November 2007 Archives

Over so soon?

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Today is the final day of NaBloPoMo, and well, I made it. I posted every day this month, sometimes more than once... and it wasn't actually that hard. The level of quality attained is, of course, another matter altogether.

I've really enjoyed all the new blogs I've discovered and I'm looking forward to catching up on more when my Google Reader inevitably slows come December 1.

For my last post of November, I wanted to share one of my favorite recent experiences. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my father, Smooch, and I went for a wonderful afternoon hike through a new park which is being opened for a special deer season.

While my father scouted out the terrain and hunting possibilities, I went wild snapping photos of all the intense, consummate beauty around us.

The leaves were an impossible array of infinite yellows,

the sunlight glowed through trees like fire,

and even decay took on an iridescent and transfixing loveliness as a result of stillness and perfect calm.

God it was just so beautiful.

Words fail me when I try to express what I feel when I'm in nature, but throughout this hike, I thought, once again, that I must find more of it in my life. I'm a much happier person with leaves crunching under my feet and light streaming through branches overhead.

I've put tons of other photos in a Flickr set, and if you'd like to relax for a few minutes in a late autumn glow, you can enjoy a slideshow too.

It's been a fun November, and I'm looking forward to December!


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I've been afraid to jinx it, but now that the tickets are purchased and it's definite, I simply must share.

I'm going to Hawaii!!!!!


A little background - my father's mother and several of his siblings live in Hawaii. We used to go once a year to visit, but I haven't been since early 2001 (spring break of my sophomore year of undergrad, for those counting).

Because I am not taking classes this January, I'll have time in my schedule, like 10 whole days with my grandmother and family!!! I am so ridiculously excited.

My mother has already started researching exciting things to see and do (she's brilliant in this way), and I am particularly looking forward to adding some new sights to our repertoire while visiting the old favorites.

We're going to be staying on Oahu, in Honolulu, so if you have any really great suggestions or recommendations for sights, restaurants, hikes, fun day trips, etc, I'd really love them.

When my father spoke to my grandmother this evening, she said she was so excited she couldn't sit still. I'm feeling the exact same way.


Full moon fever

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I know it's not exactly a full moon anymore tonight, but it's pretty darn close. And I have the kind of insomnia that makes me want to howl.

See, I have class in about 4 hours. Less one hour to shower and dress, that means that at most, if I were asleep this instant, I could get 3 hours of sleep. And I already know that's not going to be sufficient, so I've been laying awake tossing and turning the last few hours, increasingly frustrated that my mind feels like anxious electricity is running through it.

I don't think it's the moonlight itself, since our apartment is usually lit up by neighbors' lights, street lamps, or the LED glow of electronics. That I can see well enough to read though, is a little unusual, so maybe there is a higher than usual amount of light coming into our bedroom.

I used to love these romantic traipses through madness, seizing the opportunity of charged-up racing thoughts to draw and write inane poetry. I would develop vast sweeping theories, write essays, and generally do anything to harness the strange tide of words and images flooding in me.

Full moon nights were some of my most productive and exciting, and I looked forward to them as the harbingers of sea change.

Now I am locked into calendar days and the more regulated cycle of academics, the relentless trudge of weekly obligations and daily commitments. I can't just stay up all night starting a new painting, or I'll miss 8 hours of class tomorrow. When I worked at a job that meant nothing to me (after losing one that meant the world), I could rationalize a passionate exchange with the moon, telling myself that whatever creative thing I was doing was vastly more important than being functional (or present) at work the next day.

Unfortunately, I have either matured or just lost too many opportunities, so I am terrified of missing class. This is supposed to be my final semester taking classes for these degrees, and I literally can count the amount of sessions I have left, down to the hour. Maybe that's part of why I'm so terrified - the end is in sight and I don't know if I'm ready for what comes after.

I'm kind of disheartened that this is what my life will have to become. Responsibilities, deadlines, following through on projects, being reliable... I'm sad to lose the joy of restlessness, having to quiet and stifle inspiration or consolidate it to when I can schedule in a block of "creative time" on my day planner.

Then again I must begrudgingly admit that for all my wild nights of making art and writing and all the days on end where I went free-wheeling down a path of unfettered self-indulgent energy, I was useless all the days and did nothing to merge my nights with reality. If I really want to do creative things with my life, I have to learn to do them during the day and quit losing sleep over, well, having to sleep.

It's unrealistic to only feel alive during a full moon.

BAM! I mean, Lulu!

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Tonight Eric and I are seeing a performance of Frank Wedekind's Lulu at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music).

For as many years as I've lived in Brooklyn, I've never been to BAM (BAM!), so I'm pretty excited. I meant to read the play before seeing it performed (since I'll have to read it for class soon anyway), but I completely forgot we had tickets until last night.

I have pretty high demands of theater performances. I wouldn't exactly call my dalliances in high school theater or college stage managing any level of expertise, but it's given me just enough insight into being an actor or director to know when people slog through lines or don't give it what they could have.

I am hopeful that this will be a really good performance, though, and I'm looking forward to it.

I'm posting now instead of when we get home because I am also hopeful this evening may include some after-dinner drinks and something about "OMG Luluuuuu hehehe, Lulu is my girl! Yeah bitchez!!! BAM! BAM! BAM!" probably doesn't ring of quality theatrical criticism.

My future

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At some point in the past year, I think I found my calling in a career, which is huge for me. When I really think about the things I love and the things I'm skilled at, and when I try to imagine something I'd enjoy doing every day, it came down to precisely one thing: art conservation.

This is so specific a field, however, that my head spins in circles every time I try to consider it. It's one of those things that is so very perfect that it seems impossible. This summer I met quite a few conservators and conservation students in Venice, and despite my broken and clumsy Italian, I was able to glean the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes in this field. When I watched them working, they had the same little grin that I get when I'm completely focused on a tiny little task, but when they sat up and took their glasses off, they were happy, fun, boisterous people who laughed deep and often. They were all tan, kind of stylish, and seemed to be able to spend a lot of time outdoors... they basically seemed to be living the life I want.

This semester I've been meeting with a few people related to conservation (I can't get too specific about that yet), and I find I am unable to answer their questions, namely "What kind of objects do you want to work with?" because everything I study fascinates me. In the Materials, Techniques & Conservation museum class I took last spring, each unit became my favorite, and every lab I visited this summer became the career path I wanted to pursue. While this is certainly exhilarating, it is beginning to feel a little problematic because I don't have any real experience upon which I can base my preferences (apart from painting).

This evening I spent a while researching the admissions requirements and programs of the handful of conservation programs available in the states, and I'm simultaneously thrilled and terrified.

At present, I basically need two chemistry classes and a year or two of solid experience in a lab. The things I have covered, I really have down, and I can't help finding it amusing that even my hobbies are applicable (one program requests 8-12 examples of arts or crafts which show "fine hand skills", which umm, helloooo lace knitting!).

I've been putting off this research because I was afraid of what it would turn up. The fact that my current favorite program is in Buffalo is kind of a minor blip on my anxiety radar. Or that it's going to be at least another year or more before I'm able to apply... well that's a little unsettling, but I know what I would do in that time. I'm even excited that I have to get good at representational painting because, yknow, I've been wanting to.

So I can't explain this panicky feeling in my chest. I finally have a path and a sequence of steps I must take to get in the right direction... but putting one foot in front of the other is just... wow. It's a really scary proposition to do exactly what I want...

Meme (me me me)

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Guess who's staying in New Jersey for the night! Sigh. Eric wisely pointed out that if I were on the late train I was planning to take, I'd be walking through Penn Station and then housing projects around 1:30 or 2 am. I don't really want to tempt fate, seeing as I tend to get punched in the head or kicked as early as 6pm.

Since this blog is basically devoid of content lately (I'm traveling, I'm not traveling, waaaugh!), I thought I'd do a meme I saw on The Pink Shoe Diaries. Because I'm totally decisive, right? (I'm really really not. I can't even commit to which thoughts I type out and which I must interject parenthetically).

Here goes.

I give you money and send you into the grocery store to pick up 5 items. You can only pick one thing from the following departments.. what is it?

1. Produce: perfectly ripe pears
2. Bakery: carrot cake
3. Meat: hot Italian sausage
4. Frozen: ice cream
5. Dairy: pounds of fresh mozzarella

Let's say we're heading out for a weekend getaway. You're only allowed to bring 3 articles of clothing with you. So, what's in your bag?

1. really great sweater
2. a dress I love
3. jeans... and since this is a fantasy, let's say perfectly-fitting jeans

If I were to listen in on your conversations throughout the day, what 5 phrases or words would I be most likely to hear?

