Words, Words, Words
Published in Toaster Magazine, October 2006
I am a musician.
I haven’t touched my violin in months and it’s been even longer since I’ve played
regularly… but I am a musician.
I’m not sure from where I caught the music bug. I didn’t really grow up
surrounded by music, as most musicians say they did. I have a weak
understanding of popular music prior to the stuff of the 80s (à la Men at Work,
Motley Crüe, Paula Abul, and Cyndi Lauper) that my older brother and sister
listened to when they were in high school. My parents’ choice in music was Indian
classical. While my peers were receiving an education in The Beatles or Janis
Joplin or whatever was their parents’ choice of popular music, I was listening to
warbling voices crooning in a language I couldn’t understand.
Like many overachieving Asian immigrant parents, they decided their soon-to-be
overachieving son should be a musical prodigy—or at least be trained as such.
While I’m sure they would have preferred me to become a virtuoso of the shenai
or sitar, teachers for such instruments were in short supply in Waterloo, Iowa. So
the violin it was. So at the tender age of 6, a teeny tiny little violin was thrust into
my unwilling hands and the lessons began. I, of course, wasn’t having this. Before
long, I convinced my parents (probably though a temper tantrum involving the
threatened destruction of the odious musical instrument in question) to abandon
their hopes for a concert violinist. Crushed, they resigned themselves to the fact
that I was destined to become a street hoodlum, burglarizing houses and selling
my loot for my next fix of crack.
To their surprise, in third grade I decided I wanted to give it another go. There was
probably some sort of peer impetus involved that caused this sudden desire, but
what I remember instead was discovering a tape of Itzhak Perlman playing the
Carmen Fantasie by Pablo de Sarasate.
Brilliance. Love. Ecstasy. Had I known what an orgasm was at that age I probably
would have had one. Though my parents were more aligned to Indian classical
music, they, like a good doctor’s family should, had on hand a meager supply of
European classical music, mostly for pretentious background music during the
I devoured it all. Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin (mostly the Classical period
is what they had, with a bit of the Romantic thrown in.) I was hooked. Obsessed.
Ravenous for more. I asked my parents for lessons again, and they agreed.
Yet… like most kids that age, I was obsessed for precisely 0.2 seconds and then
the reality of the continued commitment to practicing set in. It became a chore,
another task I had to do to please my ever-demanding parents.
Fast forward five years. Plus ça la même chose, plus ça change…
I took it. I owned it. No longer was music to please my parents and be a dutiful son
(which I was ever-increasingly deciding not to be) but rather it was mine. It was a
part of me, an integral portion of my personality and talents and self-image.
I rocked it. I practiced like a madman, worked hard in my private lessons,
constantly tried to further my musical sensibilities. Now, lest you overestimate
me, I was far from a prodigy. I was pretty decent. I didn’t have that musical genius
that some of my fellow musicians in the area did (I had the mis/fortune to grow
up with several true prodigies); rather, I worked hard and it showed. It was in my
blood. It became an inextricable part of my being. I said at the time that if you cut
me I would bleed music.
It was love. It was my first real experience with the word, because music was
no longer this abstract concept, this artificial convergence of sound waves
and harmonics and air. It was a living, breathing entity and it had possessed
me. He was my lover, and I dealt with his affection, his scorn, his temper, his
unpredictability. He pushed me and I pushed back; we laughed and we cried; we
made love and we fought; we held each other while we cried and skipped though
dewy fields in pure youthful abandon.
Something changed, though, about my junior year of high school. This
tempestuous relationship began to falter and I spent more time dwelling on myself
and the myriad of issues surrounding the identity crisis than many teenagers face
at that time. From three to four hours of practice a day it dwindled to two, then
one, then skipped days, and like a jilted lover he increasingly refused to give back
the performance I expected.
College brought with it its own onslaught of personal issues and after fumbling
through orchestra my first year I resigned myself to waning talent due to
diminished time. My art classes began consuming upwards of twenty hours a day,
the mistress taking me away from my lover. Devastated, I loosened the strings on
my violin… something done only for transport or when you don’t expect to be
playing again soon.
But he stayed with me, albeit in a greatly transformed manner. I began to
surround myself with music: not just the classical that had woven itself into my
being but all types of music. Indie, pop, folk, rock… I absorbed what my friends
exposed me to and soon there was barely a moment of the day where I wasn’t
listening to something, save academic classes. In my art studios I was always the
one with headphones who had to be visually flagged down when it was time to pay
attention to the instructor. It was about this time that I overheard an ex-boyfriend
describe me as “the Tori head.” It made me smile… it was quite true; at that time
I listened to Tori Amos incessantly. To have music be a primary descriptor of me
Music became a necessity, a requirement, an addiction. It provided an expression,
a release, and an understanding that nothing else could. Beneath the lyrics that
may or may not have related to what was floating around in my head, the notes
understood and echoed my feelings. At times when even my thoughts failed
me and were silent, the strains of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco,
Radiohead, Rufus Wainwright, Stuart Davis, Brenda Weiler, Björk… they filled in
where my heart failed and my mind spun in deadly silence.
I continue to wrap myself in an auditory blanket. It’s rare that you’ll find me
sitting in silence. At work, with Paul van Dyk or bT pumping through my
headphones, I chairdance along to the thumping bass and rock the mouse. At
home Death Cab for Cutie, Portishead, Morcheeba, Badly Drawn Boy, Alkaline
Trio, Ben Folds, or Coldplay keep me company. I squirm in silence, I wiggle to live
music, I bop along to club music, and I cherish the moments when my friends share
their music with me and offer me a deeper glimpse into what makes them tick.
It’s vital to me. It is my nourishment, my nurturing caregiver, my confidant… and
it will always be there with me.
I recall a story that my youth orchestra director, Mr. Finelli, once told us of a cellist
who went to the emergency room. As they were filling out his paperwork, they
asked for his religion.
He replied “musician.”
Pursuit of Happiness
Published in Toaster Magazine, January 2007
New Year’s has always been a magical time for me. There’s an electricity at that
stroke of midnight, at the precise moment where past and future collide, as one
year dies and the next lets forth it birthing cries. It is a moment that is almost
holy, a sacred second pregnant with the events of two full years, 525,600 minutes
multiplied by two. It is at this very collision of time that one can look into the
future and learn an inkling of what is to come, the bubbles of our champagne toast
transformed into divining tea leaves of our lives. It is, above all else, simply what it
is: a new beginning, granted to each of us to seize or squander as we see fit.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; I find them altogether too easy to make and
equally easy to abandon after a few short weeks. Instead, I have a ritual of giving
each year a title, a theme, a guiding idea by which to shape the next three hundred
and sixty-five opportunities. It’s a strange little habit I developed in college, after
my friends and I dubbed one summer “the Summer of Sin.” (And believe you me,
we made sure that summer lived up to its moniker.) My titles are simple, one word,
meant to give me an idea of where to go during that year, of what to aspire towards,
of what to change about myself, and most importantly, of what concessions to
allow myself. Let’s face it: we all start each new year full of hopes, dreams, goals,
plans to change ourselves, ideas to better the world… and yet don’t we usually set
the bar a little high? Those well-intended resolutions to go to the gym three times
a week (minimum!), to lose those twenty pounds that’ve been keeping you out of
your favorite pants, to quit smoking, to quit drinking, to finally organize your life,
to develop your Jedi mind tricks… no one expends the effort of declaring a goal
a “New Year’s Resolution” unless it’s one that will be a struggle to achieve. What
good would “take out the trash” be as a Resolution? It’s one that I can happily
cross off the list with (albeit spotty) regularity, but it’s hardly deserving of the
distinction of “Resolution,” is it.
When I reflect upon what to title upcoming new year I always remind myself that
I am human. I have my faults (many more than I would like, but don’t we all?) and
my weaknesses (more than I’d care to admit) but I also have my strengths and
my virtues. Thus, the concessions. Not every moment of the new year will I be a
paragon of human excellence, so I acknowledge it and grant myself the leeway to
falter from my path on occasion. There’s no ‘Year of Superhuman Strength’ or ‘Year
of Soy-Only Diet’ or ‘Year of Daily Gym-Going followed by Yoga followed by a
Rather: Year of Healing… Year of Motivation… Year of Discovery… and this past
year, Year of Change.
This last year was a doozy, filled accurately with changes, both expected and
surprise, positive and humbling. I’m actually going to extend the dates of the past
year to start the previous September because, due to the circumstances I’m going
to describe, it felt more 2006 decided to align itself on a sequence of events rather
than by adhering to calendars printed by the millions… 2006 decided to get a
head start, shall we say. Forgive me if this laundry list of negative experiences is a
bit self-indulgent; it is, I grant, but it’s deeply shaped my title for 2007. It starts in
September with an extremely random act of violence: being tripped and kicked in
the face by two random guys as I was walking home late one night, resulting in a
very slight fracture in the face and a lot of ugly surface abrasions. Then December
decided to throw at me a car accident that was deemed my fault, as I was making
a left turn; March brought another car accident, this time as I was driving my
boss’s car since he was too inebriated to get behind the wheel. (That one was the
other driver’s fault, hands down.) In October, there was a random incident of
passing out in the shower, resulting in eight stitches on the side of my head. Then
my own heart decided to betray me, developing feelings towards the completely
wrong person at the completely wrong time, resulting in a fractured friendship
and a bruised heart. November waned with me being fired from my job, and
so far December has offered my letting down one of my best friends due to the
emotional aftermath of the previous two months.
Yeah. It’s been a doozy. It taught me many things, not the least of which was the
importance of airbags and seatbelts. And the shiraz-flavored icing on the cake is
that I just spilled wine all over my table while writing this. It’s a good thing my
tablecloth is already wine-colored.
Year of Happiness: this is what I have entitled the year 2007. Too often have I let
the serrated edges of past misfortune to lay me low, but I’ve decided that in this
coming year, I will strive to always remember that everything could be much
worse. To offset 2006’s jump-start, I performed a little jump-starting myself: in the
middle of December I went back to yoga after a six-month hiatus (isn’t it always
those activities we do in order to de-stress and center ourselves that are the first
to be abandoned once life gets hectic, resulting in an even more hectic outlook
on that life?) I’ve started practicing violin again after several years away from the
fingerboard (wailing away on my electric silent violin with headphones on, so
as to not disturb the neighbors with my caterwauling as my fingers struggle to
remember how to use a bow, eking out notes that are making Mozart and Bach
and Rachmaninoff spin in their graves.) I’m in the process of updating my graphic
design portfolio to begin applying for full-time employment, but in the meantime
I have been keeping myself very busy with a slew of freelance projects, several
of which are affording me the opportunity to put my skills to the best use: the
realization of dear friends’ dreams.
As I write this, poised to begin the new year in a couple weeks, having traded in
the spilt shiraz for a moment of premature celebration with a nice brut, with sore
muscles and bleeding eardrums and fingers covered with ink and papercuts, I
find I’m ready. I’m ready to give this idea of ‘happiness’ a try, reveling in the light
moments and letting the dark ones pass as silently as a threatening stormcloud.
I’m ready to remember:
How wealthy I am in friendship, in luck, in life.
The Holiday Chill
Published in Toaster Magazine, December 2006
Every year, when I walk into a store around Thanksgiving and for the first time
that season I hear holiday music playing, a specific thought enters my mind:
“There’s been a terrible mistake! They’ve started too early!”
This thought doesn’t refer to those stores that decide to play Christmas carols
and Mannheim Steamroller before the Thanksgiving turkey has even hatched
(though yes, that circumstance prompts this thought as well… as well as projectile
vomiting.) Rather, it’s a thought that has only started tickling my mind the past
few years, ever since I’ve lived in LA.
It is because of this: the holiday season, to a Midwesterner like myself, is equated
with one very specific thing: cold weather.
Let’s be clear on one thing about winter. I hate it. Escaping the snow and arctic
temperatures was one major motivating factor for my moving to Los Angeles after
college rather than to Chicago or New York City. But yet, after not having seen
any of that white fluffy stuff for years, I do feel a tickle of nostalgia for that pristine
blanket that covers the world, softening everything to gentle drifts of pure white.
Cold is a unique beast amongst all the elements that Mother Nature can throw at
us. No other phenomenon of weather affects us so completely, forces us to adapt in
so many ways, and permeates our daily lives so thoroughly. Cold weather comes
upon us slowly, insidiously, creeping into the fold with frigid tendrils, slipping
through the minute cracks of our houses, the gaps in our clothing, softly at first,
just gently stroking our exposed skin with goosebumps. It’s easy to ignore the
first signs of winter, while we are still blissfully reveling in the waning sunlight of
summer and dancing in the autumn colors. But before long, entire swaths of the
world bow down to the harsh requirements of a dropping thermometer. In these
places Frosty the Snowman is more than just a fairy tale. In these places winter’s
teeth are more than just a figure of speech but jaggedly adorn every house’s eaves,
icy spikes both beautiful and menacing, and the wind cuts through every shirt
and sweater and scarf and coat in one fell stroke. In these places the arrival of
winter means more than a change of wardrobe but a complete change of lifestyle,
for when stepping out into the world beyond your front door requires preparation
for survival it prompts a second- and third-thought as to whether this exodus
from your comfortable nest is really necessary. People are more apt to remain
indoors during these months; daily routines change to include defrosting and
scraping and shoveling; daily plans revolve more around ways to stay warm than
Living in Southern California, I am now surrounded by Angelenos who can’t
really understand the whole “dreaming of a white Christmas” thing or sleighbells
or “snowdays” or any of that. While the rest of the world hunkers down during
this time of year, huddling together to stay warm and ward off frostbite, those of
us in more temperate climes shiver when the temperature drops below 60° and
wear short sleeves on Christmas Day.
The fair weather in November is a fact my mind still has trouble comprehending.
This will be my third holiday season in California and yet the lack of cold weather
during this time of year sets off a huge klaxon of cognitive dissonance every time
Thanksgiving rolls around and I’m still outside without subzero survival gear.
Yes, I hate the winter. But yet… setting aside the death-causing weather, the
discomfort, the ever-pervasive digging filaments of temperature… there yet
remains a behavior that, while not unique to the cold, is far more inspired by it
than by any other form of weather.
It is this: the drawing together of people, the need to be close to one another to
ward off the chill of the season, the desire to gather together many people into one
small space and share laughs and lives.
All my past relationships have taken place during the fall and winter months.
As the leaves started to fall and the mercury drop, it seemed everyone around
me began looking for that someone with whom to cuddle away the dark winter
nights. It’s much nicer to spend those times with someone, rather than alone;
while those of us who live alone always have the option of sallying forth to seek
out human contact, inclement weather poses quite an obstacle and makes it much
less convenient. It forces that second- and third-thought of necessity. There’s much
more commitment required. When you’re dating someone, however, it’s a little
more likely the dark winter nights will be spent with you, drawing close to ward
off the weather, sharing eggnog and horror stories about holidays past. During the
times when I was in a relationship, it was always comforting to know that I would
have someone in bed with me on those nights when even the wind howling at the
windows sounded cold and lonely.
