Wednesday, April 30, 2003

White Nights - David Allee's photographs use long exposures and ambient, but artificial, light to show us a bizarre nighttime world.
Good news. Makes me proud to be a Missourian.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Scientific American on synesthesia - There have been stories about synesthetes going around for years. People who hear blue, or taste "soft". But the phenomenon's just subjective enough that some folks still discount it. Now a pair of professors at the University of California at San Diego have proved it to be real, and learned some interesting stuff about how the brain works in the process.
I've got a question for my female readers. Both of you.

Last Sunday, I went to rent a movie and struck up a conversation with a fellow movie buff. Now, if you take two movie lovers and turn them loose in a video store, even a bad one, they'll have fuel for hours of conversation, potentially, but we really only did the "Have you seen this? Well, what about this?" thing for 20 or 30 minutes. But it was a good, wide-ranging conversation, and I walked away from it with that nice buzz that comes from talking to an intelligent, attractive woman.

I get home on Wednesday, and there's a message on my answering machine from her, asking if I wanted to go out sometime. How'd she get my number? It can't have been hard. She asked me my last name, and I gave it, and, well, I am in the book, though there are two listings with my name.

I didn't call back that night because I had an arm full of outdoor electrical fixtures I wanted to get installed while I still had the daylight to do it. The next night I ended up on the phone all night with other folks. Then I went out of town, didn't get back till late on Sunday. Last night I had a migraine. Tonight, Christie's coming over for dinner and Buffy. So it's looking like the soonest I'll be able to call her back is Wednesday, a week after she called me.

What's the etiquette on this? If I call her, it'd just be to tell her "Thanks, but I'm seeing somebody." And it's true. Wherever I may be in the process of getting over my divorce, whatever ambivalence I have about being in a relationship, Christie and I are exclusive. And my ambivalence isn't about Christie (she's wicked awesome), it's about dating in general. If I wasn't seeing her, I probably wouldn't be seeing anyone. Although I would still relish serendipitous conversations with attractive strangers. I doubt that'll ever change.

Anyway. Should I call? Should I not call? What's the better way to go?

Friday, April 25, 2003

When Carrie and I started counseling, I had a picture in my head of the Hero's Journey, in which the hero is called out of his ordinary life, fights a series of battles, is initiated into various mysteries, and eventually returns home, gifted now with new wealth, wisdom, or power which he uses to the benefit of his original home. The hero meets a series of monsters on his journey, and must find a way to defeat each one, and in each battle he learns something that is of use when he finally defeats the big bad, after which he can finally return home.

In the typical hero's journey,the hero acquires tools (King Arthur's sword, Perseus' shield, etc.) to help along the way. In my case, however, it was about losing things. When Carrie first moved out, I had to face down a hydra of fear, jealousy, and loneliness, but I drove it off with a chant of "She loves me and she'll be back in August. She loves me and she'll be back in August." That was my armor: perfect, unassailable love, and within it I was safe. Carrie's taking a sabbatical from our marriage put a definite chink in my armor, but as long as I kept my back to the wall, I was fine.

August rolled around, and Carrie came back, but just for an evening, just to tell me she couldn't move back in. What I thought was the road to a stronger relationship turned out to be the road to divorce, and here I was standing in the middle of the road with no armor. It was not a good night. Or a good week. I walked circles in my house, muttering. Called friends, watched movies, walked laps in the park down the street, anything to avoid my own mind, where the hydra was waiting. But all while, I could hear him whispering, telling me secrets about what Carrie was up to, who she was with and what they were doing. But I knew Carrie well enough to know these were lies, and I struck back with that knowledge, used the truth like a sword to cut through his lies.

I went to counseling, and joined a meditation group. I learned to focus on my breath and let my thoughts fall away. I went to a weekend retreat, two nine-hour days of silent meditation, and by hour five, I was convinced I was losing my mind, the hydra's voice had gotten so loud. I finished the second day because I'd promised myself I would, and I kept going to classes for a while, but I was pretty much done with meditation at that point. Every time I sat down, all I heard was the hydra, whispering, showing me pictures. And it wasn't just talking about Carrie anymore, it had plenty to say about me and all the things I could have done differently to save my marriage. But I fought it off. Barely.

