Mar 31 2006

Para Graph

Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend for online articles, be it mainstream news, weblogs, instructional articles, or whatever other bilge is available: current articles contain a preponderance of one sentence paragraphs. Not only one-sentence paragraphs, but single sentences. Yes, Thomas Mann created masterpieces of one-sentence paragraphs, but those were so fluid and beautifully complicated they don’t even compare.

Now, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that writing is not my forte (these small vignettes may be the only thing I write that work to some small degree), and I’m by no means in the running for grammar king, but I can’t begin to understand how such stilted narratives don’t grate on the authors’ collectives noggins. Throw in a comma, somwhere! (Then again, I abuse puncuation.) But let the prose rumble forward like a wave; imbue some variation and dynamics!

Do people not re-read their tripe at least once, say, to feel the flow of the text or to see if their idea is reasonably expressed? Or is it indicative of this accelerated producer-consumer culture? “Don’t worry about that literary vomit, the crowds will have moved on tomorrow.” Since sentences in a paragraph should be related to the development of an idea, and paragraph breaks should be used to separate different developments, digressions, expressions, evolutions, concepts, or perhaps to just provide visual cues for ease of reading extended narratives, are these authors indicating that each utterance is so damn accurate and succinct that it encapsulates an entire concept, introduction, development, and conclusion, in one gem of an atom? Or is it that there is so little content that we’re performing the collegiate equivalent of expanding our word processor’s margins? Or perhaps there was no cohesion to the piece in the first place?

Take this excerpt from NBC newswire, the complete text of which has a grand total of 9 sentences and no quotation to force paragraph breaks:

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill that authorizes the death penalty for twice-convicted child rapists.

The proposal approved Tuesday still needs a final reading before going on to the House.

It would authorize prosecutors to seek capital punishment for any sex offender convicted twice of raping children younger than 11.

The plan is part of a larger bill that would set minimum sentences for sex offenders and require lifetime electronic monitoring for some of them.

Then again, perhaps this has been occuring longer than I’ve been aware, and it’s just my focus on fluidity in my martial arts that brings it to the forefront. If that’s the case, bueno, as recognition of the problem is the first step to remediation. ‘Cause reading that makes my brain hurtz.


Mar 21 2006

Perspective

I’d just finished my Japanese final and trudged on down to the Pub to relax for a few. I was greeted by a friend of mine who’d just come off a long few weeks of work punctuated by an otherwise enjoyable weekend with a female acquaintance. Somewhere through the evening he related a story regarding an indictment posed as a theorem, that crux being that people who work in the hospitality industry, as he does, may be lacking something that they’re trying to make up for in their work life, that there’s something they’ve missed out on and feel compelled to compensate for.

I passionately disagreed, at least as far the generalization goes. Why assume that there’s something missing? Where is the benefit of the doubt, where is the yum? I told him as much, and went so far as to assert that, “It’s the completely wrong way of looking at it.”

“Are we so perfect or complacent to believe that we are ‘all that we could be,’ as the Army likes to say? Does one actually believe that we’ve achieved the pinnacle of perfection and omniscience? Don’t we still have lifetimes of interactions to experience, each one of which will inform us, positive or negative, of our relationships in this world?”

“You particularly, being in the hospitality industry, are privy to more expressions of humanity and individuality than just about any other field. Would it not be a monument of ego to presume that we have it all? Are we never to old or inexperienced to learn something new? It’s not ‘what am I missing?’ rather, it’s ‘what can I add?’ Not, ‘what completes me,’ but ‘what enlightens me?’. What pushes me, what forces me to re-examine myself and others? What can I gain, and out of that, what can I pass on to others? How can I affect others as they’ve affected me?”

Midway through my diatribe, I realized I was answering both the statement addressed to him as well as elucidating and refining my answer to a question asked of me a long while ago: “What drives a man to train so hard, what is missing from his character?” My initial response is nothing, nothing is missing, nothing is a deficit, it is part of who I am. And while I believe there’s still truth to this answer, clarification presented itself: be it nature or nurture or both, there is a part of me that does not want to assume I’ve reached perfection. To make that assumption refutes the very assumption. As my old Sifu in Phoenix said once, “If you’ve met your own expectations, they’re probably not high enough.”

To assume that there’s nothing left to learn presumes godliness. I am not a god. I am not a master. I am just someone walking a path. Everyone, no matter who, can teach me something nontrivial. A sapling is not ‘incomplete’ or ‘missing’ something because it isn’t yet a towering redwood, but it will continue to grow and encompass so much more than it is right now.

