30.11.06

School Time

I spent part of the morning working on a new short story. Another one from a child's point of view.

I was in this mode, thinking of kids and their views of the world, because I'd done a little reading at JJ's school (we read "A Present for Toot" by Holly Hobbie). Watching JJ and her classmates afterward, I was struck by the extreme polarity of school time. Either the time passes so quickly you don't notice it, or the day never seems to end. A feeling I remembered strongly from my own childhood, too.

The feeling changes quickly but it is always intense. JJ shifts from intense boredom to intense engagement to intense boredom again. But it is intense all day. No wonder JJ is so worn out in the afternoons.

28.11.06

Interior Decorating

More notes for our Big Reno.

I have two rules for decorating:

1. Start with the light. (This is also my architect's prime directive.)
2. All furniture and accessories must either be perfectly functional and neutral (e.g., sofa in ivory canvas) or they must tell a story.

Light. In the more public areas of the house, we've got an open-plan with light all through. North light in the front, south light in the back. Because of the open plan, paint colors can't just switch dramatically from room to room. But the light changes dramatically as you walk through the house, from cool bluish north light to wake-you-up south light (and lots of it). So we're stuck with neutrals throughout the open-plan parts of the house, though the neutrals vary slightly in terms of temperature. (Cool neutrals in the north light, warm ones in the south.)

Dominant color ideas: Sand. Fog. Seagrass. The silvery underside of silver maple leaves. The Atlantic Ocean on a clear day at one in the afternoon. Wet bark.

I wanted to incorporate little shots of color on the walls so the panels behind the bookshelves in the living/dining room will be a deep, rich brown. In the office, where the walls are a bluish neutral, the panels will be dark gray-blue. Like all the other trim, the bookshelves will be white painted pine. I hope.

In the private areas, I've decided to intensify whatever neutral is happening nearby. So the entryway is a medium ivory trimmed with white, and the powder room is a deeper velvety barley color (also trimmed with white, & white beadboard halfway up). White sink. Brown and white tiny floor tile. Antique bronze fixtures, maybe.

Ceilings are all white, so is the trim. Simple, clean, perhaps a little boring. So what. I like how it unifies things.

Floors - hardwood, or polished slate (dark). Where there's slate, we're covering with nice rugs (lighter).

Objects that tell stories -- stuff I've made, or collected. Paintings by my mother, by MJ's grandmother. Prints we've collected on our trips. Heirlooms. Framed photographs. Anything holds a memory or is a trace of something else. Records of all kinds, from vinyl to notched sticks. And things that work with a general "bring the outside in" motif -- leaf skeletons, pinecones, acorns, tree silhouettes, dried flowers, feathers, nests, hives (abandoned ones!), rocks, antlers, shed skins, even bones...

20.11.06

Repetition Compulsion

In the midst of Iraqmire, GWB goes to Vietnam, congratulates the country on its booming economy, and defends his "stay the course" strategy. Maybe it's just me, but I think our Prime Primate has just claimed victory in Vietnam. Because, you know, Vietnam was pretty disastrous, too, and look how wonderfully it all turned out thirty years down the line!

Mission Accomplished!

[links to follow]

17.11.06

Mon Semblable...

I just met this girl who's in a mess over something that happened on the subway. Seems she met her double, which was weird enough, but what really bothered her was that her alter-ego was much better dressed. OMG!!! How will this end? she wanted to know. I didn't want to tell her -- her nails were down to the quick already, her manicurist is going to freak -- but I think we're looking at fisticuffs in a chic Brooklyn second-hand clothing emporium.

16.11.06

Sontag on Silence

"So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has with an audience. Silence is the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate, that ambivalence about making contact with the audience which is a leading motif of modern art, with its tireless commitment to the 'new' and/or the 'esoteric.'" -- Susan Sontag

1960s-Spotting

Writing a book set in the late 60s, I'm naturally hyper-sensitized to any cultural bleeps relating to that era. Two today, before 10 am: Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document, a novel that takes place partly in the 1960s anti-war movement, was nominated for a National Book Award, and over at Talking Points Memo, DK observes that the guy in the Oval Office is once again listening to Kissinger (while the rest of us listen to Prozac, I guess).

