Monday, February 28, 2005

Cup 93: Pay Attention to Me!

pay attention to me!
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: my office, Orono, ME
When: 10 am Feb 28
Who: Dot
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: groggy

Coffee with the computer today. Vacation is here, Jessie's headed south and I have the place to myself. Paralyzed by this wide open space of unprogrammed time! Dot decided she wasn't getting nearly enough attention, so she got up off her perch beside the computer, got up and took a walk on my laptop. She perched right there on the keys, right between me and the screen.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Cup 92: With My Feet Up

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.

Where: Livingroom, Orono
When: 8 am, Feb 27
Who: Dot
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: content

Welcoming sunday with quiet ease. Dot is hanging out under the tree. Dash is still curled up with Jessie. TiVo's caught new episodes of Ghost in the Shell and Fullmetal Alchemist for me. A perfect morning!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Friday, February 25, 2005

Cup 89: not enough coffee in the world...

ring 2
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: home, Orono
When: Friday, Feb 25
Who: dot & dash
Coffee: Avalon organic Italian Roast
Mood: down

Today the depression is the worst it's been all winter. Depression is like a living thing. I read a book a long time ago, Colin Wilson's The Mind Parasites. I remember not liking it very much at the time, but maybe I should give it another read. The Mind Parasites were alien beings that lived in our minds and afflicted us with things like depression in order to keep us from ever rising to a level where we might defeat them. Today I can almost believe that is true. There are things you can do to fight depression. Diet, exercise, socializing, walks in the sunlight... all the things you're least likely to want to do when you're depressed. Instead you just want to go sit in a dark corner, alone, eating chocolate and other comfort food... all the things that are going to guarantee that the depression persists. There's other things too. Low self-esteem comes and paranoia come with depression too, as does low energy and lack of focus. What is a sure boost to self-esteem? Getting things accomplished. What is going to happen with low energy and no focus? Nothing. I'm sitting in front of the computer for hours at a time, only to discover I haven't done a thing, and I have no idea where the time went. And the lack of getting things done contributes to the paranoia, because I'm all to aware of the responsibilities I have that I'm not meeting... and so on. Depression really does seem like a living thing, doing what it needs to to perpetuate itself.

Depression makes the coffee stop working. When the depression isn't here that cup in the morning gives me that extra boost to shake off the sleep and get focused on the challenges of the day. When the depression is here there just isn't enough coffee in the world to clear my head, make me feel motivated and directed. It is like this thick, viscous substance has coated my brain and is squeezing my heart, and I try to drink more, to make it go away, but it doesn't.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

cup 88: Battle Royale

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono, livingroom
When: 8am, Feb 24, 2005
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Avalon Organic Italian Roast
Mood: tense

The book is Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, and on this, a day of "vacation" I am lounging around drinking coffee. The book is gripping, to say the least. The premise is simple. 42 middle-schoolers are put on an island and forced to kill each other until only one remains. Reading it is like, well, have you ever seen the old style fans with the metal blades and the screens that have such wide open gaps that you can fit your whole hand through it? And there's something about it that makes you want to stick your hand in, just to see if it really would hurt, or would really cut your fingers off. You know it would, but it is just hard to believe. The fan at full speed is just a blur, a solid disk, not blades at all... Open the book is like sticking your hand in a fan and believing it isn't going to hurt. You know that everyone you care about is going to die, but you have to keep reading. The first few are like potato chips. None of the characters who die have been around long enough to really care about, and the descriptions of their violent deaths are graphic and entertaining. I found myself saying, "Okay, I'll just read until the next kid dies, and then I'll get busy." But then after the first 20 or so kids die, I'm at a point where it is painful to continue, where there are only 2 kids left who I actually want to see dead, and the rest I want to see miraculously escape and live happily ever after. That's not going to happen, though.

It certainly isn't a book I'd recommend to just anybody, but if you like your entertainment disturbing and thought provoking, a la A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies, this book fits the bill. Though neither of those can hold a candle to the grand guignol of Battle Royale.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cup 87: vacation

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
where: Orono, Lengyl Lab
when: 10:30 am, Feb 23, 2005
who: a student
coffee: Green Mountain
mood: relieved

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cup 86: free Mojtaba and Arash

free Mojtaba and Arash
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
where: my office, Orono, Maine
when: Feb 22, 10 am, 2005
who: just me
coffee: Avalon Organic Italian Roast
mood: pensive

The newly-formed Comittee to Protect Bloggers is having their first "action" today, Free Arash and Motjaba day. While I'm happily, freely drinking my coffee, Arash and Motjaba, two Iranian bloggers are imprisoned for expressing their views on their blogs. Please take a moment to visit the committee's site, and if you have a blog, put up a link and a banner.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Cup 85: afterwards

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
where: Orono, Mom's kitchen
when: 10:30 am, Feb 21, 2005
who: me
coffee: Green Mountain Coffee
mood: tired

cup 84: stained

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono
When: 6am, Feb 21, 2005
Who: me
Coffee: Avalon Organic Italian Roast
Mood: groggy

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Cup 83: Family Visit Continues

