Monday, July 31, 2006

you're so extreme, you're feast or famine

Would someone please kindly explain to me how it got to be the end of the month already? I did not authorize this acceleration of time.

Instead of regaling you with tales of my Howard Hughes-esque shut-in behavior for the past two days and maybe the foreseeable future, let me tell you about overreaction. Me, I have always been one to proclaim my aversion for drama. But let’s face it- we can all be drama queens under the right circumstances. Something about the struggle to balance my work, my health, my family, my friends, and The Goal has caused me to have a bit of a mental bellyflop, resulting in one irrational hyperbole after the other.

Mast cells do the same thing. Of all the cells involved in immunity, our mast cells are the consummate drama queens. People with severe nut or bee allergies know what I am talking about. The immune response is exponential to the original insult: a bee sting smarts for a moment, the allergic anaphylaxis that follows is prolonged and nearly fatal. Mast cells have always struck me as stupid. What are you getting so bent out of shape about? It’s just a particle of peanut, it means you no harm, you dimwitted mast cell.

I try to calm myself down with similar internal monologues- calm down, it is not worth getting upset over such a trivial matter. But sometimes it is instinctual. We overreact because we have been here before, and we know what is coming next. Or maybe, underneath the surface, we are fighting something off. The overreaction is serving some other purpose, subconsciously, that we do not understand. I like to tell myself that could be happening now- my self-imposed seclusion may be absurdly extreme, but it may also be necessary.

Mast cells, as it turns out, are not quite as dumb as people thought they were. In the latest issue of Science (registration required), there is a report on the role of mast cells in snake bites. Mast cells, when they are mounting a response, unleash enzyme chompers called proteases. Now proteases, I like. They are the Pac-Man of proteins. These mast cell proteases, it turns out, maybe, just maybe degrade sarafatoxins, the most toxic component of snake venom. In fact, mice with normal mast cell levels require 10 times as much snake venom to be killed compared to mast cell deficient mice. It remains to be seen whether this is true in people, but I certainly hope so. It would be nice to think we were highly evolved enough such that even our seemingly stupid parts had figured out something useful to do with themselves.

Friday, July 28, 2006

tempted by the fruit of another

Ways to make my friend/coworker RR's head explode:
    RR: Do you know who said "These are the times that try men's souls-"?
    me: (before I've allowed him to finish the that try men's souls part, because I am a jackass) Billy Joel?
    RR: What?
    me: Oh, wait, wait, I meant- Billy Joe Armstrong.
    RR: You know, you could be recruited to topple governments.
    me: Well, I do get a kick out of causing people to froth at the mouth.

Yesterday, I was supposed to have a chat with the boss-lady, dropping hints that I might fly the coop. After confirming with SJM that I only possess an on-off switch and lack a dimmer, I walked into the meeting with no intention of showing her any of my cards. And then, she offered me a promotion.

Ay... my head!?!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

until our shells simply cannot hold all our insides in

Anyway, what are you going to do? Sometimes you come home and your bicycle has been stolen. It was a bit demoralizing considering that I had just come back from volunteering (karma police, arrest this man), and it was a bit concerning because it was an unforced entry, but, hey, I do live in the Mission, so- when you're rolling to the carnival, anything can happen. Oh yeah, you know it's bad when I am quoting solo Wyclef Jean projects.

Let's talk about Lance instead. Oh no. I am not going to get into the doping controversy surrounding Armstrong, or the potential Landis doping scandal that has just emerged. That is for the biking enthusiasts to sort out. But it seems the reason Lance Armstrong's Tour De France wins have always had a larger-than-life quality to them has been his fight with testicular cancer.

Usually, you hear the big C, and your stomach drops, and words like one-year survival take on a whole new meaning. Lance Armstrong had advanced, metastatic testicular cancer, but survived. And he won all his yellow jerseys after recovering from cancer.

Usually when you hear the word metastatic associated with cancer, this is another wave of stomach turns. Cancer, after all, is an insidious bastard. It takes its time and hurries up. Cancer cells can take years to form a tumor. But it those cells manage to form a tumor, they can then become invasive, and yes, that’s as bad as it sounds. When cancer becomes metastatic, it means that the tumor is not only actively dividing, but now has broken through its original site and traveled to other parts of the body. So, in short, bad news.

And yet, for patients with metastatic testicular cancer, not so bad. People, stay with me here. I know I had a long wind-up, but this is actually the part I find interesting. Patients with advanced testicular cancer tend to do a lot better than other patients with other advanced cancers. Why would this be? A review in JAMA (registration required) suggests it is about heat.

Normal testicular germ cells live at a different, lower temperature than the rest of the body. In fact, testicular germ cells have been found to be prone to dying when placed at normal body temperature. So, even though a testicular cancer cell may have gone rogue and made it out of the testes, multiplying furiously, it may still retain that Achilles’ heal of thermal sensitivity. And so, these types of cancer cells might be easier to kill by conventional cancer treatments. Nuts, huh? Whoops… puns might be inappropriate here.

Scientists are trying to figure out how to manipulate cell temperature to mimic this sensitivity in other cancer cells. Way back in the day, they tried this, but could not go about it in a useful way, because they wound up heating good cells and bad alike. Now, they are doing experiments to use nanotechnology to deliver particles to cancerous cells selectively such that, zap, you can heat them from the inside. Implosions. I lurve it!

