I made my usual trip back to Texas over the winter holiday.  The first thing I saw after landing in George Bush International Airport was a Fox News Store, and I just about got back on the plane and asked to be taken home.

As the season keeps reminding us, what’s important is the people important to us, so instead of talking about what we did (which was attend a lot of holiday dinners), here’s an update on my family.

After some initial resistance, my mom has settled into retirement.  She’s spends her time making sure family is taken care of and then enjoying herself.  For my dad (B) it’s just one crisis after another.  Every time I’ve seen him for the past decade, he’s never failed to impress upon everyone how little sleep he’s getting or what he’s had to do because something has gone wrong or someone is trying to scam him.  There is always a crisis, or otherwise he and his outdated knowledge and skills would no longer be relevant.  What would be nice if people actually wanted his help, instead of having to tell each other, “he means well” or “just humor him.”

When he and my brother (S) talk, B will lecture for several minutes until S interjects with a comment or anecdote.  You know, like how some people have a conversation.  But B isn’t really interested in a conversation or dialogue.  Instead, he’ll nod and say, “All right, let me talk.”  Other people’s input — whether additional information he might be aware of, different perspectives, or opinions / suggestions about the problem at hand — only interferes with the goal, which is to proclaim what he has decided and why it’s right.  People may read that and think it’s exaggeration, but unfortunately it’s not.

S sometimes goes into mentor mode.  I think it may be because his daughters aren’t interested in the same things he is, so he has limited opportunities to talk about things like Raleigh scattering or a mathematical proof he once did.  That must feel isolating, when there is no one in your family you can speak to naturally.  He works some pretty crappy hours too, but it means his family doesn’t have money worries.

His wife (I) also works hard.  She spends most of the day taking care of two girls and the house.  When the girls are finally asleep, only then does she have time to practice (she’s a pianist).  I heard her stay up til 2 or 3 am practicing, only to wake up early to take care of the girls.  Insert comment about women making concessions with their career in order to raise a family or in deference to their husband’s job.

But when we drove to the airport to send me off, I surprised the girls by saying they were going on an impromptu trip to Disneyland.  I planned the whole trip since S works crazy hours, even during the holiday.  She’s all right in my book.  S says he’s usually so tired after work that, if it were up to him, they wouldn’t do much, just eat dinner then watch TV, so it’s good that I is spontaneous and keeps the family active.

My eldest niece (E, 11 years) spent most of the break reading.  I’m assuming it’s because she likes reading and not just for the reading points she logged (or whatever they’re called these days).  This year, she says she wants to be a professional violinist, but it’s clear she isn’t currently practicing hard enough to make that happen (it doesn’t take conservatory-trained I to see that).  I did get to talk some math with E, but it appears the cursory understanding that passes for math education in most schools is good enough for her right now.  S notes that she is very much about following directions (E follows recipes or doesn’t cook at all.  Lego means instructions you follow to get the designed product; it’s not a kit for imagination.), which unfortunately means she doesn’t really think for herself or follow her curiosity.  But she’s still young, so maybe she will grow out of it.  Or maybe the family’s affluence shelters her.

If my elder niece is about following rules, the younger one (M, 7 years) is about pushing the limits.  She’s the baby, and plays to “the cute one” role by talking in baby voice and acting for the audience.  M gets away with a lot, pretty much as soon as people’s backs are turned, and has started treating most directions as mere suggestions (use your indoor voice, shut the door when using the bathroom, don’t play with mom’s phone, etc.) and generally ignores them until an adult raises their voice.  The one person she does listen to is her older sister because she looks up to E and wants to be like her.

The story is that M’s piano teacher is quite famous and sought after, the sort whose students train for competition.  Meanwhile, when the teacher tries to show M how to play, M pushes her away and goes on playing how she wants.  The teacher says she generally drops students like M, but she keeps teaching her because it’s clear that M genuinely has fun playing the piano.  And I just realized this sounds like Nodame Cantabile.  Perhaps M’s willful impetuosity will be her strength one day.

Being around my nieces meant being subjected to a lot of bad children’s programming.  There was an old Strawberry Shortcake where sounded like the director told the voice actors to talk down to particular dumb four year olds.  And then there was the incredibly trite Disney special called Santa Paws that shouted, “We couldn’t think of anything original, so here are some talking animals and a slice of Annie.”  Makes me appreciate shows that don’t treat kids as mindless sheep who need to be distracted.

