Stream of Consciousness

I was thinking the other day that many things in life are a lot like washing a Zip-Loc bag. Have you ever done it, you know, soap and sponge in hand, to save money? Those things are expensive—you wanna re-use them. Anyway, I think the analogy holds:

Many endeavors in life are like hand-washing a Zip-Loc bag—messy, difficult and hard to tell when you’re done with the task. (Did I wash that inside corner? Is there still some soap trapped inside somewhere? Should I turn it inside out again?)

Next time: the wisdom of life as revealed through Chinese take-out.

I'll remain unperturbed by the joy and the madness that I encounter everywhere I turn...
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a lousy picture is worth a thousand lousy, poorly considered words.
Conservatism: Failure to change (or changing slowly) one’s own mind in light of new information/evidence.

Recency: The most recent events dominate those in the less recent past, which are downgraded or ignored.

Anchoring: Predictions of the future are unduly influenced by initial information, which is given more weight than it deserves.

Illusory correlations: Belief that patterns are evident and/or that two variables are causally related when they are not.

Optimism, wishful thinking: People’s preferences for future outcomes affect their predictions of such outcomes.

Underestimating uncertainty: Excessive optimism, illusory correlation, and the need to reduce anxiety result in underestimating the uncertainty of future events.

Adapted from Spyros G. Makridakis, “Forecasting, Planning, and Strategy for the 21st Century,” 1990.

My mind has been many places lately...but not here.
Our weird neighbor is singing "The hills are alive...with the sound of music..." at the top of her lungs today. Mmm-hmm.
A few words on gentrification:
  • The current economic slowdown, which could last up to three years, will likely do wonders to keep attractive older, lower-income, inner-city neighborhoods from becoming yuppie-havens. It's a simple cash flow issue.
  • I think I have a truly feasible idea to help solve the gentrification problem in many American cities. It probably won't work in NYC because of historic rent control issues, but it should work most metropolitan areas whose economies have not been skewed by ubiquitous rent control. The idea has to do with home equity refinancing, the condominium ownership structure, and community-based education of basic financial concepts.
More to follow, as I develop this idea and subject it to criticism...
In 1994, while studying in Italy, I first learned about Futurist architecture from Gianni Pettna, one of the founding members of the radical 1970s architectural group Super Studio. Today, while searching for "modern designer doormats" (strangely enough), I am happy to report that I discovered a fairly comprehensive website about the early 20th century Futurism movement. From the website:

Futurism was a wide-ranging Italian movement that included painting, graphics, sculpture, poetry, literature and the performing arts and focused on the dynamic, energetic and violent character of changing 20th century life. It especially emphasised the power, force and motion of machinery combined with the contemporary fascination with speed. On the downside it also glorified war, denigrated women, favoured Fascism and vilified artistic tradition wanting to "…destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind…".

So, yes, the movement had its problems. But it sure did result in some fascinating building designs...

Sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time...and you have a camera.

Photo by yours truly.

If I see one more friggin’ painting of a “beautiful Ithaca nature scene” I’m going to be sick to my stomach.
Here is a memory-sketch of my childhood stomping grounds, illustrating all of the critical elements (I think). Click on the map for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

(Warning: large-sized 185K jpeg will open in new window.)
If you haven’t heard it yet, NPR has been broadcasting an interesting series this month called “Artists of the New South.” It’s quite good--do take a listen. Of particular interest to me have been George Singleton and MOFRO. The series concludes August 30.
I can't wait to see Waking Life!
Coventry Blues

So now I’m back in Ithaca, trying to rest before the hurricane that is Cornell graduate school begins, and I get this bad news. This makes me very, very sad. The Arabica Coffeehouse at Coventry played an important role in my life, just like many people in this story. And how sadly typical—there’s a chance that it’s going to be replaced by a Starbucks. Now, the funky-cool, restless high school kids hanging outside will probably be replaced by the khakis and SUV set. Homogenization. Good for milk, not for culture.

Public declaration to my wife Rose: If I ever become that kind of real estate developer or property owner, please lock me securely in a small metal box, only providing a small meal of moldy bread and water each day.

In Rochester, cheeseburgers are “cheeseburgs” and hot dogs are “hots.” They have “red” hots (beef) and “white” hots (pork). These are all better than standard-issue Midwestern hot dogs, let me tell you. Citizens of Rochester are called “Rochesterians.” I can never say that right. Funny! It reminds me of an undergraduate college story. A friend and I played a prank on inhabitants of Dunbar Hall at Kent, who called themselves the “Dunbarbarians.” We washed one of the middle B’s off of the window where that name was displayed in giant soap letters. After our modification, the window read “Dunbar Arians.” Ha ha ha ha…
Tag team
All I’m going to say about the matter is…if you were betting money on a citizen of Rochester breezing through a yellow traffic light, you’d lose. These people are the most law-abiding drivers I’ve ever seen—law-abiding to the point of slavery. They humbly and unquestioningly submit to all traffic laws, great or small. They sit at railroad crossings when the gates are down for hours, rather than check to see if they are malfunctioning. And then…then…they give you scornful looks when, after 20 minutes, you decide to go through the malfunctioning railroad gates. I suppose I shouldn’t be complaining. They’re better than Jersey drivers.
“It seems to me that happiness is not a state, that it's an instantaneous flash, which almost always comes unexpectedly. Yes? The wider the view you have, the more pain you are aware of - and the closer the pain comes, but there are these flashes of illumination.” —John Berger
Scheissenbedaurn”--the disappointment one feels when exposed to things that are not as bad as originally suspected. I've always wondered if there was a word for that. It's a pity when you experience something and then learn that you can no longer feel quite as morally, culturally, or intellectually superior afterward because you actually kind of enjoyed it. For example, eating at the TGI Friday's. Those chili fries are darn good!
En garde!

