Thursday, September 25, 2008

Indigo Girls - UPAC, Kingston, NY

Great show last night... I think it was the 16th or 17th time I've seen them. I miss seeing them play with a full band, as they did on their tours in the 90's, but they are good solo acoustically too. I was very happy to hear them play Three Hits and Reunion; it was really nice to hear Chickenman live again too. My siblings and I hung out for a bit by the stage after the concert. Sully, their head roadie, gave us guitar picks and a copy of their setlist. Then we waited outside by their bus for a while, and my brother got his picture taken with Amy Ray. He was so happy, I thought he was going to wet himself.

There was a time in my life, my early twenties, when I went to concerts whenever I could. Now I just don't any more, and that's sort of sad. I have too many other distractions and competing priorities. Last weekend, Nellie McKay played in Woodstock, and I didn't go to see her because I'd been hiking and biking all day and I was tired and wanted to turn in early. Lame! What was I thinking?

Speaking of competing distractions, I've been taking a break from TV for a while. I wrote a few weeks ago about getting agitated and irritated every time I turned the damned thing on. That kept happening, so I've put the remote to rest for the time being. Curiously, I still feel sort of on edge, but I don't have the boob tube to blame anymore. Maybe I'm just detoxing from media withdrawal. I'm sure Marshall McLuhan would have had something to say about that.

I don't know if I'm going to break my stint of television abstinence to watch the debate tomorrow night. I'm kind of tempted to, but I know I'm 100% guaranteed to feel agitated and irritated if I do. Besides, the debate I'm really looking forward to seeing is the vice presidential debate (which unfortunately is scheduled for the same night as the Canadian national party leader's debate). This afternoon I saw a clip of Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin, and I discovered that not only is Palin bat-shit crazy (this, I'd already realized), but she's also completely unable to think on her feet. She was just spouting a bunch of talking points that must have been fed to her by the McCain campaign. Even when Couric asked her to clarify one of her responses, she just paused for a few seconds and then repeated what she'd just said, word for word. I can't wait to see her debate Biden. It's going to be a complete train wreck.

Part of me does feel bad about looking forward to seeing her destroyed in the debate, but that sense of guilt is overwhelmed by my anger. Is Palin really the person the Republican party deems to be the best candidate for vice president? Someone with no relevant experience, someone who is stupid, vain, and self-involved enough to believe that it's good public policy to ban library books which espouse a different point of view from one's own, and that political office is an appropriate platform from which to act on personal vendettas? Someone who believes the fundamentalist horse shit that life is a constant battle between Good and Evil and there is no middle ground or room for negotiation? I think I am justified in looking forward to watching Biden tear her apart into little pieces of crazy.

My father used to (and probably still does) quote Winston Churchill, who said that "a free people get exactly the government that they deserve." I disagree. We deserve better than this.

Ugh. This post is in dire need of more editing, but it's past my bedtime so I'm uploading it to the interwebs as is, crows feet and all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Walking across the street by the bus station early this morning, I was almost hit by a car. I was lost in my thoughts and the driver clearly wasn't expecting to encounter a pedestrian at 6:30 in the morning. She swerved and braked at the last minute, my heart went from a fugue to a rhumba beat, and we managed to avoid a messy situation with ambulances and police and insurance claims and medical bills and me crying in public.

Anyway... that's not what I meant to write about today. Last week, I wrote in my journal that I miss "the risk and vulnerability of being held in higher regard than I felt worthy of." I've been brooding over that line for the past few days. This is where my courage fails. Not when I'm up in front of a yoga class teaching - I know that's a challenge, so I steel myself up for it. Not over this past summer, when I climbed up a cliff with the intent to jump off it into the water, but chickened out instead - I realized I was just doing it to prove to myself that I could, and that just wasn't a compelling reason. I lose my nerve at quieter moments than these; unfamiliar; interstitial. I look away when I should hold a gaze. I say something when I should be silent. I stop to reflect and figure it all out when it's time to put thinking aside and act. And ultimately, I hesitate or walk away because I'm unsure. I lose things because contrary to popular belief, I'm pretty lousy at being calm and quiet when it matters most. I run away when I should take a deep breath and wait to see what happens next.

This video's more or less irrelevant, but the song hits the nail on the head:

Monday, September 22, 2008

The other New Paltz

I've been riding my bicycle quite a bit lately. In the past, I've had a habit of riding the same routes over and over again (rail trail out to Rosendale, back roads up to North Ohioville); but recently, rather than revisiting these routes, I've begun adding some variety to my peregrinations. There are roads in New Paltz that I never travel by car because they don't lead to anywhere I've ever needed to go. On bike, however, I'm much more inclined to investigate side streets and cul-de-sacs. I'm discovering that there are parts of New Paltz that I didn't even know existed. Over the past month, I have been pedalling through large developments of McMansions on five acre lots with manicured lawns and artificial ponds, tucked away on side streets off 299 heading up the mountain.

