Thursday, April 30, 2009

And Now For An Over-Used Reference...

Generally I try to avoid turning this space into a blog about myself. When it is about me there's great care taken to remove any distinguishing 'I'. However, in a fit of Spring fever (which may be the source of newly discovered allergies for me) here's a break from the usual and a personal update.

I am fucked.

Like so many others, I need a job. Problem is, I don't know where to get said job. Everyone gives the same advice, namely to just get one anywhere. I then tell them the possibilities (New Orleans?) and they advise me against places. This has me worried.

Since I'm young and in transition the US is open. Of all the states I think there are roughly 16 I'd be happy to live in: Hawaii, California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Baltimore, Delaware, Virginia and Washington D.C. The rest have too much snow. I could stand to live in: Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Georgia, Tennessee, Wyoming, Connecticut, Ohio, Indiana, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois. Absolutely unacceptable: Michigan, the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana or Minnesota, West Virginia, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Wisconsin and Alaska.

The problem is that these states aren't simple. The cost-effective states don't have jobs. The jobs are in my forbidden states. My friends and family are in neither. I'm afflicted with that old dilemma, we've all had it, where I simultaneously have too many choices to decide and not enough options.

This is compacted by three things: certification, recommendation, and a portfolio. Certification is different state to state. It's similar for most, but there's paper work and waiting periods and such for all of them. Recommendations, increasingly, are asked to be submitted with cover letter and resume. This is obnoxious since those gracious enough to do a cover letter haven't agreed to send me umpteen copies. That means open letter instead of closed, and that means I'll only be able to send out a very limited number of apps in the first place. Finally, although not directly job related, I'm working on my Masters teaching portfolio, which is very long and time consuming, and due in two weeks.

I am, as a suspension cable would say, stressed.

* * *

I am good.

Life is going pretty darn well for me at the moment, for a number of reasons. Unlike many others, I have guaranteed shelter for the next few months. I have food. I have warm clothes as I hear the rain drench my vehicle outside. My security is assured.

My standard of living and comfort are far superior to many other places. It's slightly better than: Saudi Arabia, France, South Korea, Austria, Canada, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Oman, Singapore, Spain and Brunei. It is far better than: Brazil, China, Mexico, Cameroon, Bahamas, Chile, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Lebanon, Jamaica, Namibia, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Uzbekistan and Syria. My life would be utterly novel in: Liberia, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Uganda, Mali, Angola, Haiti, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Solomon Islands, Yemen, Rwanda, Mozambique and Vanuatu.

The advantages are that I'm an American, middle class, educated, healthy, and intelligent. For more spurious but unfortunately valid appraisal, I'm also male, attractive, heterosexual and white. These latter qualities aren't actual qualities, just characteristics. But to many, they are 'quality' characteristics.

Chances for success in life are three-fold: international status, upbringing, and motivation. My international status is the fact that I'm an American, and we are still, for all fears, the number one country in the world. The upbringing is that list of features, part which I was born with and part which I acquired up to this point, that prepare me for power, money and success. Motivation, which doesn't properly fit into the latter, is the knowledge that I will do well, and have safety nets of loving caring people to help me should I stumble and fall.

I am, as St. Paul would say, blessed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Here's One Way to Measure a Vacation...

Weds: Pork in garlic with Chinese broccoli, a jackfruit smoothie. Hot chocolate flight, dessert sampler: cheesecake, whoopie pies, smores, sorbet, mousse, etc.

Thurs: Clam chowder, pepperoni pizza, apple juice. Ma Po tofu, iced tea, dessert sampler: tiramisu, cheesecake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, apple pie, etc.

Fri: Sushi: inari, unagi, tamago, ebi, avocado and California roll, etc., iced tea. Cornbread, lobster ravioli, lemonade. Mate ice cream.

Sat: Steak and eggs with toast, milk, oj, and homefries. Gnocchi with sausage, scallops, dessert trifecta: panna cotta with blueberries, apple crisp, brown butter tart, water.

Sun: Crabcakes, fried potatoes, lemonade.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


As a product of bibliophile I have come to possess the gene that allows one to harbor a deep love of books.

In actuality I must credit whoever taught me to read, and those teachers who forced me to do so with continual regularity. Reading, and the love of books which accompanies it, is taught, not innate.

