Thursday, August 31, 2006

Factual Friday: Simple Treasures

Yesterday I was able to look through some old things that an Anthropologist who worked in the building years ago had left behind. Most of the items clearly fell into the category of junk that the person didnt have the patience to parse. Tangled wires and power-strips, old notebooks, small containers of dried out pens, yellowing index cards with neat and wispy crusty handwriting on them.

But then there was a small, heavy box that contained about 60 glass slides from the early 1900’s. They were each packed individually and pristinely in an off white waxy paper sleeve, looking something like those After Eight mints. This person had done field work in the western united states and all of the craggy, rocky landscapes were shown before me in an incredible black and white range of eloquent romantic detail. The slides were beautiful and it was amazing to see such absorbing depth in two dimensions. They howled with a penetrating mystique, it was a shame to close the box back up and silence them again. Behind me stood a box full of folded anaconda and python skins, they were softer than I expected and displayed bold patterns in two alternating shades of a deep orangey brown. There was a spectacular and regal ostridge feather duster that was lovely to look at and probably worked well as a duster too, but I didnt try it.

Someone absolutely must miss these items. They wanted to speak. It’s nice to work in an old place, time makes things richer, even if someone thought it was junk years ago. Junk ripens.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lychee Martinis and Me

Over a year ago I was with an old friend who makes every night as memorable as she can with clouds of boisterous conversation and a generous endless flow of alcohol. After a few sips of my first drink, a second comes flying down the bar with my name on it. “For me?” I question with false modesty, but then accept the poisonous gift under my wing to save for later. The night went on like this until I found myself 3 or so lychee martinis later and violently puking in my friends boyfriends shiny new car. I just cannot drink the way she can.

To this day I cannot even say the word lychee without a lump the size of, well a lychee, forming in my throat and a gag begins to creep up like a slowly overflowing toilet, disgusting and scary.

So it is fitting that last night I was out with a bunch of people and a martini glass was broken at the table we were at. I assume it happened as a result of some expressive hand flailing. It happened fast, glass went in a few directions and I felt something hit me in the nose. Then I saw the little flesh colored slightly obscene looking fruit lying there on the table, perfectly intact. The blood began to emerge from the slice that was taken out of my nose by the flying glass. I am fine, but it was awkward. I went home.

Those damn lychee martinis and I just dont mix.

Back to Blogging

I am back from a short blogging hiatus and have gained my balance again after Joe's parents finally met mine this weekend. I realized, sadly and happily, that it wasn't that big of a deal and I am sorry to report that nothing noteworthy happened, good or bad, but its done and I can move forward. On Donner! On Blitzen! On Blogging! On Witticisms!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Silent Things

Someone asked for extra cheese on their slice of pizza yesterday and the man behind the counter began liberally sprinkling the grated mozzarella onto the slice.

I realized that this action was totally quiet, it did not make one sound. I have been trying to think of other actions that are completely silent since yesterday, it is sort of difficult:

snow falling
birds gliding

and then I thought that even though we are unable to hear these things, maybe they make some kind of a sounds beyond are capability and maybe when the pizza was being sprinkled with extra cheese an elephant somewhere was awakened.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mixin’ It Up

Picture a drop of concentrated blue dye dropping into two different shaped vessels of water. The vessels hold an equal volume of water. One container is flat and almost as shallow as a cookie sheet, the other is a tall and slender vase. After the drop descends into the clear inviting liquid in each container, it is mixed. It is mixed with a spoon, the same spoon for both.

Does the drop of blue mix better and quicker and more thoroughly in the slender container versus the flat and shallow one? There seems like there is more disruptive and efficient mixing possible in the thinner vessel because there is just more potential for fast turbulent turnover aided by gravity.

I thought of this today in the lab, on a much subtler scale than described above, when I used the very smallest tube we have to mix the reaction in. Mixing is key in PCR reactions so I am inclined to think about this type of thing.

It is probably a useful thought for cooking too I suppose if you were in the market for optimizing your cake batter.

The Lives of A Cell

Our most dear and cherished accessory, the cell phone, has attempted to increase quantity and convenience of communication, but has ultimately lowered the quality of it. Especially for me.

Firstly, the delay that infuses awkward choppy pauses in the conversation that actually have no meaning, but in a weak moment we are convinced that they might and may read into some emotional cues that are simply not there.