My recognition of this isomorphism continued tangential to another memory: I had just filmed some techniques for my Sensei, and the person filming asked me, “Would you like to film again?”

“No. I believe it accurately presents my theme and the techniques, which is the point of this exercise.”

“Is it perfect?”

“Of course not.”

“If it’s not perfect, why don’t you want to film it again?”

“Because it will never be perfect. I will always be learning and improving. This does not end here. When I can no longer improve, I will be dead.”

“If this is your only chance to film this, would you be satisfied?”

“I already answered your question, so now I’ll answer a question larger than you’re currently asking. Your question was, ‘Am I satisfied with this rendition?’ And I say, ‘Yes, it is the best I have tonight.’ But now I’m answering the question, ‘Am I satisfied my evolution?’, and my answer is ‘No, God no, and I hope that never changes.’”


Mar 18 2006

Cram

Straight out of martial arts class to Airport Lounge for the open call for models for the next shoot. Indirectly flirting with gogo dancers, they’re models and model managers and fashion show organizers, and hot damn they may need another photog. Trade cards, wear the business face, polite goodbye and it’s down the the Pub to pick up a copy of CityBeat to check out the print version. In and out, one beer, hi’s and bye’s and congrats and back home and asleep somewhere between door and bed.

Wake up, two snooze buttons followed by brief meditation and Grand Pillars. Relish the moments of stillness. In the shower, back out, 95mph all the way to work. Slam through the workday, add in AES CTR mode support, grab a burrito and mark up the chapter about Germany. Back into work, push metric shit-tons of data through the new chip, back out at 5:30pm. Down to Korova as fast as traffic will take me, study Japanese for a several hours. Omoshiroii. Shite. Yasashikunai. Overhear a patron discussing the curation of a show, slide on the business mask. Not looking for photogs for the next show, fuck, switch gears and pimp a friend of mine who’d fit the theme. Trade cards, back to Japanese, interrupted a half our later saying she loves my composition and wants me in the next photo show when it rolls around. “Did you know the difference between ‘husband’ and ‘prisoner’ in Japanese is the extension of a single vowel sound?”

U-turn to the market, grab the last six of Harp and trot over to Ted’s. Potcheen and Harp, hanging with some friends I haven’t seen in a while. Excuse myself to meet up with G—— late night, abridged, opting out of 4th and B, citing training and a final as reasons. Quick kiss and I’m off home. Bread, cheese, and a multi-vitamin before bed to keep the rumbles down.

Pop out of bed early for a Saturday, jaunt to the park for some training; sweat and salt and sore muscles. Return home – uchi ni kaerimasu, that’s the phrase I’m looking for – shower and find whatever Japanese I can: kutsu, kagi, and an aoi shirt. I plunk my damaged jacket down at the leather shop for a repair – a long story that shouldn’t and probably won’t ever be told – and sit at the counter for asa-gohan. Scrambled eggs and bacon and kohii, kohii and more coffee, pouring over Ireland and multiplexing in katakana.

Down the street to Korova, unleashing the entirety of my backpack to the floor and table. Several hours of Japanese, a business call, two friendly calls. Reassurance from Lance I’ll do just fine on my black belt test. Fuck, more training, must train tonight, tomorrow, I need to bleed the art. “It’s not a black belt test if someone doesn’t go to the hospital.” “I’m just hoping it’s someone else.” Back inside, a cute girl next to me, sporadic conversation and numbers traded before her departure. Hmm, cute, cool, world-wise, liberal … and back to Japanese, finding saturation, forced to shift again, back to Europe. Add Bucharest and Budapest to the list. Download the exchange rates and average temperatures, plug them into the spreadsheet.

“You’re fucking crazy.”

“Why?”

“You do so much shit.”

“There’s a lot of shit I want to do. I enjoy doing shit._”

“It’s just … amazing.”

“Nah. I just don’t see any reason why I can’t do anything. Fuck can’t. Can’t is no fun. Make it will. Will is a whole hell of a lot more fun. Will the future, it’s I will, and will-power, and it’s some fucking document I’m not gonna worry about because I’m too busy doing shit. Think Tom Robbins, think yuck and yum. Fuck yuck. Will is yum.”

“Fuckin’ crazy.”

Yum.”


