape painting I was writing my paper on (yes I really am that big a nerd), specifically the monumental style and the perspective which amplifies nature to underscore a harmonious relationship between man and the elements. After we hiked down to the beach and I looked up at the highlands, I had one of those epiphanies of understanding, suddenly recognizing the perspective and the scale, feeling intuitively how one would go about describing such a scene in light and atmospheres and nuances of emotion. I can't really explain it, but in discussing it with a friend since, we have agreed that those moments rank among the spiritual apexes of a painter's life, and it lit something up in my core that I haven't felt in a long while.

My mother got home minutes after we did, so we packed up a cooler and headed down to the sailboat for an afternoon cruise. The weather was just breath-takingly perfect, with a steady south-southwest breeze and practically no other boats on the river. The one advantage of the high fuel costs is the dramatic reduction in the Asshole-to-Wind ratio on the Navesink. My parents have resolved this issue by using primarily two of their boats: the sailboat, powered by wind, and the rowboat, powered by fat. As my mom puts it, "Our fat." She's a clever one.

We grilled up a delicious dinner, and my mom and I watched Being John Malkovich when my brother had gone out and my dad had gone to bed. I can't believe I'd never seen that movie in its entirety before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Afterwards I mentioned the blinding, skull-crushing headache I'd been suffering for days, and my mother employed her new expertise in accupressure and medical massage to obliterate any and all pain I was experiencing. What's more, she released tension I didn't know I had, such that I felt like I suddenly had a neck that had not been there for years. I felt free, as if I'd sprouted some kind of Alice-in-Wonderland mushroom-induced pain-free extension of my body which placed my head delightfully up in the clouds. Hard to explain, but if you ever get your tender points worked out, you'll understand.

The next morning, we went shopping, beginning to induce my anxiety about Costa Rica. See, I've gotten past my fears of anacondas, crocodiles, caymans, white-water rafting, smashing into a rock and drowning, becoming paralyzed, hiking above the canopy, and even zip-lines... but I maintain a serious fear of wearing summer clothes in front of people who aren't genetically obligated to love me (or at least hide their disgust). I realized I didn't own a single pair of shorts that could not better be described as "underwear," and so we headed out and my mom helped me find several actually (dare I say it) flattering pairs. If I continue losing weight up till the trip, they will look better, but at this point I can in fact wear them out in public without caution of harpoons flying my way.

After several more stores, I began to get nervous about my paper, due Monday, now nagging at my conscience. I had not even opened the books I'd taken out of the library, let alone pulled quotes, written an outline, or really anything except looked at the painting. So I told my parents I was going to head back to Brooklyn right after lunch (and once my laundry finished) so that I could get to work.

Thankfully, my parents are much smarter than me and explained it as follows: Sunday afternoon traffic to Brooklyn guarantees I will sit in traffic for several hours, getting home later than anticipated. Monday mid-morning traffic gives me a stress-free good night's sleep, time to write my paper, AND time to go sailing with them. My mother has a saying, which is alarmingly accurate in her case: "Always listen to your mother. She will never steer you wrong." (For my father, it is modified to "wife").

Sunday afternoon's sail was some kind of heaven. There were even fewer boats on the river (for major stretches, we were the only one in sight), the wind was even more perfect, and if such a thing is possible, the day was even more beautiful than the previous one. Combined with my newly pain-free neck and the astronomical relaxation of making the decision to stay the night and enjoy myself, I couldn't have been happier.

I was up until about 4am, after my parents went to bed, writing my paper, and weirdly, I really enjoyed it. The concepts of living in harmony and balance with nature were no longer abstract or academic ideas, but something I had just lived through, glowing fresh in my memory. As I typed away, I was smiling irrepressibly, content and revitalized. Hopefully my paper does not read as airy-fairy hippie ramblings of a way-too-happy Brooklynite escaped from the city, but I used some really heady quotes and (if it's not arrogant to say) some pretty damn insightful passages.

The next morning when my father was leaving for work, he came in and told me how relaxed I looked in my sleep. For the first time in years, I slept with my arms at my side, instead of scrunched up around my head (covering my ears and relaxing my neck - I don't know when I started doing it, but I usually can't sleep any other way). As I was packing up to head back to the city, I was sleepy, but energetic - it was the kind of happy that propels you forward with excitement.

True to my parents' predictions, there was absolutely zero traffic coming back. I made it to Brooklyn in an hour, and the first speck of crowding I saw was on the BQE at a point where I pulled off to a surface street and was home in like 10 minutes. I had several hours to spare before my afternoon class and had a very helpful conversation on the phone with my mom, as well as some great welcome-back kitty snuggles.