Furthermore, scientists have also uncovered a set of proteins that cells use to defend against excessive heat. These heat shock proteins (Hsp’s) have all kinds of functions. And it may well be that inhibition of these proteins (one in particular, Hsp90, is already showing promise) could help kill cancer cells.

This kind of thing sets my brain on fire. Because how neat is it, to jump along the stones in the water- testes are at a lower temperature than the rest of the body, jump, heat plays a role in certain types of cells’ viability, jump, making them more susceptible to chemotherapy/radiation, jump, how can we take this heat-sensitivity and manipulate it such that we can use it to kill other types of cancer cells?

All of this makes me very hopeful for my job switch. If I make the jump, I may have to go to NYC at the end of August, all surreptitious-like. But it will be to nerd out on such geeky shizz as what I just babbled about interminably.

In other news, somewhere in SF, j-money is wandering around with her family. If by some chance or circumstance, we wind up connecting, I will be ecstatic, and will undoubtedly spend the entire time begging her to resurrect her blog. Also, where the heck is Michael Kors when you need him?!?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

twelve long months on the lam

I came home thoroughly prepared to write all about The Lance Armstrong Effect and how hot, hot heat can be the difference between life and death, and then, as I pulled into my garage, I stared in front of the headlights.

Something was not right, but it took me a few minutes to figure out what was not right. And just like that, it hit me: my mountain bike, bike of two flat tires and no rear suspension, bike which I have flown off of on more than one occasion, was gone. Nothing else was taken, not that there is much else you would want to take from my garage. But also, there was no sign that the garage had been broken into. That was the creepy part. So, now, I suppose my car could be stolen if whoever took my bike decides to strike again.

I called my relic of a landlord to tell him about it. After initially feeling a little badly about it, he started in with the well, you know, I am renting you that garage for a song. I was close to replying well, I am only living in this crack shack because you are renting it to me for a song, but decided not to say anything with all these bizarre feelings welling up in me.

Every once in a while, I want to move out of this place into a grown-up apartment, and certainly, incidents like this add to that. On the other hand, I love my neighborhood, I love the lack of work associated with not moving. And I keep telling myself this is temporary anyway. But then again, temporary is a state of mind- I've been saying this place was temporary for a long time now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

strange days indeed

All afternoon, I have had a pit in my stomach. At first, I thought it was excitement, since the potential job switch is starting to show signs of really manifesting. Nothing happens swiftly in the corporate world though, so even if it comes to fruition, it will not be until September. But, perhaps the excitement and anxiety (hello, un-updated CV!) was having its way with me.

Then I thought the stomach churning had to do with an angry email I got from a cousin. He was infuriated that I had mentioned, at the family reunion, that he danced at my brother's graduation party (oh, and of note, this was over fifteen years ago, when my cousin was four) "all graceful like an ice skater." It was true, y'all. I could have gone further, and retold tales of how he also had a fondness for dressing up in saris and whatnot, but I really was not trying to embarass him. Of all the ways I could have put it, I did not think the ice skater remark was going to cause the San Andreas fault to rip open, but apparently it did. Out came the news that, guess what, I was not alone in being scarred by the family cruise. From this, I can only gather that my entire family is messed up, not just me.

Still with the stomach ache. Maybe it was the momentum getting ahead of me. It is like the adrenaline rush that arrives too early, before your legs are actually ready to run. There has been momentum towards The Goal, but I am one impatient pain in the a$$. So the progress has not felt fast enough. The uncertainty still plagues me, as I wonder if I have what it takes, if it is too late, or whether this will all work out.

All afternoon, though, the impending ulcer continued. It might appear that I'm manic, but actually, sometimes it just seems that life does switch gears on me frequently, one moment recklessly pleasant, the next careening downward. And this thing with my cousin and some other bad feelings combined to force me to ponder how many people are angry at me for reasons I could never have guessed. Am I really such a heartless b*tch? Oh, people, the answer is yes, because my final analysis led to this conclusion: suck it up and deal. All the same, my body was not cooperating with my mental state: this unsettled stomach thing was really starting to bother me.

And then I remembered: I haven't eaten anything since breakfast at 7.

Monday, July 24, 2006

and we've come such a long, long way

Well. I get the distinct impression that the angst and general b*tchery is getting tired. Or maybe I have grown tired of it myself. Either way, as I struggled to fight the brain melt that comes from my apartment topping 90 degrees this weekend, I sense that writing about sitting around working all weekend is a bit banal.

Instead, let me go back to when AL was visiting. It may have seemed like his visit was ill-timed, and in some ways, it may have been. Still, it was great fun. On Saturday night, walking all the way home from Bill Graham, we could hardly speak, equal parts hoarse and dehydrated. We had also been standing for over four hours at this point, so the walk, while somewhat refreshing, also felt doubly lengthy. We stumbled into a convenience store around Market and Dolores, where the quirky cashier insisted on pointing out several times to AL: "You tall!" AL got a disturbingly large bottle of Gatorade, downing half of it before he had even paid for it. I got a bottle of Vitamin Water, and after taking a large gulp of it outside, felt 400% better: every once in a while, something as simple as the right beverage at the right moment can cause euphoria.

