Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas shibori project

This was the first Christmas I can remember being alone. But truth to tell, I haven't really had many strong traditions since 2009 when my family broke up. Puck and I have always tried to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and we would have liked to continue that this year, except their family made plans to visit Ella and Sasha in Vermont to await the birth of the first of their family to be born in America, which is a big deal. But since they didn't include me in that plan, I didn't arrange to take time off to go with them for such a long stretch. And truth be told, I probably wouldn't have liked to be away from home that long anyway, so it all works out for the best.

So instead, I spent my Christmas Eve and Day working on a project I've been planning for a few months now, dyeing silk scarves with indigo using Japanese shibori methods. I started by mixing the indigo dye into a large two-gallon tub:


I had two large white silk scarves and two small ones. For one of the small ones I did an accordion fold and sandwiched it between two pieces of wood about the size of playing cards and secured with rubber bands before dipping in the dye:


For one large and one small, I did an accordion fold and clipped them before doing a simple dip three times into the dye before hanging them to dry:


For the last large scarf, I did my accordion fold and wrapped it once around a can of hairspray and secured it with three rubber bands. Then I carefully dipped just the open folded half of the cylinder into the dye:


I left these to dry overnight, and today I opened them up and rinsed them out, squeezing out the excess dye and hung them to dry. Here's what the square pattern looks like:


Here's what the single side dip pattern looks like:


And here's the cylindrical pattern:


Once they were mostly dry, I washed them with a special textile detergent to set the color and included a couple of color trapping sheets to keep the colors from bleeding. The final result was a nicely faded blue in differing gradations. I carefully ironed them and signed them on the label with the letter "M".:


This is my first time doing anything in the textile arts (except for a latchhook project when I was a kid) and it was a lot of fun. I saved half of the dye to work with again if I want to get some more articles to dye.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Movies, musicals and opera

The last couple of weeks have seen a shift at work and my social life. Up until the 14th, work has been crazy, getting ready for the closing of a merger with another company. On the 11th, Kacey invited me and Chelsea to join Becker for a read-through of McGoldrick's Thread, a play her boss is trying to get produced.

A run-through is like a movie preview for stage plays. They read some of the scenes, and do some of the musical highlights, and in this case, perform some of the Irish stepdance numbers in the show. The troupe includes some really world-class dancers of all ages, many from a school in Long Island. Because we were seated on standby, we got put in the front row, center, so close that our knees practically extended over the edge of the stage. Chelsea said she feared for her knees when some of the dancers performed their kicks!

The next night I was supposed to screen A Beautiful Mind for my Times Square Movie Club, but Natalie (who was the only person signed up to come) couldn't make it. Instead, Kacey and Becker came over late and we watched The Cider House Rules, which is one of the movies on our Literary Movie marathon list.

Last Thursday night I texted Natalie to see if she wanted to catch up on Elementary, but she had tickets to see Bare the Musical on Broadway and asked if I wanted to come with her to that. I was on call to post a news release, but I still managed to see the first few numbers before I had to go out to the lobby and work on that. I finished up the work and saw the second half of the play with her. The music was really good, but I thought the story was pretty derivative of works like Rent.

Friday night we closed the merger and I pretty much crashed all weekend, recovering from an intense week of work, only leaving the apartment for yoga on Sunday. On Wednesday, my friend Liz (whom I met back in April - "Lively performances" - April 22, 2012" - but haven't seen her since, although we converse on Facebook) invited me to see a play called P.S. Jones and the Frozen City. I met Liz watching The Foreplay Play, and P.S. Jones included one of its stars, Diana Oh.

Thursday night was my first big, successful TSMC event, the holiday screening of Love Actually. Puck came back from school, and we hosted Marton and Anna (from Open Love NY), Elisa (from House JAPaN), Natalie and Chelsea, so seven people altogether. As many times as I've seen this movie (it's one of my favorites) it was so much fun watching it with a crowd that included people who haven't see it before. There was a lot of laughter and snarky remarks, and a fun time was had by all. Afterward, Marton and Anna left (since they had a long drive home to Princeton) and the rest of us chatted until past midnight. Natalie even favored us with a few tunes and carols on my violin, Midori.

I love having friends from different parts of my life and different communities come together. I think the cross-pollination is more interesting than hanging with the same crowd again and again. But most of all, I think all of my friends are such wonderful people that getting them together is a fun time for everyone, especially me. A big part of my starting the TSMC was a decision to focus more of my attention on the core group of 37 of my closest local friends, or those people I want to get to know better, even while I'm on my current hiatus from dating.

One of those persons is Liz, whom I saw for a second time in three days when she invited me to a midnight screening of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with a group of her friends. We were supposed to meet up at a bar, but I accidentally left my wallet (and my ID) at the office so we relocated to a diner across Houston Street. Liz and I were there early so we sat together for about an hour until other people started showing up.