Now, as a dedicated conservation-minded pinko liberal progressive wacko, I know I'm supposed to bemoan the existence of these antiseptic monstrosities with much hand wringing and shaking of fists. (Can one wring his hands and shake his fists simultaneously? Perhaps this is a Zen koan for the modern age.) But I don't. I'm going to be honest here. When I pedal though these neighbourhoods, my first emotional reaction is surprise. My second is curiosity. (Who lives here? What do they do?) And much to my embarrassment, my next reaction is envy.

Partly, this has to do with money. Sure, I love the condo complex where I live now. (I love listening to my neighbour's radio blasting NPR all day through our thin walls; I love watching the college kids who rent here playing redneck golf out on the lawn; I love listening to my neighbours across the parking lot screaming at their kids.) All cynicism aside, I really do like it here. But a lifetime of indoctrination into the American dream has succeeded in instilling in me a nagging sense that I ought to be striving for Something Better, and by "better" I mean more expensive and more isolationist. I know it's retarded, but to some small extent I've bought into the myth. (I hope no one takes offence to my use of the word "retarded." It seems appropriate here.)

Partly, though, this envy of mine relates to something other than money. I grew up in a gigantic, beautiful, old house in the middle of nowhere, and I miss it. The place still shows up in my dreams sometimes, representing the past, familiarity, and a returning to myself. Am I seeing poor surrogates of my childhood home in the McMansions of New Paltz? I don't know. Maybe. But I fantasized about big, new, emotionless houses like that when I was a kid, too; then, I suspect what they represented were escape and the illusion of security - twin cradles which I craved when growing up, and which were in short supply.

The burning question on my mind is how the people who live in these houses experience them. What do they feel when they return home in the evening? What did they feel the first time they drove up the driveway? What most appeals to them about their dwellings? What concessions, if any, do they feel they've made in order to live there? What do they value? Who are they? Unfortunately, this other New Paltz offers me no answers. It is silent for me. I don't know who lives there, and I rarely if ever see anyone out in the well manicured yards.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Burn After Reading - a review

Brad Pitt - hilarious. Until... well, until no longer hilarious. Malkovich - characteristically annoying. Clooney - meh. Swinton - characteristically cold. McDormand - also hilarious.

The movie made me think of Seinfeld; a bunch of generally obnoxious people doing stupid things with tepidly amusing results. I didn't care about anyone in the movie, ergo I didn't care much for the movie. (I wasn't a big fan of Seinfeld either, for the same reason.)

Also - DC and surrounding suburbs. Good god. I have the capacity to feel nostalgia about almost anything; generally pleasant experiences, generally unpleasant experiences. Living outside DC is the one thing in my life I have never felt an iota of nostalgia for. The movie was a sort of reminder of the emptiness I felt when I lived there, when I didn't yet quite understand that the chief thing that I was looking for, people to connect with, I was never going to find there. It was wholly alien territory for me. And remains so, on the rare occasions when I return (which, apparently, I will be doing once again for work in the next few months).

Confidential to Percy: I have figured out how to use google analytics, and it is gratifying to see that I am getting hits from Chennai. It gives me the illusion of internationally popularity.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Last Unicorn

Yesterday was hot, humid, and miserable, and I hid inside most of the day, practising yoga, writing in my journal, and discovering that there's nothing good on TV on Sunday afternoons. After a brief period of fruitless channel flipping, I decided to watch The Last Unicorn. I bought the DVD a few weeks ago, largely to assuage my curiosity about why some of the women I know find this film so compelling. I'm not going to bother writing (much) about the obvious hero's journey stuff or the Rankin-Bass animation nostalgia that the movie stirred in me or even the cheesy/awesome soundtrack by America. Others have no doubt already addressed these topics. Instead, here's what I got from the film: it's basically a coming of age story for a girl who wants to find out what happened to all of her friends. She discovers that they've been collected (for lack of a better word) by a bitter old king in a lonely castle by the sea. In the course of discovering this, she begins to undergo transformations leading towards adulthood, and she learns of the costs and curious appeal of mortality.

There's kind of a lot packed in there, actually:

  • The hero is a girl. This still hardly ever happens in pop culture, though I guess it's a bit more common now than it used to be.

  • The bitter old king, collecting youth as if it possesses some quality that can be reacquired; isn't this pretty much exactly how pop culture works now? Look at that big dust-up about Miley Cyrus a few months ago. Why do we care? What the hell was she doing in the middle of People magazine or whatever it was in the first place? I think a lot of adult (or proto-adult) culture is based on vicariously living out fantasies through teens and tweens.

