who the heck knows anything, anyway

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ok, I suck, whatever, I know

Daily Deity will be going on hiatus until I'm back in Seattle! It was probably stupid of me to start it before the new year, but I was excited about it, and excitement leads to impatience, which leads to rash decisions. In addition to having a nasty cut on the middle finger of my right--i.e. "drawing"--hand (not an impediment to typing due to my being an index finger "pecker"), I've been battling a mild-but-nevertheless-remarkably-inconveniencing illness, and doing family stuff, and trying to see all my hometown friends, and snuggling with a puppy, et cetera. I've also had hiccoughs for the past, I dunno, ten minutes (Matthew's fault). That's not really related, but it is annoying. Anyways, point being that I will get back to structured drawing exercises when I'm back home. OMG, these hiccoughs are horrible.

Let's see, good things. I got a haircut today! It looks tres spiffy (it's a bob. A blue bob. Sounds a bit like a bird, doesn't it?). Mmmm, haircuts. And I got to see Scott! That always makes me happy. Aaaaand, ran into some of my favorite peeps at Powell's... impressively, didn't spend any money at Powell's. Now I'm home, in my pjs, feeling lazy and exhausted at 9:30pm. Rhinovirus Recovery will do that to you. The rest of the break seems pretty busy, too, between seeing people and helping my mom cook a magnificent feast, so I apologize in advance if I don't get to see someone on this trip. I'm also still a liiiiittle bit loopy from all of the cold medicine I've been taking, so forgive me if I sound distant or if none of these sentences actually make any sense. I've been living in a cloudy daze! WooOOOoooOoo.

This is my haircut:

 ?thgir ,ecin ytterp

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daily Deity #5 - Thoth

I missed yesterday. Already, one day missed! But whatever, because I was traveling, and I feel that's a valid excuse. Now, safe and sound at the parentals' for the holidays, I can get back to it.

I did two of them today. That can be my penance. The first one was my "warm up" and the second is more my personal style.

warmin' up
(again, these pictures taken with my phone. haaaa.)

doin' the good stuff

Obviously, my idea of the good stuff is drawing a cartoon. Plus, cartooning is faaaast! The first one took me about half an hour, and the second took me maybe five minutes. I realized, after sketching the first (and then trying to make it interesting with some shading and sharp lines), that I should really be allowing myself a warm up and then actually going for it in my style instead of settling for things that are slightly boring. I mean, Fenrir took me two drunk minutes to draw, and he was great. I just need to loosen up! Which, coincidentally, was the same advice I gave my dad. My papa was somehow convinced* to sit down with me and draw a little bit. My dad is an artist, plain and simple**, but he hasn't drawn in a while. My goal during this little holiday is to get him back into it. Things were a bit stiff today (I 100% understand. Sometimes, I'm just a crappy draw-er), but the two of us are in agreement that if we can get him into a groove, he'll be doing sweet sketches by Christmas. Hooray! Holiday magics!

I'm too lazy to tell you a bunch about Thoth, but he's a wise scribe, depicted with the head of an ibis or baboon. Unlike some of the previous deities, there's plenty of cool info on him, just a google (or wikipedia)
search away.

Today has been remarkably good. I'm exhausted from sleeping in the basement with the guinea pigs (they looooove getting loud around 2am, and really do a stellar job of keeping up the squeaking until 4 or so), and it's butts cold in the house, but I have hot tea, a house full of (currently, extended) family, a super cute corgi pup who loves snuggles, and all sorts of surprising, amazing things that make me want to jump for joy. I do miss my boo (our decision to spend the holidays with our separate families--one in P-town, the other in Northern California--was pretty stupid, but, you know, blah blah absence blah blah fonder), but at this point, the next week and a half look pretty okay. It would be EXTRA AWESOME if it SNOWED. Like, ON CHRISTMAS. Hint hint. However, as I said, I am in no mood to complain. In fact, maybe the snow can wait until Daniel and I are back home in Sea-town and can enjoy it together. Especially considering my lack of packed boots. Hoom.

...you know, upon observation, Thoth's head looks a little like Tall Penguin. I hope that Mr. Muto finds that observation complimentary. :/

*ok, so I nagged him. A lot.
**"genius" is not really a stretch here. I tried to take a picture of one of the drawings he did when he was 18, but it's too dark. I promise to get one up sometime during my stay.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Daily Deity #4 - Moritasgus

So, apparently we've got an "animal" theme at the moment. Let's just roll with it, shall we?

Today, adding to the diversity of both geography and biology hereby represented, I give you Moritasgus! the Celtic/Gaulish god associated with the Greco-Roman Apollo, often called upon by those in need of healing, and bearer of a name that means either "Great Badger" or "Sea Badger"*. I decided to just go ahead and make him a Sea Badger. (duh.)

His lady-friend's name is Damona, and the snake/hand combo is her little shout-out (based on the only remaining bits of a cult-statue of her at a healing spring shrine). I'm also particularly fond of the hand, because I basically want to be Hellboy when I grow up. No one draws like Mignola. Seriously. But sometimes, for the sake of exercise, it's fun to try! Anywhoo, my buddy Kait gets the credit for suggesting this badger-licious dude. :D

In other news, I'm getting super jealous of people who have Cintiqs/Wacom tablets. I definitely love drawing on paper, but it would be so much fun to color stuff and have it look all nice and clean! Dammit, just add "art school" to that ever-growing list of things I would do with a few extra years of life and a few (hundred) thousand more dollars. Being an autodidact is only fun to a point.

Dear artists who have no idea my blog exists: how do you learn about/how to use all of the different tools and media available? Trial and error? A really good book I don't know about? Watching livestreams of other people drawing? (that last one is, admittedly, fun, awe-inspiring, and intimidating as heck) School? Workshops? Having cool friends?? I have no idea. That's why I just doodle on the paperzz.