My first year of college, I dated a nice boy who happened to live in the same
dorm… only one floor above me, in fact. (Considering the fact that this dorm
hails amongst the top five largest dormitories in the world, this fact was even
more fortunate. Tromping to the other end of that dorm building is the equivalent
of crossing an entire college campus at some small liberal arts schools.) He was
in the ‘hell year’ of the graphic design program: the second year, after jumping
through all the hoops and suffering portfolio review and having survived the
culling of hopefuls from two hundred-some down to sixty. This is the year that
calls for you to set aside the rest of your life, to work on projects ten to twenty
hours a day, to choose Pantone color swatches over peanut butter sandwiches,
to choose Bodoni and Futura and Helvetica and Garamond and Silentium over
bedtime and family and health and grades and sanity. Much of the time we spent
together was whilst working on our respective homework assignments, sheltered
within his dorm room, me conjugating and declining Latin and sometimes
lending a hand (and occasionally suffering minor injury) cutting, cropping, and
mounting design pieces for him. In the wee hours of the morning, when I couldn’t
even speak English without it coming out in the speech of Cæsar and he couldn’t
hold an Xacto without it slicing into a body part, we’d collapse into bed, cuddling
away the bitter chill of an Iowa winter’s night. During that season, we ventured
outside the protection of our dorm only to attend classes and the occasional
party—that was it. All our other needs were met within the confines of those walls
and we drew together with our fellow dormies and waited out winter’s wrath.
A few years later, during my ‘hell year’ of design, I had the fortune of having a
boyfriend willing to put up with the insane hours I’d keep and the constantly-near-
breaking-point stress level I had. He didn’t have to keep the insane 8am-to-4am
hours I needed to, so when I would return to my apartment in the wee hours of the
morning I would find him already comfortably asleep in my bed. I would undress,
crawl into bed with him, wrap my arms around him, and fall into dreamland
comfortably warm and snuggled, lying together and just forgetting the world.
I think it’s no coincidence that what we call the ‘holiday season,’ which gives us
multiple opportunities to draw together as friends and family, comes at a time
when Jack Frost is tripping along freely throughout much of the Western world.
When leaving the comfort of your own home means braving possible death from
exposure, it’s best to get the most bang for your buck and assemble as many people
together as can safely fit in a room without breaking fire code. It’s a time when
hugs are freely given, the drinks should flow, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all
succumb to that cliché of ‘holiday cheer’ and be just a little bit more kind to those
And yet, even these festive occasions must end. After lingering and drawing out
the evening as long as possible, there comes the time when it’s time to re-don
the seven layers of gay apparel and venture back out into the world, shuffling
as quickly as possible without falling on the glaciers of ice underfoot, and sit
shivering in the car until it warms up and the defrosters kick in. Then for me it
was on to home and, more often than not, climbing into a cold, empty bed and
cuddling close to blankets and sheets, wrapping dreams of future husbands and
future lives around me for protection against the winter’s fury.
The Scent of Glamour
Published in Toaster Magazine, November 2006
There’s a certain scent in big cities. It’s not identical the world over, but it’s there,
always perceptible. New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Tokyo,
Sydney, Bangkok, Bombay… they each have their own unique version of it. I’ve
smelled this same aroma in each of them and tried to study it, to place it, to bottle
it and take it home with me. But it defies analysis and every attempt to determine
its origins and constituents only lead to small, ineffectual gleanings. Its synergy is
impossible to replicate.
It is the smell of the glamour of a major city.
The pessimists will say it is the odor of dirt, of decay, of stale urine, of too many
people packed too close together, of rotting garbage, of suffocating pollution. I say
it is the scent of dreams: dreams made, dreams broken, dreams changed, dreams
fulfilled. It is the permeating nasal tickle of possibility: the kind of possibility that
only millions of souls living on top of one another can foster. It is the distilled
cologne of all humanity, from those on top of the world to the lowest of the low. It
is the perfume of countless individuals coexisting next to one another, falling in
love, falling out of love, fighting, talking, forging friendships, being family. It is
the fragrance of life.
What is this allure the major cities of the world have to make multitudes flock to
each of them yearly, monthly, daily? They flock to visit, to live, to experience, to
die. What is the shiny attraction of the City that draws us in, the moth circling
the cold flickering streetlamp?
Growing up in the middle of Iowa, I always had a fascination with the metropolis.
One of the unexpected benefits of growing up the child of immigrants was the
frequent family vacation back to India to visit our innumerable relatives. My
parents love to travel; every time we would brave the day-long international flight
to the eastern hemisphere we would also extend our travels to include another
country. Australia, Japan, Britain, Thailand, Kuwait… sandwiched between the
familiarity of home and the uneasy-familiarity of India was always somewhere
new, exotic… glamorous. Each of these cities sparkles at night, when darkness
shields the poverty, pollution, decrepit buildings, and slums from your eyes.
Instead, each is magical, each is mystical, each is the philosopher’s stone capable of
giving you eternal life.
All of the childhood friends I keep in touch with have since left Iowa and live
somewhere slightly more glamorous. Most of my friends from college have as well,
minus those who chose the path of masochism and stayed for graduate school.
We have each been dazzled by the lights and sounds of the City and uprooted
ourselves to capture them.
Why did we do this? To be certain, for me, staying in Iowa was never an option in
my mind. My sights were set on New York or Los Angeles early in high school and
nothing that transpired afterwards in college at Iowa State changed that. Indeed,
there seems to be a trend of exodus from Iowa; even the governor complains of the
‘brain drain’ as recent graduates escape to greener pastures. I wanted that glamour,
that fast-paced life, that bottomless Pandora’s Box of opportunity. So once I finished
school, I packed my car, looked east, looked west, looked east, and looked west again,
settling on Los Angeles for the safety net of a few friends who already lived there.
Now the glamour of LA-LA Land is my daily croissant. Every day I look to the
Hollywood Hills where countless celebs live (or have one of their many houses.) I
have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard on a regular
basis. I can see the Hollywood sign, that landmark of stardom, from my office. I
drive by red carpet galas, down the Sunset Strip, past famous sites on my way to
get coffee. The glamour is mine.
My friends back in the Midwest ask if I constantly see movie stars and celebrities
on the street. I tell the truth: I don’t. They ask for the inside scoop on some piece
of tabloid gossip; I don’t have it. They ask if I party with Paris Hilton or other A-
Listers; I don’t. B-Listers? C? Nope, nope.
What is the glamour I have found? To be sure, the daily grind is as grinding
as it was back in Iowa, exchanging books and tuition for the trappings and
responsibilities of the working world. I didn’t come to LA to “make it,” thankfully;
that was never in my plans. But have I reaped all the benefits of moving halfway
across the country to this sprawling mega-metropolis? I rarely have a chance
to enjoy the cultural delights the city offers; I generally associate with the
same groups of people; I do most of the same activities I did back in Iowa. At
home, alone, in my too-expensive apartment, I look around the same disorderly
apartment I kept back in Iowa. I sift through undone laundry, scribble on half-
done paintings, sigh at undone dishes, flick off banal television, and eat stale
leftovers. The glamorous life of a citizen of West Hollywood.
On nights like this I step outside into the cool California air, look to the barely-
visible twinkle of the downtown lights, and breathe. And I smell the scent of a
major city. And then I remember how pregnant every whiff is, how laden with
meaning, hope, dreams, possibilities. I start to dream again, to hope. I reflect on
the incredible personal growth I have undergone during these few short years in
LA. I relive the myriad experiences I have had, the likes of which Iowa simply did
not offer. I look to the loving connections I have wrought in this new land, to my
friends and beloved ones who have all shaped me into who I am today. I breathe in
deeply the scent I had forgotten.
How laden with life.
Published in Toaster Magazine, June 2007
Every year at about this time, my thoughts start to spin, multiply, grow. Unbidden,
my mind fixates upon the summation of my life until this point… the utilitarian
calculus of the accomplishments and failures that is my existence, the strengths
and weaknesses that define me. The middle of June carries with it more than the
arrival of summer: June 20th is my birthday. I will be 27.
Ever since the costume parties and cowboy cakes and goodie bags of childhood
birthday parties faded into long-last memories, I’ve been the silent witness to my
brain spinning out of control as my birthday approaches, trying to make sense of
the past 365 days before embarking on another year-long voyage of self-discovery,
setbacks, failings, victories, and memorable moments. For weeks leading up to my
birthday, I notice unbidden thoughts floating across my consciousness, judging,
critiquing, evaluating every moment of the previous year. It’s not something
pleasant: more often than not, my brain chooses to pick the most egregious of all
painful memories upon which to dwell. Add to that thought the next one down the
list… and another… and another. By the time the morning of my birthday dawns,
my heart is filled with regret for deeds undone, words unspoken, tasks unfinished.
Quite a way to wake up on your birthday, eh?
As I write this, it has been my birthday for precisely thirty-four minutes. This year
I’ve decided to do something a little different for my birthday. Instead of making
a big hoopla or expecting a surprise party (which never comes), I’m devoting this
day to meditation, yoga, journaling, and self-reflection. The reasoning is simple:
my mind, unasked, has drawn out everything it can to bring me down, lower my
esteem, cage my confidence. But this year it’s time to do something different.
This year I’ll remember why I have reasons to be proud of myself.
Perhaps it’s a lucky coincidence that my birthday falls during the Gay Pride season.
At a time when the entire country—no, the entire world—is celebrating each
person’s right to choose how to live their own life, I am faced with the incessant
murmurings of my subconscious, whispering to me how I’m not good enough,
cute enough, smart enough.
This year, I make a choice. This year, instead of allowing these thoughts to be the
bier that carries me to the next year of my life, I choose to look those thoughts
straight in the eye, acknowledge them, and release them. This year I choose to
remember why I’m proud.
Gay Pride has never been about gay. Pride has never been about anti-straight.
Pride has never been about shirtless hunky men dancing around, drag queens
tossing condoms, dykes on bikes, or all-day debauchery. Pride is about choosing to
live how you want to life. Pride is about choosing to stand up and say, “I AM ME!”
and insist that the universe take a moment to acknowledge your existence. Pride
is about looking past all boundaries, all artifices, and embracing yourself for who
you really are.
A tall order, I think. Maybe that’s why we’ve banded together, designating certain
weekends in certain cities as Pride Weekend. Together, aren’t we stronger than
one? Together we can stand up for each other; together, each of our shortcomings
is buttressed by the strengths of another. Together, hand in hand, we can manage
to affect some change in this world. Together, we add our talents and dreams to be
woven into the world.
E Pluribus Unum, the saying goes: from many, one. I think the motto for Pride
should be Multa et Mira: many, wonderful things.
When a relationship ends amicably because one of you has moved away, there are always
questions. “What if I…” “What if we had…” “If I had just said…” “Could we have…”
Inescapable. Not everyone has had to taste the bittersweet lime of a mutual
goodbye, knowing that miles, hundreds or thousands, would separate your
lips from meeting again. What to say? What to do? How do you really end a
relationship that’s going well? Cynics might say that the fact that it’s ending is the
proof in the tangy pudding that everything wasn’t going as shiny and smoothly
as its porcelain veneer seemed to project. What about the lingering doubt, the
unadulterated fact that your love was not strong enough to hold you together?
Does it matter, or are events so inescapable that fate would have rendered you at
the seams to geographically displace you? Why are the questions still clamoring
for attention afterwards, when the answers seemed so clear before?
The answer lies in the beginning. If it was a relationship formed after the decision
to move had been made, it was a relationship of convenience: a relationship with
an expiration date, each party knowing that deep-rooted feelings weren’t needed
and that each could take what they wanted from the experience. But the deeper
problem… a decision to move made mid-relationship. I don’t think that the fact
that a moving decision speaks echoes of the status of one’s relationship; rather,
it’s the reasons behind the transition that reflect upon each person. I heard once
that love is not two people looking at each other, but rather two people looking in
the same direction. Can two people who truly love each other look in the same
direction and see different paths?
Yes, I think. Love is a journey, an infinite yellow brick road towards wholeness.
The scene may pass, the music’s key change, the scenery be pulled apart, but it’s
still a continuous path towards some state of (relative) bliss. Some of us never find
the wizard at the end of that road. Some of us see the man behind the curtain.
Some of us choose to believe the lie. And some, so very few, see the lie and still
accept that the wizard can give us what we’ve always wanted: completeness. After
someone’s seen your ugly side and they still accept you, then I believe that’s at the
least true friendship and at the most true love.
Leaving Los Angeles was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Before, my life
was filled with comfortable familiarity: I went to college not far from where I grew
up and I had the safety blanket of old friends from high school. When I moved
to LA, I had a softer airbag of a couple friends from college. My days were spent
trying to forward my career in design, and it wasn’t until late in the game that I
met my angel. He is an angel in namesake, and I must admit that perhaps four
months wasn’t enough time to learn his ugly side and really experience it to its
fullest, but I certainly miss what we had. But it was enough to experience a love
that was honest and true, without expectations. When I made the decision to
move to Chicago three months into what I believe was a great relationship, it was a
punishment worthy of Sisyphus. It was so easy to turn to him, especially since in a
city of a million people, he was four blocks away from me. How incredibly random
is it in such a mishmash of neighborhoods, that he was within walking distance?
Yet I had to leave. The decision wasn’t made lightly or on a whim; I still feel like
I’m not done with LA and it’s not done with me. When it really comes down to it,
though, we have to do what is in our hearts. Leaving my angel wasn’t in my heart,
but breaking out of the rut I was in was necessary. After losing my job at a very
interesting place and subsisting on parental support and the occasional freelance
job, I needed to move on. LA wasn’t healthy for me, in more ways than doctoral
support can provide. For better or worse, I moved closer to my family: the family
so unsupportive of everything I’ve done, everything I’ve become, everything I
stand for. But sometimes the person you miss the most is the one who has to push
you the hardest.
Sometimes that person must push you to be your best and to live your life to the
fullest. And sometimes doing so must involve a transition to a new geographical
location, where your partner cannot follow. Sometimes that very push speaks of
deep, painful love instead of any sort of malice. What if that sweet sorrow of love
really, truly means the world to you? Is parting yet devalued? Does it speak less to
the yearning of souls or the rending of hearts or, more cynically, to the thought
that these two lives were never meant to align?
I don’t believe so. A geographic move can be for too many reasons than is possible
to enumerate, and a relationship can either survive the move or it may not. Or it
may be decided to not even try. To really know what’s out there, maybe we need to
tear ourselves from out comfort zone and try something new.
But what is the cause, the rhyme, the reason, the tear-jerking finality of why it
has happened? Each story has its own rationale, its own mitigating factors. Each
carries with it its own possibility of retrieval, of rescinding, of resurrection.
