Friday, April 29, 2005

cancer lurks deep in the sweetest bud

Well, I've become quite the little celebrity hound in the past two days. Of course, it's the other side of the pendulum from which I speak today. The kind of famous people I'd rather see as celebrities, I suppose. In particular, today I managed to see Dr. Harold Varmus speak. He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1989. He won a National Medal of Science in 2002. This is only the second time in my life I've ever heard a Nobel prize winner speak. Last time, I was about 19, and hardly understood much of the work that was presented. Today, I felt like someone had adjusted the focus just so- everything perfectly sharp and crisp.

A lot of people bellyache about the lack of real advances in science and medicine, but that can quickly be dispelled by simply listening to someone who has made that their life's work for 30-plus years. It takes a span of time like that to really illustrate how much things have changed. 30-plus years ago, if you were diagnosed with any type of leukemia, the prognosis was beyond grim. Even when I was a child, you would hear about kids who had leukemia, and as if a vacuum had sucked all the air out of the room, everyone would fall silent, bracing for the bad news. Has leukemia been cured? Not altogether. But your chances of surviving it now, especially if you're young when you get it, have increased in truly breathtaking ways.

Sure, there's the bone marrow donations, which definitely help patients. But nowadays, because of people who spend over 30 years slaving away in the research labs, it goes far beyond that. Nowadays, in a lot of types of leukemia, a physician can take a sample of your blood, analyze it, and tell you whether you're going to respond well to therapy or not, whether you need to be treated more aggressively or not. It's all there now, like looking into a crystal ball.

This notion just intoxicates me, entrances me. This idea that the things that are happening to all of us are really playing out at this microscopic, unseen level. A member of my family recently had congestive heart failure, a very mild case. He went to the hospital because he was not feeling well and was having trouble breathing, but the doctors were on the verge of releasing him, his symptoms seeming fairly trivial for someone his age. The blood tests came back, and they knew something was amiss. And in fact, they knew it was his heart. Even though it manifested extremely mildly in terms of physical symptoms, at the molecular level, the battle was raging in full force. If this family member of mine had never been diagnosed with CHF, he would have never been given medication to treat it. And that means he would have suffered a more acute, most likely fatal heart attack later on down the road. Medicine has all sorts of shortcomings and warts, but being able to catch things like this gives me pause to make any indictments.

Varmus' talk gave me even more pause, commanded even more respect for his profession. To see someone speak about a field they're so clearly committed to advancing, to see someone speak about something they truly love, it's equal parts alluring and heartbreaking.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I heard he had a style

Dave Eggers- not the most brilliant of public speakers. I don't understand why we require a good writer, a good director, or a good musician to be a fabulous public speaker. Why would they be writing, or directing, or singing, if their real talent was rousing a crowd to great cheer? When he gets nervous, Eggers seems to fall back on effusive compliments. He called Patton Oswalt the most brilliant political comedian of our time (sorry, but there is no way that is true- Lewis Black alone could spank him to pieces), and said David O. Russell was the best director of our time (thanks to I Heart Huckabees, I can't agree with that one either). So I thought he was similarly a little full of it when he introduced a short documentary of Al Gore filmed by Spike Jonze with the hypothesis that, had this film been seen more widely, the 2000 election could have gone entirely differently. I pursed my lips skeptically as the lights dimmed.

And then the documentary rolled. And about half way through, a pit developed in my stomach. Eggers was right. All of a sudden, the familiar rage against the DNC and spin-doctors surged up in me. The 10-minute short film humanized Gore in a way that no amount of baby-kissing and hand-shaking ever could have. And it was shown maybe twice during the 2000 campaign. Jonze spoke about his participation in this documentary, a rather organic occurence. He knew he didn't particularly care for Bush's politics, and he knew he wanted to do something, but he didn't know much about Gore. On the other hand, Gore, a bit of a movie buff, had really enjoyed Being John Malkovich, so he was cool with Spike Jonze following him around for the afternoon. Jonze did a bang-up job of capturing the Gore family in unguarded, candid moments, and in ways that illustrated the exact qualities about them that had won Jonze over.

Eggers asked Jonze why this film was not more widely distributed. Was it too revealing? Did the DNC find Al Gore body-surfing too racy? Bad idea. Jonze shrugged and said "I really don't know." He was clearly uncomfortable. He seemed reticent to place blame, or to get too lofty about the documentary itself. Actually, he just seemed generally uncomfortable, and I can't blame him. Eggers' questions were not well-chosen. He then started asking Jonze about his current project with Al Gore, the television project Current. Jonze was quick to correct him- he's only spoken to Gore about this, and has no actual involvement in it. Jonze clearly likes Gore, and wanted him to win in 2000, but he also really came across as a movie maker, more than anything else. As he himself pointed out, he goes where his interests take him, and in many cases, that means Jackass.

After that uncomfortable exchange, it was time to watch clips from the next documentary, Soldier's Pay. The documentary investigates the dishonorable discharge of Sergeant Matt Novak, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. First, I should cop to the fact that I am a big fan of Three Kings- the reasons could take up a whole different post. Soldier's Pay was put together in a short amount of time, with Russell and a tiny crew, but it drew disturbing parallels to Three Kings. As Russell noted, it's amazing how often intuition translates to fact. The big static with the documentary was this- it was originally financed by Warner Brothers, as a companion piece for the re-release of Three Kings in the theater and for the DVD. Once Russell mentioned to the NYT that he thought it would be good for people to see the documentary prior to the 2004 election, Warner Brothers freaked out and pulled the financing, concerned that they'd be viewed as taking sides during the election. Russell was quite matter-of-fact about this. He didn't seem particularly embittered about the Warner Brothers decision.

