Thursday, May 28, 2009

Casa de la Cascada

Here's some red bull for your soul! Many views of Fallingwater--or rather a digital copy of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece--set to a pleasing tune. And how about the name for Fallingwater in Spanish? I love it!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 3

This is the third post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, second, or fourth post in the series.


The red pick-up truck came to a full stop, a thick cloud of black smoke belching at odd intervals from its muffler. Any other night the streets leading to his house would be empty, thought the boy. Tonight they were full—not of cars but of people.

The people held signs and shouted at passersby to head to one of the many local clinics. There, in brightly lit, white laboratory rooms a small group of people would suffer so that another might live.

It was a painful process and, when individuals were used instead of groups, it was so physically demanding that some had died. So, groups it had been ever since--but the size of the groups had been getting smaller. And quickly.

Part of the reason no doubt was the rise of "the suicide boys"--a group of mostly teenage kids who, realizing that they would be brought back to life, attempted the most dangerous stunts or worse yet killed themselves in spectacular, fame-seeking ways. Where successful, and some had been, the number of imitators soared.

The boy looked out a dusty window. A pale-faced young girl with eyes dead to the world and shoulders sagging, slouched near the front of her more passionate elders. She held a sign which said "they aren't dead yet; only your selfishness can kill them."

Reading it, the boy felt a cold chill run up his spine. For a brief second he wondered why that should be his emotional reaction, but then decided to focus on the matter at hand--like how to get into his house.

The road ahead was blocked with people. And these seemed to be of a more violent nature. They were surrounding his neighbor, a girl he had grown up with and last year, but not this one, had a crush on.

"How can you do nothing while the dead die," they pleaded, "how can you stand yourself while a new holocaust happens?" One person reached out, grabbed the girl and shaking her said, "their blood is on your hands, don't you understand, you're responsible for their deaths."

The boy got out of the red Chevy, leaving the door unclosed, and started to walk towards the group. His walk became faster and faster, his emotions rising with the pace of his feet.

By the time he got to the group, his fists were clenched tight together and his eyes were on fire. "Leave her the hell alone," he said. "She's not going to die for those who should remain dead!"

The crowd momentarily stopped, shocked by his words. Then somebody yelled out, "Remain dead?!? Those are the words of a murderer."

Others might have made the connection, and might not have, but they caught the last word and put all their emotional feelings into it. "Murderer!" they shouted, "Murderer!"

A fist reached out and punched the boy in his face. The boy staggered back, then swung forward with all his might at the person who had punched him. The hit landed squarely, sending blood flying through the air. The sound of the impact made the boy half-expect to see the guy's jaw fly with it, but this was real life, not the movies, and so the guy was simply hurt.

The guy did however fall a few paces back, along with the rest of the crowd, leaving the boy and his neighbor with some space for a brief second. But the raised eyebrows of astonishment were being lowered one by one into those of anger. The boy, recognizing the danger, grabbed the girl and ran.

He was afraid now and running. The girl who trailed behind him was holding his hand and crying. The crowd was shouting "murderers" and chasing after them both, throwing anything they could.

With the sound of feet and insults fast approaching, the boy opened the door to his house, launched the girl inside, then closed and locked the door just as a fist on the outside banged fiercely against it.

The boy let his back slide down the length of the door. He sighed heavily, and wondered why he should be so scared for his life from those who so vehemently claim to be for it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Women of the French Salons, 2

She sought to gather all that was most distinguished, whether for wit, beauty, talent, or birth, into an atmosphere of refinement and simple elegance, which should tone down all discordant elements and raise life to the level of a fine art.

There was a strongly intellectual flavor in the amusements, as well as in the discussions of this salon, and the place of honor was given to genius, learning, and good manners, rather than to rank.
This is the historical description of Mme. de Rambouillet's salon, which reached its heights under Richelieu. But the description could just as well belong to a present day salon of your own making--provided that you first learn how the great salons came about (and went away).

The above is of course one of the main values that reading Women of the French Salons has to offer. (Another is detailed in the first part of this review.)

Amelia Gere Mason, the book's author, shows two of the crucial foundations for the salons: how these great women viewed friendship and the value they most respected in the person of another.

The attribute held in the highest regard was of course intelligence--as illustrated by the following quote from Mme. de Stael: "I would not open my window to see the Bay of Naples for the first time, but I would travel five hundred leagues to talk with a clever man whom I have not met."

