2048, and other dated thoughts

In a world of hot takes and instantaneous reactions, where we’ve generally moved on from thinking about United Airlines and April the giraffe already…I keep having idle thoughts better suited to 3 years ago, when Frozen and “Pompeii” and 2048 were more freshly on our minds.

So.  Idle question the first: did Elsa control all snow or just that which she caused?  If my car is buried under a foot of snow, can she magically shift it?  Honestly, what are the limits to her powers?  How much effort would it take her to freeze an entire lake or ocean?

Second: Are there any youth pastors who got really into Bastille and did more overthinking of “Pompeii” than I did?  The line Oh, where do we begin?  The rubble or our sin? BEGS to be made into some kind of ridiculous Bible study, all “In a broken world full of distress, is it most needful to address physical needs and realities, or first see to spiritual wounds?”  Or something.  This is preposterous and I want it.

heu

Latin memes = best memes.  Yes, even in 2017.  Even when this song was overplayed so much you stopped hearing it.

Third and lastly: 2048.  When this first became a nationwide (worldwide?) phenomenon, I got really into it for a while – to the point of adding squares in my sleep, you know how it goes – until I gave it up for Pentecost.  As you do.

Lately I’ve gotten back into playing it, and thus keep ruminating on the following: 2048 is like a microcosm of relationships and personality.

You’re young.  You’re a 2.  There are so many people and ideas for you to meet with, and any 2 will combine with you.  You’re a 4, an 8, a 16.  The combinations flicker by so fast, it’s hard to keep up.  And all around you the same: 4s, 8s, 16s.  The 32s fall into line beside each other.

At first, it’s harder not to run into a match, or a fit.  Even a 64 or 128 can match up.  There’s space to maneuver, 2s and 4s are doubling up 8s and 16s all the time.  It’s quite fun, and nearly mindless, because very nearly anything will work out.

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Until the board’s worked up to a 512 or 1024.  Suddenly you’re a 64 or 128 or 256, perfectly reasonable – there’s even another 64 and 128 and 256 on the board.

You can see it.  But you can’t reach it.  You have no idea what would have to shift to bring the two together.  Trying to calculate it – trying to predict whether 2s or 4s will appear (is there a formula?), figuring if it’s easier to reach the Largish Number on the other side of the world, or if you have the space/time to wait for a new one to double up – it all leaves you feeling overcalculating, frustrated and impotent if not outright insane, and, unsurprisingly, makes it all feel like work rather than play.

Sometimes your careful machinations work out (o frabjous day!)  Sometimes they just give you a brief reprieve from Nothing Working Out At All, Ever.  Nothing will move.  Helpless, you know that if you could only shift this thing that way, all would fall into place beautifully.

Maybe you bungled it so many moves ago that you can never arrange things as they’d need to be arranged.  Maybe you were so focused on a strategy involving one piece that you missed the opportunity to find or fashion another double elsewhere.  Maybe you forgot that most elementary of facts about how pieces connect with the first match they run into, leaving that second match alone and forgotten.

Then the regret: if only you’d flicked things up instead of left.  If only there weren’t such a plethora of skinny, pretty little 2s gumming up the works.  All the cunning manipulation you’ve got, navigating all the blasted 2s in the world doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you’re a 256 or 512, and there just isn’t a 256 or 512 in sight for you.

It might all change, and quickly!  Or you might just lose.  Again.

You find you’ve run your battery down to 9%.

You feel that you’ve wasted your time and energy even playing.

…but even so, you wonder: what must it be like, to finally achieve that elusive, shining 2048?

2048 win

Watching this is basically like going through someone else’s album of wedding photos.

Lucas

Trying to keep my hand in!  This attempt at painting Lucas the elephant (when he was about 3 years old, I think) reminded me of a few watercolor principles:
– squint at your original to determine where the core shadows are;
– use color/shade contrast to convey shape rather than outlining everything; and
– keep a sense of proportion throughout, using bigger or smaller brushes as necessary.

 

Seal in Triplicate

Last week, I helped with a fundraiser.  Among other things, this involved making a couple of signs to post on the street, pointing folks THIS WAY! 

After a frustrating half-hour of scribbling with Sharpies to make letters readable from a distance, I pulled out my widest paintbrush and Chromacryl paints.  These suckers are about two decades old, purchased from some enterprising lady hawking student acrylics at my grade school.  Should I have tossed them years ago?  Probably.  Did I instead hang onto them for their much-vaunted hour of need?  But of course.  Slightly goopy, but they got the job done!

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So old that new tubes of Chromacryl look NOTHING like them.

Since then, paint’s been in the back of my mind.  I’ve got 3 different sets of watercolor tubes, 2 sets of oil paint, 1 set of acrylics, to say nothing of various markers, colored pencils, pens, and oil pastels.

