november 2003

Worst Treehouse of Horror ever. The 14th annual Simpsons Halloween episode was really weak, especially considering how much work you know they put into this episode, which has replaced the Great Pumpkin as the Halloween tradition in the homes of the coveted 18-49 year olds. The Homer-as-Death idea had promise, but it didn't go anywhere, and the watch that could stop time had some funny moments early on, but they're really starting to run out of steam on these. Let's hope this isn't foreshadowing for the quality of the new season.

The only thing I have to say about MTV's new show Rich Girls, which focuses on two ultra-rich, ultra-spoiled teenage girls who don't realize how ridiculous they look to the rest of us: people who treat the garbageman or the "help" the same as they treat the salesperson at Prada don't have to say point out that fact three times a day to the cameras that are following them around on their $10,000 shopping sprees.

Another Halloween has come and gone in our kid-saturated neighborhood, and our war chest of candy is greatly diminished despite the lower-than-usual turnout. Last year we got 114 kids, which was about average, but this year we had only 93, ten fewer than our previous lowest turnout. There's no obvious reason for this other than the possibility that a lot of the kids have gotten too old for trick or treating (although we did see quite a few that had to be at least 14) and new ones haven't been born to take their places yet (despite the fact that we also saw quite a few adult couples using their infants to shamelessly collect a sack of candy for the enjoyment of the parents).

Anyhow, here are our pumpkins:

Both pumpkins

Julie's pumpkin

My pumpkin, the headless horseman

As usual, we used Pumpkin Masters patterns, although we bought the paper version this year despite my raves about the CD version last year. I'm not sure if they even released a CD version this year; we didn't see one at any rate.

This photo just makes me laugh and laugh...

So I guess before the Matrix: Revolutions comes out tomorrow, I should get around to giving you my take on the Matrix: Reloaded. We all know that, despite its huge opening ($91 million in the first weekend) and a rabid fan base that seemed as desperate for a sequel as the Star Wars fanboys were for Episode 1, Reloaded was mostly panned by critics (although I remember most of those critics initially trashing the original Matrix, too, writing it off as another failed Keanu sci-fi flick), and attendence fell off sharply after the first couple of weeks (as opposed to the original Matrix, which continued to build buzz through the summer and ended up having several strong weeks months after its original release).

The first time I saw Reloaded, I could completely understand where the critics were coming from: the movie was extremely dense and at times unfathomable (and needlessly so, it seemed), it was a lot harder to identify with Neo now that he'd gone from an unknowing everyman to a god (albeit a reluctant one), and that in turn made the fight sequences a little less exciting because we knew that he was always going to win, even when he was facing dozens of self-replicating Agent Smiths or a hoard of mutated programs that appeared as ghosts, werewolves, and vampires in the world of the Matrix. And then there was also that unfortunate dance sequence in Zion City whose purpose I understand from a structural point of view (contrasting the raw organic humanity of Zion with the cold precision of the machine world) but which I think just made most viewers wince and wait for it to be over; it came in the first half hour of the film and I think it left such a bad taste that it tainted the rest of the movie for many patrons.

The filmmakers also revealed way too much about the movie before it came out, so that the two setpiece fight scenes, the Burly Brawl (Neo vs. tons of Smiths) and the freeway chase, both seemed a little anticlimactic because we were already expecting them, and expecting them to be flawless (how many times did we have to hear that the freeway chase was the best car chase ever filmed?). Knowing what was coming, I personally found myself able to emotionally disengage from the movie and retreat to a completely analytical level where I was looking at the car chase with a critical eye to see if it really was the best movie car chase I had ever seen, or if I could tell when the bodies in the Burly Brawl were real or computer generated. They were amazing sequences, but think about how much more impressive they would have been if they had been a surprise.

The real problem with Reloaded wasn't really a problem with the film itself: it was a problem with the audience. A big part of the long shelf life of the orginal film's theatrical release was thanks to repeated viewings by obsessive fans, a pattern that was to be repeated when the film came out on DVD (how many of you bought a DVD player just so you could watch the Matrix?). Knowing this, the Wachowskis purposely construncted a complex labyrinth of a film that demanded repeat viewings in order to get the full measure of the story and characters. That was what appealed to their audience with the original film, so they thought they were just giving us more of what we wanted. This also explains the oversaturation of the marketplace with companion pieces like the Animatrix, a series of animated shorts that gave more background on the world of the Matrix (actually quite good, and I'm not really a fan of anime), and the Enter the Matrix video game, which allowed you to see the events of Reloaded through the eyes of a couple of the minor leads and gave you more detail on what was happening offscreen as the events of Reloaded unfolded (which I haven't played). It's easy to see these extras as callous attempts to cash in (especially after Reloaded was received less than enthusiastically by most moviegoers), and there is no doubt that they made a ton of extra money for the Wachowskis, but I choose to see these as sincere efforts to allow the hardcore fans to take in as much about the Matrix as they wanted, to really become immersed in that world if they so desired.

I went to see Reloaded a second time more out of some twisted sense of obligation to the original than because I really wanted to see it again, but it paid off: the second viewing yielded more subtlety in the story, more nuances in the acting, a more visceral appreciation of the action sequences, and a stronger emotional connection with the characters. I have since watched it a couple more times since it was released on DVD, and each viewing has rewarded me with new insights.

