daily preciousness

Saturday, November 18, 2000

unsent (part two)

We used to write letters. That was before the dawn of widespread electronic communication. Pen to paper, paper to envelope, envelope to receiver. It was a quaintly beautiful process.

Why don't we still do it? Well, times change. But the need to share our thoughts remains constant.

I had a few thoughts to share with some folks who were very important parts of my life. They remain important to me, but they've moved on. In a way, so have I, but I continue carry joyful thoughts of our time together.

And I wanted to verbalize those nebulous memories into something a little more concrete. In this case, words seemed to work nicely. So I wrote to them, to my former paramours, loves, sweethearts ... and to my various other romantic entanglements. The letters remain (and will remain unsent), but I decided to post them here.

Dear Chip,

You were a welcome sight when I took my first vacation back home from Japan. Your smile alone was worth the trip. You know what? I nearly cried when I saw your performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?. I did cry when you told me, three years after the fact, that I�d broken your sweet heart. Sorry, but those disgusting Jell-O shots you bought me didn�t soften the blow.

I am so sorry about my incomplete affections toward you. What was wrong with me? I still had feelings for Joel, despite the emotional and physical distance that separated us.

Whenever I see a Bertolucci film, I think about your tiny second-story apartment, the smell of tobacco and your warm hands wrapped around mine.

Dear Jeff,

I remember when we first met on the way to the sumo festival. I nearly fell into a rice paddy staring into your bondi blue eyes.

You know what? I never noticed your disability until you told me. I do notice that the only good picture I have of you is in a purple afro wig. Life�s crazy that way.

Thank you for coaxing me toward a new level in my relationships. You taught me such tenderness. You know, for such a powerful man, I�m still astonished at your gentle nature. You showed me how ultimately masculine being vulnerable can be.

Remember the police interrogation I went through to recover your wallet? Thanks for preventing an international incident, smoothing over the legal rough edges with your pidgin Japanese! From you I learned that enthusiasm can trump eloquence any day. Thank you, my dear sensei from Edmonton. I�ll take a rain check on my skiing lessons one day soon.

Dear Kyle,

A little part of me knew that you never loved me. But a little part of you probably did. We were both wrong.

I still love you. And I�m not afraid to say it anymore. Having gone through a Narcissus/model, it�s good that I graduated to you, my Adonis/computer networker, with brawn and brains!

Goddess Shiva knows you�ll never be an optimist. Take my advice -- assume the best and it might just occur. Case in point: It did when I met you.

Dear Patrick,

I�ve heard that everything�s bigger in Texas. Maybe your Texas-sized expectations were inflated, too. But maybe I was to blame. I wasn�t as great a guy as I should have been for you.

I expect you to reach impressive heights, my handsome friend. Everything will be coming up roses, theatrically speaking.

Writing you was a springboard toward this essay. I thank you first for our estrangement and second for the emotional inroads that breached the divide. Every time we visit, I always leave with a smile on my face.

I sincerely hope that you go to grad school. I know that you�d feel at home there and that you�d enjoy some more time in academia. It�s a great place for you to grow and develop, professionally and personally. I can�t wait to hear about your soon-to-come success.

With gusto this time,



Friday, November 17, 2000

dream of the cuttlefish

There’s an animal called a cuttlefish that lives in the waters off Micronesia. Not only is it unique to this corner of the world, it is unlike any other animal in the sea.

The cuttlefish is a distant cousin to the squid and the octopus, with a soft body and 8 long arms. But unlike its relatives, the cuttlefish has an epidermis filled with red, blue and yellow pixilated cells (chronospores) that can alter their coloring. In addition to a well-developed cerebellum (about the size of a dog’s), the cuttlefish has a special brain center that’s wired for color control. It can mimic, chameleon-like, the surrounding seabed, or it can generate its own unique colors and patterns at will.

The cuttlefish recreates the colors of its environment as it hunts for its main prey: hard-shell crabs. Of course, being a soft-bodied creature it’s nearly defenseless against the sharp pincers of its main food source. Offense being the best defense, the cuttlefish approaches the crabs carefully, mimicking the surrounding terrain. It approaches with its arms spread eagle, its vulnerable underbelly, where its mouth is located, facing the opponent.

But the crab is no fool. Even it can see past its aggressor’s disguise at close range.

So the little crab goes all systems red, pincers at the ready, in an attack posture. At this point, the cuttlefish’s true talents are revealed. Not just to its pray, but to you, as well.

The special nerve center at the base of the brain stem of the cuttlefish does not merely serve to recreate its environment, but compose new and original patterns as well.

