Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rat in a Maze

It's bad enough that I have to play a single working parent, covering both drop off and pickup and working at home and the office in between. But I am a patient as well. A year ago, Anthem Blue Cross decided to unilaterally cut physicians' compensation by 25% for their PPO plans, citing losses. (They managed to "upstream" a billion dollars to their parent organization and pay their fired CFO almost a hundred million dollars to get lost. Hmm.)

Anyway, many doctors dropped out of my PPO plan after that and I have to go out of network to see the same doctors I used to see. That was a factor in deciding to pay insurance premiums twice, so I get dual coverage with automatic cross-billing and coordination of benefits. I pay double premiums, but I get to see the same doctors for a predictable annual fee.

The downside is that I have to pay out of network doctors up front, and then wait for the reimbursement checks in the mail. That's not too bad because most doctors take credit cards.

Mark was out of town and I had a 4:15 PM appointment. Iris' daycare charges $2/minute after 6:00 PM. That should be enough buffer for a simple appointment.

  • the doctor ran 45 minutes late (there is no quick way to tell someone they have melanoma, and she had to break the news to three seniors today, backing her up)
  • the doctor spent a lot of time with me, going over different treatment options and possible side effects for my psoriasis
  • I got out of the treatment room at 5:35, and Iris' daycare/school is 10-15 minutes away, depending upon traffic lights
  • I whipped out my USBank-issued Visa card and it was declined with the cryptic message, "Call Auth Ctr"
  • The staffer asked if I had $$$ cash?
  • No, I never carry that much cash on me.
  • I called the 800 number, which welcomed me to their "Concierge Level Service", which wasted precious minutes while congratulating me on qualifying for concierge service, but I still had to navigate a voice menu hell before I got a live person
  • Then the person told me that I had a customer service problem, not a concierge problem, and that I had to call a different number, not printed on my card
  • She transferred me to customer service, which asked me to give my card # and zip code before transferring me
  • But then I was "selected" to answer a "2-minute customer service questionaire" before they would transfer me to a human being
  • I screamed into the phone, as much as I am able to scream through my hacking cough (another story)
  • A live operator came on and made me verify my information all over again
  • Then she asked if I had charged something to a fish house; that set off a fraud freeze on my account.
No, but my husband is on business travel in Houston, maybe he ate seafood.

Can you tell me the name of the restaurant he ate at?

No, if it's in Houston, it was probably him.

We can't tell where this was charged.

Can you just unfreeze my account so I can pay my doctor's bill and get out of here?

Not until you tell us if this is a legitimate charge.

Can you tell me how much was charged at the fish house?

$29 today in Houston.

You told me that you can't tell where it was charged, but you can tell it's in Houston now?

I just unfroze your account. It will take 2-3 minutes for it to take effect. But, do it quick. I will make a note that he is in Houston, but the computer will automatically freeze your account again if he uses it, and you will have to call us back to unfreeze it.

I hand my card over to the staffer and it went through. Huzzah!

5:52 PM and I dash to the elevator and then to my car.

I hit EVERY RED LIGHT possible.

I am late. But two other parents were also there at the same time. Will they charge us? We'll find out in the next billing cycle. If I get charged, I am sending the bill to US Bank.

I don't feel like cooking dinner.

If you sit at Rice Things long enough, you can say "hi" to the whole neighborhood. Cops, even LAPD and LA County Sheriffs from miles around, eat there. And you will meet quite a few tired parents from Iris' nearby school, too. Eating comfort food, with Iris, surrounded by our neighbors, my blood pressure returns to semi-normal.

Mark will be home in three more hours.

Customer service says they have been tightening up on fraud. Going forward, we need to call them each time we travel. My husband travels 30% time for work. I travel 10% time for work. We also travel as a family.

Is there a phone number we can call to reach a human to alert them about upcoming travel? A number that doesn't involve voice menu hell?


Is there a website we can use to alert them of upcoming travel?


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Happy New Year

Well, we didn't have much of a celebration this year due to illness and Mark's travel schedule. I am barely making it through the days as a single parent. Last day holding down the fort alone, yay!

We always say that holiday cards are not late as long as they are sent out before lunar New Year. They will be late this year. ;-)

We also did not clean the house from top to bottom. Oh, well.

