turbogrrl: (Default)
"What would people think?"

I can hear that-- do hear that-- hissed injunction in my head; I can see the wrinkled nose, curled lip of my mom's face as she spits the words out.

Nearly every argument I would have with my mom, growing up, would come to that. Now, 20 years later, it only comes out every so often; but then, it doesn't need to. The damage is done. The words echo in my mind of their own volition, govern my every action, an unavoidable subroutine in my internal wiring. A rootkit of insecurity.

What would people think, indeed.

The problem, of course, is that one has no control over what People might think. They are free to think whatever they will. But that question, that hissed question, plants doubts. What-ifs. Paralyzing rivers of alternatives. And hubris. Because, of course, the very question implies that one might have *power* over what people might think. That if one manages the precise correct gestures, manages to say the right thing, then everything will be ok. They won't think whatever it is they aren't supposed to think.

Maybe, just maybe, if I can avoid every crack and seam in the sidewalk, nothing bad will ever happen to my parents.

It's an impossible task. And yet I am horrified to discover just how much of my energy over the last decades has gone into trying, at all costs, to avoid those psychic cracks. Trying to know what people think; reading every gesture, every line on a face for clues, tracing the arc of shoulders, the set of a jaw, following each flick of the eyes.

I cannot stand crowds for long; so many people becomes a torrent, a flood of information that I cannot use but see and hear regardless. My mind desperately tries to contain all of the permutations, all the possibilities of what they think. I freeze. I strive to be invisible, to pass unnoticed, afraid of what they might think.

The second problem is this: that question, posed in that manner, teaches that appearance is all. Much worse to *appear* stupid, than open one's mouth and remove all doubt. So. Stay quiet. Always give the appearance that you are whatever other people want you to be. Do the right thing, and then maybe they won't *think* about you.

It's unachievable. It's navigation by the unknowable.

I live in a cage of cautious fear, a cage that grew around me even as I struggled to run away from it. I knew the question was wrong. I knew the conclusions were wrong. There was only one thing to do.

Everything I ever suggest, you do the opposite! It doesn't matter what I say, you'll run out and do the exact opposite thing. That- hissed, too.

No, not opposite. But not what she ever suggested, either. I knew, even then, that if such faulty thinking told her that it, whatever it was, was the one thing I Must do, then it was the one thing I must NOT do.

My professor steepled his fingers and looked at me over them. "So, do you think you'll stay and work here?"

"It would be the easy thing to do..."

"Hm." He let the silence draw out a bit. "And how many times in your life
have you chosen the easy thing?"


Oct. 8th, 2009 09:27 pm
turbogrrl: (Default)
"you want to play?" He holds out the guitar.
"oh, god, no-- I have no musical talent at all."
"Everyone has music inside of them. It's just that most of them die without ever figuring out a way to unlock it. I think that is incredibly heartbreaking."

His liquid dark eyes look earnestly and steadily into mine.

Yes, yes it is heartbreaking. His earnestness is uncanny and fey, and I can see how it is that he always has some girl dangling after him. Ah, youth.

At home, on the sofa, Nick hands me his headphones, and I curl into his back and listen to a beautiful melting voice and lazily winding tune, and part of me wants to cry. I don't think I'll ever be able to unlock the music inside of me.


Yesterday was one of those utterly perfect fall days, where everything is crisper and brighter than you think should be possible; the sky was brilliant blue, delicate white puffy clouds floated by, and red and golden leaves danced in an endless swirl around me as I walked to class.

I drove, as I do nearly every day, up new hampshire and out of the city. The road crests just outside of Fort Totten to go over the rail tracks, and if you turn your head just so it feels like you can get a glimpse of forever... endless hills rippling purple-blue-green into the distance. Hills rippling over sorrow. Even before the train crash that glimpse of sky and hilly horizon would make me pensive, but now, every day, I drive past flowers and letters and tokens tied to the iron railings. A grandfather hoisted his young relative onto his shoulder as I drove slowly past, and all of us looked out over the landscape.

I can see why they built a fort there.

I wonder if that train operator loved that view as much as I do.

turbogrrl: (Default)
For nick and I to actually move in ...(I've been typing on this stupid small keyboard for no reason, and it's been driving me crazy. I went and got the full size keyboard off the damn shelf, like I've been meaning to do for *months now*. So There. Take that, keyboard!)