That being said, I have learned a lot about texture (I did an exercise that I will not force upon you) by looking at a bunch of Edward Gorey art and drawing buildings, sidewalks, badgers (heh), etc, with all the different types that I can sort of figure out how to emulate. That's been a huge help.So if you, too, are wading through teaching yourself how to improve your drawing, I highly recommend that as an exercise. Plus, who doesn't want to spend a couple hours looking at Edward Gorey drawings? Even if you're easily depressed, he drew happy cats and stuff. It's not all*** little kids getting run over by carriages.

Oh, look! See?
Edward Gorey's "Cat Aerobics"
(for those of more delicate constitutions)

Though, frankly, this is the stuff that's more my speed:

the cover to Edward Gorey's "The Other Statue"

In other, other news: Grad school stuff is all turned in (!!!) and I'm heading down to P-town tomorrow. Haircuts, Christmas, and hangin' with all my buddies are all in my near future.

*or even, perhaps, as one source suggested**, "masses of sea water"
**hopefully I am reading this correctly
***though, um, mostly

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Daily Deity #3 - Fenrir

Today's deity was suggested by Daniel:

A fab quote via wikipedia, which was part of the inspiration
"Further into the poem, the völva foretells that Odin will be consumed by Fenrir at Ragnarök."

This is a nice li'l homage to my term studying Icelandic Sagas (remarkably, most focused on the mortal, and not the godly. But that doesn't mean those ol' vikings didn't like their gods. I, myself, have an unintentional-but-all-around-snuggly love for Odin, but Fenrir is pretty hardcore. Rowling, as many of you may have already concluded, made him famous in these strange, contemporary times of ours). Fortunately, since I've had about 2/3 of a bottle of wine, he was not the hardest to draw. Three cheers for wine and wolves! 

Ain't he cute?

Grad school apps are all due tomorrow*. All of my stuff is submitted (phew), so... Wish me luck!

*except for one, which is due in March

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Daily Deity #2 - Khonvoum

Today, we have Khonvoum, the Mbuti (or Bambuti; an indigenous pygmy group from what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo) god of the hunt, in addition to being their creator. His bow is made from two snakes, which we mortals see as rainbows, and he often appears to humans as a chameleon (which is how I decided to draw him).

Again, bad picture quality. Sorry! We're tearing the house apart, trying to find our camera charger.

Other new stuff since yesterday: I got some new perfume in the mail this morning from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (aka The Only People Who Supply Me With Perfume)! They discontinued my old scent*, so I'm experimenting with something new**. Each one  comes in little 5ml. bottles, and, since they're concentrated oils, they're not gross and alcohol-y. You should check them out! Granted, I'm a little obsessed with all things olfactory, so their website is my version of an artisan chocolate shop. I spend hours drooling over their stuff. If I wasn't pretty much broke (I spent a lot this Christmas. WHOOPS), I'd have bought more than one, for sure. As it is, in a couple of months I'd like to buy a different scent for going out and the like--something a bit spicier. Then I can alternate. Man, back to the comment I made yesterday about all those PhDs I want: if I could add thirty years to my life, I would become a perfumer. Smelling things brings me a very particular, visceral joy. Like I said, some people have chocolate--but for me, nothing compares to what the nose knows: the sweet smell of decaying autumn leaves, or a hint of rose perfume that catches in the air for only a second. Mmmmm. Pitter-pat goes my heart. Consequently, having a cold is like being in hell.

Speaking of the afterlife, making people smell uniquely delicious for a living would be heavenly. Too bad it didn't occur to me that such a thing might  be an option when I was in high school, forced to think every day about THE FUTURE. Kids. Remember: there are all kinds of jobs out there. Don't let the man tell you that you need to sit in a cubicle all day.

*March Hare. It was perfect!--apricot and clove, spicy and sweet, delicious
**White Rabbit, coincidentally. And it's aptly named. The description of the scent on the website--and they write the best copy, I'm telling you--says: "strong black tea and milk with white pepper, ginger, honey and vanilla, spilled over the crisp scent of clean linen. " Something about my skin really brings out the milk and honey dimension, but it's very light and clean, too. Fluffy, one might say! Although not in a spun-sugar/cotton-candy way, thankfully. Also, I put it on about eight hours ago, and it still smells fantastic (just a hint of scent, of course--nothing crazy and overpowering). 

Daily Deity #1 - Ganesha

There are a lot of blogs out there, written by people who do really cool things. It would appear that I'm addicted to DIY and fashion blogs (have you seen 365 Lucky Days, for instance?? Holy cow.) and I have been wondering to myself if there's some kind of project I could come up with that would make me practice art every day (my otter comic would be good for this if I thought my life was more exciting and worth visual documentation, but most of my day occurs...um, in my head? I'm not quite good enough at the auto-bio comic thing just yet, and I also need a bit of diversity in my subject matter. People with webcomics don't just draw their webcomics). The added bonus of something like this: it gives me something new to procrastinate! When I have an art project to work on, I procrastinate by writing. When I have writing projects to work on, I tend to procrastinate by doing art projects. However, I've been a bit dried up on the Drawing Inspirations lately, so my writing procrastination has turned to sleeping and getting angry about politics.  I love sleeping, but the politics need to get the boot. Ergo, art project idea! 

Presenting: Deity-a-Day! In which I draw a different deity every day* and then post it on this here blog.

Why deities? Because I love them. In an alternate reality, where everyone lives to be 300 years old because of science or meditation or what have you, I have a double PhD in Folk Lore and Comparative Religions. And an MFA. THREE ADVANCED DEGREES. I'm also going to use "deity" a little loosely, because Deity-or-Mythological-Entity-a-Day just doesn't have the same ring to it, but there will probably be days when I just really want to draw a manticore** or a borametz (or, like, Saint Francis), and I gotta be allowed to embrace that.

So who's the lucky immortal being who got me thinking that this would be fun? None other than Ganesha, Hindu god of obstacles (both placing and removing), Lord of letters and learning***! 