There are, at this point, no P’s or Q’s; there is no Robert’s Rules of Order for such
We might wait for the end of time for a familiar face, but if time tells all things and
it doesn’t say they will be with you, it doesn’t. Does that make it less worth time
spent, the yearning, the nights where you cry yourself to sleep, the heart-rending
I’ve heard it said that leaving a city is often one of the hardest transitions of
adult life. The pure comfort of a pattern of life, the security of familiar paths, the
knowledge of the intricacies of traffic, locations of stores, the old hat of oft-trodden
routes is gone forever. Even should one move back to old haunts, they will be
different than before. If you leave a city, it will never be quite the same when you
return. Can we ever really accept that a piece of our life, our soul, our times spent
in beautiful nonsense are permanently part of our past, never to be relived in the
same manner as before? Can we leave our heart in San Francisco and find it again?
Can we leave on a jet plane and not leave a piece of ourselves behind?
I didn’t leave San Francisco, but Los Angeles. LA was my haven, my haunts, my
stomping grounds for over three years. I moved there after college and apart from a
semester’s sojourn in Rome, it was my first experience living in a major metropolis.
I’ve said that my decision to move there was made thus: college degree(s) in hand,
I looked east to New York, west to LA, east again, and fled Iowa west to the better
weather of California. I always knew I’d be the type to fall, to fall in love with my
city. Say what you will about Los Angeles: the traffic, the smog, the traffic, the
superficiality, the traffic, the urban sprawl, the traffic… it was home. I felt that I’d
finally come home after a long trip. When I packed up my Honda Civic and headed
to the land of cilantro, I knew I was starting a great experiment. Apart from a brief
trip when I was about ten years old, I had never been to Los Angeles. I had the
airbag of several friends who had already moved to LA, but it was still a foreign land;
it was like moving to Rome, except with a car and a stronger grasp of the language
(though translation was still often necessary for the frequent LA “abbrevs”).
My transition to the land of Hollywood was surprisingly smooth; I moved out
there with two interviews in my field lined up, and one of them offered me a
position within the week of me arriving to the city. (I since refer to that job as my
‘soul sucking’ job, but that’s neither here nor there.) I fell into the company of old
friends and, additionally, a new circle of friends in Long Beach that adopted me as
one of their own quite quickly. As before in my life, I developed a strong network
of friends who helped me when I fell, who held me up when I was scared, and
who treated me with the love and respect that I extended to them. Los Angeles
was again my first love. When I would walk out the door of my apartment in Van
Nuys, it was as if I was seventeen again, experiencing the first throes of a new,
bright relationship. Everything was more colorful, more potent, more graspable.
My words rhymed, my skin shone, and my life had everything ahead. (And this
was even in a fairly unexciting locale in the Valley.)
Within a few months, I moved to West Hollywood: a bastion of equality, beauty,
and plenty of old Russians. Quickly, I fell into the pattern of a city totally different
from the Los Angeles I had known just a few months before. It was my own city,
and I ignored the prying and lying eyes of the denizens of WeHo, often touted as
the most judgmental of the city. Within a short time, I left the ‘soul-sucking’ job
and accepted employment at a much more interesting and unique company. I
enjoyed the ten-minute commute to my job, my life that was basically contained
within a three-mile radius from my apartment, and having my favorite yoga studio
just across the street. I could return to my place, booze-soaked, for a six-dollar cab
ride. I could, in an unusual twist of LA geography, walk to stores that supplied
my needs. For one of the first times of my life I stopped hoping to wake up from a
mild nightmare and lived life for what it was: a string of endless opportunities.
Like every good love story, it had to end. I had an unreciprocated love, lost my job,
had an emotional breakdown, and in the end failed to thrive in the city that had just
six months past had accepted me to its bosom. The fickleness of a city famed for its
fickleness, I suppose. Nothing made sense, I was in a rut, and I felt abandoned. My
city had written me off like so many stories that end with the demise of the hero.
My odyssey had felt at an end, only to find another trial ahead of me. And so with a
heavy heart I left LA for a place closer to home: Chicago.
What do we really leave behind in a city, though? There are so many things that we
can never reclaim: once we leave, everything inherently changes. Even were we to
return to our adopted (or actual) home, the absence and passage of time have not
stopped their inexorable eroding of our previous lives into something completely
foreign. No matter what, should we return after more than a year, or even a few
months, everything would be de facto different. One cannot leave a life and expect
to find it waiting in the same state that it was previously.
So what happens when we arrive at our new apartment in our new chosen city?
What do we do when we find that our new life bears no resemblance to our previous,
when our old mainstays are no longer there? Do we flee back to the comforting arms
of the familiar? Do we run back to the arms of our previous existence, hoping it’ll
take us back? Or do we buck up and accept the new for the new?
I don’t know. Maybe we never do.
Moving to a new city is beginning a relationship without really knowing the
other person’s intricacies and quirks. No matter how many times you’ve visited
a city, actually living there involves a whole new cadre of responsibilities and
commitments. Leaving where you’re lived for years rips away the comfort of a
routine: work, a neighborhood learned, friendships built, patterns established.
Once again one must learn where the train of your life wants to go, where you can
get off, where you the stops in your life are. For the first time, it might feel wrong,
no matter the circumstances. And eventually it should feel right. If the place
you’ve left makes you feel like two spoons together, it can be torture to leave that
warm bed you’ve made and go to the purr of a new place. The climate is different,
the trees, the sunsets, the sunrises, your schedule. Aligning with just how you
softly navigate a new life is impossible to predict in time and scope.
But maybe for the first time it feels safe, like you deserve it. If you leave a city that’s
not right for you and uproot your plans, maybe it just works. Maybe the whole
uprooting process is enough to throw you into a new path in life. Maybe the move
was prompted by a relationship, by work, or just to get out of a rut. It still has its
merits. It always has its merits.
I left behind a lot when I left LA. Friends, comfort, a relationship. Why did I?
Because I was in a rut. I had lost a job I loved (or was at least comfortable) and
my income dwindled. I developed panic attacks due to my lack of finances and
though I had monetary familial support, they couldn’t follow me to my darkness
visible. The relationship I have with my family has always been rocky at best,
and emotionally abusive at worst. Me being an artist from kin of doctors has
always grated on them. When I was in college, my mother would always send me
clippings of either failed artists or successful businesspeople, making six-figure
incomes while still in their twenties. I tried to reassure them that graphic design
was a noble profession, that I could show the world and not be another horror
story to read in the papers. Still their scorn cut deeply. Until I went to college and
decided I was learning for myself and not their approval, every low grade on a
test was another strike in my book against myself. I stopped showing my parents
my grades or discussing school early in high school, and it was both one of the
hardest decisions for them to accept and one of the best that I ever made. Like
most immigrant families, they only wanted me to be the best. They just didn’t
understand that their opinion of my best and what I knew was best for me weren’t
the same. They failed to understand my temperament and kept comparing me
to my brother and sister and to my best friend who excelled at mathematics and
sports. They didn’t realize that the verbal and artistic worlds and musical words
were my passion.
A little mitigated in the future. When my best friend chose an artistic field (as I knew
he would) his parents were supportive. His parents supported him in his theatre
aspirations and I compared my parents to his, prompting the full wrath my parents
were capable of. When they said “Indian children don’t do this!” and I replied with
“I’m not Indian; I was raised in America and here we can do what we desire” … I was
slapped with the full force that a fifty-five-year-old mother can muster.
That slap cut me to the core. It was not only a slap in the face at my rebellion but at
my choices in life. Instead of being the high school valedictorian I was “supposed”
to be, I was the gay artist of the family. I pursued my dreams in high school and
college and ended up as the black sheep of the family. My brother and sister, a
prosthetist and doctor, were the shining stars of the family and equally derisive, and
when I came along, ten years later, I was immediately raised to ‘fix their mistakes’ as
they had faltered in high school (which my parents thought continued through life,
until they excelled in their chosen professions.) I was even called a “parasite” by my
father, referring to the drain I had put upon the family. Did that affect me? You bet;
no matter what, we still hope for our parents’ love and acceptance.
Bullshit. Early on, I had to accept that their expectations of me were just that: their
expectations, and I that had to live my own life. I needed to know I was living my
life, and not the life they wanted for me. It’s common in Indian families to have to
live out the dreams of one’s parents instead of your own. I rejected it.
But yet… I moved to Chicago, on the advice of my parents. Being closer to family
means… what? More scorn, more derision, more lectures. But I’m in a place
away from the scorn and derision that comes with living in LA. In a land where
everyone is beautiful or an aspiring actor, the drain on one’s soul and confidence
comes easily. My friends in Chicago remind me that the scene is different here…
people stand you up when you fall, they congratulate you on your successes. It
helps, especially with how I feel about what I’ve lost from LA.
My life there isn’t waiting for me anymore. Everything would be different if I go
back. But I live my life here in Chicago is a similar way… my life mostly has the four-
block radius that I had in LA… just minus the car. I’m learning mass transit. I’m
adjusting to having friends within a few walkable blocks, instead of a car ride away.
And I’m getting more comfortable.
It’s quite a departure from LA: from my apartment here in Chicago I can only see
a bit of the sky. The main drawing point to my apartment in LA, apart from the
brand new hardwood floors, was my huge south facing window: excellent natural
light. I live on the lowest floor of a courtyard building now and my view of the sky
is only a bit out of my back door. But in other ways, I see the city for what it is. The
mile radius in which I live offer its own surprises and new experiences. Just going
to Walgreen’s and having to get envelopes and stamps to mail my rent is new.
Before in LA, all my buildings had drop boxes for rent. Such small changes, and
yet new and different.
From my apartment, I see many dogs. I’m a complete dog freak, so seeing so many
in my complex is wonderful. I pet the little terriers, the big huskeys, the labs, the
mixed breeds. Soon, when I am more settled I shall get one of my own: hopefully
a Scottie or a Scottie mix because I know their temperament. I grew up with a
full-bred Scottish terrier, and he was the best dog I could have had growing up.
It’s quite interesting; he died nearly ten years ago, and he still reappears in my
dreams. He protects me, just like he did in life. We would do a little joke with him
where my family or my friends would pretend to hit me, and he’d immediately
jump on them and try to stop it. Such a pacifist dog he was, just like I am. He was
great, and the fact that he still protects me in my dreams proves a bit that there is
a doggie heaven, doesn’t it? He’s always there for me. I have lucid dreams where I
fly, I change my dreams consciously, and I always call him up. The cancer wasn’t
enough for him to live through, though we had the best veterinary surgeons in the
area. It had metastasized though his entire system and there was nothing we could
do. He didn’t survive the surgery.
We buried him in the backyard, with a stone at his head to remind us of where he
was. Every time I’m at my parent’s house, I visit his grave and just tell him about
my life. About how well I’m doing, or not. I know he can listen, because he’s still
with me in my dreams. I still cry when I think about him. He was with me from
elementary school until college. My biggest regret with him is that I couldn’t make
it from work to the vet hospital in time to see him before he went into surgery.
And nearly ten years later, I still cry about him. Every time I see a Scottish terrier,
I cry. The last time I saw one I was still in college; she was half Scottie, half Westie,
but she still reminded me of what I had lost that I broke down crying for a half
hour and couldn’t drive back home. I think I missed a class, but it was worth it to
just see a baby dog that reminded me of what I had lost.
Here in my new neighborhood, there are so many dogs. My apartment complex
allows dogs, so most of the people who live here have one. But I still haven’t seen
any Scotties. They’re rare dogs, with a fiercely loyal yet relaxed temperament. I
always say that they’re a small dog with a big dog personality: fuck with me if you
want, but I can still nip your ass and make you regret it. He was the best dog to
grow up with. As they say, you get your dog and he/she fits your personality. My
parents couldn’t have known when I was so young that Scots would have been the
dog for me, but he was.
Doggie heaven. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I believe that every creature
comes to the life force, the Gaia if you will, of the planet. But he’s still there for me.
I love him and miss him. Is that wrong, ten years later? He protects me still, just like
when my family or friends would fake attack me.
Through the whole three years that I lived in Los Angeles, I never traveled back to
the Midwest during winter. I avoided seeing snow and ice in favor of the moderate
temperature of Southern California. However, now that I’ve moved to Chicago, I
have to get my winter legs again. For those who have never experienced a snowy
winter it can seem like an act just short of masochism to inhabit an area where
simply the elements outside can kill the unwary.
My first snowfall here in Chicago was nothing short of a small torture. I walked
around the corner to get something to eat and had to trod lightly through the
snowy parts to the side of the walk instead of through the middle which was
much more icy. As I crossed the street, I had to give in to the elements as the wind
blew me across the ice, my feet useless except to keep me upright. (I nearly was
slammed into the building.) The still-falling snow rode the wind as a Valkyrie,
prompting everyone to only stare at their feet and concentrate on their own
footing. Food in hand, I walked back to my apartment against the wind and fell
flat into the snow and ice for the first (but not the last) time of the season.
Yet there is nostalgia for this inclement weather. Seeing the small kids on their way
to or from school, bundled in their knit stockingcaps and mittens, holding hands
for stability, reminds me of the days spent outside as a child, frantically packing
snowballs in an endless war against the other neighborhood kids. At that age,
falling in snow is part of the fun, flopping on one’s back in new snow and making
snow angels. But as we get older our tolerance for the inclement weather focuses
more on four-letter words. We must have a greater tolerance for cold at a young
age age, because now the idea of staying out on the coldest days of winter to lob
packed balls of the odious winter precipitation for fun seems as much fun as a root
canal. Crawling across an icy parking lot to avoid falling every step is not outside
the realm of possibility. It’s on these days we appreciate the scalding shower, the
fireplace, the hot coco, the glass of brandy. Tasting the sharp mint of winter’s
breath prompts a desire to stay indoors, wrapped the blanket of friends and family,
and watching the snow fall while safely tucked away inside.
The snow can be beautiful. On even the gray days, the light reflects off the snowdrifts,
brightening everything to the point of needing sunglasses. It mutes all colors,
overexposing the photograph of the landscape. The eaves turn into caverns of icicles,
menacing teeth always threatening to fall and impale the unwary. But one of my
favorite memories of winter was sitting inside at my parent’s house and seeing the
naked tree in the front yard perfectly veneered in a layer of shiny ice. The sunlight
glinting off the frozen branches was perfect, blinding, pristine.
But at the end of the day, we stomp off the snow at our door and try in vain to keep
the melting snow away from the rest of the house. On days like this it’s good to have
something warm in your bed, a body or an electric blanket.
It’s getting cold.
