Saturday, February 28, 2009

28: vine

I spent the afternoon in Napa.

Yes, a day in wine country. And I don't drink. 

I inhaled the volatile esters of some nice fruity cabernets and for once in my life the smell of alcohol didn't make me physically ill. As my friend tasted and compared the 2003, 2002, and 1999 vintages, I read the lovely, sometimes fanciful descriptions of the different varieties, one of which was purportedly "opulently structured." 

We got to see the Quixote winery, the whimsical Hundertwasser's last design. (I mentioned the Austrian architect once before.)

The landscape in Napa county is stunning: all that greenery and the rows of old-growth vines rolling by, the occasional babbling brook, and dramatic open skies. Plus, wildflower season is coming on, so a rainbow of poppies and my favorite yellow daffodils were popping up along the roadside. And the air is so clean and refreshing. The word idyllic comes to mind. So does fantasyland.

As my friend made his purchases, I checked out the labels for design inspiration. Eponymous is nice, as is Blackbird. And there was another one that I made a mental note of, but I've forgotten it already. This is why I usually write things down.

As we drove back toward the city, the odd little world of monoculture and almost surreal natural and societal environment melted away behind us. And yet I know that somehow it still exists. As do a lot of other microcosms that I have little to no contact with in daily life. In some ways, it's not really that small of a world, after all.

(all photos mine, of quixote winery)

Friday, February 27, 2009

27: climb

As a child, a favorite pastime of mine was jumping off stairs.

On a recent urban mountain-climbing jaunt on Potrero Hill, I found my camera drawn to the stairs leading to other people's houses. I always liked the shapes in staircases: something about that orderly repetitive jaggedness is so pleasing to the eye. The replicated pattern leans and stretches toward infinity.

And now I am thinking: why must we always be going up? We as a people are obsessed with building the tallest structures and scaling the highest mountains. Maybe it is a part of our collective unconscious to associate high places with the heavens, and thus we are drawn to them because something tells us we will be closer to God there. I think it is no coincidence that we equate belief in God or some other-named great spirit with belief in a higher power, where higher may refer both to intangible creative and moral stature as well as to relative physical situation.

On the other hand, our reachings skyward are not always so noble or spiritual. We are obsessed with rising above mediocrity and above the past. We climb the corporate ladder and scale the ranks of academic and government positions. Most commonly, and worst of all, we are obsessed with rising above one another. Where do we think we are going? And why do we insist on doing it alone? What do we expect to gain by getting there before anyone else?

Let us continue to build stairs, but let them be wide enough that more than one person can climb them at a time. And then we'll explore the heights together.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

26: but not lonely

I love living alone.

Among other things, it means I can play weird music in the morning and dance around the room half-dressed, falling all over myself because I was up most of the night writing or playing online scrabble or baking cookies or watching nerdy documentaries. 

Nobody is here to laugh at me, except me (and I do).
Nobody is here to get annoyed by me, except me (and sometimes I do).

This is the first time I've lived entirely on my own, and it's fantastic. First there are the simple, somewhat selfish joys of being able to do what I want when I want, having to see and deal with only my own messes, and just having the space to myself without having to share it with anyone (except when I want to).

This literal space, as Virginia knows, is great for creativity. Then it gives way to figurative space as well. I could not be in a better place right now: I am exploring this space and finding myself in it, uncovering new interests, discovering what is really important to me, trying to figure out who I am and who I am becoming.

This all may seem very self-centered, and indeed in a certain way it is. But I believe and insist that, even as—and because—I am "coming into my own," so to speak, I am also learning to connect with other people as I never have before. And that, my friends, is worth the monthly rent check. (Also, the hardwood floors are a nice touch.)

(note: the photo here is one that I took, of a house that I like, which is not my own)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25: foot where

When I don't sleep, the toes on my right foot cramp up.

On the street where I live, there are some messages that were scribbled into the concrete sidewalk before it set, I suppose.

This message reads: 

And that's what I did.

On Saturday I went to Target to get a pair of black flats to wear to my concert Saturday night. Being in the percussion section for this show, I didn't want to be on my feet and in heels the whole time.

Target is my favorite place for shoes as of late. Cute + comfy + inexpensive. Repeat.

Also, I have a great pear of blue-tipped brown ballet flats that I got on clearance at Old Navy for $7. Fabulous.

My favorite shoes are, and perhaps always have been, moccasins. I like to be able to feel the earth under my feet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

24: vanishing still

I am ever the linguistic analyst.

Today's case in point is, well, a matter of two points. Namely: vanishing and focal.

(Note: this post is an extension of yesterday's discussion of vanishing points.)

A vanishing point is the element in an image that creates the impression of infinity. It is the point at which our eyes cease to process an object's presence and our brains fill in the blank with its going on forever. When we look at a vanishing point, we are really looking through it, beyond it.

A focal point, on the other hand, is a spot fixed on something visible. It is inherently tied to the finite. I'm thinking along the lines of a still life rather than a grand detailed architectural drawing.

Vanishing point vs. focal point: it was in church a few Sundays ago that I scribbled the two terms in my notebook. I don't remember whether they were directly related to the specific topic being discussed at the time. Odds are they weren't, but rather through a series of successive associations and tangents, they occurred to me as relevant and worthy of jotting down for the sake of future recall.

The dichotomy is, however, applicable to a gospel topic. Likely it could be applied to a number of gospel topics, but one in particular comes to mind, as I recall a recent conversation with a friend. We were discussing the different approaches to the Atonement that are generally found in our respective churches. In the church she grew up in, the focus was usually on the crucifixion; in the church I belong to, the angle is often toward the resurrection. Both are real and essential parts of the same doctrine; it is only that slight shift in viewpoint that makes for subtleties of meaning.

