Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: September, 2002

Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again. Instead of making me mad, this New York Times column made me laugh. The fellow who wrote this is bitter and defensive. Perhaps he is trying to save his own livelihood. Perhaps he read too much tripe by student writers. What he doesn’t understand is that writing well comes with practice. If 81% of Americans want to write a book, fine, let them. It’s not as if they’re going to force their creative effort down his throat.

I find that most people do have a book in them, even if they don’t have the time or energy to write everything down. When people find out that I write in my spare time, their faces light up and they begin telling me their ideas. Usually it’ll be some historical romantic epic that stirs no interest me, but far from telling them to keep their ideas to themselves like the above author, I always find myself thinking that they should write their own novel.

What’s puzzling is why people don’t write more. I love writing. Am I deranged and abnormal for liking it so much? I try writing every day, be it via typing or longhand. Sure, nothing is published, but I have scores of fragments, poems, short stories, novellas, and even two novels for the effort. Is it really that painful to write?

I will probably blab more about this tomorrow. Meanwhile, for those of you who were around last November, yes, I am in the stages of planning another novel-length draft. If you are curious, crazy, brave, and/or masochistic, I have the novel draft from last November up at Writing Sya. Yeah, I was too lazy to take it down in December.

The convenience store is squashed in an awkward corner of the large building that houses the dining halls. The patrons are slim youthful sprites, trendy in their movements and their purchases. I feel like a clunky and dumb sparrow among flamingos. I feel old and impractical.

I don’t need Red Bull to keep me awake.

Other stuff:
Rapture Index. Stockbrokering the world’s ills.
Checkershadow Illusion. My eyes got tricked like everyone else’s until I blocked out the surrounding squares.
Chicago Poems. By Carl Sandburg. My favorite:


THE FOG comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

In conversations with people I don’t know very well, there is always this struggle to come up with something that we have in common. What’s your name? Oh, I know someone with your name, it’s my uncle’s sister-in-law’s cousin. You play the cello? Oh, I used to play the cello. You lived there before? I did too! I’m tired of these did it toos. Are they trying to impress me or are they really that similar to me?

One example is the oboe. I used to play the oboe when I had more time on my hands. Of course, when I’m in a gathering full of musicians, I expect there to be at least one other person who’ve played the oboe. But when I find myself at a random gathering, I’m surprised when someone tells me, “Oh, I’ve played the oboe too!” Are they trying to pull my leg, because what’s the chance of meeting another oboist at almost every social gathering I go to?

I am currently listening to:
Telemann. Too bad not very many people recognize his name today even though he was commercially successful during his time. His oboe sonatas are particularly poignant.

“There were many people being living. Certainly very many come together to see something, to hear something, to do something, to see some see something, to see some hear something, to see some do something, to hear some see something, to hear some do something, to hear some hear something, to feel something, to feel some feel something, to feel some hear something, to feel some see something…”

The above is from Gertrude Stein‘s The Making of Americans which inspired the theatrical program Hashirigaki–a melange of light, music, and dance. Hashirigaki was both fun and stimulating to the senses. “As it comes,” Charlotte Engelkes, one of the actresses, said of the meaning of the Japanese term hashirigaki. This piece of modern theater was a mix of traditional Japanese music, western stream-of-consciousness, and extraordinary use of lighting that, for me, was pure visual and auditory pleasure.

I was part of the smaller group of people who stayed behind for a discussion with the three performers of Hashirigaki–Charlotte Engelkes, Marie Goyette, and Yumiko Tanaka. The very first question offered was “What was the meaning of the play?” The performers hemmed and hawed on the answer, but in the end couldn’t definitively pin it down. I suppose looking for meaning in modern art is in itself meaningless. Modern art merely exists–its interpretation is up to the individual. Another question was “Was it supposed to be funny in the scenes where the audience laughed?” Again, this was up to the individual interpretation. If the audience wasn’t supposed to laugh, than the performers did a poor job of interpreting the material themselves.

Actually, I didn’t find the discussion that helpful. Mostly it was the audience trying to sound educated and smart in front of the hapless actresses (especially the snotty moderator) while dissecting their performance. All the posturing in the world won’t win my respect. Even if I didn’t agree, I valued the more honest comments I heard from the rest of the audience: “It was…cerebral. I guess I was born at the wrong time [to appreciate it].”

I suggest seeing it though. There’s another performance at The Hop tomorrow evening. Later, the group will tour through Minneapolis, UCLA, and then back to the east coast in Boston.

You know something’s not interesting when you sit through a talk and everything goes through one ear and out the other without so much as a blip from any of your neurons. Perhaps it would have been more amusing if those graduate students blabbing about their own research actually sounded excited about it.

Of course, some students lose their enthusiasm for things, which only means one thing: they haven’t been taking any breaks. Breaks for me means something artsy. For instance, this afternoon, I piled up in line to get tickets to see the U.S. premiere of Hashirigaki, a weird avant-garde theatrical production of dance, visual art, and music. What’s more relaxing than putting aside work to do something totally different?

Something that is interesting:
Kinoko-ya. Beautiful pictures of mushrooms.
Manuscript Setup. That is, if you want to submit your great American novel to a publisher, you don’t want to be rejected because you are messy.

Fog cloaked the surrounding pines, maples, and oaks. Cool air stung the cheeks. A squirrel sat beneath a bench to crack a nut with his sharp teeth.

