Monday, February 25, 2008

bouncing over a white cloud

Yesterday, while I was watching the Oscars, during a commercial, when I was supposed to be frantically studying for an exam I had today, I heard this song and thought no fracking way.

I first heard this song over 10 years ago. The words and music date back further than that, but this particular version of the song is relatively new. The first version I heard was Shawn Colvin's, and I remain partial to it. Her version is stark and spare, little more than her guitar and clear voice. Having it solo makes it a bit impossible not to listen to every word of the song. This particular version of the song is more languid, less about the lyrics than about the inherent prettiness of the entire thing.

Still, it's neat to hear Alison Krauss and Robert Plant meld their voices together to become this song. Rather unexpected really. After all these years, it's still hard for me to think of Robert Plant (you know, the guy who sang Whole Lotta Love & Rock & Roll) as understated. I don't want to spoil it any further, so just have a listen if you wish.

The Oscars themselves were meh. There were no disturbing injustices, except that I really think it's ridiculous that Diablo Cody won for best screenplay for Juno. The movie had its moments, but that was mostly from some winning performances from Ellen Page and (I can't even believe it myself) Jennifer Garner, not because of the writing which was completely over-the-top and not at all anywhere close to believable. Also, someone will still have to explain to me what that movie was trying to say. Saying it is about hope and optimism is about the same as all the candidates for President telling me they are for change.

And for the record, the funniest thing about the Oscars this year was, shockingly, not part of the Oscars telecast, but rather from SNL the night before. By the time Daniel Day Lewis' nomination reel was played, I could not watch it without thinking of SNL and giggling. Wow, that's the first time I've talked about SNL and laughing in the same breath in quite a while.

Speaking of which, is it wrong that I find these two Jimmy Kimmel and the Boston boys videos kind of hilarious? I can't really believe I find all of these people funny, since separately, they usually annoy me for some reason. And yet, I'm like a 12-year old around these videos. Sorry if I give offense. I have no real excuse. On the up side, I think this means we can put those Crapfleck-for-Congress rumors to rest.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

can't stop what's coming

Last month, I spent a few weeks ill. Most likely, I had a Strep infection, but being as stubborn as I am and (ironically enough) loathing visits to the doctor's office, I never scored any antibiotics for it. Here's something most doctors won't tell you, and they can dispute what I am about to say because I'm just a peon med student who is still an infant in terms of medical knowledge. But here's what I will tell you- when you take antibiotics for a Strep infection, they're not going to get you better any faster. Believe it or not, your immune system is just as capable as the antibiotics of clearing the infection (unless you're way old or way young or have deficits in your immune system). The problem is that, in fighting off the bacteria, you could wind up mounting antibodies that are duped into attacking your own, much-needed tissues, like those in your heart. That's why you take antibiotics for Strep- so that you don't develop rheumatic fever or worse.

Anyway, my heart is okay, I suppose. But infections make me think of the inevitabilities of life. And I'm convinced that is why I was so taken by No Country for Old Men, even though I saw it before I had started taking Micro. In fact, I saw it in December after a week of finals that had tested my resolve. Needless to say, I did not know much about the film going into it, or I might not have been so amenable to seeing what will never be termed a feel-good favorite.

So, you've got your Javier Bardem, the creepy bug, perfectly played to embody evil. Like a bacteria or a virus, beautiful in its design, in its insinuating manner of wreaking havoc, and of seeming altogether out of this world and alien. And then you've got Tommy Lee Jones playing the host. He's not really been infected with Bardem. Maybe he's not the host, so much as the doctor. A doctor staring down a pandemic, trying in vain to save whoever he can, and grappling with his own fears of coming down with the bug.

Maybe it's nothing like that at all. But No Country for Old Men is about more than a serial killer going on a spree, is about more than the dumbass that is foolish enough to think he can outsmart him. It doesn't have a neat bowed tied around it like Fargo did- there is no real resolution here. Some have found that frustrating. It struck me as so authentic that it was haunting. And Jones' final words in the film, to me, said everything about the more that the movie was about, the more that you only really catch when Jones is on screen. It's shocking to find that after years of dueling with Anthony Hopkins for champion of all scenery-chewers, he calmed himself down into this weary, grave role.

I still can't write about the film properly. It's been over two months now since I have seen it and it's stayed with me. It occurs to me-- before, I'd always advised people not to miss special-effects-laden movies at the theater. But this movie, this quiet, really very indie movie ought to be seen on the big screen, uninterrupted, in the silence and dark of the theater. Maybe that is why it burrowed into me and stays there like a dormant parasite, waiting for its opportune moment to reactivate and hit me again.