1. Do we have any soda?
2. Hey buddy! It's an Iggs! Who's a buddy? What a handsome little guy etc. toward Iggy & Smokey
3. douche / douche bag / douche biscuit
4. sandwiches (or if I'm in a crummy mood "Fart sandwiches")
5. bullocks

So, what 3 things do you find yourself doing every single day, and if you didn't get to do, you probably wouldn't be in the best mood?

1. Petting the kitties
2. Drinking Diet Coke and/or Diet Dr Pepper
3. Honestly? Eating. I really love eating.

We're talking a 3 hour block with nobody around. What 5 activities might we find you doing?

1. Knitting fiendishly
2. Sleeping
3. Cooking or baking
4. Watching old episodes of Top Model online
5. Reading blogs and striving to find a way to lick the internet

We are going to the zoo. But, it looks like it could start storming, so it'll have to be a quick visit. What 3 exhibits do we have to get to?

1. Tigers, especially if they have the white ones with blue eyes
2. Seals (I don't care if they're usually aquarium fare - the Prospect Park Zoo has 'em so they count)
3. Red pandas!

You just scored tickets to the taping of any show that comes on t.v. of your choice. You can pick between 4, so what are you deciding between?

1. Iron Chef America (and I get to eat stuff)
2. Project Runway finale (at Bryant Park)
3. Late Night with Conan O'Brien
4. one of those home organization shows so I may kidnap the organizer and designer

You're hungry for ice cream. I'll give you a triple dipper ice cream cone. What 3 flavors can I pile on for ya?

1. Pistachio gelato
2. Mint chocolate chip
3. Rocky road

Somebody stole your purse/ order to get it back, you have to name 5 things you know are inside to claim it. So, what's in there?

1. oil absorbing sheets (I'm mental for those things)
2. leather zipper pouch from Venice with money and credit cards and stuff inside
3. Eclipse sugar-free mints in a metal container (I'm like a walking maraca)
4. the sock I'm currently knitting
5. beloved Zune, my precious

You are at a job fair, and asked what areas you are interested in pursuing a career in. Let's pretend you have every talent and ability to be whatever you wanted, so what 4 careers would be fun for you?

1. Art conservator/ restorer
2. Painter and/or photographer
3. Author
4. Scientist (probably chemist)

If you could go back and talk to the old you, when you were in high school, and inform yourself of 4 things, what would you say?

1. Pay more attention to your interests than your boyfriends.
2. Paint more.
3. Don't stop running and swimming all the time. French bread pizzas and doughnut holes are not a good diet once you stop that, and it's really hard to get yourself into a bathing suit when you don't do it daily.
4. Go to school more and quit being so damned afraid of people.

I'd love to hear what you respond - I thought this was a straightforward meme, but some of these were surprisingly difficult choices!

Can't...leave...New Jersey...

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I was supposed to leave for Brooklyn over 12 hours ago, and once again I find myself incapable of making a timely departure. I may well be on one of the last trains of the evening.

It seems that if you want to keep me somewhere for several days, it only requires a small, warm animal and a comfy blanket.

Good thing I have those in Brooklyn too, or I'm not sure I'd ever get back.


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Does this cat look evil to you?

Just a little, you say? Well, you don't know the half of it.

This is Oreo, whom we also call Pee Pee Kitty, and aside from being huge (he weighs like 20 pounds), his only distinguishable trait is being the most destructive cat I've ever known. He claws leather seats, he shreds miscellaneous things, and worst of all, he pees like it's his job.

As a policy, one must not leave garments, bags, winter coats, or basically anything unattended at my parents' house, or Pee Pee Kitty may well strike.

Last night, he hit a new low. He peed in my bed. Like, hosed it down, evidently pretty shortly before I snuggled into the covers (which were still damp), pulled them up to my nose, and recoiled in horror.

My father and I have a new plan (Oreo peed on one of his bags on Friday). Next time we have to go, we're peeing on Oreo. This is war.

(p.s. I'm going back to Brooklyn tomorrow morning. I will post photos of stuff then).

The silliness of November

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I have always thought that November was a silly month to try to accomplish things, specifically NaBloPoMo. It's not that it's busy in the traditional sense, but more the nonspecific kind of busy which inhibits being productive.

I spent a lot of today covered in a Maasai blanket napping in a recliner with a Smooch puppy on my lap. If someone had asked if I was available today, I couldn't have used that as a reason why not, yet I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I don't always know how to quantify the relaxation and contentment that comes with joking around with my father or chatting with my mom, how to put it into describable terms besides "being with my family," but those words mean so much more to me this time of year.

I think I have to go back to Brooklyn really early tomorrow morning to do an art project I forgot all about (I'm awaiting an email to confirm). The abruptness of the difference between my life there and the time warp I enter in New Jersey is remarkable and sometimes a little unsettling. Brooklyn holds deadlines, stress, papers I have to research, others I must write, projects to choreograph and execute... it's exhausting there and nothing but warmth and coziness here. Yet I know, I wouldn't want to live here indefinitely because Brooklyn is where my life is - this is just a respite. To compare the two is ludicrous.

I feel a bit guilty that I didn't work harder at making engaging and interesting entries this November. I've had a lot going on, but it's left me so tired most days, or so overwhelmed, that even basic words are too much to manage. Still, I plan to redouble my efforts here and make this NaBloPoMo a worthwhile exercise and not just a daily task I suddenly remember at 11pm.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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I have so very much to be thankful for, and so very little time to enumerate it all. That, and I keep passing out in an extended food and wine coma after the delicious feast my mother prepared.

Seriously, for just the four of us (three adhering to the strictly pajamas policy), this was quite a spread.

Yeah, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Clockwise from 11:00, by dish:

Biscuits and broccoli casserole.

Mashed potatoes with garlic and machengo cheese, maple sweet potatoes with pecans.

Mashed carrots, world's best cranberry sauce with peaches, pineapple, golden raisins, pecans, and other yummies.

The star of the show.

Stuffing in the bird, homemade gravy (I helped perfect it this year).

A lovely pinot grigio.

And of course my mother's amazing apple and pumpkin pies.

(I think they're best experienced as a duet or some kind of fantastic apple-pumpkin hybrid).

It would be damn near impossible to say what my favorite dish was, but I know for certain the best part of Thanksgiving was being with my parents and brother, just the four of us, in the kind of warmth and understanding that 26 years of being a family together bring. My father said that in the 31 years he and my mother have been married, he's wanted to have just us for Thanksgiving, so he was thrilled that circumstances played out as they did. And I have to say, I must agree.

I hope wherever you are, you feel even a fraction of the happiness and abundance that I've enjoyed today.



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Somehow I have this compulsive inability to leave the apartment at the time I am supposed to when traveling.

I don't know if it's an anxiety thing, a problematic forgetfulness (it takes me forever to pack a bag, since I am constantly remembering other things I cannot endure the next 3 days without), if I am dreading the subway and train on the day before Thanksgiving, or some combination of all of the above.

I do know, however, that if I don't leave in the next few minutes, I won't get into NJ until well after dinner time, and that will suck. Stupid traveling.

I must remind children everywhere: study physics, and work hard. Teleportation is necessary for happiness in my late adult life.

I haven't blogged today!

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That's what I just exclaimed with a start. Eric was quick to point out that I haven't doneanything today (that's not true).

And while "nothing" is certainly an overstatement, it is true that I've done next to nothing. And it's been GLORIOUS.

The lesser events in my life lately that have been neglected:

I made what could have been the best lasagna I've ever made the other day. I know that lasagnas are not exactly the most complex foods in the world and that I make much more difficult meals, but for some reason I feel a compulsion to document each lasagna I make, as if it's a black forest cake or homemade truffles.

(I should have made either of those cause man, dessert would be good).

This was made with hot Italian sausage, green peppers, and mushrooms, with double the cheese I usually put in and - because I was feeling capricious - the slightest pinch of ground nutmeg, which gave it a fantastic kick.

I live happy in the knowledge that my obesity will be earned with deliciosity. (Seriously though, right after Thanksgiving, the diet starts again, this is ridiculous).

Speaking of Thanksgiving (we haven't had dinner yet, I'm really hungry), I'm going down to my parents' house to celebrate. It's going to be just the four of us, with an obscene amount of food. Should be nice and relaxing, especially because I've already declared that I will be wearing exclusively pajamas and an apron while I'm down (I might upgrade to a sweater for dinner).

Speaking of sweaters (how do you like these segues?!), I spent a lot of time today working on my NaKniSweMo sweater, and I'm learning a lot about myself as a knitter, specifically that I am extremely reluctant to do anything like uhh, seaming. Or sewing on buttons. I do have a blog exclusively for knitting (Vickilicious Knits), but I just wanted to paint the correct picture of today.

I also spent a lot of time deleting the songs that had automatically loaded onto my Zune, then hand-picking what I really really wanted on there. It was pretty great fun to rediscover songs I forgot I had.

