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Tyndareus Crushed, by Igor Mitoraj (taken August 2005)


Jeremy's journal

He'd had the sense, moments earlier, that Caroline was on the verge of accusing him of being "depressed," and he was afraid that if the idea that he was depressed gained currency, he would forfeit his right to his opinions. He would forfeit his moral certainties; every word he spoke would become a symptom of disease; he would never win an argument.

Jonathan Franzen

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Thursday, June 12th, 2003

🦋 Where am I?

Scott Martens wrote a fine post last night laying bare the inputs and parameters of his life; and inspired me to do likewise. I've had a vague, gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction [all my life and particularly] these past few months and I think I'd like to make a stab at figuring out where it's coming from.

Three questions are principally interesting to me here, viz.: "Where am I?"; "How did I get Here?"; "What do I Think About It?" I know the answers to all of these im ganzen und großen, particularly the first two but the third also; however I have not yet formulated these answers word by word. I think that doing so will give me insight that is not available while the answers are bouncing around my head. I believe the most natural order to answer them in is the order in which I've asked them here, and will do so in this post and two more. Note however, the questions all deal with similar subject matter so there will likely be some overlap between what I am saying in these three entries; I am not going to interfere unduly with the natural order of my thoughts to satisfy strictures of the rubric I have asserted. Happy reading! And drop me a line to let me know what you think about it. So,

My Circumstances

I live in South Orange, New Jersey (USA, North America, Earth, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe, Mind of God), in a lovely old Victorian house, with my wife Ellen and daughter Sylvia. I am thirty-three; Ellen is older than me and Sylvia is younger. Our dog Lola is an 8-year-old Shih-tzu who has been with us through four residences. Sylvia, 2 1/2, has been with us for only two. (This house is however the third place she has lived; the first year of her life was spent at the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute.)

I commute to Manhattan, where I work for Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), writing code to support a statistical arbitrage trading strategy. My "daily grind" consists of: Catch NJTransit train at 6:35. The station is just across the street from my house, about 2 minutes from walking out the door to being on the platform. Sometimes I will take the 6:50 train instead. Ride to Hoboken. Catch the PATH train at 7:05 or, mutatis mutandis, 7:20, and ride to 33rd Street. My office is at 43rd and Lexington; if the weather is nice I will walk, otherwise take my third and fourth trains of the day, the "F" and the #7. I like to buy a cup of coffee from Oren's Daily Roast in Grand Central Station (brewed coffee that is — I have never been very partial to pressed). Depending on a number of variables I arrive at the office sometime between 7:40 and 8:10. Work lasts until around 4:45 — sometimes later but rarely later than 5. Occasionally I leave at 4:30. Reverse the commute and I am generally back home at 6:00, where I have dinner, spend some time with Sylvia, and put her to bed.

So that is how I spend the great majority of my waking time. Things I like to do with the remainder are, work on my house and yard, build furniture, and play rural blues guitar. The work on house and yard is in some sense an outgrowth of my interest in woodworking — I mean to say, woodworking has gotten me interested in using tools and fixing things, which extends nicely to the duties of home ownership ("duties" read expansively, I guess). I am since January the secretary of the Central Jersey Woodworkers' Association, the first club in which I have participated actively since college. (I realize as I write that that I was active in the Long Island Woodworkers' Club when we lived in Queens; but not to anything like the same degree. And before that, nothing since back to college.)

I have some friends in town; through Sylvia, I know the parents of many of her coevals, and get along with just about all of them. Just tonight, I had a nice conversation with her friend Natalie's father Norman, whom I had not met before. And through my neighbor Jim, I know several disreputable types, old hippies, from the area. Some of us (Jim, Bob, Janis, Doug and I) get together on Saturdays to play non-purist blues, the genre my former guitar teacher described as "folk and dead". — All of us play guitar except for Doug, who plays bass; Janis often plays banjo or bass; Jim occasionally plays violin or bass and I occasionally play concertina or violin.

And what else? I like food, pretty enthusiastic about it, tending especially towards barbecue these days, and good beer... That pretty much describes it. I would like to say something about my workout regimen; but alas, anything I said in that regard would be a lie.

posted evening of June 12th, 2003: 4 responses
➳ More posts about Sylvia

Friday, June 13th, 2003

🦋 How did I Get Here?

