Monday, December 15, 2003

Snow in the City

So, I reflect on a Sunday afternoon in NYC. After settling back into a pattern of visiting with friends, staying out late at night, and sleeping until noon, Sunday arrived - a day of rest in the city. After all the work and play that consumes all days (and nights and hours), it is Sunday when NYC breathes slightly, pauses for a moment, and ever so slightly reaches inward before it lurches quickly back into form. I enjoyed the afternoon sitting on the second floor of a deserted deli, reading the New York Times, and watching the snow coat the street below.
It was peaceful, with christmas songs crackling distantly, old and new, from some radio transmitting some local station. The moment floated into subconsciousness with the sight of white snow and the sound of holiday chimes, and the clean, cool slate of winter descending upon Manhattan - with a New York Times at hand. The moment drifted into memory like the snow in the city.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Back in NYC

A crisp winter day. The leaves are now gone, trees and city stripped bare to reveal concrete and pavement everywhere. I am slowly gaining the pace again of an old friend city that I left several months ago. Back in NYC, and I am smiling.
There are so many interesting places in the world to visit, and I am remiss to linger in a few spots that strike my fancy. The US finds me now, even though I might prefer an European country in the south, foreign tongues more familiar from a past spent in Latin countries. Yet, even with my preferences and languid pursuit of new destinations, New York draws me back like a yo-yo slings taut on its string. As far as I seem to fling myself away from this city (my first taste coming in the winter of 2001), somehow I find myself back in NYC again and again.
I left the last time in October, but my departure was more affecting; I felt then that I had moved away from the city, a phase of my life ending like a thunderstorm. I was strangely desolate and drifting, after learning to live deeply in the city. There are so many people and aggravations here, it is true, but it is brilliant beyond all things. I reflect on the words that I have written previously about my days in NYC, and I realize that its inspiration has clutched me like so many others before me. NYC has a familiar way of attracting people to its vitality, so I am back in NYC. And I feel NYC back in me.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Finding Comfort

Comfort cannot find me now
Across different states that have no boundary
To the spirit of a country which prowls
Commercial life and constant industry.
Prosperity cannot chase the feeling
Ebullient that work is proper, free,
Normal, strangely healing,
Human ambition to be
Bought and sold with coins and bills,
Other barter, steel, cars, and pills,
Stocks and flows, bonds and escrows -
All to bring comfort near,
Scant that I may have found here.
Cattle ranch and open prairie roam,
This state of wander is not home
To the spirit of other fates,
Perhaps other ancestors of days past,
Toting belongings in boxes and crates
Across seas, yearning gold pavement, fast
Approach another world full of all things -
Prosperity, hope, opportunity
Of a life open again to bring
These things respectfully.
All grand things except comfort,
Elusive to the travelers who still dream -
I find myself searching still, support
Feelings of home where I go, where it may seem
Comfort can find me.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Quiet Friday

I am sitting in a room three floors up from the city streets, gazing at a steeple of an auditorium that looks like a church. The room is quiet, except the occasional hum of modern automobile engine noise slowing to a stop sign at the end of the street; it is Friday.
My weeks are uncoventional, typically piled like thick pancakes as days of the week. Monday through Thursday are long days - at least 10-12 hours per day of work activity, many times more based on the project activities - and then Friday comes at last. Friday is the day that I can sit in a room away from the office and be transported, whirring through "loose ends" of activities that I did not quite finish during the week, complete administrative forms, and generally decompress from a week too hurried to take stock of itself.
Sitting in a room three floors up from the city streets, gazing at a steeple of an auditorium that looks like a church, I am easing into peaceful reflection. It is quiet, it is Friday.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Some days exciting

I don't know what it is, really. It could be the fact that it is Thursday. Or the seemingly fast approaching holiday. Or the wandering thought of positive life changes and a move. Or a strong cup of coffee in the morning. Or the sense of accomplishment that is imminent with one last push of work effort. Or the anticipation of a shopping trip with my mother as excuse for lunch break.
There are so many factors that influence our feelings (and subsequently, our actions and behaviors), that it is difficult to say what really "makes us tick" on a day-to-day basis. All I know is that today, I am feeling quite productive and energetic, hard to believe when all I have to give are the fumes of a week burnt at both ends. But it is the hope that counts, and feeling that some days are more exciting than others.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Charge to Work

Fatigue has nothing to offer today, as I make huge strides to hurdle the obstacles of inane document creation and stacked "action items" for "follow-up". The world of business is incoherent and strange, in all its jingles and jargon, bobbles of frizzy words that mean nothing, piled high in so many meetings. "Let's take this offline", "we have to be pro-active", "it's like nailing jello to a tree", "there are synergies here", "this is scheduled for deployment next week", "are there any change requests?", "bingo!". Bingo???
I've put them all aside, my drawer of dawdling, and look to get things done in real language. I just want to leave the office today without carrying these thoughts inside my head. I have a charge to work and go home empty of this work, refreshed and clean of such nonsense.

Monday, December 01, 2003

December in Chicago

The sun wanders like a lazy eye across the sky. The wind is blowing hard as steel, abrasive to the skin as steel wool scraping the cheeks. It is Chicago, winter is coming quick, and the evening waits impatient as the shadows consume full floors of the skyscrapers downtown. Pretty soon, darkness will eat the shadows, too, and the wind will threaten night’s prominence with its wheezing and squealing across the sky. Only not quite as indirect as the wandering sun.
I ponder these things from seven stories up, looking out across the Chicago River and letting my sightline be distracted by the Wrigley Building and the yellow "Chicago Sun - Times" sign pointing at the white tower and gothic connecting bridge of that landmark set of buildings on Michigan Avenue. At least, it is warm inside my office. At least, it is not yet winter.
But soon, snow will brush between these buildings, pushed around by the vicious winds, and Chicagoans will bundle themselves in heaps of coats and scarves and snug hats and gloves. I can see it coming, as I stay for just a week at this office, mesmerized by the whipping flag that sorely flaps at the corner of Michigan Avenue that I can see, on top of one of the Wrigley buildings. Perhaps, I reconsider, winter has already come.
December in Chicago holds reminder of many colder days to come and the hybernation of a city that retreats into buildings.

Friday, November 21, 2003

what's on my mind?

Another Friday arrives on the plains surrounding Lake Michigan, against the expanse of wind-blown clouds hovering over Evanston, Illinois. I am visiting Northwestern, to determine if I should study here next year. I am not quite sure what attracts me to this place.
It is cold here - compared to my adopted San Francisco home. The broad, flat landscape that marks the greater midwest can be uniform and unimpressive. The gothic architecture of some buildings here appears more stern against the flatness, like rising proctors of a stretch of university buildings. And many of the administrative buildings are framer houses from the early 20th century, matronly and perching themselves to watch students from across the street.
So, this is what is on my mind - standing at a computer terminal, wondering what the next two years of my life would bring hanging by this long, flat lake pushing in to the long, flat land. I think that it would be an adventure, and another life adventure.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Work Drags

Some days - like today - I just stare at the computer screen. It flashes in blinking applications, up and down scale the windowpanes of colored data, and the day flashes in blinking patterns that follow the flow of the whirling windowpanes. I am having problems focusing on the work that unfurls before me in reams of documents that need creation. The silly thing is that as much as I might capture better thoughts in my journal than lurk on the pages of these data sheets, these data sheets are published for abundant profits while my journal entries hover in the poverty of my diary. A pauper never begs for the rewards that the artistic mind can offer, only dreams for the dirty profits of a king's ransom of consulting fees.
Such is life, I suppose, and maybe both paths converge in a happy medium of worthy thoughts and valued publication. I can wish so much, but today I can only master the idea that work drags.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Attention to Deficit

