Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Beginnings

I am just not so sure about this current blog url and title. I never really was.

It occurred to me the other day that it could almost be misconstrued as being religious. When really, I just like the word incandescence, and how it can refer to a good old light-bulb, or more figuratively some hot or brilliant quality attributed to a literary character, or someone.

I need to leave the url the same for now, but was thinking of changing the name of this blog to bioluminescence. Yes, in fact I think I will do that for the new year.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fragments, Figments and Visionaries

When a fossil is found it is often broken up into small fragments. Sometimes, one small fragment is all that is found of a once whole skeleton, from a once whole individual, which lived and breathed and maybe reproduced and certainly died. On rare and serendipitous occasions, entire skulls or skeletons are found. But even then, depending on the circumstances of preservation, parts of the entire skeleton may be broken into smithereens.

Paleontologists are looking to reconstruct the past. After fossils are collected, the paleontologists all drift to sleep in their tents and dream about what this individual looked like in life, or what types of substrates it climbed on, or if it had stripes or speckles, or neither. But in the morning light, with a cool objective head, they snap out of it. Debuting threads of their visions only in slightly drunken, partial jokes at the camp table. They must just be absolutely burning to know what extinct species were like. Wanting, secretly and desperately to catch one impossible glimpse of it in life. And ultimately, isnt it that fantasy, fueled by the persistent mystery of the past, that engenders curiosity in all the historical sciences? It has to be. The fossil discovery is not the inspirational and orderly end of a scientific story, its the wild and unruly beginning.

In order to draw meaningful conclusions about the crumbly former animal the first thing that is often done is that the pieces are sometimes literally glued together. In the case of hominin fossils, and especially of hominin crania, casts of the original fossil are made and plaster fills in the spaces where the fossil is missing. The problem with this approach is that often these plaster filled structures, which are like hardened inferences, are used in analyses without regard for much of the inherent uncertainty of their form. For example, sometimes there are several possible orientations between two fragments, but they may be glued one way and firmly thought of that way for years to come.

More recently, with the advent of digital imaging, all the fragments of a hominin crania can be CT scanned and then manipulated in a virtual environment. The missing pieces can be inferred given biological and statistical prior probabilities, instead of just filled in with plaster. Taphonomic distortion can be corrected. Also, several possible reconstructions can be experimented with, without damaging the original fossil. In this case, the reconstruction can become one possible evolutionary hypothesis, just the way a phylogenetic tree is. When building phylogenetic trees, there is a method of measuring how well the data supports each given branch, its called bootstrapping. I wonder if it would be possible to ascertain a sort of bootstrap value for the position of each cranial fragment relative to the other neighboring fragments. The bootstrap value is based on resampling the genetic dataset again and again. The equivalent would be sampling of positions of the fossil fragments again and again. Anyway, there are many testable simulations that are opened up with this approach to reconstruction.

Another aspect of fossil reconstruction, which is done primarily for the purpose of popular science, is adding musculature and hypothetical skin, hair and eyes on fossil forms. When musculature is inferred, modern analogies are used to determine their direction, position and robusticity. This is not unlike looking at a fossil bone and determining its function based on modern analogies of how extant taxa use this bone. These fully fleshed out creatures can then be used in museums, documentaries, magazines etc. They present a hypothesis of how the extinct individual may have looked, based on the given data, and what can be ascertained via extant analogy. In the case of hominins especially, these reconstructions are almost always uncomfortable and goofy to look at, but its not necessarily because they are inaccurate, its because we have never seen anything like it before, and never will.

Scientists sometimes scoff at these physical or virtual forms, skeptical of the plaster, or the amount of silly scienceless speculation that is poured into each structure. These forms are sometimes squarely dismissed as “highly reconstructed”, or even, art. Its easy to critique a visual inference as unsupported conjecture. In fact, its too easy. I dont see what the alternative is to reconstructing a very fragmented fossil. For example, put a pile of fossil fragments in front of any paleontologist and then tie their hands behind their back and ask them what they are looking at. Free their hands and watch them pick it up, turn it around, inspect its morphology and see how it all fits together. A pile of fragments does not contribute to science in the same way an attempt at reconstructing it does. Sure, the conclusions drawn from this structure, that began as a pile, could be appropriately cautious, but you simply need to somehow put it together first. No one could resist.

I know what science is, and what it isnt. I am not suggesting that we build fantastical features in the space of missing bones, just that we acknowledge the skill, intent and biological information that do go into making reconstructions. Like many things, if its built only in your mind and not with your hands, its less vulnerable to hasty, dismissive critique. Where would paleontologists be without artists reconstructions anyway, to realize their visions, in fact or in error? Its not shameful to admit that we all have elaborate evolutionary fantasies. And I think some of the swift discrediting of this type of work stems from the fact that what scientists have imagined, in their tent, is not what materializes. But surely they have imagined something.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Type 1 Error

Today we went to see an exhibit of Herb Lubalin’s typography work at The Cooper Union. He had an inclination for swashes and the biggest fattest statement fonts that devoured the page, followed by the thinnest serpentine line whirling to its most gradual halt. One important thing that I learned in typography class, and in design school in general, was that extreme unexpected contrast can make a lovely and engaging piece. I adore it when there is really really large type on the page, accompanied by the tiniest whispering text beside it. We are all constantly moved by fonts and what they insinuate. Some are just more aware of this than others. Fonts can change the meaning of a word. Fonts can be facial expressions, or songs for typed messages.

