05.31.12

turkle, on facebook

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:35 am by Administrator

http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2012/05/25/natpkg-orig-ideas-sherry-turkle.cnn

sherry turkle from MIT had some interesting things to say, not just about facebook but about virtual identification in general. her most salient point is this: that the inability to escape continuous online self-projection ultimately causes self-constriction; constant facebooking objectifies the self in psychologically undermining ways. Turkle argues that the capacity for solitude (which facebooking disrupts) is a necessary precondition for meaningful social relationships.

i’ll save a fuller response for another time, but i’ll say this. i sympathize with Turkle’s viewpoint, the way i sympathize with people who tend toward idealism of the nostalgic variety. it’s a romantic idea, this sense that the individual persona is best cultivated through organic means, within a delicate balance of self-reflection and intentional interactions. it’s a romantic idea that gains some plausibility the more attention one gives to the highly publicized reports of internet bullying and shameless online exhibitionism that mark our popular culture.

but the counterpoint is vital to consider. many people are restricted from necessary, constructive self-expression in their “real” communities, either because of harsh cultural mores, or remote geography, or oppressive family relationships. access to a diverse, wide-ranging internet community can be powerfully therapeutic for such people. i am convinced that facebook, for a lot of people in the world, is a vital mode of self-realization because it, like any other social networking vessel, gives these people a relatively safe and open forum within which they can experiment, self-project, self-assess, and socialize. validation for these people can occur on an individual basis; but it can also occur powerfully on a broader scale for a people or for a cause, as in the case of the recent Egyptian revolution. the illness of Facebook is the flip side of its enormous potential for healing and validation.

psychological arguments against the impact of virtual identification are not compelling for me. if one objects to self-commodification, one needs to protest much more than facebook; one needs to question television advertising, standardized testing in schools, application procedures for higher learning, and all the basic pillars of our society by which people are trained to market themselves. one might even argue that learning how to maintain healthy boundaries on Facebook is a necessary social skill for early adolescents who will increasingly be engaged in social and career-related pursuits that will require self-marketing and diverse, far-ranging social connectivity. in other words, if one cannot make it on Facebook, can he make it anywhere?

i protest Facebook not because it’s psychologically damaging but rather because i find it annoying, for personal reasons. i like my electronic inaccessibility and my relative social solitude because it reduces my stress level. being tagged, referenced, or subjected to the trivial updates of people can be a terribly intrusive, annoying thing. i liken my experience of Facebook to being stuck in Los Angeles traffic. other people might like the people-watching, but i simply can’t stand the pollution and the noise; it drives me toward aggression and anger. silence might not be necessary to sanity for people in general, but for me, it is a beauty i cannot live without.

in the end, there is only one compelling argument against Facebook: an aesthetic one. either it’s cool for you, or it’s not. i don’t like Facebook because it’s not cool to me. my life is nicer without it.

05.30.12

Polisse

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:20 am by Administrator

if i could have a do-over, i wouldn’t watch Polisse again. and it is not a movie that i will watch a second time. this is not because the movie isn’t engrossing. it’s actually because of how truly it opens up the lives of its many characters that i find it impossible to experience again.

i won’t talk much about Polisse, other than that it’s about the lives of a child protection unit of the Paris police. but the movie reminds me much of my life as a medical resident, and that is something i have not talked about for a long time.

my blog from those years is actually still on-line but under a different url, for some reason. i found it by accident. combing through those entries, from almost exactly ten years ago, feels like weaving through a dusty old archive deep underground. nobody else can read those entries; they’re lost to everyone, except for me. and that’s just as well, because the things i wrote back then are terribly embarrassing in a way. i wrote things straight from the heart and so directly; and as much as my writing might still seem that way to some, it’s just not what it was. i wrote about my pain, in a way that makes me feel it even now.

in the year between July 2002 and June 2003, i think that i saw about twenty people die, right in front of me, sometimes while my hands were still on their bodies. but i saw many more than that in the process of dying, and i think that this was worse. the terrible thing about being introduced to death, up close like that, is that i realized that there is no dignity in dying. there is no dignity at all. death is so ugly. and those last moments are invariably filled with so much panic and horror. we exit the world with so much desperation and agony. there is no goodness in death; there is no goodness in it at all.