Here is my goofy wife Rose, seen in her native habitat, fencing with a giant sparkler.

Eccentric Spaces

The Powers BuildingI told you that I’d tell you what I was working on. This is the Powers Building in Rochester, New York. It’s located downtown right at the intersection of, what else, State and Main Street. It was built by a man named Daniel Powers in 1890, and at the time it was the tallest building in the United States west of New York City. It was the first building in the city to have a passenger elevator (which cost $0.05 to ride to the top), and also housed the first art gallery in Rochester.

Now, Mr. Powers had quite an ego. As high-rises in Chicago and Cleveland surpassed the Powers block in height, he would add a story to the building. This occurred three times over the years, giving the building the “wedding cake” effect you see in the upper mansards. Alas, the Powers Block couldn’t compete with newer structural technology, and even with the tower on top, the building was eventually bested by more modern high-rises.

The sequential additions over the years had an interesting effect on the building. Fact: there are nine fully functioning floors in the Powers Building. Now look at the exterior photograph—how many do you see? I’ll give you a hint—what was so special about the office building in the film Being John Malkovich?

“An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you.” –Morris Berman
Here Is The Correct Answer

For a long time I’ve felt just a little bit guilty about the fact that I criticize people who only like representational art. Usually, these people judge the quality of artwork by how realistically it depicts its subject matter. I’ve also traditionally been very critical of people who value highly sentimental artwork, much of which is popular in mainstream and commercial art venues. The reason I’ve felt guilty is because I’ve thought to myself, “Who am I to judge what someone else prefers?”

I’m tired of apologizing for being judgmental and didactic. No more—I think it’s just fine to be that way. I mean, if you never make any firm value judgments, how do you even know who you are?

This past weekend, Rose, some friends and I visited a very interesting gallery that was assembled inside an old sawmill. Unfortunately, the architecture of the gallery was where the interest ended—every piece of work inside was a detailed rendering of a landscape, a portrait of someone, an automobile, or a street scene. All of the work was fairly well executed, but where was the soul?

Purely representational artwork is often nothing more than an artist showing off—it is a display of technical expertise—it is illustration. I like abstract work better—wait, let me rephrase that—abstract work is better—because it allows for the viewer’s own interpretation of the meaning of the work. It allows, and encourages, the viewer to think. When I look at a portrait or a landscape I think, “Oh, there’s a portrait [or a landscape]. I like the colors. Neat.” And that’s it—end of brain use. When artwork is simply pretty it is not art—it’s craft. Craft has a place, but don’t call it art.

To summarize: Abstract artwork is better than perfectly representational craft. Representational craft pieces can sometimes be redeemed (and actually called art) if they have an interesting narrative or extraordinarily unique style. If you disagree with me, you are wrong, and how do you like that [tongue stuck out]?

“Amateur scholars will attempt to put stakes in a moving stream. But the water is the water.” –John Thorn
Prepare Yourself for Run-On Sentences

Alright…so I’ve learned that everything is a big gray soup (or should I say a wonderful rainbow-colored soup)—that everything relates to everything else…all of the natural world…all matter, energy, thoughts, actions, reactions, etc. are interconnected. Fine. That’s understood.

I’ve also learned that human behavior, and the institutions by which we choose (or not?) to relate ourselves to the world, in the long run, behave as the rest of nature does—by principles of organized chaos (for example the way a tree grows or the way a canyon forms). Cultures, families, economics, trade, finance, mathematics, religion, traffic, technology, etc.

I’ve also learned that there is a manner of existing in the world—of living, of doing business, of creating, of surviving, of sustaining, of nurturing—that reconciles the relationships between the two axioms I just put forth…i.e. the stock market behaves like a river behaves like a traffic jam behaves like salmon swimming upstream behaves like sand dunes behaves like supply and demand behaves like a volcano, etc. Equilibrium (or some would say, entropy) is the ever-elusive goal of all natural systems. And all systems are natural, whether we think they are or not.

I understand all of this. I understand that there is a beautiful ballet that occurs between all of these things. What I do not yet understand is how this stuff will manifest itself in my life. I feel that I am so young and green, that even though I understand all these ideas, I cannot yet utilize them.