I'll admit that Reloaded isn't as strong as the original Matrix, but there may be some pretty good reasons for this. It is the second movie in a trilogy that wasn't necessarily planned as a trilogy, and which also happens to merely be the first half of what is really a single film. That's why the Wachowskis chose to release the two movies six months apart: they knew that Reloaded couldn't stand on its own for two or three years while they did Revolutions, and I think they're hoping (as am I) that Reloaded will be somewhat redeemed when people finally get to see the conclusion of the story in Revolutions. Provided that Revolutions can supply the satisfying ending that we're all looking for and justify some of the slower sections of Reloaded, I think the trilogy will still take its place in the sci-fi pantheon alongside The Lord of the Rings and Episodes IV-VI of Star Wars (that's the original Star Wars trilogy, for those few of you who haven't yet grasped the concept of prequels). I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow. But before you pass final judgment, try to give Reloaded a second chance. Maybe it will pay off for you the same way it did for me.

In his series of press interviews promoting Elephant, Gus Van Sant's new film based loosely on the violence at Columbine, he's been telling everyone that the title refers both to a film about the political violence in Northern Ireland and also to the metaphorical "elephant in the room" that is often used to describe dysfunctional relationships (where people ignore an obvious problem). But I still think my interpretation is pretty good.

Those new peppermint Altoid Strips are just awful. I'm a fan of Altoids and a fan of the many varieties of quick-dissolving flash strips, so I figured these had to be good, but I tried one recently and it was one of the worst things I have ever put in my mouth; even thinking about it now makes me wince with distaste. It was so bad that you needed another mint or strip to eliminate the terrible taste of the Altoid Strip. It was medicine-y, a little bitter, and not at all like peppermint. How they could get their mints so right and these things so wrong I'll never know, but they did. Just stay away from them.

Another postcard from Tori, this one sent while she was in Greece:

This is a picture of the Lion's Gate, which I feel like should have heard of before now. But I haven't. And no, Google didn't really help me all the much.

I had planned to write several more entries on our trip to Kentucky, but since it is rapidly fading in the distance and I have other topics I need to move on to, I'll just give you the short version: after the horse racing on Friday we went out to dinner with Bill, Leila's new beau, who I liked pretty well. Part of the reason we had come to visit Mary Jo and Leila was to provide an independent evaluation of Bill, since some of Leila's friends and family members weren't sold on him yet. As far as I'm concerned, he passed with flying colors: he's no more or less socially awkward and weird than any number of IT guys I know (myself included), and I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor. Plus, he clearly adored Leila, and in the end that's really what counts.

Saturday Mary Jo and Leila made a brunch of pancakes, egg and cheese casserole, and sausage before we headed out to a horse park that was a home for retired champions who couldn't be put out to stud for one reason or another. I didn't care for that so much, but we didn't stay long enough for me to get really grouchy and I got a couple of good photos out of it. Saturday night we got take-out chinese with Bill, played trivial pursuit (each of the boys on a team and all the girls on a third team—I won, but Bill should have), and went to see School of Rock, which I liked about as well as I expected (which means that I liked it pretty well, since several people had told me it was good).

Sunday was another brunch at the kind of comfortable hippie diner that all college towns have at least one of (this one was called Alfalfa's, and it was really good) followed by a trip to the UK art museum. They had some surprsingly good pieces, and we ended up spending a good deal of time there. We followed that with a short stop at Leila's mother's house (usually when we come to visit we see her for at least half a day, but our visit was so short this time that a quick coffee together was all we could afford). Then it was back to Leila and Mary Jo's house to pack up our stuff, pick up Bill, and head to Louisville for one last meal together before our flight.

We ended up eating at a Vietnamese place called Cafe Annie that was amazingly good. Three of us got the house specialty, and it was easy to see why it was so popular: grilled chicken and shrimp mixed with bite-sized pieces of spring rolls over a bed of vermicelli-like noodles combined with a pocket of bean sprouts and tiny pieces of torn up spicy basil. Over top of this you poured a viscous spicy sweet sauce that brought all the elements together. It was indescribably tasty; it might be worth another trip to Louisville just to have that dish again.

After a nice long dinner, they dropped us off at our terminal and we said our goodbyes. It ended up that our flight home was delayed by 45 minutes or so, but we made up some time in the air so we got back to Baltimore only 25 minutes or so behind schedule. We got back to the house around 11:30 and went to bed pretty much immediately. Another work week was starting in a few hours, and we had to shift gears back to our normal lives.

I'm sick of all those anti-marijuana commercials that show a babysitter neglecting a child by the pool, or an older brother lamenting the sibling that died in a car accident that was his fault, or a car full of morons pulling out of a drive-thru and running over a little kid. In every single one of those ads you could substitute "alcohol" for "marijuana" or "getting drunk" for "getting high" and have the same result, except that kids are a lot more likely to get drunk than high. And yet running side by side with these anti-marijuana spots are commercials for Bud, Busch, Coors, Miller, and all the rest. At least the Crazyworld ads from truth expose our society's hypocrisy instead of perpetuate it.

A fourth postcard from Tori:

The caption, loosely translated:

"Have you also already had sex this morning? If yes, please smile!"

The really funny part? She got this card in Austria and took it with her to Italy so she could mail it from the Vatican. I sure do love that sister of mine.

