January 2004


It’s a bit morbid, but I’ve always wondered what it is like to watch someone die. Not that I think I want to, but there’s something about that moment which I can imagine would be transformative. It might be a way of confronting death to come to grips with it, or it may serve to remind one of the tenacity of life. Or its frailty. The movie 21 Grams has a lot to say about that, I bet — I still have to see it. A recent NY Times article (reg. required) talks about people who visit those dying alone to comfort them. I’ve heard there’s also some terrible TV show whose protagonist collects souls for a living — perhaps that feeds a societal obsession with the moment of death.

I think these morbid thoughts come from the graphical descriptions of the deaths and horror during the French Revolution in Marat/Sade. Hacked buttocks lying in the street, people being carried to the guillotine in dung carts, their eyes still moving after the blade fell. It’s repulsive, even more so knowing that text cannot possibly do justice to the experience of being there — that is something only imagination can provide, and it takes a monumental effort for me to force my imagination to grapple with those images.

CSS Zen Garden expresses perfectly the reasons for choosing to structure a website using Cascading Style Sheets. If I had about fifty more hours per week I would become a CSS Zen master myself, but as it is, I can just go and enjoy the eye candy every once in a while. If I even absorb one trick a week from there I’m sure my web design will be twice as easy and twice as good.

So I’m spending about 12-14 hours a day working on prep for the Mystery Hunt, and although I’m the most stressed I’ve been in the last year almost, it’s also one of the most invigorating sensations I’ve had in the last year. The fact that I can sit here and work for so long on one thing and that I make some progress every hour almost gives me hope that when I go back to school I will be able to do the same thing, work really hard on one thing and get it done, or at least make progress. This project for me is a psychological springboard into my real work.

The MIT Mystery Hunt is coming up soon, and I’m off to Beantown. It’s like a piece of theater, really. Next week is tech, and we open on Friday. Good thing I’ve done so much theater, or I might be tempted to panic.

I steal from my friends, but as Martha Graham once observed, that’s where the best ideas come from.

  • Watch That Page is gonna save me hours of my life. Thanks, Manu!
  • All my new Brazil stories that I can tell. Thanks, Ram!
  • Improvisation for the Theater, by Spolin. I’ve only flipped through it, so far, but it looks really good. Thanks, Adam!
  • My new monkey socks! Thanks, Robin!
  • My digeridoo, which still eludes me producing a consistent sound out of it, but goddamn it, I will master the damn thing. Thanks, Dada!
  • The cool espresso thing that my roommies got me. They’re the best ever! Thanks, Christy and Dustin!
  • My KALX hoodie. So stylish, it’s bound to get alllll the ladeez. Thanks, Dan!

by Naomi Wallace. Perhaps it is not fair to review this play, since I acted in it, but rereading it gave me new insight into the way in which Naomi Wallace creates drama on the stage, and how her scenes string the audience along. The basic gimmick is this — start the scene when it is about to blow up and assume that the actors and director are competent enough to make the action understandable to the audience. Then, rather than resolving the conflict in the scene, have it end with the characters speaking at cross purposes, almost overlapping two monologues. The juxtaposition of the lines creates associations in the mind of the audience, and the tension that is a lack of communication is very dramatic. It furthermore serves to show the audience the separate decisions of the two characters that carry them into the next scene.

It’s a slick trick, and worth noting as a writer but also as an audience member. These are the ways in which a playwright reveals information. I tend to go into theaters in an almost adversarial relationship with the work — I resist its attempts to lead me to easy conclusions, and I question the director and playwright’s intentions. That doesn’t mean I don’t end up agreeing with them, but I don’t want to make their job easy.

by Margaret Attwood. This is the first novel I’ve read by Margaret Attwood, but it won’t be the last. two novels rolled into one, it is simulatenously the autobiography of a woman in a small town in Canada at the end of her life as well as a bizarre novel of love and science-fiction fable. It was definitely difficult to get into for me, and I think without a 24 hour bus trip in Brazil I would not have been able to finish. It’s just one of those novels that requires long reading periods, not a few minutes here and there.

It is worth the time though. Attwood’s prose is clear and witty, and she is very smart at structuring the jumps between the two novels.

In Brazil, everyone has to vote — it’s a law. However, when you vote, you have two options to “not vote.” The first is to vote for no candidate, which means you don’t think any of the candidates are fit to hold the office. The other is to vote “white,” which means you give your vote to the candidate who gets the most votes numerically. In order to win, a candidate must obtain a certain percentage of the overall vote, including votes for no candidate. Thus in Brazil, “no candidate” an win the election, in which case the election has to be held again.

In the US, not voting is equivalent to voting “white” in a Brazilian election. Thus the act of not voting doesn’t make the statement that “I think this election is a joke.” Rather, it means “I cast my vote with the majority among people who care to vote.” In the Three Ring Circus that is California, you could vote for No Recall, but you could also vote for a candidate in case the recall passed. All those who didn’t vote for a candidate after voting No Recall just voted for Arnold. All those who didn’t vote in the 2000 Presidential Election voted for whoever won their state.

I’m not saying the Brazilian system is better, but comparison points out clearly the political significance of not going to the polls.

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