but the real tragedy is this: for many of my patients in east baltimore, the utter terror of death could not eclipse the grueling ugliness that marked their living. they took that shame with them, the sort of shame you earn by being human, into their dying. that’s what made their last awful moments so crushingly hopeless.

we had so many cycles of thirty-six hour days, watching the shooters and the sicklers make their rounds of the hospital. they filled our lives with their bitching, their crapping, their yelling, their suffering, and their dying. sometimes, we loved them; we loved them so much that it killed us inside. whether or not we loved them, we always hated them too. we hated them, because they made our lives miserable, and because they impressed upon us an idea of life that was nearly intolerable. we got drunk so that we could laugh at them, and so that we could remove ourselves from their messy, corrupt, and inevitably doomed lives. we wrecked ourselves, so that we could erase from our minds the first-person view from the ICU bed, feeling the world collapse around us, as people with masks cracked open our chests and inserted tubes, blood spraying everywhere, and everywhere the smell of feces and of perspiration and of rage.

Polisse made me remember what i once hated about the world and the God who made it. i have not made peace with God by imagining that life is any less ugly and brutish than it is. i have made peace with God by imagining that this—the terrible world He has made—horrifies Him more than it horrifies any of us. it is a horrific world. none of us would have made such a living hell for ourselves; we couldn’t have been so cruel. but God did it. and He, more than any of us, is enduring punishment on account of this world He has made.

to the man i was ten years ago, i say this: i have not forgotten you—your anger, your hostility, your memories of death. they have become a part of me. it is because of you that i will believe in neither war nor the sanctity of life. life is no gift. it is the burden we shoulder with one another, our inferior species. it is the great lie that we devise mythologies to bear with, so that we can imagine that our pain is meaningful, and that our mistakes can be forgiven, and that we will somehow escape death and the great apostasy that it portends

05.24.12

literary character

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:53 pm by Administrator

the problem with every story i try to write is that i actually don’t know who the protagonist is. so i’m going to do an exercise and think not about stories and plots but rather about lead characters. who are the lead characters i love the best? what makes them succeed, as standout figures?

1. The Count of Monte Cristo: hands down, i think this guy is the best protagonist ever written. to me, the story—with its intrigue, its climactic trajectory, and its sundry characters—is the natural consequence of the power of its central character. i think that Dumas first created the man, and then the scenario simply followed.

the best thing about the count’s story is that we see him first as a human and a victim; but when we are reintroduced to him after his transformation, we experience him as a mystery. it’s 3rd person narration at its absolute best.

i consider Paul Atreides (Dune) a worthy spinoff of the count.

2. D’Artagnan: continuing with great Dumas stories, i think the lead character of the Three Musketeers comes off the page with his youthful impudence. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis succeed as his peers because D’Artagnan is utterly believable, as our eyes and ears into the lives and times of the musketeers during the intriguing era of Richelieu.

Martin Arrowsmith (Arrowsmith) to me is a D’Artagnan-type.

3. Stevens: Ishiguro’s narrator of Remains of the Day is, in my mind, the most poignant first-person perspective i’ve read. he’s so completely entertaining and engrossing, from the very first page. you can read a few paragraphs and recognize the worth of the story immediately; that’s how compelling Stevens is from the outset.

4. Elizabeth Bennet: i give my wife credit for reminding me of just how important this character is. It’s a testament to the strength of her character when Elizabeth’s personality informs and enhances just about every single thing in this story. there are so many Elizabeth Bennet spinoffs, and it’s because she’s probably the greatest female protagonist ever written.

5. Raskolnikov: Crime and Punishment could easily have been a crime against literature and a punishment for its readers, if Raskolnikov were not thoroughly and deeply the best and worst of every human being, down to the bone. he is painstakingly authored; C&P is nothing less than his biography.

6. Leslie: She is not exactly the protagonist of Bridge to Terabithia, but she should more or less share that honor. Leslie is a standout heroine, and her raw charisma—her ability to influence and to leave a powerful impression—elevates the story to an entirely higher level than one might expect from children’s fiction.

7. Strike: i think Richard Price has made two great contributions to American pop culture: The Wire, and Strike Dunham. there is only one drug dealer who will be remembered from this era, and it’s the fictional dealer of Price’s Clockers, the conflicted, deeply private, and perpetually suspicious Strike. he broke the mold when it came to literary gangsters, and i think that it’s been the aspiration of every urban crime novel since Clockers to make a character half as believable.

