Monday, December 26, 2011

home for the holidays

1. Which girl stuck a chicken carcass in her suitcase? This girl did!

2. Whyyy does this cold weather jacket continue to elude me?!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

early Christmas


"A free spirit but also a proud soul, Vivian became poor and was ultimately saved by three of the children she had nannied earlier in her life. Fondly remembering Maier as a second mother, they pooled together to pay for an apartment and took the best of care for her. Unbeknownst to them, one of Vivian’s storage lockers was auctioned off due to delinquent payments. In those storage lockers lay the massive hoard of negatives Maier secretly stashed throughout her lifetime.

Maier’s massive body of work would come to light when in 2007 her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side."

Source: About Vivian Maier



Sunday, December 18, 2011

a perfect day

What would be your ideal day, he asked her.

What do you mean?

You know, your idea of a good day, he said. You can do anything. You don’t have work. You can have fun.

I can do anything I want? she asked.

Well, within reason. Not like a crazy vacation or saving kids in Africa or winning the lotto.

Give me some parameters so I know what I’m working with, she said.

Ok, you’re in this city. It’s a normal day. An ordinary day in which you do things that make you happy.

And no work?

No work, he said.

Oh. Hmm. So, like a Saturday.

Yes, if you want. Your perfect Saturday. You wake up. What do you do?

Hmmm. I wake up refreshed. It’s somewhat early, early enough to get things done but not too early. I drink coffee and read the paper at a leisurely pace. I work out. Wait, no – I go hiking and have brunch with friends.

Ok, he said.

And I read and just enjoy myself. Hang out with friends. Maybe do some writing. I have a productive but fun day. Everything feels right with the world. Hey, did I say something wrong?


What’s wrong? she asked.


Tell me.

It’s nothing.

So then you can tell me, she said.

He said something unintelligible.

Ok, fine, don’t tell me, then, she said. She waited two minutes. So what would be your ideal day? she asked.

My ideal day?

Yeah, your perfect day. Nothing too crazy. Same boundaries. Go.

Ok. Probably start off similarly. But then my favorite day would be one spent with you.

Oh! Wait. That is definitely how I would spend my ideal day, too.

Copycat, he said. It’s too late to change your mind.

But I didn’t know I had that option!

Too bad.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I feel like such a jerk.

It’s ok, he said.

Of course I’d want to spend my day with you, she said.

Friday, December 16, 2011

quite possibly Best Video of 2011

Polite bear waves hello!


National Review article

Applying While Asian

"Celebrate your heritage — unless you're trying to get into college.

To check or not to check the Asian box? That is the pointed choice faced by Asian-American students applying for admission to what are supposed to be the most tolerant places on earth, the nation’s colleges.

The Associated Press ran a report on Asian students of mixed parentage checking 'white,' if possible, on their applications to avoid outing themselves as Asian. The Princeton Review Student Advantage Guide counsels Asian-American students not to check the race box and warns against sending a photo.

In a culture that makes so much of celebrating ethnic heritage, especially of racial minorities, and that values fairness above all, Asian-American students think they need to hide their ethnicity because the college admissions process is so unfair. If African-American motorists fear that they will be pulled over by the cops for the phantom offense of 'Driving While Black,' these kids worry about what will happen to them when 'Applying While Asian.'

Studies have demonstrated what every Asian parent and kid knows: Asians are discriminated against in the admissions process. They are disadvantaged vis-à-vis other minorities and perhaps vis-à-vis whites. In 2005 the Center for Equal Opportunity, a think tank opposed to racial preferences, looked at males applying to the University of Michigan from within the state who had no parental connection to the school. If the applicant had a 1240 SAT score and a 3.2 GPA, he had a 92 percent chance of admission if black and 88 percent if Latino. If white, he had only a 14 percent chance, and if Asian, a 10 percent chance.

Thomas Espenshade, the Princeton University academic and co-author of the book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, examined applicants to elite private schools with comparable grades, scores, athletic abilities, and family histories. He concluded that whites were significantly more likely to get admitted than Asians.

This accounts for what must be the first mass effort of a minority group to 'pass as white' since Jim Crow. If nothing else, you can see the emotional appeal of favoring black applicants over whites as a tiny, belated step toward making right a grave historical injustice. (Of course, the white applicants did nothing to deserve this mark against them.) But what have Asian-Americans ever done to anyone else? Do the sons and daughters of Asian immigrants immediately arrive on these shores and begin repressing Caucasians with their famously diligent studies and high test scores, such that the panjandrums of higher education must redress the imbalance with pro-white discrimination?