They say it’s not really a trip unless it changes you.  (And if they don’t say it, then I say, so there.)  The holidays have generally been a time for introspection for me, a time to reflect on not the year ahead or the year behind, but on my life and how it’s going.  And I would really like someone to share my life with, someone to come home to and make plans with.

And it’s not because several people asked me if I had a girlfriend (M asks “when,” not “if,” I’m getting married).  Or that my cousins all have spouses and babies.  Or that most of my coworkers are either married or in stable relationships.  But, as much as I like being in charge of my own life, it feels like there’s something missing, something that can’t be filled with games or even a bunny (though he is adorable).  So maybe it’s time to stop using, “I’m busy.  I just bought property,” as an excuse and get out there.


Relax, we understand j00

Megatokyo hit 1337 comics this week, so for old time’s sake, I did an archive binge.  This is equivalent to burning through 6 volumes of a manga.  More or less literally, as I still have the first 5 volumes.  I must have bought some volumes after I came to Berkeley, as book 5, covering through chapter 8, came out in 2006.

However, at some point I stopped following the comic.  Fred’s infamous update schedule (many webcomics in the early 2000s have poked fun at his schedule slippage and/or Fred’s high standard for his own art; see this early xkcd) has slowed even more as he has a kid and now a sick wife.  Because of Fred’s tendency of 1) each page no longer being self-contained; 2) spending many panels on the emotional state/reactions of his characters; and 3) flipping between A and B plots on successive pages or even successive panels, it’s hard to hold the narrative thread when new pages come so irregularly.  That, and I had trouble telling some of the character designs apart.  I am not the only one, as tvtropes lists Only Six Faces on the MT page.

Now that I have a better eye for such things, I can generally tell the characters apart.  At least Kimiko vs. Erika and Yuki vs. Junko.  I’m also somehow better at understanding the characters.  I would like to start following the comic again: I want to learn what happens to these characters, and the art is good.  However, the update schedule and narrative structure is such that I think I’d rather read a whole chapter in one go.  The problem with that: the last chapter took 2 years to finish.

The title of this post is taken from the comic’s tag line, and I can see why it had such a following in the early days of web comics. The comic has a certain appeal to a demographic well-represented on the internet. Piro has trouble with 3d girls and so insulates himself in the fantasies of dating simulations. And Largo regularly runs into ninjas, zombies, zilla-sized monsters, mecha police, bfg-toting Sega agents, and magical girls. And they both find themselves in relationships with cute seiyuu, though the comic looks past this obvious otaku fantasy scenario to ask if emotions are real even if the escapist fantasies are not. Nowadays, web comics about otakus and girl troubles are a dime-a-dozen, but MT holds up well.

Life imitates art: averted

(Life imitates art: averted)

Let me tell you a story, for it begins just like a story.

Three years ago, some ballroom people and I drove down to LA for Camp Hollywood, a swing dance camp.  Among other things, I met and danced with a pair of shy red-headed twins.  Now, I have a thing for shy girls and redheads.  (I also have a thing for women who wear glasses and have advanced degrees in a math/science field.)  However, when I asked one where she was from (people had come from all over, so you never know…), she said she was from SoCal (oh).  And since I was to drive north eight hours the next day, I decided to save myself the eventual disappointment and not pursue things any further.

Well, about a year ago, I had one of my periodic moods to be more active on OkCupid, when I found a pair of red-headed twins who liked dancing.  I messaged both, one wrote back.  She said she remembered dancing and talking to me.

See?  This sounds like the charming story someone tells about how their grandparents met.

Anyway, we message each other.  We IM each other.  We share personal things.  We talk about relationships.  We decide to meet.  And that’s probably where life diverged from art.  I went down to SoCal, and it wasn’t a bad trip, but I still wasn’t sure about yet another long-distance relationship.  See, I was scheduled to graduate within six months, and who knows where I’d end up afterwards.  She just transferred to a new school and definitely would be there for 2-4 years.  Things didn’t click enough for me to, say, restrict my first job to whatever I could find in her immediate area so we could give it a shot.

We talked some more.  Cracks were beginning to form.  Then she visited me, and during that trip I decided it wouldn’t work out in the long term.  Yes, despite the red hair; I’m not that superficial.  We’re now trying to stay IM buddies.

Since I’m trying to prevent this blog from becoming some weepy, angsty Livejournal, the thing is this: earlier this year, I decided it wasn’t worth it to pursue a relationship until after I graduated.  It’s very likely I’d move after graduation, so what would be the point?  Save myself the worry and concentrate on graduating.  But then this… story happened, and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t give it a chance.  So I did, and I don’t regret it.