After each battle, I told myself it was the last one, that I'd finally beat the big bad. But I knew it wasn't true. Not only was the hydra still out there, but I was exhausted from the effort of fighting it off. I was naked, alone, and scared, with just about nothing left.

Carrie and I signed the divorce papers, and had a ceremony to end our marriage. Not long after, she got a boyfriend. It shouldn't have bothered me; I'd had a 'friend' for a while now, but it gave the hydra a face to show me, a name to whisper, and just enough particulars to drive me crazy. More than that, it took away the only weapon I had left. The hydra was telling the truth, and I knew it.

I dodged for as long as I could, telling the hydra, "So what? We're divorced. It's none of my business. I don't care." but I was full of shit and running out of places to hide. The hydra was in control of my dreams now, sending me images, nightmares that had me on the front porch smoking a cigarette at three in the morning almost every night. Even happy dreams about Carrie gave me anxiety, and left me wide awake with a pounding chest.

I woke up one Saturday morning feeling like I had nothing left. I could feel the hydra lurking in the back corners of my mind, could hear the whispering even though I couldn't yet make out the words, and very literally threw my arms out wide and said (out loud) to the universe, "Take your best shot."

My eyes were closed, and I could see myself standing naked in front of the hydra while it hissed, and snapped, and attacked. But either it was intangible, or I was, because its teeth passed through me and closed on nothing but air. It showed me movies of Carrie and her boyfriend, told me stories about myself I didn't want to hear, but in the end they were just words and pictures and thoughts, and whatever it is that I'm made of, apparently it's more substantial than that. In the end, the hydra lost heart, or got tired, or bored, or whatever, and he slunk off into the shadows.

If I was right about this being a hero's journey, still I know the hydra wasn't the big bad, because I've fought other battles since. Maybe I'm wrong, and the journey I'm on isn't a circle, it's a line, or a meandering path, just a series of challenges, with no big bad, and no returning home with boons. It's probably a silly English major's habit to try and apply a literary model to life, anyway. But so what? We all have stories we tell ourselves to get through life. This is mine.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Theron's been nagging me to update my "Friends with Web Pages" page for a while to reflect the fact that ASEKenpo.com is up and running. Well, now I have. I'm mentioning it here so he knows, but also because it's a very well-designed site, and is a model of how any small business can take advantage of the web. Also, they have one of the coolest three-color logos I've ever seen. Designed and drawn by Theron, refined and rendered by one of his students (a professional graphic designer), it's quite a piece of work.
For the last couple of days, I've been working on templates for version 2.0 of one of our web sites, and I'm finding Color Cop to be incredibly useful. It's small, clean, and easy to use, and once you've started using it, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. What does it do? Oh, yeah. First of all, it lets you grab the hex code for any color you can see on your screen. And if you're looking to match colors, the program'll recommend complementary colors, or you can manipulate the hue, saturation, and luminence of the color you grabbed.

If you're looking to increase your understanding of colors and color matching, I recommend Interior Color by Design, by Jonathan Poore. I bought it because I want to redecorate my house, and I wanted to get a little funky but still look good. Unfortunately, I know about enough about color to dress myself, which is not enough to feel safe getting funky with my living space. This is a good book for beginners, and contains a simple, practical introduction to color theory no matter what environment you plan to use it in.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Christie doesn't read my blog for religious reasons, but I occasionaly forward her a post I think she'll like. Her response to my post below about Rayne, Easter, and Key Lime Pie was, "Yeah, mentioning food to you is kinda like mentioning sports to other men."

She does know me well.

My first job out of college was as a grill cook at the McDonald's in Kirksville (now there are several, at the time it was the only one). The day in question was a slow one, probably during a break, so it was just me back in the grill, and the swing manager in the drive-thru.