Consider the following paintings of identical subject matter, with entirely different approaches:

First, Francisco de Zurbarán's Saint Luke as a Painter, Before Christ on the Cross (1630-39):

[click to enlarge]

The crucifixion corresponds to the end of Christ's mortal life. It is a finite event with a clear aspect of completion and a single, inevitable result. When we contemplate the crucifixion, we know what we are looking at. There is one focal point, and it is the culmination of the mortal life of the One who embodied the exemplary blend of humanity and divinity. There is no doubt as to where Saint Luke as a painter (widely believed to represent Zurbarán himself) is directing his focus in this image.

Compare Salvador Dalí's Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954):

[click to enlarge]

Dalí's depiction of the cross is unconventional, to say the least. For our purposes here, what is important is its three-dimensionality and, more specifically, the use of vanishing points to represent the shape in proper perspective. The form is clearly defined; the cross itself does not appear infinite; but still, its edges extending toward vanishing points give it a sense of motion, of continual movement through infinite space and time. This is not a terminal event being commemorated here; it is just one moment in eternity or, in other words, the beginning and the end (the Alpha and Omega): the beginning of immortality born of the end of mortality. The cross's position in mid-air—floating, as it were—almost certainly alludes to the resurrection—the rising from death. Already He is detached from the cross, rising from the crucifixion, because that wasn't really the end. Unlike in the Zurbarán painting above, it is unclear where the observer here is directing her gaze. This is not a completion-based, focal-point-centered image. Death is consumed in the vanishing point and from there new life expands and extends forever, not just for one but for all, everywhere in space and in time.

Monday, February 23, 2009

23: vanishing interminably

Remember way back when all the paintings were flat?

Then one day people started drawing with perspective. Yeah, I know, like the artists who came before never brought their own perspective to their work. But that's what we call it, you know? This technique of arranging the lines on the page or the canvas in such a way that they mimic more closely what our eyes perceive in a three-dimensional world, rather than replicating mere snapshots of the two-dimensional surfaces that define the three-dimensional spaces. The new technique of using perspective in making images added depth to a pictorial world that had been largely limited to length and width.

If this concept of perspective drawing is sounding familiar to you, odds are your brain is connecting it with the related term, vanishing point. You know, the point on the horizon where all the lines meet—all the lines that in two dimensions appear parallel but, viewed in a three-dimensional perspective, appear to converge at some point in the distance.

A vanishing point is called such, I suppose, because it is the locus where all the lines leading to it seem to disappear. From a theoretical standpoint, it is not too difficult to understand that, from a point where all lines ultimately converge, no single one of them can continue along the path it had previously set out for itself. There is nowhere for it to go but forever into that same point, along with all the other lines.

The thing about the vanishing point is that it is not really the point where things vanish. Rather, it is a spot where, when we look at it, we can tell that things are vanishing, that -ing suffix locking the verb in the present progressive tense, which means that everything in this scene is in a continual and interminable state of vanishing, always vanishing and therefore never finally vanished. The logical conclusion, then, and indeed the typical effect on the viewer as well, is that the vanishing point betrays the sense that all the elements of the scene in question in fact go on forever.

The bridge vanishes, but only from our imperfect sight. We strain our eyes to follow the lines as they extend infinitely, but try as we might, we cannot really comprehend eternity. We can't really see it. Not yet, anyway; not here, not in this now.

(photo credit: Jim Frazier)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

22: or until golden

There's nothing quite like baking in the middle of the night.

This batch of cookies is the first thing I've baked since I came to California. Yes, that's right. It's been nearly seven months. I'm not quite sure why it took me so long. Maybe I just needed a worthy cause. You know, besides, 'I want cookies and therefore I am going to bake three dozen and eat them all by myself.' Doesn't make a lot of sense.

It was Claire's idea. And she always has good ideas. (And it just so happens that today he admitted to having a serious sweet tooth.)

So I consulted my new copy of How to Cook Everything, selected my recipes, and went out to gather the ingredients, including all the essential "baking needs" (I always found that designation on grocery store aisles sort of amusing. I'm weird). I didn't have any flour. I didn't even have sugar. Not to mention cookie sheets.

It wasn't until sometime after midnight that I got around to the chemistry experiment (yeah, yeah, I'm lying about the time again). I apparently have no proper measuring spoons, so I totally guessed on the baking powder. Also, I completely forgot the vanilla. Luckily, the cookie sheets fit in my somewhat diminutive oven, and the finished product turned out quite nice, I think.

Chocolate Chip 
Oatmeal Cookies

There's something about baking sweet treats in the middle of the night, making messes in the kitchen while everyone is asleep, that's... I don't know, really. Like it just fits, somehow, even though it may seem unusual. The act of mixing the dough and then arranging bits of it in neat rows on a cookie sheet, it nestles into the dark, quiet hours between midnight and dawn, as a drowsy cat on a sunny windowsill. Like it belongs there, like this is the time baking should be done.

I must say it's more fun with a partner in crime. I'm thinking of the epic Larson cinnamon rolls, countless pans of late-night brownies and lemon bars, and industrial-sized batches of rice-krispie-oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies that I used to bake with Claire (of course, who else?) It's not so bad going it alone, though.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

21: replenish

I suddenly want to be a farmer.

I have been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan's fascinating exploration of our nation's industrial food system and some possible alternatives. Representing the alternative in food production, Joel Salatin attained something akin to rockstar status once he was featured in Pollan's book in 2006.

