"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Uncertainty Principle (and, of course, Breaking Bad)

 
a tale of two Heisenbergs...

when i was home a few days ago i started reading Copenhagen.
for some reason, it was just calling to me. i've had it on the shelf for years, one of the select books from college i kept around in arm's reach. i remember being assigned it as reading in one of my core classes (Natural Systems), but never read far before i abandoned it for something else (the only notes i made in the margin ended on page 5, with a blue box around the words "Uncertainty Principle" and "complementarity.")

well, i'd pretty  much forgotten anything and everything about the play until i picked it up and started reading it, and, perhaps due to my brimming obsession with Breaking Bad, have found it more interesting and relevant than before. reading it has made me wonder if perhaps Vince Gilligan was inspired, to some extent, by the work of Michael Frayn and the history of nuclear physics.

the play is nothing but an ongoing theoretical conversation between mentor Niels Bohr, his former student (and now rival physicist) Werner Heisenberg, and Bohr's wife cum secretary Margrethe. it takes place in some future time after all three have passed into the next life and involves a discussion of Heisenberg's (in)famous visit to Copenhagen, the true motives and results of which are unclear to historians and the scientific community. the three actors circle each other throughout the piece (as can be seen in the photo off the cover), as electrons inside an atom, mirroring the atomic physics at the center of their discussion, but also drawing attention to the relationships of individuals/elements to one another.

for people who watch Breaking Bad, this is what comes to mind when we hear "Heisenberg":

volatile, explosive, unpredictable. dangerous. seems to me that Vince Gilligan is very careful and methodical with how he created the world of Walt and Breaking Bad, and it seems unlikely that Walt choosing Heisenberg as his nom de guerre is not mere coincidence but part of Gilligan's elaborate plan.

some interesting overlaps and parallels:
1.  Heisenberg the physicist was recruited by Germany, becoming the youngest professor to work on quantum physics at the university where he began his career, later developing and contributing research to the Nazi regime's atomic bomb program (does this explain the Nazis in Breaking Bad? always thought they were an unexpected curveball at the end of the series)

2.  his mentor, Niels Bohr, was himself a prominent physicist and renowned for his work in nuclear physics, but due to German occupation in his home country of Denmark, was forced to escape extermination

3.  from Copenhagen, page 24:
Bohr talks about Heisenberg's recklessness (while skiing, but also how it reflects his approach to his scientific work): "At the speed you were going you were up against the uncertainty relationship... You never cared what got destroyed on the way, as long as the mathematics worked out you were satisfied."
H: "If something works it works."

4.  page 51, (talking about the arrival of the Allies and the end of the war) Heisenberg: "Under my control -- yes! That's the point! Under my control!"
Bohr: "Nothing was under anyone's control by that time!"

5.  page 74, H: "However we got there, by whatever combination of high principles and low calculation, of most painfully hard thought and most painfully childish tears, it works. It goes on working."

6.  page 75, Margrethe: "Your talent is for skiing too fast for anyone to see where you are. For always being in more than one position at a time, like one of your particles."

7.  page 94, Heisenberg: "Our children and our children's children. Preserved, just possibly, by that one short moment... By some event that will never quite be located or defined. By that final core of uncertainty at the heart of things."

----
and finally, these chilling words, written by Frayn, said by Heisenberg, shared by me with you on the eve of the series finale of Breaking Bad:

"I'm your enemy; I'm also your friend. I'm a danger to mankind; I'm also your guest. I'm a particle; I'm also a wave. We have one set of obligations to the world in general, and we have other sets, never to be reconciled, to our fellow-countrymen, to our neighbors, to our friends, to our family, to our children... All we can do is to look afterwards, and see what happened."
-Heisenberg (page 77-78)

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happy Breaking Bad finale day, folks! i don't know if it's because it's the last day one of the best things to ever happen to television will be on the air, or the quickly disappearing summer and impending winter, or that it's the last day of my unemployment, but i am filled with a lingering sadness. i am going to miss this Sunday feeling so much.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ozymandias

so many thoughts on last night's mind-blowing, stomach-churning, fever-inducing episode of Breaking Bad. [WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!]

