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Friday, January 08, 2010

Comical plea for sympathy

  A tall woman was rambling loudly to a captive audience of one - the bus driver - about her health problems. She had some developmental issue, from the sound of it, but also a growth disorder of some kind, which made me pay additional attention because I've known people who thought they had that.

Her plea for sympathy went off track when she said, "You know that stuff that Wolverine has in his bones? I have that."

There's some sort of mutant-public transit endorsement there, but I don't want to use it.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Divinity through breakfast foods

  One of the more complicated conceptual aspects of studying at my religious middle school was trying not to ask why the all-powerful divine force they were teaching me about is now silent. It appeared that the being lost the ability to communicate at about the time people figured out how to write, leaving followers to look for indirect signs of its intent.

This silence leads to phenomena such as Virgin Mary seen in spray can pancake (, 12/2/09), in which a breakfast food has an outline that looks like... like the pancake is well-cooked, actually. Or, if you're looking for it, like a cartoon bull (upside down). Or of a religious figure wearing shapeless clothing.

There have been plenty of other interpretations of images and outlines - there was a tree stump Virgin Mary (, 7/10/09) earlier this year, and a number of patterns on bread, walls, and windows (, 4/22/05) that have inspired people to erect shrines in the past, but this is another edible one, like the Virgin Mary on toasted cheese from 2004 (, 11/17/04). It still lacks the level of detail you would hope for from a communication with a divine being, but its edibility is interesting to me.

Plans to make a religious icon waffle-maker aside, I find the choice of a pancake to be peculiar. It is a humble food, surely, but not a healthy one: pancakes are usually made with bleached white flour, and are high in calories without packing much nutrition.

If I were a divine being, and could only assert my existence through patterns in food, I think I would... be pretty pissed, actually. But if those are the rules (and we'll pretend they are, for the purposes of this discussion), I would choose... to have my image/message run all the way down the length of thousands of loaves of vegan cinnamon swirl bread that I knew would be skillfully sliced. I think I would be able to get some pretty fine detail using the cinnamon. And by running all the way down the length of the bread, my intentionality would be slightly more apparent.

In natural foods, I suppose I could represent myself through veining patterns on leaf veggies. Corn kernels are a bit low-res, but might also be useful for text messages. And those lovely, enormous, patterned beans, like "Christmas limas," have space for fine, high contrast, repeating messages in burgundy on white - or even white on burgundy! A million identical beans bearing my message would surely make the papers.

Of course, if I could do this, to promote vegetarianism, I would also put all sorts of messages in processed meat products that would plainly read "don't eat me" in clean, fat- or spice-based text, and in the processed foods that so many other people eat but shouldn't: ice crystals in non-dairy whipped topping, for example.


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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


  People speak freely about all sorts of things on public transit. There are many reasons for this. There is the misleading feeling of anonymity in the big city; obliviousness; and a desperate need for transit riders to keep ME entertained while I run my errands.

I admit that I periodically enjoy having intensely silly, joke-filled conversations with friends on transit, just to watch the people around me desperately suppressing their laughter.

Two favorite recent conversations:

-a girl was speaking in the vaguest possible terms about what she was eating for dinner, mystifying her friend with statements that ended in questions: 'That little brown stuff? It's like pasta? But maybe it's not pasta? You know, that crap that vegans eat!'

-two young guys, one of whom was quiet, had his friend outlining what he wants for his quiet friend in a girl. There was a lively discussion about hair color (conclusion: brunette), and then all sorts of colorful requirements, including that the lucky brunette must be "sexual, but she keeps that [expletive] private!" and "talkative, but not someone who talks because she is afraid of silence." Part of the reason this was great was because the boy who was in need of a girl was so quiet, while his friend got more and more detailed about her characteristics, none of which were physical beyond her hair color... I was reluctant to get off the streetcar when we reached my stop, because I wanted the complete profile of this engaging, ideal, virtual girl.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)9:52 PM

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


An honest endorsement of the sort you'd like to hear from alcohol retailers every so often.

I like this quote, which is from a randomly browsed article about kava, the previously hip natural product that was in every sort of supplement known to man here in the U.S., but which has since been replace with other hip supplements. The product was famous for relaxing those who use it.
'It relaxes you,' explained Chief Selwyn Garu, enjoying his second cup at dusk. 'In fact, I'm struggling to talk right now!'"
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vanuatu defends its famous drink (, 7/18/07).

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Monday, March 17, 2008


It all depends on how you say it.

The following are observations by a middle-aged woman about a young man's skateboard, said at high volume on BART, in such a way that I had to look up to see if the conversation was intended to be clean.

"It's big."

"It's long."

"It's longer than normal."

"Look at those! You've got *big* wheels."


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Conversations are more complex when your mind is not clean.

I will participate in a one-night gallery show and party on March 19th. I will post the details when I have them.

I was discussing the show with Steven, and he began suggesting people to invite.
S: You should make [musician] come. Because we went to his show last week. [Frown. Pause.] Wait. That doesn't sound right.

Me: [Laughter][Uncertain tone]: He might like to receive that kind of offer...

S: Make him come to your show.

Me: And [photographer friend]. I should make him come.

I don't think most people feel compelled to make these sorts of clarifications.


posted by Arlene (Beth)5:56 PM

Monday, February 04, 2008

  Randomness. It was gorgeous this evening. I might not have noticed - I usually traverse the City underground, and see only my own little neighborhood once I emerge, mole-like, from beneath the streets - but I was the third warm body that enabled a colleague to use the carpool lane on the way home, and so the dazzling clarity of the air, and the sparkling lights of the City pulled me on a long walk downtown from the business district where I was dropped off.