Mr. Salatin spoke at Stanford on Thursday evening. Several hundred people turned out to hear him, and he did not disappoint. Certainly no country bumpkin, he is clearly a very intelligent man who is entirely devoted to (a stance which includes motivation by love) his farming by smart and unconventional (oddly, most conventional methods in this country are simply counterintuitive) methods. Plus, he is a thoroughly entertaining speaker (not to mention inspirational, even though that sounds kind of cheesy).

A self-described "Christian libertarian capitalist environmentalist lunatic," Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farms in rural Swoope (pronounced swope, with a long o), Virginia. His "beyond organic" farm is grass-based and thrives on naturally-evolved interspecies relationships. He calls it allowing chickens to express their chickenness, pigs to express their pigness, and so on. As descriptors of Polyface, words like holistic, circular, and sustainable join the ranks of idyllic, pastoral, and communal.

As a Christian, Salatin believes that his mission is to be a steward of the land and to return it to its Garden of Eden state. 

There are plenty of good reasons why people of faith ought to be conscientious of the way they treat the earth and all its inhabitants, including humans of course, but also all other forms of life. I remember attending an excellent lecture with Julie in our freshman year of college. Professor George Handley spoke about LDS perspectives on environmental stewardship. I don't remember any specifics now, but I do remember getting a general impression that I might articulate as "Duh, why don't more people see how much sense this makes? The gospel + environmentalism = resonance." I really ought to write more about this another day; I think it's just one facet of how the gospel can be applied, as we like to say, to everyday life, and with eternal consequence for good. (I just discovered this LDS Earth Stewardship website; will be checking it out and likely reporting on it here later.)

Mr. Salatin reports that, based on the demographics of current U.S. farm owners, about 50% of the nation's farms will change hands in the next 10-15 years. Somehow I find that really exciting. Without too much imagination, I can see myself in a decade or so farming a nice green patch of land in the central valley, perhaps. Maybe you'd like to purchase the farm adjacent and we can be neighbors as we return to our agricultural heritage and commune with the land and its creatures?

(photo: turkeys at Polyface, by Spicy Bear)

Friday, February 20, 2009

20: ensemble

I play the bongo drums in a local orchestra.

I also play bass drum, suspended cymbal, woodblock, and glockenspiel. After this weekend's concerts, I'll join the oboe section. In case you're wondering, I don't plan on switching to cello or trombone after the next concert.

Playing music has been an essential part of my life for, well, pretty much forever. I remember tinkering on a Little Tikes piano/glockenspiel combination and, later, on our little (like 15") Casio keyboard. My sisters taught me to play the basic melody of "Lean on Me," and we played it over and over. And over. Having only four notes, it is both very easy to learn and very sticky. Even now I can hear the sequence repeat itself in that oddly charming synth sound, a bit clunky and uncertain under a novice's little fingers.

One day in the third grade, I came home from school and (so the story goes) I exclaimed, wide-eyed, to my mom: "Did you know you can learn to play an instrument in school?!!" Supposedly, my parents had tried to encourage the other kids to take a serious interest in instrumental music, but to no avail. Then I came along and shocked them, in that where did you come from, you weird child? sort of way.

So, where I went to school, you could pick up a stringed instrument as early as third grade. For wind instruments you had to wait another year. Wait? Who could wait? I was going to play the violin. For some reason I chickened out at the last minute. I don't remember why. In fact, I remember distinctly that there wasn't a why, and my not knowing why I was upset and suddenly didn't want to play the violin only made me more upset.

That passed, though, and by the time I hit fourth grade, I had made up my mind. I was going to play the oboe. I'm not entirely sure how that came about. How many nine-year-olds even know what an oboe is? (Besides the children of music teachers. I have a good friend who is an instrumental music teacher, and not only his six-year-old daughter but also his three-year-old twins can identify just about any instrument by its sound in any given recording. Amazing.)

Unfortunately, oboe was not an option in elementary school. Not to be defeated, though, I started playing clarinet. That was fun. And the reeds were really inexpensive. But I think I always knew it wouldn't last. My double-reeded love was waiting for me to discover it. Even though I used to spend hours at a time with a plastic recorder flute, practicing songs we learned in general music class, transcribing other familiar melodies, even making up my own tunes, all that was just tiding me over until the right time.

I first picked up an oboe in the summer preceding sixth grade. And that was it. I was hooked. Three years of middle school band; four years of high school wind ensemble, marching band (where I picked up percussion) and various extracurricular bands and orchestras; and five years of university orchestra later, I found myself in California, no longer enrolled in school and therefore suddenly thrown out of the easy ensemble-joining circuit that I had gotten used to over the previous dozen years.

It didn't hit me immediately, but as soon as I started to feel settled, it suddenly became very clear to me that I needed to start playing again. So I contacted this orchestra, asking if perhaps they had room for an oboist. Not until the next concert set, they said, but, in the meantime, we're short a percussionist... can you play? It's worked out rather wonderfully so far, and it feels great to be playing in an ensemble again.

My best friends in middle and high school were people I played in the band with. (My brain keeps looking at those last two words and wanting to make them bandwidth.) When I played ensemble music, it was with a lot of people that I knew rather well. What a wonderful sense of active community.

I've been playing in my current orchestra for only a month or so. I know very few people: just my colleagues in the percussion section, one of the oboists, and a few of the viola players.

My report: It's still marvelous to make music together with a room full of people that you don't even know. And as I come to know them, we will always be linked by these memories.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

19: flower (one who flows)

Back in the day, I played a lot of Scrabble. 

