December 11, 2009

And more fun wit teh words'n'stuff...

I really need to stop stealing from the essays & effluvia guy, but he posts such great stuff.

The ability to make and understand puns is considered to be the highest level of language development. Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest: 

1.  A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons.  The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2.  Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3.  Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft.  Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4.  Two hydrogen atoms meet.  One says, "I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies "Yes, I'm positive."

5.  Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal?  His goal: transcend dental medication.

6.  A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.  After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse.  "But why?", they asked, as they moved off.  "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7.  A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption.  One of them goes to a family in   Egypt  and is named "Ahmal." The  other goes to a family in   Spain ; they name him "Juan."  Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother.  Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal.  Her husband responds, "They're twins!  If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8.  A group of friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds.  Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair.   He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not.  He went back and begged the friars to close.  They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close.  Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9.  Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath.  This made him (Oh, man, this is so bad, it's good) a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh.

No pun in ten did

December 8, 2009

Much fun wit teh words'n'stuff

The guy at essays and effluvia posts this every year and I greatly look forward to it.  This year, I decided to crib it from him and share...

The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.
(I believe this is older)
The winners are:  
1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach..
4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you
   are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline..
11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.
14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with
15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief
   that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn
   by Jewish men.             

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. 

Here are this year's winners:
           1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops
   bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows
   little sign of breaking down in the near future.
           2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the
   purpose of getting laid.
           3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
         subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
           4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
           5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and
   the person who doesn't get it.
           6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are
   running late.
           7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.
           8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra

           9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all
   these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and
   it's like, a serious bummer.           

         10. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day
   consuming only things that are good for you.
         11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
         12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem
   smarter when they come at you rapidly.
         13 Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after
   you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
         14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into
   your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
         15. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in
   the fruit you're eating.
And the pick of the literature:
         16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

December 6, 2009

Sometimes there's too much silence

The other day I posted a link on my Facebook page to a particularly appropriate entry at a Twitter feed that I follow called "shitmydadsays":

"I just want silence. Jesus, it doesn't mean I don't like you. It just means right now, I like silence more."

Most days, that's very much how I feel.  I'll babble a blue streak when the occasional mood strikes, but most of the time can't deal with the constant sharing of personal drama and empty, void-filling talk that so many people seem prone to.  It's amazing, though, to think that such verbal diarrhea could be considered a luxury, to realize that there are still places in this world where one has to be careful of their speech and where communication is a controlled, limited thing.

I have a friend blogger who lives in Iran.  Remember Iran?  It was much in the news just a few short months ago, when incumbent leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected through a seemingly fraudulent process.  Protests erupted immediately throughout the country, and the government responded just as quickly to shut down both foreign news media and internet access.  What's surprising is not so much that speaking out against the elections led to many Iranian citizens being arrested, or worse.  That's still almost an everyday occurrence for peoples such as the Tibetans and Uygurs. The amazing aspect to this particular government crackdown is that much of the news that did make it out into the international press came via Twitter. 

Hard for us in more democratic countries to imagine, huh?  My friend, who goes by the intarwebs pseudonym of human being, is a teacher and a poet with a beautiful voice who speaks words that make one think, words that should be shared.  These days, though, those of us who follow her never know when she'll be able to gain access to the 'net to communicate with us.  Most of us spend hours a day on the intarwebs, both at home and at work.  Those with less easy access can still go to places, libraries, etc, and get on a computer that allows us entry to the World Wide Web.  Stop and think for a moment about those words, separately and then together:  World. Wide. Web.  It's sobering and disturbing to think that some of us, grown adults with something worthwhile to say, are not allowed such access out of the fear that we might gain a measure of freedom.

hb, if you have the opportunity to see this, I hope you don't mind me sharing your latest words.

sometimes i've got so much to say that
oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooi keep silent

sometimes i shout so loudly that
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooono one hears me

sometimes tomorrow is so far away that
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooosoon is yesterday

sometimes you are so close that
ooooooooooooooooooooooooi can't think of you...

Originally posted at Thus Spake the Crow, Sunday, December 6th, 2009.

November 13, 2009

Chris Cornell's Like Suicide

This is an old post from 2006 that I'm resurrecting because I'm deep into a Cornell nostalgia kick lately, and because I just found a pretty incredible live video of the song.   The sound quality sucks a tad, but the performance is fan-freakin'-tastic.

The song "Like Suicide" (from the Soundgarden album, Superunkown) is arguably one of Chris Cornell's most beautiful and most poetic. The story goes that Chris was sitting at home working on the music that became the song when he heard the sound of something hitting the window in another room. His first thought was apparently that someone was trying to break in. He went outside, walked around the house, and found that a bird had flown into the window and was flopping around on the ground below with a broken neck. He apparently had to take a brick from the edge of the garden and finish her off, then he went back inside, sat down, and wrote the lyrics.

To me, that story makes total sense when compared to the lyrics. I read a post at some forum or another, though, in which some guy analyzed the song as being about heroin use. The dude went through the song line by line and explained all these metaphors that he saw as describing someone's experience with heroin. I think that interpretation really sells Chris Cornell short and I've felt compelled for a long time to rebut the guy's analysis of the song. So, here goes:

Heard it from another room
Eyes were waking up just to fall asleep
Love's like suicide
Dazed out in the garden bed
With a broken neck lays my broken gift
Just like suicide

So far, fits Chris's story exactly. The one line that I'm still not sure of the meaning of is "Eyes were waking up, just to fall asleep", but Soundgarden-era Cornell is chock full of damned obscure metaphors. The line "With a broken neck lays my broken gift" is a beautifully poignant description of what he found.