Mar 16 2006

Published

For those of you keeping score, I’ve have my first photos published in print by a third party. It’s in the latest edition of SD CityBeat. Direct link to my shots here. I was a little displeased with the dynamic range (on the website, I haven’t had a chance to pick up hardcopy yet), but considering that the only time the models, designer, and I could all get together was two days before the deadline, I think things turned out pretty well. I would have liked to make some small adjustments to the peices, particularly raising the white point, but given that I had work and class the day between the shoot and deadline, I didn’t really get a chance to do much to the raw images. Anyway, after meeting the models and seeing the outfits the day of, using only natural light and having no days to reschedule for poor weather/lighting, with 1 shoot, 1 afternoon, 1 location, 1 oportunity, using largely Throught-The-Lens output, I’m pretty pleased.


Mar 14 2006

Spatial

For Valentines day, my mother sent me some valentines hearts and a deck of cards with Mensa-type questions on each one. You know, things like: “Re-arrange these numbers to make the following equation true without introducing any new mathematical symbols: 76 = 24”

(The solution is to turn the ‘6’ upside down to make it a ‘9’, and move the two into the exponent position to yield 72 = 49. I was stoked when I got that one.)

I’ve been pulling them out at various times and fiddling with the questions, which appear to fall into four general categories: logical, mathematical, purely lateral, and spacial, although all involve lateral thinking to some degree, at least to arrive at the answer quickly without brute-forcing the problem.

The logic problems are things like “Alice, Bob, Charlie, and Daniel are all accused of murder. The four made the following statements. […] Two of the four statements of false. Who committed the murder?” The mathematical problems are things like “Here’s four strings of numbers: 34589, 89129, 12?56, 234??. What numbers should fit in the question marks?” The purely lateral puzzles are like “A man leaves his home, walks 5 miles south, turns 90 degrees left, walks 5 miles east, turns 90 degrees left again, walks 5 miles north, and arrives home. How can this be?” The spacial puzzle are things like “Here’s five shapes/geometries/drawings. Which one does not belong?” Or “What comes next in the sequence?”

To my surprise, I get the spacial puzzles the fastest. I can do the logic ones with relative ease, although I usually have to draw out a truth table and can’t do most of them in my head without re-tracing my steps to a significant degree. The math ones, interestingly enough, I find myself getting bored with first. I’m not really interesting and calculating the cube and square of some subset of numbers looking for the reverse of some other number. I end up brute-forcing those problems for the most part, and not using all the short-cuts I could. (The software engineer in me just want to write a program to do it for me.) The purely lateral ones I just let simmer on the back-burner until the solution pops into my head, sometimes quickly, while sometimes it takes days or never arrives.

Perhaps this affinity for the visual indicates why I’ve always like art, and photography in particular; perhaps I’ve developed or had instilled in me some deep appreciation or cognizance of visual forms.


Mar 13 2006

Longview

So there this new girl watering at The Pub. She’s incredibly cute, petite, very dazzling blue eyes, liberal, and artsy. We’ve had some interesting conversations and we’re already on a “hug goodbye at the end of the evening” sort of familiarity.

How perfect is this? I’ve been here before: we’ll go out for four to six months, having a wonderful time pushing each other to new heights and having wonderful sex, with perhaps a trip or two thrown in, followed by a three to five month downward spiral when we find that some of those things we found endearing about each other are really starting to grate on each other’s nerves, combined with some sort of emotional imbalance where one of us is beginning to evolve in a direction diametric to the other, and we’ll start to spend more time away from each other.

Or one of us will be forced, because of school, work, family matters, or some other semi-valid reason, to spend our time supporting others and be too drained to sustain a relationship. I won’t be around enough, what with all my classes and training and trying to balance girlfriend and friends. Priorities will be mismatched, and the timing won’t be right. They’ll be some big fight, in which some surprising things are said, she’ll be throwing plates and I’ll be a little too calm and logical, which will piss her off even more, although I’ll be breaking down on the inside, trying to compose myself, curling up and sequestering myself like an injured tiger, trying to figure what the fuck is going on even though I already know. There may or not be make-up sex, but the relationship is already gangrenous.

They’ll be some sort of heart-wrenching breakup scene – if my history is any indication, it’ll be over the phone. (See Appendix E, “Termination”, Paragraphs “A—-“, “K—-” and “M—-“.) I’ll be house-bound for a little while with my friends Don Julio and Milagro, catching up on reading, thumbing through my Pynchon novels again, and double my martial arts training schedule, expunging my emotions for catharsis and regaining control. I’ll recover relatively quickly, but still have a rebound fling or two in there, probably with an artist or alcohol promo girl.

I’ll be asking myself, why did I repeat this again, with these variations? And I’ll answer, because the good times were worth it. This is life, good and bad. This is not fatalism, this is self-awareness, of what I am and what I like, from beginning through end, and knowing what will eventually become a problem and working on solving it, of working to preempt the fights and distance and disillusionment. This is listening to the little voice that tells you the truth about yourself. This is experience. This is the precursor to evolution. This is looking down the path you’re on seeing where you need to turn and what you need to change.