You know, I just assumed that the two made-for-tv movies that aired this past Sunday on Jessica Lynch and Elizabeth Smart were each teen's respective families trying to cash in on a tragedy instead of letting the girls try to go back to lives out of the public eye where they could begin to heal their wounds. But then both girls both did tons of press promoting the shows (including an interview each with Katie Couric), and stories began to surface that Jessica Lynch has posed nude in the past and Elizabeth Smart wanted to play herself in her movie, indicating that the girls themselves might have taken an fairly active role in their exploitation (Lynch because her actions show us a different person than the all-American hero she's allowed herself to be portrayed as; Smart because the last thing a sane person would want to do is relive something so horrible in front of a camera).

So maybe these two aren't such huge victims of the media machine or their families after all, they're just children of the 15-seconds-of-fame generation that want to get their big payday while the getting's good. But shouldn't that make these movies even more shameful? Shouldn't we be a little concerned that two teens from two completely different backgrounds who suffered through two completely different sets of tragic events both used their misfortunes to make themselves rich without seeming to give any thought to how having such private, painful events made so public would alter their ability to assimilate those events into a normal life? These girls are real people, not two dimensional cardboard cutouts, and I can't believe that having these films made and viewed by millions of people is going to help them recover from what they've suffered through. The whole thing sickens me, even moreso because the girls themselves seem to be such willing participants in the whole circus and that not one member of either of their families stepped forward to say, "Hey, this is wrong, I don't care how much money they want to give you." I mean, if these were your daughters, would you let them whore themselves like this, even if they wanted to?

Does Ebert give thumbs down to anything anymore? I remember him being pretty picky back in the 80s when he and Siskel had their heyday, but it seems like now all he has to do is not fall asleep during the film and it gets a thumbs up.

Okay. After seeing my daily total of spam emails climb from around 50 a day a year ago to more than 400 a day now, I finally gave in and activated a spam filter provided by my web host called Spam Assassin. I wasn't sure exactly how it would work (the documentation on my web host's site is painfully inadequate sometimes); I figured it would wither delete spam before it ever got to my inbox, bounce it back to the sender, or flag it somehow so I could filter it into holding area before deleting it.

It turns out it does the last one, which is probably the best way to insure that something important doesn't get wrongly flagged as spam and never reaches me. And it's really cool how it does it, too: at the top of each flagged message it inserts a chart that tells you how many points that particular piece of mail earned. For example, if an email has more than 70% HTML it gets .1 point, if the date header uses unusual Y2K formatting it gets 4.4 points, if it mentions a larger penis or larger breasts it gets 1.1 points, and so on. Anything that scores over 5 points gets marked as spam. The first couple of times I checked my mail after activating the filter, I looked through the probable spams pretty closely, but none of them were legitimate, so now I just delete everything that gets moved into my spam folder without reviewing it. A few spams still slip through the filter, but it's nothing like what I had to deal with before: now instead of 400 messages a day to go through, of which two or three might be real emails, I only have ten or so, the other 390 having already been marked and spam and deleted. It's such a relief. The overwhelming flood of spam was making me dread checking my mail every day; it was becoming a tedious chore that took up far more of my time than it should have. It still annoys me that I have to resort to using something like Spam Assassin to stem the tide of unwanted mail, but at least it works and I can focus my attention on legitimate messages now.

Why is the Michelin Man white if he's supposed to be made out of tires?

Falling behind again. There's so much stuff I've been meaning to write about and I just haven't gotten around to it that now I'm getting to the point where some of the stuff I want to tell you about now won't make any sense because you're missing earlier pieces of the story. I already significantly trimmed the entries I had planned to write on our visit to Kentucky, and even that didn't save me from getting more than a week behind with other stuff.

So I guess first I should catch you up on what's been happening at the office. As you might remember, we experienced a mass exodus in our office this summer, losing four counselors (about half of the non-management staff), a key member of our operations team, one of our managers, and our DBA, who worked on my staff. Since then we've shifted some resources around and actually ended up with more people than we lost, and most of them seem really talented, but we're still heading into what was already promising to be an extremely challenging cycle with some fairly inexperienced staff members.

You might also remember Kathryn, my singer friend at the office who was just working a data entry job until her singing gigs became frequent and well-paying enough for her to do that full time. All summer, Kathryn watched as other people left one by one, and I know that she was thinking about leaving, too, because, in addition to her ambition to be a full time singer, she was growing more and more frustrated with a certain subset of staff members who seemed to be doing less and less work each day while everyone else had to do more and more. Even though Kathryn wasn't planning to make this job her career, she still took her work very seriously, and although that attitude was good for the office, it might have been bad for her, because she expected everyone else to do the same, and when she saw people getting paid more than she was doing far less work, it really irritated her (as well it should have—even though most of us are able to ignore the daily antics of this group of staff members, I don't know anyone in the office who doesn't complain about them on a regular basis).

So even though she was growing increasingly grouchy about having to come into work every day and feel like she was carrying the load for the slackers, Kathryn couldn't quit for financial reasons: she had to keep some kind of office job to supplement her singing income, and our office is pretty good about letting people have flexible hours (which is important for singers who have to go to rehearsals, auditions, and even one or two month-long gigs, etc.—we actually have three semi-professional singers on the staff). But then Kathyn's boyfriend, Christopher, who had previously been a student and therefore only had a student's income, got a real, full-time job, giving them more financial flexibility. Suddenly Kathryn had the ability to say "fuck you" to her office job without having to worry about not being able to pay the rent. For a couple of weeks, the knowledge that she could quit anytime she wanted seemed to make it easier for her to rise above the office mudslinging, but after having a heart-to-heart with her supervisor about the issues she was concerned about and still not seeing any change, she couldn't take it anymore and handed in her resignation.