AL had to be fed, then, so we crawled into Kelly's Burgers. He sang the mighty burger's praises, but I remain uncertain of whether the burger was actually pure deliciousity on a bun, as he put it, or whether his dire hunger had biased him. As we were walking back to my apartment, AL took in the scene, and remarked, "Dude, your neighborhood is awesome!" He has visited four times now, but I think this is the first time he has really seen San Francisco through my eyes, appreciated it for the reasons I appreciate it. Some of this could be my fault: it takes a while to settle into a city such that you can show it to your friends in a way that adequately sums it up.

The next day, before he took his red-eye home, we drove to Marin along with two other friends. One of these friends had heard about something in the North Bay that she described as a hike/beer festival. This seemed suspect, but I figured if she delivered on the beer part, AL would be happy. When we got there, it was exactly what she'd described it to be. We hiked through a seemingly quiet trail with scenic views of Mt. Tam and then, WTFF, we came upon a raucous beer fest. I have been told that we are not allowed to divulge any further details about it, but I will share one of the pictures of the festival:

Even though I do not really drink beer these days, and am not particularly sporty enough to be hanging out with the crew that was assembled, I appreciated the randomness involved. I also appreciated that AL was in his element. In less than an hour, he had managed to polish off a small pitcher of Hefeweizen and then disappeared from sight. When we finally tracked him down three hours later, he was sitting at a table with new friends, playing a drinking game. When I informed him that we were leaving, he said, "Oh" and paused thoughtfully. He was actually trying to do the long division to devise some way that we could leave while he could remain behind. Coming out of his beer haze, realizing that he actually had no other means of returning home and that he was flying home that night, he said, much like a 7-year old would upon his mother calling him for dinner, to the table: "Uh... guys, I have to go!" It was equal parts pathetic and hilarious.

I have compared AL to a Golden Retriever before, and I stand by that. By the end of his visit, I was not weary of him. I was, however, run ragged. I remember reading that there are certain types of batteries that don't recharge well until you've drained them of all their power. Let's see if such is the case with my reserves.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I always feel like somebody's watching me

This post should probably be called Irrational Freakout Friday. Unfortunately, I can't think of any songs that have those lyrics in them (note to self: make it the single when you finally release that album that no one will ever buy). Oh, and this reminds me of something that I find utterly endearing about SJM- to this day, whenever we are hanging out and he makes any reference to any song ever known to man, he gives me a little nudge, nudge, wink, wink and is genuinely a little disappointed if I don't get it. How charming is that? Also, I like how he still hasn't figured out what a fraud I am, in every way.

Which brings us to the topic of freaking out. My coworkers always remark about how calm I am at work, and I always give them a look that asks, b*tches, have you ever even talked to me? Because I am not calm, not really. Maybe I give that impression, but believe me, I have an ulcer brewing underneath the surface. Actually, I do not really need to convince all of you of this- sadly for you, there is a front and center seat to my various meltdowns on this blog on a weekly daily frequent basis.

All week, I have been freaking out about working on The Goal. I've also been freaking out about not going to the gym (thanks, gramps, this meltdown, courtesy of you), which I have thankfully not kvelled about here much. And then today, I got an email that freaked me out. A friend of mine emailed me a link to a site that I frequent. I wanted to reply immediately with a b*tch please, I've been reading that site since he first launched it, I've been reading him before he even helped launch that other site. Did I reply with any of this b*tchiness? Hell to the no. Was it because I am not a b*tch? Hell to the no, again. I didn't write back because she does not know I have a blog. And now I am freaking out that she is going to somehow trace me back and then...

And then what? See, this puts the Irrational in Irrational Freakout Friday. Really, it's just a stupid, f*cking blog. And yes, there might be a few remarks that I'd rather not have tied back to me, but whatever. This is the part where I am not only irrational, but hypocritical to boot. I am not a fan of drama. In fact, I rather loathe it. It makes my stomach turn, and I run screaming away from any hint of it. Yet, here I am, creating it out of thin air.

Oh, and even though I quipped about it, I did not really work from home in my pajamas- I am actually fairly worthless if I am not washed and dressed. So, the only real difference between working from home and working from the office is that I can run out to drop off dry cleaning and the other occasional, quick errand. Oh, and I can eat a quarter of a box of Cheez-Its for lunch. But I did Spare the Air today, and did it without even raising my blood pressure on BART.

So it is time for a deep breath. Kneel at the marked line. Arch the back, and wait for the starting gun. On your mark, get set, go. The game is back on this weekend.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

learn to buck up

My friend T brought his baby into work today, and I had to pretend he was cute. That sucked. And also, for writing that just now, I have certainly obtained that one-way ticket to purgatory I've been pursuing for so long.

