Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a year in review: 2008 by the numbers

I've never been that into new year's festivities. More and more I am feeling that no particular calendar day is inherently different from any other (it's what you do with the days that matters). I like to think that time doesn't exist (though I can't completely deny that it does, for us, in our sphere), and I have a friend who insists that it is cylindrical. I don't quite get it, either. What I am trying to say is that the difference between December 31 and January 1, between 2008 and 2009, is artificial, but it is there, so I can't help but take a moment to reflect on the past year. It was kind of a big one, by some accounts. Let's have a look, shall we?

skylark's 2008, by the numbers

4 hours writing for the specialty exam
96 pages in the completed thesis
1 diploma
2 weddings
3 solo trips to salt lake
2.5 moves
142 job applications
1 job offer
137 train rides (estimated)
1.5 heartbreaks
6 reunions with old friends

Wherever you may be, happy new day. Well alright, happy new year, too!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

roots and wings

[columbia, md. 25 dec 2008]

Here I am in my childhood home:
walls and roof, trees and sky.

Happy Holidays & Happy Skywatch Friday!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

and the boxcar goes to...

Thanks to all of you who participated in the first ever etxerantz balderdash contest. It was fun to see what you came up with, and many of your answers made me laugh. Out loud. Repeatedly. In a manner that might have been embarrassing had anyone been around to hear it.

It was not easy to choose the winners. But I said that I would, so here we go:

First of all, a bonus point goes to Kim for cross-bread. I don't know about you, but whenever I go to the grocery store I see a number of products that easily fall into the category of cross-breads. Sprouted wheat sourdough with flaxseed, anyone?

Honorable mention goes to Mac for his definition of mysteriopus
/mi steeree ō'pəss/ n - a large cat-like carnivorous dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period whose method of hunting involved spreading mud on the upper part of its face and around its eyes in order to paralyze its prey with suspense. [etymology 'unknown']

Honorable mention goes to Vanessa for both of her entries. Although I had to disqualify mysteri.opus on the grounds that it was not a clearly circumscribed definition, it deserves comment because (1) the film in question might be a good example of a mysteriopus, as Vanessa implies (i.e., a work—in this case, a film—focusing on a mystery), (2) that scene always makes me laugh, and (3) it was uncannily appropriate in light of the fact that when I saw Vanessa's answers I happened to have just finished reading And Then There Were None, which continually made me think of—and want to watch—the movie Clue. 

Vanessa's second definition:
lanudary=wool milk
kind of makes me gag, but it was too charmingly nerdy in its etymological literalness to ignore.

First prize goes to Claire for her definition of mysteriopus:
a many legged (and therefore footed) creature whose leg count has yet to be determined by science.The centipede and millipede look practically footless in comparison.

And the grand prize goes to FoxyJ for her definition of lanudary:
what happens when you need to do laundry but have no clean clothes to wear while doing it; hopefully this doesn't happen in a public place.

The winners do not really get boxcars. Sorry. I know that would be cool. Mostly I picked that word because I like it and it sounds a little like Oscar. FoxyJ wins a Librarian Action Figure with Amazing Push-button Shushing Action (not in its original packaging, but like new. includes stack of accessory books and trading card). Claire wins the pleasure of my company in Toronto, probably sometime in March. Okay, so that was going to happen anyway. I'll bring some other prize, too. I don't know what yet, so it'll be a sur-prize. You honorable mentionees, well, you win all the glory that comes with being mentioned honorably on my blog. 

Thanks for playing, everyone, and Merry Christmas! Look out for the dangers of public lanudary and lurking mysteriopuses.

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the edifice
not a creature was stirring, not even a mysteriopus...

Monday, December 22, 2008

at least there's no awful music like when they put you on hold on the phone

Hi. I'm at the airport. 

I have been at the airport for about five hours. 