Since then, I have felt refreshed, peaceful, and quite intensely happy with the world. I can't exactly explain it, but I just may have had a perfect weekend, exactly when I needed it. I think it is to do with communing with nature, feeding off of positive energies, replenishment, and that sort of thing... but I also realize the importance of basking in my parents' warmth and affection.

I put a whole set of this weekend's photos up on Flickr (including plenty of shots from my mom's garden) so check 'em out.

I procrastinated studying for my final exam until around 8am the morning of (which yes, is very irresponsible, but my class was not until 2pm). It turns out I retained a lot more than I'd imagined in the second half of this incredibly brief semester, or I am the world's best crammer, as the exam went very well. I wasn't stumped by any of the slides or questions, and the only deductions will again come if my brain flubbed something it should have known better. I'll find out how I did on the paper, exam, and the course on Friday.

And now I'm free to enjoy summer! What excellent timing!

This weekend our friends Hope & Kristian are coming down from Boston to meet Hope's just-born nephew, and I think they're staying with us, which means we will be rocking it at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island! Eric has been talking to a bunch of our friends in the area and it looks like we'll have a pretty fun group going - I'm stoked. When I got home from my class today, E & I got to work organizing the apartment some more (finally switching our bedroom and office closets and doing a lot of sorting, tossing, rearranging etc), and I was thrilled to find all manner of sparkly, irridescent, and outrageously tacky (think fluorescent turquoise crushed velvet) fabrics for use in mermaid attire. I'm pretty excited because I'm converting several bookcases to a sewing table / craft station in the office, and I don't believe it's possible to screw up a costume, making it a perfect inaugural project.

p.s. In case you missed the link - Father's Day Weekend photos on Flickr

Bathing suit is a four-letter word

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So about studying for that final exam... yeah it's going great. I haven't opened the book yet and it is nearly 1 am.

I've decided to punish myself in a totally different nerve-wracking way, namely online bathing suit shopping. I realized I don't own a single bathing suit (that fits) and will need to have one in Costa Rica. I don't know why or when long-sleeved bathing costumes fell out of fashion, but let me say I will be the first to celebrate their long-overdue return.

One of the websites allowed you to describe your body type and actually had "circle" as one of the options. Several years ago, my mother and I saw an infomercial for aJoyce Vedral workout series where she described figure flaws as the "circle of fat," spreading from one's midsection outwards (think: porky stomach, chubby arms, chunky thighs, horrifying problems with one's rear...). At any rate, it is nice to have my spherical shape finally acknowledged by clothing manufacturers.

I ended up picking two fairly conservative, maybe boring suits. The green one makes many figure-enhancing promises, and I generally trust that it won't be a nightmare. The other is not in the pink and brown print (lamentably out of stock) and instead is solid mocha brown. I expect I should look exactly like Gisele, or I want my $30.99 back (it was on a spectacular sale).

Fortunately I had Eric to help me check my measurements. Not only is he so kind as to completely avoid looking at the tape, but he refers to my stomach fat as my "creamy middle." I am a delicious marshmallow candy, haven't you heard?

And while we're talking about fashion and concealing one's figure, can I just say I'm not completely, rabidly, vehemently anti-leggings? I know all fashion trends can be taken to extremes of douche-baggery, but leggings have their place. I sort of secretly cheered inside when I first started seeing a comeback a few years ago. Feel free to hate me for that.

I'll be mucking through a few thousand years of Asian Art now...

Quick Note

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Will write more soon, but to summarize:

  • had a wonderful weekend in New Jersey with parents
  • wrote paper due yesterday then collapsed of exhaustion and/or laziness
  • have final exam tomorrow - must study

However... is anyone interested in the Mermaid Parade this weekend? E & I have been getting a group together - let me know.

Some midsummer nerdistry

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I know it's not midsummer, but look what I did today!

We had a Chinese calligraphy tutorial after a lecture on landscape painting.

I realize this is the equivalent of children scrawling awkward ABC's on that stop-light ruled newsprint, but damnit it was fun. My professor said I did well and she was pleased that I paid attention to the direction of the brushstrokes and at least tried to hold the brush correctly.

I had a sort of epiphany as we were looking at Southern Song dynasty landscapes... all this time I have been looking at Western art for examples of nature and the elements, ways of demonstrating harmonious relationships between man and the world, and it is so perfectly and elegantly done in Chinese landscapes centuries earlier! My own sensibilities and ideas toward art align so much more coherently with eastern concepts, it's almost alarming. The great news in that is that now I have a place to continue my research, having previously gotten stumped somewhere between Georgia O'Keeffe and Alexander Ross.

