Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favorite Movies of the Decade

1. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)


I try to watch this movie about once a year, and every time, I see something new to admire in it. It's hard to sum up, because it has so much in it, but Reverse Shot has written a really good article on it.

2. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming Liang)

Its humor and its sadness seem interconnected, or seem to flourish from the same place, making both emotions more painful. A film about alienation, as only the Taiwanese can do it. When I saw it last, I wrote this review:
A re-watch. This time, the movie was less funny, but more tender, and even sadder than before. I was struck by the sadness of seemingly awkward private gestures, the girl stuffing her face with crackers and bananas in a hotel room in Paris… the mother masturbating with the container of her dead husband’s ashes. The silence is not really silence but tapestries of odd rhythms. Sounds emanating from all corners to penetrate and intrude the characters. In fact, everything is a form of penetration while on the surface looking rather harmless: penetration as a substitute for connection. I was also a bit surprised by how much I related to the girl this time, more so than the other two characters. I thought her scenes were the saddest and most awkward. I imagined the movie as a musical composition (keeping tune to the odd beat of a watch being smashed against the railings) with 3 different parts (bass, alto, tenor?) played by the three different characters, all separate (and separated) but in synch, crescendoing almost literally as all three are brought to a sexual climax, although one that is illusively disappointing, perhaps inherently so because of what they’re expecting from it: human connection. And yet these three musical parts always remain alone. The last shots of this movie are some of the most memorable and affecting I have seen, with the father walking into a sunset… or what stands for a sunset in this movie: the carousel in the fairground, perhaps the same fairground that 400 Blows was shot, when Jean Pierre Leaud was pushed against the wall.

3. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)


Weerasethakul is one of the most promising new directors. I'm excited to see what he comes up with next. I wrote a short review of this movie on this blog before.

4. Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako)

A film from Mali by a director I haven't seen enough of yet. One of the few movies I loved despite political themes being explicitly stated (here it is not preachy). I remember only the invigorating feeling of the narrative told in a jagged inventive manner, with all the energy of a new way of making movies.

5. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami)

A mother drives around town and has ten separate conversations. Kiarostami's digital camera focuses on half of the story at any one time, but delivers so much raw emotion from these performances.

6. Bemani (Dariush Mehrjui)

Can't find much on the internet; can't even find a decent screenshot. I saw this at the Iranian film festival at the High Museum a few years back. On the surface it was about a few women and their struggles, but the way it was told was what impressed me. I can't point to a single thing, but just the whole attitude and style towards filming reminds me of many other Iranian films where I feel like they are making movies for the first time, without relying much on staid conventions.

7. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

If you watch movies for mood, then run out and watch this. It's got plenty of story too: but one that is amorphous, mysterious, constantly on the line between creepiness and commonplace. Is it an allegory? A fairy-tale? A dream?

8. 2046 (Wong Kar Wai)

A sequel, of sorts, to In the Mood for Love. The first time I saw it I didn't like it as much. ItMfL was a straight forward restrained love story. This movie, by contrast, was complicated and confusing. And what was up with those scenes of the future? But every time I watched it, I understood more of what was going on and loved it more as well. This is a wild tangled investigation of memory that grows on you the more you watch it. It is serpentine and layered and full.

9. Kandahar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

A film set in and about Afghanistan directed by one of my favorite Iranian directors. Really beautiful and depressing, it's hard to describe the feeling this movie gives me. Why am I even trying to write about any of these movies? They are all so hard to describe with these damn words.

10. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch)

This film needs no description. You've probably already seen it and hate it.

11. The Visitation (Nathaniel Dorsky)

Screenshot Not Available.

One of the few shorts by Dorsky I was able to see at Andy Ditzler's Film Love. This one is "about" aliens!

Remaining on the West Coast (once again San Francisco, specifically), next is Nathaniel Dorsky, an artist whose devout approach to the cinematic image transforms daily sights and sounds into wondrous moments of reverential contemplation, embodied through the use of "polyvalent" montage, which seeks to "redirect editing away from the dialectics that energized the Russian films of the 1920s and from the narrative demands of pop cinema, toward a refinement of viewers' ability to perceive the subtleties of particular images and the complex webbing of interconnections between them." (A Critical Cinema 5 pg. 79)

12. All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green)

Quirky indie-flick about young people angst, but actually good. There's something amateur about it that I love, and something Terrence Malicky about the cinematography. Also, it has some seriously funny dialog.

13. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar)

Twisted love. Almodovar can be too heavy handed sometimes, or too dramatic, or his plots too contrived. But still, you gotta love this movie, which made me forget about all those flaws.

14. Half Moon (Ghobadi)

A surreal journey to find death, where moments of reality and moments of dream are indistinguishable in the vast landscape, and left open to interpretation. I loved this movie. Also from Iran. If you watch the YouTube video above, try to ignore that ugly name that scrolls across the screen. Whoever made that video put that in, but it wasn't in the movie.

15. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)

My favorite PT Anderson movie.

16. La Pianiste (Michael Haneke)

Brutal and depressing. Not for the squeamish. Isabelle Huppert gives a great performance. I really liked Cache by the same director, but one Haneke is enough for any list.

17. L'Intrus (Clair Denis)

Obscure as fuck, but really good if you're not too concerned with figuring out what everything means.

18. Inland Empire (David Lynch)

David Lynch at his scariest and rawest. I saw it in the theater when it came out and it was one of the most visceral experiences ever.

19. The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda)

Agnes Varda makes movies like nobody else. Her charm is too big to be contained off camera, and in this documentary about the history and continuation of gleaning her stamp is all over, which is the way I like it.

20. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt)

A subtle and slow film. Relaxing with just enough tension to form the tatters of a story. More films should be like this, where the story unfolds so organically from the characters, the scene, and the mood.

21. Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito)

“The day will come when our silence will be more important than the voices you are throttling today.”

A simple concept and restrained execution. It’s a documentary with no voice-over narration; a chronological tour of important gravestones, from labor leaders to civil rights leaders to people who sacrificed themselves for these causes. These are mixed in with beautiful shots of trees rustling in the wind, and little pencil sketch animations. It sounds pretty lame in words, and perhaps for some it would be lame. It's definitely not for everyone. It lasts for an hour but I felt like it was only 20 minutes. I highly recommend you try it and see if it’s for you.

22. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming Liang)

A sequel of sorts to What Time Is It There? in which things get a lot weirder. You'll never look at a watermelon the same way again. Oh yeah, did I mention there are musical numbers?

23. All About Lily Chou Chou (Iwai)

Japanese school kids can be mean. It's all those uniforms they're forced to wear.

24. Triplets of Belleville (Chomet)

Beautiful old-style animations, strange somewhat creepy story with an off-kilter sense of humor, and a happy ending. All you can ask for in a movie!

25. Five Dedicated to Ozu (Kiarostami)

This movie is five scenes, all with a static camera capturing things coming in and out of the frame. A good movie to meditate to.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From Duplex Planet

From Duplex Planet 174 (a zine that collects interviews with elderly people):

DBG: What kind of animal would you be if you had to be one?

HELEN FOSTER: Me? I have no idea. I never thought of that. I have no idea. What kind I would want to be? Oh, I don't know... (thinking)... You would think I'd want to be powerful, but I wouldn't. No, I'd want one that other people would be comfortable with, I think, whatever kind of animal that is. A lot of people don't like cats, but I think a cat is comfortable. Most people would like a dog, but a dog is too mindless. A cat is a little more selective. I don't know if I'm right or wrong, but that's just my opinion. I don't know if I answered your question.

DBG: No, that's good. They're all just food for thought.

HELEN: So what do you have there now--is that what they call a tape recorder?

DBG: Yep. One microphone is hooked on to you there, and this one is just picking up anything I say.

HELEN: Mmm-hmm. So what did you study in college?

DBG: Painting. I went to art school.

HELEN: You're kidding! I have an artist in the family, too. Do you play an instrument?

DBG: I played for a long time in bands--I was a bass player.

HELEN: Ohhh!

DBG: I haven't done that much since the eighties.

HELEN: Well, my son, he's still in the process of retiring--the 26th of September he'll retire--and he just took a year's piano lessons. I said, "I didn't know you wanted to play the piano!" He says, "I didn't either, but it's something I decided I was gonna do and I'm doin' it." I think that's wonderful.

DBG: It's good to start on something new.

HELEN: I don't know if he's got it in him like you do. Why don't you come around and play the band here?

DBG: I need to play with other people. I'm a bass player.

HELEN: Oh, okay.

DBG: But I haven't played much in years.

HELEN: Well I'm sure you have a lot of creativity inside that head of yours, so put it to good use. Are you altruistic, would you label yourself as altruistic, David?

DBG: To a point, yes.

HELEN: I think so

DBG: I'm fairly pragmatic.

HELEN: That's what I thought I was, too. But see--when you look in the mirror, deep down, I bet you are.

DBG: Well, that's part of me.

HELEN: Don't worry about anything. It's a waste. It's a waste, don't worry, I learned that. Of course, it's okay for me to say that, now that I've got one foot in the grave! (laughs) But really, worry is wasteful.

DBG: There're parts of it that are unavoidable and come from concern, like I'd worry about my wife or my daughter.

HELEN: No, we can't cut that out of our lives, that's right.

DBG: But worrying about what I am going to do ten years from now.

HELEN: Yeah, needlessly.

DBG: I'm confident I'll figure it out.

HELEN: Well, gee, I'm so glad to have met you.

DBG: It was great to meet you too.

HELEN: And I wish you well with this work in progress.

DBG: Thank you.

HELEN: That's what you'll have to call it, Work in Progress.

DBG: Oh it is. I've been doing this for twenty-five years.

HELEN: Good for you. Let me tell you, you know what I do? I collect, in my lifetime, I collect naughty stories. Well I heard a story two days ago. (looks over at tape recorder) Is it off?

DBG: It's running out of tape.

HELEN: Oh no, turn it off, turn it off! (tape stops)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Corporate Mantra of Non-Chosen Words

It was most important that no-one had to take responsibility. That these words were not chosen by any individual, that they just happened to be a certain way, just like a certain mountain range happened to be shaped like a horse or a human head, that they were only the chance fabric of the corporation was tantamount. These words were just any words. Everyone's shoulders were squarely untainted. Furthermore, no new decisions had to be made. That all decisions were inherent in the mantra, the creation of the corporation already guaranteed the right answer to every situation. That, now, it was only a matter of careful interpretation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gertrude and Agnes

Something wonderfully mountainous captured in these playful portraits of two very different artists (Gertrude Stein on the cover of Stanzas in Meditation and Agnes Varda on the cover of Beaches of Agnes):

I like thinking of the artist in old age as mountainous, like an accumulation of stubborn-nesses. (Oh, you know I mean that in the best of ways)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anne Frank and Windows

This short videoclip is the only existing footage of Anne Frank. It was released recently. Stefany Anne Golberg has written a good short essay on it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mourning Photos

"The painting may cheerfully portray the life of the deceased, but to nineteenth-century eyes, the daguerreotype, in showing the moment of death, or one just afterward, does a better job at portraying the person, the essence of the child, his soul."