The interesting questions during the whole discussion were the ones that were left unasked. Eggers kept goading Russell and Jonze into talking about their plans to be more politically active moving forward, and how they planned to incorporate politics into their work. Both seemed like they wanted to run back into the audience. It brought forth an interesting question. Spike Jonze had not set out to give Gore's image a once-over. David O. Russell had not set out to bring down George Bush, Sr's legacy. They both found themselves captivated by a story. They're artists, telling stories that move them, and the fact that there is a political message or motivation in the films is almost happenstance. Maybe that's the way it should be. Or are they just being more subversive than a Michael Moore, who runs around like a bull in a china shop espousing his political beliefs? Personally, I don't think so. Russell's coverage of the soldiers in the first Iraq war is incredibly balanced. He is a perfect example of someone who vehemently supports troops while being opposed to the idea of war.

Eggers himself seemed unsure what his role in politics really was. He's not necessarily a political writer, but on the other hand, he's currently writing a book on the Sudanese Lost Boys. Random trivia I learned last night: Mary Williams, the head of the Lost Boys foundation, is a child of two Black Panthers and the adopted daughter of Jane Fonda. That's whack. Eggers also mentioned the Patriot Act, and his run-in with the Patriot Act, involving his personal notebook being confiscated and perused by Homeland Security. But he didn't seem to have an underlying point or conclusion from his story. He just didn't seem like he came into the evening knowing what he wanted to say or where he wanted to go. If I gave a talk or ran a meeting like this at work, I'd be pink-slipped really quickly.

But here is why last night was worth the trek to Shallow Alto. Some months back, I got rid of my most beloved, first car I ever owned. A friend's goddaughter was in the market for it, and she was purported to be a wunderkind student. Anyway, I gave it to her, but never met her. Last night in Shallow Alto, Eggers started talking about the 826Valencia scholarship program, and introduced two students who had tied to win one of their scholarships. Both deserving, but one of them was from Brazil, and her name sounded curiously familiar. The two students were going to have to split the scholarship, but due to donations from last night's event, they both got 10K for college next year. This morning, after talking to my friend JP, I confirmed that one of those students was the same girl who currently drives my car. If that isn't the definition of a happy coincidence, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

up here so high the boughs they break

Jon Stewart + Ice Cube, two great tastes that taste great together. Last night's Daily Show found Jon Stewart back in rare form, from ripping apart CNN anchors to trying to pretend he knew the meaning of crunk. And Ice Cube, well, what's not to love about him? He was once interviewed by The Believer, and there's something inherently likeable about the dude. Like Mos Def. Except Ice Cube has more of a put-upon dad quality to him.

El jefe sent out what he calls a "simple, stupid survey" and I neglected to fill mine out. He's definitely got the stupid part down, I will say that much. Luckily, he also wanted to keep the surveys anonymous, so I will suffer no repercussions for shirking this little responsibility. Really, I hate wasting my time at work with this kind of meaningless crap. After all, that's what the internet is for.

I sneezed fifteen times before I left the house this morning, about a dozen times while driving to work (this does not lend to safe navigation on the roads of my city), and four times while typing this. And that was after I'd taken a Claritin. I hope I don't have to switch over to the dark side, and take Benadryl, because that sh*t messes me up. I stop sneezing but I lose all ability to think or sit still. Wonder what's in the air that has caused this little immune rebellion.

The poem-a-day torture continues, but today's did not, in fact, inflict pain. I've been inhaling a lot of words lately, poems, stories, and it's making me wonder why I bother writing in this space. I should be reading instead of adding to the noise, I'm starting to think. At any rate, a James Wright poem this morning had a beautiful, springtime-apropos line in it:
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
That feeling comes over me all the time, over the slightest of things. I'm trying to remember that, instead of allowing my anxiety to get the best of me. People I know from this life, the one I created in the Bay area, think I'm exaggerating. They only know me as someone who desperately wanted to move to San Francisco and found a way to make that happen. They have no understanding of the stumbles and falls and brick walls that preceded that solitary accomplishment. It's not their fault really. As in this space, so much of perception depends on what one chooses to reveal.

BUT I will not get all mopey today. Tickets for Peru are in hand, complete with travel companions. This blows my mind into a million, thrilled pieces.

Update: Sweet sassy molassy, I just got tickets to this amazing collective of craziness! The funny thing about this is that I was going to rant about how it sucks that McSweeney's put up notices to these types of shows once the show is already sold out, but then this random piece of luck befell me, and now there can be no b*tchery.

Monday, April 25, 2005

must be the clouds in my eyes

On Friday, I walked to Modern Times Bookstore, a place I've always loved. They once allowed an artist to come in and arrange all their books by color, rather than by author. A sigh develops thinking about my neighborhood. It's like I'm already missing it, every moment spent walking on those streets seems so pregnant with the idea that I might soon be far removed from it. It had been raining intermittently since the early afternoon. I've always had a thing for days like that, days of sunshowers, days of moist asphalt and fresh earth. The smell of the earth or the asphalt can't be detected so much in the city, of course, but the memory of it is evoked. The air kisses and coaxes, just slightly windy, just slightly humid. Everything is just slightly something, and the collective of that everything translates to nostalgia. It is dangerous weather.