What a gorgeous place to live.


I have been away from my screen in the evenings because my eyes need a rest. However, to rest them, I elected... to read. I read Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which is a cyberpunk-like, dark future novel about a thoroughly franchised future... It is the novel that my friend Peter always wants to borrow names from. Well, one name, actually.
Peter: And my main character will be called... Hiro Protagonist.
Me: No.
Peter: It's a great name!
Me: NO!
Peter: B--
Or something along those lines. (Yes, the main character is Hiro Protagonist. Hiro is prounounced like /hero/.)


Best line from a colleague about a coffee cup's perception of being in a dishwashing machine:
I think your cup should think of it less as housekeeper-sanctioned waterboarding and more like a spa massage.
It's fun to speak with other people who write frequently, like this particular colleague. While I write in legalese and wound up sounding very dry and formal, she can make reference to 'clouds weeping' to describe rain and it sounds completely natural.


Silliest conversation of all of last week:
Me: ...and then I had to tell her what Muzak was.
L: Who here doesn't know what Muzak is?
Me: [name of uninformed freak].
L: Can you imagine being a Muzak musician? Wouldn't that be wild? You go into work and you say, "Let's do some Air Supply! Or let's do [sings] 'Sailing, takes me away to where I've wanted to be....'
Both of us: [do fake air solos on horns and piano while humming to replace Christopher Cross' lyrics in Muzak version]
Me: [laugh so hard I cry]

Siouxsie has a recent album out called Mantaray, which includes a song called "Heaven and Alchemy." The song has lyrics like:
I'm in love
With the idea of you
and at first I thought that was the most obvious thing in the world, before realizing that most people aren't very good at separating fantasy from reality. It's actually a reasonably observant thing to say.

When you feel affection for someone you don't know well, it's because you have a mental fantasy about how you think they should be, and you adore THAT more than the actual person. There are people whom I have adored from afar who could never, ever, ever live up to my internal fantasy of them: being near them in person was periodically repellent in that it was a reminder that they were real, and had all of the failings of ordinary mortals. (Ick.) But the affection for idea(l)s applies to places, activities, and other sorts of dreams.

There is a bookstore I love, though I am often disappointed when I go there, because it can't live up to the concept I have of the shop as a container for pure genius representing the culture of ideas in which I want to live. There are nightclubs that always get me excited to go to, but when I'm there, I realize the idea of what it would be like was better. Japan was my first international trip, which I visited alone for about three weeks, and there were countless times when the country failed to live up to my historical and aesthetic fantasies. Just about anyone I know had a first sexual experience that falls into this category. Certain sorts of religious rituals. Weddings of friends that involve long, long, painfully long, oh come rescue us now please from this lengthy sermon rife with dogma. Certain kinds of cake...

It is a punishment for creative optimism that the world can be less than we dream of it.

The dreaming is still awfully fun, however.


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:11 PM

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

  Live snow globe. Everyone in my office who I discuss it with really seems to like my idea of filling one of our glass-fronted executive offices with soap flakes and powerful fans, closing the door, and having someone sit inside in a Santa suit. They could try to work, but their REAL purpose would be to serve as our live snow globe.

But no one wants to clean it up afterward, and the executive best suited for this task recently left the company, so the idea isn't going anywhere. Which is a shame.

I am willing to run a vacuum for a few hours each day until the New Year, but it looks like I'm the only one.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:12 PM

Monday, November 19, 2007

  Distractions abound. I just went over to Steven's computer for a moment, to listen to Where Is My Mind by the Pixies... But then I had to listen to Bottle Up and Explode by Elliott Smith (and Independence Day, and Son of Sam, and a few others.). And Seven Nation Army by White Stripes. And the official song of my laps this morning, National Anthem by Radiohead.

About 20 songs later, I finally feel the absence of a growing word count. The shame. The shame.

Oh, look! A Depeche Mode cover by Portishead!


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

  Swish! That is both a sound effect in many Dr. Seuss books, and the noise that time has been making as it passes me by this week, unremarked upon here.

I've been carrying a little notebook with me everywhere, and trying to make little notes in it about things I want to write about here, or in letters, or in one of my other journals, but the notes are harried, cryptic, and written in that special font that I use when I'm riding in a moving bus or train. It suggests what my writing will be like in my very old age. (At that point, I will claim that it is not the unsteadiness of my hands, but rather a sublime sensitivity to earthquakes that renders my words illegible. Then I will agitate for large keyboards with fist-sized keys to communicate with, and will try to sell my handwriting as abstract art.)

The skies have been gorgeous at sunrise over the last few weeks. Stunningly red at the horizon. Creating dramatic shafts of light between clouds. Some mornings I am convinced that the entire sky has been rendered in chalk pastels. But all the specifics - which mornings involved lavender and cream pastels, which involved shades of blue I haven't yet defined, which veered off into oil or acrylic territory - are lost.

The days are filled with distractions. I lose hold of the little ideas that I want to enjoy more thoroughly, and trivia takes their place. I tire easily. I wilt in the heat. I make more little notes, and wonder if my complete absorption in NaNoWriMo next month will be empowering or if it will be escapism that becomes empowering only later, when I realize that I've written another novel, and so can likely do any fun-yet-impractical thing I set my mind to...


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:00 PM

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