When I was growing up, my parents didn’t seem to think about the moral implications of the place they chose to live. In general, there seemed to be little worry about sprawl, traffic congestion, and many of the other urban issues that concern us today.

Oh, wait, I take that back…there was one big one: it was considered wrong to live in the city. In the late 70s and early 80s, growing up in rural/suburban America, the image of the city was that of a dangerous, sinful place. It was full of crime, traffic, congestion, people of a bad influence, and strangers with candy.

Today, many urban protagonists (such as myself) deride the suburbs as being environmentally and socially irresponsible, dysfunctional (à la American Beauty), exclusive, isolated and out of touch. Yes, many of these concerns are justified. But are we being too critical? Are we, the brave young urban pioneers of Middle America, being just as judgmental as the suburbanites were a decade or two ago?

I’ve been out of the driving “scene” for some time now. Now, because of my job this summer, I’m on our country’s fair roads on a regular basis. Here’s the point: I knew that cell phone use was rampant, but I didn’t understand just how rampant. Even in a relatively small city like Rochester, every every everyone in an automobile is gabbing away. It really frightens me. Of course, New York’s Gov. Pataki will likely sign the law banning hand-held cell phone use while driving soon. Oh, my, what will they all do? Also, I feel that I must disclose that I too have had a cell phone bestowed upon me by my employer. I promise, I only use it a piedi.
So now I've completed one year of graduate school, and all I have to show for it is this lousy formula:

A few thoughts:

  • From what I’ve heard so far, the latest Hooverphonic album sounds good good good.
  • On Route 31F in Rochester, there’s a run-down looking gas station on the south side of the road. This particular run-down gas station also sells live Maine lobster and fine cuts of black angus beef. Interesting.
  • Here’s one of the things I hate about myself: I’ll make some sort of simple realization that’s common sense to most people, like “don’t drive in the left lane if there are no left turn lanes on this road,” and treat it like an epiphany, telling everyone I know. Sometimes I think that I’m not the sharpest tack in the box.
More later on these topics.
A Bit More on the Point of Nostalgia

Little moments of beauty, I must photograph them all.

You see, once you find something good, you want to capture it and relive it—replay it like a good song. But the whole point of the thing is that you can’t do that because those moments come when they will and you must be open to them, otherwise you will miss them. They come when they will and you can’t make them come and you can’t replay them, only remember them. That’s why a great song doesn’t give you the same feeling every time—in fact it wears out after a while.

Great moments of emotional clarity and awakening only come when you’re not looking, and your mind and heart are open.

This all leads to the point of why nostalgia is so dangerous. People are looking to relive their past precious moments by recreating the past. By doing this, they are closing their minds and their hearts to the present and missing the wonder of the now.

In Rochester, the speed limit is really the speed limit. The kind, courteous drivers here treat it as the maximum speed at which they are allowed to motor around--they do not violate it. I've never seen this before in my life. And while this experience so far has been somewhat of a respite from my usual encounters with crazed Eastern New York and New Jersey drivers (the worst), it's starting to DRIVE ME A BIT CRAZY! SPEED UP YOU PEOPLE!
Spot CoffeeSpot Coffee, here in Rochester, is a very large, well-executed (design, service, quality of food & beverage) coffeehouse. It reminds me of some of the original coffeehouses I visited in Budapest about seven years ago: enormous, elegant, open rooms with a bar in the center, serving a wonderfully diverse group of clientele. Students, professionals, the elite, the poor, the misfits, the gypsies, they were all there. This one’s a bit funkier (and a bit more yuppie-dominated) than those traditional coffeehouses (it’s built inside an old Chevrolet showroom), but it revives the essence.
Did you ever see the Dr. Katz episode when the patient is talking about the Rocket Pack? And how that if you had a Rocket Pack, it would be the last thing you thought about at the end of the day, and the first thing you thought about when you woke up in the morning? Rocketpack-rocketpack-ROCKETPACK! Well, driving a convertible is kind of like that feeling. I’ve never owned a convertible, but now that I’ve had a chance to drive one on a regular basis, I think I’m ruined for life. The best is when you drive under things—trees, bridges, stars…I mean, they’re right there man! Pure joy.
Nostalgia is powerful but dangerous. Nostalgia can be used to infiltrate your defenses, no matter who you are. Be careful concerning the matter of nostalgia.
Rochester is quite a nice city in many ways. It is the second major “second tier” city in which I've had the pleasure of residing (Cleveland was the first). Rochester is approximately one-third the size of Cleveland. Its outlying small towns have not yet evolved into edge cities, but they’re on their way. Although these towns have, to date, maintained much of their urban integrity, their popularity as bedroom communities is causing a significant amount of traffic congestion.

Six o’clock on a Tuesday evening, and cars are backed up one-quarter of a mile atop the lift bridge crossing the old Erie Canal.

