it pays to eat lunch

That's what I learned yesterday, after I spent my two-hour mid-day break in the computer lab trying to figure out how to reduce the size of an InDesign file so that I could attach it to an email. I went straight from there to my one academic elective, which I have since dropped from my schedule. It goes a little something like this...

On Mondays, I'm in an afternoon seminar devoted to professional practices for visual artists. On some Monday evenings I'll have dinner with the next day's visiting artist. On Tuesdays, I'm the TA for a painting seminar, which hosts aforementioned visiting artists. Our first VA, next week, will be Fahamu "the Guru" Pecou. On Wednesdays, I'm in an all day screenprinting class called Special Projects (for special people, of course), followed by (my last!) graduate group critique in the evening. On Thursday and Friday mornings I sort of semi-TA for two Text & Image Arts courses, 'Type as Image' and an advanced projects seminar. On Saturdays, I'm the screenprinting monitor for five hours. On Sundays, I try in vain to complete a long list of housekeeping, grocery-shopping, art-making, reading, blogging, watching of television, and maybe a little yoga...before the cycle begins again. The academic course I'm in the process of dropping (and having serious mixed feelings about being a "quitter" and stuff) would have been on Thursday afternoons, driving me a teensy bit more insane by the end of the spring semester. Instead, I'll work on the large pile o' books I was gifted or purchased with gift cards I received for Christmas. Books about memory and cognitive science (Steven Johnson's Mind Wide Open, for example) and theoretical writings on design (including Ellen Lupton's Design Writing Research).

And somewhere in there I'll find time to spend in the studio. I've been up to my old ways again, scanning family photos, and I kinda like this one of me on the merry-go-round, back in the day. You know how some people use a picture of themselves at a more ideal weight - say stuck to the fridge with a magnet - to remind them of their new year's resolutions? Well, I think I'll look at this one from time to time to keep it all in perspective. I mean, the name of that particular piece of playground equipment sums up the way you want to feel at least occasionally in your hectic week, right?

Which reminds me, somehow, of a sign I saw in Baldy's, a BBQ joint in Bend, that read, "maybe the hokey-pokey really is what it's all about." My brother pointed out that that would be the kind of thing I might blog about, but, alas, I didn't have my camera with me that night.


suddenly I see

Neal and I started watching Ugly Betty (I know, finally, right?) a few nights ago and I couldn't help but notice the similarities to the film The Devil Wears Prada, perhaps in part because we watched that pretty recently, too. And at the end of the pilot episode (I think it was at the end...sometime during that hour) I hear none other than KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See" (which I thought was titled "she's a beautiful girl"), also in the film. And it dawned on me that that song has pretty much become the score to the core coming-of-age story from a female perspective, whether it's being told across reality television (as in every time a gal dancer gets booted from my summer fave So You Think You Can Dance) or narrative film. Isn't it strange, though, that SYTYCD plays it when the girl gets booted, as opposed to the way it's typically used in t.v. and film, when the heroine, after a series of trials and tribulations, gets a break and simultaneously figures out what she wants to do with her life? Hmm.

Maybe America's Next Top Model should start using that song in some way - they could borrow the strategy of SYTYCD and play it when a model is eliminated, or save it 'til the end, when, after a series of trials and tribulations, the Top Model of their choosing gets a break that reinforces her chosen path in life. Maybe I should include that tip in what could be a long letter of suggested changes to Cycle 8.

Speaking of ANTM, did you know Yaya DaCosta, runner-up (Eva, the ultimate ANTM winner, in my opinion, won that cycle) from Cycle 2 is an actress now? Watching Take the Lead this weekend, I thought LaRhette looked awfully familiar. Sure enough, listed among her accomplishments on IMDB is ANTM (and an upcoming feature directed by John Sayles).

Anyway, in spite of all the things I disliked about Cycle 7, I'm looking forward to the start of the next cycle on February 28th, which will help fill the void left by the departing O.C., which ends just a few days before. Gosh, couldn't they at least let them finish the season through the spring?


the O.C.

