Friday, April 27, 2007

Lucy's Corner: On the Move

As articulate as she can be sometimes, Lucy's not quite ready to dictate her own blog entries, so you're stuck with a narrator who's neither young nor sprightly. In honor of this inaugural edition of Lucy's Corner, here are a few of the first pictures we've taken with our new digital camera (so long, grainy webcam captures!)

K took this picture, and it's the closest we've come to expressing Lucy as a being composed fundamentally of kinetic energy:
A more representative picture would have been one in which she was entirely out of frame, but you get the idea.

This next one I took on one of the first real spring days. There's a nice state park not too far away with big meadows framed by old rock walls.
Lucy sat down and immediately began to pull up grass, so I asked her to show me what she was doing.

Lucy as superhero: This swing was high enough off the ground that I could lie down just far enough back to frame Lucy straight up against the sky on her backswing. It makes for an interesting angle except for the backlighting, but K tells me that I could have adjusted the exposure rate to compensate.
On second glance, she looks as though she might be bearing an angelic message. ("Behold, the playtime is at hand...")

Thanks for stopping by Lucy's Corner. Here's a kiss to send you on your way:

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nostalgia: Suffering by Comparison

Maybe you've seen the movie Nostalghia by Andrei Tarkovsky, but I'm guessing you probably haven't. I wouldn't have heard of it myself except that BYU had an excellent International Cinema program and I had an excellent friend who was into Tarkovsky films. Lacking a girlfriend and being something of an introverted film geek, I attended International Cinema fairly religiously my freshman year--it gave me something to do, required no significant human interaction, and was free. I guess what I'm getting at is that my friend didn't exactly have to drag me into the theater.

About halfway through, I think I fell asleep--I don't really remember.

Nostalghia is slow. Painfully slow. My eighteen-year-old brain just couldn't deal with the long, static shots that seemed to last for ten minutes at a stretch. Great swathes of time passed in which absolutely nothing happens. Nearly everything about the melancholy protagonist seemed to move in extreme slow motion. And that, of course, was the point.

Nostalghia is about a Russian poet on an extended research trip in rural Italy. The splendors of Italy lie around him--lush, hazy meadows, medieval paintings, and a traveling companion who looks like she might have been painted by Botticelli, but the poet is stuck in neutral. He seems paralyzed by remembered images of of his wife and homeland, both of them perpetually present if only in his mind.

Tarkovsky put more than a little of himself in the homesick poet. It wasn't many years later that he made the decision to defect from the Soviet Union, taking his wife but leaving his son behind the Iron Curtain. When asked by reporters whether he planned to settle in Italy, Tarkovsky was clear on the emotional cost of putting himself into permanent exile. The question of where he would relocate was irrelevant, he said, because the damage was already done. It was like asking him where he wanted to bury his children.

I've been thinking about Nostalghia recently because of my own longing for Virginia, and it makes me wonder: Is there anyway to cherish past happiness without souring, at least a little, the enjoyment of your present condition? Or is it the other way around: do we sustain and even embellish our memories of the glorious past as a way of compensating for our present discontents? "I'm unhappy now, but only because I've lost XYZ."

I commented a couple weeks ago on how much I loved living in Charlottesville, and how I miss it now that I live Elsewhere. What I wonder is, would I be fonder of where I am now if it didn't come on the heels of a place as personally idyllic as central Virginia? I'm still living in the same basic region of the country, still living under the same sky, but the trees seem scragglier, the terrain is less pristine, and the air doesn't seem as blue. More clinically, I also know that Elsewhere has more than its share of industrial pollution in the water, and I wonder if this knowledge doesn't cause me to regard even scenes of nature with a jaundiced eye. As I've told a few friends, Elsewhere is like everywhere else, only less so. It's not disappointing, but it's underwhelming.

Don't get me wrong. Elsewhere is still a great place to practice law and the decision to move here was a rational one, but it was one of those responsible, grown-up decisions that favors prudence and stability over sparkle and whimsy. Sometimes K and I ask ourselves whether we can visualize living here into our middle age, and we honestly can't say. It's not a place that will burn you out, but neither is it a conucopia of endless diversions. Maybe what I'm really rebelling against is not the place itself, but that my choosing to live here represents the end of my carefree student days. Charlottesville was a great place to learn; Elsewhere is a great place to work. You tell me which sounds sunnier.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

Hey, Dad! This year we're going to deviate from the standard birthday card. And why not? We have the technology. We're all in the following video, although most of it is dominated by the kids. Sage, in particular, wanted to show you a book she made for Lucy, and I didn't have the heart to rush her, so the whole video is about twenty minutes long. In other words, grab a bowl of popcorn and get comfortable before you press play.

A word to other relatives: Mom--there's some messages in the video for you, too. Siblings--none of the video is directed at you, but if you want to see the kids being very much themselves, have a gander:

[Note that when Sage shows her book, she doesn't have dyslexia--I set the camera on "mirror" so that the kids would be able to see their own movements, but as a consequence all of Sage's fine lettering reads from right to left.]