So I'm in Rochester working for the summer. A couple of initial observations:

  • The people of Rochester are generally very good, courteous drivers.
  • One downtown character I’ve observed: “The Cabbie-Juggler.” He steps out of the cab and juggles when business is slow.
More later.
Ghost Dog is another quiet gem by Jim Jarmusch. It’s good to know that a director can move on after a dud like Night on Earth. My all-time favorite is still Down by Law.
We've been living in Ithaca now since August 2000. One thing we didn't recognize before, but that could be a potential problem (with respect to our dietary habits), is the fact that Ben & Jerry's is a 30-second walk from our front door.
I used to hate running the vacuum cleaner when I was a kid. Then I started imagining that the whole process was just one big game of Qix, and then I didn’t mind doing it anymore.
Commerce fills the pocket, but does not necessarily fulfill.

On another note... Have you ever been to a store that’s simply so beautiful and well executed that you wished you had a need for something they sell? The Ithaca Guitar Works is such a store for me. I don’t play guitar, and don’t ever really intend to, but this store is so wonderful that it makes me wish I did.

Been thinking lately…thinking about the fact that thinking is the thing I really like to do most. I could sit around all day and just think about stuff and never be bored. And I’m referring to thinking about things by choice, not problems or situations you have to think about because of work or other responsibilities. It’s really fun to just sit there and ruminate about the workings of the universe. For instance today I figured out why the back of the bus is a rougher ride than the front, even though the whole bus is traveling on the same road and the same bumps (it’s a simple physics thing—and the same theory applies to roller-coasters). I’ll share this revelation at a later date. Or you can just figure it out for yourself.

It really bothers me that I’ll only be able to spend, at most, 10-15% of my life sittin’ around thinking. I think that’s why I’m resentful of any job I’ve held, even it was a great job. (Any past or potential employers reading this can feel free to completely ignore that last sentence.) Thinking for the purposes of commerce just isn’t as fun.

Happy birthday Dante, wherever in existence you are currently residing.
There's almost nothing that's more fun than a broken thermometer. Chasing those lil' drops of mercury around the room is pure joy.
I will likely be carrying a towel around with me conspicuously on May 25.
This makes me very sad. Douglas Adams both underscored my already-existing mental aberrancies, and inspired the creation of all new ones within me. His writing took me away from this world a carefree way that no other author has ever been able to quite duplicate. I’ve read and re-read his books many times, and in fact am currently in the process of reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for about the eleventh time. It makes me happy to know that I was reading one of his books on the day he died.

Knowing that he was still alive gave me reassurance that there was yet another person out there that understood the insanity of the world, and wasn’t afraid to unapologetically communicate it. By creating analogies to human life through stories of strange events in outer space, Adams pointed out the silliness that underscores many of the world’s major problems. One of my favorite quotations from his entire body of work lies in the first few pages of Hitchhiker’s Guide:

This planet [referring to the Earth] has—or rather had—a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

Well, that about sums it up for me. Speaking for myself and the rest of the people out there who are often confused by what goes on in this world, we’ll miss you Douglas.

Kraftwerk rocks like there's no yesterday.
Everybody says they want balance in their lives.
The truth of the matter is, I've been completely consumed by my work at Cornell for the past couple of months...
The Hotel School here at Cornell "proudly brews" Starbucks coffee. At times, when under the constraints of a busy schedule, I purchase this coffee because no other convenient source is available. The other day, on the cup of my Starbucks-brand coffee, was printed the following slogan:

There is a hidden magic in Starbucks coffee; proper brewing releases the subtle bouquet of flavors stored in each bean.

This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I mean, I realize that in Branding 101 they teach you to "sell the magic," but doesn't this just come across as transparent BS to anyone with at least a sixth grade education?

I'm still alive. By my own schedule, I'm supposed to update What I Am Playing with Right Now today. However, for the past month I haven't really been playing at all. So it's going to have to wait until next week. Too many other "deliverables" right now.
Another photo taken at much personal risk.Perhaps in preparation for Easter (?), Our Weird Neighbor has replaced the scary straw doll hanging from her apartment’s doorknob with an even scarier bunny.
Today is Dragon Day here at Cornell. The festivities just ended. What is Dragon Day? According to one architecture student, Dragon Day is "a day in April devoted to demonstrating the mild rivalry that may exist between Cornell engineering students and architecture students through an on campus ritual, enacted as a form of entertainment." Here's a photo, and another. Here is a photo of the dragon on fire.

Furthermore, "Students and faculty acknowledge this day and the acts that take place as entertainment for all on campus. I believe Dragon Day started at Cornell because of a mild rivalry that may have existed between the Cornell engineering and architecture students. Dragon Day demonstrates this now friendly competition between the two. A ritual takes place in which architecture students create a large, paper-mache dragon and march through the engineering quad with it. Then, a designated engineering student lights the dragon on fire, destroying the architecture students' creation. Many people gather around to watch the ceremony and throw toilet paper into the flames to make them larger. When the celebration is complete, toilet paper lines the trees of the engineering and arts quads as remnants of the grand ritual that had taken place earlier that day."

