December 22, 2009

The Alchemy of Candy, Part III 

A confession:

What brings me back to writing here? Falling in love? The death-defying-but-utterly-worth-it trip to Morocco? Pshaw! No, what brings me back to write here is embarrassingly predictable: candy.

I've written about it before, twice. And perhaps because I don't do it that often, candy-making is like being slapped by magic, and makes me feel two ways at once: utterly enchanted, like a dumbfounded little girl, and oddly, mysteriously powerful.

Watch the butter & sugars go from liquid to syrupy to bubbled creaminess to thickened creaminess to brittle candy. Watch the thermometer slowly move past the rather (is it just me?) bawdily-named candy stages as I stir and stir: jelly, soft ball, hard ball, crack.

And the substance changes. I can see it change before my eyes, and I dream of becoming a chemist, go all weak-kneed thinking about other possibilities for the principles that make this humble mixture do what it's doing. And somehow I am mistress of this bubbling marvel that will end up as toffee, and at the same time totally under its spell.

December 16, 2007

Seasoned and synchronous 

I got really bored and depressed today. One good thing to come from this was that I finally dug in and drew a super-quick sketch, scanned it, and started playing in Photoshop. I'm just trying to break through a bunch of creative torpor, and have wanted to play with sketching & digital coloring for a while now, and I finally just did it. What you you see to the left is what came of my effort-without-expectation.

However, this is what I find amazing. I log into blogger for the first time in six months and read a draft from June 16 that I have titled "seasoned" - and found what is below - an eerily wonderful complement to my illustration.

I think this is such a wonderful sentence. I love how the word "spiced" really fits here.
"...that some of our loves and attachments are elemental and beyond our choosing, and for that very reason they come spiced with pain and regret and need and hollowness and a feeling as close to anger as I will ever be able to manage."
—Colm Toibin, from "One Minus One"

June 05, 2007

Compiling a Memory 

Yesterday I bought a compilation CD of tracks put together by the guys in Air - some of their favorites from their collections, apparently. It's great.

Song #5 started playing. I recognized it instantly, knew that it had been in a movie I'd seen, and that it had been really moving to me at the time. I couldn't recall the movie just from the music...but still, it felt really close. I was a little apprehensive that maybe it had been used in a commercial, and wasn't thrilled to think that I might've poured that much response into images in advertisement. I looked up the composers name, Georges Delerue, and found that he'd done the music for Contempt, and this track, "Camille", was from that movie.

Which brings me to this: When I saw Contempt at a revival theater in Marin probably ten years ago, I'd never before seen a Goddard film. Not far into the movie, I started crying - really hard, deep crying (though silently) and I had big tears pouring out of my eyes. And I was surprised at this fast explosion of emotion at a point in the movie that didn't seem to particularly call for it. I can't remember exactly what had happened on screen, but it was at a certain point when it became clear how much was unsaid between this couple, how much pull and wanting between them and yet how much they weren't understanding about each other. And the music in this movie (and in other Goddard films like Alphaville) comes in at those moments of silence (I mean, when there's no dialogue) and illustrates, during that space of silence, the poignancy of distance between people who love each other and want nothing more than to bridge that distance.

It's been a while since I thought about the heartbreaking and sophisticated way music supports the emotional undercurrents in that movie.

April 23, 2007

It's been so long since I've posted regularly that I think I may have forgotten how to create links! Eek. Such is the nature of habits—upon which, I've decided, the quality of one's life depends. I tend to look for all sorts of psychological reasons why I do things or don't, and how I do them. And of course, these deeper motivations and resistances do have some influence. But really, I think most of how you live is a collection of habits, and habits can be changed. That's why I think people can change. OK, maybe people can't really change. But your life can indeed change, because you can change your habits.

I went to the most wonderful art exhibit in Washington D.C. when I was there last week, and I'd really like to write it up, but have just been too lazy to delve into it. It was so wonderful, but its impact lessens as my distance from it grows. I'm hoping that writing this post will help me do that.

