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Monday, May 31, 2004

Adding a few links

I've added a few links to my sidebar, including links to some of my favorite blogs. Maybe now I will start to feel like a member of the Community of Bloggers!

The first link is to one of my own articles, "A little bit about me", the second entry ever posted to this site. I'm hoping this "About the author" link will help any newcomers understand where I'm coming from. It will also simplify things when I direct people to this site.

I've also started adding links to other people's blogs. I'm not sure what blogger etiquette is here, and I haven't actually gotten permission from any of them to do this. If any of them decide they don't want me to link to them, I will certainly remove the link.

The first is to Camilla Henrikke's site, Wallflower.nu. Camilla is from Norway. She was the first blogger I ever began reading regularly - and this is as much due to her frequent site redesigns as it is to her actual content. Camilla redesigns her site about once a week, sometimes more often. Her designs are always beautiful and artistic. It's also very interesting to have a window on the opinions and thoughts of someone in another part of the world. It helps that her blog is in English!

The second link is to Sammie's blog, sdfsdf.wox.org. Sammie is from Australia. Her designs are also beautiful and artistic, although she changes her layout far less often than Camilla. Sammie's posts are usually more lighthearted and funny, and she's attracted a crowd of regulars who tend to join in the fun. Her posts are also in English, but it's that strange form of English unique to Australia and, I think, New Zealand.

The third link is to IndustrialBlog.com, a more serious blog written by my friend Bill. Bill's blog tends to focus on issues of faith, society, politics, and baseball. Bill and I have nearly diametrically opposite views on a lot of topics, including religion and politics. He's the only one of these three bloggers that I know personally. We have our differences, but we have always been civil in our debates, and I hope we stay that way through any blog/counterblog stuff we may go through.

I'll probably add more links as time goes by. But check out these blogs, and see what you think!

P.S. I've also added a SiteMeter counter to this blog. I think. Maybe I didn't do it right. We'll see if anyone is actually visiting!

God is a dancer

I used to go out to a local dance club every weekend that I was not traveling somewhere. From 11:00 Saturday night until 2:00 Sunday morning I would be hovering on the edges of the dance floor, sometimes watching, sometimes dancing. It was part of a program of diet, exercise, and forced socialization that I was putting myself through.

I would usually start off the night at one of the three bars that stood on the outskirts of the dance floor. I would order three beers, usually Yuengling lagers, drink one of them as I stood there, and then walk off with the other two to be consumed within the next half-hour. This would be my allotment for the night, enough to produce a short-term buzz but not enough to cause inebriation - for me, anyway.

After finishing the beers, my normally powerful social inhibitions would start to drop temporarily, and I would find myself less afraid to actually get out onto the dance floor. Besides, standing around the outskirts of the dance floor without a beer or a cigarette in your hand you tend to look like a hyena watching a herd of okapi walk by - eyes filled with a mix of hunger, desire, and trepidation. Out on the dance floor, you become one of the dancers.

I never really considered myself one of the dancers. A dance club is a sort of temporary community. The same people tend to show up week after week. Relationships exist between them, and hierarchies of the dance floor spring up. I knew some of the regulars in an offhand way, but never knew their names - except for Lori, who had thoughtfully tattooed her name on her upper arm. There was Lori and her crew - Lori with a tongue stud, thick-soled saddle shoes, and, I would later find out from a mutual friend, severe diabetes and a very bad back. There was the little guy with the bright eyes and shaved head, who on my very first visit to the club invited and commanded me to dance as I stood twitching on the very edge of the floor - he would later become a regular D.J. there. Then there was Crazy Girl, with her Bride of Frankenstein hair, her reckless dancing, and her recognized and respected aura of unapproachability; and her friend Happy Girl, with a less rambunctious dance style and a Jane Krakowski-esque smile on her face at all times. In my eyes, Crazy Girl was the Queen, and the night did not begin until she and Happy Girl took to the floor.

There were others. I never really considered myself to be on their level. But, by virtue of my being on the dance floor, and my willingness to dance, I was one of them.

I loved the place. After a long week of doing the things that I do at work, it was pure pleasure to let the lights and the sounds and the dancing wash all the residue from my synapses, to let me face another week renewed and refreshed. To someone who has never been a part of the dance on the dance floor the throbbing beats and strobing lights may seem meaningless, but to a dancer, these stimuli reach deep into the brain and grab something primitive and fundamental. (The term I'm reaching for is "photic driving", but I can't find a good reliable reference for this online; finding one is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Some of the songs got to me. My favorite was a dance remix of Sneaker Pimps' "Spin Spin Sugar". But one night...

