Archive for January, 2008
I would like to have an editor like Gordon Lish; only, instead of ruthlessly editing my stories, he would write them, then let me collect the accolades, royalties and hot poet wife. Takers?
Me to Julia, idly: Do you like cats?
Julia, intensely: I. Love. Cats.
What I hate most about running is that I end up warm and energized, able to breathe more easily and calmer about whatever is worrying me. It’s so unfair. The odds are totally stacked in its favour. Exercise cheats.
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Ballet, storefronts around Union Square have the original, embroidered and jewelled tutus on display. The effect is to make the expensive clothes that are for sale seem drab and dowdy.
Claire: This is my unicorn. These are its legs. And this is its metal claw, for killing.
“A good diagram isn’t necessarily meant to be taken in at a glance. We should read a good diagram as seriously as we might read two or three paragraphs or even a couple of thousand words of text.”
“It starts with Patient One, and that gives insiders some important information; because of course these charts usually start with Patient Zero. What happened was, the Chinese government suppressed information, so Patient Zero can’t be traced. So the chart pointedly starts with Patient One in Hong Kong.
“An important principle is not just to concentrate on descriptions but also their relationships. Show causality.
“We have evidence at the molecular level, the clinical level, the human level, the patient level, because of the detective work. Finally there’s some public health information. The evidence exists at multiple levels. And that’s one of the important principles of evidence: whatever it takes.
“Most people show material that they’re good at, that happens to be convenient, that happens to be inexpensive… but the evidence should be at multiple levels. From molecules up to the nation state. Whatever it takes.
“Notice that the linking lines are annotated. Look at an organization chart with a few names at the top and an increasing number in the mighty pyramid. The nouns are quite important, but the linking lines – I can’t believe it! – are all the same. Think what that says: that every pairwise relationship in this organization is exactly the same as every other. That simply cannot be the case.
“So how can we give those linking lines some texture? Put some words on them. Put some numbers on them. We have intense specificity in the nouns. Let’s add some specificity to the linking lines. Look at Patient 2C. That’s probably how the virus got to Vietnam. That’s the mechanism. Or look at 2E. Travel to Singapore. Or Patient 2D. Travel to Canada. Instead of just information that tries to tell us the bad news about the epidemic, this shows the flow of causation. So tha we can try to intervene.
“This texture of annotation on the linking lines and on the nouns helps the credibility of this diagram a great deal. It shows off the hard work of the investigators. This stuff is not overload or clutter. In general, there is no such thing as information overload. There is only bad design. Don’t blame the victim. Don’t blame the audience for being stupid. Blame the design.
“We don’t go around a city complaining about information overload, and that’s because we have a very powerful perceptual system. We perceive in 16-bit colour, three dimensions, all day every day. That’s massive bitflow. One of the things we are trying to do with information design, here, is to bring it up to the routine capacity of the human perceptual system!”
Twenty minutes in and I am IN LOVE.
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I have always had this cold. I will always have this cold.
This cold has overflowed my five-year-old’s memory buffer.
Claire: Mama, you always cough and sneeze.
“Tobias Smollet thus became Europe’s tubercule; the infectious agent coursing the continental arteries.”
This, in case you were wondering, was the money shot for an essay I wrote for my English honours exams in 1992. My brain finally presented it, thus polished… this morning.
Yesterday morning I picked up a colleague and drove down 101 to San Jose for a series of meetings. It was foggy as we came up the hill towards Third Street, and the flames were the only bright colour I could see. Bright red and orange like blossoms appearing out of nowhere, above the grey freeway, under the grey sky.
“Ohmigod ohmigod what happened?” I yelled, gripping the wheel like a life preserver.
“The truck clipped that bike,” said my colleague.
Until he said that I couldn’t resolve the details: the black motorbike itself skidding on its side between two lanes of traffic; the black SUV pulling into the center divider; fifty yards behind it the bike’s rider, in black leathers, getting up and dusting himself off.
The bike must have been a write-off but the rider walked away. Hell of a thing. Hell of a way to start the day.
While Jeremy and I lay on the sofa watching Deadwood, Bebe the Appalling Cat lay on top of me on her back, paws in the air, completely crashed out and relaxed.