I am trying to pay attention to the tasks that I need to complete for work, but I find this as difficult right now as counting all the rain drops that flicker the window in my room. This is mostly due to the tedious nature of the work that I need to complete, a series of documents that contain line-by-line items of necessity for technical people to interpret and build into software applications that pile screens of code that can be viewed in some far-away, dark, and cooled room full of white boxes of plastic and silicon chips. But I get ahead of myself - I am deconstructing the path of the line-by-line items of necessity that I need to write, from the recesses of my head to the computer screen which I see filling with its own sets of lines of characters and text. Such as this account, which piles on other lines of text that organize themselves into areas on the screen, some text in different colors and sizes, other text underlined and ready for a click and a whoosh to another page of text and colors and sizes. Endless - but I get ahead of myself again.
So, I guess that I am having difficulty paying attention to the minutiae that is required for the documents that I need to write. What an empty process, though, and even less fulfilling - I feel more attention to deficit.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Listen to Rufus Wainwright

I don't tend to listen to conventional music, and I hardly listen to the radio - except for years back living in LA and listening to the Santa Monica Community College radio station, which played a wide mix of independent and electronic music. Some people have commented on my eclectic taste in music, which tends to favor lyrical music without a broad following. Sometimes, the interest is prescient - case in point, my interest in Oasis and Coldplay before they "hit it big." But generally, I like to listen to music that I stumble upon in music shops, followng influences and my tastes.
One discovered artist that I recommend - I hardly remember how I find certain writers and authors any more - is Rufus Wainwright. He has uniquely blended folk, pop, and orchestral touches to create a sound that is unmistakeably his own. His parents were classically trained musicians of their own repute - Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle - and he was interested in opera at a young age. As his influences gelled, his style also emerged, this theatrical mix of musical influences that props up a vibrato voice that sweetly pierces his recordings. His new album - "Want One" - is the first of two ("Want Two" will be released in the spring of next year). But also check out his first album, self-titled, and his second album, "Poses", as great examples of what is good in pop music these days.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Off to a run

Somehow, the hours disappeared into 6:45pm, and I'm going to be late for a dinner date with a welcome friend around the bend (or three blocks over in modern parlance). I have to go for a run before I am considered done - for today, at least. Off to a run, I say, and leave the rest for another day, namely tomorrow. It will come regardless of what I tell myself or what I do in between. So off for a run, which makes more sense anyway.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The oddities of capitalism

On a watercolor sunshine afternoon, a wonderful friend and I walked along the bay towards Fort Mason. For those more familiar with San Francisco, the wind was only purring (sometimes it roars like a lion along the Marina Green), and the forecasted rain hung heavy in the beautiful clouds; we saw none of it, only the glorious colors of the sunset. We walked to the Annie Leibovitz exhibit in the Herbst Pavilion, "Rewarding Lives", a collection of her photography that captured famous cardmembers of American Express (the company, I might graciously add, footed the bill for the free exhibit - you can follow the link here: http://www.fortmason.org/spotlights/2003/1003/1003-spot1.html). The Moderns, a creative agency, dreamt the translucent pods that housed various collections of photos; the icons enchanted the lens: Muhammed Ali, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gwynteth Paltrow and her morther Blythe Danner, I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry, Greg Louganis, Tony Hawk, and 73 other various personalities.
The experience was spectacular until we encountered a photograph of the great filmmakers or our era. There was Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, an unmentioned man, and George Lucas. The unmentioned man was the one who helped Lucas start his feature film career in the film "American Graffiti" and a true Bay Area creative; however, he was not mentioned, we presumed, for his lack of an American Express card. Looking at the placard below the photograph, the other three were named, with a placeholder (or actual representation) of their American Express cards. Francis Ford Coppola, on the other hand, was not even recognized as appearing in the photograph.
Perhaps we harped on that one photograph too long - the rest of the exhibit was moving, the collection striking, if sometimes the written placards were a bit spotty. Still, the omission of Francis Ford Coppola affected us. Does this mean that a distinguished figure who is not a customer of a company sponsoring an artist exhibit does not exist? Obviously, many of his friends do, as evidenced by the photograph in which he was unmentioned; is he considered without substance (or even existence) for not becoming an American Express cardmember? Certainly, the point of the exhibit was to highlight Annie Leibovitz's photographs - and the immense influence of American Express. I think that the exhibit made its point, but did it have to disregard Francis Ford Coppola? Perhaps the back-story - as the build-up to the main story in movies is called - is more complicated than an omitted name on an Annie Leibovitz photograph.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Back again, a week on

Sometimes, the days sneak away - as if I was not paying attention and they slipped past like accomplished thieves. It has already been a week since the last day that I happened upon my thoughts, so here I am again.
Today, I am visiting another university campus to consider more graduate programs. There is something thrilling about walking about with students, the spirit of an American college. The mind opens to the ideas that charge the grounds. Professors and students talking, working out life's virtues and new research that dispels old assumptions. Everything is new again, and the mind is alive. I like these environments because they bring new energy to tired thoughts. There is something about the American college...

Friday, October 31, 2003

My first published piece

Browsing the hard drive of an old computer is the corollary to opening an old trunk of personal memorabilia. I thought that I had lost it forever, but I found my first published piece, an editorial that I wrote for the college newspaper. This received quite a bit of commentary when it was first published; I chastised the "lip service" paid to the benefits of diversity and how students did not capitalize on its breadth and depth. Not only this, but students misconstrued diversity for advantages that disrupted the harmony that the university was trying hard to cultivate and promote. I reflected for the moment on this piece, as I thought about the circumstances - returning from a life-changing experience abroad - that provoked the words. And then another two hours passed wandering through the other writings and documents trapped on my old computer. Nostalgia is the same, regardless of its physical (old trunk) or virtual (computer files) form. And now, here is the first piece, published again with permission of the copyright holder :)

Look beyond simplistic definitions

DIVERSITY: Varied resources, experiences - not skin tone, culture -
should be our defining characteristics

By xxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx

I have often wondered what it would have been like to go
to a different university, perhaps a school closer to home.
I wonder what common ideologies would be accepted by
the student body if I had attended a school in Virginia or
South Dakota. Definitely, my college experience would
have been much different, but how different? What would
be the perspective if I had attended school in a
homogenous environment?

Honestly, I do not know if a homogenous environment
really exists. I have heard it many times before - those
people in the South and the Midwest do not really
understand what diversity is all about. What would it be
like if I was not white, and I lived in Indiana? I think that
we all have something to share with each other, if only we
listen up. I have many friends who go to school in Ohio,
since that is where I am originally from. Sure, the college
population is predominantly white; "diversity" is virtually
nonexistent - or is it?

I have experienced many deep-impacting experiences at
UCLA, and I have enjoyed the education afforded me.
This is a wonderful institution which we attend, and it
offers a breadth of resources for education and
development. I have been able to build wonderful
relationships with people of so many different
backgrounds; I have been challenged to think about the
consequences of human actions and study the relationship
between humans and their communities. I have been given
an opportunity to challenge myself to become a
contributing member of society, and I am grateful for this
opportunity.

But amidst the laudable qualities of our university, there is
a repugnant undercurrent that I have observed for quite
some time. There seems to be a discontented feeling
among many students regarding various components of
our education, particularly dealing with diversity issues.

Diversity, in the definition of student groups at UCLA, is
defined by two major issues - race and culture. If one is
asked to describe oneself at UCLA, inevitably, that person
will reveal these things. There is nothing wrong with that;
in fact, that is a good starting point to embrace our
differences. But that is usually where it ends.

This is a travesty. Of the breadth and depth of resources
on campus, the varied experiences that all of us can share
with each other - it stops at skin color and cultural
heritage? Does that define me? In a strict sense, yes. I am
white. Big deal. I really don't care. What does matter to
me is that I am a second-generation Hungarian, that I
lived in Brazil and Peru when I was younger, that I hail
from Ohio, that I enjoy lots of different cultures, that I
have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and learning. But, I
guess that I am white.

I have seen this happen so many times; we stop learning
about each other before we ever begin. There is a subtle
ignorance exercised here, there is an underlying racism
present. Why do we impose limitations on ourselves when
classifying each other? Unfortunately, it happens more
than I care to admit. College should be a time of
self-discovery, a time of personal exploration that should
create centered, sophisticated individuals able to contribute
to the greater good of society. I see many stunted
individuals walking around this campus, too involved in
issues surrounding their insular environment to notice the
damage it is doing to the campus community. There is so
much more than just race and culture; we are all so much
more than that.