It was getting along late in the night, probably after 1:00 AM, and the dance was in its full frenzy: there would be no breaks, no pop-dance tunes to appeal to the General Public, nothing but pure solid dance until the closing "couples only" ballad played at 1:59. And a song began: "This is my church...This is where I heal my hurt..."

My brain was already in an altered state, and not just from the three beers I had consumed two hours earlier. Dancers perceive sounds and music differently from non-dancers, and for dancers with synesthesia, the experience is again something else. Lyrics tend to interfere with the direct visual appreciation of sound and sonic appreciation of vision, but sometimes the words insinuate themselves into the experience in a way that actually enhances it. My mind spun these words, almost in an act of hypnagogic woolgathering. In an hour I would be leaving for home, an hour after that I would be in bed, and six hours later I would be getting up to go to church with my grandmother at the chapel in the nursing home where she was still a patient (this was a few months before she died.) But, in a sense, this was my church, this was the place where I came to heal my hurt.

My brain was still spinning these webs of thought while the song played on, and I only caught one more line, and incorrectly at that: "Tonight, God is a D.J."

I've always had a hard time hearing lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics that I imagine for a song are more profound than the actual lyrics themselves (as I discovered when I read the lyrics to Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush" for the first time.) In this case, the misheard lyric was "Tonight, God is a dancer."

(The song, by the way, is "God Is A D.J." by the band Faithless - thank you, Google. Not to be confused with the more recent song of the same title by Pink.)

I know a little bit about the Hindu pantheon, and I know that one of the manifestations of Shiva is as a cosmic dancer, whose dance (I think) creates the cosmos. I don't remember if this thought entered my mind at the time.

Instead, what I saw in my momentary confabulation was this: God, in his Catholic/Christian manifestation as a big old guy, minus the triangular halo, having taken a spot among the dancers on the dance floor. I think I might have been thinking a little of Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" (with its moving but grammatically incorrect theme of "What if God was one of us?"). And then details took place: God's hair and beard were scraggly and unkempt. His face was weatherbeaten, and his limbs were long and lanky, and he stood a bit taller than most - say a Douglas Adams-ish six-and-a-half feet tall. He was dressed in a three-piece suit of a 1960's style and a shade of green midway between lime and moss, darkened with long use and threadbare in places. And he danced in an idiosyncratic style, raising each knee to his chest in a sort of exaggerated stork-walk, arms flailing all the while. (Hey, who am I to criticize the creator of all things on his personal appearance, fashion choices, or dance style?)

This was years before I had ever watched Kevin Smith's Dogma, in which God is seen (briefly) in the guise of an old homeless man, gazing out at the sun rising over the ocean from the boardwalk on the New Jersey shore while smiling and humming Beethoven's Ode To Joy. But I think the image is the same: not an angry, wrathful, or vengeful God who allows planes to crash into skyscrapers because a bunch of liberals and feminists and homosexuals have pissed him off, but a God who is pleased with his creation, and is still participating in it.

The image, of course, passed, though I kept it rolling around in my mind for a while, savoring its nuances. I don't know how this image squares with my personal religious beliefs. I don't particularly believe in a personified creator God, no single entity who sits in a throne with a big white beard and a triangular halo on his head. But if such a God does exist, I hope maybe sometimes he comes down to Earth and joins the dancers on the dance floor. There'll always be a spot for him there.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Look! Up in the sky!

When I was a little kid, the skies were much darker and you could see a lot more stars. This was for several reasons, but chiefly because there was a lot less light pollution back then. Also, my eyes were a lot better 25 or 30 years ago than they are now.

Some nights, stepping out of our car after coming back home from a visit to my grandmother's or a trip to the roller skating rink, I would arch my neck and look straight up into the sky. And some nights, I would see little moving lights among the stars. These usually moved from north to south or south to north, which seemed odd, because most planes (in my experience) flew from east to west or west to east. (We lived due west of an airport, and New York City was several hundred miles almost directly east of us.) My father explained to me that these might be high-altitude planes, or maybe satellites. (It seems likely that what I was seeing were satellites in polar orbits.) I was amazed that someone standing in the driveway of his house could just look up and see such a tiny thing so far away.

Now, the sky is practically littered with satellites. Satellite tracks ruin (or at least feature in) many modern astrophotos. During a fireworks-watching/stargazing session one 4th of July a few years ago on the rooftop deck of my friend's house in the Poconos, about a dozen of us were pointing out satellites to each other - more and more as our eyes adapted to the dark. Eventually I spotted a satellite in the very narrow field of view of my friend's high-powered telescope. The highlight of the night was a satellite that got brighter...and brighter...and brighter...until we were convinced we had just watched something explode. It turned out to be something else entirely.