Part II of a project to assess my current situation in life. Part I is here.

And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself,
This is not my beautiful wife!

David Byrne, "Once in a Lifetime"

I'm going to try to figure out how the past moments of my life have led up to this one. This may take a few tries.

Let's take college as a point of origin. Which college? Well let's take Columbia — though I was only there two years and have no degree, I still tend to think of myself as a Columbia student when my mind turns to thoughts of education. I think from my first day at Columbia, a clear chain of causalities can be woven which lead inexorably to the present moment. If not causalities, at least coincidence.

At Columbia, I was studying German Language and Literature. I did not have any clear plan for what I would do after graduating with such a degree except that it involved somehow being in the academe. — "I did not have any clear plan" is understatement in the sense that I was actually vehemently, elementally opposed to the notion of developing a plan. This willful lack of preparation haunts me — I cannot understand it. But its end result is quite straightforward; when I realized that my trust fund money (the upshot of an insurance settlement after I was severely injured in a traffic accident in 1982) was not going to pay for more than two years of Columbia, and that my parents were not going to come forward with the difference (that should be phrased "were not able to" — that is not how I understood the world at 18 though), I was faced with a choice between going deeply into debt to finance a degree which I had essentially no use for, and leaving. It was no choice.

While I was at Columbia I had met Ellen. We decided we would move in together, and that I would use the few thousand dollars left of auto accident money to pay for a culinary education, to prepare for my life's career of being a chef. Wait... what? This is an item that just strikes me as really weird in retrospect, it seems so arbitrary and abrupt. Hmm. I can't glide effortlessly into a comfortable life as a linguist and intellectual. [Looks around, scratching head] ...I've got it! Culinary school! I can pay for that out of pocket, and when I'm done I will be ready to earn my living, and best of all I will be interesting! — This is a drastic oversimplification, even a caricature — at the time I had a decent rationale explaining why I was doing what I was doing, almost believable, at least to me.

So I see my conceit of a clear chain of causalities (or even of coincidence) is unraveling right at the outset; the first two links are miles apart and seem to have no intention of joining up. I think I can come to understand this decision but I will need to go back to an earlier time to do so — and this seems like a critical task to me. I want to make it clear how closely the decision to go to culinary school is related to the refusal to make a plan at college. This is something that has held me back all my life, and I think is holding me back now. I will talk about this in my next post.

posted evening of June 13th, 2003: Respond
➳ More posts about David Byrne

Saturday, June 14th, 2003

🦋 Planning: A Digression

This is part III of a multipart entry concerning my progress — my status — part II is here.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Jesus Christ per the gospel of Saint Thomas the disciple

In the cold light of day I have changed my mind a bit — I don't see a need to go about explicating fully my reasons for going to cooking school — take it as read that I did (and how else are you going to take it?), and let me talk about how it ties in to my planning problem.

For as long as I can remember having any opinion on the matter I have disdained planning. (To cut myself off at the pass — no, I don't think this has anything to do with the fact that my father is a city planner by profession — that is a language curiosity, nothing more. Keep moving, nothing to see here.) I went so far, as I became aware of this line of thinking, at one point as to voice it explicitly as my creed — that it is better, more attractive, to fall into one's situation as it arrives; life [so I proclaimed] is a series of incidents and coincidents, and to try consciously to mold this sequence is ... undesirable. Since the time of this assertion I have engaged in a long and complex dance with this line of thinking — have worn it as a badge of creativity and depth; have internalized and forgotten it; have remembered and resurrected it; have disavowed and repented it — I find it extremely seductive, far moreso than I ever did solipsism (of which more some other time, and not as part of this series) — and equally pernicious.

Why is this? The idea is little more than a thin rationale for lazyness and inaction. I have attempted at times to make it sound like something akin to Buddhism (of which I know very little) or Existentialism (brash arrogance on my part -- the idea is about as far as it's possible to get from the thinking of Sartre, of which I know just a bit more than I know about Buddhism, or of Nietzsche).