Over the headset I heard the drive-thru tone sound, and I heard the guy order his food. It was a special order. In fact, it was an off-menu item (they don't advertise it, but most McDonald's will make just about anything you want, as long as they have the ingredients and they can figure out what to charge you, especially if it isn't busy). So first I heard it over the headset, then the special-order printer kicked it off, and, finally, the manager hailed me over the grill hood and gave it to me in person, so it had time to sink in before I actually had to respond: "Need a chicken biscuit with ketchup. Can we do that? Do you have chicken cooked up?"

"Yeah, we can do it. But you'll have to give him ketchup packets."

"Why? It's ten o'clock, don't you have the ketchup guns together yet?"

"Yeah, they're together, but you're still gonna have to give him packets."

"Why?"

"Cuz it's disgusting. I'll put a chicken patty on a biscuit, fine. It's gross, but whatever. But I absolutely refuse to put ketchup on it. They don't pay me enough."

"Ah, c'mon..."

"I'm not kidding."

So Chris gave him packets. I don't care who you are, or what you do for a living, sometimes you have to draw a line.

Monday, April 21, 2003

I doubt you have a clue, but you were one of my might-have-beens. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't even remember me. We didn't have any classes together, just some common friends, and a lot of late nights when you were waiting tables and I was killing time with conversation, coffee, and giant cinnamon rolls. There were others, of course, girls I never quite found the courage to ask out, but you have the luxury of a name that's hard to forget and easy to Google, which led to a fan site, where you kept posting even as marriage changed your name, which led to a department newsletter, and a photo, you, the husband, a daughter with your eyes, a story in the local paper about her health problems and recovery, and I can picture the late nights, the tears, and, though your mind and your faith always seemed to be wrestling one another, the prayers. I can picture the relief, taste the niggling doubt that sometimes comes late at night, hear the questioning in your voice when you tell strangers that she's okay now.

We didn't really know each other, not enough that I'd send you an email. And, besides, how do you start that email? "I was cyber-stalking you and ran across this article..." No, I'll leave it here. Like a bowl of cream left out for the fairies, I'll take my good wishes, my wondering, wishing, and if-onlys, and set them on my threshold for whoever needs them.
Normally, it actually kind of bug me to see news coverage of kidnappings, murders, etc., when there's nothing about the case to justify nationwide coverage except for the telegenic nature of the victims. And that's exactly the way I feel about the Laci Peterson case. That being said, I've gotta blog this. Scott Peterson, the husband, was just arrested, and his mother took to the airwaves to defend him, saying, "You have (the attorney general) calling this a slam dunk before there's even an arraignment. I'm feeling like I'm living in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union." Fine. Innocent until proven guilty, etc., etc. You know me; I'm a big believer in all that stuff. Except. When he was arrested, he had dyed his hair, and had $10,000 in cash on his person.

But I'm sure he was just going for a new look, and had just sold his car to some guy who's really paranoid about banks.
The Joys of Being a Selfish Bastard - Rayne posted the tale of her Easter Sunday. Her holiday was the kind of mundane nightmare a holiday can become when you've got obligations to meet, kids to wrangle, errands to run, and a deity to worship, but there's this headache hanging off the back of your neck, sapping your joy. It's the kind of day I've had a dozen times before, and I should be empathizing out the wazoo, but she mentioned Key Lime Pie, and, while my eyes are still moving over her words, my mouth is having citrus fantasies, and my mind is planning a stop at the store on my way home.

There are two possible interpretations of this. One is the standard, "isn't technology wonderful", that the Internet enables me, a divorced man, to simulate the experience of tuning out my wife while she tells me about her day. The other is probably more useful, and should be taken as an object lesson to women everywhere: If you want us to listen to your problems, don't mention pie.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Ah, Spring!
I just found my first tick. I haven't been out in the woods, unless you count my front yard, but a few minutes ago I looked down to see a tick hanging out on my pants leg. Naturally, I'm now suffering an attack of the crawling itchies on every damn inch of my body.
Her: I figure it'll be three more years before you're really over her.

Me: Three more years? Jesus, I didn't sign up to spend as much time getting over her as I did being married to her.