8. King David: basically, there are only two people in the Bible who can really pass as fully developed literary characters: Moses and David. everyone else is a type or a shadow. of the two, David is the more memorable man, and it is fitting that his story captures the very apex of civilization—the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem—and mankind’s worst fall, in David’s betrayal and murder of Uriah. the Psalmist poetry is occasionally poignant reading, but the narrative accounts of David in the books of history, as concise and mundane as the writing is, prove to be the best reading.

i know that on most lists, Atticus Finch, Holden Caulfield, and the “invisible man” would deserve mention, but i think these are my personal favorites.

in any case, i have three stories i’ve recently worked on, and it troubles me that the protagonist of all three stories is essentially the same person. believe it or not, that person is not me. i would describe him as a bit like my friend Chris Kim from high school. that’s about as detailed as i can get.

the trouble with using Chris as my protagonist is that his character is better suited as an observer of others (like all of the characters of John Irving and Haruki Murakami) rather than as a stand-alone hero. this is going to sound a bit odd, but if i deliberately set out to create a hero-type, then i’ll inevitably recreate myself. i’m allergic to autobiography, when it comes to writing fiction. so i end up deliberately separating myself from the protagonist, and then the protagonist ends up being a complex, opaque observer-type. irving and murakami craft great observers. i create observers who are overly complicated and inaccessible.

admittedly, it’ll be a different story (and probably better) if i just write myself into the protagonist. but i’m so afraid to do this. perhaps, i need to discuss this (along with my Laker hatred) with my therapist.

05.23.12

moments with god, and what he taught me

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:16 pm by Administrator

i’m at a time in my life when i’m looking for evidence—evidence of what i believe, evidence of my giftings. i’m open to absolutely anything: a radical career change, an international move, whatever. as long as i know what i am and what i want, i can do the right thing.

it is hard, sometimes, for me to appreciate any substance in my relationship with God. it is obviously frustrating to maintain a relationship with someone who is invisible, mute, and unchanging. it’s nothing close to a perfect relationship, and sometimes i believe it to be a fairly dysfunctional one. that being said, God’s pithy and occasionally standoffish posture has become less aggravating to me with time, simply because over time i have accumulated enough poignant moments of connection with Him that i see real evidence of our convergence. the story of my spiritual journey is one of incorporation into His identity. i can assert this, even when i fail to realize any analogous incorporation in my social pursuits.

for my own commemoration, these are the moments i have had with god:

1. when i was seven, i begged God to forgive me for having stolen so many toys from so many children in my kindergarten class. He did forgive. He enabled me to give all the stolen toys away.

2. when i was eleven, i was baptized on Easter. i ran outside the sanctuary after the service, to relish that moment with God. He sat with me, on the parking lot curb.

3. when i was twelve, i got an A in 7th grade algebra, after having failed one of my midterm exams. i made the grade by 1 point out of more than 400 possible points. God was there; He implied it was a miracle.

4. when i was seventeen, i repented publicly at a high-school retreat for losing my “first love”. it was at the same retreat where i confessed to some guys for the first time that i regularly masturbated. in any case, God made it a defining point in my life. i experienced power in public confession.

5. when i was twenty-one, God met me in my dorm room in the middle of the night, when i could not sleep because i didn’t know what i was going to do with the rest of my life. in so many words, God told me that it didn’t matter. i’ve never since let life trap me like it did then.

6. when i was twenty-seven, God stood with me during a New Year’s Eve candlelight service, and He told me not to blow out the flame. though i’d cursed Him and announced my intention to no longer follow, He told me, in that patiently understanding way of His, that He wasn’t finished with me yet. that was when i realized that free will does not exist. the perseverance of the saints is not a debatable concept; it is who He is.

7. when i was twenty-eight, God sat with me on the plane flight from L.A. to Seattle, after I’d spent Valentine’s with Sandy for the very first time. what He said was unforgettable: “i have been listening to you, all along”.

8. when i was thirty-one, God spoke to me through Pastor Craig, outside of Baltimore at a men’s retreat. He charged me to be a minister for His church. it was my Noah moment. i left the old world, with all its self-doubt and suffering, completely behind me.

9. when i was thirty-two, God met me on Monterey Road with a vision of Himself as a beautiful woman, walking across a room with eyes full of adoration for me. “you are mine”, He said.

