Sunday, July 28, 2013

Moving Day

Yup, it's here. Just a few hours until the movers show up. Hopefully it won't rain. I'm finding this move oddly stressful. Can't help thinking that most of the stuff I own (and why so much stuff in the first place?!) is hardly worth carting over.  But this, too, shall pass.

The Passport Caper and Other Stories

This week, I've had to go to Brooklyn three very early mornings in a row to let in the contractors; each time, I brought a few fragile items with me. Meanwhile, I've been packing and purchasing moving supplies bit by bit.

But the main day I'd set aside for packing and cleaning was yesterday.  And it was when I took out my passport as one of the things I would keep on me (rather than throwing into a moving box) that all my bold plans got derailed - because I realized that my passport was set to expire in two months, and I need to use it one month from now. The airlines might not let me fly if I don't have at least asix-month buffer. So I filled out the expedited renewal application online. Then I had to go buy paper to print out the form. Then I had to find a place to get my passport photo taken. And then I had to find a post office that was open on Saturday (somewhat trickier than one might imagine, in my neck of the woods) - UPS would have been easy, but they can't deliver to that address.  So this all took 2-3 hours.

But I can't complain (or at least I won't) because I also made time for fun this week: saw the new musical of Love's Labour's Lost at Central Park and the Hudson Warehouse production of King Lear at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and dined with S at Kittichai (although they have the health department's dreaded "grade pending" sign).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

More on Mythcon 44

I saw many excellent presentations at Mythcon, but one of my personal favorites was Anna Smol's "Tolkien's Painterly Style: Landscapes in The Lord of the Rings" (a project Ms. Smol undertook with her colleague Jeff MacLeod).

I have been known to skim through Tolkien's landscapes to "get to the good stuff" (e.g., the action, the character-revealing decisions, etc.).

In her presentation, Ms. Smol put up a passage from Tolkien and showed how he described the landscape.  With the instinct of a painter, he draws the reader's eye across the scene, following natural lines and light.  (I think this could also be considered cinematic, following the camera's eye; but it certainly works for good classical painters.)  Colors are carefully chosen, subtly blended; the view in the distance is impressionistic.

For contrast, she chose a passage from Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, in which the landscape is described methodically, even scientifically -- items listed by category rather than in natural order of observation.  It's an extreme example, of course, and not necessarily typical of Pullman (one audience member noted that the style may reflect that the scene's point-of-view character is a scientist), but it helped underscore the subtlety of Tolkien's craft.

I am really grateful to Ms. Smol for opening my eyes to Tolkien's painterly style.  It had never even crossed my mind, but is so clear once pointed out.  Next time I read Lord of the Rings, I will dwell on his landscapes.

Another one that was a great hit was Trish Lambert's "How the Respective Cosmogonies of Narnia and Middle-earth Affect Grief and Hope in the Environment.”  This one, too, I found eye-opening; Ms. Lambert has thought very carefully about the grief and hopelessness in The Lord of the Rings, from the perspective of the characters within the story.  Her paper was both moving and insightful, and it resulted in an extended Q&A session.  Her slideshow presentation enhanced the talk without overwhelming it (a line that is sometimes difficult to walk). She used some well-designed animations - I especially liked Elrond's family tree, and a very cute slide that brought new life to the old cliché about comparing apples and oranges.

Kris Swank's "Good Plain Food: Diet and Virtue in the Fantasies of Tolkien and Lewis" was another audience favorite, and may be picked up for publication - so stay tuned.  

Week or Two in Review

Here's what's been going on, more or less:

- Signed my first-ever "last will and testament" plus health care proxy and living will.  So now I can embark on super-dangerous hobbies with a clear conscience, knowing that I've left my affairs in order.  Sign me up for juggling lessons ... with flaming chainsaws!

- Got started on four small home improvement projects.  One is completed (hooray!).  One is in progress.  One contractor is about to get the good news that I'm going forward with it.  One contractor won't give me a start date, not sure what's up with that - but the good news is that at this point it will be better not to start before August 20.