As the crab assumes its defensive posture, the cuttlefish’s pixilated cells suddenly burst alive with a psychedelic display of cascading colors and patterns. Imagine the broad palette of colors of the underwater world, flashing marquis-style from the center of the cuttlefish to the tips of its outstretched arms.

The contents of a lava lamp, poured into a blender might – might -- produce such an intensely kaleidoscopic pattern forms the skin of the creature. Imagine that wildly eccentric pattern, shaped like an octopus, slowly wrapping its arms around you in an ineffably beautiful, undeniable embrace.

You have to pity the little crab. Of course, the prey entirely forgets what he was so worried about a few moments earlier and just focuses on this incredible head-trip made real. He is totally vulnerable. At this point, the cuttlefish attacks, taking a big bite out of his prey.

This full-body color morphing capability of the cuttlefish isn’t only used in feeding, however. The creature also uses it to communicate. Like many other animals, the cuttlefish uses its colorful epidermis to attract a mate.

In effect, the animal is its own avatar, or self-created visual representation. Its brain, hardwired for chameleon-like alterations in its epidermis, can re-invent itself in a remarkable, Madonna-like manner.

So what is this biological vignette doing in my journal entry?

Because I heard a guy speak so lovingly about his dream of the cuttlefish. Well, honestly, he spoke about the creature lovingly but with a tinge of jealousy.

Jaron Lanier is a virtual reality theorist. At 6 foot two, this heavy-set guy cuts an imposing figure. He has elbow-length dreds and flips them out of his face like a veteran Cher impersonator. Lanier was a guest speaker at the university last week. I went to hear his lecture on where we’re headed.

He began his talk by introducing us to the cuttlefish. Then he explained how it related to the virtual world.

Ultimately, he said, he’s a man trapped in a man’s body. (I wonder why that has not yet been adequately addressed on the talk show circuit yet?)

However, if he were more like the cuttlefish, he could alter the way he is perceived by others, in effect, creating his own avatar (in this case, an online self-representation).

"It’s not about the intricately wired glove and the big, clunky headset," he said about VR. "It’s not about these rides at the theme park. Just forget all that. It’s about transforming the way we perceive ourselves and others in a virtual world."

During early childhood, we are all blessed with an amazing imagination. Little by little, we are weaned from it by daily doses of the Real World. So, ever so slowly, we inch ourselves out of an inwardly focused existence. We’re faced with a dilemma, of sorts. In our inner realm, we are all powerful -- but with one small problem. We are the only one there. It is a stark contrast: In our imagination, we are completely alone, but all-powerful. In the real world, we are impotent but surrounded by others.

Sadly, our rich and fulfilling inner lives cannot be a shared experience because we are limited to very crude tools to describe and explain what we imagine. Physical expressions, words, music and images are all we have to convey our rich inner worlds.

As Flaubert reminds us, "Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

Our dreams, spectacular as they may be, are ultimately unfulfilling, if we cannot fully share them, breathe them into life, by speaking them into existence.

"Virtual reality is the shared dream," he explained simply. "It is the experience of refashioning yourself, just like the cuttlefish, to be anything you want to be and communicating that altered state with others."

That communication – that intimate sharing of our inner worlds – can be used as a benchmark by which we measure our progress as a species, Lanier reminds us. Instead of viewing history through the lens of technological development or political hegemony, we can judge cultural development by the extent to which we can meaningfully share the intricacies of our inner selves with not one single other human, but with a substantial portion of literate humanity (who can read about us in blog postings).

So I drift languorously into the dream of the cuttlefish, along with Jaron Lanier. I'm grinning at the thought of drifting in a sea of meaningful communication, where information is embedded in each cell (or is it pixel?) of my entity. How intimate. How lovely. How human, to share ourselves and our inner stories!

Sunday, November 12, 2000

new job

Lori was sitting at the information desk and I was standing in front of it, next to the electronic exhibitions poster for Depictions of Slavery on Confederate currency.

"You know, Jeffrey, you're quite a hit here with the staff," she told me, grinning. My eyes widened and I acted a little coy.

"Oh? Why do you say that?"

"Well, everyone just seems to like you. Especially some of the women. You know, several of them asked me if I knew if you were single or not."

I had to laugh out loud at that.

"Wow. I guess some of the little old ladies on the staff need someone to liven up their cold and lonely nights," I joked.

"No, actually, these were younger women. Undergrads, actually."

I am floored.

"Well, obviously, their taste in men isn't what it should be! But you know, Lori, I'm completely and totally out. I just usually wait a week or so when I'm at a new job, so that I can test the waters a little bit. This is a great work environment for me, so feel free to tell anyone that asks about me. I generally try hard to be as out as possible."