10. when i was thirty-three, my wife’s uncle lay dying on a stretcher bed in his home, and when no one was looking, i saw God leaning over his suffering body. i saw God, that weary, enduring, compassionate man, whispering words in my uncle’s ear that only he could hear. i saw God, the one who has shared the dying moments of every man, woman, and child that has ever walked the earth. i understood that God, more than anyone else who has lived, grieves the outrage of death. the grief fills Him; the grief forms Him; and no one, not one, understands Him in this at all.

11. when i was thirty-four, God met me on Via Colina, where i was walking at the end of a run. He gave me a vision of myself as a lion, fighting off four wild dogs in an alleyway. He called me a lion for His people. i did not understand it then. i still struggle to understand. but the one thing i understand is that feeling i had in the vision, that intense and overpowering hunger to protect, to fight, and to prevail, as the expression of my calling.

05.22.12

FTL

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:23 pm by Administrator

i’m going to coin a new internet acronym: FTL. F the Lakers.

i’m a happy man today, because the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs last night. anyone who knows me understands that i’m firstly a Laker hater, second a Sixers fan. of course, if the Sixers ever put a team on the court that looks remotely like a contender, i may revisit the priority. but generally speaking, the Sixers are irrelevant, and their patently ugly game is unlikely to get them past the 2nd round this year.

the Lakers on the other hand are generally relevant. and i hate them, for reasons i’ve previously discussed.

one of the reasons i quit facebook two years ago is that while the Lakers made their championship run, my updates got increasingly inappropriate and frankly mean-spirited. i’ve never really liked my online persona, but when i saw the stuff i was posting on FB, i realized that i needed to cut myself off, immediately. my disdain for the Laker franchise is veritably uncontrollable; it exceeds my loathing of the Yankees and quite possibly edges out my intense hatred of the Duke Blue Devils. i’ve never hated a team as much as i hate the Lakers.

and yet, my pleasure today is not a total pleasure. because though the Lakers lost, their fans still can boast of 5 championships in the last 12 or so years. moreover, the Lakers have not been shipped off or disbanded, which means they will again be playing in the NBA next season. lastly, Kobe Bryant was not dealt the career-ending injury that i was hoping for during this playoffs, which means that i have to deal with the affront of his personality for at least one more season. these are three reasons why i probably will continue my 3-season streak of not watching a single NBA game.

i’ve begun to think about whether i need to discuss my feelings about the lakers with my therapist. i will grudgingly admit that my loathing is near pathologic; and it has gotten to the point where i cannot even restrain myself in situations where my hatred of the Lakers could be self-defeating (i.e. casual conversation with my boss). i imagine my therapist will ask me where my hatred of the Lakers began, and i’ll have to go back to the 1996 NBA Draft, and then to the 2001 NBA Finals, and then to the dramatic split between O’Neal and Bryant in 2004. i’ll describe all the moments when i immediately recognized something about kobe bryant that i despised—his overwhelming self-absorption, his consuming obsession with stardom and victory. my therapist will ask me why i hate these qualities, and i suppose i’ll have to tell him the truth. kobe bryant reminds me of myself, on a bad day.

in any case, FTL is my way of putting to death the old self and wedding myself to the new creation. hating the Lakers is about hating Kobe; and hating Kobe is about self-deprecration; and self-deprecation is about seeking a new identity for myself. i don’t want to entirely reduce my loathing of the Lakers to self-loathing (because the Lakers are evil, independent of what i ascribe to them), but yes i have to admit that there are personal issues involved.

now that the Lakers are eliminated, i do think that i can begin the process of normalizing relations with my son, who deeply sabotaged our relationship three weeks ago when he happily labeled himself a Laker fan. after a very tense conversation, Isaac did offer to like the Sixers, at which point i had to have a serious self-check. do i want my son to live with the agony i have endured, having been tortured for more than a decade by a franchise with no serious aspirations for a title? in the end, my conclusion is this: being happy is perhaps better than having integrity. Isaac can choose to be a gutless bandwagoning sell-out Laker fan; it should be his choice. i need to let him make his own mistakes, even if those mistakes can be corrupting. someday, i hope, he’ll come to the light of his own volition. someday, i hope, we will be able to enjoy a Philadelphia 76ers NBA championship together, as friends

05.21.12

incorporation

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:28 pm by Administrator

what is the meaning of life? what is the point of it all?

at this point in my life, here is my answer:

the meaning of life is to be incorporated into a transcendent lifeform.

