Saturday, September 28th 2002

More Things I Suck At
posted @ 5:04 pm in [ ]
19. Photography.
I have no sense of visual composition whatsoever, and I don’t think instruction will help.

20. Crying.
I didn’t cry for five years one time. Ever since I took it up again, it’s never been cathartic or cleansing or anything. It just makes me puffy and gives me a headache. I’d probably rather throw up.

21. Throwing up.
It’s really barely an alternative.

22. Unpacking.
I moved 12 times between 1986 and 1997, mostly not because I wanted to. I don’t recommend it unless you already live in a tent. Being semi-nomadic made it really hard to unpack and get settled in. So I didn’t. For 11 years. Now that I have unpacked (in 1997), I’m no longer interested in moving, ever, because then I would have to unpack again. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just give all my stuff away and go live in a tent with my cats. I won’t give their stuff away, of course, because it’s theirs, so I would be living in a tent with two cats and all their cat-slobber-covered stuff. Still, it beats unpacking.

23. Not making that sarcastic comment when I feel it welling up inside.
I can’t help it! I think this is related to #7, saying the right thing in quasi-romantic situations. In any case, it’s explosive, and it’s gonna blow.

Actually, a former (HOT!) boyfriend of Lisa’s (ca. early 1992) had the best story about this ever. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me expound on his hotness. Eric was unbelievably hot, probably the only boyfriend of Lisa’s I ever actually coveted. He was a giant, warehouse-club-sized Teutonic thing (my favorite), blonde, blue-eyed, funny, somewhat nerdy (my other favorite), had a butt that could make Michelangelo cry (my other other favorite) and was an incredible musician. He played Bach on one of those little plastic electric organs so beautifully, he actually made it sound like a musical instrument. Plus, he was apparently, er, gifted in other delightful areas. They started carrying on when I told Lisa that if she didn’t do anything about his hotness, I was going to have to, because it would be wrong to let all that hot Todesco go to waste. I think he eventually turned into a freak and went away, but I don’t know the details.

So anyway, Eric’s friend is driving through Georgia and gets pulled over by this redneck cop for going 56 in a 55 or some bullsh*t thing like that. The redneck cop says, (picture the drawl) “Noboday goes through *mah* state that fay-est.” To which Eric’s friend replies, “Sherman did.” They spent the night in jail.

For that great a line, so would I. In New York one time, I actually had someone ask me how to get to Carnegie Hall, but I haven’t had THAT great a setup, ever.

24. Turning the other cheek when challenged directly.
Some aspects of my personality are a little, well, wolfish. I chewed up a few folks when I was GSAC president just because they invaded my territory and pissed me off. One poor schmuck from the Business School (95% of those who need a good chewing at D.U. are from there) came to a meeting with a brand new management course under his belt and no information about the organization and proceeded to criticize my people and their work. I’m sorry to say I went Alpha Bitch on his ass. I’m not proud of it, but he was belly-crawlingly submissive every time I saw him afterward.

25. Saying no in the face of flattery.
I can’t believe how many things I’ve been suckered into by cheap flattery, even when I see right through it!

26. Keeping my hands to myself.
No, it’s not what you think. I have goosed relatively few strangers. It’s just that being so tactile, I like to touch everything. I was at the Botanical Gardens today, and I couldn’t keep my mitts off the plants. Some of them were so wispy or bumpy or strange, I just *had* to find out what they felt like. And, hey, if there is anything around to pet, I’m pettin’ it!

27. Goosing strangers.
I frequently want to, but I almost never do it.

28. Jumping on the fashion bandwagon.
I’m sorry, I can’t get over all those uglyass shoes! Remeber *why* we wore those bellbottoms in the 70s, folks? That’s right, to hide those offensively bad shoes! I just can’t do it. And I’m not sticking my TV in an armoire, either–it’s okay if people know I have a TV. And you know what else? I’m not growing my bangs out, so there! I don’t have the forehead for it and I’m not going to have an addition built onto my forehead just so I can grow my bangs out. I need these babies. Leave me alone. Oh, and I hate the color coral.

29. Asking for directions.
Apparently, I’m “as bad as a man” in this department.

30. Thriving on disorder.
Related to #10, remembering important things just because they’re important, I have a whole system of Scatterbrain Management that helps me appear to be a normally functioning human being. When my environment is disorderly, the system begins to break down and my scatterbrainedness begins to show through the cracks in the facade. I hate that.

31. Tolerating pretentiousness.
As many opportunities as I have had to learn this valuable skill, I’ve blown them all. I mean a “vahz” is just a vase that cost more than fifty clams, right? You’re still just going to put some dead plants in there and let them get deader, yeah?