With all these bright lights flitting overhead, it's a wonder that more people aren't reporting U.F.O. sightings. For most people, these would legitimately be Unidentified Flying Objects: they certainly don't know what they are, and probably have no way of finding out what they are.

But here's how you can. It's a great site called Heavens-Above.com. You just punch in your latitude and longitude (if you know them - and remember, if you live west of Greenwich, England, your longitude is negative), or simply look up your hometown or wherever on their site. Then you can get a listing of what satellites are visible in your sky, and when you can see them, and where exactly you have to look. I just watched the International Space Station fly through my northeastern sky, and the only reason I knew enough to look is because I had just stopped by Heavens-Above. Go visit there yourself, punch in your location, and find out what you can see!

And as Jack Horkheimer always says, "Remember, keep looking up!"

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Rosebush Revisited

Here's a photo I took this Sunday of the actual Royal Highness rosebush in my backyard, in full bloom (well, "first flush" anyway, about a week early). Note all the elements I removed from the image when I painted it with a slightly displaced Arbor Vitae back in March.

One weird thing: I mentioned that my painting was damaged when I applied a varnish that actually stripped away some of the paint, creating a splotch of white cloud in the upper left of the image. Compare that to the actual splotch of white cloud in the upper RIGHT of this photo, taken more than two months later. Coincidence, or something more? Nah, just a coincidence.


Photo of Royal Highness rosebush, 5/23/2004 Posted by Hello

The green paint on the garden swing was chosen to match a shade of green often used by Dutch artist Marjolein Bastin in her paintings, which are used in Hallmark's "Nature's Sketchbook" series.

Blogging note: In addition to dealing with computer problems and general laziness, my ability to post is now being impeded by the weather. Occasional titanic thunderstorms are forcing me to totally disconnect my computer almost every day during the key late afternoon and early evening blogging hours. But I'll post when I can.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A comment on comments

I was told by a friend of mine last night that my comments function was demanding that she enter a password to enter a comment. (This is my friend who is a teacher, mentioned in the "On friends and writing" post. See, now you've gotten TWO mentions!) I have no idea why the message "This blog does not allow anonymous comments" is appearing on the comment page - I DO allow anonymous comments. I think it has something to do with the template I'm using. Blogger says that some templates may be incomplete in the comments functionality, but they offer a fix, which I will try to apply as soon as I've finished the two CDs I'm mixing for my friend's wedding. After all, I don't want to risk frying my computer before I'm done with that!

In the meantime, you CAN post comments. Go in anonymously (ignore the man behind the curtain who says you can't leave an anonymous comment) and post - but please leave a name of some sort, so I can start linking voices and writing styles to individual commenters. The comment for the post will still show "0 Comments", but if you click on the Comments link, you will see your comment. You can also email me at databoyecho at America Online.

I managed to completely uninstall Norton SystemWorks 2004 from my PC as of this morning - and my first instinct was to try to reinstall it again. But I managed to wrestle myself to the ground and knock some sense into my fool skull. Which is a lot less than will happen to me if I let my friend down for her wedding!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I hate computers

At least, I hate them when they don't work right. I hate mine right now.

No post yesterday, because my computer went south Friday night as I trued to do a spell-check on the 3 Brix Shy post (luckily, I remembered my oath and saved the post as I went along). That turned into a series of failures, and a series of ham-handed attempts at repair...once I thought I had my system stable, I decided it was time to finally load Norton SystemWorks 2004. Big mistake.

Something went wrong during the install. Maybe I have a virus. Maybe it tried to load to a bad part of my hard drive. Whatever, the install worked only partially, but now between 99% and 100% of system resources were being chewed up by Norton. I tried an uninstall...after a few attempts, I got the computer clean and functional. Then, like an idiot, I tried to install again...

My obsessive nature, and my personal philosophy of "If at first you don't succeed, apply more force" meant that I went through this cycle several times, resulting in a non-functioning partly uninstalled program that keeps insisting I activate it within the next 15 days.

I'm trying a few solutions. I've gotten enough resources freed up to let me use the Internet. Maybe I need a new PC...I've had this one for 4 years, but it's a 1999 model. Not ready to give up yet though. I'll keep trying to fix it. I don't want to keep hating my computer...