Of course, I was sorry to see her go: in addition to being a very good worker, she was my ally and my confidante, someone I could talk to openly about both work and personal issues and not have to worry about it getting repeated. She similarly confided in me, and we served as pressure-release valves for each other when things got especially stressful at the office. We had lunch together every week or two, and we went on walks together around the campus at least once a day. She is a friend, and the only person in the office that I hung out with after hours. But even though I'm going to miss her, I knew that leaving was the right thing for her to do. The situation in the office isn't going to get better anytime soon, and I don't think she would have ever been able to accept it.

After Kathryn left, she briefly took a job as a nanny for an extremely rich couple down in Federal Hill, but that only lasted for a couple of days after it became clear that they were expecting her to be a maid as well as a nanny. Plus, the kids sounded like real brats. A week or two later, she took another office job at Peabody (the music conservatory where she got her undergraduate degree), and as far as I know, she's still there.

And that's the thing: I don't know for sure. I haven't really heard from her since she left our office, and I think a lot of that is because she just needs to decompress from everyone and everything about her old workplace, including the people she liked. But I'm vaguely concerned about the future of our friendship nonetheless; most of our relationship was conducted during work hours, and a lot of the tentative plans we made to meet up on our own time never came to fruition. Our friendship started because of the frequent interaction we had at the office, and I'm hoping that it can continue even though we work on completely separate campuses now. I don't think this was one of those relationships where daily contact was a necessary component, but I guess we'll see.

Part of the reason I wanted to get you up to date on Kathryn was so I could then tell you about Alisa. She's another one of the singers in our office who is currently getting a performance certificate from Peabody. She only works part-time, and her schedule is farily erratic, so it wasn't until recently that I had an opportunity to have a real conversation with her. I can't remember when we first started talking, but I was over on her side of the office waiting to talk to someone else, and we started talking about our families, our trips to Europe when we were younger, art, and other random stuff. We had a lot in common, so in the weeks after that, we had two or three more conversations and got to know a little more about each other. While they were painting Alisa's side of the building, she came over and worked on a vacant terminal in our office, which gave us more opportunities to talk, and by the time she moved back to her normal desk, we had tentative plans to go out to lunch together sometime.

Since then I've gone to lunch with her a few times (including once with Julie), and gone to happy hour at a local bar with her and Julie and one of the new guys in our office, Jeremy (Julie and I never go out to bars, even with our friends, but that was pretty fun—Alisa and Julie got a chance to have a nice long conversation, and I learned a lot about Jeremy that I wouldn't have expected). Alisa has even spent one of her few free nights with Julie and I, going out to dinner and a movie (more about that later).

I like Alisa a bunch, and it's a really nice bonus that she and Julie seem to like each other a lot, too. I've been feeling a little run down at the office recently, especially since Kathryn left, and it's nice to have someone to take a break with and talk about something besides work for a few minutes. I just feel very comfortable talking to Alisa, like I don't have to really hide anything from her and she doesn't seem like she's holding much back from me. We've been hanging out for about a month now, but it feels like I've known her for much longer than that. And hopefully I will.

One last note: you might think it's a little odd that, as soon as my workplace friend who is a singer quits, I almost immediately become friends with another singer in the office. I think it's pretty funny, too, but it's really just a coincidence. It took me several months of casual exposure to Kathryn before I really got to know her, and the gestation period with Alisa was about as long (especially when you consider that Kathryn worked in the office full time and Alisa only works part time). And Kathryn and Alisa are really two very different people, although they have some common traits: they are both intelligent and funny and have a rich life outside of the office. I just hope our office doesn't ever run out of people like this.

Happy birthday, mom. I know you don't read this site, but I just want the record to reflect that I remembered.

It's enough of a travesty that Hollywood is pillaging another one of Dr. Seuss' classics for a live-action holiday blockbuster (The Cat in the Hat, for those of you who have somehow missed the recent advertising blitz, this time substituting Mike Meyers as the Cat in the Hat for Jim Carrey's Grinch). But did you have to let Mike Meyers have to use his Linda "Coffee Talk" Richman voice? Ugh. They're ruining Dr. Seuss for a whole generation of kids. And what's worse, I'm sure this thing is going to make a pile of money and encourage further defilings of Seuss' work. Don't blame me when Hollywood serves up Horatio Sanz as Horton or Jimmy Fallon as a star-bellied sneetch two years from now.

Every year at work, we are relentlessly pressured for months to give the the university's United Way campaign, and this year seemed worse than most, maybe because one of the members of the management team in our office was also a member of the executive committee for the United Way fundraising drive this year. It's not that I'm against charity—Julie and I give a significant amount every year—but I prefer to give directly to the charities that I want to support. Large organizations like United Way tend to eat up a large percentage of their donations with overhead and administrative costs, which lessen the value of the contributions you give to them.

Last year I didn't give anything, but this year we were repeatedly lectured that participation was important. It didn't matter how much or how little, they just wanted everyone to participate. I was still resistant to the idea, but on the last day, I impulsively put a $5 bill into my envelope and handed it in, just so the office could count me as someone who participated. A few days later, the United Way representative in our office informed me that because I had participated, my name had been entered into a raffle and I had won. My prize: a $10 gift certificate to Ruby Tuesday's.