Usually, bookstores are black holes for me; I don't emerge for hours, and my wallet is emptied. I went into Modern Times with purpose, but when I had identified the object I desired, I paused, considered the imbalance of spending only five minutes in a bookstore. But I looked at the book for a moment, pressed my hand against the hardcover, and decided it was too potent to be diluted. The cashier smiled at me sympathetically, and only later did I realize that my eyes were shifty. I had been anxiously glancing around the store, worried about what other gems I had missed, and at the same time absent-mindedly tapping my fingers on the counter in anticipation of cracking open the book before me.

Later, on Sunday, on a trail lined with wildflowers and banana slugs, I was reminded that I am by nature a solitary walker. Making my way through the city or the woods, I prefer the deliberation that comes with silence. Each subconscious decision is suddenly documented when idle chatter is removed. I choose to turn here, I choose to keep going, I choose to acknowledge this beauty. I like hiking with SP for this reason, for SP's ability to sustain silence. It disquiets neither of us. We sat on a log, stopping for a snack, looking out on the wilderness. In the silence, the mind wanders like a stone skipping over the water. The trail was paved with pine needles. It made me think of home, and what home even really meant. And that question made me think of the book I had picked up on Friday, War by Candlelight. The book had seeped into me by then. All weekend, I kept thinking one more story.

That was the thought running through my head when I started reading Third Avenue Suicide on Saturday. I was taking BART, then MUNI to a place where I only planned to stay fifteen minutes. Somewhere around Embarcedero, it dawned on me that the whole trip was a ruse, an excuse to read this short story while in transit. When I read the first page, I closed the book, and looked up in surprise. What was this story doing in here? The others had been about violence, about Peru, about foreign things. And suddenly, New York, an Indian woman, a problem. Not just a situation described so well as to feel familiar, this one really was so close I could touch it. But it was told from the other side of the looking glass.

In just over a month, I'll be in Arequipa. It seemed so far when the plans were mapped out, not just the distance, but the date as well. But the book had covered so much time and space in so few pages- and the world suddenly contracted, squeezed into a tighter ball.

Friday, April 22, 2005

tell me something good

Some times I imagine I could sustain myself on negative energy alone. That's why A.O Scott currently has me at hello, as he is on a spectacular roll with dissing films. May I present to you two choice gems:

On House of D
"The reasons to avoid "House of D," David Duchovny's earnest, unwatchable coming-of-age drama, can best be summarized in a simple declarative sentence. Robin Williams plays a retarded janitor."

On The Interpreter
"Sydney Pollack's new film is described as a political thriller, but it is as apolitical as it is unthrilling."

Yes, despite hours of mood music and melancholy poems, my evil streak remains unharmed.

Also, a note on iTunes celebrity playlists: if you put one of your own songs on your playlist, you're a d****-b** of massive proportions. If you plug your own song even further by recounting a famous artists' reaction to your sorry a** song, there is just no hope for you in this world (Russell Crowe, I'm looking at you).

I think I'm going to design a t-shirt that will read "I watched The OC, and all I got was five minutes of Death Cab". Seriously... I can't believe I sat through all that nonsense for such a short glimpse of Ben Gibbard. Gah.

Since I'm on rant mode today, let me also say that I hate Stair Master. With a fiery passion. But you know what I hate more? Working out on Stair Master while Extreme Makeover is on every television screen at the gym. WTF?!? When something like that happens, my enraged mind starts mapping out all these conspiracy theories on the master plan. And let me just say that Extreme Makeover is the most clear evidence I've seen to date that the universe is eroding at an alarming rate. Apocalypse now. Seriously. All I want to do is not fall apart when I'm in Peru. Do I have to suffer through watching scary transformations to that end? For a second (maybe it was due to the dizziness), I really weighed out the cost-benefit ratio of buying a Stair Master. Then I came to my senses and went home.

But then I lost my mind again and watched ER. I'm an idiot! Sadly, so are the makers of ER. If there's one thing that really bothers me about NBC (but alas, there is much more than one thing), it's their love of the whole ripped from the headlines vibe. I'm SICK of it. I read the headlines, mofos, and a lot of times, I read the article following the headlines. I don't need you to dramatize it for me! Yesterday's ER was like reading the science section of the NY Times, except all the Times writers had been replaced by morons. Also, there's this idiot on the show now who bears a vague resemblance to Doogie Houser, and should be slapped silly. While we're talking about Doogie, I have to admit that I fantasize he grew up and became curmudgeonly House, MD.

OKAY... enough with the rage. Here's a small bag of happy: an awesome article on the friendship between Chuck Close (I lurve him) and Philip Glass, and how that translated into a dialogue of tributes between music and art. Also, I tempered the rage last night with some retail therapy, and now... drumroll please... I have a new cell phone! Details at 11.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year

Just when everyone was starting to cut him some slack, the governator went all Marge Schott and advocated closing the California borders in a speaking engagement in San Francisco yesterday. Way to go, Arnie. You know, you're not, like, an immigrant yourself or anything. That's just an accent you decided to take on for your film career, right? Particularly amusing about this blunder are the assistants to the governor, who tried to jump in front of the bullets by explaining away that Ah-nuld only meant that we should have better border security. You know, for the terrorists and so on, and such and all that stuff. Note to Schwarzaneggers' toadies: dudes, if you're going to try to talk reporters out of taking his words the wrong way, try it in a different city than San Francisco. The people of this city are foaming at the mouth for any schadenfraude related to the governator.

