22 February 2010

30 years' wait over


When I was eight years old, the King Tutankhamun exhibit came to Toronto. It was a big deal. It was the only Canadian stop on the exhibition's North American tour.

I didn't get to go. My best friends in Grade 3 did, but I didn't. So I got to hear about the exhibit, got a book about it as a Christmas gift from an aunt who took herself and said I would have been too little (did I mention my best friends at school went?), got a tin full of death-mask shaped Laura Secord chocolates. I still have the tin and the book. But I was furious that I didn't get to go. Too little? I was a year younger and yet almost half a head taller than most of the other kids in my class.

Funny how things continue to bug you when you think it's little-kid stuff you got over ages ago. As soon as the AGO announced that King Tut was coming back to Canada, I immediately started to try to press-gang various friends and family members into going. I was not going to miss it this time!

The problem with friends and family members is that they don't always have the same bucket list you do. In the end, no-one really wanted to go.

And then I mentioned to my friend Page that I was taking myself to the Tut exhibit. I had even bought an AGO membership so I could guarantee I would get a ticket. The ever-cool Page and her husband MG said they wanted to see it with me. So I had company (and excellent company at that) after all.

The time slot I had picked was Saturday morning, at the opening of the gallery for the day. I baked scones the night before, walked up to Page's & MG's house, and contributed the scones to breakfast (they already had fruit, yogourt, and tea, glorious tea). After eating we hit the subway and were just about awake by the time we got to the gallery.

AGO staff seem to be pretty level-headed and courteous most of the time, but the morning we saw Tut they were great. I had my membership card out to show that the member's ticket I had printed off did indeed belong to me, and they let me go into a special member's-only line. When I said I was worried about losing my friends (in the much longer non-member's line), they let Page & MG join me. Membership does have its privileges. We were the first ones in.

The first half of the exhibit tried to place the Tut artifacts in the larger context of what was going on with ancient Egyptian society, religion, and art. For the first time ever (and I've seen a number of exhibits about ancient Egypt at this point in my life) I could appreciate how the artwork changed, and how realistically (or not) faces were depicted. As usual with ancient Egyptian work, I was in awe of the artisanship that had gone into crafting each piece. Some of the work was unfinished, and it was wonderful to see the rough sketches that were the start of such a formal style of artwork.

The actual King Tut part of the exhibit was laid out like the real-life tomb in the Valley of the Kings. It included archival newsreels of the tomb's discovery — the film that ended with a man wearing a boater discovering he was on-camera and giving the lens a big bow and tip of his hat really touched me for some reason —plus of course lots of artifacts and information about them. This is the first exhibit I've seen which included flat-screen monitors above the display cases showing 3D animation of the artifact in context and additional explanatory text, which I appreciated.

When we were finally done with seeing, reading, and examining everything, we went to the pub across the road from the gallery and had an early lunch. I said that the decor of the pub wasn't really all that different from the pieces we had just seen — it was just mass-produced instead of being crafted by hand. Page has a degree in expressive art therapy, and she said that people stay the same: we keep liking symmetry, we keep being attracted to shiny things. I think that's what attracts me to ancient Egyptian art: it doesn't take much to make it look like it belongs with right now.

A 30-year wait for artifacts 3,000 years old: it doesn't matter. The relevance and the impact stay the same.

16 February 2010

fire festival

Last Saturday I went to the ever-cool Cathy's & Darren's annual chili cook-off. All told there were ten different kinds of chili scattered about the kitchen. Two were on the stove, but the other eight were in crock pots.

There are lots of ways to organise a party like this, but here's how Cathy & Darren do it:

  • Each set of guests brings a regular-size batch of chili. That is, you don't worry about feeding all 15-20 people who attend. The Cumulative Law of Pot-Lucks will help take care of that.
  • Each pot of chili gets assigned a number. Next year, there will also be ingredients lists beside each pot (see below for why).
  • Each guest gets a small bowl and a spoon to eat with. The idea is to take a smallish sample of each pot. Reality: Personally, I had about five mini-servings and was stuffed. Still, you can tell a lot about whether or not you will like a chili just by sniffing, so a taste test for everything isn't strictly necessary.
  • Each guest gets a ballot, where they get to vote on the hottest chili, the chili with the most interesting ingredients, and their favourite. Ballots are anonymous and get tabulated when the sampling/eating has died down.
  • Cathy & Darren made sure there were lots of biscuits, rolls, bread, tortilla chips, sour cream, and dip for palate cleansing/cooling down.
During the chili sampling, people chatted about recent curling games and about how much snow there was where they lived. I sipped a tepid Tim Horton's tea that I'd bought along the way and never got a chance to drink in the car (not enough red lights). At one point someone made a curling joke just as I sipped from my Timmy's cup and saw someone else having a spoonful of chili, and it hit me: Wow, this is so... um... Canadian. In point of fact, a Texan got the popular vote, but somehow that seemed par for the course.