Right. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. for us to move in, a lot of shit has Got To Go. And most of it is, well, memories. My brain doesn't hold them so well, so I outsource them to tangible objects.

So I just found a card that my dad's dad sent me in early 03, which is basically a plea for me to come and visit him at the Friends' home for elderly Quakers.

I did not go.

He passed away in 07.

I could leave it at that. I *should* leave it at that, or at least, save it for a book called 'things I shouldn't write about' and published under a pseudonym.

Part of it was that no one in that family really considered me one of the family. There were his granddaughters, and then there was me, 'oh, yes, and Ken's daughter Jenny'. Riiiight. Thank you. I was a graft that didn't take very well, I guess.

But part of it was just that as I got older I was able to tell just how horribly wounded all of his children were, and how horribly wounded most of *their* children were because their parents had grown up knowing nothing but beatings and not-quite-enough food and rigid moralizing. And it made me angry. And rather than pour all of that cold anger over an old, frail, lonely man-- because I wasn't quite sure how I could contain that anger-- I let him think that I was just a stereotypically distant youngster who couldn't spare any time for old people.

Sorry I didn't visit you, Grandfather. It's just that, well, I didn't like you.
turbogrrl: (goldfish)
A therapist, were I to avail myself of one, would tell me that I have abandonment issues stemming from my unfortunate childhood. Knowing a thing and coping with a thing are in fact two very different things, however, and I suspect I may in fact be somewhat late in the game to start coping differently.

Actually, it isn't coping so much as modeling. I'm fundamentally unable to model any relationship that involves me. Most people, I think, can build reasonable, if simplistic, models for the relationships around them. But any model a two-year-old is going to build will never be able to cope with suddenly being pulled from one world into the next with nothing so much as a doll to hold on to.

(I've never even considered that exact facet of it. I had nothing of my prior life. I went to the orphanage with nothing to hold on to. They even cut my hair off. Poor child.)

So, yes. Predictive models clearly were useless. I'm not sure I tried to ever really build one again for myself; instead, I assimilated data, and created the occasional negative model. For example, if my dad came home too late without letting us know, well, I would just conclude he was never coming home. Because people could do that, in my world. The plain truth was that you never really know a person.

The problem, with not having a model, is that it deprives me of the ability to weight input. It deprives me of a useful filter for what is important and what is meaningless. Every interaction is thus incorporated as valid, and assigned an equal weight. Though, I suspect, in thinking about it, that later interactions are weighted higher than prior ones, because now is the milieu we all deal in. There is no use holding on to some idealized state. There is nothing so sacred that someone won't willfully hurt it or walk away from it.

For someone without a predictive model, there is a safety in knowing that anything is possible. That the person you love may just not show up ever again. Or in fact turn out to hate you when they had been saying they loved you all along.

This used to vex Shields to no end. He couldn't wrap his head around it. "You don't trust me. You don't respect me. Why would you spend time with someone if you *expect* them to treat you badly?"

Respect, in his lexicon, seemed to be some sort of false optimism. What could I say? I expected him to be him. I trusted him, as much as I trusted anyone, which is to say-- people are capable of anything, and I'm not capable of predicting what they might do at any given point.

People leave. Not just my biological mother, or the mother I had after that, or her husbands; but friends and lovers do, too. People stop talking to you without explanation, or decide they hate you. It's just another data point. "Oh. Ok."

Sometimes, later, they decide they don't. "Oh. Ok."

I can't predict it. And I really can't hold it against them. We are all complex bundles of contradictions, but there is generally something worthwhile in all of us. Good, and bad, in season. I try to hold on to the good, and accept the rest.

It hurts, though. I don't deny that. Because if I like someone, if I care about them, well, I want them to care about me, too. So, it hurts when they don't.

Nick's parents did this to me the other week, in front of guests. "Oh, god. You. Why do you keep coming around?"

Well. Likely because you keep inviting me, but that is merely what I thought. Instead, I blinked, and changed the topic of conversation, and eventually vanished from the table, as I've learned to do over the years of dealing with endlessly mysterious people.

