Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So I'm walking through the desert

Well, I am annoyed because I'm having some wacked-out issues with getting on Flickr at the moment, and thus have not been able to post a picture of my latest knitting adventure. Let's just say it is well-timed for the chill that is finally heading this way. Not as well-timed? The heater for the front half of my apartment is busted up, just in time for when I might actually need it.

I am bracing myself at the moment, because I am supposed to meet up with a classmate, who is going to start harassing me about another classmate. I've noticed that there are a few people in my life who are just not comfortable with my marital status. It's really odd, because a lot of times these are people who do not know me all that well, so I wonder why they even care. On the other hand, maybe that's exactly why they don't just let me be. Most of those who know me know better, leave well enough alone.

Here's the thing. I'm no prize, I'll be the first to admit, but that does not mean I am willing to settle. This has always been a problem for me. I am always more willing to suffer from heartbreak than to suffocate from boredom. I do not mind being alone, and I do not even mind loneliness- unless I'm lonely when with someone else. And that's what, it seems, happens when you compromise for less than what you want.

And what I want is really so simple actually, in that I want everything.

Well, the everything that is something. That's what it is. Something is everything, or just nothing. And right now, all of these fools are trying to make something out of nothing.

Anyhow, enough of that noise. I've got a pile of lectures to slog through. But in the meanwhile, have you all heard of this band Fiction? I have no idea how I wound up with one of their songs on my iTunes playlist, but now I cannot stop listening to it. The song is called Salty, and I might just wind up posting it tomorrow. It might be time to bring songs of the week back here, because I'm not loving tumblr, and I am too lazy to figure out the alternatives to muxtape. Anyway, Salty is one of those songs that makes me feel like it should be a soundtrack for my life or for someone else's. In this specific instance, probably someone else's, because the song might just be too cool to fit anything that's ever happened to me. Species pressing up the stream, ways to go, brave new world, undertow, ocean change, which way, this way, banishing sound. The words and music suggest a bubbling up, building, and then switches to a spooky, lilting drift, the music sinking back down into the sea. I'm a sucker for it, for the big push and drive that ends with a drowning.

Not to be a downer. This post would have been much more satisfying for me were there a sweater in it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I've wondered if I could hang on

I don't mind admitting that I've been addicted to Top Chef since Season 1. At first, it was just the novelty of seeing all the San Francisco shots and guest judges from local SF eateries. Then I got kind of fascinated by how these contestants whipped stuff up with little time, limited ingredients and some other insane constraint. I remember from working in chemistry lab that time management skills are everything. If you don't carefully orchestrate the timing of various steps, it can wind up taking you an unnecessarily long amount of time to conduct the simplest of experiments.

Of course, there is always the element of the unknown. I think that's the key with plans anyway- any carefully concocted plan ought to be flexible, because chances are something will derail you from the perfectly structured plan. I wish I could remember when I finally learned that lesson. I know that when I was young, I would plot out an exact course for my life, and get extremely frustrated when the pieces did not fall into place just so. And I know that somehow I let that go, and nowadays I am happy if I have some skeleton of an idea of where I am headed, filling in the details as I go. It would be nice if I had some epiphany, some moment of perfect clarity, but I think it was more a case of one disappointment after another finally setting me straight.

Anyway, yesterday, I had quite an impressive baking fiasco. I had planned to tinker around with making bread, and afterwards make a lemon cake. Made sense- the latter was a tried and true, foolproof recipe, the former was a complete crapshoot. I was going to a dinner, so the lemon cake was my trusty companion to take along.

I had allotted a good amount of time for this bread-making business, because making bread can take a while. With my previous focaccia experiments, however, time was needed but not so much wiggle room. Now, I should have known better. First of all, as usual, I wasn't satisfied with following a recipe. I wanted to use some whole wheat flour and some graham flour, and I wanted to use 2% milk instead of regular, and on and on.

So I had this ball of dough sitting in a covered bowl, and just needed it to rise. It takes usually about 2 hours, maybe 3. Well, at the 3 hour mark, the dough was stubbornly sitting mostly in place. I was more than disappointed about that, and considered throwing out the dough altogether. But instead of doing anything impulsive, I turned my attention to the lemon cake. It turns out that, in the 1.5 hours it took me to make the lemon cake, the dough miraculously, but slowly was starting to lift. But at that point, I had to get to dinner.

I decided to let the dough sit, wondering all through dinner whether the dough had gone mutant and taken over my entire kitchen. When I got home, the dough had actually puffed up perfectly, but by that time it was late. I threw it in the refrigerator, unsure of whether that would be the death of it all. Bad, bad time management skills, indeed.

Today, after coming back from school and doing various other things, I decided to revisit yesterday's failure. I made mini-loaves because I convinced myself those would be less painful to throw in the trash. Except, lo and behold, everything came together today, and I got myself some cinnamon-swirl bread:

gonna rise up, turning mistakes into gold

It's one of the few things I've made that tastes exactly the way I imagined it would when I first set out to make it. As Hannibal from The A-Team would say- I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I heard there was a secret chord

Sunday mornings should not really be for heartbreak, but I was revisiting some old songs. This set does not follow an earlier theme; these are not songs that have been put in permanent storage because they're too evocative of a particular time or feeling. These songs never really went away. If they had ever popped up on the radio while I was driving, I would have cranked them, maybe even pulled the car over.

I'm only going to mention one of them because it's in my head right now. Too much beauty all at once can be a bad thing anyway, can dilute. Anyway, you've probably (hopefully!) heard this song before, but I just wanted to remind you. I know I'd want to be reminded of this songs at least.

It is by Jeff Buckley. You could actually just buy yourself a bottle of wine, put the album Grace on repeat, and call it a night. There are so many gems on that album that it's sort of amazing that I bought the CD for $5 in some marked down bin in Boston in early 1995. Most people now know the album for the ubiquitously played Leonard Cohen cover Hallelujah. There's no doubt that Buckley covered Hallelujah in a way that is very difficult to top.

There are other heartbreaking songs on the album like Lover, you should've come over and Forget Her. You know, it's so much cooler to pick some obscure song from an album and claim it as your favorite, making it somehow more of a closely held secret. Problem is, there's a reason the big hit is a big hit. So, even after all these years, I have to admit that the song that I come back to over and over again is Last Goodbye.

If I ever shut this blog down, that would most definitely be the title of my final post. It's hard to write about this song without getting ridiculously worked up. From the very first guitar slide and the bass line, the song just pulls you right in. I think I could pick out the guitar slide at the beginning of this song in 2 bars or less, it's so distinct. And then, of course, there's Jeff Buckley's voice, which, I am quite certain, has launched a legion of imitators (in a good way, unlike the army of faux Eddie Vedders that also came out of that time in music). Anyone who thought the 90s were all about grunge mumbling need only listen to this song to be shown otherwise.

Forget that though. Yes, there's Buckley's liquid vocals, the strings, the bass. All of that. And then on top of that, the lyrics, and the wind is just knocked out of me. The song is a standard issue break-up song, I suppose, but it captures the spectrum so well. Take this for example:

Just hear this and then I'll go- you gave me more to live for, more than you'll ever know

And then couple it with this:

Why can't we overcome this war? Maybe it's just because I didn't know you at all.

It's amazing because there's resignation without bitterness, something circumspect about the song. Which is kind of how things are when they're finally, thankfully over. Really, all you need to do is hear it, and everything I am trying to explain will pale in comparison to the actual experience of the song itself. You can also check out the video so that you can swoon over the late Jeff Buckley, and mourn that he wasn't able to put out a larger collection of work.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

pick up the pieces

I didn't really have anything to post about besides some drunken tomfoolery last night, which can be quickly summed up.

AB: So I was watching Firefly, and that girl... River Phoenix? She's awesome.
me: Her name is definitely not River Phoenix.
JL: Her name is River on the show.
me: But not River Phoenix, who was a guy, and who OD'd when he was really young. You know, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix?
JL: Wait, Joaquin Phoenix is related to this River guy?
me: (in my head) I'm a fossil.
AB: Oh, I know, her name is Summer Phoenix.
me: Still wrong.

Later, while playing Taboo:

JL: So, this is a really bad romance movie.
me: The Notebook (and it was the right answer).


But then, I read some great news about Daniel Alarcon getting an award for Lost City Radio. I started reading that novel shortly after quitting my job, and embarking on over a month of tooling around the East Coast and Europe. I finished off the book while I was in Madrid. I would get engrossed in a chapter, and then go to the Reina Sofia, and sort of lost my mind. I stared at Picasso's Guernica, and at a photography exhibit to do with an uprising. There were all these themes of violence and war, and Alarcon's words rattled around my brain as if exclaiming, "See!?!"

What is fascinating about Lost CIty Radio is that it's not about a specific war. It's not even about a specific place. Alarcon took some inspiration from Peru, clearly, but when it gets right to it, it's purposefully blurred, generalized. So much about it is murky. Alarcon purposefully doesn't pick one side as right or wrong. It is war boiled down to its essence, and it is actually most interested in the impact of war, of instability.

There are little quibbles. It's quite obvious what will happen. But it almost doesn't matter, because Alarcon has this way, to me, of getting his world and his characters seeped into you. He does not write with the zany edginess of Junot Diaz. But I think that works for him, because he's not interested in tricking you into getting involved. His style of writing just involves you.

I know I am writing for crap about this. All I can say is that you should give Alarcon a try. And reading about him winning the award cured me of this horrible run I've had of reading and watching mindless garbage. Knowing books like Lost City Radio are out there makes me realize that I should not waste time on trash.


Also, I may be the only medical student on earth that prefers the kidney to the lungs. That is all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

there's a world where I can go and tell my secrets to

A weird thing happened. I couldn't write a post while I was visiting San Francisco. That's weird because if anything ever cured me of writer's block, it was San Francisco. But every time I sat down to write while there, everything that came out was so effusive that it would have provoked mass gagging across the blogosphere (well, in my 3 readers). So I am going to be a little selfish about San Francisco, and just keep it to myself.

So now I am back. I have a few days off before the next whirlwind of schoolingness starts up. I have a gajillion errands I need to get done before classes start up, but I feel more equipped to handle them now. But I can't explain why, or I'll go all mushy pants for San Francisco again.

My classmates are polluting me with horrible writing, by the way, giving me yet another reason to be down on them. The whole class seems to be campaigning to get me to read the Harry Potter novels (please do not give me a lecture about how these are actually good books- I'm actually quite sure they are, but I missed the craze in the beginning, and just never got around to catching up. Perhaps I will at a later date, okay?). One of them handed me Twilight a week before we had finals, and I literally felt gross and disgusted with myself after having read it. Another suggested some other fantasy crazy novel having to do with fire and ice in the title. I can't even remember the name of it, but I sat there listening to the description, wondering if medical school rots people's brains. When we suggest going to see a movie, everyone wants to see the stupidest thing in the theater, me included. Maybe it's the same thing with books, but I just hold them a little more sacred. I think I need to get my hands on some seriously good fiction soon, or I am going to fall into disarray. Suggestions welcome, or in fact, urgently requested.

And now I must, of course, indulge in a little cookie-making.