Sunday, December 30, 2007

Karate Kicks

Radiohead, Bangers and Mash from In Rainbows CD2

Makes me want to do karate kicks and chops in the air.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


These are the ramblings of a man in solitude,
in search of a past that didn’t exist.
The emanations of a ghost
in search of a soul that may be lost.
Who are you? Yo soy fantasma, he says
before being apprehended to disappear forever.

When I am alone, I like the dark, I like the night.
It gives a comfort, a protection, a cover
against all those who otherwise might come out
and live while your ability to live is disabled.
Or at least, that’s what you think
or want to think.

This is not despair, not even close.
This is how I become alive,
not a momentary life from a high,
but the application of one’s mind and intellect
that builds upon itself, to create again.
From death, life.

This is not poetry, not even close.
Just the ramblings of a man in solitiude.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Celery Room

My friend Rick recently posted on a week from our high school days when we spent time in Chicago between debate tournaments at the Glenbrook high schools. I read his post and remembered some things similarly and other things differently. It made me think about memory and affect and how we each tell stories from our lives. Here are some of my reflections on that week:

My cousin Bimal was generous in allowing us to stay in his dorm basement and gave us the box on which we played Led Zeppelin. But the room was windowless and had the distinct odor of celery, probably from the industrial carpet on which we slept.

Our four sleeping bags filled the entire little room. Rick was (and is) funny as hell but often made jokes at the expense of his slower, less clever friends (we were all his straight men, basically). As a result, Rich, Bob, and I would periodically attack him on the sleeping bags, getting back at him for all of the clever funniness that we had borne for the prior three and a half years of long trips in the school van. Rick would say something clever and annoying and one of us would yell, GET HIM, and we’d pounce. It was great fun.

Rick and I felt we were on the cusp of being one of the better high school debate teams in the country, but I think we both understood that we had not broken through when we needed to perform. There was that debacle at the end of my junior year that Rick mentions in his post, as well as other times when we dropped an elimination round too easily. We went 6-0 at Bronx Science our senior year and lost to an excellent team from Texas in double-octafinals. We dropped in the first elimination round at the Tournament of Champions in Kentucky (a lot of the structure of our competition was based on college sports, which I didn't understand then). We went quietly our junior and senior years at the Harvard tournament, as far as I can remember. We beat our intra-district rival, Hen Hud, with some regularity, but did not overcome the best team in the state, Stuyvesant, until Catholic Nationals our senior year. That was one tournament at which we finally fulfilled our potential in the semifinal round, though even then we lost to a talented but not overwhelming team from Chicago helmed by a now-famous law professor and Supreme Court lawyer in the finals. At the first Glenbrook tournament, we came close to beating a great team from Westminster in the quarterfinals with a “disadvantage” that we had created but were stymied by a missing piece of evidence in the “link” section of the argument. We spent some time in the main Northwestern library that week searching for it, but could not substantiate the argument. That missing evidence stands out to me as emblematic of our standing in the debate world and our inability to make the necessary breakthroughs.

We didn’t drop a ballot at the Lexington tournament after we were ignored by the Harvard Roundrobin selectors, but unlike Rick I don’t remember beating two roundrobin teams there. No great teams were competing at Lex and we won the final round against the junior team from another intra-district rival, Edgemont. We had great expectations for the National Tournament held in Cincinnati, Ohio in June of our senior year (and passed up the prom for it, though that was a fine decision in light of what I now know about proms) but once again went quietly and did not make it far into the tournament. Rick had a lot of fun there with friends from other schools in the “Holidome” Holiday Inn where we were staying and I went to King’s Island and rode roller coasters with my debate coach.

The future law professor from Chicago, his friend from Manchester, Massachusetts who won the National tournament, and our intra-state rivals at Stuyvesant had an intangible drive to win and maybe were just brighter than we were. It makes me wonder about where we came from, our family backgrounds, and our schools. There were teams just before and just after us at Lakeland who made it on the roundrobin circuit, so the social inequality explanation probably does not fly. Rick and I happened to be the best team in our class at Lakeland but I'm not sure that we shared the drive that other teams had on the circuit.

I have debate dreams with some regularity. I am competing again, given the chance to go back in time and make up for lost opportunities. It’s telling that I also have law school dreams, when I think of making up for those lost opportunities. In these time machine dreams my stomach clenches as I recall the anxiety of competition. In my waking life, I wonder how I could have spent so many weekends in my high school years with that stomach-clenching feeling before every debate round and at every elimination tournament. The way I remember those years may be a product of how Rick and I approach our lives. I tend to tell stories about myself with a decidedly negative, self-critical slant, as evidenced on this blog. Rick tells stories differently, though he has confronted sadness and uncertainty in his own life. I think he is probably a happier, more generative person than I am and I'm thankful for his continued friendship, especially because in my early adulthood I have been drawn more to friends like myself who tell stories and remember life episodes in a minor key.

One last memory from the celery room. Before I left, I had asked out a girl who was also on the debate team. She had said yes and we were going to go out when we got back from Chicago. She was my first girlfriend. I wore her scarf in Chicago and it smelled of the girlish perfume that she used. I also copied the lyric sheet from the record sleeve of the Peter Gabriel album So for the song In Your Eyes. I did that before Say Anything was a glimmer in the eye of Cameron Crowe. I was a happy guy that week. I don't dream about that part of my adolescence, meeting a girl who loved Ronald Reagan and wearing her scarf. But that thread of the reality of those years may fill out my memory: friendship, pre-college quirk, regular escape from soul-killing suburbia, and, yes, even some competitive success.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Radiohead. Via Crackers United. Ceremony was written by Ian Curtis and released as New Order's first single. Have listened to it countless times because it is Track 1 on New Order Substance. Performed here by the world's best rock band (at least at the moment).

Friday, August 03, 2007

Boyz/Bird Flu


Tuesday, July 24, 2007



Friday, July 06, 2007

It's Okay

I saw Pearl Jam twice on their 2000 tour, on August 24 at Jones Beach and then a week later in Camden, New Jersey. It was a tough tour for the band. Nine members of the audience died during their performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and Ed Vedder’s marriage broke down just after Binaural was finished and the tour started (on the basis of things he’s said in the years since). My girlfriend at the time (“GF”) thought that Ed looked like Jesus Christ, which is highly ironic in light of his “I’m no messiah” complex. It is true that he looked thin and ravaged when we saw the band at Jones Beach. The show was less about joy and defiance than mere survival. (I know this may sound over-the-top but we Pearl Jam fans take such things seriously.) At a key moment, as the band segued out of Daughter, Ed picked up a piece of paper and told the audience that he had a part for us. He started singing the words to a song by the Portland band Dead Moon and we echoed during the chorus:

it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay, i love you anyway
it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay...
this is my chance, this is my life
this is my hope in an alleyway
this is my choice, this is my voice
there may be no tomorrow, now
this is my plea, this is my need
this is my time for standing free
this is my staff, this is my day
and the world is never safe
it's okay, you know i love you anyway
it's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
it's okay, it's okay
it's okay...

