February 2009 Archives

La mia vita bella!

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So, I just bought plane tickets and...


(That was me last summer, throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome to ensure I would return.)

My research group has been invited to study the gorgeous Neptune and Amphitrite mosaicin the Herculaneum. I don't think I need to explain why this is so ridiculously exciting, but let's just say it's the kind of opportunity I never even would have dreamed of, and now I really get to do it!

We're meeting up with the same incredibly prestigious German group with whom we worked in Volterra, which is both personally and professionally thrilling. I have been struggling with the preparatory work, but it's totally going to be worth it to do this research on site.

My group is also going to spend a few days exploring Pompeii, which has always been near the top of my "Desperately Want to Visit Before I Die" list (ironically, just after Venice).

AAAAANND from Pompeii, I'm going to spend a week in Venice!!!

Home of my heart, I am returning to you!

This is also a research trip, for my art history thesis, which I hope to be able to knock out of the park after a few days in a manuscript collection and staring at these paintings.

I still have ridiculous amounts of planning to do, as I will be spending 20 days and 19 nights in Italy (yikes!), but my God, this is going to be amazing!!!

Yay skiing!

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Today was spectacularly awesome.

My mom and I got up early, got bagels, and I drove us to Pennsylvania for a wonderful day of skiing Camelback mountain.

Driving through New Jersey, it was rainy and gross weather, which was making us worry. As we got further west, all that rain was fluffy, beautiful snow. It came down almost all day, constantly replenishing the trails with fresh, sugary soft powder that was just heavenly.

Neither of us have been skiing in years, so we were both nervous at first. As soon as I stepped into my binding and felt that satisfying click, I knew it was going to be an awesome day. Everything came back immediately, my muscles remembering how to move, my equipment functioning perfectly, the exhilarating rush flooding back as pure joy.

My mom and I had so much fun, and more than a few times I could barely ski because I was laughing so hard. It was a spectacular great time, and I'm so very happy we went!

Every muscle in my body is exhausted and sore, in the best way possible. I hit this Zen moment where my thighs and calves were burning so badly I could barely hold an edge, so I started moving from my waist and hips instead, and it was like flying. Everything on the mountain seemed slower and further away as I just understood how to move. It felt a little like dancing.

This whole day was just perfect. I freaking love skiing!!!

The opposite of sucks

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Today is about as far away from yesterday as possible, in terms of suckage. Yesterday I worked until 10pm and got home after 1am. Yesterday I got shouted at and treated unpleasantly and was completely incapable of asserting myself or pointing out that I didn't like how things were going. Yesterday I was whiny and sad and feeling sorry for myself (perhaps you noticed?).

The good news is that I did come up victorious in my battle with terra cotta.

God bless you Mr Coffee, you freaking wonderful little machine.

This time I wore a particle mask and goggles because, perhaps I forgot to mention, I have had occasional terra cotta colored bloody noses since Tuesday. Probably not good.

I made research mosaics (and bloody hell do my fingers hurt), and I taught others how to make them correctly as well.

I had lunch with two great friends, one of whom brought delicious chocolate cupcakes.Cupcakes!!! I have awesome friends!

(Cupcakes not pictured because I was overwhelmed with excitement.)

I spoke with the registrar and confirmed that yes, all I really need to do to get my degrees is hand in two theses (documentation and statement for the painting degree, entire thesis for art history). The end is actually in sight... even if there are several gaping chasms and seemingly impossible leaps between here and there.

You know, jump and a net will appear, or you'll learn to fly.

In a little fit of spontaneity, I convinced my mother that we should go skiing tomorrow, which is thrilling beyond words. I haven't been skiing since college, and I have been desperately wanting to go for months now. The ski guy was able to adjust our bindings in a half hour flat, my mom got new pants, we both got new goggles, and my boots fit perfectly!

Can you tell I was a teenage girl when I picked my ski boots out? I still love these colors.

I also found evidence that I am not, in fact, the most poorly organized human being on the planet. The person who was parked next to me is:

In case you can't make it out, there is so much junk in this car that there is barely room for the driver and absolutely no space for passengers.

The weird thing is, it was a relatively new, well-maintained car, just stuffed to the gills with crap.

Also I found a pair of scissors in the parking lot, which is like, better than money.

And there was a wall of torsos that you apparently beat up for exercise. I could not stop laughing about these guys and the thought of pummeling a dude with no arms.

