April 2002 Archives

Did I see that?

Living in Los Angeles, one becomes used to unusual things happening in one's vicinity. Being jaded in L.A. is like a safety precaution: if you don't assume that some lunatic is going to set himself on fire on a bridge during rush hour, or that Robert Blake is going to be taken into custody down the street, or that the LAPD might at any moment appear in front of you in full riot gear, one might find oneself taken sadly, fatefully, unawares.
Still, despite being an L.A. native, I admit that I nearly caused a traffic accident this morning with my neck-craning behavior. I was just driving along my usual route, minding my own business, when suddenly:


To give you a sense of scale, here's another pic:


Since I live within spitting distance of the Sony studio--where this balloon sculpture perches on the wall facing Washington Blvd.--I was able to walk back to the area and take a few polaroids. Like the song says: Look out, here comes the Spiderman.

Shuttling between the Hours

I finally got around to reading Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize in the year that it was first published. I had the good fortune to see Cunningham read from the work at Dutton's bookstore in Los Angeles, which is very homey and hosts some great readings.
The novel has a rather unusual structure. The Hours is about three women living in three different time periods: Virginia Woolf, just before the time of her suicide in 1941; a mysterious woman with lesbian yearnings trapped in a stereotypical 1950s marriage; and a woman named Clarissa living in present-day Manhattan, who appears to be Virginia Woolf's character Mrs. Dalloway re-imagined as a contemporary lesbian.
The book's chapters shuttle back and forth between the different lives and time periods in a way that reminded me of a science fiction novel, but without the science fiction content. There is something like an alternative timeline or current running throughout the story--a hint that possibly these lives might have unfolded otherwise, or might still somehow converge in another (or is it the same?) reality.
The sensation of moving between fully realized, alternate worlds was so powerfully present to me while reading that I kept picturing in my mind the panels of a Japanese wall screen--opening, closing, shifting back and forth--as I moved from chapter to chapter, from one life to the next. There was a spatial dimension to the narrative that one expects from comic books or from hypertext but not from the printed novel.
One of the major themes of the The Hours is the inescapability of time--its concrete presence in our lives, as real and palpable as the stones that Virginia Woolf uses to drown herself. As one character remarks:

But there are still the hours, aren't there? One and then another and you get through that one and then, my god, there's another. I'm so sick.

Like most sci-fi stories that play with time, The Hours climaxes in that mind-blowing moment when the multiple possibilities of a multi-dimensional universe appear both simultaneously fulfilled and on the verge of implosion.

Dame Darcy exhibit

Yesterday afternoon, I went with my friend Joe (often seen in the Comments section) and my Cute Little Red-Haired Girlfriend to the Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica to see an exhibit of Dame Darcy's drawings. On display were many of the original boards from her Meat Cake comic books, along with individual pen and ink drawings and several painted Meat Cake covers.
I was impressed with the quality of the pen and ink drawings and urge you to see them in person if you have a chance. The printed comics do not do a good job, in my opinion, of capturing the subtlety and fineness of her line work. My appreciation was undoubtedly also due to the gallery format, which drew one's attention towards the drawings and downplayed the lettering and story elements, which, when viewed in the context of reading, can give an impression of busyness.
There were also what appeared to be several hand-made frames--I'm guessing they were made from construction paper, stencils, and silver spray paint--that I felt contributed to the pieces' originality. The exhibit also included a wall devoted to letters, drawings, and objects left or sent to Dame Darcy in appreciation of her work, with a line of devotional candles at the base. The DIY frames and the fan altar reminded me of Exene Cervankova, from the band X, a connection that now seems obvious but which I had heretofore not seen.

Meet the Janeways

As part of my ongoing series of introductions, I would like In Sequence readers to meet my Sims couple Kathryn Janeway and Seven Janeway. Kathryn is pursuing a career in business while Seven is on the Daredevil career track. To the extent that the game allows, I have attempted to give them a futuristic home, outfitted with the very latest in home furnishings and appliances. An exception, I suppose, is the rather retro vibro-matic bed, which you see them in here, enjoying a tender moment after a playful morning romp.
It is with these characters that I first encountered Sim death in all its ugliness. Early on in my Sims playing, I bought these two the fireworks kit, hoping that it would bring some friends around. I hate to say it, but Kathryn and Seven have a bit of a problem making friends in the neighborhood. I think all those years on Voyager left them a bit introverted. But as I was saying, I bought them a fireworks kit, which they took to immediately. And, in fact, people did come over to watch them go off and to clap at the spectacle.
One day, Seven set off the fireworks and before I knew what was happening SHE WAS ON FIRE!! Kathryn ran around like a nutjob trying to figure out what to do but it was too late. Seven was crispy. Now, I have written previously that I am not one of those Sims players that enjoys seeing my Sims killed. But I can see why it appeals to people. Because in the Sims, the payoff for death is quite rich. First there is the actual death scene, which is rather prolonged, but that is just the beginning. Then the Hooded Figure of Death appears.
When the Hooded Figure of Death appeared to collect Seven, Kathryn had the opportunity to bargain with him. This was a whole process in and of itself, this dickering with Death. Sadly, Death did not grant a reprieve, and a gravestone suddenly appeared in place of Seven's charred remains. Then the most horrible part of Sim death began--the grieving of the survivors. Let me tell you, it goes on and on.
If you watched the finale of the TV series Voyager, then you know that Captain Janeway becomes a bit unhinged in the wake of Seven's death on the show. This was just as bad if not worse. The crying! The carrying on! Kathryn standing by the gravestone weeping--it was just too macabre, like something out of Edgar Allen Poe. I chose not to save my game session. I mean, it was bad enough that Kathryn never got a piece of Seven on the TV show, I was double-damned if she was going to miss out in my Sims neighborhood.
Speaking of the TV finale, if you are a fan of the Janeway and Seven relationship, you really must read the alternative ending, Timeless Passages, written by the esteemed G. L. Dartt. It is the ending as far as I'm concerned.

Simulated synesthesia

The first time I heard about the concept of synesthesia I was in college, sitting in a 20th century French Literature class. Many European artists at the turn of the century aspired to this real physiological condition, in which the perception of language and sound are suffused with the experience of color.
As an aspiring aesthete and artiste, I was mortified. I think it must have been that same feeling I've heard described by graphic designers who are not left-handed, or gay men who have trouble co-ordinating their clothes: it's as though some crucial bit of genetic programming that ought to be yours by right has somehow passed you by--and as a result one's whole identity is called into question.
Now, some decades later, I take quite a different view. Yes, synesthesia may be all well and good if your life is full of purpose and goodness and civility--but when it's been one bad acid trip since day one the idea of experiencing the whole nauseating mess with even more sensory input makes one desire for nothing so much as a long nap.
Which is why I'm grateful to the makers of the game Rez for Playstation 2 for coming up with a virtual means of experiencing synesthesia. While a permananent case of synesthesia is out of the question, a half hour of it experienced in the comfort of one's living room sounds not bad at all, especially when the "power off" button is within easy reach.
The designer of the game, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, claims Kandinsky as his inspiration. I am awed by the appearance of such a boldly artsy-fartsy game title, and I believe that in my ongoing struggle to determine which of the next generation consoles to purchase, Rez tips the scales rather heavily towards the PS2.

Book trade

How strange. After my long post last night about various online efforts to pass around books, I woke up to find this article in the NY Times describing a wholly offline free book effort, smiliar in spirit to those I had just written about.

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