And my last ditch
Was my last brick
Lent to finish her
Finish her

Bit down on the bullet now
I had a taste so sour
I had to think of something sweet
Love's like suicide
Safe outside my gilded cage
With an ounce of pain
I wield a ton of rage
Just like suicide

Again, these verses describe the event Chris alleges the song is about. To take that brick and put the bird out of her misery was so difficult, it left "... a taste so sour, [he] had to think of something sweet." It was an act that couldn't be committed with detachment, it had to be fueled by the sadness and frustration stirred in him by the sight of the injured bird.

With eyes of blood
And bitter blue
How I feel for you
I feel for you

She lived like a murder
How she'd fly so sweetly
She lived like a murder
But she died
Just like suicide

I have to admit that I listened to the song for a year or so before I made the "murder/suicide" connection. Having read in the past that Cornell's a bit of a nature junkie, and being one myself, I finally realized what I think he meant by those references. To watch a creature like that fly can be so beautiful, it just kills you ("She lived like a murder, how she'd fly so sweetly"). For that same creature to die in such a way, both literally in the act of flinging herself against the window and figuratively in the unnecissariness of her death, feels senseless in the way that most suicides do.

To me, there's no question that Cornell's explanation of the song is valid and it says a lot about him as a person. That he could be so moved by the event to sit down and write such an incredibly touching description of it indicates that he's a more complex character than your stereotypical "rock star". By insisting that the song is about heroin use, the guy at that other forum seems to see Cornell as nothing but that stereotype. In doing so, the guy makes both himself and Chris Cornell seem sadly one-dimensional. Personally, reading Chris's explanation of this wonderful song gave me a lot of respect for him. But maybe I'm just naive.

Random babblings: Officially stir-crazy

So, I was diagnosed with the H1N1 flu virus earlier this week.  Found out Monday morning that the boss jr. and his little girl were diagnosed with it over the weekend.  By mid-day, my throat felt funny and I was achy.  The boss sr. got wind of how I was feeling and threatened to dock my pay if I didn't get my ass out of the store before I made other folks sick.  Tuesday morning I went to the dr for a sinus stab, I mean swab.  Normally it takes up to 10 minutes to get the test results, but the doc was back within five and writing out a prescription for Tamiflu

I've spent the rest of the week in sweat pants, alternating between the computer and the easy-chair in front of the tv, occasionally shuffling into the kitchen to nuke some chicken broth or boil water for a dose of Theraflu.  I'm fairly hearty and not exposed to kids most of the time, so it seems as if the worst of it is about over.  Thank whatever the heck's above, too, because another day of lolling around the apartment would've left me curled up and drooling in a corner.  Even having the kittehs around hasn't helped, as I've now seen how they spend the day when I'm away at work:  sound asleep.

To top it all off, the view out the window has been one of solid grey skies and November rain.  All. Freaking. Week. Long.  As if not leaving the apartment wasn't isolating enough, the rain pouring down the window pane and creating a mud river out back has felt like a psychological barrier to the outside world. 

But don't get me wrong.  It's not the people I miss.  It's not unusual for me to go through an entire weekend speaking to no one but store clerks and restaurant wait-staff.  It's the world itself that I need to be in, breathing the air, seeing the trees and sky, dodging the ignoramii on 270 as I fly to freedom...

Bah.  Seems the antihistamine in Theraflu Nighttime is kicking in and I'm getting loopy.  Enough already.  I'll be out and around tomorrow.  Try to avoid me, as I'm probably still contagious.

Blow Up the Outside World

Nothing seems to kill me no matter how hard I try
Nothing is closing my eyes
Nothing can beat me down for your pain or delight
And nothing seems to break me
No matter how hard I fall nothing can break me at all
Not one for giving up though not invincible I know

I've givin' everything I need
I'd give you everything I own
I'd give in if it could at least be ours alone
I've given everything I could
To blow it to hell and gone
Burrow down in and
Blow up the outside world

Someone tried to tell me something
Don't let the world bring you down
Nothing will do me in before I do myself
So save it for your own and the ones you can help

Want to make it understood
Wanting though I never would
Trying though I know it's wrong
Blowing it to hell and gone
Wishing though I never could
Blow up the outside world

November 8, 2009

Tour de Greater Homewood/Jack Yates Memorial bike ride

Today was a gorgeous day for a bike ride, so that's exactly what 40 (edit: 80!) or so Baltimoreans (and wanna-be B'moreans like me) did.  But this ride wasn't to be only for fun, as it also commemorated cycling enthusiast and community activist, Jack Yates, who was killed in a hit-and-run collision with a truck earlier this summer.  So with dual purpose, we set out from Gordon Plaza at the University of Baltimore and headed off into the hilly streets of northern Charm City.  There were so many places and things that I wanted to snag photos of, but there's no way I could've kept up with the group if I'd stopped that much.  Hopefully what I did capture will give some idea of the great time had by all.  

The guys of the North Baltimore Bicycle Brigade put together a terrific route that headed first up towards and through Charles Village, along a short stretch of gritty Greenmount Ave, around Venable Park, back over and up the killer hill on Charles past Loyola College, and into the beautiful, park-like neighborhood of Springlake Way. 

After a break to enjoy the scenery and annoy the residents, we cut over to Roland Park for a cruise up and down Roland Avenue, before heading down for a short run along the Jones Falls Trail and a stop to pay homage at the site of Jack's accident. 

At the corner of Lafayette and Maryland Avenues, everyone stopped to raise their bikes in a moment of silence honoring Jack.  The ghost bike placed in his memory is a moving sight, but even more sobering were the remnants of a bicycle-shaped police chalk line designating where he was hit and dragged around the corner.  It was a sad reminder that no cyclist is immune to tragedy, no matter how experienced a rider they may be.  No amount of vigilance and alertness will save you, no rights to the road provided by law will protect you, when things just plain go wrong between a motor vehicle and a bike. 