1.  the first is that BB is unarguably THE best show i have ever seen, or will possibly ever see. it has ruined TV for me. last week's episode began tickling at this suggestion; this week's episode firmly confirms it. all bow down to the crew of directors and writers and actors involved in making this masterpiece.

2.  how great was that opening shot? a close up on boiling water in a coffee pot -- that volatile state when water (calm, still, untainted and soothing) rapidly transforms, spurting, jumping, wailing, able to burn, sting, and scar -- and a key part to "cooking." we realize in that visual the ways in which the process of cooking is a greater and more appropriate metaphor than we had ever realized, illustrating the changes that have taken place in Walt, and foreshadowing the sudden reaction point the show's narrative will reach by the end of the episode ("Boiling is the rapid vaporization of a liquid, which occurs when a liquid is heated to its boiling point, the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the liquid is equal to the pressure exerted on the liquid by the surrounding environmental pressure." -Wikipedia)

the image also made me recall Walt's clever use of a coffee maker to escape earlier in the series, a devasatating juxtaposition with what transpires in the next few minutes (no clean escapes here; Walt is stuck, once again in handcuffs, and forced to see the damage of his decisions, unable even to bargain for Hank's life -- the first time he is rendered utterly powerless in the show's history)... BB is great at developing the significance of recurring images... as in later in the episode when Walt's pants are rediscovered in the desert -- hilarious and brilliant, and a bit of a wink to fans of the show.

3.  Hank's last words to Walt are brief, typically Agent Schrader, and one of the few moments of courage we see in this episode (the others being Walt Jr.'s defense of his mom -- see below -- and later, Walt's phone call to Skyler -- theories on that in another post...): "You're one of the smartest people I've ever met. But you're too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago." Hank leaves us with the overarching moral of the story: Walt is someone who foolishly overestimates his own control over things, unable to see the inevitability of his destructive decisions. finally someone is able to point out the stupidity underlying Walt's illusions of glory and triumph.

4.  the flashback to Walt and Jesse's first cook is a good one, but not in the most obvious way. true, we witness Walt's "first lie to Skyler," and this is an innocent, more naive time, when Walt merely wanted to protect his family, soothe things over, mollify his pregnant wife with dreams of pizza.
*all images and screenshots taken from AMC's Story Sync*
but this is also an origin story for Heisenberg, whose noble intent was always the protection of his family, whose guiding mission and motivation was to provide for them -- from pizza, to Empire.

the image we see at the beginning of this episode of Walt is a vision from a happier time, which hurts all the more when later in the episode, Walt's one moral code -- don't hurt family -- is violently, perversely violated with the loss of Hank. and then later, when even Walt Jr. (whimpering as he defends Walt's reputation against his mom and his aunt) physically stands up to Walt in order to protect Skyler. this was a huge moment -- Walt standing back while his family cowers in fear of him, sobbing to himself, "But we're a family!"
does this look like a family to you?

the evolution of Walt has come full-circle, and the cruel contrast between the first and final seasons (or the terrifying notion that these two personas are, have always been, the same man) feels like a knife twisting in our stomachs, the two scenes acting as frames of reference for each other -- placating with pizza to a living room knife fight. look how far we've come.

this whole episode is a searing look into what Walt's passions and plans have wrought. even with his strategic care, his meticulousness, his ferocity (or perhaps because of them), he has managed to become, in the end, what he least wanted -- a disease on his family, their greatest fear, the source of the deepest, darkest pain and suffering of all.

and yet, what hurts the most for Walt is perhaps the realization that he is suddenly alone -- no, that he has always been alone. his family never wanted this -- pizza was once enough of a happy thought to unite the family -- but Walt set his sights on Empire, on greed ("what's with all the greed? it's unattractive" -Uncle Jack), and on his real priority: #1, his ego (or his id?), Heisenberg.

it's painfully clear, to Walt and to the audience, that he was always alone, that the thing he wanted the most was something he destroyed piece by piece with his own hands. the presumed marital bliss, the ease of a harmonious family life, the comfort of having a loved one on the phone -- these are things that will never be recovered. Walt is left with nothing, realizing he is unfit to take care of Holly, the only family member left who could maybe survive all of this without judgment of him, but who incessantly cries out for Skyler.
again, another recurring image: Holly being abducted by someone in the family.
contrast Walt's taking of Holly to Marie's attempted kidnapping (and Hank's talking her down), and Skyler's despair in reacting to both.
so the episode ends, with Walt being driven away, nothing left for him in the ABQ.

it was an episode befitting of its namesake, "Ozymandias," a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and which managed to bring the show full-circle. for those who missed it, one of the promos for Breaking Bad released over the summer showcased Bryan Cranston reading the poem in Heisenberg's snarling voice, while images of Albuquerque flash before the screen, ending with a shot of the infamous hat alone in a desert of swirling sand.

watching it will give you full-body chills as you realize just how perfect Breaking Bad is, right down to the shortest promo.



