Crucial Minutia
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You are currently browsing the Crucial Minutiae weblog archives for July, 2007.

Kate Torgovnick
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Mermaids are cool.
2 Comments | posted July 31st, 2007 at 04:45 pm by Kate Torgovnick

weeki-wachee2.jpgI have a confession to make. I’ve always kind of, sort of wanted to be a mermaid. I was not deterred by the whole Little Mermaid story. My favorite movie when I was younger, besides Labyrinth, was Splash. (By the way, when I heard about a year ago that ‘Madison’ was the new most popular baby name for girls, I knew that the Splash generation was behind it.) I’m sure this is why I was compelled to dye my hair blue when I was a freshman in high school, and why I’ve kept it for so long.

So it makes sense that I’ve always wanted to go to Weeki Wachee, a roadside theme park in Florida started in 1947, before Disney. The theme park boasts something no other can—real, live mermaids.

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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Making Stuff Go Far
3 Comments | posted July 31st, 2007 at 12:15 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

Potato CannonA couple of weeks ago, I baby-sat twin fourteen-year-old boys at their house in the Hamptons. The only warning their mother gave me was to not let them shoot their potato cannon unless she or their father was around.

Trouble was, that was all they wanted to do.

Have you ever seen a potato cannon (or gun)? It’s made of PVC pipe with a long barrel and an ingniting chamber. The potato is shoved down to the base of the barrel, and then some kind of ignitable material like aerosol is put into the chamber, and the fuse and igniter are lit. It takes a couple hours to make, plus some time to figure out the correct fuel/air mix, plus enough potatoes to feed a small Russian village.

The upshot, of course, is that you get to shoot a potato far. Really, really far.

What is it about guys that they want to make inanimate objects travel great distances?

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Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: Underground
3 Comments | posted July 31st, 2007 at 07:04 am by Courtney E. Martin

undergroundOn my way to Joie’s wedding this weekend in Long Island, I listened to the joyous sounds of Kimmi’s laugh, Kate T.’s unparalleled navigations, Nikolai munching on a bacon, egg, and cheese, and read about a new trend in crazy New York characters: the urban explorer (also called urban spelunker, infiltrator, hacker and guerilla urbanist.)

Apparently these folks make a habit out of sneaking into the underground parts of our vast city and seeking out undiscovered terrain. Sounds more than frightening, yes, but also fascinating. As always, I’m totally intrigued by the psychological motivation behind this kind of behavior.

Why take this risk? Is it some kind of experiential manifestation of an inner yearning to go deeper, to understand the interworkings of life, to get the center of “things”? Are we that desperate to be frickin’ alone?

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Felice Belle
Stakes Is High: Selective Memory
5 Comments | posted July 29th, 2007 at 01:30 pm by Felice Belle

itunes2.jpgMemory is sort of like iTunes.

There are the ones you put on repeat for days.

The ones you never play at all.

The ones you forget existed until something or someone reminds you.

I spent the weekend at my parents’ house, cleaning out my old bedroom. Eight years ago, when I left home for my first apartment I was certain I had brought everything I needed. This weekend, I was struck by how much of myself I’d left behind.

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Cristina Pippa
All the World: Air Traffic Control?
5 Comments | posted July 27th, 2007 at 03:23 am by Cristina Pippa

What do you call the person who guides your plane into its gate with orange sticks? And if you know that, do you perhaps know what those orange sticks are called?

Why? Because it’s a little after 2:30 a.m. and I’m printing off draft 1.5 of ORANGE ALERT, the new musical (I mentioned in a recent post) that I’m writing with singer/songwriter Sharon Kenny. This is -for sure- the first time I’ve ever finished a first draft of a play in two weeks, and was only made possible by the determination to have a reading of Act One by the incredibly talented actors who we happen to be surrounded with. Perhaps a bit overambitious, we got through act one in one week and decided, what the hell, let’s finish it! Now be the first draft what it may, the main character’s job title is one detail that I think we really should have dealt with by now.