As it happens I am writing a paper comparing a very gorgeous Song landscape with an as-yet-undecided Western one. It will either be a Hudson River School painting (if I can decide on one with meaningful comparisons) or something less traditional, like Van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses. Umm or something like 17th century and epic. We'll see.

Point being, one of the books I'm reading for this paper is called The Way of Chinese Painting (Mai Mai Sze, Vintage Books, NY 1959). On the introductory page, it has these three quotes juxtaposed, and I loved them so much together that I thought I'd share:

There have always been good and bad paintings... in art, however, the terms ancient and modern have no place.
Hsieh Ho, AD 500

To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.
Pablo Picasso, 1923

In respect of art, we are the first to be heirs of all the earth... Accidents impair and Time transforms, but it is we who choose.
André Malraux, 1950

Stopping to smell the roses

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Behind the library at my school is a beautiful rose garden. On my way home this afternoon, I strolled through on a sensory vacation and snapped a few shots. I will have to go back with my good camera, as the small Nikon I had with me has decided to break my heart and no longer functions anywhere near how it's supposed to (problems include shoddy focusing, failure to actually take the photo when I press the button and really worrying color shifts).

At any rate, I've made a Flickr set of today's images, which I will likely add to soon.


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To begin, catering on Sunday went absolutely wonderfully. I even surprised myself. I hit some magical cooking Zen spot and was up until after 3am on Saturday chopping vegetables, arranging platters, and just getting it done.

I got to the pier earlier than anyone else and began panicking, since I knew I had scallops threatening to spoil and vegetables dying to wilt. Fortunately the day captain arrived before I got myself too worked up, and I got to work. I had two people working with me, wonderful ladies named Jeanette and Rhoda. Rhoda was hilarious and reminded me so much of my Grandma Jean in her wit and that cute little sparkle in her personality. It was a genuine pleasure working with them.

The only real trauma of the day was the sterno debaucle... as in even though I saw a stack of sterno candles on Friday, there were none to be found by Sunday morning. I went to the new Fairway across the street, which has been open all of a month and literally has everything in the planet in eighteen varieties, but since they've reorganized the store as many days as they've been open, no one could find the sterno candles. Managers and stock boys were about to get into a fist-fight and a large screaming match began between a floor guy and a customer service person about why no one updates the store layout diagrams when they make the decisions to move entire sections. Long story short, I didn't get them, after a near-tears half hour.

Fortunately this awesome girl Amy and her husband showed up to save the day and drove me a few blocks away to a dollar store that had a whole aisle of sterno trays and candles. Of course I have to wonder, if the captain knew these items were there the whole time, why she sent me to the tier of hell that is Fairway on a Sunday morning, but that lapse of sense only cost me a low-grade panic attack that very few people knew about.

Once all the food was set up and I had resolved the stupid sterno situation (cause seriously, my apartment and the entire hallway smelled so strongly of sausage and scallops that I was sure it would linger for days and there was no way all that cooking would be for naught), things went perfectly well the rest of the day.

The higher-ups of the organization were all really pleased and kept coming by all day to compliment me on how professional and appealing everything looked. Everyone was really impressed with these little signs I made that took all of 15 min in Photoshop -- to the point where I have to email a template over so everyone can use them from now on. The customers were thrilled with the food selection and quality - considering it's a voluntary donation and people came back with $5 bills to tell me how much they enjoyed it, I think I did okay. I was surprised how much people were charmed by the cucumber sandwiches, and of course the chocolate-covered strawberries made a lot of days.

The women working with me were thrilled that they barely had to cut anything up or arrange food on platters. I didn't know it, but usually food supervisors bring bags full of ingredients and have their workers spend the day cutting, the way I'd spent my evening before. Instead, they were able to chat up customers and enjoy the wine selection, which made for much more pleasant company all day long.

I can't exactly explain it, but that hospitable part of me which likes to make people comfortable and welcome with food was deeply satisfied with this whole experience, to the point where I could see myself being very happy running a restaurant or catering business. And of course that whole Martha Stewart wannabe aspect of my personality was thrilled that every single dish got rave reviews - it's pretty exciting to be called a great cook countless times over one day.

At any rate, even though I only took three shitty pictures, it was quite a sight and I was thrilled with how great everything looked and, well, was. As I was packing up, the organization people all asked if I would do it again for the next show, and I said that as long as I'm able to (since the show spans the time I am in Costa Rica), it'd be my pleasure.