32. Politely eating things I don’t like.
It’s true, I’m an insanely picky eater. Also, many of the things I hate the most are really common, like cucumbers, tomatoes, and eggplant. I couldn’t choke down a lovely gaspacho if my life depended on it.

33. Being photogenic.
I consider myself an “active beauty”. I’m usually in motion in some way or another, and to freeze that motion on film, it’s, well, kind of like a roulette wheel. You never know what kind of goofy position I’ll be immortalized in. It almost never looks right.

34. Cooking meat.
Now, I can cook. You didn’t think I got to be nine-foot-six by waiting around for someone to make me a sandwich, did you? But I stopped eating meat (okay, occasional seafood excepted) before I started cooking for myself, so it’s a skill I’ve never really acquired. I made Phillip a turkey once when we were living in Maryland being starving lovers. It grew a giant fat bubble under its armpit while it was cooking, and puzzled and horrified me before I called everyone I knew whom I suspected had ever cooked a turkey and hilarity ensued.

35. Disguising my cinemaphobia.
I’m afraid of films. Not movies, not flicks, just films. I was traumatized by being forced to sit through “Fanny and Alexander” as a child, and I have never been the same since. I fear film may waste my time and my money and not entertain me, ever. When I go to the movies, I like raw escapism: explosions, ridiculous plotlines that test the “yuh” factor. If I want heavy and slow and meaningful, I’ll go look at my own depressing life for free. Sometimes, though, even I’m not satisfied with escapist entertainment. Like in “Mission Impossible 2″ where Tom Cruise and the bad guy are fighting on the beach toward the end of the movie (which as a whole really does strain the “yuh” factor quite a bit), and they’re both bruised and bleeding and covered with cuts and trying to hurt each other, and yet they both completely fail to dunk the other one into the ocean. Anyone who has ever shaved her legs before going to the beach could tell you how effective a move that would have been. The cut-covered dunk-ee would almost certainly be incapacitated and screaming like a little girl in no time, but no. No, just a little sand, no salt water. Wusses.

36. Relationships.
How come I have to have a relationship? How come nobody has romances or love affairs anymore? I don’t want to talk about my feelings and communicate and behave like Cosmo quizzes are some source of wisdom. I want to dance down the street like Fred and Ginger and walk around in the rain laughing together and take weird compliments in the spirit in which they’re intended and have wild monkeysex on the kitchen table and leave before it gets stale and old and painful, and then think about it years later and smile at the rain on the window remembering those weird compliments and breaking that kitchen table beyond any hope of repair. Yeah, here’s lookin’ at you, kid. Of course, I’m not a member of the Wives Union on account of I’m more of a homewrecker than a homemaker. Although I am also pretty good at table repair.

Hey, maybe I can even come up with 100 of these…

Wednesday, September 25th 2002

Passing for half-whatever
posted @ 10:11 pm in [ ]
Some of us who are odd ethnic mixes like to play a game called “passing for half-whatever.” It works like this: you tell people you’re half some really exotic ethnicity, and whoever passes for the most exotic (or silly) one, wins. I’m Italian and Welsh (dark-featured but pale enough to roast while changing a lightbulb), and a pretty good bluffer, so I do okay. My friend Mark is a sensational bluffer of uncertain origins (he’s adopted), and he’s terrific at it. I think we’ve all met our match, though, in a co-worker of mine at the bike shop, who is Irish and Philippino, and can pass for half ANYTHING.

Part of what’s fun about this game is of course that you get people to think about their own internal ethnic stereotyping systems. Another part of what’s fun is that you get to feel exotic rather than weird-looking, which is always nice when you’ve never really been sure which you are. And then of course there’s the bullsh*tting factor, where you get to test the limits of human gullibility. All in all, very entertaining. Fun With Ethnicity, writ large.

I’ve passed for half Mongolian, half Inuet, half Tibetan, and a host of other ones, despite the fact that I’m incredibly western- (if ethnic-) looking. How anyone can mistake this blatantly Celtic chin and coloring for anything else is a mystery to me. Mark kind of reminds me of Buckaroo Banzai (one of my heroes) and has also passed for having a number of exotic half-backgrounds. But Chuck recently knocked it out of the park when he got a bar full of people to buy that he was Samoan.

I should probably begin by saying that Chuck *might* be 145 pounds soaking wet. He’s sort of tall and willowy, with very long straight dark hair and dark eyes. I would consider him attractive, and I’m sure he gets hit on all the time when he’s behind the bar. If he were a dog, he’d probably be something like a Borzoi, pretty and graceful with delicate feet and slender ankles. At the shop, he’s also my favorite contestant on “I’m Not Your F*cking Therapist,” but that’s another story. Let’s just say that being a bartender has made Chuck a good listener.