Sorry about the slightly-blurry phone photo. He's not a huge sketch, so ripping the paper out to scan it felt silly, and our good camera needs a battery charge. But it's not so important for it to be fancy, anyway--it's just a pencil sketch that I inked over (didn't erase the pencil, which is why you can see little bits of it in places. the sketch quality looks really good on paper--adds some dimension!--but not so much in a picture like this. oh well.)

Why is he the first? Um, well, actually... I just felt like drawing him today. I like Ganesha quite a bit: he looks awesome, and he loves clever people. Once I finished drawing him, I got the idea for the project. I think it'll be pretty fun! Not only will I get to exercise my drawin' fingers, I'll get to learn all sorts of fun stuff. Of course, respect for the deities is very important to me (satire isn't really my goal, here), so no delving into Islam or any other religions that don't allow visual representations of their religious figures. That said, if you know a god/goddess/immortal being/saint/etc. with a super rad origin story, let me know. In the meantime, I'll try to find the charger for the fancy camera so the photos are better.

It's probably worth disclaiming here that I am not known for follow-through. If this project dies in six months, or a week, that's my own darn fault, and I'm sorry. I'll try not to slack off. Though I have this lovely, delusional idea that putting it out there on the internet will "make me do it", in reality, my track record for Projects I Announce Loudly to the World is pretty pathetic. Remember my Victorian Detective Mystery? It's in a coma right now. I was so good about it for so long, and then I got depressed and got distracted and got busy, and now it's just sitting here, open in my taskbar, with chapter twelve half written. Sigh. I'm not going to lie--I really hope that this art venture will prompt me to finish this chapter and get back into the story (I tried working on it today for a while, but I just can't get unstuck. Trying to acquaint myself with palmistry didn't really help. That crap is confusing). Heck, maybe admitting that I've failed will jump start me into action. Ugh. I never had this problem at work or in school. I guess the stakes are a lot lower for things I do for myself--it's not like I get paid or have real deadlines. Remarkable, isn't it, what a paycheck can inspire you to do. 

*I will only allow myself exceptions if I spend all day writing and don't get around to it. Writing always comes first, you feel me? 
**speaking of manticores, do you read Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell? Because the girls who write it are deity/folklore goddesses, and Skittles is the cutest mythical creature I have ever seen. I want a huge, framed picture of Skittles in my living room. Anyways, start at the beginning of the comic, and enjoy every minute of it.
***phrasing--"Lord of letters and learning"--from wikipedia

PS my reference for Ganesha: here

Friday, December 9, 2011

just anotter day

Listening to this is helping me perk up. I think if there ever was a sign from on high that Daniel and I were meant to be, it's that we both (due to the best childhoods ever, no doubt) know every word on this album. Tea is nice, too.

Speaking of the Muppets, the new movie--since I don't think I've mentioned it--was great!! Not enough Gonzo, though. That's my sole complaint. Gonzo is my homeboy. We're existential bros.

image from the muppet wiki

I guess I should go make some cookies or something. Yes, I will not let this meh-ness defeat me or my cookies-and-pajamas party!


We've moved on to the Muppet Treasure Island soundtrack. Suddenly, life is totally beautiful.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I don't know what you're expecting from a post at 1:30am, but this is probably it

There's a funny story in the Czuba household* involving my mother and a particularly charming malapropism (is it still technically a malapropism if she just made up a word, entirely? I'll finish the story and let you decide). My father, in particular moods--e.g. whilst experiencing flattery, great pride in the acts of his children, etc--likes to say "I'm all verklempt!" in his best Old, New York Mother fashion**. So, once, while feeling very emotional, my mom proclaimed "ahh, I'm over-kelmpt!" I hope she doesn't kill me for sharing this story; I really do find it adorable and sweet, even though we poked a bit of fun at her for it, at the time. The point of this little anecdote is that the term "over-kelpmt" has become its own Czuba Family Phrase, complete with alternate definition (instead of being generally overwhelmed with emotion, it tends to have an anxiously-overwrought flavor). Why am I telling this story? It's not to embarrass my mom. I love my mom! I would never embarrass her on the internet for no reason! It is, in fact, because I am feeling a bit over-klempt this evening, and made-up terms require a little background--unless you're Lewis Carroll, maybe. Somehow, he gets away with it.

So, why the long face, kitty cat?

Psh. Like I know.

Well, okay, maybe it's because I got to talking about craft and writers and people who consider a life of writing fiction to be the adult equivalent of Home Ec. Suddenly, my throat was a little tight and the inside corners of my eyes went a little prickly. Never a good sign; usually indicators of over-klemptness.

To side-step a little bit, I've a nice idea for the main character in my next short story. Sorry, no sharing! You know how these things are--one minute, you share a character idea with the internet, the next, someone with a generic name and penchant for stealing has published a steaming lump of poop with a horrible, mangled version of your character as the lead (hardly recognizable, but close enough that agents and publishers think you're biting THEIR style. Then you spend the next seventy-five years growing a beard and living in a secluded Vermont cabin, afraid of the CIA, writing a masterpiece that won't see the light of day until they find it hidden in a safe--which they were led to by a series of posthumous clues recorded on cassette tapes--twenty years after you die). Not that I think about this often.***

Back to my previous-paragraph point: new short story character idea! No "inciting incident" or interesting plot or even setting ideas yet, though, so that's a bit of a hang-up. Some may claim to give birth to ideas fully-formed, but I am not one of those bless'ed few. However, after so many weeks of editing my portfolio stories for grad school and worrying that I will never have another good story idea again, it feels really nice to have that little seed putting down roots in my brain. Little victories! I have to remind myself of the tiny goodnesses, because the roadblocks can seem insurmountable at times. Times like tonight, in fact, when my emotions get all woobly and I can't figure out (a) what I'm doing or (b) why other people are allowed to do it poorly. I have high standards, and I think folks should find it complimentary that I hold their work to the same as I hold my own. Unfortunately, it means a lot of daily frustration.

