Monday, March 30, 2009

A conversation at work about apples

[tasting a red delicious]

Mark: This is horrible. It's the worst apple ever!
Lisa: But they're so pretty!
Me: That's how they've survived all these years. They have to make you eat them somehow.
Kevin: But they don't want to be eaten, do they?
Lisa: They want to be eaten. That's how their seeds get spread around.
Kevin: Oh, right. I always confuse them with animals.

Forgive me; this is the time when I start getting a little !!!!!! about the upcoming weekend. Don't expect much of substance until next week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Taking pictures

Years ago when I was in Siberia, our group took a day trip from Lake Baikal to a little village called Zarechye. A man who lived there carved wonderful things out of wood. As his wife beamed and offered us fresh carrots from her garden, P. (I only know him now by his initials on the back of my clock) proudly showed us an album. In it were photos sent to him by his customers. We saw clocks on walls in France and carved roosters on shelves in Canada. He was happy to sell the things he made - I'm sure it's how he made a living, though the prices seemed incredibly cheap - but what he wanted most from us in return was a photo. He wanted to see his pieces in their new homes.

I know how P. felt. This week, a transaction was completed that has been in the works since my birthday back in November. A design firm in Melbourne found one of my pictures on Flickr, and wanted it for a bank's head office in Sydney. To be honest, I would have been tickled simply knowing one of my photos was off somewhere Australia ... but they offered to pay me for it, too. I guess that's how these things work.

Funny thing about the photo itself: I don't think it's that good. I'm not going for false modesty here - it's fine, but I wouldn't have picked it out as anything special. The power line bugs me. I've taken better. I guess it was just a picture of the right thing that they found at the right time. So, it was time to do business.

I had no idea what I was doing, of course. They wanted a version of the image with a specific DPI value, suitable for blowing up. I had to Google DPI. They needed an invoice and a signature for a limited license agreement. Having never created an invoice in my life, I had to find a template online. I figured out how to scan documents and save them as PDF files through a color copier. All told, I learned a lot. The money was a bonus - a pretty damned nice bonus, to be sure. But what I really wish I had is a photo of my photo in its new home. Is it on a wall? On an official website or document? Filed in a cabinet?

Photography is no more than a hobby for me. I've never taken a photography class. I don't have a serious camera. My Flickr site isn't a portfolio; it's just a bunch of photos. That being said, I like taking photos. I like capturing a good shot. I like sharing the shots I've captured, and I like it when other people enjoy them or find them useful. So I'm proud that someone wanted my photo, and that they wanted to use it in a capacity where other people will (hopefully) see it and enjoy it. I think that's pretty cool.

(By the way, a year ago today I was still in New Zealand. Seeing Split Enz in Wellington, as a matter of fact.)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lyrics: my four cents

Today I began reading Daniel Levitin's The World in Six Songs. It's interesting so far, and it got me thinking on some of my own ideas about music and lyrics and emotions and our brains. I want to get them out here now, just in case Levitin mentions anything along the same lines. If I read that before posting my own thoughts, I'll feel like a copycat.

Here's what I think about happy song lyrics: they're often fun to sing along with. They can be great for parties. If you're happy and you hear a happy song, all is right with the world. But here's the thing - and maybe it's just me, so I'd love to hear other opinions. If I hear a happy song when I'm not happy, it doesn't make me happy. In fact, it's more likely to piss me off. If I hear a sad song, though, strangely, it can improve my mood. It's comforting. Sad songs don't necessarily make people sad. Sad songs can make people happy. They make people feel like they're not alone. Happy songs can be alienating.

Here's what I think about direct song lyrics: they can tell great, evocative stories. But in an odd way, songwriters who write direct lyrics - despite potentially making things less complicated or confusing for the listener - also take a greater ownership of the song for themselves. Making things ambiguous has the side effect of letting people pour more of themselves into a song. The meaning isn't immediately clear, so they can project more of their own feelings and interpretations.