My immediate reaction was to feel guilty, but that quickly passed. I wouldn't have given anything and been entered into the raffle in the first place if they hadn't pressured us to much to participate, and the chance to win something as a result of my donation was not a factor in my decision to give. It does feel a little strange to have profited on a gift to a charity, but that just means I can repeat my gift again next year and still break even, saving my money for charities that I really care about.

One of the requirements for my modern art class is that I have to give a ten minute presentation on two works of art from a particular period, discussing why the artists and the artworks are good representatives from that period. I somehow ended up with Abstract Expressionism, so a week or two ago, I started doing research on relevant books for my presentation on Hans Hofmann and Mark Rothko, both members of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. After compiling a list of ten or so books that looked like promising sources that were also not checked out, I headed over the library with Alisa to gather my bounty.

Yesterday, not more than ten days after I had checked the books out, I got a notice from the library that the main book on Hans Hofmann, which contains not only an extensive catalog of his works but also a comprehensive biography and a collection of essays written by the artist on making art, had been recalled by another user and was now due back at the library next week, a full two weeks before the critical end of the semester when our papers are due. Now, I know there is no way that I'm going to be able to extract all of the relevant information from that book and finish my paper before the Thanksgiving holiday next week, and I know that if I turn the book back in and then recall it myself it will be at least a week (more likely two or three) before I can get my hands on it again.

Out of curiosity, I checked to see what the penalties were for overdue books, and it turns out that it's only fifty cents a day for books that have been recalled. The way I figure it, I need to keep the book about two weeks longer than the new due date, so the fines will only cost me $7, versus the $90 or so it would cost me to purchase the book myself (assuming I could find it around here) or the inestimable cost of not having the book available to me when I'm writing my paper.

And it's not like I checked out all of the books on Hofmann during my trip to the library; most of the material in this volume could be compiled from three or four of the other books on Hofmann that were still available. If the roles were reversed and I was the one looking for this book with only three weeks left in the semester, I wouldn't even think about recalling it as long as there were alternate materials still available to me (in fact, there should be some kind of rule that if no one has attempted to recall a book that you have checked out before the last four weeks of a semester, you get that book for the rest of the semester, even if someone does try to recall it after that point). I would take what remained on the shelves and build on that, and in this case, that would be plenty: I only checked out two books on Hofmann, and there are nearly 40 volumes on him in the main Hopkins library alone, almost all of which were still on the shelves when I went looking for my books last week.

I haven't decided for sure whether I'm going to write my final paper on Hofmann, so I may still turn the book in by the recall date. But if I need it, I think I'm just going to keep it until the end of the semester and pay the fees. Why should my work suffer because I got an earlier jump on my research than someone else? I think I should be allowed to keep a book at least a month before I have to turn it back in. This might sound a little selfish, but in a system like this, where the last-minute procrastinators are given what I think is an unfair advantage at the crucial end of the semester, I'm okay with that.

I received two suggestions yesterday about how to deal with my recalled book issue: Tom thought I might be able to get another copy using InterLibrary Loan, and Brenda, a classmate of mine from the MLA program, told me that I could file some sort of counter-recall and justify why it's critical that I keep the book until the end of the semester. But both of those approaches run the risk that I might have to give up the book, and there's no way I'm going to do that if I'm going to need it for my final paper. I still think I'm just going to play dumb and pay the late fees.

Yesterday started out pretty rotten: I got very little sleep and woke up still feeling the effects of the terrible sinus headache I'd endured Wednesday, our new database system was plagued with problems all day that kept me from getting to the stuff I'd actually planned to do, and despite two weeks of reading and a couple of days of intense study, I still didn't really feel ready for my presentation for my art class on Hans Hofmann and Mark Rothko.

But then I unexpectedly got to have lunch with Alisa at Niwana, I beat Jeremy and Mark in our afternoon game of garbageball (basketball played with soft racquetball-sized balls and a garbage can for a basket) for the first time in two weeks, and I think my presentation went pretty well (despite the added pressure of the professor telling the class right before our presentations that Abstract Expressionism was her favorite movement and Pollock and Rothko, the subjects Brenda and I had chosen for our presentations, were two of her favorite artists). And tomorrow we're having Thai for lunch and then going to see Alisa sing a Puccini opera, followed by the weekend, followed by a short two and a half day week. I'm actually in a pretty good mood for the first time in a while.

At lunch yesterday, Alisa told me that she had run into Kathryn in her new job at the Registrar's office at Peaboday, and that Kathryn seemed very content with four student workers to boss around. The thought of Kathryn ruling these kids with an iron fist makes me smile, and I'm glad she seems to be thriving away from our office, which I was afraid might have ruined her for office jobs forever. I'd really like to see her again soon, but knowing that she's back to her old self just adds to my good mood.

This season of Survivor, which could have been one of the best ever, officially sucks after last week's episode. I could give a damn about who wins now.

Okay. Even though we're not going to go down to my dad's house for Thanksgiving this year for the first time in I don't know how long (more about that below), I'm still not going post during the holidays on Thursday and Friday this week. And a lot of stuff has happened in the past couple of weeks that I want to get down before the end of the month, so the next few days are going to be a little heavy on the long personal entries.

