Two Weeks and Counting

Someone recently made a casual reference to the fact that there were less than three weeks to the end of term and exams and I nearly fell out of my chair.

This means that two weeks of classes and one last exam stand between me and graduation, and that’s just… incomprehensible. This is how everyone else must’ve felt last Spring. I feel more than ever the regret of not staying back for my friends’ graduations.

I feel like a lot’s happened this month, which for once is actually true. For one, I now have a job, my thesis is almost done, I have a new camera, and my new laptop is on the way. More minor things include the purchase of my first dress and a side note about Wired and Allure.

Job

For the next few years, I’ll be a code monkey at a software company in California — well actually what other kind of company is in Cali? — and will be actually making enough to support myself and leave some over for … whatever it is I want to spend it on (I’m working on drawing up an impressive list right now. It includes things like “a big comforter” and “all the books, ever”. Watch this space).

Let’s pause for a moment and savor the feeling of sheer relief. Relevant details: job, software, California, earning power.

I’m excited, because I get to learn a lot of new things, and I’ll be working with software which, given my obsession with the thing throughout college, is probably a good path for me to channel my neuroticism into. I don’t regret doing Comp E instead of CS at all because I liked all my embedded classes, but in the end I just want there to be a comfortable distance between me and actual circuitry.

The first three months of this year, I dreamed about the day I’d greet my family when they landed in the United States and say, I have a job now. I can do this. Now I can!

Now my only problem is to get HR to respond to my queries — my very valid queries about some very complicated visa issues — in a slightly less than glacial pace. HR seems to be deliberately staffed with the world’s most incompetent people, so I’m going to have to just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Thesis

In another two weeks I will also have no reason to talk about my thesis ever again. It hasn’t really hit me what a long — all right, if you want to get cliched — intellectual journey it’s been. The topics my thesis covers include science fiction, artificial intelligence and robotics, US military funding, Japanese anime and manga, US sci-fi blockbuster hits, the psychology of two entire cultures, Japanese history and politics, and some literary theory thrown in just for fun.

And last Sunday I had to give an eight minute presentation on all of this.

I actually thought it went rather well and I got asked some very nice questions by the audience. To be honest, I’m really very smugly proud of my thesis because I think it’s truly interdisciplinary in the real spirit of Plan II. A bunch of other students are examining just one novel or just one idea and I’m glad I’m not really doing that.

Now I just have to write about 10 more pages to hit the minimum 60 page mark, and I’ll be good to go. Piece of cake, right? But then there’s citations and formatting and all the rest of that glorious mess. I’m thinking of adding pictures as well to — well, round out the whole thing and add more pages, but also to make it look prettier.

I’m hoping I can sort of talk about the thesis here because I really think it’s a fascinating series of ideas, but I suspect that I’ll be a bit burned out by May 6. I am, however, looking forward to giving my parents a copy of my bound and embossed thesis 😀

Camera

It’s a Canon A490, it was under $100 and until my laptop arrives, it’s the love of my life. I’ve never owned one before, so of course I’m really excited. Maybe a bit too excited, because there are pictures of my watch and books and my toast in the morning and things like that. My excuse is that I am testing out the photographic capabilities.

But really when I graduate I want an entire album of all the quiet little spots on UT that I won’t see after this, or at least for a long time. I wonder how odd it would be to photograph ENS. I wonder if I’m sentimental enough to stand its ugliness.

Laptop

On March 25, I ordered a Lenovo ThinkPad, because my HP had essentially breathed its last. The motherboard had clearly had enough after a particularly rough trip to California and back. Replacing it costs about $400 and I was pretty much done with the screen flickering and the Vista OS that I was too lazy to upgrade.

2.66 GHz, Windows 7, Microsoft Office 2010, 4GB RAM (free upgrade). Pretty sweet deal I think. And then I’m actually, really going to double-boot it with Ubuntu, and then it will be the most perfect laptop ever.

The LBD

I always thought I hated shopping. Now I’ve confirmed that theory. The ridiculous number of dresses (to me) I tried on to find one that I wanted to buy and fit me properly was mind-boggling. I mean, here’s the thing — I like dresses, I just haven’t had much experience with them, so I liked the idea of them. But ultimately they’re just clothes! How much time can you possibly spend on them?!

Apparently dresses do work on me, so now I have one that’s not quite graduation material but will probably come in useful for… something else.

Wired + Allure

I don’t understand why, if I’ve ordered Wired, I would be induced to also read Allure. I mean, what kind of — what is the intersection between irreverent geekery and makeup samples? Are you telling me I should be that kind of girl? Are you imposing your gender stereotypes on me, is that what’s happening? Because I reject the hell out of them, Conde Nast!

But today, I think, takes the cake. I got a Victoria’s Secret magazine in the mail.

Blanton Museum of Art

Since this is my last semester at UT, I’ve decided to do things which I probably won’t have the chance to do afterwards. It’s a bit too late for football, but I trekked to the Blanton Museum of Art to look around. There were quite a few people, lingering around the exhibits and staring up at the life-size Church European paintings, which made me happy. Apparently museums are for nerds, and apparently there are a lot more nerds in Austin than I knew.

Here are some of the exhibits which I liked particularly.