Perhaps I am discounting the opportunities that I have had,
to travel and live in various parts of the world. I have been
able to witness different peoples around the globe; I have
been able to step outside my protected world to get a
perspective on humanity. I have been lucky in that
respect. What I have learned is that the multiculturalism
that we truly need to address is that of different people.
This is an individualistic thing; every person brings with
them an identity, and it is an identity that transcends
physical description. It is fruitless to stop the search
before it has even begun.

What if UCLA admitted more out-of-state students,
maybe those students from Virginia and South Dakota?
What if UCLA admitted more international students,
students with an international perspective? What if UCLA
admitted more students concerned with developing
themselves to help their communities rather than students
concerned with the injustices that have wronged them?
What if UCLA looked beyond the squabbling and used its
resources to draw from each other and make us all better
people? What if UCLA students actually listened to each
other without various forms of requital?

Would that help us all see the diversity that truly exists on
this campus, around this country and in this world? Would
we finally be able to see that the issues affecting us affect
others in a totally different way? Would we finally learn
what it means to be empathetic and understanding of each
other? Ultimately, that is the quest of true multiculturalism
and diversity. Through difference we learn similarity,
through varied perspective, we see the same world.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Going back to school

Vital is the word that describes the university campus. For many, the recollections of the college experience and the various activities associated bring pause and wistful sentiments of those four years full of promise without burden of accomplishment. We become older, find partners, acquire titles, produce children and dependents, and gather years; from one perspective, the process rolls downhill, slowly gaining speed as time accelerates away from the campus.
Until one returns to university. It does not matter if the university is alma mater - I personally visited a college considered rival to mine back in the days - it is the freedom of spirit that intellectual challenge brings to the person. We are ultimately creatures of discovery and change. We may not admit this, but we thrive on the dynamics of opportunity provided from what we know. And what we know best is what we learned in school. That is why going back holds such a mythical power and link to our primary moments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tired of the computer screen

For some reason, I have become bothered at work. I have slight sensation of the keyboard, and my fingers run over keys that lead me off documents and into the greater web, looking for news that does not interest me. I jump to the New York Times page, then the Economist, perhaps over to my own sites, and perhaps over to bbc or FT. The day passes, sun crowns the sky and arcs back down, and I wonder what happened during the day.
If I use today as example, I completed a couple-slide presentation that required a sift through a diagram-ladened document, researched a website to download a zip file that I hardly reviewed to send to a colleague that I don't know who was asking for help on research topics of which I have no information. This was referenced by another colleague who asks me to assist on various analysis topics; she gets lazy now and just sends others my way as well, not bothering to get grounded in topics before contacting me. Still, I help them out.
Now, the day is almost done, and I feel that I have not accomplished anything of substance. And was I productive? More than likely, yes, but I have no idea in my state of malaise. I lack motivation. So, I am sitting here, trying to spur myself to activity on a list of random "action items" (could this be the problem - working on a disconnected set of activities that do not together add up to something of substance?) and wrapping up the day blubbering into the blog.
Such is life - I am tired of the computer screen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Crisp Fall Days

There is something about a clear fall morning that is beyond description; I marveled at the clarity and brightness walking into work this morning. As I reflected on the beauty eminent on these crisp fall days in New York City, I realized that my time here is limited. I will be spending days in San Francisco and Dallas through the rest of the year, and New York City will no longer be my home. I will miss its lyrical qualities, the smells good and bad, the languages that dance in the air three and four at a time courtesy of the street vendors and financiers. I will miss its vitality, however imperfect and rough-hewn it can be. I will miss its intriguing companionship, the rumbling of the subway trains, and the people, oh those people shepherded from the corners of the earth that somehow make their way here. Somehow, New York City collects them all, sprinkles them amidst the boroughs, and goads them along to keep pace to the rhythms of ambition.
So, I let the moment go; my mind wandered into the branches of the canopy trees overhanging Madison Square Park. I walked past the shining statue of William H. Seward on the corner of 23rd and Fifth Avenue; his countenance was basking in the clear sunlight, contrasted by a wide blue sky. I walked past the Southern Fountain and traipsed along the octagon tiles on the ground that sparkled at different steps thanks to the filtered sunlight. I smiled and appreciated the crisp fall days that would soon pass as well, and my last days in New York City.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Hello to another weekend

As the weeks pass, the days pile into the hours that pile onto the timesheet that is submitted at week's end. In the fury of the dash to collapse the computer screen into the keyboard and shove the burgeoning life's work into the messenger bag. When that moment occurs, the hours of the week, piled high, suddenly melt away; time is forgotten, if for a moment, a wisp of breath intervenes, the chest sighs quietly, and for a brief moment, ever so brief, the world stops and wonders what it has done. Ever so brief, the pace stops, like the moment of a stroke, and then in the whisper of the moment, so brief it passes, and the dash for the elevator forgets the moment even happened.
At least for the few seconds of pause, inane duties translate to accomplishment - perhaps too brief but treasured for its feeling. And then, it is hello to another weekend.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Time Slipping Away

Of all the days that I try to get my tasks completed, I feel that most last longer than I expect them to last. Of all of the items to finish on my list, I feel that most take more time than I could imagine, and yet I make the mistake of unrealistically planning my tasks over and over and over again - the myth that I can complete them all within the normal day. So, some items carry over into the next day, to swamp that day and run it into the following day and the one after that. And so the story goes through the week and into the month, until several stragglers crowd the space and blow up the list.
Perhaps there is nothing that I can do to make this problem go away. Perhaps there is something that I can stop doing to make days end when they should. Perhaps there is everything to gain by getting my item list under reasonable control. But that seems crazy to think and impetuous to believe that each day will take as each day will bear. So there are nights that fade into neon light haze, and as I finish off the things I can - work and life mixed - time keeps slipping away...

Friday, September 19, 2003

Nothing Left to Say

I wanted to say so many things on a Friday evening leaving work - perhaps something about people's intentions, or something about losing someone, or reflection on how the Buddhists laugh with strong bellies, or various things I wanted to ask passers-by on the sidewalk. But the day is done, the week is retiring, and the dusk raises city lights and lowers thought into the waves of city skyline sparkling.
I have nothing left to say.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Long time, dear friend

Under present influence of Nick Drake and late night flourishes in the office, I am spurred to the keyboard, dusting off some thoughts to keep current. So many days have passed since I have visited myself here, even though the thoughts are always swirling. From one day to the next, in this atmospheric mood always changing, who knows what happens from here. Does clarity come after thinking for so long that it comes around the bend? Who knows? The Riverman perhaps, as Nick Drake would sing.
The present influence reminds me of any series of modern troubadours that somehow carry the banner in a modern world of the rambling musical storyteller - Bob Dylan, on to Robbie Robertson and Paul Weller and the same Nick Drake, many others in between that slip my mind in the moment. It is part of the tradition that wandering unleashes us into ourselves, as we let those slippery moments become the experience, like comfort, like rain. It just happens so, naturally.
Back to me. Of thoughts of love and life, things to do, people to be, places to go, all the same and different imperceptibly. Poetic and common, nothing much beyond tomorrow, which is nothing better than today. We'll remember it better than it was, expect it better than it should be, and sub-consciously make ourselves believe it will always be the same. Sad it comes, atmospheric as this Nick Drake song, that we shall find ourselves transported to a different place, so much closer to the same self we have always carried unbeknownst. Maybe we didn't realize it at the time, but the words will drone on and on anon. "If he tells me all he knows...about the way his river flows...I don't suppose...it's meant for me...oh, how they come and go..." Work continues until it is complete.
-Listening to Nick Drake's "Riverman" while pausing on a Monday night, 10:30pm, from office work