Megan has been annoyed recently with inconsiderate pedestrian habits in San Francisco, such as umbrella poking, and people not paying attention to where they’re walking while they’re on a cel phone. Well, now *I* have something to complain about as well.

Let me just lay it down: Bus, commuter train, and elevator etiquette. This message is directed to all oncoming riders. When the bus, train or elevator stops and the door opens, the following is the only acceptable course of action:

  • First, let everyone who is exiting at your location vacate the vehicle completely.
  • After, AND ONLY AFTER, everyone has exited, you are permitted to board the vehicle.
Here’s a clarification, in case you didn’t get it the first time: It is NOT okay to attempt to cram your way in while others are attempting to get out. This causes events such as innocent riders being crammed in the door, bags being dropped, as well as other tragedies.

I’ve been a rider of public transport and elevators all my life, and I’ve never experienced such a frequent occurrence of this type of behavior. People ‘round here must be unfamiliar with these crazy new-fangled inventions.

Rosie and Maria threw me a birthday party last night. Many of my friends came. Life is simple. I am happy.

What I Am Playing with Right Now has been updated.

Here’s something interesting: I HATE modern country music. I like some of the older, classic stuff, like Johnny Cash, but almost everything released after 1978 turns my stomach. And now (well honestly, 2000), out of nowhere comes Kasey Chambers. I love love love her music. And she’s from Australia. Go figure. Go buy her album, give her lots of money. She deserves it. While you're at it, give me some money, too.
Another random sketch for your enjoyment.
Today, 'round 7:53 AM, as I was walking across campus, the chimes were playing as enthusiastically as ever. I passed a hockey player, dressed in bright red and carrying his stick, on the way to practice. Several people were crossing the Arts Quad. For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of pride from being associated with an institution.
One time, this girl used the term “Dacks” when describing a weekend she spent rock climbing. I said, “What?” She replied, “You know, the Adirondacks.” Oh. I hate clever nicknames for places and things. Except “blog”—that’s a good one.
Today, I have been married to Rosie for one year. It's hard to believe than only one year ago I was eating squid ink soup with her in a little restaurant east of the Duomo in Florence (we eloped and snuck off to Italy, you see). This definitely calls for a road trip.
I want to make a distinction: There is a huge difference between an excuse and a reason.
What I ate today:

  • 11:45 AM: Seitain and hummus sandwich with minestrone soup. Good.
  • 5:15 PM: Coffee, Drakes danish, beef jerky. Bad.

Hoping to do better as the day progresses.

Melanie Griffith's best role.Rosie and I watched Cecil B. DeMented last night – highly, highly, highly recommended. John Waters’ films are exquisitely twisted, but for some reason they leave me feeling so much better about the world that I did before. If you haven’t seen this film, and 1998’s Pecker, you really should. Masterpieces. And hey, you can never get enough of Baltimore, right?
I want to put forth a paradox: "For-profit affordable housing." (Or IS it?)
What I am Playing with Right Now has been updated. As you may have noticed, I've changed the update frequency to bi-weekly. Hey, I'm in school, I shouldn't be playing all the time. Jeez.
This has nothing to do with Groundhog Day.In celebration of Groundhog Day, I've decided to post an illustration of my name in Korean (provided to me yesterday by my good friend Kyung). Each character in Korean has a specific sound and meaning. When interpreting English names, however, the characters function only to convey the sounds and lose their symbolism. In my case, the characters (from left to right) make the sounds "Jeh-i-son" ... Jason. Much more visually interesting than English, I think.
To follow is a statement. There is no subtext, or maybe there's a subtext. I don't know. What's the difference? Here's the statement: A lot of undergrads here at Cornell become "analysts" at one of the "big five."
I do my homework. Sometimes they let me out on weekends.
Ausgang looks pretty good. Take a peek.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I’ve wanted so say a few things about this film for a quite some time now.

Some human creations are so skillfully executed and insightful, that they force us to question elements of our self and the world. When creative efforts achieve this level of influence we sometimes call them “art.” Even more rarely, a human work is so emotionally overwhelming, so beautifully crafted that it comes close to having transformative power. A few works of static visual art have achieved this. Many great works of literature have achieved this. Film, because of its dominance over the senses, reaches this state perhaps more often than any other medium. Brazil, Princess Mononoke, Run Lola Run, Magnolia, Box of Moonlight, and The Unbearable Lightness of Being are a few recent films off the top of my head that merit this praise. Add Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Critics sometimes love, and sometimes deride, films like these. However, it’s usually not because the films aren’t wonderfully executed, don’t have intriguing stories, or aren’t truly powerful in their effect. It’s because film critics, like other academics, tend to cloak themselves in a veil of cynicism and trip themselves up when they dissect a great film and analyze it to the nth degree.

A clear example of this is Amy Taubin’s review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the Village Voice in early December 2000. In it, she states, “Crouching Tiger's dramatic line is so blurry that the central character is only a bystander to the climactic fight between forces of good and evil.” One question: Why does she consider this a bad thing?

