Thursday, January 22, 2009

Still Alive

I have been writing, lately. But I feel like I have been writing the same thing over and over again, and the thing I have been writing has not been particularly interesting. So until I have an idea with some (albeit small, I have few enough illusions on that count) degree of originality, I'm forbearing from posting. I would not want to become that crazy emo whiner who writes the same immature poem over and over, with slightly different cadence (second verse same as the first a little bit louder a little bit worse).

However, things have been happening. (Happening!)

First (and most interesting): I went to the Jonathan Coulton Concert, which was amazing. I had a ton of fun, I ran into Yitz and some other Chicago people there. It was awesome! And JoCo (and Paul and Storm) signed my Half-Pony Half-Monkey Monster. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera and Yitz only had his cameraphone, so photographs are blurry. This one is my favorite:

Second: Saturday is the Edwardian Ball. I am working on my headpiece for the costume; the rest I scrounged up. So it is not as cool as potentially could be, but it's something, and it's already paid for, and it allows me to go to the Ball with impunity and observe the costumes there for ideas for next year. Krystal and Ruth are pretty much demanding photos, so I am borrowing a camera this time and they will be forthcoming. Hopefully the social dancing there will be in part swing (or salsa), since I am not terrible at those. Or (and perhaps moreso) hopefully someone there will be willing to give me a crash course in waltzing. After all, I cannot be 22 and not know how to waltz.

Third: My friends here are all into the dressing-up-sexily-and-going-to-dance-parties scene. Which is not really my scene, or has not been in the past. I am trying to get them into the costumes-and-doing-wacky-stunts scene, which is much more my kind of scene. But so far it has been wacky-stunts-when-Elizabeth-demands-and-otherwise-not. Caltrain dance is turning into something halfway in between (in part due to the choice of "Bye Bye Bye" as the song). But, you know, I have to be willing to meet them halfway. And choreography for that is... well... it's almost coming. I know half of one verse, and Krystal knows two thirds of that. So I should work on that, or put more energy into it, if I want it to actually happen. Otherwise, it'll be events like "Scantily clad night" and "Stoplight party", and Elizabeth feeling awkward in a little scrap of clothing while everyone else gets hit on by random (or not so random?) guys. And since I apparently have little or no choice in those two events anyway, I need to find outfits for them. Scantily clad night, of course, seems to be more "popping out of our attire night" than the former, so that will be much easier said than done for someone with as few curves as myself.

Fourth: Week two of Stanford Aerial Fabrics was much better than week one of Stanford Aerial Fabrics. I am basically playing TA, which is okay with me, and I was able to mess around a little bit at the end (and I sprinkled a few fun tricks throughout when no one else wanted to climb). And at San Fransisco Aerial Fabrics, I was informed that I could probably do five pull-ups all by myself. I am still dubious, but part of me is now eager to try. It's been so long since I could do more than one, and that with swinging to make it easier. But I am also stronger than I've been in a while. In other news, I can do a wheel-down now with some degree of smoothness! It's this move. Of course, I'm still slow, because doing it smoothly and quickly requires huge amounts of core strength and body control (you have to stay perfectly straight + hollow while pivoting around your waist). But Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time I was able to do it without being totally terrible. I need to get another leotard; that trick has a wonderful way of getting any shirt you wear stuck in it. Hooray!

Fifth: Rock climbing is more fun when you try to do routes; without that it presents not nearly the challenge of otherwise. On the other hand, routes tend to be designed with 6 foot guys in mind, and not five-foot girls. Which makes reaching things much more difficult. No, challenging.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Escapism in Literature

This is a response to an ongoing discussion on Duff's blog about fantastical literature and television and why we like it better (in exclusion of?) realistic stuff.