I read a quote once talking about the difference between fun and entertainment, and the gist of the quote was that you must be involved in creating fun. Entertainment, however, is totally passive. And we live in such an overly-entertained society. I look at DVD players in cars and kids in front of them, and I never understand. The boredom is good for them! How else will they ever have space to generate a thought of their own?

So via Wish Jar (a blog I love oh-so-much and recommend you visit often), I found this, a site created by Yann Martel to track his efforts to better the Canadian Prime Minister's sense of stillness, and thereby, his appreciation for and likelihood to support the arts. In his explanation about the site's origin he describes exactly how I feel about stillness and the arts, and I think he gets it just right about what the the education system (and, I believe, the cultural values of modern society in general) is doing to the soul of humanity.

"To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene‰¥ädoesn‰¥út that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, ‰¥þHere I am. What do you think?‰¥ÿ Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, ‰¥þGosh, life is racing by.‰¥ÿ But that‰¥ús not it at all, it‰¥ús the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

I was thinking about that, about stillness, and I was also thinking, more prosaically, about arts funding, not surprising since we fifty artists were there in the House to help celebrate the fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts, that towering institution that has done so much to foster the identity of Canadians. I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment, to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that‰¥äin conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens‰¥äis to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst‰¥äintolerance and totalitarianism‰¥äbecause incapable of thinking for themselves, and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit."—Yann Martel

How surprising would it be if Stephen Harper actually reads Martel's suggested books? I had never heard of Stephen Harper before today...

February 14, 2007

Missing Pluto 

I took a picture of it, but the sun was shining too brightly on the sign, so it turned out badly. On the corner of Channing (I think) and Telegraph in downtown Berkeley there's a marquee on the side of the rust-colored Mars Mercantile building. It says, "I want Pluto to be a planet again."

So do I.

Right after Pluto's unfortunate fall from planetary favor, my mom described a cartoon she'd seen in which Pluto was pictured sitting, dejected, at the kids table at Thanksgiving, while the other planets remained at their own adult table. I imagined it from the other planets' point of view: I saw a quiet and morose table of adults, everyone picking at their food, and finally Papa Jupiter manages to say, "I miss Pluto."

Everyone I know has taken Pluto's expulsion from Planethood a little hard.

January 31, 2007

Scenes of Random Beauty 

In the space of an hour:

A firetruck passing, the driver with his cap on. Something I've never seen before.

Small yellow signs in front of Chapel of the Chimes, saying "Funeral Parking."

Outside the fire station, a blue-haired woman talking to a crew of firemen all decked out in their uniformed finery.

A crow picking at crumbs from a bag of Doritos.

A motorcycle policeman posted on a corner as a unicyclist pedaled past him, apparently waiting to corral traffic for the funeral procession of fire trucks that would reach his intersection a few moments after we saw them.

January 29, 2007

The Rajah's Favorite 

I have enjoyed doing puzzles since I was a kid, laboring over Ravensburger scenes of german peasant life (think Breughel, but appropriate for kids) and Springbok oversized squares of large-faced smiling bees and flowers dancing around in a garden.

I picked up a free puzzle in my neighborhood last week, set out on the curb for giveaway. I hesitated before I carried it home, chastising myself for what a waste of time it would be, wondering if all the pieces were there. This is a 2000 piece puzzle, very large and difficult. It's an image of an elephant in an Indian street scene, full of architectural details and lavish tapestries. It's great, just like something I'd choose.

So I set it up on my dining table, all the while sort of silently wondering if this wouldn't be another time-suck, something I don't really want right now. Nevertheless, I like doing the puzzles. I decided quickly that it was an impossible task, so many pieces, so detailed in its imagery. I've been working on it for two days, and I've put together maybe 75 pieces other than the frame.

Yet as I continue to work it, I get to know the pieces better, begin to discern distinctions of color and pattern that weren't clear to me before. I see how they fit into the larger image, even if only two agonizing pieces at a time. This is a really nice metaphor for how any endeavor comes together, creative, or otherwise. As you apply yourself, what was cloudy and seemingly insurmountable at first begins to appear manageable as you familiarize yourself with all the components.