And boy lemme tell ya, you may not think that standing and waiting in a ridiculously long line would require a lot of energy expenditure, but add to that another unbelievably long line, a couple of shorter, nearly motionless lines, and in the first place an absurd little line waiting to board the airport shuttle at the train station (I really don't know what that was about. Seven or eight of us, all lined up, waiting for the waiting bus to, well, I don't know really, open its doors and then close them—a little bus driver humor, perhaps? haha, just kidding! teeheehee—and then open them again and finally let us on—okay, really, i was just teasing. no hard feelings?) and you have yourself rather an exhausting afternoon.

Anyway. I finally sat down with an overpriced pizza (though, come to think of it, airport prices aren't too far off from normal California prices, and it's yummy so it's cool) and, free wi-fi! Cool, right? Okay so I guess it's not all that novel, but it's the first time I have come across it. Maybe that has something to do with most of my flights during the last several years having departed from Salt Lake. Oh, I miss that airport today. However. The last time I checked, SLC International did not offer free wi-fi. So, for the moment, I win.

Summary: Arrived at the airport. Lines are horrendous. I've never met such a long, slow-moving line in my life. Except maybe at Disneyland. Left curbside line to check out line inside. Worse. Went back outside. Flight delayed. Thought I might make it. Kept waiting in line. Started to rain. Kept waiting. Finally reached the front of the line. Flight status: boarding. Me (mildly frantic—well, inasmuch as I ever become frantic): Do you think I can make it?? Skyhop (with no apparent sense of urgency, almost drawling): Well, I don't know, I can't really say... I'll do my best with your bag, but I don't know if you'll make it on the plane or not... Checked my bag (I wasn't really thinking). Ran to the security line. Stopped to wait in line. Look right: flight status: departed. Back to the line (opted for the indoor line this time). More standing. More waiting. Rescheduled my flights.

Now I'm off to board a plane to Phoenix, and in the morning I'll leave Phoenix for Baltimore. If it all works out I'll be there less than 24 hours behind schedule! Yeah. Oh, and I get to see Julie. Bonus!

Cheers from SJC! (Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know the way to San José.)

PS. You are, I am sure, anxiously awaiting the results of the balderdash contest. And I will announce them tomorrow, once I have safely arrived in Merryland and will have no need to navigate another airport. For a few days, anyway.

Friday, December 19, 2008

balderdash: a call for definitions

Today in my various readings I ran across a couple of curious typos. Typographical errors are not always interesting (and surely to normal people they are never interesting), but these two in particular got me thinking that perhaps a stray keystroke or a moment of slipped typing rhythm can in fact become a felicitous vehicle for a neologism. That's right, careless typing can create new words. The question is, what might such new words mean? How shall we use them?

I hereby issue a call for definitions of the following words:


Please offer a definition of one or both words in the comments section. The composer of the best responses will win a prize! Answers will be judged on creativity, plausibility, laughability, and howmuchilikeitability. Bonus points if you make a typo that results in a new word of the ilk of mysteriopus or lanudary. But it doesn't count if you do it on purpose. Ready, set, go!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

why so blue? a monochromatic study

[lawton st & 22nd ave, san francisco]

Yes, that's really the Sunset district. Yes, it's usually very foggy in that part of the city. Yes, Sunday lived up to its name. Yes, I take my camera everywhere. And yes, I am going to recommend that you check out Skywatch for more atmospheric views. And if you have your own blog, you are encouraged to participate! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

nocturne without naiad, or, why am i still up?

I have been fighting sleep, staying up far later than I ought to, many nights during the last few weeks. Trying to stay on top of all the things I want to read (Google Reader is deceptively simplifying) and all the things I want to hear (surely I've mentioned my NPR podcast problem). And I have so many things that I want to write, and now, but the trouble is that I'm so tired that I can't manage to complete but a few of the half-thoughts that I have scribbled in a score of draft posts. But my reading list is not what is keeping me up. That's just a convenient excuse, I think.