I find it difficult to reconcile my appreciation for typography between my design self and my science self.

When fonts are used in scientific presentations, figures or posters, it is paramount that they communicate clearly, of course. But something can communicate clearly and look good doing it, I think. If you increase the leading, or the tracking, it changes the feel of something. If you are the only person who is giving a scientific presentation and who has considered the typography, even if you are using the system Helvetica Neue, people may notice. And if bad typography is the order of the day, when you stray from that, people may notice. They dont even know what they are noticing, they just know it looks different. A soft breeze blows their hair as they look at it and a mint materializes in their mouth.

But when people tell you that they like the font in your scientific presentation, or on your poster, and thats all they say, that is just not good. It should be clear, but if any hint of flair eclipses the message, then you have not communicated, you have just decorated. You have opened your mouth and instead of p-values coming out, chocolate icing has. This is a painful reality for me. To shift from obsessing over the tiniest typographic detail, because you know it matters, to throwing it all away to Times New Roman, is hard. Its like cooking with your nose plugged up, speaking with no adjectives or staring your friend in the face and not admitting to knowing them. It can be done, its just a removal of an already established awareness.

For the purpose of science, I water down my design more with each passing day, so no one tastes the chocolate. Because I want to be taken seriously and I need to do so quietly. I now always use system fonts in my scientific presentations and stick to Times New Roman for all written papers. But each time I do, I die a little, to make everything look just like everything else, to deflavorize it, to make it expressionless. Science depends on objectivity. You cant construct a hypothesis and talk about how, you dont know why, but you just prefer one thing over another. You cant openly or irrationally love anything. And you cant send subliminal messages in your conclusion. I know this. But I am still holding out hope that there is a way to make peace with this duality.

In a way, its the most challenging typographic experiment, to massage the type into something that has no discernible smell but was cast entirely out of gardenias. Type is form, functioning. And in my mind, design at its best is efficient and logical and good science is staggeringly beautiful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Out of Line

Today in class our professor put a slide up of the image shown above. It is the frontispiece from a book called “Mans Place in Nature” by T.H. Huxley, an anthropologist who was one of the first to do comparative anatomy between apes and humans and recognize the striking similarities in skeletal form. Anyway, it is a lovingly detailed and compelling engraving and, it got me thinking.

Because its a successive progression of hominoids, all standing in line at the movie theatre, one might be led to think that humans evolved, in a linear fashion, from something that was like a living ape to the upright Annie Hall watching humans we see today. Well, that would be wrong, in a few ways. The first reason it is wrong is that when you learn about evolution and extinction and speciation you know, like so many hard won routes in life, human evolution was not linear. Artists need to take full advantage of how many dimensions a two dimensional graphic can depict. Although, I assume the artist, Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, did what he was told in this case, to draw these apes all in a line, to suggest, because of their similar anatomical structures, that they all shared a common ancestor. This was quite innovative and bold at the time that it was published in 1863, so I dont mean to diminish its value. But what we know now about evolution has changed, so its important to have our images be an accurate reflection of the changing concepts. Well, at least that’s what I thought.

I was on my way to the interview to my absolute dream job, I was wearing a slightly ill-fitting too formal jacket and I was shuffling through the autumn leaves on the way to the museum. I had done a project, in art school, about human evolution. It was a hypothetical piece depicting what I thought would be a great exhibit at the museum in the hall of human evolution. And here I was at the very museum, going to the design department, because they called me, about to show my work. I was achingly naive and thrilled.

I got into the interview and showed the art director my work and when I flipped to my depiction of an exhibit on human evolution I paused and told her, “well I know this shows evolution in a linear fashion—(because it looked cool and worked well with my idea) I wanted to show all the hominin skulls printed on a translucent material so you could see them overlapping one another for comparison of size and traits, I imagined each panel printed or engraved on glass and large enough so a visitor could walk through each successive stage—but I know evolution is not linear”.

She paused and swallowed. At the end of the interview she gave me some advice, she said “Dont ever say anything negative about your own work in an interview”. Ok, she was correct, but I was also correct. I was right about the way evolution works, I was just naive in thinking that the designers would actually care. And anyway, I should have used my newly-acquired scientific knowledge to change the layout of my project and then just kept quiet. Or even better, just kept quiet. My heart was in the wrong department.

Needless to say, I didnt get the job.

