Friday, April 9, 2010


Experimental is the term often applied to certain works in art, music, dance, film, and theater, when they are considered to be novel, unconventional, or tentative, but more often in those instances when the artist is uncertain or wavering, or simply lacks a clear idea of what she or he is doing. The term bothers me interminably.

Experiment is a scientific term, and it concerns the procedure of testing a hypothesis. What the experiment is designed to achieve is a well-defined goal; the testing is tentative. It is not open-ended. In French, the word for experiment is l'expérience, and we learn that the two words are cognates, deriving from experiri (Lat. try). Experiment is a clinically controlled experience. Rehearsals consitute a series of experiments, testing by trial and error, to reach the final product satisfactory to the director and the production crew. If a theater company decides to put on a play that is blindingly novel "just to see how it goes," the audience should protest being treated like guinea pigs and refuse to pay to see it. If its goal is clearly defined, the play's staggering novelty may shock the audience but with the hypothesis exposed articulately it can impress and persuade.

An accomplished work, I contend, should be called innovative, not experimental; a haphazard effort, if truly experimental, should be described as a test piece and withheld from the paying audience.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Night owl

I am a notorious night owl. I rarely go to bed before 1:00 a.m. More often than not it is close to 2:00 when I finish up the night's work, usually writing. In my younger days, I sometimes stayed up all night of necessity, trying to finish writing a lecture for the next day or the paper to present at a meeting. This is a carryover from my student days in architecture when we learned to "charette" to make the deadline for a project. We were told that the word refers to the cart on which the painter rode with his or her submission to the exhibition being hauled to the Salon. The longest stretch of time I stayed up without any sleep was three nights straight. The intensity of work was always exciting, and the camaraderie in the studio among the charetting classmates was uplifting. There is also something thrilling and very special when the sky starts to lighten up at dawn and birds start chirping. The whole town is asleep, and you are alone working. It is so quiet. There is a feeling of claiming the world all for yourself. 03.01.02

Disabled toilet

Disabled Toilet is the sign that appears on certain doors of public toilets in London. I took it to mean at first that the toilet is out of order; but what it meant was actually the toilet for the handicapped, or disabled, persons, not the toilet that is disabled. This is like the road sign that reads "Deer Crossing," which I always find amusing and shout, "Where, where? I don't see any, do you?"

Happiness 幸福感

Happiness is being content with what one has, not idly wishing for more but wishing without bothering to entertain the possibility of having more yet always ready to welcome any such possibility.

The past was good enough but the present is so much better. I don't know what the future holds but what comes will come, good or bad. I am content to be happy in the present. There are people who think the present is bad enough and it could only get worse in the future. I pity them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Saving labor

Saving saves -- sometimes. But by and large when you save one way you lose another way. There is always a trade-off, some obvious, some hidden.

Merchandise that goes on sale, touted as a saving, we all know, is a gimmick for leading gullible consumers to buy what they don't really need by suggesting that they are saving while the merchant succeeds in selling more for profit. Overstock is seemingly a convincing rationale for putting items on sale but it only says that they got overstocked because they didn't sell and most likely for good reasons.

Saving money for rainy days is wise; but saving is a folly when it is achieved at the expense of necessities, or even of occasional forays into treats and sprees.

But the greatest folly of all is saving labor.

The idea is, of course, to reduce physical work, thus making time for credibly nobler activities. So, in the modern era, mechanical, and later motorized, contraptions of all kinds came to be invented for human benefit on the assumption that the use of elbow grease is lowly, wasteful, and despicable. American ingenuity, in particular, thrived, and the higher level of living was measured by the prevailing reliance on machines, from the power mower to the electric shaver. We all rely on them, to which we became sometimes enslaved. We held such faith in the virtue of saving labor that we rarely asked where the precious saved time and labor have been reapplied. Where does the labor saved in brushing teeth electrically rather than manually go, I ask.

Time is a fixed resource, and saving time by saving labor should create opportunities for more elevated pursuits, and undoubtedly it does -- to a degree. But I find it curious that many engage in physical labor by jogging, doing gym exercises, and playing sports, in order to recuperate the labor nominally saved but apparently lost by our reliance on power appliances and tools.

Time is money, we are told. But like money, time saved is costly. Only in recent years, green Americans are being awakened to the consumption of enormous energy in all time- and labor-saving devices. The wise advice today is "walk, don't ride," "use your hands and arms," and "go mechanical rather than electric". Those of us who grew up in "underdeveloped" conditions in the old countries had learned long ago to take for granted that work is work and learned to value the art and pleasure of using our body efficiently.

If the drive for a greener world succeeds, it will be a revolutionary turn for the long established American lifestyle. But, alas, the less developed countries will be catching up in the labor-saving frenzy American way.

deep tan

This is how I looked when I was deep into getting a deep tan, which I started in 1998 and continued ten summers until 2008. In 2009 I was busy with the moving from Swarthmore to New York and didn't get any tan, and I quit tanning.

This is how I looked when I was darkest. Yes, I did look different, ethnically. See DeepDeepTan (

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring arrives

Yellows in the park
crocus daff’dill forsythia,
they light up my soul.