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Thursday, March 27, 2003

How I long for the days when science, art, and the humanities intersected (in the hands of the privileged though they were). Last weekend I was strolling through Como Park with the Junior Scientist when we came across an inexplicable statue of Friedrich Schiller. Schiller (1759-1805) was a dramatist and historian whose works were sometimes set to music (most famously in Rossini's opera "William Tell"). He also wrote fiction and poetry, served as a military surgeon, and worked with Goethe. After examining the odd German statue, I ranted about how I wished I was an aristocrat with nothing better to do than muse on the nature of "things" and publish whatever I wanted, no matter how ludicrous. One can only dream.

I've been feeling terribly uneducated lately. Having read almost nothing but Tolkien for the last year and a half, and having been out of school for six years now, I'm hardly learning anything, and I've forgotten most of what I have learned. Enter Seurat. Something (I wish I could recall what) recently provoked me into reading about Georges-Pierre Seurat's painting Parade de cirque (1887-88). I'd forgotten about the exciting interconnectedness of the humanities, and the endless potential for discovery therein. In this case, during my readings on Seurat, I came across one Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne, a seemingly eccentric neurologist and photographer. Duchenne is known for his physiological experiments in which he applied electric shocks to the human face and photographed the results in order to illustrate his theories on emotion and facial expression. Here's one of Duchenne's photos followed by a shrunken montage:

Professor Robert L. Herbert, author of "Seurat: Drawings and Paintings," explains the connection between Duchenne and the art world (though he provides no evidence specifically linking Seurat and Duchenne):

Duchenne had mapped the musculature of the face by using an electric probe. He learned that with the electric shock he could produce striking expressions normally associated with specific emotions. Concluding that his accurate mapping of facial expression would be of special interest to artists, Duchenne added to his book a series of photographs showing actors producing similar expressions without prompting from the electric probe, and also photographs of classical sculpture.

This discovery was a wonderfully unexpected tangent from my original goal, which was simply to stare at Parade de cirque (aka "Circus Sideshow") in hopes of rekindling an interest in art history. Herbert's book was fairly illuminating (however traditional) in its analysis, but I'm more excited to see the real painting at the Met when I visit the aforementioned Jr. Scientist in NYC next month. I find the painting eery and beautiful, with its strange nocturnal lighting and flat, disorienting space.

Now if I can just get Steve Reich to set my blog to music, I will have ascended to the heights of Schiller. Or at least his statue. I sure would like to know how that thing ended up in Como Park. Anybody out there know the story?

I had two frustrating phone calls today. In the first, an elderly woman repeatedly asked me the same question and couldn't understand my answer. She asked me if we had the state form M1R, and if we could send it to her. Everytime I told her that we couldn't send it to her, she would ask me again if we had the form. 'Round and around. I asked her if she could send someone to get it. I asked her if she tried calling the state and she said they told her to contact us. Finally she understood that she'd have to come and get it herself and it took more than a little while to explain our hours of operation.

Every year, without fail, people looking for tax information are the most difficult and mind-blowingly daft patrons I ever come across. I can forgive this lady because obviously she wasn't in the best of shape, but we get this kind of thing everyday from people who should know better. People, for instance, who can't differentiate between state and federal forms. People who can't figure out how to look on the other side of a kiosk (or who don't know what a kiosk is).

The second call involved a non-native English speaker, so again there were extenuating circumstances, but she committed that awful sin of making a statement - not asking a question - then expecting an answer.

caller: "My name is Sula Mohammed and I ordered some things last week."


caller: "Hello, are you there? I ordered some things last week."

me: "Yes, what can I help you with?"

She wanted to know if her book had arrived. I asked for her library card number, and she repeated her question. I explained that I needed to look up her record in order to answer her question, and so on.

The question phrased as a statement thing reminds me of another old story, in which a statement was phrased as a question ("aw grampaw, not ag'in!"). A man approached the desk and said "I'm looking for my daughter...blah blah blah." It sounded like he was trying to ask me a question but it didn't make any sense, so I asked him to repeat what he'd said. Very slowly, he told me "I'm looking for my daughter, but there's no kids in here?" Thus began my internal monologue: What? That's not a question! What do you want from me? Look around ya friggin' moron! You figure it out! I don't know who your goddamn daughter is! Argh!

I can't even remember what I actually said to him. It probably involved explaining that he was free to look around the building.

I like trying to help people, but I don't like it when I'm expected to solve ridiculous problems for people who are perfectly capable of doing things for themselves. Is that selfish or unprofessional? I think all the unsupervised children (and child-like adults) running around here have scrambled my poor branez.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

I'm extremely displeased with the general tone of public discourse these days. I suppose I could take pride in joining a historied tradition of discontents reaching as far back as Thucydides, but I'd be even happier if I could see a little goddamn improvement.