If I can stop coughing, we would like to go to the Huntington on Sunday to see the lion dance.
Feb. 1 (Sunday) 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Celebrate the lunar new year in The Huntington’s Chinese garden, as the Year of the Ox gets under way. Festivities will include lion dancers, Chinese musicians, folk dancers, martial arts demonstrations, and children’s activities. General admission
The Dibner Hall of Science also sounds interesting:
"Beautiful Science" Now Open
Dibner Hall of the History of Science

This new permanent exhibition showcases some of science’s greatest achievements, from Ptolemy to Copernicus, Newton to Einstein. Called “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World,” the exhibition highlights four areas of exploration: astronomy, natural history, medicine, and light. The installation features approximately 100 of the most significant books and manuscripts in the history of science, showcased here, along with related artifacts and interactive features, in an imaginative, state-of-the-art installation.
View the Huntington schedule.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Möbius Mini

Actually, I was aiming for a Möbius shoulder wrap for myself, but Cathy at Twist Yarns accidentally gave me the instructions for the children's version. When we realized her error, I went back to the store for a second skein of Malabrigo merino lace, which she gave me gratis. She felt badly about the amount of time I spent, working moss stitch in lace weight.
  • yarn: 8 grams Malabrigo merino lace
  • color: Vaa
  • needle*: 47" size 9 Addi turbos, switched to 32" Knitpicks 9/7 when it was wide enough to fit comfortably
  • pattern: Moebius cast on 100 double-ended stitches plus the initial slip knot, moss stitch (201 sts/round of knit 1, purl 1) until it is wide enough. This one is ~10" wide.
  • pattern for women: Moebius cast on 160 sts + slip knot, moss stitch (321 sts/round) until you run out of yarn. Try a size 8 needle to start and adjust for a pleasing stretchiness. Wrap will measure ~37" along the middle spine, and be ~14" wide.
  • Use a stretchy bind off**
My sister posted an excellent pictorial how-to for the Möbius cast on (MCO). She also gave me A Treasury of Magical Knitting by Cat Bordhi. Even then, it is difficult to attain the exact number of desired stitches. I ended up with 158*2+1 stitches.

Note that each MCO creates a double ended stitch. You will knit first one side, then the other. If you look at a Möbius strip, your MCO will be at the center spine. Then you will knit outwards along both sides of the spine.

** I bind off with a crochet hook, rather than move the stitches back and forth between the R and L needle. I am lazy that way. The three needle bind off using a crochet hook instead of a third needle taught me that the bind off is equivalent to a crochet slip stitch.
  1. knit two stitches, keeping in pattern and leave stitches on hook
  2. yarn over, pull through both loops,
  3. knit or purl one stitch
  4. yarn over, pull through both loops...
Cathy originally told me to (MCO) 80 stitches and moss stitch with a size 8 needle. My swatch told me that would be awfully small, so I MCO 100 stitches and went up to a size 9 needle. Even then, it better fits Iris than myself. I am using MCO 159 stitches and a size 7 needle for mine. I usually go one needle size down because I knit loosely in Continental style. (I learned to knit while living in Germany, long story.)

See my sister's Möbius basket. Unbelievably cool!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not so collaborative learning

My husband's friends like to say that he attended MIT via correspondence school because he scarcely went to lecture. He retorts that, he did all the homework and showed up for the exams. His grades speak for themselves.

We were both surprised to learn from At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard that only 50% of students show up for freshman physics lectures. (Because he didn't go to class, he didn't know how many others also skipped lecture.)

I haven't seen the new method in action, but the data looks encouraging. We all know the old methods were not so great and needed improvement. I only want to warn that the new methods are not a panacea and are also subject to improvement.

When Iris was in second grade last year, she was more than a year ahead in math. There were two boys in the class with similar placement test results. We asked that they be clustered together so that they could work on third grade math as a group.

Be careful what you wish for.

Using the new collaborative learning techniques, the teacher told them to work together on problems and move on only when they all agreed upon the right answer.

We looked at Iris' workbook and were surprised to see that she had written down the right answer, then erased it to put down a wrong answer. I asked her why she did that.

It was more important to S to be right than it was to me. He wasn't going to change to my answer and I was tired of arguing. I wanted to go on to the next problem.

It wasn't working. She started going to the third grade classroom for math and eventually just stayed there for the whole day. She ended up skipping to the third grade mid-year.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Molecules Move Electrons, a talk by Christopher Allen

I wish we lived closer to Machine Project because they host so many cool activities. This Friday, they are hosting a lecture about how molecules move electrons.
Christopher Allen will give a talk on how molecules move electrons, and how this applies to the design of new materials. Two different processes will be discussed. The movement of electrons hoping from one independent molecule to another will be illustrated by the example of a glucose sensor. The process of electrons moving around within a molecule will be illustrated with the example of conductive plastics used in flexible display panels. Also discussed will be how chemists utilize their knowledge of the geometrical and electronic structure of molecules to design new materials.
Click here for details and directions.