In other news, National Poetry Month is killing me. Seriously. I thought it would be a nice idea, getting a poem emailed to me a day. It would be a nice way to keep up with reading. I've misjudged some things, but this one takes the cake. These poems have been reducing me to a shell of my former self. It doesn't help that I have some sort of iTunes playlist comprising of Sullen McBroodypants songs. Today, a poem by Katrina Vandenberg that referenced Bob Dylan took me down, to the mat, for the count. And then, as if I was on some level enjoying it, I decided to help myself to another serving by reading Rainer Maria Rilke. Yeah, I know, you're about to quote D12, and go all, "B*tch, are you retarded?" on me. And the answer is, well, clearly yes. I mean, should people susceptible to poetry even be allowed to read something like this:
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.
I have actually willed myself into a mope for no good reason, whatsoever. If I think about it rationally, I have nothing specific to be upset about. But I stupidly read this Rilke poem while listening to Lie in the Sound, and now I'm convinced I should be inconsolably melancholy. The only thing I really should be upset about is that I could never in a million years articulate with such precision and depth the feelings and thoughts that poets capture in such a sparsity of words, or that musicians capture in the lilt of their voice or a perfectly placed note.

So in sum, music + poetry= a deadly combination that should come with the kind of warning label that comes on alcoholic beverages. Moreover, I am an idiot, as I have currently concocted drama where it does not, in fact, exist at all. Go me!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

the man upstairs is used to all of this noise

An article about an Indian doctor who has decided to hang it all up and head to the Ganges is wigging me out. I read the interview carefully to look for signs of insanity. There are signs of madness, but it's a thin line between madness and devotion. In her day, Mirabai was considered more than a little loony. The only real sign of lunacy in the case of the Indian doctor comes from this response regarding her parents' reticence about her decision:
"Well, I think they don't understand what is really happening with me, and the support isn't there. Maybe I'm not a parent, but I just don't get it. You have three other children -- what's the big deal? I'm just one person, you know?"
Umm... anyone with Indian parents can tell you that they don't care if they have three children, or fifteen, they worry over all of them until the end of time. Actually, scratch the Indian qualifier- that's pretty much applicable to all parents. But I don't know of any Indian parents who would be happy if their daughter, after establishing herself as a successful physician at one of the best medical facilities in the country, decided eh, not so much.

The interview just confused me. Folks that steadfast in their religious beliefs baffle me, because I really think I'm incapable of believing in something that fervently. I question everything, all the time. I have trouble with extremists, because I just don't understand how they can be so certain. I require evidence. Faith is an island in the setting sun, proof is the bottom line for everyone. I was definitely a nightmare as a child, one of those annoying little pig-tailed brats asking "But why?" after every statement of supposed fact. I always want an explanation.

But some things have no explanation, and those who have faith know this and are at peace with it (for more evidence, come to my neighborhood and I'll show you the church emblazoned with Jesus is the man in Spanish above the door). And the rest of us peck at it, picking the scab, hoping to get to the bottom of it. On some level, I understand that you can never know anything with absolute precision. But the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a whole post for another time, when I'm all wistful and sh*t. Sufficed to say, I've got a bee in my bonnet over this article, although I can't explain exactly why or how.

Not to put too fine a point on it (bad segue, sorry), but the news that Death Cab for Cutie is going to play live on the OC may signal the coming of the apocalypse. No, no, just kidding. I still love the diatribe Dave Eggers once delivered about all the crap the Flaming Lips got for going on 90210. I don't particularly care if Ben Gibbard is selling out or not, because I've given up on figuring out what exactly it means to sell out. Isn't it selling out the minute your album enjoys even the slightest commercial success? Don't we wish that for the obscure artists we love? Mostly, I'm just annoyed that watching this tv show on Thursday might be the closest I get to seeing Death Cab live this year. Grr.

Monday, April 18, 2005

we stoop so low to reach so high

Funny things I saw at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japantown this weekend:
  • A stand selling t-shirts that had such mottos as I suck at math and I will not love you long time.
  • A salsa band playing "Guajira" followed by a gospel choir singing "Oh happy day" on the main stage at the festival. Nothing like the smell of teriyaki, and the sounds of (alternately) Carlos Santana and the big JC to make a winning combination.
  • Spam burgers and spam maki. Because Spam is always funny.
We did see a very cool musical performance on a mind-blowing string instrument. Four players, an infinite number of strings, and an innate sense of timing. Very cool.

I might have appreciated it more if I had not been gimping around Japantown like an invalid. SP and I went on an epic hike this Saturday for 14 miles, and damage to one of my knees ensued. I need a walking stick (um, and maybe a walker and a can of Ensure). We started the trail cheerfully enough, following the trail we had planned, but then we hit a bit of a comedy of errors involving a seasonal footbridge that didn't exist. On the up side, at mile 9, there was a stunning pay off- a waterfall that was greater than 60 feet. Is there anything nicer than that sound of water demonstrating the basic principles of physics?

The 5 mile trudge back was where the trouble began. At first, it was peaceful; SP and I went twenty minutes without uttering a word, lost in our own thoughts, observing the strangely iridescent shades of green on the ferns and moss along the trail. But what soon dawned upon us was that we had reached the pay-off too soon. The waterfall behind us, there was nothing to look forward to except the drive back home. We were just walking. We were no longer filled with a sense of stretching, of reaching for something beyond our capabilities. The last half a mile was excruciating. We did not speak, both of us absorbed with weighing what parts were aching.