You can see what we saw that night (the turn to It’s Okay takes place at 4:02):

GF and I had taken a break in our year and half old relationship that August. I had told a mutual friend that I would be proposing to her in January, but that moment had passed and I resisted the relationship on the rationale that we fought too much. We did fight, on street corners, in apartment stairwells and cars. After one particularly bad fight when she was threatening to leave my apartment at 2 a.m. and I was yelling in that stairwell, I wondered what I had become. I kept repeating lines from Springsteen’s “One Step Up” to myself:

Another fight and I slam the door on
Another battle in our dirty little war
When I look at myself I don't see
The man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track

Of course, I loved her deeply and she made me very happy. I have a picture of us at a diner with out-of-town friends the morning after my thirtieth birthday party. I loved her so much that morning and I was holding onto her so tightly that she had to tell me to loosen my arms around her. She had gotten me to invite all of my friends to a dinner and assembled a book of their contributions in my honor. They had made pages of words, photos and drawings for me. It’s the kind of moment that might occur maybe two or three times in your life, if you’re lucky.

When I think back to that relationship, I always remember taking GF to those Pearl Jam shows and I cringe at the memory. She was still so in love with me, even as I expressed hesitation and asked for “time off” from the relationship. She put up with the conditions of a Pearl Jam concert: lots of white male teenagers drinking beer and wondering loudly how they could approximate the spirited moshing of a past half-generation from the Evenflow and Alive videos. We got free tickets to the Philadelphia show by walking around the venue to register new voters. GF gamely tried to register these sloshed kids and when we got our tickets sat down heavily in the midst of the crowd, tired from our interactions with the drunken masses.

When I mentioned this episode to her during a phone conversation a few years after we had broken up, she told me to forget about it. She had moved on (and now has a husband and daughter) but I was holding on to the memories. I had met an amazing woman on a trip to the west coast a few months earlier, someone who I thought might make me very happy, and perhaps I was pleading for release. When I told GF that I needed her forgiveness, my voice broke and I started sobbing on the phone. She said to me, you need to forgive yourself.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

When the Ship Comes In - Dylan

This is what realization might sound like:

Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin'.
Like the stillness in the wind
'Fore the hurricane begins,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking.
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking.

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they'll be smiling.
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand,
The hour that the ship comes in.

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they're spoken.
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean.

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline.
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck,
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin'.
And the ship's wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin'.

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it's for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Then they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Pyramid Song


Monday, June 11, 2007

Follow the Inner Voice

two poems to inspire and contemplate during difficult times:


If they answer not to thy call, walk alone;
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
Open thy mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
Trample the thorns under thy tread,
And along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
With the thunder-flame of pain ignite thine own heart,
And let it burn alone.

-Rabindranath Tagore


Music is silenced, the dark descending slowly
Has stripped unending skies of all companions.
Weariness grips your breast, and within the draped horizons
Dumbly ring the bells of hugely gathering fears.
Still, O bird, O sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to fold your wings.

It's not melodious woodlands but the leaps and falls
Of an ocean swelling with drowsy thunder,
Not a grove bedecked with flowers but a tumult heaved with foam.
Where is the shore that stored your buds and leaves?
Where the nest, the branch that offers shelter?
Still, O bird, my sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to fold your wings.

Stretching in front of you the night's immensity
Hides the western hill where sleeps the distant Sun;
Still with bated breath the world is counting passing time, and
Across the shoreless dark obscurity, a crescent moon
Has thinly just appeared upon the dim horizon.
--But O my bird, O sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to fold your wings.

From upper skies the stars with pointing fingers
Intently watch your course, and from the deep, death's impatience
Lashes at you in restless, leaping waves;
And sad entreaties plead from the farthest shore
With hands outstretched and wailing
'Come, O come!' Still, O bird, O sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to fold your wings.

All that is past: your fears and hopes and love's illusion;
All that is lost: your useless words and lamentation;
No longer yours a home nor a nuptial bed strewn of flowers.
For wings are all you have, and the vast firmament of sky
And the dawn steeped in darkness, losing all direction.
Dear bird, my sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to fold your wings.

-Rabindranath Tagore

Friday, June 01, 2007

Needle in the Hay

Elliott Smith

Thursday, May 31, 2007


I learned today that the Elliott Smith record is inspired by a book of essays of the same name by Soren Kierkegaard. Apparently, Kierkegaard set out the stages of existence and contrasts a life of aesthetic pursuit with one of ethical commitment. I came upon all of this information while doing internet searches related to Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which is one of my favorite novels. Percy created his narrative after reading Either/Or and the passage from empty pursuit to commitment is a compelling framework for his story (and that of many others to which I am drawn, including High Fidelity and Sideways).

Why was I Googling The Moviegoer? Because I am having a particularly empty day, wasted morning, wandering my neighborhood, ending at a cafe where I sit and surf while another draft of my article is due to my bosses at work. This follows a phone conversation last night with one of my best friends (with whom I share a general career trajectory) during which we discussed (1) his recent triumphant speech to an audience of public interest lawyers and his stunned mother, (2) his upcoming sabbatical leave, the second in three years, (3) his litigation on behalf of a detainee at Guantanamo, and (4) my recent withdrawal from a conference in Berlin in July on the advice of the aforementioned bosses. He is a good man and a good friend, as close as a brother to me in many respects, but I can't help but be depressed after we speak on the phone. So I awoke in a hole and I stay bored and listless, unable to engage with the work that I must do. I think of alternate careers and (laughably) curse my own freedom to write at a cafe.

Plane tickets and hotel reservations for Berlin are cancelled. I withdraw from the panels on which I was to speak. After (1) being one of three people in a group of twenty at a conference not to be selected for publication in a book two years ago, (2) being passed over for consideration for a higher position in my workplace, (3) watching friends with my qualifications make more money and acquire greater purpose and focus as they age, and (4) having close friends be surprised when I am selected for some honor, such as a speaking role in a graduation ceremony, I wonder when the indignities will cease. My aspiration for a life of ethical commitment remains out of my grasp because of the life preferences of my partner and the simultaneously purpose-killing structurelessness and imprisonment of my work as currently constructed. Others tell me how good I have it and to remain in pursuit of their goals. I want to not wake up in the morning.

Body of War

Powerful trailer for a new documentary called Body of War, with songs by Eddie Vedder. A live performance of the song No More is here, but the images from the movie in the trailer are much more affecting than seeing Eddie on stage.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fantasy - Across the Universe

What is fantasy? Is it an illusion, an escape from the humdrum of everyday life? Or is it an experience more real than the material one lived amidst strife, struggle, and the adversity of the world. An experience so real that it impels us through the strife, struggle, and adversity.