While talking with Eric, I said that I hope no one ever got their hands on my Zune at a party because it would either be the cheesiest dance party or the most emo shoegaze fest of all time. E said that he stocked his Zune with good party songs, specifically so that he can play them in public. I realize that this underscores a fundamental difference in the ways we socialize and our relationships to music, since I planned to have my Zune for subway and train rides, walking around the city by myself, and staying up late painting or reading. The thought that my music should be entertaining for other people really never crossed my mind.

I did just think of a lot of other things that I can write about, but it's almost dinner time andTV Girlfriend is on (that'd be Olivia on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit).

Tomorrow I look forward to traveling with everyone else in the city (no I don't), down to New Jersey. I hope that if you are also traveling, you have a safe and pleasant journey (or at least as pleasant as can be expected) and that if you see a blonde girl weeping over a Matthew Sweet song, you'll just let her pass without too much trouble.

Home...and so tired

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I find it more than a little ironic that when our backs hurt terribly from sleeping on couches this weekend, Eric and I couldn't wait to come home and ... sleep on our couches.

It comes highly recommended. Though not pictured, the kitties have been indulging in much couch-sleeping as well.

The single best thing about this photo is Eric, returned home, albeit for just a few days before Thanksgiving. It's been very weird living here without him while he was cat and house-sitting at his mother's. I'm very glad he is back.

I know I promised huge amounts of writing, but I am nothing if not a filthy liar and promise-breaker, so I may have to put that off some more. I will summarize: fresco is fun, Amtrak rules, my weekend was lovely but smoky, and I am exhausted. Also, it took an extraordinary amount of discipline to acknowledge that maybe the spell-checker knows how to spell smoky and it's not the same as Smokey my cat, whose name for some reason comes up spelled correctly when capitalized.

I'm going to eat lasagna and sleep until my head stops throbbing.

Still no time

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I promise I will write an obscene and embarrassing amount when I return home, but right now I am in Connecticut with a houseful of old friends from college for my coed frat/sorority literary society thingie's Initiation.

It is awesome to see so many people I've missed so much, so I'm going to enjoy what little time I have with them.

I'll return home tomorrow.

No time

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I did my fresco today and it was awesome, though harder than I expected. It looks nothing like my source image but it's alright.

I apologize that I have no time to write, but I am running out the door this moment to try to catch an 8:00 train.... you'd think 2.5 hours would be plenty of time to get to Penn Station, but with Brooklyn's subways... one never knows.

Now I am excited again

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I finally caught up on sleep (kind of) and realized that what has been an exhausting week is basically over.

Tomorrow I will spend the day doing the second portion of my fresco, for which I am extraordinarily excited. I've decided on my design:

This photo was taken at the Padua botanical garden (Il Orto Botanico di Padova), which was the first known botanical garden in history. Since I never really wrote about it properly, you can Wikify yourself on it here. (And yes, I promise, I really am going to write about my summer and post photos).

At any rate, it was a significant day for me, and I had never seen a flower quite like this before... which considering what a general plant nerd I am, was surprising.

I spoke with my professor today about what pigments and techniques I will use. I am especially looking forward to trying some conjointe (I think that's the term), the method of painting draperies with opposing lines of shimmering color like threads in iridescent fabrics. The idea is to make the petals seem to glow and move with the viewer, to give them an undulating, lively appearance.

I think the finished colors and surface qualities of fresco resemble Georgia O'Keeffe's painting, so I kind of want to play up that similarity a bit in the way I paint this flower, while still keeping in Renaissance techniques. A little tip of the hat to two of my favorite time periods and the way they come together in my own painting, I suppose.

Last spring when my Materials, Techniques & Conservation class had a fresco lecturer, she showed the incredible difference that burnishing makes, and I'm intrigued to try this as well. It condenses the pigments together and makes them flatten in a way, and the only analogous situation I know is when a woman swirls the pad in her pressed powder compact too much and develops little hardened areas which are darker and appear sort of crystalline. I think most people think that is oil or bacteria (which may contribute), but the fresco conservator agreed with me that it is the same process of pigment consolidation with burnishing (and yes, I was a big enough dork to ask).

I've pulled out some reference books, and as I surround myself with Cennini, Vasari, Ralph Mayer, Michelangelo, and my notebooks, I have a warm swelling of camaraderie, like "Hey, the gang's all here!" I still can't get over how fantastically exciting it is to immerse myself in an historical process and finally find out all the things I've been so curious about.

Still, I can't imagine I will ever know how to do this:

(Yes, I took that photo, over a chorus of security guards yelling "Shhhhh, quiet! NO PHOTOS!!!").

Man, I really should stop hoarding all my Italy photos for myself.

Still a slug

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After trudging to class in the rain today, it was with an intensely childish pleasure that I saw my afternoon class had been canceled. I hope everything is okay, but I was still gleeful that I got to go home and take a nap.

The bad news is, I slept right through my French class this evening - quelle honte! I think it will be alright, but I feel like a total jerk.

And I'm still not really feeling any less awful than I was this afternoon. Fortunately just now when buying cat food (so they'd speak to me again), I picked up ingredients for Super Cure-All lasagna. If that doesn't help things, I don't know what will.

For what it's worth, I reckon this is one of those posts that probably shouldn't and wouldn't have ever existed were it not for NaBloPoMo... and I have to admit, I'm really in the full depth of my typical November funk. Is it good that I'm writing? My thought is no, probably not, but a challenge is a challenge, oui?

Revived in Details

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Whew, I realize that today is one of those days on which I probably wouldn't even think of writing, were it not for NaBloPoMo.

I'm completely whipped, and it seems no matter what I do I can't find my way to enough sleep. Today I somehow managed to wake up at 5, toss and turn, then reset the clock itself when fumbling at Eric's alarm. Thankfully I woke up in that automatic panic with 20 minutes to shower and run to class (yeah, I was a few minutes late), but ugh, what a lousy feeling.

I've had a dull sludgy headache all day, which I'm sure is just over-tiredness. I'm not happy with the paper I handed in, nor the fact that I was late meeting my class at the Asia Society because I was having troubled printing it.

On the upside, the art there was wonderful. I'm really getting into contemporary Chinese art, I must say. As a class, we went through an exhibit of Zhang Huan, who had some really interesting ideas, very subtly layering culture and history. We watched a video to do with his process, featuring interviews of his workers, handlers, assistants, and such, which gave a unique perspective. I came away from it thinking about artists as great project managers, and I now have an insatiable desire to try wood-carving and making gigantic woodblock prints.

Once our class parted, I went upstairs to check out an exhibit of The Arts of Kashmir, which was absolutely spell-binding and amazing. The level of detail and craftsmanship was just mind-bogglingly wonderful, and at every turn I found myself more and more drawn in. The highlights for me were intensely intricate, tiny little manuscript pages with some of the most astonishingly beautiful painting I've ever seen. It really took my breath away, and I found myself utterly awe-struck that human beings are capable of such concentrated detail and beauty. In a similar vein, I was blown away by a room full of shawls and woven textiles - profoundly lovely and highly recommended.

I may like to go back to see that exhibit more, when my eyes and mind are less fatigued, but already I came away itching to make a large-scale composite lion like the ones I saw in several later Islamic manuscript pages. I'll try to find an illustrated example to delve into that more soon.

Tomorrow is another hectic day, and then I get to concentrate on my fresco design, wheee! It's nice to do something that has a more set process than sort of wandering around a canvas - this is something I was thinking at the bronze casting demonstration yesterday as well (and yes, I will be posting photos and writing about it soon). With so many workers required and such a complex process, it's almost as if the artist doesn't have time to hem and haw over the design component. More oversight and action, less uhh, everything I do. Hmm.

My molten brain

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It feels like a really long time since I've slept. I got home from class around 10 last night, shoved a sandwich in my face, then went back out to a bar in Park Slope to meet up with Eric, Hope, Kristian, and another of Kristian's friends for a drink.

We headed back here and stayed up a bit later than was probably wise, but it was a good time.

This morning, around oh, 6 am, giant machines began tearing up our entire street. Even better, there were trucks just leaning on their horns, I gather to get people to come out and move their cars instead of just having them towed. You'd think that 8.5×11-inch photocopied, dubiously official signs taped up in a rainstorm less than 12 hours before demolition would have been ample notice. Oh, you don't? Yeah, neither did we.

The trucks and street-wrecking were so loud that we actually didn't hear the alarm clocks over them. I am simply amazed we were able to sleep at all, but it was lousy, lousy sleep.

All these things were remedied once I got where I was going today, which was to an awesome bronze casting demonstration in the metal lab at school. Evidently they have one of the few working foundries in the US, and it absolutely blew my mind.