Friday, September 05, 2003

Silence and the City

New York can never be just quiet. Eighth Avenue, rush around Times Square, there is only pause very early Sunday morning. In reverence, appear only the stop lights, rhythmic red-green alternating turns at careful stewardship to not wake the hyper signs. Only briefly, and the whir returns like a toddler aroused from nap.
New York is unique like this - always making noise, as if its stature and grace falls with the dearth of volume. London can be genteel and polite in the bustle; Paris naps on the starry eyes of lovers who claim the banks of the Seine in sparkling moonshine. Yet New York thunders with trucks, honks with taxis, yells with street vendors, pounds with heavy machinery, drones with large cooling systems on buildings, mostly at the same time, at all times.
New York never rests because so many have so much to do - banking, writing, jogging, gambling, filing, acting, mumbling, walking, gazing, chasing, rushing, touching, discovering, losing, becoming, being, encompassing, engaging, remembering nothing if but the experience. Only then does quiet emerge - New York rushes on oblivious as slowly few realize to let the noise fade away.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Night Running in Central Park

9:55pm at night, Central Park is still, languid even from the deflated heat of a summer day gone to darkness. I will remember always these solitary runs as moments of urban tranquility, almost alone in a city of millions with nothing but nature and trees to surround me. Up the hill towards 72nd Street east exit is always a line of horse carriages that tread an easy loop back around to the Plaza Hotel at 59th Street; the horses are reminder that the city is much cleaner and better scented (arguable?) than past century's New York, but I'm quite certain that the spirit of the city is the same.
This night on my run, Bebel Gilberto's silken Portuguese soothed through my headphones. The mood was smoky, and I could only close my eyes in succumbing to the feathery sense of V******'s lips to mine. I must admit distraction tonight among the trees - and not because Mars is closest to us this night as in 60,000 years (on the southeast horizon, an event I will miss while asleep in my bed). No, the park drifted into the "nostalgie" of Bebel's plaintive cooing, and I was no longer jogging, rather chasing the electric memory of beautiful V****** standing coyly at her apartment building's front stoop. Funny, I remember now talking with her of fat cats (literally, her cat was 20 pounds) and then those lips and smooth cheeks that I framed with my hands, kissing her for a moment to slip into a dream. So late, both times darkness, somehow Bebel's music flowed the nights together into one sensuous dance through the park, around Sheep's Meadow and past the lake with Calvert Vaux's fountain at its base of steps down to water's edge; the street lamps gilded my memory of the overlapping nights, bathing my reflections in soft shadows and leafy remains.
Remiss to let the moment end, I closed my eyes as I finished the bottom loop (once was enough this evening after earlier dinner burdened me with cramps and fatigue) to see beyond my memories for some residue of the enchanted moments. The images were all there, resident now with other memories from Paris, Milan, and San Francisco; my mind was alive with fresh memories and the celebration of moments worth relishing. Smiling softly, I slipped into the trees and out of Central Park back into the glorious city.

Free thoughts on an Uptown train

Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to write. Nothing, thought spent on fatigue, work, distractions, and maybe random thoughts not worth quoting. The urgency to write is not there, clarity lost amidst the shuffle of the "daily grind." We are all slaves to something.
So tonight, I am forcing urgency. I have allowed myself 5 stops on the R train uptown (before my stop) to capture thoughts of the day. And this is my only thought - at least for writing. There are thoughts of sleepiness, V***** and her sweet lips, work that overhangs constantly and underwhelms my senses, and this lifeless response to the GMAT. I guess these thoughts bundle into something - throw in also, by the way, Jen's wedding in SF (invited by S**** at the end of the month) and E****'s birthday tomorrow night down in Chinatown - but I'm not finding it. Besides, my last thought is my last stop and a Central Park run.

Sitting on an uptown train, 25 Aug '03

Recollections of the NYC blackout

What a charged moment. Writing in the dark, high above Times Square, I only see the silhouettes of a light charade that is usually the HSBC sign, Nasdaq swirling ticker, and the US Army Recruiting Center. Now, it is all black, at the mercy of the sun which skirted off to the west to leave this proud city in an anticipated state of lascivious fun. I can only see bandit cars throwing light shadows from their headlights gliding slowly down Broadway into the shouting maelstrom. It seems that there are several police cars patrolling the same streets - they flash by every fourth car - but it is the uncertainty of a New York night without artificial lights that scares (perhaps excites?) me most.
Because above all else, New York is a city manufactured with the lights of a million dreams of human ambition writ large as the usually-sparkling Times Square promenades. But once the lights black out, there is raw human energy left, a different sort of human desire that finds its expression in more base forms. It is the soul of humans beneath the facade, beneath the glamour and veneer of well-lit placards. Tonight, New York has become that side of human motive manifested.
Even still, the passing cars and the trickling stream of headlights ennobles the city with a certain frankness and nostalgia that is charming. Suffocated by a lack of air conditioning but also stripped merrily of cellphone coverage and robot chatter, New Yorkers reverted to a simpler form of interaction in the streets. Just as the last major event in 2001, New Yorkers were bound together in a difficult if unique moment that inadvertently brought everyone together.
This time, the result was like spinng clocks back 100 years ago, when electricity was a novelty still and telegraphs were a thing of the industrialists and super-rich. We were all walking the streets in scatter-brained unison, talking to our neighbors and sharing the bustle of a certain experience on a less-than-ordinary day. In that moment, I rejoiced to share a genuine moment with 8 million strangers self-chosen to live a life of hopeful ambition on an island of palpable opportunity. Simple moment, simple living.
For all the optimism, fear, and anxiousness that this unbelievable night suggests, it is truly and certainly a New York moment.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Journey to the end of the night...and then what?

Louis Ferdinand Celine is considered one of the classic writers of the early part of the 20th century - at least outside of the United States. A noted influence for writers from Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, and William Burroughs to Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, and Joseph Heller, Celine captured his rambling, dark recollections of life serving in World War I, searching provincial opportunity in West Africa, bridling ambition in New York and jazz-age, auto-crazed Detroit, and finally aspiring to medicine on the outskirts of Paris in the classic, "Journey to the End of the Night". This novel is his whopping story, cloaked in black humor and obscured idealism - one might not sense his anticipation for life under the sardonic disregard for common morals and values.
Celine writes about these exaggerated experiences while trying to fiddle with the riddle of living. What do people really want? Why do we subject ourselves to the passive pretensions that subvert our true desires? Who do people think they really are and who do they think they are fooling? He was "enlightened" by the Great War, bludgeoned by African malaise and disease, discarded by American capitalism, and blased by post-war Parisian peculiarities; mindful of his social state - self-inflicted poverty - Celine dishevels his surroundings in a sundry of perversities, nihilistic and womanizing.
Still, Celine admirably questions our head-long dive into pathos, our inevitable maturation (ironic, he would label it) and its unintended consequences, and ultimately our disregard and acceptance of the plights we face. We are self-interested and distracted, in some ways imprisoned by the contents of our minds. We pretend to care, but we don't, and then it is finished, as the character Robinson lethargically faces with his love, Madelon.
I found the disregard enlightening for the freedom of thought it reveals. Yet Celine has difficulty understanding the ultimate result of this self-possessing trap. When we get to the end of the night and find the hope vanished, why do we care to continue? And who would care anyway if we decided to proceed with our petty, little lives? Most do - which Celine and his embodied character, Bardamu, do too - and therein lies the discrepancy. When we reach the end of the night, all warts and pettiness accepted, what happens next? Perhaps there is hope yet.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Moments past youth

I was talking with a friend over lunchtime today, about the ways that people understand each other. When we are younger, we think so big for people and make them more than they are in hopes of a grander world; when we are older, we see people as less than they could be based on our experience of the world as it happens to be. In between, we evolve and become disappointed; eventually, we lose surprises.
Challenging as our moments passing might be, perhaps we should relish our understanding more fully - after all, we are just as fallible as the next person and our experiences ultimately result in hard-won wisdom. We also possess the ability to adapt and change in whatever direction that we care to change. We may have little control over the ultimate result, but we do have a choice nonetheless. In this condition of change and maturation, moments past youth offer a fascinating perspective into people and places that we better appreciate as time passes. The same sort of person we meet years later takes on a different hue because our experiences in between paint a different picture than before.
Youth, although supple and carefree, can also be ignorant and careless. We should thank the experiences for bringing us closer to appreciation and understanding.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Culture flow