Her: That's my diagnosis. If I'm still around then...

Me: I couldn't imagine waiting three years for somebody.

Her: Well...have you met you?

Me: I have, but it wasn't under the best of circumstances.
Looks like Tony's Sunday was a lot like mine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

William Gibson makes an excellent point in his analysis of the U.S. success in Iraq. He's so gracefully brief that I'm not sure I can summarize in less space than he uses to make his point, but I'll give it a shot: Our success in Iraq was largely the result of small, autonomous units, which only works in societies in which the political leadership can trust the rank and file of the military, which means our new tactics may well only work in relatively free societies. Or, I would add, in organizations made up of fanatics.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Blogging's been a little light lately, and some folks out there might be wondering why. Well, for one thing, for the last month or two, I've been stuck in gloom-mode. As I've said many times before, it's been a couple of years since I spontaneously started skipping while walking down the street (and, yes, the cessation of skipping was tied to a specific event). But the goofy grins have been fewer and further between of late, and I don't really have a good explanation. It borders on the ridiculously obvious to say that blogging is less fun when you're depressed.

It's not that I haven't been writing, it's just that I'm stuck with Eeyore for a muse, and the stuff I've been churning out has its gaze so resolutely stuck in my navel that I chose to keep it to myself. Not to mention that much of it fell on my side of the "not for public consumption" line.

And then there's the news. It's all war, all the time these days, and the commentary, usually my favorite part (hard to argue over facts, but analysis and interpretation are easy targets), has been busy yelling across the aisle at one another like kindergartners. Or legislators. Also not much fun to comment on.

There's an old Chinese story that goes something like this: A farmer is out working in his fields when he finds a beautiful stallion which follows him back to the barn. A neighbor sees him with the animal and congratulates him on his luck in finding it.

"Lucky?" says the farmer, "Maybe. We'll see."

The next day, the farmer's son is riding the horse instead of working, is thrown from the horse, and breaks his leg. The same neighbor offers his condolences. "You were right. That horse was bad luck!"

"Maybe. We'll see."

A few days later, an army squad comes riding up to the farm. They'd been out on combing the countryside for conscripts when one of them was thrown from his horse, which then ran off. The old farmer led the men to their lost horse. The captain looked around at the farm, then at the old man with his bent back and said, "Surely you don't work this place all by yourself, do you? If there are any able-bodied men around here, you better tell me! Maybe the trip out here wasn't a waste of time after all!"

"It's just my son and myself. And he has a broken leg." The captain demanded to see for himself, but when he saw that the young man did indeed have a broken leg, and was in no shape to ride, they left him there on the farm, rather than taking him off to be cannon-fodder in the Emperor's wars.

Again, the neighbor marveled at his friend's luck, but the old man just shook his head and said, "Maybe. We'll see."

My point? I wasn't aware I need to have one, but I'll give it a shot. Every time I turn on the news, there are 15 items about the war, and 10 of them are correcting or clarifying what had been reported as fact the day or week before. I have no idea what's going to happen in the long term, but there are an infinite number of ways it could go wrong, and just a few ways it could go right. Still, I'm torn between a belief that Bush has raised the bar on how much power a President has to fuck up the world, and a grudging acceptance that it's people like Bush that shape the world, while guys like me stand on the sidelines and say, "Um, excuse me, but it's a little more complicated than you think."

Except I don't really think that's true. The world is a crystal castle, stacked up one infinitesimal deed at a time by billions of lives lived over the years, fragile and beautiful as a desert ecosystem, and Bush is driving a great big hummer right through the middle of the damn thing, blind to the years it will take to repair the damage he's doing.

Jesus, no wonder I'm depressed.

My point? Oh, yeah. It's that the world is built in the long-run, but we live in the short run, and there is scant appeal to me in being just another flea who thinks he knows where the dog is headed.

Monday, April 14, 2003

There's just something about a hot blonde in a white El Camino.

I'm not entirely comfortable with that fact, but it's nevertheless true.