"Nothing beside remains..."

Monday, September 09, 2013

some brief opining on the magnificence of Breaking Bad

a scene from last night's S5E13, "To'hajiilee"

the greatest triumph of Breaking Bad is its inevitable tragedy.

despite the foreshadowing and the inescapable justice that awaits Walt (and possibly some other characters) at the end of this, the audience is spell-bound watching it unfold.

consider this: "To'hajiilee" is the first episode in possibly the entire series where the final 30 minutes were totally predictable, and yet, they were the most intense, excruciating minutes i've ever seen (in television and film). that was a ground-breaking moment in television -- when total expectation of what came next was still met with complete and utter stunned surprise. bravissimo!

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a few more thoughts:  

a friend of mine theorized about the significance of Walt's name and his allegiance with the white supremacists (White = right/might). i don't really think there's much symbolic significance to that connection (too literal, in my opinion), but i've often wondered about the significance of the names -- White, Pinkman, and the non-color-related Goodman (a little literary irony, yes) -- and the use of color in the show. did you notice how Lydia wore such a vibrant, almost strident shade of blue in the scene with Todd at the lab? and then Walt wore a drabby cerulean to the desert? even Skyler had a royal blue edging on her sweater in the car wash. and then Jesse frequently wears red, as i believe he was in last night's episode. oh god, and then there's Marie with her obsessive, childish purples! (though recently evolved to dark purple, bordering on black, as if in mourning / edging towards sophistication and adulthood as she becomes privy to the wickedness in the world immediately around her).

i read once that Vince Gilligan made Bryan Cranston try on, like, 50 shirts before he found the right shade of green for the scene they were shooting. so much attention to detail and careful execution!

for more on the color theory behind Breaking Bad, see this infographic from a graphic designer who worked on the show: "Colorizing Walter White's Decay" (via Buzzfeed)

--

also: that scene with Hank on the phone -- one of the few times where Hank seems to express genuine affection for Marie, also the first time you feel he is finally actualized in his career; and then the drama that ensues from the juxtaposition of that with what you know is coming next. brilliant. 

--

an interesting thing happened last night, where the audience knew Jesse was leading Walt into a trap in order to trace the phone call to the location of the money. i initially thought this was a flaw in the writing, that there would be no way the Walt/Heisenberg we know would be so easily duped. Walt would typically see this move coming and be able to counter it, but he was so overcome with greed/rage/love for Jesse that the thought that Jesse would betray him and trick him never entered his mind until it was already too late. it's also possible that Walt's ego got in the way and he never expected Jesse and Hank to join up to outsmart him at his game. 

in this video, Bryan Cranston talks about Walt's descent into a more emotional and less rational state of mind: Bryan Cranston talks Walter White on Talking Bad (via AMCTV.com)

sidenote: isn't he incredibly handsome? i am completely astounded by the physicality of Cranston's acting -- this can't possibly be the same man behind Heisenberg! if you look at pictures from the first season of Breaking Bad and compare them to recent pictures, it's as if Cranston grew a whole knew jawline over the course of the filming. amazing!  