Dylan wrote that the mythical images and visions in his head conjured up a world more real than the one he was living.

These are some of the questions that I think about upon reflecting upon Pan’s Labyrinth.

Ofelia lives in a time of civil war in Spain. Her pregnant mother is in the throes of desperation, and finds security in a tyrannical husband after her husband, Ofelia’s father, died. Her mother wants Ofelia to call her new husband "Father" and tells her it’s only a word. Ofelia calls him "Captain." Ofelia and her mother move in with the Captain at a hillside post, where the Captain commands a group of Franco loyalists intent to crushing rebels in the countryside and their notions of an egalitarian society.

Ofelia finds refuge in her stories about fairies and magic, which her mother does her best to discourage.

But Ofelia is not an ordinarily girl. She is followed by a fairy, who summons her to a labyrinth, where she meets a faun who tells her that she is a princess who has been summoned back to reopen a portal to a mythical world where she can take her rightful place beside her true father and mother.
In order for her to arrive there, she must accomplish three tasks. And that is where our story and Ofelia’s magical and frightening adventures begins, while the Captain is attempting to exact control over both his camp and the rebels.

We all live in at least in two worlds, or at least I do. The one we live outside, and the one we live in our head. Both needs to be tended to, cultivated. If the one in my head is not properly nourished, guided, and honored, it will lash out. That is why I write, although not as much as I should.

That is why I listen to music, read, and watch movies like Pan’s Labyrinth. That is why I love and hug my daughter.

Maybe I expect too much, that others around me must share the same world as the one in my head, and maybe that is not realistic or possible. And the fact that others don’t or can’t share it makes me undermine my relationship with them. Perhaps that is too judgmental. Maybe the world in my head is for my head and the other creative souls who are receptive to it.

I don’t know what I want but I know I must honor my inner world. I just don’t know how.

Maybe there will be a faun or fairy to guide me. Maybe there will be magic. Maybe the signs are there and I have yet to read them.

What makes me laugh? Am I able to let go? Am I able to see the fantasy in me and around me?

On another note, I am very excited about the upcoming movie, "Across the Universe", with a backdrop of Beatles lyrics, songs, and lives.
My growing preoccupation with notions of fantasy have brought me closer to the Beatles. I listen and I hear their songs differently now. There is more depth to their meanings.

Words are flying out like
endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
are drifting thorough my open mind
Possessing and caressing me

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which
dance before me like a million eyes
That call me on and on across the universe
Thoughts meander like a
restless wind inside a letter box
they tumble blindly as
they make their way across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Nothing's gonna change my world
Jai guru deva Jai guru deva

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Heroes" (1977)

David Bowie/Brian Eno

All Music Guide:

Not even ending up as a Microsoft commercial theme could quench the sheer power and beauty of "Heroes," arguably David Bowie's finest individual song throughout his varied, fascinating career. The story of its inspiration got a bit muddled over time -- it might have been two employees at the recording studio near the Berlin Wall who Bowie saw in an embrace, or simply two random strangers in the shadow of that Cold War symbol. But inspired by that and with the collaborative help of Brian Eno and, with a jaw-dropping set of solos, guitarist Robert Fripp, Bowie, his backing band and producer Tony Visconti created a true classic. Clearly drawing from the various German influences he had absorbed while still relying on the dramatic power of rock and roll, the song becomes an anthem, Fripp's exquisite work at once celebratory and an electric requiem. That feeling of valediction is reflected in Bowie's lyric about individual connection and response in the face of a crushing, anonymous outside world -- but it wouldn't be half so grand without Bowie's simply breathtaking vocal. Starting with an almost conversational tone, by the end of the song he's turning in a performance that could almost be called operatic, yet still achingly, passionately human.
A Sonata for a Good Man and Woman. When I go to Berlin this summer, I aim to visit the Stasi detention center shown in The Lives of Others as well as the Hansa Ton Studio where Bowie recorded his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti and where U2 recorded parts of Achtung Baby with Eno and Daniel Lanois. Bowie was rooming with Iggy Pop and trying to overcome a cocaine addiction in Berlin; U2 nearly broke up because of artistic differences before writing One together. Fascinating (though, of course, not intended to trivialize the savage political history of the place and time).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Banality of Song Lyrics

Pitchfork’s Rob Mitchum minces the new Wilco record, Sky Blue Sky, and calls it “dad-rock.” A sentence from the review:

Case in point, the drowsy opener "Either Way" sleepwalks through a list of indecisive sentiments ("maybe you love me, maybe you don't") before breaking for a Cline solo that's straight-up Weather Channel Local on the 8s.
These are the lyrics of Either Way in their entirety:
Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will blow away
Maybe I won’t feel so afraid
I will try to understand
Either way

Maybe you still love me
Maybe you don’t
Either you will or you won’t
Maybe you just need some time alone
I will try to understand
Everything has its plan
Either way
I’m gonna stay
Right for you

Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will roll away
Maybe I won’t be so afraid
I will understand everything has its plan
Either way
It’s not Dylanesque poetry but even on the page, those lyrics are something more than a list of indecisive sentiments. Anyone who follows the band, even loosely, knows that a large percentage of the songs on the last four Wilco albums concern Jeff Tweedy’s sometimes quite frayed relationship with his wife (and more generally, with anyone outside of his alienated self). It’s possible that that knowledge is required in imbuing the lyrics to Either Way with a greater meaning than Mitchum recognizes. But if you listen to the song, it sounds like a prayer: for the sun to shine, for fear to abate, for greater understanding of your self and your place in the world (best analogue in the Pearl Jam song catalogue: Sometimes on No Code, also an album opener). It’s in the way Tweedy sings it, with a question and a catch in his voice in every line and with hope for self-knowledge. “Maybe you just need some time alone” suggests trepidation and a situation just about spun out of control. The tentative resolve is more meaningful in light of this sense of genuine risk.

Either Way is not even one of my favorites on SBS and I still see in it much more than indecisive sentiments. This may be a result of the compact struck between artist and fan, the agreement that they will do their expressive best and we will give full faith and credit to each of their paintings or chapters or songs. (No one pays me to pick apart music, so I can speak as a member of the flock rather than as a theologian.) It strikes me however that the banality to which Mitchum alludes is a fundamental attribute of popular music when words and lines are read in isolation and apart from the context of the songwriter’s and listener's life and passion. It is roughly analogous to judges like Antonin Scalia who (sometimes, when it fits their ends) seek to read legal language in “plain text” rather than finding meaning in the words through a broader reading of the historical moment in which a statute was first passed and adapted to fit the current context. It feels to me like a lazy or ends-oriented approach to both law and music criticism, rather than a genuine attempt to engage with the text. Mitchum wanted to find that Sky Blue Sky is dad-rock so he lifted a few lines from the first song and made light of their banality.