And just today I shuffled through the autumn leaves to the same museum, but I didnt go to sweat over fonts and colors that no one cares about, I went to learn, about human evolution and how experimental, bushy, halting, complex and non-linear the real story may have been.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Be Mine

He is at work right now. Its a Saturday. I am home on the couch blogging, drinking forbidden caffeine and thinking about how I should clean.

We have been together for over 10 years now. Not everyone knows that, because we have only been officially married for two. But the truth is, we have been married ever since we both uttered the words, “There’s no basement at the Alamo”, in tandem, in a dormroom in Brooklyn, so many years ago, his eyes aglint. Its a line from a movie that I will not explain further, so I can leave the people who know it, safe in their esoteric society with Simone.

I find, as we age, and life’s real or imagined difficulties spin around us, people dont like to hear good things. Maybe its just the people who I know. But its always so corny to talk about how wonderful your husband is. No one wants to hear it. Its so vomit inducing, especially for people who are single. But, I think my husband deserves an ode, and who better or where better to do it, than me on my blog. So, for those of you prone to romantically induced nausea, stop reading.

I am no fun on my own. Many of the curmudgeon genes from my Dads side are steadily expressing, except when Joe comes around. The man is so full of energy and spirit and good, that his presence makes the damn room glow. If you know him, you will know it. He never cleans or waxes about responsibility or complains, ever. Those are my jobs, I guess. I once told him that he was so immature that it was like having a son, and not a husband. He told me that if he were my son, then I was his moon. I was sunk with this romantic pun and thats pretty much how it goes around here each day. He is remarkably and infinitely compassionate and creative and funny, to the point that I dont think he is for real sometimes. But he is for real, and that is what is so enchanting. He makes everyone comfortable and puts even the most awkward people at ease. I love watching them unfurl for him, when I have known only their closed facade for years. He once gave me such sage advice about people, he said “everyone just wants to be aknowledged”, so simple and should be obvious, but to me, it wasnt. Everything Joe does, he puts his whole self into, from halloween to food shopping to doing laundry. Even this post is not really doing his complexity and intensity justice I am afraid, I could re-write this post until the 12th of never, and it still wouldnt do.

Last night, we went on a date, I ate a red velvet cupcake and Joe had banana pudding and this morning he is not here. I dont truly believe in soul mates, because its irrational to think that there is only one perfect mate out there for you. But if I did, Joe would be mine.

Here are a few more posts about Joe in case you missed them:

Black Eye, Black Belt and a Smile

Not Too Far Above

Secret Lemon Messages

A Ninja Among Us

The Shop

Space Cadets

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cognitive Efflorescence

I am in the process of trying to come up with a dissertation topic. It is challenging, but I dont want any sympathy. I have recognized this period in my life as one of heightened intellectual luxury and I intend to enjoy every misled idea, or ignorance-based eureka that I have along the long way. I intend to love it when I go the whole day thinking that I am brilliant, only to find out that my project idea had been done in the '80s. Because somewhere, at some point, on a Thursday, at dusk, as I exit the building and put my iPod on, something will congeal into a project that is both inspiring and tractable. I just know it.

In the beginning of graduate school I experienced this reduced sense of awe as I learned more and more detail and uncertainty about each subject that I thought excited me. It was just like when you think someone is cool, and then you get to know them, and they suck. Incidentally, that is what I thought getting to know anything was like. But, I was wrong.

There are a few areas of Biological Anthropology that I was convinced I could never be interested in: teeth, population genetics, speciation and baboons, just to name a few. Well I have recently thought about these topics that I was initially bored by, but come at them from a different, more informed perspective and now I realize how important they are to the bigger picture and to progress in the field. This is truly amazing to my cynical mind and such a delicious unexpected treat to someone who has been jaded about school since age 6.

Also, I did not enter the PhD program already married to a taxon, hopelessly in love with studying gibbons or gorillas or gigantopithecus, like some people do. I get most excited about concepts and when a study begins with a simple and elegant idea and builds on it a thorough, novel and innovative approach. Just like one of my drawing teachers said once about trying to spiff up a bad drawing “you cant polish a turd”. Its true about dissertation topics too. I am very esthetically driven. I like when things are beautiful—but I dont only apply this to dresses and drawings—I apply it to ideas too. I get most excited about the edge or design of a project and it’s almost irrelevant what it is focused on, it could be a damn Plesiadapiform for all I care, well ok, maybe not a Plesiadapiform, but you get the idea.

The point is, I am letting myself wonder and wander and get excited and get disappointed and feel smart and snappy one minute and stupid as dirt the next, and soon it will hit me, this I know.

The title of this post was taken from the “flowery” language in one of the recently published Ardipithecus ramidus papers written by Tim White. I just cant stop with the puns, can I?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Slow Wri-ter.

I wrote something truly terrible today. So astoundingly bad, that I had to write about it. Because I have a thing, with words. I have a little superficial stylistic, aesthetic respect for them and their placement and sound and interaction and oh yes, meaning. I want each sentence to be a tiny whirring machine that stirs. However, this is not always possible, or necessary.