This is walking in with my eyes wide open.

Of course, I haven’t even asked her out, and I don’t know if she’s into me, and I can’t say this is the way things will go, nor do I expect them to follow this little monologue. But each time it’s happened, I re-write the story just a bit, I get different things right and others wrong, and each time it gets richer and more enjoyable and more painful and more … real.


Mar 12 2006

When Cubelife Invades Reality

Note: this post definitely qualifies as “Too Much Information.” But take it with a grain of salt.

I don’t have an office. In fact, no one in my company has an office – even the CEO has a cube, albeit a larger one next to the window. Our cubes are our only “private” space in the office, and some people take advantage of the carpeted walls to tack up photos, toys, posters, and all sort of knickknacks. I don’t. My walls are relatively sparse, with only work-related documents or the annual work photo staring back at me. I prefer this: after having done the whole “life is work, work is life” thing back in the dot-com days, where I spent twelve to sixteen hours a day in my office/cube, I like a clean separation between work and the rest of myself. But I do take one private, personal liberty in my cube: I fart.

Not intentionally – I don’t try to be the smelly guy in the building – but if I have to fart, I’ll let it go. We have high cube walls (the 6 footers, not the little dinky half-height cubes) and if it smells, it just drifts up to the HVAC vents. No biggie. And it’s not like it happens all the time, just every once in while. It wastes to much time to walk all the way to the bathroom just to pass gas, and even then, I’m crop-dusting all the way back to my cube.

Last Friday night I was camped out at my regular second home – er, coffee house – multiplexing between work and Japanese studying. I was VPN’d into work, running some tests, when I realized, to my horror, that I’d just let one slip. In the middle of the coffee house. I was in cube-life mentality, and somehow I brought it home with me. Luckily, it wasn’t smelly, but I had to log off and leave the coffee house immediately. Not because of the fart (hey, it happens), but because of what it indicated: my head was still at work, and I was slipping back into that nebulous grey-area where work bleeds into life and vice versa. I had to change my surroundings to help me change my head.

And that was the day farting taught me a lesson.

(You can tell your kids this one.)


Mar 11 2006

Progress

I’ve found myself occasionally asking myself simple questions or repeating sentences to myself in Japanese. In the shower a couple mornings ago, I asked myself “Ima nan-ji desu ka.” Simple yes, but I thought of it in Japanese, and had to translate it back to English, thinking, “Did I really just ask myself what time it was?” I was actually wondering if I was late for work, and it came out in Japanese as opposed to translating from the English to the Japanese. How cool is that?

Of course, “Biiru o kudasai” (Please give me a beer) is part of my regular lexicon now, along with “Doko de o arimasu ka” (Where is/are my ?), and “Ima ikimasen ka”  (“Shall we go now?”). It’s one of those wonderful power-imbuing feelings: if I can learn a Class 4 language at nearly 30 years of age, I feel as if there’s nothing I can’t conquer. Damn, I can still evolve. That’s even cooler.

After I master Japanese (hah!), back to Spanish and perhaps some other relatively easy Romance language. Polygot-dom, here I come!


Mar 9 2006

Mulatto

Odd inquiries people have posed over the years:

  • “Are you part Indian? Because you have asymmetric body hair.” (Yup, asymmetric body hair – my chest hair goes up a bit higher on one side than the other, I understand that’s common with Native Americans. And no, I don’t have back hair.)
  • “Are you part Italian? Because you talk with your hands a lot.” (I don’t know if I am, but I do.)
  • “Are you Canadian? You look Canadian. And you say ‘hockey’ funny.” (I don’t even know what to say to that. How do you look Canadian?)
  • “Dude, I could’ve sworn you were Mexican. Don’t try to cross the border wearing that beanie, hermano.” (You wouldn’t say that if you saw me with my shirt off … there’s a reason my nickname years ago in Mission Beach was ‘Casper, the Friendly Ghost.’)
  • “I’d say Midwest. You’re definitely from the Midwest.” (Never even been there, but okay.)
  • “Are you Jewish? ‘Cause you look like my Jewish friends.” (Matt, my evil [and Jewish] twin, should find that entertaining. As it turns out, I have DNA common to Eastern European Jews, as returned by one of those DNA tracing things my uncle did, but faith-wise, no.)
  • “What do I think you do? I’d say artist. Yeah, probably artist, or maybe in advertising, or something like that. Or a hitman.” (Said to me on this last rainy New Years Eve, while I was dressed up in a tailored charcoal suit, French Blue button down, matching tie, Kenneth Cole shoes, and my black raincoat with leather gloves. No one ever guesses ‘programmer.’)
  • “Are you a rugby player? ‘Cause if I had to call your sport, I’d say rugby.” (Wow. I’m by no means a small guy, but I’m like half the size of all the rugby players I’ve known. I wouldn’t last two seconds on the pitch.)

