"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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

pictures from Mongolia

photo credit: Chris Myers

Saturday, July 28, 2007

the panopticon: Cebu Prison, Philippines and the role of YouTube in society


have you seen the prison dance tapes from Cebu Prison in the Philippines? they're quickly becoming huge hits on the web, and for good reason. they're amazing! seriously, i haven't seen musical theatre this good since i saw Les Miz on Broadway!

to be sure, just check out these meticulous recreations of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "I Will Follow Him" from Sister Act:

now i'm not sure if this is considered cruel and unusual punishment in the Philippines, but it makes damn good watching on Youtube. which makes me wonder: is the Filipino prison taking the panopticon to new extremes?

consider the function of the panopticon, and these observations regarding these bemusing videos:
-the costumes (a balding, pony-tailed, made-up male inmate, wearing a halter top with falsies portraying MJ's steady girlfriend as she is mobbed by zombies)

-the music (are they singing? is there a band? is the music being piped thru the prison loudspeakers? or is the music dubbed over the original soundtrack? if the latter, what are the prisoners dancing to in real-time? a Filipino version of "Thriller"/"I will follow Him"?)

-the choreography (the spot on renditions make me think they had someone teaching them. how does one teach 1000+ prisoners intricate dance moves from the 80s with success? and that someone must have sat and analyzed the music video for weeks to figure out the whole routine. that's quite a commitment to the spirit of dance.)

-the filming (who's holding the camera? and what makes them suspect the performance they caught on tape is merely a practice round, as they say, and not the real thing? is it a guard? a tourist? are they ushering tourists thru the prison grounds and charging them admittance fees? and doesn't this bring Titicut Follies to mind?)

AND, when one searches for the "Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center," the reputed site of these performances, one can find nothing written about the actual Center itself, its prisoners, or its practices, other than the recent buzz on the blogs about - that's right - the very dances that brought you to search for the Prison in the first place. isn't there something a little bemusing, a little existentially tautological about that?

finally, consider all this in relation to the medium:
-we're watching these videos on YouTube, a site that has grown into somewhat of a phenomenon, injecting the daily monotony of the average person to the same level of consciousness as ground-breaking news and celebrity sightings. you can find as many videos of average people ranting about Britney Spears as you can find actual video of Britney Spears.

-Youtube, unlike network news, is always on and always available. = someone is always watching.

considering this in light of these prison videos is incredibly revelatory of the current role Youtube might be playing in our society: the media, always influencing us in the most surreptitious ways, when placed in our own hands, has the ability to make us repeat itself to our own detriment.

take a look at any Youtube video and you will see what i mean. genres are making and perpetuating themselves everyday. the vlog rant. the celebrity satire. the video journal. there's a degree of comfort in seeing "average" people "just like us" on Youtube, while at the same time, comments like "shut up you f*in whore, you ugly faced b*tch" proliferate on every Youtube channel.

while a sense of democracy and control is bolstered by the success of Youtube, we can't help but feel the media's ability to enforce certain standards of appearance and form and style is not altogether eliminated in the process.

thus the panopticon. always watched = always controlled.


Friday, July 27, 2007

this beat kicks back death

dear ship of devoted readers,

thanks to your kind encouragement and interest, i sat myself down for my friday night, and hammered out a rough idea of what a weekly podcast would look/sound like.

and so, i present to you, THE AVOCADO COUCH, PODCAST. (link to mp3 below)

some of you might recall that i used to have a shortly lived and strongly neglected radio show on the air waves during the school year. well, now you can possibly look forward to a shortly lived and strongly neglected podcast version of those shows (sans my former co-host).

in this week's show, i look at covers!
featured in the lineup, are mashups by Jens Lekman, a Cars cover by Scout Niblett, a Scout Niblett cover by Jens Lekman, and a dance party tune by The Field.

it's a rockin' good time in under 30 minutes! and what's more?! it's completely f***in' free!

so grab it quick, coz in 7 days it will be gone...