In preparation for the presentation on Rothko and Hofmann I had to give in my modern art class, I wanted to go down to DC to look at some examples of these artists' work in the National Gallery. I was also curious about an exhibit at the Corcoran that someone in my class told me about called Beyond the Frame: Impressionism Revisited, in which a contemporary artist named J. Seward Johnson Jr. has put together life-size 3D environments that recreate famous works from Impressionism. I hadn't seen Tom in a while, and I usually get more out of trips to art museuems when I go with him, so we made plans to meet outside the Corcoran on Saturday morning (this is now three Saturdays ago—I told you I was falling behind).

There were a couple of exhitbits I was interested in at the Corcoran, but because we didn't know how much time we would have there, we started with the Beyond the Frame show. The first piece, titled On Poppied Hill, was an interpretation of Monet's Woman with Parasol in a Field of Poppies, and it wasn't too bad: you entered a circular, domed room to find a mound of flowers and grass and chaotic growth rising up from the center of the floor to a height of at least 15 feet. Perched atop this wild mass of color were the woman and child featured in Monet's work. There was nothing especially revolutionary about it, but it was a creative restaging of Monet's work that literally gave the viewer a new perspective on the piece, and I thought it succeeded pretty well.

Things quickly went downhill from there, though: in the next room, we encountered two works which were to become emblematic of the problems of the show. The first was Oriental Fan, based on one of Monet's early, pre-Impressionism works, La Japonaise, and it was the less offensive of the two works in this room. There was nothing really wrong with it—when you stood at the "sweet spot", it looked pretty much like Monet's original painting, and you could then enter the piece and get a closer look at Johnson's interpretation of the other side of the woman, but it didn't really have much to say beyond the little joke of the man concealed beneath her flowing kimono. And that was a problem with the majority of pieces in the show: they took very simple paintings of closeups of one or two figures and redid them by putting creating sculptures of those one or two figures and then throwing them in front of a computer generated background based on the original work. There just didn't seem to be much point, and you generally didn't get anything more out of looking at the hidden side of the figure other than, at best, a weak joke.

The next piece, a reworking of Manet's incomparable Olympia called Confrontational Vulnerability, was nothing less than an absolute travesty. The photograph from the exhibit mini-site that I've linked to above does it more justice than it deserves, because the photo makes it looks like a reasonably faithful interpretation of the colors in the original Manet work, but trust me, in real-life it's not (surprisingly, a lot of the images available on the web had been retouched, presumably for clarity, and look very similar to the way Johnson presents the work, but here is a small one that comes pretty close to the intentional darkness of the original). And because the colors were the whole point in the original work, altering that scheme to better suit your own sense of color destroys everything that made Olympia so important to the history of art. See, the original, first shown in 1865, is a foreshadowing of Impressionism (it also happened to give birth to Modernism, but that's another story) in that the painting is really about light, not about Olympia; it is composed almost solely of whites, blacks, and browns, and is a study of the way light reflects off of different materials (notice particularly the whiteness of the bed sheets compared to the whiteness of Olympia's skin).

In Johnson's rendition, this effect is destroyed. Instead of using different kinds of whites and browns and blacks to create the kind of effect Manet did, Johnson adds more colors to the palette in order to make the composition more harmonious and soothing. The most egregious example of this are the bed sheets and the paper that the flowers are wrapped in, which Johnson renders in a light blue which matches well with the light yellow of Olympia's skin (the photo from the exhibit web site masks this alteration pretty well, but you can see the blue a little better in this photo, although it still doesn't do justice to just how blue the sheets are in real life).

And that's pretty much how the rest of the show went: either a flat, sterile rendition of a fairly static Impressionist painting, or a butchering of a great painting (Manet's Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe is the next most notable travesty after Olympia). In fact, the only pieces that I think really worked were the two remakes of Van Gogh works, L'Arlesienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux and The Bedroom (a special favorite of mine—those of you with really long memories might remember that this site used to be called The Room and it used Van Gogh's The Bedroom as its iconic image). These pieces are interesting because, in rendering Van Gogh's works in three dimensions, you understand just how distorted his perspective was. Johnson's version of the Bedroom was especially enlightening (although the photo I've linked to is taken at an angle that minimizes the distortions): the ceiling collided with the walls at crazy angles, the bed was more of a trapezoid than a rectangle, and the windows couldn't possibly close because they were too big for their frame.

In the end, though, this show only succeeded in doing to Impressionist art what Mike Myers is doing to Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat in the new live action version of the classic storybook. And I think we all know how I feel about that.

Before we left, we stopped by two other minor exhibits, both of which were much more intriguing than the Beyond the Frame show. The first was called Atomic Time by an artist named Jim Sanborn, and it was really a combination of three smaller shows: photographs of old glow-in-the-dark watches that used radioactive materials in the paint (he actually didn't photograph them, he exposed the film directly to the glowing numbers), prints of film that had been exposed directly to radioactive rocks (these usually looked like the aurora borealis), and a room full of equipment and materials from the Los Alamos laboratory from the period when atomic bombs were first being developed and tested. It was a pretty good exhibit, especially the fake Los Alamos setup, but you couldn't take pictures of any of it. Which is too bad: some of the old equipment was really fascinating, and the fake experiments he had set up had a very enticing geometry that would have been fun to get on film.