I think the point that Ms. Taubin is missing is that the story development is subtle, beautiful, and non-linear. The characters and the story build slowly and powerfully, and by the end of the film we feel so emotionally attached to them that it is difficult to leave the theater. Subplots develop simultaneously and very quietly – the fact that at certain points in the film we don’t actually know what the central story is adds to its power. Along the way, like any good work of art, the film touches universal truths and challenges us to reconcile ourselves with them.

At the conclusion of her review, Taubin’s attitude is that the fight sequences are the film’s best asset. “The opening four-way and the gorgeous treetop match between Li and Jen are intermittently breathtaking. If you snooze a bit in the hour or so that elapses between them, you won't miss much at all.” Whether she was asleep or not during the majority of the film, Ms. Taubin definitely missed it all.

Some critics’ cynical, borderline elitist attitude prevents them from truly being able to be emotionally transformed by a film. In a way, I feel sorry for them. In the same manner that an engineer often cannot look at a beautiful bridge without being aware of the tensile and compressive forces at work, so a film critic risks being blind to a film’s merit by her own analytic abilities.

So no matter which cynical critic, professional or armchair, has made his way to your ear, please – if their comments were negative and uninformed, do ignore. If you haven’t yet, go see this film. It’s one that you won’t be able to get out of your head for days, even weeks, after experiencing it.

Ithaca, Saturday Morning
Weather: Snowy
Workload: Heavy
Morale: High

The view from our window is not great, but the snow makes it beautiful.

First week back in classes was hectic, but initial signs show the likelihood of a good semester. I don’t like the fact that the responsibilities of life sap one’s energy. Of course it’s obvious, of course everyone has this problem. But that balance – the harmony between mind/body/spirit, the balance between work, personal time and play – that is the ever-elusive goal. The challenge must be confronted every day.

But the troops’ spirits are high, and along with all of the other responsibilities, we’re working diligently on finishing the new Opensewer art gallery. We’re getting very close – it feels good.

End of report.

Yesterday's quote of the day (heard at an undisclosed place around campus): “That guy has a lot to say, but nothing I want to hear.”
Well, I can tell right now that Mondays this semester are going to suck. Fourteen hours in a single stretch is way too long to be on campus. Getting accidentally locked out of the building at 9:30 PM wasn’t fun either. Mondays should be permanently abolished, thank you.
Since everyone else does this, I may as well too. Here are last week's weirdest search engine referring phrases for Opensewer. I swear I am not making any of these up:

  • modeling agency san francisco
  • dolores zorreguieta
  • georgia society of anesthesiologists
  • celestial hair gallery
  • hayner cultural society
  • eating dirt
  • she's funny that way
  • pit beef
  • iron horse grill jackson
These searches all resulted in visits to Opensewer. I sure hope they found what they were looking for.
What I’m Playing With Right Now” has been updated.
I’ve redesigned the main interface over at Opensewer. I call the design “An Exercise in The Effective Use of White Space.” It would be interesting to hear what you think.
I've made several updates to my portfolio recently.
Today I made my first official visit to campus in thirty-five days. I forgot how many undergraduates with cell-phones and BMWs there are here.
I had a strange dream last night. I was watching a newscast. The report was being given by an anchorwoman. I didn’t know her name. There was also an anchorman. His name was Jim. The anchorwoman, with frightening urgency, was giving a report on how retail employees, especially cashiers, do not look people in the eyes anymore. “It’s getting to be a real problem, Jim!” she would say. During the dream, this news was cause for a crisis – it was an ordeal of nightmarish proportions. In my subconscious, around 3:00 AM, I was frantically worried about finding a way to solve this problem. Now, awake, I’m just mildly annoyed.
Because of the vastly increased amount of free time I've had during the past few weeks, I've developed a new feature here at What I Am Playing With Right Now. I think the title says it all. I'll just add this: I'm going to try to update it every Sunday. Try. I certainly play with enough things to keep it updated weekly, but I may at times be constrained by other life requirements. So, no promises. But, for now, enjoy the regularity.
The Corning Museum of Glass. Highly recommended for a Saturday excursion.Twelve hours later, today’s road trip is over. A few highlights:

On the way there we were followed for quite some distance by a big black truck with the phrase “The Black Night” menacingly displayed on the front of its hood. The Black Night also had menacing black fuzzy dice hanging from his rear-view mirror.

I came to the following realization: It really doesn’t matter, in any substantive way, what day it actually is. What matters is what day it feels like. One exception: If it feels like Sunday and you suddenly discover that it is indeed Saturday, this does matter, since it is beneficial. You’ve just gained one entire day.

“There are just way too many things in this world that beep.” Truer words were never spoken. Uttered by Beth, a young artist we met tonight in a Corning café.