But on a day like today, with a glorious blue sky and warm sunshine, it's best not to dwell for too long on solemn thoughts.  It's so much better to pedal along with a bunch of friendly folks on a relaxed ride, celebrating the freedom of being on a bike, in the memory of a man who did so much for this part of the city.

Here's to you, Jack.  I never met you, but I'm glad to know that you were here for at least a while...   

Click here for more of my photos from the ride.  Also check out a brief but very cool video by Liam, here

November 7, 2009

There was a time when all I wanted was my ice cream colder...

Little Cream Soda

Well every highway that I go down
Seems to be longer than the last one I knew about
Oh well

And every girl that I walk around
Seems to be more of an illusion than the last one that I found
Oh well

And this old man in front of me
Wearing canes and ruby rings
Is like containing an explosion when he sings
But with every chance to set himself on fire
He just ends up doing the same thing

Well every beautiful thing I come across
Tells me to stop moving and shake this riddle off
Oh well

And there was a time when all I wanted was my
Ice cream colder, and a little cream soda
Oh well, oh well

And a wooden box, and an alley full of rocks
was all I had to care about
Oh well, oh well, oh well

Now my mind is filled with rubber tires
and forest fires
and whether I'm a liar
and lots of other situations where I don't know
what to do at which time God screams to me
“There's nothin' left for me to tell you”

Oh well, oh well, oh well, oh well

Much dukkha these days.  Another Hallow's Eve has come and gone and I feel that I barely acknowledged it.  I celebrated, to be sure, reading M.R. James all month, then heading up to Philly for some cemetery exploration and Haunted Poe with a buddy.  But I didn't feel the day the way I normally do.  Why not, you ask?  Well...  It would seem that a mid-life crisis is brewing.

I've whined incessantly about work in this blog and unfortunately it's one of the root issues of my current batch of bitching.  The recession forced a second batch of layoffs at the beginning of this year, and our marketing director was one of those to get the axe.  The president of the company took on the PR mantle and the decision was made that I would assist him in keeping track of all the myriad contracts and schedules and minutiae that goes into marketing a high-end jewelry store.  My existing responsibilities were to be delegated as necessary amongst my compatriots on the administrative staff (all two of them, and both as fed up with, yet still grateful for, their jobs as I am), but that really hasn't happened.  This has been the pattern at most of the jobs I've had--  I'm apparently viewed as being capable and conscientious.  So when there's work to be distributed, my name seems to be the only one in the hat.   

This has been both a good and a tremendously bad thing.  With business slowing down due to the economy, my duties as inventory manager slowed down along with it, leading to days filled with irresponsible intarwebs surfing.  So having to quickly get up to speed on what's involved in marketing was stimulating and activating, even if it wasn't particularly interesting. But this type of work goes against my nature.  The things I've always been good at, that were noticed by my supervisors, have been my attention to detail, thoroughness, focus, and efficiency.  I work best, and happiest, when I have a single task to focus on with minimal interruptions.  I can apparently handle having multiple, varied responsibilities, but doing so drives me crazy.  I become stressed and scatter-brained, and lose the very qualities that got me stuck with all those responsibilities in the first place.

The result is that I begin to make mistakes.  After a potential doozy the other day, the boss gave me the "I think you're doing a great job" speech and then began to gently lecture me on how I need to learn to handle the stress of dealing with shifting priorities and last minute, deadline issues.  It took all my will to not roll my eyes at him.  I believe he sincerely meant to be supportive, but he forgets that I've been in the retail business for a long time, I've understood for years all of the things he was telling me.  The sticking point is whether I want to learn these things.  I don't, for the simple fact that I don't enjoy such chaotic situations and that I don't feel they're necessary.  If I did, I would've developed the required skills a long time ago.

Even worse is that this situation is sapping my confidence.  I've felt for a while now that I'm becoming a "jack of all trades, master of none."  Being involved in so many aspects of the business has taught me a variety of things, but not with any depth.  I don't know what I'm good at anymore.  I feel that I'm at a loss to assess my skills.  If I were to try to break out of the retail industry to do something more meaningful, how would I present my abilities on a resume, how would I sell myself?

On its own, the job situation would be stressful but tolerable.  As I've said before, despite not loving the work I do, I'm grateful to have a job at which that work is appreciated, especially in an economic climate in which so many people can't find a job at all.  But that issue's been compounded by the recent realization that I'm going to be 45 in a few brief months.  After that, it's only a few brief years to 50.  That thought has scared the crap out of me.  I'm a single woman with two cats and a minuscule 401k who, on her days off from a job that she just kind of ended up with, lives for riding her bike and going to museums.  It's like I've got some form of Peter Pan syndrome-- I take care of the most basic necessities and then all thoughts turn to play-time.  And,
aside from grousing about my job, I'd gotten to a point at which I was happy with this arrangement.  But I don't think I can be anymore. 

I can remember as a teen sinking into depression, thinking that I probably wouldn't live to 35.  Coming into my 30's, having survived thoughts of driving my car into a jersey wall along the highway, I instead began joking that the day my brain got soft and my joints got stiff would be the day I'd put my head in the oven (yeah, I've always had that morbid streak).  Growing old has always been one of the few things I was consciously afraid of.  But the fear of becoming senile and stiff-jointed has been joined by another-- How will I take care of myself?  Hell, how will I take care of my parents, who're edging up on 70, before I even get to the point of taking care of me?  How will I take care of my handicapped sister who lives with my parents?  Will I need to take care of all three of them?  