Years ago, I attended a workshop about hyperbolic crochet at machine.

Leaky Pipes

Several people have mentioned this NY Times article,
In ‘Geek Chic’ and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science. I have so much to say about women in science. And I am not sure how much I want to say here because I want to continue to work in science. And I need to go pick up Iris at school and take us both to the ENT's office because neither of us appear to be getting better.

I will say that I am tired of the "leaky pipeline" analogy. Raise your hand if you want to be compared to brake fluid.

Seriously, do you think human beings more resemble an Eulerian fluid or an ensemble of individual Lagrangian particles*? How might these Lagrangian entities be deflected? how might they be deflected back?

More later, when my head is not full of snot cotton.

* Air masses and traffic can be modeled as either a fluid or as an ensemble of discrete particles acting under physical/behavioral laws. As the ensemble size increases toward infinity, both formulations should agree. IMHO, we don't have enough women in science for the Eulerian formulation to be valid.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wrong Number?

I don't know why, but I occasionally receive faxes that appear to be for a doctor's office. My office fax # goes to my email inbox and the wrong numbers are indistinguishable from the faxes meant for me until I open and read them.

When I first discovered this, I called the originating number. The office at the other end of the line had no interest in investigating the matter. Thereafter, whenever prescription requests and sensitive medical information for a variety of patients pop into my inbox, I delete them immediately.

But this fax that came today was too good not to share.
I have a mischievous desire to turn up at this free "educational" dinner. After all, it might have been for me. Technically, a PhD can call herself Dr. X. If it was meant for a potential patient, I am under the care of a rheumatologist.

This invite is too delicious. Don't you just feel a frisson of excitement to learn that the chef has a famous father? Celebrity! Free food and booze! Continuous learning credit!

BTW, I am not impressed by the lecturer's title. One of our friends is an associate professor at the same medical school. She says that the only thing she needed to do to become an assistant professor there was to say yes when they asked her to "volunteer" to teach one day a week at their teaching hospital. She knew that if she said no, then she might lose hospital admitting privileges.

Then the school was investigated for discrimination; one of the factors cited was the skewed ratio of male to female tenured faculty vs. the more even ratio for untenured faculty. Shortly thereafter, she received a letter informing her that she (and a whole bunch of women) had been granted tenure. She never even applied for it. We joked that it was the easiest tenure review ever.

Have you read Uwe Reinhardt's illuminating series about why US health care costs so much? As a heavy health care consumer, I have opinions. But his economic analysis looking at the big picture was eye-opening.

I am still grappling with whether I should start this drug, which costs over a thousand dollars a month for the hope that it might save my mobility.

"You want to walk, don't you?"

Speaking of fear tactics, one of the arguments being trotted out is that you don't want a government bureaucrat performing cost benefit analysis to limit your options under government sponsored insurance. In the US, we have people at insurance companies with no medical training determining "medical need". To provide evidence for the insurers, the vast majority of drug trials are funded solely by drug companies, which have the right to review and edit articles for research that they fund. The drug companies also fund the continuing education for the physicians.

I happened to come across a British National Health double blind study looking at several treatment options for my condition. It was way more balanced and thorough (double blind!) than the ones sponsored by the drug companies. It did not rule out the use of the expensive patented drugs.

If I had read that report earlier, I could have saved myself 6 months of puking up this other drug, which eroded the valve between my stomach and esophagus, which then led to me breathing HCl fumes, which then lead to asthma, which then lead to steroids for the asthma, and increasing strengths of heartburn medication, and one infection after another, which led to antibiotics, which led to thrush... I told my doctor that I wanted off the Rx merry-go-round before I developed C. difficile.

If I had read the British National Health study first, I would have read that it is highly unlikely that anyone can take a high enough dosage orally and keep it down. Thus, they resorted to infusions, which is why they were able to do a double blind test. And they found that the cheap generic drug worked as well as the thousand dollar a month drug, but they were both very dangerous drugs. I concluded that they both should be avoided until there was no other alternative.

On a positive note, I never did keep enough of that drug down for my hair to fall out. But I did start to go prematurely gray. If it hadn't been for that, my hair would be as dark as my older sister's. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Could anything else befall the house of contagion?