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a logical flaw found in the writing!!

it is hard to believe that Walt, so meticulous and forward thinking, would return the van to Huell and Kubie with desert dust all over it. i mean, doesn't he own a car wash?? specifically a car wash his wife and co-conspirator used to launder his money? also, why would Huell wash a rental before returning it? as Skyler said herself earlier this season, "who washes a rental?!" only suspicious characters, that's who! 

since this is the one clue that leads to Walt being caught, it seems pretty far-fetched. also, Walt seems too smart to not check out a rental place and make sure he is untraceable (especially since earlier this season, he even thought to check his car for a GPS tracking device). 

another thing that struck me as really odd was that Walt goes through a lot of effort to memorize the GPS coordinates, yet he immediately drives right up to the spot, the spot that also happens to be the same spot where he and Jesse made their first cook? i dunno...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

i don't have the words to say how i feel right now

one of the things i'm most grateful for, and will cherish the rest of my life, is the last year - and how, for the first time in my life, i lived only an hour away from my Grandma and not a whole country apart. i went to visit her every weekend, and was always greeted with a big smile and a big hug and lots of food (always so much food!). i practiced my Chinese and was able, for the first time in 
my life, to have a real conversation with my Grandma, to understand stories she would tell me about my dad and my uncles when they were growing up, to hear her talk about the time they moved to SF together, to hear her talk about my Grandpa, to hear her talk about poetry and history and how she used to do Tai Chi in the park. to be able to tell her in my limited Mandarin that i love her, and that i think about her every day. and when it came time for me to move away, to tell her that i would miss her, but that i would call her when i got to Syracuse. and when i got to Syracuse, to call her on the phone every week and tell her i missed her and was looking forward to seeing her again soon. i still feel my Mandarin was never quite advanced enough to tell her how much i love her, or to understand all the wisdom she imparted to me. and one year will never be enough, but i'm so glad i had that time and spent it getting to know her. 我愛你奶奶.

Friday, March 23, 2012

living with respect for all animals

i have always been consistently and fervently pro-fauna. i'm not sure where this way of thinking and acting originated, but i've always tried to do my best not to harm other beings by my own existence. maybe it was learning about Native American and indigenous peoples and their practices of hunting, a way of life lost on us now, a way of honoring and respecting animals while still occasionally eating them (which is how i still justify eating meat on occasion - my understanding of being a "good" human is eating what i need, not being wasteful, and not consuming in excess. i definitely don't hunt for sport, and when i fish, i practice catch-and-release. i also limit or avoid pork, beef, and even chicken (those being the more "feeling" or sentient animals), sticking mostly to fish that i know are fresh water varieties that i could have fished myself, or that were farmed. of course, farm fisheries may have a host of their own ethical problems, but they seem far less terrible than the wide-cast nets they use to catch deep sea shrimp and bycatch. this is also how i justify wearing leather shoes and buying leather bags - because Native American tribes used "the whole" animal and didn't let anything go to waste. also, because leather shoes last longer and are probably better for the environment in the long-run than PVC/plastic shoes that come with cancer warnings and carry shorter use-lives). of course, if animals were hunted rather than "cultivated" in factories, the way they are now, i don't think i'd really have to make this justification. basically, i emulate a way of life that is pre-industrial and pre-modern convenience, the way i imagine life might have been like before we determined a way to industrialize everything, before humans became insane cancers on the environment and decided we owned everything. what might that be called, "transcendental-aspirational"? "a-world-without-humans ecological philosophy"? so, when i say i'm "pro-fauna," that's shorthand for me saying that i aspire to live in a way that respects animals and nature in a non-human-centered way.

so, i'm seriously stressed out right now because my workplace has discovered we have a mice problem, in that they are finding their way into drawers of people's desks and eating food. i was visited by some mice myself, i opened up my drawer and noticed some droppings and when i started cleaning out my drawer, discovered that a pack of flaxseed crackers in a thin plastic wrapper were broken into. clever buggers! i tossed the crackers and put everything else in plastic boxes, and haven't had a problem since. others in the office were so freaked out though, that they set up traps. a few hours later, people in the office were squealing and screaming at the sight of mice. here's what really bothers me about this:

1) these traps are possibly the worst thing ever. they're the sticky film traps, the kind you might use to trap flies, only this time, it's little furry mice, with tails, and whiskers. they get stuck on the film in the most helpless positions, their whiskers glued down, their bodies bent in unnatural positions, their tails whipping around, their paws stuck under their bellies. they squirm and blink for help. and everytime i go to check on them, my stomach fills with guilt and dread, because i feel like it's partially my fault, i irresponsibly stored my snacks andthey invited themselves to a small meal, and now they're suffering in the most terrible ways.