So anyway, Chuck goes in to work and finds this old nametag behind the bar that says “Paul”. He whites out the “L” so it just says “Pau” and tells everyone in the bar he’s Samoan. And they buy it. That beats the hell out of my half Nepalese. All hail Pau!

Wednesday, September 25th 2002

posted @ 10:55 am in [ ]
I have a few high-profile talents that make it look like I’m good at a lot of things. However, I want to assure those who keep asking me if there are things I’m not good at that there are PLENTY!

Stuff I Suck at in No Particular Order:

1. Miniature golf
I like it, but I’m lucky to break 60.

2. Bowling
Same deal.

3. Anything requiring vertical depth perception (basketball, volleyball, playing outfield, etc.)
Seems to be congenital. I look up, I have no idea how far away something is. I can eventually beat it with excessive skill-specific practice, but I just don’t like volleyball that much.

4. Talking about my feelings
Can’t I just have root canal instead? I’m interested in other people’s feelings, though.

5. Linear algebra
I have great mathematical intution, but when it comes to lame little linear equations, I tend to drop little details and come out with the wrong answer. I’m usually better off just looking at the logic of the equation and guessing.

6. Asking for help
Rather re-invent the wheel than ask for a pump…

7. Saying the right thing in a quasi-romantic situation.
Two recent examples:
1. Him: I forgot how beautiful you are.
Me: Man, do you have a shitty memory.
2. Him: You seem nice.
Me: Eh, what do you know?

8. Dealing with The Public.
Like people, hate the public. I have pretty sketchy people skills with them, which is why I can’t work serious hard-core retail, and part of why they keep me in the back at the bike shop.

9. Skateboarding.
I sprained my ankle in June attempting to skateboard for the first time. It was like the thing was equipped with an ejection system, sensed that I was over 30 and flung me right off.

10. Remebering important things just because they’re important.
I know it *looks* like I remembered that important meeting, and to go to ballet class, and your birthday, but I didn’t. I wrote it down because I knew I wouldn’t.

11. Sitting still.
No kidding, I’m still fidgety after all these years. I think it’s because I’m so tactile, positions get uncomfortable relatively quickly, and I have to shift around a lot or I feel like I’m in restraints (and not the fun naughty kind).

12. Being polite when I’m trapped listening to a really annoying lecture.
If I can’t get away, the sarcasm is coming out. I have been known to heckle.

13. Sitting around watching TV.
I’m sort of a worky person. Even the things I do for fun are just a different kind of work. I can sit there with the TV on, but I’m usually happier if I’m doing something else, too.

14. Pointe work.
Okay, I don’t really suck at this anymore, but I have no natural aptitude for it either. I can do it because I work really hard at it. I know lots of other dancers who have been on pointe for less time than I have, who don’t practice as much, and who are really phenomenal at it. Look for my Balanchine rant in a later posting…

15. Doing girlie things with girlie girlfriends
I didn’t start having real girlfriends until late in life, and in a pack, I’m still intimdated by them. I’m still not down with jewelry shopping, but I can be talked into girls’ night out.

16. Keeping my mouth shut about piss-poor auto modification
Don’t these yahoos who put enormous tires on their trucks know that that f*cks up the whole system?! An automobile is a system, not a collection of parts. Modify one thing and you must modify the system (or break it). Their only crime was ignorance, but I just can’t leave these dipsh*ts alone.

17. Being nice to the willfully ignorant
It’s one thing to be stupid. It’s one thing to be ignorant but willing to learn. But it’s something completely else to be reasonably intelligent, ignorant, and want to stay that way. Wait, I feel a haiku coming on:

Ignorance is bliss.
You don’t know, don’t want to know.
Wrath is ill-contained.

18. Accepting injustice
Oh yes, even the teensy, toonsy kind. I can’t tell you how many times this one has gotten me into trouble. Barfights, ejections from buses, playground battles, having security called on me, court appearances… As a small child in daycare, I once got punished for something I didn’t even do, and in a moment of youthful passive resistant strategy, shouted out, “Come on, kids, let’s all pee our pants!” I was the only one with the cajones to do it, but the fact that every adult in the room froze was pretty satisfying.