I have a student who always stays after class to catch up. She has talked to me at length about how her lecture professor goes too fast with the powerpoint slides, and she is unable to keep up. I let her see my slides and we talk about the material. The other day, I noticed that her handwriting was insanely neat. She is probably 40 and looks like she may have another job, and a child, or two, or something. I watched her painstakingly copy the information from my slides into her notebook. Each letter was perfectly spaced from the next and unbelievably rounded. Her penmanship showed the kind of meticulous detail that is abandoned shortly after you learn to write in script, on thinly lined paper, with a pen. Its the kind of conscientiousness that is just not conducive to well, writing. I wondered if this was actually her problem. But then I wondered about the connection between speed of comprehension and speed of handwriting. Is there one? I dont know, but I wondered.

Which brings me to today. I was writing an exam myself. Because I am still at the hypocrisy inducing stage of graduate school where I teach, enforce rules on others, tell them how to improve, wonder what is holding them back, think like a professor, play dress up and then turn around and screw up royally in my own classes wearing sneakers with holes in them. Its almost ridiculous and certainly humbling. I began writing my exam very neatly today, although I was very nervous, so little, uncharacteristic flourishes emerged from my freshly shaky hand. I was not writing particularly physically slow. but. I. kept. stopping. to go back and read what I had written. I did not only want to convey uninspired lists of information about these astounding creatures. I wanted to convey how much I respect and understand the concepts and words that encircle them. This, incidentally, was not possible. I left out one whole question because I ran out of time. Twenty points, gone. And I had planned on using the word gestalt in my essay somewhere, but that never happened either.

And I must admit on this blog I go back incessantly and edit and re-edit and re-re-edit. It would be too embarrassing for you to know how often I actually do that. Because its also narcissism in this case, but thats kind of a good word too.

a link to another post about my word love, the sentence in the soil.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good Africa: Part 1

I have been home from Africa for over a month now. Finally, I am able to tell you the good things, and there were many.

We arrived in Nairboi, Kenya in the night on July 6th. My two friends and I checked into our hotel, The Kenya Comfort. Everything felt orange and brown and creaky and crumply and slow. The night was heavy with intentions. It was like a collarless dog that you go over to pet; it could greet you with a welcome wimper, or bite your fingers off. We dropped our belongings and headed to the hotel bar. I drank my first Tusker, a huge local beer that tasted pretty damn good. The three of us sat at a high small round table with metal chairs and wicker seats. Our feet did not touch the ground. We were tired from our absurdly long journey: Newark, NJ to Brussles, Belgium stop over in Uganda and finally Nairobi. The windows of the bar were large with some old worn metal fixtures on them, I looked around and I liked it. A mosquito (or two) tested my patience. We enjoyed some exhausted light conversation. We talked about the trip ahead and made some predictions. They told me how they had first met, in Nairobi, many years ago and I could imagine it being romantic. We were the last people in the bar that evening. I could’nt believe I was really there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sailing down the Avenue

About 8 years ago I was an intern in the art department at a certain womens/lifestyle magazine in New York. I was their first intern. They were a new publication, all idealistic and clueless. And I was fresh out of art school, all idealistic and clueless. It was a terrible fit. The design and layout of this particular magazine is what initially struck me. I was in Barnes and Noble admiring its spare, well considered photography and quiet whispering fonts and my friend said, “Why dont you just send them an email and ask if they need an intern?” I love her for that advice. So I did, and there I was.

I was getting paid peanuts and my brother gave me the advice that I should not buy one new piece of clothing for this job, because I couldn’t afford it. And I wanted desperately to move out of my parents house as soon as humanly possible. So I was wearing some outdated baggy dresses that I was way too young and slim to be wearing with my long unstyled hair up in a clip from Duane Reade. Now I look back and I realize that I was in the dark about how New York really worked. I didnt realize that a new outfit was probably exactly what I needed in this environment to be taken seriously. Forget about practical, comfortable shoes, what I needed was something snazzy and overpriced. But I never got it, I just saved my money and shuffled around in those platform/elastic black sandle things that were in style a few summers before I was wearing them. And I worked.

The editor of this magazine was almost completely wretched. But she was actually an excellent writer. She was playing the part of a nightmareish woman in magazine publishing very well. I saw it in her eyes, that she hated herself and deep down that she knew she was being an asshole. But this is how it was done. “When in Rome” she probably told her-fucking-self. She would flit around the office shouting absurd demands that turned what had been previously agreed upon, on its head. Everyone hated her but no one said a word. She would occasionally stroke people, just enough to keep them working, like dogs, irrationally, at this poorly oiled machine of a publication.

One day I was working on designing an article that was going to be in the magazine. This was a big step for me. Prior to this, I was cutting up mock-ups and making copies, incessantly. Well, the editor came around to look at my computer and she told me she loved what I was doing. Then the art director told me she also loved it. I went home that day a little bit proud. The next morning, the editor whooshed past me and went into the art directors office in front of where I sat. She closed the door. I heard talking but no words.