the avocado couch - 1 - covers [yousendit download]

your captain,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

musical zeitgeist

i don't know whether to be sad or slightly amused by some of the recent trends in music i've observed. for example, i admit that i used to possess an unaware appreciation for "emo" music, until i found it had diverged into what my brother and i jokingly refer to as "screamo," a la Fall Out Boy and similarly poseur-esque boy bands.

i used to like Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, until i got fed up with all his whining, and found his music didn't really take me anywhere. i never base an aversion for a singer/songwriter/performer based on genre alone, which is why i feel ok admitting that yes, i listen to Nelly Furtado, and i totally respect Kelly Clarkson for challenging the "popular" music industry and doing her own writing (even though, in general, i strongly despise the girl pop genre).

sometimes i wonder if all culture (and especially pop culture) isn't just a recycling of previous formulas. i get bored to death of hearing the same tunes playing incessantly over the radio. and i swear, even the best indie music is reusing some of its best licks (do i listen to too much music, or does it sometimes sound like musicians are blatantly rewriting their previous hits, or worse, the hits of other artists?)

but lately, i've found a ton of terrific new music from abroad, mostly Sweden (um, just to mention a few: Jens Lekman, The Knife, Peter Bjorn and John, El Perro del Mar. and the Field's "From Here We Go Sublime" is practically the soundtrack to my late summer nights). and i've been listening to some non-music, mostly new podcasts such as On the Media and Democracy Now! and comedy albums from funny men Patton Oswalt, David Cross (love!), Paul F. Tompkins, and Scharpling and Wurster. and, i just discovered a fantastic album by a collective of experimental instrumental artists, who've set the words of William S. Burroughs to funked up jazz/techno. thumbs, right?!

anyway, this whole thing was really just some pointless rambling to set up this brilliant clip from MadTV. i love this clip for so many reasons, first because i absolutely HATE the Calling and the song they are parodying. second, because it's absolutely true, music today sounds more and more like itself and the people who came before it, who did it much better. and finally, because i absolutely LOVE this caricature of Scott Stapp:
this is Scott Stapp.

this is an artist's rendering of Scott Stapp.

so, enjoy!


Sunday, July 22, 2007

a fondness for small things

i love all things small. things that fit into a pocket, things i can hold in my hands, little animals and small children. i love apricots just because i feel like i'm eating a tiny peach.


i went for a walk today after dinner, and noticed - for the first time in a long time - the blinking of fireflies. and, for the first time i can remember since childhood, i cupped my hands to hold one. as i slowly unfolded my fingers, it climbed to the tip of my forefinger, perching on my metallic blue nail, and i was reminded of my fondness for small things.

i remember a childhood filled with fireflies. the first time i ever caught one, my family had gone out to a large building on the UK campus that i've always thought of as "The Barn," a white rectangular building across from the football stadium parking lot that really looks as if the second floor used to be a hay loft. the interior of the building was basically one continuous room with linoleum floors and a few poles to help hold up the roof. it was perfect for potlucks, and that's exactly what brought my family and the other 40 families of the Chinese School together that night. me and the other 45+ kids were rapidly consuming sugar and the excitement of so much company, and as the parents started up the karaoke machine, we all escaped outside.

the best part about The Barn wasn't the ex-loft, or the foosball table, or the interior that would have made a perfect indoor roller skating rink had someone with the proper resources and foresight discovered it. no, the best thing about The Barn was it's Barn-like yard. to a small elementary schooler, the block of uninterrupted grass skirted by trees was all we needed to feel free and alive. you could play tag, hide and seek (the unmowed grass was enough to conceal most of us), and Red Rover. and, in the later hours, when the summer humidity had begun to settle into a fine dew, there they would appear - the fireflies.

it was like being out in the country and finding yourself amongst the star-lit sky. only you could hold this fire in your hands. all 46+ of us stood in wonder of this blinking light, following one or two spots with our eyes, to have them disappear and reappear another inch away. my Father came out to check on us kids, showed me how to get close enough to extend my hand, a small globe for them to land.