There’s a great thing about living in a big city: you’re able to people watch
incessantly. I have an odd habit. I don’t only watch people, but I make up names
for them and their life stories. At the coffeeshop I see Claire, who’s escaping
her apartment because it’s a big mess and is dreading cleaning it. I see Steve the
investment banker who’s taking a break from looking at numbers. There’s Jim
the medical student, frantically cramming anatomy for an exam. Say hi to Raul,
who’s working at Starbucks to pay his way through culinary school. Angela is a
complicated case: on the bus I hear her arguing with her husband over the phone
about his lack of support for her ailing father, and I make up a story about her
father. He’s a bricklayer who’s getting on in years and is battling cancer, but the
prognosis isn’t good. Her husband is too focused on his career and has never been
close to the in-laws.
In a city like Los Angeles or Chicago, where the anonymity of passers-by is a given,
creating fictions of people’s life stories makes me feel a little more connected to the
pulse of the urban jungle. There are stories all around us if we only look for them.
The manner in which people carry themselves can give insight into their situation.
If you catch a glimpse of their eyes it offers insight into their soul. We watch TV
and read books to get a look into fictional lives, but we have our own, unscripted
plots to explore. What might we see if we could really look into a person’s life just
by a passing encounter?
Humanity. It’s a connection to each other, the knowledge that the tapestry of our
lives has woven us together, even if for a single moment. When we fleetingly touch
another person’s life, we’ve become part of their history, their story, even if just as
the role of an extra. But you’ve permanently made a mark in their book, even if
just as footnote. We might only hear what they’ve ordered at the deli, but that in
and of itself tells us something about the other person. When we open the door to
another person’s world we might see all sorts of things, for better or for worse.
And maybe it makes us feel less alone.
We’ve all flipped the calendar and for the first time in my life I’ve always
remembered to write “2008” on checks, instead of slipping up and writing the
previous year’s date for at least a month. I think perhaps it might be because I was
so ready for the previous year to be over that I decided to hit the ground running
with 2008. But isn’t it just a little odd that simply incrementing a number carries
with it so much weight, importance, and significance? When it comes down
to it, it’s an arbitrary number in a system of arbitrarily dividing our time into
arbitrary units. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to celebrate and reflect upon what
has happened in our lives.
Last year I decided that I would term 2007 as “Year of Happiness.” Perhaps I
jinxed myself. 2007 was certainly not the best year I’ve had, and the happiness
factor was definitely not the overarching theme for the year. The laundry list of
slip-ups, misfortune, ineptitude, and tragedy that the previous year threw at me
is a bit much to recount. Suffice it to say that I’ve been seriously doubting my
sanity lately. I’m just not sure how I managed to fuck up so much in the past year
and how much happened that was completely outside my plans and my previous
experiences. I find myself waking up each morning wishing that this whole year
was nothing but a bad dream and I’d open my eyes to find myself in my old
apartment in LA, with a job and sound mental health.
The transition to Chicago has been very rough on me, and it’s only because I have
so many close friends here that I’ve been able to make it through and to look
forward to the life changes a new city offers. Just the drive from LA to Chicago
was an ordeal in and of itself. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been occupying my time
mostly with a whole lot of therapy, trying to adjust to how my life seems to have
decided to shape itself. I feel that I’m finally starting to get to the point where
I’m the sculptor of my life instead of a passenger on a train to the future. I’m
beginning to get back to a state in which I can actually do some design work
without worrying about having a major panic attack. Even though I keep wishing
it’s all been a bad dream, I think I’m ready to start taking an active role in my life
and stop floating from one self-created mess to another and then another.
In keeping with my tradition, I’ve given 2008 a title, a theme by which to attempt
to live the next 365 days. (Well, 366 since this is a leap year.) Keeping in mind my
resolves to straighten up my life and try to live it to the fullest, I’ve termed this
year Year of Motivation (it’s ok to reuse titles, right?). Now I finally feel like I can
make active changes. I’m going to begin the job search and return to a full-time
job for the first time in over a year. That itself will require considerable amount of
motivation, as hunting for employment always takes. I’m going to get back to my
yoga practice in an attempt not only to lose some of the weight I’ve gained from
drinking too much beer but also to regain some sense of balance and peace in
my life. Getting back into the groove with violin is another goal; one of my new
friends here in Chicago is a pianist, so perhaps that goal of having a recital for my
30th birthday party will actually come to fruition.
But coupled with these plans for change there also is an element of moving into
stillness. Sometimes motivation also involves accepting that all things can’t
change overnight and that one must take the curveballs life throws at you and
flow through them with grace. If life hands you lemons, ask for sugar too so your
lemonade is tastier. If it hands you limes, ask for tequila. Sometimes you have to
take the bull by the horns and instead of being a toreador you calm the raging
toro and leave the ring together in peace. Sometimes it just requires a little bit
of patience and the knowledge that the past is the past and one must live in the
present moment and look forwards, not backwards. We are not all Nostradamus,
but maybe we can glean a bit of what is to come by changing the attitude towards
how we view the moment.
Living in the moment. This is something I’ve had difficulty in doing throughout
my life. Perhaps it’s my nature as a creative and a perfectionist that makes me
dwell on past mistakes, rehashing in my mind how a moment could have been
handled better, changed, healed. I need to remember that the past is the past and,
short of the invention of a time machine, one cannot alter what has happened.
Indeed, as temporal theory would dictate, changing the past would change you
fundamentally as a person and rewrite the good as well as the bad. We must take
what has happened and look to the future to reshape our lives. Instead of dwelling
on the bad in our past, we should relive the joyous moments and savor the good
that has happened. This requires a lot of motivation, peaceful thoughts, and a lot
of willpower—things I don’t really have in abundance. But I’m willing to work on
it. There’s truth in the saying “Que será, será.”
Perhaps what really needs to happen is something less dramatic. Maybe what we
need to do is merely look inside of ourselves to remember what truly makes us
happy. Instead of constantly looking outside of ourselves for external reasons
that our lives may not resemble our Master Plan, maybe we need to (forgive the
expression) find inner peace. This process of self-reflection seems to be quite a
problem for many people. It involves taking heavy stock of what is inside our
soul and re-examining the bad as well as the good in order to separate wheat
from chaff. As Descartes did, it requires breaking down our whole lives into the
simplest bits, starting with Cogito ergo sum and building with small blocks from
there. This meditation requires much willpower and it may not even be possible
for a person to do but once in a lifetime. But aren’t the rewards as great as the
effort? To find what truly makes our lives joyful is a basic way to ensure that our
future will be bright and filled with light and sound.
Remember: sugar and tequila.
Around the corner from my apartment is a grade school. In the mornings and
afternoons I see children tromping to and from class, all bundled up in knit scarves
and mittens and beanies. Part of me wants to run up to each of them and say “Just
you wait, it gets better” and part of me wants to say “Enjoy it while it lasts! It’s all
downhill from here.” Don’t we all look back to those times when life was as simple
as building blocks, coloring, and nap time and have some sense of nostalgia?
School, whether grade school or college, offers us all a sense of security. Knowing
there’s a schedule, structure, rhyme and reason to the day offers us a feeling of
security that we’ll never recreate once we’ve left the doors of the halls of learning.
Every day at noon is lunchtime, followed by recess. Every semester starts with
schedules and school supplies and buying books. Every time we step into a
classroom, we know what to expect: we’ve done it a hundred times before. Except
for that very first day of preschool, we know exactly what’s going to happen over
the whole school year. And once the years pass by, we never again have that
uncertainty that we had on that very first day of stepping into a classroom and
that memory fades. Sure, we all have those dreams on the day before class starts:
going to a test naked, forgetting about what classes we’re taking, realizing at
midterms that you haven’t been to a class all semester. But we’re still secure in our
knowledge that we know exactly how the system works and that there’s a rhythm
to our days.
Once we step out into the cold world, however, our thinking changes. We have
to replace the protractors and textbooks with briefcases and the 9-5 grind. Now
we aren’t working for grades: we’re working to put food on the table. Just the
knowledge that our rent and meals and bills and recreation depends completely
on one’s job performance is enough to overwhelm the brain of a new graduate.
For most of us, getting through that hurdle is just a simple transition from one
life to another; others of us struggle with it for years, still not ready to accept that
life will never again be so easy, so comfortable in schedule, and never so innocent.
Entering the ‘real world’ strips us our security blanket of leaving our lives in the
hands of our teachers and thrusts it into our own sweaty palms. We’ve each spent
the last twelve years and then four (or more) years basically training for what we’re
going to do in the future. We’ve been training ourselves to suffer the grindstone
of “work”… we’ve been learning how to make money. We learn how to live in the
time between classes; nothing you can learn in a classroom can really prepare you
for what you will experience once you exit those doors. There is no Life 101, no
Paying Your Rent 102, no Relationship Advice 300.
So, after all those years of imbibing knowledge (and for many, imbibing other
things) what are we really left with? In order to really understand ourselves and
our place in life, what do we really know at the end of the day after the classrooms
are dark and we no longer carry a backpack everywhere? We all survived the trial
period of puberty and the hell years of middle school and/or high school and/or
college, and hopefully we have come out stronger for the experiences.
Once we have to worry about credit reports and cable bills there’s really no going
back. When we have started navigating ourselves through the world, at the helm
of this ship called life, there’s really no way to return to port. Adrift on an endless
sea, we must find a North Star and set our course from there. Once we have the
rude awakening from the sheltering mountains of the Ivory Tower and have been
released into the revelations of a new life, we can never really return to the where
we were. From here on out, it’s up to ourselves to set our course with barely a
sextant to keep us on our path. After the ship has taken us far away and we have
to navigate by starlight, we can never go back. In life, whether or not you go back
to school or stay in the world of academia, we will never again recapture the pure,
unadulterated simplicity of recess and knit mittens.
Find your star.
Someone once said that perhaps it’s those who are depressed who really see life for
what it is. Barring health problems, accidents, murders, what do we really have?
Some sixty, seventy, eighty years on this earth. Birth, growing up, schooling…
really it’s only a means to train ourselves to work like a dog until death. It’s the
knowledge of this, seeing past the trappings of a mortal life, that make it difficult
for some of us to even get up in the morning and face the world, knowing what’s
in store for us. When we trade rose-colored glasses for a harsh lens of ‘reality’ it’s
impossible to put the pink back on. Once we see the world without prejudice,
hopes, aspirations it’s just simply not easy to go back to a place of comfort and
security without waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe that’s why so many
of us with emotional problems have maladaptive coping methods. Drinking,
drugs… it’s a way to alter our reality in order to escape the knowledge of what’s to
A joke I heard once runs thus: Elephants never forget… that’s why they drink. A
silly statement, but doesn’t it really hold some truth? If you see past the curtain of
life and are faced with the world staring back at you with cruel eyes, wouldn’t you
try to forget too? But unfortunately it’s that forgetting that’s so difficult. Maybe
it’s because I have a perfectionist streak in me that causes me to constantly replay
past moments in my mind’s eye, wishing to change even the slightest bit of the
past to reshape the future and the hell that I’ve constructed for myself. Trying to
tear down the walls of my mental prison has proved to be the hardest task I’ve
ever done. In college when I had the realization that I was attempting to undo over
twenty years of self-inflicted psychological damage, I broke down inconsolably
crying. When it comes to critics, I think usually we are our own worst: we’ve seen
ourselves in highs and lows, successes and failures, the best of times and the worst
of times. No one knows ourselves better than ourselves.
Sometimes I feel like therapy is really just picking off the scabs of half-healed
wounds. I suppose a better anatomical analogy would be the necessity of re-
breaking a mis-healed bone in order to reset it properly. But unfortunately, there’s
no emotional morphine we can give ourselves. Maybe that’s why I drink too much:
an anæsthetic to this deep, egregious wound I’ve caused myself. Maybe that’s why
I did a lot of cocaine when I lived in LA: a way to numb the pain and to feel on top
of the world in order to look past my own slights and problems. Of course, both of
these carry with themselves their own baggage. Even though I kicked the $70-200-
a-week cocaine habit, there’s still the guilt I carry with me of what I’ve done to my
body. Even though I can’t seem to cut back on my drinking enough, it carries with
it the intense guilty knowledge that, medication interactions aside, I shouldn’t be
trying to numb the pain in this manner. Even though I’ve been doing two to eight
hours of therapy a week, I can’t escape the thoughts of pure and utter failure at life.
To look past one’s faults and be ok with oneself is one of the hardest things I think
anyone can do. ‘Normal’ people don’t seem to have a problem with this, but for
me it’s pure torture. In my EFT ‘tapping’ therapy, the formulaic statement to
repeat to oneself ends with “… I completely and totally love, accept, and forgive
myself anyway.” Or, a modified version (that I have to use) is: “… I am willing to
accept the possibility that I can love, accept, and forgive myself anyway.” It’s also
said that in order to truly love another person you have to truly love yourself. I
doubt the truth of that. I can’t stand to look inside myself and I certainly don’t
love myself, but I feel such intense, burning love for other people that it’s a
cognitive dissonance enough to rend me apart at the seams were I not so talented
at slamming up mental shields every time the discrepancy comes to mind. My
three closest friends, Marc, Jeff, and Chris each know they have my boundless love,
affection, and support. Maybe since I’m such an empath I’m so empty of feelings
for myself to be so full of feeling for other people. Maybe this is just an inherent
part and flaw of my nature. A (nerdy) statement a friend of mine once said to me
was “Sonyl, you’re the ultimate empath. You put Deanna Troi to shame.”
It’s good to be recognized as an empathic soul. I think part of my ability to feel
and commiserate with others’ emotions comes from the fact that, from being
bipolar, I’ve experienced the full gamut of human emotions, from mountain-
topping joy to soul-crushing depression. And maybe I shouldn’t regard my
bipolarity as a weakness, but rather a way to truly understand the nature of
humanity and really, truly, understand what others are going through. I’ve never
wished my disorder upon other people (except my parents in a fit of rage because
they can’t understand me) but going through the intense rollercoaster of emotions
makes it able for me to fully understand the kiddie rollercoaster that normal
people go through. It’s a pure question of semantics, verbs, context: I understand,
fully. I don’t have to give lip service when a friend cries on my shoulder. I go there
with them and, just as I have pulled myself (barely) through the same emotions, I
can serve as Virgil to guide them through the depths of their inferno and bring
them to purgatory and paradise.
Maybe, just maybe, I have to look at my emotional problems as a strength, rather
than a weakness. Provided I can force myself to get out of bed in the morning,
maybe, just maybe, I can use the gamut of the emotions I’ve gone through for
others’ good instead of constantly beating myself up for having to go through
them. Maybe, just maybe, I can learn to love, accept, and forgive myself anyway.
I’ve done it hundreds of times. I think maybe we all have. Sometimes I stop and
give them change, a cigarette… most often I just walk by them. I always see
them; or rather, I don’t see them at all. They are the ghosts, shadows, the ignored
conscience of a city. Especially if there are many in our own neighborhood (as was
in my corner in Los Angeles) their presence is ignored and forgotten. If I give one
person spare change, I am not likely to give them more the next time. They are the
homeless, the panhandlers, the dregs of the city always reminding us that there
are others in more dire circumstances than we are.