Alongside this love our time is a time of lists and list-making. I have commented elsewhere on this phenomenon, and the drastic ramifications of a society so constructed. What follows is not a justification or exemplification of our society and time, as I hope none of my work is, but is, instead, merely a product of it.

So here are 10 books everyone should read (but haven't been forced to already).

1. Don Quixote, Cervantes. Often called the "alpha and omega" of the novel form it wrote, and broke, all the rules. The gallant stick-insect on his nag Rociante fights off windmills, tries for a young disreputable girl's heart, eventually teams up with Sancho Panza to go righting all manner of wrongs and injustice. A friend of mine once quipped, in reference to the knight, "It would have been better if he were right."

Yet for all of these delights Quixote does not live up to its title of the Greatest Novel of All Time. For that treat you have to read the transition from the first to the second half, for the mother of all metafiction moments.

2. Ficciones, Borges. The short stories of Jorge Borges are an incomparable treat from the annals of world literature. Borges, for my money, was the world's greatest short story author for consistency, ingenuity, creativity and language. His topics shift from Argentinean gauchos to metaphysical libraries and Arab scholarship. Quite simply the master of the genre.

3. Watchmen, Moore. It would be easy to write this off as a product of the hype of the recent cinematic release, which, most parties will agree, earned a critic's B-. Yet this book is tremendously enjoyable and important for a comic-conscious nation. Tackling huge themes of morality and justice while also grappling with issues of American consumerism, the Cold War a variety of other sociological observations Watchmen turns a fun house mirror on our society and challenges us to laugh at what we see.

4. Three Seductive Ideas, Kagan. Non-fiction, especially of the academic variety, tends to present diminishing returns. The further in the more difficult it is to keep interest. Not so with Kagan's Three Seductive Ideas, the best book on developmental psychology out there. He handles three ideas we have largely accepted regarding how we grow up and takes note on how these ideas are not only faulty but also dangerous assumptions: infant determinism, the pleasure principle, and the ability to measure emotion, and more earth-shaking, intelligence. This will undoubtedly be hailed as a classic as it gains readership.

5. The Stranger, Camus. "Mama died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I can't remember." So begins one of the great works of the 20th century, a stream of consciousness that is coherent and invigorating telling a story of a man's existential coming-to-terms with self. Far more readable, and, indeed, a true pleasure to read, compared to some of Sartre's fictions. It is the necessary reflection on the philosophy alongside...

6. The Notes From Underground, Dostoevsky. Gogol was funnier, Tolstoy was the greater author, but Dostoevsky in this slim volume best captures the complexities and paradoxes of his time and the modern world. While Gogol could parody these bureaucratic and social upheavals with ghosts and noses that run away to become ministers, Dostoevsky's main character actually feels these changes personally, strongly, and painfully.

7. The Divine Comedy, Dante. At least the Inferno. Technically, this may be the greatest work ever written. The depth, complexity, and simply staggering size of the undertaking in part distance readers rather than draw them in. A good, annotated edition, such as Musa's, will help accompany the wary reader alongside the pilgrim and Virgil in their descent.

8. The Clouds, Aristophanes. There is a tendency in casual readers to equate age with uninteresting. After all, what relevance can a story like Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, lampooning the trends ans sacred cows of the time, have on us today? The genre which suffers the most within this neglect is comedy. And, to be fair, comedy often does not age well.

Not so Aristophane's 2,000+ year old play that makes fun of the pretensions of philosophy, Socrates, how to write a play, and what comedy even is. Again, I show my bias towards the meta, delighting in the fact that Aristophanes writes himself in as a character in his own play, addressing the audience in a formal speech telling them why his play his best. The ending, too, is a masterwork of comic genius.

9. Silent Spring, Carson. The now-classic book is more revolutionary than many give credit. On the surface it is a work which addresses the dangers of DDT and the ramifications of humans role messing around with the ecosystem. Written so as to be easily digestible to the layman, Carson's work is, in fact, far more than a warning or argument against spraying crops. It stands as one of, if not the first, work that directly states that the supposed benefits of our scientific progress aren't actually beneficial, moreover, that they are dangerous. The ramifications of such a realization require thought-provoking contemplation, if understood.