I don't really hold it against them. It hurts, because I do believe there is a line at which it's not possible to say such things and not mean them, and they well and truly crossed it that night with other similar statements, but I will get over it. I will keep caring, because it is what I do, and they will keep jabbing at me, because it is what they do. It has nothing to do with trust or respect, but I doubt that I will ever be able to articulate this well to satisfy someone so literal as Shields.

What is trust? I really do not know. It's a model I was not issued.


I wandered aimlessly through the humid city tonight, in search of food or drink. Bar Pilar was full, as was Rice and Pasha Cafe and places in between. I knew it was going to rain, but I had brought no umbrella. Eventually, I ended up at Kramers, and the deluge started. I curled up with Rilke and a cider at the bar, and ate my dinner in pleasant solitude.


We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything.

— Rainer Maria Rilke
turbogrrl: (Default)
I sat in the very corner of the bagel shop, tucked into my tiny
booth-for-two, and gazed listlessly at the TV mounted on the wall in
the middle of the room.
On it, a live picture of the space shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad,
the sky hazy behind it. I was too far away to see the text on the
screen, or hear the announcers voice. And then, a closeup of the base
of the pad, sparks lifted and flowed in a lazy eddy, and then the
massive rockets lit in a red-white-hot conflagration. The whole
edifice rocked and listed for a suspended second, and then inch by
inch suddenly this massive structure, this tiny toy, this packet of
hope moved through thick air lit orange and crowded with billowing
I remember being home sick the day Challenger was to take Christa
McAuliffe into space. I remember watching the disintegration of
Columbia. I watched this tiny capsule lift towards the heavens, with
fingers and futile prayers on my lips.
I was the only one looking at the television.
There was a time, when such a sight would bring together total
strangers in shared anxious silence, as if the combined thrust of our
watching, our hopes and whispered benedictions could physically lift a
small handful of us to the skies. There was a time when the
magnificence, the danger, the sheer audacity and impossibility of
riding a burning rocket to space would dwarf everything around it.
Now, it is mundane. The explosions, the tensions, daring of fictional
characters tower over our experience; our film studios can create a
much better spectacle than our science programs.
We've lost the magic. We've lost the drive. I can see the future, and
it ends with us tethered to this rapidly depleting rock in space,
lulled and sated by our fantasies until it is too late, until we've
lost the ability to leave.
Fare thee well, Hubble. Fare thee well, Atlantis. You opened us a
window to the magnificent and the mysterious; but we just keep pulling
the shades.
turbogrrl: (Default)

Vertigo Books in College Park, MD, is closing.
I'm tired of browsing final-sale racks, feeling as if I'm at a wake.
I'll still have Kramers, of course, and Politics and Prose; and Idle
Time and Second Story in the used-books department-- but for how long?
Second Story closed their Bethesda outpost, and recently shuttered the
Dupont Circle location for a makeover. What was once a bibliophile's
dream of towering shelves and books crammed in any-which way is now a
spacious and somewhat reserved store; I'd estimate that they removed
at least 500 linear feet of shelving. On the other hand, it seems like
perhaps reduction of choice is the way to go; there were a lot more
people in the store than there used to be.
But still. In Vertigo, as I was moping through the shelves, I could
hear the conversation happening at the front. "You'd think that a
large university could support *one* independent bookstore yards from
its front gate." A booming voice answered, "Oh, god. Students today--
I remember, I was talking to a professor almost a decade ago, and it's
worse now-- they don't read. They don't know how to. They look online
for answers, and write down whatever they find." The quiet voice of
the bookseller broke in. "Students don't really shop here. I almost
never see an undergraduate... I'm not sure why..."
I'm afraid to look up my favorite bookstores from Santa Cruz. If I
don't look, I can imagine them, humming along, living their lives.
Much like how I imagine my dead. Perhaps my loved ones are looking
forward to another bookstore to browse.
Vertigo will close on Saturday, 25 April. Everything is 20-50% off.

turbogrrl: (Default)
Prof xxxxx-

The summary is that I will be missing class today, and would also like to request more time for the homework assignment.

You indicated that requests for extensions must be accompanied by an explanation/story. )
turbogrrl: (goldfish)
I spent the 13th not outdoors but inside, variously asleep or aimless. Not doing homework.