Then what is it, you ask? Well, I have a theory, and it is that somehow, just below the surface of consciousness, my person is wholly convinced that, being as it is mid-December, I simply ought to be undersleeping and overintellectualizing. That's just what I do at this time of year, right?

This is the first autumn that I am not a full-time student since, well, since I started going to school twenty years ago. Twenty years! Okay, okay, so nursery school wasn't really that intense. But I think it can be argued that five consecutive years at university could have sufficiently conditioned my mind and body to expect the reeling, brilliant, sickening, prolific, anxious, exhausting, bizarrely beautiful stop-motion speeding chaos that is the closing phase of a school term.

Many of my friends are currently in grad school, and several of them have recently on their blogs discussed their sentiments or at least mentioned their frustrations as they struggle to tie up the ends of the semester or quarter. The general consensus is that they hate it. Of course they hate it in the moment; we all do. The way you feel when the clock is tick-tocking-telling you that you have twelve hours to write twelve more pages, and you can't figure out what you're trying to say, and oh NO what if, what if you don't finish on time? what if you fall asleep... that sounds nice... but you must finish! you can't go to sleep! not yet and you pour another tall glass of Diet Coke with Lime, no, Mountain Dew this round, and scrape another lemon bar from the pan, gooey sticky sweet and almost gone and you bring one to Claire, too, and it makes you feel ill, you've already had too many, but at the same time it is strangely consoling and the sugar should give you some energy at least, and you're back to the page and Sufjan is singing this time of year you always disappear and you think if i can just get this done and turned in then maybe i can squeeze in a nap before the next one and it's AWFUL! But don't you see? It's some sort of crazy wonderful, too. Sweetened at the end, of course, when you finish everything and slip the last paper under your professor's door and you feel like maybe you've accomplished something meaningful and now you can finally put your weary, frazzled little self to bed.

What's that you say? Do I miss it? Now why would you say that?

(I didn't think that it would happen so soon.)

Good night. Good morning. (It's all the same at this time of year, anyway.) And if you're still writing papers or preparing for exams, good luck and take cheer. Odds are I'll be right back there with you, sooner or later.

Monday, December 15, 2008

my new favorite architect, or, why i should start practicing german again

It all started with this posting on Google Sightseeing: an aerial photo of what turned out to be my new favorite building. (Come to think of it, I'm not sure that I had a favorite building before. But I do now.) The roof takes an unusual shape: a long, curving incline; and it also happens to be green, planted with maple, beech, and lime trees. That's cool enough, and it also explains the building's name, Waldspirale: Wald is German for forest; spirale, as you will have guessed, refers to the spiral shape.

But then! Then I saw this:

(click photo to link to original flickr source)

What splendid craft! What controlled exuberance! What a glorious use of color! Is it...? Could it be...? I think I'm in love.

Waldspirale is an apartment building in Darmstadt, Germany, and for its design we may thank the late Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. No, I'm not making that up. Friedrich Stowasser was born in Vienna on this day in 1928, and he adopted a rather more colorful moniker, which translates (rather clunkily) into English as Peace-empire Rainy-day Dark-colored Hundred-water.

Here's another sample of the prolific artist's work:

(click photo to link to original flickr source)

That's the Hundertwasserhaus in Plochingen, Germany. It's not my new favorite, but it certainly has its merits. (Does it remind anyone else of the Spanish missions in California?)

So. If I suddenly take off and move to Germany, you'll have a pretty good idea as to where to find me.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Hundertwasser. Sie lebt noch, im seiner Kunst. Danke.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

a year ago today

I was in Arizona. I stood in the glorious desert sunshine outside the temple, and from within its doors emerged the newlyweds. My best friend and her husband were positively radiant. It was a joyous occasion for them and for the many people who love them. It was also a moment of catharsis for me. I can't really explain it—or at least, I don't want to here—but needless to say, I was more than a wee bit emotional. All I have to say is that it's a good thing my mascara was waterproof.

