Sunday, March 26, 2006

Baby Shower

Oddly enough, on my way to a baby shower for my college roommate, I ran into (not literally, but I saw) a giant statue of a pregnant woman. It is somewhat arresting, to say the least. Disturbing is more the word.

Not sure what the sculptor had in mind. Celebration of the unborn child? An anatomy lesson? A macabre exploration of the duality of Modern Woman (poised and polished on the outside, a raw bundle of nerves on the inside)?

I think the sculpture could have been beautiful, in some sense, if the face weren't peeled away. That's the part that really freaks me out. Well, that and the thigh. The whole thing is pretty creepy. Sorry I mentioned it.

The baby shower was nice, though I arrived late (because I missed the 9:30 service at FAPC) and left early (so that I could be a mere 4.75 hours late for my next party). And I skipped a third event entirely that I'd hoped to attend. Ah, the perils of popularity. Or something. People just need to plan their events better -- don't bunch them all up into the same day!

Tim Keller gave a particuarly interesting sermon at Redeemer -- it's been a while since I heard him. He was talking about Mark Ch. 4, where Jesus quiets the storm. According to Pastor Keller, the level of detail in the story shows that it is an eyewitness account; in that time period there was apparently no tradition of "realistic fiction" (where you make up lots of extraneous details that don't serve any real didactic or storytelling purpose to give the appearance of truth). Interesting idea, although I don't know enough about the traditions of the time to know if this theory holds water.

Another point he made was also intriguing. Pastor Keller likes to bring out clues that are (to us) very subtle but that would have been (to the audience of the time) a clear claim by the gospel writer for the divinity of Jesus. What Pastor pointed to in this story was the fact that there were deep, well-known cultural traditions that only the very strongest supernatural power can control or calm a storm. And that's what Jesus does in the story: tells the storm to sit down and be quiet, like an errant child. He doesn't even recite an incantation or spell.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The House on Pooh Corner

This week, in a grand break from tradition, I travelled out to the hinterlands mid-week (a 40-minute car ride each way, on a work night!) to visit some friends and their little one:

She reminds me a little bit of Winnie-the-Pooh, or maybe more of a cross between Tigger and Pooh. Then again, it could have just been the striped shirt that made me think of Tigger. Or the poster on the wall behind her, which looks a bit like a family crest, but is really a W-t-P scene.

For a friend's wedding in 2000, I was one of two people invited to choose a reading for the ceremony. At first, I struggled to find something unique (I really wanted to work in at least a stanza of Stanislaw Lem's mathematical love poem), but ultimately fell back on my old favorite Shakespearean sonnet. (This was probably a relief to the bride, who had originally given me free rein to choose something ... then got worried and had me clear it with her mom, who happily approved my choice and preserved the surprise.) I worked on the sonnet over and over, figuring out the right emphasis for every word and line to make the meaning stand out in high relief, and it really came out well. Beautiful, cerebral, and entirely apropos. But the other reader (a man) chose a reading from Winnie-the-Pooh -- and the moment I heard it, I thought Wow! It's so sweet, and right from the heart. Perfect. It never would have occurred to me in a million years.

Of course, at this point, all of the A.A. Milne characters have been commandeered by Disney, and Disney is my sworn enemy -- at least until my niece or my own hypothetical future children are of park-going age. Why the enmity? It's not just the $700 entrance fee to the theme parks, but also a litigation in which we oppose The Mouse (Disney is, in fact, known in the legal arena as "One Mean Mouse"). Not to mention Disney's role in breathing immortality into copyright law. Cf. U.S. Const. art. 1, s. 8 ("The Congress shall have Power ... To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries...."). One of my friends has also been waging his own merry little war against The Mouse, a battle of will and psychology; I think he has won some battles and may ultimately triumph. Which will most likely benefit both parties.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Year of Yes

Yesterday, I read Maria Headley's memoir, The Year of Yes. Reading YoY right on the heels of Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God was interesting. There are some evident similarities:
  • Both authors are young women (Maria Headley is 28, Lauren Winner is 29);
  • Both have chosen alliterative titles (creating palindromes when abbreviated - YoY and GMG);
  • Both chronicle their lives as single women in their very early 20s, engaging in casual sex with sometimes disasterous results, while looking for the right guy;
  • Both are now married;
  • Both arguably answer, on some level, to a higher power (vegetarianism and God, respectively).
However, YoY is unquestionably the better-written and more uplifting book of the two. It warrants a place on my bookshelf along with my "Fear Collection" (Susan Jeffers' Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's Face Your Fear: Living With Courage in an Age of Caution, Rhonda Britten's Fearless Loving, Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear, Michael Crichton's State of Fear, and Phil Keoghan's No Opportunity Wasted). In GMG, Lauren Winner comments (correctly) that it is easier to read about prayer than to pray. This is also true about facing one's fears.