Friday, October 2, 2009

Build Your Own Time Machine: A Science Project

Many people have tried to build a time machine. You can buy one off e-bay but it won't work. I will tell you how to build one that works. Let's start with Einstein. Einstein said that time is related to space. Therefore a time machine must also be a space machine. Like a space ship or something. Einstein said that as speed increases through space, time slows down. Unfortunately, the effect is relatively minor if you're going very slow. And even 200 MPH is slow, because Einstein says you need to approach the speed of light in order to make any dent on time.

Do you know how fast the speed of light is? Me neither.

Light is very very fast. Well, one problem is making a space ship that goes that fast. Another problem is that even if we did make a spaceship that fast, our bodies would not be able to withstand that kind of speed. Think if you went all the way around the world in a fraction of a second. You'd probably be a little dizzy. Also, your body would probably wither away because all your body atoms are banging against all the air atoms until you are no more. This is called friction or air resistance or something. Even in space, there will be things to bang against.

Not only is it hard for your body to withstand going so fast, it would be near impossible to build a spaceship out of metal that can withstand that as well. But you know what goes the speed of light? Yes, light does! So let's build a spaceship out of light. The smallest spaceship in the world.

You'll need:
  • A light particle.
  • A brand new carbon particle.
  • Superglue.
  • Superglue anti-dote.
  • A mirror. (optional: 2 mirrors).

Duration: about 100 years

Now we learned in science class that light is both a particle and a wave. Well, what we need to do is catch a light particle while it is a particle instead of a wave. Or catch a light particle while it is a wave and wait till it looks kind of like a particle. Then take your carbon particle and superglue it onto the light particle. We chose a carbon particle because it can be dated. This is called carbon dating, and this way you can tell how old your carbon atom has gotten while going through the time machine.

Now what we want to do is go to the end of the universe and place your mirror there. Make sure it's very very far away, to give your spaceship some time to get there. Now, release your light-particle spaceship in the direction of your mirror.

Wait about 100 years, but be ready to catch your light particle when it comes back. Once you've caught it, take your superglue anti-dote and pour it on the spaceship. Now the carbon atom should be free. Take it and send it to a lab to be carbon-dated (I don't know what this means, but a little mystery is sometimes good). If everything works as planned, your carbon atom should have only aged a few minutes.

Another option, if you don't feel like going all the way to the end of the universe, is to place two mirrors close to each other and make sure the light-particle spaceship is bouncing between them over and over again. Let this happen for about 100 years.

I hope you enjoyed this science project.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Some Answers Questioned

This was a freewrite I did a while ago, as-is... i.e. unedited. I re-read it recently and it still interests me. I was just asking questions and coming up with answers on the fly. Not knowing who the characters were beforehand made this a very fun exercise.

q: when were you born?
a: In 1967 I was already a 5 year old girl. My mother picked me up after school, she would wear a light blue scarf around her head, that is how I spotted her immediately. Back then the roads didn't yet have names and all you could do was count the trees before the next block.
q: did you like doing that?
a: a little. It wasn't a matter of liking it. Time made me more aware of my surroundings.
q: what do you mean?
a: I should say that I was incredibly precocious. Because of that, I felt like I only had a few more weeks to live. I felt old.
q: do you still feel old?
a: no
q: go on
a: I don't. I feel out of time. But back then, back then we would go to the green grocers after school. The man who sold us large stalks of celery was called Mr. Lobsterlove.
q: you remember his name?
a: oh yeah. I loved Mr. Lobsterlove. He had this train collection, model trains mind you. Some nights I would go over to his house, he lived just next door, and mother would sometimes tell me to deliver some money for previous purchases.
q: it was a credit system?
a: well yeah. We didn't always carry around the heavy coins. Anyway, I remember his door was unfinished wood, this was the second floor right above his business. I'd knock and he'd open and inside was a city made of traintracks. The trains would go in and out of the bookcases, through the vents, come back out the other side and into the bathroom. Mr. Lobsterlove always had classical music playing in the background. Usually Bach. Sometimes Mozart. At first he would talk to me, try to ask me questions. Then he would say "you're pretty smart for a little girl" and soon he would be lost in his music, moving his hands like that of a conductor, his eyes closed.
q: tell me about your mother
a: my mother was severe. She was nice too, but she had a very specific set of beliefs.
q: like what?
a: well... she kept to herself, a very quiet woman, but she wasn't shy. I don't know why she kept to herself. Somehow she always knew what was happening, she'd tell me who Mrs. Greenberg was having an affair with. I don't know how she knew this. Also, she liked to play mindgames with me, but for no particular reason.
q: mind games?
a: like, she'd say "I'm going out to get some milk" and then she wouldn't. She would act like she never said anything. I never figured that out.
q: what did you do after school?
a: We would have the window open all the time, and underneath our apartment was a cafe. I would sit in my bedroom and listen to all the conversations people had. Sometimes I would write them down, if they were interesting enough, but most times they weren't very interesting. People falling in love and out of love, that kind of stuff is so boring to me even then.
q: you're not interested in love?
a: I wouldn't say I'm not intersted in it. It's interesting, yes, it is. It's interesting the way organized religion is interesting, it's just a thing. You know? Like, it's interesting in an anthropologic way. It's interesting in that it helps you understand people. But it's not very useful.
q: useful?
a: hmm.. maybe that doesn't make sense. I guess it is useful, but it doesn't really go anywhere. Anyway, once you decide on it, that's that.
q: what else did you like to do?
a: I went up to the roof sometimes, after dinner. Mother wouldn't let me, but sometimes when she was on the phone
q: with whom?
a: my father. My father was overseas. I think I've seen him twice in my life. Not a very interesting man.
q: you mean you aren't interested IN him...
a: yeah, that too. No, that's not entirely true. I WAS interested, but I figured him out in the first half hour.
q: what did you figure out?
a: well, a lot of things. He was a hopeless romantic.
q: why was he overseas?
a: I'm getting to that. My father was a very skinny man. He was tender, I'll give him that. Not one to raise his voice ever. He was also completely loyal. He's from the small island of Tuvalo where they make fishing nets. His whole family did I mean. Anyway, I don't know why he ever left, but after he got married, his mother got really sick. He couldn't stand not being by her side.
q: what did you do up on the roof?
a: I cataloged.
q: Cataloged?
a: yes. I was making lists. It is easier to make a list comprehensive when you're up high. You can see more things. You FELT more comprehensive because of what you could see. All the buildings were the same height back then, or similiar heights, and you could see for miles, all the different roofs with vines growing and the stuff people stored up there, boxes, bicycles, bird cages.
q: what did you wish to accomplish with your lists?
a: I don't understand that question.
q: what was the purpose of those lists.
a: there is no purpose. To make a list is to make a statement. A statement with no purpose, other than that of existence.
q: what were they lists of?
a: everything inside my hometown. A list of all the widows. A list of shops that sold fishing line. A list of dates that were considered auspicious for marriages and childbirths. The locals were very superstitious.
q: were you?
a: never.
q: did you have a favorite number?
a: well, yes. But that's not a superstition.
q: what was your favorite number?
a: one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself

The Story of Mary Maclane"Napoleon was a man, and though sensitive, his flesh was safely covered"

Yes, but who was Mary MacLane? Mary MacLane was a truly extraordinary nineteen-year old with a "fine young body that is feminine in every fiber" and a brain that is "a conglomeration of aggressive versatility". She is "a fantasy--absurdity--a genius!" with no parallel, "a genius, with a wondrous liver within". But she lives in Butte Montana in 1901, and stuck there, she writes this "Portrayal" of herself, in which she is very honest (though she is also "a liar") about her obsession with the devil, her desire for Fame and Happiness (always the Devil brings Happiness), her seventeen pictures of Napoleon that she stares at daily, her (then, and even now) unconventional views of marriage, her liver, her crush on the "anemone lady" and so on.

Mary MacLane circa 1911It may be tempting find her exaggerated way of phrasing things amusing and quirky, but they also communicate some incredible and unique insights. I do think she was a genius, in her own odd way, and I found myself agreeing to (and feeling deeply with) a lot of what she says. Her repetition bordered on poetic at times, and her mysterious use of certain phrases (her heart is always a "wooden heart" and her philosophy is always "peripatetic", she lives in perpetual "sand and barrenness" and always the "red red line of the sky" is a symbol of Happiness to come). Mostly, she writes about how lonely she is, stuck in Butte Montana, and how she would give anything for 3 days of Happiness. For some more history on Mary MacLane's life before and after this book, visit this website.

"But no matter how ferociously pitiable is the dried up graveyard, the sand and barrenness and the sluggish little stream have their own persistent individual damnation. The world is at least so constructed that its treasures may be damned each in a different manner and degree." p.16

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Should I Call Alex?

Saw this the other day at a coffeeshop:

I think Alex would make a pretty picture of Wendell.

I blurred out the phone number since I'm not sure Alex wants his phone number all over the internet. If you want to call Alex, e-mail me privately and I can get you in touch!

Monday, August 31, 2009


I had a great weekend with M & D in Milledgeville, GA. One of the highlights is seeing this armadillo by the train tracks. Luckily, I had my little video recorder with me:

From wikipedia:

Armadillos are often used in the study of leprosy, since they, along with mangabey monkeys, rabbits and mice (on their footpads), are among the few known non-human animal species that can contract the disease systemically. They are particularly susceptible due to their unusually low body temperature, which is hospitable to the leprosy bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae. (The leprosy bacterium is difficult to culture and armadillos have a body temperature of 93°F, similar to human skin.)

The Nine-banded Armadillo also serves science through its unusual reproductive system, in which four genetically identical quadruplets are born in each litter.[4][5][6] Because they are always genetically identical, the group of four young provides a good subject for scientific, behavioral or medical tests that need consistent biological and genetic makeup in the test subjects. This is the only reliable manifestation of polyembryony in the class mammalia, and only exists within the genus Dasypus and not in all armadillos, as is commonly believed. Other species which display this trait include parasitoid wasps, certain flatworms and various aquatic invertebrates.[5]

Armadillos (mainly Dasypus) make common roadkill due to their habit of jumping to about fender height when startled (such as by an oncoming car). Wildlife enthusiasts are using the northward march of the armadillo as an opportunity to educate others about the animals, which can be a burrowing nuisance to property owners and managers.[4]


Update September 4, 2009
When I saw this armadillo, I was thinking of a passage in a book I read recently (I highly recommend it by the way) called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly:
Animals' skills are always matched to concrete demands because their minds, such as they are, only contain information about what is actually present in the environment in relation to their bodily states, as determined by instinct. So a hungry lion only perceives what will help it to find a gazelle, while a sated lion concentrates fully on the warmth of the sun. Its mind does not weigh possibilities unavailable at the moment; it neither imagines pleasant alternatives, nor is it disturbed by fears of failure.