Thinking About Cars

At various times over the past four years I’ve gone for long stretches of time when my living/working situation was structured in such a way that I wasn’t dependent on a car. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this. In Cleveland, I first lived in Tremont, which is a very walkable neighborhood with restaurants, galleries, coffee shops, convenience stores and the like, all within a quarter mile stroll of my apartment. I took the bus across the river to where I worked downtown.

Then I moved downtown. This was fantastic because I lived in the heart of the city, on Cleveland’s (formerly) glorious Euclid Avenue, and had a mere one-block walk to work. I would step out of my door, get coffee at my favorite place (which is now gone) in the Old Arcade, walk down the street and be at work in approximately ten minutes - if I felt like moving that fast.

After living downtown for about a year, I changed jobs. I began working in a small, first-ring suburb of Cleveland called Lakewood. Now, Lakewood itself is a nice little city – it has an active downtown and great neighborhoods of its own. It was enjoyable working there because there was so much to do within walking distance of my building. The problem is, I had to drive to work since I still lived downtown. Admittedly, the drive was only fifteen minutes, but it was more than I had done in about two years. I noticed over time that even that little bit of a commute began to stress me out.

My next living situation was determined by the fact that my wife and I got married (well, actually, we eloped, but that’s another story). I moved into her apartment, one block away from Shaker Square. Shaker Square is a wonderful neighborhood. It has great vitality, a plethora of shops and cafés, and one of Cleveland’s three light-rail lines running straight through it. It was great for Rosie, because she’d just hop the train downtown to get to the office. As for me, well, I was still driving to work.

Now, we’re living in Ithaca, New York. We live on The Commons, a pedestrian-only street that has been closed to automobile traffic since the 1970s. Pretty much everything we need is within walking distance, with the exception of a major big-box grocery store. Cornell is up the hill (which is a half-mile long, 40° San Francisco-style hill), but the bus runs every ten minutes for the majority of the day. I almost never use the car – in fact, when I do I find that it takes me five to ten minutes to adjust to driving again. My wife doesn’t drive, either. It’s a great situation.

There is a point to this long, boring history of my living/working/commuting life. The other day I had some errands to run that required the car. So, I got out of bed at 7:00 AM, went down to the lot, moved the car to a parking meter, and went back to bed. (This slightly obscure behavior is necessary to avoid some nasty overnight parking fees.) At 8:30, I got ready, started the car (ah, that’s a nice sound) and went about my business. As I was driving around town, I was thinking to myself, “Wow, this is really the way it should be!” I was thoroughly enjoying my motoring-about, and I’m sure that it was because I really don’t drive much anymore. My mind went to images of the first grand boulevards in America – those vast, tree-lined roadways that ringed many of our major cities, and were designed with the intention of being used for recreational motoring. You know – Thurston and Cynthia would dress up the children and motor about for several hours on a fine summer Sunday afternoon.

Yeah, that’s the way it should be. It’s really too bad that we’re now slaves to the car because, in many ways, it really represents America’s spirit. I mean that sincerely – there is a true romanticism that surrounds the car – a notion of unabridged freedom. Just read On The Road. This romanticism is manifested, more that anywhere else, in the idea of the road trip. A road trip is a truly wonderful thing – and the longer the trip, the better. I know; I’ve taken many in my short tenure on this earth so far. It’s about exploration, curiosity, freedom, discovery, and giving your mind some idle time. Idle time helps you keep in touch with yourself. A road trip with someone you love deepens the relationship, forces a renewed honesty.

Let’s free ourselves from the car so we can begin to look at it in a positive light again. They’re not evil – it’s just that the way we’re using them right now is.

Yay! Friday night! It used to mean Hunan Coventry, the best Chinese restaurant in Cleveland. Now, it means Sticky Rice, the second best, and first cheapest Thai place in Ithaca. (But tonight we're trying something different.) I luv Fridays. Movie: Fast, Cheap & Out of Control.
A couple of things:

a. Rosie and I have played Scrabble™ now three nights in a row, and she has beaten my ass by at least one hundred points each time. It’s not funny anymore. Tonight we play chess.

b. I am wrestling with my tendency to get caught up in nostalgia by attempting to maintain a firm grasp on the modern.

Amaryllis in our apartment.Pretty flower. It's an Amaryllis. It grew something like 8 inches in one week (!) and then bloomed. I like it. Now, already, more sprouts are growing up out of the bulb! I assume they'll bloom as well. Rosie is taking care of it. It's amazing!
  1. You know what I miss? Long, obscure web page URLs.
  2. You know what was a good time? When a bunch of us went to Chuck E. Cheese’s a few months ago for our friend Jileen’s 2Xth birthday party. Video games and skeeball. Yum.
  3. I grew up in a small town called Columbia Station. There is a story about a guy who was decapitated by a telephone-pole support cable while riding a snowmobile. That’s a story for another time.
Feel free to ignore this post.
Our Weird Neighbor

I took this picture at much personal risk.I hesitate to share the story I am about to convey, for fear of discovery. However, this tale is just begging to be told.