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono, Mom's kitchen
When: 8am, Feb 20, 2005
Who: Ethel LeClair, Caritha Curti, (and sometimes Sofia and Matthew Curti
Coffee: Mountain Grown Folgers

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Cup 82: Family Visit

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono, Mom's kitchen
When: 8am, Feb 19, 2005
Who: Ethel LeClair, Caritha Curti, (and sometimes Sofia and Matthew Curti
Coffee: Mountain Grown Folgers

Friday, February 18, 2005

Cup 81: Coffee Orifice

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Pembroke Elementary
When: 8:30 am Feb 18, 2005
Who: scads of kids
Coffee: New England Coffee Roasters Breakfast Blend
Mood: uninspired

Look at the lid on this cup. It is the usual not-quite-horrible coffee I get in Pembroke. The coffee isn't great, but the lid is a masterpiece of modern engineering! Years ago Apple computer came out with a series of laptops that were so well designed that they put all other laptops to shame. The design was so complex, however, that Apple needed to use a Cray supercomputer to model the case. This lid is way more complex than the PowerBook case, though! It is kinda cool to be living at a point in history where such a marvel of technology can be as common as a cup of coffee. Now that personal computers are now more powerful than early 90's supercomputers, how many more marvels will we see?

The lid has a plug, for starters. It is on a tab that extrudes from the center of the cup. You don't have to rip any plastic off the lid in order to drink the coffee. You just fold it back and push it against the back of the lid where there is a slot that pinches the tab and holds it reliably. But you can reclose it! That is so cool! How many coffee lids do you ever see on disposable cups that you can completely reclose? That part is cool, but what really excites me is the curves. This lid is all about the curves. I never realized just how uncomfortable the sharp edges make a coffee cup until I drank coffee from a cup that was all curves. This cup is designed in such a way that the mouth comes in contact with nothing but curves. It is unsettling at first. It gives it a much more organic feel than a plastic lid has a right to have, as if this were some bioengineered organ grown to excrete coffee. But there's also something very sensual about it at the same time, like a nipple designed for adults to drink from instead of babies. What other wonders does modern technology have in store for us? I can't wait to find out!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Cup 80: The Caffiene Makes me Irritable

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Pembroke Elementary
When: 10 am Feb 17, 2005
Who: many middleschoolers
Coffee: Green Mountain (tepid, purchased back in Orono
Mood: irate

Coffee began its seduction long before I started drinking. I remember a commercial. One woman snaps at her friend and then apologizes, claiming that her doctor says it's too much caffiene. Her friend recommends she switch to decaf. I was an extremely passive kid who never spoke his mind when he was upset, and just endured quietly, so this made coffee seem like some wonderful elixer that enabled one to speak one's mind.

Must be too much caffiene. By the time I made it to Pembroke I was ready to bite somebody's head off. Unfortunately, the target of my irritation was just too big. My jaws don't open that wide.

It's a long drive to Pembroke and I had a long time to think about what I'd read that morning. Iraqi ex-pats living in Australia are putting pressure on the US Govt. to put a stop to the web site Under Mars. Under Mars is a website that lets soldiers in Iraq post pictures that they've taken. Some of them are extremely graphic images of war atrocities that should be offensive to every thinking & feeling human who sees them. Many of these have stupid captions ut there by the soldiers who post them, like, "In need of plastic surgery" beneath a horribly mutilated corpse.

I read the comments on Iraqi blogs about the photos. It all made me angry, made me want to scream "A plague on both your houses!" A typical Iraqi response was that Allah would punish all the Americans, and the same thing would happen to them. Another response was to characterize all Americans based on the idiot soldier who posted the pictures making fun of mutilated Iraqi corpses. A typical American response was, well, bad things happen in war, but isn't it a small price to pay for freedom and democracy? They all make me so angry. How many Americans would you have to kill to bring those dead Iraqis back to life? How many of the 4000 people who died on 9-11 have been brought back to life by sacrificing 100,000 Iraqis? Why is the response to an atrocity always to perpetrate another atrocity?

And I started thinking about the Australian Iraqi's and their condemnation of Under Mars. They just don't understand how important a site like Under Mars is to them. Here in America we've been fed a cleaned and polished version of the war. There are no Iraqi death counts on American television, no images of death or dismemberment or other horrors of war. It makes it so easy to ignore that way, and easier to support. Under Mars is one of the few places where people in the US can actually see what is going on. And if they see it, maybe they will react in horror and be appalled at what their country has done, and do something to try to change it.

But then I realized how foolish it was of my to think this.

Times have changed. Caring is a luxury in this country. The current generation works 140 hours a year more than the previous one and makes less money doing it. That's almost a whole working month less to spend on anything but working. I think a typical American would be outraged if they saw the pictures on Under Mars (I hope so, anyway) but I also think a typical American is overworked and underpaid and even if they realize that the nightly news is just propaganda, they probably don't have the time or the resources to get on the Internet and find out what is really going on. Even if they did, what are they going to do with that information? Protesting is a luxury item also. It takes time and money, two things most Americans have in short supply. Some have called Iraq another Viet Nam. I don't think this is accurate. Back then the news media did a better job informing the public, and the public had more time and energy with which to act on that information. Now we have a government-censored news media, and people with far less time who are on average poorer than the previous generation.