Mark is on the B.R.A.T. diet.

I am on
for sinus and ear infections, irritated lungs and to try to head off thrush.

Iris is on Tylenol for her sinus headaches and going through boxes of tissue.

We've been sacked out on the couch, catching up with Battlestar Gallactica.

Iris uses frak alarming frequently in everyday conversation. She says it is not dis-allowed*; it can't be a bad word if it is not a real word at all. What would Steven Pinker say?
Swearing is another kind of word magic. People believe, contrary to logic, that certain words can corrupt the moral order—that piss and Shit! and fucking are dangerous in a way that pee and Shoot! and freakin’ are not. This quirk in our psychology lies in the ability of taboo words to activate primitive emotional circuits in the brain.
Is frak more like shit or pee? And maybe that is not the right pair of words after this weekend at Chez Badmom.

* Not dis-allowed, indeed. She says she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. Can I get an injunction against her for practicing law without a license? Or at least until she is out of my house?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Schulz' Influence

I forgot to mention that our whole family loves the bittersweet humor of the Peanuts cartoons. Iris has devoured the anthologies from our public library. She had a fair amount of patience with the museum exhibits, too. She listened intently to the audio tour about Schroeder and Beethoven. When she got home, she ran upstairs and dug out her toy piano and started to play. A few days later, she got out her old, abandoned piano lesson book and started to practice every day.

She also expressed interest in learning to play bridge. On the ferry to Alcatraz, we taught her how to play hearts. When we got home, I gave her a copy of the coloring & activity book*, Teach Me to Play: A First Bridge Book. If I can just teach one of her friends how to play, we will have a foursome.

* Do not laugh. I learned to play using the same book. Read that and Bridge for Dummies and you can start playing.

Schulz Museum

I've been meaning to post pictures of our visit to the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California last December. If you are in the area, I highly recommend a stop.
The NY Times posted a slide show and an article about the Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse show which closes in two weeks. I also enjoyed the replica of Schulz's home office which contains his books and tchochkes. Downstairs, they showed a panel with kids discussing bridge strategy for declarer's play. Upstairs, his office contained books on bridge. The museum volunteer said that Schulz was an avid bridge player.

Do not skip the museum store! There are more exhibits in there. Who knew he wrote a book on style?
Or that he was interested in fashion? Check out this museum exhibit of Snoopy, clothed by the leading couturiers of the day.
Pierre Balmain
Vivienne Westwood
Bill Blass
The show catalog
Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blueberry Hill Wrap Up

It looked great flat.

It doesn't looks so great on me. After perusing Ravelry, I think that this sweater looks better with zero or negative ease. I am 34.5", the sweater is 38". I should have listened to that inner voice telling me to knit the smallest size. Big sigh.

Several knitters on Ravelry mentioned the too-tight armholes. I bound off the side unit after 30 rows, omitting the last 16 rows.

Then I substituted these shoulder units instead of the triangles in the original pattern. I knit the even portion for 24 rows before increasing in the normal manner. The armscythe is perfect for a vest, but the top pulls in too much without sleeves. Another big sigh.

Maybe I can give it to someone slightly larger than me. I am definitely giving away the gray cabled cardigan. I visited Twist Yarns in Manhattan Beach for the first time yesterday. I need to make room in the closet for all the stuff I bought there and at Artfibers last month.

Twist is an exceptional yarn shop. Although it is tiny, the selection is well-edited. There is one section of yarns of conscience (Malabrigo, Manos, Frog Tree, Twist house label) and another section of artisanal hand dyes. She also carries Habu. Everything is a good value for the quality. Google maps says that it is 1.9 miles and 37 minutes walk from my house. Does Google maps know that there is a water tower between my house and Twist? They put water towers at local maximal; there are two huge sand dunes en route.


[Photovoltaic panels] are great at capturing the sun's energy. But Languell says it takes more energy to manufacture and transport a panel "than it is ever going to produce over its useful life."
Read more in Housing industry a good environment for eco-friendly claims.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

You call that a feminist icon?

Imperfect Union, a book review about the testy relationship between Virginia Woolf and her household domestic, Nellie Boxall, highlights the imperative to find someone else to do the dirty work.

Unbelievably, Woolf expected Boxall, hired as a cook, to do all the household chores in a Victorian household without modern plumbing (think chamberpots) on her own. Reading excerpts of Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury in Mona Simpson's book review made my blood boil. I don't think I need to read Woolf's diary. The relationship between the two women ended, after 18 years, when Boxall demanded a room of one's own by asking Woolf to please leave her room. Good for her.