I took tons of photos and am looking forward to telling all about it, but unfortunately I have a paper I must write and my eyeballs feel like they are melting as readily as the bronze did.

Another perfect Sunday

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I must thank my mother profusely for guest blogging yesterday - she is one of the few people I know who can move me from laughter to wanting to cry with swelled-up emotion in just a few sentences. And without her lovely entry, I would have completely failed on NaBloPoMo. Thank you Mom!!!

I was unavailable to post because I was having a wonderful day with my very dear friendsHope and Kristian in Manhattan.

They had gotten tickets to the Daily Show and planned a visit on the long weekend, then sadly the writers' strike rendered said tickets useless. By a strange twist of fate, we ended up passing right by the Daily Show studio.

We went to the Asian Contemporary Art Fair on Pier 92, which was fantastic (you can see some images and learn about the artists under the Exhibitors section of the website). I was so excited with the layout and the presentation.

There was some genuinely tremendous work, really clever uses of materials, and perhaps surprisingly, real "painter's painting". In years gone by, my experiences of art fairs and larger shows have been somewhat dismal because the materiality of paint is largely replaced with electronic gimmickery or slick flat surfaces which might as easily have been rendered in Adobe Illustrator. There was plenty of that at this show too, but the painting was riveting for me.

A lot of the artists made exceptional use of history, playing clever games with traditional formats and subjects, but moving beyond a postmodern nod and wink to truly expressive, innovative, and fascinating pieces. Two examples that will jump off the page for those who have studied Asian art:

Nam Oh Kim's Glance Back, a recreation of jade burial suits, made of electronic circuitry pieces with color-shifting lights.

Cui Fei's Manuscript of Nature V and Tracing the Origin 1_01 and 1_02, using hanging scrolls of calligraphy juxtaposed with calligraphic marks made from pieces of twigs, dried leaves, seed pods, torn bark, and the like.

It was just a fantastic installation and perhaps my favorite piece of the show, on hindsight.

For pure fun, I loved a large, elaborate cherry blossom landscape, made of beautifully arranged pink and brown buttons pinned to a wall panel in Ran Hwang's Love II Camp.

I had read a review in the Times which said the three gods of this show were Buddha, Mao, and Warhol. The contemporary historicization was pretty intense, and there were great pieces like Xiang Jing's Bang! which really delved into that.

We played an informal Spot-the-Mao's scavenger hunt (or well, talked about doing it a lot) and I saw a lot of allusions to the past 50 or 60 years of current events, worked out and wrought in interesting, poignant ways.

As fatigue and over-stimulation were starting to set in, we happened upon a VIP lounge. I'm not sure exactly what a VIP entails at an art fair, but we were invited in and enjoyed delicious tea and a pumpkin cheesecake (with pumpkin seeds on top - a great touch).

It was a refreshing break, and we lingered in the exquisitely comfortable (and brilliantly designed) leather stools, enjoying the mellow lights and chatting. When we left, there were other people getting turned away, and we wondered if we'd been mistaken for press photographers (Hope and I were both carrying digital SLRs) or if we just looked mad hip (we were, after all, the Sexy Footwear Crew).

We met a really wonderful young artist named Wonjung Choi who did magnificent work that really struck a chord in me. She was lovely to speak with and showed us additional pieces from her portfolio. I am most definitely a fan.

After the show, we strolled around a pretty nice part of Manhattan to my favorite Indian place, Bombay Eats (on 52nd between 8th and 9th - it's on Citysearch here), where we met one of Kristian's friends, Andrew, for samosas, garlic nan, and some enormous Kingfishers. Andrew was a really nice guy, and for you single ladies, quite handsome. It was great hearing everyone's wild stories about sky-diving or bungee jumping in South Africa, and I kept thinking how lucky I am that I have such interesting and adventuresome friends.

We walked down through Times Square, which is always a little surreal. An out-of-towner started hollering that the Disneyfication was all wrong, that New York should go back to what it once was, and while he was generally an ass, sometimes I'm inclined to agree. I think it'd be an interesting energy awareness project to shut down all the lights in Times Square for a day or power them with wind energy or something, to highlight the environmental impact of that much wasted flashing and illumination.

I had a vague memory of a great hole-in-the-wall margarita place a few blocks from Union Square, which had mysteriously materialized on one of Eric's and my first dates. Kristian pulled out his Treo and came up with a choice of 8, so we started at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. While my cactus pear margarita was fantastic and most certainly the pinkest drink I've ever had, we knew right away that this was not my phantom Mexican place.

After saying goodnight to Andrew, we did finally find El Cantinero, and I was so excited that it was not just a product of mutual drunken hallucination but in fact a real restaurant with pitcher specials and food as delicious as I remembered it.

Margaritas made us all very, very happy.

We poured ourselves into a subway and endured another agonizing wait to get home. This weekend construction thing is bullocks, I say. That barely put a damper on what a great day it'd been though - it was really all the ingredients for a fabulous Manhattan Sunday.

I put some more photos on Flickr, in sets called The Hopening and Asian Contemporary Art Fair. Enjoy!

Notes from Mom

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Vicki isn't available for comment today so Mom is the guest blogger.

To get a glimpse of how Vicki became Vicki, I will admit it's not easy to be my parent or my sibling or my spouse and especially not my child. When Vicki was a little girl, she threw a grand mal temper tantrum at the mall, right at the top of the main escalator. I was mortified but Vicki laid on the floor kicking and screaming about wanting to get a toy, wanting to get a cookie and whatever she could think of to forestall leaving. I looked around and there were people staring but most were other mothers, relieved it wasn't their child on the floor. So I decided to throw my dignity to the wind and I laid down right next to Vicki and started kicking and screaming myself - I had company coming for dinner, I needed to go grocery shopping, I had to clean the house!! Vicki stood up, and standing akimbo, she yelled, "Get up Mommy, you're embarrassing me!!" I stood up, took her hand and we quietly left the mall as those other mothers quietly gave me a round of applause. That was the last time Vicki ever threw a temper tantrum in public.

From then on Vicki was a very good child, maybe in fear of what her mother would do in public if she misbehaved. However, she also became fearless to try things others would be terrified to try, most notably, showing her work and in doing so, exposing her soul to the scrutiny of others. I wouldn't be embarrassed to lay on the floor of the mall in front of "everybody", (as a matter of fact, I think it's pretty funny as does Vicki, on hindsight) but Vicki's fearlessness and tenacity and desire to keep developing her voice is something I admire greatly.

I lay no claim to Vicki's talent - only to being a proud mom and a kindred free spirit.

-- MOM


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(Note - All pictures can be enlarged by clicking them.)

If you asked me what Michelangelo and I had in common, I would probably say "not much," but today that's changed just a bit. Today, I started a fresco.

I've been sitting in on a Chemistry of Art class at school, and yesterday morning the professor invited me to make a fresco with them today. How could I possibly resist?

There is a wall at my school where they had old frescoes from previous years, so we first had to remove the ones we would be replacing with chisels and hammers.

The fresco that I removed came off very easily, but the brick it exposed needed to be chiseled a lot deeper. Here is the old fresco, for posterity:

The fresco instructor said that the next time they do it, he wants to set up scaffolding and chisel the higher bricks. I'm glad we didn't have to do that part of it today, because chiseling brick is really really hard work. It took what felt like all my upper body strength and a millennium to chisel the brick even a few centimeters:

Today was some kind of prospective students visit day at school, so lots of people walked by flabbergasted that we were demolishing parts of the wall. I kind of wanted to joke that it was a work study position.

Next we started mixing slaked lime and river sand to make a mortar for the first layer, called the arricio. (You can read more about frescoes here).

The consistency of the mortar was the most surprising part of the process to me. I was expecting something creamy, on the order of joint compound or plaster, but quite the contrary, it is very gritty, crumbly, and coarse. A fresco conservator had told our professor that the dryer the mixture, the better and stronger it will be.

It is highly alkaline, and if you got it on your skin it would burn and dry it out intensely. Our professor had told us yesterday that her father said brick-layers in Italy would pee on their hands to diminish the effect. Of course we made jokes about peeing on our hands all day.

We saturated the bricks with water to help the mortar adhere.

Applying the mortar was difficult and required a tremendous amount of strength. Again, I was expecting it to smear and stick on, like cake frosting, but it had to be worked and pressed like crazy to get it to hold.

Once we got the mortar applied (and it took forever), we scored it and roughed it up so that the next layer could adhere.

I may be outing myself as a huge nerd, but I am intensely proud of my little square:

The arricio will dry for this week, then next Saturday we're going to apply the intonaco, transfer our designs, and paint the frescoes themselves. We've been instructed to pick an historical period and create our image in that style, using the pigments available at that time. I've chosen the Renaissance so that I can have Michelangelo's palette.