Today I realized, as I talked aloud to various people who weren't with me, that working the puzzle is also somewhat therapeutic. As I came to certain conclusions via these monologic conversations, I said to myself: I'm proud of you. Because I had been talking myself through something, through an issue of boundary-setting with people in my life, and I was happy with what I'd just articulated. So, then I decided the puzzle is a good thing: if I can enjoy myself & learn something in the process, I will no longer think of it as just a geeky waste of time.

So there.

November 28, 2006

Crossing the Finish Line 

At work, when I've finished a challengingly boring or difficult task or some long, drawn out design or some quick-rush-to-get-it-done design - well, whatever it is, if I'm glad to get it done, I'll throw my hands up over my head, as I successfully cross the imaginary finish line. Sometimes I'll hear the theme song from Rocky in my head as I flail my arms around in jubilation.

We have a very knowledgeable and unusual temp guy doing various kinds of computer work, both skilled and menial. He was sitting near me today burning a cover design I'd created onto a bunch of CDs. Well, he was getting ready to do that. I guess what he was actually doing was setting up a computer that he'd previously removed from that space, getting it connected to the network. I looked over at him when I saw him throw his hands up over his head and make some crowd-appreciation noises - and then he said victoriously, "I've been looking for that computer for days!"

"Are you...crossing the finish line?" I ventured, a little incredulously.

"No," he said. "Touchdown."

November 26, 2006

"In considering magic seriously, we may have to stretch the borders of our scientific assumptions and insist that the moon is not just dust and rocks, the human body is not a machine or a gene factory, and the earth is neither inert nor without personality. We may have to push the limits of psychology and insist that human beings are not aggregates of social influences or brain-driven packets of emotion that can be tweaked with chemicals into well-functioning social machines. Anyway, I'd rather be a dysfunctional soul than a well-adjusted robot."
&mdash Thomas Moore, from The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.

November 24, 2006

No gobbling for me 

You pick up habits, you drop them. You pick them up again, you drop them again. Then you pick them up again....and so here you have my first post in several months.

Well, Thanksgiving didn't really suck. It wasn't what I wanted or planned for it to be like, but there you have it. A badly-timed mild flu (or hideously feverish cold) makes me feel like I've dropped down the rabbit hole...five whole days without a lot of energy, no Thanksgiving dinner, no family gathering, and no opportunity to make and share delicious tarts & pies. Grumble, grumble....However, it IS only Friday...there is a weekend still to be redeemed.

I was thinking about the notion of giving thanks in the sort of formalized way that Thanksgiving embodies, and how sometimes, at past dinners, we've been asked to go around and say what we're thankful for, and I've balked - which is so funny, because I really am so deeply thankful. But somehow, to encapsulate what I'm thankful for does everything else I'm thankful for (which is so incredibly huge, and therefore not realistically includable) a disservice. There's just no way to enumerate it. And so this is what I was thinking about, in one of my feverish and sleepless reveries: a response that I'm comfortable with, doesn't give into to some sort of useless pressure, and also stays true to the fabulous breadth-concreteness-abstraction-contradiction-holiness that I'm thankful for.

So, at a Thanksgiving table with my family, I would express my thankfulness for everyone surrounding me who has enriched my life (and given me so much) in so many ways, or has enriched the life of someone I love. Other than that, I am thankful for every minute sensory experience and thought and emotion that occurs in my life each day, and why? Because after all, eventually you lose everything. So everything you have is by its nature (and by your own) fleeting - there's no mandate at all but to be thankful for it, because it will be lost. It's in recognition of its eventual loss that you realize just exactly what preciousness is. Moving any of your limbs with grace and painlessness is really nothing short of a miracle anyway...I've said it before - I'm a big fan of motor skills...and you know, that's really just the beginning.

One of the other 2:00 a.m. reveries spun by my feverish and hopelessly-obsessed-with-edible-things brain, was about treating people at work to the tart, pies and bread I was going to bake for my family, since I still have all the ingredients, and then some. I was imagining a conversation in response to the praise I'd get for my apple pie, and how I would explain the particulars of butter temperature and technique for keeping it cold cold cold while making the crust. It was interesting to me in the state I was in at the time. And, really, I think I have these conversations with myself because I find this stuff a lot more fascinating than I think most people who I might talk to about it do.