  • I don't know what to make of the film's ending. She succeeds in freeing her friends, with rather limited help from her male companions. Interestingly, the film's romantic figure, the classic hero, is pretty much useless. She ends up saving him. It's her friend, the wizard, who gives her the most help - but even here, his help is limited, and for the most part she saves her friends and herself on her own. But what exactly has she saved? She retains her immortality by eschewing the advances of the prince, but in doing so, she learns regret. (The hero is always fundamentally changed by the journey; this is why Frodo needs to leave Middle Earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. But I digress.) What is the film trying to say about childhood and adulthood?

  • I can see why this movie was important to girls who first saw it when they were on the cusp of adolescence. It must have offered some solace that although big changes were afoot, some semblance of who they were as children could carry through with them to adulthood. I'm vastly over simplifying here, I know; partly this is because I'm not done mulling this over. Also, pedagogic as this may be, I want my readers (all three of them) to think about this for themselves (if they've seen the film) and not be over burdened with my ruminations.

In addition to the above, I guess the thing I liked most about the movie is that it was genuine. It didn't contain the sort of self-referential oh-aren't-we-clever humour that permeates most animated and kid's films today. The film told a story that I as an adult (or reasonable facsimile thereof) found interesting and thought provoking, but it also appealed to kids. It did this not so much by the schizoid approach of cute little animals and over-the-little-ones'-heads pop culture references, but by telling a simple story, and telling it well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


A rather exceptional teacher in the local yoga/Buddhist community shuffled off this mortal coil this past Labour Day. I hadn't studied with him very often over the years, but the few times I did were memorable. I remember him leading a kirtan once, and instructing us that the Sanskrit word "jai" is an expression of excitement; he translated it as "hot dog!" Then he thought for a moment and changed his translation to "not dog!" in deference to vegetarians. That still makes me crack up a little bit when I think about it. He also taught a primer on Buddhist teachings one Sunday afternoon last winter (which I mentioned here), and this was when I really got an inkling of the depth of his practice. Jonji had been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer about 8 months earlier. He'd gone through one (or more) round(s) of chemo. He warned us at the start of the talk that due to the medications he was on, he might have to run to the bathroom without warning. And he still sat with greater stillness and equipoise than I could muster. He didn't budge during his talk, even when I was cramping up and squirming around. He had this presence that's hard to describe... humble, honest, fierce, compassionate. And he told me to tell more jokes.

I went to Jonji's memorial service on Saturday. Sad to say that when paying my respects at his alter, it did not occur to me to think of a joke to share with his spirit, but in his honour, I will share one here.

What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything.
And when he complained that the vendor did not give him enough change when he paid for his hot dog, what did the vendor reply?
True change comes from within.

Rest in peace, Jonji. Thank you for your teachings.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sweet Shiva!

I'm sitting here stressed about a million things - the cavity I'm ignoring, my workload which alternates between non-existent and overwhelming, the fact that I haven't been tapped to substitute teach a class since giving my sample class, the weird creaky noises coming from my car that my mechanic tells me to ignore, my finely honed skill at shooting myself in the foot in so many aspects of my life - when out of the blue (well, out of my iMac's speakers) comes relief from a wholly unexpected quarter: Afghanada has been renewed for a third season. The first new episode will air today. In two hours. Happy happy! Joy joy!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Last day of the swim season... I decided I'd best make the most of it. It wasn't my best swim of the season, probably, but it wasn't my worst either. I did four laps, 3/8 of the total distance of which was freestyle. Upon exiting from the water, I had the pleasant sensation of exhaustion and dizziness that I often feel after a good workout. Afterwards, I picked and froze about a quart of wild blueberries. Then I came home and took a nap. Not a bad way to start the day.

I've found a pattern in my television viewing habits: I turn on the TV, flip through the channels until I find the least obnoxious programme, then, after about twenty minutes of viewing, realize that I'm scowling, fidgety, and slightly anxious. Then I turn off the TV. Maybe it's time to hide the remote from myself. There are certainly better ways I could be spending my time.

I feel like I'm nestled between two extremes right now. Twice in the past month, friends have told me that they're pregnant, which is wonderful and exciting. On the other hand... I have another friend who is self-destructing, who will (hopefully) be checking into a rehab tomorrow, if he doesn't back out at the last minute. And my brother is apparently attempting to construct a wall between himself (and his girlfriend) and the rest of the world. So here I am sitting in the middle of all this, happy and slightly envious of my friends who are creating new life, concerned about (and slightly angry at) those who are bent on destroying the good things they have.