This was such a cool experience to have, and it's completely changed the way I think about all the frescoes I saw in Italy this summer. I have a whole new level of astonishment that Michelangelo and his crew did this on a curved ceiling. Heck, the chiseling alone was enough to wear me out.

I can't wait to make my design and finish my fresco next week!

Languid intensity

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A few years ago, an artist I worked for described her painting as being imbued with "languid intensity." I didn't know where she got the phrase (a cursory Googling was little help), but it has stuck with me over time and come to exemplify some of the things I really love in art.

I'm a big fan of the slow burn, of the rich and mysterious events which simmer under the surface until they consume entirely. I think of it like an infection, a disease spreading through the body and touching every cell until you can no longer tell where an aesthetic experience stops and you begin.

This phrase is used often to describe music, and I think it signifies a multitude of experiences to the point of being barely descriptive. Sometimes it's for nonchalant rap, others for cool and effortless electro waves, or the ascending build of arpeggios climaxing like breaking waves. Maybe it is lyrical, maybe atmospheric, maybe overwrought but down-played... it's kind of all of these things. It's music that functions like licking, taking delectable nips and pausing to breathe on the right places to give chills.

Thinking of my 3 current fixation songs, they share common characteristics, namely that they've gotten under my skin to the point of obsession, and they have what I'd describe as a languid intensity.

"Rhymes of an Hour" by Mazzy Star may be an unfair example because it is inextricably linked with one of the most beautiful and erotic scenes I've ever seen in film. Still there is something to the cooing lyrics, the quiet hums, pronounced plucks, and perfectly timed tambourine that functions as a flick of the wrist or the jangling of a belt buckle, change in the pocket, stepping on gravel. It isn't exactly smooth, but it has just the right inflection to push all my buttons. The repeated bass line (and God I really wish I knew enough about music to express what I'm talking about) dips into a deep and still place in the chest, with a kind of relentless honesty and dizzying tonal flip-flop. The strings and delicate percussion add just enough ambiance to stretch and expand the experience to one of unbearable tension, leaving an almost queasy but addictive sensation of simultaneous pleasure and torture, reluctantly repeated for its sheer profundity (I imagine this is why people do heroin). I feel sick whenever I hear this song, yet exhilarated and uplifted. I feel completely and consummately aware of my own biological humanity, and I absolutely love it.

A live track on the Band of Horses EP, "(Biding Time is a) Boat Row" combines sustained chords with plaintiff, strained vocals, resulting in a tense fragility. Ben Bridwell's friable, excruciating voice carries through in lyrics that sting to the core, and the microphone pops, accidental puffs of air, and occasional moments where you can actually hear the sound of him moving his tongue in his mouth, add a level of intimacy which veers on voyeurism. The very breath he expelled comes out in this sound, and it adds to the effect in a powerfully human way. Once again, I think this track gains its intensity in the building-up of chords, but it's not surprising that they resist going over the top. The concluding lines dwindle off, with a remorseful, despairing finality, giving it one of the most unique and appealing endings of any song I've heard.

"Videotape," off Radiohead's In Rainbows, is perhaps more slickly produced, but here I think it gains emotion by sparseness. The clarity and vulnerability of Thom Yorke's vocals are achingly beautiful, the overlapping humming and mumbling repeats of the phrase "on my videotape, videotape" give a painful sense of melancholy fitting with the plodding piano and subtle synths. The melody forms a marching beat, consistent with the unforgiving march of time, accentuated with a 1-2 lashing of the snare, perfectly joined by that Aphex-like backwards-sounding rapid drum rattle (seriously, I need to learn music terms to describe this stuff already). Again, a somber string (cello?) joins with a few protracted notes as the beat accelerates to a disorienting, irregular heartbeat, a quiet panic, a wide-eyed moment of realization in the midst of being lost and confused. Just as suddenly, the production drops off, and a few quiet notes end the song in stillness. Faced with the loaded expanse of silence, I immediately want another sound to fill my space, as it is just too much altogether to find oneself so utterly alone.

I think the idea of languid intensity is linked to death and time, the deliberate stretching and stilling of experience in defiance of the hurtling acceleration life acquires. It is admittedly remarkably self-indulgent to escape into minor chords and the light-headedness I get from certain notes shooting between my eyes on my headphones (have I mentioned? I'm kind of synesthetic and I see and taste sounds?). Nevertheless, I love filling my time with such profound experiences and the soul-stirring impact they have.

When I close my eyes I picture rivers and tides as a perfect images of languid intensity, water trickling and swirling, then gushing into floods, with constant but unpronounced movement. Afternoon back-light on the sides of ripples writhes and dances in a slippery, enchanting dispersion. Liquid silver and gold, underscored by depths of salty mud and estuary life in deep contrast, form the light and shadow of my interior world where I like to grow salt weeds.

(Aside - spot the theme in some of my all-time favorite words: pond, river, brackish, estuary, tide, pool, marsh, weed)

In art, I make the distinction between representational and abstract art as that which is declarative and evocative, respectively. For my personal taste, I think abstract painting prevails in the domain of the slow coaxing of emotion and association because it escapes the trappings of recognition and explication (I think it initially bypasses the verbal centers of the brain, but we'll talk about that another time). It is seductive, alluring, and lyrical, quietly pulling at the heart with little fingers like bandages (I keep thinking of a line from the Sylvia Plath radio play "Three Women" to do with an aborted fetus - I leave someone / Who would adhere to me: I undo her fingers like bandages: I go.) It has a sense of raveling and unraveling, composition and disintegration intertwined. It already is, and it is becoming, inviting the viewer into any point in the process.

I think I also love poetry for its evocation - it is, to me, painting with words, making images or suggestions of sensation without the entanglements of plot or resolution. Layering thoughts or associations, the patter of words on a page coalesce into such elegant, simple works of staggering beauty. I admire poets for the distillation of all the clutter and details of human experience into a few words saturated with meaning, positively drenched in significance and suggestion.

I like my aesthetic experiences to be like stains, starting light and spreading through the fabric of my being in a cold seep. The longer I am in contact with that which affects me, the more it colors me, until I am defined and recognizable by my fixations.

Perhaps artists are merely conduits to emotion and obsession, when it's all said and done. Maybe it's not really an act of creation, but one of capturing, being both receptive and attentive to the essential elements which impact us.

That's kind of a lot to do, when you think about it. It would be tempting to gush and bubble over with everything at once, but it is careful selection which gives poignancy. So to do it with languid intensity... well that's quite a task.

Dementia and education

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Yesterday my mother sent me this article to do with dementia and education from the NYTimes. Citing a study published in the October 23rd Neurology (abstract here), it was summarized as follows:

People with more years of schooling appear to suffer the symptoms of dementia later than others who have it -- but once it does come, it proceeds more quickly, researchers say.

The hypothesis is one of a cognitive reserve, which as I understand it, prevents decline kind of the way that aerobic exercise builds muscle mass and prevents muscular atrophy or dystrophy. That is to say, if a person "strengthens" the mind with increased intellectual challenges and education, they can delay degeneration into dementia, as typified in Alzheimer's. Or seem to.

Though I can't think of a specific study to support it, I remember reading all over the place that habits of lifelong learning and continued mental stimulation (i.e. reading, doing crosswords, taking up new hobbies, having challenging conversation and a dynamic living environment) can significantly improve one's alertness and sharpness into old age, as well as stave off the effects of dementia. It makes perfect common sense, with the idea that if you want to keep your mind, you must use it, but it also makes a degree of metabolic sense.

The last I studied Alzheimer's (which is already an embarrassingly long time ago), the working model was one of beta amyloid plaques and tangles which cause neurodegeneration. In lay terms, there's gunk clogging the cells, so they get messy and the brain doesn't function as efficiently.

There was some suggestion that nutrition played a role, but ultimately the causes were thought to be either unknown or genetic. Because it is an irreversible pathology, this is an important disease to study, and in cases like my family, where there is a strong history of dementia and mental decline, it's worrying to believe it may simply be inevitable (hence my father's current "If I get that way, please shoot me in the head" attitude). Therefore, I am always interested in studies like these and what they reveal.

An interesting aspect of this study is that because more highly educated people do have a greater cognitive reserve, it can be more difficult to detect symptoms of degeneration as quickly (this makes me worry that this is the only real delay in the effects of dementia - one of detection and not pathology). That is to say, someone with a PhD could probably speak at length on a given topic and sound very intelligent, maybe forgetting a word here or there, but we wouldn't be as quick to say they're losing their mind because they stillseem so sharp and on the case. Unfortunately, it is very possible that you could ask that same person if they've had breakfast that day and they won't have any idea what on earth you're talking about. I worry that this may be happening with my grandmother.