Friday, May 21, 2004

3 Brix Shy

Two years ago this week, a local cover band took the stage for the very first time. They called themselves 3 Brix Shy, a name that was arrived at after a lengthy and exhaustive nomination process. Their bassist was a friend of mine from work, and their drummer had graduated from the same Physics program as me two years before me, and had gone on to become head of the Physics department at a smaller local college. The lead singer was a professional firefighter who played bagpipes on the side, and their lead guitarist looked and played like like he had come from one of the better 80's hair bands.

Their fifth member was a woman, a Junior in college, who was also an extremely talented guitarist and singer and who frequently (and excellently) took the lead in both areas. From the night that a drunken toothless hick (well, he might have had some teeth) declared "The Chick is GOOD!" at their second show, it was increasingly clear that she would be a major draw for turning casual male observers into fans. (Ladies take note: A woman who can sing and play guitar in a rock band is damn near the most irresistibly hot thing on Earth. And let me take this opportunity to declare that Liz Phair is one fine-lookin' woman.)

I liked their music and their style of playing and I became their first groupie, making a point of trying to go to every show I could. But after a while my poor social skills began to shine through, and I frequently found myself alone in a crowd, hulking in a corner table watching the band and only conversing with the band members, their spouses, and any other friends from work who had stopped by. I realized I needed something to make me feel more involved, while at the same time relieving me of the pressure of normal social interaction. And so I became the band's unofficial photographer.

The band had had a "fan cam" from their second show onwards, and had a website (now defunct) where they posted the pictures. I took off from this point, and with their blessing began taking photos of venues, fans, friends, and the band itself. I used three cameras, all of them cheap: a 35mm fixed-focus camera I had bought from Woolworth's in 1990 for $5.00, and two Kodak Advantix APS cameras (one expensive one with an impossible-to-use viewfinder, the other a cheaper version with a better viewfinder but which took lower-quality photos.)

After many months of my dancing around the crowds while snapping pictures, their lead guitarist offered to lend me his Canon EOS 35mm SLR camera for a show. I had never handled a "fancy" camera like this before, and it took me some time to figure out the rudimentary settings. I don't know if I got it quite right. I wasn't completely thrilled with the end results, which tended to be sharper and harsher-looking than the photos taken with my cheaper cameras. The flash was very powerful, too, and this tended to make the pictures look like the band had been playing in a room with all the lights turned on. Their spotlights and colored lights were rendered invisible, and the flash punched right through the clouds of smoke that poured out of the on-stage smoke machines as well as the human smoke-generators in the crowd.

But then I made a mistake. Some combination of settings - or maybe I simply tried to take two pictures in succession too quickly - resulted in a picture taken with no flash at all and a shutter that stayed open until it had sucked in its fill of photons.

That was a good picture. The band is blurred, the colors rich, and the effect looks intentional. Later I saw a picture in CMJ magazine that looked very similar to this one, but I realized that that picture was probably taken intentionally by someone who knew what they were doing, while my picture was taken accidentally by someone who didn't.

I dressed up the photo a little by applying an Extensis CameraEdge PhotoFrame using the Adobe PhotoDeluxe software that came bundled with my scanner, but I think that was the only processing I did to this picture.


3 Brix Shy accidental art, February 2003 Posted by Hello

The band broke up last August, and I videotaped the final show and had it transferred to DVD. Maybe someday they'll get back together in some configuration. But for now I have that DVD, a stack of photos, and memories of some good times and great music.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Rock of Cashel

I've only been outside of the United States twice, and both times it was to the same place.

I have a friend who lives in the south of Ireland, in County Cork. Ireland is a beautiful place. Where in America you might see the occasional vacant storefront or burned-out house, in Ireland you are just as likely to run into a ruined cathedral or a the shell of a house that has stood vacant for hundreds of years. Some castles are celebrated and venerated and set up as tourist attractions. The Rock of Cashel, in County Tipperary, is one of these.

We tried to visit the Rock of Cashel during my last trip to Ireland, but unfortunately the Irish tourist industry has not yet learned how to squeeze every possible euro out of money-laden tourists, and doesn't see the need to keep many tourist attractions open past, say, 5:00 in the afternoon. Actually, this isn't just a problem with the tourist industry; most businesses in Ireland close at 5:00 or 6:00, even in major cities like Cork and Dublin. Some shops have late-night hours one or two nights a week, staying open until 8:00 at night.