we all do this in different ways. plants and fruits get eaten by sentient lifeforms. sentient lifeforms get consumed by one another. human beings, among them, absorb themselves with traditions, lineages, and legacies. they link themselves to those who came before them and to those will follow, because the story of the community survives the death of the individual. among these communities is the church; and its story is the biblical story. God is humanity’s ultimate vessel for transcendent meaning. in the Christian religion, individuals pursue God so as to be ingrafted into His being; Christ the man offers the means by which this spiritual incorporation can be achieved. as intimately connected as physical beings are when they eat one another, Christ challenges us to (metaphorically) eat his body and drink his blood, so as to take on His identity and thus, in a sense, become Him.

though incorporation strikes me as the logical meaning of living, the concept exists for me only as a philosophy. how do i identify deeply and completely with something broader and greater than myself? how do i identify with it so deeply that my life exists for (and within) this thing?

i have wrestled with this before, in numerous entries—particularly those entries from early 2011. i was inspired by some of what i read of N.T. Wright, in his assertion that the people of God—not the individual soul—was God’s primary obsession. salvation exists so that individuals can be adopted into God’s tribe, not so that they might persist as distinct, autonomous entities. for me, the truth of Wright’s emphasis is reflected everywhere in the scripture, particularly in the manner by which Paul links the old and new covenants. Wright’s views exist in sharp contrast to the more common emphasis of American Evangelicals on personal justification by faith. the former view accentuates an idea of paradise that is emergent from the experience of redeemed community, while the latter viewpoint emphasizes paradise defined as a perfect experience for the individual consciousness.

but do i experience this sense of incorporation in the reality of my living? to some degree, i am experiencing hintings of it in my marriage. my identity is intimately interlinked with that of my wife, and as our mutual understanding grows, we do enjoy the fruits of that. but is it incorporation? are we approaching “oneness”? i don’t think so, though our growth in love and respect for each other gives us greater ability to think and act in concert. i don’t think it’s “incorporation” that we’re experiencing per se, because we do not each aim to be absorbed into the life of the other.

to some degree, i experience incorporation at work. i see and enjoy the fruits of being able to identify myself as part of a company, which enables me to take pleasure when my company does well, and which gives me purpose when the company needs my help to mend itself and grow. here though, the metaphor fails too, because i cannot and do not completely submit myself to the vision and mission of the company. i don’t look at my work as a vessel for transcendence, because we are engaged in a contractual relationship.

and to some degree, i experience it in my local church, although my sense of incorporation is definitely the weakest with regard to this community. how does one incorporate himself in a community that bases itself in voluntary, transient membership and participation? it’s really not possible. i’d describe my experience of church as “self-application” and “experimental participation” more than incorporation.

the relevant axion that has gone unstated to this point is that there is a difference between “connection” and “incorporation”. everyone craves and experiences connection—perceived potential for kinship, intimate interrelationship, and even incorporation. ours is a culture that feeds off of this powerful wish for connection. but incorporation requires enduring commitment reflected in the submission of self to the overriding identity of the community. incorporation is so rare. and yet, i believe, it is the only true justification for our living.

i recognize that in everything i do, i do aim to be incorporated in some way. i am unhappy with what i’m doing when i’m not experiencing a hint of that incorporation; and i am most purposeful and vital when i feel somehow incorporated into the lives of a greater whole. i want to experience that incorporation more consistently and directly with respect to God. but i struggle to know how to do this.

in Israel’s days, this was a more straightforward task. the covenanted tribes had their law and their nationhood; abiding in this gave the people of Israel the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of being incorporated into God’s self. but nowadays, i believe this is a prickly task, especially in America. we don’t believe in tribes; we believe in individualism. we go to church not to become absorbed in it but rather to be “edified” by it. in our work, we glorify the idea of early, wealthy retirement, because communal belonging comes second to personal empowerment. we’re a lost, lonely people; and because of this, i think we struggle to understand the real meaning of life. and as a result, i think the real appeal of the biblical story is often lost on us, the American Evangelicals.

i know how i wish i could be incorporated. i wish i could have my “moses moment”—where God lays out His plans and shows me right where i fit into them. but i feel that the closest i get to God is the “jonah moment”—when i recognize how limited i am in recognizing God’s nature and expressing His desire for the world. my experience of God so often demonstrates my alienation from both the divine and the mundane. i cannot cleave to the former any more than i can esteem the latter.