But then again, I had the kind of solid sleep that comes with complete exhaustion, a dreamless sleep that is dedicated only to rest. That, and the waterfall, was worth it all.

Friday, April 15, 2005

music you were playing really blew my mind

Ever since I bought one set of tickets from Ticketmaster, they've been sending me little periodic emails saying Don't miss __ ! as if they are letting me in on some kind of secret. Yesterday, I got an e-mail from them entitled: Don't miss Oasis! Oasis?!? Seriously? Do people still give two sh*ts about Oasis? Okay, I thought, maybe there's a slow music season here. But then I open the e-mail and scroll down to see that The Pixies are coming to my 'hood next month. So I ask you, are Oasis really bigger than The Pixies nowadays? Because my interest would have been much more piqued by a Don't miss The Pixies e-mail. Now, to see if I can actually obtain tickets- I suspect they are going to sell fast.

But, alas, let me destroy any musical cred I may have just been granted by admitting with much guilt that this morning, on the way to work, I heard Love at first sight by Kylie Minogue... and... I turned the volume up and felt better about the world. No logic can explain this; I won't even try to defend it. No. I'm just going to crawl under my desk in embarassment. I suspect someone is now dreading the mix cd I finally finished and am mailing out tomorrow...

This article about Machu Pichu has me a little frantic. On the one hand, I don't want to be one of the tourists contributing to the ruins being overrun and therefore declared an endangered monument. On the other hand, it strengthens my resolve to go this year before it is too late. And of course, because I am the queen of rationalization, I've reasoned that the main driver for the current crowding at the ruins is the train service that now allows people to get there without trekking. But as my good buddy Samir from Office Space would say "I am also not a pussy," and therefore, I am going the Inca Trail route.

It should be noted, though, that I have been labeled a wuss and a half for choosing to do the Inca Trail. The tri-guy who agreed to go with me when I first started planning this trip had his shorts in a bunch about doing the Inca Trail. He wanted to do a 7-day, 6-night trek that went some back route around glaciers. I was getting visions of Into Thin Air when I started reading the description of that trek. A fight ensued; negotations broke down. My mother, a haggler at birth, has set an example for me when it comes to skillful negotiating. If you really want the upper hand in any such instance, you have to be willing to walk away. My mother has taken this to proportions I can't master. I'm not convinced she ever really wants anything in Indian stores, based on her ability to feign complete indifference when she's bargaining. I stole this technique briefly when I threw down the gauntlet and told the tri-guy he could do his 7-day vision quest on his own, or he could choose not to do the trip at all, or he could do it my way.

It also helped when he later discovered that he has only 5 days of vacation.

However, I now have two other friends who are on board to go, and there is just one thing left to do. Plan the damn trip. Some people will just be doing the Inca trail, some will be going for a more extended stay. I want to go to Arequipa, where there are supposedly amazing condors to be seen. Deal me in, man. I'm in charge of researching trekking companies. Right now I'm trying to decide between Q'Ente, SAS, and Andean Life. SAS seems the most established, but it's hard to know which one will be best (anyone have suggestions? feel free to let me know if you have any experience with this). By the end of this weekend, we will have airplane tickets in hand. By next week, we need to make decisions about trekking companies. It's driving me a little insane right now, but I'm hoping that, come May, I'll be beaming with an "I love it when a plan comes together"... sans cigar, of course.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

set it in motion, it's the next movement

Thank you India, thank you Turbotax, thank you, thank you silence! Sorry. Actually, I rather hate that song. It's funny how a lyric as slight as Thank you India can cause me to completely sour on a song without giving it any further consideration.

I can't justify posting more right now, because I have got to get my act together on several other fronts. There are things begging to be finished, the clock is ticking. And the taxes, they are finished, so the excuses, they are running out. Why am I writing like I have lost all command of the English language? Maybe it's because I have...

But I do just want to point out this little bit of stunning beauty: a certain, someone who of late has been pummeled by the worst a**holios of the internet takes the time to send me a simple, but extremely meaningful (to me) comment on one of the worst posts I've ever written. Because I've lost my writing faculties at the moment (umm... okay, that's not the only reason), I can't really express how that reduces me. As my friend HB used to say (thumping his fist against his heart), "Right here, man! Right here!" Maybe you had to be there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I started something, and now I'm not too sure

Radical chain reactions involve three fundamental steps: initiation, propagation, and termination. Initiation doesn't involve much, something as simple as UV light, a random catalyst that begins the chaos. A radical is formed, which leads to propagation. Propagation is where the havoc lies, where the chain part of the reaction really applies. A radical meets a molecule, coaxes the molecule into letting another radical loose, and it could go on forever, if unchecked. It's the randomness of a single radical meeting another radical that causes termination, that quells the raging storm. Wouldn't it be nice to meet another radical? When the radicals finally join to form a single, neutral molecule, I imagine they must breathe a sigh of relief. I can see the personals ad now: Solitary, unstable me seeks solitary, unstable you for long-term bonding to make the universe right again. History of prior unstable relationships/baggage no obstacle.

And yet, there's something to be said about chaos. Without propagation-like reactions, we wouldn't have polymers. And without polymers, we wouldn't have all sorts of cool things. Me, I was never big on polymers in the lab- the mess is considerable, and manipulating polymers into doing what you want is a bit like pulling a thread attached to a train to pull it off the tracks. Which is why it impresses me so much.