The Fear Collection goes well with my Jump Collection. Many years ago, I started collecting songs with the word "Jump" in the title. I started with the Van Halen song, and the Aztect Camera cover (both about seizing opportunities, albeit in very different moods). I added the Power Sisters and Kriss-Kross dance hits (respectively about requiring a would-be lover to prove his merit and telling the crowd what to do, I think), and Sinead O'Connor's "Jump in the River" (about obsessive love - "If you said jump in the river, I would/ Because it would probably be a good idea."). A friend suggested Aretha Franklin's "Jump to It" (about running to answer a lover's call). I think I had some other jump songs, but I don't remember them off the top of my head.

The one jarring note about YoY is that Maria Headley suggests that her "Year of Yes" opened her heart and allowed her to figure out what she really wanted. To some extent, that is true. But when you think about some of the specific choices she made durng that year, you can see that not all of them were working to open her heart or to help her figure out what she really wanted.
  • Let's consider, for instance, her one-night stand with a classmate who was clearly a regular at the strip club they went to on their "date". It was not really a learning experience for her, in any sense of the word. It was just a humiliating experience. Especially when he told the class about it afterward in front of her.

    But she continued to hook up with guys who had not made any commitment to her -- not even the lowest level of commitment, which I suppose would be a "commitment" to continue to explore the relationship, non-exclusively, to see where things go.

  • And the guy that Ms. Headley eventually married was not someone she learned to love by giving him a chance even though she didn't think he was her type (which would be the ultimate vindication of the "Year of Yes" method).

    To the contrary, she was immediately attracted to him on multiple levels - physically, emotionally, intellectually. She just did not act on that attraction the first time she met him because she knew he was unavailable to her (he was married), and because she thought that she wasn't ready to be a mother or stepmother (he had kids). So her "Year of Yes" basically kept her busy and out of trouble until this same guy (her future husband) came to New York to see her a second time and tell her that his wife had filed for divorce.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Report from the Edges of the Grindstone

It was a rough week at work, but there were some bright spots on the horizon.

I was able to get away on Tuesday night for a small group discussion of Girl Meets God (seems to be in the same general genre - i.e., modern Christian writing/memoir - as Boy Meets Girl, and has a similar style of photograph on the cover in terms of color scheme and lighting, although GMG involves a bit more promiscuity than BMG). GMG is a bit disjointed chronologically, which may be done to protect the identity of the people discussed. We were meeting to discuss the first half of the book using the hideously simplistic study guide questions, but the book actually gets more interesting toward the second half when she sheds some of her flakiness. I have to say that Lauren Winner, the first "G" of GMG (and the book's author) comes across as really young -- when I was her age I was a lot more mature than she. Of course, it may have helped that I had flatmates who were in their late 30s or early 40s during the first few years after I graduated from college. On second thought, that's not it; I was already mature enough to deal with them when I moved in. In fact, when I was just 6 years old, my mom caught me giving good, sensible advice to a woman who'd screwed up her life in various ways and then made the additional mistake of telling me her life story. (The woman apparently asked my mom, "Is this your daughter? She must be a dwarf!") I think I may have born with a kind of maturity, the kind that you get by applying logic and reason and common sense to everyday life. Naturally, this doesn't solve all problems. I certainly have some deep pockets of immaturity, especially in the areas where reason can only suppress, but not eradicate, emotion. But I digress. Our group had a wide variety of reactions to the reading. I was pretty much in the middle -- one person loved it, someone else couldn't even get through more than a chapter, annoyed by the deliberately informal writing style. I lingered over pizza with my annoyed friend afterward, exchanging stories.

On Thursday night I snuck away for dinner with my brother and a friend of his - they were in town for a business meeting with their client (my adversary). Had some warm, salty edamame (it's so fun to pop them out of their shells), vegetarian spring rolls (wrapped in thin, crisp layers), and avocado "sushi" rolls (amazingly fresh, unlike the ones I get at the local deli).

And tonight I wrapped things up at a reasonable hour and was able to meet up with a friend who is running a half-marathon tomorrow. (Good luck! Go for that personal record!)

That's it for now. Good night!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My Day

Luckily, I was able to take a picture to commemorate the highlight of my day:

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. The picture, I mean.

Good night.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Frog Bridge (2006)

So this may be the last time I go to a kids' show at the New Victory Theater after it has been lauded by the New York Times. Just when I needed a hearty, satisfying stew, I was offered instead a thin, watery gruel.

Sadly, the highlight of the show was the architecture of the theater. I nabbed this flash-free shot (and one more) before the usher saw me.