It's all pretty magical, and more than enough to be thankful for.

"Abundance & Satisfaction" by Pattiann Rogers, is one of my favorite poems, and is about the impossibility of appreciating how much there is to appreciate:

to study
thoroughly just one powder scale, one
one gold speck from one dusted butterfly
forewing would require at least
a millennium of attention to all melody,
phrase, gravity and horizon.

It's an incredible poem, though I can't find text anywhere online, and I'm wondering if there's some copyright reason for that, so I'm not inclined to type it all in. However, if you want a copy, I'll pdf it to you if you ask.

September 09, 2006


I love the fall of fall.

It always surprises me: at some point I walk outside, usually during early September, and it's just different. It may be the light is more angled and oblique, or there's a sharpness to the air that was absent during the summer, or just some combination of these that conspire to make me feel just a little wistful, just a tiny and pleasantly bit melacholy.

This year, it happened a few weeks ago. It's early, I thought. This almost always my reaction: it's early. But nevertheless, it was still the fall feeling.

I love the coming of fall. I have never liked summer. I've always thought perhaps this is because I adored school when I was young, and was always happy for it to start again ... and maybe somehow this sense of excitement and longing for fall carried over into adulthood.

I've gotten more fond of summer, slowly. Though I'm happy for fall, I'm a little reluctant to let summer go. But summer - high overhead light, little shadow, all obviousness. It's a good thing. It's just not the most dimensional season, you know? Or maybe I've just not been as good at carefree fun as I should be, for that long a time. Hmm...

Yesterday as I was leaving work, I pulled a crisp leaf that had fallen into my hair, and it made me happy.

September 04, 2006

Different Voices 

Touring the galleries of 49 Geary is something that I do not nearly often enough. On Saturday, I realized that again. It's free, it's in the downtown area of a lovely SF, I can take BART to do it (I love subways to an indescribable extent), and it's just a fantastic time. I hope it won't be three years before I do it again! Ridiculous...

Anyway, most of the galleries were closed for the holiday weekend, but the Catharine Clark gallery had a really wonderful exhibit that I'd read about last week in the Chronicle. It was a nice surprise because I hadn't remembered this exhibit when we set out for the galleries.

Nina Katchadourian's video piece, "Accent Elimination," was comprised of three monitors, with her in the middle and one of her parents on each side of her. The videos depicted her interviewing her parents with questions they commonly answer about their background and speaking patterns, then rehearsing the questions and responses but switching to the accent of the person being spoken with. So, when she was speaking to her dad, she tried to adopt his Lebanese accent and with her mom, tried to adopt her Swedish accent. Her parents, in turn, attempted to speak in her American accent. It was captivating. Kenneth Baker's Chronicle review described it as "a wry and touching allegory of family resemblance, dissonance and reconciliation," which very succintly describes how I felt about it. I saw how speech patterns and accents embody history, geography (and sometimes intention) in a way I've never really thought about. And how no one can truly inhabit another person's voice (and by extension viewpoint), literally or metaphorically, and yet how much you can learn from trying. None of the people in the exhibit succeeded in accurately emulating the accent of the others. Seeing each of them struggle, as they looked you (the viewer) right in the eye, was very moving. It was such an evocative exhibit. I loved it, and I can't stop thinking about it.

Another installation by Ketchaturian was called "Supermarket Genealogy". The Chronicle described its political commentary (in the same review linked above), and that all seems true. But what I experienced from it was also this: I recognized these people. Michael and I stood in front of the wall of portraits, naming the faces to each other, sometimes with a kind of thrill of recognition. And (though I'm dismayed by this) a hint of warmth sometimes in that recognition. They were all in different kinds of frames, as though they really were portraits of family member gathered over time.. And I realized that if I were looking at my own family tree that far back (this was probably four or five generations, if I remember correctly), I wouldn't be able to identify all the people who would be pictured, let alone recall them with any suggestion of wamth. How terrifying...could that also have been a part of her intention? Because that's really what I got from it. Another great, though-provoking piece.

I love 49 Geary.

September 02, 2006

Je suis heureuse 

What does happiness on a Saturday morning look like?