Why am I sharing this? A few reasons. First, I am notoriously unable to stay on-topic in auto-bio settings. How can I stay on topic? My brain is constantly zoomin' all over the place like a bumble-bee on uppers****. So, basically, I share whatever nonsense pops onto the blog page. SECOND, I like to think that, if by some fluke I become the kind of author that some other young lady or gent finds nifty, they can look at this here blog and know, without a moment's hesitation, that I'm just a regular ol' person. That's probably an odd manifestation of vanity, right there, but it's a nice idea. I wish all of my favorite authors had blogs I could read, wherein they kvetch about the lame day they had, or praise the heavens for some new idea. I like to see people who fumble around life a little, and then emerge victorious. It brings me hope and encouragement, perhaps in part because being a nobody-aspiring-author in Seattle is very lonely business. Journals are fun to read, you know? And blogs, though they may not always be as revealing and mysterious as a private journal, have this sweet perk of being open and available in the present tense. You don't have to wait for me to die to read this (because NO ONE IS READING MY JOURNALS UNTIL I HAVE BEEN DEAD FOR 100 YEARS. Thanks, Twain, for blazing that trail) and, likewise, I don't have to wait fifty years to read about Dan's travels through India, or Stacy's move home, or Kait's love of liminal spaces (which convinced me, in four words, that we are kindred spirits). So, yeah, my mood is not very eloquent this evening and is tangential enough to give a math teacher a headache, but it's honest, and it's immediate, and it's free. It's my gift to myself, and to anyone who wants it.

Voilà! Catharsis.

*ha! as if there was only one... hilarious.
**my dad knows a lot of Yiddish terms for some reason. He can also swear a little bit in Farsi. A man of many mysterious talents, my papa. 
***translation: I am paranoid about plagiarism. Really. 
****trying to get to sleep is the ABSOLUTE WORST. that's when my subconscious decides that it's time to think about death for hours. literally, hours. conveniently, the only time my brain does not flip out is when I'm writing fiction or drawing comics. I'm hella zen when I'm in the zone. TGI The Zone!

pimpin' my Porkwa!

One of my best buddies--L.--made the most amazing portrait of me. She uses pastels and genius to make her artworks, and you can even commission her to make one of you (or your loved one, or pet, etc)! This is her website: http://www.porkwaportraits.com/index.html 

There are a butt-ton of things in life that I love, and two of them are (1) L. and (2) supporting artists (writers, painters, embroiderers, cartographers, etc). I am also slightly vain*. When I saw what she made, my brain exploded. This is what it looks like:

I don't know if I'm even that good-looking in real life. Man. I love it. I love L. I love everything! Check her out, because her work will make you fill up with optimism and fuzzy feelings--like Ecstasy**, but safe and legal. 

*some days more than others. but who isn't, really? be honest--it's okay to love yourself a little bit. in fact, it's healthy.
**since I've never done E, this is based on satirical representation and hearsay. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oh, the odd places I look for comfort

At this point, you are all well aware that I am applying to grad schools. The number of hours spent on research, applications, and crying measures into the millions*--so what happens when I get back a bunch of rejections? Or if, for some reason, moving is suddenly not an option? Things like this happen. I'm primarily concerned about the first of those two, that dreaded "R" word. How does one steel herself against the pain that comes with that word, the sentiment that clearly reads "you are not good enough, we do not want you"? I'm already setting myself up for a lifetime of this feeling, so I can't say I'm particularly thrilled about the idea of schools--which I would be attending in order to improve myself--turning their backs on me as well. There are two things I have done to protect my pride:

1. Gave it my damnedest effort.
2. Made a list.**

The first needs no explanation (I should hope). The second probably does, so here goes:

I have a pretty sizable personal library at this point. If I were to estimate how much of my office-job paychecks went to building it, my brain might explode. Even while living in poverty (the kind where I could only afford to feed myself once a day because my rent was too high and I refused to take out loans for school), I could always scrounge up a few dollars for a trip to Powell's. Anywho, you'd assume my collection is mostly novels, but not so! While I do own 100+ novels, the other 350+ range from poetry to history to philosophy to comics to all my old childhood books about dinosaurs. Novels are the kind of thing that I used to take full advantage of via the library, and it wasn't really until college that I began my collection; a carefully curated one, at that, because I squirm at the very idea of people looking at my shelves and assuming that I like something that I don't. I am incredibly picky about fiction, and I don't mind admitting it. (Brag, brag, brag, it smells of rich mahogany, etc.)

I often wonder about the lives of all those authors. I'm relatively acquainted with little bits of trivia about them, but I had no idea who had degrees in what. Is an MFA my only chance to be great? I fretted.

Well, probably not. Nabokov wanted to study butterflies, and Kerouac was a drop out--I knew that much. What about the others, though? What an interesting opportunity for [non-scientific] experiment!

With this in mind, I decided to look up all of the authors on my novel shelf (with exceptions I will express in a moment) in order to see which ones held/hold advanced degrees in creative writing, and which do not. As I said, since this bit of my collection is only about 100 books deep with repeat authors (most important to my study: all authors whom I admire), it was a pretty manageable task.

The Guidelines:
To count in the "MFA (or Equivalent)" category, the author must have either an MFA, MA, or PhD in creative writing (specifically fiction) or literature. Journalism was not counted. The "No MFA" category contains everything from MAs in anthropology and PhDs in Law to having dropped out of school at 15. Authors were then weighted for a second count based on number of books by them that I own. Additionally, I believe Huxley was the oldest writer I included (b. 1894), so no Dickens, Collins, or Stevenson, etc. (MFAs are fairly new, and I don't know how popular literature degrees were before 1900--I wanted to play it safe and even out the competition a bit.) For research, I primarily used Wikipedia--though I did have to dig around the internet a bit for a few authors.

The point of this was originally just to satisfy my curiosity, but it has become more of a metaphorical "blankie" whose information I could use to assuage my spirits if The Nasty Ol' R decides to visit my house.