My corner in LA had its fair share of the homeless. Whenever I visited Santa
Monica (where there are apparently laws against the police shooing away
transients) I came face-to-face with them over and over. There are many types
of homeless, from the high-functioning ones just down-and-out and those who
are so lost in their own mental disorders that, sometimes, I think they don’t even
realize what their life is and don’t even realize that they’re homeless. These are
the ones sleeping in the doorways, mumbling incoherently, barely able to realize
they should be asking for handouts in order to continue their lives and not starve
to death. But what do they really mean? How can I be touched by their lives and
come out unscathed without literally giving them the shirt off my back in order
to assuage the unreasonable guilt that I have for the have-nots when I am more-
or-less a have. I have a roof over my head, money to spend on food and beer, the
ability to survive the elements without worrying about survival.
I haven’t seen any transients in my neighborhood in Chicago, a stark contrast
from my time in LA. I think perhaps there’s an inherent difference separating the
homeless of LA from the homeless in more intemperate climes. My friend Jeff, who
used to live in New York City and then Los Angeles, said there is a fundamental
difference between the homeless in each city. In Los Angeles, they tend to be a little
baked by the sun: the elements don’t weed out the most dire of cases. They are a
bit more dangerous… a bit more likely to inflict violence. Apparently in NYC they
are much more apt to just be needing mental health care because the really don’t
understand where they are and what their lives have become. He said that since
the sun of California doesn’t kill and weed out the most unfortunate, the sun only
serves to increase the mental instability of the transients.
But when it comes down to it, I think they show me a metaphor for my own life.
Since bipolarity is classified as “severe mental illness” I find myself constantly
fearing that someday I’ll snap, lose all semblance of reality, and end up on the
street, joining other homeless without a clue as to what reality really is. I think
that’s why I tend to be good to the homeless, whether spare change or a smoke. I
can’t forget that, for the fortune of life, I could be one of them.
I think my opinion of the homeless comes from having grown up in an Indian
household and traveling back to India so many times. As we drove in the taxi,
with children at every corner begging “Pisay, pisay” (money, money) my heart
broke a little each time. These are my people, the roots of where I came from.
When I was small, I looked out the window once and saw a boy about my age,
stark naked, urinating into the gutter in front of his cardboard hovel. When a kind
teacher of mine in high school expressed an interest in going to India to learn
more about the culture, I warned her that since she was such a bleeding heart,
she wouldn’t be able to stand the stark difference between those middle-class or
above and the pure, unadulterated poverty that strikes the majority of the Indians.
She paused, processed, and understood that I was coming from a place of truth
and nothing that I could say would erase the fact that she would be unable to fully
accept, process, and forgive the world for the pain it’s caused upon so many millions
in the country of my origin.
I remember the first time I saw a beggar in my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa.
When you grew up in a city of about 110,000, one doesn’t expect to see the
homeless in such proximity to one’s own home. He held a cardboard sign that said
“Will work for food.” I was a passenger in the car with my sister driving, and we
both felt such incredible compassion for this man sitting at one of the most major
intersections, simply wanting to live. We passed him and then turned around. We
had just bought food from McDonald’s, and we turned around and I handed him
my burger and my sister handed him the spare change in the car.
Quite an awakening it was. This was before I had lived or visited many major cities,
apart from Mumbai and foreign cities where we’d stop off on our journeys to
India. It was heart-wrenching to experience poverty three blocks from our house.
But at the same time, don’t the homeless give us a little strength towards the cruel
world? I look at them and think that if they can do it, I can too. They appear to
have nothing to live for but survival, and I’m mired in my emotional problems
while I have food, clothing, shelter… the basic survival necessities of life. When I
see a homeless person, hanging on with such incredible tenacity to life, I have to
remember that, really, my life is blessed. I regain hope that my life will get better
and that at least I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.
They give me faith that my life will work itself out and that I can overcome the
issues that I have.
Faith that no matter what, I know that I’ll at least have a roof over my head. And
it’ll work itself out.
Colden Harold Friedman. Colden Harold Friedman. Colden Harold Friedman.
I keep repeating his name to myself to make him more real. I’ve seen pictures,
talked to the proud parents, but he’s still just an abstract concept to me. On the
evening of February 7th, my best friend’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy
and my life is forever different.
When Marc told me they were to have a human child to add to their family in
addition to their puppy children, I was ecstatic. Marc and I have been close friends
for over twenty years; I was the best man at his wedding, as he will be at mine
(if that ever happens.) Our time together is sporadic, as we haven’t both lived in
the same part of the country since college. But as lifelong friends do, when we’re
together it feels as if no time has passed. It’s so comforting to have a friend who has
stood by you through thick and thin, years upon years, and who knows you almost
better than you know yourself. We can make references to our imagination games
we had when we were young, our friendly competitive rivalries in high school, the
college days when I traveled up to Macalester from Iowa State to visit him.
It’s kind of funny. When Marc said he and Kendra would be married, I was
slightly surprised. I had secretly thought they’d be that couple, in their 50s, who
finally decide they should sign some paperwork and be officially married. They’d
been together for years so of course it wasn’t actually much of a surprise. In
keeping with their style, the wedding was very nontraditional. It was held on a
nature preserve in September, ripe with flowers and complete with camping and
an outdoor ceremony officiated by Kendra’s boss. The ceremony hearkened back to
ancient times, with an invocation to peace and love, sharing of wine, simple rings,
and hand-binding. It was, simply put, beautiful. As I expected, I promptly began
tearing up as I saw the happy couple, now forever bound, leaving the clearing as
husband and wife. At that moment our lives were changed: now instead of having a
best friend, I had a second best friend as well. Kendra is now an integral part of our
lives, and my heart spills over to think of the joy that has entered their (our) lives.
To see them together reminds me of what I want in my life. They glow. It’s not
necessarily that I feel I am incomplete without a partner, but I must admit that in
some way I do feel that way. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said in The Little Prince
that love isn’t gazing at each other but looking together in the same direction. I’m
such a creature of companionship, as evidenced by the fact that most of my friends
have been in my life for years, that having someone with whom to share every
experience would be… in a word, comforting. I’m definitely a relationship-minded
person: random hookups don’t do it for me. Waking up next to the same person
day after day is wonderful.
Imagine my joy when I learned that my life with them would be expanded to
include a little one. Their two puppy children, Lola and Sammy, were practically
like my virtual nieces, but not I’d be a virtual uncle for real! That’s kind of how I
feel: a virtual uncle. I’ve said before that my friends are part of my family, so it’s a
fitting analogy. I wish I could live closer to them so I’d be in the baby’s life more,
but I suppose I have the knowledge that my sister-in-law is pregnant with twins, so
I’ll be a real uncle soon enough.
Once again, the pregnancy was very their style. They didn’t find out the sex of the
child, so all their family and friends were on tenterhooks of curiosity. She was a
beautiful pregnant woman… again a glow. The medical interactions were limited,
relying more upon their midwife. They opted for a home water birth as well. I
was worried something would go wrong and that she’d have to be rushed to the
hospital (Marc’s father the doctor was also worried and tried to get them to change
their minds.) But of course, Kendra did spendidly and gave birth to a very healthy
I can’t help but wonder how this will change my life. The eons of childbirth and
parenting have made it fairly obvious how the parents’ lives will change. But the
circumstance of a best friend’s relationship to a child is somewhat less defined. I
honestly have no idea how this will change our interactions on a very fundamental
level. The propensity to (mild) debauchery will of course be gone. For years now
their lives will be filled with diapers and waking up at early hours of the morning
to a crying baby. Then to crawling, then the first day of school, then graduation,
then letting them fly free on their own wings as they leave the nest, inevitably. Our
lives have been touched by the magic of birth, but I can’t help but wonder… just
how will this change us? I have no worries we’ll grow distant or that anything
major will change our relationship, but it’s still a curious thought to know that
they are a bigger family now. I’m sure the first few months will lead to some
decreased communication as they deal with the responsibilities of caring for a
newborn, but that will change. I know that no longer do they think in terms of ‘a
couple’ but now ‘a family.’
And my family is now plus one.
Fly Me Back
Thirty days. It shouldn’t be surprising that one’s entire world can change within
a month. It may not be to the proportions of forty days and forty nights, but any
life-altering moments can yet have the same sense of legendary shift. Our lives
are so governed by this idea of the “month,” thirty definable, distinguishable,
delineated days. Everything from our pay cycles to our rent charges to our credit
card fees to our bodies revolves around these crazy lunar cycles that so happen
to not only dictate tides but are so much a function of this earth that our very
basic biology is synched with them. This periodicity of thirty is quite convenient
as a mentally graspable quota/quotient/quorum of effects and affect that it’s been
engrained into ourselves, from the mundane, like ‘thirty days to break a habit,’
to the profound, like the life-continuity of women’s cycles. As we get older, the
months fly by and one year blends into the next and suddenly we’re wondering
where the past ten years have gone… and it all starts out with a single day, week,
month. Twelve distinct periods into which to divide one’s life and to continue
the human trend of classification, distinction, and categorization are just so
conveniently provided by this calendar based upon the idiosyncrasies of the
period our planet happened to choose vis-à-vis the period that this random mass
of rock called our moon happens to deign to orbit this wacky planet we call home.
And within just over a month my entire life has changed.
When I first began having panic attacks last March, my entire life was put on
hold. It took me months upon months and medications upon medications and
hours upon hours of therapy to overcome them. They started out of the blue and I
had no idea from whence they came nor how to control them, so I just did what I
could. I couldn’t work, I could barely sleep, I could barely leave my house, I could
barely see people, I couldn’t cook… my entire life was as if god himself has pressed
the pause button. For several weeks all I could do was sit on the couch, watch
TV, and shake as if I had Parkinson’s. But gradually, things got under control.
Eventually, my mental faculties began returning and I was able to freelance and
function. Things still weren’t perfect… there were enough issues and problems and
loose ends and so I decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Chicago in order to
break myself of this rut I had been in. Four months passed by without anything of
note, besides a lot of therapy. And then….
After a year of merely freelancing and panicking, I have been working full-time
for over a month.. As I gradually got over the panic attacks that paused my life
last March I felt much more prepared to re-enter the conventional working world.
Slowly by slowly my life seemed to return to normal. My intention in coming to
Chicago was indeed to get my life back on track and rejoin the world of the living,
instead of the world of those in a holding pattern. Slowly by slowly things became
clearer, more focused, sharper, more defined.
One of the changes that made this possible was a change in psychiatric treatment.
We switched around my medications and within weeks I felt a discernable change.
I was able to concentrate for more than just a half-hour at a time. I was able to get
out of bed at a reasonable hour in a reasonable time (only one hour of snoozing
rather than two to three.) I was able to finally make major decisions on the path of
my life and my attitude towards living.
The next major life change occurred simultaneously to the medication changes
that restored vibrancy to my world. I was tapped by a former graphic design
classmate to work for the Barack Obama campaign. Now, as I hadn’t been working
fulltime for a quite a while, I was slightly apprehensive about throwing myself into
a position where I’d be pulling long hours seven days a week for incommensurate
pay. But at the same time, I’d be putting my design skills to use assisting the
potential nomination of the person I support for President.
I was a bit apprehensive for the interview, as the first panic attack I had was on
the job, so the whole working world was somehow colored by what had happened.
Yet… the interview was simple. It was mostly me talking my game, which was
exactly what they wanted to hear, as my skillset was perfectly suited to the work
they were doing. When it came time, I wasn’t even nervous, neither the day before
nor in the moment. The fact that I have programming chops as well as design
chops has opened a number of doors for me, and this was one that was wide open.
I had brought in my design portfolio, but they didn’t even bother to review it; the
only person who wanted to see it was my classmate Scott (the creative director)
who figured he might as well since I brought it. The next day, he asked when I
could start. Two days after that, I was sitting in Obama Headquarters, downtown
Chicago, in front of my laptop somewhat incredulously IMing my friends that I
was literally in the heart of the campaign.
The work has proven to be not so taxing, apart from some tedium of repetitive
much just that, though quite a bit more relaxed than many jobs (as would be
expected from the Obama campaign.) I’ve watched more TV in the past month
than in six months: there are TVs strewn around the office and we watch the
speeches and the returns on them, everyone gathering around one of them. (Of
course, this being the season it is, it’s frequently possible to see college basketball
juxtaposed with CNN and CSPAN in the main bank of six TVs.) In general, each
day is like the next, save a change in what I’m doing for work. One day, however,
I saw a tall man in a baseball hat walk past me (my back is to the door.) He started
shaking hands, and as many of our freelancers or volunteer developers do this, I
assumed him to be one of those. I was working on a rather tedious, repetitive project
so I was wondering if I could pass work off onto him. When he turned around and
extended his hand to me, it took me a second to register the fact that I had just met
Senator Obama. And then I sat down and started programming again.
Work. What a concept. Apart from the payment aspect of it (we all have to make
rent somehow), it seems to be a vital thing for my life. Though I enjoyed my time
freelancing while I was recovering from my nervous breakdown (well, after I
stopped having panic attacks at the thought of firing up Photoshop), I knew I was
the type of person who needed more—who needed an office environment in order
to thrive. My therapists agreed: working strictly freelance at home was isolating
and I was a person who needed to be around other people during the day. But
for me, in the field in which I am in, it’s more than just the companionship of
co-workers; rather, it’s the creative synergy that occurs when multiple designers
converge in a single locale, offering advice and critique on each other’s projects.
I must confess that while I believe that my programming skills are much better
than the average designer’s, I yet have much to learn about actual, formal graphic
design. This is something I have been receiving at the Obama campaign. My
classmate, as the creative director of the campaign, is one of my supervisors and
often gives me critique to adhere to a better grid structure, be more beautiful,
refine my type. (Ok, I suppose my type skills are above par but there’s still the
process of getting adjusted to house style.)
The best part? The satisfaction of knowing that I’m working on a campaign
that’s making history—not just via its incredible grassroots organization and
fundraising, nor the fact that it’s for the first African-American presidential
candidate to make it to the primaries and have a very significant chance of
becoming the next President of the United States, nor for the incredible young
voter turnout we’ve inspired. No, rather the reason that this campaign is going
down in history is geeky: it is, by far, the most thought-through, cohesive, elegant,
professionally branded political campaign in history. Already the design blogs
are writing up Scott’s choice of Hœfler & Frere-Jones’s “Gotham” as the primary
typeface for the campaign (my own contribution to the blogosphere was my
design of an LGBT-centered ad. It wasn’t so much discussed in the design blogs
(which made me sad, because it had some beautiful typography) but rather in the
queer blogs to inform the populace outside of Texas and Ohio that Obama was a
supporter of our civil rights. I believe he stands for equality more than Hillary or
The pure thought that this campaign’s visual identity has been given is perfectly
akin to the branding of a global corporation. Instead of just a poorly typeset
white-on-blue sign (à la Hillary), we have a logo—and not just one, but variants on
it for various demographics, so each person of any religious, political, sexual, or
racial persuasion can feel included in the campaign. We have specified typefaces
for specified uses, and use them consistently to proclaim that this something
that we have done. We have taglines formally set in official typefaces with official
colors, used on signs and flyers and websites and who-knows-what all round
the web, in order to allow people to be feel more involved and included in the
campaign. We have a beautiful, well-thought-out, dynamic website—much more
robust and content filled than Hillary’s or McCain’s. And from what I hear, we
are the only campaign with full-time designers—not just one or two but four.