In other news, I'm going to buy Daniel Alarcon's new book tonight, but not at his reading, for fear that I'll jump him and make a fool of myself. Good authors are impossible for me to resist, and I already have a list of cranial crushes, as I like to call them, that I'm still getting over. Hell, I'm still convinced I'm meant for my crazy professor in grad school, who had a wild grey streak in his hair like a lightning bolt had struck his skull when he wasn't paying attention. He often said he was researching the cure for sleep, and he once caught one of his students in a lie. His student rolled into lab at 11am, claiming to have woke up late because he had stayed there until the wee hours the night before. Crazy prof looked at him and said simply, "I was here at 2 am this morning, and you weren't." Thus reducing the grad student to dust. Rather evil? Yes. Did it make me love him more? Double yes.

Monday, April 11, 2005

this must be a strange deception by celestial intervention

See, I was all set to rant about Tom DeLay and the hassle of visitors and blah blah blah, but now I just can't do it. This morning, I took A to a coffee shop before dropping him to the airport. We were tooling around Noe, stopped into a few shops, and then back we went. When I returned from SFO there was a voicemail waiting for me from one Miss RB, saying she was looking for someone by my name and could I please call her? I did call her, and she asked me if I worked at the company where I do work. I said yes, and she pointed out that she found a check floating around Noe Valley with my name on it. For a sizable amount. It was a bit old, because I have direct deposit, so this errant check had been stashed away in my purse for quite a while, waiting for the right opportunity to go to the bank. She was the sweetest woman on earth, and I went to her house and picked up the check. And she has a newborn baby, and I now have to retract all the little crabby remarks I've been making about Stroller Valley and affluent housewives.

To sum up: I continue to suck. And the luck keeps showering upon me in massive downpours. I promise to start reciprocating in some way very soon, though it will not come close to matching- I'm just going to have to learn to stop it with the sour puss and start admitting that I've got quite a streak here for which to be grateful. There was a temporary setback in the reciprocation efforts involving A devouring certain projects that were meant to be sent somewhere else, but temporary is the key word there.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

the moon sometimes looks like a C, but you can't eat that

The news about the change to Cookie Monster's repertoire really has me conflicted. I share the writer's affection for Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch; they were my far my most beloved Sesame Street characters. So what's next, I wonder? Will Oscar the Grouch be going metrosexual, and getting a cleaning service for his trash can. On the other hand, Sesame Street's inclination to encourage children who are trending towards increased levels of obesity to eat in a healthy manner is a good one. But let's really examine whether Cookie Monster is a major offender:
"A round cookie with one bite out of it looks like a C
A round donut with one bite out of it also looks like a C
But it's not as good as a cookie"
See, our buddy the Cookie Monster is not blindly advocating that we eat every bad treat on earth, he's just partial to cookies. And, um, he's a monster. Had you asked me when I was six if Cookie Monster was setting an example I should follow, I would have said no. And then proceeded to eat a cookie. That's what six year olds do. Especially when they're contrary and spazztastic like I was. The only difference is that my mom got tired of me bouncing off the walls, and let me loose to go play kickball with the neighborhood kids.

On the flip side, this very Bay area story amused me to no end: Berkeley elementary school children are now getting gourmet breakfasts. Yes, yes, Berkeley is really leading the fight against childhood obesity with this campaign to promote healthy eating at school. But let's face it- they're also rearing the next generation of pain in the a** foodies. I can just see a little congregation of varmints selling "Meyer Lemon Granita" at a stand around the way.

Yep, I'm blogging about the really important things now. Truth be told, I am very much distracted at the moment. Without exaggeration, I have undertaken five "projects" this week, stupid projects, but projects nonetheless. And then there's the little matter of that pesky thing, oh yeah, my job. In an attempt to get out of the doledrums, I felt it best to go on a mission. Except it turned into five missions. But I make progress every night on each. And it feels me with a false sense of calm and purpose- but I'll take it. In fact, I need it.

Weekly note to the makers of Lost: thanks for not killing off Veeny. But please, no killing crazy Yoda mofo either, okay? And tell Jack not to steal Yoda's catch phrases- that sh*t is wrong, man.

Now I must go home and comfort my brother with cookies (yes, in our family comfort = food, and we're not going to therapy for it). He's still licking his wounds from the defeat of his not-so-fighting-after-all Illini. I'd make some throwaway remark about men and attachment to sports, except I've been known to brood in a similar fashion over a team loss, so I'd be an even bigger hypocrite than usual.

And a big, special (shaking my fist angrily at the screen) damn you, Blogger!! Gah...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

lay me down in a sea of pens and feathers

The NY times reported yesterday that Saul Bellow passed away. He was 89, lived a full life by all accounts. I'd rather not get maudlin about his passing. I'd rather focus on his work. I make no claim to have read his entire opus, but A Theft and Henderson the Rain King left permanent imprints. Especially the latter. Henderson, the protagonist, alternately frustrating and lovable. He wanted so much, sometimes too much, he pushed the limits of reason, but yet... you wanted just as much as he. I loved Bellow's description of Henderson's heartbeat, a chant of I want, I want, I want, I want. Because I think back to that when I'm really in the zone on something, that chant, that feeling that your heart might burst right out of its chest from the pang of ambition/wanting/desire. It's extremely uncomfortable, and yet, it's the best feeling in the world. I'll know I've found my calling when I experience that heartbeat at least once a day. I don't know. Far be it for me to try to paraphrase Bellow, but that book is as precious as gold to me, even though there are parts of it that might not be viewed as PC, and the female characters are a bit flimsy in my opinion.