To quote my mother's eloquent summary,

So I'm getting that the cognitive reserve actually could mask the fact that you have dementia for a good long time but once that reserve falls apart, the walls come tumbling down worse than the slow slip into dementia.

She then suggested that the studies which support the preventative power of lifelong learning that I brought up may simply be enhancing the cognitive reserve, in a way protracting or prolonging the inevitable decline, with a buffer. She asked, "How long could you keep that up, like maybe your whole life?" I certainly hope so, but I think there is more to it than just keeping a knowledge base close at hand.

A big facet of dementia, as I see it, is behavioral. I know, this is weird, but hear me out. Both of my father's paternal grandparents spiraled into dementia and complete senility as they aged, so he fears it is genetic. I believe it is more likely that their life habits contributed, and because I didn't know them personally, this is all speculative, but things like not reading in adulthood, social or personal isolation, an arrogant refusal to have one's beliefs challenged, believing that senility is just a part of getting old, and so on could cause a person to get set in their ways and halt intellectual activity. If they aren't forcing themselves to be specific, to keep their memory and alertness sharp, then it would be easy to forget more and more and "slip" much more frequently. (Counter example, I think the reason I have a strong vocabulary is because I force myself to learn and remember the specific words I want, and I look up the ones with which I'm vaguely familiar but can't pinpoint exact meanings).

It's like intellectual rigor in a way, but applied interiorly. The kind of mental stagnation of an older person set in their ways would have to have metabolic ramifications, and if it is eventually determined that Alzheimer's and dementia have metabolic roots (which I really believe they do), then it would all fit perfectly.

To put it a little more crudely, I'll use the words of a family friend who died of ovarian cancer, describing her "pipes": "If you don't use em, they turn on you."

I must reiterate, I don't think degeneration is inevitable, even if there is a genetic link. After all, some families also have histories of alcoholism, schizo-affective disorders, and reclusion, but we don't necessarily have to follow those paths either. Being aware of the history gives a person the means to take preventive measures (education, good nutrition, developing lifelong learning habits etc), which could stave it off longer.

I'm imagining the brain like a subway line in the city that is mental health. If certain lines go unused or neglected, they'll eventually get cluttered with trash, vagrants, dead rats, and the like. When you then try to send a train down a long-neglected line, it's possible it will run over some of this clutter or get derailed by some home-made extension route a wino built. These would be the hiccups and lapses caused by plaques and tangles which characterize the early stages of dementia.

I think the ego can exacerbate this. As long as a person is aware of the slips, they will take pains to conceal them, deny lapses, or avoid topics or scenarios which could trigger embarrassing situations. If someone can't remember if they've eaten, they'll say they have, so as not to be a bother. It's a lousy example, but I've noticed a lot of older people stop calling children by name, instead dolling out generic terms of endearment, in part because it keeps them from calling a child by the wrong name. I've also noticed that they regard their own grandchildren and complete strangers' children with the same level of warmth and familiarity, which may be general benevolence, but could mask a lack of recognition (always better to err on the side of being overly friendly than to sleight one's grandson). Where it gets nefarious is in the ways a person tries to hide degeneration from himself, and there it is possible that the habits of non-specificity or actions which do not depend on memory become self-fulfilling: they simply wander through the world without names, details, or memory relating them to the present moment.

If in contrast, a person were to maintain the lines, sending trains down regularly even if it's not necessary (i.e. reading books on a variety of topics, staying abreast of current events, hearing and considering all sides of issues, learning new skill sets, challenging the memory, reconsidering old beliefs etc), the lines stay clear, or at least we learn of problems sooner, perhaps early enough to begin repairs (treatment) before full-on service gaps set in.

Definitely a solid argument in favor of an intellectual life of continued learning and mental flexibility. Even if they have no bearing in preventing Alzheimer's, and dementia really is as inevitable as my father fears, at the very least the quality of life leading up to it would be greatly enhanced by constant mental stimulation.

My mother put it most succinctly at the conclusion of our email exchange - "You stop learning, you stop living."

(Images linked to their respective sources.)

Edited to Add - from today's Times, an article on the benefits of exercise for the brain.

Much like Craig's "Wide Angle Close-Up Animals" from South Park (episode 811 "Quest for Ratings", season 8, 11/17/2004, which you can watch clips of here), I am becoming increasingly convinced that American entertainment has no real need for writers, scripts, or anything other than goofy animals.

Strongest evidence would probably come in the form of LOLcats, notably I Can Has Cheezburger.

Recently, someone got the brilliant idea to mash-up LOLcats and the stark confessional style of Post Secret, resulting in the absolutely hilarious Lolsecretz.

Who can resist the complex interior lives of kitties with a conscience?

Perhaps the single best use of cats in communication lately comes from Cute Overload, where a guy brilliantly included his kitty in his proposal:

And thankfully, she said yes.

I have to think that if someone knows you well enough to propose by internet cat-macro, he's a pretty sure bet.

In conclusion, cats say everything we need, and they aren't going to fuss over new media rights. Hooray kittehs!

(And hey, for old time's sake, you really should watch Cat Me If You Can, it's still one of the very best things on the internet).

It probably goes without saying, but none of these photos are mine - they're linked to their respective sources.

Birthday weekend

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One of my favorite parts of my birthday weekend was the walk I took with my parents, Otto, and Smooch the Bear. Because the weather has been so mild thus far, the leaves are only just now changing into their resplendent autumn hues.

In the morning sun, I was astounded by the depth and saturation of the colors around me. I kept marveling at photo pigments and all the joys they bring by simply extending the wavelengths of light they can absorb. To me, this is where science and spirituality cross: the emotional impact of observable biological processes, made more brilliant and beautiful with study and contemplation.

That is to say, it wouldn't be enough to settle for "God makes leaves change colors in the autumn, it's magical," but rather that these perfect little parts of organisms exist, adapted in such a way to take advantage of changing conditions in the seasons and we, as sentient beings, possess the capacity to be moved and find it beautiful. The more I come to understand about nature, the more beautiful I find it, and I think that's why I'm driven to paint, write, and draw the most when I am in and among all these elegant systems.

The area where I grew up is an extraordinary ecosystem, balancing rapid changes in a small geographical space. The way that life has developed here really exemplifies some of the most touching, profound aspects of survival, and I am consistently blown away.

My parents' house is on a peninsula which juts between two rivers that converge at a bay. One of these is at the end of their street, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a narrow stretch of barrier beach. There is about a one-mile triangle of land which stretches behind their house, and the river curves back to form a lovely pond, with a shallow black mud bottom that's especially good for crabbing. Though my parents' house is on the highest point and stays dry, all the other streets and homes behind them flood with the tides, and on our walk there were many large puddles from the storm.

We walked by a small pond in a neighbor's yard and my father spotted an Avocet, with an upward-curved beak, which he figured had been blown off course in the high winds of the storm the day before. I'm amazed at his ability to spot birds and notice details immediately, and we talked some about a book I'd read called The Big Year (which I highly recommend), which is among other things, to do with birding.

I think it really adds a lot to one's experience to know and understand the wildlife sharing our spaces (or allowing us in theirs). When I was in Venice, I was able to recognize and identify most of the plants I saw because the climate was similar to other places I've been. My friends were sometimes surprised because to them, things were just "pink flowers" or "pretty trees" and could as easily have been potted decorations or landscaping as the oleanders growing wild outside our studio or the cypresses dotting the Isola di San Michele.

I often think that I must move out of the city soon, so that I can get back in touch with nature. I realize that for some people, the city itself is inspiring, with the volume and diversity of people, the energy of its infrastructure, commerce, and movement. While I do find those things interesting, I think I get overwhelmed with all the detractors and the longer I'm here, the less glamorous and exciting I find it. A small bird, however, or a cluster of deer between trees, consistently thrills me; delicate red petals back-lit by a morning sun are all the drama I'm searching for.

This walk set me in a splendid mood for the rest of the day. I drove over the bridge to get ingredients for a venison sausage spicy breakfast, as well as wine and beer for the party. When I lived with my parents, I made that drive countless times, but this time I was looking around and felt like I was really seeing it, the pleasantness of the people, the warmth of the sunlight stretching across the road and to the beach. It was so very lovely, still a beach town in November, the kind of place I would like to live again (if I could ever afford it).

My parents, brother, and I ate breakfast together, which is always a treat. So many years of my brother and I being away at college or him on a ship on a remote island on the other side of the world have really made immediate family meals both a rarity and a treasured experience. After eating my parents got to work cleaning while my brother and I began the prep work for cooking. One of my favorite parts of the day was spending time with my brother, admiring his amazing knife skills, and goofing around in the kitchen. I was really pleased with the decision that we would cook for this party, as it gave my parents time to do their own thing (or complain about her ass hurting from so much cleaning, in my mother's case).