Sīzdah-be-dar (13th-out-of-doors) in reality is a holiday on the 13th day of Favardin, which begins on the Vernal equinox. So, long past this year. The Iranian holiday has its roots in ancient Iran, in Zoroastrianism (good thoughts, good words, good deeds), but maybe earlier. The Philosopher said that the 13th is bad luck, a day of destruction, after the 12 days of creation celebrated during Nowruz, but these things are not written in English. Some have said that the 12 days stand for the 12,000 years of the universe, which are ruled by the 12 signs of the zodiac, and which are named for Angels, and that after the 12,000 years there is destruction and liberation from the material world. And so 13 is ominous, and nothing constructive should be done, and one should be out-of-doors.

I bought and read the latest Jacqueline Carey book. Eh.

Someone recommended Pynchon's Mason & Dixon to me, so I bought it. I am starting to suspect that Pynchon is actually the bastard child of Emily Dickinson and James Joyce, and I'm only on page 5. I have to admit I find myself in agreement with Nick's dad– the prose is just exhausting.


Having another person in the class unfortunately keeps the Philosopher more on track. B, poor B, does not seem to follow any of it. We had a quiz on Thursday, and despite his having taken Modern Islam last semester, he didn't even know what year the Islamic calendar starts. So I think I got everything right, and B... maybe one or two questions right. This is painful, this uneven yoking.

We were required to find poems by Omar Khayyám, and bring them to class and discuss them. The Fitzgerald interpretations were the easiest to find (though I enjoyed several sites that compared various revisions of his translations next to other more literal translations).

B chose this one, but couldn't explain why he did or what it might mean:

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help - for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

Whereas this one caught my fancy:

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in — Yes —
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be — Nothing — Thou shalt not be less.

I think the first one might be a favorite of the Philosopher, as he asked me to re-read it after B butchered it terribly.

This heat is depressing me terribly. At least we will have some storms to-day.
turbogrrl: (Default)
On the way home from dinner tonight, I snagged (as usual) on the $1 or less cart outside of the used bookstore. One book I looked at made my blood boil, but no matter. The other I picked up was rollickingly amusing prose, and I figured that it was worth the posted 50 cents. So, naturally, I had to wander over to the new arrivals case, as well. Whereupon I was most cruelly mugged.

In the end, the damage was less than dinner but not inconsiderable (our four mojitos, while tasty, were somewhat expensive).

The cute bookseller flipped the first book over with a moue of disappointment– it wasn't the book she had thought it was. "Oh. I have this on my bookshelf, but I haven't read it yet."

I have that problem too.

Her boyfriend, it seems, is vexed by her careful piles of books– so insulating, so safe– and is threatening to build her bookshelves. Our conversation ranged from the architectural needs of a massive library, to storage and filing of books (subject matter, dewey decimal, random), to anne fadiman's essays (the ones she recommended, which I'd already read, and the ones I just finished reading, which she hadn't), to 84 Charing Cross (It's a tavern now! -I know, I visited it, too.) I commented that the grandson of one of the owners had been a cryptographer, and she exclaimed- "I clipped his obituary from the times!" I commended his book Between Silk and Cyanide to her, and we discussed how he had become interested in cryptography (deciphering the codes his grandfather and other booksellers used to record the price they paid for a book in the book itself). Aha! she exclaimed. You need to read Parnassus on Wheels... also Haunted Bookshop!

She won. I have not yet read these.

So, books read recently:

Why? by Charles Tilly. This is a extraordinary inquiry into how and why we construct explanations and stories, the purposes they serve, and how we construct different ones depending on our relation to the person we are telling it to.

At Large and at Small by Anne Fadiman. This was a beautiful escape into some lovely prose, ranging from ice cream to insect collecting to charles lamb to death and loss and moving. Read this book.

The Shia Revival by Vali Nasr. Yes, I'm taking a course on Modern Iran. I didn't mean to buy this book, however- I'd gone to the bookstore in the week after finals looking for a mindless romance but after an hour of aimlessly picking books up and putting them down, somehow walked over to Kramers and bought this instead. It's an exceedingly accessible introduction to the Gordian knot that is the Muslim world.

And the books that mugged me this evening (and thus not yet read):
turbogrrl: (Default)
It is true, life is inherently unfair. Worthy people suffer, evil prospers, war is random, and all systems are biased.

But there is another side, and it's not truth. It's excuse. "Life ain't fair, kid." It's the bully's justification to the victim, the exploiters to the exploited. It's a dog-eat-dog world, each to his own, look away, that's none of my business, not my problem.