Monday, February 18, 2008

some days take less, but most days take more

Well, it seems a tour of shame through my playlists continues. Instead of posting what would have been totally hipster-approved, the new DeVotchKa single Transliterator, I went into the vault and dragged out this little number, which is the equivalent of hanging up a disco ball without a touch of irony. I might post Transliterator next week- I'm not done digesting it, and it just did not fit my current mood.

I do not like everything U2 does. I am not such a huge fan of them in recent years. Yet, most people point to the album from which this song is plucked as part of the decline of U2, with All That You Can't Leave Behind being their dutiful return to form. Here's where I reveal my anti-coolness once again. I kind of loved Zooropa. Yup, kind of loved it from start to finish. Sort of listened to it the way most people did Joshua Tree and Achtung, Baby, in an endless loop on repeat. I liked those two albums, very much so. I liked pretty much everything U2 had done prior to Zooropa. It's not that the album was so much more superior to everything that had been released beforehand by U2, far from it.

The album had some stones though. Say what else you want about it, but you have to give it that. U2 had been doing this for some time, but no one had really given them much notice for it. It was kind of this quiet progression, followed by a tweak here and there and whoops, entirely different band and sound. It felt like a huge departure, but if you went back and listened carefully, you could see the connections. It wasn't an aging band trying to front, thinking the kids'll dig this, wasn't Mick Jagger stooping to the Harlem Shuffle.

I guess that is what I liked about Zooropa. So much of it was ridiculous. It was over-the-top. Some of the lyrics seemed more like gibberish than past U2 songs. And certainly there was posturing, because by this time, Bono's head had definitely, permanently inflated. But it did not feel false. It did not feel forced. It felt like a band toying around with an idea, like thinking aloud. And, in particular, at the time when this album came out, I was thinking aloud a lot myself.

When I was listening to Zooropa the most, my dingy apartment in Allston had been burglarized, a mere week after I had moved in. I was working a part-time job that summer to pay rent, trucking across Boston with my T-pass to take Physics at a school where I could afford tuition, and then trucking it back to my actual university to work for free in the lab. Everything had its purpose, though it seems senseless looking back on it. I had to take the class in order for my parents to feel I was justified in staying in Boston that summer. I had to work the part-time job to pay the rent. And the whole reason I was jumping through both of those hoops was so that I could stay in Boston to work in the lab. Unpaid.

Oh, and there was some nonsense with a boy going on in the midst of all that. Nonsense, because what else could it have been with everything else happening?

I would come home exhausted, flop on the couch, turn on the CD player. I had barely enough money to make rent, pay for my T pass, and eat various noodle-type of packaged products. You could hear the cockroaches scatter when you turned the light on to go into the apartment at night. There was no air-conditioning, and a huge heat wave swept through for a month, such that I would take the T or work in the lab just to cool off some times.

And yet, it was a time of such great awakening. It was a time when I really delved into myself and figured out what I wanted. And being that busy, that scattered, strangely helps you to focus. Other things become background noise and suddenly emerges what is really important, what is keeping your heart beating, keeping you waking up every morning and hurrying through your day. For me, that summer, it was research. It was working in the lab, working with that solitary purpose, that single-minded focus. It was a thing that couldn't let you down, even when things didn't work out. You could go back, figure out what went wrong, try something new. You had to give up on it, because it would not give up on you. And when you find something like that, when you find that you can throw yourself into something with that much recklessness, whether you stick with it or not, you earn a certain strength that can't be stripped away.

This song always makes me think of that time, and makes me, oddly enough, think of research. Lab research at the bench is not the kind of thing where you wake up every day, stretch out and think another wonderful day. Some days are fantastic triumphs and you will make what seems like quantum leap breakthroughs. Other days you will want to smash test tubes against a wall because you have been set back a month in the matter of minutes. It's not just working, step-wise, to a carefully crafted goal. It's a mess, and it teaches you that nothing, neither the triumphs nor the defeats, is permanent. And even though these days I am doing something entirely different with a lot more instant gratification, I would do well to remember the lessons I learned that summer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

would you rewind it all the time?*

Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in...

My posts have decreased in frequency and quality (which moves their quality from -5 to -20), but there are some reasons to keep poking my nose into the internet. For example, today, I was perusing Ultrabrown and Manish posted a blurb on Goldspot. Even though I often also lurk about on a bunch of trendster music blogs, I never bothered to check this band out (oh, they are much beloved on the blogosphere, I assure you) until today.