An estate sale find that is not only a bargain, but something I actually intended on buying new: eleven Duralex drinking glasses, four each of two sizes, three of another. I almost went by Crate and Barrel several times this week to get some. All for the "I'll drink to that" price of $5!

July 20, 2006

And so. 

It is a kind of relief to get to know your own failings very well. A relief because I can just, finally, give up trying to be perfect, and thinking that if I'm not perfect, no one will love me. It's just not going to happen. I'm simply not perfectly good. Not that I ever really thought I was, but I have really demonstrated to myself that I am in no place to pass judgement on anyone else. I'm fucked up, just like everyone else is. And so I feel this sense of connection with the world as a whole, because I can just stop judging other people and myself so harshly. I'm a bundled up mess of loveliness and selfishness, just like you and them and everyone.

How, exactly can I explain this? I've discovered that despite all the things I thought that love meant, it means those and other, different things. It means that if I can behave in hurtful, painful ways I don't completely understand despite the presence of love, then I really don't know much at all. And I can just give it up. Because I have caused hurt to a degree that it hurts me to contemplate. Hurting him is like hurting myself. And yet, I still do the hurting.

I'm still not saying it right. I have come to know the dense black hole of love, the place where all the light goes and can't escape. A place of infinite heaviness and gravity, where emotions are so condensed and distilled that they become new things of themselves. Negotiating where loving someone else ends and where taking care of yourself begins is a murky and difficult thing. Well, and that's just it; that loving of him hasn't ended at all. But the taking care of myself has begun, and they are for now mutually exclusive things, at least in action. But not in feeling. And words are simply things that just graze the surface of what I'm trying to say.

It's easy to know all your wonderful qualities. Those are so easy to love. Can I still feel lovable in the face of all the crap I dole out to myself and others, despite my best intentions? Well, that's the freeing thing. Because despite how I've hurt him, I'm still a good person. Despite doing things I'm not proud of, that I wish I'd handled differently, that I might ordinarily send judgements raining down upon myself for, I'm still a good person. I know this is true, but the fact is that I'm still human, trailing mistakes behind me as I go. All I can do is try to do better.

And to be fair to myself, I'm looking at just one aspect of this: how much it hurts to cause someone else pain. I have also been hurt by him. I do claim that, too.

April 23, 2006


Well, this weekend, it all came back. My former life: the preoccupations, the blindnesses created by habit, the stress, whatever. The old Diana is back. I thought for sure that the New Improved Diana I'd come to like so much was here to stay, but she's gone. I guess I thought I'd changed, really changed. Permanently (Ha! That's a laugh, isn't it?) But maybe not.

Too much freelance work this weekend, and I had to miss the Literacy Tutor Training that I had planned to attend on Saturday. And that felt like such a derailment. I was so excited about it. I have such a hard time actually taking action toward anything, and it seemed like my trip broke me out of my comfort zone and pushed me in ways that lingered, as I hoped they would, once I got back. Got me more into the habit of activity, simply taking action. That tutoring was something I've been wanting to do since I graduated from college thirteen years ago. So, I was going to do it...and then, too much work.

I didn't plan it that way, and when I'd accepted one job, the client had agreed to get materials to me two weeks ago and didn't. That job, coupled with the other job I'd previously agreed to for another client, left me with these crushing deadlines I had to work all weekend to meet.

And I just feel like, where did all that expansive perspective go? That perspective I'm working so hard to articulate to myself and to others and can't? That effortlessness of everything I felt, the ease, the awareness of how easy everything felt, no worries, no stress. Such comparative luxury.

Well, and this is how I'm framing it to myself now. So the ease of all that great mental space is gone. The easy part is over. Now I know what it feels like to feel that way. Now the work begins...I guess the work of practice, or something like it. Maybe through meditating or yoga or something that cultivates that stillness and nowness and expansiveness will bring it all back to me.

I hope. But I'm sad that I'm back, gazing at my bellybutton, ruminating over all the little this's and that's unconsciously. I'm sick of that. I'm sick of myself like that. Maybe it's just a fleeting funk. I hope so. I really do.

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