Stories Without Words

From a review of new and recent children's books in the NYT:

"Wordless books, it turns out, have their own tyrannies. Take Good Dog, Carl, the realist Rottweiler version of The Cat in the Hat. It is a book of few words: 'Look after the baby, Carl. I'll be back shortly' at the start, and 'Good dog, Carl!' at the end. Liberating? No. The tale can be read only one way, and you have to fill in the narration yourself: Mommy is leaving the house. Oh, that dog and baby are making a huge mess. Uh-oh, Mommy will be home soon. Better clean up, Carl. There's Mommy!

"At one point Carl pushes the baby down a laundry chute. He has no choice. He must push the baby so that the plot can survive. As Roland Barthes wrote of another plot and another character in his book S/Z, 'the character's freedom is dominated by the discourse's instinct for preservation.' In other words, the show must go on..."

[Well, this reading is funny but it may not give enough credit to readers, especially those who aren't overly impressed by the forward motion of a strong narrative. Jane routinely makes all sorts of interventions in her books, interrupting the storyteller, inserting new words or making major editorial changes, e.g., all male characters must be changed to female. And she has lately discovered post-its, which have plenty of interesting possibilities... Later: MJ reminds me that Jane also has inserted her foot into an open book and insisted that the characters adapt to the change in the story ("What is this giant foot doing here?")]

15.11.06

Link Dump

A few pointers to work on little-known, -recognized, and/or -understood aspects of whatever we're doing when we're not necessarily reading but -- for lack of a better way to say it -- just generally doing things with stories that whose endings might come sooner or later than we want them to (but never, it seems, right on time):

Carl W. Scarborough, Godine's book designer, on The Haptics of Reading. File under general problematique of What you read affects how you read it, AKA all reading is not the same activity (which opens the possibility that some it may not in fact be reading at all). A snippet: "There is a dramatic difference between the sensations inherent in reading a novella—necessarily a small, intimate book—and studying an overscaled art book, where the size of the illustrations plays an important role in the satisfaction we find in reading. [...] Another aspect of this haptic issue is the question of suitability of materials. I have beautiful twentieth-century books printed letterpress on exquisite eighteenth-century papers. Reading them is a special pleasure, but it is very different from reading an art monograph where a satiny, coated white sheet makes the illustrations leap off the page."

Rubin, D.C. (1995). Memory in oral traditions: The cognitive psychology of epic, ballads, and counting-out rhymes. New York: Oxford University Press. May suggest an answer to the question, why are so many epics so similar in outline, but not in detail? From OUP's blurbage: "Focusing in particular on their three major forms of organization--theme, imagery, and sound pattern--Rubin proposes a model of recall, and uses it to uncover the mechanisms of memory that underlie genres such as counting-out rhymes, ballads, and epics. The book concludes with an engaging discussion of how conversions from oral to written communication modes can predict how cutting-edge computer technologies will affect the conventions of future transmissions."

Rubin, Ciobanu, et. al., "Children's Memory for Counting-Rhymes," Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1997: A suggestive study of children's rhymes like "eenie meeny miney mo," which have to end a certain way, in a certain time-frame, but still support intra-rhyme variations. The rhymes are like games in their playful purposiveness, in being directed toward a goal. But they are also "oral traditions" & so share affinities with more exalted traditional oral forms, like epic.

A post at Obscene Jester arguing that "Lost" is pernicious narrative dreck because it flatters the viewer's (idea of) her own cleverness. If this person is correct, then people who like the show must be getting their satisfactions from somewhere besides the neat narrative closure we are all conditioned to expect from popular media forms. Sometimes the complaint "it goes on too long" (and its other variant, "this story is plotless," or even occasionally "it is too much like a hypertext") is shorthand for "this media makes me feel like a moron [so therefore I hate it]." Commandment Numero Uno: Thou shalt not trample upon thy audience's self-regard!