i hope that once, just once, in my life, i can experience real incorporation, so thoroughly and delightfully that i can know what it means and thus anticipate it for the next life. i see it in the narrative of Israel, i see it in the stories of the samurai, and i read hints of it in business literature. but i want to know it for myself. i want to be part of a people. i want to get lost in the beauty of something much bigger than myself. all the yearning, the waiting, the wishing—this is what it’s for. life calls to other life, to be wedded and imbedded. it is the gravity we were given, at the root of our souls, more powerful than the pull of the black hole, meant to drive us into union so powerful that the death of one is felt by everyone, and the survival of one means the living of them all

05.18.12

morality

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:45 pm by Administrator

recent developments have made me wonder whether i’m fit for a future career in pastoral ministry. on the one hand, i think i’d enjoy it, and i’d be able to put my abilities to use. on the other hand, i exercise poor judgment, i am poor at discernment, and i value my feelings over principles. any of these latter three qualities could be deal-breakers for a full-time minister, as far as i’m concerned.

but even beyond these concerns, what sometimes worries me is my basic attitude toward mores. when i examine myself, i recognize that i’m just moving farther and farther to the left with regard to “family values”, when i compare myself to my religious peers. i wonder if this is the quality that should concern me most, when i think about a future in church leadership.

the presidential election season is always a good time for me to reevaluate my feelings on moral matters of relevance in the political arena. i often discover during these periods that my stances are evolving or changing. but this year is perhaps the first time that i’ve discovered little or no evolution in my beliefs about issues surrounding “family values”. i’m pro-choice, and i want to see more safe oral abortifacient options for women. i support the legalization of gay marriage as well as gay adoption. and i’d like to see marijuana legalized, not just for medical usage but for recreational consumption.

i don’t worry about whether or not my stances are justifiable, but i do worry about whether these stances make me too challenging or even inaccessible to people of my religious persuasion. my good friend Kevin from college actually told me two years ago that he had reservations about my career leaning on account of my views on homosexuality. i think of that conversation now, and i understand why kevin’s viewpoint is important to consider. for me, it’s not about what’s right and wrong; it’s about whether i fit.

to be honest, i haven’t yet encountered company too liberal for my inclinations. this isn’t to say that i’m infinitely liberal; in every arena, i am hungry to see people encounter God and wrestle with His nature. the tension for me is that i see God misrepresented in this culture and particularly by the media. and the god that is often depicted—one who agitates for a legislated lifestyle—is not the one i believe in. i would prefer that people forget about this idea of god than to persist in publicly demeaning His reputation. because if people can forget about this god, then God might be able to return to their children, in the next generation.

i have one last reflection, before i end this entry. in France, the majority of children are now being raised by unmarried parents. many of these unmarried parents do continue to live together, in longstanding commitments that are not legally or financially binding. the new president of France, Hollande, is one such example, and apparently he is the first French president to be unmarried at the time of taking office. what is happening in France is not a deviation from the norm; i believe it represents our future as a civilization. i don’t feel saddened by this. i feel excited by it. i think it is possible that we are entering an era when people will be free to have families without being restricted to marriage. to me, this is, however strange it may sound, as utopian (and even as church-like) as society gets.

it’s not blasphemy to admit that marriage doesn’t work for most people in general, and we need to recognize that marriage, like the sacraments, is something that takes extraordinary faith. this doesn’t mean that those without this sort of faith are unfit to take care of one another or to have children. perhaps if we can unburden ourselves of this expectation, then we can begin to develop something of real civil society—one in which the citizen invests himself less in private property and moreso in a people, for the common good

05.17.12

story

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:07 pm by Administrator

i’ve been writing a story. it’s not very good. it’s very self-conscious. in the past, i would have read these adolescent attempts at real fiction and i would’ve abandoned them. but i’ve gone fourteen single-spaced pages and i’m still going. i think the difference now is that i don’t expect perfection. and i’m confident enough that the words will work themselves out. i’m motivated enough to keep going because there are some scenes i see from the story’s future; they’re interesting enough that i want to see them happen. but because of who i am, i can’t write those scenes now. i have to write the whole thing in order. and that serves the purpose, because i want to keep writing so that i can get there.