Chris is a young gay guy who works in theater lighting, Josh is Liz's boyfriend who bartends at The Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys on Broadway, and we met up with a gay couple, Chris and Zack, who are both in theater and are getting married in a couple weeks on a cruise ship out of Miami. They are also two of the most gorgeous men I've met in a while. So it was a lot of fun meeting all these cool new people and spending time with the charming and vivacious Liz, who, like Kacey, is a theater stage manager.

Saturday Puck and I had our annual pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center to see Aida. It was one of the most impressive, lavish and complex set designs I've seen yet, including live horses and scores of extras in the cast. We had orchestra seats, so a different (and probably better) view than we've had in the past when we've sat in the boxes above.

Puck went with their family to visit Ella and Sasha in Vermont today, and I'll head up there for New Year's next weekend for the long holiday. So this weekend I get a couple days to chill out and shop for presents before heading back to work on Wednesday. It's the first time I can remember being alone on Christmas. The idea doesn't bother me as much as it used to - I welcome the quiet and the solitude before my next TSMC event on the 28th.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pen geeks

I enjoy being a generalist. I have a pretty short attention span and that's why the field of public relations seems to suit me. The constant variety of work and the generally short-term focus on writing projects fits with my preferences as a writer. So I don't think I'll ever write the great American novel, and I'm fine with that.

I'm similarly flighty when it come to hobbies and interests. I know a little about a lot of things, but am not an expert in anything. A Jill of all trades, master of none. My dad used to make fun of me that I would never stick with one thing.

Today I brought a couple of press releases to our General Counsel, the top legal officer in the company, to review. He whipped out a pen to begin his edits, and I recognized the trademark shape of the clip as a Waterman. I used to have a gorgeous British racing green and gold Waterman rollerball that I lost in the fire of 2005, so I commented on it. We started talking about pens and he took from his coat pocket a very fancy fountain pen that he received as a gift from his old law firm and I recognized it as a Delta, one of the pricey Italian brands I looked at just last month ("Samhain 2012" - Oct. 31, 2012). I think he was very impressed that I knew that right off the bat!

He talked about trying to find a pen for his teenage daughter, her first fountain pen, and I suggested he try Art Brown's, where I got my Waterford pen. I poked around the site and sent him some recommendations in the under-$100 price range. He later responded with a very nice note thanking me and telling me how nice it was to find someone else with the same extravagant and unusual interest in fountain pens.

It's a small thing, but given how few things I could possibly have in common with a senior officer of my company, it reminded me that no matter how different we may appear to be, we are all capable of making a human connection around something we're passionate about. Geekery is not limited to the young.

12/24 edit: He chose a mustard-yellow Aurora pen for his daughter, so I sent him a link to this video on how Aurora fountain pens are made. He said he would share it with her on Christmas.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Unexpected encounters

Monday I had one of those nights that started out looking like it was gonna suck, but managed to turn around nicely into a blog-worthy evening. Then Tuesday it happened again, to a bit of a lesser degree.

It was the final Shotz! of the year and I was meeting Kacey and Becker for the 7 pm show. I got on the subway from Penn Station coming back from work and was surprised by my train skipping my usual stop. Apparently the station was closed due to a police investigation of a homicide. So I had to get off at 57th Street and walk back down, but I still had plenty of time so I wasn't worried yet.

I was greeted by my doorman with three packages: an Amazon shipment of books and movies, my new Denon receiver and a giant, coffin-sized box that could only be my new bookshelf. For a moment I felt like the crew of Firefly in "The Message."

Ordinarily, I'd have preferred to leave everything and pick it up upon my return, but since the Denon was in its own box, I was concerned that someone might make off with it if my doorman had to leave his post. So it took me two trips to bring everything up to the apartment and by then I was cutting it close.

Since my close-by subway station was closed and that's the line I use to get to Shotz!, I had to walk through Times Square to the 42nd Street station. As I was crossing the street, I felt someone pinch my elbow. I turned to see a former work colleague from Agent K, my last job, and one of my closest friends from that office. We spent a few minutes catching up: she's raising a family in Edgewater, NJ and working at BET in Midtown now. I broke off as gracefully as I could, explaining that I was late for a show.

I hopped on the Q express train, which took me down to 14th Street, but watched helplessly as the connecting local R train pulled out of the station just as we pulled in. I decided to walk the remaining distance to St. Marks, but because I was coming from the north instead of the west as usual, I got confused with my landmarks.

As I was standing at the corner trying to remember how to get to the theater, my friend Kiwi came sauntering over on his white horse and two slices of pizza on a paper plate. He was headed to a show at 80 St. Marks, across Avenue A from my destination, Under St. Marks. He looked up directions on his smartphone and we walked over together to meet up with Kacey and Becker and I made introductions before he departed.