i remember nights at home after a summer rain, when the lightning bugs would come out to drink the remaining droplets from the leaves. my brother and i would follow them out, catching them in our hands, picking our favorite pairs and sliding them gently into empty jam jars we'd specially decorate for them with leaves, twigs and grass sprinkled with sugar water. my brother and i would sleep contentedly in our beds those nights, foregoing our ubiquitous nightlights for the soft friendly glow of fireflies in empty jars. sometimes we'd wake up the next morning to find them sick or languid, their little antennae drooping behind glass. sometimes we'd keep them too long and become distressed at having extinguished such gentle light. (it wouldn't take us long to find that one night sleeping over in our bedrooms was enough for them. we soon adopted a one-night-only policy.)

summers for me have always meant only a handful of things: summer camps, swimming in the neighborhood pool just before dinner, bike rides with my family, barbeque on Sunday nights, and lightning bugs at night.

tonight, as i walk in my neighborhood, the lightning bug twirling around on the tip of my metallic fingernail, i remember my life measured in these smallest of degrees. seconds open up and reveal spools of memories wrapped inside, now long enough to fit all the years between the then and now, to collapse whole stages of my life inside one second, the blink of a firefly.

the last time i ever held a firefly in my hands was at a sleepover at my friend Meredith's house, on the cusp between Montessori elementary school and public middle school, a late midsummer night separating harmless childhood candidness from the guarded moodiness of early adolescence. it was the day i got my braces, the first time my friends and i, all crammed together in the basement of my friend's house, watch an R-rated movie without our parents (Stigmata, it was ok), and the first time i ever stayed up all night (it was also the first night back from vacation in Hawaii with my family, which gives me jet lag and a time difference of -5 hours, which makes it impossible to sleep). it was the first and last time i ever played pranks on my friends, and the last time i ever catch fireflies.

playing in my friend's backyard after pizza and ice cream, i find a lightning bug. i pick it up, and prepare to plop it into a disposable plastic soda cup that i'm already beginning to prepare with foraged foliage, when i notice his lethargic demeanor. he seemed ill, devoid of a will to live, would probably die even before spending a night in the cup. knowing nothing about lightning bug biology or remedies, but possessing a strong fondness for small things (and at this time, a still strong desire to become a veterinarian), i held the ailing lightning bug in one hand, while gently petting him on his wings with the tip of my smallest finger. i noticed a weak bulb and tried to offer verbal support, thinking it a matter of self-esteem. i offer him droplets of water on grass blades, and walk him around the yard, extending my palm so he can take a look around. i do this for probably 15 minutes (but again, the seconds have opened up to reveal whole decades, and my firefly and i have spent what feels like a significant part of our lives together) when i notice a flicker of light, a liveliness to the antennae, and a willful effort to fly. feeling i have just saved a life, i return inside, leaving Patrick (as i call him) on the ledge, free of the cup.


now, as i watch my new lightning bug perform pirouettes on my fingertip, and traverse the knuckles on my hand, i relive my childhood in the infiniteness of a few seconds, reminded of a fondness for small things.

and as i step onto my driveway, the firefly takes off, into the night sky...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

the naming of things + 80's popculture + Chinese culture

[written 7/9/07, ~2 am]

my mother and i go for a walk in our neighborhood. it's just after 9, and on this mid-summer evening, the sun has only just set. everywhere, tinted blue and violet, but the humid stickiness of the July heat lingers in the air.

we walk in silence. i'm cranky with sleep, my jet lag and summer restlessness manifesting itself as unjustified moodiness, worsened by my frustration at the lack of conversation. my mother walks briskly, bumping into me on the awkwardly narrow sidewalk as we try to walk abreast of one another, the overgrown bushes nudging us into each other every twenty paces.

the tension is thicker than the summer humidity. i watch her bite her nails, wondering too why she can't carry on a conversation with her own daughter.

so tonight, i ask my mother about names, and how she and my father chose mine.

while the name i intend is actually my english name [Stephanie], my mother jumps immediately to my Mandarin name - Hsiao Jing (this disparity makes me flush slightly), explaining that my paternal grandmother chose my name. she then explains the Chinese naming process, a kind of "poetry."

she describes a poem, epically wrapping back in time, mapping generations and tracing family trees by stanzas and refrains. each branch of family history signaled by a line of poetry. i imagine an endless scroll, unwinding to reveal the flash of character that is my name.

