Thursday, March 29, 2007

hold on to nothing as fast as you can

Even though I would like to get everyone to convert to FNL fanaticism, the show has actually reached such a level that all I can do is say- your loss, suckers. And don't ever complain about all the crap on television these days.

Also, I'm shaking my head at the news that Bono has been knighted. The size of his head may now actually cause real problems for population density in Ireland.

In other news, I realized today that I have already started the process of living in a new place, in a way. Slowly, but most certainly, there has been a shift of the plates beneath the surface, and I am drifting away. Surprisingly, it is not even me pushing away. It's only natural, I tell myself, and try not to take it personally. And mostly that works.

I'm sorry to report that my life is rather boring at the moment, in some ways. Yes, there are all the frenetic thoughts to do with moving and uncertainties of where exactly I am headed. But that's not all that interesting, when you really examine it- it's more about motion than thought. And unfortunately, though it's motion and not thought, it requires the brain to focus, to concentrate on the mundane details on a checklist.

So, much as I wanted, today, to write about science, I find I can't, simply because my brain continues to forbid me to wander into that kind of a daydream. I have been happening upon the occasional random thought, like, apropos of nothing whatsoever last night, I wondered- what must it have been like to take a maiden voyage on the first ship that crossed an ocean? In those early days. At first it must not have been frightening, because why should it be? Should the ship be built poorly, should it crumble apart from the weight of its freight or its passengers, you can still swim safely to shore. But out adrift in the middle of the Atlantic, what must it have been like? What kind of an unsettling feeling to know there were no guarantees and no land in sight and no hopes of rescue? It gives the term seasick an entirely different meaning.

And yet, that's sort of the beauty of exploration- the odd mix of bravery and stupidity. Or maybe not stupidity, but willful ignorance. You have to look at the risks with a hard stare, face them, and then completely sweep them out of your mind.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

a rush and a push and the land that we stand on is ours

Pied Piper advised me to waste more time at work, so here I am, giving it a shot. Of course, to really waste time at work, I would need to hang a sign outside my door that said, "no entrance without an appointment." Every time I try to sit down for a few minutes to slack off, someone barrels into my office with a question, or to bounce ideas off me, or to ask me about my plans.

Why? Because, and I think I forgot to explicity mention it, but I formally, finally, FTLOG quit this ridiculous job. I did not write the resignation letter until today, but last week, it was all out in the open. But now I am rather perplexed. I mean, I read about the joys of quitting, and thought perfect, I'll finally have time to sort all the nitty gritty out. But now, I find myself rather vexed, because instead, I think I actually have more work, less time, and am working later. It is as if I am in some bizarro version of quitting.

As a result, it's all feeling a little rushed. It's all feeling like I need more time. I am resisting the inclination to shout mercy and change plans though. Moving and change are rushed and stressful no matter how much time you allot for it, most likely. And even though I am sure I will pull some hair out over the mad clip I'll have to proceed at to get out of here in one piece, well, I have quite a lot of hair. Also, I'll be grateful when it's May, and all of it is behind me.

p.s. Three visits to the office interrupted the writing of this meaningless and brief post.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

we can learn like the trees, how to bend, how to sway and say

Of late, these posts have been getting strangely opaque. I'm noting it, but not really changing it right now. There have been some things that have crawled under my skin recently, that have gnawed at me a bit, and I've huddled into a corner to process. It is probably strange that I can't just have an instinctual response, a spontaneous reaction. Well, that's not quite accurate- I have the reaction, but I don't voice the reaction. Instead, I take that reaction into the caverns of my head, sit that reaction down and circle it, peering at it with curiosity, treating it to the Spanish Inquisition. Is it a valid reaction? Is it warranted? How much of the reaction is a natural reaction, and how much of it has to do with something else entirely? Is the reaction more to do with my current state than anything else? Should I get rid of this reaction? Can I get rid of this reaction?

To date, all I've come up with is- this is f***ing exhausting.

But all the same, I have to say that I overcame great odds today. You see, there is this natural instinct I have to just dispose of nuisances. Someone upsets me deeply? I take stock, determine said someone is not worth keeping around, and cut them out with a surgeon's precision. But that is cold and unfeeling and a terrible way to live. And today I resisted every urge to give San Francisco a big F*** YOU, resisted the urge to burn the mother down, resisted the urge to smash every light. I couldn't believe it, but I managed to take a deep breath, exhale, and forgive. Without drama. I don't have much time left here, and I finally amassed the required maturity to see that being a little gentle is the best way to slide out of here, slide with ease instead of vengeance.