So what was the outcome? Well, of the 84 books (52 authors) included in my [non-scientific] study, 18 authors had an MFA or Equivalent, and 34 did not. The weighted scores are a bit more striking, however, with only two books added to the MFA-ers (end count: 20) and twenty-nine added to the non-MFAers (end count: 64). Though my initial reaction to this was rather, ah, negative***, after a deep breath or two I realized that this means something fantastic: First, an MFA is hardly a detriment; it will definitely help with networking and feedback-getting. The great bit, though, is the reminder that an MFA is not necessary. If a fancy school doesn't want me, it's not a death sentence. Far from it. Sure, it might take a bit more time for me to become amazing, but William Giraldi made an excellent observation in his Poets & Writers interview (one that I return to time and time again): "There's obscene pressure on writers to be the next hot young thing, as if literature were a modeling agency. But let's be honest: Most hot young things have nothing of value to say, and how could they? They haven't read enough. It took me twenty-five years of reading and twelve years of practice to produce a book worthy of being in the world."  (Yet another reason to read Busy Monsters by Mr. Giraldi. Dude is a serious pro.)

Well, there you have it, folks. Being great has very little to do with a college degree, and very much to do with your individual ability to kick ass (though being an autodidact certainly doesn't hurt). Makes you kind of hopeful, doesn't it?

[photo by me, of a section of my bookshelf]

*barely an exaggeration
**I know. You're totally surprised. Me? Making a list? How unusual!
***my original--notably irrational--thought-jump after seeing these results was "Why the #### am I applying for MFAs??"

Friday, November 18, 2011

you can guess what is to blame


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

more otter comics

If you can't tell which one is me, then we have probably never met. Nice to meet you: I'm the otter with freckles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

back to business

We're back stateside, y'all. Have I already said that? I don't remember. This past week (almost a week?) has been a blur of Welcome Back!'s and sad goodbyes and lots of jet-lagged drinking and living room re-organizing and angry throwing of to-do lists. SO MANY THINGS.

Daniel is going to blog, some time this week or next, with the last bits of our trip. I have other things to talk about! Like this:

1. I miss already superduper miss Stacy and Jon, who moved back to California this past weekend. Stacy (who writes this blog) and I have serious lady bromance (is there a better term for that yet? I'm too tired to be clever and think one up--and "homance" just won't cut it), and it makes me shed a million tears to know she's not a few blocks away from me anymore. But this gives me further incentive to travel, and she'll be back for business trips. Thank freaking goodness. This little consolation is the reason I haven't spent every minute crying on the floor with tissues shoved up my nose and a blanket thrown over my head.

2. Daniel and I, being a two-person decorating machine, made our living room look effin' rad yesterday. Daniel helped with the light-hanging in the "whimsy"-corner, and he held the floating box shelves in place while I nailed them. He's very helpful. I will keep him, I think. But enough nonsense, HERE ARE PICTURES:

well-organized corner

oooh, compartments! and my typewriter, Charlemagne

whimsy corner

I acknowledge that we still need some color in the Corner of Whimsy, and that the lighting was not perfect (but how could I show off the star lights if I took the pictures during the day? that's right--not possible), buuuuut our house looks pretty great, even (especially?) at night. Just sayin'. A clean house is good for productivity, too! Now that there's room on the writing desk, Daniel and I can both work at tables (writing desk was previously covered in all the stuff you see in those shelves, plus a bunch of other crap. not the best for working on). Having said that, I will not discuss the state of our kitchen at this time.

3. Grad school aaaaaapps! I've submitted the online bits for the first of five! I still have to buy printer paper and envelopes for supplemental materials, but my portfolio is also done (two pieces! woot!), as are my general statement of purpose (still have to make the specific ones, but hopefully that won't take me more than a couple of days) and CV. Though I am not foolish enough to state (let alone allow myself to think) that an end is in sight, I am all about celebrating this victory. Champagne tonight! Both for application successes and because...

4. Daniel and I are celebrating two years of joint awesomeness today! Two years is kind of a low-key milestone, so we're just going to drink champagne and maybe hold a meeting of the Inventing Club (as we do). There will be high-fives all through dinner in honor of this chill occasion (and because we've been working our butts off on those applications. people who survive applying to grad school deserve high fives AND free physical therapy to treat all the side-effects of perma-hunching--over books and computers and an assortment of indecipherable materials).

Well, that's about it. I think? Yep. Most of it, at least.

As a Post Script, here's a weird fruit I ate the other day! It looks like an eyeball.

Yum, right?

.peace out.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


And if, for some insane reason, you do them within five minutes of each other, you will most definitely experience a full-blown existential crisis.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Peacocks and "Sparkling Elderflower Drink"

Hey all. Yesterday was a nice break from losing my mind over these applications (why is a personal statement really necessary?)--instead of working, which I probably should have done, I made a Halloween costume. Speaking of: Happy All Saints! And Happy Day-Before-Dia-de-los-Muertos! This is my favorite three-day stretch in the calendar, bar none. Go ahead, make assumptions about my character (you're probably right). Anyway, back to my story: I made a peacock costume using (a) clothes that are part of my limited, travel wardrobe, (b) tape, and (c) post-its that I found in the flat. The whole thing cost me 99 pence (the cost of tape from the Grog Shop across the street). Though it was no Wolverine--I totally outdid myself last year--it ended up being preeeeetty awesome. Sure, I was the only person dressed up at Daniel's office party, but whatever. I'm comfortable with this.

So here's how you make The Cheapest Costume Ever (Peacock used for this example):

First, assess the situation. What can you utilize? At home, you have endless resources: construction paper, paint, hair products, a closet full of crap, floss, etc. Use these things. If you're in a hotel (or short-let flat), your resources are further limited to: the clothes you brought, corn flakes, lamp shades, the occasional cooking implement, etc. I was lucky: I have blue hair, so the peacock comparison is already there, PLUS, I found those multi-colored post-it notes.

You can make two feathers from one square post-it. Basically, draw an S diagonally from corner to adjacent corner. Cut them out, and round out the remaining corner.