"American names," she says, "are easy."

"They're just sounds. You just pick what sounds best."

my American name: purely 80's. my parents were deciding between 2 names - Connie and Stephanie. why those names? "because Connie Chung was well-known at that time," my mother explains, "everyone knew who Connie Chung was." and Stephanie? "after Princess Stephanie" (of Monaco). finally, they chose Stephanie because "Stephanie Lee" sounded better than "Connie Lee" (and thank heavens they did).

my brother's name is a similar story. Kevin was a popular name at the time (i can't help but wonder if this is at all a credit to Kevin Bacon's 80s fame), and Calvin Klein was hitting it big in the 80s. they thought Calvin Lee sounded better (little did they know that as a kid my brother would go around introducing himself as "Calvin, as in Calvin and Hobbes").

my mom then goes back to a day long before i was born, she is a beautiful young school teacher, accompanying my father as they move to Kentucky for his new job at the university. i imagine her face in the passenger seat window, gazing out, pondering names during the long drive before she arrives at the new home, stepping out of the car, suddenly "Angela" (b/c Americans never pronounce her given name with the beauty and delicacy it requires: Hsiao Hwa, like a fragile flower. it has the effect of dissociation, disconnect: "I never know if they're talking to me or not").

she goes back further still, to a day long before she married my father, she is a beautiful young university student, studying German, and she goes by Sabrina, Karinne, Sonya. a different name for every teacher.

as we come up to our driveway, i try Sabrina on my tongue, and try to remember the feeling of it, to store it in my mind in case i ever have a daughter... Sabrina.

memories like mohair sweaters,
Stephanie Lee / Li Hsiao Jing

Monday, July 16, 2007


= the magic that ensues from a deluge of talking.

sorry for the lack lately, things have been unusual.

how unusual? perhaps they start by being undescribably so. mostly i'm depressed b/c i wish i had done something else with my summer. i blame Mongolia and China for this. after spending such a short amount of time in such beautiful and stimulating environs, it is hard to return to my home in Kentucky and not fill with consuming regret. and regret is one of my top least favorite feelings in the world. i'd say "an itch you can't scratch" and water-logged shoes are pretty close behind.

i've been seeing doctors to try to sort out some nagging pains in my legs and stomach. that hasn't helped things, i suppose. i've always harbored some vague suspicion i won't live beyond 40, but feeling like it is worse than thinking it.

early mortality is ok, once you learn to accept it. you just learn to think about things differently. for example, i'm 21 now, past middle age. that means i feel even more entitled to go out and party than a normal 21-yr-old, because i'm also going thru a midlife crisis. (what this means in actual practice is that i party half the amount a normal Miami girl does (while wearing twice the amount of clothing, i might add), get drunk maybe half that time, but can outdrink most of my friends. considering my size, i have an astounding tolerance. go figure.)

speaking of freedoms, i registered for classes this morning, and found out most of my classes fall on tuesday/thursday. which means, amazingly, a four-day weekend. that is, if i decide not to take Elementary Chinese. the thought of taking Mandarin in a formal educational setting is exciting and terrifying at once. i fear reliving my high school French days, when the awkward pedagogical stylings of one Madame Keegan made me drop out of French classes before my time. i love learning French now, and still speak and write at an acceptable proficiency, but i hate to think of that happening to my mother tongue. the very idea of studying it brings me back to Sunday afternoons cooped up by the window of the language building on the UK campus, wishing my Chinese School classes would be over so i could go home and play in the yard.

on my list of classes for the fall?
-Cultural Studies of Power and Education
-Human Development and the Learning/Educational Environment
-Studies in Educational Issues
& Senior Sem (or, as i'm lovingly dubbing it, "The Extraavaganzaa." or "XG" for short. kinda like exegesis. haha, oh stop it.)
+ possibly El. Chinese
(that's 17 credit hours, 5 of which are to the intense wrapping up of my senior thesis, another 3 of which are a capstone. is that too much for a senior year? sounds like i'll be needing the 4-day weekends!)