(And that doesn’t even include the rest of the New Media department, working
on everything from programming to YouTube. I’m not even sure where my
department starts or ends. There are at least fifteen to twenty people focused
specifically on Obama’s internet presence, content, and design.)
This campaign has, so far, been the single most rewarding design experience of my
career. Granted, my work has been small and unremarkable in end result, but my
coworkers find it remarkable in execution and speed in most cases. In general it’s
been behind-the-scenes design and programming that I’ve been doing, however
it has provided me not only with the happiness of returning successfully to the
land of the full-time employed (plus the weekends, which is wearing me out) but
the land of the mentally healthy. I think it’s a combination of meds plus doing
valuable work that’s gotten me to this point, but who can really say which is the
primary cause; it’s the chicken or the egg all over again.
Yet… I’m considering leaving this job that has offered me so much. And why is
that? It is because as I write this I am on a flight to Los Angeles to interview for the
position of Senior Front-End Web Developer for American Idol. At this point, my
chances of not getting it might be miniscule compared to my changes of getting
it. I was basically recruited for this job. My former coworker Jon, with whom I’ve
done some freelance work as well, sent me the job posting and asked if I knew
anyone who fit that description. It described me, almost to a ‘T’. I responded that I
didn’t know anyone with my skillset in LA. Not-so-subtly, he said, “They’re willing
to pay for relocation.” And so began my dilemma.
This job would be the single smartest move of my career. Instead of a dead end
company or a toxic work environment or even a great experience making history,
I’d be diving into the Big Show… into a land where work has real responsibilities,
where a misstep has serious repercussions… and where the compensation is more
than commensurate. Don’t get me wrong—money isn’t the end-all be-all of my life.
Rather, it’s tended to be a secondary factor in my life. But one must admit that a
senior-level position at a company as large as Fox would be an amazing experience.
Or even any position at Fox would have to pay properly.
But yet… moving back to LA, after only six months in Chicago? What would
it mean? Could I keep up my mental health? How am I going to make my way
around town without a car (I’d have to save up for one.) Would I fall back into old
patterns and old coping methods? So many questions and so few answers. I don’t
know what would happen; all I know is that the move would be a serious bitch.
I’ve acquired some better (and a greater amount of than previously) furniture in
my short time in Chicago, and moving it will certainly take professional movers
shipping it halfway across the country. If I get the position, they’re going to want
me there within two weeks—insane. How would I really make the transition and
move so quickly? I’d need a lot of help, certainly, from my friends. Luckily, the
company is willing to pay some relocation expenses as well, so that wouldn’t be as
much of a concern.
I’m torn. I’ve already decided that if they offer me the position I will take
it. However, I still have lingering doubts and uncertainties about the wisdom
of uprooting myself yet again, even though back to familiar soil. I question
the betrayal of leaving the Obama campaign for something materialistic and
unimportant in the world. It would be a significant step up, but what would I be
gaining? I would regret leaving my large circle of Chicago friends for… what?
But when it comes down to it I can’t think in this manner. I have to remember that
I have my friends in LA too… I have a truncated life perhaps waiting for me. As I
left town, I even said to people that I didn’t feel that LA was done with me and that
I’d be back. What is it that remains for me there, the town that gave so much and
then took away more than it gave? What can I possibly still learn from a city that,
even as it shelters, cuts you into infinite pieces, Osiris without Isis to help find your
pieces to sew you back together? It’s a city of dichotomies and superficiality, but if
one scratches the surface you can find genuine people, with a genuine desire for
friendship and companionship. If you scratch the surface you find, as you will the
world over, people who defy the stereotypes so easy to place upon a city or a group
of people. You will inevitably find the golden core.
Maybe all places are like this a bit. Sometimes we need to fly away in order to
really see it. And then we can fly ourselves back to where we belong.
We’re in our final approach to Los Angeles. The crew is singing “If you’re happy
and you know it clap your hands.” It’ll be in my head all day.
The anticipation builds. After five hours in LA, bumming around with a couple
friends from “the good ol’ days,” I headed to the Fox Plaza for my interview. My
ex Gabriel drove me to the Century City office building where Fox Interactive
Media is housed (for the moment… apparently they’ve been moving around a
lot.) The drive there was pure silliness: we were reciting, recounting, singing all of
our silly little stories, memoirs, and songs that we had come up with during our
time together. It was really quite the perfect setup to an interview. Instead of being
nervous and dwelling upon what was to happen within an hour (i.e., the dictation
of my career and life for the foreseeable future) I was instead pleasantly distracted
and occupied with twenty minutes of bellylaughing as we weaved our way down
Santa Monica Boulevard from West Hollywood to the Avenue of the Stars. A few
twinges of nervousness hit me during the ride, but overall I was calm, collected,
and ready (and laughing hysterically.)
There were minor snafus in finding my way to the correct floor of the forty-plus
story building. My HR person had written suite 900 on my itinerary, which was
not so correct. I arrived there and all the Fox finance people looked at me (decked
out in black pants, black shirt, and my favorite Triple Five Soul screenprinted
blazer) and told me I was most likely in the wrong place. I worked my way back
down to the lobby and finally they directed me to the twentieth floor, where Jon
was waiting for me. The first person with whom I’d be interviewing had actually
gone down to the lobby to look for me (which would have come in handy fifteen
minutes earlier) so after a minor delay waiting for him to get back upstairs my
interview process at Fox Interactive Media began.
This person, John, was the same with whom I’d had a short phone interview
the previous week, so the ice was already broken. Most of the our time was
spent trading amusing geek stories or commiserating over past clusterfucks or
heartily agreeing with each other as to the inadequacies of (insert one or more
per anecdote: programmers, designers, content managers, advertisers, bosses,
programming languages, and/or web browsers.) This phase of the interview
process sailed by without a hitch. After he was done with me, he passed me off
onto the person to whom I’d be directly reporting, the head of the department.
Without knowing formally who he was, I was already a bit more nervous. The
interview process was escalating, and it seemed to be going well, and the pressure
was mounting. I think I may have misstepped a few times during this phase of
the process, as some of my game-talk wasn’t quite as convincing as it could have
been. There were indications that due to my experience and responses they might
reduce me from a senior-level position to a standard, which didn’t bother me (as
long as the pay would still be around what I was expecting.) From there I chatted
briefly with the art director, from whom I’d be receiving the material that I would
translate into a functional website.
After all the interviewing was done, I talked briefly with Don, the boss, again and
received the impression that it would be within a day that I would know whether
to begin packing or whether to continue working the political web angle. I stole
Jon downstairs for a slight debrief and received the information that all signs were
pointing to yes, from HR to Recruiting to what his colleagues were saying over the
previous few days.
As I rode in the cab back from the Fox building to West Hollywood, passing by
familiar sites and streets, I couldn’t help but imagine that I had never left. It all
felt the same—even the weather was the same as when I’d left, as it was fall when
I left and it now was spring. (LA, with its two-season weather, is fairly predictable
on a six-month cycle.) Sure, there were a few new stores, a few new construction
projects, a few different sights, but it was easy to imagine that I only noticed
these because I was in an area to which I hadn’t been in months (as is often the
case when living in a large city.) Everything felt… fit, like slipping into a pair of
your favorite old shoes after a long day in brand-new dress shoes. We were going
a quarter way across the city, but I could direct the cabbie turn-by-turn. Every
place we passed had some memory attached to it, big or small. It felt like a favorite
sweater, long lost in the back of the closet.
The evening passed as if it were a moment of déjà-vu—because, in a way, it was.
Dinner at Anarkali with Brad, Greg, Steve, and Gabriel. A few drinks at the Abbey.
Crashing at Gabriel’s place, cuddling just as if we were back together.
Now I am sitting at LAX, waiting for the flight to take me back to Chicago. There
was a security alert earlier that resulted in shutting down the terminal, so instead
of getting on my flight within 15 minutes of getting to the airport I’ve been
stranded here for a couple hours. I may make it on the next flight that goes out or
I may have to wait until this afternoon. The time has offered a unique opportunity.
Waiting in line is incredibly mindless and thus my mind chose to fixate upon its
strongest preoccupation: my feelings leaving Los Angeles and going back to Chicago.
Honestly? I have no strong feelings either way. Perhaps its because I’ve already
written off Chicago; perhaps it’s because I have a strong feeling I’ll be back to LA
soon; perhaps it’s because I’m comfortable in both locales; perhaps it was because it
was 7:30am. I’m attempting to cue into myself and get in touch with whatever I may
be feeling about this potential move… and I feel fine. I will be happy either way.
I need to see if I’m going to make this flight standby or if I’m going to be waiting
here all day. Perhaps if I end up waiting here for most of the day I’ll discover my
destiny waiting at Gate 3, Terminal 1, Los Angeles International.
Of course, that flight was full. We’ll see if SW410 at Gate 11 has more luck.
Finally, the saga ends. I was expecting to hear from them very shortly after the
interview, but apparently my background check took awhile… and in the process,
the name of the game changed. Since it’s towards the end of the season, they’re re-
evaluating their staffing needs (and finance also might have gotten involved) and
thus they changed it from a full-time position to a three-month full-time contract
with extension or conversion to full-time possible after that.
So, I shall indeed be moving back to Los Angeles, after six months away. This may
be temporary and it may be permanent (well, as permanent as anything in my life
ever is.) I’m still not quite sure quite how I feel. I’m very excited to get back to the
warm weather of LA and reconnect with my old friends. I’m disappointed that I
won’t be at the Obama campaign long enough to see it through to its completion,
whatever form that may take. But I’m optimistic that this job will open some
serious portcullises in my career. Whether or not I’m at Idol past the contract
period, having it on my résumé (with glowing reviews, hopefully) will be nothing
short of a coup.
I can’t help but still have a touch of disbelief that I’m trying to suspend; perhaps
it’s because I haven’t signed on the dotted line or perhaps it’s because I haven’t
actually started yet, but it still doesn’t seem real. Of course, when do such things
ever feel real before you’re in the thick of them? (And even then, sometimes they
don’t.) I need to be out there within two weeks, a time period that will be spent
frantically packing, frantically trying to find a sublet in LA, frantically cleaning so
my friend Jeff doesn’t have a heart attack when he arrives to sublet my place here,
frantically finding a flight, and frantically doing everything else in my daily life as
frantically as possible.
Now I am poised to begin a new chapter in my life—one ruled by Simon, Paula,
I am, once again, in an airport. I watch the rush of humanity, the people in a
hurry to get from point A to point B (or, perhaps, enjoying as I am a brief moment
of people-watching.) I’ve always been fascinated by airports. Though I have more
flying miles than the angel Gabriel under my metal wings, each take-off is special,
as we forge a treaty with gravity to allow us to escape its grasp and fly to places far
or near, known or unknown, foreign or home.
This time the purpose of my flight is significantly different than my last, only two
short weeks ago. This time I am moving back to Los Angeles.
The interview went well, but there came a snag with the position. Instead of a
full-time salaried position, they changed the game and offered me a three-month
contract with the possibility (likelihood?) of extension or conversion to fulltime
after that. I hemmed and hawed for a while: moving back to LA with only three
months’ employment guaranteed? (Or was it even guaranteed? What would
happen if my performance wasn’t up to par? What would happen if, even after
such a breeze of an interview process, I didn’t fit in with the rest of the team?) I
consulted with friends, searched my soul, contemplated the alternatives, and in
the end decided to go for it. When opportunity knocks, you open the door. Even if
the employ only lasted for three months, I’d be subleasing my apartment (to one of
my best friends, Jeff) and would be able to return. I’d likely be able to return to the
Obama campaign and continue to have paid work. I’d be able to fit back in with
my friends, returning after an extended trip.
But I can’t deny that I’m a little nervous—maybe even a bit scared. I’m moving
out with two suitcases of clothing, my yoga mat, my speakers, a scanner, and my
computer and its accessories. And perhaps the most important part of ‘marking
my territory’—a book from my library. I figured Pooh and the Philosophers was
an appropriate book to bring along. I haven’t read it yet but I decided that this
flight would be an opportune time.
In case the need to bring along a book seems odd, I’ve had a tradition, since
books are such a vital part of my existence. Whenever I get a new apartment, the
first thing I do is place a book in it. I must have at least some of my books in my
apartment, and the fact that I’ll start out with only one is a little distressing—and
How do I feel? Good question. Excited, frightened, nervous, anxious, panicky,
anticipating, antsy… the whole gamut of emotions I could feel at making such
an extreme change. But on the whole the major emotion I’m feeling, the most
important emotion, the trump card is: content. I feel contentment and hope that
this new assignment in life will turn out well and lead me further down the path
of the happiness I’ve started to develop these past six months. I’ve really made
an about-face, a one-eighty, a complete turnaround in my life since moving to
Chicago, it feels. I tore myself from the rut of LA, threw myself into intensive
therapy, reconnected with old friends, re-entered the fulltime working world, aced
an interview, and above all felt happiness—or at least contentment— for the first
time in years.
What does this mean? What does this hold for the future? I feel as though I can
tackle anything now… any situation thrown at me. Perhaps not with flying colors,
but I can do it. I’m not worried about falling back into my rut as I have a job that,
ostensibly, is not as toxic an environment as my last. I have Jon’s assurance that it’s
a good work environment, as he recruited me and wants me to be there by his side,
the counterpoint front-end to his back-end development.
I think I can do it. No—I know I can do it.
It’s been one week since I moved back to Los Angeles, and really, everything is
going swimmingly. I am getting along with my new roommates, I am proving my
worth at my new job, I’m reconnecting with old friends, I’m getting the transit
system down, and I’m continuing my good mood and emotional stability. It is as if,
as one of my therapists has said, that I live a ‘charmed life.’
Yes, I might have to agree with that. Everything in these past six months has
turned out well. Even everything before that didn’t lead to anything incredibly
severe, besides the panic attacks (which have completely vanished) and perhaps
spending a bit too much money on alcohol. But on the whole, many things in my
life just seem to be going right. I’ve always maintained that I’m just not very lucky,
but I might have to change my stance on that.
The basic rundown of this week has been fairly simple. Move in, unpack a little,
meet up with friends, unpack a little more, sleep, go to work, meet up with friends,
repeat repeat repeat. Which is fine with me. I’m enjoying the basic qualities of my
routine so far. Going to a new job in a new office (with a fantastic view) and just
getting settled again into my adoptive city is really quite comforting.