Probably the worst part of all is that conversations take place at the most inopportune times and as you balance your little portal to the world on your shoulder and pay for your coffee at the same time, you dont count the change as you repeat in blank half listening mode "Right, Riiiiiight".

Your coffee truck man and your friend on the line both suffer in tandem and don’t receive the proper honor of your full attention. In the city, buses, trucks and blaring fire engines seem to flock to me like ants in springtime to a cup of sugar when I am on the phone. Not to mention the annoyance of others on the phone around us, revealing their voice and inner thoughts that you never wanted to hear.

I long for the days of the heavy rotary phone receiver that spanned my entire face and embraced it with the clear and uninterrupted voice of a friend in a long and detailed conversation about nothing of which I was unwaveringly engrossed in. Also, I seem to have no time for such luxuries anymore.

But I am sure I am most bitter because my loved one never charges his cell phone and it burns me every time I call and am ushered unceremoniously to his breezy happy voicemail that I know he never checks. This is what happened this morning, hence this post.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Writing On The Wall

In the bathroom of a dingy yet charming coffee shop near Columbia University there is passionate, opinionated, witty and sometimes frivolous and asinine writing all over the walls, and even some on the ceiling.

I thought that by the time you reached college you were over this kind of graffiti thing, but it seems like it is part of the culture and certainly part of the delightfulness of this place. And if one were to get over the graffiti thing then I might have missed out on the gem that stood before me last night.

Neatly scrawled in blue ink and standing alone with no responses or additions read the comforting words that we all long to hear:

“Things are

going to

be okay.


and even though also written on the wall is “Who’s Bush?” I chose to take the aformentioned quote instantly to heart.


Today is the first day that I heard the sorrowful golden whisper of autumn in the air and even though I enjoy the fall in all of its warm apple pie and harvest colored glory, it made me sad.

The fall seems to ask us to be more serious about things, it is probably the association I have with school beginning again, but there is just something about the crisp mature breeze and crunching leaves that evokes a reflective feeling. Not only are we asked to consider what the fading summer has given us, but this seasonal transition requires some solid plans for the deep and limitless the future.

Science Speak: Follow Up

Be careful what you wish for. The professor wrote back to me about taking the course, said it would be okay and sent me the syllabus and a few weekly reading lists.

The class requires a presentation and my stomach is turning just thinking about it. Then also the reading lists include reading almost 20 papers per week!

Oh dear, how will I find the time for blogging?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fiction Fridays: The Risk of Trust

“I just dont trust them and that's all there is to it dear!”

“Well then how on earth can you even think of trusting me?”

“You are different Gabrielle.”

This conversation was going in quick and intense circles of misunderstanding, so Gabrielle decided that she needed to just drop it. Anyway it was almost 11:30 and time for Mrs. Benvik to eat her lunch.

Gabrielle had worked as Mrs. Benvik’s home nurse for almost four and a half years now, they had been friends for about two. Really there wasnt much to complain about, she had a beautiful old townhouse that she lived in and although she worked astonishingly hard and there was no one there who acknowledged it, she liked the pleasant tranquility that rose tenderly around her each day as she watered the plants and made lunch.

Mrs Benvick could be as vicious as a petite growling chihuahua, but oftentimes she was perfectly quiet, poised and lovely to be around. She sat in her yellow and orange brocade chair with her hands folded, all gussied up in 30 year old garments that still fit and powdery smelling expired make-up. One got the notion that in her day she was stylish, consumed by the laws of what she considered proper ettiqute and thought of herself as both an exceptional hostess and judge of character.

Gabrielle had just turned 31 that year and had broken up with her boyfriend of 14 years. She was lonely but she had been for the last 5 years of their fizzling out relationship, so the feeling was familiar and felt only slightly more irreversible and acute than it was last year.

After some persistent nibbling of her lunch, Mrs. Benvick wanted to go to the bank. This was one of her favorite places to go. She loved to check up on her money and gracefully socialize with the employees there, and she relished being a customer who was treated well.

Gabrielle and Mrs. Benvick walked to the bank, it was just down the street and with her fragile birdlike hand being held by Gabrielle, Mrs Benvick was steady and strong. They paused at the corner and waited for the cars to go by. There was a sudden loud snap of noise and even Mrs Benvick with her compromised hearing jumped a bit when she heard it. Gabrielle’s hand let go of Mrs Benvick’s. Mrs Benvick turned to Gabrielle to comment about the noise and choked on the vision that was flowing out in front of her. Gabrielle lay in a pool of dark and gushing blood. Mrs Benvik moved her foot out of the way of the mess and began to fiercely beckon passers by for help.

to be continued next Friday...