A year later, she has finished her master's degree and he is halfway through his; together they have survived a Chicago winter and now they are braving the season in Toronto. (I guess love keeps you warm.) And I miss them terribly.

Happy Anniversary, Claire and Joseph. May you share infinitely more happinesses in the years to come.


Friday, December 12, 2008

an observation, a complaint, a question, and an ellipsis

It has been a week since my centennial post on etxerantz.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing it, and not one person —not even a non-person spamming robot— commented on it! (Therefore, I feel kind of ridiculous.)

Is it just that I did such a thorough job on it that there was nothing left unsaid?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

skywatch friday, week 18

[from the archives: provo, utah, october 2007]

Behold my beloved cottonwoods,
undressing in preparation for winter,
outside my last apartment in Utah.

without major incident

...but not without a minor one, today for the first time I biked to work. There was a bit of stumbling while crossing the six lanes of El Camino (notice how I make myself feel better by using passive voice?) but overall it worked out very nicely. In fact, it felt great. I haven't quite figured out how all the different speeds work, but at least I can feel cool saying that I have twenty-one of them. And while three and a half miles sounds like very little, I'm pretty sure I'll be worn out by the time I finish the second three-and-a-half home tonight. A healthy, keeping-the-air-clean, making-my-muscles-work, i'm-ready-for-bed-now sort of worn out.

And now, it's flashback time: for me, back to my college German classes when one of my favorite teachers introduced me to Die Prinzen; for some of you, perhaps, back to the early nineties when you secretly wanted to be a groupie for this punked-out German a cappella group. Come on, admit it.

Die Prinzen: "Mein Fahrrad" (My Bicycle)

And by the way, my sister is awesome. This is true for many reasons, but here I point out particularly the fact that mein Fahrrad is actually hers, on super-extended loan until I figure out what I want and save up the cash to buy it. Cool, right?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

i'm from barcelona

No, I'm not really from Barcelona. 

But then again, neither are the musicians who call themselves I'm From Barcelona

They're from Sweden. And they're delightful. 

I first heard the track, "Headphones," on this episode of All Songs Considered (let it be known that I am a hopeless NPR podcast junkie), and since then I've caught a few more of their tunes (because they're catchy, get it?) from pandora and from the band's website. Not the most intellectually challenging music, sure, but it is bright and cheerful, and sometimes that's all you need from a song. 

Here's the official video for "We're from Barcelona:" 

Monday, December 8, 2008

what's in a name? have a taste and see

Sometimes my brain does very odd things with words. I am not referring to the mildly bizarre, yet simple, word associations like grateful --> full of graters or confusions like did he die in the fire --> upgrade to papaya which, though perhaps surprising, are nevertheless logically traceable in morphological and/or phonetic terms.

No, no, here I am thinking of an even weirder phenomenon.

Exhibit A: Lenscrafters.

Remember Lenscrafters? Sure, they're still around. These days they don't seem to be advertising much, though, at least not like they were a couple of decades ago. Recognize this?

There is really no reason that this ad should be memorable. It's not funny; it's not clever; it's not aesthetically pleasing; it has no catchy theme music. The 3-D graphics--the lab dropping into the store--were pretty cool for their time, I guess, but not spectacular. The apparently 80s fashion may be amusing now, but it's not really all that glaring and, in the 80s, it wasn't really strange.

Nothing, indeed, makes this commercial memorable except that, for me, it conjures up crackers. That seems simple enough, given the visual and aural similarities between the words crafters and crackers. But it's not that simple, I tell you. This unassuming, and really rather boring, commercial, creates for me the impression of a very specific taste. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but it has always been the same, ever since I first saw the ad as a very young child. The best description that I can formulate at the moment is like a sort of stale Saltine cracker that is not very salty and slightly sweet besides.

Seriously. Where does that come from?

