Christoph Niemann & Emotional Plants

I’ve been following The Art Assignment. If you haven’t taken a peek, pull your paints out and get on over there. In particular get on over there if you’re the sort of someone who loved making tempera and potato stamp masterpieces as a kid, then snagged a run of Cs in art class and thought “well… fuckit”.


The show has grown from a great little sparkle of an idea just finding its sealegs, to a fully-kitted ahoy matey ship, ably captained by Sarah Urist Green. (I’m working on a tugboat game. Apologies for over-nauticalization.)

And then, in December, they blew my mind grapes – *sqwuh-pow* – because Christoph Niemann presented an assignment: Emotional Furniture. See Christoph Niemann’s “Illustrated Talk with Maurice Sendak“, and then anything else he’s done.

Quick version: Christoph’s assignment asks you to use only furniture and (unaltered) photography to evoke three emotions:  Envy |  Confidence |  Melancholy.

I decided to try it, but I let this assignment roll around my brain noggin for awhile, and it rolled over from many a week’s to-do list to the next week’s to-do list.

I could see it cresting on yet another roll over to yet another week, when I had the idea to try and use bathroom “furniture” (why yes, I was having a bath at the time). And then… I decided to use houseplants instead. As the ficus is the sink of the bedroom. Or, rather, as the bathroom needed a clean – there may have been a sparkly bath bomb involved – and I do love my plants. (And if I love them, perhaps there are other emotions germinating in there.)

I figured it was keeping with the spirit of The Art Assignment to tweak the original mission and make it my own, so, apologies to Christoph Niemann, here’s my first go at composing Emotional Plants. And following the Jack White no Pro Tools ethos, the constraints are what made it incredibly fun and satisfying to do. These fellas may be on to something.





A +1 error

I have learnt, over the past decade, to be… judicious… in what sort of pretty inspirational type messages to share with my husbean.

Because he is a beautiful soul, attached to a relentlessly analytical mind, encased in a web of straightforwardness.

Yesterday, for instance, without thinking much about it, I mentioned to him how I enjoy the whole package of the idea “Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight” (nice poster here).

He thought about it for a moment. Then he went a bit quiet. I figured he was mulling it over and enjoying it.

Then he said: “….I think it’s a plus one problem.”

Me: “Come again?”

Him: “A classic plus one problem. If you assume you were standing to begin with, then you’d only need to get up 7 times. It’s a plus one problem.”

Me: “It’s not a… the math isn’t the… let the poetry breathe baby. Just let it breathe.”

You should see him when he’s working on one hand clapping.


ETA: Another friend just pointed out “It’s not a ‘plus one problem’ it’s an ‘edges versus nodes counting problem’. Tell him that.”

I am only friends with romantics. 🙂

The Ghosts in the Machine

Thanks to Rob, itinerant linker and all-around thinking man’s vagabond, I’ve been reading Patrick Rhone’s Enough site.

This morning, I landed on page 4 and The Value of Email. It’s a thoughtful pondering on the place of email and email archives, guest written by Mike Rohde.

I have another point in favour of keeping your email archives. Archives that go back years and years. It’s not a super cuddly “up” sort of point, but here it is…


(It keeps coming back to death. Oh mortality, you attention-hogging cad.)

I’ve written before about the strange glitchy comfort that technology provided on the night of my dad’s death. When he had “logged off”, but his GChat had not. His status simply lapsed to “Away”, which was at once poetic, accurate, and unnerving.  Though first, it stayed as “Busy”, which, if consultants did sailor-style tattoos, was a status my dad should really have had inked in a heart on his bicep.dadchat

But beyond a lingering presence on a chat list, what I have are emails. Hundreds of them. Thousands? A sloppy filter I set up says I have 1,659 emails from my dad. In one account.

What a strange artifact of the mundane minutia of a relationship. What it’s really like to be friends with someone. Not a perfectly composed photo, but hundreds and hundreds of tiny exchanges. Give and take and send and receive, over and over and over.