Returning to the putative entertainment. The story is told with live music accompaniment. It could have been told in 15 minutes, maybe half an hour with all the sound effects. Instead, it is strrrrrrrretched out for a full 60 minutes. The storyteller kills a lot of time doing slow silhouetted pantomimes against a large video backdrop.

In brief, the story is this. The king instructs his three sons to shoot arrows into the air and marry whomever brings back the arrow.* The youngest son is too lazy to do this properly, so his arrow lands in a swamp and is retrieved by a frog.** The king then sets the three brides a task: whoever makes the best shirt overnight makes her husband the next king. The frog comes up with the best shirt,*** so the king changes the rules. Now it has to be a loaf of bread. When the frog wins again, the king changes the rules again. Now the kingship will go to the husband of the best dancer. So, of course it turns out that the frog is really a beautiful and talented woman when she takes off her frog skin. So she wins again, but this time the king says OK because she is in human form. Then her husband ruins it all by surreptitiously going and burning the frog skin, thinking he can keep her in human form this way. Nope! So he loses her, and suffers for 7 years until he can find her again and break the spell. Then they live happily ever after. The end.

It felt like the story was supposed to have a message (celebration of differences or something) but the fact that the frog turns out to be a human puts the kibosh on that. Then it seemed like maybe the words on the video backdrop were supposed to have meaning -- "warmth" was flashed on the screen during the shirt task, "food" during the bread task, and "joy" during the dance task -- but that went nowhere too. And there was no lesson learned about learning to love someone for who they really are despite external appearances, either, since the prince never learns to love his bride as a frog, but only accepts her in human form. I suppose there could be a lesson here about the importance of open and honest communication -- if the prince had bothered to talk to his bride, he'd have known about the curse and might have kept his paws off the frog skin for 3 days so the curse would run its natural course.

Then in the Q&A session, the author of the piece all but admitted that he had put no thought into it whatsoever. One kid asked why the woman had been cursed with the frog skin spell - the guy basically said "write your own backstory". Another kid asked what was the significance of the "land of three times nine" - the guy said it had no meaning, so you might as well sleep on it and take your dream as your answer. Pathetic.

* It would seem either the king is exceptionally open-minded or there is a tradition in the kingdom that only women may retrieve stray arrows.
** OK, I admit it: I typed "The Frog Bridge" instead of "The Frog Bride". I thought it sounded cooler. So sue me.
*** Technically, the frog bride should have been disqualified. She did not "make" the shirt. She just hopped out to the swamp and yelled, "Nurses, bring me a shirt!"

Postscript: For all you faux-Romantic architectural flourish buffs out there, here are some cherubs that adorn the ceiling of the theater:

Sunday, March 05, 2006

All's Well That Ends Well (2006)

I grew up with more aphorisms than conversation (or at least only the aphorisms stuck with me). The idea is to make pithy statements, preferably out of context, for comic effect. One thing my dad likes to say is "All's well that ends well -- I suppose."

Now that I have actually seen All's Well That Ends Well (at The Duke on 42nd Street), my dad's aphorism turns out to be a sensible statement about Shakespeare's play.

Helena, a doctor's orphaned daughter, is smitten with Bertram, the son of the Countess who has charitably taken Helena in and raised her. Using her father's medical arts, Helena saves the life of the French king, and asks for Bertram's hand in marriage as her reward. The callow and disdainful youth refuses, humiliating her publicly and risking the king's wrath. Under intense pressure from the king, Bertram relents and marries Helena. In order to avoid consummating the marriage, however, he immediately dispatches himself off to Italy for war. There, he soon meets and starts chasing after a young woman named Diana. He will say and do anything to have sex with her. Helena takes advantage of Bertram's inordinate desire for Diana to obtain things from Bertram by trick that he never would have given Helena voluntarily (specifically, his sperm and his most treasured family heirloom). Thinking that he has successfully seduced Diana and that Helena is dead, Bertram returns to France, his lust sated and his affection for Diana depleted. Helena confronts Bertram before the king and proves that she has met the "impossible" conditions he set for her (Bertram made the mistake of not refusing her outright, but instead setting conditions he believed she could never meet). Bertram finally admits defeat and accepts that Helena will be his wife.

The production is an interesting one. It ends with Bertram admitting defeat and Helena recognizing victory -- but both apparently aware that Bertram still does not love her. It is duty, not love, that has triumphed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Among the Yanquis

In my capacity as an untrained amateur anthropologist, I will from time to time bring you pictures of artifacts or places of worship of the Yanquis.

1. The Temple of NASDAQ in Times Square:

The Yanquis believe that miraculous events happen daily at the temple: Each day, under the guidance of the high priests, a thousand invisible hands ensure the success of crops and hunting expeditions, as well as favorable exchange with other tribes.