It is all too big. I can't see any way to turn the situation around. I just want to scream. Or maybe its just the caffiene makes me irritable.

Cup 79: Dazed and Confused

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: my office, Orono
When: 6:45 am, Feb 17
Who: just me
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: groggy

6:45. I should have been on the road at 6 am, but I just can't seem to wake up. Feeling so groggy I'm afraid to drive. I have no idea why. This body just isn't cooperating. I pour more coffee into it but the haze won't leave.

Cup 78: No Food or Drink in the Lab

Where: Lengyl Lab, University of Maine, Orono
When: 8 am Feb 16, 2005
Who: a dozen students
Coffee: Green Mountain
Mood: energetic

There's no food or drink allowed in the lab. I hate this rule. I mean, it isn't like it'll hurt anything, well, unless you do something really stupid with your drink, and...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Cup 77: Out the Door

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: home, Orono, ME
When; Feb 16, 7:30 am
Who: Jessie, Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: busy

It is the usual rush around & get everything together for class because I've overslept and instead of enjoying my morning cup of coffee it is something I'm going to carry from room to room and spill it on everything. Only this morning there's a twist. Jessie is awake. Her car is broken again. It is a Toyota and it is just a baby. Hasn't even passed 300,000 miles yet, but Jessie's car just keeps breaking. I've never seen a Toyota have so many problems. So Jessie's annoyed and frustrated and of course I'm annoyed and frustrated because of it, and she has to get up much earlier than she wants to in order to drive me to class so she can have the car for the rest of the day. I don't particularly mind because it gives me a reason to walk! But I'm bummed for Jessie. Like any poor college student needs another $300 car repair bill!

cup 77: sick again

Where: on the couch, Orono ME
When: 9 am Feb 15 2005
Who: me & occasionally Dot & Dash
Coffee: Maine Roaster's Capone
Mood: sick

Coffee was a remote hope that the headache was just the usual caffeine withdrawals but it wasn't. Spent the whole day on the couch watching TV and wishing I didn't feel like crap.

Monday, February 14, 2005

interlude: Balzac

Coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge,the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters.Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.
-Hororé de Balzac

cup 76: VR

Where: Lengyl Lab, University of Maine, Orono
When: 8 am feb 14 2005
Who: dozens of students
Coffee: Green Mountain's Valentine's blend
mood: exploratory

Anyone remember VR? It was going to be so cool! We'd have goggles and body suits and we'd be able to interact in a completely immersive computer environment. Some experts said that the government might have to regulate it like they do psychadelic drugs because it exposed you to an alternate reality. There was a horrible movie, Lawnmower Man, that was a huge success because it happened to have VR in it right when VR was getting popular. There were a couple of TV shows, VR5 and Harsh Realm, that flopped even though the weren't all that bad, because they came out a week later, when VR wasn't news anymore. There is one vestige of the VR hype that remains and is pretty cool and completely underused. It is called Quicktime VR and it is built right into Quictime, so if you can play Quicktime movies on your computer you can watch a Quicktime VR. Quicktime VR stitches together a series of digital photos to create the illusion of navigating in a 3-dimensional space. In the above sample, I used my coffee cup (and yes, I was drinking the coffee while I made the VR). It isn't just an animation. Go ahead, click and drag on it. Try using your shift, control and alt/option keys while you click and drag. They should all do something a little different. In class I plan on using it to archive the student's 3d work, since this can be tricky to include in a portfolio.

Cup 75: From Chocloate to Morphine

from chocloate to morphine
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: livingroom, Orono, Maine
When: 6 am, Feb 14 2005
Who: just me
Coffee: Maine Roaster's Capone
Mood: inquisitive

I took the morning to read up on my addiction in the book From Chocolate to Morphine by Andrew Weil and Winifred Rosen. Here I learned some fun facts. French author Honoré de Balzac was such a coffee addict that the coffee he drank resembled thick soup and he consumed it in astonishing quantities to spite the stomach cramps it gave him. I learned that J. S. Bach composed the Coffee Cantata around 1732 and it containd great lines like, "Far beyond all other pleasures, rarer than jewels or treasure, sweeter than grape from the vine. Yes! Yes! Greatest of pleasures! Coffee, coffee, how I love its flavor, and if you would win my favor, yes! Yes! let mehave coffee, let me have my coffee strong."

Caffeine isn't the only "active ingredient" in coffee. There are many other stimulant drugs found in coffee. This is probably why only coffee "does it for me" and I can't drink caffeinated soda and get the same effect.

I also learned that nausea and vomiting can accompany a coffee withdrawal in addition to a severe, throbbing vascular headache. Coffee is irritating to the stomach and bladder and it overrides the body's ability to store chemical energy, making one come to rely on coffee for energy.

Aside from the irritation, there are many more damaging things to be addicted to. It isn't going to cause the massive and permanent damage that being addicted to, say, heroin causes.