My head exploded and then, well, not to go all soft on y'all (by the by, since when did my east-coast a$$ develop this Texan habit), but I got saved. Here's the course of events:
  • Last night, read the headline that George W. vetoed the stem cell bill. Remember all that rage I was talking about yesterday? Doubled.
  • Woke up this morning to hear that an exercise in posturing a congressional hearing was held to argue about Global Warming. Can someone please explain to me why the same people that argue that Global Warming and evolution are theories can state with absolute certainty that an embryonic stem cell is the beginning of a sentient life?
  • Co-worker started talking to me about Israel bombing Lebanon.
  • Head exploded. Had to walk outside the building for twenty minutes to calm down.
  • Read e-mail from B. Have you ever seen a toddler walking around with a father? The toddler is still, well, toddling, and as a result, every once in a while, he wobbles a bit. Cue father, who by this time, has become expert in predicting such imminent falls, and gently, but decisively, pulls the back of his overalls or shirt to pull him upright again. B's email? A lot like that. I am walking without a slump now. Let's do this!

See, I think it is important in life to have that balance. You need a few friends who goad you along with an amen to that or an oh, yeah, you were totally right. And you need other friends to put on the brakes with a whoa, calm the f@!# down, dude, it's not that bad and a stop talking, start working. The best thing is that B actually pulled off striking a balance between the two, which, I suppose, makes her something of a zen master.

Tomorrow- baking scones, which I have promised to my GBF. The promise was made to create an intentional obligation, because it is the only way I'll snap out of my baking funk. Oh, also tomorrow? Hardly Working from home. You know what that means- pajamas until noon!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I am a patriot

Okay, dudes, let's talk about some real shizz for a change.

First off, I have been thinking about something since going to a Pearl Jam concert with AL last weekend. Some time between getting crushed by the mosh pit and catching glimpses of Mike McCready throwing guitar picks to audience members, I realized that this music was making me downright angry. Enraged angry. The kind of anger that makes your ears feel hot, and you feel like you need to do something. Right now. What set off this anger? These lyrics:
    Medals on a wooden mantle, next to a handsome face
    that the president took for granted, writing checks that others pay

Followed by these:
    It's the same every day and the wave won't break
    Tell you to pray while the devil's on their shoulder
    Laying claim to the take our soldiers save
    Does not equate, and the truth's already out there

I am not going to lie- I do not talk a whole lot about this war, about politics in general, especially since George W. got another four years. Most of the time, I have this jaded cynicism that stabilizes me into a numb state, allowing me to focus on other things that might prove more productive. I have no mind for politics- or should I say I have no mind for political action? Or should I say I have no mind?

At any rate, as Pearl Jam was playing, and as countless frat boys were more interested in downing a Budweiser, I started pondering whether a song can really be a protest song if half of your audience does not even listen to the lyrics? But when I got home, I started thinking about something else entirely, that in some ways contradicts the first question: does war seep into your body? Does war permeate your existence such that it is there, in your subconscious?

To some extent, I think it does. Though I do not read all of the news stories, or watch the countless bombs or reports of the wounded or buried, I am aware that it is happening. And every once in a while, I feel a large wave of revulsion well up inside of me at the thought that this is my country. This is my country; I proudly claim it as mine when someone would prefer to term me according to my ethnicity. It's my country, and it represents me, and yet its actions at present could not be more opposed to my beliefs. That thought made me angry on Saturday night, but usually it causes me to feel like vomiting.

And usually, this is followed by an inconsolable sense of futility. And it is that sense that war seems to have on my day-to-day life. Sometimes, wars, or tragedies for that matter, can have a sense of urgency to them: you feel an increased drive to go out and grab your life by the reins, because you have an acute awareness of how precious and fleeting life is. But other times, times like now, when it's a war you never supported, that never seems to stop, and that never seems to have any hope of ending well, it causes complete and utter hopelessness.

I make everything about me. Maybe we all do, to some extent. And I am losing hope. I still have a lot to do, but I am losing the strength to strive, because it feels like Sisyphus rolling that rock up that hill. To what end? For how long? And is there any point to any of it? I think of all the protests, all the people who have raised their voice against war, and it's all for nothing. I kept thinking that, at some point, a fever pitch would be reached, and at such a point, change would occur. But it feels like we are well past that point now, and nothing has happened.

A part of me knows that the answer here is to let it go. Accept that the world has gone mad, but do not become inured. Accept that the big problems are beyond my control, but realize that I, too, have a small sphere, and in it, I have control and influence. I know this. I am trying very hard to live this. But I'm just thinking today about how current events do play a part in our daily lives. When I think back on the last fifteen years of my life, I can definitely point to how certain historical events tie into how I perceived reality. Is it the same for everyone, subconsciously?

The really pathetic part about this whole post is that I truly was planning to post about real shizz. I was reminded of genomes and the intersection of technology of science after reading an NYT article today. Maybe tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I just don't know what to do with myself

You know what is lovely?
  • When you left work at 7 pm the night before with only two hours of meetings on your calendar for the following day, and come in at 8:30 in the morning to find your entire day gone, lost to the abyss of back-to-back meetings.
  • When you are asked a question, answer it, and then get the sour puss face that suggests, ick, I can't believe I had to ask her this question- she's so beneath me, because you don't have a few fancy initials at the end of your name.
  • When you recommend someone doesn't get hired, your manager decides to hire her anyway, and just to make life more twisted, makes her your direct report.
  • When you get a rumbling in your stomach at 6:15 pm and suddenly realize it's because you only had time to eat a cup of yogurt between meetings all day.
  • When you work from 8:30 to 6:15, and then feel like a total slacker because you are considering going home and sleeping, instead of finishing two hours more work or, heaven forbid, instead of working on The Goal.