Second bit of good news - I got an A on my midterm!!! At first I was a bit concerned - she gave our exams back just before break and I didn't have a calculator. My score was 34.25/36, which is kind of hard math to do in one's head, and I always get deceived by seemingly small differences plus some lingering thing in my head was saying that 4/5 was 80% so I shouldn't be too pleased yet. After an uncomfortably long exercise in long division, I had to call Eric to confirm and it turns out I got a 95, which is not bad at all.

Some of the other students failed miserably, so she gave them take-home versions. She said to one girl, "The images are in your book - I want you to look them up and just write anything about them so I can give you a passing grade," and the girl actually had the nerve to bitch about it over break, saying she'd already taken the exam, why should she have to do it again. There is a guy who sits behind me and has several intensely annoying habits which include kicking my seat at random intervals, eating chips for an ungodly length of time every single class, playing games on his cell phone with the sound on, and loudly sighing way too frequently with nacho-cheese breath. He just plain skipped the exam and had some lame discussion with her about being sick, so he too will be given a take-home exam pass/fail. I'm not sure why these kids aren't more concerned or don't realize that when a significant part of your grade will be pass/fail, your course grade is not going to be stellar.

It does honestly concern me because I've been considering teaching when I finish school, and I'm not sure I could handle a class this lazy and immature. We had a field trip to the Met which was meant to serve as both a review and a really great opportunity to see the work in person with our professor, and only 3 of us showed up! I mean, we have a paper to write about it, and most people didn't bother coming! Toward the end, 2 more guys showed up and one of them kept taking phone calls, so he missed almost all of what she said anyway. I can't imagine how that must have felt for my professor, as she had spent a really long time preparing her lecture and organizing our tour. The three of us really appreciated it and I definitely got a ton out of it -- my paper is going to be a breeze once I find citations for the notes I took -- but still, we all felt kind of embarrassed for the rest of the class dissing her. I know that when I was an undergraduate, I did a lot of stupid and irresponsible things, but then again, I made sure not to take any graduate classes where the level of expectations would be so much higher. It's confusing to me that the undergrad art history majors seem to consider graduate classes as just advanced blow-offs, but it also now makes a lot more sense that they require two more advanced degrees and years of experience to do any real work in art history.

Seeing these kids, I am also torn because I wanted to ask for a position grading for undergrad classes next semester, where you have to attend the survey classes and then grade tests and papers for the professor. I was all excited, thinking I could make them online study guides and hold review sessions and do all this hokey enthusiastic stuff... but now I'm fairly confident it would all be a waste of time. I also think I would get really impatient if I saw them goof off through the class period then demonstrate zero applied knowledge on an exam - I know I couldn't grade for spite, but it's certainly tempting to give them a decoddling. The deciding factor is of course that I didn't take a lot of art history as an undergrad (seeing as I was trying to major in neuroscience and then studio arts with a minor), so I will get to essentially audit all the survey classes I missed, so long as they don't disrupt my schedule too much. The faculty at Pratt is so amazing, though, that I consider it a genuine privilege to sit in on their lectures and get to interact with them, so the more the better.

With that, I have to get going on my research paper. It's one of those heart-breakingly beautiful days, so I kind of hate to spend a chunk of it at the library, but I'm hoping to get to New Jersey this weekend for Father's Day, so the paper must get done now.

When life imitates the internet

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The other day Eric and I lost our minds and spent an embarrassing amount of time setting up web presences for Iggy and Smokey on Catster. As if like, half of this blog weren't enough.

You can check out their profiles (and add them as friends!):

Though they're virtual and he doesn't know about them, both Eric and I feel a compulsion to keep giving Smokey treats. Even in cyberspace, he's a spoiled little piggy.

Oh and Hope got an amazingly cute little kitten - meet Sophie!

Seeing as Eric has been pushing for a new kitten since the Catster day, I worry I will have no defenses once he sees the overwhelming sweetness of Hope's little baby. I don't want to be outnumbered by cats, but then again... a kitten....

The Vickilicious Catering Service

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Despite the nervous breakdown I was having at the industrial grocery this morning, I think I have this catering thing under control now.