I caught a moment at work to pause and flip through some of my pictures on various websites, travels from the past few years in America, Europe, and Australia. There was a picture in particular that caught my attention from the streets of Berlin of a monumental granite portico that tended stolidly to the sidewalk (http://community.webshots.com/photo/11019681/11020623pTUCnTcPOc). The portico had a stern, chiseled countenance of Karl Marx at its apex, heralding a legion of the faithful into the foreground from points of obscurity; one had a flowing flag, others had bayonets, and all were men. As they reached the foreground, they showed themselves triumphant and guided, yet obilivious to the suppressed at the bottom of the portico.
The suppressed at the very bottom were three characters strongly sculpted but hardly clothed: the first a kneeling, compressed woman holding a baby with large, skeletal hands; the second a mid-squat, muscle-bound man reaching skyward to the throng in a crucifix position; the third another rippling man on both knees with outstretched right arm skyward, as if hoping that the marching throng directly above would reach out and carry him into prosperity and oblivion. The words at the very top, next to Marx's image were the following: "Es Lebe Die Soziale Revolution, Es Lebe Der Frieden Der Vulker" [It lives the social revolution, it lives the peace of the people].
Besides the momentary lapse to remember nice trips, I reflected on the passing cultures that have advanced across civilizations in various modes. Such an impressive image reminded me of the vibrancy and passion of a political movement that still has strong proponents in most countries, even if few governments maintain an overall system tied directly to socialism. In the parade of sculpted men was the embodiment of the obscure faces of thousands of peoples from hundreds of years, passing phantasms through history. Now, such people have their events recorded in textbooks, oral histories, literature, landmarks, and other human marking points, but many more are still faceless and forgotten, obscure as a random portico tending a side-street in Berlin.
Forgotten as a via promenade in Giovinazzo in Puglia; stones pounded smooth by 2,000 years of pilgrimage from southeast Italy to Rome, a city finding prominence in the 11th century before the Crusades claimed all its men and left its influence in almost 1,000 years of waiting. Many of those men never returned to their proud city and left it as remnant to further obscure faces, more landmarks and history.
Even still, the residue of these events and stories remains in the various forms that salvage the memories. Our collective memory forgets most things, however well we think we capture them. It is our heritage to leave nothing of this experience but what we now can gleam from our days of expression and living. How fresh and exciting it can be, and yet how unoriginal. It is not for us to change the world - it will change with our assistance as it will change beyond our trivial control - but for us to seep into the culture flow.

Monday, August 04, 2003

City storms...

...that keep following me across the country. From Chicago to New York City, the same storm chased me east - I felt like Charlie Brown today, with that storm cloud hovering right above my head as it did yesterday afternoon the same.
The booming was even more spectacular today - my perch was even higher from 18 floors above Madison Square Park. And in the moment again, I could see neither buildings nor sky - torrential rain conquered everyone with its horde of grey. The deafening thunderbolts streaked across the sky, navigating quickly around the buildings like taxis screaming down Broadway. In the moment, I was mesmerized like a child.
Unfortunately, the calm returned, and I was back to work for hours and hours and hours. The gray has remained hovering above the skyline near Gramercy Park, but the sky appears coyly to tempt it to memory. As always, there is hope yonder that the faint white wisps of clouds will grab the remnants of the day, and with help of the sun, paint the sky with the colors of sunset. I will watch for a moment before I work onward into the night.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Prairie Thunderstorms...

...washing away the expanse with fat drops, thin drops, breaking up the clouds while the lightning cracks apart the gray. Rumble, rumble, scattered amidst the lightning strikes, helps one to forget briefly that the rain is sometimes torrential. From the perch of a third-story apartment window in Lincoln Park, looking out above the many-colored bricks of Chicago, the violence is peaceful, almost meditative. Because the rain always prevails, there is a sense of hope that the lightning bolts will cease their terror, that the sky will fight its way back to azure wonder, and that the sun will shine again. The hope signals brilliant colors sometimes, especially at dusk, when the various clouds grab the reds and pinks and oranges and blow them up in velvety contours across the sky.
For the uninitiated, prairie thunderstorms are common during the summer months of the American heartland; even with their haphazard nature, thunderstorms are quite regular and soothing from afar. For a moment, when the thunder subsides, the quietude of the raindrops becomes the bridge to the contemplation of a thousand languid summer days, days of the heart's free roaming amongst the joys of life. Sometimes it takes violence to disturb the psyche into understanding and revelry of hope.

Friday, August 01, 2003

People and Satellites

Rotating in space, lonely as the clouds roaming the blue skies above, a satellite streaks the ether. Living without a soul is easy to do in this condition of statelessness, circling as ebbs and flows of the generations pass below. People, unlike satellites, are all fallible and inconsequential in the end – not so cold and continuous as a satellite streaking the skies, but also not so dispassionate to the degree of those well-fastened metal buoys emitting frequencies above the earth.
People are also imperfect and involved, something that a fabricated orbiter never takes as accusation in its looping spins high above the bloody plains of Africa and commercial frontiers of Asia. They can follow wandering, biting people if they choose but only through trigger of others on the ground in the melee. Well above the frayed ends of the earth, satellites circle and follow the sun at all times.
The constancy is alarmingly simple high above the blue splotches of sea; the large areas of green act as the battlefields for all kinds of wandering souls. People are the same again, and from the skies it is impossible for satellites to size up any of them, like ants building mounds up from the dirt of the world. The constancy seems just as simple down below the great expanse of the stars.
-sitting on a plane from Boston to Chicago, listening to Radiohead, and reading the USA Today

Saturday, July 26, 2003

The Lives we Lead

Sitting at dinner on a Friday night, I met the owner of a restaurant who wandered through the major Asian cultures - Chinese, born in Korea, married to a Korean that was born in Japan, ultimately finding her way to Chicago and now running a successful Chinese-sushi place in Lincoln Park. Her grandfather fled to avoid the Japanese occupation of China. Her father fled the communist take-over of North Korea. Her ex-husband, the Korean who is Japanese by culture, emerged from a coma last month in Osaka after heading there to make his way out a mid-life crisis. He will most likely return to the US to live with his ex-wife, being that his brain hemorrhage has erased memory of the last three years or difficulties with her - as far as he knows, they are still happily married - and her compassion carries past the present into all those years of memories and three kids.
In the midst of the storytelling, I realized again that this restauranteur was just another person in the big city with a fantastic life's story. We all have stories to tell if we let our lives follow themselves as they wander through the world. Interesting enough that it is happening all around us, all the time. If we can take a moment to open our perspective and bask in the living around us - our friends, neighbors, even passers-by - we can better appreciate the human experience and wander in fascination.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Heavy Eyes

I just cannot stay awake, the sleep hangs heavy over myself, especially my eyelids. They fall like stones thrown into a lake, rippling into interlocking eyelashes and smoothing out into relaxed cheek muscles. Then, with a start, I try to open my eyes again and lift the weight. There is some success, but the victory is hard-fought before the eyelids try to shutter the eye again under darkness.
This seems like an easy thing to do, just keep the eyes open, but lack of sleep will force one to waver; besides, later evenings bring judgement to not only the eyes but also the hands, legs, and head. Judgement comes every day and reaches the same verdict every night - whether the body is ready or not. Here I pose, heavy eyes, trying to fight the inevitable and it is a losing battle - the hands give out to produce a sprawl of d's across the computer screen. It must be time for sleep...