There’s lots more. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, September 20th 2002

posted @ 9:33 pm in [ ]
Ah, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when I am reminded that my formal education will be old enough to run for Congress this year, and I’m still in freakin’ school. A friend suggested I post a speech here that I gave a few years ago at the All-University Convocation at the University of Denver (Theme: Into the 21st Century). I had just become the President of the Graduate Student Association. The organization was in shambles and we didn’t even have an office or access to a phone, although somehow we were still paying for our campus phone line. The previous year’s president had left me nothing but a box of old letterhead and the memory of those cute dimples that made me come to meetings in the first place. Nobody knew how to reach us and I was getting a hard time from the few folks who knew me on sight for not showing up at meetings I had no idea were even going on. I found out a couple of days before Convocation that I was expected to throw on some academic regalia and give a speech to the whole freakin’ University. I was starting to get that What Have I Done feeling.

This year, I’m the Vice President of that organization, after an unprecedented three years as President (and one the year before that as Treasurer). I’m enjoying watching someone else in the role do it differently from the way I did it, and I’m trying to be available for questions. I was hoping I was non-control-freaky enough to sit back and enjoy, and so far, so good. In the meantime, now that I don’t have to look professional and put together for meetings on campus anymore, the upper-level administrative types who used to make small talk with me on the paths of the campus don’t recognize me in my Carhartts and Hawaiian shirt. It’s fun! In retrospect, I couldn’t really have made the organization any worse off, and once I realized that, it was pretty liberating. I think I made some positive contributions to the University community, and I may be able to make a few more before I graduate.

Those of you who have heard me talk about the importance of imagination and cite George Jetson’s video conferencing are about to find out that I’m plagarizing myself.

Convocation Speech, October 5, 1999

When I was in third grade, my teacher asked my class how old we would be in the year 2000. Although I was alarmed at the outcome of my figuring, I was soon relieved. The year 2000 was so far away. I would never be *that* old. After school that day, I watched a little black-and-white TV, tried a new kind of sandwich called a “fluffernutter” and played some records, secure in the knowledge of impossibly large-numbered birthdays that would never come. Now, as I contemplate the many 29th birthdays still ahead of me, I can safely say that the future is what we make it.

This year, I have inherited a strong and willful organization: one that dynamically meets its long-term goals despite annual changes in leadership and membership. One good example is that the Graduate Student Association Council now recognizes and funds interdisciplinary organizations as part of its ongoing commitment to building community among graduate students. It was a good idea in 1997, when the planning began; in 1998, when most of the hard work and administrative construction took place; last October when my predecessor stood before many of you predicting that recognized interdisciplinary organizations would become reality that very academic year; and the following spring, when GSAC voted to recognize and fund the first few such organizations. During that time, GSAC had three different presidents, and not a single student who was on the Council in the 1997-98 academic year is still on it.

I believe much of GSAC’s success in meeting its goals has to do with the fact that the larger goal, to build community among graduate students, doesn’t change. The smaller (but no lesser) goals along the way are accomplished over time, despite changes in membership, because the commitment to improving our experience here as graduate students continues to drive us, and because the ideal for which we strive looks similar to us from year to year. Perhaps “one can never step in the same stream twice,” but certainly the stream maintains patterns and characteristics that make it timeless.

With many of the barriers inhibiting interdisciplinary cooperation between graduate students now overcome, and with organizational supports erected in their place, we are in a new (and perhaps final) phase of community-building: it’s time we come out and meet each other, that we begin the conversations that will become projects and ongoing dialogs. GSAC is currently entertaining plans for quarterly campus-wide events; for setting up a website that can circumvent the collaborative challenges of our respective schedules and commitments by making the hour of our contact more or less unimportant; as well as for a campus-wide newsletter that will serve as a clearinghouse of information about each school’s and organization’s events and concerns, and perhaps even that which arguably ties all communities together: gossip.

In thinking about the future, about the daunting task of setting the new goals to be accomplished by graduate students I may never know who will sit in my old chair and read my old meeting agendas (and leave bite marks in my old pencil–that part drives me crazy), I can’t help but contemplate the futuristic. A friend of mine this summer, upon seeing the new Star Wars movie, commented on how sad it was that our generation squandered its energy on *visions* of progress, on futuristic-looking entertainment, rather than on the drive toward transforming their world itself into a realm of the future. I can’t agree. When I think of the movie “2001,” I think of how the computer consoles of the following decade bore a striking resemblance to those depicted in the movie. I think about how the look and feel of the battles in the original “Star Wars” influenced not just the entertainment industry, but the weaponry designed and built in the decade following its release. I think about how George Jetson first demonstrated video conferencing. Progress grows out of a shared imagination. We are already looking at the future and participating in shaping it on a daily basis.

I urge you to take advantage of this exciting stage of community construction, to talk to each other, to begin sharing ideas and collaborating. Only in participating in what we collectively imagine do we create our collective future.

Wednesday, September 18th 2002

posted @ 11:53 pm in [ - ]
Friday is Sophia Loren’s 68th birthday. I feel this is a perfect occasion for my rant on feminine beauty and cultural weirdness.