And lastly, I had a cannoli after lunch today and this is what I ate for dinner:

Baked penne with chicken, provolone, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes, from the current Everyday Food. Incredibly delicious.

So, you know, things are alright. In fact, I'd say they've gone from Suck to Quite Wonderfully Fantastic in about 24 hours, and I'm really really happy about that!

Commuting by waaahmbulance

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I didn't get to sleep until around 4 last night, and when I did, I was tossing and turning because I'd been told rather forcefully what an ugly, hateful bitch I am.

I woke up at 10 to 6 this morning, to take a 7:20 train. My hair froze while I was waiting for it.

I looked out the window at the wind churning up waves, backlit sedge grass, and tiny patches of sand and wished with all my heart for any kind of escape. I don't know how to get from where I am to where I need to be... I don't even know where to start.

The business I thought I could take care of before my 10am meeting, I cannot. All the offices open at 10 and close at 4. Jerks.

I have a long and frustrating day ahead of me, which I am dreading with every atom in my body. And yet, I dread going home as well. I'm struggling to think of anywhere I'd actually like to go.

I can think of few things I'd like to do more than turn the incubator to 80 and crawl inside for a few hours.

All of these things by themselves are generally meaningless, but when you add it all up, along with the crap I haven't mentioned, it suggests that it's not just some mysterious frequency that makes me tear up in Penn Station. I'm afraid I am tremendously close to breaking.

The Sonic Object

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I attended a really fascinating lecture on sonic art, in the contemporary art historical context, today at school. Given my obsession with music and sound in general, this was a particularly appealing lecture, delving into phenomenology of sound and sound as art.

The lecture was in many ways an elegant stroll through current art theory vocabulary (which admittedly I find both tedious and exhausting), made bearable by the relevance of sound for its immediacy and nothingness.

This is to say, I wasn't staring at a painting trying to squint enough to make it somehow "phenomenological" or philosophically meaningful. In fact, there was no sound to consider - merely photographs of people constructing sounds without context, such as Pierre Schaeffer splicing magnetic tapes of the sound of a bell after the strike or train engines, constructing etudes from sound waves.

I found the ideas a lot more accessible when I thought about digital mixing and soundboards, the sort of abstracted compositions of electronic and post-rock music. The lecturer dug in for a brilliant Husserl/Derrida face-off, countering Husserl's reduction with "the indivisible moment of the now," calling for an expansive understanding of experience, encouraging acousmatic listening, among many other textual ideas. It was sound theory (pun totally intended), but I was disappointed by the need to identify reduced sound as "dematerialized."

Here I started to stray from the argument because I believe that even though sounds might not be arranged in harmonic or traditional recognizable music theory pitches, they are still mathematically related to one another by virtue of being sound, that is, within an energetic spectrum of tangible experience. To say that sound is "non-musical" seems simply to deny an as-yet-not-fully-understood aesthetic, which strikes me as problematic. And to attempt to reduce sound to a singular experience strikes me as a little absurd, since sound is relative to that which came before and after, intentional or otherwise, and even to silence itself.

I got really bothered when a discussion arose around "particles" having their own properties... this was probably a poor word choice and nothing more, but it stuck with me because I fell asleep reading The Living Cosmos last night, a book about astrobiology that begins with Greek science and atomism. In particular was this idea that all the familiar properties of matter are secondary properties of collections of atoms, but that the atoms themselves have none of these attributes. To say that a particle alone has properties of sound rubbed me the wrong way, especially since I think the lecturer was saying that this particular particle-as-wave was the same thing as a sound wave, in that, as quoted from Brian Kane, "Once Schaeffer commits to reduced listening, there can be no essential difference between imagined hearing and actual hearing." (You like that nice abominable run-on there? I'm not fixing it.)

I am tempted to contradict myself, because there are often frequencies just outside the range of hearing which still trigger a synesthetic response in me (there is one in particular in Penn Station that is so hopelessly painful that it's brought me to tears more than a few times), but for the most part, I am not sure that I think there can exist a pure "sonic object," detached completely from context or source, functioning as the simplest unit of acoustic experience.

To reiterate, no matter what we hear, it is going to be in relation to everything else, and so we are always hearing the mathematical arrangement of sound, however apparently discordant or random. John Cage once described an experience in an Anechoic chamber, saying that in the stillness he became profoundly aware of two constant sounds, one high-pitched and one low-pitched. When he described these sensations later, the technician said he was hearing his nervous and circulatory systems, respectively, which blew his mind (and mine). The thing I kept thinking through, though, is that he was hearing these along with the sound of his own breathing, in contrast with the stillness, and in the context of all that which he had heard and anticipated hearing before. In that respect, I really don't think it's possible to ever just hear one sound at a time, even though there are some sounds that I desperately wish I could.