Science Speak

The real reason why I was feeling sour today is because last night I wrote an email to a person who is a very respected scientist in the field of biological anthropology. In my email I wanted to express my enthusiasm for a particular course I am interested in taking, but hardly qualified. So I did, but I fear the words I used were too sincere and informal and not how scientists converse.

I have not gotten a response to my email yet so my inexperienced eagerness is suspended in mid air but time has stopped and I don't know if it will careen into the gorge when time resumes, or it will float like a dandelion seed. I will know when I hear back.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Dance of Working Hands

It is always nice when someone behind a counter at a deli or take out place is efficient. And it is not only nice because the line moves fast along and we can all promptly return to our important lives.

When someone’s hands move swiftly over coins or folding paper bags like they could do it in their sleep, it casts a spell over me. The graceful confidence in their hands is inspiring and it seems like they take pride in their work. I love watching well choreographed hands dance. It seems automatic but not insincere. They have worked a long time to get to this point and on their first wobbly day they probably longed for the breezy familiarity that they have now achieved.

I was in a deli the other day and my items were bagged and the change was whipped back at me in record time, and there was no one waiting behind me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

One Love

I admire when someone is irrationally passionate about and wholeheartedly absorbed in any one subject, whether it be kung fu movies, typefaces or gorilla conservation.

I have always wanted to be in a career that I feel this way about and I assume that most people do. Although, I know I probably represent the more idealistic end of the spectrum.

Today the idea was raised that it may not be a good thing to be unconditionally absorbed in your work. I always thought that being absorbed in your job, thinking about it on the train, researching on weekends and stubbornly pressing on against all obstacles was a good thing. Its what makes waking up early in the morning something to look forward to. I thought that having a bookshelf heavy with books about your one love was something to look up to. To be an expert in something is awesome, because most people aren’t. This is the way progress is made.

But maybe it is imbalanced and unhealthy? Maybe you miss out on too much when you focus too intently on one thing.

I thought it was magnificent to find the one thing that you feel you can make sense of the world through doing. I suppose that most people search their whole lives for their one love and never find a subject that really fires them up. Some people will never look and some people will probably not be passionate about anything ever. But right now it feels like it is something I want, so I am going to find it.

(When I read this post to Joe and asked him for a title suggestion, he spoke in his sleepy wisdom, “from Baboons to Baseball I am in it for the Long Haul” and while I decided not to use it as a title, I thought it was worth mentioning.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Resistance

Those soft ice cube trays seem like such a good idea, they come in various fun colors and cute shapes. But when you take the ice out of them there is not enough resistance in the rubber to make them spiritedly pop out. So I had to turn and twist and urge them out of the tray and I found myself missing the resistance of the uninspired old white plastic.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fiction Fridays: If I Were a Guinea Pig

I know I am ugly. I shimmied by a shiny toaster at the ripe old age of 1 and was shocked by what I saw, the fun-house curve of the toaster didn’t help. Every day is a bad hair day, so much so that maybe it cant be considered bad anymore since there is no real balance of “good” on the horizon.

Sometimes I think of my cage as a throne, I am protected and honored when I am in it, people admire me when I am there. Other times I think of it as captivity, I suppose it is both.

I love my food as much as an individual can love the reassuring crunch of dry pellets. Sometimes the crunching drowns out the sounds around me that I cant bear to hear anymore, that is quite nice.

I don't have any aspirations. I have known no one like me in this world to comfort me with tales of other places and ways of living.

Occasionally I like the feel of the cool metal bars of the cage on my nose.

Thank you for this opportunity for me to tell you about my life, that’s all for now.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Remember the Roommate

I was recently reminded of how difficult it is to share your home with a roommate.

At first you both jump head first to the comforting conclusion that everything really is working out well. You share the rent and the chores and have a joint love for avocados and sitar music, how very perfect.

For the first few weeks you enthusiastically share too much information with each other and glaze your every movement with understated politeness. As the clock ticks, a few dishes pile up and crust and you see less of each other, but both are fine with you. Separate lives are good, we each have our own thing going on and that is why it works, you tell yourself. You even like the feel of cool soapy water on your hands as you wash the dishes, but the milk of your optimism is turning.