Someone welcomed me back to LA with these words: “May LA again be all the things
you missed and also open herself to discover surprises you never knew she held.”
I think I shall pursue that.
I’ve developed a strange habit. When I’m riding the bus I’ve tended to listen to the
same song on repeat the whole ride, as if looped chords somehow stops time as I
travel and the bus ride flies by in seconds instead of minutes. Of course it doesn’t
really, but it does feel as though it hits ‘pause’ on my mind and for a moment my
mind is free of thought. For those twenty minutes in the morning and evening the
endless loop of Dave Fischoff clears my mind and gives me twenty minutes outside
Sometimes, though, I board the bus with my ears open and uncovered (usually
when I’ve forgotten to charge my iPod.) It’s these times that can more interesting
if I’m in the mood. The bus rumbles along in its deep raspy voice. It vibrates,
shudders, spurts forwards, tremelo weaving through traffic, accompanied by its
own internal orchestra of voices. Alternately tacet and fortissimo (those loud
women on their mobile phones), the orchestra lifts the double bass of bus, gliding
along a river clogged with plenty of debris, slowing the flow to a trickle.
Reaching my part of the shore, I disembark and begin the short walk from the bus
stop to my office building to begin the daily grind.
The crush of humanity pins me to one spot in the crowded bar. I can’t move, I can
barely breathe. Maybe my tolerance for crowds is diminishing—maybe I’m just not
up for crowded bars any more. Maybe it’s the people there—they’re not my typical
type that I tend to encounter when I usually go out to crowded places. These people
are more “real” as some of my friends would say. “Dudes” as one would quip.
The crush of humanity shoves me into one spot when we go elsewhere. Though it’s
more my type of crowd, I’m still not feeling it. I’ve been off all day; maybe I woke
up on the wrong side of the bed. I leave early.
The crush of humanity on the bus is depressing. I just want to sit down and nod off
on my morning commute, but they’ve run a small local bus on the route instead of
the large two-part bus. I stand with the other people and get pressed into the same
position for the whole ride. My feet hurt by the time I reach the office.
The office is quiet, a slight buzz of activity. The TV is on, showing the finale of the
show and we’re frantically making sure the website doesn’t have issues. It does,
of course, and by the time we get to the VIP afterparty, which we were all really
looking forward to, it’s dying down. The food being served is old and stale; we only
have time for two drinks before the close the bar down. The crowd is light, though
I’m told there was a crush of humanity earlier.
In my room, alone, I do a postmortem on the past few days. It seems as though
I’ve had an emotionally turbulent few days, mostly on the low end. But I remember
the crush of humanity with a different view this time. I remember that at least it
reminds us that we’re not alone.
I’m irresponsible. To a fault. I’ll freely admit this, as it’s something I’ve had plenty
of time to adjust to and accept. Whether it’s laundry, cleaning, taking out the
trash, bills, freelance projects… anything, really, I procrastinate until I get so
overwhelmed that I just don’t know where to start. Then I procrastinate, this time
so emotional and panicked, until it becomes intolerable and I slowly by slowly
start taking action to do the responsible things of my life. Maybe it has something
to do with being the youngest child, spoiled by overbearing parents. Maybe it’s my
wild moodswings that can leave me incapacitated for weeks at a time. Maybe it’s
just the plain fact that I’m lazy. Who knows. The fact remains that, at 28, I’m as
irresponsible as I was as a naïve freshman in college.
Normally this wouldn’t bother me too much, as I’ve had a very long time to accept
this fact. However, something’s changed in my life to highlight that I’m at an
age where I should at least be in charge of my finances and not overdrawing nor
bouncing checks constantly. (I don’t even want to know what my credit score is.)
I’m now an uncle.
Born May 23rd, Rhia and Rohan Nagale (yes, fraternal twins) are my first niece and
nephew. I was ecstatic to hear the news, which I’d hoped for for a long time. But then…
But then? What can trump the pride and joy of an uncle, especially considering
the recent burst of exuberance resulting from Colden’s birth?
Uncle. Uncle. Can that word be applied to me sans “the gay fuckup…” prepended
to it? My brother and sister, ten years older than I am, are much more established
and stable in their lives, both with solid careers and spouses. Even at my age they
were (probably) the same puritanical, responsible beings. I can’t know this for a
fact, of course, but reason suggests such. But now that I’m an uncle? I’ve dreamt
about starting a trust fund for each of my nieces and nephews to present to them
on their graduation from high school—“fuckup money,” as I’d wanted to call it.
Money with which to do what their parents expressly didn’t want them to do, the
eminently practical folk they are. Backpack around Europe for a summer. Buy
a new car. Buy books or musical instruments. Just plain not work for half a year,
spending the time on writing and reflection. Going to college where their parents
didn’t want them to. Who knows. It’d be up to them. Pretty much the only rule I’d
have is that it couldn’t use it on practical things that their parents would pay for. I
think, knowing that they’ll all have a fairly restrictive upbringing, that they’d be
appreciative of this.
I was actually hoping that I’d become an uncle sooner, very shortly after my sibs
got married, so that by now my first niece/nephew/both would be some seven,
eight years old. A little more fun. Then when they’d be turning twenty-one I’d
still be in my early forties, still young enough to be the cool uncle that took them
out and got them smashed for the first time. Hopefully I’ll still be the cool uncle,
though closer to fifty by the time Rhia and Rohan (not to mention whomever may
follow) are adults.
But what smarts is that I’m in no financial position to start those trust funds. I’m
still (and probably forever, whether I get my act together or not) the black sheep of
the family. Maybe I have an inflated thought of what “uncle” entails, since mine
were definitely older and established by the time I was aware of such things, since I
was the big baby of the family and all. Maybe I’m putting too much importance on
such a simple biological/familial fact.
Or maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Maybe I’ll be a great uncle.
I can only hope.
Every day we have to do it. It’s an unavoidable, inescapable part of life, modern or
otherwise. We try to minimize how much of it we have to do, but no matter what
walk of life we’re in or what our occupation there’s always going to be an amount of it.
I hate waiting.
Waiting, it seems, is one of the scourges of the world. There are so many ways in
which we wait: in line, in traffic, for coworkers, for the bus… and it’s this last one
that factors significantly in my life. When dependent upon public transit or other
people for transportation, you do a healthy amount of waiting. Whether it’s five
minutes for your friend to get there or thirty minutes for a late bus there is waiting.
Sometimes we’re lucky and time things just right so there is no waiting—from
bus stop to bus. But then there’s still the waiting on the bus to arrive at your
destination. This one’s the same the world over, public transit or no. There’s always
transit time, if nothing else.
More waiting. And within that period of time, there are a flurry, plethora,
smorgasbord of emotions we can feel. Nervousness, anticipation, boredom,
anxiety, restlessness… or maybe peace. Maybe we can find zen in waiting instead
of making it out to be some great stress or punishment in our lives. With a
portable music player you can rock out at the bus stop and pass the time. In the
car on a road trip, I find singing along to music always helps pass the time; good
conversation always does this too. There can be many revelations between driver
and passenger during even a short car ride—unknown shared interests, aligned
desires, shared secrets, personal growth.
But sometimes can there be simply zen in waiting, without any distractions?
Maybe it can be nice, in this frenetic modern world, to simply exist in a time and
place with nothing to think about, worry about, or stress about because in that
simple act of “waiting” we are acknowledging that at that very moment, there is
nothing we can do to change our lives or our surroundings or location. We are
waiting on the rest of the world to catch up with us. We are waiting on so many
things and maybe that’s the key. Instead of frantically trying to change things,
wishing the bus would hurry up, that the traffic jam would clear, that the trip is
over… maybe instead, we should find a moment of peace in a small moment when
even this crazy world has no expectations of us.
Our past lives have been on my mind lately. I don’t mean this in a reincarnation
sense; rather, I refer to the many phases of our lives that we have each gone
through and how one phase can be so completely different from another that it
really seems like another life. We’ve all used the phrase “It feels like a lifetime
ago.” Maybe there’s some more literal truth to that. In essence, isn’t it possible that,
fundamentally, we are different people when we experience a different part of our
lives as we grow older, circumstances change, careers progress, childhood falls
away. We’ve each been taught different lessons in the different parts of our lives,
molding, shaping, forming us into who we are in this current life. Every few years
we experience a rebirth, phoenix rising from the ashes of our lessons. Or maybe
it’s that we cycle through butterfly stages, recreating a cocoon periodically to
emerge ever more beautiful.
Childhood is a very obvious past life. Those formative years set us up to be who we
are today—or rather, they formed the framework of how we will grow and change
as we got older. I’ve heard it said more than once that the liberal arts are less about
learning facts and figures and more about learning how to learn. I think the same
is true of childhood—it’s not about growing up, but learning how to grow. By
experiencing so many radical changes over the course of some fifteen, eighteen
years our method of rigidity or flexibility to change is formulated and solidifies.
From there on out, we have developed the base from which our personality will
be hammered against the anvil of life and whether we are malleable or brittle
and how we learn the lessons. Any little word from parents or teachers or friends
or enemies at this formative time can, unbidden, resurface at any time in our
life, throwing us back into the point of life where we were when we heard it.
Sometimes this can be affirming but it’s more likely that these thoughts will be the
negative as the negative sticks in memory far more tenaciously than the praise and
affirmations that we received. I work through these thoughts constantly; small,
inconsequential actions I took, words I spoke, insults traded flit and float through
my mind, sometimes surfacing in dreams and sometimes commandeering my
entire conscious until I deal with them. Twenty years later, a derogatory word can
But childhood, once we’ve entered the world beyond high school, still seems so
far away—truly, a past life. Everything about what we do is different. The daily
routines that are “life” have completely changed. All that remains the same is
some sense of life, how we grow, how we learn. Each laugh we laugh, tear we cry,
joy we share, sorrow we feel, must somehow affect us and slowly by slowly change
us into a different person with a different life, right?
The next phase of life, after high school, is an obvious one. It’s then that we begin
to grow into our skins. College was the place where I developed my ethics and
morals, discovered drinking and sex, informed my life via my study of philosophy,
dove into the world of politics, separated ideals from idealism. And then it was on
to my first life in Los Angeles, my life in Chicago, and now my second life in LA…
so separated and different from the first. A different job in a much more healthy
environment has served to permanently remove myself from the lascivious world I
was living in before. Much more stable and healthy and sound, I navigate through
the daily world more secure in myself and my future.
I was reminded recently of the cyclical nature of our lives, though. I was reminded
by a friend of the myth of Persephone, and how the story can be interpreted as:
“It is a circle structure that is cut in half. The bottom half is in the underworld
and the top is in the ‘real’ world… The story begins with a crisis, a build up
and then it isn’t until you work your way into the underworld where you
begin to do your healing and finding the ‘magical objects’… before she finally
emerges at the end back in the world with a return to the community.”
He put it beautifully. Life in LA began on the top half and descended into the
bottom half. Chicago was my underworld where I healed from the scars both
inflicted and self-inflicted upon myself during my first life in LA. And now I have
emerged from that life and returned to the community, to myself, to the world at
large as a stronger, healthier person.
Each life signals a rebirth. Each life brings with it its challenges. I will be healing,
learning from the scars for several years to come, but it’s almost as if I’m working
off the karma of a previous life, seeking to restore the balance and free my soul
from the trappings of the world. I’ve been told I have an ‘old soul’ by more than
one person, and perhaps that’s true. Perhaps my analogy of past lives carries with
it far more truth than we can ever reveal or verify as true. We can only strive to
feel it, to touch it, to seek harmony between past and present.
Lessons learned and lessons yet to come.
There’s a woman who rides my bus. We always get on the 704 or 4 (whichever
comes first–we know that the time it would take to wait for the express bus in
lieu of the local would negate the speed of the bus) shortly after nine o’clock in
the morning. We’d wait at the bus stop together, but never say ‘hi’ or otherwise
acknowledge each other. Sometimes she’d be sipping coffee, struggling not to nod
off on the bench. Sometimes she’d do her makeup. And sometimes she just simply
waited. She never talked on her mobile phone at the bus stop, though, as I’ve seen
countless do. We get off at the same stop in Century City, at Avenue of the Stars
(announced by the recording on the bus with exuberance, but not quite as much
exuberance as when it announces “Hollywood!” Boulevard.) More often than not,
we’d also catch the 6:32pm 704 (or sometimes the 6:38pm 4).
It’s interesting—in a city of 3.8 million people, one can see the same people every
day. Of course, the randomness and extreme size of the city is mitigated by the
fact that one always has one’s daily patterns from which we (tend to) rarely stray.
It’s thus that we connect with people, even in just a familiar-face manner. The old
lady at Whole Foods who walks slightly tilted, the familiar cashier at said Whole
Foods who doesn’t need to check your ID since he’s seen you a million times, the
crazy guy on the bus every now and then, the daily commuters, the regulars at the
bars… they all contribute to reducing the anonymity of one of the largest cities
in the world. When I used to commute on the 405 (the most congested freeway
in the country during rush hour) I used to see the same people most days as well.
If I didn’t see them at any point during my drive I’d wonder about them. Did
she finally get in an accident for doing her makeup in the car? Him for checking
his BlackBerry (maybe the stocks?) Did he get a better job (like I wanted to) even
though he was obviously doing well as he was driving a Lotus?
But now she’s no longer on the bus. I wonder where she is. Was she just temping at
one of the banks down there? Did she get fired? What happened to her? Granted, I
haven’t been keeping quite the same hours—I usually catch the 9:10am bus and the
6:05pm or 6:18pm bus back. But I’ve been erratic with my schedule the past month
and I haven’t seen her once. What happened?
I think it’s the small things like this—the checkers at the store, the passengers on
the bus, the familiar bus driver, our coworkers—that make the anonymity of the
city bearable. If we never saw the same person twice, I think we’d go insane.
Or would we be freer? What if we were free to be a different person to everyone,
without any chance of being caught in a lie? Would we make up stories about our
lives, aggrandize ourselves and our situation? Would we humble ourselves and
seek empathy or pity from a stranger, just for the fun of it? Or would we still be
ourselves, true to our situation and being?
But it’s not that way. We have our patterns and we have our modi operandi. And
thus, we have more human connection from the nameless familiar faces we see on
our life path.
When I leave work now, the sun has already hidden behind the horizon. Summer’s
death knell is softer here in California than it is back in Iowa, but it’s still palpable.
The air is a little cooler as well, and my Midwestern bones are firing rapid signals
to my brain telling me to start hunkering down for the winter. Even though here,
in California, Mother Nature doesn’t blanket us with snow like back in Iowa, we
still have a tendency to turn inwards during the cooler winter months, more
frequently choosing nights in with friends and wine than nights out on the town.
Or at least so has been my experience.