In so far as there is hope for any media to present a "pure" aesthetic experience, I do believe it exists in sound and music, which is probably a counter intuitive thing for a visual artist to say. Music comes as close to pure energy flooding the brain as I can imagine, and I know I have had many times where I put headphones on, close my eyes, and I lose all feeling of my body or existence, becoming completely immersed in an immediate and infinite sound space. Maybe to a more sophisticated listener, sound would take on the same connotations that the use of a particular pigment, binder, or brushstroke would for me when viewing abstract painting, loaded in history, context, and semiotics... but I think sound could be more universally appreciated because (almost) everyone hears it all the time. Singling out sounds as isolated (but related) experiences just makes so much sense to me.

Lastly, there was a very clever note about the definition of sound as an adjective, as in "sound judgment" or "of sound mind and body," implying that sound somehow knows what it is. The more I think about sound, the more I know this couldn't be further from the truth, and God do I love it for that.

(p.s. I have like, a LOT of reading to do on this subject because I am astoundingly dumb when it comes to music and musicology and sound and physics, so forgive me if I've said a lot of very stupid things.)

Remember when I declared the incubator as the MVP of my life? Well, while I still give him gentle pats as I squeeze by, and the occasional big glowing hug when no one's looking, I am afraid I have to admit I have a new love of my life: Stone Chisels.

Recently my parents bought me a set of three stone chisels ranging from 1/4 to 1 inch. And my word, they are perfect for all the little lab things I have needed to do lately.

Like taking samples from a fresco!

Today I also worked at pulverizing a terra cotta pot, for making a lime-ceramic mosaic mortar.

I started with a brand new cute little pot which rode with me all the way from New Jersey, and I had a low-grade panic attack and all-consuming guilt about taking a hammer to it.

I eventually found it therapeutic.

I then used my beloved stone chisels to cut the shards down into smaller pieces. You would think that terra cotta should be fairly malleable and easy to break down, maybe even crumbly, right? Then like me, you would be wrong. This stuff is HARD. Like rock hard.

I transferred the smaller pieces to a mortar and pestle in small batches, then smashed the crap out of them with all the force I could muster. Thereafter, I ground them into a sand-like powder, fully half of which I inhaled. (Note to self: Respirator. Look into it.) My lab was a disaster, and I am still finding little flakes in my hair and on my clothes.

After more than four hours of this process, I was incredibly sore and had this to show for myself:

(It probably goes without saying, I need a lot more.)

My my my, I hate terra cotta.

My hands were filthy (even worse than they look), and I joked with my labmate that I looked like some kind of peasant. The filth conceals raging blisters and pretty intense aching.

And I get to do it again tomorrow!

I remember reading a book about poor people in India who worked in a stone quarry, smashing stones into each other to break them down into smaller pieces. I sympathized at the time, but now I can also relate. So not cool.

I can't believe I felt sorry for that pot.

Escaping and returning

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This weekend I learned to love Boston, and I now formally rescind all previous (and voluminous) Boston bashing I have perpetrated.

I walked all around the city (and of course took all of three photos), spending most of Saturday and a nice amount of Sunday outside or on the trains. I enjoyed truly lovely company and met many wonderful people. It was the perfect escape.

For better or worse, such a nice break underscored that which is currently lacking from my life (and has been for quite some time), which I find distressing and problematic in ways with which I am not yet adequately prepared to deal.

I thought a lot about my long- and short-range plans, and I am honestly not sure I can accept what further sacrifices I would have to make, for uncertain and barely tenable goals (whose accomplishment could... maybe be fulfilling?). As I scramble around trying to catch up with work (which became a bit of a land-mine while I was away) and my thesis (which, ugh. Where to even start?), I keep thinking about the next few years and what I'm trying to do. And then I think about what I'd rather do, and it makes my heart break a little. Or a lot, depending on how honest I'm being.

I know this is all vagary and evasive language, for which I half-heartedly apologize. While confronting reality, I am simultaneously running from it as fast as I can.

Today is awesome because...

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- it is Friday the 13th

- it is 1234567890 Day

- and I am going to Boston for the weekend!



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Sometimes I think I am weird because I genuinely love love.