So, after racing from a visit to the gift shop across the street from Cahir Castle, where we had been buying whoopee cushions and fake cigarettes for my friend's daughter Ciara and her friend Ria to use the next day, April Fool's Day (for some reason most gift shops have a huge section dedicated to gag items, like rubber poo and soap that turns your hands black - this particular item was available at a gift shop near a monastery, and must have given the monks no end of laughs) to get to the Rock of Cashel, we discovered that we had arrived just a few minutes after closing time.

Well, darnit, we had come so far, and at least fate had decreed that we could keep our fast-disappearing euros rather than pour them out for a little "historical interpretation", as the guided tours are called. The sun was sinking behind the castle, and I decided to snap off a few quick photos with my Kodak Advantix APS camera.

(The whoopee cushion, sadly, did not survive until April Fool's Day, but instead saw such a workout back at my friend's house that it finally gave up the ghost. But its manner of death was a beautiful swan song of simulated flatulence ending in a powerful explosion, and we rolled on the floor as we recounted the fateful final sitting-upon to Ria's father later that night.)

A few months ago, when I was playing around with acrylics for the first time, I decided to try painting from a photograph. I chose one of the simplest pictures I could find: the high-contrast shot of the Rock of Cashel. The picture is dominated by just a few colors: black, white, some shades of gray, and two shades of blue. I realized that this would also be an opportunity to try out the technique of the limited palette, to paint a picture using the smallest number of colors. In addition to the colors listed, I also used water (to achieve the watercolor effects in the sky and clouds) and acrylic thinning gel (to allow me to cover more territory more easily in the black lower half of the painting.)

I messed up the perspective a lot. The curvature you see in the photo is almost completely lost in the painting. The buildings themselves look chunky and childish, and only approximate the shapes and positions of their counterparts in the photo. The sky I quite like, although the clouds are a bit of a cheat: I painted in the blue sky in-between the clouds, but let the titanium white primer on the canvas serve as the white of the clouds. I think I could have gotten away with a single shade of blue, thinned and mixed with a touch of thinned black where necessary.

Well, there you go. And in case you don't realize it, you can click on the thumbnail images to open larger, more detailed versions of the painting and the photo. I hope you enjoy them!

Rock of Cashel, painted March 20, 2004 Posted by Hello

Rock of Cashel, photographed March 31, 2003 Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

One small correction

I finally figured out yesterday how to fix the date and time on my posts. It turns out that the automatic stamp indicates the date and time you started the post, not when you completed it. This only bugged me on the "A little bit about me" post, which ended with me going off to meet some friends for sushi. This was a Saturday night thing, not Friday night, which is why in Sunday's post I began with "Over sushi last night...". I've adjusted the date and time to be approximately correct.

Yay. Now all is right with the world again, and I can take out the garbage tonight with a settled mind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Stress and blogger's block

I had a stressful day at work today. I have quite a few things I want to write posts on, but I find that I'm experiencing a sort of blogger's block, in which the events that I've just been through are pushing the things that I want to write about to the back of my head.

We've just entered our busy season at work. These seasons change every year, so there's no way to predict them, but generally the nicer the weather is, the more urgent the projects are. We've been through some long dry spells with work - months or, some might argue, years long - but with us it's drought or deluge. And right now, it's deluge.

I won't tell you what I do, not just yet. I'll save that for some other post. I enjoy what I do, but sometimes...Sometimes I wish they would fire me for my own good, so that I would be forced to actually use my talents and education or so that I could realize that my talents and education are a bit stale and I need to go back to school for some educatin'. But once I had a dream that they did just that, and it sucked. I realized I liked what I do, I'm good at what I do, and the pay is enough to keep myself and the people around me comfortable, with a significant savings for retirement and other future expenses.

So I work. I deal with people who are uncooperative or make unreasonable demands, inadequate resources and unrealistic expectations, and the Dilbert-level corporate stupidity - just like millions of other people around the world. So what am I whining about?

I'm not just whining for myself. Oppressed people of the business world, I whine for you. Your plight is my plight. Cast off your shackles and start your own blogs. Let the world know who you are, and where your blog is located. Encourage them to post comments. (By the way, I just discovered that my comments have been set to "members-only", and I think I was the only recognized member. Whoops. Sorry.)

I promise I'll write stuff soon that isn't just reflective moaning. Two-Fisted Gardening Tales. A discussion of an amazing book by two amazing authors and its long-term impact. A reminiscence about the Triple Conjunction of 1981 and what it meant to me. A few more acrylic paintings, and some digital paintings. And yes, eventually some political rantings.

But not right now. Now I'm tired and want to go to bed.

Monday, May 17, 2004

I, (state your name), do solemnly swear...

...to always save my posts as I go along. Starting now.