Dr. Weil might say I'm on my way to a "bad relationship" with coffee. "People with good relationships with drugs can take them or leave them," he says, and I don't feel that leaving coffee is an option. On the other hand, I am aware that coffee is a drug, and have a good idea of what it is doing to my body, so that is a sign of a healthy drug relationship. And it doesn't appear to be harming my body as far as I can tell (another good sign) but the effects of coffee have diminished for me, and I need it in order to have a functional energy level, but it does not stimulate me into a higher energy level as it should. A bad sign.

So, what do I do with this information? Well, I'm not about to give up coffee or even cut down. I am okay with being addicted to it. Maybe that is a sure sign of an "unhealthy drug relationship." Whatever.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Cup 74: A Valiant Attempt

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: living room, Orono, ME
When: Sunday, Feb 12, 2005
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: in pain

I made a valiant attempt to have a lovely Sunday morning. The coffee, the cats, the anime, and nothing to do but relax and savor a moment's quiet. Unfortunately, I woke up thinking every inch of me hurt. I was to be proven wrong, but at the time I didn't know yet. All I knew was that I'd spent hours shoveling the day before. If you've never shoveled snow before you don't realize how much work it is. The snow looks light and fluffy, but it isn't. It is heavy. With so much snow there's no place for it. I had to pile it on top of the snowbanks, which are now taller than I am. So picture doing reps with a 20 to 30 pound weight, lifting it from the floor to above your head. Keep doing this for four hours and more, and you might have some idea of what it felt like waking up this morning. So it sucked to be me just waking up this morning. And then I fell down the stairs.

Dash ran to the stairs when I got up, and looked at me expectantly. This is one of her play positions. I'll throw things up the stairs to her, and she'll bat them back down. How could I refuse her? Unfortunately, I forgot how slippery my feet are when I wake up in the morning. I don't know why. They just are, okay? I can slide across the hardwood floor in my bare feet just as if they were stocking feet, and rugs are slippery as well. And when I stepped on the stairs my feet just kept going and there was nothing I could do to save myself. Dash bolted. Jessie came running, confused and frightened by the loud crash that woke her out of a sound sleep. "It's okay," I said, "I just fell down stairs. Go back to sleep." as if it is something I do regularly.

I'm not going to tempt fate by saying everything hurts. I thought that once before and now I hurt in twice as many places. My neck is all messed up and just holding it up my head is an effort. I made my coffee and settled down on the couch, and the cats came and lay down on top of me and I made a good show of relaxing, enjoying the coffee and watching TV, but really, it hurt just to pick up the cup and turn my head to take a sip.

And now it is snowing again...

Cup 73: Digging Out

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: home, Orono, ME
When: 8:30 AM Feb 12, 2005
Who: me & the snow
Coffee: Port City Capone
Mood: resigned

Luckily I'd spent hours shoveling on Friday. So much snow. It would only take half a day to dig his out. I fueled up on extra strong Port City Capone and a bowl of Vector. Vector is the official cereal of the Canadian Olympic Beach Volleyball Team. I have to go across the border to get it. I figure the Canadian beach volleyball team must be totally hardcore, playing volleyball in their snowsuits and winter boots and all, so their official cereal must be hardcore as well. I wanted to be able to do all the shoveling in one stretch, so

Have you ever seen a couple of feet of snow come down all in one storm? It is pretty mindblowing. A mixture of awe and aw, as in aw crap, now I have to clean this all up.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Cup 72: Snowbound

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Home, Orono
When: 8 am, Feb 11
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City India Malabar
Mood: awestruck

It never stopped snowing. It just keeps falling and falling. I was up shoveling it before I had my first cup of coffee. I wanted something to look forward to. Not that there is really any point to shoveling when it is snowing this hard still. I brought the snowblower out for this one. I like to shovel by hand usually, but with this much snow... Still, even with the snowblower it is still a task. The snow is deeper than the snowblower is tall, so I can only do a little at a time, back up, do a little more. I clear enough snow away so that if we need to escape, we can. The snow was not only blocking the cars, it was holding the doors to the house shut.

I'm sore and tired from shoveling, but still, when I pause and ignore the pain in the neck that this is going to be to clean up, I am awestruck. The whole state has been cancelled. All the schools are closed, even the University, which never closes for anything. Every even that was scheduled has been postponed. They didn't even pickup the trash today. So there's no traffic, not even the distant sound of it. The snow plows, usually so good about keeping Orono's streets clean, haven't been able to keep up with this onslaught. It is like the world is being erased. The snow clings to everything, burying the cars and streets, turning the trees and houses white, and everything is quieter and quieter and the snow keeps on falling and falling and as it does the world becomes less detailed. Soon it will be a blank page, ready to start again.