I find the morning hours beautiful and mystical, but I’m hesitant to wake up so early. It’s not that I’m not a morning person. I just find it difficult to overcome the inertia of actually getting out of bed. After that, I’m fine. I don’t even need coffee.

On a completely different note, I hate it when books come out in new editions because then I’ll have to buy another copy. No, I’m not talking about newer editions of Shakespearean plays where the only thing different is the cover. I’m talking about biology textbooks like this one. I had the previous edition for several years now and was exasperated when the newer edition was required. Apparently, several new chapters and references were added as well as some reorganization of existing content. I suppose in my mind, the only real justification of buying a newer edition is if most (or all) of the content in the older edition is proved false. But that’s just the price to pay for going into a field that gets new information every day.

It would have been a completely different story if I had specialized in English composition!

Here They Are, Science’s 10 Most Beautiful Experiments. What defines “beautiful” experiments is that they are simple to implement yet show a universal truth about nature. I was a bit miffed that they didn’t show any biological experiments, but I suppose the reason is that physics isn’t messy–but biology is. Biology is complicated by mind-boggling systems that don’t do just one thing all the time. But hey, they should of at least included Watson and Crick’s paper.
International Spy Museum. I liked the intro.
Sketch Art. Wow. Looks like someone with too much time on his hands.

I spent three hours slumped in a lecture hall, probably with my eyes glazed over in boredom. The guy sitting next to me was busy reading papers and a text book. The couple in front of me were whispering snarky remarks to each other. The other guys nearby were rolling their eyes. Half an hour was spent wasted on vague rhetoric about the honor code. Another half hour was taken up by a fourth year student not so subtly hinting about beer parties while expounding the virtues of extracurricular activities in the Upper Valley. The last two hours were spent pounding in the sexual harassment policy.

It made some guys rather uneasy. How were they to interpret the subtle “cues” that indicated that a woman was uncomfortable? During the question and answer session, it was obvious that some students were strong feminists. It was always the man’s fault, even if it was accidental. I’d say communication, not blame, is better to solve such conflicts. Only when the offending behavior continues after you explicitly say “no” (or when you get a third party to say “no” for you because you’re not comfortable doing it yourself) do you go to a higher authority. I’m definitely not saying that you should try to solve the problem through ignorance and avoidance; I just find that ignorance and avoidance are not sufficient reasons to pin the responsibility solely on somebody else.

Of course, everything becomes more complicated when people’s emotions are thrown into the mix. Trying to think logically about any problem is very hard when you’re angry. You risk hurting someone else’s feelings and making an enemy. Even I find it hard to solve a problem when I’m not angry because I’m not sure how the other person will react. Perhaps that is why I agreed with someone who said he’d rather avoid anything that might potentially become a problem by staying far away from the troublesome source.

Here’s this week’s Tuesday Too:

1. In this fast paced world we live in, is stress keeping you from realizing your full potential? Good God!, who wrote that? It sounds like an advertisement for a weekend workshop on inner peace.

I should hope not. I’m terrible when given the chance to procrastinate. I need deadlines to keep myself in check. I’m not saying that a slower paced world is worse, only that it may work for certain people and not others. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.

2. Due to the nature of question number one, it is suggested that you answer it anyway you can, and then leave your own question for the next person, or persons to answer in the comment. On the other hand, you could just hit the back button.

Mine’s simple. What little thing are you doing for amusement this week? I’m reading Sev Trek comics.

3. What’s really on your mind?

Organizational meetings (there are too many of them), new research, where I want to do lab rotations, pesky vaccinations. I’m at a loss as to why there’s so much administrative stuff I have to do. Most of it is people repeating what the previous person said. I don’t understand why they don’t condense everything into a one hour lecture so the rest of the time can be spent more productively.

Why is it seem so natural to form cliques? And why does it seem so natural for me to feel like the outsider? I thought I left all of this nonsense in high school–the jocks, the cheerleaders, the political activists, the preps, those weird people who always wore black, heck, even the nerds. During my undergraduate career it was a little more subtle, but the cliques were still there–separate houses (i.e. dorms), the biology majors who all wanted to go to med school, the weekend drunk partyers. And now, you would think twenty-somethings would know better. Departmental divides, foreign students, people with significant others, bitter singles.

It’s a headache. I don’t even try to keep up with everyone.

Another headache is the constant barrage of phone calls and door banging I have to put up with every time I come back home. And they’re never for me. I didn’t come here to become a secretary and a doorman, so I’m quite tempted to buy earplugs and never answer the phone and the door. I’m not complaining about my roommates. They’re nice people so far, but the aggressiveness of the people following them around is seriously testing my tolerance levels.

Having an active social life is completely fine by me. It’s when someone else’s social life threatens to spill into mine that I start to worry.

Hallmarks of Felinity. A cat comic to bring a laugh and a foil for all the dog people I’ve met this past week. (Note: Never give beer to a dog.)
Annotated Scrabble Games. Facinating for word freaks, in particular anagram freaks.
How Does Human Consciousness Work? By electromagnetic fields creating a feedback loop? Give me a break. Consciousness is going to be a lot more complicated than that.

Two words: bonding, alcohol. To clarify: bonding with other grad students over margaritas. Please come back tomorrow when I’m more lucid.