I've never known what I wanted to do with my life.  There were lots of lectures in my younger years, lots of being yelled at that "You have to go to college!!"  But no one ever sat me down and said "Hey, let's figure out what you enjoy, what you want to study and make a career of."  While I was an intelligent student, I wasn't a committed one.  Always at the bottom of the smartest class, when I wasn't skipping those classes to go play.  And there was never any discussion of how to choose a school, much less how to pay for it.  The assumption must've been the same my employers have made, that I was smart enough and capable enough to figure it out and no one needed to give me guidance.

Graduation led to an ultimatum:  Go to college or get a job.  Since I'd hated high school, had no idea what I wanted to study, and no clue how to pay for it, I got a job.  And I kept on working.  There have been a few times when I tried to stop and change course, but each time ended up derailed.  Even at those moments, though, thoughts of the future were vague at best, it was more a situation of "What do I want to be doing now?"

So here I am, at the mid-point of life and feeling my heart race at the thought of giving up playtime and buckling down to figure this shit out.  That thought makes me so tired.  I'm tired of doing it on my own.  I want help, but that's a problem in itself.  Back when help was free and available, I didn't know enough to reach out for it.  Now that I want it, it's still available but I'll have to pay for it.  But, thanks yet again to our current recession, paying for anything is becoming sketchy these days, as I didn't get a raise this year and things aren't looking good for one in 2010.  Which brings me full circle back to being dissatisfied with my job and feeling that I should be doing something else, but not having any clue of what.

Do I really have to grow up? 

Two songs have been bouncing around in my head in conjunction with this mood, so y'all get a two-fer:

 Disappearing Act

Come on now, the curtain is drawn
And tomorrow stands before you.
Dressed and draped in a coal black cape
Like a crow, he ignores you.
Look again, there's a beautiful girl
Covers sin in a Holy Land shroud.
It's the great disappearing act
Done once again for the marveled crowd.
As we're chasing our tails,
And biting our nails,
So strong and frail.

And we build and tear down,
Build and tear down,
Build and tear down...
With barely the time to say
How did it get so late?
I'll never know

Step outside now, the door's open wide
And the minons are eager to find him.
Put a million miles under your heels
And you're still behind him.
Cover your clocks with your chains and your locks
While the seasons get hotter and colder.
Stretch your faces and lie about your ages
And still we're gonna get older.
As we're chasing our tails,
And biting our nails,
So strong and frail

And we build and tear down,
Build and tear down,
Build and tear down,
We've run out of time to say
How did it get so late?
I'll never know
I'll never know

Hang on 'til your fingers bleed
And your hands unwind...
He will escape you every time,
From under your pillows,
Through open windows and out on the rails...

And we build and tear down,
Build and tear down,
Build and tear down,
With barely the time to say
How did it get so late?
I'll never know
I'll never know
I'll never know

Seriously, if anyone out there has any ideas to help me, let me know.  If not, then please excuse this moment of weakness and just enjoy the music.

September 26, 2009

Gwynns Falls pictorial

I've been back to the Gwynns Falls Trail since my first experience of it, and can now give a much clearer, more convincing case for how terrific a trail it is.  These photos were taken on two different rides, which accounts for the variance from overcast, cloudy sky to clear, sunny blue.  The other contrasts displayed in this series of photos are what make this trail so very cool.

Beginning in the neighborhood of Dickeyville, at the top of Leakin Park, and heading down through Gwynns Falls Park, the Carroll-Camden Industrial Area, Westport, and ending at Middle Branch Park.

View the whole series here.

September 15, 2009

Recent readings: Entering fantastic worlds

Despite the fact that we've yet to reach the equinox, autumn has come and, as usual, I'm being drawn to weird and unusual reading material.  I'll be into Poe and similar Victorian-era stuff by the time Halloween rolls around, but this year I've begun the season with more contemporary works.

I started out by re-reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and continued with his acclaimed young adult book, Coraline (though I still haven't gotten around to seeing the movie).  Definitely a fun tale with a message of bravery for kids, Coraline's also an entertaining, quick read for adults.  (Last year about this time, I read half of his most recent young adult work, The Graveyard Book, and definitely need to pick up another copy to finish it.  Much more there to sink one's teeth into.  No pun intended, for those familiar with the book.)  

But while I accept that Gaiman seems to be acknowledged as the current reigning prince of weird literature, Clive Barker did it first and Gaiman is his heir-apparent.  Probably most well-known as a horror-meister thanks to the popularity of the Hellraiser films (based on his short novel, The Hellbound Heart), Barker's actually an incredible writer of fantasy.  The basic premise of most of his books (the same frequently utilized by Gaiman) is generally that of an ordinary, commonplace person thrust into a world beyond their imagining, who is compelled to travel a hero's journey and in the process finds him- or herself to be more than expected.  Standard myth-stuff, but it's the characters and the landscapes Barker creates that make his works so engrossing.


In the realm of young adult fiction, the first two books of the Abarat series are as amazing as anything created by L. Frank Baum, but the Wicked Witch of the West has nothing on Barker's dark villains.  And Dorothy's spunk pales beside that of Candy Quackenbush.  These books are full of nightmare and beauty, and are only the beginning of what's apparently intended to be a five-part saga. 


On a much more adult level, works such as my favorite, Weaveworld, contain a sensuality (and sexuality) that the kid's books understandably can't approach.  Descriptions of both people and places are vivid, and Barker's worlds are so fully, fantastically developed that they go beyond just drawing the reader in to making them want to enter the pages and inhabit these amazing realms.

  At the moment, I've just dived into Imajica for the second time.  It's been several years since my first reading, and so far it's both surprising and familiar at once.  The book's huge (I've got the original 800-something page paperback that was printed with a very tiny font), which is both a good and a bad thing.  Bad in that it's a pain to carry around, yet good in that the pleasure of it lasts for days.  It's definitely not one that can be read through in a weekend, no matter how much you're sucked into it.  As such, it's long-term escapism.  