She was glad, I think, to be able to share that little tidbit of information. I wondered which girls it could have been... Very curious. I'll make it a point to ponder on that one. Just who could it have been? I have no idea. I'm so blind sometimes.

I guess the cranberry-orange-peanut bread that I brought to share with the staff sort of cinched the deal -- since I did that, I've been very popular at my new job.

Oh -- did I even mention where I'm working? I'm at Hill Special Library at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beyond the whole "chicks wantin' to git wit me" thing, I've genuinely enjoyed my first week at the job and I think it will be a great resume booster. The page listed above is the one that I'll maintain for the library. It should be a great challenge for me, to keep everything in working order.

Saturday, November 04, 2000

on being an escort...

We were laughing and joking. I was in the lobby of Hill Special Library, at LSU. It was my first day on the job. I was telling my new co-workers about my exploits as an escort.

They suddenly got very quiet. James’ and Jennifer’s eyes widened a little. I was pleased to have given them a little shock; it’s one of my favorite reactions from people.

I didn’t mind being an escort. I only did it twice and the woman was very pleased to have me there. To be honest, I was glad to oblige her. She really needed the companionship.

At my last job, I walked a woman from the office to the parking garage down the street. She’d been attacked and robbed, I told them, a few months before. The garage in question is dark and cavern-like. There’s little or no security to speak of. And I bet that plenty of folks are nervous to park there. I didn’t blame the woman for being skittish still.

Chris, the understated and overworked secretary downstairs, spoke to me in the unmistakable tones of workplace confidence. In a hushed voice, she said to me, "You know Janet was walking to her car at the Centroplex Garage a few months ago, with all her bags. All of a sudden, she got jumped by this black man. He got her purse and ran… She had her keys in her hand, so she drove home just cryin’ her eyes out. Now she doesn’t ever leave the building alone."

I nodded at her, a little surprised by the frankness of Chris. Her voice was so quiet and measured that the revelation seemed even more shocking. I felt so sorry for Janet. I was glad to walk her out, if she needed a little company for her peace of mind. And so I did. Janet was a petite little woman, shy and a little shriveled up. (She reminded me a little bit of my Mom, except for the shriveled up part.)

The conversation flowed pretty well. She was curious about my schoolwork and we talked about that. It seemed a safe topic. We ambled past the chlorinated water fountains in the atrium on the way to the garage.

Boarding the dim, coffin-like elevator, she laughed a little nervously at a lame joke I made about how inefficient the state government was run. But she had a warmth to her smile that I found very charming and sweet.

As we reached her car, Janet apologized for asking me to walk her out. I reminded her that I’d want somebody to walk my Mom out to a dark and scary garage. I think that helped; she smiled sheepishly as I said it.

James and Jennifer seemed to think that my experience as an escort was disappointingly non-scandalous. Not quite juicy enough for them, I guess. Nevertheless, I'm glad that I had that little job because it will always be something I can brag about.

Wednesday, November 01, 2000

new cam

I will do two things today. One is to help my vision. The other is to help YOUR vision. I will first get an eye exam and some new lenses for my glasses, then I will finally do a little charity work for the less fortunate and buy a cam for my viewers who so desperately need me in their lives. (No, I'm not full of myself. My cam fans have told me so.)

After all that is done with, I will go visit my friend Emily who is coming to New Orleans from Toronto. She's escaped the evil ice queens of the north to visit the Hospitality Queen of the South. I hope I can show her a good time. It shouldn't be too hard, since New Orleans is a pretty cool city to spend time in with friends.

I do miss that girl. The last time I saw her was about a year and a half ago, when I went to visit her in glam-challenged city of Cleveland. I found Emily to be most fab, even in the drabbest of surroundings. It reminded me of how much of a doll she is. She's so smart, funny and sweet and I appreciate her as a friend. We went to college together and formed a strong bond as we braved the itellectual wilds of the Northeast Louisiana University campus together. (We'd sometimes joke that we should go to the Baptist student union and complain of "gender identification problems" at one of their meetings. That would have freaked them out so badly, they wouldn't have known what to say. And as you probably know, a speechless Baptist is a very rare sight.)

From all of our Tom-foolery and good times, we soon grew to regard ourselves as WonderTwins. We had powers whenever we united. It was great to have somebody who's so different that really brings out your best qualities. Emily is that kind of person for me.

I can't wait to be the host with the most during her trip down here for the weekend. Should be great.

Wonder Twin powers activate!