I can see two reasons for this, one personal and one artistic (aesthetic?). Personally, I spend all day reading papers that endeavor to precisely and accurately describe the workings of the world around us. I find some of them fascinating and exciting and wonderful, for their ideas and (very occasionally) for their precise style. Mostly for their ideas, though. I look at the world around me through a biologist's lens, and specifically through a geneticist's lens, and that's okay. It's better than okay. When I read fiction, (and when I write fiction), however, I do not do it to understand the world around me or express my views thereupon. At least, not with precision and accuracy. For me, that's what science does, what (good) anthropology does, what sociology does. But more and more, that's what science does. [Aside: There's a great line from Stoppard's latest play, where an aging Communist is going on about materialism and physicalism and the fact that we're all just very comlex automata, that we are our bodies, and his wife (who is dying of cancer) yells at him that her body is killing her and she needs to believe that there is more. She demands that he love her with something more than the body-as-mind-as-machine, and he replies, "But that's all that I have." Which pretty much just sums it up.] But basically, all day every day I strive for accuracy, and in my free time and in my recreation I want, instead, hyperbole. (And if it's hyperbole we're going for, then Duff's comment that Austen somehow gets around his need for fantasy makes sense to me.)

The second reason is a more aesthetic choice on my part, because I agree that, to a certain extent, elements of the fantastic, or the hyperbolic, are in most of the works of fiction I would describe as the "best" works of fiction. I think that if we want something that accurately and precisely details real-life situations, it behooves us to read nonfiction. After all, the most accurate fascimiles of real-life are going to be straight-up nonfiction accounts. Memoirs and autobiographies, perhaps, in order to get into the emotional state of the main character. Point being that the strength of fiction is that you can describe things that never happened -- and hence things that could not, ever, happen. Every single work of fiction, when it really comes down to it, no matter how realistic, is, at base, a fantasy. Someone dreamed it up. And as such, I appreciate works of fiction that embrace this fact and turn it to their strength -- works of fiction that use the ability for hyperbole and fantastical elements, those which put themselves into the world of this-could-never-happen from the world of this-never-happened, and those which force us to look at the world we live in differently because of the fantasy and hyperbole they employ. I could go on all day about examples, because there are thousands upon thousands. One of my favorites, though (and the one that comes to mind immediately) is what Rushdie does in "The Enchantress of Florence". There is one thread of fantasy that runs through the story, and it is the magic of storytelling and creation. Through the hyperbole -- the Mughal Emperor creates two wives, one through his imagination alone and one through his imagination with the help of a storyteller -- we are forced to look at storytelling and creativity in a different way, and through the potency of the second wife (who becomes a part of the collective imagination and not just that of the Emperor) we are forced to think about the physical power of ideas. Sure, someone could write (most likely has written) an essay or a non-fiction account about the power of ideas and the act of creativity as creation (and in terms of realistic fiction with this theme, I could make an argument for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe" I think?), but with the hyperbole -- the emperor actually creates a /physical human being/ out of his imagination -- it stands in stronger contrast, and whereas "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe" left me with the feeling that this ability of humans to latch onto an idea and make it true (or as true as it can get) is a weakness that feeds into our need for societal approbation and our hypocrisy: that creation through ideas is essentially false and we are weak for falling for it; "The Enchantress of Florence" left me with the feeling that creativity was humankind's greatest strength. (Of course, that might very well have absolutely nothing to do with the form and absolutely everything to do with the writers.)

One final thing that Duff said -- "Yet for some reason, when I open the pages of some literary review, all the novels the critics rave about are precisely [realist works]. I think it has to do with the existential and narcissistic glorification of those critics, as they are reading about themselves."

I think you maybe have a point, but even if that is the case it is not the whole story. No critic would say that the authors you named are less than stellar. Nor would they say that about any one of a number of other truly fantastical writers. "Time Traveller's Wife" is a good example of a critically acclaimed new book that was deeply fantastical at base. As is Rushdie's latest, as is "The Adventures of Kavaleir and Klay" (sp?). On television, "Pushing Daisies" is hugely critically acclaimed -- but people aren't watching it, and so it is being cancelled. Critics are treating graphic novels with respect these days, and so saying that fantastical literature is not being taken seriously is I think somewhat disingenuous. It is entirely possible, instead, that the predominance of critically acclaimed realist versus fantastical literature has as much to do with what is being published, and what is being written, as what is being critiqued. Perhaps there is just more realist literature than fantastical, and as a result more good realist literature and more critically acclaimed realist literature.