The editor emerged and the art director, sweet person that she was, had a red face and came over to me and told me to stop working on the article that I was designing. The editor decided she didn’t want interns designing the articles. I was completely dejected and went over and made another cup of coffee with hot chocolate mix in it.

Then in about 20 minutes, the editor came over to me and asked me in a tone that dripped with sweet evil, would I be a doll and go pick up her shoes from the shoe maker? She handed me the tag and some money. I said, “oh sure”, in fake sweetness and even faker ignorance, and I smiled. She made it very clear where she wanted me. So I had to make it even clearer where I wanted me. I put her money and her shoe tag on my desk. It was around 1pm. Then, in a brave and radiant fury, I walked out of the building and I sailed down 6th Avenue a few feet off the ground and rising as I got further from the building. and I never. went. back.

There are many many things I love about this story and one of them is that about two years later, the art director tracked me down and called me and asked if I wanted a position as an assistant art director there. I told her I was working in a genetics lab and going back to school now and thank you for the offer, but no.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Junk Drawers

The photographs of Paho Mann. I like these junk drawers a lot, but somehow I want to see messier ones. It must be the Pig Pen in me.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Specials

I am almost always slightly uncomfortable when I hear the specials. The amount of time required for the waiter or waitress to deliver a loveless description of a sauce that they have never tasted, is always too long. If they know the specials by heart, they are often rattled off accompanied by a hollow nodding stare. This pathetic monologue has everyone on the edge of their seats. I find myself just wishing it would end {unless they said capers}, but trying desperately to look wide eyed and supportive. I want it to end. They want it to end. Just want to get back to my conversation, and the bread. But mostly, it reminds me of the thankless sweaty monotony of their job. It reminds me of the type of things they know by heart: something that wont be there tomorrow, they repeat it all night standing like a stoic jester at our stupid service. You overhear your waiter talking to another table. Saying all the same things, in all the same ways, they violate the specials bond you knew you never had. And if their memory fails, they have to get their notepad out to read from it, flipping pages wildly, right in front of you, they show their ass. And they suffer for it. With a pinch of humiliation over everyone at that point, surely no one is listening anymore. And when this calamity finally closes, I dont need any more time to think, because I already know what I want, and its something off of the regular menu.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rune Guneriussen: Artist/Photographer

From the clever and quietly playful portfolio of Rune Guneriussen

Monday, August 24, 2009

a link to my new post on the CUNY blog

click here

P.S.-Joe came up with the title, its a Hobbit reference.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Modern Love

At the Guggenheim there is an exhibit about Frank Lloyd Wright. One thing that is frustrating about going to the big museums in the city to see a show is that they are often maddeningly crowded. Then, you are forced to peer over some middle aged woman’s Chico’s clad shoulder to see something that was at one time groundbreaking and still may be presently moving. But to hear the talk is the worst. I didnt come hear to hear your banal adjectives and humdrum analogies. I didnt come to hear you praise novel thinking that now sits quaintly and safely in the past.

I came to see the work. and it got me thinking about the movement of Modernism in all of its forms. In art, literature, architecture, design, science and in thought:

So naturally I looked it up on wikipedia first. {The term encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging fully industrialized world.}

and technically Frank Lloyd Wright was part of the Praire School, which is considered a prelude to Modernism and related to the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1930s.

But mostly, Modernism in all of its manifestations was a rejection of tradition. And because the tradition prior to Modernism seemed to encompass more ornate, fussy and formal forms and ideas-Modernism was by rebellion, more spare and unaffected. and of course not only did Modernism mean that roofs were flat and so were canvases-but the prose of James Joyce and the ideas of Darwin were also part of the movement (at the bookstore at the Whitney they even sell a small paperback about Darwin!)

At the core, it begins with the idea of questioning what is, that then spreads wildly throughout many disciplines. It is part of our Zeitgeist so much today that its hard to recognize it as a cohesive set of shifts. but in retrospect, I guess it kind of was. Without Modernism there would be no graphic design and no primate evolutionary genetics!

what does Modernism mean to you?

{image of Guggenheim taken from The New Yorker, click on the first Frank Lloyd Wright for a link to the article}

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No science without fancy, No art without facts

A favorite passage of mine from Vladimir Nabokov who was a great novelist of the 20th century and also a professional Lepidopterist:

{The tactile delights of precise delineation, the silent paradise of the camera lucida, and the precision of poetry in taxonomic description represent the artistic side of the thrill which accumulation of new knowledge, absoulutely useless to the layman, gives its first begetter...There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.}*

*excerpt taken from a book called {I Have Landed} by Stephen Jay Gould.

Oh, and thank you for coming to the new blog.


Please be sure to click on the new website {{trove}} that is listed under my favorites.