Most of my friends, even those who are happily in love, tend to scoff at public displays of affection and gag at the arbitrary celebration of Valentine's Day. I am pretty much the opposite. Few things make me happier than seeing couples truly in love because it helps me believe that that kind of affection and adoration still exists in the world.

As for Valentine's Day, I really don't see why it should make people feel bad about themselves. I understand feeling left out of a highly-commercialized holiday, but it's not like you'd hate yourself if you didn't dress up on Halloween, if you weren't Irish on St Patrick's Day, or if you were heterosexual at a gay pride parade. Valentine's Day is meant to be a celebration of love in all its forms, not an exclusionary sorting of people into those who are currently part of a couple or not.

I love romance, and I think it's a natural and beautiful part of being human. I am in the habit of watching Discovery Channel programs on just about everything, so I've enjoyed quite a few lately on the chemistry and evolutionary impact of love. Particularly fascinating were studies of the caudate nucleus and the associated brain chemistry of falling in love.

In one study, researchers found that similar amounts of dopamine were released through a trigger of familiarity (as in being with a lifelong friend or one's wife of fifty years) as novelty (love at first sight, a sexy stranger in a bar, the first blushes of a new relationship). They interpreted this as an indication that monogamy is satisfying and exciting for humans, that we can still be as riveted by our life partners after many years of marriage as when we first realized they have the most beautiful eyes we've ever seen.

To the brain, love is love, and it knows it when it sees it. For whatever reason, I find this massively encouraging. I can ignore common sense, decency, logic, and a host of other things, but dopamine, I recognize. It takes me over, and I fall easily, headlong into love.

Another thing I enjoy about love is how much it hurts. I know that sounds strange, but I'm really into duality and the way that the same sensations can make you feel sick with miserable longing or soaring with irrepressible elation. The same person can make your heart take wing or sink into a pit of despair. I love that anyone can make me care that much, and it thrills me that human beings connect so deeply that it triggers survival instincts and digs at the very depths of our psychological makeup.

Love challenges me to be a better person, my response to which is to make and do bigger and more difficult things. I am never more ambitious than when I am in love, and I know I'm not alone in that. I suspect that the greatest contributions and inventions in history have been made by people trying to impress each other, driven by love.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of love. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I love fully and without regret, I enjoy the hell out of it, I let it hurt like hell, and then I carry on because I know I am capable of loving deeply again. I do believe that I will one day find someone as idealistic and starry-eyed as me, who wants to love me with the same unabashed, overwhelming intensity and exhilarating joy, if I am open and optimistic about love.

The Magical Snuggie

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I can't imagine you've been watching much late-night TV if you haven't heard of the Snuggie. Or even its predecessor, the Slanket.

There are quite a few things I find amusing about this, beginning with the fact that my mother has always called wedgies "snuggies." I cannot hear the word snuggie without picturing the time my mother naively asked me to check the size of her underwear in a crowded lingerie sale in Virginia and I couldn't resist giving her a massive wedgie. Except she indignantly cried, "You gave me a snuggie!!!" Ah God, I'm gonna fall over laughing just typing that.

So the Snuggie is marketed on the premise that blankets are just so utterly inconvenient, what with their slipping all over the place and trapping your arms and eating children's souls at naptime.

My mother received a Snuggie as a gift for Christmas, and she immediately said that it was too long to walk around in, and she wished it would tie around her waist. My brother and I looked at her for a few seconds and then he finally said, "You mean, you'd like it to be a backwards bathrobe instead??"

Also because it was one-size-fits-most, the pockets came really low on her 5′4″ frame and were spread about a foot too far apart. Apparently it is mostly enormous people who need to carry their remote controls and glasses to and from the kitchen on commercial breaks.

But by far the most significant and lasting observation I have made of the Snuggie in action is that anyone who wears it looks like a wizard. Specifically Mickey Mouse inFantasia (except, see? he has a belt on his!). If I see anyone using my mother's, I pretty much insist they conjure something or at least pantomime some spells. Combined with rum, hilarity generally ensues:

It's a small price to pay for the warm and gentle embrace of pocketed, be-sleeved polyester fleece.

Bad Charlotte, or My First Woecake

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I usually make fun of contestants on Top Chef who complain that they are not pastry chefs and agonize over desserts. "Seriously," I say, "it's like impossible to mess up dessert!"

This weekend, I ate those words when I made a less-than-thrilling Apple Charlotte.

Don't get me wrong, it was perfectly tasty and my family nommed the hell out of it. It's just that for the amount of time and effort it took, I wanted it to be much more interesting and exciting.