For a while during the last year in G5, three or four games a week was pretty standard. The board frequently came out during thesis breaks or What Not To Wear marathons in OM, too. In contrast, in the nearly seven months since I moved to California, I had not played a single game of Scrabble until last night. 

Without Claire or Vanessa nearby, and without roommates besides my alternate personalities, circumstances apt for Scrabbling present themselves far less frequently than they did in my former life in Utah.

Last night, however, I met a new friend. We're just two people reaching out to one another, breaking out from isolation, seeking a little warmth and unity amid a cold and fragmented society. And arranging lettered tiles on a grid.

The product:

Making words is fun. 
Making friends is delightful. 
Making words with a new friend? Marvelous.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

18: scene

There are just a few degrees of separation between me and a famous film director.

At least, he is going to be famous. His name is Cary Fukunaga, and I heard about him from a colleague a couple of times removed who happens to be related to him. His feature debut, Sin Nombre, scored a couple of awards at Sundance last month and will hit theaters in the next.

I was doing some light research, reading a bit about the making of the film, scanning reviews, watching the trailer, finding this all somewhat interesting and coming to the conclusion that Sin Nombre would probably be worth watching. And then. And then I found out that one of the producers is Gael García Bernal.

I'll just let that sink in for a moment.

And now that the original train of thought has completely derailed, let's continue with the theme, shall we? and take a moment or two to appreciate a few beautiful people of the male variety. It may appear that we're going for pure aesthetics here, but, in the case of many, if not all, the men I greatly admire (these from afar), their good looks are not what first caught my attention. It was their voice, their demeanor, their wit, their music. Their honesty, perhaps. Speaking of honesty, though, the aesthetic layer is indeed a welcome enhancement.




Only recently, say in the last five years or so, have I begun to appreciate portraiture. I used to find portraits (painted or photographed) boring, mundane, deserving of less attention than other works with more exotic themes. I have come to realize that portraits—good portraits—celebrate the joys, reveal the sorrows, and capture the confusion of human existence. The really great ones do all of these things at once, while at the same time offering a glimpse of universal divinity in the individual person.

People are beautiful. Really, truly beautiful. Take the time to look around and you'll see.

(photo sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

17: hot soup

Life is heating up.

Nearing its boiling point. 
And when you boil it down, it's all about making connections.

Connections between:
man and woman, woman and man
man and man, woman and woman
parent and child, child and parent

man and nature
life and death

rhythm and melody
harmony and discord

mutually resonant worldviews
opposing philosophies

the human and the divine
the individual and the universe

teacher and pupil
pupil and teacher

the vagabond and the painstaking traveler
the lost and the found

brother and sister, brother and brother, sister and sister


These are, in essence, all human connections. 
(Indeed, since our point of view is by default the human one.)

And when you stop to think about them, you'll see that they're really quite miraculous.

Monday, February 16, 2009

16: i see

As a general rule, room temperature is not an ideal state for a beverage.

However, many products are stocked that way in the stores. Cranberry juice, Dr Pepper, tequila, Vitamin Water... just to name a few. This makes sense, of course. No need to waste energy on refrigeration of products that will not spoil without it.

Still, I prefer to consume liquids either hot (think chocolate, chamomile, or related families) or chilled. So I've gotten into the habit of tossing newly-purchased bottles of room-temperature beverages into the freezer to quickly chill the contents. The problem is, approximately 59% to 83% of the time, I completely forget that I have done so. Vanessa will attest to this phenomenon. It was a particularly frequent occurrence during the thesis-writing days (which were also fueled by large quantities of hot beverages).

And since the room-temperature beverages that I purchase are always water-based and never ethanol-based, they always freeze. Sometimes I snap out of my moronic moment in time and the subject has only reached a slushy state. I've found that Cherry Coke and the dragonfruit-flavored Vitamin Water in fact work quite nicely that way.

At other times I have been known to leave two-liter bottles in the freezer overnight. Solid. Tonight, I deposited a bottle of Diet Coke into the icing chamber a little before 6 pm. After returning home from orchestra rehearsal, I remembered that I had just bought some Diet Coke today and it would be nice to pour a glass before sitting down to finish a movie I had started earlier. It was then that I also remembered that it was in the freezer. It was about 11 pm. Giant bottle-shaped Diet-Coke popsicle, anyone?

It's sitting on a towel next to the radiator, slowly metamorphosing into a more readily drinkable form. Sometimes I am nearly blinded by my own brilliance. (Like just now when I tried to type that sentence with my fingers one key off: it came out Domryimrd...)

(photo credit: Darren Hester)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

15: mustered

While in San Francisco yesterday, I spent a good amount of time wandering around Potrero Hill.

At one point I stopped in a little corner market and asked: 
—You wouldn't happen to have any yerba mate, would you?
—Yerba mate...?
—What? Mustard?
He finally pointed me to the selection of herbal teas. No yerba, of course, but the shop owner suggested Walgreens. I didn't go to Walgreens. I continued on my way, and laughed. I wasn't really expecting to find what I was looking for, but I wasn't expecting that much confusion, either. Silly me, I guess I should have. Nothing like sharing a hot cup of mustard with a friend on a cold rainy day, I suppose.

I had thought that I would find some (yerba, not mustard) in the Mission. I remember having seen a little shop on 24th St with an Argentine flag in its window, but somehow I missed it even as I strolled the length of it between Mission and Potrero. I think it's because I was on the phone with Claire. A worthy distraction, anyway.