I brought home a second staggering amount of food and got to work preparing things. Thus far I've made:

  • sweet Italian sausage with green peppers
  • hot Italian sausage with yellow peppers
  • cucumber sandwiches (recipe coming soon)
  • angel food cake

I only have two real cooking items left:

  • bacon-wrapped scallops
  • chocolate-covered strawberries

And the rest is just cutting and arranging:

  • crudités tray with broccoli, carrots & peppers, variety of dressings & sun-dried tomato and basil hummus
  • selection of salami
  • cheese & cracker tray
  • cubes of mozzarella cheese (maybe marinated in olive oil & herbs... maybe just cubes - are stars cheesy? (pun half-intended))
  • spring mix mesclun salad
  • three bean salad
  • bagel & cream cheese platter
  • brownies
  • coffee cake

I am trying to decide if I should have a fruit plate or not, but that depends on how much fruit is leftover from today (I saw how much she bought yesterday and I just refuse to believe people are that enthusiastic about grapes). Depending on how much bacon and energy I have leftover, I may also fry up some bacon and eggs in the morning for the workers' breakfast.

The only remaining challenge is to get all this food safely into my car, then set up at the pier. Oh and not dropping dead of anxiety as I try to keep service going all day tomorrow.

Yep, give me $125 (or so) and I will deliver a multi-course feast and all the nervous energy you can stand.

Let me begin by saying I am on a pretty strict diet. It's one of those well-balanced, low-sugar, low-fat, heart healthy type diets, the likes of which can be wrecked, for example, by drinking too much juice or milk in a given day, let alone deciding to go hog wild on treats.

Look at what is sitting in my fridge this very instant. Leering at me, in all their glory. Laughing scandalously because ha! they are ridiculously tasty and I cannot have any.

By Sunday there should be at least four times as many chocolate-covered strawberries I cannot touch. Plus a tray of sausage and peppers. And bacon-wrapped scallops. Already there are various salamis and cheeses and the most heartbreaking selection of crackers I'm not allowed to even think about. There will be cucumber sandwiches. Oh and angel food cake that I'm baking myself.

See, I am part of an artist's coalition that puts on very lovely shows on a pier in Red Hook. This time my work assignment is food supervisor for Sunday, which means that I spent the entire day today with the food chair at an industrial restaurant-supply grocery (oh my word) and Costco, lugging around untold masses of food and snacking away on free samples like it was my job.

When I came home, I decided I ought to try my hand at tempering chocolate in preparation for all the chocolate-covered strawberries I capriciously included on my menu (because it was suggested I have fruit, and to a girl required to eat servings of fruit and salad with every meal, I jumped at the opportunity to cover said fruit in something completely unhealthy). To be honest, if anyone else found cheese-injected, prosciutto-wrapped or beer-battered strawberries appealing, I may have offered those as well.

It turns out it is exceedingly easy to temper chocolate. Perhaps I have just discovered the single greatest cause of the obesity epidemic in America. Why has no one told me how easy it is to make pots and pots of molten chocolate?! You know what, I'm not going to complain -- I should be thankful I haven't discovered it until just now.

I was pretty restrained at first. I decided not to have a lunch meal, having snacked so much at Costco. I was the model of discipline and will-power. As I began heating chocolate and Crisco (did you know the best dipping chocolate is mixed with lard??), I resolved not to eat any. Okay or maybe just one, to make sure the flavor and consistency was decent, but only after I'd prepared them all and let them cool properly in the fridge (I still have not had any).

But that doesn't mean I can't lick the whisk when I'm done, right? Oh or take a spoonful out of the melted chocolate for quality control...

After dipping the test container of strawberries, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with extra warm, delicious chocolate. Thinking fast, I grabbed the rest of a package of almonds and dumped them in. That's almost healthy, right? While they cooled on wax paper, I sliced a kiwi and dipped it in, fondue-style. When I realized I was going to waste the precious chocolate clinging to the sides and bottom of the pan, I got half a piece of bread and scraped every last drop out of it.

I think, just maybe, I have had enough chocolate.

I will be living with all this ridiculous deliciosity just staring me down for the next two days, mocking me every time I go to make an egg-white omelette or grab some low-fat cottage cheese. Suddenly that broccoli and mushroom pita bread pizza I was planning for dinner is not looking so appealing...

(If you do not hear from me for a few days, I probably have lapsed into a food coma and/or had a rapid heart-attack from overwhelming rapture as I lost my mind and ate every last thing in the fridge. Know that I went happily.)

Motivation and Success

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I know you've been waiting with bated breath, so I'll tell you: my midterm went extremely well. There wasn't a single slide ID I was stumped on or even had to question, and I was surprised by random facts I was recalling effortlessly. The only chance I will get points off is if my sleep-deprived brain made one of those classic mistakes where even though I'm thinking Western Zhou and can say exactly WHY it's Western Zhou, my hand writes "Han." You know how that goes.