First off, Sophia Loren is gorgeous. She’s smack-yourself-in-the-head-with-your-own-shoes sexy, even in her late 60s, and the raciest thing she ever did as an entertainer was to climb out of the Aegean in a long-sleeved shirt. Compare her vivid natural beauty and sensuousness to the women we see on the covers of magazines, and one wonders if they’re even the same organism.

So here’s what really frosts me about that. I’m in Walgreens with my friend Brooke last week. Now, Brooke is a lovely, charming woman. She’s a genuinely good person, has a great sense of humor, and is a very promising, sharp young engineer. She has a pretty face, beautiful big deep blue eyes, chin-length strawberry-blonde hair, and a great smile. She also blushes at the drop of a hat, and would be mortified to know that I’m telling the entire Internet that she’s lovely. Sorry, Brooke, it’s true. Here’s the thing, though. Every other comment that came out of her mouth was some sort of self-deprecating allusion to what she perceived to be very real flaws in herself and her appearance. So here’s this beautiful woman talking about what’s supposedly unattractive about her, and hell if I can see it, and I told her so. I found myself wondering who convinced this ravishing creature that this conversation wouldn’t be pure satire. Was it a clean-your-plate kind of thing: take it all out on yourself, there are ugly people in Burma who would love to have that criticism?

I’m going to tell you two secrets here. The first one is this: THE BEAUTY/FASHION INDUSTRY IS A SCAM. You better believe they work overtime to try to make us all think we’re substandard somehow, so they can sell us their crap! The minute we start believing we’re fine the way we are, they go bankrupt. Fortunately, they have giant media access and can bombard us with images of our own imperfections at will. They work on our most vulnerable insecurities: whether we ultimately believe we are attractive, and therefore lovable. Those f*ckers! Hey, don’t you buy into that! It’s just a business, like anything else. You don’t believe you’re a jerk for not driving a Humvee and taking a cruise and buying the latest toilet paper of the month, do you? Well, you don’t need every damn beauty invention, either. You probably aren’t even showing some arbitrary seven signs of aging, and even if you were, so what?

Besides, what are they telling us we’re supposed to look like? These models they’re always sticking in our faces? Well, you know what? Models don’t look like that either. For the most part, you’d just pass them on the street and think they were sort of plain and gawky looking. These are women that have just had a whole staff of people work on them for a few hours to make them look like that (you know, alike). If you or I had a staff of dozens working on our appearances, we would look just as surreal. And I do mean surreal. What is the story with these waify lookin’ deals that are supposed to be so attractive, with their bones sticking out and their skin kinda hanging off them? I’m sorry, but you can’t convince me that’s attractive. Hey, Kate Moss! Have a freakin’ sandwich! You’re weirding me out!

The deal is, there are about seven designers and four photographers that decide what they’d like to look at and photograph this season, and they dictate this as fashion. That’s it. Totally capricious. And then we as consumers are supposed to run out and buy whatever it is they’re selling to keep them in business.

The truth is, though, that even if we’re supposed to believe, contrary to what our evolutionary programming tells us, that emaciated women are more attractive than healthy ones, it has been my experience that the male brain is hardwired for response to curves, no matter what those designers and photographers say. Having a certain fashionable look might have an appeal of sorts, but look at the enduring hotties of all time: Marilyn Monroe, for example, and our guest star, Sophia Loren. Yeah, smoldering and curvy all over. Twiggy? What the hell has she done lately? Do we even know? Salome, hot enough to get John the Baptist whacked, you think she had celery and Evian for breakfast?! Here’s something else alarming: those runway models who appear to be at least mildly curvy under that underwear? Those are shoulder pads. I kid you not. These women are using artificial padding to fill out underwear in place of the curves they have starved off their own bodies.

How do I know what goes on inside models’ undergarments? I confess I had a flirtation with modeling in my early mid teens. Why? Honestly, I was afraid I was ugly. When I walked into a modeling agent’s office at 14 and she told me I had a beautiful face, great coloring and the perfect shoulders for modeling furs, I felt valued in a way I never had before. That was the beginning. The end was recovering from a years-old eating disorder in my mid-20s. So I’m not just bent out of shape about this because I’d like Brooke to realize she’s gorgeous. It’s informed, and it’s personal.

So here’s the second secret. Being beautiful doesn’t have a damn thing to do with what products you buy, and being sexy doesn’t even have anything to do what what you look like. Take Mata Hari for instance. Ever seen a picture of her? Oof, kinda horsey. If she were to go into a fashion photographer’s office looking for portfolio work, he would tell her she’s “too short,” the polite industry kiss-off for being unworkably unattractive. Yet, she is regarded as the epitome of the alluring female spy. Her lovers were a who’s who of powerful men who could have pretty much any women they wanted, and did. And they didn’t just want her because of her dancing skills. They loved her and trusted her with things as sensitive as the military secrets of their nations (which she promptly sold, of course, but that’s not the point).