I was working on a post that was as long and rambling as a label on a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. It was actually a combination of three ideas: a post about the influence that British TV and radio had on me as a pre-adolescent, a post about the cacophony of events in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that helped to lay the groundwork for the person I have become, and a post about the sheer number of cranks and crackpots out there who have put a lot of effort into creating very elaborate websites, and have muddied the pool of knowledge and information on the Internet (and made researching the previous two proto-posts virtually impossible) by dumping in random data sewage by the tanker load.

I was working on this, when my Internet Explorer crapped out. Twice. After the first time, I started this post. It crapped out the second time just before I could hit the “Save Draft” button. So now I’m writing this in Word. I hope I can bring it over without too much fuss.

Maybe the universe is trying to tell me I shouldn’t be doing this right now, and instead I should be compiling songs from a stack of CDs into a mix disc to play between bands at a friend's wedding, which is coming up in three weeks. Yes, that seems reasonable. That, or maybe I should finally hunker down and install my new copy of Norton SystemWorks now. Eh, I’ll go for the CD. Less like work!

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Two seconds

This picture is the second time I painted on canvas with acrylics, and the second picture I have tried to post to my blog.

This painting was made thirteen days after my first rosebush painting, after a late-season snowfall. By this time I had studied a little about acrylics and painting, and I am quite proud of the shadow effects that I achieved by incorporating some of the colors of the sky and the shadowed objects into the shadow color. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the warnings about using too much water when using acrylics in the "watercolor mode". By thinning the paint with water you can create a transparent wash with many of the same characteristics as a watercolor (which I knew little about, since I hadn't used watercolors since high school.) Unfortunately, the water can also break down the binder that holds the paint - little particles of plastic bound in a water-based medium - together. So the nifty hard edges on the soft clouds and snowdrifts came at a price, a price which was paid when I decided to protect the painting from the ravages of my gallery/kitchen where it was on display by coating it with a layer of varnish - which acted almost like a thinner and smeared the image with each stroke. After the initial shock wore off, I worked around this problem by dabbing on the varnish straight-on with as little side-to-side motion as possible. The damage can be seen in the left center top edge, where a lone white cloud floats unnaturally - actually the titanium white primer showing through where the sky had been ripped away.

One note: Comparing this painting to the previous post will show that the mountains on the horizon are nearly identical in shape and placement. This is weird because these mountains do not actually exist. The background of this painting should include a garden swing frame (minus the swing), a garden shed (the swing was in here), clothespoles, a chainlink fence, a hedge of arbor vitae (one of which I have pruned and pressed into service for this painting), and my neighbor's orange-brick house. I removed most of these elements partly for artistic reasons, and partly because I'm lazy and didn't want to try to squeeze them all into what was essentially a painting of a rosebush in the snow.


Rosebush and Evergreen, March 20, 2004 Posted by Hello

Two firsts

This picture represents two firsts: my first painting on a canvas with acrylics, and my first attempt to post a picture to my blog. The painting is of a rosebush in my backyard in the waning days of winter, during a brief thaw that melted the snow for the first time since the beginning of the year. I painted this at night, without using the actual rosebush as a model, instead working from memory. The rosebush is a Royal Highness, which I bought years ago for about $7.98 from a chain hardware/houseware store (I think it was a Triangle, but I'm not sure.) It was a scraggly thing that spent two years in a giant pot, but eventually it became strong enough that I was willing to plant it directly in the soil. A few years later it is a gigantic bush, well over six feet tall and very wide. Every year it is covered with hundreds of pink roses, and in the fall the tips of the branches become swollen and develop the pods called rose hips, which sometimes turn bright red and have a delicious tart flavor (and are rich in Vitamin C.) Last summer was very wet, and for some reason the hips turned dark very quickly. I left them on the bush all winter. They are the knobs you see at the end of the branches.

I must confess that I used craft paint for some of the color in the sky - sky-blue craft paint blended with titanium white as the sky nears the horizon. But, hey, why not? Ain't no art police gonna come knocking down my door, right? Well, maybe...

I got the grass exactly wrong. The next morning, as I compared my picture drawn from memory to the actual scene, I noticed that the grass was greenest near the circle of stones around the bush, and yellowish everywhere else. Oh, well.


Royal Highness with Hips, March 7, 2004 Posted by Hello

On friends and writing

Over sushi last night I mentioned to my friends that I had just started a blog.

"What's that?" they asked.