So let me get this straight: I look like a Native American – Italian – Mexican – Canadian mulatto that’s a Jewish artist/rugby player from the Midwest that moonlights as a hitman? Someone draw that caricature, please.

For the record, I’m predominantly Welsh-Swiss-German-English, and I believe we’ve traced in Scottish, Irish, Spanish, Cuban, and Cherokee as well. And I’m not a hitman.


Mar 3 2006

Portrayal

As we say in my art, we’re always wearing masks. The master always projects exactly what he intends, and conceals that which is inappropriate, counter-productive, or extraneous. He (or she) is never lying or being otherwise insincere, he just lets various aspects of himself. Like altering the angle of a prism to project a different color of light on the target, he’s still the same white light, you’re only seeing the portion of it he desires. Although I’m no master, I certainly recognize it when I see it, at least most of the time. You get to be reasonable adept at recognizing those surprisingly common tell-tale mannerisms that give away people’s intent, that make their mask transparent to the emotions behind it, matching or otherwise.

A few night ago at The Pub, I shot some stick with a Cabo San Lucas transplant with magnificent brown eyes and a delightful Spanish accent. I’d get lost in her eyes as she’d hold my arm when talking to me, asking me about this or that. Ooh, those were nice eyes, and what an accent! I’d put my hand at her lower back when leaning in to talk, and she’d lean her body into mine when asking what her next shot should be.

But I didn’t catch the transfer until too late. The pawn off onto her friend, the one that was a little too drunk and garrulous, at the stage of the evening when the phrase “I have a hat” would instigate a legion of questions about as to why I would “hide a bat.” Damn, I missed it. Missed that mask. Intentionally. I blinded myself, choosing not to acknowledge the little sideways glances to her friend, the inquisitive “what do you think?”, the “I approve” and so on.

So I got pegged in a conversation that made no sense and was grinding away at my patience. I think her friend eventually caught on to my non-interest, and produced the “well, nice to meet you, we’re going to get going now,” and pulled the inebriate lass to the bar. (They didn’t leave, but I went back to my post on the other side of the bar and there was no more conversation, a situation I was perfectly comfortable with.)

Most of the time I read the masks with some degree of accuracy, and usually present just about what I want. You might be surprised how many times I’m “allowing” surprise, annoyance, or excited-ness to show – but it’s more for your benefit than mine; I’ve made the decision to show it or not. It doesn’t make the feeling any less genuine, although the expression of it is up to me. You know when you’re sitting outside at a cafe and a car backfires, and everyone jumps except me? Yeah, I was surprised as well, I just decided not to show it. Or, maybe I did. Or, maybe I was surprised beyond my capability to control, and jumped ‘cause I really was a scared-ass pansy. The important distinction here is that there’s a ginormous distinction between the existence and expression of things.[1] Got that? Cool. That’s really the point of this post, but I want to toot my own horn a bit more and I’ll tie it in with this theme. (Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em.)

These personas worked out quite well for my photography recently. A friend of mine, whose art I’ve shot for digital display as well as worked with on some other projects, included me on correspondence with a local alt-rag that’s doing an up-and-coming San Diego Fashion Designers special. She’s a local designer, and when emailing back and forth with the editors, she strapped on her mask and went straight business on my ass, referring to me as “her photographer.” The context made me sound professional (which I am, in terms of service and attitude, but not in terms of “photography pays the rent”); it sounds as if I’m on retainer. Ok, I know where to roll with this; I know what mask to wear. I respond professionally, requesting deadline information, reproduction guidelines, and shoot dates and times that would provide the best light, time for post-processing, etc. All told, I’ll be shooting her models for the print mag this weekend, and for that, I’m grateful for the cognizance of masks. You may find it common sense, but as Frank Lloyd Wright said, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.”

[1] There’s also the falsification of things, which for the purposes of this post don’t exist. Heh. Negating false things. Does that make them exist, even though they’re fabricated? I’m pretty sure I’m getting paradoxical here. Too deep in the loops. Anyway, I’m not talking about being disingenuous. Saying there’s no music in a room when the stereo’s on is a fabrication. Closing the window so no sound escapes is not. Likewise, opening it yields a different view of the same situation.