1 Notes

"A woman happily in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappily in love, she forgets to turn on the oven."


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marvel actors fangirling over other marvel actors


Deep caving has no end. Every depth record is provisional, every barrier a false conclusion. […] A mountain climber can at least pretend to some mastery over the planet. But cavers know better.
Burkhard Bilger, “In Deep" from The New Yorker

(Really fascinating piece about cave explorers and the strange unknown under the surface.)

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Make It Big (or Small)

I found this video through a Gizmodo article. It’s about an artist who created a 10-foot tall origami elephant from a single piece of paper.

It’s an example of how so many of the most striking ideas in art come from playing with basic art theory concepts. In this case, it’s scale. Most origami creations can fit in the palm of your hand, so why not flip the expectation on its head and make the biggest folded paper sculpture you can? The reverse principle explains why the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago are so popular.  

The project also reminded me of the “Lead Balloon” episode of Mythbusters, which played with the conceptual contrasts of lightness and heaviness. All of these ventures make me giddy. I love to see how meticulous the artists are in executing their seemingly simple ideas. It’s really inspiring.


Behind the Scenes with The Simpsons

I just watched one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons with the commentary. It’s “Stark Raving Dad,” the one with Michael Jackson. 

Listening to the team talking about the behind-the-scenes action of working with the superstar was fascinating. Jackson had reached out to them and asked to be involved, taking the entire team by surprise. He wrote the darling “Lisa, It’s Your Birthday” song in addition to handling one of the show’s heftiest guest spots. Apparently the whole studio was pretty starstruck by working with him, which is so sweet considering the levels of celebrity the team now has. 

I’d never listened to the commentary on The Simpsons before, and I loved hearing about their process. They talked about working with animators, testing out different storylines, and, most interesting, about some of the choices they made for the final product. They looked back on their own work, oohing over some of the great visuals as the episode ran. It was such a natural response to frames that look just perfect. They noted the scene of Homer walking into the plant with his pink shirt and the slow downward shot of a sad Lisa at the kitchen table, reacting viscerally and joyfully to the imagery that they’d half-forgotten about. They’re scenes that are so good you don’t really notice they’re good. Julie Kavner also pointed out a moment where Bart plucks the cord of the phone while he’s talking to Homer. They debated who’d thought to add in the little action, something so simple that you wouldn’t feel it missing if it had been omitted, but it added volumes of interest and personality to the shot. 

The devil really is in the details. Tiny moments, whether in the specific camera angles or the character actions, make a huge difference in the texture and tone of the show. 

It’s also just delightful to hear the writers and producers laughing at the jokes, even after twenty years. Great humor really can be timeless. 


Movie response: “Gravity”

I imagine the biggest challenge to the writers of a movie like “Gravity” is how to capture such pure, primal panic in a way that feels true. Audience members expect a certain level of profound wisdom from a movie like this, one that clearly has an artistic vision and statement. But part of the appeal here is how realistically the director wanted to portray this catastrophic event in space. It’s a conundrum, as certain-death situations are not the time when most of us humans are at our most eloquent. So when you’re trying to create a realistic response to terror at the same time that you’re telling a very particular story, how can you possibly get it right? 

My gut reaction walking out of the theater was that the script was too heavy-handed, too forced. The more I thought about it, though, the more I wondered if that approach was actually the best for the situation. After all, if I were in space, barely trained, alone, and facing my imminent demise, I might be inclined to say some pretty strange and strained things to myself in an effort to find some solace in my fate. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. I’m totally okay with that. 

So the movie has flaws. It may have a less-than-perfect script and some questionable scientific accuracies. It’s also the most unique, beautiful and visually ambitious movie I’ve seen in quite some time. I’d call that a win.

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It’s important to be yourself because the MOF competition is a picture of you and your ability. If there are too many people who influence your work, it’s no longer you.

Philippe Urraca, President of the Meilleurs ouvriers de France Pâtissier, in “Kings of Pastry”

It’s hard to stick with your gut when you’re an artist, especially when being the best at your craft means getting judged — formally or informally — by others. 