Animals suffer just as we do when their biologically programmed goals are frustrated. They feel the pangs of hunger, pain, and unsatisfied sexual urges. Dogs bred to be friends to man grow distraught when left alone by their masters. But animals other than man are not in a position to be the cause of their own suffering; they are not evolved enough to be able to feel confusion and despair even after all their needs are satisfied. When free of externally induced conflicts, they are in harmony with themselves and experience the seamless concentration that in people we call flow.

The psychic entropy peculiar to the human condition involves seeing more to do than one can actually accomplish and feeling able to accomplish more than what conditions allow. But this becomes possible only if one keeps in mind more than one goal at a time, being aware at the same time of conflicting desires. It can happen only when the mind knows not only what is but also what could be. (p. 228)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Theme De Yoyo

Les Stances a Sophie cover

Your head is like a yoyo
Your neck is like a string
Your body's like Camembert
Oozing from its skin
Your fanny's like two sperm whales
Floating down the sand
Your voice is like a long fuck
That's music to your brain

One of the greatest songs I've heard recently is by the group The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Theme De Yoyo is the first song off their album Les Stances a Sophie which was made in 1970 as a soundtrack album for a film, but the whole album is great. As I understand it, I don't think the music was actually ever used in the film. I've bought several other Art Ensemble of Chicago albums and they have all been a little too noise/experimental for me. I think they strike the perfect balance here between chaos and melody (at least for my taste).

Download: Theme De Yoyo (mp3)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Life with Mannequins

As a boy, I was unusually obsessed with mannequins. I used to beg my parents to take me to Sears just so I could stand next to one of them. I remember once I got too close and tipped one of them over; I was terrified but the department store staff were all very nice and told me it was okay. The above photo is the only remaining picture of this early obsession.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

don't clown you me


Reverse: John Jaccoud, Bonnots Mill MO.

(thanks, Dawn.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (New Directions Paperbook) An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

Part fiction, part non-fiction, part poetic description, part philosophy. Aira examines the depths of history, the meaning of repetition, reproductions and its role in art, compensation, and much more, and in the context of a very specific, relatable person and his predicaments. Often zooming into an idea or description with intense precision, then moving on, this book is able to contain big ideas without sounding pretentious, or bloated. In fact, the book is less than 90 pages, though it tells a story that could be told in 500 pages. It's really some of the best writing I've read. Also, I had no idea it wasn't a completely true story, because it was told as if it was pieced together from accounts and letters. But there were points where he could not have been so intimately in the character's head. Only after I read it did I find out that this is a perfect combination of history and novelistic invention. Some excerpts:

Peaks of mica kept watch over their long marches. How could these panoramas be rendered credible? There were too many sides; the cube had extra faces. The company of volcanos gave the sky interiors. Dawn and dusk were vast optical explosions, drawn out by the silence. Slingshots and gunshots of sunlight rebounded into every recess. Grey expanses hung out to dry forever in colossal silence; airshafts voluminous as oceans.
p. 14

A drove of mules the size of ants appeared in silhouette on a ridge-top path, moving at a star's pace. The mules were driven by human intelligence and commercial interests, expertise in breeding and blood-lines. Everything was human; the farthest wilderness was steeped with sociability, and the sketches they had made, in so far as they had any value, stood as records of this permeation. The infinite orography of the Cordillera was a laboratory of forms and colors.
p. 16

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Today I Learned: Portuguese man-of-war

From a novel I'm reading now called The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout:
"'Holothuriae, the 'mizzen': they have many names, small galleon, Portuguese man-of-war, sea cucumber'--they have little sails, wide at the bottom, small at the top--listen to this! 'The mizzen can lower or raise this little sail when it feels the wind and wants to sail. Under water a mass of streamers, four or five feet long, hang down from it; the color is a beautiful blue, through which however something green plays. The body is transparent, as if a crystal bottle had been filled with blue-green aqua fortis.
"'The sails are milk-white with an upper edge of purple or violet, beautiful to behold, as if the creature were a precious jewel.'
"And this: 'it is miraculous to see a whole fleet of them, a thousand little ships--all together!'"

I looked online for this creature and of all its names referenced above, the only one that fit the description was the Portuguese man-of-war:

Portuguese man-of-war

I think it rather looks like a human brain! Here is what that website says about this creature (I wonder if this information was known at the time (1955) the above novel was written):
The Man-of-War (also known as a bluebottle) is not one creature, as it is commonly assumed, but a complete colony of numerous polyps...each performing their own functions. There are polyps which do nothing but digest the captured food and distribute nutrients to polyps which are not capable of digestion on their own. There are polyps which produce the Medusa, a disc shaped organism which produces eggs and sperm. This organism breaks away from the main Portuguese Man-of-War and floats off to produce many more polyps which, in turn, gather together to form another complete creature. There could be hundreds of polyps which make up the creature we know as the Portuguese Man-of-War.

So the Portuguese man-of-war is large, it contains multitudes. Also, those streamers are poisonous so avoid.

Feral Houses

feral house

More here.

Triangulation And Consciousness

Have you ever wondered, like Elizabeth Bishop did: "Why should I be my aunt,/or me, or anyone?" I was wondering about this and I was dorky enough to google it. I came across an interesting thread in some message board, unusually insightful perspective of consciousness, and from the internet no less:
If you use a pen to make a dot on the surface of a perfect sphere, that dot has no identity, it is simply The Dot. If you make another dot, they still lack identity, except for the fact that one is not the other; but you still can't tell which is which. Now add a third dot near the second one, and suddenly all three dots become individual, in the sense that you can spin the sphere and still recognize each of them by their relative distance to the other two.

(I believe this is also a hint as to why we perceive the universe in three dimensions: it's the minimum number of dimensions necessary to establish the identity of objects. But that's way out of topic...)