Vengeance, after all, is a firecracker. It feels good to light a thing on fire, hear it crackle, watch it spark. But it can take out your eye, and besides which, it's short lived, and then you just have a soot-covered wrapper. Right now, the softness of candle light is a better alternative.

Monday, March 26, 2007

must be worth losing if it is worth something

I came back to San Francisco, and suddenly, I felt ready to leave. Really leave. Maybe it’s time to wave goodbye now.

I returned to finish, burn it down, ‘til the embers smoke on the ground. With such resolve, I walked into my kitchen and went to work on Sunday. I opened the refrigerator, I surveyed the cupboard. Batches of cookies were baked. Vegetables were chopped, quiche was made. Spinach was wilted with sauteed garlic. I won’t lie- it felt good. I felt a surge of comraderie with my mother, or maybe my grandmother. Or A’s mom- he said that when he was young, she would can tomatoes and other vegetables and jam, to last through the winter, to keep the fresh vegetables from rotting during the summer.

I thought about contemplating that- the simple ways to prevent waste, to conserve, to be mindful. I thought about how little I have contemplated that. How I let things fester and decay, throw them away without a second thought. It felt purposeful to take stock, to make use of what had been left behind.

I’ll be more careful when I move away, more careful to only take what I need, and to always make the best of what I take. I haven’t been careful, and I really didn’t notice what that meant until yesterday. When you’re not careful, you don’t even know if what you’ve taken was worth anything, was worth the price, was worth wanting. You are not even conscious of wanting it, for that matter. You just have it. And when you start to see the mold creeping onto the fruit, only then do you wonder if you should regret its loss or not. Did you want it? Do you need it? Is it a loss? Or was it something you should never have bothered with?

where else you could be when you're at home


I feel like I should now do a song-off with last week’s selection, because some people found The ShiversBeauty so arresting. The first time I heard The Shivers’ tune, I did find it breathtaking. But upon a second listen, fully listening to the lyrics, it was creepy and too much for me. On the other hand, this week’s song, You Look Like Rain, is exactly my speed, and I can listen to it on repeat if I have a glass of good scotch in hand. First of all, Morphine, Mark Sandman in particular, could probably make a cover of Puff the Magic Dragon seem languorous and mesmerizing. The saxophones and the high hat give the song such a film noir effect that you feel like you’ve happened upon the lost soundtrack of a Bogart/Bacall film. And that’s just it- this song is about a Lauren Bacall, a Katherine Hepburn, an Ingrid Bergman- a sharp broad, not a pop tart. And who wouldn’t swoon over that thought?

Friday, March 23, 2007

gonna get me a little oblivion

I am dead tired, and I deserve it. But I'm also just tired. Tired of fighting off the urge to do all the wrong things. Fighting the urge to get drunk, sleep in, skip class, skip work, skip life. Fighting the urge to just be disappointed, even if it's unfair to be disappointed. Fighting the urge to question obvious curiosities, peculariaties, scientific mysteries. Fighting the urge to dive deep when it is best to stay in the shallows. No, no, no. I close my eyes, I don't dip a foot in the pool, I tell myself I don't see any of it, can't make out the darkness underneath. And I am tired of counting down from a 100 when I've already spied exactly where the object has hid itself away.

Or maybe I'm just tired. I need some sleep. I need some San Francisco. I need some flour, some sugar, some eggs. I need the safety of the fantasy that is my life on the West Coast, to protect me from the realities that keep licking the panes of the glass house I have built around myself. Try to keep myself away from me. I'm not taking visitors bearing grim reality, not yet. Not yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

gonna free fall out into nothing

It wasn't enough for the phone to ring, not enough to leave it unanswered. It wasn't enough to see the caller i.d., to know exactly who it was, and still to resist both the urge to call back and the inclination to brood over it.

It wasn't enough to ignore all of that and get up in the morning to pack. It wasn't enough to fight back the weariness and to walk to the BART station with the Mission sun taunting me, as it will. It wasn't enough to do all of the practical, necessary things.

It wasn't enough. None of it prepared me for the uncertainty hurtled into the banality of this morning. Fitting it should originate from California. Fitting it should feel just like a fault line yawning, stretching, rubbing its sleepy eyes. Fitting that, as I made my way towards steady, solid ground, towards the grey coldness I associate with truth and reality, that California should fashion its own earthquake, a personal one, just for me.

It wasn't enough to take the right steps, to make the best of it- no, to appreciate how fortunate I am, not enough to accept the imperfection of fulfilled dreams and celebrate them anyways. This is California. California. California that I claimed had chased me out of my home. The same California lured me in again, into unreasonable hopes, teased me to dream once more, inconvenient and unlikely dreams.