On my way home from work last night I listened a bit to some unfortunate replacement for T.D. Mischke on KSTP radio. Mischke, if you don't know him, is a nutty, often brilliant man, who stands out as a leftward-leaning fellow amidst a field of blowhard conservatives. Last night, however, a youngish conservative woman was in his time slot gabbing about anti-war protests. Twice she pointed out that she believes in free speech and supports everyone's right to publicly gather and speak their minds. Yet, she persisted in criticizing them for doing just that. What bothers me especially isn't that she disagrees with anti-war protestors, it's that she assumes protestors aren't "supporting our troops" because of it, and how cruel and unfair and un-American that is.

My first point of contention is consistency. The right claims to be upholding the values and standards that make this country great, yet we can see hypocrisy in their motivations through and through. If you claim to be "pro-life" becuase all life is sacred, then why would you support war and the death penalty? At least the Catholic chuch is consistent on this point: they oppose abortion, war, and the death penalty. A caller complained that while she expects Catholics to oppose war, her usually conservative (read: bloodthirsty and proud) Lutheran church was not making efforts to support the war, which disappointed her terribly. The mainstream American right can make no claims that they stand on a higher moral ground, yet they often use that cover story to back-up many of their questionable stances.

The right uses "logical" arguments in some cases without allowing that logic to follow through. Take homosexuality, for instance. One popular conservative maxim floating around (and touted by Dr. Laura, among others) is "love the sinner but hate the sin." I find it rather presumptious to claim that gay people should simply resist their aberrant behavior in order to achieve acceptance, but there it is. By that argument then, why is it impossible to oppose the war but not the soldiers fighting in it? Can't conservatives understand that most who oppose war are equally concerned about US troops dying as they are about Iraqi civillians? The mainstream anti-war movement does not believe that our soldiers are to blame, and they certainly aren't suggesting we abandon, hate, or neglect our troops. This, however, is what the hysterical right-wing propagandists will have you believe.

On to my next point, then: patriotism. When did it become un-American to speak one's mind, to participate in public debate, to be involved with policymaking, or to show displeasure? When taken in consideration with the Patriot Act (and it's sequel), this kind of thinking could become very dangerous. Taken to it's logical extreme, we'll see U.S. citizens arrested for treason or sedition simply because they disagree with the executive branch of the federal government (or their neighbor, employer, etc.). That the Bush Administration is redefining "patriotism" as "obeying without question" should be causing widespread outrage.

Perhaps we need to redefine what we as a nation hold dear, because it seems to have changed drastically. There's a huge gap between our traditionally upheld national values, liberty and justice, and the current climate of mistrust, polarization, and accusation. Then again, those qualities seem to have a pretty solid place in our history, too. It's terribly disappointing to see so little progress in human development, in America or anywhere else, for that matter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I'm finding that there's a whole librarian subculture I've been missing out on. Like this, for starters. I feel like I'm just taking my first tiny baby steps out into the world, though I'm not particularly motivated to get involved. I don't like meeting new people because I hardly have enough time to spend with the people I already care deeply about, and anyway I'm more interested in building a small collection of instruments and recording devices so I can spend even less time interacting with the outside world.

It's quite awful, really, at least from the perspective of your average person who, from what I hear, actually enjoys social interaction. It's not that I don't ever, it's just that I have a limited tolerance for it. Maybe I'll grow out of it, but conversation requires practice just like playing guitar. If I don't do it frequently it gets increasingly difficult and then I end up avoiding it so I don't make a fool of myself.

It's somewhat self-defeating, then, that I've entered a career of public service. I fear that having to deal with the insane, unwashed masses each day wears me out so I don't have the energy to work up an interest in other, actually interesting, people. Maybe I'm just digging to excuse my neurotic behavior.

That's enough of that, then. Thank you for indulging me (those of you who did, that is). I'm really going off-line for awhile. This time I mean it. I have a birthday to celebrate and four days off to spend with my loved one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Somebody torched a tree next to our library, so we have a lovely black skeleton gracing our property. Oddly, I was not present for said destruction. It's sort of a nice change, but at the same time I feel left out. It's that victim mentality at work (when am I gonna get to deal with another disaster?).

Someone also stole our local job listings three-ring binder. They even went to the trouble of removing the job listings, so obviously they were just after our office supplies. People often ask us if we sell folders and such, and love to borrow our stapler, scissors, and tape. I don't really have a problem with that, except for when I get the feeling that I'm working at Kinko's. At other times I feel like I'm working in a video store, as a bathroom attendant, or in a babysitting place, though I am getting paid quite well for said positions.