That may be the strange niche of email archives. Because we dash off emails all day every day, they seem less precious to us than letters. But the snapshots they retain of a relationship are so much more deliciously everyday. In a letter, we tend to be our best selves. A little more scripted, a little more careful, a little better framed. They’re composed. Gmail may still use a big “Compose” button to start a new email, but that’s not often what we’re doing. We’re jotting and answering and pinging. “How’re you?” “Good, you?” “Good.” Emails are sometimes elegant and articulate, but often not. They’re many thin threads of caring and checking and supporting that tie you together.

I have not yet gone back through my emails from my dad. I’m not even sure how I would do that. It is the same daunting challenge of going though any archive, but at computer, not human, scale storage. I think I have kept them though not because I plan to go and meticulously reread them. Certainly not all, but perhaps not even any. I think they are there to thumb a finger across. It’s not an Ansel Adams compendium. It’s a flipbook of dad. It’s a million little gestures of kindness and humour and questions and answers and plans and dates. It’s friendship in funny little sketches. Archived.

It’s not a pretty whole but, as a whole, it’s awfully pretty.


…I really understood very fast that a computer is exactly the opposite of a human being. It’s really fast, really exact, and completely stupid. So it was interesting to figure out how to speak to this beast so that we could have it do whatever we couldn’t do ourselves.

A computer is the most extraordinary error amplifier ever built, because a computer has no common sense and no humor.”

~Gérard Berry, in Communications of the ACM – December 2014.

“How can we ___ while we also ___”

My dear old dad would have been 63 today. I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about that yesterday, so I took the long road around the landmines and set my brain to work on my taxes.

But the best laid plans something something kaboom, because my dad and I worked together. So my filing boxes have lots of little dad-isms lurking in them.

Including, apparently, this elephant:


Which dad drew while we were hanging out together during some after-conference dad’n’daughter time.

He thought it was a terrible drawing, while I thought was both fantastic and adorable, and I cajoled him into letting me keep it.

And on the reverse side, some actual work material (not that the elephant doesn’t look like a hard worker):

BryanElephantA good old Dad fill-in-the-blank to get you thinking. Letting ideas be in tension, and finding the balance. Looking the complexity of a situation straight in the ol’ eyebulbs, and figuring out how to deal with it.

On a day when I miss my dad especially, while remembering him with huge love… yup, it fits.


Your dream is not a hoax

My bro-in-law sent me the HUVr clip this morning.

“Lie” alarms went off in my brain, but I chose to hit snooze until the end of the video.

Why? Because I would like us to build some of the things we dream about. I would like for that to be true. For the same reason as everyone believes hoaxes — I want it to be real. I want people to be out there building transporters and hovercrafts and holodecks and sharks with frickin laser…wait, scratch that last one.

I also want the world to be just slightly different than it is. Hovering, sure — that gets at our deepest dreams of flight and fun. But what if mankind’s contributions to the world were more fantastical, less destructive? What if we built hoverboards instead of cars? What if applied science was applied to joy? How amazing, let’s do it!

I also want the world to be less of a sneering snidey place. I don’t want celebrities to cash in on being idols (Tony Hawk) and guides (Christopher Lloyd) — to gain people’s confidence only to trick them. That’s why these are the celebrities in the video. They are there because we trust them. You have to have trust before trust can be betrayed.

Pranks that prey on people’s dreams are gross. Sad in your job? Did this give you a blip of happiness? Haha, gotcha! There is nothing beautiful and fantastical out there, and people should laugh at you for believing there might have been. Gullible. Sucker.

It’s mean-spirited and it eats away at hope, trust and empathy.

It makes all of us jaded and wary, and it makes people feel silly for still having dreams. Which do we want (and need) more of: building dreams, or tearing them down?

I guess I’ll just have to get to work on building my own hoverboard. I promise, if I do, I’ll let you ride on it.


He’s a dear boy.

Fact 1: I am a light sleeper with intermittent insomnia. It is something I am working on, but it is a hard row to hoe.

Fact 2: I have been with The Boy for 14 years. He pretty much knows all the things about me there are to know. Including Fact 1.

I got up early this morning, before I was really properly awake, did a big pile of things, and then made myself crawl back into bed about 4 hours later because my eyeballs hurt.

Shortly after I fell asleep, the boy walked into the bedroom.

Him (full volume): “Are you awake?”