Hi, Dr. Nick!

And here's what's going on at the nation's premiere business court. Must be a slow week:

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Nostalgia: Prologue

Every year my law school would hold a series of "Admitted Student Weekends" during which prospective law students could take a few tours of Charlottesville, sit in on a few classes, and generally attune themselves to the school's vibe to see if they wouldn't rather attend classes somewhere closer to civilization. My wife and I volunteered to host an admitted student from New York, and he was definitely of this mind. He was a nice enough guy and a very gracious guest, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we had tacitly agreed to reenact the story where City Mouse visits Country Mouse, with me solidly in the provincial role. We were from the same planet, but two different worlds: me--English major living with a wife and three kids in a basement apartment visited by ants and groundhogs; him--unattached marketer for Rockstar Games, paying his Manhattan rent by selling Grand Theft Auto to twelve-year-old boys. Anyway, I tried to sell him on the beauties of studying law in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I could see in his polite disinterest that he was bound for Columbia or NYU, back home in the navel of the Western world.

Everybody has their favorite places, and as for me I would go back to Charlottesville in a heartbeat. Though we had to wash all the dishes by hand, and though a hard rain would cause the phone jacks to weep all over the old linoleum floors that covered the entire apartment, I look back on those three years with a deep longing for something unrecoverable. Charlottesville was beautiful, "fringed with joy," as Woolf once put it, and every hill and leaf seemed to be infused with the sort of glory that would make Dickinson or Hopkins apoplectic. The grass was so green, the earth was red, and everywhere you looked there were ancient, time-worn mountains, layering the horizon in shades of blue. Every morning, in the spring, I would ramble down a hill dotted with buttercups and wild chives, cross the stream where my children liked to play, walk in the shade of tall straight trees, and then amble up another hill of buttercups and violets. In any given season we could look out the back sliding door and see cardinals flashing in and out of the crabapple trees, groundhogs lumbering through the grass, or a mother skunk out for a midnight walk with her two kits--adorable as long as they stayed on the other side of the glass.

Built around a major university, Charlottesville never felt too culturally remote, and it was my privilege to associate with some of the sharpest minds I've ever known. As for the geographical remoteness, I have to say that although I sometimes grew tired of making the two hour trip to DC, I liked those nights, driving back in the deep black, when I could see every star in the sky.

In short, I've had the misfortune of finding my favorite place rather early in life, and now that I've gone elsewhere I find myself understanding for the first time what all those songs mean when they talk about moving on but leaving your heart behind.

Ian's Corner: Kindergarten Pictures

These are pictures of monsters I drew in kindergarten. I didn't make them in normal class; I made them in art class. For this first one, we read a book about monsters called Where the Wild Things Are and were informed to draw pictures of wild monsters.

I just want to talk about why I drew it the way I did: Well, in the book Where the Wild Things Are, there was a monster kind of like this but it lived in the water, not on land. I was trying to make it a little more different than the one in the book. I changed the color, the element it lives in, and its jaw--it is very bizarre because there was no mandible (the bottom jaw). I'm kind of upset with the color choice, though, because you can barely see it in the picture and its arm looks like it's covered with skin although it's just that color scales.

This picture: I first drew the outlines in pencil, and then traced the pencil with permanent marker. Then we colored it in, and it was supposed to be mixed up (out of two or more animals). I picked a crocodile for the body and tail, and a bat for the wings and head.
Unlike the other picture, this one has a mandible, just like a bat. I picked it because I like reptiles and I also like flying things. Because a bat is the only flying mammal, and a crocodile can't fly, I combined them and the picture looks magnificent. I was behind on the picture, though, for four weeks. That's because I was working on the scales for two entire classes (not to mention it was just in pencil) and then I had to copy it all over in permanent marker.

I still like to draw monsters in first grade, not to mention I still like to draw reptiles like chameleons. I mostly draw dragons, but once in a while I draw Bionicles or I start writing books. And that's all about my drawing experiences for now.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Ripped Out of Context

A lot of unreasonable people seem to end up in court--at least the court where I hang out. One of the side effects is that, occasionally, weird things get said in a very formal setting, spoken by very earnest attorneys and judges. I remember fairly early on in my legal career, a textile manufacturer was suing a lingerie store, and the poor defense attorney had to introduce himself on the record with the words, "Frank Frankenheimer for Naughty Fanny, your Honor." He was visibly uncomfortable.

Last week another mule-headed case produced the following bits of dialogue, both spoken with utter seriousness by one of the more venerable judges on the court:

"The goose didn't sell by itself, so he put it with the duck and then it sold."


"Does one have to pay when one goes inside to see the girls?"

Both quotes sound much more proper when placed in context, which is why I prefer not to do so.