2. The "Chrysanthemum" Astrological Monument in the Forbidden City:

This lovely monument is popularly (but incorrectly) known as the "Chrysanthemum Building" due to its long narrow shape which resembles the petal of a chysanthemum, a flower sacred to the Yanquis.

However, it is believed by uninformed anthropologists such as yours truly that the monument has an important astrological function -- in addition to its undeniable flower-like beauty. Of particular note, on the summer and winter equinoxes, the monument is mysteriously aligned with both the sun and moon. It is believed that Yanqui astrologers use this monument to make predictions about the future of their chief military and political leader, General Mo-Tors. The General's name is clearly a corruption of the phrase "More-Taurus", signifying his close association with the astrological sign Taurus (the bull), and hence, the overarching importance of bull in the Yanqui culture.

3. Statue of the Sleepless Observing God

The Yanquis are said to be a highly theistic people, and indeed the Statue of the Sleepless Observing God watches over their daily business. On his left arm (the right side of the photograph) is the mystical symbolic representation of the one thousand invisible hands which, as previously mentioned, are vital to the Yanqui's priest-run economy.

Amateur anthropologists such as yours truly make every effort to observe a native culture secretly without any interaction, no matter how slight, which might alter the culture. Some of the more reckless anthropologists who have broken ranks and spoken directly with the Yanquis, however, report that one of the self-described dominant qualities of Yanqui culture is the "Pro-Testant" Work Ethic. There is debate among amateur anthropologists about what, precisely, this means. (a) The majority view speculates that the Sleepless Observing God is named Testes, and that -- despite their apparent pantheism -- all the Yanquis are united in worshipping him to ensure success of the crops, etc. In this sense, the Yanquis are all "Pro-Testes." (b) A minority view holds that the Yanquis call themselves Pro-Testant because of all the ordeals and tests that their young must go through as a rite of passage -- harrowing rituals that involve sitting in absolute silence for long periods of time (e.g., the "Sat" and "El-Sat") or impersonating felines (e.g., the "Em-Cat") or the mysterious "Gee-Are-Ease", which few have lived to explain. (c) Your humble corresondent takes an entirely different view, noting that the Yanquis are a mischievous people, who are probably pulling the leg of anthropologists by inventing the term out of whole cloth.

REM State

OK, I dreamed last night about a judge. This is a first for me, as far as I know (although you should take that with a grain of salt, since I don't usually remember my dreams).

The setting appeared to be a picnic or possibly a very low-key county fair. In any event, it was a large, peaceful and aimless outdoor gathering in a grassy area, with people hanging out in clumps. There was some sort of booth -- it seemed at first to be a food concession stand, but then I realized it must be some sort of information desk (mostly because there was nothing for sale at the booth). The person at the booth I recognized -- the way one does in dreams, instantly and unambiguously and without any reality check -- as Justice K_____.

I have to say here that Justice K_____ is a real person, and I've met her. I have a dim recollection of what she looks like, and in real life I could probably recognize her in the proper context (i.e., in her courtroom, I could rapidly figure out who she is -- those black robes give it away every time -- but if we happened to be on the subway at the same time I would not have a clue). In a dream, however, I can recognize people in any context, even if they look entirely different. Hypothetically, for instance, I might see the face of Charlie Chaplin, but still "know" it was Oprah Winfrey.

So, after all that build-up, what of it? In my dream, Justice K_____ had been recently appointed as a judge and was worried about it. (These are qualities that the real-life Justice K_____ does not appear to have.) So I was giving her career advice (?!), or at least advice about how to make rulings and decisions. I think it was along the lines of "Well, you're the judge. You can just rule the way you want, and they'll have to go along with it."

I went to law school (we're back to real life now) originally thinking that I would like to be a judge. This dream has faded, and I have been thinking about why it has lost its luster. There are several aspects, having to do with the nature of the job and how one gets there. For instance, I had some wild thought (prior to law school) that, by becoming a judge, I could somehow singlehandedly transform the entire legal system. The details of how (not to mention why) were rather vague. These days, I appreciate that the thousands of judges in our state and federal courts work as an informal, decentralized idea laboratory -- that is, legal change is properly the result of small, incremental decisions on particular cases, bubbling up through the system. There have naturally been some exceptions, both for good and for ill, but for the most part, grand, sweeping transformation is best left to the legislature.

But there is also a deeper reason why this dream is no longer a clear goal for me. I have recognized that, in large part, I was motivated by a desire for purity. Although I knew that individuals sometimes fell short of the mark, it seemed to me that the role of Judge was one that was somehow untainted by any suspicion of self-interest or personal or political gain. It was a calling to a higher, loftier, purer plane, and if only I could ascend to that height, I would know that I was OK.