Of course when she realized that we had seen her in this vulnerable state, she attacked the collar of my robe.
While I was wearing it.
My cold has been gaining ground day by day, and today I was particularly sore-throaty and unthinking. I decided to make mulled wine. I was a bit surprised at how hard it was to get the cork out of the cheap Spanish red, but I finally did it, and dumped half the bottle into a saucepan with water and sugar and cinnamon and lemons and oranges.
Then I realized I had not opened the Protocolo but the 1996 St Henri Shiraz that Peter and Lucy Chubb gave us as a wedding gift, with instructions to open it on our tenth anniversary. The one I have been warning our cat-sitters away from, lo these many years.
It does marry beautifully with lamb, it turns out. Jeremy had made a gorgeous shepherd’s pie, and Jack made salad. Even mulled, the St Henri was sensational.
I am the world’s biggest dork.
Obligatory happy ending: I found a vintage wine store in Boston that had a few bottles left and ordered them for our actual tenth anniversary. But it will be hard to beat the anecdotal value of this particular bottle. Thanks, Peter and Lucy! It was a brilliant evening (and my sore throat is greatly soothed.)
We scrambled the kids and the Moores and Rose and Byron to the Mission Dance Theatre to see the last night of Habitat, a show by a new circus company called Sweet Can Productions. It has been getting amazing word of mouth, most recently from Seth, but nothing prepared me for how terrific it actually was. There are six performers, three men and three women, all acrobat-dancer-actors; but their wowsome feats were in the service of a very sweet, funny and earnest story of life in the big city. One of my favourite scenes was of all six waiting for a train, making and avoiding eye contact, falling into the unconscious echoes and rhythms of urbanity.
My absolute favourite scenes were sort of rope dances up and down bolts of fabric suspended from the ceiling, and representing sheets. One dance was a woman thrashing around in bed, unable to sleep, absolutely evocative of that particular yearning misery. The other was two new lovers, and without being at all explicit the scene had the exact joyous intensity of the first time you go to bed with someone with whom you are head-over-heels (haha!) in love.
And there was an adorable juggler who used his *elbows*, and a completely incredible slack-rope walk, and a huge wheel, and and and… So yeah, this is an entirely pointless review because the run is over, but next time Sweet Can puts on a show? You must obtain tickets. By any means necessary.
Disney phone: Hi! I’m Ariel! You’re my first human friend!
Julia (delighted): Hi Ariel!
Disney phone: Hi! I’m Ariel! You’re my first human friend!
Julia (disgusted): No! Stop it! (Tosses phone aside, moves on.)
Big-girl-bed girl thunders into the room and climbs with some difficulty onto our bed:
“EHN! EHN! EHN!”
The entire bed bounces up and down like a trampoline.
“Julia JUMP! Julia JUMP! Julia JUMP!”
Parents reluctantly concede that further sleeping-in is unlikely.
And another thing I liked about Juno; it would have been so easy to make the cheerleader character a caricature, like Reese Witherspoon in Election, but they didn’t go there. And ANOTHER thing. Her parents were so right-on in the scene where she told them – so right on that I clutched Jeremy’s hand and hoped to God I would be that cool in that situation.
We got the tree undecorated at the appropriate time. Jonathan, Salome, Robert and Gayatri and the relevant children arrived, exchanged presents and made cookies, I am told; I fled to the comforting steam of Kabuki, where Re-cheng and I compared notes and were pummeled. Sweet.
I keep thinking how great a movie Juno is; for one thing, it’s one of those rare jewels that passes the Bechdel Test. Obviously it’s a meditation on motherhood, but less obviously it’s a meditation on blood and non-blood relations. Juno’s real mother has skipped out and her sole contribution to the story is an annual gift of cactus. Juno’s stepmother is the pitch-perfect Allison Janney, and while their relationship is also fairly prickly, it creates a very believable context for Juno’s choices around her pregnancy. Motherhood, as embodied by Janney’s character, is a matter of showing up and paying attention. To do which you do not need to have actually given birth to the person in question.