Our menu was pretty fabulous, but I neglected to take photos (damn it). We started with egg rolls and duck sauce, crispy noodles, and cashews to munch on. Shortly after, we put out the main meal, which had three main courses:

  • roasted vegetables, including broccoli, grape tomatoes, eggplant, yellow squash, leeks, bok choy, elephant garlic, and mushrooms
  • Thai beef and coconut curry over angel hair pasta (made with red onions, red peppers, and red curry paste and tossed with fresh basil and lemon juice just before serving)
  • chicken stir-fry, which included carrots, celery, scallions, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, bok choy, bean sprouts, and fresh cilantro, served with a huge bowl of jasmine rice

It was delicious, and I think everyone enjoyed it. When we first sat down, I was worried that they would think it was strange or tasted awful, but as people started asking for second and third helpings and raving about it, I started believing it was a good idea again. My mother at one point whispered that everyone was impressed with how creative and well-executed it was, and that they were loving the flavors and textures. Most of our guests were on diets, so it was nice to have courses so rich in vegetables, with lean proteins, and very flavorful (but not fatty) sauces or broths. I don't know if they were all humoring me, but I made an absolute pig of myself and thought it was splendid.

For dessert, we had a huge bowl of fruit, chocolate-dipped macaroons, a key lime pie, and a carrot cake. The amount of candles on our cakes might have lit a small village, and my brother and I had to laugh when we saw the kitchen light up around our parents.

It was a relatively small party, as much of my mother's family couldn't make it, but it made for a more intimate setting and group conversation. So often at family get-togethers, it's hard to get to talk to everyone even in passing, so it was kind of a treat to sit around the table and get to speak at length with everyone there.

I was exhausted beyond belief afterwards, and I was so very glad Eric drove me back to Brooklyn. I felt bad that I fell asleep before we were through Staten Island, but he didn't seem to mind. We went straight to bed, and I can't remember the last time I was asleep before 11:00, but it was a wonderful night's rest, and sorely needed because I woke up terribly sick again in the morning.

I'm feeling marginally better today, but my head is still full of goo and my throat is killing me. I'm afraid it's been all of my intellectual energy to write this entry, so I will have to nap before getting to my reading for the afternoon.

I have more photos in a Flickr set from this weekend, if you are interested.


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Since I am in very real danger of passing out from anti-sludge head medicine and missing writing today, I'll say a few disjointed and clumsy things, with the promise that once I regain consciousness, I'll post photos and talk about yesterday.

My main accomplishment today, in addition to the production of metric ass tons of mucus and snot, was watching Stealing Beauty on Netflix (because yes! I cajoled Eric into giving me his password, mwuhahaha!). That movie was beautiful in every sense of the word, a seriously touching and gorgeous film. Liv Tyler is absolutely radiant, and there is one intensely erotic scene in it that will literally take your breath away.

As a consequence of watching this movie, I've been listening to "Rhymes Of An Hour" by Mazzy Star on repeat, wondering why I never listened to more of their stuff. I will be sure to remedy that in the fullness of time.

I've discovered what I fear is the one flaw to Netflix's Watch Instantly feature, and that is that we're limited to 17 viewing hours per month. This sounds like a lot of time, but as I've probably mentioned before, I like watching movies over and over again, like ten or fifteen times... and I can't really do that without hogging up all of our viewing time (I should more accurately say Eric's viewing time). It is therefore a considerable act of self-control to keep from replaying this flick immediately (maybe I should re-watch Fur for the thirtieth time instead?).

Alright, I've got a date with some tissues. I'll try to get my act together and write more later.

Tying one on

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(My apron, that is)

I must be super-quick, as I'm about to start preparing the food for our party, but I wanted to drop in just in case I don't get a chance to write later tonight.

I made it down alright yesterday morning and had a wonderful visit with my mother. There's something about laughing until you're near tears that really makes for a great afternoon.

When my father and brother got home from the opening day of duck season, my parents gave us gifts and we went out to a terrific dinner at a Mexican restaurant nearby. I was drinking cucumber margaritas that were absolutely to die for. I insisted that everyone else try it, and they agreed, it was fantastic.

We came home and had tres leches cake (yum), then I curled up with Cluny in my childhood bed and had one of the best nights of sleep I've had in my life. My parents just recently replaced all the windows and siding of their home, and it is cozy with a capital C now.

In the morning, we used the extra hour we gained from daylight savings to take Otto and Smooch for a very lovely walk down by the pond. I brought my camera, and I really loved strolling along, chatting, and admiring all the beautiful leaves and reeds by the water. (I'll post photos when I get home).

My brother and I spent the morning cutting vegetables and doing the prep work for a chicken stir-fry and a Thai beef curry, among other things. It's fun that we're doing the cooking.

So now I'm off to that, but I hope you enjoy your Sunday and that it's anywhere near as lovely where you are as it is here.

More birthday-ing

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Happy 28th Birthday to my brother Bill!!!

My brother is one of the smartest, funniest, most down-to-earth, and kindest people I've ever known, and I consider it a privilege to have someone so chill and amazing in my life. I admire him so much for his courage in doing what he wants, no matter what it takes. He recently got his captain's license and started a charter sport fishing business that's kicking ass, so there is a lot to celebrate in addition to his b-day this year.

As soon as I finish the rest of my laundry and get a bag packed, I'm heading down to New Jersey for a family birthday party. I'm pretty excited because we're doing this whole pan-Asian menu, which should be a lot of fun to cook and serve.

Now please just keep your fingers crossed that the no-longer-hurricane Noel behaves himself and doesn't get in the way of my trip - if I'm getting on a 4 or 5am train, it'd better be a smooth journey!

The sting of silence

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I don't often write about my friends and family on this site, except in passing. I think it's important to respect people's privacy, and in the case of something put out for public consumption, you just never know who is reading or who may read down the line. Therefore when I have problems in my relationships, I tend not to mention them in any great detail or I just say something vague, like what a jerk I've been.

This tendency has also started appearing in my life itself. Call it emotional euphemism.

I've never had great communication with any of my extended family. This is not to say I don't have good relationships with them - we get along great in person, at family gatherings and the like - it's just that that is the extent of my involvement with them. Somehow it's come to pass that I'm not much of a card or letter-writer, and I almost never call anyone on the phone. I ask my parents about their respective families all the time, and they keep me in the loop, so I know when to be happy, when to worry, and when to pray. I realize, though, that however much I may express concern or care about my family to my parents, none of that gets through to the individuals themselves... which is why I often feel like I barely know my own family.

Moving in with Eric gave me the opportunity to observe other family dynamics. I wasn't surprised that his mother calls frequently because my mother and I talk or email almost daily (and I know that my father hears all about me through this). What absolutely floored me, though, was when Eric was mumbling to himself one day and startled, saying, "Oh shoot, I have to call my grandmother!" I asked why, thinking it must be her birthday or that she'd sent him a gift he needed to thank her for, and he looked at me perplexed, then said "I uhh, haven't talked to her in nearly two weeks. She's probably wondering what's up."

He calls his grandmother regularly, just to say hello and stay in touch. He calls and emails his aunts and uncles and cousins, and they all stay in touch with him too. I started wondering if they were some bizarrely connected family, but when I mentioned this to friends, they said no, their families do the same.

I have been feeling more and more like a jerk because I don't know how to get back in touch with my family. When I was a child, my mother would make us call our grandparents with good news. We dutifully wrote thank you cards, and until I became a painfully self-conscious pre-teen, I used to write long and probably quite boring letters. I spoke to my father's family whenever they called the house (and I still do, when I'm there), but I never picked up the phone to call them myself.

Now that I've been living on my own for close to four years, I know that no one has my phone number or addresses. I have all of theirs in a spreadsheet, in part because I sometimes write my mother's Christmas cards, but also because I think one day I'll use them. I imagine that at some point in my life, I'll call my aunts or become friends with my cousins and have the kinds of relationships I imagine I could with them.

I realize lately, that's not going to happen if I don't start working toward it.

This summer I made a tiny, token effort at being a human being. I sent a postcard and gifts from Venice to my aunt and grandmother in Hawaii. I kind of meant for them to be birthday presents (since both of their birthdays were while I was away), but it took me so long to mail them that I think they just came off as random. I'm currently working on homemade Christmas gifts for them too, because I want to start sending my own birthday and Christmas gifts instead of my mother signing my name on their card. With respect to these two, I don't think it will be that hard to be in better touch, so long as I get over my phone phobia and just ... call them.

As for the rest of my family, it's hard. Unless I have a very specific topic I absolutely must discuss, I kind of can't use the phone. Even when I have a reason to call, I get all panicky and weird about it, such that my "Happy Birthday" calls (every few years) are breathless and rushed. Given that I have such a hard time with upbeat, friendly calls, you can probably imagine I am incapable of solemn, well-wishing calls in bad situations.

