Sunday, October 31, 2004


battered glasses that sit kinda askew
hair up in a clip because I was too lazy to dry it at the gym
makeup? ha!
jeans that have faded funny
shapeless sweater that smells like a sweaty sheep has been living in my basement.

shoes that make walking like sex, in that it's all about the hip motion and it's painful if you do it for too long
black velvet pants that scream "Booty!"
black satin halter top
black feather boa
hair down and curled
deep red lipstick and glittery eyeshadow

Conclusion: I may be frumpilicous day to day, but damn do I clean up good.

The occasion was T-Regina's batchelorette party. It was a good time. Everyone thought so at the time, and the next morning I still think so, although T probably disagrees. She had such touching faith in a hangover-preventing pill she'd just bought that she had two large margaritas with dinner and who knows what all afterwards. One of those margaritas is enough to make me feel ill, and she's smaller than I am....I'd never actually held anyone's hair for them before. T is as sensible drunk as she is sober, and she insisted that we get her into the bathtub so that she could retch in comfort. I slept with her, to make sure she didn't come to grief in the night. (Nothing casts a pall over a wedding like the bride choking on her own vomit the weekend before.)

In the morning I walked from the hotel to the church, still in my going-out-on-the-town getup. I thought for a millisecond about putting my feather boa in my purse, but realized that it'd stick out and make me look like I was shoplifting a crow--and besides, I've wanted a feather boa my whole life; now that I have one I'm going to wear that motherfucker. As I was walking down the street, a homeless guy biked up to me and said to me, "Damn you got it goin' on." I couldn't stop grinning the rest of the way to church. What a great way to start the day.

Times like these, though, do make me start thinking into the future. Given that there's a strong probability that I'll live into my nineties, and given that few people are likely to tell me I've got it goin' on when I'm in the nursing home,...what will that be like? Will I be able to keep a sense of myself as fundamentally attractive and worthwhile when there's no external validation coming in?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

inventory control

So recently there's been a lot of construction in my lab. Some equipment has been being moved around, and I thought you might be interested in the sophisticated inventory control mechanism that's in place at a top scientific research institute.

full view Posted by Hello

zoom on label Posted by Hello

handling instructions Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Sang at a funeral today, with the choir. I didn't know the person we were singing for (even though he's apparently the one who's been paying me and most of the choir for the past two years--yeah. This parish does have some wealthy members), but even without any emotional context for the service it's impossible to make it through the committal prayer without weeping:

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;

and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return.
For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying,
"Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

...fortunately we'd done all our singing by then, except for the closing hymn.
Oh, and the sermon was inaudible from where we were sitting, so I amused myself by picking out the hymns for my own funeral: Slane, Lasst uns Erfreuen, Hyfrodol, Land of Rest...I think that's it. (and yes, those names won't mean anything to you if you haven't spent a while singing in Anglican churches. Sorry. But trust me, they're rockin' tunes.)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

out-Niles-ing Niles

Scene: a friend's living room
Friend and I are watching Frazier.
Niles enters, in a swish of trench coat and long scarf.
Frazier greets him. "Ah, Niles, how was La Traviata?"
"Terrible," replies Niles. "The soprano couldn't hit the E-flat to save her life."
I sit bolt-upright and exclaim, outraged, "That E-flat is completely optional."

When my friend stopped laughing and picked himself up off the floor, he explained that the point of the character of Niles was to be geekier and more particular than any human being could possibly be, and that I had just out-Nilesed him.


funny how defining moments sneak up on you like that.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

if I, if I've been unkind
I hope you can just let it go by
if I, if I've been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

I've been listening compulsively to k.d. lang's new CD since the day I bought it, back in August. This bit of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a wire" particularly grabbed me. And yet, when you reduce the lyrics to their essentials, they end up sounding like

Roses are red
violets are blue
if I've been untrue
it was never to you

In his lyrics in general there's this wild combination of images that stop you in your tracks like a punch to the gut and other images that seem like he came up with them (a) out of nowhere or (b) to fit with the rhyme scheme he'd established.

--but then, I'm probably a generation late for the "is L.C. a genius or a hack?" debate.

(edit: a bunch of people seem to be finding this blog by searching for "Leonard Cohen Hallelujah" (or "alleluia" as the case may be). As a public service, here is a webpage that has words and guitar chords. Some of the words on that page are different from the versions that I have, but they make a good start anyway. Besides LC's own recording, and k.d. lang's on the CD above, there's lovely versions by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright, and also the version that was used in the movie "Shrek" (apparently not RW although his version is on the CD soundtrack)--and I'm sure there are others that I don't know about.
There. enjoy.)

an explanation

"It makes perfect sense," says Karl. "You're a filthy pig, just like me."