Recent updates on these topics from Mark, J Nathan Matias & Jill.

13.11.06

I Love the Internet!

O! This person has dumped all his old mix tapes into MP3, and the second song on the Black TDK D60 is the hard-to-find but unforgettable 1986? deep house classic, "Hey Rocky," by Boris Badenough. Rocky baby, speak to me!

Food-O-Mat

I have vivid memories of the local grocery store (now defunct) in my hometown. It included one of these, a wall of chutes into which canned goods were fed by a mysterious person in the back, who had certain affinities with the Wizard of Oz. Sometimes, between the deviled ham and the brown bread, there was a flash of shirt. That was all. Apparently, when it came to grocery store fittings, these chutes were the latest thing in 1953.

By the time I was old enough to notice them, they were a little past their prime, but still somehow evocative. I wonder why they fell out of favor. Maybe the process dented too many cans.

more vintage supermarket photos
the vegetable aisle looks familiar (definitely slim pickings compared to today)

More nostalgic crap: Fun Factory Jr (play-doh exactly as I remember it), and the Yoda play-doh set.

UnSuggester, by LibraryThing

We now have ample confirmation that people who like books by Sophie Kinsella don't generally like those by Immanuel Kant.

Terminable & Interminable

Exploring World of Warcraft, a game, Jill makes an interesting comparison between the game and long-running TV shows: Both could go on forever. There are few, if any, endings built in. As Jill says, they "simply pose puzzles and defer closure for as long as they can."

I worry about this "simply." Setting up a framework in which the same, or similar, interactions can happen over and over, with enough differentiation to keep participants interested, isn't simple; and I wonder what the opposite of mere puzzle-posing might be, what Jill has in mind here. A recent complaint about Lost from New York Mag opposes quick puzzle-solving (good) to slow puzzle-posing (bad): "Puzzles are meant to be solved, not prolonged. You can only tease viewers so long before they feel like they're being mocked." Slowness, waiting -- if these things make bad TV, can they do anything good for games?

Well, maybe they don't make such bad TV. Soap operas are like this -- they go on for years and years. Epics -- Roland, the Kalevala, the Mahabharata, to name just three -- are like this too. The Thousand and One Nights. Et cetera. Jill mentions Arthurian legends. All I take from this is that certain stories are epics by virtue of their scope. Not all stories are epics, however. Not all stories have that open-endedness, that support for generating other stories within a single overarching framework.

Jill mentions an idea, from the Peter Brooks playbook, about what stories look like: the end should be fully contained in the beginning, every outcome should be prefigured in some way from the start, which should contain only these seeds of the narrative and nothing else. A story, in this case, is a machine for unfolding consequences from initial conditions. This is also a game. (Think of chess. Of Nabokov.) This is not, to my mind, an epic, though an epic might contain a story of this sort, as perhaps a kind of set-piece, so long as the manner of its unfolding does not break the larger framework of the epic (does not, in other words, break the rules of the world imagined in the epic).

Brooks thinks the end of a story should make sense of its beginning. That this feeling of understanding is what signals "the end" of the story. Aha! That's the moment, the end. Tout comprende. A perhaps wishful idea. I can see how it might be comforting. But other comforts are also available: repetition, perhaps mastery. Onyxia, as Jill points out, always comes back. She's playing Freud's game, fort/da; and so are we. You may lose, or she might, but nothing is ever really lost -- a point ironically underscored by the title, in Jill's post, of the TV series that never ends, in which the loss represented by an actual ending is precisely what is not on the menu.

Perhaps medium and genre not especially powerful categories of analysis in any case.

It may not be a good idea to ask this question, but I will anyway: What is the nature of the relationship between the world of World of Warcraft and the lives of those who play it? The game seems like a kind of supplement, as if those lives would, in important ways, not be the same without it.