"Er...It's short for a web log, a sort of daily online diary...well, it doesn't have to be daily, and...it's like a sort of editorial page that you create for yourself, where you can post your thoughts, opinions, whatever." I had forgotten that not everyone of my advanced years is as hip and with-it as I am, and that people from my own peer group might not be aware of something I've been fascinated by for two years.

My friends are very important to me. I have friends who are engineers, teachers, college professors, students, writers, musicians, analysts for the State Department, cops who have worked with the FBI, ex-Marines, and former Peace Corps volunteers. They travel to places and have adventures and then come home and tell me about them, and I add the experiences that they have related to me to my own store of knowledge and experience. Many of the people I am closest to I met in college, a few date from my high school days and before, and some are people I have met through friends - starting out as provisional friend-of-a-friends, but eventually blooming into full-fledged direct and personal friends.

I have a few friends who are excellent writers but who, for the most part, have gone unpublished. This is not for a lack of talent on their parts, but generally due to an unfavorable alignment of publishers' desires and agents' efforts. After several years of this I suppose it gets a bit disheartening.

Once upon a time I dreamed of becoming a writer myself, but three realities intervened:

One was the realization that writing, for most writers, pays very little, and money is a fairly important and necessary thing.

The second is the fact that I'm not a very good writer, and I tend to lapse into the bloated, pompous style that I'm inflicting on you right now. With some effort I can "Whittakerize" my writing (a ruthless form of self-editing and sentence reconstruction named after my old Logical and Rhetorical Analysis professor, who would thoroughly tear apart our writing assignments until we learned how to preemptively tear them apart ourselves), but this results in a style that is sharp and crystalline and far from my own internal voice.

The third is something I read in Gene Wolfe's collection of essays and short stories, The Castle Of The Otter: a writer is someone who cannot not write, who writes every day because they have to or they will burst. If you can get along with not writing, you are probably not really a writer, and you should go happily along your way with the knowledge that you have just dodged a bullet. (I don't think he put it that way, but like both of my copies of The Salmon Of Doubt I have temporarily mislaid this book, probably under a pile of dozens of other books I have bought since I bought this one.)

The neat thing is, I have been writing every day since I started this blog. I won't pretend that that makes me a writer - as far as I'm concerned, I'm just vomiting words onto the keyboard - but the reality is, I'm writing, and my writing is getting out there. No agents, no editors, and no publishers to deal with. Quite possibly no readers, either, but that may change in time. I have contacted three bloggers whose blogs I like and have been posting comments to for a while, and have invited them over to have a look around. I have also been telling friends about this, so they may stop by, and maybe I'll get some visitors the way that most blogs get visitors. But I think I'll also contact my frustrated writer friends and suggest that they start blogs of their own as a way of getting their writing out there. It will give me an opportunity to read their writing again, and it will be a lot less expensive than my Plan A, which was to arrange publication of their books myself. Now, if I can just find their e-mail addresses...

(Erratum: I originally spelled Gene Wolfe's name incorrectly. Sorry.)

Saturday, May 15, 2004

A little bit about me

Let me tell you a little bit about myself, so you might have some small inkling of who is writing this blog. (I sense that this posting will be extensively edited and rewritten until I am happy with it.)

I am an ascetic hedonist. I believe that the simple pleasures of life should be enjoyed to the point of wretched excess.

I try to be virtuous, temperate, and industrious, yet at various times I am the embodiment of five of the Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth, Gluttony, Wrath (more a sort of Mr. Furious impotent rage), Pride, and Lust. Greed and Envy usually aren't a problem for me, although I have a strange trait of being excessively miserly with myself and excessively generous with others. This is actually because money frightens and confuses me, and this is the way this fear and confusion express themselves.

I have a mild touch of synesthesia. This is a cross-wiring condition in the brain that causes the inputs of one sense to be experienced through another. For me it's usually a case of visual stimuli having a musical component. I can "hear" a sunrise or sunset as a chorus. It works in reverse, too...music can generate images in my mind's eye, especially during the periods of going into or coming out of sleep. (Coldplay's "Clocks" has a strong visual component: a large wheel, like a roulette wheel, with a rotational period equal to the repitition period of the opening piano notes.) This results in some careful self-editing of verbal descriptions that I give to other people - I need to phrase what I see in terms they can understand. I think a lot of people actually experience this and just don't talk about it.