Cup 71: Just in Time

home just in time
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: pembroke, en route to Orono
When: 7am, Feb 11, 2005
Who: just me
Coffee: New England Coffee Roasters

The town of Pembroke was dead when I woke up. I left the Rainbow at 7 and the snow was already falling. There'd been a lot of buzz about the coming storm the night before. The forecast said 100% chance of snow for thursday and friday. You just don't see that around here. There's never 100% chance of any sort of weather happening around here. It wasn't really supposed to start until the afternoon, though, so I guess they still got it wrong. I'd planned on grabbing breakfast at Poor Boys, then heading over to the school and working for a few hours before leaving. Even then I didn't know for sure that I'd leave because even when a huge storm is forecast here until it actually starts you really don't know it is going to. But when I left the Rainbow the snow was coming down and no cars were going by, and I went straight to the school instead of going to Poor Boys. The school was dark and locked up tight. They'd cancelled already. These are people who pride themselves on their insanity, er, toughness and ability to cope with whatever comes and their willingness to send their children to school no matter how apocalyptic the weather is.

So now I'm starting to get a little nervous. Still, no cars have gone by. Has something big and terrible happened? What should I do? Go back to the Rainbow and wait out the storm? Attempt to drive back? Two and a half hours on the road. Storms here always come from the southwest, the direction I'd be heading into, so I'd be travelling into worse weather, and I'd be driving through mountains, too. Fortunately, I knew the closer I got to Bangor, the better job they'd do at keeping the roads clean.

I steeled myself. Mom and Jessie and the Kitties would be snowbound unless I were home to dig them out. Plus the boredom of being stranded in a hotel room for two days would be intolerable. So I drove to the Mobil station to get the largest cup of coffee they had and a pair of Little Debbie granola bars for breakfast. It was a no substitute for Poor Boys, but time was of the essence. It was a stressful, white-knuckle kind of drive. The kind where you keep sipping at the coffee cup even though you know its been empty for fifteen minutes, just out of nervous reflex. I was so glad to pull in the yard!

Cup 70: My Life in Trash

my life in trash
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Orono, en route to Pembroke
When: Feb 9, 10:30
Who: just me
Coffee: Green Mountain
Mood: tense

Going to Pembroke on Wednesday instead of Thursday to meet with the Perloffs. The Perloffs are a couple from Downeast who made good, and now, in their retirement, they give grants to schools to do special projects. They're funding Pembroke's Lego program, which I've been getting started. I have to rush to get there before they do and show off what we've accomplished. It's a mixture of expressing genuine gratitude because they've truly done a wonderful thing, and sucking up in hopes they'll give us more money. There's no way I can get there in time without speeding the whole way. 20 ounces of Green Mountain Coffee from The Store and Covenant on the iPod will keep me moving fast enough, though. I groan getting back into the car. The filth is rising. No place for an extra passenger to sit. Hard to feel motivated to clean out the car when it is this cold.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Cup 69: Desk Accesory

desk accesory
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: my office, Orono, Maine
When: 6:30 am
Who: Dot
Coffee: Port City India Malabar
Mood: busy

I've got a new desk accessory! Dot hangs out a purrs while I work beside her. It is wonderful! The cats seem to have picked their people. Dash seems to gravitate toward Jessie while Dot and I tend to hang out together. It fascinates me that twin cats could have such different personalities, and that they'd gravitate to the people who have similar personalities. Dot is aloof while Dash is a love me love me love me furball who puts up with anything. Just like Jess and me! Or am I just giving in to the pathetic fallacy, and any human attribute I see in the cat, as those cynical experts would say, is just something I am projecting on to them. Right now the cat is purring and I could care less.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Cup 68: Eye Surgery

eye surgery
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
When: 7:30 AM
Where: Eastern Maine Eye Associates, Bangor Maine
Who: Ethel LeClair
Coffee: Downeast Coffee
Mood: Pensive

They serve Downeast Coffee at the Eastern Maine Health Care Mall Café. The Eastern Maine Healthcare Mall Café does catering. I can't quite picture it. You've got some swank, gala event going on and, well, knowing that the Eastern Maine Health Care Mall Caterers are doing your food doesn't actually say, "PARTY!" does it? I mean, they specialize in food that isn't going to upset your stomach after surgery or fasting, right? Downeast Coffee is quite appropriate. Unnofensive and pedestrian, but packaged nicely so it looks like whatever food service place serves it actually spent some money on it. The kind of coffee you can drink after surgery.

The book was Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, lent to me by my neice Sofia. Can I just tell you how cool it is to have a neice in the sixth grade who reads Neil Gaiman? Did I have as good taste when I was that age? Of course, but not many 6th graders do. I definately wasn't as stylish. How man kids own a black cardigan sweater with Jack Skellington embroidered on the pocket? Anyway, book and coffee, good way to pass the time, sooth the nerves while my mom gets needles stuck into her eye.

So, they weren't ghouls, but my mother's eye was quite a bit more traumatized from this weeks surgery. Last week you could hardly tell she ever had anything done. This week she looks like she's been in a fight. I am glad she only has two eyes, so we don't have to go through this again next week! Sticking close to home for the rest of the day to keep an eye on Mom.