Life is not fair. But I think that part of the human responsibility is that we try to be fair to those around us. It may be a quixotic hope of mine– I don't deny that much in human nature conspires to make such efforts laughable. But it's a choice we all have. We don't *have* to exploit every situation for our own gain. No one is demanding it, except for the human desire to be the ant on top of the dunghill.


And so I feel bad about school. I try to determine if my unfair advantages are balanced by my disadvantages. I try to determine if my abilities to be adult, write coherently, and be respectful are all due to my age, or if realistically, the people who are whining and cheating and doing poorly in class are the same people who whine and deflect and never do their share of the work in their later professional life, and my classes are just a mixed bag like every workplace is.

But I'm going to stand out in every class I take, and I do wonder if that is negatively impacting the people I take classes with.

Part of my frustration, of course, is that UMD just isn't a cutting-edge school. It oozes institutional complacency. I go to classes, I walk around campus, and no one is excited. There is no spark, no catalyst, no enthusiasm, no collaboration. And this long slog is agonizing without it.

Perhaps my high school chemistry teacher summed it up best:

"You know what you are? Yer strivin fer mediocrity."
turbogrrl: (Default)
The problem with not being a programmer is that each time I need to do something, there is that long painful hill of incomprehension, like slogging a heavy pack up a mountain in driving rain: you can't see where you're headed, you're just following the footsteps in front of you, nothing makes sense, and you have no idea where you are.

It's the learning curve.

If you're learning something to use on a regular basis, it's worth it. You only have to go up that particular mountain once, and then the rest of them just aren't that bad.

But if you *don't* use it regularly, it goes away. And the next time you need to do that task, you're back at the foot of the mountain of incomprehension. You know this one is the worst one. You're done it before. It's going to suck. And it does.

So, I hacked away at the site like a rain-blind hiker- stealing bits and pieces here and there. Piled everything into one page cause that's how the pages I was looking at did it. Used a truly awful switch statement for the 110 maps (I'm not completely stupid; I generated it with perl.) And it mostly worked.

Late yesterday the afternoon I finally got a div wrapper working so that the map titles scroll while the map remains fixed. Hey, even better!

However, this morning I woke up at 6am and slapped my forehead. Duh. I didn't need those stupid case statements. And, in fact, none of that should be in the html file at all. I ripped all the javascript out of the file, axed acres of switch statements, created a few small functions, and- voila! It even worked on the first run. The page looks mostly the same, but the code is at least 70% less ugly. It's still javascript that I wrote, though. So, no escaping the ugly. While I was at it I also stuck the css in another file. Sheer laziness kept me from doing that before.

I'm still horrified at myself. And my head hurts.

All of this internal churn makes no difference to my grade, of course: my TA can't read html source. Even looking at the map seemed to hurt him. "So, do you, like, use Frontpage?" "Um... no. No, I wrote the html myself." "Oh."

My cartography prof liked it, though— she even sent the link to another prof.


A couple of weeks ago she had a guest lecturer in. An old-school geek- while he wore a suit jacket, I suspect his pocket protectors were taken away under severe protest in the 80s. Works for the census. Good speaker, but the rest of the class pretty much sat there like lumps of clay. I even tried feeding things to say to one of the guys near me, so I wouldn't be the only one interacting. No go.

Anyway, I'd made a minor clarification to something he said– we were talking about post office boxes and zip codes, and he'd said "There isn't even a +4 with a PO Box, all you can know is the zip code." I was compelled to comment "Well, you *do* get one, but it's just the last four digits of the PO Box usually. So it's not helpful." And he blinked and then shot back at me "Want a job?"

Later that day, it hit me. These classes might actually lead to somewhere. I can actually start to see a path to where I'm doing something completely different– something I might even like doing *and* be better than a lot of the other people doing it.

I still feel like I have an unfair advantage, but that's a post for another day.
turbogrrl: (Default)
While I was sitting in Mandalay, a group of young 20-somethings spilled into the booth behind me. They were talking loudly about their different high-school experiences- catholic schools and boarding schools and public schools and the differences between them. "I went to a catholic school, so I didn't learn any geography!" As they continued riffing on catholic schools and priests and nuns and the terror of it all, two priests and a nun sit down at the table next to me.