For whatever reason, I can talk to my friends or relative strangers about intensely personal, dire, or horrible things, and I never have a problem, but I can't talk to my own family about their health or personal lives.

Where I'm going with all of this is that I hurt someone recently, and I feel awful about it.

A male family member was diagnosed with cancer and had to have a kidney removed. I kept in touch with my mother and stayed up to the minute on his condition. I worried, and I prayed, and I thought about him all the time.

I saw him in person just after it was confirmed that it was cancer, and I just didn't know what to say. Everything I thought was along the lines of "Yes, these cookies are delicious. So uhh, it sucks you have cancer?" I had no idea what to say to begin the conversation, nor how to turn our talk to give him an opportunity to bring it up. Instead I said nothing, bumbled through intense awkwardness, and left with vague "we should talk more"s.

In the month that's passed since then, he has had the kidney removed, gone through an exhausting recovery, and come out okay (thank God). My mom told me everything that he told her, every anecdote, every degree of his temperature when he had a fever, every time he saw his doctors and what they said. But in all of this, I didn't ever call him or shoot him an email or well, do or say anything. I didn't know if he would be uncomfortable to talk about his health, and after my mother told me he passed out from exhaustion after feeding his cats, I was terrified that I would call when he was napping and disturb him. I started half a dozen emails and none of them came out in any way that seemed appropriate or sincere, so I kept putting it off until I found better words. Finally I figured if I didn't say anything, I couldn't offend him, but it never occurred to me that my silence was much worse.

Yesterday morning my mother and I had a nice conversation, and at the end she said that she'd spoken with this person the day before. He had mentioned that neither my brother nor I had called or written or said anything when we saw him, and he asked if she had even told us what was going on. She said yes, and started to say we're both very busy and on weird schedules, we probably didn't want to call when he was asleep, etc. He said "You don't have to make excuses for them. They're both adults." She said he sounded hurt, and as she relayed all this, I got that awful sinking feeling that I have been a terrible, terrible jerk.

You see, I'm 26 now, but I need parenting as much as ever. I needed my mother to tell me I should have called or emailed just to wish him well. I may have felt awkward with the "I'm sorry you have cancer" opener, but really, he just needed to know we love him and support him. Anything would have been more appropriate than silence.

I felt really lousy for the rest of the day and night mulling over what to do. I felt like a heartless jerk, and I had no idea what to do to make it better. I knew I would be seeing this person this weekend, and when I talked to Eric about the situation I admitted that I didn't want to go to my own birthday party just because I didn't want to face it.

Finally, I decided to just be honest. I opened an email and started typing what I felt, what I'd wanted to say and why I didn't. I apologized profusely and ended it with the kind of warm and loving things I should have said in the first place. It felt so bizarre and awkward to expose my actual feelings to someone, to give a sincere apology that wasn't half-assed or making excuses, that I didn't think I should send it.

I had my mother read a draft, to make sure it was not offensive, and she responded that it was heartfelt and honest and I should just send it as it was. Trusting her wisdom, I clicked "Send" and had the kind of panic attack usually reserved for having to speak in public. "My God, he's actually going to read this, he's going to read my words and know they came from me, and then I'm going to have to see him in person, knowing that I said all this stuff..." and on and on it went. I started catastrophizing, thinking of all the negative responses he could have, trying to imagine being the recipient of such a letter.

I calmed myself down with the realization that I had at least said something, communicated with him, openly and honestly. If my silence was what hurt him, then any communication couldn't be worse.

I started worrying that he would think I'd only written him because my mother told me I'd hurt his feelings. Then I realized that's the truth. She didn't "make" me write him or even suggest that I should do something, but she made sure I knew I had done something wrong.

My mother has this belief that you can't make a person feel guilt, and I've come to agree with her. You can tell someone that what they said or did hurt your feelings, or that you think they've done something wrong, but if they don't have a conscience about it and don't agree with you, they will not feel guilty about it. Sure they might feel kind of bad for hurting you, but they won't feel guilt. What I felt yesterday was deep-down guilt, mired in shame. I knew I was wrong, and I was mortified that it took my mother pointing it out to me. I didn't write the letter because I thought I was supposed to - I did it because my conscience compelled me.

I am lucky, though, that my mother is still willing to parent me so well.

A little bit ago, I got a response to my email, thanking me for my kind words and saying that all is well between us now. I think that means I did the right thing.

One of the biggest lessons for me this summer was the real importance of honesty, openness, and communication. Maybe this experience can be the start of that for me... or at the very least help me break some of the silence I have with the people I love.

It's oh so quiet, it's oh so still...

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When we were moving into this apartment, I asked a woman from the leasing office which companies service this area for internet and cable. She said "Oh, everyone gets satellite." I asked if that was okay, and she said absolutely, just look at the roof.

When you look at our building and the lofts across the street, owned by the same company, they appear to have crenelations or electronic gargoyles, as there are so many satellite dishes, all facing in the same direction.

A few weeks ago, we got a sort of strange letter from the property manager, as follows:

Dear Tenant,

This letter is being written to all tenants to inform you of the satellite dishes found on and around the premises. I have taken the liberty of quoting the lease where it informs all tenants upon moving in to the apartment and building.

Section 20.2 - Rules
No one is allowed on the roof. Nothing may be placed on or attached to fire escapes, sills, windows or exterior walls of the apartment or in the hallways or public areas.

Please note that all satellite dishes must be removed immediately. This is a formal request and failure to comply can and may result in legal action.

Crankypants Spoilsport Awkward-language-user
(Property Manager)

I went through several phases of defiance in response to this letter. First, I wondered, is that even legal? (No, it isn't). Why would their employee have told us to get DirecTV if it wasn't actually allowed? (The fact that she smoked in her office and wore her hair in a side ponytail might have been indicators that she wasn't all there). But why would our super have let the DirecTV installers up on the roof not once, but twice? (Our dish was stolenlast year).

This must be a new policy, I concluded, linked to the increasing amount of neighborhood kids and drunken college darlings letting themselves up on the roof. I was annoyed, but given the circumstances I guess I can understand their desire to send out illegal letters and threaten their tenants. (I can't really).

Eric was thrilled to receive this letter, as he has been opposed to the satellite TV for, well, the entire time we've had it. His most repeated request is "Can't we get rid of the TV?" I balk, of course, because I like to watch TV, a lot. I feel like I need background noise to concentrate, and if it's too quiet, my mind races and it drives me mad. What I neglect to consider in all this is that if the TV is on, it distracts Eric to no end and the incessant chatter of shows I'm not even watching really grates on him.

I also realize that watching TV impacts my imagination and limits the scope of my thoughts. While I want to say I'm not really impacted by advertisements, I walk around with product jingles and songs from commercials in my head all day. Clearly some of these messages are getting through, and they're probably clouding my values and thoughts about the world.

So on Wednesday, I made a rash decision, prompted by a clips episode of Top Model and constantly losing our signal in what amounted to pretty light winds. This has been happening with greater and greater frequency (the lousy signal, not the shitty programming), as my entire experience of the final game of the World Series this year was the DirecTV logo, bouncing from corner to corner.

I called DirecTV and asked them to disconnect our service, immediately. I explained about the letter, and the agent told me how it wasn't legal and I was within my rights to fight it. We chatted for a while, and I said I'd think about it, but for now I wanted to comply with their request. Because I was trying to get her to prorate my last month's payment to the seven days since our last billing, I didn't want to admit that my secondary reason was because this has been my primary viewing experience of late:

I picked a funny time to disconnect the TV, and had I thought about it more, I probably would have reconsidered. Eric is out of town, so it's just me and the cats. Our stereo isn't hooked up in this room, so if I want to listen to music I'm tethered by my headphones to the computer. I just started a massive sweater-knitting project, and to top it all off, I'm feeling under the weather. It's blustery and cold out, and this would have been a perfect time to snuggle under a blanket and zone out to TV. In it's absence, I find the silence of our apartment more than a little alarming at times.

I've decided to go without TV for the month of November, to see what that's like. It may be hard to resist immediately subscribing to cable on December 1st, but for this month, I will do without. NaNoTVMo, as it were.

The irony of this whole situation is that once I had my service disconnected and made arrangements for returning the receiver, I asked if I had to be here for them to send someone to take the dish off the roof.

"Oh no," she said, "we don't remove the dishes. That's your building's problem now."

One... and Twenty-Six

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A lot of stuff just happened when the clock rolled over to 12:00.

It became All Saints Day.

I started NaKniSweMo (knitting a sweater this month).

I am right this moment starting NaBloPoMo.

And my twenty-sixth birthday began.

That was a damn productive minute right there!

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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December 2007 is the next archive.

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