Thursday, April 29, 2004

Last Coast Swing

We had the last West Coast class tonight. Five weeks was not nearly enough -- I've got a fair amount of stuff that I can do now, and I'm ready to start figuring out how to actually do it well (and learn more, of course). It was just fun, too. I'll have to look for other classes or something. In the meantime though, it will be a very waltzy weekend, with *two* extra Friday Night Waltzes (one is in disguise as a Saturday Night Waltz). So that will be fun. [Update: I seem to have been confused about that Saturday Night Waltz, which turns out to be the 8th, rather than the 1st. Still too many conflicting events for me to go to it, though.]

Oh, and since I can't get away without at least mentioning it: yes, it was a very exciting day at Google today. You can read the S-1 online (all 160-something pages of it) if you're really interested. should be working again I think, after the hammering it took this morning. :-)

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Dinosaurs, Garbanzo Beans, and Button Hook Contras

The weekend Lacey-visit was much fun. This was the first time I'd been to the Skyline house, which I like very much, especially all the skylights and slanted ceilings on the top floor. Plus, Hugo has a really cool computer set up, involving his TV, a couch, wireless keyboard and gyration mouse. Very spiffy.

On Saturday Lacey and I went to The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I loved the dinosaur exhibit, rubbery robotness and all, though the T-Rex was a bit dangerous. In addition to dinosaurs, we met a chameleon and a computer-generated, 50-year-old me.

Lunch was Lebanese food. I had no idea you could do such wonderful things with garbanzo beans. Wow.

We went to the Portland contra dance Saturday evening and found Kevin and Barbara playing the music, which was a very pleasant surprise. The whole dance was fun, but it would have been worth it just for the "button hook" move we learned in one contra, which went like this (indulge me for a minute here): The ones cross the set and head away from their partners to meet a trail buddy in a hands-across star with a couple of twos. Balance the star, go all the way around (passing your partner and then going away again), balance the star again (note how this makes some interesting phrasing -- in contra dance terms, at least) then the twos raise their hands in an arch and the ones pass through underneath to find their partners and swing. So it's mostly a move for the ones but Lacey and I actually had a lot of fun as twos. We weren't tall enough to hold the arch very well over all the couples, and usually just had to let go. So we decided to just go with it, and turned the last balance into a great big leap, throwing our hands up into the air, making a very amusing send-off for the ones passing underneath. Highly amusing, at least for us.

Today we just took it easy, eating strangled eggs, leftover Lebanese food, and homemade banana nut bread, plus futzing around with computers and music and just hanging out. Never quite got around to hiking through the beautiful woods up there, but that can happen on another trip sometime.

As I ended most stories in elementary school: "I had fun. I came home. The end."

Friday, April 23, 2004

It's Sister-Visiting Time!

I'm heading up to Portland to see Lacey. Yay! I'll be back Sunday evening.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

First Lucid Dream

I remember going through about three different dream sequences last night, all of which contained plenty of clues that I was dreaming, of course, though I didn't catch any of them until the end of the last one. I was walking home at the end of the dream, across a large field. I don't know what tipped me off -- all the people in Renn Faire outfits, or the giant green statue pulling the bell in a clock tower, or what -- but somehow I realized I must be dreaming. As soon as I thought that I looked around myself in excitement, but moved so fast that I woke myself up.

My alarm went off about then so I got up, but then decided to put it on snooze and lay back down. As I was dozing off again, my bed started shaking. Not like an earthquake, but more like one of those vibrating alarm clocks, only big enough to shake my entire bed. That seemed pretty strange, plus it occurred to me that I never use the snooze button on weekdays, so I think the combination of those two things clued me in to the fact that I had just had a false awakening. I moved a pillow aside to check my alarm clock and the time was 7:50, about right for having hit the snooze button a few minutes ago. So I covered it up briefly and then looked again, now it was four-something, plus I realized that the clock was on the right side of my bed instead of the left. So I did it once more, deliberately choosing to see it as 1:51, and that's what it changed to.

So now I know I'm dreaming. I go back to the field that I left in the last dream, and it's filled with random dream characters there to welcome me, though they're all sort of cartoon-style people. Everything's a little blurry too, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to focus my eyes. I can see things with my eyes closed or half-closed, but not very well, and I feel like opening my eyes will wake me up. Unfortunately, I'm also somehow taking a bird's eye view of the scene, rather than being directly in it, so I'm getting more distanced from the dream, which doesn't help. Pretty soon everything faded out and I woke up (for real this time). It turned out to still be 15 minutes before my alarm would go off, so I just stayed awake and jotted down some notes on the dream.

So anyway, not much there, but it was something. I'm making progress at least, and that's exciting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Have You Done a Reality Test Today?