I had three colors available to me: blue and green (barely a shade apart, which was perfect) and pink. Each pink square made about four ovals for the middle bits. As you can see, I added some feathery details to the blues and greens. For the black feathery middles, draw a rough, upside-down heart. Then use a marker in upward strokes starting from the base to get a nice, varied texture. (I have a few drawing things with me, so I used a bold Faber-Castell artist pen).

Then, tape (or glue, if you have it--they didn't have glue sticks at the corner store) the pink middles to the base feathers.

Arrange them into a nice, tail-y shape!

Though the initial assembly was pretty time-consuming, it was super easy. The most difficult part (and it wasn't really that bad) was going from the un-taped tail shape to the final, taped one. This is the pile of loose-but-arranged feathers:

This is how I got them to stick together and, subsequently, stick to me: I made a T shape from thin cardboard (the sort used to make cereal boxes, etc) and began with the top feather. I then slid each layer of feathers underneath the previous, one by one, taping each feather into place (on the back--it was definitely slow, tedious work) as I went. The T slid nicely into the belt loops on my skirt, but wouldn't stay without a little extra help. I had a black belt with me, so I slid that over the top and it worked like a charm.

Finally, wear a lot of blue and use some eyeshadow to make yourself extra mysterious/bird-like.

"Okay," you're thinking. "That's cool and whatever, but what is that 'Sparkling Elderflower Drink' you mentioned in the title? That actually sounds interesting."

Sparkling Elderflower Drink is a phenomenon that I have encountered in every shop, from the co-op to the corner store. I bought this at the Grog Shop. It's delicious, and pretty, and I'm going to buy more to bring home with me:

First, I'm a sucker for things that look pretty, and also compliment me. More importantly, I love the light, floral flavor of elderflower. This drink is fairly soda-like, but not overly sweet or at all syrupy--in the same vein as those Dry sodas that are really popular right now, except it's delicious on its own*. There's also a lot of elderflower cordial, but I don't know how to drink that properly. All those Redwall books I read as a kid (and Mary Poppins, too!) left me under the impression that it was a kind of digestif, but the labels gracing the bottles suggest it's a liqueur only meant for mixing into other things. Imagine my dismay! I was pretty dismayed. Oh well. Plenty of time for learning about cordial after my grad applications are done.

Speaking of THAT nonsense: my list of schools has risen from four to the final count of six, which is pretty exciting (Mills and Pacific--the Pacific in Oregon--are the two newbies). Means yet more paperwork for me, sadly, but it's nice to have both a Low-Residency and a Bay Area school, just in case. The conjoined future of Daniel and I is full of mystery right now--where will we be in a year? We have absolutely no idea. Sometimes this air of the unknown is exciting, and sometimes it gives me a headache.

I'll have Daniel post about more of his adventures soon! He took a bunch of pictures of our temporary 'hood and his normal walk from here to FHI, which will be pretty fun to share with y'all.

I'm off to go eat some dubious English Chinese food, so, in the immortal words of Levar Burton: I'll see you next time.

*Pro tip: do not drink the Dry cucumber soda on its own. It is not delicious. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I've had a lot of time to introspect

There are a few things that have been taking up a lot of my brain-space lately; not the least of which are grad school applications but let's ignore that one, because it's about incessant in its pestering as the fly that seems to have teleported into your kitchen and keeps head-butting the closed window. Let's list, since I do love a good list, and then expound upon those that require expounding afterwards.

-Busy Monsters, the debut novel by William Giraldi
-short story revision
-the Occupy movement
-what makes a person "brave"?

1. To start with, we have the novel I finished reading last week (I know, I'm slow/preoccupied): Busy Monsters. I basically refuse to give a plot summary (I'd bung it up), but know that it's great. Giraldi has written a novel that made me laugh aloud at LEAST every other page without once sacrificing character, plot, or overall complexity in general. The intelligence of the work is subtle and astounding; every time you realize what's happening with the layers, and the asides, and the off-handed snark, (and, and, and!...) it's a little revelation. Plus, it's the sort of book you just rip through. It was my ideal vacation book: equivalent to most people's latest Dan Brown read, except it was legitimately good. Really difficult to describe, but I can't rave about it loudly enough. That being said, I probably wouldn't recommend it to everyone. Like anything funny, the audience is a bit slimmed based on individual sense of humor. It's dry and smart, with occasional bits of the vulgar. The main character/narrator, Charles Homar ("memoirist of mediocre fame"), is not always likable, but he is remarkably human in those particular moments. And his fiance is obsessed with giant squid!

It's just amazingly fantastic--which was a pleasant surprise, because I've grown to be unapologetically skeptical of contemporary writing in my old age. (Add to this: William Girladi is hella smart. I love reading interviews with this man. If you can get your hands on the interview in Poets & Writers magazine from a few months back, I highly suggest doing so.)

I'll just share the first sentence with you, and you can decide if it's maybe your thing (if you're still on the fence after, I'd say go for it. If the first sentence sounds hokey to you, I'd say: still go for it. But if it's an instant turn off--which it might be--then I probably wouldn't try to slog through it. Might get a bit uncomfortable):

"Stunned by love and some would say stupid from too much sex, I decided I had to drive down South to kill a man."

And it gets so much better from there.

2. Revision is not pleasant. People, this is why you hear successful authors talk about how editing is the "real work". It's particularly true when the story is too emotionally close to you and you'd rather throw it in a drawer, prompting it to acquire that nice, musky-drawer scent for a few years, than try to confront whatever issues you have with it. Unfortunately, I need it for grad school applications. I've only got two short stories (can't use excerpts) that combine to meet portfolio length requirements, and one of them is this stupid devil that I've hated looking at since I wrote it. Apparently, it's not bad (okay, Daniel even said he likes it), but I personally think I need distance from it. Sadly, distance shan't be afforded. Alas, earwax. (There's no real conclusion here. Only angst.)