The lead singer's voice is so unabashedly melodic that it's quite irresistible. There's nothing more to say about the band, except that you ought to have a listen. I owe this band a lot today, because it helped me to stop listening to that cheesy-pop song I posted earlier this week. I've been listening to Goldspot while studying this evening, and while it is just as energetic, it is not at all embarrassing.

That is all for now. My brain is actually behind my actions today, so while my fingers anxiously attacked this post, my mind hasn't figured out why I was so eager to write anything. More when I am more synchronized.

*The answer, in my case, is indeed.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

and there's no explaining

Well, there's been quite a bit of gloominess going on to start this year, and, while I can't say it has been vanquished in its entirety, I can embarrass the living daylights out of myself by admitting what I have been using to stave off any negativity lately.

And so we come to this week's song. I have no excuse for it. It's totally ridiculous, and is supposed to be totally ridiculous as it was recorded for that exact purpose. At least, I think so-- I've never actually seen the movie that made it necessary to craft this tune. I have no problem imagining Hugh Grant as a washed-up musician, but I do have trouble imagining Drew Barrymore as the brilliant lyricist who recharges his career- or whatever the plot is.

Thing is, I have to say that after watching the video (which, actually, I think was first pointed out to me by ads) and then listening to this song every time I need a boost, I am starting to wonder if maybe I should check out the movie some time. This song is supposed to be a spoof of 80s pop, but it's so faithful to its material that it's the equivalent of listening to Depeche Mode's Just Can't Get Enough, Dead or Alive's Brand New Lover, or Wham!'s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go. There's such a familiar feeling of nostalgia and silliness that it's sort of mind bending to think that this song was actually recorded in the last few years.

Also, there's something even more amusing in thinking of Hugh Grant having recorded this song. Do you remember that scene in Love Actually when Grant has to dance around by himself to the Pointer Sisters? That sh*t was ten times funnier because I could not help thinking that Grant was completely aware of what a fool he was making of himself. For some reason, Grant comes off as one of those actors that is well aware of what a stupid business he is in. It's probably why he's not a wildly talented actor, but it does make him extremely entertaining.

If you don't believe me, check the video out-- due credit should also go to one Jason Street, for actually managing to hold his own around Grant.

I've found myself listening to this song when I'm studying and just want something mindlessly upbeat in my head. I think that might be the whole trick with willing yourself out of a funk- just mindless, irrational positivity. There will be time enough later to reason it out and explain why you ought to have snapped out of it a long while back. But until then, the brute force approach of this kind of absurdity will certainly do.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

shed some light on me please

A full moon can make you drive off the road, especially those full, harvest moons, that glow with rich yellow light, warming up the night sky. So why is it that what I adore most is when the moon is at its tiniest, a small, faint sliver?

That crescent moon, though, I find spellbinding. A full moon will run you off the road with its arresting beauty. It's bold and unbridled, and yet it's also somewhat obvious. Who doesn't look at a full moon and wish upon it? But the full moon is the full moon- it will never get more full and it will not sustain. The crescent moon, on the other hand, is the tall, dark, and handsome type.

It provides just enough light, however slight, to let you know it's there. It is there and, if you look closely enough, you can see the outline of its whole, the shadows in which the rest of the moon resides. The crescent moon is modest, gives you just a glimmer of what it can be. And that, to me, is so much more mesmerizing, so much more magnetic than blinding light, than symmetric shining beauty.

I suppose you can count on both. You can count on the full moon to decline, to nightly erode away. And you can also count on the crescent moon to grow, to emerge from the shadows and reach its potential. And I suppose, in the end, there is some comfort to be derived from that convergence, that they are one and the same.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

lost in what we keep

First, and really, without even bothering to read any further, you would be best served checking out this from Ben at Moistworks, all about one of my favorite songs of all time.

His post is about belonging, but it's also about knowing whether something is working or not working. The next time someone asks me why I am single, I may just send them a link to that post.

This week's song, you know, now that it's almost the end of the week and time for a new one, was a little tongue-in-cheek about the crushing Superbowl loss. But that's not why this song resides on my playlist, of course.

There's a kind of crescendo happening with this song right from the opening bars. It swells, the tambourine keeping it from ever really sinking. And the vocals are without abandon, without affectation. It's not necessarily pretty all the time. And it's almost like being over someone. You know, you're over someone, but that doesn't mean you don't still have that itch.

That itch is not really about wanting them back. It's not about regret, or disappointment, or even really sadness. It's not that stage of weeping, of hand-wringing, of wondering if it's really over. There's a kind of frenzy in this song that is familiar to anyone who has, really, had their heart broken.