The kids continue their conversation at a near-yell, unabated.

Monsignor starts talking about how he was informed he needed to find a tailor before meeting with the pope. (Vestments must fit Just So.)

The kids start talking about pot. "Well, my parents always felt it best to do that kind of thing at home..."

The clergy start discussing parish business.

Then the kids start an uninformed argument over what kinds of nuns wear habits.

Neither party noticed the other.


Sitting on a wall near the mall. Two guys walk by, and are hailed by someone emerging from a building down the way. A long-distance series of insults ensue. One guy shakes his head. "You're such an ass! Eat. A. Dick, Ken. Eat a dick."

I look up. "... and die."


"That's how the phrase ends. Eat a dick and die."

He blinks, and gamely responds: "Well, it's a good way to close a conversation."
turbogrrl: (Default)
In general, my editing class is full of useful and win. However, the professor has a strange fixation on the communication method known as the "Memo". Now, there isn't much use in daily business life for the Memo, except for those rare impersonal announcements from HR or administration regarding a new 401k plan, or a scheduled power outage for the upcoming weekend. Most people, when working together, are going to be working on an email basis, which should have the same level of formality as the memo- but be notably different in audience and tone.

Unfortunately, this focus on the form of "Memo" has the effect of obscuring her real point in requiring memos for every project: if you cannot articulate what your goals are, what the design considerations are, how to best address the target audience, then you can't hope to convince your employer/client as to the validity of your ideas, and you don't have a good basis to begin working. While the real world does not require a constant stream of memos, it *does* require being able to create a plan, work towards a plan, and have the flexibility and understanding to be able to modify your own personal preferences in order to best address the actual requirements.

If you can't, if you want to design the same sort pamphlet for a children's school as you would for an high-end architecture firm, then you *aren't* providing a good service. You're Mies, building an all-glass house on a floodplain for a noted recluse, just because you think it looks cool.

Instead of understanding this, my fellow students walk out of class, whining- 'whats with all the fucking memos?'


In other news, I have once again sprained my ankle. It's been threatening it for a couple weeks, and it gave way this afternoon despite my ankle brace. *&^%$!!!
turbogrrl: (Default)
Two of my dad's co-workers have committed suicide in the last two weeks. All I can do is think back to my harsh words of a few months ago, "...is this how you want to die? Is it? This is *your* choice- the job is eating you up, and you *choose* it. Don't tell yourself you have to do this, that this is the only way. You choose it and you now you have to ask yourself, is this how you want to die?"

Still true. Harsh, but true. I don't know how, precisely, this job will kill him. Maybe he'll fall off another roof. Maybe he'll fall asleep at the wheel of his truck again. Maybe he'll have a heart attack.

I see these things, but nothing to be done.

The cherry blossoms shower the ground, bruised and lost.


I sat, lost in reverie after the lit class. The professor- so transparent. I have sympathy for her, I really do. It can't have been easy, growing up a lesbian in south texas in the 50s. I don't pretend to comprehend all of her existence from the thumbnail sketches we get, where the unsaid looms taller than a high plains thunderhead. And yet, she thinks she can glance cursorily out over the crowd and know all that is worth knowing about us. She's quick to anger, quick and careless in her speech, and she bristles like a kicked dog turned mean at any sign of opposition.

You can see her, seeking adulation from the students and TAs that cluster and trip behind her- seeking out the pretty ones, and the awkward ones that remind her of her- she has patience for anyone who stumbles in their speech, and I'd respect her for that except for the blossoming smirk she can't hide when she lets them ramble on too much.

My TA came up to me, and said hi. I could see concern in her eyes- I'd disagreed with the prof again, and now I was sitting lost in thought. "Don't take it personally- anything you say, it's wrong. It's just how she is."
"Oh, I know. That, I could see the first day."

But I felt sorry for her- she's trying to get her PhD, and she's likely yoked to this intolerant dragon until she finishes. If the dragon lets her finish.


It's the middle of the semester, I'm at three As and two B's. It'd be really nice if I didn't fuck this up.
turbogrrl: (Default)
"The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it.