I should paint something, I thought yesternight, digging out old watercolor paper that had been divided into quadrants with painter’s tape 5 years ago and never used.  But what?

And then I saw this post, and figured a seal was as good a place to start as anywhere.

What should I paint next?

What have y’all drawn or painted lately?

Foodstuffs to Empty a Pantry

(or: Culinary Ingenuity, Part III)

This doesn’t sound like a thing anyone wants, does it?  The shadow of empty cupboards, or a fridge with nothing but old condiments inside, the wolf of hunger scratching at the door: it haunts us, even those who have never actually suffered from the want that image signifies.

On the other hand, most of us are also familiar with opening the fridge, finding it full of items, then shutting it while muttering “There’s nothing to eat!”  Whatever is there takes too much work to prepare, or there’s so many different types of food that none of it can be combined in an appealing way.  And so on.

I’ve written before about peculiar methods of cooking food, and weird ways of using up leftovers.  But the current concern is, in essence, meta­-leftovers: the pearl barley my mom gave me that I never use, the two cans of peanuts I bought (one by accident) for a single Thai recipe, the shrimp in the freezer that get passed over for fresh chicken or ground beef or sausage.  The items that sit and sit and sit, because it’s easier and tastier to use lentils or pasta or the fresh vegetables of the day.

But, as with books, no food can sit forever.  There’s a built-in deadline of spoilage, and my own frugality tugs me to use it before I lose it.  This means you, 1.5 canisters of steel-cut oats!  And you, 3 sheets of nori in the corner!  And you, canned beans that I occasionally buy and rarely cook.

It’d be a lie to call myself any sort of minimalist, but one particular bit of Francine Jay’s book The Joy of Less that has stuck with me is her comment that when we get rid of whatever it is we don’t really enjoy, we give ourselves more room for what truly delights us.  Surfaces are to be free for activity, and so on.

I’ve spent a few afternoons organizing my mom’s canned goods, cupboards, and pantry – enough to know that the deeper and fuller the storage, the harder it is to remember what exactly is in there.  What do I need to replace?  What do I need to use?  Do I actually have that particular spice or mix or can of water chestnuts, or did I make that up?

In my ongoing attempt to be able to see what is in my house, and, specifically, in my pantry, I’ve tried, of late, to use as much as possible of the items there before purchasing more.  This has resulted in reorganizing my canned goods to see whether I have the necessary for chana masala and rajmah chamal (over barley or bulgur, of course), making my sausage-lentil-kale soup with farro instead of lentils, and trying to figure out to do with all the pecans and walnuts I bought.  A tart dough full of nuts?  Homemade Nutella?  Some kind of eggless cookie?

This feels especially appropriate in the days leading up to Lent – and, as it happens, demands far more creativity (Chesterton would approve).  The bananas in the freezer were *intended* for nut bread, but since I have one last egg and no yogurt, I could make them into fake ice cream by blending them with cocoa powder, and use the aforementioned homemade Nutella to top it.  The bag of frozen vegetable scraps could make veggie stock for barley risotto.  There’s some shrimp and bacon lingering in the freezer, which could bulk up soups or pasta sauces.

It’s like I’ve finally come to understand what MFK Fisher and Tamar Adler were talking about.  But more on them later; I think I’ll go use my lone egg to make half a batch of crepes.

a conversation with an imaginary bookmonger

“One of our staff recommendations!  I loved it.  Are you looking forward to reading this?”

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s for my roommate.”

“Oh!  I see.  Well, is there anything we can tempt you with?  I see you have Backman and Bradley in your bag…”

“Eh, they’re both library books.  I tend to prefer the library, actually.”

“Any particular reason why?  It’s not just about the price, I hope.”

“No, well – okay, the price IS right at a library.  It’s more that – I’m a bit of a hoarder.  I – I know there are some people who say It’s not hoarding if it’s books, and they aren’t wrong.  But.  I do hoard other things.  I hang on to notes from the college I graduated from 7 years ago.  Hang onto stuff for scrapbooks and materials for art projects.  I hoard all my good intentions and very rarely actually get around to making my dreams realities.”

“So you don’t want books to be part of your stuff.”

“No – well, books are part of my stuff.  A few hundred of them.  I just – look, it’s not just about money, and it’s not just about space.  It’s about deadlines.  Someone else eventually wants the library book back, and so I can live there for a while and capture those phrases and ideas.  And maybe they’ll escape from my head eventually, but maybe in that amount of time, they’ll transform me.  If they’re mine to read, they’re also mine to ignore.  If absolutely nothing else – if I check out a book and ignore it completely until someone else wants it – I have to look at it when I hand it back in.”

“You need the interruption.”

“The interruption and the deadline, yes.”

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Y’all, I just went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them yesternight, and it delighted me so much that I have to tell you all about it.