The view of friendship most common to these ladies is expressed best by Mme. de Tencin. She advised others to "never refuse any advance of friendship, for, if nine out of ten bring you nothing, one alone may repay you."

To a large extent, these women were collectors of fine people, in the same way and for the same reasons that people collect fine arts and wines. And, as far as their salons went, they were just as selective.

"The hostess who opened her house for these assemblies selected her guests with discrimination," Mason writes.
The Parisienne selects her company, as a skillful leader forms his orchestra, with a fine instinct of harmony; no single instrument dominates, but every member is an artist in his way, adding his touch of melody or color in the fitting place. She aims, perhaps unconsciously, at a poetic ideal which shall express the best in life and thought, divested of the rude and commonplace, untouched by sorrow or passion, and free from personality.
Here, guests would improvise sonnets, praise each other in verse, and either "talk wittily and well" or lead others to do so.
At many of these gatherings [a guest] would be certain to find readings, recitations, comedies, music, games, or some other form of extemporized amusement...
...The woman who improvised a witty verse, invented a proverb, narrated a story, sang a popular air, or acted a part in a comedy entered with the same easy grace into the discussion of the last political problem, or listened with the subtlest flattery to the new poem, essay, or tale of the aspiring young author, whose fame and fortune perhaps hung upon her smile.
In showing the history of these salons--from the thoughts on friendship and the code of conduct to the activities and the people who led them--Mason provides both inspiration and a sort of guidebook to those looking to start a modern day salon.
She also shows some of the reasons for the decline of the salons--in particular and in general. As far as the latter is concerned, Mason points to the decay of aristocratic institutions as but a superficial reason. "...[T]he most formidable enemy of the salon has been the press," she says. Continuing:
Intelligence has become too universal to be focused in a few drawing rooms. Genius and ambition have found a broader arena. When interest no longer led men to seek the stimulus and approval of a powerful coterie, it ceased to be more than an elegant form of recreation, a theater of small talents, the diversion of an idle hour. When the press assumed the sovereignty, the salon was dethroned.
In an inversion of Hugo's famous phrase from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mason's point can be stated that that (the printing press) killed this (the salons we have been talking about).
While I think the most fundamental reason for the end of the salons was philosophical, Mason's point without a doubt has a lot of truth to it. And those eager for a resurgence of the salons would do well to keep it in mind--for, if the salons did end with the press, in a way they began again with the internet.

Update: You can now download Women of the French Salons for free via Amazon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Arango House by Lautner

I'm not the biggest fan of John Lautner, but I agree with the person who is that his entire portfolio of work is both original and dramatic--not to mention as functional as it is logical.

This video shows off the Arango house--one of Lautner's better known works.

"When I first visited the site," says Lautner, "I got the idea to build a large, open terrace so that all you had was the beauty of the Acapulco Bay and the sky and the mountains. You don't feel you're in a building at all. You're out in space. With the beauty of nature."

Just viewing the house inspires me. Though the curvy lines give the house a fluid feel, like the water that runs along the edges of the terrace or the clouds that encompass it, the dominant impression is one of boldness.

This house is the rarest of residencies: a house that is itself--a house that has integrity. And therein lies its boldness, its originality, and its beauty.

Getting personal, my first thought upon seeing it was, "I want my life to be like that." The building has a clear purpose, and every part of it works towards that end--without exception, without shame.

Because of this, the Arango House is more than just an art antidote against that feeling of aimlessness or of being pulled in too many different directions at once. It is a kind of "red bull for the soul"--a view of art that not ony tells you to not give up but also inspires you to live with more passion and to pursue your own creative work with zeal.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 2

This is the second post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, third, or fourth post in the series.


It was supposed to have been the greatest invention of the past century--but nobody bothered to learn the name of the inventor. The invention was so ground-breaking, and what to do with it so controversial, that there was little room in most people's minds for anything else.

"They call it the life-saver," mumbled an unshaven, middle-aged clerk, looking up from the newspaper he held in his hands, "but it saves lives for what—and at what cost?"

The kid who stood at the counter didn't ask about the invention, and at the moment didn't care enough about it to even respond. "20 dollars in the red Chevy," he said, pointing to a beat-up truck at the filling station.