The End

The Verona Project

I went to see The Verona Project at CalShakes last night.  I overheard that this is only the 2nd time in their history that they’ve put on an original play.  For a given value of put on, as I don’t think any of the usual cast were in the show, though technical crew probably were.  Instead, the cast was a hand assembled group of musicians and artists.  The show did have, however, CalShakes’ usual quirky sense of humor.

From what I gather from the program, the idea was to do a rock concept album based off Two Gentlemen of Verona, the parallel being that love and life are never quite as simple as rock or theater portrays it.  Yet somehow through this simplified half-truth, we know the real truth better.

Before I get too philosophical, some more on the show: it was entertaining.  There was some good indie music and acting and imagery (of the sort that makes me wish I understood the symbolism better, but I don’t, which then makes me suspect that people are just making crap up).  They took the original plot and made it theirs, injecting a sense of humor into the production.   For example, the actors used tin cans tied with twine to talk to each other, but also to show the connection between people.  The scene where Proteus leaves Julia, he physically breaks the cord and walks off the stage.  He was being a douche (well, that’s how he spends almost the entire show), but it was done in an amusing way.  Oddly, the whole tin can symbolism disappeared before Act II.  For some songs, I do wish they had enunciated better.  The weirdest thing in the show was that characters would narrate what they are doing: “Julia looks down into the sink,” etc.  When the entire cast is doing this, it could be avant-garde, or it could be an utter failure of Show, Don’t Tell.

Anyway, I like going to the theater because it makes me think about stuff that I ordinarily don’t think about when I run in my usual circles.  For example, Proteus asks how do you know you’re in love?  Sure, you meet a girl and everything seems perfect, but if you haven’t seen the world, do you really know this is it, or is this just what you think love to be based off what little you’ve experienced?  Then you do leave your little town, and you see your best friend blindingly happily in love.  Is love supposed to be something out of a poem?  Is comparing your love and his love like comparing apples and oranges?

And the thing is this: I (James, not Proteus), have spent almost my entire adult life bouncing between okay being single; not okay being single; struggling with ultimately doomed relationships; jealous of others’ happiness; or relearning how live without a person I depended on.  There may have been some months when I was happily floating along, but not a lyrical poem, rock & roll kind of love.  Part of me has watched too many musicals and movies and expects love to be announced by a lightning strike or a fanfare of angels.  Part of me remembers what happened when I became too attached to one person and now keeps everyone at a distance.  And because of that distance, I don’t think I’ll let myself feel poetry; if I do, I will second guess and dampen my feelings.  And given that, that second part of me says don’t wait for lightning, grab the first girl who’ll do, and try to make it work.  But the first part of me wonders, while I’m settling for what’s there, maybe I’ll miss the person I’m supposed to be with.  It’s not like I have years to spend on doomed relationships.

Then the rational part of me says I don’t exactly have them queuing up.  I should date who I can and see if it works out.  And if it doesn’t, then it’s practice for when I do find someone.  That would be rational, but since when do love and rationality go together?

A night at the theater

Caught the last week of Titus Andronicus at CalShakes today.  I picnicked on polenta (with red and yellow bell peppers) and roast chicken, a slice of potato casserole, a couple macaroons, and a banana, all homemade except the chicken and, of course, the banana.

CalShakes still has a keen sense of humor, even in a play as bloody as Titus.  During the final scene, Titus came out in apron and toque.  The lewd characters made relevant gestures during any innuendo.

It’s cold at night, on the other side of the hills, even in June, so I did Charlestons and Shirley Temples in the Bart station.  I wonder if it’s better to only ride the Bart one station to Rockville and bike home rather than four to Downtown Berkeley.

I got stopped by campus security for not having lights on; apparently there has been a spate of late night collisions.  Got home and melted chocolate to dip the macaroons in.

Ships in the night

Rereading Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett.  This metaphor for relationships hit home:

‘The interesting thing about ships is that the captains of ships have to be very careful when two ships are close together at sea, particularly in calm conditions. They tend to collide.’

‘Because of the wind blowing, and that?’ said Glenda, thinking: In theory this is a romantic-novel situation and I am about to learn about ships. Iradne Comb-Buttworthy never puts a ship in her books. They probably don’t have enough reticules.

‘No,’ said Nutt. ‘In fact, to put it simply, each ship shields the other ship from lateral waves on one side, so by small increments outside forces bring them together without their realizing it.’

Glenda cleared her throat again. ‘This thing with the ships…Does it happen quite quickly?’

‘It starts quite slowly, but it’s quite quick towards the end,’ said Nutt.