But what I want to examine is the results of my thinking this way. I would not say by any means that they have all been bad. I "fell into" my relationship with Ellen, which has had highly desirable consequences. I fell into computer programming, which I enjoy; the caveat is that with effort I think I could have made a better path into programming than the one I took. One thing that I really want to get out of this self-examination is a better path forward in my career. (But getting ahead of myself; more later.) I even "fell into" woodworking, which I love, which I think of on the same level as fatherhood, as one of the best things in my life.

The drawback to thinking this way has been all of the roads not taken, the avenues rejected as requiring of me too acute a degree of direction. I am not going to make a list of these right now — I don't know that I would be able to — but my sense is that there are many such. And I believe at root that I would be a happier person, more fully realized, if I had chosen a path of striving. I write as if that choice were closed off to me but recognize that it is not — as I said above I want to make it and am trying to figure out how.

A final note about the nature of the somnambulistic credo under discussion: I used the terms "attractive" and "undesirable" above, advisedly. My proclamation is not an ethic. I think it is probably an æsthetic, and a sensualist one. A sort of hedonism. — To the extent that it is anything more than an excuse for sloth.

As to the subject at hand, cooking school represented a "path of least resistance" in the sense that I was deferring having to make a decision. I was not really deciding I wanted a career as a chef; trust me on this. Now, back to our regular programming. As I relate the path that brought me here, keep in mind the manner in which I was approaching this path.

posted evening of June 14th, 2003: Respond

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

🦋 Google Calendar

I've had a Google Calendar account set up for about 2 years now. Wonder of wonders! I find that in the last month or so I am actually starting to use it to organize my time, to remind myself what I need to do. This is really a big step for me -- I have never in my life been able to get in the habit of keeping track of my schedule in written form.

posted evening of September 12th, 2007: Respond

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

🦋 Anticipating new books

At Edge of the American West, there is a fun thread about anticipating new books by your favorite authors. There was no criterion really specified for how to choose the authors you list; here is what I used: an author all or most of whose back catalog I have read*, and if I read about a new book of whose being published, I would run out to the bookstore and buy a copy.

Most books I've bought in my life have been used; buying just-published books is a pretty new experience. I think this is a complete list of the books that I've bought on the day of their publication: Mason & Dixon, The Keep, Against the Day, Other Colors.

(And come to think of it, I've pre-ordered a couple of books from Amazon or similar, so received them at the time of their publication. So probably should add to the list Monk's Music, and Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk which I await anxiously, and the two volumes so far of Moomin comics.)

*Except Saramago, I've only read two of his books.

posted afternoon of May 15th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about The Keep

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

🦋 Ferlinghetti in my life

I was pretty young when I found out about A Coney Island of the Mind -- I bought a copy at one of the bookstores on Telegraph Ave. and it's the first book of poetry I can remember carrying around in high school. I just loved the title! And the poems themselves began gradually to sink in, too... I read them today and they are familiar like old relatives and slightly embarrassing too, like old relatives can be; but it seems to me like there is real beauty in them mixed in with the clumsyness.

I have not lain with beauty all my life
telling over to myself
its most rife charms

I have not lain with beauty all my life
and lied with it as well
telling over to myself
how beauty never dies
but lies apart
among the aborigines
of art
and far above the battlefields
of love

It is above all that
oh yes
It sits upon the choicest of
Church seats
up there where art directors meet
to choose the things for immortality
And they have lain with beauty
all their lives
And they have fed on honeydew
and drunk the wines of Paradise
so that they know exactly how
a thing of beauty is a joy
forever and forever
and how it never never
quite can fade
into a money-losing nothingness

Oh no I have not lain
on Beauty Rests like this
afraid to rise at night
for fear that I might somehow miss
some movement beauty might have made

Yet I have slept with beauty
in my own weird way
and I have made a hungry scene or two
with beauty in my bed
and so spilled out another poem or two
and so spilled out another poem or two
upon the Bosch-like world

A couple of more poems below the fold.

posted evening of March 24th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

🦋 Learn to dance, get dressed, get blessed, try and be a success.

Bob Dylan has been in the world for 7 decades today. That's a good long time, and for about the last 5 of them he has been contributing some beautiful, significant art to the world. I'm not sure what to say about this but, happy birthday, Bob! Many happy returns of the day! The Guardian has a slide show of images from his career.

Below the fold, some of my own memories that involve Dylan and his music.

posted evening of May 24th, 2011: Respond
➳ More posts about Music

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