That clears it right up.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Susan's trip to South Africa with Earthwatch

Pictures from my grade-school friend Susan's recent trip to Cape Town with Earthwatch, banding penguins and cleaning up beaches for "work" and whalewatching for fun. The whalewatching was land-based: Hermanus advertises itself as the best land-based whalewatching in the world.

Monday, October 18, 2004

saved by grace

Amazing. Among the phone calls I didn't expect to get today, this one was near the top of the list.

A few months ago I hurt a friend of mine pretty badly, and he in turn said some pretty hurtful things to and about me. (How hurtful? Well, a month later the nightmares had pretty much stopped.) Once he'd gotten all the bile out of his system I thought I was never going to hear from him again (except for the little part of me that kept tensing up in expectation of finding him on my doorstep with a chainsaw). So today he called me up, seemingly at random, to apologize for what he said. We actually ended up having a civilized chat. It remains to be seen whether we'll get to be friends again, but to know that he's moved on is a huge relief to me.

After I got off the phone with him, I went to do errands for an hour or so, to enjoy the sunshine and to stop shaking.

And this morning (...was it really only this morning? it seems like about ten thousand years ago) I finally showed my supervisor the stuff that I've been slaving over recently, in spite of the fact that it still seems to me to be a steaming pile of dog poo. He didn't laugh at me; in fact, he seemed to be impressed by what I've gotten out of the data so far. Huh.

The rest of the week is going to be grey and rainy and miserable, but today the sun is shining and the trees are gaudy. And I have parties and recitals to plan, and fewer people who hate me than I believed, and it's even possible that I may actually finish this disertation someday.
"My" cats have very distinct tastes and preferences. Here's some typical dialogue:

me: Who's your favourite world leader?
Ying (or Yang: they both seem to feel the same): Mao!
me: Who's your favourite composer?
Y: Milhaud!
me: Who's your favourite surrealist artist?
Y: Miro!
me: what would you chant at an anti-capitalist rally?
Y: Mao! Mao! Mao!

I tell them to mix it up a bit, maybe listen to some Debussy or check out some Dali, but they just give me big-eyed looks of reproach.

(I'm sorry. this is truly terrible. I'll get back to work now.)
Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratiaquae
tu creasti pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.

Accende lumen sensibus:
infunde amorem cordibus:
infirma nostri corporis
virtute firmans perpeti.

it can't come too soon, that's all I can say.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

--C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sunday, October 10, 2004

--but my underwear was my own

Last night I got all spiffed up to go out for dinner. My roommate complimented on my top. I said, "Thanks, it was my grandmother's...and so was the handbag...and the jacket was T-Regina's...and the pants were Elisa-bĂȘte's." I never have to go shopping because I've cultivated friends who have lots of clothes to hand down to me.

On a similar note: on one of my rare shopping trips, I was trying on a sweater that I quite liked, and said to the shop girl, "Wow, it's like something my grandmother would have worn." She was nonplussed, until I explained that that's actually a good thing.

the roses of discord

awesome. Even when I try to do something nice, I end up sowing discord. Call me Eris.

Let me start at the beginning, or somewhere near it. I spent several days recently staying with a friend in Manhattan. It was rather cramped quarters, because my friend's roommate's husband was visiting from Germany. When I got home, I sent flowers to her to thank her for putting up with me and to apologize for cutting into her alone-time with her husband. I think the wording of the note I sent with the card was something like "thank you for sharing your space with me." I assumed my name would be put on the card automatically. Well. Apparently not. So now her husband thinks she's getting large bouquets from secret admirers.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Jesus H. Christ

So it seems that no matter how much work I put into this simulation, it still will not give physical results. Right now it's telling me that particles GAIN energy as they pass through matter. uh....

I know there's something simple that I've done wrong; in fact I have a hunch about what exactly that is; but it is still VERY VEXING that I STILL have not gotten this thing right. grr.

*deep breaths*

Okay. I think I don't *necessarily* need to throw the computer through the window and run off to Bolivia. If I change my mind, I'll let you know.

Gaping Void

gapingvoid: about gapingvoid/fave cartoons etc.

oh dear.

"'I can't take this shit anymore,' he said, mistakenly."

sheer brilliance.

Friday, October 08, 2004

on call

so last night when I was leaving the lab after my shift I told X to call me if there were any problems.

Silly me.

At 3:30 I get a phone call. The data disc was full, and there was a problem communicating with the acquisition computer. I spent an hour talking him through the various stages of debugging, and struggling to not mix my instructions with the dreams I'd been having. "So first you need to check the cathode signal on the oscilloscope, and then you need to put out gummi bears for the unicorns....but only lemon ones....."

The accelerating expansion of the universe

Why should it bother Martin Fairweather? In his long, literate lifetime he had read of many revisions of cosmic theory. Edwin Hubble's discovery of universal expansion had occurred a few years before he was born; by the time of his young manhood the theory of the Big Bang, with its overtones of Christian Creation by fiat--"Let there be light"--had prevailed over the rather more Buddhist steady-state theory claiming that space itself produced, out of nothingness, one hydrogen atom at a time. In recent decades, in astronomy as in finance, billions had replaced millions as the useful unit: a billion galaxies, a billion stars in each. Ever stronger telescopes, including one suspended in space and named after Hubble, revealed a swarm of fuzzy ovals, each a Milky Way. Such revelations, stupefying for those who tried truly to conceive of the distances and time spans, the amounts of brute matter and of vacancy seething with virtual particles, had held for Fairweather the far-fetched hope of a last turn: a culminating piece in the greaty skyey puzzle would vindicate Mankind's sensation of central importance and disclose a titanic mercy lurking behind the cosmic arrangements.

But the fact, discovered by two independent teams of researchers, seemed to be that not only did deep space show no relenting in the speed of the farthest galaxies but instead a detectable acceleration, so that an eventual dispersion of everything into absolute cold and darkness could be confidently predicted. We are riding a pointless explosion to nowhere. Only an invisible, malevolent anti-gravity, a so-called Dark Force [Updike means "dark energy", but his version is more poetic], explained it. Why should Fairweather take it personally? The universe would by a generous margin outlive him--that had always been true. But he had somehow relied on eternity, on there being an eternity even if he wasn't invited to participate in it. The accelerating expansion of the universe imposed an ignominious, cruelly diluted finitude on the enclosing vastness. The eternal hypothetical structures--God, Paradise, the moral law within--now had utterly no base to stand on. All would melt away. He, no mystic, had always taken a sneaky comfort in the idea of a universal pulse, an alternating Big Bang and Big Crunch, each time recasting matter into an unimaginably small furnace, a sub-atomic point of fresh beginning. Now this comfort was taken from him, and he drifted into a steady state--an estranging fever, scarcely detectable by those around him--of depression.

--John Updike, published in the October Harper's.
He's one of the few writers around who delights in writing about science--see also his poem Cosmic Gall about neutrinos. (There again he takes liberties: neutrinos do in fact interact, and they do have mass, although that wasn't known when he wrote the poem.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Everything I need to know I learned from my father

Coriander goes with everything.

Don't practice random kindness. Practice systematic, deliberate kindness.

Sometimes a good cry really does help.

People hush up when you sing to them. (Note: this is particularly useful when you've got a colicky baby on your hands.)

It's never a bad idea to stop for a think break.

If something's worth doing, it's worth doing

  • with your whole heart
  • with great precision
  • with apparent ease

Money is just marks on paper. Music starts out that way too. The difference is that the bank can't take away the stuff you get from music.

(Nevertheless, more money is always better than less money.)

You don't have to have all the answers as long as you have a general idea of what the questions are.

Cynical doesn't equal sophisticated. Enthusiastic doesn't equal naive.

If you're looking for attention, "Bother", "Rats", and "Phooey" are better bets than more conventional obscenities.

It's never too early or too late to learn another instrument.

Everyone always speaks in code. If you pay attention, they'll give you their code book.

Even if you proofread and proofread again, it's still possible to produce a "Thrid Quarter Report" so you might as well relax and not be such a perfectionist.

Music is best heard from the inside.

There's no such thing as too much garlic.

n.b. Several of these things I can't yet claim to have learned from him. Maybe someday.

(This is a version of something I wrote for him for his birthday many years ago. I was going to wait and post it on his birthday this year, but time is hanging heavily on my hands tonight and I'm impatient. So happy un-birthday, Dad!)

off-roading in a Lada what my brother has been doing recently. He's in Kazakhstan at the moment, until he jaunts off to St. Petersburg tomorrow. He's been travelling a bit with another Canadian he met there--a photographer, with pictures of his travels on his website.

And people go all goggly-eyed when I say I'm going to Sicily.

shymbulak Posted by Hello

recording session

I'm planning to do a recording session sometime this semester--possibly on Thanksgiving Day when there's less traffic noise around the church. It'll be all unaccompanied pieces. The program I'm thinking of is

Looys Zuvart (Phos hilaron) -- Armenian
Guide me, o thou great Jehovah -- folk
I believe I'll go back home -- spiritual
Lift thine eyes -- trio; Mendelssohn
I wonder as I wander -- folk
Mary had a baby -- spiritual
Deeramayren (Stabat mater) -- Armenian
Calvary -- spiritual
When it was yet dark -- trio; Stephen Hatfield
Confitebor tibi -- Ned Rorem
Patz mez, Der (Open the gates of mercy) -- Armenian
My Lord, what a morning -- spiritual

The problem with a program of just unaccompanied pieces is that, quite apart from the limited range of sounds involved, the range of moods is fairly narrow--from "gently hopeful" to "seriously bummed-out"--nary a rockin' piece on the list. Listening to the whole thing at one go might induce catatonia. But we'll see. It'll be fun to do, anyway. And I'll be happy to distribute copies to them as wants 'em. Line forms to the left.

Night shift

So I'm babysitting the experiment tonight, which means I get to spend eight hours with a functional computer and an only semi-fuctional brain. Time to tell stories!

A good friend's mother had a stroke recently. Everyone was very worried about her. She finally regained consciousness, and the doctors started asking her basic questions to see if her brain was still working right. When they asked, "Who is the President?" her response was "That terrible man who's sending our boys to die in Iraq for no good reason." They realized that she was going to be back to her old self in no time.

I've been playing with personality tests again. I knew INFJ was a match when I got to the part about how INFJs always think they're right and found myself exclaiming, "But I am always right!"
(But reading Salon's recent interview with the author of "Cult of personality" made me think again about my fascination with these tests.)

This past Sunday was my first singing in months. I was afraid that I'd be dreadfully out of practice after a summer in which I sang exactly twice. So of course I did the logical thing and scheduled a hard showy piece with lots of exposed runs. uh...yeah. ("Let the bright seraphim", if you're keeping track.) It actually went really well. I love singing with a trumpet. There's no need for restraint or finesse, like if you're singing with a flute--just let 'er rip!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

First they came for the Muslims, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.
Then they came to detain immigrants indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an immigrant.
Then they came to eavesdrop on suspects consulting with their attorneys, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a suspect.
Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a non-citizen.
Then they came to enter homes and offices for unannounced "sneak and peak" searches, and I didn't speak up because I had nothing to hide.
Then they came to reinstate Cointelpro and resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups, and I didn't speak up because I had stopped participating in any groups.
Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America's enemies, and I didn't speak up because...I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me...and by that time there was no one left to speak up.

--Stephen Rohde, constitutional lawyer and past president of the ACLU of southern California, after the Rev. Martin Niemoller

Monday, October 04, 2004


There have been a couple of interesting ones recently, and one more is coming up. T-Regina and her Matt are tying the knot in a few weeks, and I'm going to be a bridesmaid (which is only fair, since I introduced them). I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to get her to a strip club for a batchelorette party, given that her wedding's on a Friday. But I will find a way. It is necessary that there be naked men before the wedding.

Weekend before last I sang in the choir at the wedding of a guy I've sung with for several years. (He's a music history professor, specializing in 70s and 80s british pop music. He's fond of sitting at the choir room piano and playing Yes songs and giving a harmonic analysis as he plays. Ah, the people one meets in grad school....) The choir was made up of alumni/ae of the church choir: they all have a long history of working with each other and with the director, and so fall right back into the groove, even though it's been (in some cases) years since they've sung here regularly. And of course they're all splendid musicians. What this all means: We managed to rehearse a psalm (tricky Anglican chant), the Sanctus and Agnus of a Howells mass, a Messaien motet (hard crunchy intervals and sustained tones), and a loooong Finzi motet (not really a hard sing, but one needed one's wits about one)--in under an hour. Oh, and the hymns, with a descant, but we just talked through those. Obviously the choir will all sightread the parts with correct phrasing, and that's all there is to hymn singing. It's such a joy to be with a group where the default setting is "correct".

And of course the bride looked radiant and sobbed through the vows, and the groom's small nephews were adorable ring-bearers, and the friends of the family contributed lovely music to the reception. But nice as this wedding was, it wasn't half as moving as one I sang at in June. The couple were utterly radiant with joy. I'd never really thought either of them were attractive, until that day, when I saw what they look like when they're brimful of love. One of them was weeping through most of the ceremony--as were half of the choir, as was I (I was able to pull myself together enough to sing only when I started getting annoyed at the inept conductor). Everyone there clearly had a sense of being part of something special.

And to think that there are some people who would like to deny this recognition of their union to my friends Christopher and Brian.