In the commentary track to Moulin Rouge, I believe during the Elephant Medley (one of my favorite movie scenes of all-time), Baz Luhrman talks about how music transforms words into poetry. He’s right, of course, and that’s why the film makes such splendid use of modern pop music. Another film more centrally about music that I just saw earlier tonight, Once, has a humorous scene in which the male protagonist strums and sings his romantic history to the female lead on the back of a bus. It is genius because the history is at once banal (his girlfriend cheated on him) but incredibly meaningful for these two people falling for each other. And singing the words allows the cynical, lonely singer-songwriter to add underlying emotional depth, to express how he feels and to connect with this lovely new woman who has come into his life. All of the songs in Once have this quality and provide a rationale for an otherwise questionably fast melding of interests and understandings between the two leads.

The transformation of plain words into something much more profound and connective is magical, alchemical, two separate acts of faith by the songwriter and the listener. It’s an essential part of what makes modern music so important to me. After all, life itself is mind-numbingly banal. It is only through magic, alchemy, and faith that we gain the fortitude to persevere.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mistaken for Strangers

The National, record out May 22

For Ganesh

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


High Times by Elliott Smith, on a double record out today called New Moon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Language of Survival

In Un Coeur En Hiver (A Heart in Winter), a violin maker played by Daniel Auteuil reaches out of his shell to draw the intense interest of a gifted young violinist played by Emmanuelle Beart. His more charismatic business partner is having an affair with her and he sees her professionally at first, at their workshop and her practices. Eventually, he finds himself hovering outside of the studio where she is recording Ravel and goes with her, through an outpouring of rain, to a cafe where he tells her that he loves to see her speak. His quiet but intense presence, ascetic and dedicated nature (he lives in a bedroom at the workshop), and interest in her is magnetic. His subsequent actions are mutedly shocking and an audience shivers at the sight of a cold heart laid bare.

There are more than a few times when I have sat in a car or at a table in a restaurant and done what this "protagonist" does to the young woman in the film. I have abandoned relationships at all points in their life cycle, from infancy to adulthood. After I have destroyed a fledgling relationship, I have been joyous and experienced the relief of freedom from a small suffocating box. In all of these relationships, there are moments of great happiness, but the imperative to break free of another and to resist the unbundling of a tight ball of emotion somewhere inside of me is too great. With loneliness comes freedom, of a particular variety, free to stay within myself and not communicate the feelings I so desperately want to submerge. I am able to act out. No one is there to push back, except my own most destructive and undermining of selves, burdening my mind with guilt and faithlessness, even as I experience my "freedom."

I think of these things in the context of my current relationship. There are days on end when I am unwilling to communicate with anyone. My commitment to solitude is my strongest quality and dates back to my earliest consciousness. The fact that I spend my time in isolation sleeping and seeking solace from television and the internet (much as Ganesh does) makes me question whether it is solitude that I defend. It seems more accurate to call it alienation, from all living people.

There is a wonderful exchange between two friends on love and solitude at Modal Minority, stemming from a Rilke quote partially excerpted here:

A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
The writer and his friend have an illuminating debate about the meaning of love between two people, one arguing for Rilke's joint solitude and the other for deconstruction of the self, a merging into the other and his God. The writer concludes:
And yet, and yet. I cannot help but feel that my friend and I might have but a single conception of love. I cannot shake the suspicion that, in love's strange geometry, infinite distance and intersection are one and the same.

Each must, out of his private suffering, find the language that allows him to survive that suffering.
As I work through my feelings in my current relationship with my patient partner, I search for my own language of survival. I don't mean to elevate my "private suffering." I am privileged and empowered beyond my own belief. But I have yet to successfully negotiate a path between my solitude and my deconstruction. It is a crowded path on which I walk with many friends. In our collective search, there might exist a constitutive grammar for our language of survival.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rage Against the Machine

The return of RATM:

Rage Against the Machine was just angry, and nearly all business. Back together for its first show in seven years — others are to follow, at least through this summer — it went precisely back to where it left off. Where Manu Chao was noisily border-crossing, setting off sampled sirens to suggest close-range urban bustle, Rage wants its audience to feel the fear and dread of places where the working classes die in their uniforms, and a violent urge to disobey.

Part of the band’s sound, and part of its riffs, come from the hard midtempo funk of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies, but their songs are far more rigid in every way — feeling, design, sentiment. Given such a long layoff, the band played hard and well. Still, seven years isn’t such a long time, and all was much the same: Zack De La Rocha’s enraged whine lives intact; Tom Morello still makes his guitar rant and spit, his control over the wah-wah pedal and his guitar’s kill-switch undiminished.

The crowd bounced like springs, and yet, on another level, the music came off almost purely as a political project. Only in a version of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Renegades of Funk” — with lines like “every time I pop into the beat we get fresh” — was it clear that this was only a rock band.

Sky Blue Sky

Listen to the new Wilco record here
-- ff to On and On and On

Brooklyn show June 26

All My Friends

Franz Ferdinand covering LCD Soundsystem's All My Friends New Order-style

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


I feel like Odysseus, many miles from home. Not necessarily literally, but spiritually, a sense that I have not realized my place of belonging in this world, my true identity, my core self.

I am reading this book, Care of the Soul, A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore. It was given to me by my friend Marathon who undoubtedly read it in his own pursuits of understanding.

The section on Father in the Myth and Childhood section revolves around the Odyssey by Homer.

I remember reading the Odyssey in high school and recall being entranced, perplexed, and fascinated by the story, its mazes, its parallels, and lessons.

The sense of life as a great adventure in one’s journey home. This is true in anyone’s life, whether we realize it or not, I suppose. The question is how many twists and turns do we face along the way, how many detours do we find until we realize the path we are walking on.

In my present situation, I have often thought that I was in some distant outpost of such a journey, that I have been detoured so significantly, that I am no longer even on the map.

But this book provides me with a different perspective. "A genuine odyssey is not about piling up experiences. It is a deeply felt, risky, unpredictable tour of the soul."

When I read that, I thought to myself that in my struggles, I have strove to uncover the terrain of my soul, and many times, I did not like what I found. That my experiences, my struggles, my despair have not been in vain, that I am pushing and being pushed to find myself, and in the cocoon of my recent existence, which at times feels suffocating, that I will uncover, realize, and push out to a new found understanding and identity, a transformation of my character.

My decision to marry was one more exploration of the universe, and the answers I am looking for may not be there. But the answers, its questions must still be pursued.

My challenge is to be a man, a Man. When I married, I did not marry as a Man. I was still a child, or an adolescent, or pre-Man. That circumstance is one of the underlying causes of the angst and fault lines in my soul’s terrain now.

So, I take heart, knowing that my journey continues, and with each day, a new experience, and a new realization emerges.