And later in that same thread:
Now if I am a collection of ideas, what makes "I" "me", or rather why is it that I am this collection of ideas and not that other collection, I believe the only possible answer is: mere chance. You can only develop your identity as a result of mere chance. This is where the perfect sphere analogy comes in.

If someone asks you to select a collection of points on the surface of a perfect sphere, the first point can only be chosen at random. The second point must be chosen based on the first, but other than that, it's still a random choice, with the sole exception that it cannot be the position defined by the first point (even with two points, you can't still tell one from the other - they still don't have identity). Only when the third point is chosen is the symmetry of the situation broken, and now all points have their own identity which is their relative position to the other two.

So the first being who became conscious had no problem understanding "why am I me", since he could not be anybody else, for there was nobody else to be. The second being could conceive of being the first one, but would realize being the other and being himself are essentially the same thing, so the question "why am I me" was meaningless for him. Only from the third being on did the question of one's identity become meaningful, but it is still a meaningful question without a meaningful answer other than "mere chance". Which is why I said this was known since the beginning but at the same time it's an eternal mystery.

It's interesting to think of identity as triangulation. It doesn't explain the "why" of anything, but the "why" of anything can't be answered because it's an invalid question. It's the wrong question to ask. It only seems valid because you are you, and this randomness seems so much like fate.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yesterday I Learned: Juggernaut

I was at the Decatur Farmer's Market (local organic stuff every Wednesdays at Church and Commerce) yesterday and one of the sellers had on a hat with this symbol on it:

I mentioned that it was interesting, and he started telling me about how it is the symbol of a Hindu god named Jagannath... which is also the word that "juggernaut" is derived from because of this ceremony:

The english word juggernaut means "a force regarded as unstoppable, that will crush all in its path."

Actually the above clip is from Phantom India, which I've linked to before on this blog. I guess it keeps coming up.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Today I Learned: Crows

Heard this story on NPR this morning about crows. It talks about how humans have not evolved brains that would allow us to distinguish one crow from another. Even crow researchers who have studied them many years cannot tell them apart. They have a test on the site which you can take to see if you can tell one from another. Crows, on the other hand, have a special ability to tell one human from another, and it is based on facial recognition. The scientists say that crows have traditionally had to tell humans apart because some humans were mean to crows and would shoot them while others were nice and would feed them, so it became a survival skill.

Yesterday I learned some things about Joan of Arc after watching La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (Dreyer) played in the Acapella parking lot with live backing musicians (Hubcap City). Joan was executed when she was just 19. And she was a key military figure (claiming to recieve directions from God). She led several key French victories in the Hundred Years' War (which lasted 116 years, off and on) and helped Charles V to the throne. The movie itself was amazing, and now that I know the context more, it makes more sense. Most of the dialogue in the movie was taken directly from records of her actual trial and execution.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today I Learned: "Influenza"

I'm starting a new series of posts, one for every day (until I give up like I do most things)... where I'll post one thing I learned on that day. Hopefully I'll have learned at least one thing a day, though I reserve the right to not learn anything.

I was reading a webpage about the Flu Pandemic of 1918 today (after reading the excellent book Charlotte Sometimes which is partially set in 1918) and I learned that kids used to sing this rhyme while skipping rope:

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A High Wind in Jamaica

A great book I read recently was A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. Everyone should read this book. It's got pirates! And tigers! And kids! Here is a passage that I especially loved:

In short, babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own which cannot be translated into the terms and categories of the human mind.

It is true they look human--but not so human, to be quite fair, as many monkeys.

Subconsciously, too, every one recognizes they are animals--why else do people always laugh when a baby does some action resembling the human, as they would at a praying mantis? If the baby was only a less-developed man, there would be nothing funny in it, surely.

Possibly the case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least in a partial degree--and even if one's success is infinitesimal it invalidates the case: while one can no more think like a baby, in the smallest respect, than one can think like a bee.

How then can one begin to describe the inside of Laura, where the child-mind lived in the midst of the familiar relics of the baby-mind, like a Fascist in Rome?

When swimming under water, it is a very sobering thing suddenly to look a large octopus in the face. One never forgets it: one's respect, yet one's feeling of the hopelessness of any real intellectual sympathy. One is soon reduced to mere physical admiration, like any silly painter, of the cow-like tenderness of the eye, of the beautiful and infinitesimal mobility of that large and toothless mouth, which accepts as a matter of course that very water against which you, for your life's sake, must be holding your breath. There he reposes in a fold of rock, apparently weightless in the clear green medium but very large, his long arms, suppler than silk, coiled in repose, or stirring in recognition of your presence. Far above, everything is bounded by the surface of the air, like a bright window of glass. Contact with a small baby can conjure at least an echo of that feeling in those who are not obscured by an uprush of maternity to the brain.

Of course it is not really so cut-and-dried as all this; but often the only way of attempting to express the truth is to build it up, like a card-house, of a pack of lies.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sometimes Behaves So Strangely

Download and listen to at least the first four minutes of this mp3 from the RadioLab podcast (or listen to it directly on their page). It is a segment that illustrates the musicality of language in a most remarkable way. The rest of the program is interesting too, especially the Musical DNA segment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

About A Boot

(11:34:39 AM) silvergeek000: sorry about your loss

(11:35:42 AM) PigeonClubATL: Good morning!

(11:35:47 AM) PigeonClubATL: yeah, we are on the hunt for it!

(11:35:53 AM) silvergeek000: good morning

(11:36:01 AM) silvergeek000: have you called the police?

(11:37:04 AM) PigeonClubATL: they have no been notified, i think it was one of those things that just magically vanish.