Y'all, I do not know what is wrong with me. I really ought to calm down, go home and bake something, but it feels like everything I do is accompanied with guilt and a pit in my stomach. Work on The Goal, feel guilty about shirking urgent work issues. Work on urgent work issues, feel like a jacka$$ for not focusing on The Goal. Work on getting my mental health back in some capacity, feel guilty about indulging myself in such extravagance.

The most foolish part about wracking myself with such guilt is that it causes a state of complete paralysis. Indecision causes inertia. I am blogging right now because I am trying not to throw my monitor across the room. I know this does not make for very fun reading, and for this, I apologize most humbly. Believe me, I know I've been selfish in many capacities of late- selfish friend, selfish blogger, selfish reader (or non-reader in many cases, sorry), selfish hoarder of the happy things that have happened that I haven't bothered to write about at all. Self-absorbed, selfish, self, self, self. And now I am sick of myself, and stalled out.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm still alive

And that is really all I feel like writing. I’m still alive. Do I deserve to be? Is that the question? And if so, if so, who answers?

I can’t figure it out. Life just feels like a matter of survival right now. Why does it feel like I have just been trying to survive for the past year (and possibly quite longer than that)? Logically, I have absolutely no right to be just surviving. I make rent every month, I can pay my bills, I can go out to eat, I can drink Grey Goose & tonics, and still manage to save for The Goal. For that matter, I have the freedom, in so many senses of that word, to pursue The Goal. There are people in my life who love me. There are people in my life that even, inexplicably, like me. Most all of my family and friends are in good health. I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me.

And yet, it feels like I’m barely getting by. How can that be? Today, I realized I could pay a sum of money, a sum I could easily part with, to meet a musician I’ve wanted to meet for over ten years. But I also realized that I need to get to work on The Goal, which was thoroughly shirked while AL was visiting.

I never thought I would be one of those people who have means, but no time. When I was young, it felt like there was all the time in the world, and it was destined to pass me by, minute by minute, marking all the opportunities I never had. And now, the opportunities are all within reach, and I watch them pass by, missed. Maybe it’s just a matter of age. Maybe it’s not that we get any wiser, but instead get an increased sense of urgency. Some things take precedent over others. We have to prioritize, make those difficult choices that feel a bit like sacrifice.

Once, explaining the process of living in San Francisco to W, I wrote to him:
I came here for many reasons, but one of the overriding factors was escape. Relying upon that reflex, the flight response, is not a bad thing. It’s necessary. But in the end, wherever you go, there you are. I moved to San Francisco and pretended that I had never met Q; I lived in a state of survival. In my protective cocoon, I was happy, but it was the happiness that is associated with the relief of finding out that you have survived a nearly fatal experience. Again, I’m being overly dramatic. What happened between Q and I was so minor, should have been so insignificant, it is absurd how much of an effect it had on me, and how long it took me to be okay about it. One train hides another: you think you are okay, but then you are hit with the next train of inexplicable, illogical feelings.

And in my case, the thing with Q only turned out to be good. In the end, I wound with a kind of peace about my nature, how not everyone can fit into convention, and how that is not in fact tragic, but beautiful. And now, the possibilities feel infinite and everything seems to hold more promise.

But what I failed to tell him is that my conclusion, that conclusive feeling of potential energy, is elusive. It appears for a moment, a candle illuminating a thought for a brief second. Just when I think I see it, the flame goes out. And far more disturbing is the fact that I wrote that to him at least two years ago. Two years ago, and I’m still living like someone who is just trying to get by.

This is a problem, of course, with no solution. I could give up and be content; after all, it makes much more sense to live in the present tense. But having tasted a life wasted, I’m never going back again. My main fear is that this hopeless situation is what I'm trying to achieve. But I have to squelch that fear for now, because I can spare no more time on introspection.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

up here in my tree

My homey AL has been in town since yesterday, so I have been non-blogging due to that. He does not know I have a blog, and even if he did, he would demand that I stop all blogging activities while he is visiting. He has, after all, put a stop to most The Goal activities, because, as he put it, "Dude, hello? I'm here!" in this tone that suggests that should be more than sufficient rationale.

For the most part, though, these types of demands are unspoken. He is just the sort of person who compels everyone to give him their undivided attention. And unlike the terrors of the Cruise of last week, AL exudes nothing but positivity. Call yourself old? "You're not even old, dude!" Call yourself out of shape? "Dude, whatever, you just got to get back into the swing of things, you can do it." Unsure if you've taken him to a good restaurant? You get an unsolicited: "Dude, this food is awesome!" It's like a cross between having a five-year old, a motivational speaker, and a golden retriever all mixed up and embodying a 6-foot tall dude who just passed 30.

Even though I got tired of that kind of endless optimism when we were roommates, I will certainly not grow weary of it in the next three days, after such a stretch of doubts and uncertainties. A good homey bounding around the city with me could be just the right prescription.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I wonder if you can pick up my accent on the phone

Braving the ever unavoidable tension that develops between us on the phone, I called my parents this morning. My mother's uncle and his family live in Khar in Mumbai. Though I knew that most of my family in Mumbai are elderly these days, and rarely take the trains, I still wanted to make sure. I wanted to make sure more for my mother's sake than my own. I've only met my mother's uncle three or four times. But he means a lot to my mother, because of her complicated history.