2) mice are very easily and humanely preventable. if you store food more securely (glass jars, plastic storage boxes with high sides and slippery surfaces) and dispose of food properly, you won't have a mice problem. also, peppermint oil is a nice-smelling, easily available, cheap, and harmless alternative to traps. there are also catch-and-release style traps that allow mice to be transported to more mice-friendly places (there is a large field right behind our office building - if they were released there and people got rid of their poorly stored snacks, we wouldn't have a problem).

3) "every animal serves a purpose." my co-worker and cubicle neighbor said that when we were talking and i thought that was really wise and something very few people realize or think about. mice eat the crumbs and tiny scraps that drop behind the desk in those little crevices that are too small to be cleaned, or easily forgotten. they don't actively go after your food unless you aren't smart enough to seal or protect it better. mice would never hurt you or bite you, because they are far more scared of you than you are of them. this idea that "every animal serves a purpose" is important because it gets at the reason why i adopt a "pro-fauna" approach, and also why this sometimes results in an "anti-human" way of thinking: so few humans realize the importance of coexisting with animals. furthermore, this is in direct correlation a direct cause of most humans' belief that they own everything. "it's our office building/kitchen/pantry/food so we have a right to kill creatures that intrude into our space!" actually, the field/forest/farmland that was destroyed so you could build your office building/condo/neighbhorhood was here first, so the animals you displaced kinda have a right to mess up your comfortable little existence if they can, so suck it.

all this to say i am really stressed out from debating what to do about the mice traps in the office (should i free the mice? what if i mangle them when trying to get them free from the sticky paper? should i sabotage the traps or try to throw them away before mice get caught in them and thereby cause my company to endlessly pour resources into traps? should i try to kill the mice humanely, before HR or whoever comes by to collect the traps and just "throw them away" to die slow deaths? should i start setting human traps in retaliation? - debilitating laxative in the coffee pot was my first inclination, but i'm open to suggestions). i still want to live my life in a "pro-fauna" way, but it means, in this case, talking to a lot of stubbornly cruel and human-centric people.


Monday, March 19, 2012

when the truth becomes a lie

Mike Daisey, a story-teller/monologist who was recently featured on This American Life criticizing Apple and "exposing" their seemingly atrocious labor practices, has now been publicly exposed (also on This American Life) as a "liar." it turns out that Daisey fabricated a majority of the vivid and extremely personal stories he shares in his one-act, The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (and Ira Glass is ostensibly pissed!!)


while this perhaps causes some Mac enthusiasts to rejoice, i am personally unswayed. and while i believe in the importance of journalistic integrity, i also hate to see a well-meaning story-teller publicly (albeit gently and rightfully) skewered at the hands of Ira Glass. the thing is, while it is now clear that some of what Daisey said was not 100% true or accurate, in the sense that it did not happen in the perfect story, movie-like way he describes in his monologue, there were essences and bases of truth in what he said. and while i was initially somewhat upset with Mike Daisey for seemingly misleading lots of people, i think the work he did was extremely important, if only because he personified and made tangible/personal the human injustice problems underlying the manufacture of our first-world luxuries. he exposed and made visible the human factor that is sacrificed at the altar of Commodity. granted, the details of Daisey's stories were tweaked and altered to achieve maximum impact, but sometimes the greater "truth" is best achieved thru some tactful lying. this brings to mind the chapter of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in which he describes the difference between "truth" and "story-truth" and how sometimes you have to build compelling stories around a truth to give the truth even more truth. in both cases, the "truth" being served justifies some lying, wouldn't you agree?