In class tonight, Dr. LaBerge wore an "Oneironauts" t-shirt (oneironauts being people who travel in dreams). On the back, it said:
1 - 800 - GO - LUCID
Reality tests are a quick and easy way to tell if you're dreaming. The most common test is to find something to read (a clock, sign, book cover, whatever) then read it, look away, then read it again. In a dream, it will nearly always be different the second time. Of course, he tells us this and then goes and wears a shirt that just messes everything up. It may be more obvious here on a screen in smaller type, but everyone in class had to read his shirt about 5 times before we figured out what it actually said. (Read it slowly, word by word, if you don't get it right away.)

One suggestion for inducing lucid dreams is to get in the habit of performing regular reality checks when you're awake, with the idea that, sooner or later, you'll do one in a dream and realize that you're dreaming. Apparently that's not really a very efficient way to do it though, since it takes a lot of practice to build the habit. Plus, once you're dreaming, there's usually plenty of other weird things going on to tip you off about it. The real trick is to remember to notice that you're dreaming. Unfortunately, simply remembering to do things in the future is very hard to do. Our homework assignment for the week is this: every time we walk through a doorway, we will remember to touch the door frame on the side with the hinges. Sounds simple. I remembered both doors on the way out the classroom, and forgot both doors coming back into my house and my room. Darn.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Nice Story, But What Does it Mean?

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster is a book that I wish I had read back in 12th-grade English (a class which, had it been 11th-grade English, probably would have severely affected my college possibilities). It's a great introduction to understanding and appreciating the symbolism in literature, and it even made me want to go back and re-read things like Song of Solomon or The Odyssey that I found so torturous six years ago.

I liked Foster's approach to teaching. He has a lot of fairly absolute statements, implying that X always means Y, which can seem a bit extreme at times. But I think he also makes it clear that he's just doing this to get his points across. He reminds us that really, he's just showing us some tools here, and we can do what we want with them. I liked this passage in particular:
We tend to give writers all the credit, but reading is also an event of the imagination; our creativity, our inventiveness, encounters that of the writer, and in that meeting we puzzle out what she means, what we understand her to mean, what uses we can put her writing to. Imagination isn't fantasy. That is to say, we can't simply invent meaning without the writer, or if we can, we ought not to hold her to it. Rather, a reader's imagination is the act of one creative intelligence engaging another.
To me, this relates to dream interpretation, as well as reading literature. I've never been a fan of things like dream "dictionaries" that purport to give you specific meanings for specific symbols in your dreams. While this may be useful for pointing out some general cultural associations you may not be entirely aware of, it is not as valuable for dreams going on inside your head as it would be for literature going on out there in the world. The most important thing is to consider what the symbols mean to you, what your gut reaction is to them, and any parallels you see in them with your own life. I was glad to see a little bit of that in this book as well.

Foster also has a very interesting chapter on the concept of all literary works really being fundamentally about the same story. He describes it in terms of cultural archetypes and myths going back before history, that we all draw on when we create works of art and literature. I still feel like the "overall human story" is probably big enough to contain many smaller stories, so I'm not really sure that it's not basically just a terminology distinction. But that's probably something that bears more thought on my part, and I appreciated the fact that he discussed that a bit as a way to put the rest of the book in context.

Anyway, I'm very glad to have read this, given that I'm starting to read a lot more fiction again. It added a huge stack of books to my reading list, though (which was already unmanageably long). But that's okay.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Shakespearean Swing

I saw Ram's Head's production of Kiss Me, Kate tonight. Getting to see people in Elizabethan garb doing swing dancing probably would have been a good enough reason to go see it all on it's own, but the entire show was wonderful. (Though I must say that General Harrison Howell really should have gotten more songs.) Hooray for Trang and Kari and Meg and Dave and Eric and Ben and everyone else.

Clash of the Swings

At the Swing Kids dance last night I danced a couple West Coast Swings with Susanna, who's also taking the Thursday night class that I'm in. I was actually kind of surprised that, after only three classes, we already know enough to dance some complete dances and have fun with it. I don't know if I'm looking very west-coasty yet, though. I think style is going to be at least as much, if not more, of a learning project as the steps. Right now I have a hard time keeping the Lindy Hop out of the way, because it's so easy for me to slip into that. But something I noticed last night surprised me, which was that West Coast was actually creeping into my Lindy Hop a little bit as well, in the form of some very slotted swing-outs. That's not a huge deal except for the fact that, each time I noticed it, I would get temporarily confused and fumble something up until I remembered exactly what I was doing. Oh well. It was a fun dance last night, and I think it's promising that I'm starting to enjoy West Coast already.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Dreaming the Future, part II

A couple nights ago I had a dream about my friend and dance partner Jessica. I haven't seen her for probably a year, and it's been far too long since I've sent her an email or anything. Anyway, the gist of my dream is that she came back to the Bay Area and I was very glad to see her and to get a chance to dance with her again.

However, the really interesting thing about the dream happened after I woke up. It occurred to me that I really ought to write to her, see how she's doing and all that. I kept reminding myself to do that all day yesterday, though I never quite got around to it (busy day). So I was going to do it for real today, but guess what I found in my inbox this afternoon? An email from Jessica, completely out of the blue, saying she'll be back in the area for the summer and asking if I'd like to sign up for Waltz Weekend with her. Wow.

I think this is probably a good example to go along with my previous dream post, concerning knowledge of the future. A dream like this seems rather like a prediction of the future, or would have, if I had been trying to interpret it that way. But really, it's mostly present knowledge. Since it was only two nights ago, I'm sure Jessica already knew she'd be up here for the summer, and she most likely was already thinking about Waltz Weekend, and realizing it was full for women so she would need a partner to register. So that information existed already, though the question still remains of how exactly it got to me.

All I can say is, planetary alignment or whatever, there's definitely some sort of dream energy going around these days.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Planetary Alignment

We currently have an interesting alignment of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, all of which should be visible in the sky together for about the next four weeks. A similar thing happened in 2000, and also in 1954 B.C., when it was deemed significant enough that it caused the Chinese to restart their calendar at year zero.

I wonder what sort of effects these planets are having on us down here on earth today? So far I haven't found any astrological articles on it, but if anybody finds anything, let me know. I've definitely noticed a lot of dreaming and discussions of dreaming happening recently, among various people. That was how I found out about this in the first place. I wonder if that's related? Anything else interesting going on?

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Narrating Attentive Pianos

I'm almost finished with my second audio book, The Piano Tuner. An interesting thing in reading or evaluating a book in its audio version is that another dimension comes into it. Alongside the usual questions of author, plot, writing quality, etc. we have the narrator. I'm glad to say that Richard Matthews has been doing a fantastic job of reading this book. His default, narrator's voice is pleasant to listen to (and appropriately British for the story) but he also does excellent voices and accents for all the different characters. There are at least a half-dozen of the major characters whose voices I think I could recognize even out of context, and all of the voices in any given scene are always easily distinguishable from each other. I've been very impressed with it. It also makes me want to do more read-alouds.

Something else I've been noticing about listening to audio books is the way in which I pay attention to them. I had thought I might miss a lot more, since when I'm reading, I'm often taking in a lot of words surrounding the ones I'm currently reading at any given second (a remnant of my speed-reading class a few years ago). That means that I absorb it rather less linearly than I do when listening to it, and I thought that I wouldn't be able to follow things quite as well in an audio book. But that doesn't seem to be the case so far, and I think, in this book at least, that my attention to it has been enhanced, if anything. It's probably a combination of two things. One is that the words go by slower, so I have more time to think about them. And another is that I think somehow having my vision free (i.e. not constrained to the pages of a book) frees up my thoughts as well. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems that way. I feel like I spend more time actually thinking about the words that go by and processing them more thoroughly, rather than just pushing them in one eye and out the other, as it were. I'll have to see if this is something I notice in other books as well.

Aside from all this, of course, The Piano Tuner is just a great book. If you've ever wondered why a 19th century piano tuner would be called on a military expedition to tune an Erard grand in the depths of a Burmese jungle (or even if you haven't, really) this is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

A Very Good Painter

I watched Gigantic recently, a documentary about They Might Be Giants. One of my favorite parts was a short clip of an interview with a guy who just couldn't understand why they had written Meet James Ensor. He said he had questioned the Johns repeatedly about why they would bother writing such an odd song about an obscure Belgian painter, but the only response he could get out of them was "No, really! He's a great painter!" I found that highly amusing, especially since I thought the guy was getting way too worked up about it. For some reason, he just couldn't understand how that would be a legitimate song topic.

One of the things I really like about TMBG (and I think a lot of their fans agree) is the variety of things they write songs about. Belgian artists, ants, tiny doctors, stopped clocks, blue canary night-lights, whatever. I think it's delightful. Makes me wonder, though, what that guy thinks songs "should" be about. If you can't write about whatever inspires or interests you, then what's the point?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Dreaming the Future

At the Fletchers' last weekend, I talked a bit about dreams with John after he heard I was taking the Lucid Dreaming class. I mentioned at one point that I knew someone who had told me of a prophetic dream she once had. The details of the dream are uninteresting (her car was in the shop and she dreamt correctly of the part that was broken and the price to replace it, before finding it out the next day). The fact that it happened at all was fascinating. But John seemed to find the idea worrying as well, saying that if such things were true then it would have tremendous implications for the (non-)existence of free will.

To me, though, that doesn't seem to be a problem. Rabbi David J. Wolpe (in his book Why Be Jewish?) said that "Prophets do not foretell the future; rather, they see deeply into the present." I'd say that's the approach I take to thinking about this kind of thing.

Let's say I tell you what I'm going to do for the rest of the evening. I'm going to finish this blog entry, call my sister on the phone, and later on watch Whose Line is it Anyway? while I work out. This information will probably be a bit outdated by the time you read this, but you can see the concept. This is the present giving you very clear information about the future. It's not perfect, of course. I could get hit by a meteor, which would cancel the whole thing, or I could simply decide to read instead of watching TV. But it would be perfectly reasonable to trust me and assume that in all likelihood things would happen more or less as I described. And nobody's free will is affected by this at all.

So I believe this is the kind of knowledge that people get when they have prophetic dreams, or when they obtain information about the future in other ways. It isn't perfect or exact, and it doesn't plunge us all into determinism. But it could still provide enough information to be useful and/or interesting. Of course, it would raise lots of other questions as well. If you find that some of your dreams are predictive, you'd have to learn how to tell them apart from the ones that aren't. Notice also that I'm leaving aside the whole question of where this knowledge even comes from, simply because I have no clue. I think it would have a lot more to do with "seeing deeply," as Wolpe says, than with simply being told things, but there are probably lots of little mysteries inside us that would affect things like this.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Miz Evie's Grub and Flop House

Cass is up in Livermore for the week, visiting the Fletchers and editing their Gold Rush movie (the one the barn dance was filmed for last year). So I drove out there yesterday to visit everyone, play some music, and see some of the movie clips. Unfortunately, due to some bizarre computer problems, they pretty much have to start over and redo all the scenes they already had, but they think they can get the whole thing roughed out at least by the end of the week. I'm really looking forward to seeing the final version. I got to watch a few more clips that I hadn't seen before and it was hilarious.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Domain to Call My Own

I've been thinking that it might be fun to get my own domain name. Unfortunately "graham" isn't available anywhere (.com, .net, .org, etc.). I could get "gwaldon" or "grahamwaldon" .anything, but those aren't really that interesting. Something like might be cool -- that has a nice ring to it. I don't want to bother trying to work in anything about "page of stuph," because that was literally just a dummy title I chose when I created this site, and I never got around to thinking up anything better. So I'm still considering. Anybody have other suggestions?

Saturday, April 03, 2004

All Gone

I decided it was time to put my hair into summer-mode today. Luckily, the experience wasn't nearly as traumatic as it was the first time I buzzed it all off almost two years ago, though it still elicited a surprised look from the barber. (Better, of course, than the outright laughter of the lady who cut it before.) It was kind of fun to let my hair get a bit longer for a while, but having it really short can be nice in a different sort of way. This may just have to be a seasonal thing. Here I am:

Before: After:

April Un-Fool's Day

The Friday Night Waltz last night didn't turn out to be a silly-song, April Fool's dance after all. I was kind of bummed, because Joan had mentioned doing that and I had been sending her lots of silly songs to dance to. Oh well. It was just a normal FNW, but luckily that still means it was a lots of fun. It's been moved to the same church as the contra dance, and I think we have a three-month trial period there before we find out if we can stay. Hopefully we will; it's a good spot.

Also not an April Fool's Joke: Gmail. It's real, in spite of Google releasing it on April 1st. I wore my new shirt (yes, of course we have Gmail shirts already) to the dance last night and found that it resulted in me meeting a lot more guys than I usually do at a dance. It was also a good way to find other dancers who I hadn't realized were also Googlers.

Thursday, April 01, 2004


West Coast Swing tonight was actually pretty fun, though Richard says we aren't allowed to make any judgments on whether we like it or not until at least the end of the next class. And it is a bit weird, compared to everything else I'm used to. But I liked how he eased us into it at the start of the class. He had us all do a bit of basic, no-triples, six-count swing, which we all knew. Then he evolved that one piece at a time from step-step-rock-step into the step-step-tap-step-coaster-step of the sugar push. It was pretty cool how that worked, though I don't remember all the intermediate stages.

So I got ahold of the sugar push pretty well, but then we went on to the whip, which is just a little too similar to a Lindy Hop swingout to keep it very clear in my mind. It seemed to me that the main difference was that the follows walked forward instead of sugar-footing, and the leads stayed pretty much in one place. Also, it was more slotted. If there are more differences (it seems like there should be) then I haven't figured them out yet. It was all I could do just to keep from slipping into outright Lindy. But it was a good start to the class. I think this could be a fun dance to learn.

I was also glad to be back in one of Richard's classes again. The last time was probably Waltz Week in June, and the last Thursday night series I took was a year ago, I think. There was a very happy familiarity to being there. There's also a very pleasing number of people I enjoy dancing with in that class -- enough that it will be hard to manage to dance with them all. Too bad we don't have time for more partner changes.