You step into the shower one morning and your surroundings finally disgust you, it is raining outside, the dishes are piled up, you have heard the same CD 5 times in the last week and if you want to use my computer please just ask first. You walk by each other in the tiny hallway like strangers. You strain to keep your thoughts and doings a secret. Doors close. Eyes are not met. Their presence sears your flesh.

You complain to friends, it consumes you. Your anger has grown exponentially in recent weeks and you are a twitching mess of emptiness. There is nothing to do but go away for a while. You pack your bags and leave with little ado or information exchanged with your address partner.

When you arrive home things are slightly better, you share stories of your trip. And you are both relieved to talk again and laugh a little. Their face looks subtly different to you because you have not looked at it straight-on in about two weeks. But over time the cycle repeats.

And most times the web of resentment is not the fault of either party, it is just the intrinsic dynamic that a roommate brings. It is as unexceptional and inevitable as smelly socks.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Jean Type

The type of jeans that someone wears can reveal volumes about them that all of their other clothes keep a secret. Your jeans describe the precise longitude and latitude of your fashion prowess.

Flared at the bottom or cuffed or heaven help you pegged? Dark or light or peace be with you acid washed? Low on the waist or high? Crisp or weathered? and endless forms intermediate.

When you see someone in jeans for the first time, it illuminates their relationship with relaxation and you say to yourself, “Oh, you are one of those”.

Jeans are the great equalizer. Lets abandon all other categories of people for a moment, race, culture or class and group the world by types of jeans instead. More peace and understanding? Perhaps. More fluid inter-category mobility and a general feeling of ease, that only jean wearing can evoke? Definitely.

So next time you don a pair of your favorite blues, think to yourself...where do I fit in in this great continuum of jean morphology? and am I happy with my place?

Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Shop

I feel lucky to be marrying someone who loves their job. Joe has worked at “the shop” building a certifiable stairway to paradise for over 5 years now. I have to keep reminding myself of this to quell my anger and sadness when he works. He works a lot and seems to be on call like a physician, but I know he enjoys mostly every minute of it. When I visit his work place I am reminded of the energy it holds and why Creative Engineering is like a drug addiction, not physically good for you, everyone is telling you to stop, but in his mind and devoted heart, it makes him glow with life.

When Joe talks about his work to others, his eyes shine as he churns out more exacting detail than even the most fastidious client would ever care to hear. People nod, but I know he has lost them in the 45 degree angle, and all thats left for them to focus on is his refulgent enthusiasm that they are desperately hoping is contagious.

In the shop testosterone fuels a smattering of suspicion and mistrust, but blaring classic rock, clouds of sawdust and a childlike anticipation of lunchtime unites them. A reluctant camaraderie embraces its members who are striving young men that enter through a revolving door from virtually all walks of life. Sometimes they are looking for the shop to save them, from themselves and from the uncertainty that life has dealt them.

It is 10000 square feet of colors, textures, woods, metals, glue, nails, whining power tools, sweat, calluses and foolish stubborn dedication to a cause they pretend to have little respect for in the end.

Decisions have to be made that disappear into the complete piece. How do we match this color, how do we achieve this texture or shape?

And while it is not always comforting to think of engineering getting too creative, as the name suggests, they do good solid proud work at the shop. Most of their work probably goes unnoticed, like most things. But it is in the process of construction where the true ingenuity lies.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Fiction Fridays: Darwin After Dark

The exhibit was very crowded. At each station there were at least five people gathered around under the concentrated light breathing, leaning and straining to read the text about how Charles Darwins life evolved.

The American Museum of Natural History is a place that invokes focused and essential thought and you simply cannot leave without feeling enriched and inspired by the grandeur of the natural world. It is one of my favorite places to be, and I am saddened by the prohibitively high entrance fees to special exhibits, which is why I hope you wont balk at my risky and possibly illegal behavior, it was all for the love of evolution.

I learned that it can get pretty hot hiding behind plywood exhibit walls. The museum was closing at its disappointingly early time of 5:45, but on this particular evening I was happy that it did. The guards raised their voices that the museum was closing and I was almost scared into submission, but then I stood there as still as the old and serene dioramas. The guards walked nimbly around the exhibit, checking for people. I wished that the guards had had a heavy obvious clip-clop step, so I would know where they were. But I guessed that their shoes were a comfortable and supportive rubber so I could not hear them walk, only sense if they approached, like a bat. They never found me.