The one thing I can hold onto is my truth, the truth of my experience, my assessment and evaluation of what is transpiring. For honoring the truth of my experience is the foundation of cultivating my soul, the raft that I create traversing this great Ocean of Life, and my constant friend and companion.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought....

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;

There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me---
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads---you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Excerpts from Ulysseus by Tennyson

I am glad that I decided to shut my practice and find something new, something challenging in a different way. It is a sign that I am trying to be my own person, create my own identity. Yes, I wanted to create my own practice, but also it was very much tied to M’s support, hopes, and long-term plans. Also, I did not feel myself being able to grow being in a isolated office, not stimulated by the company of other colleagues and the daily intersections of people and experiences that are prevalent in a larger office.

So I push off professionally, and I seek to push off personally as well. So I do, and so I must.

Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Light My Way

Don't believe what you hear
Don't believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy

I have dreams of knives. Knives lying in front of me on the ground like snakes or sharks circling me. Not piercing me but inching ever so close to me, my stomach, my body, slithering next to me as I feel their sides. I do not know if there is blood.

I am hungry. I go to sleep hungry and wake up hungry. My stomach cries. I finally eat what I wish and yet my stomach still cries.

I was watching MSG’s Fifty Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden, and I saw the piece on Michael Jordan scoring 55 on the Knicks after his return to basketball from retirement.

As I saw MJ darting and slashing and mesmerizing the Knicks, the court, the audience, I remembered what it was like to think I could do that. Not play bball like him, of course, but to think I could capture that raw energy that elevates himself and all around him, that makes one stand still in awe. I used to think I could aspire to such excellence, maybe not fully achieve it, but aspire to it. What happened to that energy?

I was talking to my friend p-dog and we reminisced about how we aspired in our respective crafts to capture that vitality, that dynamism, to embody that inspiration, and how it has been lost, or forgotten, and how we are striving to recapture it. P-dog is struggling to reflect it in his work. I am trying to remember what it feels like.

I am chemically imbalanced. I am experimenting with the Wellbutrin XL dosage. Used to be 300mg a day, then 150mg a day, then 150 mg every other day at night, now back to 150mg every night. When will I find the right mix?

Should I stay or should I go. I think that if I set off on my own, I could find myself and find my happiness without expectations of someone else. I will still struggle with depression and deal with the anxiety and loss of leaving and not seeing my little moon as much.

It will not be a panacea but I can’t live miserably. Why do I live miserably? It’s easy to blame the other person for not acting and reacting the way you think they should or the way you think that could help you. But what is the other person to do when she sees a dark cloud standing in front of her.

I am so angry but I can’t express it, angry at myself, my spouse, my parents, my family, friends, at the situation. I wish I could be myself and express my anger, my frustration, my hurt. I wish I could be like Jordan, and express the rage of being your best, of trying to be your best.

Someone like Jordan exhibits his artistry yet while doing so, he was gambling, cheating on his wife. What does that mean?

P-dog said that maybe that when one focuses on the brightness that one possesses inside, maybe one does not care so much about the consequences to others. I think that happens, as so many artists are committed to their crafts before they are loyal to the ones around them and what does loyal mean? Does one stay loyal when they themselves are deteriorating?

One thing I do know is that I must follow the light, my light, the light within, and let that light take me where it may. First I have to find that light.

Sometimes I think I have arrived here because of my own arrogance, that I thought I knew what I was doing, that I was achieving something, accomplishing something. But what have I achieved, and at what cost?

In my negative thinking, I can see and hear my friends laughing at me or saying things about me, I don’t know what. But that I failed, that I deserved this. That I brought it on myself. Maybe I have. I always thought I was doing what I wanted or thought I wanted, or thought was right. Maybe my motive was not pure, not right. Maybe it was just a mistake, but maybe there are no mistakes and it is a road that I am to take to my final destination, part of my exploration of the universe.

God, I hope the latter is the case.

D says that knives are important instruments. Surgeons use knives to operate. Knives are what cuts the infant’s umbilical cord from the mother. Knives are what carve beauty and art. What must I carve and what things, attitudes, mindsets must I cut off from my existence.

Can I carve off the extraneous, unhelpful things, and find the light within.

So I try to find the light, and I will try to follow the light.

Baby, baby, baby, light my way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Arctic Monkeys

Dedicated to my friend B____.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why the Natural

I have always had an affinity to the movie, the Natural. I’ve never read the book. But the movie pulled at my soft points. A story about a young man who has immense talent and promise as a baseball player but because of immaturity and circumstance is not able to actualize it.

So after a brief encounter with stardom, he vanishes and is not heard from again until he is in his mid 30s. At that point, he has redeveloped his skills but is a middle age player who no one gives much a look.

But something remarkable happens. He is able to demonstrate the talents and skills he has always had. In the course of doing so, he reunites with his childhood love and explains to her that he had lost his confidence, thus explaining his disappearance.

I identify with that story because I feel at the beginning of my professional career, I was at a position where one could say that I had a certain talent and promise and the future opportunities seemed limitless. But things happened. I was suffering from depression. I got sidetracked. I was immature, emotionally dependent, and the place from where I could have fulfilled my promises was gone. I had left it, maybe even unceremoniously.

I never really understood the wisdom of stepping back and assessing the situation. I never really stopped to think of what type of relationship I wanted to be in, or the type of dynamic I wanted to create for my life.

If I did think about the life I wanted to create, it was more material boundaries, not the emotional connections.

So here I am now, in my mid 30s, with the products of that thinking with the material boundaries that I imagined, but not necessarily the emotional connections. I am still suffering from depression, and am not able to have the fulfillment that I want in my relationship, in my life, and I ask why.

Will there be a point where I will begin exhibiting the talent and potential that I once had. Will something remarkable happen to me? It already has with the birth of my child but something that unlocks my personality, unlocks me to be myself. Something that unlocks me from being infantile and dependent.

Something that lets me thrash the ball of life with my own Wonderboy, a release of all the anger and frustration and disappointment and emotion.

I yearn to be at peace. I long to have my gifts, talent, ability, and creativity freed

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Law, Politics, and Alienation

It was good to see multiple and widespread calls for new or strengthened gun control laws in the moments following the tragedy at Virginia Tech. It was a rare case in which proponents of a "liberal" political position were able to frame an event so as to advance their position. Conservatives have been especially good at framing and claiming events for the advancement of their ideology and electoral prospects, while liberals have sought to complicate rather than simplify the public understanding of these same events.

That being said, an article in the Times today complicates the liberal narrative of the VA Tech tragedy prescribing the need for more gun control laws. It indicates that we had the right federal law on the books to stop Seung-Hui Cho from purchasing the guns that he used to kill 32 people. Anyone who has been involuntarily committed due to mental illness is proscribed from buying guns. Cho was ordered by a state court to submit to an evaluation and outpatient treatment after complaints by two female VA Tech students. Virginia's definition of "involuntary commitment" differs from the definition implied in the federal gun control law. Thus, the court-mandated evaluation and outpatient treatment did not prevent Cho from buying guns under state law but it did do so under federal law. There seems to be another gap, perhaps because of that differing standard, in state reporting of the court findings on Cho's mental state to federal authorities for incorporation into the background check database for gun purchases.

It seems that we could deduce the following from this story: (1) no new federal law was necessary to stop the killings; (2) the state either intentionally or negligently failed to report data to the federal government that would ensure compliance with federal law; and (3) (bringing it back to the conservatives) the Bush Administration has failed to adequately implement and enforce a federal law that might have stopped the killings. Political mobilization and subsequent allocation of resources for enforcement and reporting were the essential elements missing in this story.

One additional thought: the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" formulation used by gun advocates is often made fun of by progressives who appropriately see their framing and lobbying as an extensive effort to protect the profits of gun companies. But perhaps progressives ignore the "people kill people" formulation at our own peril; the NRA is not likely to be a strong lobbying force for expanded mental health services in schools. VA Tech, the Maryland sniper attacks, and Columbine are indications of a torn safety net, some reparable by new laws and programs (more likely in the area of mental health than gun control) and others that can only be mended through a broadly felt impulse to befriend and comfort lost souls at the margins of our families and communities. We either don't want to talk about the scapegoating and alienation of outsiders -- because then we would all be complicit in the loss of life stemming from these tragedies -- or we want to outsource provision of comfort and care to government, which presently is unwilling and incapable of handling the natural and man-made disasters in New Orleans and Iraq. What is our responsibility in this environment and how do we plan to fight the alienation of our own children?

The Natural

We all thought Roy Hobbs was a myth, fiction, the product of Bernard Malamud’s imagination. Little did we know that he played for the Yankees and his name was Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod hit two more home runs tonight, and although the Yankees blew the game in the late innings, the A-Rod show is taking on superhero dimensions.

After belting 10 home runs in the first 14 games, including two titanic walk-off 9th inning shots rescuing the Yankees from defeats, A-Rod, already with one homer in the game, in his third at-bat struck an arcing blow to the opposite field that barely cleared the wall in distance, but was hit with such force and gravity that it appeared that centerfielder Coco Crisp, in his vain attempt to jump and catch the ball over the fence, was thrown back over the wall simply by the brush of the ball’s movement into the Red Sox bullpen.

Those are images clearly reminiscent of the Natural, similar to when in 1985, Darryl Strawberry hit a ball off the scoreboard clock in old Busch Stadium in St. Louis. All that was missing was the fireworks.

And that’s what we’ve been getting from A-Rod on what seems like a daily basis.

Now, Malamud had Hobbs go through a slump or two in his magical season, but Hobbs ultimately carried the team to the cusp of glory, before striking out in his last chance to send the New York Knights to the pennant - Malamud’s touch of tragic reality. Hollywood wouldn’t settle for such a downer. So Robert Redford hits a mammoth homer shattering the light tower and cascading sparks of fire from the short circuited bulbs as Redford floats around the bases.

A-Rod will go through a slump or two this season, although at this rate who knows. But the question is what ending is in store for A-Rod this fall? A tragic miss at the end of another superlative season, or a Hollywood finish with a championship as he floats on the adulation of fans knowing that he is now and always will be a true Yankee.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

WIP: This week

Poor people are not well served by the kind of advocacy currently taught and reinforced in most law school clinics. The spread and expansion of law school clinics has been driven by two main justifications: preparation for practice and community service. Clinical legal scholars have, in turn, reflected and promoted a paradigm of practice rooted in client-centeredness. This paradigm offers a pedagogical system to underlie the experiential and service goals of law school clinics and also reinforces a governing form of practice in all sectors of the legal profession, including public interest law. This article argues that client-centeredness and its pedagogical correlates – simulation-based skills training and a nearly exclusive focus on the relationship between a single lawyer and a single client – is not sufficient to sustain effective public interest practice. The context of public interest practice has shifted because of the erosion of the regulatory state, the turn to market-based approaches to poverty and community development, and the infusion of immigrants into the low-wage agricultural and services sectors of the American economy. In addition to more traditional law reform activities, public interest lawyers must now participate in efforts to mobilize people to fight for their interests, particularly in the absence of protections once offered by the state. Client-centeredness relies on a practice narrative that does not accurately portray the reality of public interest practice in this moment and is, therefore, inadequate preparation for public interest practice. Law school clinics driven by a social justice mission can play a key role in public interest practice by participating in mobilization efforts, supporting and stimulating democratic resistance to market forces, and developing newer forms of practice to advance these goals. This shift in clinical focus is an important element in the preparation of students entering public interest practice.

Monday, April 16, 2007

But the time to read Vonnegut is just when you being to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be....

From the New York Times obit:

"Slaughterhouse-Five” reached No. 1 on best-seller lists, making Mr. Vonnegut a cult hero. Some schools and libraries have banned it because of its sexual content, rough language and scenes of violence.

After the book was published, Mr. Vonnegut went into a severe depression and vowed never to write another novel. Suicide was always a temptation, he wrote. In 1984, he tried to take his life with sleeping pills and alcohol.

`The child of a suicide will naturally think of death, the big one, as a logical solution to any problem,' he wrote.His son Mark also suffered a breakdown, in the 1970s, from which he recovered, writing about it in a book, `The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.' "

Appearing on the Daily Show, circa 2005?: [cut and paste the link]

The following captured Vonnegut too:

Kurt Vonnegut

Published: April 13, 2007

If you read Kurt Vonnegut when you were young — read all there was of him, book after book as fast as you could the way so many of us did — you probably set him aside long ago. That’s the way it goes with writers we love when we’re young. It’s almost as though their books absorbed some part of our DNA while we were reading them, and rereading them means revisiting a version of ourselves we may no longer remember or trust.

Not that Vonnegut is mainly for the young. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think he is entirely unsuitable for readers under the age of disillusionment. But the time to read Vonnegut is just when you begin to suspect that the world is not what it appears to be. He is the indispensable footnote to everything everyone is trying to teach you, the footnote that pulls the rug out from under the established truths being so firmly avowed in the body of the text.

He is not only entertaining, he is electrocuting. You read him with enormous pleasure because he makes your hair stand on end. He says not only what no one is saying, but also what — as a mild young person — you know it is forbidden to say. No one nourishes the skepticism of the young like Vonnegut. In his world, decency is likelier to be rooted in skepticism than it is in the ardor of faith.

So you get older, and it’s been 20 or 30 years since you last read “Player Piano” or “Cat’s Cradle” or “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Vonnegut is not, now, somehow serious enough. You’ve entered that time of life when every hard truth has to be qualified by the sense of what you stand to lose. “It’s not that simple,” you find yourself saying a lot, and the train of thought that unfolds in your mind as you speak those words reeks of desperation.

And yet, somehow, the world seems more and more to have been written by Vonnegut and your life is now the footnote. Perhaps it is time to go back and revisit that earlier self, the one who seemed, for a while, so interwoven in the pages of those old paperbacks.


morning soot --
inch behind a cement truck
revolving drum

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saturday, April 14, 2007

One Half-Year

03 Pretty (Ugly Be...

June 2004: Hell’s Kitchen, New York

I felt so ugly before
I didn't know what to do

-- Elliott Smith, Pretty (Ugly Before)

I walked to my car, after watching former friends in a comedic cabaret performance (the less said about the performance the better). My former friend, someone I had lived with and gotten close to, had performed in a set of skits. Every laugh from the audience was an insult. His current roommate brought over my former friend’s mother prior to the show and she hugged me. I was wearing my battered blue Volcom Stone hoodie, a uniform for most of the year. I clung to it (it gave me power when I was otherwise flickering, especially in social settings) because I had found it at a thrift store across from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon the prior year during one of my solo driving trips.

I stumbled to the car in a haze, clutching books given to me by someone who liked me. She had given me a few of the Pramoedya Ananta Toer novels. I was unable to sustain a coherent conversation with her. She hadn’t liked me much a few months earlier when I was another soulless desi boy from the suburbs but then had seen me speak on a panel on the post-9/11 immigration sweeps. As she attempted to engage me in the back of the ratty theater and I mumbled my responses, desperate for her to leave me alone, we were watched by another woman with whom I had broken up a few months earlier. As with most sensitive and intelligent people, her quietness coexisted with a sharp observational quality. She saw the Toer-reader pass the books to me and she saw her attempt to engage me. It was a banner year, three hearts broken (or dented or cracked or whatever), not including my own.

I was an outcaste amongst a small group of Brooklyn friends, mostly desi, and the exclusion oppressed me. No one spoke for me in the group or did anything about my absence at gatherings, other than a few who met me for individual dinners and explained that they regretted the circumstances. The callousness, complicity, and small-mindedness of my former friends pushed me over a ledge into a deep hole. I want to say that it was deeper than any hole in which I had been submerged earlier in my life but as I consider the statement I can’t say it. Each period of my life – adolescence, college, law school, San Francisco, Brooklyn 98-02 – has been marked by a deep hole out of which I have not been sure I could surface. I withdrew into my pilly blue hoodie every time I ventured out of my apartment and I mumbled responses to people that I met. My trust in my self and others was degraded.

* * *

July 2004: Isla Holbox, Yucatan

An embarrassing poem
Was written when I was alone
In love with you

-- Wilco, Wishful Thinking

[journal entry] Started vomiting from Palenque to Cancun. Palenque felt off – the heat during the day caused me to gasp for breath, which was a precursor to the breathlessness I felt in my feverish dream-state last night. The town was so dingy, such a change from San Cristobal – which one starts to think of as representing Mexico, wrongly. Not the height of suffering on any scale, but it makes you think about how alone you are and you become as scared and sad as a child. The rest of the time we have our rationalizations and self-understanding – it all falls away as you are vomiting into a garbage can and shitting your pants at the bus station.

* * *

December 2004: Los Angeles, California

can't count to
all the lovers i've burned through

-- Sun Kil Moon, Carry Me Ohio (via 5 Acts)

I escaped to L.A. before the Fall semester had been fully extinguished, ostensibly to work on my writing in the company of a friend. I shipped out two boxes of books and papers and set about trying to work in various places, including the UCLA law library, Peet’s in Westwood, and a house in Santa Monica where I was staying. What I did is very familiar: I allowed my sleep schedule to get completely off-track, staying up all night and sleeping during the day; compulsively shopped for music; watched every movie released during the late-year Oscar glut; avoided my friend and his family, even as he attempted to draw me into his structured life; got drunk on New Year’s Eve with another friend and pretended to be attracted to random women at bars and on the street; and obsessed about my loneliness and took long drives to random places at odd hours.

I had effectively broken things off with another woman before I left New York, a brilliant, joyous, and perplexing person. That relationship had lasted a month or so, just short of the length of the relationship with my sensitive, intelligent friend earlier in the year. The perplexing one was scheduled to visit her family in Southern California and we had spoken about getting together, but she called one day and told me she couldn’t see me. She had given me refuge during a difficult year. When I returned to New York, I claimed to have gotten my work done during the month in L.A., when in fact I had written just a few paragraphs of my article. I let the precious moments fall out of my grasp.

Kurt Vonnegut


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Telegraph Avenue

Press play

07 Gone.mp3

I found myself on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley on Saturday, dodging crowds of students, the mentally ill, and street vendors selling band logo patches. It occurred to me that I had navigated this obstacle course on a semi-regular basis ten years ago when I lived in San Francisco. On Sundays I would refrain from responding to messages left by my aunt and cross the Bay Bridge in my Honda Civic hatchback (that I could barely drive, as it was a stick shift with a sensitive clutch and I was not adept) in the early afternoon. I would proceed to Vik's Chaat House, where I would eat and be an audience for the FOB groups and couples who studied at the university or worked in tech. Then I would drive up to Telegraph to hit Amoeba Records and Cody's and Moe's Bookstores.

As has been the case for most of my last twenty years, it was a solitary existence buoyed by musical and literary consumerism. I was dating a woman -- I was 27, she was 22 and just out of an undergraduate business program -- with whom I was in a long distance relationship for six or seven months. Our parents were family friends from the old days in Westchester and we were basically pre-engaged at the end of month one.

I had finally broken up with her after spending a weekend with my law school friends at a conference in New York. We were all meeting in the hotel lobby to go out for dinner on Friday evening and my good friend and his wife were sharing an armchair. When I sat on a sofa across from my girlfriend, she noticed. At some point that weekend another friend took me aside and gently scolded me, asked me what I thought I was doing with this young woman. I had no good answer and we broke up on Sunday. After we had the conversation and she cried, we went to see Secrets & Lies at the Quad on 13th Street and I contemplated how to break this secret to my parents.

When I returned to San Francisco I felt triumphantly relieved of a relationship that I had been struggling to sustain for many wrong reasons. The first days of April 1997 were to be glorious and I planned a few quasi-dates, including one with a brilliant Stanford Law student with whom I had briefly worked. She was bi, had short spiky blond hair, and was a progressive intellectual. She talked about seeing hawks on a trail in Marin County. She represented my future rather than my past. (We went out once. I don't remember if there was a lack of chemistry or whether I made her unattainable myself.) After that short euphoric period (not hyperbole, it was truly euphoric) my life settled into what I described above: coffee at Starbucks on 9th and Irving in SF, followed by the drive to Vik's, and CD and book shopping on Telegraph.

I was obsessed with reinvention in that period, needing to remake myself to be the man I wanted to be but not knowing how to do so. Instead, I shopped and wandered. I had good friends and went on hikes and saw my uncle and aunt periodically. I also did some good things at work (one of the programs I co-founded has flourished in the last ten years). But I most remember that sense of heaviness and lost-ness and my attempts to abate those feelings with Telegraph Avenue.

I felt the heaviness again on Saturday. I found some used Sigur Ros CDs (track one from ( ) caught my attention in the film After the Wedding) and successfully fought off any book-buying. When I went to Cody's and Moe's in those days, I was hungry for intellectual content and searched for critical legal writing and the more academic work of Cornel West. Now I am less enamored with the glamor of intellectualism, having failed in spite of many opportunities to earn depth of thought through hard work in the intervening ten years. In fact, I can now barely stand to browse the law and critical theory shelves and found myself looking for mysteries by Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos in the Pocketbook section.

When I had a quick meal at House of Curries on Durant just before my taxi ride to the airport for my overnight flight, I took in all of the desi kids and Berkeley families eating together in small groups. I sat at a large table for four, with my crinkled yellow/red paper Amoeba bag. I thought about 1997 and all that time had and had not changed.

Press play
Sigur Ros - 2002 (...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Someone Great

Listen to this poignant track from the new LCD Soundsystem record. (via kissatlanta)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Calexico Covers "Ocean of Noise"

Beautiful live cover of Arcade Fire. (via Stereogum)


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This is the Serenity Prayer. Something I have known for a while because it is a mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction related programs. I know because my dad is a recovering alcoholic.

This evening, my mom and I went to his 10th anniversary of his sobriety at his AA group. I have gone to AA meetings on occasion since my dad started going to them, well over 10 years ago. Mainly, I went during his anniversaries, when there was a celebration for him.

Tonight, he and another member shared 10 year anniversaries, and a woman celebrated her 5th year anniversaries.

I always feel a kinship when I go to these AA meetings. Now, I don’t have an alcohol-related problem, but there is something about the men and women there that I feel I can identify with.

Of course, the fact that my father is one of them is one reason. But also the fact that those men and women experienced and/or are experiencing things that I have witnessed, and have felt.

Right after graduating from law school, before I realized that I was on the cusp of suffering from a major depression, I attended Al-Anon meetings which are for family members of alcoholics. I found them useful but at the same time, I felt weird about going to these meetings with folks on a Saturday evening when I could be doing something more fun, not that I had those options necessarily, and being with these folks who were for the most part older than my mid-20s self at the time.

But the fact that I could be part of a support group was comforting, even if I could not or did not fully let myself be free to express my thoughts in those meetings. I did not go that many and probably not too consistently for that to really happen. Also, it was before I started my individual therapy so maybe I had yet to feel at ease about my self-disclosure, although I seemed to do it fine with friends.

In any event, the group my father belongs to is mostly made up of middle-age and older white men, made up of blue collar types, bikers, with some women who fall in the same mold, and an occasional person of color. My dad may be the only professional, but I don’t know that and maybe that’s my bias without really knowing what the folks in the group do.

Tonight, besides my dad, there was a light-skinned black man or maybe he was Latino or even Indian, and there was a half-Korean, half-Polish guy, who looks Asian.

The last guy was one of the speakers. What he had to say was really powerful. I mean what he said and what any of them say is not a polished speech or anything. In fact the half-Korean, half-Polish guy (let’s call him Jimmy) started by basically saying that he has a lot of anxieties, he rushes things, he needs to learn how to calm down, and the coffee he was holding in his hand while speaking wasn’t helping matters.

But as he settled himself, he told us about his upbringing, how he was an A student, exceptional athlete up until high school, when his dad left the house, or was kicked out. That’s when he started drinking and getting in trouble.

His dad, who was Polish American, was an alcoholic. He had met his mother while he was stationed in South Korea during the Vietnam War days. He was born in Seoul in 1972 so he was around my age.

He told us he was Polish by saying his last name ends with "ski", and that he’s from New Jersey. He was pretty funny at times, telling us that when he went to high school at Newtown High in Elmhurst, he was just amazed that no one spoke English.

Anyway, what moved me about what he had to say is that he always felt out of place and alone whereever he was. In Korea, kids used to make fun of him because he had the dad with the gold hair. And growing up in New Jersey, he would get the whole "chink", "gook" thing, although as he pointed out - he’s not Chinese.

Alcohol made him feel accepted, made him feel confident. Alcohol led to drier substances that he became hooked on. Jimmy’s dad died while Jimmy was studying at Queens College. His dad was 44 and suffered pneumonia which caused him to develop seizures leaving him in a coma. Jimmy said the fact that he was an alcoholic made him more vulnerable to his condition deteriorating so fast.

He then told us that he went to Japan and got married (to the enemy, he says tongue in cheek, since he’s Korean), had a daughter in 2000. His low self-esteem affected his relationships too. As he said, oh, you like me. Wow, great. I can’t believe it. Of course, his alcohol problems caused him to lose his family, his jobs.

When I go these meetings, I feel comfortable because while I don’t have a drinking problem, on some level I feel I share the underlying root cause of the drinking problem for these folks. Maybe it’s depression, a sense of not fitting in, low self-esteem, not feeling loved enough, not feeling accepted.

So these folks talk about those underlying problems and how drinking was the outlet, and now they are finding a new, constructive way to deal with those issues.

I feel I could use a support group. I don’t qualify to be an alcoholic. (I’ve denied having a drinking problem so many times by now, you must be thinking, maybe this guy has a problem). But maybe I could go to some group dealing with depression, or a group for folks who are having issues in their marriages. I could use a support group.

I particularly appreciate that I identify with folks in the AA group, not on the basis of their race or ethnicity, but because of their condition, their feelings, their insecurities, anxieties, and hope for a new way of living.
That’s why I think I’ve always had as many issues relating to folks who are of the same ethnicity as me as folks who are not. Because it is less about ethnicity and more about who I feel comfortable with, personality, and past shared experiences.

I hear the stories of folks who have been through hell, who saw their life as a prison, and somehow their lives turned around. That gives me hope. I feel at times that my life is stuck, that I can’t find the key that can unlock my spirit so that it can infuse my personality and bring it to life. That I can have the courage to take steps to liberate me from my inertia and confusion.

A support group would help.

I have seen how my dad benefits from his support group. I know he feels that he is in a very difficult situation. How much of that is objectively true, and how much it is based on his perception I won’t say. But he feels he has few outlets, and few people that affirm him.

The AA folks affirm him. At the meetings, he comes to life. All the good things about him come to life.

And so I believe that I could benefit from this social support. I will see what outlets there may be for someone like me.

The bottom line is that the testimonies of the AA members gives them strength and gives them hope.

And seeing that hope, I can feel hope too. My own quest to find myself, to liberate myself continues.

Happy 10th Anniversary, Baba! You’ve done well!
May I have the serenity, courage, and wisdom needed to liberate myself.