in any case, the setting of the story is philadelphia, though it bleeds a bit into both new york and baltimore. for me, this is the most interesting part of the writing process. setting is so critical, and actually for this story it’s central. the sort of story i’m writing doesn’t work unless the setting is real, so concretely real that it is like an abstraction from my sharpest memories. i chose philadelphia and new york, i realize, because my sharpest memories are from the years i split between philadelphia and new york. and i’m starting to believe that all of my favorite memories will be from that time, because that time was unlike any other time in my life, and somehow it was the defining time for me.

i had a flashback this morning to a visit i made with yemi to the morgan museum in manhattan. i’ve written about this once before. we saw a photographic exhibition there. it was a series of portraits of celebrity figures. strangely, the only subject i can recall is philip roth. in any case, after we studied the exhibit, we sat down for a glass of champagne with a couple of his friends, in a tall-ceilinged windowed room of the museum. it was a beautiful afternoon, and i recall that we were talking about life. one of yemi’s friends talked about italian wine. and then i started talking about failure. at one point (i was tipsy then), i felt very emotional about what i was saying, and i apologized. but in the flow of the conversation, i recall that the effect of what i was saying wasn’t lost on my company. we shared something poignant. even now, i cannot recall what we were talking about, but i remember the keen sense of connection i felt in those moments.

my time in philadelphia was full of those moments. innumerable moments when, for no clear reason i can recall, i found myself in communion with strangers. i was alone, in many ways. but i often found myself among fellow travelers.

music was a big part of my life back then, and the music was quite beautiful. before it turned dark and overly mature, the house was very symphonic, almost operatic. it was “pretty”, as Karen called it. perhaps that time was the first time in my life when i actually put down roots and said “this is my time”. i think that my passion for that music is symbolic of something broader and deeper that i felt back then, about that era. i was grieving 9/11; i was in and out of love with lots of people; i was disenchanted with my chosen career and thus open to all possibilities; i was content in solitude and among company.

i realize, in retrospect, that i have not kept in step with the times, since 2002. a part of me still lives in that philadelphia, and it has never left. i discover that part of me when i write. writing is, for me, an exercise in nostalgia; and it is best when i really do find myself back in those places that i once loved—Rittenhouse square on a lazy sunday afternoon, Fluid on late Wednesday nights, the riverbank by the Art Museum, the windy, dark stretches of highway as i drove past miles and miles of forest on my way to Blue Mountain or York. like i once wrote in “Blizzard of One”, i was lost in life, and i was happy to be lost.

i have no memories like these from my childhood in DC, nor from my years in los angeles. when i was a child, life passed me by at a furied pace, with its purposes and plans. and when i was too grown up to really care about what was happening around me, life became that daily burden of rituals and routines, descending on me every morning like city smog. but there was a time when my eyes were open to so many things, and it was when i was twenty-six. that man could have gone in any number of directions. he could have become any number of things. his heart was full, and his imagination was overflowing with pictures and ideas. that man wanted to be so many things. but what he became was me.

i owe it to that man to write his story. because he’s gone, and though i wish i could feel life the way he did, i don’t, and i don’t think i ever will again. i can’t blame my job, or my marriage, or getting old. it’s just that there was something magical about that place and that time, about its look and its feel; there was something beautiful about its music. i did not realize how much i was in love with all of that until i lost it. the world has moved on. i haven’t.

i write, because i, like my characters, lived in philadelphia.

05.16.12

on money

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:53 pm by Administrator

the news is all about money these days. it just makes me think more and more about the very subject i can never seem to put entirely out of my mind.

i actually laughed when i heard the JP Morgan story on NPR. the way they put it (”a bet gone wrong—$2 billion wrong) was just ludicrous. but the backdrop to the banking fiasco is a lot of long-standing, almost numbingly repetitive updates on Greece’s financial problems, the Eurozone economic catastrophe, sluggish economic recovery in the United States, and uneven growth in China’s booming but mysterious market.

all of the “macro” on the global economy is confusing and impressive at the same time. the moral i draw? nothing is safe; nothing is predictable.

but the news on the global markets strikes me as a veneer. it’s a reflection of underlying processes and demands. and i think what still troubles me the most about money is that, in the end, it’s a signifier of injustice and inequality. despite the fact that my attitude toward money has changed a lot in the past five years, i still struggle with the basic question i did when i was little: why do some people struggle for want of money, while others have too much of it for their own good? it’s a question that makes me feel a variety of things: helplessness, insecurity, and even shame.

