Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — January 2011

Inspiration & Influence: Playing the Tourist

Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/lib/tags.php on line 315 and defined in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1285

Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/lib/tags.php on line 315 and defined in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1285

Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/lib/tags.php on line 315 and defined in /home/ruthsmar/counterpointcafe.com/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1285

Whenever I visit a new place, my favorite way to get around is to simply wander around the streets. Walking a city is, in my mind, the best way to discover a city. It gives you time to soak up the surroundings and slows you down enough to notice the details that make a place what it is.

But wandering is not just for new places. I love “playing the tourist” in Seattle. Yeah, I’ve lived here my whole life; but even so, there’s always something different to take in. Walking the streets can offer new perspectives even in your hometown.

I do have a few favorite “techniques” for hometown touristing (did I just make up that word? Probably.).

Focus on a specific element

It could be buildings, window displays, cars, etc. Yesterday I had a couple hours to wander downtown Seattle, and I chose signs (click on the image to close the gallery):

Look up

The fastest way to see a familiar place differently, I think:

Walk down an unfamiliar street

Naturally, only recommended in the daytime if you’re alone. . .

Check out an iconic place you haven’t been

For me it was Mee Sum Pastry in Pike Place Market (super popular among actual tourists) and Bauhaus Books & Coffee in Capitol Hill (super popular among natives). Great for people watching, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Are you ever a hometown tourist? How do you look at the familiar in a new light?

(Header Photo)

January 31, 2011   No Comments

Killing boredom

“The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring. God’s world – all of it – rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.”

-John Piper, God Is Not Boring


January 30, 2011   No Comments

Cafe Hopping (1/28)

Weekly roundup of (mostly) arts-related web chatter:

January 28, 2011   No Comments

Happy Birthday, Mozart!

Two hundred and fifty-five years ago today, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (I think that possibly qualifies as the best name ever) was born.

“The sonatas of Mozart are unique; they are too easy for children, and too difficult for artists.”
– Arthur Schnabel

“Mozart in his music was probably the most reasonable of the world’s great composers. It is the happy balance between flight and control, between sensibility and self-discipline, simplicity and sophistication of style that is his particular province… Mozart tapped once again the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breath-taking rightness that has never since been duplicated.”
– Aaron Copland

Historical accuracy aside, a great scene from Amadeus:

One of my favorite Mozart works:

January 27, 2011   No Comments

I can’t walk straight.

Last week I happened across this delightful little video pondering the mysterious human inability to walk, drive, or swim in a straight line without a reference point:

Speaking for myself, I am not surprised. My sense of direction . . . well, let’s just say I don’t have much of one. And given my klutzy nature, I would have probably tripped over the rock before making much of a circle.

But really, everyone does this? None of us can walk straight, and we don’t know why?

The problem isn’t just physical.

Spiritually, I can’t walk straight. I may be completely convinced that I can; I may even circle the entire world on the quest for satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment. But eventually — if left to my own devices, I’ll realize that I’m right back where I started.

Or, perhaps, I orient my heart to a faulty reference point. My life’s path and identity are then driven by idols — or, to use Timothy Keller’s phrase, a counterfeit gods: good things wrongly made ultimate things.

Maybe one day a scientific explanation for the physical oddity will surface. Someone will create a cure, and we’ll all be able to walk in perfectly straight lines even if blindfolded.

Mercifully, we don’t have to wait for a cure for the spiritual problem. Even if we’ve spent our lives walking in circles or wandering down crooked paths, God offers to make our paths straight if we orient our hearts toward Him and the saving power of the gospel.

I can’t walk straight. But Jesus has already forged the ultimate straight line to the Father, and He’s promised to lead the way.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6


January 26, 2011   1 Comment

Living Color: The One-Month Novel

Today I’m excited to share about the last book I read: Living Color, by Graham Burnette.

The novel incorporates a couple subjects of personal interest: art and Chinese culture. (Brief synopsis: the protagonist, Jess Anderson, is a painter who experiences a life-changing week when she’s hired to paint the house of Mrs. Au, an elderly Chinese immigrant. Hearing the stories of Mrs. Au’s life in China causes Jess to reexamine her own life and choices.)

But there’s another reason for interest: my uncle is the author.

My parents surprised me a couple weeks ago when they mentioned receiving an Amazon link to a book by Graham Burnette. Sure enough, it turns out that my uncle had not only published his first book, but that he had written it in a month!

I asked my uncle about the inspiration behind and experience writing this novel:

You’re now a published author, but that’s not your day job. Could you tell me a little about what you do?