- Learned that my paper proposal has been accepted for publication!! (Eep, now I have to write it....)

- Watched "The Tempest" w/ New York Classical Theatre - it's one I'm not very familiar with.  Long ago, I read a synopsis (courtesy of a "tales from Shakespeare" book my grandparents gave me as a kid), but I've never read the play for myself, and I've only seen it once or twice before. Caliban and the 2 drunkards were especially good.  They used multiple actresses to play Ariel -- I'm not sure if it is written into the play, or even a "standard" interpretive technique (after all, another director did that in at least one prior production, and it's a low-tech way to give a sense of the supernatural by allowing the voice of Ariel to come from multiple locations at once).  Here, Ariel also was able to control or possess other characters from time to time, which made for an interesting effect.  Liked Prospero as well, and I think his character is not always considered very sympathetic - so it probably has to do with the actor's charisma.  All in all, I enjoyed it.  Will try to watch it again before it closes.

- Watched "Despicable Me" (rented from iTunes) - it was fun and cute, though somewhat forgettable.  (Question: Was this movie the source of the saying "This is how I roll"?)

- Read The Cuckoo's Calling by "Robert Galbraith"- I liked it, although perhaps not for the "right" reasons to like a detective novel.  I was more interested in the characters of Robin and Strike, than in the mystery.  And of course if this is a series, I think JK is up to her usual tricks in terms of laying groundwork for Ron and Hermione (er, I mean Strike and Robin) to get together after the wrong matches are weeded out.

- Read Genesis by Bernard Beckett.  This was recommended to me by two of my fellow Mythgard students, at Mythcon. They warned me that not everyone in the class liked it.  I enjoyed it, but I think I can see both sides re: the book's appeal.  I did not particularly care for the philosophical debate aspects of the story; it's not particularly original to very loosely fictionalize matters of philosophy (Sophie's World comes to mind, but there are many others).  But the overall story arc I enjoyed - particularly the slow reveal (with strong misleads to counterbalance the many hints about what is going on and why).  Also intrigued by the characters' names - almost every name, no matter how casually dropped, has one or more historical or literary antecedents.

- Read The Boggart by Susan Cooper.  I was curious whether this was an inspiration for JK.  I don't think it was (both authors were commandeering a creature of myth and legend).  Parts of the story I really liked, esp. the opening chapter. And it was interesting to meet the trickster creature and explore the old world/new world dichotomy.  But it also comes across as really dated in some ways - especially with the computer-related aspects of the plot.  Found it jarring that the mom and dad seem to be known by their first names; it felt like the author was trying to be progressive and modern (although who knows, she may well have been simply writing what was true in her own culture or experience).  My working theory is that the more up-to-date and contemporary in feeling a novel is, the less likely that it will prove to be timeless.  But we shall see.

- Went to the beach and got sunburned... despite two layers of sun screen + zinc oxide + beach umbrella.  We were there longer than I'd expected, and honestly, if I'd been watching the clock, I'd have applied more sunscreen.  Then again, it's just the top of the right arm, so I'm wondering if I got burned through the car window as we were driving out to Long Island.  Hmmm.  Oh well.

- Picked up some supplies for the move.  It's coming up fast.  Really fast....

- Tried to give my beautiful armoire/media center to friends or a high-end charity I'd heard of.  No takers, so I'll go with a for-profit furniture removal service that promises to do the charitable match-making for me.  So I may still be able to chalk that up as a win.

- Made two batches of Indian Slaw - yum.  The second batch was a bit more sour and spicy (2 TBS lime juice and 2 serrano chilies), so I'll probably go easy on those items next time for a better balance of flavors.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Crash Blossom

I only learned this term recently; it refers to syntactic ambiguity (typically from newspaper headlines).

This example is from a news article entitled "Judge X to run for re-election."  The third paragraph reads in full:
Judge X, who is the only judge of the four candidates seeking to fill two seats, is running on the Republican, Conservative, Working Families and Independence party lines.
It actually took me a while to figure out what they really meant.   