When my mother, the oldest of five children, was five years old, her young and stylish foi was leaving Ahmedabad to visit Mumbai. My mother eagerly tagged along, equally excited to be accompanying her favorite foi and to be visiting the big city. When they arrived, they stayed with my mother's kaka, the eldest living member of the family. Kaka had only one child, a son, but was the most affluent member of my mother's family. While my grandfather was working at the bank and making just enough money to make ends meet for his family, Kaka was running a small business and living more comfortably.

There she was, just a child of five, taken by her foi's youthful exuberance and by the pretty bungalow in which Kaka lived. She could not have known that her affection for the place was leading to an irreversible decision. Kaka called my grandfather during her visit and suggested that she stay in Mumbai. My grandfather, never one to disrespect codes of conduct, could not take issue with his older brother's edict. And so it was that my mother wound up raised in Mumbai by her uncle and aunt.

My mother only talked about her childhood to insist that things had not been easy for her living in Mumbai. Kaka was well off, but also disciplined. He did not believe in spending money to display one's opulence. So my mother would insist that she had lived austerely as a child. She seemed to think that, if she could only convince everyone she had not been spoiled in Mumbai, all the distance that had developed between her and the rest of her family would be bridged.

But it never was. All my masis and mamas emigrated to the US because my mother sponsored them. But still, my mother was one unit, and they, all four of them together, were a separate unit apart. It was not anyone's fault. I would not even say they loved each other any less. But the easy interactions, the intimacy that comes from having played and fought together as children, those could never be retrieved.

India, for me, has largely become a place of the past. Most of my close family no longer lives in India, and those who remain are elderly. During the cruise, my grandfather and I quarreled at midnight about his inclination to move back to his country after over 25 years of living here. He wants to be close to his remaining brothers and sisters, to spend his last days in the place of his youth. But there are so few people that would actually be able to look after him there that my logical side rails against the idea. My grandmother, who is now 80 herself, is in no shape to be keeping house in India in the style that my grandfather has in mind (i.e. without any paid help). When my grandfather and I reached a critical impasse, when my clunky Gujarati frustrated me such that all I could do was shake my head, he looked at me steadily and said in English, "You need to become less attached."

But of course, the young do not grow less attached, they become more attached. And my foolish grandfather, in his ever-presence in every major moment in every one of my cousin's lives, in his attempts to reverse the coldness that he showed his children with warmth for all of his grandchildren, has only succeeded in making us believe that we will all go on like this indefinitely- fighting and complaining, but always together.

Then something like the news today occurs and everything snaps into sharp focus: life never stands still and does not wait for you to realize it is precious before snatching it away. And even if we should become less attached, we do not. Instead, we reach out, hoping to embrace those far away and maybe even gone, drawing them close to our heart for an all-too-brief moment. So, I knew my mom's arms would be outstretched towards Mumbai this morning. Luckily, this time, she heard the crackle and the fuzz of Kaka's 90-year old voice on the line, assuring her he was okay. But I know others were not as lucky.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I'm coming up only to hold you under

"Perhaps you can write to me."
My self-possession flares up for a second;
This is as I had reckoned.
"I have been wondering frequently of late
(But our beginnings never know our ends!)
Why we have not developed into friends."
I feel like one who smiles, and turning shall remark,
Suddenly, his expression in a glass.
My self-possession gutters: we are really in the dark.
    - T.S. Eliot

It seems as though I've been on both sides of this passage. Once, to Q, I cynically remarked that it seemed life is destined to be a cycle of getting disappointed by someone and disappointing someone myself. It is true on some level. I hold people to standards I cannot meet myself. And so it is hypocritical to be annoyed with others' lack of self-awareness.

I've been thinking about self-possession because it exists, for me, on two levels. The first is the flare that happens when a friend observes something about me, and it becomes absurdly apparent that they have failed to see the full picture. A remark like "oh, but you never wanted those things in your life" irks me, but then my self-possession is something of a salve, that comforts me with the notion that the statement is flawed from the start. So few of my friends, at this point, know my history in any real sense. I can count on one hand the number of people who have known me for a decade or more.

The other level is not as comfortable. It's more of this sense that everyone wants something of me, that there are all these reaching hands out grabbing things. It sounds so ungrateful, and I suppose it is to some extent. Maybe it's my upbringing in the cold Northeast, where it takes years to cultivate the seed of a friendship. It contrasts starkly with my family upbringing, which could be roughly summed up into down with brown. Any South Asian couple in our sparsely populated Northeast region was appended to our family. But something about the cold, unfriendly place where I was raised seeped into my blood. I was skeptical of all of my parents' friends. I saw how they banded together some times, but also how they quietly stabbed each other in the back at others. Watching my mother navigate amongst the other aunties, I would weigh in my mind whether this could technically even be classified as a friendship. These women seemed to be seeking out a community, but friendship was another matter entirely.

Something about that has always stayed with me. Maybe I would like to be a little less suspicious, a little more welcoming. But maybe not. A part of me feels that flare of self-possession is also a form of self-protection. Sometimes, people really are latching onto you. They have their own, completely benign reasons: maybe they have no one else, maybe they feel they know me better than they really do, definitely they feel closer to me than I feel to them.