After returning home, I sent an email out to a mailing list for area Argentines, asking where they buy their yerba. Instant responses. There seem to be several good options in the area, including a few near Palo Alto, as well as one on 24th in San Francisco—and now I know the cross-street!

Technology can be a wonderful thing.

(photo credit: Gerard Girbes)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

14: respiration

I spent the day in San Francisco.

It was wonderful just to breathe in the energy of the city. Also, I got to see some cool art.

An out-of-town friend tipped me off to the San Francisco Graphic Design exhibition through a review she had found somewhere on the interwebs. I didn't even know the museum existed until a few days ago. Now enlightened and intrigued, I decided to check it out. It's a small venue, tucked away in the shopping district downtown, near the Academy of Art University. There were plenty of interesting things to see in the two rooms and a hallway, and those of you who know anything about my museuming style will likely agree that a small gallery is healthy for me. I devour museum exhibits. And not in the ravenous, wolfing-down sense. I savor every teeny tiny bite and let the flavor linger as long as possible.

The show features the work of a handful of local designers, ranging from Michael Schwab's iconic Golden Gate National Parks posters to Barbara Vick's logos that you'll see branding many familiar products in the grocery store, Chen Design's eco-friendly tags for North Face to MINE's (that apparent combination of possessives makes me somewhat uncomfortable)  everything is ok caution tape.

Walter Landor (founder of the prolific Landor Associates) is credited in the current exhibition with the statement "Good design is friendly. It's nice to have around." The 'friendly' designs on display today got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could make pretty things that are nice to have around, too. 

So that's the inspiration. Concerning the next step in the respiration cycle, well, I guess it's my turn. We'll see what I can come up with.

(photo credit: me)

Friday, February 13, 2009

13: crawl

It's raining again, like it was last night.

When I left home this morning, though, it was not raining. Walking through the courtyard toward the street, I nearly stepped on a six-inch long earthworm that had ventured out to check out the sunshine while the pavement was still wet, I suppose. I don't really know why worms appear on the surface after it rains: maybe to escape underground flooding? Anyway it's a delicate balance, it seems, since they dry up if they stay out in the sun too long. I've seen the evidence. Can you imagine living in a body so fragile that it would shrivel up completely after, say, a day at the beach or an afternoon in the park? And that's it. No more earthbound wanderings.

I remember tiptoeing up and down the long driveway in front of our house, dodging the scores of worms that would wriggle across the black pavement after a summer rainstorm. I was always really sad to see one that had dried up, and sometimes I would whisper to the others that they should be careful and go back home soon. On other days I might look more closely at this same terrain and see a single ant trudging along, and for some reason I found it fascinating to watch how it reacted when I placed my foot directly in its path. Ever tenacious, it always set immediately upon an alternate route.

In the fall I would gather helicopters—maple seedpods—by the armful and release them (the higher the starting point, the better) just to see them whirl ecstatically toward the ground. A related hobby was exploring the beds of impatiens (of which we had tons when I was very little) and popping the seedpods. They have a sort of rubbery, elastic epidermis, and when they are good and ripe, they have inflated like little balloons that, at the lightest touch or gentlest squeeze, burst and curl up on themselves. It was always so satisfying to play a part in that transformation. I could entertain myself for hours with these simple activities, micro-interactions with nature, just outside my front door.

Sometimes I miss that purity.

(photo credit: ian boyd)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

12: weather, the storm

It's not really 11:59 pm. 

Not in this time zone, anyway. The timestamp lies, as I try to convince myself that I am succeeding at this February blogging project, even though I fell asleep on the couch at 9 pm and didn't wake up until six hours later.

It is raining now, as it likely will be all weekend. It sounds lovely, the steady flow of droplets melting onto the driveway, dancing on the roof, snapping against the window, the sweet streams singing in ensemble all around. Now a crescendo, and it is all accented by the occasional pop from the radiator, generously sharing its warmth as I sit here huddled in my old hooded sweatshirt that I bought on clearance for $3.97 at least seven years ago, that has seen at least five states and two, soon to be three, countries, that boasts a little hole in the elbow just from wear and that somehow makes me love it more than when it was intact. 

Yes, rain like this all through the long weekend, they predict, and wind, too; storms all over the bay area and beyond. I'd rather have snow, I think, you know that dry, powdery Utah snow that isn't too miserable to go out in, but that won't happen here. Snow in the Santa Cruz and Santa Lucia mountains, they say, but I, as do most people in the region, live in a valley.

And it doesn't matter, anyway, because forty-nine people just lost their lives in a fiery plane crash, and when people are dealing with storms like that, who the hell cares what form of precipitation I prefer? I get the feeling that neither the music of rainfall nor the hush of snowfall would do much in the way of comforting those forty-nine families or the town of Clarence Center today.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

11: wordbook

I got to hang out with my mom and dad over the weekend, and we reminisced about some early instances of my verbophilia. 

For my fifth birthday my parents gave me a dictionary. A hefty hardcover collegiate dictionary. Now, before you go wondering what on Earth my parents were thinking, I would encourage you to shift your focus to the fact that I asked for a dictionary. Yes, hello! I'm the weird one here. We had a dictionary in the house, of course, but I wanted one of my own that I could keep by my bedside in case I needed to look up a word while reading under the covers at night.

And what did I do when I got that dictionary? I examined the preliminary pages and decided that it would be fun to memorize the Greek alphabet that was listed there. So I did. And it was. And then I took to reciting it backwards. Just for the heck of it. So, you see, in this context, it isn't terribly odd that I used to spend many an evening helping Claire study for her ancient Greek classes. Not only that, but I enjoyed it.