However, is this beside the point? Maybe it's true, and maybe it's not, but maybe it isn't a songwriter's job to care. Maybe a song is whatever it is: happy or sad; direct or ambiguous. I wonder, though, if any of this gets considered.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My heart tonight's in Woolloomooloo

Ah, St. Patrick's Day. Not being of Irish descent - nor a big beer drinker - it's never been a particularly significant day for me. I went to elementary school with plenty of Irish kids, and was always a little jealous of their "Kiss Me I'm Irish!" buttons and head-to-toe green garb. After all, we didn't have a holiday that made everyone pay attention to me for being Greek, or Italian, or Slovak.

Still, I've had some quality times on St. Patrick's Day. Mostly unrelated to the fact that they happened to occur on St. Patrick's Day. Sophomore year of college, March 17th fell during spring break. I was with friends in Panama City Beach, Florida. It sounds like a recipe for debauchery, but I just remember a day of sun and relaxation on the beach. (I'm fairly certain Club La Vela was a different night.)

Last year, I was in Sydney. Paul and I spent all day in the Blue Mountains. We saw aboriginal rock carvings and enormous spiders, tramped through the bush, and rode the world's steepest inclined railway. That evening we dined with a fellow traveler (and Knuffle Bunny), ferried back across the harbour to North Sydney with the lights of the Opera House shining in the distance, and walked to a neighborhood convenience store for green snacks and Guinness. That was a good day. And I consider it a personal challenge to top it sometime in the future. I have faith in the luck of the Irish.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Twin mix

Two of my nephews are turning six at the end of the month. Four years ago, I made a mix CD for the twins and their brother. It went over well.

Over the past week I've been trying to craft another mix CD for them. To sum up: intended audience is two six-year-old boys and their seven-and-a-half-year-old brother.

The last mix was easier. Nothing could be too babyish because ... they were babies, practically. Lyrics weren't very important, as long as they sounded fun. (And didn't cover blatantly inappropriate subjects.) This time it's a little harder. The boys definitely love music, but I'm afraid their tastes are already corrupted by what's considered "cool" by their older elementary school friends. (I have no idea what that is, but it can't be good.) In addition, some catchy songs that sound fun and aren't inappropriate are still a little weird when put on a mix for kids. Like "Fake Palindromes." Nevertheless, I think that one's staying.

I'm striving for catchiness above all, and giving preference to fast songs. (Tempo and length.) I can't resist throwing in an oddball or two, though, like Fleet Foxes' "White Winter Hymnal."

I've gotten suggestions from a couple of friends already. Does anyone else have a song or two to recommend before this thing goes to the burner?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Rainy weekend

A year ago today, I was watching people play line charades in Des Moines. Getting ready to fly to Los Angeles - and then to Melbourne - the next day.

This year today, nothing too exciting happened. It was sunny this morning, which is more than I can say for the entire preceding weekend. Nevertheless, I had a good time in Chicago. Saturday morning and early afternoon were devoted to wedding dress shopping with Gina, her mom, and sister. We visited boutiques in order of increasing snootiness, finishing up at Vera Wang. (We resisted the temptation to buy bags of Cheetos and pints of ice cream at Walgreens and walk in eating them.) Gina tried on some lovely dresses - no matter which one she ends up buying, she's going to look awesome. Only a little over a year to wait!

Any ambitious late afternoon plans were dampened (heh) by the pouring rain. Instead, Gina and Ryan and I caught up on Letterman from last week - and some scary reality TV -before meeting Sam for dinner at Urban Belly. After a quick but delicious dessert at Hot Chocolate, it was Largo movie time.

The film screening was part of CIMM Fest, and the venue was St. Paul's Cultural Center: a former church. With Stacy, Jim, and Kristina, we took up an entire wooden pew. Not the most comfortable place I've watched a movie, but the ambiance was worth it. Plus, they were giving away free Red Stripe. Beer in church!

I was happy to see the Largo movie after hearing about it for so long. Maybe the pace could have picked up a bit early on, but overall they did a good job of interspersing the comedy acts with the music performances. I do think the Coronet is a great space for Largo, but watching the movie also reminded me that I still miss the old place on Fairfax. The end of the film felt like saying goodbye to it again. (It also reminded me how much I'm looking forward to seeing Flight of the Conchords next month.)