Beauty has to do with uniqueness and being pleasing to the senses. We can all find that, right? We all have some great feature and the ability to be reasonably pleasant. Being sexy is purely in your head. It’s so simple: feel yummy and you will be yummy. I’m not kidding. Have a sexual fantasy while you’re walking down the street sometime and see who notices you.

Lest you doubt my authority on this matter, I have a little empirical research to offer. By magazine standards, I’m not so much. My nose isn’t straight. A couple of my bottom teeth are crooked. Like any natural mammal, my bilateral symmetry isn’t exact. If one looks closely, one might observe that I have freckles, a few gray hairs, and the map of where my crow’s feet will be is extant. I am sorry to report that I even have some cellulite, and when I’m not in training, I’m often just a little squishier than I like to be. I’m model-tall at 5′9″, but everything else is in scale to that. My hands are too big for nicely tailored women’s gloves. Girl shoes? Forget it. I’m also too broad across the shoulders to be even a male fighter pilot, and I’m relieved that short jeans are in style because now it doesn’t matter that the fashion industry apparently considers me too leggy to be allowed to own pants. And jeez, lingerie stores. You’re what size? Honey, nice people don’t grow huge breasts, they BUY them.

In the real world, though, the empirical evidence does not bear out the fashion industry’s judgments on our attractiveness. Since I can only speak to my own experience, here is a partial list of responses to my appearance alone in the last two weeks:

� A total stranger in a truck stop shyly told me I had the most beautiful long hair.
� Two different men in two different cars screeched to two different halts in traffic to ask for my phone number.
� At the dance studio where I work, three other women had a conversation in my presence about why they thought I was beautiful.
� A man I had never seen in my life ran up to me and gave me a rose, just like in that 80s Impulse fragrance commercial.
� A little boy told me he wanted to marry me when he grew up.
� A very attractive woman gave me her phone number and a suggestive pat (I won’t say where).
� Three different women asked who colors my hair.

So either I’m in the midst of some kind of mass hysteria out here, or the fashion industry is TOTALLY FREAKIN’ WRONG about what’s attractive. I think what’s attractive is what’s genuine and real, and I’m not just saying that because maintanence of the artificial is annoying and time-consuming. I say it because few things I’ve done have gotten more attention than my beautiful and exotic-looking friend Amy and I feeding each other dessert in a swanky cafe. I say it because I feel waaaaaay sexier in a size 12/14 than I ever did in a size 2/4 (of course, in my case, I was 150 really pointy pounds in a size 4). And I say it because Sophia Loren is still a hottie at 68, and you can’t get that sh*t out of a jar.

Monday, September 16th 2002

posted @ 7:47 pm in [ ]
When I was growing up, sarcasm was valued more than, say, adequate shelter. The first time I ever made a roomful of grownups laugh, it was a greater rite of passage than when I got my driver’s license.

My father was having a dinner party, and I was there because I was grounded, so I must have been about thirteen. Now that I think about it, I believe I got grounded for being 20 feet away from where my father was supposed to pick me up, around the corner of a building, holding hands and talking with my boyfriend. I got busted for all the little stuff, you know? The time I came in with my bold 80s geometric print shirt on very obviously inside out, my old man had already gone to bed.

Anyway, back to the party. One of my dad’s friends had brought some tulips and put them in a bowl of water. She mentioned to the room as a helpful hint that if you put a penny in the water, the tulips would open very slowly and it would be really beautiful.

“Maybe if you put a quarter in, they’ll open faster,” I commented. My old man beamed.

Friday, September 13th 2002

What the hell does the Arrow of Entropy have to do with what time it is in Palau?
posted @ 6:43 pm in [ ]
So I’ve been playing fast and loose with time and space. I got an idea for a short piece a while back and in order to properly research and write it, I started reading a lot of quantum theory. I can’t tell you about the piece because then I would have to tell you how I got inspired to write it in the first place, and the answer might tend to incriminate me.

This is not the first time I’ve twiddled with time, I’m afraid. In addition to my youthful wishings for future events and the like, I also had a job being obsessed with time. I worked on Emergency Alert System when it first came out in 1997. I was Burk Technology’s Assistant Project Director for EAS. One of the problems the product was having was with its time zone logic. Our signal couldn’t make the leap over those red dotted lines in the road atlas, and the product was about to be released. It was my job that week to figure out what the problem was and explain to the programmers how it might be fixed.