Just down the hall from the apartment in which my wife and I reside lives a young woman who hangs a straw doll from the doorknob of her entry door. This is the only visible ornament in our building’s corridor – the décor of which consists of smoke-stained ceiling tiles, chewing-gum imbibed carpet, and walls the color of that stuff the janitor used to spread over the floor when some kid vomited in elementary school. “That’s great,” I used to think to myself, “here’s someone with a little bit of self-expression.”

As I have come to learn, self-expression is something that this woman has been blessed within an over-abundance of. After having lived in the building for only a few weeks, I discovered that she has a charming habit of praying out loud, at the top of her lungs’ capacity, two or three times a day. Now, I don’t know if this is a requirement of her particular religious beliefs or simply her own personal preference, but the praying can be distinctly heard throughout the entire floor.

One day, as I emerged from the stairway onto the third floor, I heard her pray something that struck fear in me and immediately made me begin to tiptoe my way back to the apartment: “…OH GOD, PLEASE HELP ME REMEMBER TO BUY MILK TODAY, AND ON THOSE DAYS WHEN I FOGET TO TAKE MY MEDICATION, PLEASE HELP ME TO MAINTAIN CONTROL OF MYSELF…”

Oh my God, we’re living with a lunatic, I thought. I hurried back down the hall to the apartment, praying my own prayer that I hadn’t disturbed her.

Now, it should be noted that this woman’s apartment sits right next to the door accessing the main stairway of the building. I typically use this stairway three or four times a day. So, unless I want to take the rear stair and follow a path that doubles the distance I must walk to reach the street, I’m stuck with confronting this door every day.

One time, as I was passing the dreaded doorway on my way out, I heard her doorknob begin to unlatch and saw an ever so slight swinging movement of the evil straw doll, indicating that her emergence from the prayer-den was imminent.

Now, I had interacted with this woman several times before. The last time, my wife and I had passed her in the hallway. When my wife said “Hi,” she just stared at us, eerily. And in the time since then, I’ve learned enough about her to strive to avoid all contact. I half expect her, at times, to pull out a dull letter opener and attempt to stab me to death.

So, of course, this time I wanted to pass her door unnoticed. I hurried my pace, the stairway door just seconds away, but to no avail. She stepped out of her threshold right in front of me, stopping me dead in my tracks. I almost peed my pants.

“Hi!” I said shakily. She just stared at me with those huge eyes through enormous, perfectly round glasses, sitting securely on her pale, pudgy, perfectly round face. She stared at me like a deer caught in headlights – and gave no response to my greeting. “Ok, then,” I said as I made a quick loop around her and booked it for the stairway.

I entered the stair, and just as the door was about to close behind me, I heard her yell “HI!” in that kind of loud, flat, scary voice that villains in movies use as they tell you the special method they’ve concocted for your death. I heard her grab the door before it closed, and enter the stairway. “Aarrgh! She’s after me!”

She wasn’t really after me, but at that moment I sure was thankful for only living as high as the third floor. The mind fills the gaps that reality leaves, and sometimes our perception of what is really happening at any given time is wildly inaccurate. Needless to say, with my imagination running full-tilt I made quick work of the staircase and ran out onto the street, where there were lots of people and she and her evil doll couldn’t get me, no way.

Home for the Holidaze

Home: where is it? Is it where you are? Is it where your friends are? Is it where your family is? Ah, yes, now we’re back “home” from visiting our loved ones in Distant Lands. But even though most of our loved ones are There, this feels like home. So I suppose that settles it – this is home.

Everything changes when you do the long-distance-travel holiday thing. No more popping in and out, no more quick runs from one family’s house to the other. No, the holiday visit must be a carefully scheduled and regimented orchestration – contrived to ensure that all friends and family receive a democratic share of your holiday time. Well, let me tell ya, this is a sure recipe for a heightened sense of anxiety. Especially when it comes to the families. Don’t get me wrong – the time spent this Christmas with our families was wonderful, when we weren’t worried about a timely arrival at our next destination, that is. And, you know, people are people. They aren’t perfect. People (myself included) sometimes have unreasonable demands and expectations. People get let down, and then they get cranky. So I’ve decided – I have a new holiday traveling philosophy: Roll with it. No matter what, roll with it.

Yes, the family time was wonderful – but too much more and a person could simply go mad. (Have you ever seen “Home for the Holidays” with Holly Hunter?) Our saving grace was our friend Suzi, and her lovely little house on the Frozen Lake. Peace, calm, friends, fireplace, reading, eating, party, writing, cozy, hobby-time, comfy chair, no demands, no expectations – look out over the enormous wilderness of the lake and see the fractal geometry of the frozen waves. There is chaos, but there is most definitely order. The lake reminds you of order, calm, stability. It says, “Be peaceful, and do not worry. Everything will be fine.”

All in all, it was a wonderful, warm Christmas – friends and family and ourselves included. (And Rosie got me the best present ever.) Just a little insanity, and hey – a little insanity is good for anyone.