WoW already has a place in an academic economy where it is just like books and films and other artifacts of popular culture insofar as it gives people who talk for a living something to talk about. There is an extraordinary video of a recent conference on WoW, in which the conference-goers (Jill's there, too) were filmed looking distinctly uncomfortable as they sat around a table full of rifles, presumably loaded, which they were about to learn to use. (A fascinating curriculum for these mild-mannered educators!) It would be interesting to read this footage through a Derridean lens; it seems like a trace of an experience that constituted a sort of supplement to the conference, and it certainly stands in some relationship (but, what?) to the supplementarity of WoW to the academic discourse around it. Or, perhaps, vice-versa. (Of course.)

8.11.06

Voter Suppression in OH-4

Election results - thrilling. But there's another story here, about voter suppression. What happened to me yesterday was only a tiny piece of a much larger pattern (which won't surprise anyone who was disenfranchised in '00 or '04). Over at Daily Kos, Tim R. wrote uphis experience, which was horrifying, as a poll watcher in the OH-4.

Disenfranchisement can be subtle. It doesn't take an army. All you have to do is make it a little harder for some to vote than others. That's all.

7.11.06

I Live in a Banana Republic

Today I voted at Hope High School in Providence, RI. When I arrived, there were no lines and things seemed calm. An elderly white woman was sitting at a desk outside with a sign saying "Exit Poll." Inside, there were three women, two black and one white, sitting at the registration desk. There was a white man with a clipboard sitting on a bench across from them, and a white woman sitting behind a table toward the back of the room. There was a tall, muscular, middle-aged white man wearing a yellow construction hat behind the registration desk. I did not know what he was doing there, but he looked official and tradesman-like, as if he was there to fix something.

Well, I gave my name to the middle-aged black woman behind the desk. She was looking it up in her book when the optical scanner, which was more or less behind her, jammed because someone had tried to push all three sheets of their ballot into the machine at once. The woman who was signing me in said something about the machine not working right. The big man in the yellow hat said something to her and pulled the ballot out. I don't know if he re-fed it, or what. I don't know if it was his ballot, it might have been. I noted it, because it looked weird, and then the woman behind the desk let me sign her book. I got a ballot and headed to the booth. The ballot that jammed the machine was gone. I figure it must have went in, the machine was fixed, hooray.

From behind me, the big man barked, "WHAT'S HER NAME?"

I turned around. He was barking at the poll worker, the middle-aged black woman.

"GRECO," she barked back.

So much for my anonymity. I start to shake. This is alarming. I'm pretty sure I'm being intimidated. All I want to do is cast my vote and get out of there. If I wasn't about to cast a ballot I would told him my name was none of his business. Now, after all is said and done, I wish I had.

Update: I called 1-866-OURVOTE and reported the incident. The person I spoke with told me that I'd been "challenged," that this is not an uncommon practice, and that the intimidation of the poll worker was wrong and probably illegal. Supposedly they are sending someone over there to make sure it doesn't happen again. (I also tried to report the incident to the RI Board of Elections but the Web form wasn't working, so I guess I'll just send it by mail.) Talking Points Memo reports that reported polling irregularities are so numerous, the ERIS (Election Incident Reporting System) has crashed.

6.11.06

Boston for Bibliophiles

Anne Fernald's paean to Boston's bookstores made me homesick for the place. She missed Schoenhofs, though, and post-book-buying tea at Algiers. (She preferred Pamplona.)

Later: MJ rightly points out that I have forgotten the (now closed, and much missed) Avenue Victor Hugo used bookshop, as well as the Trident.

The Book Fair happens next week...

Flaubert's Revisions

to the opening paragraph of Madame Bovary were, well, quite extensive. Courtesy of the University of Rouen, here are some early drafts, the final draft, the copyedited draft (which Flaubert was apparently still editing, no doubt to his publisher's dismay, at press time), and the published version of 1873, here:

"Nous étions à l'Étude, quand le Proviseur entra, suivi d'un nouveau habillé en bourgeois et d'un garçon de classe qui portait un grand pupitre. Ceux qui dormaient se réveillèrent, et chacun se leva comme surpris dans son travail."