I’m a general partner in several venture capital investment funds. SBV Venture Partners is a private fund, with investments from banks, insurance companies, etc – mostly in Europe – that was created in 2000 and has invested in early-stage technology and health-care companies. SBV will complete operations in June of this year and return the profits to our investors. Red Planet Capital is a fund that was created in 2006 in partnership with NASA for the purpose of finding technologies being developed with private venture capital financing, but which can have a secondary application in the nation’s space program. We continue to find technologies and introduce them to NASA on a regular basis.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’d really never thought about writing a novel. But on November 6 [2010], I was listening to a technology podcast while driving my two daughters to their music theory classes in San Fancisco. I listen to many tech podcasts regularly to keep up on new products and technologies. The hosts were talking about National Novel Writing Month and its web site, NaNoWriMo.org. The organization encourages people to write a novel during the month of November each year. Their definition of completing a novel is writing 50,000 words. So, a novel can be completed in one month by writing about 1,667 words per day – and starting as late as Nov. 6 I could still complete a novel by the end of the month by averaging 2,000 words per day. I thought that it might be fun to try writing a novel, and the concept of a person that used colors to communicate emotions in much the same way that a musician uses sounds popped into my head. With that, I started writing and the story took on a life of its own.

How much of the book is based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

My wife’s mother and father both came to the United States from China. My father-in-law especially lives deeply in the Chinese-American community in Sacramento. He has been very generous through the years in telling me stories about his life in China, coming to the United States, and raising a family in the US. Only one story in the book is a direct retelling of something that he told me – the rest are my own fictional tales within the general framework of the stories that I have heard in the family.

You wrote this book in a month. How did you do it? What was the hardest part of writing this book?

When I was in my 20s, I ran three marathons. I learned from training for them that great accomplishments are generally not achieved in a short span, but rather by building up a large amount of small accomplishments over a long period. In that way, I knew that I could write a book as long as I forced myself to write a small amount every single day. Some days, the story flowed more easily and other days it was hard work – but I had written 50,000 words by Thanksgiving weekend. The hardest part was when the story began to diverge from what I thought I was going to write. I had a general plan of what I thought the plot would be, but then many days what I actually wrote was quite different than I had planned. My natural inclination was to throw out what I wrote and go back to the plan, but then I realized that what I had written was a better story than the plan. I mentioned this to a friend who has written many books (both fiction and non-fiction). He told me that his best fiction was always the result of his characters taking over the book. I think that is what happened to me with Living Color. The characters – especially Mrs. Au – took over the story and I just wrote down what they told me.

Did you write this book with a specific audience in mind?

I think my primary audience was myself. Every day, I was really interested in learning what was going to happen next. In addition, each night my daughters read what I had written that day – so I guess I was also writing with them in mind. They are 13 and 15 years old, so perhaps Living Color is written for the “early teen” reader.

Do you have any other books in the works?

I’ve just started working on the next book. It will be another novel, but won’t just come out of my head the way that Living Color did. The new book is set in a particular place and time, and I need to do a good bit of research to get it right – so it will be believable. I’m doing that research now, and hope to start seriously writing this summer.

More information:


January 25, 2011   1 Comment

Inspiration & Influence: Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 easily ranks among the most popular classical works of the twentieth century.

Often when a piece reaches this level of recognition (a certain canon comes to mind) , professional musicians love to loathe it. Too many performances, too many butchered renditions . . .

Über-popularity hasn’t squelched my love for the Barber Adagio.

It’s one of those pieces that, should it come on the radio, will make me stop whatever I’m doing to listen. Through simple harmonies, rhythms, and structure, the Adagio powerfully distills the essence of hopeful yearning; and I am moved every time I hear a good performance of it. Former NY Times critic Olin Downes describes this piece well: “We have here honest music, by an honest musician, not striving for pretentious effect, not behaving as a writer would who, having a clear, short, popular word handy for his purpose, got the dictionary and fished out a long one.”

Music doesn’t usually conjure images or stories in my mind, but this piece is an exception. I imagine someone alone in an expansive place, trying to deal with a difficult reality. At the point of the cathartic climax (around 6:35-7:10 in the recording below), he decides to accept whatever it is; but instead of the utter despair he expected he finds hope. At the end, he turns around to find that he is not alone — and that, in fact, he never was.

Perhaps that’s one of the greatest beauties of this music. While our reaction to it may seem intensely personal, we need only watch what happens when a roomful of people hear it. We aren’t as alone as we think we are.

More info via NPR:


January 23, 2011   2 Comments

A Painful Paradox

“I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity no matter what.”

-Madeline L’Engle


January 23, 2011   No Comments

Art in Unexpected Places

Music and dance in unexpected places make me smile. I especially love watching peoples’ faces as they suddenly realize what’s going on around them — from confusion to understanding to (usually) pleasure.

And yes, one day, I would like to find myself in a middle of a flash mob.

Choir in a parking garage:

Musicians perform Mozart spontaneously during a delayed flight:

Mambo in a train station:

Michael Jackson around Seattle (not the best dancing, but giving my hometown a hat tip):

And this Sound of Music one is always worth another watch:


January 22, 2011   No Comments

Cafe Hopping (1/21)

Weekly roundup of mostly-arts-related chatter around the web:


January 21, 2011   No Comments