I tend to also notice a subtle shift in peoples’ demeanors… a slight change in their
mood. Maybe it’s the fact that the gray skies evoke the winter season very strongly
to those many people here who are, indeed, transplants from the Midwest and
who are feeling the same emotions affecting me. Perhaps they have associations
with this minute change in the environment and are also feeling the need to
hunker down a bit. Perhaps they, as I, feel the need to turn inwards a bit more as
one stays indoors more often, even here in California.
Living in Los Angeles presents an interesting viewpoint of winter, though, because
the summer never seems to want to officially let go of its hold on the season. Even
last week there was a heatwave, even after two weeks of rather chilly climes. But
the Los Angeles winter exists, even in a place that has few seasons.
Unfortunately, winter also brings with it intense mood changes for me. While
I don’t technically suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I think all
the years of winter equaling school and evaluating my self-worth via grades has
imprinted themselves upon me, causing me to always doubt myself and what I’m
doing with life. So thus, I tend to have rather violent mood swings, from hating
myself and everything I stand for to being on top of the world loving where I am
in life. It’s a rollercoaster I don’t wish upon anyone else. Don’t get me wrong—I
know that everyone has mood swings, but I’m particularly prone to them and
mine are not fun.
In a previous essay I said that winter is the Midwest is as such: “In these places
winter’s teeth are more than just a figure of speech but jaggedly adorn every house’s
eaves, icy spikes both beautiful and menacing, and the wind cuts through every shirt
and sweater and scarf and coat in one fell stroke.” It’s not really hyperbole—but yet,
there’s a certain amount of nostalgia associated with such winter.
Such bitter, bitter cold yet such warm, warm hearts of people.
I feel like I’ve been hibernating lately, moving through the world softly without
making any waves. It can be kind of peaceful, just navigating quietly through the
world, not exerting much energy one way or another. For me, work has been stable
and life has been… stable enough. I feel as though I’ve been asleep for a while,
and only recently have I awoken. There are a couple reasons for this solitude and
slumber, but I shan’t go into that now. I will, however, say what’s awoken me.
In the fall of 2003, I went to Rome with a good several score of my cohorts from
Iowa State University’s College of Design. We 30-40-odd budding graphic and
interior designers and fine artists bedded down in The Eternal City for a semester
unlike anything we had experienced or were even prepared to experience. What
followed was a whirlwind of art history, whether in lecture, field trips, or just
wandering around the city and tripping (sometimes literally) over Roman ruins,
Gothic architecture, an Renaissance paintings. Traipsing across the cobblestone
streets all over Italy, we engaged our youthful imaginations and desires and lived
la vita bella to the best of our ability (and our pocketbooks’). During this time I
saw an incredible growth in my classmates: many of them, coming from small-
town Iowa, were experiencing the great abroad and navigating through a major
city for the first time. Pretty much all of us, regardless of our travel experiences,
were actually living in a major world city for the first time.
Before we settled down in Rome for the semester, I traveled through much of
Europe for a few weeks with several of my friends from the program. We went
to London, Barcelona, Paris, Munich, Stockholm, Geneva, Prague, and possibly
others I’ve forgotten over the years. For the majority of these cities, it was not
my first visit – I’d traveled through Europe twice before, so in many of these
places I was tourguide and translator. I’ll never forget my experience of visiting
the Sagrada Família in Barcelona during this trip. It’s an amazing building, even
though it is still under construction. As we ascended from the Metro stop, I knew
that once we reached street level their first sight would be this amazing church,
with its amazing, organic architecture conceived by Antoni Gaudí . As we neared
surface level, I turned around on the escalator so I could watch the reactions in the
faces of my companions upon laying eyes upon this awesome structure. It remains
to this day one of the most rewarding moments of my life: I felt as though I was
truly sharing in the first experience they had, and my breath was taken away with
theirs as if it was my first time there as well.
Every student in the College of Design at Iowa State University is required to take
a component of art history, and it was the rich tapestry of Roman art history that
was the main draw for the department to have this Rome program. From its
place as the caput mundi of the Roman world to being the center of the Roman
Catholic church, the art and architecture of Rome and its surrounding cities is
unique to anything found in the entire world. The pure level of saturation of art is
phenomenal: turn a corner and you see a church you saw in your Gardner’s Art
Through the Ages; turn around again and you see a postcard-worthy view of the
Spanish Steps; turn around again and you’re in the Vatican Museum, peering up at
the private chapel of the popes, the famed Cappella Sistina (Sistine Chapel).
During our time in Rome, I served as a T.A. for the art history course. Our course
was divided into three parts, ranging from ancient history to modern times.
During these, I assisted in advancing slides, distributing reading material and,
assisted by my knowledge of Italian, mapping out field trip instructions for the rest
of the students (the web interface for ATAC Roma in English at the time was still a
little shaky.) It was not very glamorous work, but it provided me with a few euros
in my pocket and the opportunity to get to know the art history professors a little
bit more. And it was this last part that has prompted this memoir.
Terry Kirk was the third and final of our art history professors that semester. His
scope was the Counter Reformation Era era ‘till modern. My experience with
Terry started off on a non-standard note: my ex Curt, a former student of Terry’s
from the same program, came to visit me (and la bella città di Roma) during that
time. After my first or second class with Terry, the three of us went to lunch and
during that time, teacher became human, humans became art, and art laughed
and rejoice in the shared experience of soldiers of light in a tenuous existence
between the world’s love and hate.
Terry was amazing and engaging. He was beautiful and vibrant when discussing
the art, architecture, history, and philosophy that were his professional life.
He was passionate when discussing the books he was writing, the finer points
of Baroque architecture versus Renaissance, and hundreds of other points of
discussion that arise when art geeks get together.
That third of the semester went swimmingly, for the most part. I was still reeling
from the loss of a close family friend towards the beginning of the semester, so
my design projects may not have been up to snuff, but I was able to absorb the art
history knowledge that was being imparted to me and do well. The details of what I
learn escape me, but I recall one thing in particular: when we went to see the Ecstacy
of St. Theresa, Terry did what I did at the Sagrada Familia. As we approached the
ædicula of the sculpture, Terry turned around so he could see the expression on his
students’ faces. Of course, we’d seen the image, perhaps a hundred times before in
books and slides, but seeing it in person was… sublime and amazing.
A few years later, Terry was here in Los Angeles for a conference, and we met up
for drinks one night. I showed him one of my favorite places and gave him a ride
back to the place he was staying that night, where we continued our conversation.
The next night, I brought my friend Brad to The Standard Hotel downtown where he
was then staying and we enjoyed a great dinner with lively conversation during which
Terry tried to make sense in his own way the virtual reality/animation work that Brad
does with Terry’s knowledge of art history and human experience. Afterwards, he
graciously gave us his two passes to the rooftop bar, a prime spot in L.A., to experience
what has been written about in so many travelogues. Though we’d both lived here for a
while, neither Brad nor I had experienced the rooftop before.
Terry and I had a few email exchanges afterwards, one of the most memorable
being a relation of his time in L.A.: “I enjoyed too just driving on the freeways for
hours. That may have been the most authentic experience I had in LA, unique.
Except for having spotted a star, of course, Jude Law in all his ferret-like intensity.
The most real thing I saw in LA was a person whose profession is creating images
of other people. Perfect.”
Then a couple days ago I received quite a shock: I was informed by former
classmates that Terry had committed suicide. His lifeless body was discovered,
after a friend called the police. His car was found, a note. He had parked, walked
for an hour, and then slit his wrists.
That last sentence was one of the hardest I’ve ever had to type. I’d looked forward
to seeing Terry perhaps ever few years, whenever he was in L.A. for a conference
again. And now I shall never have that experience again. The several times
we had lunch while student and teacher, enjoying a small carafe of wine over
genuine Italian food at a simple trattoria or a €0.70 cappuccino at a local café, the
discussions, the enlightenment… shall never be again.
I try to honor Terry in this memorial essay, but there’s nothing really I can do. It
all is the past now, and now I regret not staying in touch more, as we are wont to
do when our time with someone is cut short. He was too young, too vibrant, and
too caring to have left us so soon, but he must have been in incredible pain to do
such a thing. While the idea of suicide is no stranger to me, I’ve never been so far
gone as to desire it. Knowing what I’ve experienced in my time, his life must have
gotten to an intolerable point where nothing could have resolved it. And this I
must understand and accept.
All I can say now is this: Terry, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
the chasm between us,
the thoughts we share,
the love we touched,
the music we made,
the life we never lived,
Third Movement: duet. Score improvised.
Second violin tacet.
C major to A minor to D sharp something, too many accidentals.
Silence. Two chords have cancelled each other out.
I wait for the paradox to resolve itself.
Conflict: heart says “inevitable”—head says “impossible”
My baited breath, hanging on a resolution.
Snow-covered mountain of a dick pulsing, thoughts racing, panting.
Struggling to breathe again, lacking answers.
Answers, stone. Manner, mountain. Comportment, granite.
D minor in the air, Lacrimosa.’
Heart hangs on, futilely, dying the slow death of the forsaken inevitable.
Shredded, heart. Ringing, ears. Pandora’s Box, feelings. Dona eis requiem.
Dissonance. Devil’s chord.
Exit stage right.
Second violin: Cadenza.
Ostinato, phrasing uncertain.
Body, horizontal. Blood, pulsing. Lines, three more.
Improper interval. Phrase incomplete.
Tonight thou showest us thy most open face
A face that has peered upon us for so many thousands of years,
What say ye?”:
What would she say had she lips,
O child of this Earth we call
Forever forbidden to return to her mother.
What would she say, she forever tortured
To ever radiate another’s glory
And never her own.
She who lights our night sky
So that we might see one other
For better or for worse,
When the more prudent sun hides his face
For fear of what we do when the lights are low.
She has never turned her back on us.
Would she, were she able?
Would she flee this Earth we,
Have marred for our own desires?
Or does she yet see
For us all.
Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.
Together we’re invincible.
To escape today, tomorrow, yesterday.
Running, hiding, spinning in a whirlwind to avoid the pain.
The pain. Eternal, everlasting, patiently awaiting for
When the moment strikes, lightning, thunder, fall.
Fall so far.
Buried in the past, cleansing the future.
Impossible dreams building the chamber of dreams.
Without a door, without a window.
To forget you is to love you
To love you is to hate you
Rain of diamonds
Cutting deep in carets
Happy memories of salted lies
Each suture of fire.
The cocktail of peace
Lost in your soul
With peppermint and blood.
Tasting you and ice I cut you in two
To find your breath and the smile in your chest
I want to take you and call those numbers to deliver you to my hand
This is turning out all wrong
Piles of white glimmer and shine with a heat I miss
And suddenly music loses its tone
In bated pulse beats water of life
In empty glasses I find my soul at the bottom
What would happen if you were here
And I had the sheltering sharp mountains to cradle me away
A lullaby of bass rhythms
With a simple life I try to understand your path
With crossing arms I take your touch and breathe it
In passing cars I see your face every time
Could I ever, would we have?
What can we make from lives sundered, from times past?
Everything and nothing at a time
Never fulfilled, dreams; never lived, existences; never played, chords
If I pause the world then melodies of stroked faces, rhythms of spoken words
Softly treaded past of broken shards I hope for your rain
Waited knowledge of your fiery mind and crushed apple
A cycle of boundless uncertainty and necessity
What can we make of a life of fright
Simple cuttings of fragile life of blight
With simple alms I guide your light
With halted breath I see your might
And simple dreams were said aloud
Yet calm feelings made me proud
A deep meaning I have found
And a gentle deepening I have bound
What’s the meaning of a sundered existence
The path of a meaningless time
The necessity of a parted resistence
The meaning I have to find
I unfold your skin and taste your heart
And it’s a simple matter, really, to wash the script of your life.
I wish for a rain of blue and receive a telegram of fate
Portentous of purple birds and basic lies.
Clip the wings and fly without abandon and dive to the cube
Unnecessarily forgiving the Tooth Fairy her slight.
Make it to the bank and receive a coin for Styx a moment too late
And bathe in light of blue jeans
Without recognizing your speakers’ faces.
Unwrap the dove and set her free with a message
To carry to the heavens
And kill the dog to wash your wounds.
I lick your wounds with a salty tongue
And laugh as you cry out in French vomiting pure azure heavens.
O yea, by the grace of all the gods I go there
Separating wheat from yellow with a toothbrush soaked in lye.
Never again with pure magenta boxes nor with muddy words
Will I face your lies and lemon words.
The bottom of this bottle holds your truth and I seek
Seek, seek seek.
To find a way to live without you is
To try to put the snow back in the sky
To find a way to live without you is
To stop the rain in the air
To find a way to live without you is
To tell the sun not to shine
To find a way to live without you is
To make the ocean fill the desert
To find a way to live without you is
To be empty of me for you
To find a way to live without you is
To try to live.
Fly me away to the life I knew
Fly me on steel wings carrying me
Suture my wounds with threads of fire
And cut me in two with blades of bronze
Back to the life that doesn’t exist
To the people who have forgotten me
Back to a place I once loved
A place I’ll never have again
I need to return but it’s not there any more
And I want to turn into the wind and blow anywhere
I need a word to change what I think
And a place to turn back into flesh.
River of hope
Cutting through a brown field of despair
I want to rip off my clothing and
Swim naked and free and careless
But the shackles and shadows of my former life
Keep me here in pain and solitude.
And it’s impossible to cast them off so I
With the chains
And they melt.
Blow me away
Carry me from my life
Quell the hellfire of my heart
That burns my soul to a crisp
Lift me on this wind that stinks of rotting flesh
Smelling of fetid desires, rotten with disuse
Take me away on the Valkyrie
Wipe my mind clean
The icy air must scour my thoughts
Scatter them far away where they won’t trouble me
Make me whole again by rending me into
A thousand shards to flay my skin away
So I can crawl out of it and be reborn
Phoenix, why am I not like you
Able to be reborn though heat to be without sin
Mistakes haunt me worse than any spectral soul
Every action filled with regret
The simplest tasks, done wrong
Take me please, lift me, give me wings
To carry me
Razor shards of truth pave the straight road to apples
Find the angel to cut your throat and free your spirit
Take pills to drown your grin
Take the lord’s name in vain
Curse the name, the word, the three horsemen of Hell
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Spill missed opportunities on the air
Wax the soul of sin to polish away the cardboard
Break down the gates of heaven with bleeding fists
Drink the blood
Dress the wounds with salt and papercuts
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Bathe in flaming poison
Breathe the fumes
Slay the other because he won’t sing
Crash the airplane that takes you on a one-way trip to glory
Throw a shoe at happiness
Lather, rinse, repeat
Fuck your mind into dust
Blow it away on smoky breath
Shattering the pretense
Drink pure joy
Find a way to be unlovable
Repeat, rinse, lather.
With open arms and closed eyes
I welcome you.
Wondering how this will ever work,
‘tisn’t important at the moment is it.
Wake from your dream as I will from mine
and begin this new life together.
Alive but for you.
Would that I could meet you.