The final exhibit was a small one next to the gift shop that we almost missed called Bound to Please, a collection of hand-bound books that were just beautiful. After my class at the Walters earlier this year, I have a new appreciation for the art of bookmaking and binding, and this show featured some amazing specimens. The worst part, as usual, was that you weren't allowed to interact with the books the way they were made to be experienced because they were art and couldn't be sullied by human hands. Which is always the case with books in museums, but it still sucks: you get to see maybe 1% of the interesting stuff that went into the creation of the book, and that does a disservice to the art, the artist, and the viewer.

At this point it was well after 1, and we still had a lot of stuff to see at the National Gallery, so we said our goodbyes to the Corcoran and headed over to the mall.

For lunch we stopped at the same hot dog stand near the Corcoran that we ate at when we visited earlier this year and again got polish sausages, but this time, the food wasn't nearly as good. Tom couldn't even finish his: after taking two bites, he just picked pieces off the bun and fed them to the birds.

At any rate, after we finished with the Corcoran and had lunch, we walked down to the National Gallery so I could see some works by Rothko and Hofmann in person before I started working on my presentation for class. In addition to the works on display from the permanent collection, there was also a temporary exhibit of paintings that Rothko had worked on for a planned installation for the restaurant in the Seagram building in New York (he later abandoned the project after deciding that a restaurant was not an appropriate venue for his paintings). I sat and stared at a couple of the Rothkos for a long time, trying as hard as I could to reach the meditative state that he wanted his paintings to create, but it was almost impossible with all the movement and noise in the gallery (most of which was coming from one of the tour guides, who spent a good 20 minutes trying to convince a group of skeptical visitors that Pollock's Lavender Mist was the greatest painting of the 20th century).

After spending an hour or so in the lower galleries, we went up to some more galleries of modern stuff on the uppermost level, which included Picasso, Klimt, Brancusi, Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Francis Bacon, and, most imporantly to me, Hans Hofmann. He only had one piece on display, but it was a good one, and perfect for my planned discussion of Hofmann's ability to synthesize elements from the gestural Abstract Expressionists like Pollock with the use of color by the color field painters like Rothko (I ended up using a different one for my presentation, but it was still very helpful to see one of his pictures in person).

After spending a good amount of time in the upper galleries, I started to feel really rundown and grouchy: I was tired, I felt lightheaded, and I seemed to be in the early stages of some sort of illness. It had been a good day, but by the time we left Tom at the National Gallery after 4, I was verging on bad mood (I would bet that Tom and Julie would say that I wasn't verging on anything, that I had already in full-on cranky mode). Tom wanted to stay and see one of the other exhibits at the NGA before it closed, so we said goodbye and headed up to our metro stop.

I continued to feel sick and irritable until we got home, but I think the problem was that the terrible polish sausage was all I'd had to eat all day, and it didn't settle very well nor did it give me the energy I needed for our all-day marathon of art. We ordered dinner from a local kabob place, and as soon as I finished I felt much better. I wish I could have figured that out earlier, because I would have enjoyed my last hour or so at the NGA a whole lot more, and I also wouldn't have been nearly as unpleasant to be around. But it was a good day anyway: it was good to see art, and it was good to see Tom, and it was good to see art with Tom.

Julie and I have been quite the social butterflies recently, so I still have a lot to catch you up on before I get to two pieces of Big News tomorrow. In a normal week, I might develop each of these events into its own entry, but I'm just going to give you the quick version in this content-heavy, holiday-shortened week.

The Saturday after we went to DC with Tom (two Saturdays ago), we went out to dinner and a movie with Alisa. We went relatively late (we didn't meet until 7:30) because Alisa had a rehearsal that lasted until 7. We went down to Arundel Mills, planning to have dinner at one of the restaurants there and then go see Will Ferrell's Elf. I know I should have expected it, but the mall was unbelievably crowded. We had to wait for over an hour for a table at Chevy's, a mexican restaurant, and because of that we ended up at the 10:20 showing of Elf. The good reviews this movie has been getting are well-deserved: Ferrell is completely hilarious, and Bob Newhart and James Caan do good jobs in supporting roles (Andy Richter has a minor role, too, but he is totally wasted). The ending was a little treacly, but hey, it's a Christmas movie. It was well after midnight by the time the show got out, and we still had to drop Alisa off at Hopkins (where her car was), so we didn't get home until 1:30 or so.

On Tuesday night, Julie and I went over to Brenda's house to have dinner, meet her husband Todd, and talk about art. Brenda has been my classmate in the MLA program for about a year now; we met in the book class I took my first semester, saw each other again over the summer in the artificial human class, and then ended up in the modern art course together this fall. So I guess that means we share a lot of intellectual interests.

She and her husband are really fascinating people: they're about our age, but they've done so much more with their lives. They got married while they were still in college, spent two years in New Guinea trying to educate the natives about birthing methods that would increase the survival chances for both the mothers and their newborns, lived for a while in Chicago where Todd attended the art institute, and somehow ended up here, where Brenda teaches world history for the International Baccalaureate program for a local high school and Todd is pursuing studies in medical anthropology with an eye towards attending med school in a couple of years. The ostensible reason for spending the evening together was so Brenda and I could go over our presentations for the modern art class, but it was also so we could meet each other's spouses and get to know each other a little bit more—despite being in the same classes for the past year, we haven't really seen each other much outside of the academic environment. We ate indian food and

Friday for lunch we met one of Julie's new coworkers and her husband at a local thai place. He works for the Baltimore Symphony, so they go to almost every show, and as a fellow dotcom survivor it was intersting to hear his story about how he went from a good marketing job with a lavishly funded startup to his current position doing marketing for the symphony. They were nice, but after having dinner Tuesday with Brenda and Todd, spending Wednesday night preparing my final notes for my presentation, and going to class Thursday night and giving my presentation, I was running out of steam.