I originally had visions of returning to Chicago tonight for the Ashes of American Flags premiere and a late night at the Hideout, but it's just not happening. Too much work stuff. And since I've been staying up far too late watching The Wire, it would be nice to get a night with more than 5 hours of sleep. I'll just have to wait until Record Store Day. For the movie. Not for the sleep. Please.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Command Day

My grandpa never failed to celebrate "command day" on March 4th. (Say it out loud.) So a happy Command Day to all! Go tell someone to do something.

I don't think I'm going to continue with daily updates to the Germany/Prague trip log. It's too long, and of interest to just a few. (Um, unlike the rest of this blog?) I may try to post the whole thing somewhere and link to it, though.

I've become addicted to The Wire, and I was supposed to finish up with Season 2 tonight via Netflix. I've looked forward to it all day (which is sad, I know, but I had a crazy day at work and it buoyed my spirits.) I opened up the envelope tonight and found the disc cracked in half. It's a cruel world in which we live.

Wedding dress shopping with Gina this weekend, and the Largo Film Chicago premiere.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Trip log from the past: Day 1

Fair warning: we're very near the one-year anniversary of my big trip to Oz and NZ. This means that in the coming month, you'll be subjected to a fair amount of whiny nostalgia. "A year ago today, I was [at Cain's Ballrooom in Tulsa/in a rock pool in Sydney/jumping off a bridge in Queenstown] instead of [working/being at work/working from home]." Etc.

As the anniversary approaches, I thought it might be fun to publish - in installments - an account of one of my first trips abroad. From long before I'd ever heard of a blog, much less written one myself. Germany and Prague was actually my second trip to Europe, but it was much better documented than my first. (The first time I was too busy freezing in the wilds of Lapland to take good daily notes.) This was a trip Lindsey and I took to visit our friend Michelle during Christmas break from college in 2000/2001. Michelle was studying in Berlin at the time. Her family lived in East Germany for a few years when she was little, and we were to visit Leipzig for New Years. Prague was to be a side trip. Lindsey and I compiled these notes each day. Some names have been changed to protect ... me. So here we go:

12/27-12/28, 2000

  • B asks if she should remove the straps from her bag at the check-in counter at O'Hare. A hopelessly distracted, inept female German airline employee replies, "If you wish." Moments later, the employee loading the bags onto the luggage carousel requests that the straps be taken off the bags.

  • The same employee fails to check L's passport, or ask for any kind of ID.

  • L's new pet lemur, as yet unnamed, frolics wantonly about the airport and airplane, nosing through luggage and scampering along the seats. [For Christmas, I gave Lindsey a stuffed lemur purse. Because lemurs are awesome.]

  • B posits that it would be fun if airlines had mystery planes which, for a certain price, took people to undisclosed destinations. Such as Liberia. L further suggests it might be even funnier if all mystery planes went to Liberia.

  • On the plane, B accidentally grabs seltzer water when the flight attendant offers the drink tray. Upon realizing with dismay what is in the cup, B convinces L to drink it, though L doesn't like seltzer water either. A minute later the stewardess returns with the drink tray. B thanks the stewardess and grabs another cup of seltzer water.

  • Apparently everyone tools around the Frankfurt airport on bikes

  • In Frankfurt airport a girl with a stuffed frog and really short legs stares ceaselessly at L's luggage.

  • Our plane to Berlin goes from 0 to 30,000 feet in approximately 5 seconds. We climb into the air vertically.

  • M meets us at Tegel. We can see her waiting outside the glass arrival area. She appears to have brought a boyfriend along, but it turns out to be someone from The Program [more on that later] whom she met there by coincidence. Suuuure.

  • We meet Zoologischer Garten (a.k.a. Zoo Station) for the first time. As big U2 fans, we are pleased.

  • We eat at an "Italian" restaurant near M's dorm. M has weird pizza, while B and L eat their first genuine German schnitzel. M teaches us how to tip and pay a bill in Deutschland, which we promptly forget.

Day 2 coming soon. If I follow through on this plan, that is.