Old Daily Shows--December 2002

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

Sunday December 1, 2002 Happy birthday!

Today, I baked a birthday cake for Elizabeth all by myself, and gave it to her amid singing from lots of friends.

It was a golden cake, with a recipe adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and it had copious quantities of vanilla inside, along with a lot of freshly minced orange zest. It was the first cake I ever made, and I'm glad that it was for her.

It was so relaxing to be in the kitchen, even though I was rushed and didn't think I knew what I was doing. Yesterday, at Fante's, I stood and ogled the beautiful knives, not because I'm at all unhappy with the ones I have now--I'm not--but for rather the same reasons one goes to an art museum or an opera or a football game. They represent things about which I care deeply. They are beautiful forms, both in the austere light of formalism and the rather warmer light of practical use. They are impressive feats of engineering. A lot goes into the making of a knife, really, and they're not expensive given that they last forever if you care for them.

I love knives. I love holding them, looking at them, using them. I've spent a lot of time learning about them, and my knife techique is pretty good. I don't use the one advocated by Pépin, Brown, et al--having a knife blade moving near my fingers as quickly as I chop is frightening to me as a musician and programmer--but my use is comfortable, effective, and safe thus far. I love to sharpen knives, too. I sharpen them for friends, and every once in a while I sneak to the dorm kitchen and sharpen all the knives to razor edges. They're dull again within a week because of the mistreatment they endure, but I like to think they thank me for it nonetheless.

But tonight, as I held a chef's knife in my right hand and an orange in my left, I thought about how wonderful a tool a good knife really is. "I tried an orange zester for this," I thought, but it didn't work at all. I got either air or huge chunks of rind, skin, and orange flesh.

I place the edge of the blade on the orange at the angle my hands know is right, and I begin, very gently, to slice. The blade moves back and forth, shaving a perfect layer of translucent orange peel toward me, one with no white skin. Back and forth, back and forth I go, and soon the orange is bereft of orange save just around its navel. It really ought to be called a "white, now," I think, because the orange is all in a thin pile on my cutting board, and the strangely geometric white form in my hand bears little resemblance to that which I held seconds ago.

Rocking motions, French grip but Chinese pivot point, and the shavings are almost instantly a pile of finely-minced peel. I find that I've been smiling a lot, without noticing, and that I'm humming quietly to myself as I work. I love knives.

And so I made a cake for the first time tonight, and I spent time in communion with a kitchen during a day when peace was somewhat hard to find. Amid worries about the future and concern over group-work partners who seem alarmingly unconcerned, it was good to work with honest food and meditate. I've become proud of my skills in the kitchen, though I try to stay humble, but it's true: I've spent a long time working to develop them, and they're honest and true and I really have worked to get every single one of them. A knife admits of no advantageous birth. Everyone starts at the bottom, and it's partly this that makes me love using them well.

And, thank goodness, my cake came out well, though I forgot to put in the milk and so it was rather denser than originally planned. We sang and I smiled and she smiled and we ate cake with friends, and it was a growing-closer for many. "Happy birthday," I said to her this morning, and "happy birthday" she answered back. You know what? It really was.

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Monday December 2, 2002 Compilers

My dislike for compilers, and the CS machines in general (I'm beginning to suspect this is an operating system problem) is rapidly becoming legendary.

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Tuesday December 3, 2002 Woohoo

Practice Watson interview again today, in preparation for the real thing on Friday. I'll be good and ready, I hope.

Presentation in Bach class went well. Hope presentation in art class will not be killed by partners who did no work. Felt knowledgeable in Bach class.

Stared at code for hours, debugged lots, finally made breakthrough with regard to the mystically changing pointers! It being 3:16 am I am now going to bed.

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Monday December 16, 2002 So much

Nearly two full weeks since I've written anything here, and my fingers have almost forgotten how to type in HTML. Those of you who write your own HTML know that feeling, when you've been writing enough recently that the tags roll off your fingers just as normal naturalanguage text does... well, it's gone. In its place, I've been writing hackish C, bizarre orchestrations, and strange essays, papers, and the like.

The other night, I stayed up late reading from Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's Last Chance To See, and I read about Komodo dragons, which are really neat. When I went to bed, I expected to have nightmares from Jurassic Park. It's so weird--that one scene, of the dinosaurs (whose name still has absurd power over me, damn velociraptors) in the kitchen--has been the one really recurrent nightmare I can remember, ever since I first saw the movie when I was twelve. I remember it being summer, and the day I saw it, Shye and I had been sitting around reading the book. We had two copies. The book was fine for me.