The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are no inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

— italo calvino, Invisible Cities

I learned of Italo Calvino from a girl too cool and too smart and too busy for me; we had one ill-fated date, at a too-loud bar, followed by greasy food at Ben's neither of us wanted. The words we didn't say were interrupted by the Ethiopian cabbie, who after dropping her off, instead of taking me home, drove me to an Ethiopian restaurant and asked me to marry him. I have nothing more of her but books read and unread, a litany of thoughts unspoken, vague wonderings. That said, it was worth it, to have discovered Italo.
turbogrrl: (Default)
I've been trying to remind myself to look around and just breathe and soak it all in.

Last weekend, the weather was beautifully changeable and quick-moving. From nick's place, with its sprawling panorama, we could see clear sky, and squall line, and a grey blanket of nimbostratus creeping in. As we watched, the line came overhead, and then the rain started.

Nick frowned. Lunch in is starting to sound like a good idea. "Go shower." I said. "It won't be raining by the time you're dressed." You promise? "I promise."

I made good on my promise, and eventually we drove back to my neighborhood. In Adams Morgan, the sky was clear and sunny, brilliant blue with cotton-ball clouds. The other clouds, gathered on the Coastal Flats, were piling up like a snowbank above the fall line on 16th. We walked to lunch in the sunshine, but brought the Magic Umbrella. After eating, we walked back, still in brilliant sun. The air was heavier, though, and the breeze more brisk. Ensconced in my apartment, windows open to the breeze and the sun, we soon paid the price of meddling with the weather. One cannot wield the magic umbrella lightly. The wind gathered, the sun shone, and then: *plink* *thunk* *plink* *thud*. The hail started, not slowly, but all in a rush, and several ice balls bounced across the floor before Nick pulled the offending window shut. I stuck my face up against an open southern window, and just breathed, and watched the ice fall, so beautiful and bouncy.

A few minutes later it was all over except for the rain. "See?" I said. "That's what happens when you ask me to meddle with the weather."


There is a long stand of trees along montrose road, near executive boulevard. It's a fairly narrow stand, as these things go, but they're all a couple decades old and the swath stretches for about a mile, broken here and there by the occasional road. Birds love to roost in those trees. Sometimes, around twilight, you can catch a seemingly endless flock of birds, all arriving from the west, swooping and diving, melding and merging and combining and dividing- one seemingly singular organism, a muscular ribbon of feather and wing- the sky darkens, there are thousands and thousands- rivers and torrents of birds, black as sin, black against the velvet blue sky, at least a hundred thousand birds calling and landing like leaves on these bare trees so they bend and sway. Still more are arriving as one battalion takes off, followed by another, merging with the black river, floating out into the inky infinity.

It's... truly astounding. I press my face up against the window, and cock my head back, and watch the endless ballet.


If you take the formants of audible speech, and just play those channels back, on first listen it sounds like birds calling, and about as intelligible. And then, the brain teases out the thread of meaning, and the bird-call noise is recognizable, words coalesce, and I'm left wondering... what are the birds saying?


Snowdrops blooming, and small purple flowers on a hill. Ash on the car windshield. The feral alley kitten pauses, eyes glowing in the dark. "Hi, baby. Hi."

Exult in the moments around you.
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There was a wagyu beef carpaccio made to look like an ice cream cone, with foam mounded on top, a dash of 100-year-old balsamic, and a thin crisp shell rolled up like a cone. There were beautiful sardines with only a hint of fishyness to balance the salt. A "ceasar salad" in a crouton- all of the salad was encapsulated in the crouton, with an explosion of gushiness as I bit into it. There was a tarragon yogurt that I shamelessly licked off my fingers. Tender raw scallops, fresh peas, octopus and pasta, new radishes, tasty flatbreads, tiny gyros... the entree was spit-roasted goat, with a salty crispy layer of bliss over tender chunks of succulent meat. French-roast coffee, a semolina cake, and honey-dipped doughnuts.

If I didn't love Nick already, I'd definitely love him now. :p
turbogrrl: (Default)
In the evening Nick and I trooped over to the lovely ebeths, where she'd fixed me posole and the best dessert ever- angel-food-cake slices swimming in lemon-curd-whipped-creme.

Somehow, Nick and Cath had never had posole before- it's a slightly spicy hominy-pork stew, with fresh cornbread to soak it up and shredded cheese to put on top.