I liked this documentary about the pastry chefs competing for the MOF title. It’s all about perfection and passion in your craft, and the sometimes strange traditions we use to recognize them. Also, if you aren’t heartbroken when the sugar sculpture breaks (because a sugar piece always breaks in these events), then something’s very wrong with you. 

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Lately I’ve been disheartened about working as a professional writer. Especially in the everything-is-free, anything-goes, soapboxes-for-all world of the Internet, this job feels like a constant battle to find work. This wonderful New York Times op-ed by Tim Kreider sums up the financial angle of the uphill struggle of creative life, and how dogged we have to be in convincing others that we are valuable. 

I would love to see a world where good writing and art were properly compensated. Part of the issue really seems to be a lack of understanding about what it means to work online. 

Browsing the web starts a butterfly effect. Our clicks are essentially endorsements for a type of story, or a publication, or a philosophy about material online. Reading poorly-written trash and then sharing it with your friends on Facebook isn’t just a chance for you to spark debate or share lols. You’re also telling that website, and others like it, to keep generating trash, because you shared it and you made money for that company by sharing it.

Online activity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Hitting the “share” button means more than the average reader seems to realize. 

There’s an old-school mindset that every person should work at least one job in service and in retail in order to be a better future employee, as well as a smarter and more empathetic human being. I think it’s time that holding a job in the Internet economy also be added to that list. For an industry that has become so integral to how the modern world works, there is a frighteningly widespread ignorance of what makes the Internet tick. The importance of critical thinking and critical reading shouldn’t fly out the window just because we’re living in browsers instead of books. 

Be critical. We’ll all be better off for it. 

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Sweet home…

I’ve been living in New York for nearly a month, and I’ve been putting off writing my Chicago farewell. 

The first few weeks here seemed like an otherworldly vacation. Time was transient, I slept too much, and the apartment never felt like home. Part of me expected to pack up at any moment and go back to reality, to familiarity. I was decidedly unhappy.

I’m slowly getting used to the new setting. I think I’ll grow to like it quite a lot. In fact, I’m sure I will. On paper, New York is all the things I want in my city. But I don’t think I’ll ever fall in love. 

I’ve never been able to articulate my loves well, even when they are wholly genuine. Anything I say carries shades of other people’s love. I can never come up with anything that sounds like a true reason why I — just me, and nobody else — would feel the way I do. 

Maybe that’s the beauty of being in love. It’s complicated. It’s individual. Nobody else necessarily needs to understand all its nuances, and it’s possible that nobody ever could. We have to talk about it in whatever shared terms and experiences we have. So let’s talk about home.  

When you love your home, it isn’t just for logical reasons. Home is a mixed love, an in-spite-of-it love. You know your home inside and out, and despite its all-too-apparent flaws, it’s kin. You love it for your shared history, for being able to reflect with a grin and say, “Remember that time when…” Your city doesn’t say anything back, but it does remember. 

Home is the inside jokes, secrets, camaraderie, familiarity, loyalty. It’s your dysfunctional family, all three-point-something million of them. 

My answer now when asked what I love most about Chicago is “spunkiness.” It’s a beautiful attitude where Chicago knows it isn’t as widely idolized as its counterparts, but doesn’t give a damn. Chicago does its thing, and is cool with it. Chicago has its own brand of moxie that I’ve never found elsewhere. For me, being in Chicago feels right. It feels like “yes.” If you’ve fallen in love with a place, if you’ve had that solid, tangible knowledge of home every time you see the dear buildings and walk the pavement, then I think you probably know what I mean. 

So here’s to you, Chicago. I can’t wait to come back for a visit and renew our love affair. I’ve always been terrible at saying good-bye. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, and apparently more sentimental. For now, let’s not call it ‘adieu,’ but rather ‘au revoir.’ 

New York…that whole ‘greatest city in the world’ reputation better have some meat to it. You have big shoes and big shoulders to replace. 

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Behind the scenes of Sesame Street with the Muppets.

These people were geniuses.

This was one of about four TV shows I was allowed to watch as a kid. I still think it was brilliant.