Because at some point, you realize that it's not that it was meant to be any other way. You can see that it was not supposed to work out, and that it's better, the two of you apart. But there's some accounting to be done. There's a score to be settled. It's not necessarily vengeance. It's the recording of history. It is a little pathetic and embarrassing, ultimately, and yet, you want it to be known: you broke my heart. Because you're over it, sure, you're over it and you're over the other person, but that doesn't mean they should get a free pass. Something in you wants them to know, needs them to live with the notion that they hurt someone in a specific, acute, piercing manner. Something in you needs for it to be noted, because otherwise it becomes too meaningless to bear, and somehow that is worse than heartbreak itself.

But then the song shifts, as does the swell. Louder and louder, clankier and more fervent, a kind of religion creeping into it. When it gets to that peak, when the song starts to really lose all abandon, it's not even about a heart getting broken, but actually about the defiance required to thumb your nose at that heartbreak. I always have this visual, which is not particularly pleasant, of a heart ripped out and tossed in the mud, damaged, weak, dying. And you pick it up, dust it off, and hold it up defiantly, stick it back in your chest and say, go ahead, try it again. And that's what I take from this song when the tambourine and piano and vocals suddenly crash together like a deafening set of cymbals.

Monday, February 04, 2008

small my table

so many times

Some people make lemon out of lemonades. Other people make peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies out of their pain. Just kidding. After calming down yesterday, I felt like a bit of a maroon for wasting so much time and emotion on something as foolish as football. What's more, I finally felt like the world righted itself, and once again, Boston became Boston, the land of close, but no cigar.

Anyway, yesterday's post was rushed and crazed, but the recipe is legit. I have been playing with this recipe for a long time. I've tinkered with it because I think peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies are the only cookie that I really enjoy eating- I associate something about them with comfort. So, I feel pretty confident that this recipe will not fail you. The only watch-out is the whole wheat flour- it's a texture that's not for everyone, and it does tend to make your cookies more substantial (which is another reason you should mix this all by hand- overmixing will make a brick out of you). If you click on the picture, I've put up a more aesthetically conventional version of the recipe should anyone wish to try it.

I know it probably seems like I am on a quest to study Type II Diabetes by developing it myself, but here is some evidence that I don't dine on cookies and chocolate pudding:

just to get by

It occurs to me that I can be completely neurotic about the strangest things. For example, I cannot make a salad with vegetables that are all the same color. For that matter, I cannot make a dish that is all of the same color. Even though I could care less about the taste of one over the other, I will often buy a yellow or red bell pepper just so that my salad is not completely green. Sometimes, I will choose not to put cucumbers in salad for the same reason.

The weirdest thing about this compulsion is that I think I picked it up in home economics class. What kind of a dork actually remembers anything from home economics, much less carries it with her throughout her life? Apparently, this kind of dork. When I think back on it, I am a bit shocked at how much I used to enjoy home economics. Even at that age, no one would have pegged me for housewife-material. Yet I always took the class so seriously, you would have thought advancing to the 8th grade depended on it.

It was self-sufficiency, I can see now. My mother and I never had this warm, nurturing relationship. She never taught me much- at most, I learned from observing her while I was confined to the duties of chief dishwasher=in-residence. I know it wasn't just that though. It was more this notion of helplessness. It still makes me wince when one of my cousins shrugs off her inability to cook anything. I would have the same reaction to any male cousins of mine, except they've all learned to cook, interestingly enough.

At any rate, it's not as though I am some master chef by any means. I really only cook well enough to feed myself, but that's all I was really going for. One of the few rules I had for myself when starting school was that I did not want to stoop to the days of pizza boxes and ramen noodles. Luckily, I've found that I not only have access to decent produce, but also find a certain relaxation in the chopping and preparing and whatnot. The above is a batch of vegetables and tofu that will shortly be topped with lettuce and portioned into containers for lunch for the rest of the week. It works out pretty well.

Tomorrow, it's back to navel-gazing, and also an explanation for the song of the week.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

why do you build me up

Next time your favorite team is playing like crap and giving you chest pain, and you feel the need to work off some nervous energy, here’s a little recipe you can try. It won’t help your team win any, but it will give you something to do as you realize you wasted four hours watching an absolutely shameful game. I’ll post pictures (of the cookies, not of my reaction of utter stupor over the stupidity that was tonight’s Superbowl) this week, when I am feeling a little less frantic about a test I was supposed to be studying for during this time:

Peanut-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies for Patriots Fans with Palpitations

Preheat your oven to 350.