Maybe it's like that dying gasp, like that unanswered phone call. Some things, you learn, are impossible and so you let them go. But I can't deny California, even if it's simply offering up a chasm of inevitable disappointment. It's worth the fall.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky

We watched this movie, you and I. We drove out of our way, several towns out, closer to New York, but not quite. Back then, I was always coaxing you, anyone, to seek out such things. The same five movies were playing at every local multiplex. But I was stubborn back then, unwilling to submit to the suburbs.

The phone rang right before the movie started. I had just started using a cell phone; you had yet to own one. You laughed at the way I fumbled to silence the high-pitched shriek. I’d shut the phone off finally; I couldn’t talk to the other end of that line, didn’t want to, not yet, prolonging the inevitable.

We settled into the seats and it felt like we were kids sneaking into a Rated R movie. We’d stolen into this town, stolen into a movie that wasn’t meant to be shown to us. We didn’t deserve it, hadn’t earned it, but there we sat nonetheless, letting the film transfix us.

It did, too. We sat in wide-eyed wonder, aware that we were watching something unique, aware that we could barely absorb a fraction of the thoughts contained and discussed in the dialogue. Like the movie, we were floating, uncomfortably drifting, cutting loose from the constraints of gravity. We, too, didn’t know if we had been sleeping, if we were still sleeping.

The strings, the strange, mesmerizing, nearly dissonant strings closed the movie and we floated further. Soon, we would be floating higher, teetering precariously above this town, above this turnpike, above the Holland Tunnel, above all of Manhattan. Soon, we would find ourselves not weightless but winged. Soon, we would wake up. I would stop whining and move to San Francisco; you would go back to the place you most belonged. But that night we drove home, unsettled and unsure of why we were drawn to the little theater in the first place- and whether we were only dreaming.

Monday, March 19, 2007

don't want to discuss it, think it's time for a change

I wanted to be honest with her, to tell her it all feels a bit surreal to be leaving San Francisco, to tell her I’ll never quite accept it though I say I’ve made my peace. I wanted to tell her that dizzy spells swirl around my brain when I think of the logistical drudgery that awaits me over the next month. I wanted to tell her that one train my hide another, and I fear I am dodging so many bullet trains that I could very easily miss their meaning, or get mowed over by one. I wanted to be open with her, especially since she says I used to be more closed off. But I put up a guard anyways; it seemed the only way.

When someone cares about you, it’s impossible to tell them you are freaking out, unless you are willing to, or are especially yearning to talk it through. But sometimes freaking out has legitimacy, sometimes you need to swallow it, digest it, and leave it alone. It cannot be discussed and dissected, because that only amplifies the freaking out effect.

It’s almost as though, at times like this, you are better off with strangers, around people disinclined to look beneath the surface, to poke around for substance. It’s a simple thing to talk nonsense around such people. Much tougher is betraying those who genuinely wish to see you.

It was nothing intentional, and so much of the weekend was lovely, drenched in sunlight, kissed with fog. But it’s exactly when you’ve grown particularly close to someone that you can detect that false note, the chords that are off key. I unknowingly chose to ignore it this weekend, but then, on Sunday evening, back to an empty house, the reality presented itself. And I felt guilty for being somehow, subconsciously removed. But it’s something I’m not willing to sacrifice right now, the self-containment, the silence that keeps me from looking past the immediate demands of circumstance.


To switch gears completely, I had to post this week's song, because I am curious about it, about how it strikes people. It's got this weird dichotomy that a lot of songs have. It reminds me a little of Every Breath You Take, which a lot of people find romantic, but others find disturbingly celebratory of stalker-esque behavior.

Beauty by The Shivers has the same strange feel. A guy like this seems like he could either be the love of your life, or the guy who stores your butchered body in his freezer. Seriously.

Or maybe I'm just getting old. Because I feel like someone else could listen to this song and find it wholly moving. It's intense- the dude means business. But, I'm suspicious of that kind of intensity. How could something that intense possibly sustain? Not only am I suspicious of it, but I also find it somehow stifling. No offense, but I don't want to be that responsible for someone's happiness or stability. As my cousin K would say, it's too much. And if that means I am getting old, then I'm all for signing up for the AARP.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

when you finally disappear, will they say you were never here?

I am just full of all kinds of smooth moves this week. Today, it's choosing to listening to The Arcade Fire's Cold Wind on a nice continuous loop, when I am already grumpy because I've had to be in for 8 a.m. meetings all week. You know, because when you are feeling run down and irritable, it's a really great idea to listen to lyrics like these:

if you're going to San Francisco
lay some flowers on the gravestone
there's music on the station
but I'm just listening to cold wind whistling

What can I say? Sometimes, I'm just filled with brilliance.

Right now, I rather yearn to write about the latest research indicating that the p53 gene plays a role in triggering the suntan response as a protective measure, or better yet, about the latest insight into the complexities of cells committing suicide (I think Cell subscription is required to read both links). But see, that would require real thought and semi-coherence, and I'm lacking in both of those departments right now. So, I'll just spare you.

I can't tell if my brain is not functioning, if it's functioning at half-speed, or if it's overstimulated. Maybe it's been fluctuating amongst the three. Maybe it's just that there is so much action that there is no time to process any of it. That's probably for the best: navel-gazing can be necessary at times, but it can also be dangerous to spend too much time examining everything in excruciating detail. I know, I know- said the jerk with the blog. But all the same, I am trying to get comfortable with the notion that I might just have to live for the next few months.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

save it for later

My cousin K arrives in town tomorrow night. Even though I have been a tightly wound ball of stress about this (mostly because of the state of the crack house), ultimately her visit is going to be, as Saheli would say, superfantasticness.

Even though K and I share a lot of similar ideals, we are pretty different in terms of pace. Especially when I have a visitor, I am forever thinking of how time should be allotted, what should be seen and when and where to eat and whether the weather will permit this or that. That's not to say I can't be slothlike when I am on my own- sometimes the depth of my laziness truly astounds me. But I'm very aware of the time, even when I'm wasting it.

However, and it has always been this way since the days of our youth, time just holds little meaning to K. That might be a bit of a hyperbolic statement, but she really does seem to disregard any sense of urgency. And in some ways, I have to say that it is a better way to live your life. Whenever I visit her, I am lulled into a different sense of relaxation because of her routines- sitting and collecting herself upon rising, having her morning cup of coffee, easing her way into the day. Maybe that's it- her family seems to ease into everything.

Growing up, my mother was always clanking pots by 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and soon thereafter rustling us out of bed to do the weekend chores. For my parents, the weekends, or indeed free time of any kind, were supposed to be opportunities for industrious labor- cleaning, organizing, cooking. Whenever I visited K's family, I was always shocked that her parents often did not even emerge from their bedroom until 10 or 11 in the morning. And even then, it was always easily afternoon before there was any sort of inclination to leave the house. If my parents had guests, before noon, we'd all be packed in a station wagon and off to see a completely inane landmark in EBF.

I can't pretend to just find this nothing but endearing. When I was young, and even now, after a time, this lack of urgency, lack of movement makes me unbearably restless. Last time I visited K, we had lunch at her parents' house, and then the dawdling started. My solution was to start gathering up bags and loading them into K's car. K's mom remarked on my industriousness- it was sweet of her to call it that rather than impatience. But it was impatience. And most of the time, after a certain amount of time with K's family, the impatience kicks in, and I start to do the whirling dervish bit.

However, this all sort of works out perfectly in this particular instance. You see, I've already been acting like something of a Tazmanian Devil for the past few weeks. And I have been periodically having anxiety attacks about everything that needs to be done in the next month. But K's visit will completely neutralize all of that energy, in a good way. I know we will sit around and chat all day. I know eventually I'll drag her out of the house to show her why I love this city that she never got around to visiting until now, but even that will be in this very gradual and relaxed manner.

And after all of that relaxation, I'll be yearning madly for action. And that is just the yearning I'll need upon her departure, as the beginning of the end, in some ways, officially starts once she leaves.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

so I cynically, cynically say the world is that way

Anyone who reads this nonsense regularly knows that I mostly avoid writing about much to do with politics. I am never really intelligible when I go on a tear about politics, and I always feel inadequately informed to present a cogent argument. So, you know what's really smart? Start ranting about history and the state of the world with someone who is ten times more informed and intelligent than you. That'll impress 'em.

Okay, but one interesting aspect of the conversation that ensued centered, strangely enough, on negativity. I don't know how I decided to go off on this tangent, but I started recounting all the momentous events that occurred during my lifetime- and they were all bleak. I've been teased before that I can be rather glass half empty at times. I think it's actually that, occasionally, I can be so idealistic and hopeful that I am inevitably bitterly disappointed by reality.

The other thing I realized, now that the GG&T's are out of my system, is that I am always suspicious of the big things. I am suspicious of how good the big things can ever be. I sometimes wonder if this is at all related to science. I believe in atoms, and molecules, and proteins, I believe in their integrity, but I also know how chaotic the organization of such small units are, and how the most successful, efficient organizations often lead to insidious issues, like cancer and infectious diseases. I suppose I always find the macro level to be more vulnerable to corruption. So I guess I can believe in the inherent good in small endeavors. After listing out the various bleak events of this lifetime, in searching for the silver lining, most of the things I have come up with have to do with local, small changes, grassroots efforts that amounted to good- 826Valencia, keeping Kepler's Bookstore in business, getting Rick Santorum out of office, these sorts of things.

It has been a while since I last drank a scotch. It has also been a while since I have gone out on a Monday night. For that matter, it has been a while since I have gone out, as I have been on house arrest, either staving off allergy-inducing pollen and dust mites or cleaning my apartment. So, last night, with the weather of unusual perfection and the good company and the night-ending MacAllan 12, was a welcome respite. It was a sort of pause, a catching of the breath in the middle of a run-on sentence.

And now it's off to the races again.

Monday, March 12, 2007

roll a new life over

I'm beginning to feel an Unbearable Lightness of Being, if you will.

But instead of getting into that, here's the song of the week- Walkaways by the Counting Crows, for a host of reasons all of the same theme. It's brief, abruptly so for an album track, and maybe that's the whole point. Yet, it's funny how something so brief can capture quite a bit, at least for me, right now.

'Gotta rush away', she said, 'I've been to Boston before,
and anyway, this change I've been feeling doesn't make the rain fall.
No big differences these days, just the same old walkaways.
Some day, I'm gonna stay, but not today.'

There you have it. I'm leaving, but it isn't as though I haven't left a place before. It isn't as though I haven't left entire lifetimes behind me. And things are changing, but it's not earth-shattering, not so momentous as to cause the skies to part. And in so many ways, this is not unexpected of me- I'm always the one that seems to slip out the back door. Yet if there was one place I'd want to stay, it's here in this city. But not today.

So, instead, I'm setting myself on a path of walking away, periodically, for a long time to come. Maybe that's bothering me a little at the moment. On the other hand, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

you don't know how precious you are

It's funny how there's no predicting what works and what doesn't. Last week, chai got me thinking about age and the passing of time, even though she probably did not mean to at all. And y'all, I try to keep up with a bunch of blogs, even though I have been failing miserably of late, what with the deluge of work that has been hurtled at me from every corner. But somehow, it's funny how it was chai once again that unknowingly nudged me into posting today, with her gentle reminder of International Women's Day. In her post, she asked us all to write to a woman who inspired us.

I don't know how to do that appropriately, not really. There's something about aunties, you know. Something about them makes it hard to really express to them what they mean to you. You get the feeling they'll wave away the comments with embarassed dismissal. And anyway, whenever I write a note of this sort, I can't help but descend into cheesiness, and then I end up embarassed. So, either way, there's red-facedness, and general discomfort, and maybe, just maybe it detracts a bit from the point. Or maybe I'm just a wuss. Either way, I am writing my note here, instead:

    Dear A Auntie,

    I've mentioned your family before, and their impact on my life, but mostly, it was you.

    I was a girl of six, maybe seven years old, quiet, inward, awkward, prone to humming along to songs in my head during class. I was sitting in our old house in a corner of the living room, , the one with a shag carpet in four shades of hideous green and the impossibly and impractically high cathedral ceiling. My mother was doing what my mother always did, always still does, her futile attempt to delineate herself from the bragging aunties- she complained to you about her daughter. "The teacher says she doesn't pay attention. I don't know what is wrong with her," she complained to you.

    You were unlike any auntie I'd met before. No painted lips, no artificially exuberant smile, no pinching of the cheeks. All the Gujarati aunties had straight, lustrous black hair; yours was curly, unruly, unruly because you made no attempt to tame it. And your expression was often severe. I thought, here comes trouble. You seemed the sort of auntie that would advise my mother to forbid me from watching my small allotment of television shows and to lock me in my room until I'd finished all my homework.

    But I was wrong. You didn't wave my mother off the way that other aunties did, with the suggestion that she shouldn't worry about it- I was just a girl, let me alone, I didn't have to get the best grades. Rather, you took a stern look at me, one eye squinted, and shook your head. You turned to my mother and said, "She's bored," yanked a book out of your eldest son's hands, and handed it to me impatiently.

    And that was how I discovered words. That was the beginning, the beginning of waking up at ungodly hours to read, to devour book after book, ACK comics galore, anything I could get my hands on. It's why I don't remember elementary school all that well when I look back on it. I don't remember me, I just remember books. I remember bringing them everywhere with me. My brother begrudges me that now, says my parents encouraged me to read, but left him to play recklessly. But, he doesn't know, no one seems to know- it was you.

    You wore simple saris, but you always wore a sari. You were an engineer in the sticks of New England, working at a company predominantly comprised of white men, and you never wavered for a moment in your conviction that you belonged in a sari, rain, sleet or slow be damned.

    At my mother's dinner parties, you stuck out like a sore thumb. You didn't speak Gujarati. You always cooked something to contribute, but you never spent time hovering about in the kitchen with the other aunties. You sat out with the uncles, but not like the scandalous aunties who either (the horrors) harbored blatant affection for their husbands or were flirtatious. You talked politics, you argued with them about the industry, you didn't back down, you weren't demure. Even my father, who outwardly claimed to be tolerant and encouraging of the education of women, hated how you were always right and how you never shrinked away from that.

    When you got older, when your children went off to college, you volunteered at a woman's shelter. You exposed me to the cross-section of Indian women that my mother and her pack of aunties never talked about. I met battered women, I met divorced women shunned by their friends, I met Muslim women, I met educated women, I met women who were the family breadwinners. I met reality.

    My parents watched City of Joy, ecstatically bragging about how a Hollywood movie was set in India with notable Indian actors. I asked you if you liked it. You explained in less than three sentences why you found it unforgivable, and you outlined your disdain with such airtight logic that my parents were forced to reconsider their vote.

    I wanted you to take me to a pro-choice rally in D.C, all those years ago, and my father forbade it. You did not argue with him, and I felt betrayed, but I understand now, how you respected my parents. I understand how much you love my parents- how you kept coming to all those dinner parties, parties that you had no interest in attending and from which you never derived much pleasure. Yet, you always made an appearance, because of that love you have for my parents.

    You had no daughters. I wanted to be your daughter. I wanted to marry your son, simply because he was your son. I wanted to be anything connected to you. I wanted just a piece of your brain, your work ethic, your detachment from the superficial things in life, your confidence, your sense of self.

    When I escaped, when I escaped from the life that had turned into a set of iron chains pulling me down to the bottom of the ocean, there was a break between us. You don't support escape, especially escaping from the wrong things. You feared it was the wrong things, but I knew it was the right things. I don't know, in some ways, if we will ever repair that rift. But then again, words, conversations couldn't mend such a bond- ironic given that it was you who fostered my love for words.

    The last time I visited EBF, you dropped in as you always do, barely there for a moment before leaving again. But you looked at me with those eyes, those eyes that looked, on that first day, so scrutinizing and intimidating. Now, they only looked kind. You've always known when I am falling apart, and when my feet are on solid ground. And finally, I'd gone back to being the person you always saw that I could be. When you said simply, "I'm very happy for you," they were just words. But your eyes, the intimate way in which you leaned closely to me to utter the words, the action defined precisely how much you will always mean to me.

    Severe and soft, confident in your intelligence and yet modest, proud but never flashy, strong-willed but happy to laugh, who could have been more to me? A real role model is not perfect, but gloriously, vibrantly human, and you are. You could never know this, you would never believe this, but if I am to write what I know, this is what I know at my core.


So, thanks, chai, because it's certainly important, when you get to where you wanted to be, to retrace the path that led you there, to tease out who and what pushed you forward and who and what pushed you back.

In other news, work must really be killing me, as I've turned my attention from Das Rheingold to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23. Listening to nothing but classical music is usually a sign that I am nearing a meltdown.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

retreating behind these lines

I'm having some trouble writing lately. There is a nice mix of contributing factors, but they can all be summed up as freaking the f*ck out. About a lot of stuff. I have so much work to do that I fear I am going to get fired, and then I have to actually stop and remind myself that I would actually be happy to be sh*t-canned right now. Hello, severance!

No matter how many boxes I mail out and bags of junk I donate to the Salvation Army, the crack house still seems cluttered, and my cousin K visits in just over a week. But really, the clutter is something of a commentary. I'm feeling claustrophobic and agoraphobic at once. I feel a little suffocated right now by too many demands, and a little paralyzed by too many open, lingering tasks that need to be addressed.

And I'll admit to this- I'm worried that I am losing my voice here. I want to force myself to write something down, every day, and that was kind of the point of this whole exercise in vanity. But right now, I feel like a bit of a mute. I feel like there are many whispers pulsing through my brain, single sentences overlapping and crossing each other that would not make any sense if I strung them together and typed them out here. I know what they mean, sort of, but there seems to be too much to explain.

A writing instructor used to advise me: write what you know. I know some things, but I need to think about how I came to know them, and how I can articulate them. The how, the what, the why, they require some introspection. And it seems I have no time for that right now. Right now, I just want to break all the clocks and have a few moments of real stillness.

But that's not reality, and I know I am being childish. There's nothing more annoying than people complaining about things that are a simple fact of life. Time passes, things have to happen, and they do. Ultimately, I will be okay, of course, of course, but these fleeting statements in my brain keep telling me what I have gained and what I have lost, and it seems like I should be able to make sense of it all. But just now, I can't, and maybe that is what is bothering me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

you want the ocean and not what he's giving you

Now, there's no sense in me trying to pretend that I'm some kind of classical music buff, because I think y'all could call bullsh*t on me pretty confidently. So, I may as well confess why the piece I posted this week suddenly struck me. I saw two movies this weekend, and really adored both, for thoroughly different reasons. The first was The New World, and the second was Children of Men. Both were involving and engaging, for completely different reasons. But, it turns out, both were shot by the same cinematographer. That should not surprise me, in retrospect.

I started watching The New World, expecting only to hate it. I mean, Colin Farrell. Full stop. That is enough to keep me from seeing most any movie. But then add on top of that the subject of colonial settlement, and I felt nauseated, feeling certain that it would be poorly handled. Of course, I had forgotten all about Terrence Malick, and really that's his own fault. He makes movies so infrequently that it's easy to forget how his films just hook you from the opening frames and you simply cannot look away.

The thing is, between the Colin Farrell business and the subject matter of the movie, it could so easily have deteriorated into a sappy Legends of the Fall-esque crapfest. But that's where Malick and the cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, step in and steer it away from the wrong path. In their hands, the scenery is not scenery, it's a character in and of itself, a character with a much bigger role than Colin Farrell- and thank heavens for that. And because Malick's movies are all so deliberate, so slowly paced, the trees and the water and the mud and the wind all get a chance to really express their nature.

The prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold opens and closes the film, and it is a thing to behold. It is the first four or so minutes of the piece I posted, and there is really something it contains that a song with lyrics simply cannot. Just like Malick, it builds gradually, seems like disorganized background cacophony until it builds and thus makes its point. It's used so well in the film that I would happily watch the first and last five minutes of the movie, and be thoroughly satisfied.

Children of Men was quite a different beast, and I do mean beast. With Terrence Malick movies, the point is not to analyze, but to experience. With Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, I found myself analyzing to avoid experiencing, because, y'all, that movie is almost unbearably intense. And also unbearably rings true. During the movie, I kept trying to distract myself by noting Clive Owen- just keep your eyes on Clive, I thought, everything will be okay if you just keep your eyes on the pretty. Yeah, not such an effective strategy.

The movie was relentless and violent, but it was also shot with this eerie realism. It could be a place that exists right now. And some of the shots just held your attention when you most wanted to look away. I spent all of yesterday thinking about it in one way or another, and then I sat and wrote something out based on the film that jarred me so much that I frightened myself into temporary insomnia.

In short, a less productive weekend than hoped for, but a treat for my senses. Sort of. I'm not sure it's healthy to proclaim Children of Men a treat for one's senses, come to think of it.


I also must report, with a sad and heavy heart, the death of my faithful, trusty electric mixer. The mixer died unexpectedly of natural causes while valiantly working in the line of duty, putting finishing touches on chocolate buttercream frosting late last night after whipping through cupcake batter. The mixer is survived by muffin, pie, and cake pans, cookie sheets, spatulas, a rolling pin and a pastry cutter, among other things. The mixer was six years old. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make donations of flour to your local kitchen gods.

you already know how this will end

Friday, March 02, 2007

sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why would I want to be anywhere else?

Y'all, did you know it's Texas Independence Day today? Yeah, I don't know what that is either, but some woman dropped off a cookie shaped like the state of Texas on my desk with icing numbers 3-2-1836. Those crazy Texans.

I have planned rather poorly. Nonetheless, certain things have started to happen. Yesterday, the big cheese and I had our first talk about my actual date of departure. She's still not exactly thinking about it like I am, but there will be more concrete discussions soon enough. More importantly (ha, a good example of how I have no sense of prioritization), I mailed out two boxes of junk today to EBF. I figured I ought to start shipping out some of the things I don't need to both clear out my abode as well as lessen the number of things I need to move when I really move.

But I planned rather poorly because today the weather is quite lovely. And actually, it's supposed to remain lovely throughout the weekend. And this is bad planning. The weeks that were miserable and rainy, when I should have spent most of my time organizing, packing and planning, I was lazy for one reason or the other, some legitimate, some not so much. So now, this weekend is going to be an absolute depression-fest, because I'll have to longingly stare out at the beautiful sundrenched Mission, while I put together bags of crap to bring to the Salvation Army. But oh well, sometimes you have to bite the bullet. Besides which, I know there are other sunny days ahead. It's California, after all...for now.

In this sense, I suppose I am rather all or nothing. I declined invitations to go out carousing tonight and have put myself on lockdown for the weekend. It's actually well and good that I'm taking a Friday night off; my liver will certainly thank me for it. Moreover, I suspect I'll have a much more productive Saturday as a result. And maybe, just maybe, I'll even get around to baking something.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

all the while I was alone, the past was close behind

I would have loved to do as chai did in her post, and as agk did in turn, and write a post in the voice of myself as an 8-year old, reflecting on my current self. I don't know if it's because I was such a sheltered child, if I have gone so awry, or if, simply, I'm a bit older than chai and agk, but I found it impossible. The 8-year old and I are complete strangers. The 8-year old would not believe who I am, where I am, what I am. And I would not know how to explain it to the 8-year old version of myself. I will say this- as an 8-year old, I spent very little time thinking about who I was going to grow up to be. This might sound rather dramatic, but I spent most of my time just hoping I would grow up. I spent my time confused and fascinated, and I suppose in that sense, the 8-year old and I do share something in common. But beyond that, I'm at a loss.

But it did get me thinking about age, and one thing I find absolutely profound about age. Which is change, of course.

But not wrinkles and aches and people coming in and out of your life. Because the changes that strike me squarely are the measurable ones- the things that go from being unknown to known. The things we collectively begin to understand. This always hits most closely to the jugular when it's related to research. Research, after all, is about a different time scale. It's about patience and faith in so many ways, and even then, it's so often fruitless.

And yet, every time it happens, this quantum leap where a hypothesis becomes a fact, I inevitably swoon. So, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, when I used to work in the labs, I used to talk to a friend about a project he was working on, a project to treat HIV. The first anti-retrovirals were just being introduced on the market; AIDS was about to morph into a completely different disease than the life sentence it had been theretofore. But we didn't know that then. We just knew anti-retrovirals were going to offer some hope, but that they would not necessarily knock down HIV completely.

This was also before the days of mapping the entire Human Genome. But still, there was science, there were hypotheses, there was feeling around in the dark (even now, half of good research is feeling around in the dark). And here's what was cool about my friend's project. Researchers had discovered that there was a subset of high-risk individuals who were repeatedly exposed to HIV, but never contracted it. How could this be? HIV was proving to be very easily contracted through sex or sharing needles, so how could a certain subset just keep dodging the bullet? This triggered some interest in teasing out what was responsible for this resistance. And that led to the discovery of the CCR5 receptor.

The CCR5 receptor is recruited by HIV as its Benedict Arnold, a coreceptor that turns against you to let HIV into your cells. It turns out that a small subset of Europeans make a genetic variant of CCR5, called CCR5-D32, and it is this mutation that bestows them with an increased resistance to HIV infection. Now, that might seem like a breakthrough, i.e. ah you geeks figured it out, block CCR5, we've got a drug. But y'all, that was years ago, over a decade ago, the discovery of CCR-D32. And just because you can tease out this sort of thing in a single receptor, it doesn't always mean it will amount to any clinical benefit.

So, here it is 2007, and there's an article in the NYT reporting the first definitive evidence that a molecule that blocks the activity of the CCR5 receptor can knock out detection of HIV in patients who have failed other treatment cocktails. Now, there are still some fears about such drugs. It's always a little concerning as far as safety goes when a drug that's treating viruses is manipulating your machinery instead of the machinery of the virus.

For me, it's just sort of awe-inspiring, to be in some small part a witness to watching stories like this unfold. In a climate when so much demands immediacy, when we want to get spoilers for our favorite serials and we lose feeling for big news a week after it hits, there is something so compelling about a story that inches along like this. It's like a research-version of The Sopranos- you're frustrated, you're angry that there's such a long wait between seasons, but hell if you aren't pulled right into fascination when the next installment trickles out.

p.s. Happy Birthday to one of my favorite scientists and bloggers, Maitri- thanks to her, I am vexed when people cite "the devastation of Hurricane Katrina" as an example of the impact of global warming, and testily mutter, "the levees, b*tches." And a sort-of belated birthday shout-out to Abhi- thanks to him, I have resisted the urge to join in the astronaut-bashing that has been happening as of late.