Since I am perhaps the biggest nerd in the world, I had made myself a study guide in Picasa - if I didn't wear my glasses, it worked like flash cards, and though at first it was time consuming, it was ultimately much easier than flipping back and forth through multiple text books. Bonus - it means I can now show yousome of the things I've been studying (wheee!!!). Fair disclaimers, some of these are really crappy photos and a lot of my notes attest to the levels of exhaustion I'd reached by the end, but if you're interested at all in Asian Art, some of them are pretty awesome things to check out.

Duane, I think you'll especially like theShalabhanjika...

(Flickr Set here)

This week I finally finally finally went to the gym, after talking about it and mentally chastising myself for months. And it was so good.

I sincerely believe that my extreme, almost perverse, enjoyment had nothing to do with it being beneficial for my body or endorphins or anything else. I think it was all about the music.

Looking back, I can't explain why the particular mix I had was so perfect, since it is just your standard collection of vaguely new, kinda old, kinda awful, etc. In fact from a flukey thing when I was burning it, it's in alphabetical order, yet it still holds up.

A playlist so inspiring that 45 min absolutely flew by (my exact thoughts as the workout ended - "damn, already??") deserves to be shared. And since I like you*, I've arbitrarily selected four to share.

*frankly I'm tired of saying what awesome songs they are and no one I know having heard them, except the ELO... but if you listen to it, your mood will instantly improve, guaranteed.

Gym Workout Mix:

Vaguely related - blurb on iPod etiquette or as I like to call it, "Listen bitch, your playlist is not all that, so quit shoving that thing up in my grill!"

Iggy versus an RC Car

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Things have gotten too thoughtful 'round here (actually I'm studying for a midterm for my summer class), so I give you... video of Iggy versus a remote-controlled car.

Bonus - Eric's and my goofy laughs.



(Wish me luck on my exam - if my amusement at a cat and a toy are any indication, my brain is decidedly out to lunch for the summer).

Cats versus Couch

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Usually I am one with our cats. We have many of the same loves, and often our loves are compatible - Smokey loves to be held, and boy do I love me some kitty-holdin'. Frequently I wonder what my life would be like if it didn't include these wonderful little animals. I can't imagine it, honestly, but I do know that it would probably involve better furniture...

To be fair, Smokey started this. When I moved into my first apartment at Ocean Ave, I owned almost no furniture. My mother located a barely-used couch (with queen-size sleeper bed) for an absolute steal and brought it up for my birthday. I was stoked. It fit perfectly along a wall between the living area and a little hallway, and it was comfortable beyond belief.

It was also irresistable to little cat claws....


I tried everything, from my vet's recommendation of wrapping the arms in aluminum foil (apparently cats hate the feeling so much they won't scratch anymore... at least in theory) to citrus spray. Smokey had no interest in his scratching post -- all he wanted was to dig into the couch arms... and continued to do so until he'd stripped them down to the wood.

When Iggy moved in last summer, it was a lost cause. Eric and I decided the cats could just have the damn couch as long as they didn't scratch anything else (Smokey had moved on to digging the lacquer off a cedar chest I've owned since infancy). And have at it, they did. By the time we moved that couch to this apartment, Eric was insisting we throw it out, but I refused because seriously, it's just the arms and it's a deliciously comfortable couch!

I even still like its shape. Seems to me that made it a perfect candidate for slip-covering... so the year-long debate began, and only just recently did I take the initiative to just say heck with it and get what I want. I really like Eric's taste on most things, but navy blue? Really? No, I don't think so. I decided on a taupe kind of brown suede since it'd go with all our existing stuff, be basically neutral, but not be the off-white I really wanted. I thought I was being very compromising here.

It was remarkably difficult to get the cover to fit tightly. Now that it's been on a few days, I realize I'm going to have to read the "Tips for a Better Fit" sheet, as it's looking more and more like a sheet thrown over a lumpy couch.

However, I've not yet met a problem throw pillows can't fix!

And, in an astonishing turn of events, the cats have made their peace. They no longer seem even remotely tempted to claw at the not inexpensive suede (a huge concern of mine, once I realized the potential damage they could do). Occasionally they half-heartedly scratch at the new blue sofa or the coffee table, as if to keep me on my toes, but basically they're well-behaved. They both enjoy snuggling into the suede and look very cute doing it.

Now they scratch at the walls, making the most high-pitched screeeeeeeeetchy-screeeeeeetch sound I've ever heard, typically between 5-9am. Naughty kitties...


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So most of you probably know that today is the 25th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS (though some have interesting disputes of the exact date).

Among the surge of media coverage this anniversary has generated, I came across a fascinating and very thought-provoking biography of AIDS in NYC, published in last week's New York magazine, which I'm coming to consider a must-read.