Exhibit B: Whitney

Here is another one. It is similar to Exhibit A both in effect and in duration: I can remember experiencing both phenomena since I was about five years old.

However, Exhibit B is, as I see it, far more inexplicable.

I'll keep this compact and posit just the question:

Why should the name Whitney make me think of, and nearly experience, the fragrant, sweet, just slightly tangy taste of vanilla yogurt, specifically the Yoplait variety?


Does this happen to anyone else?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

for the 21st-century nomad

The N55 Walking House is a compact, solar- and wind-powered "modular living system" that can walk across any terrain. The idea is to allow people--and their homes--to escape rising flood waters. (Found via WebEcoist.)

Anybody else think of Howl's Moving Castle?

Friday, December 5, 2008

ten times ten and seven times seven

This is my one-hundredth post on Etxerantz.

As it happens, never in the first ninety-nine posts did I mention where the name etxerantz comes from. It is a Basque word, etxe meaning "house" or "home," -rantz being the directive case suffix (itself a compound of the allative -ra, "(going) to," and the destinitive -rentzat, "for"), indicating "toward." Hence the full title, Etxerantz - Toward Home. Now you know: both where the name comes from, and how nerdy I am. But you probably had a pretty good idea of the latter already.

I wanted to do something special to commemorate my hundredth post. Like it or not, I am conditioned to measure accomplishments in numbers. And the number 100, in our base-ten society and double-is-better culture (like it or not), is kind of a big deal. My first blog topped out at 55 posts before I retired it; interestingly, the next one ended up with exactly 55 posts as well. (In its defense, it was meant to be short-lived, documenting only my five-week stay in Peru.) My photo blog is marching steadily toward its centennial, but, being very young still, shan't celebrate the big three digits until February. Having reached one hundred posts here helps me to be optimistic about the future of this writing space. I hope to celebrate with you many hundreds more.

Let's do one thing at a time, though, shall we? The task at hand is, or at least my desire was, to write a special commemorative centennial post. However, I did not come up with anything meaningfully worthy of such a weighty calling, and rather than spend more time brooding over it, thus unnecessarily delaying the next etxerantz installment--who really cares that it's the one immediately following the ninety-ninth, anyway?--I opted to post something that has nothing to do with the number 100 (though number 3 under the second category comes pretty close).

That said, one might be surprised by how much time and energy I managed to put into what one might have expected to be something of a throwaway blog post. Ah, but I take these silly lists seriously, you see. I'm doing my duty here (not that I don't enjoy it): I was tagged, after all. And I liked Vanessa's variation on the sevens theme. That was a lot of v's. Here's my own slightly modified edition:

7 Things I Can Do:
1. ride a bike
2. write
3. host a slumber party
4. surprise people by speaking Spanish when they least expect it
5. get lost in strange cities (and enjoy the experience thoroughly)
6. play the oboe (and English horn, when I can get my hands on one)
7. cartwheels

7 Things I Cannot Do:
1. speed-read
2. fly a plane
3. control the size of my netflix queue
4. fall asleep with cold feet
5. understand everything
6. ski
7. survive without water

7 Favorite Foods:
1. lomo saltado
2. tacos al pastor
3. tofu
4. pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream
5. costa pork salad
6. snow day black bean soup (it's kind of a family recipe)
7. chocolate (pretty much any variety, but especially the hot, drinkable kind)

7 Books I am Currently Reading (or at least intending to read in the near future)
1. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
3. Casi una mujer by Esmeralda Santiago
4. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
5. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
6. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
7. A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters

7 Songs That I am Currently Listening to Obsessively *Note: if you follow no other link on this page, you really ought to click on the one labeled "Elephants on Parade." you won't regret it.*
1. Headphones by I'm From Barcelona
2. Airport Surroundings by Loney, Dear
3. Face to Face on High Places by School of Seven Bells
4. To Cure a Weakling Child + Boy/Girl Song by Adem
5. Mirando by Ratatat
6. Elephants on Parade by Podington Bear
7. Incubator by A.R.S.