Statue of Liberty (Post-Tempest)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mythgard at Mythcon 44

This year's Mythcon was held at MSU, home of the Spartans (although the accommodations were happily less spartan than those at Kalamazoo).

The Grey Havens Group (from Longmont, CO, and one of the coolest Tolkien/mythopoeic discussion groups ever) has a nice round up of blog posts and a podcast about the weekend.

Presentations covered a variety of topics, such as: 
  • How the Respective Cosmogonies of Narnia and Middle-earth Affect Grief and Hope in the Environment (Trish Lambert)
    Ms Lambert brings a fresh awareness of grief in the Lord of the Rings from the characters' perspective. See More on Mythcon.
  • Tolkien's Painterly Style: Landscapes in The Lord of the Rings (Anna Smol)
    Ms Smol and colleague draw our attention to Tolkien's brilliant use of painterly techniques to bring his landscapes alive - it's obvious only after they point it out.  See More on Mythcon
  • Good Plain Food: Diet and Virtue in the Fantasies of Tolkien and Lewis (Kris Swank)
    Ms Swank reconsiders the age-old assumption that elves, as Good People, are vegetarians. Conclusion: Good guys in Lewis and Tolkien are locavores, not vegetarians.
  • The Musical Heart of the Lands of Narnia and Middle-earth (Dan Kinney)
    Mr Kinney makes his academic presentation debut! and (among other things) makes a good case for his conclusion that Aslan did not sing Narnia into creation... It was already there!
  • How Forests Behave—Or Do They? (Verlyn Flieger)
    Dr Flieger examines the evidence and concludes that even Tolkien did not fully understand the Hurons.... Style time: When Tolkien wants to distance himself from an explanation (i.e., not give it full weight and authority), he has Merry say it.
  • Giving Evil a Name: Buffy's Glory, Angel's Jasmine, and the Limiting (and Limited) Magic of Names (Janet Brennan Croft)
    Very fun - I wish I'd taken notes on this one. But I'm pretty sure it is coming soon to a scholarly publication near you! 
  • A Linguistic Exploration through Tolkien's Earliest Landscapes (Andrew Higgins)
    A cool sneak preview of Mr Higgins' thesis... He is focusing on the genesis of Tolkien's land and languages (1910's and 1920's if memory serves).
  • Concerning Hobbits: Tolkien and the Trauma of England’s 19th/20th Century Transition (Ryan W. Smith)
    An impressive debut!
Overall, Mythgard was well-represented, with eight attendees - and six of us were presenting papers.  Trish and Andy have made the big time: they both scored the largest venue of the conference.  (Yes, the same place where noted scholars Verlyn Flieger and Doug Anderson were presenting!)

Dr. Flieger won this year's Inkings Studies award for her most recent book of essays, Green Suns and Faërie.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Near South Street Seaport

Yoga! Yoga!

Rooftop yoga is back in season, and I attended two sessions this week. One was co-led by one of the co-founders of Laughing Lotus; the vibe was festive / karaoke / party.  I love doing yoga on the roof of the Greenwich House because the surface is so spongy. After some rain in the afternoon, the weather was perfect, breezy and pleasant above the 7th floor, unlike the still, humid air at street level.  Unfortunately, they installed new playground equipment since the summer when Allison led the class, and it's no longer possible to hang upside down.  We did do some supported inversions though, and the co-founder assisted me in my first ever descent into (I think) bridge pose or full wheel (i.e., the killer back bend) - it was a bit scary because I know my arms are not strong enough to do this on my own, but I'm glad she coaxed me into it!  Apparently, Laughing Lotus started on this roof - by some coincidence, their rooftop yoga classes were how I really caught the yoga bug a few years back.  (The other "improvement" on the roof -- some garden boxes -- means lots of tiny ants on your mat if you are right next to them!!)