The movie was not. My dad and I went out to see it, at the 7:30 showing at the Roxy, our local movie theatre. When we came home, I remember looking fearfully at the dark woods toward the back of our yard, feeling sure that something large and fell was going to come rushing toward me. In my mind's eye, I could see the camera shot that would follow it, see myself growing rapidly bigger in the camera as teeth and claws raced toward me. I hadn't read Fahrenheit 451 yet, but I think I would have found a similar theme there. Though I'm sure it's not, that night is the first time I remember being afraid of the dark.

I'm not so much afraid of it anymore, though there are times when I move a little faster than I need until I get to somewhere that feels safer. Perhaps I have a heightened sense of energy, chi, whatever, though I doubt it. Back then, though, it was pure fear. Several weeks later, I made my mother hide my copy of Jurassic Park, because even seeing the cover was making the nightmare come back. It went inside the covered glass door of her desk's bookshelf, where I believe it still resides.

And ever since then, when I've had a nightmare, it's very often been that one. Not pigs coming out of my shower, not anything unusual. My nightmares are products of the packaged visual culture I've grown up in, wholly appropriated models of thought. I wonder if this is proof that television does rot your brain--that my nightmares aren't original, but are memories from the me-of-almost-ten-years-ago...

I didn't have that nightmare, though. Instead, I dreamed of Amy, a classmate from high school, and the second girl I ever kissed. The first was Julie, followed in short succession by Amy. I was Georg von Trapp, and they were doubly-cast as Maria in The Sound of Music. Yep, my first kiss was on stage. It was really bad--when the schedule went up weeks before, and That Scene appeared, the day of the rehearsal was quickly dubbed Black Thursday by the two of them. I was so sad...

But the dream wasn't about that, didn't even hearken back to that. We were in a car, just driving around Toronto, with her little brother, except that she doesn't have one. I don't get it, but then, I didn't major in psychology.

The things I did major in haven't been going so well, but I guess that's the story of life, isn't it? I'm taking work home, again. I would write more, but it's just disheartening, so I won't.

Yeah, Ben, I'm a grim-faced senior too, and I'd be going through it with you if I weren't so tangled up in going through it with myself. I look around my room and realize that there are lots of things I haven't touched since I packed them at home in August. Dirty laundry piles up, though less of it because Elizabeth is cool. A while ago, she made me leave my door unlocked, promising a surprise would be waiting when I got home. I got home at the end of a long day and found all of my laundry waiting, washed and folded, on my bed. She rocks.

I am abruptly conscious of the fact that I'm going home in four or five days, and that my life feels out of control. Maybe it's the Watson thing. I had my interview, and so, with the exception of remaking my demo CD (difficult given my broken DVD drive), there's nothing I can do, no new information to be gained, between now and March 17th. This lends a feeling of helplessness to things, a knowledge that even if I do get my act together, I can't plan where I'll be next year. Ai! I catch myself being able to understand why people need to leave Swarthmore after four years, why so many of them need to take a semester abroad if for nothing other than to alleviate the pressure this place lets us put on ourselves.

The other day, I took a personal half-hour between my vocal juries (lame) and my Magic Flute runthrough (decent), and I went to the Bookstore, clad in my good black Oxfords (lamentably unshined; my ancestry cringes), black suit, and blue shirt. I'd gone without a tie for the singing on the recommendation of my voice teacher, but nonetheless, I felt seriously classy, and a little sad that nobody was around to see it.

Anyway, though, I couldn't deal with the world anymore just then, and so I went to the Bookstore in my finery and exhaustion, and I plopped down in a comfortably elegant chair and read cookbooks. Julia's The Way To Cook, and Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible. I just got my Ed14 final paper back from last semester, and my professor commended my love and knowledge of cooking. So I sat and read cookbooks, and learned about giving your puff pastry, your pâte feuilleté, the proper number of turns to make it come out right. Good puff pastry has 729 layers, or occasionally 2187--there's a mathematical precision to pastry-making that I hadn't realized... 3^6, 3^7, different layers of butter-separated gluten, and suddenly you're making a katana blade in flour and water.

I read about making consommé, and various methods of pie crust manufacture and bread making. I love reading about cooking and baking things--making good food seems an honest and useful skill, one that endures beyond the latest musical fad and dot-com plunge. Maybe, like the rest of us, I'm a little kid at heart, and when much is scary, I retreat to basic needs. I don't know. I made something cool the other day, and I forget what it was. My homemade chai tasted better to me the other day than the Kohlberg chai I'd had earlier, and I was pleased.