But I digress (is that word of Greek or Latin origin?) Some time before I graduated to that serious dictionary , my mother surprised me with a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Picture Dictionary Ever. When Mom told me what a dictionary was and that she had one for me, my eyes lit up (or so the story goes) and I exclaimed, "You mean there's a whole book with nothing but words in it?!?" This is a ridiculous question, of course, since most books in fact consist entirely of words, but just go with me on this. I was really excited by this dictionary concept. 

I had just gotten out of the bath. Normally, getting dressed immediately follows bathing. But that day there was something far more important to tend to. Wrapped in my bath towel, I crawled into bed and spent all morning and part of the afternoon reading the dictionary. There. I said it.

The German word for dictionary is Wörterbuch: wordbook (Wörter, words, plural of Wort; Buch, book). One of the things I love about German is its generous allowance for compound words, which results in some really elegant and often intuitive combinations. Like Wörterbuch, for instance. Or the word for vocabulary: Wortschatz (Schatz=treasure). Airplane? Flugzeug, flying stuff.

There I go again. And that's barely the start of it. Linguistic curiosities are the kinds of things I find entertaining. Sometimes I seek them out; sometimes they find me. Either way, language has always enjoyed a state of hyperpresence in my world. It is becoming increasingly apparent that I was, in a sense, born for language.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

10: don't drink the kool-aid

I took a shower this morning.

Wait, wait, that's not the news.

So I step into the bathtub and turn the hot-water knob counter-clockwise, wait a few seconds for the water to warm up, give the cold-water knob a twist and test for an ideal temperature, adjusting the mix accordingly. And, well, after the water had been running for twenty or thirty seconds, it started coming out black. You read that right. Black. Water. Flowing into my home. (Not that Blackwater, though.) Surprise! Good morning!

Reflexively, I shut off the tap and stared disbelievingly at the black droplets that had splashed onto the tile wall. I cautiously turned the water back on, and almost immediately it began running clear again. I wondered briefly if perhaps I hadn't hallucinated the whole thing. I mean, black water running from your tub faucet? Come now, fantastical stories have their place, but they also have their time, and it's early morning and I prefer clean, colorless water for my shower, if you don't mind.

A freak occurrence. Except that it happened again while I was rinsing the conditioner from my hair. And once more while washing my hands in the sink.

The question on your mind at this point, as it is on mine, will no doubt be What the hell?? (or some variant thereof).

My answer is (a) I don't know, but (b) I have some theories, and (c) I am open to other theories/explanations that you might offer, both serious and facetious (bonus points if you pull off both at once).

My property manager is sending a plumber over tomorrow to check it out. In the meantime, well, I guess I won't be so surprised by a moment or two of discoloration in tomorrow morning's shower. Unless, of course, tomorrow it's a color other than black. Now wouldn't that be exciting? I'm hoping for magenta.

(photo credit: Stunt of the Litter)

Monday, February 9, 2009

09: music-memory, three movements

Some songs will be forever linked to certain times in my life, certain places, certain people. When I hear the music I find myself for an instant in a familiar scene. Here are a few fragmentary examples, scribbled in my notebook a few months ago under the heading "musings & blunderings on a friday morning." (Click on the song titles to listen.)

I. "Let Go" (Frou Frou)

Swells of harmony rise from the floor, roll through the room in pulsing loops, envelop me and all the books and papers strewn about the couch and on the floor. Waking up to delirious brightness and dreaming harmony and my best friend at three a.m. in the place we called home.

II. "Boy With a Coin" (Iron and Wine)

July. Burning afternoon. Solitary walk uphill toward an open field. Accompanied only by a troubled mind. Trying to lend rhythm to disoriented soul.

III. "Við spilum endalaust" (Sigur Rós)

Stepping down from the Muni onto Judah St to be embraced by September sunshine or enveloped in chilly fog, either way a pulsing brilliance emanates from inside as the adventure begins to materialize and I am seeing that my whole life is energizing love.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

08: pacific union

For the past week or so, Union Pacific locomotive 9734 has been waiting patiently in the background on my computer screen.

I took this photo about a year ago, when I still lived in a place that sees snow in February. The weathered golden beauties frequent the trainyards at the southern edge of Provo, Utah, and I used to go wander around the area just to soak in the oddly stirring desolation of the place.

You may already know that I like trains. A lot. Incidentally, my nephew loves trains (and especially "up-downs"). Also, I find industrial wastelands extremely appealing, both aesthetically and emotionally. That's weird, I know. But it should help explain my impulse to explore trainyards.

One Saturday afternoon last spring, I journeyed down to the south Provo tracks, looked around for a few minutes, then sat down on the edge of the road just outside the fence. I could hear the low hum of an engine motor and the occasional mechanical click or clank that told me that a train was getting ready to go. It seems it was only getting ready to get ready, maybe loading up for a freight haul. I don't know, really, because I couldn't see what was going on down the track. It didn't matter, anyway, because it was a sunny afternoon and I had no plans, so I made it my plan to sit right there and absorb the atmosphere while waiting for the train to roll out. I alternated between reading from Neruda's Odas Elementales and jotting little blurbs in my notebook, pausing every so often to look over at the tracks for signs of any movement.

All the while I was conscious of the deep rumbling of the running motor. I could hear it, but mostly I felt it. It ran through the rails like an electric current, seeped into the ground where the earth met its voice with is own and together they resonated in arrhythmic pulsating harmonious humming. Concentrated latent energy was making itself known to me, like something fantastic was about to happen. I waited, listened, felt, and marveled at the communion of this monstrous child of the man-made industrial age with this terrestrial child of the ageless universe.