I'm normally an empirically-minded pragmatist, and yet this story of forgotten magic and forgotten selves puts me into a mood to wonder what sorts of mysteries the real (or should that be "real"?) world has disremembered.  Which makes it a nicely appropriate prelude to the coming season of autumn and Halloween.  From Barker to Poe, one fantastic master to another. 

September 6, 2009

Gwynns Falls glorious

I have a new favorite place to ride. Selfish being that I am, the only reason I'm exposing it here is because I know my readership is so minuscule. And of those who do follow my babblings, most are not local, so the chances are slim that this wonderful gem of a place will become overrun due to my glowing review.

I first heard of the Gwynns Falls trail a few years ago but never took the time to look into it. While blowing some $$ recently at one of my favorite local bike shops, I noticed a stack of brochures for the trail that included a full map, so I grabbed one. A quick look showed that it passed through some areas of town that I thought might be more than a tad sketchy. So, while my curiosity was definitely aroused, I was also tentative about riding my snow-white, lycra-clad self through neighborhoods where I'd stick out like a sore thumb. So I did some googling, which led to two accounts of people being punched in the face or hit with rocks by miscreant youth in one specific area. Aside from that, though, the intarwebs turned up nothing but mentions of how nice the trail is. No one I found to ask about it went into much detail, but all said that it was an excellent ride.

With this weekend being a holiday one, my cycling options were limited. Everyone and their brother would likely be out on the rail-trails and at the parks where I like to ride, and I wasn't in the mood for crowds. That left either a rural road loop I've done a couple of times up above Frederick or, possibly... Gwynns Falls. Would the Labor Day hordes find their way onto this supposedly lightly trafficked trail and spoil my bid for solitude? Only one way to find out...

The trail begins at an exposed and barren commuter park'n'ride lot. How misleading. It quickly drops from the concrete wasteland into Leakin Park, a huge, amazingly natural urban park that was almost intersected by an interstate. I've been told that it was dramatically saved by MD Senator Barbara Mikulski and a crowd of protesters standing in front of a bulldozer, literally preventing it from tearing into the forest. If that's the case, I'm grateful and will continue voting for Mikulski each and every time she runs for re-election. (Now, if only she'd spearhead a crusade to clean up all the garbage along the creek...)

Within Leakin, the trail is a tangle of off-shoots leading to spots like the Carrie Murray Nature Center and the historic neighborhood of Dickeyville. The route I took by-passed these detours (leaving more for me to explore on future rides) and meandered along Gwynns Falls creek, transitioning from smooth pavement to old abandoned road to a crushed stone and dirt mix, and back to another stretch of abandoned roadway that finally, after 6.5 miles, spit me out into urban neighborhoods. This was the sketchy part, though the few people I encountered were perfectly pleasant. Another mile or so later, I was in the industrial area next to Ravens Stadium, passing old warehouses with fantastic architecture and bouncing over railroad tracks. From there, the trail heads either to Inner Harbor or down along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to Middle Branch and Cherry Hill parks. For my first run-through, I kept things short by heading in the direction of the Harbor via a brief jaunt through the re-gentrified section of Federal Hill.

After walking through the crowds on the Harbor promenade, I locked the bike up and headed into the food court. It didn't take long to snag a greasy soft pretzel and lemonade and return to the bike, where I sprawled in the grass and ate, watching the clouds and gulls floating over the Harbor... totally, surprisingly, at peace with the throngs of noisy tourists.

The ride back was as peaceful and solitary as the ride down, easier because it was simple to re-trace my way, yet also ever-so-slightly harder because I was heading back up, literally, to Leakin Park. I was amazed at how few people I encountered throughout the day, aside from the Inner Harbor crowds, and I can't wait for the chance to get back up there. Next time, Dickeyville and Cherry Hill Park. And photos, in order to document the awesomeness of the best damned trail I've found yet.

August 23, 2009

Spreading the Twitter meme...

Jim over at Unholy Rouleur has sucked me into Twitter-land. I still don't have an account and don't plan on posting any "twits" of my own, but I ended up first chuckling, then giggling, then practically guffawing out loud as I read back through this guy's posts (Be warned. To say the guy is irreverent is putting it lightly).

One more freaking intarwebs waste of time in my RSS feed.

August 6, 2009

Farewell to a hero

Anyone who follows the Fat Cyclist blog most likely knows by now that Susan Nelson passed away last night. For those folks who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's the story as of 2007. And things went crazily downhill from there. For long periods, Susan would seem to be stable, and then they'd get horrendous news like this. By the time Elden posted this recent update, it was apparent that Susan's battle was drawing to an end. Even so, the news this morning was a surprise that left me in tears at my computer.

As I commented over at his sister Jodi's blog, Pistols & Popcorn, Elden's posts about Susan's battle have served so many times to help me regain perspective when I've lost focus due to stressful situations. I'm so very sorry for what they went through, for what he and the kids are going through now, yet at the same time I'm incredibly grateful that they had the courage to share it with all of Elden's readers. He and Susan will always be my heroes.

August 1, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

One of my photos was selected for the most recent edition of the Schmap Baltimore Guide in their section on the Baltimore Museum of Art. I'd never heard of Schmap before but will certainly begin using it now. And I've definitely gotta get more of my photos up on Flickr. Recognition's a nifty thing.

July 10, 2009

The addiction dance

Addiction is a powerful thing. I don't think anyone could deny that, yet I do believe that most people don't realize that we're all, each and every one of us, susceptible to it. It's so very obvious in the form of compulsive, physical craving for drugs, alcohol, child porn, or even caffeine. But how often do we explore its less obvious forms?