Him: “Because I wanted to ask if I got the right thing yesterday? I think maybe you wanted baking soda and I got baking powder?”

Me: “You… woke… me… up… to ask me that?”

Him: “I was just wondering.”

Me: “You are beautiful and have many charming qualities, but I kind of want you dead right now. Baking powder.”


Later the same day…

I am in my office, listening to “Salute Your Solution” rather loudly, and I may have been excitedly exclaiming to myself, also rather loudly, as I began allocating and filling my new storage boxes. (“Jolly disco!”)

When The Boy came into my office – which, of course, made me jump (Fact 3) – and started laughing at me. First for being startled, and then “Oh no, don’t let me interrupt. Keep enjoying your little storage party. What were you saying to your files?”

Me: “You are ruining my day.”

Him: “Don’t blog this.”


UPDATED. The Him says I misquoted him, and has the following amendments:

Him: “When I came into your office, I shouted “FILE PARTY!” and joined in your raucous celebration of filing. Also, I didn’t say ‘don’t blog this’, I said I’m going to blog this.”

Oh my.

A Good Marriage: Using your words (and obscene hand gestures)

Not to use swears, but I am pretty darned good at just telling the husband what I need — and expecting him to do the same. I mean, fuck, games are for good times with buddies and bourbon sours, words are for gettin’ it done.

I like to be super specific. A la:

* “Could I have a hug?”
* “I could really use a cup of tea if you have a minute.”
* And, of course, one of my many obscene hand gestures. Those are his least favourite, in that he’s a fan of what they represent, but he finds them “not classy” or something. He’s my delicate little flower.

When it comes to gift-giving though, sometimes I outdo myself with my specificity (though I guess the hand gestures leave little to the imagination…):

From: Me <>
To: Him <>
Date: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 9:49 AM
Subject: Haaaaapppy
Valentine's Day to meeeeee Happy Valentine's Day toooooo meeee Happy Valentine's Day, dear Chaaaayyyyydaaaay Happy Valentine's day toooooooooooooo meeeeeeeee!:,en_CA,pd.html#start=7

My sister reviews movies.

At some point, my immediate family went from being totally in the same boat on movies, to everyone abandoning ship to the life rafts and setting off in cardinally opposite directions.

My siblings and I can now comfortably acknowledge this with each other, and the shorthand is usually a reference to our father’s increasingly appalling taste in movies. Movie suggestions are often caveated by a reference to one of my dad’s later-day favourites: “Well, you might like it, but … My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.

But even when we don’t agree, I still enjoy hearing what my big brother and little sister (LS) are watching and liking.

And, unsurprisingly, the little sister who works in the jungle really just watches movies for the creatures… Plot, shmot.

Little Sister: “For 1st night of new year: popcorn, pjs and pelicula.”

Me: “Whatcha going to watch?”

LS: “It is looking like Planet Earth or Life of Pi. Might be Life of Pi, because David makes me sleepy and being alone with tigers in boats less so…”

Me: “I don’t understand Life of Pi. Is it good? Everything I’ve read about it makes me feel a little stabby, but that may be because the furry tiger inside me who is supposed to teach me lessons about life and love and spirituality died long ago because I only fed him the bitter fish of pessimism and hypercriticality. Then I made a coat out of his skin because practical.”

LS: “I have no idea. We spent like 200 days at sea and I passed out. [My girlfriend] won’t tell me the ending, but apparantly the irritating Canadian now believes in god because I saw that part. Visually it was quite well done. It is hard to win me on content. I liked Avatar when I saw it last week. Though it was also over the top. I like the animals.”

My sister’s movie reviews are my favouritest movie reviews. Though they, and maybe large chunks of her life, could probably be summed up as “I like the animals“.

ABRAZOS HERMANITA! May your animal movies be plentiful. 🙂

But you can buy the movie for $5

I was thinking today about some of the people who are gone, and some of what they said about being gone, before they left.

Went looking for footage of David Rakoff, wondering if he could still dance with no feeling in one of his arms, whose death preceded that of the rest of his body.

I found this:


Thoughts on loss and death, stock parts in everyone’s humanity, are stuck in a traffic jam at the border.