A dear friend of mine started an amazing, novel and adorable business that is very worth checking out. Click in the {about} section and read about her inspiration, Hebbie. Its completely heartwarming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Few New Blogs

Be sure to check out two new blogs I just put in my favorites:

Louise Fili Ltd {the legendary type and logo designer who does elegant, sweeping and layered work. I almost forgot how much I admired her work, but then I didnt.}

Pixels&Arrows-->the super fun blog of a friend of mine who I used to have the pleasure of working with.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Reactions from Kenya

I have returned from Kenya and am feeling like my head is floating. I will have to write several days of blog posts to explain all the things that happened there. Today, since I am extra spacey I will just start with a few quick reactions:

totally and completely out of my comfort zone-which is a very VERY narrow zone I have realized, cold showers outside at sunset, working all day in the hot sun, being around people all the time, nowhere to hide, weak coffee, eating only carbohydrates, early rising. Felt *very* white Italian-american girl from New York goes to Kenya, felt uncultured as hell and like my normal everyday life is pretty boring.

Amazing and astonishing birds, bugs, plants, people, fossils, food and oh the LIONS! the lions.

I know everyone wants to hear the good things about the trip how everything was teeming with life and it was...but mostly I was operating exclusively with the constant buzz of a broken heart because Joe was not there to see it all with me. He would have loved it, much more than I even did. There, I said it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

anemones ranunculus tomatoes olives cheese chianti and perfect light

This is what I think I want my life to look like.

(Via the small stump portfolio-click on the title of this post for a link to their site).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Silence Experiment

I spent the last two days of this week at the museum. I was looking, and I was drawing with a fine tipped mechanical pencil on light brown craft paper. My ipod was blasting calm fluttering tunes. Its been so long since I have drawn. Its been so long since I have really looked at something without the rushed and stressed semester steadily breathing down on me. Because of the stress and because of the slow drudgery of school related requirements, I had almost forgotten what it is that I like to do. 

But on Thursday, I remembered. 

I was looking at the skeletons of various mammals in preparation for my trip. On my trip, I will be going to Africa to look for fossils at a Miocene site that is approximately 17 million years old. The mammals that I was looking at in the museum this week were not 17 million years old, but they were sort of general representatives of the types of things I might be finding in the dirt.  

I am very lucky to have the opportunity and the time to look at this material. 

It was occasionally raining. Clear rainy day light was spilling in the large old window in front of me. I was at a table, alone. Pencil on paper gently explaining the outline of the shape. look. look. look. The quiet sound of drawing. The silence of looking. The intimacy of shading of gradual gradual gradual gradual shading. I make the drawing twirl because the bones do. I think the bones are beautiful. I said that to a classmate once, he left me feeling silly, naturally. But there was no one there to make me feel silly this time. Just me, my three pencils, a kneaded eraser, the poor deceased Potamochoerus larvatus and exactly how only I see it. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Talent Show

What if someone asked you to empty out all of your talents into a bucket—all of the things that you can do well and that give you a peaceful pride, even tiny things that only you know you are good at. What if every last crumb or cent of your unique skills were no longer a part of you?

And then what if someone told you that you had to pick the thing you were very worst at—the thing that you are so astonishingly bad at that by about the 4th grade you already knew it wasn’t happening—and what if someone then told you that you had to do that thing. for a living.

This is how I feel sometimes. But there was no “someone”. It was all me.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

7 Reasons to Remain Silent

I dont talk in class, unless I am the teacher. As a student, I sit there with a sometimes knitted brow, occasionally nodding or sniffling a half-laugh if its called for... but I hardly ever, ever speak, unless spoken to. Apparently this is detrimental to my career as a graduate student, so I need to think about why it is I do here goes...

I dont speak in class because:

1) I am not sure what I am going to say is correct or worth hearing.
2) I am probably wrong.
3) I dont want to compete with the talkers, I dont want to interrupt anyone’s rant, even if I think they are wrong and/or overly confident and/or absurd, which is often the case.
4) I didnt read carefully enough so asking a question may accidentally reveal this.
5) I am not really that interested in what I am learning.
6) I dont want to be judged, even though sitting there in silence does not totally absolve me of this I suppose.
7) I dont want people to know what I think.

Writing this list just convinced me again to remain silent... and I like this quote by Lincoln:

{Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.} -Abraham Lincoln

and finally I leave you with this quote from Liz Lemon from the show 30Rock, which I think I love even more than the Lincoln quote....{SUCK IT NERDS!}.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

charm school

We had a conversation about charm. Then, a few weeks later, feeling unsatisfactory on the topic, I started another conversation about charm and what it is to be charming. Things are still unresolved, which, incidentally, probably makes me uncharming, but here goes anyway...

Firstly, for some reason, I think of it as an adjective to describe men not women, but I think that might just be me.