The engineer waved as the groaning steel caterpillar crawled along the rails, leaving the station for the open country of the west, wild and limitless. I smiled, and waved back.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

07: liquid collisions

Yesterday was cold and rainy, which made today's warmth and sunshine all the more delectable for the contrast.

Late Friday afternoon, I sat in my office mulling over the week's interactions. Misdirected messages and confusion; apprehension and disappointed expectations; impossible requests and bizarre phonecalls.

I had just spent the previous half hour or more talking and laughing (laughing really hard at some moments, indeed to the point of tears) with my coworkers, and then I turned back to my desk, intent on crossing a few more items off my list before day's end.

The rain was pouring outside my window, talking at me in its lively percussive dialect with just a touch of melancholic tone. I looked out into the purplish-grayness and watched with mesmerized eyes the multitude of micro-explosions glinting in the late blue light, as post-invisible droplets ricocheted off the shining black pavement and shattered into oblivion. 

The sweetwater puddles quavered in concentric circles, and I was momentarily transported to my childhood home, where I gazed at the stream in the backyard, flooded in a downpour and rippling continuously at the impact of millions of raindrops. Each one, when it hit the surface, expanded outward in an ephemeral series of infinite rings, and I studied them, attaching the image to the name—concentric circles—that Mom or Dad had just taught me, a six-year-old at most.

There is something at once cozy and romantic, challenging and primeval, about the rain. I am learning to appreciate it more, and to feel less hostility towards it, than I used to. 

Still, today's return to this kind of eternal-spring weather was an idyllic treat, and it made showing my parents around town, partially on foot, much more pleasant than it might have been in splashier conditions. I won't mind too much when the rain comes back another day, though. 

(photo credit: rhettmaxwell)

Friday, February 6, 2009

06: straight lines and curves

When I was in elementary school I loved art class.

I was a math whiz (well, arithmetic), I read and wrote just fine, and I had little trouble doing what I was supposed to do in science and social studies classes. But my heart was in art class. A perpetual slowpoke, I found myself two or three steps behind everyone else on any given project, but I was persistent through the painstaking creative process. There was always something very satisfying about the process: forming shapes and bringing colors together, and the product: something new and unique that I made all by myself. One day, when I was in second or third grade, my mom wanted to take me out of school early for some reason or another, and I absolutely refused because I could not bear to miss art class.

I'm not certain why it took me so long to figure this out.

The thing is, we all have artists inside us. As creations we have in turn been endowed with power to create, and that power includes the capacity to procreate —to immortalize the human race in the flesh— as well as the potential to create art —to contribute to the eternal progression of the human mind and to the enlightenment and delight of the collective human spirit as it strives to locate itself in the universe.

I remember this one assignment in particular: we were to take two pieces of paper and to fill as much of the blank space as we could. The rule was that one piece of paper could contain only straight lines, while the other would permit only curves. For some reason (or none) I just adored this exercise, and I remember being really happy with how my pieces turned out. They were entirely abstract and, as I recall, extremely colorful. (I wonder if Mom & Dad still have them somewhere?)

What you see above is a sort of variation on that theme, a little something that I did, not in elementary school, but just now, on this sleepy, rainy Friday night at home. Please forgive the weird shadow at the top: the page was just slightly larger than the scanner bed. Other than that, it's not really noteworthy, I know. But I feel like grabbing onto these roots will help me to get somewhere, or at least keep me grounded as I grow, ever reaching up toward the sky.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

05: open up

There are twenty-three hinged doors in my apartment.

For the last hour or so, I have been drifting in and out of sleep and therefore failing miserably at watching this movie that I am supposed to discuss tomorrow. It's not a bad movie; I have just been staying up late all week and my body has announced that it can't take it anymore. A familiar battle, this: the mind begging the body to forego sleep in favor of any number of activities requiring consciousness and clarity, while the body insists that both it and the mind are starved of rest and it is not going to sit idly by while—well, in fact, that's exactly what it is going to do, and with eyes closed, if you please. 

My point is that I have just slept through the last hour of the day without having written something first.

My counterpoint, then, which I may have led you to believe was my topic by announcing it at the start, is that there are twenty-three hinged doors in my apartment. 

Yes, I counted. It occurred to me as a question worthy of exploration, and so I explored. By counting. Included in this tally are closet doors, cupboard doors, a door that conceals (or reveals) nothing but a built-in ironing board, the oven door, refrigerator and freezer doors, the door to the circuit breaker box, and my printer's paper tray, which happens to look very much like a door on this particular model. 

You may think that last one to be a bit of a stretch, but it's really not so odd when you consider that I had gone on to contemplate (but ultimately not to count) other hinged items under my roof, like this pretty calligraphy box, my oboe case, CD- and DVD cases, my electric teakettle with hinged lid... And what about books? Granted, they don't have mechanical hinges, per se, but their spines do a pretty good job filling that function. The action of opening a book mirrors the physical movement involved in opening a door, and once it is open—either the door or the book—you are presented with new opportunities for exploration, in worlds which are unique in their position on that side of the door/book cover.

It might be argued that sleep is a door, behind which swirl the bizarrely beautiful and beautifully bizarre mysteries of the dreamworld. (And you thought that doors theme wasn't even my point.)

Soon I'll be pulling back the covers and gladly crawling through that door into sleep and dreams. After giving these other two movies a go, that is.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

04: waywords

Do you ever wonder what happens to your thoughts when you send them out into cyberspace?