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Got Pittsburgh on my Mind

I cannot seem to graduate from the travel, planes, and rainy days of the east coast this summer. Torn between San Francisco and New York City on a cross-country tug-of-war (NYC is pulling more strongly at this moment in time), somehow I wandered into Pittsburgh, then Chicago this week. On a Tuesday night when rain lined up every plane on the runway at Laguardia airport in NYC like a Wal-Mart parking lot, I waited 1.5 hours in confined space with nazi flight attendants and snoring passengers boxing me in. This was after 3 hours sitting in an airplane terminal, looking for ways to creatively pass idle time (as if I needed any more time to do that). Then, I arrived in Pittsburgh.
I could recount the late-night check-in, the smoking room once at the destination, the three hours of sleep, the awkwardness of acting as one of the "Two Bobs" of Office Space during the day at the remote meetings, and ulimately, the delay in getting out of Pittsburgh. I am better apreciating the flavor of regional pespectives and customs of different people within this country, laid bare by contrasting Manhattan and suburban Pennsylvania in a sleep-addled swoop. Thankfully, I don't live around Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

By Chance

There are days when fate intervenes and offers another chance to resume former possibilities. Projecting what could have been, people return from long absences to mark new terrain in one’s life, settling into a different pattern unlike the one that was experienced before. New circumstances but old faces, as if to challenge what might have been with what actually is and could be.
This weekend was the start of a hypothesis on past encounters painting fresh lives. Saturday was V*****. V***** was a girl that I had met almost one month before at a bar – and then later at an after-hours party. We both had a bit to drink and found ourselves together much later in the night, intertwined at the lips and hips. I was pretty sure that I had given her my contact details, but she disappeared without a trace. It seemed a one-time encounter of a great New York night out, but she re-emerged that Saturday evening on the bottom loop, same classic smile shining through the mid-evening light. She came bounding down the path towards S**** (new friend?) and I as we headed up towards the Great Lawn for the 150th celebration concert. I glimpsed in V*****’s direction and held my gaze; she turned her head, too. For a moment, we looked at each like estranged children from a dysfunctional family; then, she called my name to see if I remembered. I certainly remembered her name and that wattage smile; we both stopped and chatted briefly before I finally got her contact details. I don’t know what will become of this encounter, but here is hoping perhaps there is another meeting at another place with far less alcohol – and far more intrigue – involved.
Sunday was M*****. M***** was a good friend from UCLA, a jazz guitarist that I had not seen in five years since our graduation from university. On a pristine summer afternoon, I enjoyed brunch with my friend M*** before meeting another friend, T***, at Dos Caminos on Park at 26th. T*** was watching her friend E**** perform, an ex-marketing chick who was now singing Brazilian bossa nova classics for a luncheon crowd. As M*** and I walked to the back of Dos Caminos – noticing T***’s wave as I had not seen her since our very brief encounter at a happy hour in Mid-town one month before – I looked yonder behind T*** where E**** was singing. Beside her, with guitar in hand and huge smile, was M*****, playing away as olden days. After all this time, he was there, same position as I always remembered him, and the memories came flushing back instantly; we resumed our friendship again.
I spent the afternoon re-connecting with M***** after four years in absentia; our conversation whittled away afternoon hours in Madison Square Park. In the moment, I was intrigued as to the possibilities of building another life with familiar people such as M***** from a different time and place. We become older and mature ourselves in particular ways; whether one month or five years, living leaves its mark. Our lives are constructed with new people and places in mind, hurtling onward at its own trajectory with the characters for the parts as the parts are created. The characters then exit right for the characters of the next scenario, as the multi-act play of experience carries on to its conclusion. When these past characters return for future acts, it makes one wonder what lies anew for old friends.
Does our past haunt us with what comforts us, to ease our fears with familiar faces that keep us from the future? Or does our future result from past and present without prejudice, mingling our living days with reminder that new things come from old, always, whatever the outcome. By chance, I will find out.

Celebrating 150 Years of Central Park

On a clear, brilliant Saturday evening, when the big sky held court to intermittent blinking planes and the Big Dipper, New York’s Central Park celebrated its 150th anniversary. The night was a beautiful finale to a celebratory day of events, as New Yorkers arrived throughout the day, 250,000-strong, to show their appreciation for the planned, 843-acre park that Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux built. The president of the Central Park Conservatory estimated that 25 million people enjoy the park annually, a stunning figure for any tourist destination; the park, though, is quintessential New York City.
I enjoyed the Great Lawn’s culminating concert with a friend on this fair evening; Marcelo Alvarez and Salvatore Licitra promoted their new album “Duetto” by showcasing their tenor voices on several famous arias and other songs from the album. Customary for a New York summer evening in the park, we brought a blanket and some food (sandwiches and fresh fruit), then wandered the great expanse to find a place to camp ourselves for the coming dusk.
From the constant energy and motion of the city, Central Park is the sanctuary that welcomes New Yorkers into nature. Marshlands before shaped by Olmstead and Vaux, Central Park is now a well-designed collection of lakes and open spaces, bridges, baseball fields, fountains, groves, and playgrounds – everything one needs from a park, intended for everyone. And this is the beauty – all New Yorkers share in its pleasures, rich and poor, especially on the weekend when the park is teeming with chortling children, doting parents, and the rest who are reading the New York Times.
As the darkness fell on this brilliant day, I reflected on my own experiences with the park – running around the bottom loop, journaling beneath the Shakespeare statue at the start of The Mall, bantering with friends while people-watching at the Pond, eating a deli sandwich and enjoying the sun at the Sheep’s Meadow, and drifting into beautiful music on a calm evening at the Great Lawn. I thought about the typical day that I was spending on the park’s anniversary – running at noontime while dodging the masses meandering on the paths, eating lunch while making phone calls on a park bench near Central Park South, and the sweet concert on the Great Lawn under the stars.
I allowed the lilting Italian of the operatic pieces to wash my mind of thoughts, better to experience the sweet taste of mango on my tongue, and to ascend into that big, clear sky of opportunity as I closed my eyes. The stage seemed to float on the rise and fall of “Nessun Dorma” sung in harmony and force; Marcelo and Salvatore commanded their voices with such composure, symbolizing the hope that the visionaries of 1853 put into the idea of building an urban oasis central to one of the greatest cities in the world. 150 years has carried Central Park as strongly as the two tenor’s voices on this night, and both park and voices kept their promise under the big sky.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Quickly now leave the office

It seems that the day just rips along like a motorcycle race; somedays, I just pause at 7:30pm and think what exactly I did for the day. Perhaps it is because my job does not feel particularly useful at this point in time, so progress does not translate into satisfaction, only consumed hours. My only reprieve is spouting some written drivel before I go home from work - which is when I am writing this little puffery.
So it begs the question - what exactly did I do today? There was a lot of wasted time, but it was wasted because I was not motivated. I was not motivated because I was tired (and not quite passionate about what I am doing), so I was slow in finishing what I needed to finish. And the internet is a great distraction. Now, I am listening to Belle & Sebastian for a little angst.
That pretty much sums it up. Oh yeah, and I talked to my team, had a meeting with some Marketing folks, reviewed two documents thoroughly with some revisions, uploaded 6-7 photo albums online, helped an old neighbor try to get a job, wrote this puffery, listed some action items, defined some stakeholders for the project on which I am working, thought about several topics somewhat intensively to develop some concepts, and generally brainstormed.
Perhaps this is the problem - I feel useless because I am being creative, but my creativity is consumed by a work project that will have some interesting results but lack of importance in my mind. Not that my co-workers see it that way, neither my managers who salivate for selling this or that, or having some power or another. I, on the other hand, have little invested in it, which makes it less stressful but less fulfilling at the same time.
So there you go - that is work for you. That is 7:30pm for you. That is fatigue for you. That is Belle & Sebastian for you. That is writer's puffery for you. It is time for me to go home for the day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Waiting for the Subway

So much time is wasted waiting for the subway, and it is never clear how or when the next train will arrive. The anticipation kills the mood for efficiency and pace, so one waits in a cloud of lethargy. Looking both ways for an omen (or a train), the trick is to listen for the pulsing tracks. This is closely followed by the searching flashlight of a glare that winds around the corner (for some reason it seems that every train rounds a corner to center itself at a subway platform), and then the head of the subway rushes out of the darkness.
The train arrives - this is when the excitement begins. There is a sniggling to the closed doors that pause and open; the standers-by approach the doors in wandering rates of emergence from lethargy. A knife line marks discovered terrain for the exiting passengers; they open that incision for a brilliant second before the swarms close the gap. The energy ripples away from the train, old passengers rushing off and driving the hopeful new passengers careening down the stairs towards them, like a magnet to the open doors now freed; the new passengers pound through the door, then on the door by the new passengers now just stragglers and sprinters who miss the open door opportunity.
Not until the cabins are chock full of human freight does train rush off around the corner and down the track to the next stop.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Working Late Ditty

I don't like to work so late,
It's something that I kind of hate
In the office half past eight -
I hope to Petey it's not my fate
That every night I'll have to sate
My other Desires with this crate
Of crap, working - perhaps debate
With others drivel of this...oh, i'll berate
The ones who piled this on my plate!