One thing I would have liked to see is a scene between Allison Janney and Jennifer Garner. There was a great scene between her and J. K. Simmons as Juno’s dad, but even so… Garner is also stellar, in a much more difficult and less sympathetic role than Janney’s. She connects with this character with absolute empathy and compassion. Her big scene at the end had Kathy and me clutching each others’ hands and sobbing – err, I mean, getting specks of dust in our eyes, and having allergies.
I’m often hesitant to recommend a little jewel of a film if I think that doing so might raise peoples’ expectations, only to dash them (hi, Once! Everyone rush out and see it on DVD please) but I’m going to go ahead and recommend Juno anyway. For one thing, I greatly prefer small films to big ones. I call this my “gun, what gun?” principle. As in, Chekhov famously said that if there’s a gun, yada yada, but I say “What gun?”
My life has been largely gun-free; the only gun ever pointed at me was pointed at me by a young, scared British soldier in Derry. My life is small and indie and I am, as I have pointed out elsewhere, a sardonic supporting character. So while I acknowledge the technical skill and cultural cachet of (for example) heist films, I am on a practical level bored to death with most of them. I am not the demographic. Whereas Once and Juno take place in world that, if they are not recognizeably my own, are at least connected by land bridges.
(For what it’s worth I think screenwriter Diablo Cody explicitly acknowledges this by giving Juno the surname MacGuff.)
So who is the demographic, and what is the gun? Put like that the question pretty much answers itself. I’ve been thinking a lot about disability lately, partly because Liz writes about it so well, and partly because the experience of watching a friend become gradually more disabled over the course of a few months, however wittily she blogs about it, is existentially terrifying and curdles your blood. One of the side issues, though, is that her descriptions of a world optimized for the able-bodied have made me more aware that I live in a world optimized for One Standard Unit Man. Things that are too heavy or too high for me were typically packed or put there by someone four inches taller than I am, and able to lift twenty more pounds.
Take sushi! Julia just recently became capable of sitting up at the bar at Yo’s, which has greatly improved our sushi experiences. Yo just makes us whatever’s good. A few weeks ago he served maki cut to size for the children, about half the size of a normal roll. I started eating them and couldn’t stop. I could manage them in my chopsticks! I could eat them in one bite without gagging! It dawned on me that this is what eating sushi is like if sushi is designed for the size of your mouth: ie, if you are a man.
I am glad to be alive right now because this is one of the things that, over the course of my life, has slowly changed. It’s easy to get scared and distracted by newspaper headlines, and one of the best reasons to read history is to identify the movements where a small push from your small hand may combine with many others to change the world in ways that you need it to change. Sure, we are frying the atmosphere as we speak, but let me point out a few ways in which things are substantially better than they were forty years ago.
In my generation we have come from the Referendum to Bringing Them Home; from Stonewall to the winter of love; from the Cold War to the International Criminal Court; from apartheid to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; from Tuskegee to the candidacy of Barack Obama. These have all been intensely difficult, fraught journeys, beset with many reversals, efforts whose work is unimaginably far from being done; but they happened. And they have all given voices to people on the periphery of the world. They help us do our most fundamental work, which is to bear witness.
It’s a matter of showing up and paying attention.
Small, perfect films like Once and Juno do the same. They assert one’s right to be in the world, even if one is not One Standard Unit Straight White Man, with a gun.
We converted Jules’s crib to a toddler bed. She’s completely thrilled about her new freedom of movement, and much too excited to go to sleep.
You used to be able to rock her to sleep in your forearm. Now she can take me in a fair fight.
yarnivore: your trip to calistoga sounded so wonderful
yatima: it was just redonkulous
yatima: we sang all the way home
yatima: “the fitzhardinges… went to the hot pools…
yatima: “and then… they saw the geyser…
yatima: “and it was very fun”
yatima: “yes it was”
yarnivore: you’re making it up
yarnivore: there aren’t families that happy
Instead of please she says “Mees?”
Instead of adios she says “A-JOS!”
Instead of Claire she says “Lair” or “Lur.”
Instead of I love you mama she says “I, you, mama,” as if in her case, love is axiomatic.
Which it is.