August 27, 2004

Last week I talked with another theatre-person-turned-tech-monkey (we were, you may not be surprised to hear, sitting in a bar after work). Once we'd energetically expressed how we felt about our jobs, we moved on to the actual work we do. I think it's an important distinction that I've only recently begun to really understand: a job is a situation; work is an activity.

I mentioned that I'd put the work I do for money these days on par with solving crossword puzzles. I enjoy it - it's reasonably challenging, alternately satisfying and frustrating, and I learn a thing or two while I'm doing it. But I'm not doing anything important in the grand or even baby grand scheme of things, and it's not something I'm willing to spend 40+ hours a week doing for years on end.

But tonight, after a thirteen-hour day, I realized the crossword puzzle analogy doesn't quite cover it. My work is more like putting together a jigsaw puzzle -- a 25,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, let's say of an alpine meadow covered in wildflowers (and put a crystal blue lake in the background...we'll need it later).

The tricky bit is that it only takes about 900 pieces to put together an ideal meadow.

Some of the extra pieces are nearly identical to the ones in the quintessential meadow, but they don't fit together perfectly, or the colors are just a little off. If you have an insane puzzle completion deadline, you will either work overtime looking for better pieces, or you will settle for what you have. If you are a perfectionist, you will most likely end up doing both.

Other extra pieces seem to fit in the meadow, but once you put them together you see they don't actually belong in the picture. Sometimes they form components that are just odd, awkward, or inconvenient - say a pink aluminum Christmas tree blocking the view of the lake. But sometimes they form a screaming baboon about to throw a fistful of feces, or a ten-foot high pile of roadkill, or a WalMart. So then you have to pick out those pieces, and find an elegant way to pull the meadow back together.

Good puzzle builders will ditch these pieces before they waste much time on them, but sadly matters are complicated by the fact that some of those useless pieces have little stars on the back that indicate Someone Important Is Firmly Convinced This Piece Belongs in the Puzzle. Then you spend a lot of time in meetings trying to persuade the right people that the meadow is really better off without all the baboon feces.

If you have an insane puzzle completion deadline, you probably won't have time to make your case properly, and relying on the theory that adding a screaming baboon with a fistful of feces to a beautiful alpine meadow is self-evidently bad will get you nowhere, because -- unbeknownst to you, the puzzle builder -- it's not really about including the baboon. It's about including some other object on the required puzzle piece, a small blot you could easily accommodate in the beautiful alpine meadow, possibly disguised as a Ricola cough drop.

But no one will ever tell you it's really about that one little splotch of color, so you will be forced conclude that the Powers That Be are feces-loving morons, when in fact they are just incredibly poor communicators.

Sometimes the only way you can get the crap out of the picture is by including a pink aluminum Christmas tree, and you tell yourself, "Well, at least it's a tree."

August 25, 2004

An actual sentence spoken by E:

"Okay, so if you stab me in the leg with the scissors*, then I'd have to save you from rolling down a hill. . .no, wait, I'd have to be saved by you. . .no, wait - that makes you Boo Radley, and me Boo's father, and someone else would need saving from being a ham."

*I swear I don't remember threatening to stab him in the leg with scissors. I was probably just cutting something enthusiastically. . .paper dolls I was planning to take to the local orphanage, or festive mobiles for the old folks' home, or some such non-threatening, public-spirited thing.

August 19, 2004
Dominus Illuminatio Mea (sed in Vino Veritas)

I walked by a store called "Michael's Bespoke Tailors" for five years and never acted on the urge to look up the definition of "bespoke" - I was perfectly content with the vague notion that it meant something along the lines of "custom". Then two days ago I read it in a novel, and immediately went flying to a dictionary.

Apparently literature piques my interest in a way that commerce never will.

When the first dictionary I grabbed didn't give me a definition that made sense in either the context of the sentence I'd just read or tailoring, I took another off the shelf. And when that wasn't any better, I hauled out the Compact Oxford English Dictionary and its accompanying magnifying glass.

I love the Compact OED. It's my Desert Island book, with the stipulation that it comes with, like, a dozen spare magnifying glasses. I wouldn't want to end up in Burgess-Meredith-Time-Enough-at-Last-Twilight-Zone hell. That would suck. Also, the magnifying glass would be handy for lighting fires.

Where was I? Oh, yes - drinking my third not particularly magnifying glass of wine. But before that I was going on about a giant dictionary:

"Compact" is, of course, relative. I hadn't tried to lift the Compact OED since the since the last time I took on Tolkien, but I remembered it and the condition of my back well enough to do a series of warm up stretches first and bend at the knees when lifting it.

I was gratified to find in the definition a specific reference to "bespoke tailors" from the June 13th 1908 edition of the Daily Chronicle, but a bit put out to discover that "bespoke" means, more or less, "custom".

Still, on my way to "bespoke" I noticed that a "bernicle" is a wild goose, and also a valid play in Scrabble, so count me happily enlightened.