Blah mail

I never receive any good mail anymore. I realized this after receiving a postcard from a great traveling friend - Le Maroc (or Morocco to non-French speakers). In the structured compartments of images on the postcard's front, there was another world foreign, displaying itself in sandy and flowing robe fascination. The more amazing part was flipping the postcard to find a person's handwriting - so rarely seen in mail received today. Magazines and credit card solicitations are too pinpoint perfect to even have a soul (not to mention that computer-generated, emotionless typeset), but in the penstrokes on the back of a postcard, I see imperfection and excitement. More important, I see care and affection in the extra thought required of a friend who happened to remember me by sending a small placard with collage of mosques and white beaches and turbans. Refreshing - and quite an infrequent pleasure - to receive something more than blah mail.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Running to Marina Green

On a weekend morning, after the sun claims the sky - but before the tourists claim the streets - San Francisco and its bayside playground beckon runners to water's edge. Some do not hear this call over the din of their morning-after headaches, others dare not tempt the hills on foot for fear of falling; a few, though, give chase to big chunks of asphalt and parkland for benefit of their heart and lungs. The benefits are spiritual, too, when the morning light bathes the Golden Gate Bridge in a nostalgic yellow tone (remember, the Golden State?); introspection happens in the moment when the lungs conquer the fear of running and gain a second wind. For me, this moment happens on the Marina Green.
To get to Marina Green, I start at the fringe of Fisherman's Wharf, jogging down Columbus Street to Beach Street. On the corner of Beach and Hyde Streets is the Buena Vista Cafe, famous for its Irish coffee; the Hyde Street cable car line ends opposite the cafe. I pick up pace to whoosh past the Maritime Museum, shaped like a cruise ship at the base of the cove that accepted the first ship sailing into San Francisco (known at that time as Yerba Buena back in the mid-18th century, before the indians and Spanish were marginalized by the stampede of the Gold Rush). If I look behind me - which happens from time to time - I see Alcatraz; it is the only preparation for confronting the hill that separates the wharfs from old Fort Mason.
Up the hill, the road twists and offers a view down over old military storage houses and that golden, Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. The postcard view is interrupted by the heavy breathing coaxed by the winding hill, but the hill flattens in a park that allows one to catch a breath - and the first gusts of wind off the bay. Somewhere in the park is a statue shaped like a circus ring announcer, addressing the city back up the hills, but the run falls down afoot to those storage houses by the water and the "Single Safeway" grocery market on the left. Parallel to Bay Street, the path curves to and fro before gushing onto the quarter-mile grassy, Marina Green; at this point, two miles from where the run started, the bay winds gust more fiercely to remind the yachts in the anchorage of the strength of the sea. Along the Marina Green, there are others "footing" and walking, some clustered at the staggered bars to complete their pull-ups on the fitness path that courses all the way to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are some that harness those fierce gusts in large kites that dance hundreds of feet in the air at the lead of their skillful hands. I only circle the Marina Green - now with my own second wind - and return up the hill into the park above.
Through the park, past the nameless statue as circus announcer, and onto Bay Street, the countdown of streets occurs until the plateau falls back down to the sea again - Polk Street, Van Ness, Hyde farther on, where the hill cascades down into Columbus Street. I know I am nearing the finish when Leavenworth Street splits the hill in two, further steepening the descent into the Tower Records shop at the Bay-Columbus Streets intersection.
From there it is a direct route to Lombard Street, where Cafe Sapore tempts with its scones and environmentally approved coffee (grown under tree shade, organic as coffee gets) - another time perhaps, for the espresso is delicious. As I walk up the hill to wind down from the run, the tourists are just starting their march up from the wharfs to find the "windiest street in the world" and to see what all the hullabaloo is about. They will point and take pictures as I branch away and up the stairs into my flat, sitting on the couch to catch my breath, remembering the Marina Green and the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning sunlight.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Sunny Day Bay

There is a certain energy that winds through the office near happy hour on Friday late afternoon, like the feeling of the last few minutes of school before summer break. The work is done for the week, the bags start to pack with computers and pens and notebooks, and people start to smile again. Sometimes, there is actual laughter in the office.
Outside, the sun is shining in San Francisco today. The bay sparkles something special, if one can avoid the snarled traffic painting the bridges. For me, this is no worry - I walk home, through the Financial District and down Columbus Street through the middle of North Beach. I know I am close to home when I hear the Powell-Taylor cable car clanking down the hill, last stop headed for Fisherman's Wharf at the base of Bay Street.
Now, it is Friday late afternoon; my bag is packing with its own pens and notebooks (soon, computer too). I am smiling as well. I can feel happiness soon to think of the sun at my back walking past Vesuvio and City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Street (I may stop at Cafe Puccini for a caffe' or maybe venture all the way down to Lombard Street for Cafe Sapore). There is little else quite like a glorious, pleasant, sunny afternoon in San Francisco when the work is done and the bay is sparkling to compliment the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges.

Fito, Fito

A-lle...alle, alle, alle...Fi-toooo, Fi-toooo...A-lle, alle, alle, alle...Fi-toooo, Fi-toooo...
The chant forced itself throughout the 300-strong crowd, gaining momentum as the majority-Argentines surrendered to the passion of a piano-playing rock legend from the homeland. It was a Wednesday, typical New York night, and Fito Pae'z was playing SOB's.
I had not heard of this cultural icon before my evening with a co-worker and her father; her four friends - all Latin Americans - knew, though, as their lips shadowed the Spanish words spitting from Fito's microphone. The crowd, too, transported themselves beyond the streets of Manhattan into the leafy avenues of Buenos Aires, with the magnetic Fito in all-red suit (and bright red lace-ups to boot) pounding away on the keyboards and performing his time-honored repertoire known to all by rote. Even as it was discovered that some of the set was culled from the his newer albums, the front row did not stop their-arm lip sync to the stage, regardless of song.
During the encore, I lost myself somewhere in Argentina too, which is not unlike Italy and its exuberance for song and dance. With everyone grooving and letting their arms rise to the beat, I remembered nothing but a smile. Happiness is simple as the chants of a Latin crowd.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

One Day, One Journey

Today is a day like many others; there was some work activity, a time for reflection, desires that ebbed and flowed before finally catching an unlikely, forgotten interest, some rest (but not enough), and general cleanliness. It could have been another day, maybe yesterday; it will probably be tomorrow. From proximity, it seems hardly remarkable, faintly contributory, and grossly routine - and I don't even technically live in New York!
Yet behind the day, there are several days combined that begin to tell a story, with countless small acts that compile a colorful mosaic of experiences; the accretion is the thing, for under the weight of a sack of days (months and years strung together) is a more meaningful story. Lost in the minute contribution of a day is the magnitude of the journey, a more substantial revelation than is found in the action item list and email box of a day-to-day office job.
Can every day be its own journey? Perhaps if one has the proper attitude to assemble a day's perfunctories into its own glory, then yes. I find this hopeless, though, because it is the day, with all its monotonous routine, that slowly accumulates the necessary living space to account for a fruitful journey. It is in the daily act of living that our existence is confirmed, the daily paper shuffling, keystrokes, subway rides, ticking clocks, mobile phone rings, computer hums, air conditioning whirs, hallway chatter. It is crossing Madison Sqaure Park and its center fountain after work, walking past Times Square throngs for the hotel, and running in Central Park. It is the people all about us, intersecting with our own daily routines that is vibrant. It only takes one monotonous day on top of another to sway the journey.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Tropical Heat