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Kimberlee Auerbach
Triathlons Make Me Cry
5 Comments | posted July 26th, 2007 at 05:15 pm by Kimberlee Auerbach

I am not an athlete. I was the kid in third grade who got a hold of the soccer ball and scored a goal on my own team. Yup, and I was teased about it for years. I was also the girl who later in junior high and high school tried everything from basketball to field hockey and never knew what the hell way going on. I felt stupid and clumsy and out of my league, which is not to say that I don’t like moving my body. I love to swim. I love to dance. I love to have sex. But sports? Pain? Competition? Not my thing.

Last Sunday, I went to see my friend Molly May in the Nautica Olympic Distance Triathlon. I woke up at 6AM to get there by 6:30AM to see her dive into the Hudson River. Crazy girl. I did this for two reasons. One, I love Molly and wanted to support and witness her do something so badass. Two, I had never seen a marathon or triathlon and was curious. I was curious what made these people different from me.

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Joie Jager-Hyman
Kidz Today: Developing Wellbeing
4 Comments | posted July 25th, 2007 at 05:18 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman

Back in my days as an undergrad philosophy major, I found myself consumed with the age-old tension between existentialism and determinism.

Does “free will” exist? Are we all free all the time? Are the “fortunate” among us somehow “more free” than the “less fortunate?”

Of course, I still don’t know the answers to these questions.

But there is one thing that I have learned empirically: if you believe that you will fail, you almost certainly will; only when you believe in the chance of success is success even possible.

This is why I found the results of last November’s MTV Networks International “Wellbeing” Study on kidz and youth so disturbing.

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Courtney E. Martin
Writers Group Face Off
4 Comments | posted July 25th, 2007 at 11:22 am by Courtney E. Martin

Last night we had a raucous face off, disguised as a dinner party, with another, to-remain-unnamed writers group in NYC.

I think it is safe to say that we triumphed easily over them in a few categories: mixed martial arts, time-sucking blog addiction, and tiny cupcakes. They had on us on jobs, books, and cute shoes, but whatever.

But seriously, it was a real joy for all involved, and reminded me that there are so many young and young-ish people in the world trying to create lives out of their gifts, convictions, and health insurance needs in an artful, earnest way. It was heartening. And happenin’. I just know great things will come out of the relationships forged across the great divide of writer’s group loyalty.

We would like to publically thank A. for her absolutely unwarranted generosity. There were cloth napkins people. We’ve never been treated so good.

Jennifer Gandin Le
Beauty in a Wicked World: The Art of Losing
3 Comments | posted July 25th, 2007 at 08:56 am by Jennifer Gandin Le

july25_small.jpgI’ve had that Elizabeth Bishop poem in my head since I read it in the Writers’ Almanac last week. This week? Two weeks ago? I’m not sure. Time liquefies when there is so much rapid change and sadness and joy all at once.

This is my crucial, and minute, beauty in the world for you today. I grow plants and flowers in affirmation of life and beauty. I’ve grown houseplants for years, but this is my first year doing any outdoor gardening on my own — Chris built a little container garden on our roof for me as a surprise in May. This means that this will be the first year that all of my plants will die in the autumn. And if we move in mid-August, I’ll have to find a new home for my flower garden on the roof, which makes me sad, but I’m trying to surrender to it.

Even in the colorful abundance of summer, there is loss. And somehow, that loss is not a disaster.

Courtney E. Martin
Composing a Life: What’s a Blog?
7 Comments | posted July 24th, 2007 at 11:55 am by Courtney E. Martin

Forgive me for being meta, meta, meta today, but I’ve had something on my mind. For quite a while, ever since I crossed the psychedelic, neon line between the world of those who don’t blog into the world of those who do, I’ve been mulling over the economics and purpose of the practice. Then my cousin’s amazing boyfriend, Eddy Cotton (yes that’s his real name), was in town this weekend and he asked me, “What’s a blog?” and after I pulled my jaw off the floor I remembered that the rest of the world (especially construction engineers in Bend, Oregon like Eddy Cotton) does not spend its time in this strange, self-involved, financially-fishy land we regulars call the blogosphere.