7 Favorite Words:
1. cacophony
2. luciérnaga (Spanish for firefly)
3. Flugzeug (German for airplane, literally "flying stuff")
4. ma'muaang (my best shot at transliteration. Thai for "mango")
5. matzaqik (Maya K'iche', said at parting and roughly equivalent to "take care;" literally "don't fall")
6. q'omer (Quechua for green. the sound transcribed q' might be my favorite phoneme.)
7. sassafras

7 Travel Destinations Currently High on my Wishlist:
1. Toronto
2. Bolivia
3. Chile
4. Lassen Volcanic Park
5. Iceland
6. Berlin
7. Australia (all of it. yes, I know it's a whole continent. could take a while to save up enough vacation time.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

skywatch friday, week 17

[22nd st at indiana, san francisco]

Thanksgiving day:
silhouetted stubby claw trees (not their scientific name)
reaching toward wintry grey clouds over the city.

See more at Skywatch!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

the sound of an old friend's voice

(Sometimes it is just the music a soul needs to get up and dance again.)

A week ago today this fair city where I live was graced with the presence of a fine young man, indeed.

I met naB'is nearly three years ago. We were in a foreign language class together. He reached out to me in friendship and turned my world upside down. I fell in love with his eyes. I am convinced that their singular color is directly related to the unique way in which they see. naB'is and I never became very close friends, but we exchanged enough fumbling human poetry to establish a connection that remains intact. We ended up in another class together several months after our first meeting, and from time to time we ran into each other on campus. It was always such a joy to see him, even if it was only for a moment, just long enough to say hello and nice to see you. He used to wear this purple t-shirt, not really all that often, but enough that now, anytime I see a young man with blonde hair and donning a t-shirt of a violet hue, I immediately think of naB'is. It's a reflex.

Last week, naB'is and his best friend were in town. I hadn't seen him in probably a year, at least, and I had never met her. It was wonderfully refreshing to spend the evening with them. We attended a discussion with a handful of other bright souls, shared bits of our stories. We played Apples to Apples (I lost to everyone, including the dummy hand). We had a slumber party at my house. We didn't build a fort. My morning walk to the train station, always solo and sometimes lonely, was last Wednesday transformed by the warm, cheerful company of this delightful pair as they headed out on the next segment of their adventure. How fortunate I am to be able to call them my friends.

Last night I called up a friend of mine whom I haven't seen for over six months. We ended up talking for over two hours. Two hours. I'm not typically super chatty, and even my long phonecalls tend to top out at just under an hour. We talked about graduate schools and bicycles, Cuba and Bolivia, films and foam. Nothing terribly deep, but how lovely it was to hear his voice. This friend and I, we met over three years ago, and we were very close for a time. Now, we live in different states, and we don't see each other anymore. We don't talk very often, either. We go about our own separate lives, but not in ignorance of one another. We remain connected, even if it is on a level perhaps more superficial than I ever wanted to admit before. Whenever one of us happens to pass through the other's neighborhood, we will celebrate a momentary reunion. I will offer him shelter for the night, and I will always be his friend. That has already been decided, long ago, perhaps longer than I even know, and I believe that nothing will change that.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been stubbornly independent. As I grow closer (sometimes unwillingly) to becoming a grown-up, I am learning more and more that I need other people, that I must (often painfully) learn to rely on them. I used to hate to admit it, but now I know that it must be this way. What sense would there be in our being here together, the whole lot of us who (whether we like it or not) share this planet Earth, if we were not meant to be together? not merely to coexist, side-by-side in our separate bubbles, but rather to live together, to share our experiences and not only our globe, to allow our Daseins to overlap and to become entangled one with another, and to stop believing once and for all that they are ours and ours alone.

My friends, I love you. Thank you for being my friends, for being with me in this big, crazy, magical, terrible, glorious place that we are calling home.