Friday, April 11, 2003

The Imperial Presidency - Dante Chinni, in very clear and straightforward terms, tells the simple truth, that the president is as secretive and imperial as the opposition, the public, and the press will let him be, and that by that gauge, the Democrats, the press corps, and, well, all of us are not doing their jobs.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

I came back from Japan to find it's allergy season in Missouri. It's kind of a nice combination, as nothing clears the concession line at the movies like, "Ever since I got back from Asia, I haven't been able to shake this cough!"

In related news, in light of the recent SARS outbreak, Hong Kong has withdrawn its new advertising slogan, "Hong Kong will take your breath away." I swear, I'm not making this up.
Well, it's certainly not over, and it's way too early to be calling the war a success or a failure, but it's clear that some very good things have come out of this, most importantly, perhaps, a lethal blow to the credibility of Arab propaganda machines like Al Jazeera. Unfortunately, Fox News seems to have been strengthened, but Fox News is still mostly harmless compared to Al Jazeera. And, oh yeah, the thousands of Iraqis freed from prison, oppression and starvation. The tough question is whether the lives saved and improved are worth the lives lost and destroyed. I have no idea how to start answering that question, but I do know that how we help rebuild Iraq is crucial.

Personally, I think Bush should put Noam Chomsky in charge of the reconstruction. It'd be a nice "You wanna talk? Or you wanna fish?" kind of moment.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Spent some time watching the war last night. As I watched Bush and Blair explain how the Iraqis would be running their own country after the war, it occurred to me for the first time that there is actually a thread of consistency running through Bush's policies. If you're a young mother, hoping for a better life through education, Bush doesn't give a shit and won't give you a penny to help. If you just got out of jail and want to turn your life around, well, Bush doesn't give a shit and won't give you a penny to help. And if you're a nation devastated by decades of rule by tyrannical opportunists who just got bombed into oblivion by the U.S. (Afghanistan for example), Bush doesn't give a shit and won't give you a penny to help. However, if you make $100,000,000 a year and hate paying taxes on dividends, Bush'll gladly pony up to see what he can do to alleviate your suffering.

It's evil, confused, and counter-productive, but it is, at least, consistent.

Friday, April 04, 2003

I've got a reputation at work for being a pretty nice guy: even-handed, calm, fair, all that stuff. So what would they think if they knew that just now the following words almost came out of my mouth: "If you take the last cup of coffee, I will fucking kneecap you, you motherfucker!"

I really don't get enough credit for the things that pop into my head, but I choose not to say.
An Iraqi calls for "Democracy. Whiskey. And sexy!" while Bush tells the world that "A vise is closing on the regime." Except that the headline for that last story says "vice" instead of "vise", and I can't help but think that Bush's metaphor is ripe for a mistranslation. But obviously there are some folks in the region who are fine with either interpretation.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Snapshots

"Well, you know what I always say: If you're on the shinkansen to hell, you might as well ride in the green car." I realize that this makes no sense to most of you, but it'd take you 30 seconds with Google for it to make sense. C'mon, expand your universe a bit. You'll feel better if you do.

Singing along with Fairytale of New York at an Irish bar in Seoul called O'Kim's.

Kiwi Karaoke: Kylie

Armwrestling the bartender at The Fisherman in Uwa-cho.

Getting whacked on top of the head with a kendo shinai. The helmet helped a lot.

Two teachers going on their third drinking party, so plowed that the only words of English they can manage are "congratulations" and "Okay-o!", who nevertheless manage a very passable rendition of "Country Roads Take Me Home".

Hiroshima on a Sunday night, an empty Peace Memorial Park behind me, looking down at the reflection of the atomic bomb dome in the rain-flecked river.

Intangible Cultural Asset No. 12

no lavatories in this castle

And believe it or not, this store is in Japan. I briefly considered buying some country kitsch thing and giving it to someone as a souvenir of Japan.

The perfect food to go with a good French wine? French fries, of course. Though one person at the table did insist on calling them Freedom Fries and Freedom Wine. Or maybe it was French Whine.