Secondly, what is it exactly? Does it require one to be extraordinarily sparkly or just ordinarily lovely? should one be quirky? or mild? smiling seems key. should one be witty or reserved and attentive? a leader of the conversation or just a breezy delightful partner in a chat? shallow or deep?

or is this just stupid? is it an old Great Gatsbyish term that needs no explanation.

Anyway, do you think of this word as a pejorative term that connotes some unsavory agenda? or is this a compliment?

or maybe I will just know it when I see it.

**click on the title of this post to link back to the last post I wrote about charm in 2006.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


How do you separate your personal desires from what your parents want for you? What are we but responses to our parents issues? We either perpetuate their issues, rebel against them or turn them into something positive, or negative. But they are always there, hanging heavy like a soaking wet towel that never dries. Hopefully as time rolls on it becomes easier to distinguish ourselves from our parents shortcomings, but I dont think I believe that we can truly ever wriggle free.

P.S.-this is an old post that I wanted to re-post in case you missed it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reverse Birds

Maybe its because I can recognize people from the back from a mile away...but I just love these Reverse Birds photos via {A Cup Of Jo Blog} on the title of this post for the images.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Big Laugh

I once worked in a design studio. The studio was open plan. So, it was just one big space that several artists rented out-all doing different things. So we were all in one space, eclectic, eccentric and everyone thinking they were more high-minded than the next guy.

There was a man named Harry who worked in the space next to my space. He was one of the most esthetically driven people I have ever met, but very very impractical. He once told me to clear the desk off of all of the papers and magazines I was working on, just so it would be clean. He was a minimalist. He was a minimalist. He often had a vase of white tulips on his desk. He loved Basquiat and sushi from the Food Emporium. He stole our cokes in the fridge. He never paid the bills. He walked around with no shoes on, just socks and even if I could not see his feet, I knew he had no shoes on, because he was suspiciously quiet when he walked. He talked on a portable phone and had it on speaker, but held it up to his ear. He sometimes tucked himself away in his boxes of organized clutter and set up a chair and slept. We followed the snore and we found him. He never finished anything but he had new ideas every day. He was the editor of a quarterly magazine, but it only came out once a year. He owned two apartments next to one another in the West Village. He once told me he hated money. He had a wife named Marion, but they weren’t married.

But most of all, Harry laughed. He laughed so loud and deep that when you heard his laugh, you wished you were laughing too. His laugh started with a drawn out {Ha}, then a pause, and then more {Hahahahah’s} followed. It carried through stairwells, through walls and doors and into reluctant hearts who he owed money to. Harry died this week and the world is less one very big laugh.

Monday, April 27, 2009

remove bouche

There is a quote about women’s fashion that I cannot find, but it goes something like this. {Before you leave the house, when you are fully dressed, remove one accessory, or article of clothing}.

The idea here is to emphasize minimal elegance.

Well, I have taken this idea and applied it to emails and it seems to be serving me well.

I always write too much to the wrong people and so, right before I send the email, I remove one sentence. The one sentence that is a little too strong, a little too iffy or bold or soul bearing. There is always one.

Monday, April 20, 2009

tell me a tale of crazy

Tell me, do you think there could be a connection between being paranoid and being creative? I say this because I am certifiably occasionally both. More one than the other I would say. and I know that both require connecting ideas in long strings or networks, things that normal people may not connect, and the next thing you know you are either talking crazy or talking eureka.

and why, tell me, is it that when a man in history is a little crazy he often gets the crazy genius title. Whereas a woman who is crazy is just all Zelda Fitzgerald and should just sink away with her intense grey eyed stare and wine glass shattering incidents, and be forgotten? Tell me about crazy women who have been lauded, and not just as a romantic curiosity, tell me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Five Second Fiction

You know how when someone uses a hypothetical person as an example of a point in conversation...when someone just invents a little fictional character to illustrate a story they are telling. {you know, the guy who...}

Well, I had a thought today about all of those five second fictions...lets get all those people together, all those jokers who never existed and who only enjoy only a second of our time. The ideas of people who have no purpose other than to briefly represent something, an act or a type of person, or a situation.

What if we let them enjoy more time in our thoughts, what else would they become, what kinds of things would they do?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Today my bus was traveling at the same exact speed as a bird that was flying beside it. I was sitting inside the bus and I could see the birds little puffy body in perfect focus. It was a tiny shiny black bird with some flecks of iridescence. And it looked like it was just floating there.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lets Pretend that Life is Long

Lately, because of a certain tragic turn of events that are affecting a colleague of mine, I have been really REALLY thinking about how, as cliche as it is, human life is just so damn short and often sad.

But it leads me to the point of asking, if one were to truly embrace this idea that life is indeed an absurdly fleeting flash in the pan, and we might not be here for a lovely or upsetting tomorrow, what does one do with that realization?

Life is short so lets eat a lot of doughnuts, or sleep a little longer, or tell someone how you REALLY feel. Life is short so hug your dog, buy those shoes you love and get it with extra cheese. Life is short so do what you want in life and because there will (probably) be no one looking down on you and laughing at the general foolishness of your own life, you have to laugh at it yourself.

