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.