3. I think the Occupy movement is incredibly important right now, no matter where it ends up leading. I'm not going to subject anyone to a political monologue here*, but I do recommend reading some of The Guardian's articles about it and taking a look at a few Twitter trending topics (#OccuptWallSt, #OWS, etc). I've found that many people I know are uninformed, due largely to the shoddy job of US news sources in covering the goings-on. The Guardian is a UK news source, and it would appear that one-step removal has kept them in the business of covering news and not making things up. Daniel will tell you that this whole thing has me incredibly fired up. I'm trying not to lose sleep over it, but that's becoming increasingly difficult.

4. Bravery. I'll struggle with this last one forever, I think. No need to dig deeper on it. I bet most people can relate to the feeling.

*If you're desperate for my opinion, this is how I described it to someone about a week ago:
"People are not asking for a collapse of capitalism, but for a close in the disparity gap. The distribution of wealth in this country--and globally--is absurd (ex: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth#In_the_United_States), as is political corruption. Just as it was once suggested that Church and State be separated, it should now be emphasized that Wealth and State be separated. Otherwise, (for example) voting the corrupt out of office will be impossible; in order to successfully run for office, you need millions of dollars (either your own, or from wealthy backers, thus perpetuating the cycle of favoring the wealthy). It has nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with equality. The problem is not that There Is A Middle Class, but that the middle class is dying--leaving a very small percent among the wealthy, and a growing population of the under-served working class."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oxford: Week 1

(or, Another Daniel Guest-Blog)

Oxford! We've been here for 1 week, today. Almost exactly, actually-- I'm writing this at 5:40, and we got in at 6:40 last Sunday, so! An hour less than a week in Oxford.

For me, this week has been very busy, in a good way. The morning after we arrived, I walked down to the Future of Humanity Institute's office fairly early, arriving at about 9. Turns out that's too early to start saving the world, and most FHI people didn't show up until later (a few of them work late into the night most nights). That was fine, though; the walk was good, and it was nice to get acquainted with the office before things got too hectic.

I sit at a desk in the common area of the office. Behind me is the meeting and break area, which has a table, chairs, couches, and the all-important whiteboard. The great perks of sitting in this area are that 1) I see everyone semi-regularly when they emerge from writing to get tea or food, and 2) I can eavesdrop and crash the interesting discussions that people have during their breaks. For the first couple of days, I spent so much time discussing that I hardly had time to do any computer work-- as a metric, I didn't need to recharge my laptop until day three.

Stuart, the FHI's newest Research Fellow, has been my most consistent co-conspirator so far. He's been very helpful in getting me looped into the work that's already going on there, and we share a strong interest in friendly AI theory. Another visitor, Owain (who is unfortunately leaving on Monday), has also been central to my experience so far. The three of us have spent about half of each day working through our ideas for human-friendly motivational systems on the whiteboard. I have a couple of great new ideas for projects to work on, and these have arisen largely from the whiteboard sessions.

I've also had a lot of good chances to talk with Professor Bostrom, the director of the FHI. He generates good ideas and finds flaws in proposals extremely quickly, and he's been instrumental in pushing forward our ideas about how to teach AIs what to value. I've also been discussing grad school ideas with him, and as a result am significantly more inclined to pursue a computer science Ph.D than I was a week ago.

Other fun folks I've met are Sean (project manager), Toby (ethicist), Anders (fellow), Eric Drexler (invented nanotechnology! famous people bingo, check!), and a neuroethicist and a moral egoist whose names escape me at the moment. In short, it's fun to be at a school again, just in terms of meeting people.

I'll have more to say about work, I think, and I'll need to take pictures of the office, but that's good enough for now.

This weekend, it's been nice to be able to spend more time with Killian and poke around Oxford. Yesterday, we saw Midnight in Paris (not world-changing, but very enjoyable, and it's short). I also bought a box of "Teatime Varieties Great Value 85 Biscuits":

Today, we walked for a few minutes from our flat, over the canal (the Thames, though it's known as the Isis in Oxford), and into Port Meadow, a common grazing area and park. Pretty! Afterward, we also visited St. Sepulchre's graveyard and Worcester College.

As always, more photos and things to come. Halfway done with the trip!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Picture Picture

Ok. Want to see ALL OF THE PHOTOS thusfar?


This here should provide you with The Full Vicarious Edinburgh Experience, and includes at least five pictures of Catherine's cat.

I realize that we fail in The Capturing of Oxford On Film (or...pixels?), but since the weekend is right before us, that will be changing! I think this link should still be good as we add more pictures, so check it again on Monday for some new ones (there will probably--hopefully--be a nice new blog post, too, so I'll be sure to remind you).

As for the events of today, I bought a headband half-price at Topshop, which was peachy, and then two barrettes from a little boutique in Jericho. I also had a pint (with lunch!) at a place called, fantastically, Jude the Obscure. Sadly, JtO was a little bit weird with the customer service. I realize bartenders have to be on the lookout for riffraff and can't always be in the best mood, but I'm starting to get mentally worn out by all of the patronizing behavior. It wasn't horrible, and we've only been out to a couple of places since getting into Oxford, but the servers in Edinburgh were waaaaaaaaaay nicer. Here, they look at me like I'm an idiot. Which, you know, is why I hated a large number of Portland establishments. So that's what I'll have to work on--finding a nice place with nice people where I can write/read/doodle and not feel like I'm The World's Greatest Inconvenience.

However, while lunching I did finish editing one of the short stories for my portfolio! (Well, on paper. Working on fixing the Word doc right now, actually). Now I just need to figure out a good title, after which I can move on to: editing Story No. 2,  and drafting both a CV and the dreaded "personal statement". This weekend, in fact, is both Daniel's and my Grad School Application Weekend, in which we stop procrastinating and (begrudgingly) get some work done. Very exciting. ...yep.

Alright. Back to that editing I was just telling you all about. Now go look at some pictures! :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oxford! or: I Have No Idea How Long We've Been Here

My computer tells me that it's Wednesday. That hardly seems possible. Monday and Tuesday each lasted about an entire year. Last night, I thought it was Thursday night. Yep. Good times.