This opening moment -- the arrival of the Proviseur, the studied busyness of the students who greet him, and the stage business with the grand pupitre -- persists mostly unchanged. But in the earliest draft, the new student does not appear immediately; Flaubert seems to want to signal his appearance through the appearance of the desk alone. But when the student finally arrives, the book takes off. He's unnamed, a mystery, and already causing trouble. (Why does he need such a large desk, anyway?) In drafts, Flaubert adds details only to take them away later, summarizing when he needs to pick up the pace. In the copyediting stage, Flaubert cut the first clause, which rather delightfully located the reader precisely in time using the schoolbell, all the way down to the more direct and immediate "We were in class when..."

I can easily imagine the scene: the proofs on the desk, the pen poised over them. He's never really liked the first line but nothing else worked any better. But it's the first line, it has to be good. He should cut it, down to the essentials. Oh, but the schoolbell started everything off so audily... But no, again - it still won't do. All at once he sees a different way in. A breath, another, cut cut cut...

4.11.06

Okami

From Clive Thompson at Wired:

"Are games a form of art?

"This question always provokes bloated arguments. Fans insist that their games are just as culturally important and nuanced as anything in a museum or a bookstore. Detractors snipe that video games are too twitchy, too violent and too profoundly a waste of time to qualify. It's a debate that never goes anywhere because the participants are talking about two completely different things.

"So it was with glee that I cracked open Okami, a game that neatly dodges around this morass with a brilliant gameplay concept: You have to actually perform art to play the game. With Okami, the division between games and art collapses, as Douglas Adams might have it, 'in a puff of logic.'

"It works like this: In Okami, you play as a wolf that is the incarnation of an ancient Japanese god -- and that has the power to literally draw things into existence. At any point in the game, you can hit a button and the scene freezes, transforming into a piece of parchment. You wield a traditional Japanese brush and ink objects on the parchment. When you unfreeze the scene, presto: Whatever you've painted transforms into the real, solid thing."

Here's the link...
Wikipedia: Okami

1.11.06

Yet Another Reason to Put My Head in the Oven

Way back, when I used to acquire, edit, produce, and promote hypertexts over at Eastgate Systems, men would approach me at conferences and ask the same funny question: "Why, Diane, are there so many women in hypertext?"

I never quite knew how to answer this question. Sure, we were out there -- Kathryn Cramer was my first boss, and there was Judy Malloy and Carolyn Guyer and Elli Mylonas and Deena Larsen and Shelley Jackson and Mary-Kim Arnold and Kathy Mac and Cathy Marshall and Jane Douglas and Sarah Smith and Judith Kerman and Christiane Paul and that was just in 1994. Other women followed, too many to list. And I should stop here anyway because I'm sure I've already left enough people out. My point is, although women were better represented in hypertext than, say, in the mathematics department at MIT, surely this was no reason to conclude that our numbers were excessive, or even remarkable.

Perhaps these men were really asking me something else. Like, "What's a hot chick like you doing in a place like this?"

No? Well, in that case, I don't know what it was. Because according to at least one hypertext critic (a "feminist," no less) there are, in fact, no women in hypertext.

Switchplates

Ahh. Brass switchplates in retro styles. Target also has a large selection of funky switchplates.

What Liberal Media?

So there's this memo going around ABC Radio Networks, listing companies that have insisted that their advertising should not run during Air America's programming. The companies include Avon, Bank of America, Exxon Mobil, Federal Express, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Navy.

As far as I know, none of these companies have insisted that their ads be removed from broadcasts made by Fox or its affiliates.

Watertown Is The New Black

Over at the wonderfully named Elsewares, I found this set of four melamine plates printed with photographs from the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, MA, not too far from where I used to work.