Again, the heat blankets New York City, just like weeks past as the summer finds its traditional mid-point after the early-July national holiday. This is the summertime for which everyone waited long months piled under snow, blasted with rain, winter never losing its grip even through April and May. Suddenly, it is summer's apex, and all the memories of whiteworn avenues have dissipated into the sweaty haze of an underground subway stop; I am dreading my march into the depths of the city for the train uptown.
This heat provokes reflection on Louis Celine's book, "Journey to the End of the Night", whose protagonist (himself as the author) forgoes return to WWI (he was on medical leave from the front) for a one-way ticket to French West Africa. Sent to one of the interior outposts, he lives a few months as a sloppy, malaria-ridden public administrator in the middle of Africa. His description of the oppressive heat, bugs, sickness from exhaustion and bad water (if there was any at all), and interaction with the natives (always pounding tom-toms after dark and screaming mad sex) somehow conjures sympathetic reaction when languishing through the park. NYC will not be confused for Africa, but in these hazy days the feelings of tropical lethargy are palpable from those passing in the streets.
Our minds only need subtle trigger to remember other sights, events, places; we live in our recollections anyway, as senses overwhelm the realities that truly surround us. In this way as I reflect on current readings, NYC has become engulfed by tropical heat.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Monday Morning

The fatigue that lowers Monday morning becomes especially acute while waiting for an airplane at the city terminal. In the departure area, with others sitting by, chatting idly, sipping coffee (mostly Starbucks), anticipation cannot shake the drooped eyelids and weariness that binds arms and legs in chains within a Houdini box. Slowly submerging into this closed box, chains all around, tiredness drags the body down by placing assured pressure on the temples and forehead. There is little chance for escape except for taking more sleep; unfortunately, the long march through day is deterrent to such pause for respite.
The only hope is for the wait to pass more quickly, anticipation giving way to work activity, distraction from the fatigue and heavy eyelids. Distraction loses for a moment the Houdini box that still binds one in fitful turns, until one can allow submission to the bedchamber for pitiful rest. After full night’s sleep, plane far behind, Tuesday becomes a better day, and the body performs the trick of shedding the locked chains of the Houdini box.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Reading Writers

A ripe bunch of dreamers, writers are. My aunt gave me a collection of essays written by contemporary writers (Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow, Alice Walker, etc.) from the New York Times, essays from the series, "Writers on Writing." The "big contemporaries" write about inspiration, dialogue, fictional forms, "the craft", motivation, phrasing, teaching english, loving literature - anything and everything about writing. Being brave, excellent writers, they traipse through random thoughts with extreme clarity and use functional words when big ones might do better. They take minutiae and exalt its detail, then swing through "big-ticket items" of purpose in a sentence and leave the lessons in the barrel of details. They do this in a matter of 3-5 pages, whose genesis is either hand- or type-written (not so many computer users among the big contemporaries). They do this sporadically when the mania of storytelling takes its deathly grip and does not let go until it is released and barren, exposed on the page.
I find the exercise they describe invigorating and frustrating, but I wonder how their struggles and resulting output are universal as they tempt the imagination. Their sensations apply to all artists alike - some just happen to inhabit the imagined world more frequently and intensely than others. But the struggle is the thing, and amidst its tension emerges the certain story, a coercion of the imagination with enough motivation to wrestle it from the shadows of the psyche. Cruel, though, that once imagination is captured, it becomes a degree of ridicule and misunderstanding, since the exposed imagination of one (remember the sacrifice for its clarity?) is the intrusion on concealed imagination of another (whose formation is only confined to the mind and much less threatening).
Perhaps, it is each writer's imagination articulated that unlocks the commonality of our collective imagination; they are merely the messengers that carry it forward amongst us. Dreams are all different, but they share the same value - as childish and beautiful as catching butterflies. Some, like the big contemporaries, just know better how to swing the nets.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Reflecting on the "Pursuit of Happiness"

Living in the United States, 4 July represents the birthday of America and associates patriotic feeling with notions of liberty, freedom, and the like; the catchphrase from the Constitution - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - sums the essence of American values. Peculiar, though, the happiness thing - America is the only country that explicitly states this pursuit in its constitution. Why is happiness an inherent right? What sort of happiness is protected? How can happiness be protected when one person's conception of happiness almost always overlaps and conflicts with many other people's conception of happiness?
Inevitably, Americans must be unhappy so that happiness can be pursued (pursuing happiness means desiring happiness, which suggests that happiness is something that has not yet been attained); ultimately, it is our own personal happiness that really matters, damn the rest. So we are protected by our American values to be ourselves at whatever cost and to blame others for keeping us from this constitutional dream. It would seem that the US has evolved more into itself than any of its citizens would care to realize.
I will not argue it, only resign myself to the devilish conclusion that results from pondering the constitution on America's birthday. And I will apathetically pursue my own happiness at some fireworks celebration later this evening, with a cocktail in my hand and a pretty girl at my side. American dream...

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Summer Afternoon

It's lucky that work offers a bit of a pause to walk around the block - NYC is great on a calm summer afternoon, mid-80's (high 20's celsius), sun, and sundresses, short-sleeve shirts, and sandals. Union Square after lunch was a bazaar of people (when does NYC stop being its bazaar of people, really?), others with the same idea to enjoy some basking before the thunderstorms rejoin the skyline at the end of the week. When you look up to the sky and see the Empire State Building gleaming sun rays like a Jazz Age dream (never mind that the tallest building in the city was built in the middle of the Depression), what else do you need except a summer afternoon siesta?

Monday, June 30, 2003

Meeting Dean

What happens when you meet someone who perfectly carries persona of a life-size character from literature? I experienced the sensation this past weekend out in NYC - I met Dean Moriarty in the flesh, Kerouac's mythic "hero" and traveling companion through his classic novel "On the Road." Dean-in-the-flesh is a friend of a friend met while studying abroad in Milan, a Texan with antics as big as his home state, a well-traveled, well-worn, shaggy-haired beanpole of a man whose escapades are legendary across three continents. Charming, witty, and uninhibited, Dean-in-the-flesh could drink the winds down, dance up a storm, play a mean Axel in Guns-N-Roses air guitar splendor, and exhibit himself in the cleverest forms (smashed rats and telling time with various parts of the body) - all for life, all for love of the moment and the experiences that are real and never return from the moments passing.
I'm not certain that Dean-in-the-flesh understood the significance of his association, but it is part of the persona - living temporally as if the last breath was certainly the next and stretching existence to its undiscovered limits. This was the point of Dean's character for Kerouac, and it is certain of Dean's impressions on Jack when seeing someone embody this "beauty in fulling living" philosophy; I was mesmerized and enthralled that life could be lived to such great heights. Dean-in-the-flesh was extraordinary and necessary to appreciate, a reminder of what it is be in this world.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Notice design

Have you ever wondered why certain objects are built in the form in which they are built? In modern industrial societies, there is probably someone who has thought about how you use that knife or that computer monitor or that chair in which you sit. Most of the effort goes unnoticed, unless you actually think about how you interact with those objects and their roles in your life and lifestyle.
Next time that you are wandering the streets, gazing aimlessly at work, or going out to meet some friends for a drink, look around and think about what it took to assemble the space and things around you - you may be surprised at what you notice...

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Hot Across America

Perhaps it was too soon to claim the never-starting summer in New York; the heat has arrived in full force. It would be nice to think that it would only hang on the east coast, but it has moved steathily across the country, settling also over California. San Francisco has been experiencing temperatures in the 90's Farenheit (~33 degress Celsius), a blinding heat that draws fissions in the streets from which Hades can jump out of the ground in shimmering waves. I can only imagine the tasty smells emanating from the subway stations across coastlines in Manhattan, whose notorious urine stench (among other pungent remnants) clings to hot days like waves to the ocean. The never-starting summer has more than arrived and is trying to make up for lost time...

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Proclaiming Cities- American and European

Traveling is a beautiful way to open the mind to the possibilities of the self, and there is no better reflection of the self than the modern city and its boundless collage of places, people, images, and above all - ideas. It may be difficult to fathom for the cosmopolitan traveler, but the wonders of the great American cities are re-asserting themselves as front-runners in the movement of modern culture. Fresh encounters with some of the better-known cities of the United States today alerts one to the fact that "the city" has made a comeback in this preponderant country. Stay tuned to the rolling monologue of weekend city trips and work-a-day tales. The story goes from New York to Miami to San Francisco, in contrast to upcoming travels in London and Paris...