I started by compiling a list of all time zones in which the U.S. had any kind of populated landmass at all and ordering a giant official time zone map from the Bureau of Standards. When the map came, I flattened it out on my desk and stared at it for about two weeks while I tried different things and attempted to solve the puzzle. It took a long time to get really flat. I had to stick stuff on the corners at first, which obscured my view of places like Zymlia.

As for the time zones, the U.S. has territories from GMT+4 to -10: from islands off the east coast of the mainland moving consecutively west to Palau, the U.S.’s westernmost territory, which is on the same time as Tokyo. That’s 12 time zones, half of the earth. In the immortal words of They Might Be Giants, “I don’t want the world, I just want your half.”

During the project, I called a lot of interesting people in a lot of interesting places and had a lot of strange conversations. I called the Royal Observatory in Greenwhich, because they’re sort of the appointed timekeepers of the planet. I called the U.S. Pacific Fleet Operations Center in Hawaii, because they have to coordinate giant military efforts over several time zones and even take into consideration that sticky International Date Line. I actually got the naval officer at the Op Center to laugh out loud, which was almost better than solving the problem. When I asked him what they called their time zone there at GMT+10, he referred to the alphabetic system. The +10 time zone is also marked with a W, otherwise known by military alphabet (able, baker, charlie, etc.) as Whiskey Time. “I bet you’re always having a great time over there,” I commented. Yaaaaay, it’s whiskey time!

Anyway, once I learned how the whole system worked, I set about teaching our equipment. I piled up three of our boxes in the lab, hooked them up to each other to simulate line-of-sight, and tried to get them to go into hysterics together. It turned out the problem was not with the forwarding logic as I had originally suspected, but with the time markers in our messages. The National Weather Service gives weather warnings in their own absolute time. Our equipment correctly transmitted those messages verbatim. So the messages themselves were probably making it over the dotted line after all–they were just being disregarded as having expired. Once I confirmed this hypothesis, I requested a code fix so the boxes would keep track of GMT as well as local time, and then I changed their method of tracking local time so that it would be relative to GMT by re-coding all the time zones based on my understanding of the whole wacky artificial system. Essentially, I gave our equipment a sense of relative time. I wondered what Einstein–or Heinlein, for that matter–would think about teaching relative time to a fleet of weather machines.

On that project, I also got to use my skills as a chaoticist for the first time and get paid for it. The box’s printer, a teensy little mimeo-blue-printing dot matrix that ran on adding machine tape, would occasionally freak out and print part of one message along with part of another, and once the process started, eventually the printouts would get completely out of phase with each other. I think after you look at enough fractals, theorize enough models, and wind up enough differential equations to watch ‘em go, you get a sort of Spidey sense about when you’re looking at some kinda chaotic phenomenon, and I was up to my spiritual horn-rimed eyeholes in arachniod twitch. So I assigned each line in a standard message a number and started expressing each looped message as an iteration, just to see what I might be looking at.

It was beautiful! After any event that would perturb the message printing, such as overlapping incoming messges, a static zap, or even thinking unclean thoughts in the printer’s vacinity, the message would begin cycling backward. More interestingly, it would begin cycling backward at a rate of just over .4 1/2 lines per cycle. I didn’t have the equipment to calculate it precisely, but I knew exactly what I was looking at: .466920, Feigenbaum’s formulation, one decimal place removed. Classic chaos. I was so delighted, I played with it for the rest of the day, predicting its unpredictability for anyone I could rope in to watch for a few seconds. It was a small company, though, and pretty soon I ran out of audience. Then came the sad part. Knowing our customers wouldn’t be as delighted with their chaotic toy as I was, I put in an order for the code to reset the printer after each message. After all, I was being paid to figure out how to make it stop. I kind of missed the old printouts, though, and I think I saved a few. They were like weather warnings from inside a rift in time.

Thrilled to pieces with the practical application of my lifepassion, this was about the time I started habitually pointing out how everyone needs a chaoticist. That building fell down? That’s why everyone needs a chaoticist. Her company went bankrupt? That’s why everyone needs a chaoticist. Your ham sandwich was eaten by wolves? That’s why everyone needs a chaoticist. Yeah, a good chaoticist could have told you what to watch out for.

It was also during the time zone project that I was thinking about my search for Home, a recurrent theme of my life. I became sort of obsessed with what time it was in different places (I can still tell you what time it is just about anywhere–especially Palau). Someone told me once that the place you really belong is where the sun was rising at the time of your birth. According to that theory, Home for me is somewhere in, oh yes: Whiskey Time!!!