As far as desserts go, the charlotte has a lot of promise. I'm not sure if it was an issue of the recipe or my execution, but I was underwhelmed with this particular iteration.

It started with toasting and buttering bread to line a dish. I tried to make it more special by generously sprinkling this bread with cinnamon sugar, which smelled great but didn't really come through in the flavor.

The filling was a bunch of Granny Smith apple slices, apple sauce, tapioca pearls, and cinnamon.

The whole situation was then topped with more cinnamon toast, which drove me crazy because I was so afraid it would burn while it baked. It didn't burn, but the cinnamon sugar mixed with butter didn't do that magic gooey thing it does in cinnamon rolls either.

It tasted about like you'd expect: pieces of toast with apples and apple sauce gooshed between. It didn't undergo any kind of spectacular transformation, the tapioca had a negligible impact, the apple sauce stayed the same consistency, and the vanilla yogurt didn't make it sing the way vanilla ice cream could have.

I resolved that, in future, if I am doing anything involving slicing apples, it will be a Dutch apple pie. That is a magical dessert.

Happy Birthday Smokey!!!

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Seven years ago yesterday, I adopted a little gray cat from the Connecticut Human Society in Newington. My life has been infinitely better every day since then.

Because I don't actually know his birthday, I celebrate February 7th. He was "about 8 years old" when I adopted him, which means Mr Handsomepants is 15 now.

Everyone who meets Smokey says what a sweet, gentle, warm, affectionate kitty he is. He's a gigantic goofball, and he does so many funny little things every day. He truly is a constant source of joy in my life, and when I go to bed each night, he cuddles up into my arm and purrs with his head on my shoulder.

For his birthday, he enjoyed an especially long round of Oreo-loving, we read the NY Timestogether, and because I wasn't feeling well, Smokey and I enjoyed several hours of birthday naps. He also received approximately 78,000 head-kisses, and I told anyone who would listen all about him and how much I love him and how lucky I am to have him in my life. If this is any indicator of what kind of mother I'm going to be, I shudder to think of the therapy my poor smothered children will require.

Nevertheless, Happy Birthday Smokeypants!!!

Postman's Envelopes

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I think in response to the weather, I've been baking a lot lately. This week I made little pastry treats called Postman's Envelopes.

They are a cream-cheese dough wrapped around a delectable black cherry and pecan filling. Because I had some dough leftover, I also made a few filled with peach preserves (which I enjoy so much I have been known to eat them from the jar with a spoon). The peach ones quickly became my favorites.

Flavor-wise they reminded me a lot of rugelach, which is probably why I immediately thought I'd like to make some filled with chocolate, cinnamon, poppy seed, apricot, etc. My brother and I also agreed that the dough would be excellent for a savory filling. I think I will be playing around with these options.


The recipe came from an unlikely source: My First Baking Book by Rena Coyle, which I recently rediscovered when my parents were clearing out a cabinet. This was not, in fact, my first baking book, but its playful illustrations with Chef Bialosky Bear were what helped me conceptually understand baking techniques as a child. There is not a time that I separate an egg without imaging the drawing in this book.

The recipes are fool-proof and fantastic, and I don't mind confessing I plan to make them all. I know this is not as prestigious a completist resolution as the French Laundry at Home, but I'm going for it. Bialosky has my back.

Now on to the pastry!

Postman's Envelopes (slightly modified)


  • 1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Cups flour, plus extra for rolling


  • 1-1/2 cup (1 6-oz. pkg.) pecan halves or chopped pecans
  • approx. 1 Cup juice-sweetened fruit preserves


1. Beat together cream cheese and butter using an electric mixer on medium, until smooth and blended.

2. Add sugar and beat until mixed in. Gradually add flour 1/2 cup at a time, and beat on medium speed until blended.

3. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile make filling: chop or break apart pecans, and stir together with fruit preserves.

5. When dough is chilled, preheat oven to 350 F.

6. Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface and flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough out about 1/8 inch thick. This can be done in stages, if you're using a small surface like I was.

7. Using a sharp knife and straight-edge (optional), cut the edges of the dough straight, and cut dough into 2-inch squares.

8. Spoon approximately 1/2 teaspoon of filling into the center of each square, then fold each square in half to make a triangle. Press the edges together with your fingertips or a fork.