At first I was stricken by how deeply some communities were affected while the generally conservative attitude of the nation at the time prevented any sort of dialogue at all. The gross misinformation disseminated just appalls me (example - Cosmo actually printed that straight women can't get infected if they have sex with HIV-positive men, further elaborating that AIDS can't be contracted while in the missionary position!). I was getting all indignant and infuriated when it started to occur to me... maybe they just didn't know?

I was born five months after the supposed first confirmed case of AIDS, so I have grown up with this disease as it has developed and consumed lives around me. I came of age in a very, very conservative town, where our AIDS education included "You don't have to worry about it - it just gets gays and poor people," as if a disease discriminated along the same lines as my misguided teacher. Students were given the opportunity to attend a taping of Donahue with Ryan White, and they auditioned for this by coming up with the most provocative questions they could imagine, which included "Are you gay?" and "Do you hate gay people for getting you sick?" One girl boasted that she was going to get his autograph... completely missing the point.

I wonder to what extent bigotry and intolerance has really factored into the lack of national awareness and education - were the first known cases of AIDS not sexually-transmitted, would we have responded more appropriately? Say, the way we did with SARS or mad cow disease or bird flu? You don't see anyone saying only Asian people get SARS, you know?

Despite the argument that most people contract HIV or AIDS as a result of their actions, can we really condemn them if they just plain did not know what the consequences of those actions could be? Imagine if you heard a report tomorrow saying anyone who drinks coffee is suddenly at risk for a nasty, fatal disease we don't understand and have no conceivable treatment for. I can't imagine hearing some moron saying "They should have known all along -- drinking coffee is dangerous and unnatural!" To pass moral judgment about contraction was an unconscionable thing to have done, and it does honestly revolt me to know how many people over the years have done so -- and how many of those people included teachers, friends, and respected members of my community.

What I find most disturbing, though, is that in light of our atrocious historical handling of HIV and AIDS, we aren't doing more now. I know people personally who will say AIDS is no longer an issue, who will advocate flagrantly irresponsible sex acts because, once again, they've decided to shove their heads firmly up their asses and decide "It doesn't happen to people like me." I was shocked at how many of the samples of donated blood at Trinity could not be used because they tested HIV positive, as well as when I learned how many of my friends have never even thought of getting an HIV test despite numerous sexual partners. There are so many startling statistics, including the alarming rise of new infections in black women. The world-wide infection rate is still absolutely horrifying... but if asked, I suspect a lot of people would act as if it's not a big deal. After all, it's no hurricane or tsunami, right?

So anyway, I encourage you to donate if you can afford it, and do whatever you can to help raise awareness and education. Get tested, and encourage your friends and lovers to do the same. We're not safe yet, and people are continuing to die needlessly because we can't get them the information and protection they need. As human beings, we owe each other more than that.

What I'm Learning from Knitting

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This summer I've become obsessed with crafts. I've always casually enjoyed cross-stitch or needlepoint, and I keep random crafty things around like knitting needles and yarn or a kit for a Hawaiian quilted pillow. I spend years working on projects a little at a time when the impulse strikes and almost never finish things. It's therapeutic and a lovely diversion.

Then I decided I had to learn to knit. Like, for real. Make things... and not just long stretches of fabric I was calling scarves. I wanted to follow patterns and understand the structure of garments. I wanted to become a knitter.

Just before the spring semester ended, I joined a stitching group, which I've previously mentioned is full of delightfully interesting and kind women. In preparation for the first meeting, I finished a long-procrastinated needlepoint project. In a free-at-last celebratory mood once my classes were over, I took a trip to Michael's to purchase supplies for a basic scarf that I could work on, as well as piles of other things for more free-form craft projects of my own devising.

As this scarf neared its completion (I finished knitting it last night and need now only to weave in the ends and block it), I found myself more and more intrigued by knitting. I read a book all about knitting. I began surfing knitting blogs, wheedling through the thousands of free patterns online, trying to choose something for my next project, mulling over which yarn I may use.

Suddenly I realized -- this has become much more than a hobby or a throwaway activity. I'm like, way into this. It is beyond therapeutic to know that a combination of knit and purl stitches will create such fascinating, beautiful things. It is thrilling to follow a pattern precisely and end up creating something which for all practical purposes feels original because, after all, I made it.