So anyway, recently, I have been working on this piece about time, time travel, time perception, time metaphors, time and distance, etc., so I’ve been reading a bunch of quantum theory. It does a really good job of distracting me from writing my dissertation, but I feel like I have to get it out of my system somehow, so I’m finding it kind of hard to stop. Okay, it was easier to quit smoking. Is there a 12-step program for quantum junkies, or some kind of outpatient rehab where you go to a clinic and they give you a chronograph?

Anyway, I’ve discovered a few things about quantum theory that really get under my skin, and not in that fun Cole Porter way. Whenever something bothers me I have to wrangle around with it until it resolves somehow. I can’t help it. I suspect if I can get some of this stuff straightened out, I can clutch my chrono-methodone and get on with the project at hand. Now, some of this may just be that I’m an outsider to quantum theory and I just don’t get a lot of stuff yet. I have a long way to go to earn my fantasy business cards: Meg Spohn, Mechanic: Volkswagen - Bicycle - Quantum. But then again, it could also be WICKED WRONG! Probably we’ll never live long enough to know. Goddamn discrete/continuous experience of time! The thing that really chafes me the most is the Arrow of Entropy.

Now, the frickin’ arrow of entropy is this concept that time is linear and going in one direction only, like a perfectly straight arrow, as evidenced by the fact that while teacups tumble off of tables and smash, they never hop back up off the floor and reassemble themselves. Okay, I concede I’ve never actually witnessed the spontaneous reassembly of a teacup. Should we ever witness such a thing, it will be because the closed universe has stopped expanding and is now contracting, and the arrow of entropy has completely reversed and is now traveling in the same straight linear manner in the opposite direction.

FTN! It can’t be. As a devotee of nonlinear dynamics, I just can’t buy it. What kind of quasi-dimensional hoo-ha…?! For one thing, this smacks of a perspective problem. Doesn’t the Earth seem flat from our limited everyday vantage point? We only know better because we’ve seen bigger pictures. Furthermore, an insect with a lifetime of only a few hours couldn’t conceive of a circadian cycle. Maybe we just don’t have enough perspective to see the whole spiralling arrow and our little piece looks straight from here. Also, get this, at the quantum level, when we look at the little granular bits and pieces of universe, events and their sequences aren’t really important. It doesn’t matter whether the teacup fell off first or whether it came to be first or what–it’s kind of like a Vonnegut novel. It isn’t until things get bigger that sequences of events start to matter.

This is the thing, though: time itself is a human construction. The concept of events (and subsequently their sequences) is an artifact of the human psyche that has to do with making sense of our experience. To a photon, if it perceives, the whole sequence of time from the Big Bang to this moment and beyond is all one simultaneous rush. To us, we mark our thread of perception with stages and moments that we decide are important. So if time is a human construction (and let’s face it, the only tools we have for conceptualizing the reality of the universe are our hinky little brains), human percpetion itself tells us it’s not linear.

I’m talking about memory. When we visit the moments in time that have been important to us, we truly do travel there in our minds. Part of me, the unique creature I was at one given moment, still lives only there, as I will never truly be that one unique creature in time again: the moment I survived a serious car accident; the instant I realized the WTC bombings were actually happening and not some punchline-less George Bush joke; the first time I ever got a standing ovation for a performance; the snapshots in time where I fell in love; the last time I fixed a previously inert air-cooled engine and it roared to life. Since time itself lives only in the human mind, if it’s not linear there, it’s not linear anywhere else, either.

At least, I think that’s what’s bothering me about this.

Friday, September 13th 2002

posted @ 10:30 am in [ - ]
Lisa tells me I need a blog, and proceeds to set me up. I believe I will start my own personal rant-fest with the email excerpt that prompted her to Make It So.

My husband Phillip sells cars for a living. Last week, I came with him while he delivered a truck to a customer in Cheyenne. There was this Orthodox church on the northbound side of I-25 (around Ft. Collins or so). It had a blue Hershey’s-kiss shaped spire and a gold one, with appropriate crosses, but the building itself was a little cottagey thing, sort of corrugated-looking, with a bright blue roof. I questioned the potential sacrilege of converting an IHOP into a church, and hilarity ensued. Top 5 related comments:

5. I’d ask you if you wanted sausage or ham with your host, but we’re orthodox, so you don’t get either one
4. Phillip miming the administering of the host as if it were a pancake whose ends needed to be poked into the faithful’s stretching maw
3. Short stack of buttermilk salvation
2. The boysenberry blood of Christ
1. Rooty tooty fresh and fruity sacrament

Interestingly, on the southbound side of the highway not too far away was a rest stop I could swear was a gay tea room. Lots of pretty boys cruising around alone in their expensive SUV’s…