10. The New Testament. I think if more people actually read this a lot of the world's problems would be cleared up. A tremendous number of Christians spread a message of intolerance. Perhaps, if they read Jesus' teachings, they would realize that Jesus communed with lepers and prostitutes. Perhaps, if they read the Gospels, they'd understand that the apparent discrepancy between the New and Old testaments is one where the New, with its message of love and peace, supersedes the Old. If more Christians studied and read about Christ they may start to act more like him, rather than dividing and persecuting the human race and those who don't agree with them. On second thought, perhaps this should be first on the list...

Saturday, April 4, 2009


"It's just weird to think that what we did tonight we won't be able to do later in our lives."

"Going out to eat?"

"Well, I mean the details."

"You're being kinda vague."

"We drove for half an hour to a restaurant that serves Indian cuisine in a car that uses gas. Eighty years from now, when we're on our deathbeds, we won't be able to do that."

"Why not?"

"Things will be different. I think distances will lengthen."

"What? You're being really vague."

"Over the next eighty years I think that distances, communication, all of that, rather than getting more compact will expand. We're not going to have the same convenience. I mean, think about the past eighty years and what all changed then."

"The, 1920's? 1930's? People still drove to Williamstown to eat dinner..."

"Yeah, but -"

"I mean, the details were different. The cars were different, and I don't think cars will run on gas, yeah, but why do you think it's going to expand and not contract?"

"Just a hunch. Just an assumption."

* * *

Think of the difference between 1929 and 2009. If I live to see 2069, that is, live roughly 80 years, how much change will I have witnessed? Already I've clocked five presidents, three wars, 9/11, and Oklahoma City.

I grew up learning how to use a dictionary for vocab drills, and saw computers evolve from Apple Plus to featherweight laptops of today. The internet and email arrived.

Cloning is no longer the science fiction of my youth. The debate on the death of dinosaurs has, more or less, been fixed to a meteor impact. AIDs has become a global epidemic which we may have to live with for the rest of our lives.

The civil rights debate has shifted/is shifting from racial minorities to homosexuals. 'Deep Throat' was exposed.

Hair metal and Michael Jackson were replaced by Nirvana and Alternative, were in turn replaced by Indie rock and Hipsters. Silicon valley and the housing market boomed and busted.

Car phones and wireless phones were replaced by cell phones. Tape decks were replaced by CDs which were replaced by iPods. The Organic, Buy Local, and Green movement took flight. Electric cars were invented.

The Berlin wall came down. Countries have been created and dissolved. Apartheid ended, and Hong Kong was relinquished. Fidel stepped down and Putin stepped up.

I'm just 22. That all has happened in about twenty years. I mean, for goodness sake, what may come in the next sixty? Looking back on the past eighty years, here are the highlights up to my birth:

Sputnik, Moon landing, a space station, and the Hubble telescope.

The Wall Street Crash, Great Depression, and ten presidents. The JFK assassination.

Rock and Roll, Hippies, Woodstock, Punk, Funk, Disco. Country rock, folk revival, bebop and modern jazz.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Van Der Rohe and Gropius.

Microwaves, refrigerators, and power tools. The interstate highway system. The end of operator girls. The rise of department stores, credit and credit cards, catalogues, and strip malls.


Computers, and the silicon chip which allowed them to be personalized.

Helicopters and jet engines. Nuclear reactors and weapons, radiocarbon dating. Insulin, LSD, DNA sequencing, genetically modified organisms and hybrid rice. Lasers.

"Adolescence", yuppies, the agricultural revolution, hot rods, diners, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Free Speech, Kurosawa, Felini, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Bergman and the Academy Awards.

Hemmingway, Faulkner, Borges, Brave New World, Orwell, Steinbeck, Lord of the Rings, Beat Generation, Asimov, Heinlein, Stephen King.

Feminism. Existentialism. Post-Modernism.

World War II and the Holocaust. 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man'. Stalinism's Great Purge, the Khmer Rouge, Chairman Mao and the Cold War. Korea and Vietnam.

Television. The rise and fall of the drive-in movie. LED technology. Aerosol, DDT, and supermarkets.

Ball point pens. Vending machines. Playboy.

Some people have seen all of this and more in their lives. The rate of change constantly increases.

So will people in 2069 still go out to dinner in Williamstown? Maybe. Will that interaction be at all identifiable with what we did tonight? I doubt it.

But that's just an assumption.