But I know that knitting is not original, at least not the way I'm doing it now. Working on projects this way is as unoriginal as needlepointing a stamped piece of fabric - it's not a surprise when the resulting piece is just what you expected. It is satisfying and reassuring to know there is a right way of doing something, and I've done it. It feels as though I am doing something creative, working with my hands, making my unique impression on the materials - and that feeling is a nefarious one which I think infests a lot of what I do and keeps me from actuallybeing original.

Put more specifically, I haven't painted really since the semester ended. I was already lamenting then how little I was painting, and it dropped off even more without the threat of impending critiques. This has been a major dilemma for me since beginning grad school, as I find myself constantly questioning "Do I even like painting anymore??" I avoid it more now than I used to avoid washing dishes.

At first I thought it was a problem of logistics - half of my painting supplies were here in my apartment, the other crucial components in my studio, and if I really wanted to work, it'd require major schlepping one way or the other. In the major reorganization of our apartment, I've gotten all the art supplies down to my studio and even spent a while organizing them. I'm still totally uncomfortable being there, but now at least I have almost all the tools and equipment I need.

I also considered maybe I was inhibited by studying art at the same time as attempting to produce it. My Contemporary Art class in particular was brutally demoralizing, as it traced the futility and failures of one way of art-making after another, all but assuring us that painting is dead and only fools try to make anything new. It seemed every seemingly-innovative strategy was about to become blase, and ultimately there was already too much sub-par art in the world. I'm willing to accept that painting is mostly something I did for myself because I enjoyed it... but what now, now that I can't even say for certain that I enjoy it? Am I just another MFA student cluttering the program and getting in the way of the few people truly driven to create? Why does everything I make seem so unoriginal and uninspired?

I see, from knitting, that it does not take much to turn something simple into something elaborate, even within a community already indoctrinated to the tricks and study of your medium. There are always improvements, revolutionary ways of construction, refinement of method, and infinite variations on personal idiosyncratic choices which maintain liveliness in the field. Knitters can admire one another's work even if the colors are awful or the pattern is very simple but the gauge is immaculate - they have a common technical language and an understanding of the craft.

Lately I have not felt that way in painting. Too often I think we rely on gimmicks -- big sloppy brushstrokes as our knit and hard-edged fields of color as our purl. People cling more to their distinctions - figurative v. abstract, colorist v. luminist, formal v. conceptual, etc (ad nauseum) because they are what help artists create a niche for themselves in the market. Even if the paintings created are incredibly formulaic and dull (the blue scarves of the painting world), it is usually possible for artists to distinguish themselves from a group of their peers. Even if the art is just abyssmal, with the right promotion and support, someone will buy it.

I think the main problem with art is money. That there exists a market for art is its worst enemy these days, and as old-fashioned and apologistic as it may sound, I really yearn for the mythical days of the solitary artist toiling away in a small, poorly-lit studio somewhere, doing what they do because they love it. No one buys knitting, and if they do, the market for hand-knit objects is so negligible in comparison with mass-produced ones that it never really drives knitters to seek stardom and riches. Knitters may make and sell patterns or topical books - they may support themselves this way - but the market is so small and diffuse that it is still a case of knitting for knitting's sake. The audience is knitters, and all buyers and sellers understand and appreciate knitting for what it is.

I truly wish the same could be said for art. While I love the fictional veil of democracy in painting (that anyone could theoretically enjoy art, and anyone with enough money could purchase it), I am becoming increasingly dismayed with the reality presenting itself. For several decades now, major artists have been in an incestuous dialogue within the art market. "Great" works of art are no longer immediately recognizable as such - rather, they are the epic equivalents of in-jokes with gallerists and curators, wink-and-nods to critics and other artists. We discuss it openly in seminars, and the majority of my classmates truly don't mind that they are creating elitist work in an incredibly closed-off environment. If it gets them into MoMA, so much the better.

Which is to say nothing about work that is right for the wrong reasons.

So often it seems like originality does not exist anymore in painting. Maybe that is an unfair blanket statement, but I've really had my fill of works which rely purely on appropriation, mechanical reproduction, third-party fabrication, or purely conceptual pieces lately. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I genuinely miss the charms of hand-made objects - and I don't mean the sloppy exaggerations of gesture meant to indicate the hand-made - rather, the careful, considered application of paint to express one's thoughts and inner life. While I can certainly think of a small handful of artists who make good work, by and large, the field is awash with mediocre, if not awful, unoriginal drivel.

I would like to see gimmickless, visceral art. I would like to see one painting, even if it follows a pattern, that is as compelling to me right now as a hand-cabled sweater or a perfect little pair of hand-knit socks. And in the meantime, I have to figure out how to enjoy and care about painting again... which means I have to get going on the painted equivalent of a gauge swatch.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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