School started yesterday, which means my day-tripping ways are officially over...for now, at least. In the spirit of travel, I thought I'd devote a post to "social observer" Sarah Vowell. I read Assassination Vacation during my winter break travels, mostly on the three-leg plane ride back from Bend, Oregon to Boston. I highly recommend it and if she narrates the audio book, go for that version. That's how I was introduced to her essays in The Partly Cloudy Patriot, the title of which inspired my short series of posts about day trips around the Boston area last spring. I'm really drawn to her way of writing, how she blends American history with popular culture in her then and now observations. Like how she digresses into a paragraph or two about The O.C. in the middle chapter of the book that describes the assassination of James A. Garfield. She writes:

Here's a distraction. When researching Luther Guiteau's take on his son's stay at Oneida, I couldn't help but notice that in his letters he refers to the Oneida Community as "the O.C." Coincidentally, The O.C. is the name of a nighttime soap opera on television's Fox network that I am currently obsessed with. Set in Orange County, California, the show's three biggest stars are Peter Gallagher and Peter Gallagher's legendary pair of eyebrows, eyebrows cozy enough to move into - a home, a couple of rocking chairs with a nose between them like a table piled high with every book you ever loved. And thus, when I see the Oneida Community being referred to as "the O.C.," I cannot help but picture all the ladies of Oneida standing in line to curl up in Peter Gallagher's eyebrows, trying in vain not to feel a special love. (The subject of Peter Gallagher's eyebrows, I realize, is a digression away from the Oneida Community, and yet, I do feel compelled, indeed almost conspiracy theoretically bound to mention that one of the reasons the Oneida Community broke up and turned itself into a corporate teapot factory is that a faction within the group, led by a lawyer named James William Towner, was miffed that the community's most esteemed elders were bogarting the teenage virgins and left in a huff for none other than Orange County, California, where Towner helped organize the Orange County government, became a judge, and picked the spot where the Santa Ana courthouse would be built, a courthouse where, it is reasonable to assume, Peter Gallagher's attorney character on The O.C. might defend his clients.)

What I most enjoyed about The Partly Cloudy Patriot was listening to her narration of essays about places we were driving to for the day. Like, for example, if you're on your way to Salem, Mass., you should listen to "God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass." And maybe it's because I no longer live in California that I appreciate "California as an Island," perhaps my favorite piece of Vowell writing. Like Vowell, "as a teen beatnik, I had dreamed of growing up and joining some Bay Area subculture." Okay, so I wasn't exactly a teen beatnik, but I did write my eleventh grade honors English term paper on Jack Kerouac's On The Road. And there are other, more significant reasons why I can relate to this essay. Vowell goes on to write about how she lived out that dream, moving to San Francisco when she was 24, getting a job in an antiquarian print gallery. And the similarities continue: "At the end of the day, I would set the gallery's alarm, put very loud grunge music on my Walkman, take the slow bus home, and pull another graduate school rejection letter out of the mailbox."

Geographical displacement (like when your boss sends you to Philadelphia or, in my case, when you finally get an acceptance letter from a graduate school and move to Boston) makes you aware of things you might otherwise take for granted, like California's quest for quality. "Quality," Vowell writes, "is an obsession there - good food, good wine, good movies, music, weather, cars. Those sound like the right things to shoot for, but the never-ending quality quest is a lot of pressure when you're uncertain and disorganized and, not least, broker than broke. Some afternoons a person just wants to rent Die Hard, close the curtains, and have Cheerios for lunch."

Researching prints and maps provided Vowell with consolation and she goes on to describe a period in European map-making that depicted California as an island. "The idea of California as an island was a lie and a myth, but from where I was sitting, it seemed true enough." For me, that myth seems more believable now that I'm 3,000 miles away, looking for the familiar in t.v. shows mostly set in southern California, where I spent very little of my eight years in the state. And to think one of them will be over in just five, short episodes.




After a restless four days at home, I convinced Neal to abandon his thesis research for a little day-tripping. Much of what New England has to offer is best enjoyed during warmer months, but one thing that actually seems more appropriate on a rainy, January day is a drive south about one hour to coastal New Bedford, home of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in the heart of the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, and Seamen's Bethel, described in Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

The primarily industrial town is pretty sleepy this time of year. We spent a couple of hours inside the museum, 20 minutes of which was spent watching a film ("City That Lit The World") that reminded me that the park and museum's primary mission includes documenting the history of the whaling industry and the role the city played in it, with a more recent need to educate the public about the conservation of endangered whales. It is a whaling museum after all, not a whale museum, but for some reason I was a little surprised that the conservation bit wasn't more prevalent in the museum's mission and exhibits.