Treasure (Scavenger) Hunt!

So I'm tipsy and keyed up and incapable of sleep for a little while longer, after just about twelve hours of planning for and seeing out my treasure hunt party. If I do say so myself, it went splendidly. Chlymate, the god of California Weather, smiled down upon the proceedings; it was something like 70 degrees and sunny out today, which was wonderful. It was also convenient since we were almost all outside, and it ended up taking about twice as long as I thought it would. A good time was had by all, however, so I cannot complain by any means. Highlights:

1) Unrelated, but the check-out guy at the grocery store this morning read my name off of my receipt (which I am still not used to, and it really disconcerts me, but I think they're instructed to do so for everyone with the special discount card -- I knew I should not have gotten it) and commented that it was both good and Irish. My response (standard in said situations): "Yeah, it'd be even better if I were Irish."

2) Waiting for people to show at the second location; we (Biff and I) knew people were at the first, having seen them go there. But no one was showing up. So we called them, and they said they were waiting for us. Us: "We're not going there. There's a clue in the vicinity."

Some thirty seconds later, there's a huge stampede of people. Apparently they all ran en masse into the library, cracking the librarian up. I can only imagine.

3) Discovering that the last clue, to a bus route, was impossible: either the bus route does not exist or it does not run on weekends. I had to go to the library, print off a hastily worded and poorly thought out clue, and substitute it in for the final clue for every team, all the while hoping that no one saw me so I wouldn't give away the location of any of the clues.

4) The text messages I received from Alex (L.) about the clues: "Is this supposed to be possible?" and "[That] was a great clue."

5) Running into The A Team (eventual winners) just after they had figured out possibly the hardest clue in the hunt, and running with them to the location.

6) Accidentally calling Alex K. when I meant to call Alex L. to give a hint. Me: "I hear you need an origin." Him: "What?" Me: "What clue are you on?" Him: "Clue? What?" Me: "Oh, shit. I'm sorry. I have the wrong Alex." There are three Alexes in my phone book; it gets confusing. This is made only more awkward by the fact that even when I figured out I had the wrong Alex, I was not certain which wrong Alex I had. Oops.

7) Their apparent reaction to one clue, which was about 2 stories up on a wall: "Could Elizabeth climb that? Of course Elizabeth could climb that. But would she expect us to?" I didn't; there were stairs right behind it. And even if I likely could climb it, I would not have wanted to.

8) The look on everyone's face when they saw the (ghetto) trophy I had made this afternoon, complete with lemonade-jug top, tinfoil covering, and hand inscription of their names (I added that part after I found out who won, of course).

9) How close it ended up being. It all came down, in the end, to the last clue. While not great for certain reasons (such as the fact that the clue was both too obvious and too vague), it was great for competition's sake. Up until the last clue, I thought for sure The Red Team (the Geneticists) were going to win. They were way ahead. But they couldn't find the last clue, which allowed them to be overtaken by The A Team (half of the Biochemists).

I think I'd like to take part in one of these; to be honest, while I greatly enjoyed planning it and putting it on, I think the excitement of figuring out the clues and the competitive aspect of it would be really fun too. Then again, that means someone else would have to organize it. I hope I can trust Alex L. to do so -- he said he wanted to start thinking of clues. The best situation, of course, would be to organize some and participate in some. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Next extravaganza: Choreographed Dance at the Caltrain Station. I'm making this my baby, although arguably the next extravaganza I'm attending is either the JoCo concert next week or the Edwardian Ball in two weeks. There are also other plans that will likely come to fruition before the Caltrain Dance, but it's the next on my horizon because it will take more energy and more organization. After all, we need as many people as possible, as well as a couple rehearsals so people know what they're doing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I'm Sorry, Chicago,

But San Francisco is my new favorite city ever.