Meanwhile, this here blog is causing me undue stress. Haloscan seems to be crapping out again (two comments disappeared), and my very fist image post (below) works intermittently, if at all (maybe that's a problem with their server). The biggest arse-kicker, though, is my disappearing archives problem. This is an ongoing problem that's usually been easy to fix, but for the last month or more I haven't been able to get them to work. I know they still exist, but I can't seem to open them up for your perusal. So sorry.

I've got some time off this week so there may be no updates for awhile. Next week I can look forward to a meeting with two honchos in the payroll department and my union president. Fun!

Monday, March 17, 2003

I'm Marzipan!

Which Homestar Runner character are you?

this quiz was made by jurjyfrort

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


(1) I will soon have more money than I've ever seen due to an inheritance. It's like a fairy tale, only a little less queer. My hope is to buy a reliable automobile and pay off some of my multitudinous debts. And buy a guitar amp. And maybe new glasses. And a few bottles of Chateneuf-du-Pape.

(2) In what may very well prove to be a "laff riot," HR claims I've been getting paid at the wrong rate for the last four years and is asking me to repay nearly $1200 by the end of the year. Good thing I've got those sackloads of money coming to me! My union representative is looking into it, but meanwhile...

(3) There are sure to be layoffs in the not-too-distant future. Will I survive this budget crisis? Who knows. The scary thing is that there aren't any library jobs left anywhere because everyone's getting hit hard. I'm just getting started in this profession and I'd hate to lose all that I've worked for. I wouldn't even know what to do after this, besides go on unemployment. Write, play music? I can't do these things well enough to make a living at it. Go back to school? Then watch all my magic money burn away. Contemplate the ineffable grandeur of Vangelis? No, I don't think so. I'll probably turn into one of those guys sitting in the public library (assuming there's any left) typing up an incoherent, nonsensical resume. See how my callous cynicism and cruel sense of humor come back to haunt me? Stay tuned for "Faktury Blooze."

Sunday, March 09, 2003

I can't help myself, this just made me laugh so hard when I read it. While I truly hope this is an unfinished draft, here's an excerpt of a cover letter I found next to one of our computers:

With an assiduous work ethic towards the customer satisfaction in a competitive market I only aspire to excel with progression, in building a working relationship through merit. I exemplify an ardent persistence that I implement in my daily regimen, which I modestly hope to convey in direct correlation with your warehouse, shipping and receiving departments. Possessing the minimum requirements of the advertised position, I feel that I would be an attribute to your company working to completely capacitate my main objective as an order selector, pending your pensive viewing of this request.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Another disturbing night. I was sitting in an airplane which allowed me to see out the back. We were flying through clouds when I slowly noticed that there were skyscrapers towering over us, and I panicked, realizing how low we were flying. Suddenly I could see through the front and it looked like we were about to go through a building, but the aircraft was unharmed. I thought I must've been seeing things when another building loomed in front of us. The pilot climbed steeply but we ran into it and I, expecting to be crushed on impact, instead shot through the air. Miraculously I ended up on the ground, intact, along with a big chunk of the plane. I was in front of First Avenue.

It seems so cartoonish in retrospect but at the time I was incredibly frightened. I hate having these damn 9/11-inspired dreams. I would like to not be fascinated with the gory details but it still amazes me that anyone could pull that off. I just can't picture the concentration and focus necessary to pilot a jet into a steel tower- the terms "religious zealots" and "terrorists" don't provide me with enough information. Maybe they'll develop a "Skyscraper Attack" virtual-reality game in the distant future, and I'll have an easier time wrapping my head around the concept (because really, that's just what I need).

Later in my dreams I remember being at the State Fair looking at an ear of corn lying on the ground next to a mound of horse shit, then watching in horror as a woman picked it up and put it back on the grill. There was more to that part of the dream but I can't remember any of it now. Perhaps that's for the best.

without an addition to the fast-growing field of Library & Defecation Sciences. Today a boy asked me how to lock the bathroom door because- he leaned in furtively and said- "I have to poop," so obviously he was going to be in there awhile. Never fear, young man, the door locks behind you. Take your time. Go easy on yourself. Have a nice one- it's on me, kid.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

"Conversation like television set on honeymoon: unnecessary."
I recieved a nicely appropriate fortune today from a sweet little cookie:

You are courteous, diplomatic and affable and may find happiness in politics and public service.

They forgot "curmudgeonly."