furthermore, the "truth" in this situation is arguably subjective and particularly difficult to determine. as someone who works in a chinese manufacturing company, very similar to ones that work for Apple and FoxConn, i have seen the way these internal audits are run. i've also seen how things in the company are done, from concealing misdeeds, to ensuring "outsiders" don't see the true operations of the company. i would not be at all surprised if it turned out Daisey's translator was paid off by someone from FoxConn to make adjustments to her story. she might even feel some fear in being complicit in Daisey's takedown of FoxConn and Apple. furthermore, i'm struck by how strange and very messed up it is to hear multiple American journalists working somewhat hard to justify the working conditions in China, basically to the effect of "oh, it's China, and they do stuff like that there. we can't compare working conditions there to America, that just wouldn't be 'fair.'" statements like these, by Americans working really hard to justify a shitty system of labor and economics that makes profit and products on the backs of unprotected and un-unionized foreign workers, make me extremely angry all over again, and make me realize just how important Mike Daisey's work was, and make me sad that now it may be forever discredited for being a "lie." it's clear, from hearing so many Americans rushing to defend Apple in the wake of the original story and even more fervently after its retraction, that the problem with America and capitalism and all of its conveniences, is that products such as the iphone are an entity more real than the workers who make them. this is a serious problem. Daisey's stories were important, because they forced us to care about something we previously took for granted. we'd never before thought to ask ourselves who the person behind our iphones/ipads/ipods was, never thought to question the existence and practices of the supply chain that supplies an endless number of goods to enable our very convenient, modern lives, and never thought to question our own place in that economic ecosystem and the moral implications of such a passive stance. the really sad thing is that now that Daisey has come forward for fabricating his story, 


when i listen to the retraction episode, i'm struck by how badly Mike Daisey wanted his American audience to feel something, to feel empathy for the Chinese factory workers, to feel some sense of consumer conscience and responsibility and feel incited to change. even if he achieved this in a deceitful way, is it so bad he tried to get us all to feel something, and do something about it?


even if the details of Daisey's story are not completely true, the truth underlying his story is, and that has yet to change; the working conditions at Chinese factories such as FoxConn are not fair, and the subpar working conditions continue to be condoned and widely practiced because companies like Apple have not yet taken adequate action to prevent and stop them, and because American customers have yet to express their demands for change.


what follows is an excerpt from the end of the retraction episode i find particularly pertinent: 


Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about this?” As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? […]

Charles Duhigg: Let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.
 And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.
And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.
So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket? […] Should you feel bad about that? I don’t know, that’s for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions perpetuate because of an economy that you are […] supporting with your dollars. […] You’re not only the direct beneficiary [of those harsh conditions]; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.
Ira Glass and Charles Duhigg of the NY Times, discussing working conditions in Apple factories in China [from This American Life’s recent episode, in which they discover Mike Daisey fabricated parts of his story on working conditions in FoxConn factories in Shenzen, China].

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

living, will

death has been on my mind a lot lately. well, more than usual. ever since i was a kid, i've lived in fear of death, lived in fear of that great expanse of unknown beyond my last breath, in fear of my parents' death, haunted by the sudden passing of friends and family gone too soon. who was it that said life is just the act of dying? or "the day we are born we begin to die"? i hate to think of my life as a shadow negative of this inevitability, but there can be no denying it. i think learning to live is in many ways learning how to die.

this has become more pressing lately. when my Uncle Tony passed away ... spring of 2009, my entire foundation was rocked. it was one of my first years truly living away from home - out of college, working my first real-life, "grown-up" job as a teacher in a public middle school in south central - and i got the news in the middle of a school day, maybe it was even a wednesday. this was the thing i'd always feared, my entire life: leaving home and being away and alone and having to truly assume adulthood when i'd only previously been playing the part. acting like an "adult" in front of a room of insane and belligerent special ed 6th graders, while your entire understanding of reality and space/time is being torn asunder around you is truly an initiation into "adulthood" by means of trial by fire. i have never wanted to punch an eleven-year-old special needs child so much in my entire life.

that first experience of death, trying to understand the definitiveness, the finalness, the never-again-ness, changed me. it ripped the fabric of logic and reason, made my persistent daily wants and needs and desires seem cruel, selfish, terrible. i disgusted myself, felt disgusted at other people, at my/our insistence on living. my hunger pangs, my exhaustion, my cravings for warmth or kindness or whatever were just constant reminders of my own body's persistent fight to stay alive, to feed itself, to rest, to recover. all this pained and aggravated me, since it was also a reminder that these were things my uncle once did, and now won't.

the day after i heard the news, i remember, i emerged from my dark room, where i'd spent the majority of the day [which makes me think the news might have occurred closer to a weekend, or that i was still doing this - violently weeping - several days after the fact] on my bed in a fetal position, my body pinched in on itself in a full-body sob, weeping uncontrollably and relentlessly, and walked outside to get some fresh air (again, the body's urge to do what it needs to survive; in this case, getting some air and sunlight and resuming an upright, healthy posture). the sight of seagulls flying above the palm trees overhead, the sun shining in an almost cloudless sky, the onslaught of terrifying LA rush-hour traffic - all seemed to be terrible, disrespectful, indignant external reminders that life goes on; this day is, in all other respects, just like any other.