9. Bake at 350 until golden brown around the edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Enjoy!

The original recipe calls for half these ingredients, but because of the way things are packaged, I doubled it, to yield approximately 5-6 dozen. I experimented some with the thickness of the dough and the filling-to-dough ratio and found I preferred thin dough with a lot of filling.

I expect you'll see many variations on this recipe in the future! Om nom nom...


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I have been thinking about this 25 Random Things meme circulating blogs and Facebook a lot more than I suspect is warranted. A friend of mine posted this NY Times article on it today, and after observing that the Times certainly is obsessed with Facebook lately, I found the words for what I've been mulling over.

Generally speaking, I enjoy any time my friends or acquaintances share information about themselves. Seriously. I wish everyone I knew had a blog and felt as compelled to over-share as I am. I'm fascinated by glimpses into their psyche, their thought processes, their observations and emotional shifts... I love having access into other people's brains and lives.

Most commonly when people criticize blogging and bloggers, the words "narcissistic," "navel-gazing," and "self-centered" get thrown around. Socially, people mock cheese sandwich blogging or the type of apparent ego-centrism which would compel a person to think anyone in the world cares about their daily lives. I don't feel that way at all. I feel like the minutiae of daily life are what define experiences. They're how I get to know other people and how I really understand what it's like to be in their minds. Everyone is telling a story with everything they do, and I love glimpses into all these stories all around me.

The idea that there must be some degree of "importance" to that which is written strikes me as ridiculous. Ultimately, I'm not sure anything I say or do could ever be important on its own, but it might affect people who, like me, take an interest in the details of someone else's mind. Whether that is on the scale of little tid-bits on the internet or a great and epic cycle of paintings or a heartfelt novel, it's all the same generalized level of interest in humanity and what it's like to live in the world we do. As a species, we're making sense of ourselves and our own experiences by observing those around us, connecting, and changing who we are as a consequence. To me, that's very important, and it's quite beautiful.

In conversation, I am prone to making declarations and constantly defining myself for other people. This is, I'm aware, a way of keeping conversation impersonal and abstract, but it unintentionally makes people think they really know me. Generally speaking, they don't. The people who actually know me are the ones with whom I talk about food, music, cartoons, my commute, my job, boyfriends, movies, and generally all my reactions to the things I experience day-to-day without thinking about how it comes off. They might never hear my views on politics or know a single thing about my spirituality, but I'm sure that they know me at a deeper level because they're experiencing me present-tense, as I actually am.

As I read my friends' 25 Random Things answers, I find that with the friends I really know well, I've already heard almost all of the details they shared. Anecdotes and trivia come up naturally in intimate and familiar conversation, and I tend to remember a lot of details. Reading some of my closer friends' lists, I kept wondering "Why didn't he mention the name that's actually on his birth certificate?" or thinking "Aww, I remember the first time she told me that!"

Beyond that, though, I knew they could make truffles amazingly well because they have naturally cold hands, that they're Sicilian and simultaneously worried and proud that that makes them aggressive, that they consider Kirsten Dunst the most beautiful woman in the world, or that they're afraid of dying. I know the talents and skills they possess, their quiet observations during the Simpsons, which combination meal they ordered all the time at the Cave, what they like to drink, nicknames for their pets, how their voices sound when they're tired... it just goes on.

The self-selection process of this kind of writing exercise immediately makes me think of a book I frequently over-cite: Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. When people tell you about themselves, they are defining the persona of their public selves, the masks they wear through life. The details might create an illusion of familiarity, but ultimately it's just familiarity with the mask, not the self underneath.

When I think of the friends that I "know," I'm not thinking of facts about their lives and experiences. I'm thinking about the shape of their eyes when they first wake up, the sound of their breathing while they're crying, the lilt in their speech as they tell a funny story, the shadows that pass through their eyes when they're worried.

My understanding of people (as everything) is very experiential and sensory, and it's based on being with them and observing them in their actual lives. It's watching them bite their fingernail while we're waiting for a movie, seeing them tuck a mixer straw behind their ear in a bar, sitting in a car while they drive, sharing mac and cheese, being with them while they do what they love to do.

That kind of intimacy, the privilege of actually being with someone, seems to me the most important aspect of friendship and love. I would say I'm agoraphobic and terrified of other people, but I think that's just because these experiences and interactions are so important to me and I worry about missing things or offending people because I'm distracted or anxious. I thrive on being with people when I can take it all in, learn about them and experience them. My friends and loved ones are, without question, the most important details of my life, more than words could ever say.


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The snowfall yesterday was gorgeous.