For lunch, we followed Fodor's recommendation and headed away from downtown to check out Antonio's, clearly a local hang-out for New Bedford's large Portuguese population. It's local in the sense that everyone stops what they're doing and looks up at you as you walk in. I imagine that's how a fictional outsider (Charles Gordon Windsor, Jr., for example) might have been greeted walking into Mystic, Connecticut's Mystic Pizza (the actual pizza joint was supposedly inspiration for Amy Jones' screenplay and the 1988 film was shot on location there). Anyway, the crab cakes and fried fish we had were tasty enough but I quickly remembered how eating fried food makes me feel a little queasy.

Back in town, we walked part of the self-guided tour, down to the piers, where we spotted this cute little house at the base of the pedestrian bridge that takes you back across Route 18. There's a small boulder in the yard with a plaque on it commemorating two dogs that served as "guardians of the waterfront."

The rainy weather made a hot beverage sound awfully nice and I remembered that we had a Starbuck's gift card with us. We kept our eyes peeled on the drive back but all we passed were the usual Dunkin' Donuts every few miles.

I learned last night, watching the first hour or so of the miniseries that started the new "Battlestar Gallactica," that Starbuck is a character in Moby Dick, the name of the first mate on the whaling ship Pequod. Starbucks coffee chain supposedly took its name from this character, as did, I assume, the writers on Battlestar Gallactica, for the feisty blond played by Katee Sackhoff. Talk about a full-circle weekend, huh?


planes, trains, and automobiles

I'm back. Our trip to Roseville, Brown's Valley, and Oakland, California, as well as an unexpected fourth leg to Bend, Oregon was mostly good. And when the circumstances weren't, it was still nice to be with family members I wasn't expecting to see.

In contrast to epic travel posts of the past, I'll concentrate on images this time, giving you a visual timeline of where I was and what I was doing between Christmas eve and the first week of the New Year.

Driving from SFO through South San Francisco, across the Bay Bridge, and into the central valley to visit the inlaws in Roseville and Brown's Valley.

This billboard at the bottleneck approaching the Bay Bridge was there when I suffered through this commute two or three times a week, nearly two years ago.

On the Bay Bridge, looking across to the Port of Oakland and the large cranes that supposedly provided inspiration for George Lucas' AT-AT Walkers in the Star Wars films.

Christmas eve lunch at the best burger chain, In-n-Out, found primarily in California, where it was started in 1948, with locations popping up over the years throughout the state and in neighboring Nevada and Arizona.

Followed by a week of little picture-taking including a couple of afternoon "dinners", the opening of too many presents, the eating of too much chocolate, and a lot of lounging around. Only one movie was seen on the big screen ("Night at the Museum"), but a number of DVDs were watched and I made it to the second world of Super Mario Brothers on Neal's Nintendo DS Lite.

After a couple of nights in the sparsely populated Brown's Valley (near Grass Valley in the Sierra foothills), we traveled back to the Bay Area to spend the rest of our trip very close to our old neighborhood in Oakland.

For some reason, even though it's only been a year and a half since we left, because there's been so much change in our lives (not to mention the important addition to the family of friends we stayed with) I expected more to have changed in the area. The Lake Merritt neighborhood is mostly unchanged from the time we left. Plans are underway to improve the pedestrian areas around the lake and the small Albertson's grocery store that I never liked has closed and will soon be replaced with a Trader Joe's (in addition to the Whole Foods being built on the other end of the lake). I'm sure locals are concerned about increased traffic in the area but if we still lived in the Adams Point section of the lake neighborhood, we'd be within easy walking distance and quite happy, I imagine, with the change. The Kwik Way burger joint is not yet a McDonald's, which I guess is a good thing but let's not pretend their food is all that great or any healthier than McD's. And the building I used to work in (during my on-again, off-again six-year college relationship with a suite of law offices in downtown Oakland) will soon see its view of the lake obscured by a parking structure and church being built at the site of its former open-air parking lot.

We enjoyed many of the culinary delights the East Bay has to offer, including Mexican food at Berkeley's Picante and El Farolito in Oakland's Fruitvale district, a delicious spinach & mushroom stuffed pizza at Zachary's (arguably the best Chicago-style pizza outside or within Chicago, from what I've heard), burgers at Barney's, and pizza and scones (separately) from Arizmendi, where I would walk to at least once a week and then immediately cancel out any calories I burned on the half-hour roundtrip trek.

On Wednesday night last week I took my first train ride (stateside, at least) from Oakland's Jack London Square station to Chemult, Oregon, followed by a short shuttle ride into Bend.

While in Bend, I learned by email from a friend that "The O.C." is being canceled. I'm devastated.