We started Crucial Minutia for lots of reasons, the least romantic of which being that we thought it would be a good way for us to share our respective “markets.” For example, some unsuspecting feminist-type who likes my book might stumble upon Kate’s new work on the subculture of college cheerleading and realize, “Hey, there’s some fascinating stuff going on there. Imma check that ish out.”

But I think one of our other reasons, whether we realized it at the time or not, was to create a virtual place that resembled the actual place of us coming together.

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Kate Torgovnick
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: An awesome idea.
4 Comments | posted July 24th, 2007 at 09:03 am by Kate Torgovnick


I had one of those days last week where technology wasn’t on my side. My computer was making noises more fitting to an airplane. My phone was acting possessed. I’d been working all day on color correcting photos only to find that the files were, for whatever reason, unreadable. I wanted to throw something out the window, but I didn’t want to pay to replace whatever I threw out the window. (There’s a great post about this subject on one of my favorite blogs, American Madness.)

Which brings me to a genius idea from some folks in Soria, Spain. They call it “Damage Therapy.” Essentially, they create a safe space for you to get out your anger (technology-induced or otherwise) by smashing stuff. They made a deal with the local scrapyard to provide the smashable materials. For about $75 bucks, you get a sledgehammer and two hours to demolish whatever you like—old cars, computers, cell phones. Says one happy customer, “I came after a bad day at work. I take a mobile phone, put it on the ground, and smash it to bits with a single stomp. You cannot imagine how satisfying that is.”

Ahhhh, yes I can. Now if only someone would start this in New York.

Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: Lip Gloss
22 Comments | posted July 23rd, 2007 at 12:49 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

A-Rod Wearing Lip GlossI want to like Alex Rodriguez. I really do. After enduring so much criticism over the past few years as a Yankee for not coming up big when it matters, he’s had a season that’s all about coming up big. For Chrissake, he’s on pace to hit 56 home runs and 165 RBI (patently Babe Ruthian numbers). He’s about to reach 500 home runs by the age of 31, and barring injury, he will someday break the home run record that Barry Bonds is about to taint–without the smallest suspicion of steroids hanging over him.

But I can’t like him. I mean, I just can’t. Look at this photo. Look at his mouth closely. You could see it more clearly on TV last night, but–he’s wearing lip gloss.

(Mocking song after the jump.)

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Florian Duijsens
Rihanna’s Soul Makossa
2 Comments | posted July 22nd, 2007 at 12:48 pm by Florian Duijsens

Listening to Good Girl Gone Bad, the new album by Rihanna, a singer who I’d previously only registered as just another Soft Cell-sampling RnB starlet, I realize that the gothification of contemporary pop music runs very deep. This is not about the guitars, the sounds owe more to Usher’s shivery synth track Yeah, it’s more about the general sense of slow-burning real anger and Depeche Modey disaffected dread that seeps from between the pop songs’ shiny elements. Just like Omarion’s eyelinery Ice Box track, Rihanna’s very gloomy summer banger Umbrella, stompingly mad new single Shut Up And Drive, or album track Breakin’ Dishes (chorus: “I’m breakin dishes off your head all night, and I’m not gonna stop until I see police and lights.”) reintroduce new wavy rock idioms in a similar but more danceable way than Kelly Clarkson’s impossible-to-karaoke-without-shrieking Since You’ve Been Gone.

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Cristina Pippa
3 Comments | posted July 20th, 2007 at 11:51 pm by Cristina Pippa

You’ve got to see it to believe it… And for Yankees looking to hook a canuck for health care, check out this site.

'What can I do?' - SiCKO

Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: It’s Not the Fight in the Dog…
2 Comments | posted July 20th, 2007 at 12:14 pm by Theo Gangi

Although I am a fan of most kinds of organized fighting, the breeding and fighting of Pit Bulls has always bothered me. It isn’t the fighting itself—I recognize that when dogs fight, they are in a phase of their natural element. What is so cruel is the lifestyle.