Unfortunately, at this point, the show was standing room only because the theme is James Bond 007. Each play has to feature a gadget and the line, "Don't worry, I've done this before." With Skyfall breaking box office records, I guess it's a spillover effect. I sent Kacey into the theater to find Chelsea, a friend from yoga class whom we had invited to come, and we decided to come back for the 8:30 pm show.

So the four of us walked down to the Anywhere Cafe and had a light pre-show supper. I ordered a salad, Kacey had the borscht, Becker (who was feeling a little under the weather) had Earl Grey tea and Chelsea had a glass of absinthe, which was dramatically served over a brown sugar cube set on a strainer and ignited. It was Johnny Depp’s scene in From Hell, minus the laudanum.

We went back to the theater and it was definitely the largest crowd of the year. One of the skits was excellently done by a company of mimes who were appearing as featured guests, but my favorite was titled “Bond Bitches” which had us in stitches. Kacey had to go back to work (she has a new job and a big event tonight) so we walked everyone to their subways and I went home to start installing the Denon receiver.

Tuesday I had thought to see Puck for a TSMC showing of Moonrise Kingdom so I worked from home that day. It also allowed me to visit Best Buy at lunchtime to pick up some HDMI video cables so I could finish the installation I had started the previous evening. It turned out that Puck had a last-minute family event and my friend Liz got buried in work, so I wasn't sure if anyone was coming at all. I started building the bookshelf and lost track of time until Katie (Puck’s former FB wife) knocked on the door.

I greeted her apologetically, asking her to step around the coffin-sized box remnants and the half-finished bookshelf on the floor. I quickly washed up and we spent a little time catching up. She’s interning at the Herstory Archives and had an interview the next day with a staffing company. We watched our movie, which I found to be delightful. It made me realize that it’s been a long time since I've seen an independent movie or even a foreign film, and how different they are from Hollywood mainstream movies.

After Katie left, I quickly finished the bookshelf and installed the projector, along with consolidating my framed photos and decorative items on it, including my Japanese sword and lightning sphere. I stayed up late to watch the Rockets sneak a win by beating the Lakers down the stretch in the fourth quarter - which was immensely satisfying - before going to bed.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Movie theater 3.0

One of the things that I love doing is designing and installing home theaters. Seriously, nothing makes me happier. I'm weird that way. And unfortunately, without doing it as a profession, it's rare that I get to indulge.

Five years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, I bought a Panasonic HD projector and installed it in my existing home theater at my New Jersey apartment. The layout of the apartment was ideally suited to installing the pull-down screen so that it covered my flatscreen and books behind it ("My new theater" - Nov. 25, 2007). The projector was simply set up on the kitchen counter behind the sofa, so it was a bit exposed but convenient to adjust manually.

When I moved out of that apartment into my Manhattan apartment, I found that I couldn't install the screen or projector because 1) the ceiling is very high and 2) I don't have wood studs in my walls. So instead I installed the projector at Puck's house in Staten Island, along with a new Blu Ray player, Onkyo receiver and speakers ("Staten Island home theater" - Nov. 8, 2010). Their home had the same protruding beam on the ceiling that made the screen convenient to use.

Unfortunately, all that equipment got washed away with Sandy, but the projector survived since it was mounted on the ceiling. So I've figured out a way to install it in my apartment now without using any mounting hardware - by using a pop-up portable screen and a new bookshelf behind my new couch.

To go along with this installation, I'm also upgrading my old Harman Kardon receiver to a new Denon that switches HDMI and decodes the latest surround sound formats on Blu Ray (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD). Strictly speaking it's not a necessary upgrade, but the HDMI switching will make it a lot easier to operate my theater because switching video inputs on my monitor will no longer be required. An HDMI splitter will send the video signal to both my Philips LCD display and the Panasonic projector.

I'm expecting the Denon to be delivered tonight, and then the only thing left will be the bookshelf, which will hold the projector and serve as a display and end table behind the couch. So hopefully I'll have the whole thing up and running by next week in time for my Wednesday showing of A Beautiful Mind.

I started a group on Facebook called Times Square Movie Club (TSMC, which could also stand for "The Secret Movie Club") and started posting events and organizing viewings of movies and TV shows. I didn't include out-of-town friends (in case any of my distant friends were wondering) since it's intended to be a casual thing for people who can drop by on short notice. I invited about 30 people to join the group, and they are mostly people who have either already visited my apartment or I have visited theirs. Other than that guideline, it also includes people I'd like to get to know better.

So I'm definitely going to have a Dark Knight viewing but I haven't decided if I want to do the full marathon or just show the third movie. I'm also doing a Miyazaki marathon in January. I'm showing Moonrise Kingdom on Tuesday and then Piper comes on Thursday for our private marathon of Stanley Kubrick movies, continuing with Lolita. So I guess for now, this is what I'm putting my focus on now that I'm no longer president of Open Love NY.