---

i have been reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, a birthday gift from my brother this past year. i don't remember how i came to hear about this book, but one day at work i was reading about different psychological phenomena, and "magical thinking" was mentioned, and the book's premise interested me, and since i've spent some part of the last year reading "award-winning" books, i asked for it for christmas. it has been... an informative book. well-researched and well-written, definitely, and interesting, although i hesitate to say "pleasurable," since of all the effects it has had on me, it's probably inspired an even deeper and more paranoid ideation with death, the "act" of dying, and living.

one of the ideas from Didion's book that's really stuck is the idea that the dying person can foretell their death, even in cases accidental or sudden. "Only the dying man can tell how much time he has left." this is, in some ways, a comfort, especially to those who have lost a loved one in tragic accidents, to know that perhaps they knew their time was coming. but, in my case, it's been a terrible fear-enhancer. suddenly, things my parents or friends do, like tell me they love me in an exceptional way, or giving me an important document, seem like portents of doom. and i know that's a terrible thing, like, the prime example of letting fear of death control your life and thoughts. i know it is the mark of a coward to live in constant fear of death, but, here i am. and what to do?

naturally, the thing to do is to prepare. this constant, unebbing thought that "we all know when our time has come" has, of course, come to make me think that perhaps i am about to die. (and even as i write this, i wonder to myself, will typing it make it even more true? will uttering this aloud make it come true, or stave it off?) does the fact that i persist on this notion indicate that i am nearing death, that this book and this idea, given to me so recently, is relevant for a reason, that reason being that something terrible is about to happen? i can't help wondering these things, even though i know it makes me crazy.

last month, my partner Ben lost his younger brother Andrew in a terrible accident. he had been living abroad for nearly 2 years, travelling and teaching in China and Taiwan. he was on a ten-day bike journey around the island of Taiwan, during his 2-week Chinese New Year holiday, when he was struck by an old man driving a van. Andrew died. (typing that still hurts, because it hasn't yet felt real. typing that feels like betrayal, like i've given up hope Andrew can still come back, like i've turned my back on him because i've accepted this reality, even though my mind and heart (and Andrew) live now in a reality separate from what that sentence means). in the days and weeks following, friends and family who knew Andrew have been grappling to understand what happened. friends received Christmas cards from him just days after the accident. i looked back on our exchanges, scrutinized emails, trying to examine them for clues that Andrew, in some way, knew. Andrew and i spoke via email just days before it happened, and i talked to him about visiting Taiwan in the summer, with Ben, and he replied that he was so excited for us to come, he couldn't wait to show us around. the day before the accident, i wanted to post something on his Facebook, commenting on one of his pictures, saying something about how he looked so much like his dad. i didn't, i hesitated and then decided not to, because i wasn't sure how he'd respond or take the comment. i wonder now, if i'd posted it, if he would have paused in the morning to read and respond, and would have thus been a minute or two behind on the road when the van swerved off and hit him where he was, without the comment.

Andrew kept a bucket list, or as he called it, a "to-do list." he didn't want to be an old man looking back at his life with regret. did he know? even if his to-live list wasn't a premonition, he understood that life is precious and fragile and not to be wasted - a profoundly inspiring wisdom borne from an acknowledgment of death; Andrew knew how to live. this is what i want for myself and for my fear of death, a greater appreciation and predilection for living.

Andrew's bucket list was a physical list he checked off and added to. i love that, i love that there are documents that speak to his life and his goals. now that we've lost Andrew (where did you go?) these documents - to-do-lists, journals, emails, blog posts, Facebook - are what we have left, what we can return to. this is my document.*

these days, we are all susceptible to getting lost in the daily grind, on focusing on ends rather than means, and thinking about a distant future rather than enjoying the present. i think living in the constant shadow of death can mean reclaiming life, and i intend to do that.