An athlete like Michael Vick probably deeply identifies with fighting dogs; endless hours of solitude, dedication and training for brief flashes of performance, the at times fatal consequence of losing. Although today, if Vick loses his paycheck still has just as many zeros, the early life of an athlete like him is mostly a desperate struggle to reach such a plateau. Like a fighting Pit, he is a serious injury (or a federal sentence) away from losing his livelihood.

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Cristina Pippa
All the World: More than Milk and Cookies
5 Comments | posted July 19th, 2007 at 08:42 pm by Cristina Pippa

My grandmaw and your grandmaw
Settin’ by the fire
My grandmaw tol’ your grandmaw
We’re gonna end this war together.

Have you ever seen a sweet, old lady in her apron and kerchief get carted off to the slammer? No? Then maybe you’ve never seen the Raging Grannies facing off with Minutemen or telling Army recruiters that they want to enlist so that their grandchildren can come home. Maybe you’ve never heard their songs or seen their posters or happened upon one of their “Unconventions.”

I’d never heard of them until…

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Kimberlee Auerbach
Surrender! Now! Dammit!
2 Comments | posted July 19th, 2007 at 08:13 am by Kimberlee Auerbach

believe.jpgWhen I saw this card in the Kripalu book store, I had to have it.

I immediately thought of Kate Hudson in Almost Famous lifting her arms, saying, “It’s all happening.” Later on the bus, she wiggles her fingers, and says, “You are home.” I think they’re related moments.

Anyway, this card’s message really resonates with me right now. My book is about to hit stores and I feel out of control. Will people know to pick it up? Will it have a life? And then I think about my love life. Granted, I don’t feel like a book on a shelf. Will someone pick me up? Will I have a life? I already have a life. I’ve picked myself.

I love this card because it seems like a recipe for surrender. And that’s exactly what I must do right now.


Joie Jager-Hyman
Kidz Today: The Amazing Power of the Blogosphere
4 Comments | posted July 18th, 2007 at 06:36 pm by Joie Jager-Hyman

I have to give credit where credit is due.

A few months ago, I was in Chicago interviewing Lisa Wang, one of the amazing students in my upcoming book. Without my usual NPR morning news report/alarm clock, I turned on the local news as I was getting ready to leave my hotel.

When I saw a story about how 18 Chicago Public School students had been shot this year, I thought “Where have I been? How have I not heard about this before?” I chocked it up to too much traveling and assumed that it was my fault for having missed this major news story.

A few months after that, I found out that I was wrong.

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Jennifer Gandin Le
Beauty in a Wicked World: On a Personal Note…
7 Comments | posted July 18th, 2007 at 08:08 am by Jennifer Gandin Le

To be honest, it’s been a rough two weeks in the beauty department for me. Last Sunday night, my grandfather, Papa, passed away, while Chris and I were on our way to visit him. Last Tuesday, I sat with my aunt in a funeral home, doing what I could to help her answer questions for his death certificate.

Last Wednesday, Chris and I returned home to an unexpected notice that in 15 days, our landlords will hike our rent above our ability to pay for it — effectively pricing us out of a beloved neighborhood I’ve called home for 7 years. The next morning, I flew home to be with my family. In four days, I clocked almost 1000 driving and 1300 flying miles with a sad heart and exhausted body.

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Kate Torgovnick
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Let’s Set a World Record.
8 Comments | posted July 17th, 2007 at 12:55 pm by Kate Torgovnick

When I was kid, my dad (a stock broker at the time) had a client who either a) set a world record for pogo-sticking up the stairs of the Statue of Liberty b) wanted to set a world record for pogo-sticking up the stairs of the Statue of Liberty or c) mentioned something about pogo-sticks and the Statue of Liberty, and I constructed those two things into either a or b. Regardless of which option it was (dad, do you remember?), I was very impressed. Ever since, I’ve really, really wanted to set a world record.

I thought about things I could do—build the world’s largest rubber band ball, turn the most somersaults in a row, hum the most songs backwards. For years my theory was that if I could just find something obscure enough that I’d have essentially no competition, I could set a world record. But you’d be surprised at what counts as “obscure.” Everything I’ve thought of this far in life has already been done, and by someone who could do it better/longer then me.

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