Valiantly overcoming my sleepiness, I ventured out in the cold last night to see Crooked Fingers at an appropriately dumpy local venue. I've been smitten with this band since I heard "Surrender is Treason" on Radio K two years ago, but have been too lame to catch them live until now. I have yet to verify if they took their name from the suicidal, Schopenhauer-loving character in the film "Antonia's Line," but it would make sense.

Crooked Fingers is the creation of Eric Bachmann, who brought many of us to indie ecstasy with Archers of Loaf and their brilliant single "Web in Front." Kicking the sorry asses of so many overpaid corporate pop songwriters who yearn to reach such anthemic heights, Bachmann furiously fingerpicks his electric guitar and grimaces into the microphone like a deranged, modern-day Popeye. He's huge and mostly bald, has a voice oft-compared to Neil Diamond (but sounds more like Martin Zellar doing Diamond), and writes beautiful songs about bitter, broken people hanging on by a thread (or a bottle). Picture Neil Diamond singing Tom Waits. His bass player looked like some cruel marriage of David Spade and the guys in Boston (the band), or Doug Henning mixed with Beck, or a crossbreed of Hall & Oates, but he was a really nice guy and a pretty sweet bass player, plus he was wearing an ultra-cool white wristband with a Van Halen-ized "CF" written on it. Turns out they were selling these wristbands for $3 and I, knowing that such an item could never be replicated, bought one. Solidarity, brother.

Anyway, despite the $5 beer and the loud drunken idiot in earrings, it was a great show. You can check out an old video for "New Drink for the Old Drunk" here. They played that song, along with "Broken Man," "The Rotting Strip," "Surrender is Treason," "Angelina," "Boy With 100 Hands," "Big Darkness," "You Threw A Spark," and my personal favorite, "You Can Never Leave," which gives me shivers every time I hear it. While there were no BTO covers, sadly, they did do an Uncle Tupelo-meets-Dylan version of "I'll Keep It With Mine," Bruce Springsteen's "The Promised Land," and Echo & The Bunnymen 's "Bring on the Dancing Horses," which was just great. I recognized the song but had to have my friend identify it for me, and it turns out it's from the "Pretty in Pink" soundtrack which I obviously need to dig out. I love that Psychedelic Furs song. Hello, I'm a 15-year-old girl living in 1986. Nice to meet you.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

All this ranting about stupid people reminds me of a lovely poem written by a high school classmate of mine. It was simple, yet elegant, and went something like this:

People are losers
People are losers
Everyone I know is a loser
They laugh and laugh
at me
But I am not funny
They are not funny
screw them.

Amen, brother. Several years later I spotted him in a ROTC uniform near Coffman Memorial Union. I hope they channeled his hate into a fierce weapon for the defense of our country.

Yesterday I was repairing scratched CDs and came across this lovely song by Jagged Edge. Generally, I disdain contemporary R&B, but there are exceptions. "No Diggity" by Blackstreet comes to mind, but that's already seven years old. I like a little D'Angelo and Rahsaan Patterson (who?), but mostly I think it all sucks, largely as a result of the blandness and incompetence which plagues the recording industry as a whole. First off, there should be a Federally regulated cap on the number of notes a single word is stretched over. There should never be more than, say, four notes per word. Second, one must always limit references to specific pieces of technology. There's just no reason to write songs about e-mail (I'm talking to you, Britney Spears) or pepper one's lyrics with cell phones and pagers. It's silly. And finally, skip the dancing. We don't need it. A&R people hire entertainers, not musicians, and I can accept a certain amount of that, but it's really taken a toll on the music. After so many years watching these fools flapping around wildly and singing about heartbreak at the age of seventeen, it hurts. Don't you see? It hurts us all. Oh yeah, and the sexism, homophobia, blind greed, and hyper-compressed synthetic music. Damn.

So here it is, an excerpt from "Head of Household" by Jagged Edge (aka "the black O-Town"):

It's like Jordan and Pippen
Shaq and Kobe, Ike and Tina
No I ain't tryna* beat you baby
It's like Sonny and Cher
Donnie and Marie girl
I just want you to know
Behind every good man is a woman

We gotta be a team, just me and you girl
Like Jerry and Joe going for the Super Bowl
We tryna win girl
In order to win, there's gotta be a leader
And that's me, but I don't mind sharing the light with you

Baby I'm the head of this household
My love for you is worth its weight in gold
A player on a team has to play their role
Everything I do is all for you
Baby I'm the head of this household
My love for you is worth it's weight in gold
A player on a team has to play their role
Everything I do, I do cause I'm the head of this household

*"Tryna." That's a good one, I'll have to use that from now on. I fixed a few spelling errors but there's really no better way to reduce "trying to" by one syllable.

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