And it wasn't quite over: Alisa had a fairly major part in a Puccini opera, and she had gotten us comp tickets for Friday night. It started at 7:30, so we went and got sushi after work and then drove down to Peabody for the show. They were actually performing three short operas that night, and luckily she was in the second one because I don't know if I could have made it through all three. The first one was fairly enjoyable (the lighting was really good), and although I didn't like the plot as much in Alisa's, she and the girl singing the main part did incredibly well. During the intermission between the second and third pieces, we met her outside for a couple of minutes, but none of us felt like going out for a drink (Alisa had to start work on another piece for December that she had just found out about earlier that afternoon), so we went our separate ways.

So it was a pretty busy week, but fun. Although it didn't leave me with a huge resevoir of energy for our guests this week...but more about that tomorrow.

As usual, today's posts will be the last until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Take care everyone, and I'll see you in December.

So: the Big News. But let me start at the beginning.

Every year for at least the last decade, Julie and I have spent Thanksgiving in the same way: drive to dad and Rachel's house in Wilmington to spend the weekend with them and Dodd, Carrie, and Tori, with one afternoon spent at Julie's family gathering (Tori would often accompany us, and Carrie and Dodd have been a couple times, too). We also do some sort of holiday-related event; years ago, it was the Festival of the Trees, but more recently it has been the Holiday Flotilla.

This year, however, I just didn't feel like of driving down to Wilmington on two of the busiest traveling days of the year, and Julie and I decided to spend Thanksgiving at home. This was part of a larger issue I've had recently with feeling like Julie spend all of our vacation days driving down to visit family instead of spending time together as a couple, but there were other factors, like just feeling burnt out from work and needing a few days where I didn't feel so stressed before we reach the worst part of the admissions cycle. Don't get me wrong—some of my happiest memories with my family are from our recent Thanksgivings. But this year I was feeling too worn out to spend two days driving through traffic (and it didn't help that Carrie and Tori weren't coming, either, the former because she just started a new job and doesn't have vacation time built up yet and the latter because she is studying abroad and won't be home until right before Christmas).

We told our parents a month or so before Thanksgiving that we weren't coming, and to my surprise they both asked if they might come up here instead (usually my dad has a hard time getting days off, but this year he was off for the whole week). I mulled this over for a couple of weeks, but the thought of hosting people here didn't really cause me any anxiety. I really like to cook, so fixing the majority of the Thanksgiving dinner is almost an exciting prospect to me. And if it meant we could still gather everyone together without me having to drive in holiday traffic, so much the better.

So that's what we're doing. Julie's parents arrived yesterday and will be staying with us through Saturday, and my parents will drive up tomorrow and stay at a nearby hotel until Sunday morning. They will also be picking up Dodd from Duke on the way, and he will stay on our sleeper-sofa downstairs. Interestingly enough, my mom is also coming into town over the weekend for a conference, so we're planning to do something with her Saturday afternoon and then have dinner with her and dad and Rachel and Dodd and probably my godmother Jane (my mom's best friend from college who she always stays with when she's in DC). I've got my turkey thawing in the fridge, I've got all my ingredients and recipes ready for Thursday, and I'm very close to completing my game plan for that morning (I think it will take about nine hours total, including the brining of the turkey, so if I start around 5 or 6 in the morning, I should have supper ready by 2 or 3 in the afternoon). I've never cooked a turkey before, but I'm not concerned—I've got Alton Brown on my side.

Now for the other Big News: it looks like my brother Dodd might be coming to live in Baltimore for at least the next six months. After a few academic fits and starts, he is finally graduating from Duke in December, and although he's planning to go to law school in the fall, he needs to find employment for the next nine months. Fortuitously, two part-time temporary positions opened up in another part of my office just as I was beginning to look around the campus job postings to see if there were any entry-level positions available, and he has now applied for both of them. He still has to go through his interviews with the supervisor and HR, but I've helped guide him redo his resume and guided him through the overly complex Hopkins application system, and I'm hopeful that things will turn out well.

Which means, of course, that he'll need a place to live, becaue while I have no problem opening my home to family for a few days, six to nine months in another story entirely. I'm going to go up to the off-campus housing office today to look at what they have available in his price range, and I've already checked out the classifieds in the campus newspaper and looked online at several apartment options. This Friday, dad and I will probably go into the city with Dodd to look around, and we will hopefully have a contract signed by the time Dodd heads back down to Durham.

If Dodd does end up moving up here and working on the Hopkins campus, it will be an interesting and hopefully good experience. I feel like I don't know Dodd as well as I do my two sisters, and part of that is due to the typical communication problems that plague most American males, but it's also because we've never spent a lot of time in close proximity as adults. I am optimistic that having him nearby for at least six months and being able to see him everyday will allow us to really get to know one another and let our relationship grow to the point where I can feel as close to him as I do my other siblings (that doesn't mean that I don't love him and care about him as much as my sisters, it's just that I don't feel like I know who really is at this point). At any rate, it will at least mean that we'll get to hang out more, and that's good enough for me.
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