Greek Pottery, European Art

File:Greek vase Dionysos attica 520 bC.jpg
Wiki commons

The funny thing is, Greek pottery pieces were scattered all over the Mediterranean because they’d done trade in them, and the Greeks had treated them more as functional pieces than anything else. Many have images of gods or just simple scenes of daily life — and nearly everything I saw was lovely, with the crisp drapes and lines and features — but it made me wonder about the whole art vs. function thing. There they were, the Greeks, shipping off loads of pottery unconcernedly, and two thousand years later (can you believe that?) here they are, no longer knocked about in some kitchen but preserved carefully under glass and steel.

And here’s Ikea, trying to convince us that even obstinately functional things can be beautiful.

There’s an entire gallery full of European painters, some  of whom were apparently enamored with the Caravaggio school of painting: realistic but dramatic still, with a great use of lighting and subtle emotion on the faces. I dunno why, but I like the way the characters are always draped languidly over rocks and around glades and things like that. There also seems to be a preponderance of nudity, which made me think of the whole high art as porn business — was it? Were those noble gentlemen who commissioned those things just closer perverts or genuine admirers of the human form? Those statues, too, are very life-like.

What I feel rather wistful about is the voluptuousness of these women. In those days they were gorgeous; today someone would come around and tut at them and recommend the Atkins diet. It’s depressing.

But more spiritually speaking, there’s a huge variety of paintings of various Christian scenes, dominated (I think) by those of the Virgin and the Child. There’s one in particular that is striking for its utter simplicity — where the other paintings are crowded with figures and their emotions and gestures, the folds of cloth and the complicated background, in this there are only two faces. One is of the Virgin — barely a child herself, face pale and upraised, calm but wondering — and the other is of a barely sketched out Christ. She is dressed as simply as can be in muted colors and there’s a hush stillness about her. Sadly, I can’t find a picture of it.

The last thing I liked about this section is a portrait of Lady Hamilton, the wife of an ambassador and mistress of Lord Nelson. Apparently she rose from poverty, through the incredibly rigid social hierarchy of 18th C Britain, to become one of the nobility. I can’t imagine a much more lovely or innocent face than that, although I’m not sure she would’ve been either of those things. The volcano in the back is the erupting Vesuvius, which was supposed to stand for the Naples, where her husband was going to be posted. But I can’t help thinking that it must have been a symbol for her scandalousness as well.

Photo courtesy: euthman

South American Art and Abstract

I didn’t think this was going to be that exciting for me, and I was right. A lot of it was what I sweepingly call modern or abstract art and… I just can’t get behind those concepts. It’s not just that I don’t understand it, it simply doesn’t evoke any reaction in me except annoyance. But there were a couple of striking pieces that I couldn’t help liking.

One was a quipu installation piece. This is a system of knots used by the Inca to encode mostly decimal numbers, although there were some other uses for it which apparently weren’t deciphered. In this piece, it was a single stiff cloth pulled across a grey background (can’t find non-copyright pictures). It looked like a toga about to go down the runway but it was more like a representation of an ultimately simple system of recording. Interesting stuff.

Photo Courtesy: euthman

I’ve no clue what this is, except that it’s by Kazuya Sakai, and that it’s gorgeous. I think this is going to be my new desktop wallpaper.

There was another painting that at first annoyed me so much I had to go up and look at it to figure out what the artist had been thinking. It consisted of two canvases, both identical, and each had a black border and a pale lime border inside the black one.

And that was it.

What idiot would do this, I thought, and then noticed another card next to the artist card. It was part of the Blanton Poetry Project, which seems to invite poetry for selected paintings. This one (which I can’t find online) talks about the artist measuring ruthlessly, preparing for the paintings, while others wonder what the point of the blankness is. Then she’s out, ambling along the road, filling herself up with life, as the poet calls it, “to the eyebrows”. Then she comes back and makes this painting, which others can only whisper that it contains nothing.

It didn’t make me change my mind entirely, but it made me chuckle a little.

Blue Woman on Black Chair

Halfway through looking at an opera performance, I happened to glance down a corridor — and froze. Was it a person? Or a piece of art?

The image is here at Austin360, and sadly copyrighted, but as I took a closer look, I could see that the woman, who seemed calm and contemplative, wasn’t quite all that. She’s slumped in her chair as though exhausted, and barely clothed. There’s something about the slouch of her body that, despite the vividness of the color, is just a little depressing.

Conversion

This was my favourite of the lot. At first glimpse, all I saw was a softly lit installation, a shallow pool filled with something coppery, and a ceiling of white tubes, all surrounded by black gauze. It’s a beautiful sensual piece of art, wavering somewhere between the sensual and the spiritual. Then I read the description.

Andreanna Moya Photography

The white tubes at the top are cattle bones; the thin white thread in the middle is a tower of communion wafers; and the pool of bronze below is a heap of pennies. This is Cildo Meireles’ critique of the Jesuits’ conversion of South Americans in the 18th century. It was purportedly an exercise of mercy, a way for the heathens to reach Heaven. But as the card said, the motives were not all pure — it was a question of gaining agricultural control (bones) as well as a matter of money (pennies), with Heaven as the connector between those two material aims. It seems to be an almost fragile connection, liable to snap at any minute and bring the gruesome cathedral crashing down.

There were a few more interesting exhibits, but these were the ones that captured my attention the most. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of museums, really — they give you so much time to just look and think and wonder, which is what I love doing most.

My next stop should be the Austin Museum of Art. Hopefully I’ll have a camera this time.