You would still be in the running if you had something like this to spice up the mid-winter doldrums: I mean, You actually have midwinter doldrums badly in need of spicing. But do You warm up with a ridiculously wonderful celebration of costume, music, art, dance, steampunk, and circus? Not as far as I know.

Now if I could only convince my cohort to dress up, and buy tickets, and accompany me, it would be awesome! I am loath to take the Caltrain late at night, alone, in faux-victorian garb. Although I will if I have to.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Inspired by It's four A.M. and I have work tomorrow but I have friends in Palo Alto and Playing Rock Band > Sleeping. I can almost do drums now!
“Have you looked at problem two?” Shelley asked.

“That’s easy,” Joanna chirped. “You just have to remember to account for phase; but otherwise it’s a simple pedigree.”

Shelley paused and stared at the eye-crossingly complicated pedigree. “What?” Joanna opened her mouth again, but Shelley held up a finger. “Last week you were as bad at this as me. Have you done nothing but study?”

“Oh. Er. I slept with the TA.”

“You cheated?”

“No, just slept with him. We didn’t talk science.”

Shelley blinked. “I was… unaware that’s how it worked.”

“Really? Huh. That’s how it’s always been for me.”

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Adrenaline Rush

Inspired by the word "Yegg", which means a safe-cracker. The continuation of the story would be, they hide, are not found, and steal nothing. I would have included that but I haven't figured out how they hide yet and it would likely have pushed it over 100 words.
“You said we wouldn’t be doing anything illegal!”

“I never said that. I said we wouldn’t be doing anything we couldn’t reasonably explain to the police.”

I stared at him. “And how would you reasonably explain this?” An alarm went off. “Because it appears you’ll get your chance.”

“I needed to get something out of the vault,” he answered calmly, and there was a crack as the lock broke and the door swung open on well oiled hinges. He stepped inside. “Calm down and get in here.”

He grinned winningly. “Life’s no fun without a bit of excitement,” he said.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Honesty and a good opening sentence

I have not been writing drabbles, because I have been playing Final Fantasy VII and revising my November's novel. This has taken up all of my time. Or at least, close to it. The rest has been taken up with wondering why I bother revising if I'm just writing for myself, and in fact why I bother posting anything online if I'm just writing for myself, and with the question of whether anyone can truly "just write for themselves" or if the very act of writing something down implies an audience. None of it matters, not really, but it's an interesting question and has got me thinking. Because the fact of the matter is that if I am posting things online, I must want people to read them. But I am too averse to self-promotion to advertise to my friends "Go here! Read this! I wrote it in November and I am proud!" and as such I feel like what I really want out of the internet is not simply a place where people will read, but where people will read anonymously. My acquaintances will not judge me for writing fluff if they never see the fluff that I write. Meanwhile someone, at least, is reading it. Hopefully. And my friends, well, my friends know me well enough to forgive my tendency to revel in fluff. Hopefully.

Also, a carton of schoolbooks finally found its way here from Chicago, so I am reunited with my Durkheim. Let the collective effervescence begin? (Weber was in the first batch, and I think I gave Marx away. I could make some comment here about the importance of the Protestant Ethic in getting through graduate school, and the importance of free sharing in Communism, but I won't. So there.)

And a drabble, because, well, I wrote one. Inspired by the word "Xanthous".

Suzie was not a coward. It wasn’t cowardly to know which battles could be won and which couldn’t. It wasn’t cowardly to choose your fights.

It wasn’t even cowardly, her mother had told her, to be frightened, and to scream, when the threat warranted. And Suzie was not frightened, and she hadn’t screamed.

“This isn’t something I’ll fight.”

“You’d rather just give up?”

“I’d rather move on. I’m leaving.”

“You can’t just leave because she said some nasty things!”

“I can’t just listen to her either!”

“She’d back down if you stood your ground.”

“I can’t,” Suzie said, and left.