You take them and wash them of irrelevancies, dress them in lovingly woven phrases that complement one another in tone and pattern, and maybe accessorize them with a few additional colorful descriptors or surprising interjections. The final punctuation secured on their feet; enough substance but not too much weight in their backpacks; their lunchboxes stocked with homemade syntactical treats, peppered with unanswered questions, and finished with a heartfelt note; you walk them to the end of the street and look them over once more to be sure you haven't forgotten anything. 

They turn and wave goodbye, pausing just briefly before climbing the steps into the packed bus, which presently rolls along the information suburban boulevard, lunging toward the ramp onto the freeway, which is just becoming crowded with the first electronic greetings of the day, urgent requests and efficient-to-a-fault one-liners speeding impatiently by in the fast lane.

At the end of the day, they're at the front door again. They've traded sweaters or shoelaces with a classmate, and they have plenty of words to offer in response to your "what did you learn in school today?"

Sometimes, though, you send them out in the morning and, in the evening, the bus comes by your street but does not drop them off. And so you cannot help but wonder: How might they have become sidetracked? When will they make it home? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

03: duet

She knew she needed to get back into the music.

Leaning on the bongo drums, she gazed at the black markings on the page and tried to focus on counting the thirty-seven measures of rest before the woodblock solo. Once having glanced up at the conductor to check the tempo, she then followed her eyes as they wandered across the room and allowed them to linger on the cute viola player, until he looked up, at which instant they scurried back to their place and attempted to reconnect with the monopods as they marched across the lines printed on paper.

Ba-da-ba-doon-kah! Nailed it, and took a step back. Here, the parallel lines of the staff rotated ninety degrees into her field of vision, and she could see him through the harp strings. As the ensemble moved on to a new section in the piece, she stepped up to the drum and reencountered an uninterrupted line of sight. When she saw him looking at her from behind geek-chic black frame glasses, she dropped her eyes bashfully, though not quite as quickly as before.

As the rehearsal rolled through the evening, they hit upon some mutual sense of amusement at the various goings-on around them, and the spaces between pizzicatos and bass drum hits were populated by plenty of shared smiles and funny, mock-quizzical looks. Odd, she thought, that she had been so sleepy just a few hours earlier and yet she now felt quite awake and alive.

As she was loading the glockenspiel into the van, he walked by and barely paused for a quick glance and a shy smile. When he returned, he stopped to say hi. They each learned the other's name, and they recounted whatever silly thing they had been laughing at. She wanted to say that yes, the situational humor was nice, but mostly she kept smiling at him because he was just so darn cute. But she didn't, because the whole exchange had already attained a level of adorable awkwardness that was actually kind of perfect, and she didn't want to risk ruining it by pushing it over the edge into just plain uncomfortable awkwardness. Either that, or she was just too shy.

(photo credit: mr.beaver)

Monday, February 2, 2009

02: synecdochal attraction

It started when I decided to get a bike.

Once I had accepted the bicycle's potential to enrich my everyday existence and to open up new and wonderful opportunities, I suddenly noticed the two-wheeled beauties all around me. They were there before, of course; I just hadn't really seen them. I brushed them off as symbols of a sociomobile category that I did not belong to and that therefore did not concern me, or, even more coolly, as a mass of meaningless objects... stuff... clutter. No, come to think of it, I wasn't that cruel. I couldn't have been. Really, at the time I didn't give them much thought. I mean, I was aware of their existence, but I didn't sit around and contemplate the question of their immortality.

Soon after I determined to allow the bicycle concept to materialize as a real, living, breathing, moving thing, I found myself gawking at fine specimens like

(photo credit:

(photo credit: moriza)

(photo credit: PixelAndInk)

The intensity and frequency of my making eyes at the lovelies have held steady, if not increased, since I actually got a bike. The one I have is a good pal, reliable and comfortable, in excellent shape and pretty good looking, easy to get along with even though I'd been living without a bike for a decade and a half before we met. It's just a loaner, though, from my wonderful and generous sister, so sooner or later I'll give it back and invest in one of my own.

Ask: how could I have been so blind to these pretty, peace-loving beings with whom I had crossed paths so many times before? Well, it seems that in this, as in many contexts, it took an individual to open my eyes to the beauty of the group. With that introduction, I was then freed to discover the admirable qualities of other individuals. Now the difficulty lies in committing to just one.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

01: inspiration

I've been inspired.

NPR's All Songs Considered has opened my ears to a whole new world of wonderful music. That's not really news; I've been listening to the podcasts for quite some time now and consequently discovered many newfound musical loves. I just want to take a moment to recognize its important role in my life and to give thanks to the host, Bob Boilen. Not that he reads my blog or even knows it exists, but still, I feel like it's something I should do.

Mr. Boilen just announced the third annual RPM Challenge, whose motto is "Record an album in 28 days, just because you can." I don't know how to record an album. I've been thinking more about musical creation lately, so... maybe next year.

In the meantime, I am feeling inspired by the challenge and slightly embarrassed by what turned out to be a rather poor blogging showing during the month of January. Therefore, during the month of February, I will record a rhetorical album in 28 days. 

I don't guarantee thematic or even stylistic coherence like you might find in a musical album, but I will add a track every day for the remainder of the month, just because I can. I have recently discovered many new sources of inspiration, so I have a lot of ideas running around in my head and looking for a place to go. I want to see what comes of recording them together.

This is my record; these are my songs. I broadcast them from my perch in the California canopy, as I take stock of the materials I have been gathering for my nest. I invite you to listen and, as you feel inspired, to add a verse or a countermelody of your own.