My own strongest addictions take the forms of the intarwebs and driving fast. Like many other folks out there, I see the 'net for the time-suck that it is. And yet, there's just so much out there to explore, so many people from all over the world to converse with at almost any time of the day. With every new social networking site, every new message board or blog, I give more of myself and my time to it. Like a junkie I sit, jumping from tab to tab, refreshing pages, looking for that next fix, all the while knowing that I need to get my ass away from the computer to do housework, or sleep, or get ready for work, or just plain get outside.

Driving, on the other hand, has a tremendously narcotic effect, which I've described before. There's been many a day I've sat at my desk at work, or stuck in rush hour traffic, when I've found myself almost literally aching to be on some back road in West Va, swooping around curves and flying along straightaways. I had enough accidents in my younger years to fully realize the potential dangers of this craving, but I can't fight the excitement that arises when I picture my favorite roads under a sunny blue sky and I know I'll continue to indulge as often as I can.

I wish I could say that I'm addicted to physical movement, but what I have is really more of a deep appreciation that's easily overwhelmed by an apparently stronger appreciation of sloth. But I've always loved movement. Ballet class at 5 years old, a month on the middle-school track & field team, short-lived dance classes again in my teens, cycling, martial arts, vinyasa yoga... The flow of movement is both soothing and invigorating.

That deep appreciation that stops just shy of compulsion is what's behind an annual addiction to which I've succumbed: the reality/contest tv show, So You Think You Can Dance. Most people I know have gotten hooked on SYTYCD's elder sibling, American Idol, which I've never watched. But I happened to channel surf past SYTYCD a few seasons ago and stopped to check it out. One episode was all it took, and now I plan my weeknights in July and August around its air-times. And, yippee!, it'll now grow to a bi-annual addiction, as they're adding a second season later this year.

The show has all the elements of every other reality/contest show: Beautiful young hopefuls who put their heart and soul into claiming the title of "America's Top Dancer", and a suitably sympathetic, magnificently appareled emcee who shepherds them past a panel of sometimes annoying, yet always quirky judges. But it's also intentionally being used as a platform to introduce the viewing public to the art of dance. They've included expected styles such as jazz, hip-hop, and tango, but also surprises such as paso doble, Bollywood, and Russian folk dancing. And each season contains at least one performance that is flat-out, amazingly impressive, technically fantastic yet also emotionally moving. This week's episode included one of those sequences, the addiction dance...

Choreographed by Mia Michaels and performed by Kupono Awaeu and Kayla Radomski
, this routine is a perfect example of just what makes dance an art. Purely through movement and expression, these two young dancers tell a story that so many of us can identify with, if we've looked deeply enough into our selves, or into the souls of those around us. From the first moment that Kayla runs to him and he wraps his arm around her, Kupono incredibly embodies the way that addiction controls us. She's drawn to him, and he in return man-handles her, plays the puppet master, tossing her around, taunting and stifling her, soothing then throttling her, all with a chillingly dispassionate expression on his face. And when she desperately tries to break free, to reach up and away from her craving, he grabs hold and shows her, with condescending ease, just how much stronger he is. Malevolent, one of the judges called Kupono's performance, and that's exactly what addiction is, in all its forms.

I'm addicted to this dance.

June 12, 2009

Farewell to Yr

What is it about madness that so fascinates? Is it a tentatively acknowledged fear that the grasp on sanity is tenuous? Or is it an attraction to the honesty of insanity, the letting go of our internal guard in exchange for freeing the deeply buried urges inside of us?

A couple of decades ago, perusing the crammed shelves of a used bookstore, I picked up a copy of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. The story of Joanne Greenberg's experiences (told through the character of Deborah) is stunningly eye-opening, with stark descriptions of the patients' characters and behavior, and of the treatments they received, off-set by the intelligently sharp wit Greenberg possessed even then. One passage that's always stuck with me takes place after several patients gang up on one of the ward attendants and Deborah is called upon to explain what took place:

"Well... Hobbs came down the hall and then there was the fight. It was a good fight, too; not too loud and not too soft. Lucy Martenson's fist intruded into Mr. Hobbs's thought processes, and his foot found some of Lee Miller. I had a foot out, too, but nobody used it."

... Deborah knew why it was Hobbs and not McPherson... Hobbs was a little brutal sometimes, but it was more than that. He was frightened of the craziness he saw around him because it was an extension of something inside himself. He wanted people to be crazier and more bizarre than they really were so that he could see the line which separated him, his inclinations and random thoughts, and his half-wishes, from the full-bloomed, exploded madness of the patients. McPherson, on the other hand, was a strong man, even a happy one. He wanted the patients to be like him, and the closer they got to being like him, the better he felt. He kept calling to the similarity between them, never demanding, but subtly, secretly calling, and when a scrap of it came forth, he welcomed it. The patients had merely continued to give each man what he really wanted. There was no injustice done, and Deborah had realized earlier in the day that Hobbs's broken wrist was only keeping him a while longer from winding up on some mental ward as a patient.

That's it, right there. Experiencing the insane is to walk the fine line between Hobbs and McPherson. When I found out that I lived only a handful of miles from the sanitarium at which Greenberg was treated, I was of course elated. The place was Chestnut Lodge, in the historic district of Rockville, MD, a huge Addams Family-ish building set on 20 or so acres of huge old white oaks (the chestnut trees after which it was named fell victim to blight many years ago). In its time, the Lodge was world-famous for its treatments. A few decades later, those same treatments would bring it notoriety, as the doctors there clung to ice-packing and electro-shock, along with psychoanalysis, while the rest of psychiatry turned towards chemical treatment.

For years I would drive by and peer at the building through the foliage, wondering what went on behind the windows on the upper floors. But I never went there. Even after the hospital closed and the building sat empty, I never stopped the car, never got out and wandered under those trees to see what the place looked and, more importantly, felt like up close.