I also suffer somewhat from Prosopagnosia. This is a condition also known as "face-blindness". I can't remember major specific details of a person's face. If they have huge scars, or bad teeth, or an enormous, misshapen nose, I can remember that no problem, but otherwise my recollection of faces is "He has a head shaped like an apple...with a chin...two eyes...brown hair, or maybe blonde...." Any description I can give is usually a record of imperfections. I have never been able to draw specific faces...general faces, yes, I can construct a face wholly out of imagination, but don't ask me to sketch your face, or you'll wind up with something generic and abstract, or something technically similar to your face, but lacking in humanity. I can usually recognize people in specific situations (work friends at work, friends in their own houses, friends of friends because of the people they associate with), but in the wild, I can sail right past a friend without recognizing them, or (more frighteningly) think I've made a "match" with a friend's face when in fact I'm looking at a total stranger. Surprisingly, I can often recognize people based on their hair color and style. I usually tell people that I have a very small memory buffer, and it fills up from the top down, so by the time I reach the face, it's full. For some reason, this condition also affects my ability to recognize cars. Good thing we have license plates.

I am also somewhat dyslexic, particularly with numbers, although this usually comes into play when I am tired or stressed. A lot of other people I know have the same problem to varying degrees. Most of them, however, didn't major in Physics in college or have a series of jobs that deal extensively with numbers!

I actually double-majored in Physics and Philosophy in college, at a Jesuit University where such a thing was possible. After college I went into a graduate program in Physics, which I almost immediately washed out of. This was the first major failure of my life, and one of the most painful things I've ever gone through. Maybe I'll tell you all about it sometime.

Politically I am a registered Independent, but in practice am a Liberal. What exactly this means I haven't yet decided. I'm not willing to grant Conservatives the right to define what a Liberal is. I also have pretty strong views about the Bush administration, which you'll certainly be hearing about eventually.

Religiously I am a Jesuit-trained semi-agnostic lapsed Catholic. I might add junior-level Taoist and (I have been told) Deist to that list. I was raised a Roman Catholic and still attend mass weekly at the chapel of the nursing home where my grandmother lived out her last years. But I have strong issues with some of the proclamations and positions stated recently by the bishops, allegedly by the pope, and by various scholars. I learned a bit about Taoism in college and have always recognized resonances within myself. I just looked up Deism for the first time ever a few minutes ago. After I described my personal beliefs during a late-night bull session with some friends last year, one of them pointed out to me that I was describing Deism. I knew that many of the American Founding Fathers were Deists (and not the Christians zealots that many modern-day Christian zealots try to portray them as), so maybe I'm among good company.

In appearance I am big. I'm short for my weight, which through extrapolation from actuarial tables would indicate that my weight is optimal for a height of something like 9'3". I have lost weight in the past through a disciplined program of diet and exercise, but lately I just haven't felt like putting in the effort. Maybe I will start it up again, sometime soon. I'm also broad-shouldered, which comes in handy when you need to block a doorway. I'm seriously big-boned, with a thick skull that can probably split yours open like a melon, buster. Which is all pretty funny in that I drive the smallest car Toyota produced 8 years ago, while tiny people around me feel the need to compensate for their private shortcomings by driving gas-guzzling Sheik's Delights.

Well, that's that. Off to meet some friends for sushi. Talk to you later!

Friday, May 14, 2004

Another monkey with a blog!

We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.
Robert Wilensky 1951- : in Mail on Sunday 16 February 1997

This citation is from the Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I can't remember where I first heard the quote, but for some reason I think it was in The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams's final book. (Yes, I know there's a reference to an infinite number of monkeys that have worked out a script for Hamlet in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but that isn't it.)

In case you're wondering, this is where I got the idea to call my blog "Another Monkey". The name also had a little to do with the Barenaked Ladies song "Another Postcard", which I found myself occasionally mis-singing as "Another monkey, of...chimpanzees..." It had very little to do with the myth of the Hundredth Monkey, although I seem to remember that there was a column in the old National Lampoon (by Matty Simmons, maybe?) by that name.

I'm just another monkey banging out a blog. I finally decided to create my own, after about two years kibitzing on other people's blogs. Rather than borrow time on their soapboxes, I've gotten one of my own.

So now that I have it, what will I do with it? I'm not quite sure. Certainly I'll use it to spout off my opinions on society, politics, religion, books, movies, whatever. Many of these will be half-cocked, and more than a few will be half-baked.

Will I use it to kvetch about work, family, and friends? I don't know. There's always a desire to show off what you've created to those closest to you, so I think I'll be fairly circumspect about what I say about them...unless, of course, they really, really deserve it.

So, anyway, that's about it for the first entry. I'll tell you more about myself as time goes by. For now, maybe I'll just fiddle with the template a bit and see what I can do to make the appearance more pleasing to me.