Cup 67: Early Morning Surgery

the ring
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: my office
When; Feb 8 2005 5:50 am
Who: Dot
Coffee: Port City India Malabar

Just a quick cup before taking Mom to get her other eye surgeried. Hope this one goes as well as the other. I can't believe she scheduled her appointment for 6:30 am. Who does surgery at 6:30 am? Nobody! I think they are probably ghouls who will harvest my mother's organs for breakfast. They'll keep me sitting around the lobby until lunch time and then they'll say, "You can come in for a visit now," and then they'll get me, too!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Cup 66: Nihilism

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Lengyl Lab, Lengyl Gym, Univesity of Maine, Orono
When: 7:30 -10:30 am Feb 7th
Who: a bunch of students
Coffee: Green Mountain Coffee Organic
Mood: supersmart

I've been trying hard to be environmentally friendly, using my portable mug as much as possible and so on, but you know what I've realized? Coffee on the go only tastes decent in a paper cup. Plastic takes on the taste of everything it contains. Steel seems to react with coffee making it taste sub-par. Ceramic is ideal, but it is hardly portable. Only paper does the trick. I should just buy a bunch of to-go cups, but I know I will always forget. My friend Donnie has the right idea. He married Lisa, probably the only woman in the world who could balance out his unique character traits. Not only does she buy the coffee cups, but actually thinks to pre-punch airholes in the lids. And she does the whole coffee maker timer thing. I've got one, but it just flashes 12:00... I keep intending to set it, but I just forget... But they have fresh coffee waiting for them when they get up in the morning!

Donnie and I were in LA a few years back, visiting Lynda Weinmann and she actually had a housekeeper who brought us coffee before we'd even gotten up in the morning! That is what I really want. Might even be more cost effective than having a wife to take care of my coffee needs!

But anyway, the morning's coffee was Green Mountain Organic, and it was a damn fine cup of coffee, coming, not from a gas station but from a store in Orono called The Store where they actually have proper coffee making equipment and people who know how to work it. I stopped there and spent a buck something for coffee even though I have tons of coffee at home because I wanted my coffee in a paper cup so I could enjoy it to its fullest, because at 8 am on a Monday morning I was giving a lecture on very dense material, and needed the backup.

The lecture was on the nature of media. The questions that get asked a lot both of Art and New Media majors are: What is Art? What is New Media?

I turn to Marshall McLuhan for my answers: Art is whatever you can get away with. That's easy. New Media is a little trickier, because I think it is really kind of a misprint. Not New Media but New Medium, as in The Medium is the Massage (or message, or mass-age since McLuhan loved the Joyceian/Shakespearian multiple simultaneous definitions for a single word). Anyhoo... Medium is the technology carries the information. "New Media" to me is just whatever the latest technology is that is used to get ideas and information from one brain to another.

A more important point of investigation is this: Yes, the medium is the message. That is to say, the thing that is the mode of transportation for information as it travels out of your brain and into others determines what can be transmitted and recieved. Each different medium has different ways in which it transforms the message. How? That is the important question.

When you start examining the medium-- any medium, you reach the inescapable conclusion that you are being lied to.

Take what we recognize as news. Most people think of the news as a reliable account of what happened on any given day. This is, of course, a complete fantasy. There are more than 6 billion people on this planet and (with the exception of those who are mentally ill, or too young) every single one of them would think that their lives are significant. To distil every significant thing that happened on the planet during one day into a half-hour news broadcast and expect it to reflect any sort of truth is just ridiculous. Choices need to be made on what to cut from the broadcast. Even were one to strive for unbiased, balanced reporting it is just plain impossible to have an unbiased broadcast. The American news media's decisions are influenced by a number of forces. Economics: the majority of news is paid for by advertising. Higher ratings = more money, and sex and scandal attract higher ratings than real news. You can get morally outraged by this or not. Broadcast news is going to do what makes good business sense, not what is morally right. Really, what would you do? And then there's the question of ownership. Arch conservative Rupert Murdoch's news stations get daily memos with instruction on how to spin the news to favor Murdoch's views. Morally reprehensible? Maybe, but then again, it is his station. The big issue for me is when Fox uses slogans like "fair and balanced" when it is neither. Murdoch is the most blatant about it, but the fact is, every new broadcast is going to be slanted by who is creating it. In fact, everything that you personally have not experienced first hand is going to be filtered through the lens of whoever is communicating that information to you, and again, through the medium they are using to communicate through.

The inescapable conclusion is: you are being lied to. Everything you know is wrong, other than what you personally experienced first hand.

There are several reactions to this:

Solipsism: You yourself are the only thing that can be known or verified. Everything that didn't happen to you may or may not happen. In fact, the whole world may not exist outside your own brain. Cogito ergo sum means I exist, but just because I think you are thinking too doesn't mean you really do.

Nihilism: Everything is meaningless, even you. The only lesson we learn from history is that there is nothing to be learned from history. You reject everything. Nothing can be known or communicated.

Totalitarianism: There is a truth and there are facts and you believe in them to spite all evidence to the contrary. You believe with religious zeal anyone who tells you anything that confirms the truth that you believe you have found, and insult, pass laws against, or kill anyone or anything that tries to contradict these beliefs.

Existentialism: Everything is a lie, unless it is true. Do such distinctions really matter, though when you really can't prove either way? Thus we are free to decide for ourselves what we believe, what we do. With this complete freedom comes complete responsibility, though. We have no one to blame but ourselves if things go badly.

On good days I am an existentialist. On bad days I'm a nihilst.