I love the way that snow blankets the world in mystery, calm, and stillness.

Color is fleeting, and things begin to resemble ink drawings and black and white abstractions.

I find immense peace when all the activity and busyness of life is clouded in cool light, shrouded under pure clean white.

Everything is lovely in a snowfall.

(More pictures in a Snowfall set on Flickr, or you can view a slideshow.)

Swell songs

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Whew. I am exhausted from all that awesome. Let's obsess about music.

I am currently in love with "Gila" by Beach House.


Play on repeat. Welcome to my brain.

The video seems like something some of my friends in college would have made, which makes me smile. I particularly love the line "Give a little more than you like."

This next video, for Oren Lavie's "Her Morning Elegance," I saw on Sassy's blog the other day and just loved. A few friends have sent it to me since then, which either makes my taste predictable or my friends awesome. Either way, it's great:


I actually downloaded this song after seeing it in a Chevy commercial last year (because that is how dorky I am), so it's been making me happy for a while.

The stop-motion style reminded me of a video that played on Italian MTV all the time the summer I lived in Venice, "Non è una favola" by L'aura, which I can't embed, but is totally worth watching. This song, I don't love as much, but I laugh all the time when I think of this crazy chick with her clothes and shoes chasing her around. Also I like the way she says "Boom!" at 1:36. Adorable.

Lastly, the Flaming Lips are streaming their song "Anything You Say Now I Believe You" from Know Your Mushrooms on their Myspace page. (via YANP) It's pretty excellent, and this song looks amazing in my brain. I <3 Wayne Coyne.

Awesome every day

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Something genuinely awesome happened every day last week. These things, by themselves, might have been the highlights of their respective days, but, together, combined into some kind of multiplying effect of Awesome the likes of which I have not felt in a long while.

Let's review:

Saturday (1/24)

I went into the city in the afternoon and met up with my wonderful friends Dan & Emily for Mexican and a pitcher of margaritas at El Cantinero. I am probably in the minority of people for whom El Cantinero is some kind of heaven, but they seemed to like it too. It was fantastic to see them - I really do have the greatest friends.

Sunday (1/25)

In swimming, I made a jump in intervals from 150 meters to 200. Since then, this has become my new standard, and it feels really right. It's a small increase, but I can seriously feel my body working in the last 50 of a 200, and as I do more of them, I'm finding muscles I forgot I had. I'll resist the psychological implications, but I really enjoy beating my body up and seeing the way it changes in response. I'm resolved to work a lot harder at it from here forward.

I did domestic things all afternoon, including making a very tasty Apple Almond Tea Cake, for which my parents and I actually set aside time for afternoon tea.

I really love baking, even if it runs completely counter-intuitive to fitness resolutions. My friend / labmate Penelope has an apron she bought her father that said something like "Baking: It's Chemistry You Can Eat!" So very true.

Monday (1/26)

We already talked about how awesome Monday was, and on reflection, it seems even better.

Tuesday (1/27)

I drove into Brookyln for a gallery opening, which might ordinarily be a negative and frustrating experience. This time, traffic was minimal, the weather was perfect, I had nice things to think about, my car was handling really really well, and I had an excellent mix of songs playing.

When I learned to sing in church choir, I remember the director saying you'll know when you're at the right pitch because you'll feel it in your ears and jaw, a kind of vibration that makes you happy as the sound you're making matches the sound around you. I have no idea if that is accurate or not, but it is pretty intensely wonderful to sing at the top of one's lungs for several hours.

Wednesday (1/28)

Wednesday runs in strong contention with Monday for the best day of the year so far. My mother and I took the train into the city together to see a phenomenal production of Orfeo ed Euridice at the Met. The story is very simple and could be told in about 5 sentences, but the emotion and profundity of the music is heart-wrenchingly wonderful.

This particular staging was fairly minimal, and instead of elaborate sets, most of the stage geometry was occupied with wonderful dance by the chorus. I don't usually enjoy dance in opera at all (it tends to suck), but this was more modern than ballet style, and it was very playful and clever. The costumes were done by Isaac Mizrahi, and it's clear he had a lot of fun with it.

Because it is set mostly in Hades, there was a (fantastic) chorus of nearly 100 deceased figures from history, which I found terribly amusing. During one of the opening numbers, I was looking at all of them through my binoculars and actually laughed out loud when I saw Babe Ruth, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Mark Twain, and Princess Di. There were many others, all of which are listed on the Met's website.