In other news, note to the Bay area and all other cities in the US: don't try to be New York. It's a futile task, and incredibly counterproductive. And for the love of all that is holy, do not try to claim you can compete in the realm of pizza. Yes, I did just say that, Chicago. I don't care how much you paid off some NY food critic, you'll note he still didn't say the Bay area rivals New York- just that it's the best place in California to get a slice... gee, that's high praise indeed. I read this nonsense, and all I thought was man, I could really go for popping into one of those dives in the village for a slice right about now.

Reminder: I still hate the time difference. One of my dear friends just got back from India, and our esteemed blogger J just returned from the UK, but is that going to put my life in perspective and get me to stop my b*tching about a wee one hour shift? Silly rabbits.

Which reminds me of a Barkley quote I heard yesterday (god, that man is a lovable loon):
On primadonna basketball stars being overrated: "I got a theory... I call it the Playboy bunny theory... see, everyone thinks they're married to a Playboy bunny... but the truth of the matter is most of them are married to a rabbit."
Inappropriate? Yes. Typical Barkley humor? Absolutely yes. He actually managed not to insult too many players in this interview, which was shocking to me.

Must get caffeine now. Brain losing ability to function.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

this is grace in gravity

In a fit of not being altogether productive but yet wanting to keep myself frenzied last night, I embarked on another baking adventure that went, sadly, south. Actually, I say sadly, but I don't really mean it. Failures in baking give me a certain satisfaction. They signify experimentation, and they inform my next iteration. It occurred to me, during this process, that I am a tweaker more than an inventor. Also, I have a problem with authority. I can't follow recipes, to the point of neurose. I don't trust them, am never quite convinced that the recipe I'm reading is going to result in what I really want. I figure out what I have to keep constant, and then madness reigns. I can alter recipes to the point that the product in no way resembles the original, but I can't (or don't try to) come up with my own recipes.

Yesterday's attempt was 50% MacGyver, 50% actual desire to make something. I was looking in my refrigerator and thinking you know, you really need to do something with those apples soon... and those eggs are nearing the end of their usefulness. Next thing you know, a cake is born. It came out really bland though. If only I had a stick of chewing gum or some duct tape, maybe I could have solved the issues. Luckily for me, I have coworkers who apparently have no taste buds and will eat anything left for them in the break room.

The only real problem with this kind of excursion is that I'm taken back to my research days. I'm intrigued by the outcome of this experiment, and am contemplating what went wrong with the experiment. More cinnamon? Less maple syrup? I want to get back in the lab and run another experiment, change the variables, figure it out.

It should be noted that all of this was a nice distraction from the task that should have been at hand: Operation please in the name of all that is holy clean your apartment. My friend A is coming to visit on Friday, and, while I have often affectionately referred to him as a human garbage disposal for his uncanny ability to lay waste to even the crappiest of my attempts in the kitchen, I don't think a blech apple cake was really needed in preparation for his arrival. A and I have to figure out whether we're going to the Mojave this weekend to glimpse the wildflowers, or if we can work out a way to go to Yosemite to check out one of my favorite waterfall hikes. Or if we're just going to hang out in the Mission getting crunked. You have to keep your options open.

In other news, the time difference is still kicking my a**, and NC state winning the NCAA championship blows... mostly because I will have to hear my brother complain about it for the next decade or so.

On a far more serious note, lest you think I've gotten off my high horse about smoking... well, I have been feeling like I've been too preachy and judgemental towards people who are engaged in the whole smoking chic thing, but... I'm back to being a pain in the a** about it now. Driving in to work this morning, I saw a really old dude driving a beat up truck while flicking the ashes off his cigarette, and thought, now this guy I can't fault for smoking. If you make it to 80, fine, light 'em up, grandpa, you have earned the right to throw caution to the wind. But right after that, I heard this morning that Peter Jennings has lung cancer. Jennings, a former smoker, is an anchorman who has hidden depths. For one thing- his wit. Of all the network anchors, he's been the best sport about visiting The Daily Show. Chirpy Katie Couric could take a lesson or two from Jennings. So I thought it quite touching that he handled even this terrible news about his health with typical Jennings composure and understated humor:
"There will be good days and bad, which means some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky," he told ABC News employees in an e-mail.
That's impressive.

Monday, April 04, 2005

the world owes me nothing

Posted by: brimful
the world owes me nothing
A very special f*** you from me to Flickr and the whole daylight savings time business. Ah, but you might think I'm grumpy... but behold, I am not. How can one dare to be grumpy when a little package shows up on your doorstep on Sunday afternoon with the contents I've poorly photographed here? Sorry, don't mean to embarrass you, sweet lady of the lowlands, but a vainglorious display of my good fortune must be shared here.

The worst conversations I've had have involved the frustration of feeling that a person just doesn't get me. I've beaten dead horses trying to explain myself on occasion. It may explain my inability to post succinctly. And since I've structured this blog such that only a sliver of me is represented, I've always assumed that I ought to be bracing myself for the onslaught. And it's not that I suddenly feel relieved, feel that worry is dispensable. No. It's just that I'm giddy really at the generosity of a stranger. And of course there is the music, the sweet sweet music. Bob Mould and Social Distortion turned me into a teeniac, bopping around fueled by nostalgia. PJ Harvey, Whiskeytown, and Rufus Wainwright turned me into a melancholy mess. I can be a pretty steady person when I want to be, but when music is involved, all bets are off.