when it comes to the facts, i know a few things that cause me reflection. i have more money than i need to survive. i have proportionally more of it than probably 98% of the rest of the world. i’m in that “top 5%”, as the Occupy Wall Street people like to say. these facts make me feel uneasy, because i perceive a different reality than the one the facts might suggest. i don’t feel like i have enough money; and it’s not like i have great ambitions for a life of luxury. but the basic costs of living in America make me feel pressured to invest and save. i know that if i lose my job, then my savings can buy me one year of life at my current level of spending. my financial planner would say that this is cause to invest more of my savings. for me, it troubles me that in my worst-case scenario, i can keep the roof over our heads for only 12 months.

when i was younger, i occasionally fantasized about striking it rich through ludicrous or lucky means, and it was because i wanted to be relieved of the pressure of finding and keeping a job. like most other people of my generation, i didn’t want to have to work simply to survive. and having to train and educate myself so that i could be financially solvent made my training/education feel both burdensome and necessary. i fantasized about wealth, because i figured wealth would give me the freedom to go off the “beaten path” and give me a chance to discover what i really want in life.

but i don’t fantasize about quick, exorbitant wealth anymore, and it’s because i’ve realized that “work” is not simply a burden. “work” is as necessary to me as the income that it brings in. without a career or a job, i struggle to live out any sense of calling; it is hard for me to feel direction in life. and whether i like it or not, financial necessity is what compels me to overcome my innate resistance to the conformity required by the workplace.

this isn’t to say that i’m best-served when i’m inches away from homelessness and starvation. but i’ve begun to realize over the past five to ten years that if i had wealth on my own terms—enough money that i’d never have to work again—i think i’d fall into depression. rather than affording me the freedom to “do what i want” (i.e. freelance writing, travel, or even service to others), i think it would psychologically cut out my legs from under me. i wasn’t raised and trained to deal with absolute freedom. i was raised and trained to operate within structure—the structure of needing to work for survival. i need to be put under pressure that is real and meaningful to me, or else i fail to really examine myself and express my giftings.

when i was in college, i grew enchanted with the Marxist version of utopia: one in which leisure becomes an entitlement for the masses, not just for the aristocracy. i used to believe that heaven would be a place of infinite leisure. but now, this ideal violates my sense of identity so profoundly that i’m not sure i find either vision palatable anymore. i can’t handle complete leisure on earth any more than i can stomach the idea of heaven as the infinite vacation. just as much as the next person, i was designed for struggle, for exploration, and for growth. and even in a sinless world, these are still the qualities that make me human. worship for me is no longer about singing songs and expressing loving feelings; worship is about self-revelation and connection to others, through work. Adam did work in the Garden of Eden. i imagine i will do work in heaven too. the difference between the work i do now and the work i do after death is how easily and how completely that work will bear fruit.

though i’m inclined philosophically to embrace the Nirvana-concept of heaven (total dissipation of self, total absorption into God consciousness), the one thing that makes me think that individual consciousness can persist in heaven is work. if there’s still labor to be done in the afterlife, then there’s a reason for individual consciousness. otherwise, there’s really no reason at all for me to persist as a discrete lifeform. it would seem both unnecessary and undesirable.

in any case, i’m suffering through a hard season at work, and it was both enlightening and sobering for me to realize yesterday that the one thing i do consistently enjoy about my job is making money. and i enjoy making the money because i don’t have (by my standards) huge gobs of it. i have enough that i don’t worry about homelessness; but i don’t have enough that what i earn from day to day is irrelevant. i’m thankful for that. it’s my daily bread.

i wish everyone in my world had this—enough to survive, but not so much that it kills their spirit. but i know this is not the case, and most people just don’t have enough. their want is my burden. it’s our collective burden. somehow, i believe we’ll be held accountable for those we chose not to provide for, in our time. i haven’t figured out how to balance that sense of obligation with my own perpetual insecurities about money. i don’t understand how it all works. money continues to trouble me, even as the incessant and unavoidable need for it drives me forward in life

05.15.12

what would you tell him

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:15 pm by Administrator

i would tell him

don’t make the best of it
just find something better

don’t adapt
break through

it’s what you were meant to do

there isn’t enough time
to wish for other things

there’s only enough time
to know what’s missing

go
that’s what i would tell him

move, keep moving,
and just go

the story will follow

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