*i wrote previously about maintaining an e-life thru internet documents here, on my very first blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

spunk (n), definition:

how fuckin' fun and cute is Robyn in this? i think it's even better than the music video because girl can sing.



and when she does her somersault and tries to slide her feet up on the floor but can't because she's wearing gigantic rubber soles? my heart melted a little bit for her. *girl crush*

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

alone in the wilderness

i'm tired of all the sturm und drang associated with valentine's day. suddenly it becomes especially important to be with someone and examine your life in the context of being successfully paired off. is it ok for some people to want to be alone? what if that is what makes them happy? i think that's ok, and it's not just because i'm feeling particularly alone today.

this is probably not the best place for these kinds of thoughts, since it's so public and all, but that's also why it's perfect. aren't we all just lonely strangers screaming out into the dark to be comforted by our own echoes?

i think my partner/fiance/best friend/confidant and i have ... separated? broken up? had a falling out? what is the right phrase to use? "separated" doesn't quite make sense, since we've been apart (living on two coasts) for so long. "broken up" sounds stupid and juvenile (and thus, i realize, perfect), and "a falling out" doesn't seem to recognize the gravity of the situation. it's more than just a silly quarrel, it seems, even though that's how it started (how did it start? i can't trace the beginning, maybe it was all the way in the beginning), and now i feel seismically jolted out of what feels like the imagined reality of the last 5 years.

5 years is not a long time, but also a very long time. 5 years is 20% of my life, long enough to preserve vestiges of college, to encompass my first two "real-life' jobs, to contextualize my last 3 moves, to transition me from feeling young and indomitable and awesome to feeling old, insecure, scared and bewildered. 5 years is long enough to change what you believed about life, love, your future, goals, and the meaning of life. it's long enough to cultivate a fragile trust in another person, to believe that you really found an extension of yourself in a stranger, to start to think of life in the context of a dependable togetherness.

here is how crazy love is: you meet someone, a complete and utter stranger, and you actually tell them all the deep, dark, most terrible secrets you'd never even had the courage to utter aloud to yourself. you dance like an idiot in your underwear. you talk about your grossest, most humiliating bodily (mal)functions. you can honestly talk for the first time about your childhood, your parents, your fears and desires. you learn to cook better, you travel, you stay up late and sleep in, you go grocery shopping, you throw dinner parties, you protest in the streets, you dance, you sing karaoke badly. you devour life. you do things you would never have imagined doing, and you do silly inane things and find yourself enjoying them with a new sense of thrill. you feel yourself growing in ways you never thought possible, and the whole time, in total naked view of another person, a stranger.

so how do you reconcile yourself with losing something like that? it doesn't make much sense, do you grieve? blame yourself? get angry and upset at the other person for wasting your best years and treating you so cruelly in the final moments? maybe? or maybe you feel nothing at all, and this is what surprises you most. everything becomes a sort of dullness. the sharp sting of sadness, the bite of sudden loneliness, the burn of anger and the urge to fight, these were things that made sense before but now you can't even seem to muster them. it's like your heart burned so brightly and is now just burnt out. and it may burn that way again, but always in a lesser way. Said the Gramophone said it best when they wrote:
Every time you stop loving someone, your heart loses some of its blush. It vanishes. It's cancelled. & you wonder which of your feelings you'll no longer have the capacity to feel again. How much less am I, today, than I was yesterday? [from here]

Monday, January 23, 2012

alight on a rooftop with me, and let's nestle together and cast our gaze on the stars



lyrics for Andrew Bird's "Night Sky" (transcribed by me, as i listened to the mp3 below)

chorus:
sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean
plays the ocean like a violin
pushing and pulling from shore to shore
biggest melody you never heard before

if i were the night sky (x2)
here's my lullaby
lullaby to the eve bye
if i were the night sky

verse 1:
what if we hadn't been born at the same time
what if you were 75 and i were 9
and i come visit you
bring you cookies in an old folks' home
would you be there alone?
when the late summer lightning fires off in your arms
will i remember to breathe?
you know i never will
if i could convince you that i mean you no harm
just wanna show you how not to need (/leave?)

what if i were the night sky?
here's my lullaby
lullaby to the eve bye
if i were the night

verse 2:
what if we hadn't been each other at the same time?
would you tell me all the stories from when you're young and in your prime
will i rock you to sleep
would you tell me all the secrets you don't need to keep
would i still miss you?
oh would you then
had been mine

chorus

[download mp3]