I am surprised that the Atlantic Monthly website didn't link Imperfect Union with that old Caitlin Flanagan classic, How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement. It's true. You can enjoy more life if you find someone else to do your dirty work. Come to think of it, you can enjoy more life if you get someone else to pay your bills.

I can't stop thinking about how Woolf unilaterally decided to loan out Boxall to her sister's household as if she owned the right to Boxall's labors. Was Boxall an employee or a slave?

The first few chapters of Joan Williams' Unbending Gender survey the history of laws regarding women's labors. Williams is a law professor, and the book can be heavy reading, but I can't recommend the book enough. At the very least, read the history in the early chapters.

Cleaning their own chamberpot never occurred to Virginia Woolf or her husband. That theme is explored in the anthology, Global Woman. I can't remember the anthropological/sociology jargon in the book for it, but it was something like transference. That is, some people assume that their gender (male) or their class get them out of doing dirty work. It never even occurs to them that they could or should do their own dirty work.

The chapter in Global Woman about the plight of a Taiwanese family and their Filipina maid comes to mind. An invalid elderly mother moves in with her retired son against the wishes of his wife. The son/husband says that his mother cannot go to a nursing home; what would people say? What kind of son would he be if he let his mother go to one of those places? He must care for her at his home.

His retired wife, who had worked as a schoolteacher and raised their (grown) children with minimum help from him, found herself trapped in retirement in the house seven days a week with a very demanding and sadistic mother in law. Her husband sat in his chair and read the newspaper all day, even with a graduate student studying household distribution of work observing the household. He felt absolutely no guilt because it never occurred to him that caring for his mother meant doing the work himself. (I wish I could remember the book's term for that kind of myopia.)

In the end, the wife/daughter in law went back to work three days a week so that she could afford to hire a live-in Filipina maid. If she taught three days a week and took care of her mother in law on the maid's days off, that left her 2-3 days a week of freedom. She said that she would have to work until her mother in law died; her husband would not pay for the maid because it was something that they should have been able to handle on their own. That kind of obstinate blindness is very convenient. ;-)

Lost & Found points out another way in which the labor of a woman can be taken away from her against her will. Louise Teagarden's skeletal remains were found in a cave in the Santa Rosa mountains decades after her disappearance. Why did she disappear?

She intended to come back. Why else would she have drained her car's radiator as a precaution against the desert winter cold? Could it have been an attempt to use her own time on her own terms, even for a short while?
Of three sisters, Teagarden was the only one who never married and thus was expected to be her family's helper--coming home as an adult to nurse one sister through an infected cat bite and her father through prostate cancer.
Anyway, it was probably better being chilly in a cave than at home with her family for the holidays. Her father had died three years before, followed soon after by her sister Virginia. Her girlfriend Moore had moved away. Now her mother's health was declining, and Teagarden was again under pressure to come home and care for her. After all, as her surviving sister surely pointed out, Teagarden had no responsibilities.
As an evolutionary biologist pointed out, there are advantages to having homosexual family members. The unmarried aunts lived with their siblings and took care of their nieces and nephews. No one asked them what they wanted, but their thankless labors helped ensure the survival of their relatives.

Girls just wanna have fun

From the Daily Bruin via LA Observed.

Two of my favorite quotes:
  • “You pretty much grab onto whatever you can get a hold of when tackling. And lace is flying everywhere.”
  • “I got into rugby because I got tired of getting yellow cards in soccer.”
Seriously, I am surprised that a women's sport with 40 student-athletes gets absolutely no support from UCLA. Despite the lack of support, they managed to be the only undefeated team in the 2008 Southern California Women’s Rugby Union.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

LACMA goes shopping

LACMA fashions a new reputation
LACMA recently acquired "about 250 outfits and 300 accessories created between 1700 and 1915 includes men’s three-piece suits, women’s dresses, children’s garb and a vast array of shoes, hats, purses, shawls, fans and undergarments.
...predominantly French, with some items from the Netherlands...
This will nicely complement LACMA's already strong collection of clothing, mainly from America and England. I can't wait to see them on display.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A little bit of heart

Do you remember the scene in Wayne Wang's Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart where Geraldine watches a paper decoration rotate in the breeze, alternately flashing a picture of a dragon lady and a geisha girl? At the time, I thought that the imagery was clumsy and terribly unsubtle. I am reevaluating my position.