I waited a solid 30 minutes after I heard the last door close before I emerged from my secret shelter. The air was cool and placid and an opaque darkness drenched the room. I could not see anything at all, I even wondered if my eyes were closed, so I blinked a few times to check their status. I took out my tiny flashlight, its thin and intense beam did not light much peripherally so I had to swing it widely to piece together the view of what was in front of me.

Darwin's magnifying glass flashed under my light and invited me to intimately experience the patient and purpose-driven vision with which he saw the world.

I began reading about Darwin's life and looking at his private journals which were decorated with quick and elegant hand writing in brown ink. His intensity as a naturalist was evident even before his comprehensive theory emerged. He wrote, "One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."

I came upon a replica of The Beagle, the ship that took him around the world to discover new species and ideas. Recreations of iguanas, crabs and birds stared knowingly back at me as I moved slowly closer to inspect their impressively real habitat.

Orchids and fossil hominid casts greeted me in the darkness. There were finches, finches, finches. All the videos were turned off and the live animals removed, so I just had to imagine their educating presence. Darwin's study was constructed in loving detail, glass jars and tiny tools for dissection and inspection collected on a table and books and books.

Darwin's theory of evolution toiled and bubbled in his head for years before he revealed it, he was not a man thirsty for controversy, just fervently dedicated to a belief. I imagine that he would be proud of this exhibit about his life.

I would not be doing the work that I am had it not been for this man. Sometimes I dont know how things will turn out for me, but I am comforted by the idea that the biological success of a species is not a linear and absolute progression, it branches and risks and fails and changes and lives, which is what I can only hope for myself.

My mind sailed away on an idealistic kite of inspiration. I sat down in the carpeted orchid room, rested my head gently on the ground, proud to be among such diversity and motivating passion and feeling enlightened and satiated, I slept.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

A Charlie Brown Wedding

"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy"

In a Charlie Brown Christmas the true meaning of Christmas is almost lost on shiny metal Christmas trees and the neighborhood decorating contest. But in the end of the story the characters, led by Linus in an unexpected memorable moment of strength, remember the true meaning of Christmas for them. It is simple, poignant and sweet.

I think that it would be helpful to all if a Charlie Brown Wedding was made, it might encourage all to remember the true meaning of what is going on and not get caught up with shiny registries and the neighborhood ring size contest.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

How To Make a Snowman

Start with a dense and compact snowball and a flurry of determination. Place the snowball at your feet.

Kneel down in the cool fluff and begin rolling the snowball around, use your hands to encourage snow to stick to it as you roll it. Watch it grow from the young ball you once held in your hands to a large, confident icy boulder. Stop rolling when you see grass, this is where your Snowman will stand.

Repeat for mid-section and head, each time roll a little less. Lift pieces into place and smooth the frosty surface with your bare, shivering hands.

Add sticks for arms, and whats that you say, “no coal for eyes on hand” then push some leaves or small rocks into place for the eyes, another stick for the nose and vwalla!

Hug snowman tightly and dont let go. You will feel a rush of chilled accomplishment.

(Because it is 95+ degrees out, but who needs air-conditioning when you have imagery.)

Frozen in Time

I had a slurpee yesterday. We walked into a 7-Eleven in the city and it was like we took a step into the suburbs of 10 years ago. Everything sold there is preserved, packaged and either disturbingly salty or sickeningly sweet. Customers are young, defiant types who are fiercely eager to eat below par food, and the cashiers are tired.

But I could not just fill up my small sunkist orange slurpee and slurp it mindlessly while it froze my brain and my thoughts like I used to when I was young.

7-Eleven reminds me of suburban boredom. I can remember aimless summer days in which the slurpee was the highlight. But mostly it reminds me of a friend who I had in highschool, we used to get slurpees more times than I would like to admit. We always got the large ones and then perched them in her car’s small drink holders hoping for the best.

I do not speak to my slurpee friend anymore. She stopped returning my phone calls about 5 years ago and I don’t really know why. Maybe she is off doing something great as I get towards the bottom of my frothy treat and try to use that vestigial spoon on the end of the straw, what a great idea that is, too bad it doesn’t really work.

And when that last bit of slushy goodness danced, swished and evaded me in the cup I did not chase after it, because sometimes, you just have to let things go.