Place a 1/2 cup of honey, 1/2 cup of brown sugar (I don't pack it, because it turns out too sweet that way), and 1 stick of butter in a large mixing bowl. I let the butter come to room temperature and then cream these ingredients together by hand (mostly because I have a lot of nervous energy during such games).

Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and a 1/2 cup of peanut butter and mix this in until smooth. Then add in one egg and mix until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour (if you don't have whole wheat flour, you can use all-purpose flour entirely), 1 tsp of baking soda, and 1 tsp of salt. Now add the wet and dry ingredients together, just until everything is incorporated. Add in 1 cup of chocolate chips (I prefer the miniature kind).

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet about 1-2 inches apart. With a fork, press down each mound cross-wise in two directions. Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes- the cookies will be browned on the bottom and cooked but soft on top. Remove from the oven and let sit on the pan for about 4 minutes before removing. Cool completely on wire racks.

Then cry and fight the urge to eat the entire batch of cookies when your team loses the Superbowl.

Friday, February 01, 2008

that feeling of safety you prize

Though I have been hesitant to say I am fine, especially now that my lungs feel as though a slab of iron has been strewn across them, I realized that I needed to go back. I needed to go back and remember. I want to remember.

It was a Sunday morning. The sun was filtering through the stylish wooden shades. I was idly passing my fingers along the books on E's shelf. He had a large collection of the works of Albert Schweitzer, I noted, though at the time I was completely unfamiliar with the author. E was considerably older than me, and occasionally I got the feeling that his apartment was all an attempt to project a kind of affected worldliness. The masks from Africa hanging on the wall in the den come to mind. These books I thought to be more of the same.

That was pure speculation, of course. When it came right down to it, we did not know each other very well. And I can quite safely say that neither of us lost any sleep over that. Neither of us were particularly keen to figure the other one out, to delve into each other's insides, take them apart and put them back together again. We were content to occupy the same sphere and let each other be.

Occasionally, though, we teased each other. Like when E expressed his bewilderment that I could find Morphine a good band (I still stand by that, for the record). And like that morning, when I saw the yellowed tomes in his library and asked E if they'd come with the shelves. It seemed like the sort of books you'd see in a furniture store- the kinds no one ever actually read, but certainly complimented the aesthetic.

And just as I had called him an unimaginative jazz & blues snob for his derision of Morphine, he had arched at my dismissal of Schweitzer. I did not know at the time that I had pushed a button. At the time, E seemed to me perfectly satisfied to live his days out in this well-appointed apartment, make his living, eat good meals and drink good scotch.

As I said, we did not know each other very well.

He had not read me the riot act exactly. We never fought. Ours was not that sort of thing. The misstep was just noted and then I became attentive, becasue, and this is what I always liked about E, he told a good story. When he told me about Schweitzer, in all of Schweitzer's multi-faceted glory, I was charmed. It wasn't so much that I thought E was going to do mission work in Africa, or that he was going to record music, or become a physician. But I could see, just then, for a moment, what he was trying to show me. It was the closest we ever got, that blink-and-you'll-miss-it seemingly meaningless conversation.

Funny really. I could refer you to those who know me and they would tell you E had little effect on me one way or another. Many of those people, who know me so well, might even tell you they'd never even heard of this E. And while, on some level, that reflects an absolute truth, it is equally undeniable that E had a lasting, shocking impact.

If you had asked E, never in a million years would he have predicted that I would have actually absorbed what he was trying to show me. He was not trying to influence me, after all. What's more, when he knew me, I was 22 years old, a straight arrow with a trajectory that seemed more like a tidal wave, so unstoppable and predestined did it seem. I had imagined life as a linear, step-wise process, which was probably why I could toil away in an organic synthesis lab for years without tiring of it. My whole life had been planned, in my head. I had a clear idea of what I was going to do, and where, and by when. Even taking a year off to work had seemed like a failing until I had collected enough data that indicated that it was a perfectly acceptable, conventional route to graduate school. So, if you had asked me, the 22-year old version of me, if I had been moved by what E had shown me, I would have simply shrugged and said, eh, good for him.

E, of course, lived up to his vision, that life need not remain static, that there is no such thing as stalling out. I, like a pinball, bounced- first straight, then banging around chaotically in a panic until I remembered, one jarring September day, that collection of books on E's shelf. And how it was time to start going for the possibilities rather than assuming that kind of reckless abandonment was reserved for the free-spirited sorts like E.

We did not know each other very well. But I think he might have saved my life.