I had my own Wayne Wang moment at dinner, between meetings at AGU (American Geophysical Union). I sat across from a female academic who had recently won tenure and next to senior scientist at another FFRDC and his wife. During dinner conversation, the academic asked when I graduated. She quipped that she graduated a year after me and already had tenure. The wife of the senior scientist asked me how many children I had. When I replied one, she said that I needed to provide Iris with a sibling.

Never mind that the wife had worked part-time and only for a few years after her children were grown. Or that the academic had no spouse or children and her parents enjoyed good health.

The academic is famous in her field for her willingness to literally travel to the ends of the earth for long field campaigns, and her ability to coax experiments to work under harsh physical conditions (while enduring them herself). Over-wintering in Antarctica is not for the faint of heart, and it is overwhelmingly done by men and unencumbered women. Come to think of it, that's the population that does Science.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Sickbed reading

Was the whole economy a Ponzi scheme? Probably.

But I retreated from news of the global economic collapse, signs that global warming is occurring more rapidly than previously thought, and endless war and hatred in the middle east, to read two books on the nature and meaning of art.

Why not? Even if I read the news, I don't think it would change my retirement portfolio much. Staying home to read a book is a low carbon activity. If I could broker middle east peace, why isn't my home more peaceful? I know at the end of a book, my portfolio of experiences and ideas will very likely increase.

I loved The Accidental Masterpiece : On the Art of Life and Vice Versa by Michael Kimmelman. Every elliptical essay is a delight, but difficult to summarize. Amongst other things, "The art of being artless" deals with the distinction between deliberately making art versus creating a keepsake or preserving a memory. It is not a sharp distinction, because the artless snapshot can be elevated to the status of Art, by chance and by the blessing of cultural institutions. There are also implications for today's culture of ubiquitous cameras.
Before cameras, educated, well-to-do travelers had learned to sketch so that they could draw what they saw on their trips, in the same way that, before phonograph recordings, bourgeois families listened to music by making it themselves at home, playing the piano and singing in the parlor. Cameras made the task of keeping a record of people and things simpler and more widely available, and in the process reduced the care and intensity with which people needed to look at the things they wanted to remember well, because pressing a button required less concentration and effort than composing a precise and comely drawing.
"The art of collecting lightbulbs" celebrates the idiosynchratic collections of individual collectors. While I don't have any interest in a museum of light bulbs, I do mourn that Mark and I never made the pilgrimage to the Barnes collection at its original site. The building is being demolished this winter, years before the new building will be ready. Why?

"The art of the pilgrimage" reminds us of a time before Art was removed from context and placed in museums. When one had to deliberately seek out individual works and travel to far-flung locations, the journey becomes part of the experience of the artwork. It is so different than the people who pour through the Louvre, marching past hundreds of pieces, asking, "Which way to the Mona Lisa?"

"The art of gum-ball machines" explains the depth behind pretty pictures of everyday life.
Children dawdle to look at what adults hurry past. They take time because they have time. They see the world through fresh eyes. Maybe this is why artists who push us to look more carefully at simple things may also strike a slightly melancholic note. They remind us of a childlike conditions of wonderment that we abandoned once we became adults and that we need art to highlight occasionally if only to recall for us what we have given up.
Believing Is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art by Mary Anne Staniszewski makes an excellent companion read. It is unlike any other book about art, but I have a clearer understanding of "What is Art?" after reading it. Kimmelman's "The art of the artless" will make more sense if you have read Believing is Seeing.

I bought both books at Browser Books. My receipt says "You'll not only find the book you want, you'll enjoy looking for it." They are not kidding. This little bookstore in Pacific Heights (San Francisco) has more books that I want to read than most bookstores many times larger. I was so happy to find that they always stock Believing is Seeing, I bought a second copy.

I also highly recommend How to Look at a Painting by Justin Paton.

  • Do you ever buy additional copies of books you already own, just to prove to the publishers and booksellers that there is a market for that book? Am I weird that way?
  • I used to love Richard Hilkert Books in the Hayes Valley (another San Francisco neighborhood). I was sad to see it disappeared, and so surprised to overhear his name at Browser Books. I turned and asked the two men, "Do you know him?"

    "He comes in here all the time. " It turns out that Richard Hilkert retired to catch up on his own reading. A few years later, he was deliberately run over by a deranged driver on a rampage. After physical therapy, he's walking again and "as feisty as ever", according to one of the employees at Browser Books.