Thursday, June 12th, 2003
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,
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.
Friday, June 13th, 2003
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.
Saturday, June 14th, 2003
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.
Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
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.
Thursday, May 15th, 2008
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.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
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
and far above the battlefields
It is above all that
It sits upon the choicest of
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.
Here is "Spirit of the Crusades," from These are my Rivers (1994). It is a concise, powerful image, it hits you with the same force as his early poems but it is, I think, much more disciplined:
with its slate-grey roofs
in slate-grey Cardiff
and its greystone houses on greystone terraces
and its great high statue of
"The Spirit of the Crusades"
in the Wales National Museum
portraying a medieval knight
in grey metal armor and helmet
with visor down
on a great grey steed
with four grey foot soldiers
in close march around him
(two at the head of the horse
wearing World War One helmets
and carrying World War One rifles
with fixed bayonets
And the Crusades are over
but they are still marching
over the sea-locked land
in a dead march
straight through the twentieth century
In 1997 he published A Far Rockaway of the Heart, which might be my favorite book of his poetry for the way it reflects back on A Coney Island of the Mind from the perspective of a much older, more mature poet. I saw Mr. Ferlinghetti reading from this book and got his signature!
Driving a cardboard automobile without a license
at the turn of the century
my father ran into my mother
on a fun-ride at Coney Island
having spied each other eating
at a French boardinghouse nearby
And having decided right there and then
that she was for him entirely
he followed her into
the playland of that evening
where the headlong meeting
of their ephemeral flesh on wheels
hurtled them forever together
And I now in the back seat
of their eternity
reaching out to embrace them
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
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.
I became a fan of Dylan's music in 1983, when I was 13 years old. I had always known about him and recognized some of his songs; but in the summer of my 13th year I spent a couple of weeks staying with my parents' friend Jim Higgs (r.i.p.), who had a lot of Dylan's records and the book of his lyrics. This was the summer Empire Burlesque came out, and Jim was talking it up a whole lot; but I started reading the book and became entranced by "Subterranean Homesick Blues". I listened over and over to Bringing It All Back Home; and when my family came back to town and I went home, I raided my parents' collection of Dylan records. That year and the years that followed, I listened very heavily to Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited; and less heavily to Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and The Times They are a-Changin'. In autumn of 1983 Jim took me to see Dylan and Tom Petty play Sacramento fairgrounds; it was the first rock concert I ever went to.
At some point in high school I came into possession of a copy of Dylan's first album, self-titled, I think from Replay Records on McHenry -- that was where I got most of the music I bought in high school. I don't remember listening to this record a whole lot in high school, but later it would become one of my very favorite records.
I remember seeing Steve Ewert and Tim Lechuga playing at Mondo Java -- it was one of the first concerts I went to at Mondo Java, in 1989 or so -- and getting them to let me sing "Subterranean Homesick Blues" with them. That was great even though I didn't remember all the lyrics. Not as great was the second time I saw them, when I got them to let me sing "Desolation Row" with them -- I had rehearsed and knew all the words, but the spontaneity that had made the first time so much fun was gone and it came off pretty flat. Also IIRC I brought and played bongo drums without understanding going in, how lame that was.
In 1993 I bought Dylan's two new records, Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong. This was well before I really got into old-time music -- I loved these two records at the time but I don't think I really understood at the time, how great they are. These two certainly were part of the process that got me interested in old-time.
And since then? Well... Dylan is just part of my psychic landscape, one of the places I go when I think of music. I'm glad he's here and glad I've got his music around me.
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Check out Ellen's writing at Patch.com.