As it sat empty, a developer bought it and the grounds and began to build luxury homes behind the main building. The Lodge itself was apparently to someday become million-dollar condos, which would bring an end to it being a hangout for the homeless and partying teens.

And now it's gone. At 3:00am this past Sunday morning, ninety-five firefighters responded to a call that the building was on fire. The condition in which it was left apparently made it ripe for burning, and it ended up nothing but a shell. When I finally had a chance to drive by this evening, demolition had already begun and all but the rear portion of the building had been reduced to piles of bricks. But I snagged some memories of what was left, and finally spent some time close enough to see through those mysterious windows, and to wonder, for one final time, about the people who had once passed through those rooms.


Click here for a few more.

June 3, 2009

Searching for Zee Deveel in the City of Sin

I just got home from a business trip in Las Vegas (The annual JCK and Couture jewelry trade shows, which are a BIG DEAL in the luxury jewel trade). Last year was the first time I took this trip and I tried my damnedest to blog about it, but it was so overwhelming I couldn't put it together coherently. When I began jotting notes on the first day of the trip, my intention was to put it together linearly, with day-by-day entries. But I quickly became disoriented by the dichotomies in my experiences, and by my reactions to those dichotomies. This year, I'm going to try again. Any linear time-frames have been thrown out the window and this has become just a jumble of thoughts and impressions from both trips. I wouldn't be surprised if you become as disoriented as I was.

Cast of characters for both trips: The Boss (owner of the store), the President (the owner's son), and The Boss's wife, plus one co-worker, The Buyer. Plot twists: 1) because this is a work trip, I'm having to put on my work persona, and 2) these people live a vastly different lifestyle than I do. I'm gonna have to work on controlling my gag reflex. They're all lovely people, really, in their way, but to listen to them talk about what they consider "quality" food and shopping makes me feel a bit queasy. What they consider "the finer things in life", I consider ostentatious luxury. They'd possibly fall out of their chairs if I told them that I'd be as happy eating at Waffle House as at any of the high-falutin' places at which they've apparently made dinner reservations for our group for the week. With those reservations in mind, I ended up in a bit of a tizzy while packing for the trip, trying to figure out what clothes in my limited, inexpensive wardrobe would be appropriate for a place like Robuchon.

Airport slot machines (All photos can be clicked for full-sized view)

The full impact of Vegas took some time to hit me. It started with slot machines in the airport as soon as we stepped out of the gate and, of course, a casino between the swanky hotel lobby and the elevators to our room. The Buyer and I are staying in the brand-new Palazzo (named the largest green building in the world), which is connected to the Venetian, which is famous for its inside shopping arcade replete with Venetian canal, singing gondoliers, and blue "sky" painted with fluffy clouds.

The canal at the Venetian hotel begins along Las Vegas Boulevard..

...and continues underneath the building to flow...

...past the Grand Canal Shops and Vegas' version of St. Mark's Square.

Wandered for a bit through the swanky shops, barely bothering to glance in any windows until I found a jaw-dropping exhibit of photography by Peter Lik. Despite the fancy framing and mounting and the slick way in which his photos were displayed, there was a weird dichotomy (sorry, I couldn't find another suitable synonym) in seeing these awe-inspiring, reverent depictions of nature in the midst of one of the most superficial, artificial places on earth. I had to wonder whether the rich folk for whom these gorgeous works are intended buy them just for the eye-appeal, or whether they actually appreciate the sacredness of the places captured.

And after that, I stumbled across Baumann's Rare Books and just about lost my already exhausted, over-loaded mind: a shop full of first editions such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Darwin's Origin of Species, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, assorted works of Mark Twain, Einstein's Out of My Later Years (of which I own an identical copy, though mine's not in anywhere near as fine condition and probably nowhere near as valuable) and, the piece de resistance, a $175,000 Leaves of Grass from Whitman's personally financed first run of only 795 copies. I walked through that place alternately with my jaw dropped or grinning like a fool, and they probably had to clean my nose prints from all of the glass display cases when I left. It was amazing, though. There's an energy that emanates from books like that, even the children's books, an energy of art and knowledge imparted, of what's best in humankind, that is glaringly out of place in the midst of the ritziness of the Venetian and Palazzo shops.

But those books weren't the only things that seemed out of place. Much of this trip became about finding pockets of beauty amidst the neon, glitz, and general ostentation of Vegas. One thing I wanted to check out but didn't have time for was the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. I have to remember it for next year, though I did get to see the Dale Chihuly glass sculptures that comprise the lobby ceiling of that hotel.

The next day was spent mostly in what The Boss calls the "rabbit warren"-- from the hotel room, through the hotel casino, into and all around the hotel convention center, back through the casino, up to the room, only to realize that I hadn't been out of doors in over 24 hours. I begged out of tonight's fancy dinner so I could take a walk, and a look, around the (in)famous Vegas Strip. Wandered down as far as the Bellagio, where I stopped to watch the water show at their famous fountain. Noticed a street person-looking woman strolling along with a cigarette in one hand and a gorgeous white cockatoo in the other. I watched her watching a passable Jack Sparrow impersonator who had a six-pack of Coronas and a pair of colorful parrots with which he was posing for photos with some scantily-clad and equally tipsy tourists. When the woman continued along the sidewalk, I caught up with her and learned that the cockatoo's name was Angel. Fitting name for a beautiful bird.

Stopped in McDonald's for a quick dinner and found myself wondering whether I had made that choice in reaction to the surroundings into which I've been thrust on this trip. I needed a meal that didn't cost as much as a month's utility bills. Sitting outside to wolf down my cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake, watching the crowd hustle by, I was suddenly surprised to realize that I could hear crickets chirping nearby. It was a strange and unexpected sound under the cacophony of the Strip, and again, a bit of beauty that was very much out of place.