But, I think for me, because I dont trust myself thinking that it might be my last day on earth, which could actually be any day now, I am just going to pretend that life is long. I am going to pretend that life is long so that I wont call anyone up and tell them off, or send an email that gets me into trouble. So I wont get metaphorically, or actually, too drunk on life’s bounties...only to have the sun rise tomorrow on my big fat new headache.

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 things about me.

On facebook there is this note going around where you have to make a list of 25 things about you. They are fun lists, but I have too many random friends on facebook at this point so I decided to save this list for petri dish, so only the {in crowd} could read it.

1. I know almost every word to every Beatles song.
2. My greatest joys in life are Joe, music, cut flowers, those fage Greek yogurts and good conversation.
3. I am not really sure about anything.
4. I cant identify with confident people, but I am fascinated by them.
5. I like the idea of cooking good, healthy, fresh food, but I dont always do it.
6. I cant decide if I am vintage or modern.
7. I am looking forward to working on a dissertation-my own little project, my own little idea-and if it does not happen I will be sad.
8. I loved being a cheerleader, and I dont care what anyone says.
9. Before I was a cheerleader, when I was very young, I was so shy that I used to hide behind my mothers skirt and never say hello to anyone.
10. I am still painfully shy sometimes.
11. If I dont drink coffee in the morning I get a very bad headache and cant look people in the eye.
12. Sometimes I think life might be meaningless and I am temporarily paralyzed by that realization.
13. I like to swim but I am kind of scared of water.
14. I hate winter with all of my heart and I dont know what to do about it.
15. I love polka dots
16. I can sleep longer than most adults.
17. I never finished the thank you notes for my wedding and it will forever haunt me
18. I dont think there is such thing as “having potential”, I think you are either doing it, or you are not.
19. I was told once that I have “an artists heart”, and I think thats pretty accurate.
20. I wish I was more articulate in english.
21. I can love and hate the same thing or person.
22. I have poor reading comprehension.
23. I probably eat too much cheese.
24. I am glad I have no sisters.
25. I dont know what I would do without Joe, I would be totally adrift.

Monday, January 12, 2009

poufy, puffy, displeasure

I realized today why exactly I hate winter. Its not just because it is cold. Its not just because it is bleak or because its dark. Its not just because I want to stay inside all day under the covers eating brownies.

It is because I hate *hate* having reduced manual dexterity because of winter gloves and I hate *hate* having a compromised range of motion because I am wearing a puffy down coat. And I hate other people wearing puffy down coats, they take up more room on the bus. I am always slowly swishing by someone and we are touching each other, but neither of us feel it that much. This dull sense of the space you take up sets in. I like to know how far I extend in every direction and I like others to know how far they extend too.

I want to be streamlined AND warm, is that too much to ask?

PS-did I mention the static? my hair waves in front of my face like a devilish invisible someone is tickling my nose with a feather to watch me suffer ever so slightly more. its the cherry on top of the sundae of my discontent.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dr. Little Miss Queen of Darkness

Since I am experimenting with being a scientist lately, I feel like I am on the verge of becoming square. Some people think that because I am getting my PhD that I must be a good student. But I am really not, and I never was. I burned my report card in our driveway once, I remember my heart sinking in fear and sadness a bit when I saw the flame eat up my mediocrity. And feeling even worse when the report card was gone, but I still felt like a loser. And another year I meticlously cut out all the C’s, it created a swiss-cheese effect. I missed school many many many times-especially in 4th grade, due to “sickness”, that was brought on by I-didnt-do-my-homework anxiety. And then of course there was the time I climbed the Japanese maple tree in our front yard to escape having to get on the school bus to kindergarden. It worked.

Highschool was just a mess, over-fucking-flowing with bad feelings about school. Kicked out of honors freshman year, never to live it down to this damn day. Harassing the nun who taught us French. Every time she turned her back to write on the board-we moved our desks up just a bit-every-time-she-turned-around until we were right up on her and she was freaking out. I never really cheated or did drugs or anything like that-but I acted like I was bad ass and pissed off enough to do so. I think I drew on my sneakers once. I identified with Holden Caulfield, even though I probably never really finished reading the book.

And then of course there was Art School.

So now I am back in school, by some strange fluke of adult onset academic goodness. And I am feeling a bit like a Pollyanna, which I am not. I feel like I should get a tattoo or start smoking and wearing darker eyeliner and maybe become a self-loathing alcoholic. I think my voice should be raspier to reflect some kind of worldliness and experience in badness. I realized the other day that I still love the people who are super-smart, but who dont conform to what school has to give and who are, because they have some kind of advanced crazy mind, dark and brooding and screwed up. I still love people who are the most clever in a conversation but who get horrible grades. I like the tragedy of it and I love that song Little Miss Queen of Darkness because I imagine that they are talking about me, but I guess it will be Dr. Little Miss Queen of Darkness soon.