My blog doesn't mean much, doesn't have much of a purpose, but it's still been flailing for the past few weeks. A little too much drama queen. I have to get back the bond as my cousins would say- I still can't explain that adjective, by the by, I think it can best be translated to something to do with backbone and bravery. Yesterday, I set the reset button, and I think the angst will fall away a bit, with any luck.

In other news, on Friday night, I saw my future husband, Zach Galifianakis, perform at the 826 Valencia benefit. In addition to his crazy ass last name, Galifianakis exhibited a characteristic I forget about when I'm snarking on actors and others in the entertainment industry... genius can be eclipsed by the Hollywood powers that be. Because I recognized his name when I was perusing the channels on Thursday night, I caught a glimpse of my future husband on the Fox crapfest Tru Calling, and he plays a rather dull, oafy character, a forgettable character. But put Galifianakis on a stage without the restrictions of such a boring character, and he's transformed. He pensively rubbed his head, so that his hair gets more and more maniacal. He made droll, Stephen Wright-esque observations while imitating a lounge lizard on the piano, like the following: "The only time it's good to say 'I have diarrhea' is when you're playing Scrabble... because that's a sh**load of points." And he finished his set with a boy's choir singing The Greatest Love of All while delivering an insanely hilarious Subterranean Homesick Blues-inspired barrage of flip chart pages. I'm not really capturing it very well, but seriously, Zach, I'm yours. Quiet, dysfunctional, self-deprecating, vaguely batsh** crazy, not pretty-boy handsome... what more could I want, really?

I blame the time difference yesterday on the irrational behavior I exhibited yesterday morning, when I made personal history by purchasing my first piece of jewelry ever. Yep, it's true- having an Indian mom obsessed with jewelry and having very little inclination towards such decor, I've never thought to buy anything in the necklace-ring-earring family. So I can only claim temporary insanity and a 50% off rack (hey, I'm guju, the genetics are stacked up against me) for the dangly ruby colored earrings that are now in my possession. Weird. Maybe I'll freak myself out even further and actually wear them some day.

Friday, April 01, 2005

it ain't hard for me and dear jojo to see

April Fool's is wasted on me, for two main reasons. I'm usually not gullible enough to fall for an April Fool's prank, and, as evidenced by the many dollars I've lost in Texas Hold 'Em with the fam, my poker face is for crap so it's rare that I can pull off pranking anyone either.

I don't want to go all Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus up in here, but last night I read an interesting article in NEJM about a study of the effect of low-dose aspirin for women. Men have been previously studied, and the trend for men is that low-dose aspirin reduces their risk of myocardial infarctions, but not their risk of strokes. This latest study shows that women exhibit the opposite trend- low-dose aspirin does little for their risk of MIs, but does significantly decrease their risk of strokes. I could go off on a rant right now about how so many of the early low-dose aspirin work focused solely on men, and how women actually have a higher incidence of stroke than men... but it's Friday, and I still have my commute home to expend rage.

But I still have to mention that I was a bit disheartened to hear this morning that it looks like plans to move the Jets to Manhattan are well underway. This, quite simply, sucks. I don't have any allegiance to NJ, believe me. But it's symptomatic of something that is really starting to piss me off about Manhattan, and I don't understand why more New Yorkers aren't getting angry about it. If you go with the premise that I've always advocated, that NYC is a place like no other in the United States, then you should have a big problem with Bloomberg and his idiotic plans. Manhattan has some big problems, as it has continually had, when it comes to money, schools, housing, transit. Crikey, have you seen the size of an average studio (we're not even going to touch the subject of rent, because, well, I live in SF, so I have very little sympathy there) in Manhattan, the Barbie kitchens with EZ-bake ovens? Have you tried to catch a cab in Manhattan at 6 pm on a Thursday when it's raining? Have you tried to get from midtown to anywhere past Rockefeller Plaza by foot when the Christmas season is upon us? Have you noticed how many people have to move to the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or even worse New Jersey, and commute into the city, because of space and money concerns?

My point is, Manhattan has enough going on. Manhattan is not Jacksonville, is not Orlando, is not San Diego. New York does not need the 2010 Superbowl. It does not need the Olympics. And it certainly does not need a football stadium. Why would you want to turn Manhattan into such a generic place? I've long forgiven the Disney-fication of Times Square, but I really find this latest turn of events angering. Saying that this stadium is important to the city's vitality is an insult to its actual vitality- its people, its art, its business.

Setting all of that aside, you can bet that, should this stadium get up and running, it will evolve into exactly what a Knicks' game has become- a f***ing corporate circus. Want tickets? You have to ask the boss man, because most of the tickets these days are owned by corporations. And you can forget about tailgating. And also, the Jets are so NJ. Come on... Mark Gastineau? Tell me you wanted him anywhere but the Meadowlands.

In the usual completely non-sequitur tangent- the great white shark in Monterey was set free yesterday... my previous doubts about whether she was really combative or whether the soupfins had just gone soft have been settled- Monday, the great white shark was observed chasing some hammerheads and galapagos sharks. So I guess she was just exhibiting natural tendencies. When I called my brother to tell him about this today, he was incredibly forlorn. He's always been a fan of sharks, but due to the procrastination gene that runs in our family, he never made it to Monterey. He cursed me a few times for this, although I might have deserved it a little. The brother-sister dynamic requires gloating and teasing. If we didn't have that, what would we have, come to think of it?