Day whatever: Finally had the chance to check out the other side of Vegas-- took a cab from the Palazzo down to Fremont Street and wandered up and down the covered pedestrian walkway (which was featured in U2's video for I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For). The Boss warned me that Fremont was the "seedier" section of town and that I'd see some of the dregs of society. Not surprisingly, I had more fun and felt more comfortable while there than at any other point on this trip so far. It's been a great big smorgasbord of experiences-- from The Boss' refined, "finer things in life", moneyed lifestyle and the opulence of the resort hotels in which we're staying, to the all-American, trailer-trash, glitz and seediness of Fremont St.

God says please do not go to hell... go to the $15.99 seafood buffet instead.

Fremont Street light show.

To top all of that off, there's been the luxury jewelry trade show that is, of course, the main purpose of the trip. At one vendor appointment, I found myself wondering wtf I was doing in such an environment, as The Boss and The President discussed which of their clients would be happy to snap up an $80,000 yellow diamond bracelet if we were to order it for the store. A few appointments later, I was amazed and fascinated by the beautiful design and technical craftsmanship of a really unusual necklace of the same price. Last night I shamelessly wolfed down a $35 veal scallopine (so much for my Buddhist aspirations) at Mario Batali's newest restaurant, Carnevino, while tonight I dined on greasy pizza from a joint on Fremont. The dichotomies (there's that word again) from one moment to the next have left me with a lot to think about.

Just what did I hope to see in Vegas? A Devil's playground of the Seven Deadly Sins? Well, Vegas isn't called Sin City for nothin'. I think I flew to Vegas with visions of lustful, avaricious cravings dancing in my head, little old ladies glued to slot machines and drunkards leering over mostly naked showgirls. Those things were around, to be sure, but the vices I witnessed were more mundanely insidious than sexy. Lust, gluttony and avarice showed their faces in the guise of massive over-consumption. Now, I work in the luxury jewelry industry, so this is something I see on a regular basis. But Vegas is on a scale that's off the charts. From ridiculously priced hotel rooms (yes, the service was great but, really, I've slept just as well at Holiday Inn) to tony shopping arcades, to absolutely fantastic yet exorbitantly priced restaurants and shows, the amount of money shelled out on non-necessities is mind-boggling. And I have never seen so many obese people in one place within so few days.

So which is worse: uncontrollable acquisitiveness driven by craving, or acquisitiveness based on a sense of entitlement? I was exposed to all of this through the largess of my boss. Yes, I was there to serve a necessary function on the business trip, but he went out of his way to include me and my fellow co-worker in the non-business dining and entertainment reservations his wife had arranged. And I do truly appreciate his generosity. The chances of me shelling out $175 for a single Cirque du Soleil ticket are slim-to-none, and their Beatles "Love" show is mind-blowingly awesome (seriously, it was the most amazing thing I've seen yet in my life). And a couple of the meals we had were truly, elegantly sublime. But was his generosity based on altruism or ego? He and his wife and son would certainly have enjoyed these luxuries even without the attendance of us on the payroll, but there did seem to be a hint of preening in his response to our expressions of gratitude. Or was that just projection on my part, an attempt to raise my humble aspirations above his more conspicuously consumptive ones, to assuage my guilty conscience in having taken part in such indulgence?

Compared to all of this, how do I live my own life? And how do I feel about how others live theirs? I was entranced by a book costing $175k, but looked down my nose at the wastefulness of hotel/restaurant/jewelry/clothing prices in Vegas. How does one define principles and values of this sort in a way that encompasses all the levels of society? In doing so, how on earth do you avoid hypocrisy? And of course this brought up the specifically personal questions of how and why I've ended up working in the luxury jewelry trade, and whether I'm willing to trade the stability and paycheck this job affords for a career that would have more meaning for me, but most likely involve a tremendous financial sacrifice.

So, I'm conflicted about my job in jewelry trade: The Boss lives a lifestyle I find vaguely repulsive, despite the fact that I continue to struggle at reaching out to help others. Yet The Boss is very generous, both towards his employees and to charities. Does that make me a self-righteous hypocrite? I've written several times in the past about my conflicted feelings toward the job in general, but these days, with the current economic climate, I'm damned grateful to have it. And I'm conflicted that there are places like Las Vegas on this earth. Perhaps there are lessons to be gleaned through being in such an environment, such as learning what's really meaningful to me while finding compassion for the cravings that drive all of that superficial consumerism.

A little irony at the airport on the way home: A very roly-poly woman sat down a few seats away from me at the gate. Clutched in her chubby fingers was a bag from one of the airport food vendors which read "I SNACK LIKE I MEAN IT".

Zee Deveel

Nice car!
Where'd you get your ride?
A trophy? Badge of honor? Over-compensation?
Price tags advertise your pride!
Since when did what we paid for colored cloth
gauge our gravity?

Yeah, you got your little world
Picture perfect, it's a pearl
Now go and try and sleep in the bed you made

You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause everyone of us has a devil inside
You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause all of what amounts becomes you

Nice watch!
Man, d'you got the time?
There's never enough,
and it always goes too slow, too slow.

Yeah you got your little world!
Picture perfect, it's a pearl
Now go and try and sleep in the bed you made

You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause everyone of us has a devil inside
You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause all of what amounts becomes you

Nice watch!
Man, d'you got the time?
Theres never enough,
and it always goes too slow.
Price tags advertise your pride!
Since when did what we paid for colored cloth
gauge our gravity?

You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause everyone of us...
You should be careful what you wish for!
'Cause all of what amounts becomes you

For the record, Incubus are not big fans of Vegas. And, after this year, I'm not so sure I am, either.

(Click here for more photos.)