(11:37:34 AM) PigeonClubATL: maybe it will magically reappear? or maybe the police would just laugh to see the picture of a missing boot.

(11:37:48 AM) silvergeek000: a missing boot is nothing to laugh at

(11:38:29 AM) PigeonClubATL: that is my sentiment as well.

(11:39:05 AM) silvergeek000: what park was it headed for?

(11:39:59 AM) PigeonClubATL: there were many parks. piedmont, chandler, ansley...

(11:40:28 AM) PigeonClubATL: park hopping promises some fast times. and a lost boot.

(11:40:36 AM) silvergeek000: oh... so it was doing a boot tour!

(11:41:29 AM) PigeonClubATL: oh that is one way to think about it! what an exciting adventure!

(11:42:27 AM) silvergeek000: boots just wanna have fun

(11:43:03 AM) PigeonClubATL: haha they should have it. but they should come home, too.

(11:43:19 AM) silvergeek000: at what point did the boot gain full autonomy from your foot?

(11:44:38 AM) PigeonClubATL: well, park demand no shoes because breezes and grass need to be felt. so sometimes when you take one off, its difficult to find one.

(11:45:38 AM) silvergeek000: a very interesting case indeed.

(11:45:54 AM) PigeonClubATL: So where did you stumble upon the lost boot flier?

(11:46:14 AM) silvergeek000: what do you mean? the lost boot was not flying

(11:46:37 AM) PigeonClubATL: the posting! How did you come about this screen name?

(11:47:04 AM) silvergeek000: there was a dim recollection of a poster somewhere... at an intersection

(11:48:03 AM) PigeonClubATL: Where about the city?

(11:48:09 AM) silvergeek000: where did you leave the flier? did you lose the flier as well? losing a lost boot flier is very sad

(11:48:36 AM) silvergeek000: i don't recall, i wish i could help you... i am retracing my steps and cannot remember where i last saw your lost boot flier

(11:48:50 AM) PigeonClubATL: well they were lots of places!

(11:48:59 AM) PigeonClubATL: we are not messing around about this boot, you know!

(11:49:08 AM) silvergeek000: oh no! scattered? if i find it i will definitely return it.

(11:49:20 AM) silvergeek000: the flier that is

(11:49:26 AM) silvergeek000: the boot is another matter, i may keep it to myself

(11:49:29 AM) PigeonClubATL: That is much appreciated!

(11:49:30 AM) PigeonClubATL: oh!

(11:49:31 AM) PigeonClubATL: no!

(11:49:38 AM) PigeonClubATL: you must not do that!

(11:49:48 AM) silvergeek000: why not?

(11:49:51 AM) PigeonClubATL: the boot is what we are after! it needs to be returned!

(11:49:58 AM) silvergeek000: oh, not the flier?

(11:50:15 AM) PigeonClubATL: nono. we are just looking for the boot!

(11:50:16 AM) silvergeek000: i am rather confused

(11:50:25 AM) silvergeek000: you asked me where the flier was!

(11:50:35 AM) PigeonClubATL: what would you do with one boot!?

(11:50:47 AM) PigeonClubATL: and i was wondering where you saw our flier

(11:51:02 AM) silvergeek000: good question. i'm sure i could think of something. afterall, those boots were made for walking

(11:52:05 AM) PigeonClubATL: thats just what they'll do.

(11:53:47 AM) PigeonClubATL: oh that quick quip of confusion (kind of like an alliteration?) was kind of funny to look back on.

(11:53:57 AM) silvergeek000: something seems fishy about this case

(11:54:49 AM) silvergeek000: if you lost the boot, how were you able to take a photo of it and put it on a flier? obviously you took it before you lost it. But how did you know you needed a photo of it before you even lost it? I think you set this whole thing up!

(11:55:37 AM) PigeonClubATL: OR we have the other boot, took that picture and flipped it in Photoshop to represent the missing boot.

(11:56:10 AM) silvergeek000: WHAT!? the other boot has nothign to do with this. Stop changing the subject

(11:57:17 AM) silvergeek000: you're obviously hiding something!

(11:57:22 AM) PigeonClubATL: :0 the boot has everything to do with it! but what is the subject you would like to move to again?

(11:57:31 AM) silvergeek000: the missing boot!

(11:58:43 AM) PigeonClubATL: that's what i said! ohhh your tactics will not work on me sir or madam!

(11:59:35 AM) silvergeek000: no, you were talking about the other boot, the one that's not missing!

(11:59:40 AM) silvergeek000: sir or madam!

(12:00:49 PM) PigeonClubATL: but by recognizing there is one boot here and not two, we now know there is a missing boot (not pictured in the flyer, but still an actual photo)

(12:01:11 PM) PigeonClubATL: its a roundabout way of talking about the missing boot.

(12:01:20 PM) silvergeek000: an actual photo, yes, but of the non-missing boot! isn't that irrelevant to the subject at hand, sir or madam?

(12:02:16 PM) PigeonClubATL: but sir or madam, boots work in matching and the actual photo is a perfect example of what to look out for, though there should be a right boot and not a left one.

(12:02:45 PM) PigeonClubATL: it was the best we could do, we didnt know one boot was going to come up missing!

(12:03:14 PM) silvergeek000: i'm afraid we'll have to start from square one... if i am hearing you correctly, you are saying that the missing boot is identical to the non-missing boot? and so they are almost like... twins?

(12:04:58 PM) PigeonClubATL: they are so alike it is frightening, there is one tale tell that they are partners--one is right and the other left. so they must be be reunited.

(12:05:53 PM) silvergeek000: strange. i've never heard of boot twins! in this case, i don't see why you are so hell-bent on possessing the missing boot.

(12:06:30 PM) PigeonClubATL: because they are a pair! two of a kind! they must be reunited so that they can be together forever! And then my feet can match.

(12:07:56 PM) silvergeek000: sir or madam! I beg to differ. You have said in your own words that the boots are identical. And that you already own one of these so-called boots. In this case, would it not be reasonable to let someone else enjoy the other boot? Or do you think that the rich should get richer and the poor poorer!!!?!

(12:10:48 PM) PigeonClubATL: nownow, it's not about acquiring wealth, but it is about wearing a boot. and the problem with items that come in pairs means if one goes missing, everyone is poorer! if, perhaps, you come across this missing boot, sharing could potentially happen and then two people would be richer.

(12:10:58 PM) PigeonClubATL: now that is spreading wealth!

(12:12:21 PM) silvergeek000: So you only believe in sharing when someone is giving you a boot. Not when you are giving a boot (that you already own 2 of) to someone less fortunate?

(12:13:16 PM) PigeonClubATL: but maybe if we can reunite the pair, we can all wear them and share and be happy! perhaps if you find the boot you should return it to its owner so that we may then share the pair with you!

(12:13:40 PM) silvergeek000: Preposterous! Sir or madam!

(12:14:02 PM) PigeonClubATL: You dont believe in sharing?!

(12:14:05 PM) PigeonClubATL: Sir or madam!

(12:14:07 PM) silvergeek000: I will have to do a full write-up on your strange ways of thinking immediately.

(12:14:21 PM) PigeonClubATL: I will be extremely interested to read such write up!

(12:14:53 PM) silvergeek000: I would also like to know who this "we" is that you keep referring to

(12:15:36 PM) silvergeek000: perhaps i should say Sirs or Madams?

(12:16:00 PM) PigeonClubATL: You are very crafty. And yes, this is a two person endeavor to find the boot. This conversation has been tag-teamed! ha!

(12:16:43 PM) PigeonClubATL: but really, this was a two person job. not because one isnt capable, but because two care equally.

(12:18:09 PM) PigeonClubATL: honestly, because you seem to be so on the ball with this investigation, i wonder if you could catch the subtleties of change in tone.

(12:18:19 PM) silvergeek000: ah... two people... i see why you need two boots now... why didn't you tell me earlier? one for each person.. you DO believe in sharing afterall!

(12:18:46 PM) silvergeek000: oh, but how i wish there were a third boot!

(12:18:55 PM) PigeonClubATL: hahah you're stuck on this one boot per person thing

(12:19:15 PM) PigeonClubATL: ill share my boot.

(12:19:51 PM) silvergeek000: which one of you is the one who looks like a splitting image of audrey hepburn?

(12:21:37 PM) PigeonClubATL: maybe there is a collective hepburn aesthetic.

(12:22:13 PM) silvergeek000: one can be aubrey and one can be katharine... that way you can share a last name

(12:22:57 PM) silvergeek000: a last name and a boot to boot!

(12:23:46 PM) PigeonClubATL: but katherine, while a wonderful actress, was not quite the face comparable to audrey and it would not be as nice on the bottom of an IM.

(12:25:01 PM) PigeonClubATL: haha "a boot to boot"--how often does one get to say something like that?

(12:26:17 PM) silvergeek000: "a boot" -- that's how some people say "about"... so if they said "about a boot" they're saying "a boot a boot"

(12:27:34 PM) PigeonClubATL: I suppose the irish would be very apt to follow this conversation then!

(12:28:58 PM) PigeonClubATL: For now, we must be heading out for a bit! We had a lovely time talking to you.

(12:28:59 PM) silvergeek000: very well, Sirs or Madams! I am off. but fear not, I will follow this case closely. your boot will be found, although I may end up keeping it. have a jolly day.

(12:29:12 PM) silvergeek000: aha i see that your minds are thinking samely as mine

(12:29:30 PM) PigeonClubATL: Sounds like a plan! Indeed. Perhaps you will find the boot!

(12:29:35 PM) PigeonClubATL: and have a nice afternoon!

(12:29:41 PM) silvergeek000: you can boot on it!

Monday, April 13, 2009


Outline Address Mom's Better

  • Did what she wanted live life ->
    us, piano & not what we wanted
    had much potential - did not care

  • Did not encourage us rather us
    have low-esteem, then being ("better
    than stone")

  • No respect for self now
    I must struggle w/ greater curse

  • Gave almost $1,000 & not like I
    owed more & had no problem until,
    you had a gran as man living in the
    home free charge getting any grocery
    rented & thought it was cool.

  • All for the sake of a man

Monday, March 30, 2009

Handmade Film

I made a short film this weekend. See below:

This was part of a class at wonderroot... the other students did some great work too... see them on my Vimeo page

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sick of thinking

The flu has kept me in bed for the past four days, and it's also kept me to my own thoughts. I began getting sick of my voice, not my physical one (that too), but the imaginary one I actually hear when I'm thinking. Is it possible to think without words, without language? How peaceful would that be. I think as children we probably all thought without words much of the time, or at least I'd like to imagine I did, as I was never very good at words. But I've become more and more reliant on it. Maybe the reason we're such muddled-in-the-head people is because of the way we think. Dr. Temple Grandin, who is autistic, and whom I found on Google by searching "thinking without words" has written a very interesting article. She describes the way she thinks as a series of images as in a flip book. All her thoughts are this way, some are videos and three dimensional models that she can manipulate in a very detailed and complex fashion. Images trigger other images in a succession to form a thought. When she thinks "dog" she automatically sees a bunch of pictures of every single specific dog she's ever known, not some general abstract "dog".