So this is about a quarter of the lecture, and I'm writing it out to find out something. I have to turn this class into a completely online version and I'm realizing the real challenge is going to be finding a way to convert the content of the lectures. It has taken way to long just to put that little bit into words, so I'm not sure this is going to be an option. I'm not really wanting to tape the lectures though. Maybe if I could get Edward James Olmos to speak them or something, then it would be bearable... hmmmm.... what would a Constructionist do?

Cup 65: Morning Coffee

morning coffee
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
where: home, Orono
when: 6:30 am, feb 7 2005
who: Dot & Dash
coffee: Port City India Malabar
mood: elated

A little deviation from the norm. I am skipping ahead to today, and I will backfill the previous days later. The past week has been difficult. I've suffered from chronic depression for all of my adult life and some days doing anything is such a chore and even little things can become insurmountable tasks. Keeping up this silly little blog was one of those tasks last week. For the past few years I've kept my depression in check with drugs. Zoloft, then Lexapro. But I decided to try to make it without the drugs this fall. My longtime friend and mentor Welch Everman died. I didn't feel it. I didn't feel anything about it. It was such a heartbreaking tragedy, but emotionally it held no more significance than a cancelled TV show. I decided then I didn't want the drugs anymore, and I tried to fight off the depression with diet, exercise, and sunlight. But the past few weeks it has been too cold to move, and it has been dark all the time and, well...

This morning I was up before the sun and did something a bit different. Usually I try to saturate my senses all day long, reading or watching TV as I sip my coffee first thing in the morning, and moving on from one kind of data input to another until I fall asleep (in front of the TV, or reading). But this morning I just sat quietly and sipped my coffee, the sassy yet sultry India Malabar from Port City Coffee Roasters. Dot and Dash played with their toys. The sky reddened and then a strip of gold appeared beneath the red as though the dark were a solid lid over the planet and some giant hand were prying it off to let the sun pour in. I'd say it was the most beautiful sunrise I'd ever seen, but it isn't. We get those all the time here. Pretty much any sunrise when it isn't raining or overcast is stunning. And how cool is that? To be living in a world where such beauty is as common as the start of the day? And contentment can be found in a cup of coffee and two cats. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Cup 64: superheroes

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: livingroom, Orono, ME
When: 8 am, Feb 6
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City India Malabar

I didn't mean to read the whole thing in one sitting. When I spend $30 on a comic book I like to savor it over a few days: Kurt Busiek's Astro City: The Tarnished Angel. But the coffee was good, Dash was curled up on my feet, Dot was hiding under the tree, and I just couldn't get up now, could I? Still, it was a wonderful Sunday morning. Astro City is one of the best comics pubished today. Years before The Incredibles, Astro City was reconstructing the superheroes deconstructed by Frank Miller and Alan Moore and creating something wonderful. I don't know if it was the first post-post-modern comic book, but it certainly is the best. Self-aware without being ironic, an homage not just to the classic comic books, but to that feeling of being a kid and reading superhero comics, when you could really put yourself into that comic book world. It wasn't so much that the heroes were real and in your world, but you were real in the superhero world. I don't know if someone who never experienced that as a kid would have the same reaction to Astro City. But then The Incredibles seemed to have struck a cord with a lot of people. Take a trip to Astro City and see for yourself!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cup 63: at the Friar's

at the friar's
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: The Friar's Bakehouse, Bangor Maine
When: 12:30 pm, Feb 5 2005
Who: Jessie
Coffee: Unknown
Mood: wonderful

There are galleries in Bangor. I knew this, but never paid much attention. One gets so used to there being nothing to do when you live in a town like this that when there is something, you tend not to notice it. UMMA, the University of Maine Museum of Art is there. Odd that it isn't on campus and I'm sure there's weird politics to explain why it isn't. There's also the Bangor Historical Society's museum. Jessie wanted to go, and that seemed like a nice Saturday thing to do, so we went. I don't know if it was just being in the proximity that triggered a Pavlovian reaction or what, but when we parked near the Friar's I was suddenly SO hungry! I really hadn't planned on going to the Friars, but who'm I kidding. We go there every saturday, and the grilled cheese is just, heh, heavenly!

I love the friars. There's something about people of faith that I... envy seems the wrong word... respect seems trite, but neither is innacurate. I have a whole lot of contempt for "religious" people who pervert whatever faith they belong to to justify their own hatreds and prejudices and views. But people like the Friars, who are willing to devote their lives completely to their faith, who honestly practice what they preach and instruct by example, not accusation or condmenation. There's a sense of peace in the bakehouse that I don't think is just my imagination.

It was the Book of Job that finally did it to me, made me turn my back on God and the church once and for all. I was raised Roman Catholic and was actually quite religious back in the day. There were lots of little things throughout the year that didn't sit right with me, but Job finally clinched it for me. Okay, God and Satan are just hanging out, talking, and God decides to prove to Satan what a faithful man Job is. So God destroys Job's life, murdering his entire family, destroying his home and property, giving Job festering boils and heaps all sorts of other tortures upon Job. God does all this. Just so he can win a bet with Satan. And I thought, God exists or He doesn't. If He does, He is unworthy of worship because any god who'd be willing to do all that to someone who loves Him just to win a bet with Satan is such a total jerk the He only deserves Ridicule and Scorn.