The second class took place on the roof of my building - a much less demanding class, but fun and relaxing. (It was basically a marketing event for the concierge's fitness adjunct.) They also had pitchers of water, one with citrus and mint, the other with cucumber and mint, which we guzzled happily while waiting for participants to reach critical mass. We ended with a guided visualization that took a "healing light" (in my case, sky blue) through every part of our bodies from toes to crown. One guy fell asleep before we got to the Oms!

Sunday, July 07, 2013


For some reason, I haven't had the urge to take a lot of pictures recently - even when I've lugged my camera around.   So this will be just a quick recap of highlights as they occur to me, before I go back to final revisions of my last conference presentation paper for 2013.

- Thursday and today, I went for dim sum with friends.  Both places were somewhat disappointing.  Thursday's place was OK but had a very limited selection; from comparing notes, we inferred that they lost their chef a month or two ago.  Today's place had a C rating from the Health Department.  I decided to sit at the table and enjoy conversation, but declined to eat or drink anything. The friend who checked online to see why they got the C rating (in order to convince me that it was not really that bad) instead lost her appetite.  Eep.

- Yesterday, I went to the High Line with a friend who is a passionate amateur photographer.  He didn't actually take a lot of pictures during our walk, but he was really fascinated with some of the photos that people were selling in the park.  One guy was selling photos he took with homemade pinhole cameras - that was really cool.  Afterward, we grabbed brunch at a nice bistro/restaurant that (among its other claims to fame) tiled its floor with 480,000 pennies.  As we completed the loop, we were able to stop in at a few art galleries around 24th Street.

In one gallery, I really liked three photographs of reeds in water, by Bill Jackson -- these nicely blurred the line between painting and photo, with stark lines and haunting images. My favorite was "Ambiguity" (which looks a little like the work called "Impound the Sun" at this link:  I could have bought it for $1,800.  There were also some cool surrealist paintings, including one that looked like a take on a famous classical painting of a Renaissance woman holding a calla lily... as you look at it, you realize that it is not quite right... she has a third eye along with the other two, which seems almost natural to her face (as if showing perspective from a side angle).

At another gallery, I really liked a painting called "Trojan Horse" which featured two towers made of toy blocks, facing each other, manned respectively by red and green apples armed with cocktail skewers.  From the green apples' tower, some of the green apples are entering a toy horse through a trapdoor in the back; some of the red apples are holding on to the string attached to the toy horse's nose.  There are also some green apples, divested of their cocktail skewers and bound with twine, in the red apples' tower.  The painting style is clean, simple lines - which gives it an impression of directness and realism; but the details are very clever and reward careful attention.  There were some nice paintings of divers (in one of them, I thought the divers could easily be replaced with dolphins) and of glass jars (beautiful blue ones, with stoppers that show the landscape upside down).  The painting my friend liked best (a Norman Rockwell style view of a violin-maker's shop, with nice sense of depth) was a mere $250,000.

- For Independence Day, I listened live to a lecture by Tom Shippey about Beowulf.  I was on the roof, where the wi fi reception is particularly good. As we were finishing up, people started trickling in to stake out spots for the fireworks.  I wasn't interested in waiting 4.5 hours for the fireworks to begin, so I went back downstairs and continued reading "Cold Days" by Jim Butcher.  I figured I'd pop back up to the roof when I heard the fireworks begin.  But I guess my windows are more soundproof than I imagined - by the time I checked my watch around 10:30 pm, I realized I'd probably missed it.  Hadn't heard a thing.  Oh well.  I've seen 'em other years.

- Yesterday, after enjoying dumplings with a  friend who graciously listened to a run-through of my conference paper, I caught the late-night showing of Despicable Me 2.  I really liked it, but I realize now that I did not see the original (and allegedly superior) Despicable Me.  So I've rented that to watch en route to Michigan.  

- Today, I played mahjong with friends on the roof.  That was fun - we completed two rounds (East Wind round and South Wind round) and we all got a chance to win more than once.  I even had a mini winning streak (3 games in a row), which was nice.