We don't have any pictures yet--except for one of a snail we found in our flat (he was very cute)--so I will just tell you about the past few days, and you can expect pictures of the city this weekend.*

Monday was a day of adjustment. Daniel was out at dinner meeting until fairly late, so I did the following things: I walked around the neighborhood, found a canal, left the canal quickly (I think the stretch of it near us is the sketchy part of town), went to two little neighborhood markets, got all caught up on Occupy Wall Street news, and must have done some other stuff I don't remember. Yesterday, I had tea in a cafe because our power was out (and then I read there for two hours), listened to last week's "Wait, Wait" + a few other podcasts, and drew some pictures I ended up quite liking.

Today, I walked about half-way to FHI with Daniel, then bought groceries at the co-op (not the cheapest thing ever, but their pre-packaged spices--they sell nothing in bulk here, gah--are waaaaay cheaper than back home. I will refrain from making a joke about the East India Company, because that's possibly rude), listened to This American Life until the internet pooped out (which it does a couple of times a day in this flat), took a nap, and here I am! Very exciting, right? Haha. Well, it's actually been a pretty good couple of days. Daniel is getting lauds from his peers all over the place, and I'm enjoying both the walks I've been taking and the book I've been reading (Busy Monsters. It's...amazing. I'll delve into more detail on that once I've finished it). The city really is outstandingly beautiful.

Also, these are pretty hilarious:

photo by Lee Nachtigal,
via funnypicturesfunnypics.com
Ok, so now for some logistical info, in case you want to use the magic of Google to check out the 'hood until I can get some good pictures this weekend:

We're staying just a couple of blocks outside the Jericho neighborhood. It's pretty hoppin', and not a far walk from downtown, the train station, all of the university buildings, etc. Our current plan for the weekend is (a) to go see Midnight in Paris at the Phoenix Picturehouse and (b) to check out The Old Bookbinders. Daniel got some tips on how to drink whisk(e)y--and suggestions about which kinds are super delish--from a wonderful guy named Andrew who is part of Catherine's New College posse back in Scotland; The Old Bookbinders has one of the less-widely-available ones. We haven't been to a bunch of pubs on this trip (surprising, right? I think it's because we're here for so long and have to buy groceries. Going out every night would be nuts) so I'm trying to find some really good ones to check out on our down days. I still need to go to the Eagle and Child one of these afternoons, but something about the hallowed place that is Tolkein and Lewis' old stomping grounds makes me jumpy. Sure, any ol' tourist could go there and find it charming, but for an aspiring novelist? Places like that have special powers; visiting requires mental and spiritual preparation. Maybe I should go to confession first. Haha.

There you have it. An update. Mostly for my dad, because he's very demanding about wanting the updates. (Love you, papa)

The only other thing is that I miss everybody a bunch. I do, I do. A whole bunch.

Here's that cute snail I told you about.

photo by daniel

over and out.

*Since Daniel spends most of the day at FHI (from, like, 10 to 7), and taking pictures with no people in them is  not the most exciting, weekends will probably become picture days. Unless I do something REALLY EXCITING. But, ahem, that's rather unlikely.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sort-of-Last Day in Edinburgh, and Trains to Oxford (Or: Days 5 & 6)

The first leg of our trip is officially done. Yesterday was our final big day of touristing through Edinburgh's city center (we'll have a few more days up there at the end of our trip before we fly back, but we wanted to see most of the big stuff during this first go-around) and today we spent almost seven hours riding/nearly-missing/catching trains. We should have had twenty minutes to make our final connection in Sheffield, but our previous train left eight minutes late. Daniel wins 10 points for putting up with my panic. Fortunately, all of that platform navigating is (for the next few weeks, at least) done, and we are settling in to our flat in Oxford, which is where we will be hangin' out for the next few weeks. But let's jump back to yesterday for some re-capping and a few pictures:

First, we walked to Leith and checked out an awesome used book store called McNaughton's*. When I say "used book store", I don't mean by West Coast standards. Instead, imagine the Rare Books section of the Pearl Room at Powell's: that's what I mean. Only, it's in a small, sub-street-level shop with one girl at the counter (reading, naturally) and all of the books are just there for the perusing. It's strange to be in a part of the world where they just have old books lying around. The U.S.--the Pacific NW, in particular--is such a new little baby when it comes to all things not-geo/ecological. A cute baby, but still a baby. 

Sadly, the only picture of the bookstore is rather poor quality, and I'm too lazy to get it off of my phone. I do, however, have pictures of my lunch from Cafe Marlayne: 

pretty pretty cafe (and pretty daniel, too)

they called it "boudin noir" on the menu. tricky tricky.
(the infamous--delicious!--black pudding)

haddock with a poached egg, hollandaise, and spinach
Daniel and Catherine got sandwiches, but I looked at the menu and picked the two things I knew I had never tried before. It was the richest meal I've had, possibly ever; I couldn't even finish the haddock, despite its being spectacular (and fish is the one thing I'm really picky about). And it was only £10 for this two-course lunch--side of beans, broccoli, and potatoes included! Totally sold. Cafe Marlayne. If you're in Edinburgh, go there. Apparently they also have a full restaurant, which Catherine says is The Amazingest**.

Calton Hill was after lunch. Check out that view, man.

After this was window shopping, tea, and the bus ride home. We were going to go out, but then we decided to nap and eat leftovers instead. 

This morning, we caught our first of three trains at 10am, with only a little confusion about how the tickets worked. This is what the Scottish countryside looked like today:

Yep. Sixty degrees and sunny. The walk from the train station to our flat was just lovely. 

Oh, and I am going to add that an 80ct package of PG Tips only costs £2.75 at the corner store half a block away. Even with the conversion rate, that's so friggin' cheap. Most things may cost a bajillion dollars here, but at least my tea habit will be well sated. Aaaand the corner store is called the Grog Shop. They basically sell milk, tea, sugar, and booze. Good times.

More to come soon!

*Coincidentally, this is my family's Scottish name on my mom's mom's side.
**I'm paraphrasing