"You got it," said the man, flipping a switch.

After putting the cash in the register, his eyes turned back to the paper. It detailed how the invention was said to have worked, as it had every day--for months.

“Like a transfusion of blood from a healthy body to an unhealthy one,” it said, “the invention does the same thing—only what is being transferred is more akin to energy than blood.” But the energy must come from somewhere, thought the man, or in this case someone.

“Like the series of electric shocks that sometimes get a patient’s heart to beat again soon after stopping, the life-saver does almost the exact same thing—only it can be used to rejuvenate a person after they have already been technically dead a good bit of time.”

“The increased strength of the invention is miraculous,” said a doctor quoted in the paper, “the fact that the process is so excruciating for the living is but a minor fault.”

The man set the paper down at that. He reached for his coffee mug, took a sip, and then set it down quickly with disgust. It was too bitter, he thought.

A young girl entered the store. “40 dollars in the blue convertible,” she said. “Oh, and the paper too.”

“You got it,” said the man, flipping a switch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Potentially Alive

I'm filming three shows this week, so here's part one of a short story I pulled out of the archives (for the second, third, and fourth posts click on the appropriate links):

She stood like a statue--with her feet apart, shoulders back, and head high.

She was listening to a tune from an age long past, from a time when joy was both possible and expected. It was a playfully happy tune, with notes that rose and fell, only to rise higher and higher yet again. It was her tune, she thought. She had earned the right to listen to it.

A clear lake lay below the perch on which she stood. Red sparks from a setting sun skipped across the gently swaying surface.

As a breeze swept across her face, the usually sharp features relaxed into a look of pure sensual pleasure. She took in a deep breath of the crisp, autumn air—noting to herself that the wind was picking up.

Strands of her jet-black hair seemed to dance with it. And, as the breeze passed through, each seemed to pause for the briefest moment at the end—like the outstretched arms of one lover for another—only to resume again, this time to a new beat and with a new partner.

The air was light up here, and clean. The grass was lush, and green. Looking up, she thought the rose-red fingers of the setting sun seemed to cling to the day they both loved and did not want to part with--not for a night, not ever.

But the night was fast approaching nonetheless. She was lying on the ground now; her knees, framing the lake below; her head, resting comfortably in her hands; her eyes, fixed on the heavens above.

She knew that, like the passing day, these were to be her last minutes too. A long-forgotten quote, by some long-forgotten philosopher, sprung up like Minerva in her mind. "I will not die," she said quietly, "it's the world that will end."

A moment later, a lonely streak of fire burst across the sky, in silent defiance against the night's approach. And then everything went dark. She was dead.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Fountainhead (in Vietnamese)

An interesting footnote from Suối Nguồn--the recently translated version of The Fountainhead in Vietnamese--follows:

"...This needs to be distinguished from 'selfishness' as the term is usually used. The concept of acting in one's own interests is a prominent subject in the literature of Ayn Rand; because of that it is very difficult to explain fully here; we suggest you read this book in its entirety, and if possible read her other books, in order to understand clearly what Ayn Rand means in this sentence."
Just for full disclosure, I haven't completely mastered Vietnamese yet--but that is very close to an exact translation.

What I find interesting about it is that the footnote doesn't explain the sentence but simply refers readers to the rest of her works on the subject. While not that useful, the translators could easily have explained the concept wrongly--so I'm definitely not complaining!

Adsense Pennies Adding Up

Continuing the behind the scenes look at what a small-timer makes from blogging, here are the numbers from April (along with the months prior):

January...........4,291 page impressions...........$1.97 earned
February..........4,242 page impressions...........$3.62 earned
March.............4,411 page impressions..........$11.15 earned
April.............4,418 page impressions...........$7.89 earned

Page impressions stayed pretty much the same, though I posted on two blogs instead of three. Interestingly enough, due to a couple random clicks, almost five dollars worth of April's total came from Systemically Important (the blog on stand-by).

Is this sobering data for anyone who is thinking about blogging their way to riches? In a way, it should be--and in a way, not.

Based on how much time I've put into writing, the amounts above are a miniscule paycheck. I of course could spend more time promoting the blogs--writing guest posts, for instance--but these too take time. And there's no guarantee that others will want to publish them.

If you're writing for money, then, take note: be prepared to like what you write and not earn much for a while--or be prepared to work like crazy and hopefully earn a bit more.