Brad and Claire showed up, scrabble board and dictionary in tow, but we decided we needed to watch Groundhog Day before scrabble. It came out 15 years ago....! where did the time go? We discussed how long Phil was stuck in the temporal loop, and figured it was at least a thousand years.

Claire had gone to sleep, and we wondered if sleepiness would give us a slight advantage in scrabble. Alas, it was not to be so. She utterly trounced us. Dave and the team of Ebeth and Nick battled it out for second place. I came in dead last, after giving up and turning *all* my tiles back in when faced with the palindrome Eiouoie. Cath napped with the puppy, but woke up and suggested that I play the horribly terribly lucrative " e" in front of "faxing" for "refaxing" and a triple word score. After I stopped sobbing with laughter, I went ahead and did it. Yes, I sunk to the level of refaxing. Steve tried to keep one eye open but was struggling mightily when we finally left at 0130.

Yes, I was out past 0100 *playing scrabble*.

And then, Nick and I slept in till 1030! Such decadence.
turbogrrl: (Default)
ETA: Click the pics for a link to more pictures.

So, I recently joined the National Building Museum. Besides getting a discount in their crazy glue-trap of a store, (architecture, design, and typography porn, oh my!) I get the chance to go on members-only events.

So this saturday morning, Nick and I fortified ourselves with caffeine, and then wandered a block north of his place to go take a construction tour of "The House on the Corner", a pie-slice-shaped house at the corner of 10th and Florida Ave.

The owner and designer of the house gave the tour, and he is the former design director for the NEA (arts endowment, not venture capital). He and his wife spent about a year looking at all of the errant pie-shaped plots scattered throughout the city, in hopes of finding a unique site for the house they hoped to build. Despite missing it on their perambulations, in the end a friend told them to check out the little wedge by Florida and 10th.

Little it is. The very end plot is around 260sf. In a triangle. He managed to actually acquire a lien on it at the annual tax sale, and then spent about two years clearing the title. During that time, he attempted to track down the person who owned the plot next door. That was an adventure, with private investigators, and burned-out houses, and missed letters, but ultimately- success. He acquired another 300sf of land, and set out to design his dream house.

He couldn't have done it without a lot of variances- he's built up to the lot lines on all sides (he's even using the neighboring side wall as a parti-wall, anchoring parts of his house to it, instead of building his own wall). Yes, those 6 inches mattered. In return for this favour, he had to design an addition for his neighbors house. The second floor cantilevers out over public space, which craftily allows him stunning views down florida and 10th. It also allows the interior space to read as rectangular rather than triangular.

The staircase is a massive wonder- 5 tons of self-supporting welded steel, origamied into the end of the house like a strange bird stuck behind a wall of windows.

The floors are all radiant heat, and cooling is achieved with a high-pressure air system to cool the top two floors, and a regular air conditioner downstairs. The fireplace column is in the brick prow of the building, and the master bedroom has a louvered window that can funnel heat into the bedroom from the column.

The house is geeky, funny, and cool, much like the man who designed it. On a nearly 7-year quest to create something compelling and memorable, his enthusiasm seems to have scarcely waned. Now, it's a race to see if the project will finish before his tolerant wife has their baby.


It's been 25 years, and I'm still scrambling through unfinished houses with unalloyed glee. Except now I'm paying for the privilege. I guess it's better than potentially getting arrested for trespassing....

on high

Dec. 15th, 2007 01:47 pm
turbogrrl: (Default)
From my perch above the city I can see out across the roofs of countless buildings. It's as if the roof is a secret space that only I can see. One roof has discarded chairs, another a ladder, and tarps, and a wooden (!) structure covering the chimney stack. Another has a car door, and some empty pots, as if children dropped them after an afternoon of intense play. And across the city, some nailed, some tethered by loosely piled cinder blocks, some wavering on delicate metal stems- flocks of satellite dishes look to the sky.

One is not likely to find north in the city- one would be hard-pressed to find a tree with such complaisant moss. But look to roofs, my friends, look to the fragile receptive circular paraboloids all straining and yearning towards the same source- and you will find south-west.

Ambulances, and heavy rescue equipment go screaming past. There is an inflated water rescue craft on the roof of one. I wonder if someone has fallen into the reservoir, and if they are now floating, gasping and slowly freezing- waiting for the rescue boat to be launched towards them.

Maybe it is only a practice run.
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