This is far and away my favorite Potterverse movie.  I admit that’s chiefly due to the fact that the other 8 have the book-depiction-versus-movie-depiction conflict; the Tale of the Three Brothers might be the only part that I love without any qualms whatsoever because it’s done with such incredible artistry, and in such a fantastic storybook style.  So your mileage may vary.  Since I’d avoided the trailers and pre-film hype, it’s fair to say that I went in with no expectations whatsoever.

…okay, that is not quite true.  Anyone who has talked to me about Harry Potter at length knows that I find the similarities of Dementors and Lethifolds – thin black shroud creatures, one a soul-eater and one a body-swallower, both repelled by the Patronus charm – to be fascinating.  I also find the concept of the Nundu (breather of plague, destroyer of villages) to be utterly terrifying.  You could make feature-length movies about all three.

This movie had neither Lethifolds nor Nundu, which would be more disappointing if it hadn’t amused me so much.  I was probably That Obnoxious Person Who Laughs Too Loud to everyone else in the theater, which leaves me wondering if headcolds or Sudafed render the world more hilarious.  

It’s tricky to say why I laughed so much without spoiling it.  The hijinx of the animals themselves?  The differences between wizard and no-maj (ie, Muggle)?  The dance between the sexes?  All that, and more.

fantastic-beasts-niffler

The niffler deserves every bit of screentime he’s got.

First off, there are the characters.  Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is criminally adorable: so winsome and earnest about caring for magical creatures, so cool-headed in the face of dangerous Erumpents or wizards or Things That Should Not Be, so talented at cleanup in the aftermath.  Cedric Diggory has nothing on this Hufflepuff.   

(…Can I say that?  I know, I know, nil nisi bonum mortuis, but really.)eddie redmayne newt.jpg

Katherine Waterston as (Porpen)Tina Goldstein is the Hermione of this story, sort of; she also does the Harryish “oh hullo, Person in Position of Authority; I came to tell you something which really was important but you seem to be doing something at least….three times bigger…” thing and getting into trouble.  She has her own share of earnest care, especially for [spoiler redacted].

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Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein is a show-stealer, and at first I thought I’d hate her (a pretty, curly-haired Legilimens who flirts by putting clothes on?  Mary Sue alert, y’allll), but then she went and made cocoa, helped drive the metaphorical getaway car, and cunningly disguised said getaway car with “Oh, this?  It’s…ladies’ things, d’you want to see?” which made me guffaw.  My favorite sort of pretty girl is the one who keeps her composure and disguises her competence when necessary.

Dan Fogler, who plays no-maj Jacob Kowalski, is a brilliant foil to Newt Scamander’s understated “ah yes, recapturing magical creatures, how quotidian” bit.  He has all of the childlike wonder, the Muggle’s confusion, the fellow needing just a bit more exposition to grasp the unbelievable things he’s seeing, who then takes everything in stride with panache.

I’d say this movie is essentially lighthearted, though there’s the shadow of both wizard extremists (Grindelwald), Muggle fanatics (the New Salem Philanthropic Society and its witch-hunting goals), child abuse, and secrecy-obsessed Magical Congressmen all about it.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is kind of a misnomer.  Kind of, because the textbook is about where these creatures originate, rather than the hunt you have to go on if they escape from your magical suitcase.  But then, Fantastic Beasts and Where Not To Set Them Loose (Namely, New York, Because Of Course It Is) (btw, Magic Repression is the Literal Worst; Behold the Reasons Why) is just a tad unwieldy, so I can’t really blame them.

Further thoughts on magic repression, Undetectable Extension Charms, and magical America to come later, when they’re less likely to need a spoiler alert.  In the meantime: go see the movie!  It’s fantastic.

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Review: Luci Shaw

Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.  

It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library.  My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.  

But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw.  I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).

shaw-petoskeystoneTurning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon!  There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen.  Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior.  After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.

Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery.  Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood.  So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections.  Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore.  Not all of them, but about two-thirds.  

Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; accompanied-by-angelswhole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.  Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems. 

And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.  

I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on.  Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts.  I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.  

I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form).  I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.

Tsundoku

My beloved Mark Forsyth noted last January that he has two tsundoku (“a pile of books you’ve bought and haven’t got round to reading yet”).

I have something like that.

First, I have The Pile of Books I’ve Read, But Want to Review Before Returning to the Library:

unreturned

Then, the Pile of Shavian Poetry (thankfully Luci’s, not George Bernard’s):

luci-shaw

Then, the Pile of Apple Books – i.e., the books I took one bite of, and then put down to take a bite of something else.  If I’m not careful I shall have to make a bucket of applesauce.  So to speak.

unfinished

All that said, since I took these pictures, I’ve managed to remove a couple books from each pile.  Hurrah!

What’s in your tsundoku?