Once we had finally convinced ourselves to stop eating (a non-trivial task, under the circumstances), people wandered to the rec room to play Winter Olympics on the Wii. Outside, it was snowing. What, you thought we'd go out and get all gushy about how pretty the white stuff was? It was freaking cold out there. Winter walks are for tourists. Now is the time to move about indoors.

Things I learned:
  • It's been over twenty years since it was my job to cook for my mother and brothers, and therefore it's high time I stop spicing my chili to suit their (ultra-bland) chili preferences. Cayenne here we come.
  • It is possible to keep eating after the inside of your mouth goes numb, so long as you are happy.
  • I suck at both real and virtual archery.
  • I need to expand my collection of industrial music. Badly.

09 February 2010

enough to create insomnia

I have never been a morning person. Even as a five-year-old child, I had a hard time getting to sleep at my prescribed bed-time, and I hated getting out of bed. This is not necessarily because I'm asleep in the morning; often I'm awake, but I'd just rather stay in bed. I can enjoy the warmth, the cushiness, and read a book, check my e-mail via my internet tablet, or even just stare out the bedroom doorway and admire how nicely the pale blue-green paint on the bedroom walls goes with the bright red couch and creamy pale yellow paint in the living room.

Ironically — okay, it's past ironically, so cruelly —I have always had jobs which required me to be at work dead early, earlier than most of the other cubicle-dwellers. I'm very fortunate to be at a job I like right now, and one of the things I like about it is that there are enough early starters that no-one comments on when I come in. In previous jobs I was always one of the first ones, and some lark would always praise me for it. It's hard to be gracious and say thank you when you're double-checking your caffeine intake is sufficient and trying not to think of how much you'd rather be lying in at home, finishing the book you're reading.

Supposedly there are Lots of Studies out there proving that larks are more successful than night owls like me. I don't doubt it. They're always waking me up too early, while I have to be careful not to disturb them at night. So I lose sleep while they don't. Think about it — why are noise regulations all about keeping quiet at night, but not in the morning during those last few crucial hours to sleep?

The other things larks do is pile on the list of things that could become Successful Habits if only you got up just a teensy bit earlier. Here's my list of things morning people tell me to do in the morning:
  • exercise: 30 minutes plus 10 minutes to change in and out of exercise gear (40 minutes total)
  • write morning pages (15 minutes). In real life, every time I try to do this, I fall asleep in my writing-spot and it takes me more like 45 minutes. But let's say 15 to do it as prescribed.
  • have a nutritious hot breakfast, cooked fresh, and eat it (30 minutes — 15 to cook, 15 to eat)
  • meditate (15 minutes)
  • work on my novel (60 minutes)
All that adds up to... 160 minutes, or 2 hours and 40 minutes.

I do not move quickly in the morning. Today, this night-owl's alarm clock goes off at 5:15am. So if I added in extra time to do all that larky stuff, I would have to get up at... 2:30am?

2:30am. That's not a waking-up time. That's a going-to-bed time.

And for the pseudo-larks out there who like to toss their heads, smile smugly, and say, "Oh, that. I always get that ready the night before so I don't have to worry about it in the morning," there's already lots to do in the evenings and on weekends. Adding on to that total another 160 minutes of tasks doesn't help.

So what to do? Work smarter, not harder, I suppose. I have my own list of tricks for how to get things done. What about yours?

02 February 2010

my so-called real life

I've been one of those people who's "into" computers since I was about twelve, so I'm not quite sure what's been going on lately, but it's like this: I just haven't been using my computer at home every day.

There, I said it.

What have I been doing instead? All the stuff I would normally do off a computer, just more of it. I've been taking long walks. I've been cooking. I've been reading more books. I've been knitting. I have been thinking about my writing, although I have not actually been doing any — more like visualisation exercises or focused daydreaming. So I feel like I've been writing even though I haven't been.

I've been getting my internet fix every morning when the alarm on my tablet goes off at 5:15am (ugh), and I wake up by checking my e-mail and the weather.

The tablet usage itself might explain what's going on. The tablet only gets powered down when it needs to be rebooted (once, maybe twice a week). Compared to that instant access, starting up my laptop — even though Ubuntu has a decent startup time —seems to take ages. Even though I ditched my desk over a year ago and always compute from the comfort of my living room couch, the tablet is a lot smaller, a lot less demanding.

Do I want to join the ranks of Luddites who only use computers because their jobs demand it, or just to pay bills and reserve library books? Absolutely not. Before I kept everything on a laptop, I kept everything in a single paper notebook, and I know the electronic version is much better for me.

Starting last week, though, I've started to feel the need to put myself out there again. I've been tweeting more. I've been commenting on blogs more. I wrote a rant on my DIY blog, and now have these musings here.

Maybe it's been an involuntary sabbatical. Do you ever feel like you just need to get away from the virtual crowds for a while?