And still, I have nothing but respect for the friars. They've thought this through and still found something loveable and worship-worthy about their God. And somehow this leads them to make great grilled cheese sandwiches. And the circle of life continues.

Oh, and the museums were pretty cool, too.

Cup 62: Saturday, with Cats

dot's new place
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: the livingroom, Orono ME
When: 7 am, Feb 5, 2005
Who: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Port City India Malabar
Mood: relaxed

We knew that Dot had found herself a new place, but just didn't know where. Checking Jessie's blog from the road, I found out! Golly, that little kitten is just so cute! Two great cats, a cup of coffee, and no place to be. Such a great start to the day!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Cup 61: Friday Morning Breakfast

Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Poor Boy's Diner, Dennysville, ME
When: 6:30 am, Feb 04, 2005
Who: Georgette, Trudy, Paula
Coffee: Unknown
Mood: accepted

These early mornings, I don't know. It is like I solipsistically believe that the world begins to exist when I wake up in the morning. But now that I've been waking up and hour or two earlier every day I find that there is a whole world going on without me. It is a world of coffee and food and sunrises.

There isn't much to do at the Rainbow Motel ($25 a night!) at 6 am, so I drove to school, but it was still locked, so I kept heading down Route 1 to Poor Boys Diner. I love Poor Boys, but I always feel a little uncomfortable walking in there. The cook/waitress/dishwasher/volunteer fire department dispatcher is always nice, but Poor Boys has its regulars who eat there every morning and have for years. When I walk in they stare at me openly. I'm suprised they don't say, "Ain't from around here, are ya?" and chase me off with baseball bats or something. On the other hand, the food is really good there, and for three dollars I can get a veggie omelette that stretches clear across my plate. I pull up a seat, engross myself into whatever I brought to read, and ignore the stares.

At 6 am the coffee is actually good at Poor Boys. The coffee maker has just been cleaned out and the coffee hasn't been sitting around, and the waitress comes round to fill it while the cup is still half full so the coffee never gets cold. I'd sat by myself long enough to order but not long enough to get my food and two of the teachers walked in. I forgot that the teachers met every morning for breakfast before class. They actually invited me to their table! I didn't feel like such an outsider then. And the omelette was gigantic and excellent as always.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Cup 60: Eddington Blend

eddington blend
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: Eddington, Maine
When: Feb 3, 2005 6:30 am
Who: just me
Coffee: Green Mountain blend
Mood: still tired

A happy suprise: blended Scotch (like Dewars) mixes together a variety of sub-par Scotches. By some magic instead of creating a thoroughly loathesome drink, the defects mask each other out instead of amplifying each other while the good tastes emphasize each other, leaving you with something drinkable. I tried this with coffee and found that much the same thing happens. You may get funny looks as you pump one pot after another (the woman behind the counter double-checked the pots after I finished, thinking they must have all been empty. She shrugged her shoulders when she found them all full and decided I was just weird). Try it next time you have to choose between a variety of mediocre coffees!

Cup 59: Zombie

captain kirk
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
When: Februrary 3, 2005, 6:00 am
Where: home, Orono, ME
Present: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Maine Roaster's Capone
Mood: tired

Gathering my stuff together, staggering like a zombie. So hard to be out of the door by six a.m. when I'll be driving for two and a half hours to start work at 8:30. Ugh. Praise dead presidents! Soon I'll have a couple of days off as schools across the nation close for February vacation. Days like today I'm drowning and coffee is that breath of air that keeps me from going under.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Cup 58: Not a Place to Drink Coffee

on the toilet
Originally uploaded by matt_leclair.
Where: home, Orono, ME
Feb 2, 2005, 6:30 am
Present: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Maine Roaster's Capone
Mood: frantic

Rushing around as usual, trying to get to school before everyone else... otherwise I wouldn't be drinking coffee in the bathroom. Must have stopped there to clean out the kitty litter, but honestly, I don't remember anything about this day.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

cup 57

When: Feb 1, 2005, 6:30 am
Present: Dot & Dash
Coffee: Maine Roaster's Capone
Mood: pensive

I think I'm more nervous than my mom. I'm puttering, never staying put long enough to actually drink my coffee because I'm too busy, but I'm not. It is six in the morning. There is nothing to be busy with. I'm just working off tension. Mom's going in for cataract surgery and I'm going with her. Modern cataract surgery is an amazing thing. It's done with a needle and ultrasound and local anaesthetic. It takes less time than getting a filling, and doesn't need stitches or anything. Intellectually, I know all these facts. But hey, it's my mom, and it just makes me nervous. It also makes me realize something that I've been trying hard to be in denial about: I'm getting older. I know this because of the role reversal. There was a time when it would have been my mom taking me to the hospital because I was sick or had injured myself or something. But now its the other way around. And when she gets back I'll stick close by, make sure she has what she needs, put drops in her eyes and so on. It used to be her role to take care of me. But now... 35 years sure do happen awfully fast.