And it's probably time for me to go to bed now, isn't it... given that I've gotten precious little work done today, again, and the time continues to slip past. Two more days with Elizabeth, and then she'll be gone northward.

Sleep, sleep tonight, and may your dreams be realized. -- "M.L.K.", by U2

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Thursday December 19, 2002 At last

Four-thirty in the morning before the last day of finals, with all hell breaking loose in the dorm and political problems making people insane, we danced in front of our dorm with sparklers hoarded from Diya week so long ago. Amara brought them out, and we all just ran out the doors and twirled.

We're not such big kids, after all. I lit two sparklers tonight, and waved them. Sometimes patterns, sometimes not. One was a message for a friend who's far away tonight, another was a bright point for a friend who's got a wonderful new girlfriend tonight. Fire is always evocative for me, and the sparklers were wonderful.

And, with the completion of my Bach paper at 3:15 am, I'm done except for the graphics work I'm taking home. It was a lousy paper, but that's the way things go. And I'm free to pack or sleep or whatever for a little while. Tomorrow my parents will drive down, and I will go home with them.

For now, though, I'm a happy kid with the memory of a sparkler, and it's amazing how much brighter the world looks when it's lit with the faces of friends.

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Saturday December 21, 2002 North

Four hours after I went to bed, and I'm awake again. A quick shower and taking the computer apart, and we'll be gone.

For now, though, I share a last mug of chai with Susan, a new friend this semester who'll be abroad in Sweden during the spring. I can do this.

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Wednesday December 25, 2002 Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you!

Today, I made rolls from my new bread cookbook, made a bunch of other things, and had dinner with Grandma, Byron, and my parents. It was really nice. Lots of wonderful presents from and to each--I received far more than I needed, but these are beautiful things and useful.

Well, useful. Some of the things are useful. Some are good for spirit, like a small Tibetan bell on woven cords that has a beautiful Eb tone; some are good for the body, like a nice new shirt... some are good for the future, like pots and pans that will last...

And some are just plain good for the spirit, like the small Roburn butane torch I have coveted from Williams-Sonoma and elsewhere since I was six or seven. I've never quite been able to justify buying one for myself, even when they were on sale. But my parents gave me one.

It is, of course, nominally useful for making creme brulee. It's easier to make creme brulee with a torch than with a broiler. I know this from the reading I've done. Now, with my new torch in hand, I will save countless hours by caramelizing sugar at the table...

No. I've never made creme brulee in my life. I'm planning on one in the next few days, but still. I feel utterly unashamed in saying that the torch is entirely a fun thing. I've been looking at them for so many years that it seems unreal to have one. I lit the evening fire with it tonight. Fun!

Old books are neat, and it seems that all of my rolls were eaten. Must have been a decent recipe.

In an aside I hope to pursue some day, why is it that songs about the most heart-rending things are often the most beautiful, entrancing ones? Whence comes this power to compel the mind? I listen to this song ("Black Annis", covered by Solas) and see clear images of the characters and scenes. Why does this happen sometimes and not others?

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Saturday December 28, 2002 Keep on truckin' the fish

"Keep on truckin' the fish," I apparently used to say. My mother tells me it was my favorite expression for a good span of time when I was younger. I had forgotten about "the fish"--possibly my inner antipescophile coming out to play--when I said it to my mother this evening. Keep on truckin'.

Which is, largely, what I've been doing lately. I've spent most of every day since coming home in front of my computer, writing and debugging computer graphics code. I wish, deeply, that I weren't doing this alone, that this group project hadn't turned into a solo effort that masquerades under two names. Maybe that's not a fair assessment, and maybe it is, but it certainly reflects how I'm feeling right now.

I have been home for a week today, and I've spent more time in front of my computer than any other place in the house, including time taken to bake bread and cook on Christmas Day. Is this how vacation--break, we call it now--is supposed to go?

Soon, though, this will be over. I tell myself that.

Goodness, this is coming out rather a lot more pessimistic than I felt. What's good today, then?

Good conversations with both parents. Pretty music--Irish--on the stereo. Christmas lights. A basil plant that will return to Swarthmore with me. A cat who played, gratifyingly, with a string for a long time today. A battered old collection of music from which I am mining new tunes. Shrek and Monsters, Inc., neither of which had my parents seen.

Being home and not having to do all this locked in my dorm room ranks high on the list of goodnesses. So does going to bed.

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