August 17, 2004
Two Things

I was standing at the light waiting to cross the street on my way to work this morning, and some guy came up on my right. He said something that didn’t quite penetrate through the foggy exhaust created by my brain churning away in its own little world, but apparently he thought it was important because he said it again:

"Nice shoes."

I was feeling tired and introverted, and also a little confused (because, really, they’re pretty boring shoes), so I just said, “Thanks.” Then he wandered away.

Also, I’m quitting my job.

August 09, 2004
Accidental Film Festival

I consumed a mess o' media this weekend, mostly film. Four movies in one weekend is a lot for me, especially lately, when I've been finding solace in devouring books nearly whole, chomping hundreds of pages at a sitting. They have, for the most part, been of little long-term value, but they buzz enough to create a kind of intellectual and emotional white noise, and that's what I'm after.

The movies this weekend served the same function, but without exacerbating myopia. They were, in order of viewing, The Fog of War, Lost in Translation, American Psycho, and Napoleon Dynamite. They came together randomly, just a set of movies toward the top of my to-be-seen list, but now all four of them are banging around in my head, a mix of smart and scary and bittersweet. Images of Japan from The Fog of War crash up against Lost in Translation; the Eighties of American Psycho are laid out as a series of excesses so extreme it takes a bloodbath to satirize them, and then the same decade is rendered goofy and harmless with a sideways ponytail and a pair of stirrup pants in Napoleon Dynamite. I'm thinking about the odd and delicate ways lonely people find each other in Lost in Translation and Napoleon Dynamite, and the relationship between wholesale killing in The Fog of War and the retail version in American Psycho. And so on, one juxtaposition after another, white noise to fall asleep to.

August 06, 2004
Hungry Trolls

Not surprisingly, 525 Reasons gets a fair number of trollish posts. My rule is to ignore them, unless they're hopelessly vulgar, in which case I delete them. But last night I found this one:


Posted by TRICKY at August 2, 2004 10:35 PM

And I just couldn't resist:


Femanatizes? Now how do you know Rhonda and I don't dress up in pearls and heels and dresses with crinoline skirts and meet our hardworking menfolk at the door with, respectively, a mug of beer and a shaker of martinis?

I mean, we don't (not usually), but what gave us away? Was it because if we're going to use a puerile term like "feminazis" we make damn sure we know how to spell it?

Hugs and kisses,

- J

Posted by Jane Is Feeling Feisty Tonight at August 5, 2004 11:43 PM

And then I immediately wrote to E:

Quick, while I can safely delete it - do you think this [link to comments] is a mistake?

To which he promptly replied:

I think it's hilarious, actually, but yeah, probably a little too feisty. Something more dignified would be more appropriate given the tone of the site overall.

And I promptly whined:

Damn. Are you sure it couldn't use a little more feistiness? And it's not like I'll get in an on-going battle. Do you think I can get away with it this one time?

And he responded:

Hey look, what's it say on that sign over there? Ah yes, "DON'T FEED THE TROLLS".

And added:

It only increases the chances of causing a flamewar in your comments section; you get enough stupid comments as it is, I think, no need to encourage more of them.

On top of that, what does being snarky gain you? Will people be more likely to trust your stance when they see you criticizing someone's spelling or when they see you calmly and rationally explicating the numberless reasons to dump Bush?

Make this about substantive and not. Honorable and not. Stupid nitpicking and not.

Give into the urge to nitpick his stupid feedback, and you lose the advantage.

Still, it IS pretty funny.

Apparently there's a tradition on the net to respond to trolls with recipes. You might consider that tack.

So we arrived at the compromise of dumping it here, where it can reside in an appropriately undignified environment, and I deleted it from 525 Reasons.

August 05, 2004

There's nothing like food poisoning to remind you that your body is just a long, exceptionally lumpy torus.

I'm a generally healthy person who's had an odd run of luck lately, and I'll spare you the gory details except to say that I spent Sunday evening throwing up like I never have before - I always assumed that the day I threw up in public, tequila would be involved. Instead, it was egg salad.

So here is your humbled narrator, abruptly excusing herself from a second game of dominoes at a local cafe four blocks from her apartment. Here she is with three blocks remaining, clutching a tree, shaking, sweating, acutely aware of passersby and gratefully accepting a fistful napkins from E, who seems caught between maintaining a respectful distance and the idea that someone should be holding my hair.

Two blocks, another tree.

And so it went, fortunately less al fresco the rest of the time, for six hours.

I'm still feeling pretty ambivalent about food. Abandonment issues, I guess.

And Speaking of Tori

I'm not sure which I like more about this site -- the title "The Elliptical Torus of Revolution", or the text:

This torus is freaky. It has a circle of self-intersection and two highly singular points. I will have more to say about this soon.

Although I think both would be even better laid out to emphasize their poetic qualities:

The Elliptical Torus of Revolution

This torus is freaky.

It has a circle of self-intersection

two highly
singular points.

I will have more to say about this soon.

Oh, and there is an mpeg of the elliptical Torus family, but I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that it wasn't shot in Super 8, with a scene of the youngest Torus blowing out the candles on her birthday cake.