i found a guy who's starting a media collective in LA and wants me to work with him. i'm considering it, having no other really exciting things in my life right now. only problem is, he wants me to go in the fall, which means i won't get to finish this thesis 4 years in the making. i always get commitment-phobia this time of summer, though, so i'm feeling highly at risk of flight. i get this way too with a job that's almost done. when i'm getting to the last page of a term paper, that's always the hardest one (after the intro paragraph) to sit down and write, because i know i have the necessary words in me, it seems pointless to do it just to do it. i suspect i prefer to leave the last pages off, rather than finish them. isn't that more seductive anyway? the welcoming openness and potential of halfness, rather than the rigidity and futile arrogance of mistaken completion.

i've been reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (the pre-Oprah's book club version, thank you very much). i'm loving the suggestive implications on human nature and the tension between nature and nurture. it has me wondering if everything we are, everything we do, the way we think, if our primordial unarticulated languages are indeed inherited. if perhaps, nothing is really possessed or uniquely "ours." if we are only mirrors reflecting endlessly into ourselves.

i am 21 years old, my own kind of middle-aged, but i am still afraid to grow up. the idea of going to grad school, or possibly getting a job, is terrifying. i find myself envying all the high school graduates, like my brother, who get to experience college for the first time. i've realized that college itself has become a new kind of security for me, that i will miss the familiar buildings and people after every summer. Summer itself, like Childhood, seems to be a constructed concept. no longer will i experience the clear divisions between school years by the blissfully relaxed laziness of Summer.

unwittingly, i have styled my life after the movies. this week, i painted the nails of one hand a sunny, daffodil yellow. the other hand, an icy, chrome-like blue. like the priest from Night of the Hunter, it seems i've polarized myself into love/hate. or i guess in my circumstance, sunny/cold. it seems i only have two options in these last days of Summer vacation.


Thursday, July 12, 2007


i set my alarm to wake me up gradually with music from my favorite local alt college station, WRFL. i catch the last few minutes of music before Democracy Now comes on, and they always play some terrific music, either familiar favorites that i can name in my half-awake sleepiness (those are the days that start off smoothly, with me rolling out of bed, seamlessly into the kitchen for a glass of juice and a bowl of cereal), or new, fantastic music i've never heard before. those are the days i jolt instantly awake, eyes open wide, jotting down lyrics in my brain so i can jump out of bed to skip over to the computer and look up snippets of lyrics (these are the days i eat toasted grainy breads with slabs of cheese and salami, drinking herbal tea)

on days like the latter - such as today - everything seems new. i hear the opening riff to Beck's "Lost Cause" in the moments before Amy Goodman and immediately try placing the voice that's singing to me. i never would have guessed Beck. i hop to the computer and conduct the search, wondering how i'd never heard this song before. another surprise: i already have the album in my collection (another one that slipped by without a careful listening). i wonder how i've never listened to Beck before. i'd always found his music average, not that compelling. but this morning has turned me on to it. as i write this, i've had Beck albums on loop for nearly a whole evening, pausing only to listen to some interspersed Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Jens Lekman.

among other surprises: i wear loose faded jeans on a hot summer day. i listen to a new/old mix tape from a friend (another one that slipped by). i paint my nails bright mango yellow. i learn new guitar chords by playing thru "Suspicious Minds" and "Every Day Is Like Sunday," even singing a little.

and after a summer of inconquerable inertia: i pick up my thesis again.



Wednesday, July 11, 2007


a video, this time from Beijing.

to be more specific, from the basement of a Beijing super mega mall/ food court.

i consider my careful/ auspicious placement/ capture of the reflections to be a compelling critique/ comment on globalization in China, and a plea for cultural conservation.

the green light's right here!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mongolia video #1 (car running version)

more coming! but for now, a video!


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

the peace of wild things

for today, a poem
that a friend recited
while we were having breakfast in a ger on the Mongolian steppes.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry