Wednesday, November 28, 2007

built a room in the sky, window on the floor

Yesterday was truly the first time I realized that I really no longer live in the city. Since I've been too busy to really ponder the question, until now I pretty much assumed I was in a somewhat urban environment but simply lacked the time to discover all the city haunts. Last night, however, the reality stared me in the face. I turned a corner and suddenly a row of houses spread out, lit up. For a moment, I thought I was at some kind of fair, like the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. But no, it was just one of those streets, one of those blocks that somehow evolves in the suburb such that everyone that lives on that block knows that the day after Thanksgiving, you best have strewn your holiday lights around your trees and lining your house.

At first, I didn't even understand why it seemed so foreign to me. Growing up in EBF, there were neighborhoods you'd drive to around this time of year to admire the handiwork of a little enclave of majestic old homes. Then it occurred to me that I never saw a display like this in all the years I lived in the Mission. Sure, there were the occasional Christmas trees in the window or a few lights. But never this kind of coordinated Martha Stewartesque spectacle. In the Mission, if anything, the lighting was all crazed, always somehow ironic. Furthermore, in San Francisco, I imagine you could get a serious amount of grief for wasting that much electricity.

And then, just then, for the first time, I felt worried about how I will handle living here for the next 3.5 years. Most likely, they'll go as the last stretch of time has gone: thoroughly unnoticed. Still, when I had the brief moment yesterday, I have to admit I worried.

I worry about other things too. I don't worry about the things that other students seem to freak out about. Right now, people are starting to show signs of cracking because finals will soon be upon us. That doesn't concern me, honestly, and I do not say that the way some students say that, with this strange machismo attempting to pretend they're not scared. I'm sure I will freak about finals, but they are not directly in front of me at the moment, and besides which, everyone seems to get through them every year, so I just don't imagine I'm particularly special.

But that's what I worry about. There's a lot of things I'm interested in, but I can't bring myself to muster up the energy to be as bubbly or enthusiastic or ridiculous about appointing myself to anything the way that some of my classmates can. And also, the fact that so many of my classmates are obviously gunning to gather titles for themselves, well, that fact further repulses me from the idea of pursuing anything. I know I am probably shooting myself in the foot, and someday, when I am applying for residency or searching for recommendation letters, I will be so indistinct as to be in big trouble. But I guess that's what bothers me about the whole thing. It seems like the only way to be distinguishable or noticeable is to be an annoying or cutthroat person. I aspire to neither, and frankly, I'm too old to fake it for the sake of advancement.

Of course, a moment after these thoughts overrun my head, they leave my brain, and I return to what is in front of me. I guess that's the one advantage I've garnered over the past few years of treading water. I've become well-versed in the art of not worrying about the future. It will sort itself out, and I very much doubt anything I do (or do not do) today will change that.

Monday, November 26, 2007

there's so little else occupying my head

I have this sneaking suspicion that the blogosphere is out-of-fashion these days and no one bothered to inform me. Or is it solidarity with the writer's strike? Or maybe this is just a sign of my advanced age, as all the blogs I used to frequent seem to have thinned out considerably. Maybe there's a whole crop of newbies that I'm just not aware of. Give me some suggestions, peeps, and I'll play the auntie at all kinds of blogs. Not really, but you never know.

Anyway. This week's song spurs a question. There's this whole list of artists in my head, these wonderful, wonderful artists who lost their minds at some point and never quite got it back together. You could argue with this week's song that it was the 80s, so maybe it was the listeners that had lost their minds, and simply recovered it after a time. Except this: I still love Raspberry Beret. And you know, let's face it, so do you.

I can't hold it against people when they sort of fall into decline and start to suck. Just because he is woefully un-funny these days, it doesn't mean I can turn up my nose at old Seinfeld episodes and pretend that I don't find them hilarious even still. I think you ought to be given credit, cut some slack. I'm not saying I'm going to run out and watch Bee Movie to support the guy, nor am I going to watch Norbit. But, you know, Eddie Murphy used to be a bada$$, and I have to give him props for that (even if he turned into an a$$hat later on).

Similarly, I don't mind telling you that Prince was really only good during a certain era. But when he was good, he was sort of unbelievable. There's this temptation to tell him to just stop and bask in the glory of those old songs. But it's kind of unfair to say, "Hey, that was awesome. Now can you stop and go away?" I guess that's entertainment for you.

It doesn't bother me that these guys stick around. It does me no harm that U2 loiters about and pumps out a mediocre song or two every so often, takes nothing away from how well-crafted Joshua Tree was. Who could blame the guys? I'm not going to run out and buy any of their new albums, but if other people bear them even more good will, enjoy.

I guess the thing is that I take music really personally, but so personally that I could give a crap about the person that actually made the music. There was probably a time when that was not true, but I was 12 then, so I'm glad I grew out of that. I don't care that Axl Rose looks like a Botox victim and is still talking smack without backing it up and hasn't put out a decent song in a decade- I'd still listen to Welcome to the Jungle any time it poppped up on the radio.

That's what I'm asking, I suppose. Do you feel that way too? Or are there some mistakes artists have made that you can't forgive them for? Can you just not listen to Madonna anymore because she covered American Pie or tried (badly, and in vain) to rap at one point? Or more importantly, are there songs so good that no matter how much crap an artist puts out afterwards, you can't hold it against them?

Or maybe I'm still suffering from after-effects of too much tryptophan and Theraflu and getting nothing much done this weekend. Move along then.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

it's okay, I know nothing's wrong

Last night, I slept for 5 hours, got up, took some Theraflu, and then slept for 9 more hours. By the way, Theraflu, while quite effective, is probably the most disgusting medicine as far as taste goes.

I made a cake for a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner earlier this week. It was an easy to make apple cake. I am going to try to make it again, for three reasons. First, I made it in a 9" inch pan this time and that was actually a bit too small, so it wound up being a bit thin. Second, as usual, I was fiddling and bastardizing other recipes, so I have to see if it is reproducible. Third, I was in too much of a rush to take a picture, so there's no proof that it's worth making.

We all ate too much at dinner, and the hosts had a cat, so I figured my allergies were the cause of me feeling a little stuffed up when I went to bed that night. I got up the next morning and was feeling lousy, but I got through the day of classes. However, I stopped at Trader Joe's right afterwards, bought some soups and ginger ale. Then I went home and collapsed.

I will say this. Getting deliriously feverish when in your first year of medical school is somewhat hilarious. You're not thinking straight, but your brain is filled with all these stupid facts that it doesn't know how to put together. Oh, my ethmoid sinuses. And then, my adductors ache. My immune system must have been going heavy duty, because I was oscillating from chills to sweats to aches to lethargy.

All of this is boring, I know, but it's only to say that the body is kind of amazing. Because it feels as though 13 hours of sleep and one nasty dose of Theraflu has got me nearly back to healthy. This is good because I got a last-minute invitation to a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

Because of the upcoming christening, I made a trip to the mall this morning, and all I have to say about that is that I am totally disconnected from consumerism these days. And for that, this Thanksgiving, I am truly thankful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I know you'll act as a clever medicine

We drove through fog, so that it seemed like here was all the more disconnected from there. It took me back to those days, so long ago now, maybe a decade now, those sojourns from New Jersey to New York and then back. The late nights, the feeling of having to return home from the place that you really wanted to be.

But then, this was your city. It was your city as much as it could be anyone's. You know the streets, you know how to navigate your way around, you know how to manage the city. It doesn't groan on your arrival. You walked away from this city, instead of fleeing it. And that's when the fog lifts away and it's a welcome home, not a wistful, nostalgia-filled visit.


The concert at The Warfield was, frankly, f***ing amazing. I really accomplished very little else this weekend, despite many lofty goals. I did bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but they were sort of a warm-up. It's almost holiday cookie season, and I'm going to have to be really organized and disciplined to get it done this year- so, you know, the chances are low that there will be good yields this year.

But even with the otherwise dismal productivity this weekend, yesterday redeemed everything and then some. The Warfield means a lot to me for reasons related to music, to relationships, to movement, to freedom. Both times that I've seen concerts there, I have not been a resident of San Francisco. And it makes me certain, somehow, that I'll get back there, if that's what I wind up wanting.

Setting that aside, The Cold War Kids were pretty much the best band I have seen this past year. That's saying something because I thought Rodrigo y Gabriela & DeVotchKa were hard to beat acts. But, despite a really bizarre mixture of fan followers, the show was exactly what a show should be. There was the energy and the gawky guitarist stumbling about in impassioned play and the hyperactive drummer with the posture and demeanor of Animal (who was, for the record, my favorite Muppet, though I probably would not admit it in person). They had already put out a great album, one of those rare albums that you can listen to from start to finish without the temptation to skip a single song. That was reason to see them enough. But they actually put a new spin on their songs when playing them live, and that is the stuff that fantastic shows are made of.

I was thinking of posting St. John as the song of the week, because they tore that song to pieces during the encore. But I've already posted a Cold War Kids song in the past, and the recorded version of St. John is not representative of the kind of jam that results when it is played live. Instead, I thought I would highlight the other reason the show was so great. The opening band was kick a$$. I had heard of Richard Swift in passing, but after seeing him live, I'm officially a fan. In addition to being hilarious (he switched from playing piano to playing guitar, and explained, "because that is how I roll."), he has one of those buttery voices and his music is quite catchy. So, take a listen to this song off of his latest album and see if you might like him.

In other news, does anyone know what sort of gift I am supposed to give for a christening that is fast approaching? Such pagans as myself are ignorant, and need help from more worldly sorts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

out of this all-encompassing trip

Every other week, there is an exam. And it's fine, and the frequency has this dulling effect. Before the exam today, I remarked to a classmate, "Is it bad that I just don't care anymore?" It wasn't a statement of bravado or one of whinging either (and believe me, there's been plenty of that from most of the camps of my class). It was plaintive, fact.

The only thing left from the early days of these tests, the only hint of any drive is that I still need a song. It's always been this way. I need some bouncy tune to keep my feet moving forward towards school in the morning, some song to pulse through my head while I sort my way through multiple choice questions. This week, it's been Can't Believe A Single Word by VHS or Beta. I'm not sure if this band is any good or not, in fairness. All I know is this song is a perfect kind of indie pop that will keep your head nodding. Sometimes I worry that I will start humming in the middle of an exam. I know I should be fretting and sweating, but I think it's all part of this wtf attitude that develops over time. It happens to some neurons- you fire too many times, they adapt and get desensitized.

Some of my classmates are starting to question what they got themselves into. I am not unsympathetic to their situation. Truth be told, and I think this is why I manage to get along with a pack of youngsters a decade younger than me, I respect their dedication. They are giving up a lot. Some people think I've given up a lot to go to medical school. And while I think anyone who goes through this type of schooling has to make some sacrifices, I feel like my classmates' are in some ways more sad.

I didn't necessarily love my early 20s. It's not as though I was living life without a care in the world. But I was working a lot out for myself, I was defining boundaries and relationships, sorting out what I found important in life and what I didn't. The trouble with making a serious decision in your early 20s is that it's harder to really think of all the possibilities, the endless possibilities.

Schooling or any experience like this forces you to pare down to just the bare necessities. This past weekend, it took every last bit of willpower not to pull out a skein of yarn and start making a sweater. I had to hold back from the urge to bake cookies as a test-run for the upcoming holiday season. It is sometimes tempting to miss those days when I was at leisure to throw a whole weekend away.

But I have the benefit of having actually done all of that in the past, and knowing that, while enjoyable, it wasn't enough. I know I need to do what I'm doing. But I also, so far, know how to carve out the right piece of provisional time for myself. Even though I have exams this week, this past weekend I visited the broseph in SF (where, I was surprised to find, Fritz has moved to the Mission, which is a bit jarring, because I associate that restaurant so wholly with Hayes Valley). Next weekend, I'm going to see The Cold War Kids at The Warfield. I rationalized making muffins last week because I brought them in for my classmates. And while I haven't knit a sweater, I have been plugging away at a pair of socks.

Flexibility is useful. If you think you can't handle hanging out with people 10 years younger than you, if you think you can't handle giving up some dearly held hobbies, if you think you can't become more frugal once you've made a good wage, then you won't be able to handle it. But it's more than that. It's also figuring out that one size does not fit all. I never had a problem with who I was or what my life was in San Francisco. But I also know that who I am here and what my life is here does not resemble that former life very much. For a different set of circumstances, a different set of characteristics manifest, emerge.

For my classmates, it's tough, because it's harder to see this when you haven't lived through it a few times. And some people need commitment and certainty. I can't say where I'll be in five years, or what kind of life I'll be leading. But I am acutely aware that I have a large say in the outcomes for both.

Besides which, Thanksgiving is around the corner, which means I will indulge in the knit/bake/solitude-fest to end all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

singing my life with his words

First off, Happy Diwali and all that good stuff.

Secondly, sorry that I only seem to post these days when it's time to explain a song of the week. I won't cheapen our relationship by promising that this will improve soon.

It's not for lack of time, more lack of focus. Or more accurately, my focus is on something else. I'll show you later this week maybe, but I'll just note for the timebeing that I purchased a dry-erase board recently. Because I was convinced it would improve my life. And you know what? It kind of has.

So, instead of writing in a coherent fashion, I feel like my energy goes towards thinking coherently and motivating myself to stay coherent. I get annoyed when I can't explain myself to others, but I find it happens more and more lately. There's a big difference between understanding something and being able to explain it. I'm not in any kind of crisis that requires great pondering. It's just the articulation part that takes just that extra little bit of effort that I do not seem to be managing at the moment.

But I can tell you a little about music. Not much, but just a little. If you want to really read about music, about a personal connection, may I humbly recommend Moistworks? Whenever a story accompanies music there, well, that is the way people ought to write about music, all the time. Moistworks is actually a fantastic way to encapsulate what music can mean to people, or why it means anything at all.

Back to business: this week's song is a killer. An old, aging fossil of a killer, but deadly nonetheless. I love this song but I think it's totally naive. I think it's totally naive and gullible, yet I get it perfectly. It's exactly what you want to believe, everything in this song. And every once in a while, that 1 in a 1000 chance occurs, and it is true, and that's what you wind up remembering more vividly than anything else.

I think I first heard this song when I was fifteen. Back then, I really believed it, not the way I do now. Now, I hang onto it, but back then, I believed it. And I thought it was such a beautiful notion, because I was always something of a tomboy. The why's and how's are not so important, but it was always the case that I had to stay protected. If I was the protagonist, this song was 100% true. I put up the brave face, however unconvincing. I was always the girl kicking the shin of the boy she liked.

What no one knew was that I was singing this song at the top of my lungs in my bedroom when no one was home. Being alone was a rarity at home, but there was a span of time when the bro-seph was in track and I'd get an hour or so before anyone else inhabited the house. And this song would get cranked and I would sing along to every word until I almost choked from belting it out so loudly.

It's kind of comical, the visual. But then again, I kind of miss it, the abandon, the utter bliss of just jumping into a song. I'd sing it in the living room, pretending to confess, but the whole time, I was just hoping someone would sing it to me someday. I found it so romantic. It's all so cute to think back on, and yet I was a complete and utter idiot. You think about it, and the whole song is a problem. You're not supposed to be this guarded, you're not supposed to break up and pretend to be fine and confess in a song that you're actually pining away- that's the thing that annoying, on-again, off-again relationships are made of, not anything lasting. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I shouldn't have listened to so much music as a teenager- it left me with a warped sense of love. Maybe Nick Hornby was right about the dangers of music. But more likely, I already had these warped ideas, and the music just gave me a soundtrack.

Some people are just drawn to the rollercoasters and instability. I was listening to Fresh Air the other day, and Katha Pollitt was describing some of a recent book she wrote about her failed relationship. She postulated that women are drawn to the wanderers, the fleeting guys who just can't make good. Rather than going with the tired hypothesis that women like a challenge and think they can change these dudes, she suggested that maybe these women wanted to be them. She might be onto something.

Either way, this is one of the best songs ever recorded. Yes. It is. I dare you to argue with me. Actually, instead of arguing with me, why not give me that one song that you think will never get old? I'm always curious.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?

For the ladies, a question, if you care to comment, or even read. I know some of you do not know me, in the sense that you've never met me personally, but based on what you've gleaned, I need some advice. Have you any theories on why I get on so much better with men than women? Why are all my close friends men? Why do I fail at sustaining friendships with women? Is this some weird form of chauvinism on my part? Do I hold things against women that I don't against men? Or am I just an oddball who has more in common with dudes? What is it?

See, I am too tired to figure it out right now. I just know it's true.

For everyone, new song of the week. In my continuing swing of the pendulum, I'm going from the old school to the new. This song might give you a headache. I'm not sure. I'll be the first to admit that I'm actually too old to be listening to it, if I was behaving. But too bad. I like it.

It's this weird line you walk when you are living a life that does not exactly meet prespecified requirements. Some things about me are still quite childish. I still think of the world as uncertain in a way that many people my age no longer do. Also, I can't imagine just listening to the same five artists for the rest of my life. I certainly hope there will never come a time that I simply state, eh, all that newfangled music makes my ears hurt.

Granted, there are some things about contemporary music that really bothers me. It bothers me that there is really no anti-establishment rock out there anymore. Even your most indie band is getting pimped by VW or some shizz. And sometimes rap can be depressing (a most recent example involved watching my classmates jump around to a song in which the chorus involved supersoaking a ho). Not to mention, radio stations have become such a corporate enterprise that it's depressing to think of how difficult it is to get access to decent new music.

Still, there's this silly band. They put out a pretty, bouncy song about the pointlessness of it all, and of course, about drugs. I came across them and this song puts a little spring in my step, which is most welcome on fall mornings when you'd rather hide under a blanket than walk to school. So, I pass the song on to you, and maybe you throw it away, maybe it makes your head hurt, or maybe you like it. I know it's hokey and all, but the internets, in a way, counteract the radio and the corporate message and all that noise. Surf some music blogs on any given day, and it's like getting mixtapes from strangers. You might like it and realize you have a lot in common. You might not like it, appreciate the effort, and move on. Either way, if you think about it, it's a very old-fashioned treatment of music.

p.s. The writer's strike is upon us, and on top of that, all sorts of people are dropping out of the blogosphere. It makes me sad, because, you know, I may have to actually start studying if no one is going to provide me with any useful distractions. Also, while I'd like to say that I will boycott reality television if the writer's are not properly compensated by the muckety mucks, I am aware of my weaknesses. I can't resist a new season of Project Runway, y'all. Plus, lately, I find I've been watching The Hills with a deep and aching horror, as I realize I may have once dated a Justin-Bobby doppleganger. I know that's awful and all, but it was an important breakthrough. So, thanks, MTV. Now please bring the writers back before my IQ dips to single digits.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

seeing things I never saw

Rather than bemoan what a crap blogger I have become, before the week officially comes to a close, I thought I should at least point out that I did actually post a song this past Monday. For some reason, I kept hitting a block when it came time to explain myself.

Because, and I know this sounds a little like the kind of gloating that makes people throw up in their mouth a little and think I'm either Sister Mary Sunshine or an immodest jerk, but lately I have been suffering from an embarrassment of riches. Well, suffering is not the right word, of course. The song this week, Inside Out is not just for nostalgia's sake, although it does make me wistful for an entirely different time in my life, when I was less aware of what I was feeling so much as feeling that something big was happening. And the song this week does not really fit with my current mood.

But the song is belligerently happy, even if it does not mean to be. Some of the lyrics are a bit somber and even angry, but if you just sit and listen to it with your eyes closed, it's a bit hard to feel that way. Or maybe it's based on your own mood. Maybe if I was fifteen again and listening to this song, it might bring back those more appropriate feelings of isolation and heartache. But I don't feel it right now. I just can't feel it.

Instead, I hear this song, and it's almost like a battle cry: you can't stop my heart from turning inside out, try and stop my heart from turning inside out. Oh, just try to bring me down. It's like a dare to the fates, which is most ill-advised, but impossible not to issue when you feel this high.

I know it's missing the whole point of the song, and maybe that's why I haven't written about why I posted it. The real pull towards the song is that I got two presents in the mail the week after my birthday. Both were very sweet, one from a new friend and one from an old friend.

you've been around for such a long time now

The one from the old friend made my heart break and soar all at once, and that's what brought me to this song. It reminded me of who I was when I was young, and what I wanted, and how it all turned out better than I could have ever hoped even though I didn't get any of the things that I thought that I wanted. And I kept trying to write a post about that, and then I realized that was impossible. So, unfortunately, you get this instead.