But I am treading water at the moment, and I am getting tired. When you feel that way, and someone is reaching for you, you have two choices. Let them, and you both drown. Or, and live with the guilt: it's every soul for yourself out at sea.

Friday, July 07, 2006

over my shoulder a piano falls

Sorry, I still have nothing of substance to say. In some ways, I am still digesting a lot of what transpired during the family cruise- why I felt so suddenly isolated, why I was fraught with all sorts of insecurities that usually do not plague me. But actually, I need to do what I've become increasingly adept at doing- sweeping such questions out of my mind in order to siphon that thought into work I need to do, and do well. For now, it's an unexamined life that I need to maintain. I take comfort in the fact that I've lived under the microscope for such a long time that a year or two on auto-pilot is unlikely to steer me down a dangerous path. Also, there is the whole analysis/paralysis idiom.

Anyway, I dug out this silly little music-related meme thingamajob. The deal is that you have to answer each question with either an album title or a song title (or an artist name, if you really must). Mine are not particularly witty, but I bet you all could come up with better (that sound is the gauntlet hitting the ground):

1) Say hello:
    Let's Dance by David Bowie

2) Are you male or female?
    Just a girl by No Doubt

3) Describe yourself:
    Dissident by Pearl Jam

4) How do some people feel about you?
    All Wrong by Morphine

5) How do you feel about yourself?
    I just don't know what to do with myself by The White Stripes

6) Exes:
    Gone for Good by The Shins

7) Current crush/SO:
    I looked all over town by The Magnetic Fields

8) Describe what you want to be:
    Anything I want by Eve

9) Describe where you live:
    Valencia by The Decembrists

10) What would you ask for if you had just one wish?
    Please please please let me get what I want this time by The Smiths

11) Share a few words of wisdom:
    Live and let die by Paul McCartney

12) Any general advice:
    Someday you will be loved by Death Cab for Cutie

13) Share a favorite pickup line:
    I bet you look good on the dancefloor by Arctic Monkeys

14) And if that doesn't work?
    Why can't I be you? by The Cure

15) Now say goodbye:
    Let Me Go by Cake

None of you are tagged necessarily, but it would certainly be fun from a purely selfish perspective to see how others would respond. I would like to do this same exercise but answer with songs that really answer these questions, i.e the entire song from start to finish captures an answer to the question. But that requires a more thoughtful undertaking than I am capable of on a Friday afternoon.

p.s. In case yesterday's post had left any doubt regarding what an utter geek I am, this will seal the deal. I have been swooning over a Joss Whedon video that's going around the net. I dare you not to swoon!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

starting to think that you can't help being a bore

In an attempt to not belabor the points of yesterday's posts (and a hearty thank you to everyone who wrote such supportive words- even if I don't necessarily deserve them, you guys rock all the same), I am afraid I have to get all pop culture on your a$$es instead.

The only thing broseph, his girlfriend, and I could do at noon in South Beach after three days in the blistering heat was drag ourselves to see a movie. It was a little independent movie that you just might have heard of: Superman Returns. Here's the thing: I went in expecting less than nothing. Plus one of my teeniac cousins loved it, which was even more damning than the wrath of the critics. So, it took me nearly an hour into the film to recognize that I was actually enjoying it. To wit:
  • Lucky for me, one hour into it was less than halfway through the movie. That is a bit long for a superhero movie.
  • I'm always surprised at how Bryan Singer seems to perpetually fall short, and yet still draws me in. Logically, I can point out a number of big problems with the first two X-Men movies. Yet, I will still watch them, because they have moments when they really engage me. Singer did the same thing with Superman Returns, and I half-hate him, half-love him for it.
  • As we were watching the opening credits, Kal Penn's name appeared in the old school font, and I must admit that I got goosebumps. I had not realized what a big deal it was that he was cast in the movie until that moment. The broseph, who does not keep track of such things, turned to me excitedly in the theater with a giddy Hey it's Kumar! fist-pump. I didn't check to see how he was doing later, when it became clear that Penn had very little to do.
  • Dude, what is up with James Marsden? He must have went to school at Our Lady of the Perpetually Cuckolded, because it seems like he is always the other guy. You know the other guy- the one the girl marries/dates/ends up with, while she secretly pines for the guy. Cut the guy a break already, Singer!
  • Broseph commented, "I don't know what all the fuss was about the special effects," at the end of the movie. His girlfriend and I laughed incredulously, but he was serious. Actually, I think this means that the special effects were used in the right way- not in the look at me! way, but in a way where it fits the plot/story.
  • It's a waste of space to get into how horrible Kate Bosworth was.

In other pop culture time-wasting, I was inconsolably saddened by the dismal review of POTC:2 that I just read. Shall I now have to settle on A Scanner Darkly alone? What if Keanu Reeves animated is only as good an actor as regular Keanu Reeves?