Stephanie Blythe sang the part of Orpheus, and I kind of forgot to tell my mother that this is a soprano role. See, these parts were written for castrati, so they are very high and typically have a lot of vocal gymnastics (though Gluck's score is subdued and poignant). In contemporary performances, they're typically played by women (the Met has only had one male performer of Orpheus), which requires some suspension of disbelief. Blythe, however, captured the emotion and intensity beautifully, and her voice is out of this world incredible. Her performance of "Che faro senza Euridice?" was astounding.

On par with the opera was a phenomenal dinner at Il Melograno beforehand. It is, without question, the best Italian food I've had outside of Italy (and this includes my own cooking), and it was so reasonably priced we kept doing double takes. We shared a delicate and beautifully prepared Caprese salad over arugula. I had homemade gnocchi with pancetta and apples in a swoon-worthy cream sauce. My mother had penne ai quattro formaggi with walnuts and pear, and the bite I tried really did bring tears to my eyes. I am going back there as soon as I can.

Our whole evening was one of sensory delights and great fun. The air was crisp and sharp, the city smelled fresh and damp from rain and ice, and my mother was of course fantastic company. It was a lovely, lovely evening, and we've agreed there will be many more opera dates in our future.

Thursday (1/29)

The sun was shining brilliantly, and there was a warmth to the light that I hadn't seen in days. I spent almost the whole day painting, working especially long on this one, which is still in progress:

There are more detail photos and notes on my new studio blog. (That site still needs a lot of work, so please don't judge too harshly.)

In the evening I did a lot of fascinating reading about upcoming work projects and the theory behind them. I think that the more I read about science, the more excited I get about art. The summer when I was reading Stephen Hawking is still one of my creative high points, so it's a very good thing to immerse myself in this kind of stuff again.

Friday (1/30)

One of my labmates and I call our Friday morning chemistry class Bitchin' Friday because we both love it so much (and we spend all day together usually). Something clicked during the morning's lecture because I finally, finally understand NMR now. This is huge for me - I've been struggling with it conceptually for months, and it's the basis of all our research.

After class, we had lunch at the Pratt Coffee Shop, where I had a pastrami reuben (which I've been craving for months, ever since I watched a TV show about delis and deli foods, which made them so irresistable I felt like taking my pants off). This sandwich was everything I dreamed of, and it was fun catching up with my labmates.

In the afternoon, we worked out a lot of future plans for the semester, and we even survived the sort of devastating news that our summer program in Italy is not approved for this year (argh, it still hurts). We set up the lab, and in a spontaneous moment, I got trained on the NMR-MOUSE. Also huge because yknow, it will be a lot easier to design experiments now that I can use the machine.

In the evening, I went out with my same two labmates, who I really should just call friends, to Chez Oskar, where we shared a fabulous bottle of Pouilly Fumé. This wine went beautifully with the mussels my labmate had and the lobster crepes I had (yum). We all got dessert, and I was secretly thrilled that both girls have adopted the habit of photographing their food, having mocked me for it in the past. I had a delicate, rich coconut creme caramel, which I stupidly resisted documenting (whyyy?).

Saturday (1/31)

After a particularly invigorating swim in the morning (I think the chlorine somehow neutralizes the wine toxins I'm sweating), I spent the afternoon obsessing over music, then got ready for another wonderful evening in the city.

I met up with a friend whom I haven't seen in maybe five years, to see Slumdog Millionaireat the Angelika. I've never been to the Angelika before, and it was cool. The movie was exceptional, and the more I think about it, the more I enjoy it. It's stayed on my mind a lot, which makes it a really satisfying experience.

Before the movie, we had what was the third excellent Italian dinner I've had this week. This was at a place where Charlie Chaplin and then Andy Warhol apparently hung out, and it was just lovely. I had tagliatelle bolognese and he had their putanesca which he said was incredible. I didn't try it because I really hate olives and can barely stand capers, so that kind of rules out a dish full of both.

I had to rush home to catch the last train to New Jersey, and I was lamenting how much time I have to spend on the train and subway if I want to see people and do things. (Especially when these people make me desperately wish I had teleportation abilities.)

All that notwithstanding, by the time I crashed asleep that night, I was more peaceful and content than I have been in years.

This week has been so amazing and fun, and I am completely energized by all the wonderful people I've been around and the great fun I've had. I can only hope that February rises to the occasion the way that January did, and I'm optimistic things will just keep on getting better.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

March 2009 is the next archive.

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