On the other hand, the data above may be encouraging for some of you. For the amount of traffic I have, the pennies actually add up quite well. So, if money is not your main motivation in writing, and you have rational expectations, you'll see the dollars earned like I do: similar to a bonus check.

Many of the true money-makers (whose "bonus checks" can buy a lot more than a used paperback) say not to expect much (if anything) for the first six months. Even then, they say, most of one's money will be made, or not made, depending on whether one is selling anything (e.g., an e-book). We'll see how that works out in my experience.

In any case, there is a lot of material out there on how much top bloggers make. And a whole lot more on people promising to show you how to make a ton of money blogging. But (for obvious reasons perhaps) there is very little showing how much money a regular, small-time, beginning blogger makes.

That's what this series has done, and will continue to do. Will report again, in another month.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Women of the French Salons

Imagine a society composed of a leisure class with more or less intellectual tastes; men eminent in science and letters; men less eminent, whose success depended largely upon their social gifts, and clever women supremely versed in the art of pleasing, who were the intelligent complements of these men...

[A]dd a universal talent for conversation, a genius for the amenities of social life, habits of daily intercourse, and manners formed upon an ideal of generosity, amiability, loyalty, and urbanity...

[C]onsider, also, the fact that the journals and the magazines, which are so conspicuous a feature of modern life, were practically unknown; that the salons were centers in which the affairs of the world were discussed, its passing events noted--and the power of [the French] salons may be to some extent comprehended.
Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Gere Mason, presents a broad view of some of the major salons--showing who the dominant characters of each were; how their power increased, or not; and the ideas that animated both the characters and their salons.

I found a lot of the characters in the book fascinating. There is, for example, Julie d'Angennes, "the petted daughter of the house, the devoted companion and clever assistant of her mother."
Her gaiety of heart, amiable temper, ready wit, and gracious manners surrounded her with an atmosphere of perpetual sunshine. Fertile in resources, of fine intelligence, winning the love alike of men and women, she was the soul of the serious conversations, as well as of the amusements which relieved them...
And there is Anne Marie Louise d'Orleans, Duchesse de Montpensier--i.e., the Grande Mademoiselle--who says of herself:
"I am of a birth to do nothing that is not grand or elevated. One may call that what one likes. As for myself, I call it to follow my own inclination and to go my own way. I am not born to take that of others."
There is Fontenelle, the philosopher who preached that everything must be done in moderation--and who followed what he preached to the extent that he could. He smiled, but did not laugh; frowned, but did not cry. His last words were said to be, "I do not suffer, my friends, but I feel a certain difficulty in existing."

And there is a student of Fontenelle's, who measured her lover's passion mathematically. As the author explains:
"He was in the habit of accompanying her home from the house of a friend. When he began to cross the square, instead of going round it, she concluded that his love had diminished in the exact proportion of two sides of a square to the diagonal."
A lot of these characters are described via "pen portraits"--where a person was drawn not by the strokes of a painter's brush but by the strokes of a pen. For example, here is Mme. de La Fayette at work, describing a friend:
"Your mind so adorns and embellishes your person, that there is no one in the world so fascinating when you are animated by a conversation from which constraint is banished. All that you say has such a charm, and becomes you so well, that the words attract the Smiles and the Graces around you; the brilliancy of your intellect gives such luster to your complexion and your eyes, that although it seems that wit should touch only the ears, yours dazzles the sight.

"Your soul is great and elevated. You are sensitive to glory and to ambition, and not less so to pleasures; you were born for them and they seem to have been made for you ... In a word, joy is the true state of your soul, and grief is as contrary to it as possible. You are naturally tender and impassioned; there was never a heart so generous, so noble, so faithful ... You are the most courteous and amiable person that ever lived, and the sweet, frank air which is seen in all your actions makes the simplest compliments of politeness seem from your lips protestations of friendship."
This fascinating group of characters had particular thoughts on the value of friendship, on what should determine a person's rank in society, and on how to bring individuals together in such a way that the pleasures of both the body and the intellect could be maximized.
Mason presents these thoughts along with the results masterfully--going into just enough detail as to whet one's appetite for more, but not so much as to lose sight of the big picture (how these people came together and interacted over the history of the salons).
I'll share some excerpts making the above statement more objective in a second part to this review.