Out of the big screen, onto the small screen. Emmy nominations were released this morning, and Piven got a nod. My friend SP used to love him, but she had to kill him, because of the whole exoticizing of India documentary thing he did. For my part, I was more depressed at all the Grey's Anatomy accolades. And I also thought there was an unusual number of nominations for defunct shows that made my heart twinge with renewed loss, like:
  • Frances Conroy, best actress in a drama, for SFU- the other actresses in her category really can't compete with her performance on SFU. She plays complex, sometimes annoying, sometimes endearing mom better than anyone else.
  • Peter Krause, best actor in a drama, for SFU- All I have to say is "NARM!" I think he's going to have a tougher time winning that one.
  • Arrested Development for best comedy series. This one really made me want to burst into tears. And listen, dudes, the nominations in this category are a game of one of these things is not like the other. Why Two and a Half Men got a nod over Entourage is going to be a mystery for all ages.
  • Will Arnett for best supporting actor in a comedy series, for Arrested Development. Sadly, I think Piven has a lock on it this year. Sorry, G.O.B- I still lurve you!

Oh and then there were the million or so nominations for the now put-to-bed The West Wing, which did not make my heart twinge. Whatever. Incidentally, there's a much more coherent rant about the Emmy nominations here.

On a somewhat tangential note, I always think Trader Joe's is in some ways alternative, but the speakers inevitably set me straight. Last night, on a quest for mango pulp (and all I wound up with was mango sauce, but it shall have to do), I was strolling down the aisle at TJ when JoJo's Leave (Get out) assaulted my ears. Yeah, as Anna would say, how apposite, except not really at all.

Hey, remember when I used to actually write about science? Yeah, me neither.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I want to get back to my city by the bay

This was the view from my "stateroom" (translation= shoebox-sized room):

I suppose it looks lovely. Unfortunately, I could only take a quick picture of it, because looking out for more than a few moments was enough to get me woozy. Apparently, I did not drink sufficient quantities of alcohol such that I could avoid the motion sickness, but it was limited to queasiness rather than more explicit forms of nausea. Yes, it appears that I am a land lubber, my friends.

You know what is an awful combination? Watching An Inconvenient Truth and then hopping on a cruise a week later. Really. If there was any doubt that the world is doomed and unnaturally attached to the concept of excess, one need look no further than a ship carrying 2500 people to islands that are glorified River Walks. Every morning, when I took a shower, I could not fight back the questions: How much fresh water must this ship use a day? Does the water get dumped straight into the ocean afterwards? What about all the refuse? How much energy is it taking for this gigantor ship to get to Nassau? How many countries in Africa could be fed with the food that is thrown away from all of these buffets? Yes, I know- what a killjoy. But I'm being perfectly honest here. I think a good 75% of my seasickness stemmed from disgust at how absurdly wasteful those three days were. The worst part is that it dawned on me that most of my hopes are in vain: cruises are wildly popular, and I am pretty sure I was probably one of four disaffected individuals on the ship.

But in the final analysis, I am glad that it was simply a cruise to destinations of completely no interest to me. I am not just being cynical here. It would have been far more heartbreaking to, say, visit Madrid with my family of lunatics, and feel that I did not get to see or experience it the way I would have liked. The disappointment would have been too much to hide. As it was, it took all my energy reserves to stay out of the Land of Despair, given that:
  • South Beach. Big boobs, small waists, perfectly coiffed hair and flawless skin. Talk about feeling like a pariah.
  • My female cousins are obsessed with all the above characteristics regarding South Beach (and pretty much nothing else holds their attention for longer than five seconds).
  • My uncle asked me "Do you ever go to singles parties?"
  • My other uncle tried to talk me out of The Goal, in favor of going on some sort of vision quest to find a husband.
  • The rest of my family, while not as blatant as my uncle, kept casting pitying glances at me every time the subject of The Goal came up.
  • My grandfather's final parting words to me were: "You've put on a few pounds since the last time I saw you."

I really feel, at the end of four days, like I need to wash my brain out with bleach. On the flight home, my mind went into overdrive and I overanalyzed everything until I had given myself an ulcer. The timing is for crap; this is not really the moment to be having an existential crisis and wondering if I am on the right path or not. Besides which, I somehow seem to have forgotten that those doubts are theirs and not mine.

I don't know how this happens but whenever I spend too much time with my family, I begin to feel invisible and generally an outcast of society. It is strange, because I do not feel that way on a day to day basis. I do not even feel that way when I am walking through the home of the hipsters, my neighborhood, where I should feel very much like I am not cool enough. But I think the measuring stick my family carries is so different than mine. The things that make me happy are of no value to them whatsoever, and the things that make them happy are things I can never give them. It's a bizarre series of incidents that seem to have unfolded, that turned me into who I am, so unlike the rest of my family. When I am removed from their general vicinity, it is a simple enough thing to accept (and even joke) that I will always be a disappointment to them. But when I have to see it on their faces, when it's unavoidable, it is harder to brush aside.

But brush it aside, I must. I know, I suppose I have always known, that this is why San Francisco has always held such significance in my life. It is a place that most of my family cannot appreciate, a place they are not inclined to visit frequently, and a place where I do not have to face those concerned countenances. The Goal would have never happened on the East Coast, because all of those doubts would have become my own. Here, the impossible, the impractical becomes within reach. And so, I think it is time now to put my nose to the grindstone and get to the next phase of The Goal. It is a long ways away still, and this is no time to falter.