All of this is done to promote a 'diversity' of a crude, bean-counting sort. The private California Institute of Technology doesn’t use quotas; its student body is 39 percent Asian. The University of California at Berkeley is forbidden by law from using quotas; its student body is more than 40 percent Asian. Only a bigot would believe that these schools are consequently worse learning environments, or that they are places characterized by monochromatic, lockstep thinking because so many students share a broad-brush ethnic designation.

The author of The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden, calls Asian-Americans 'the new Jews,' a reference to the 20th-century quotas that once kept Jews out of top schools. The difference then was that Jews collectively didn’t stand for the policy, now a watchword for disgraceful bias. Stephen Hsu, a professor of physics at the University of Oregon and an outspoken critic of current admission practices, laments that Asians seem strangely accepting of the unfair treatment of their children. The official Asian-American groups tend to support anti-Asian quotas because they are captives of liberal orthodoxy before all else.

The Obama administration’s misnamed Justice Department has joined with its wishfully named Education Department to urge schools to get creative in circumventing Supreme Court limits on affirmative action. It’s not quite 'Asians need not apply,' only that they should expect their ethnicity to be used against them should it become known to the authorities."

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: © 2011 by King Features Syndicate

Sunday, December 11, 2011


People who don’t live in San Diego for long periods of time don’t know about the fog.

Once in awhile, the marine layer descends upon the city. It slips in and accumulates until it becomes nearly palpable. It is never frightening or sinister. It envelops everything, gently but deliberately. The fog reminds me of being 18 years old and waiting for the campus shuttle in the dark and sort of rousing myself out of autopilot long enough to notice the fog and wonder why it was there.

Anyway, I was driving home tonight when I encountered the fog again. I was waiting at the stoplight, admiring the fog and watching people as they walked down the street in their holiday best and carried large white plates. I was aware of my clothes smelling like a fainter version of the dinner I just ate and creating a hotbox of hotpot in my little blue car. Earlier in the evening, I had waved off several invitations so that I could hurry home and continue reading this particular novel.

I had started and jumpstarted this book many times over. It was a challenge, each time, to keep going. (I get distracted. I am a mass of distractions. In addition, it’s a difficult novel to stomach.) And then I started it, for the umpteenth time, on a recent plane flight where I was strapped into my seat with a dogeared Southwest magazine that I had already flipped through too many times. I started to read the novel, as if for the first time, and it was so wonderful that I could barely stand it. I didn’t want to look up to breathe and I didn’t want to look away to sleep. It was a very uplifting, pure feeling.

When a novel like this one emerges out of the fog and captures my attention, I am content. I calm down again, I focus and refocus. It nudges this strange heart of mine, puts me in a good place because I feel kindly and inspired.

Since as far back as I could remember, I have expected to wring every bit of meaning/intensity out of every moment of my life. I have wanted to get to the heart of the matter every time. I have expected each second of my life to be the ultimate distillate of everything. I want tangible results. I want my socks to be knocked off. I want to be in awe.

I recognize these expectations to be harsh, unrealistic, and slightly unhinged. As a result: I dream in a million fluttery directions. My head houses a box of frogs. I can’t sit still. If I’m not accomplishing things, I feel listless and lame. I want to read everything and learn constantly and collect useless trivia about history and geography and the human condition.

When I can sit still because I am engrossed, the panic and the pressure dissipates. When I am reading in this place which I now call home and everything is veiled by quiet evening fog, it's enough for me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

a very bad thing

Over a week has passed since The Very Bad Thing occurred. It seems that I have placed enough distance between me and it so that I can sort of address/describe it:

What you feel when you realize, suddenly, that you are utterly alone and ridiculous and there is no one to turn towards for assistance so you better just get your shit together like right now you big baby;

What you feel when you want to cry big, primitive tears but they are lodged in too deep so you do nothing;

What you feel when you are terrified beyond belief and you must assemble rational thought and action together to make it to the next day and the day after that one and the day after that one;

What you feel when a stranger’s kind, unassuming expression can cause you to turn bats on the inside but you fabricate a smile which only looks like a small meniscus of a smile because what else does this poor stranger expect of you and what else is there left to do except pretend things are normal;

What you feel when you know all the crying and whimpering and self-pitying and fuming and knee-deep sorrow in the world won’t accomplish a damn thing and so you move on and it’s business as usual because there is always something left and life is good again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

the shoelace has snapped

The Shoelace

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood...
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left...
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there -
license plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
lightswitch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the, market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out -
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a

so be careful
when you
bend over.

-Charles Bukowski

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving eve

Last night I met up with a friend for a drink. Both of us felt weary from the work week.

“The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest drinking night of the year,” he told me.

“Makes sense,” I said.

We sat at a very dark bar, in contented silence, and stared at the people around us until they looked back, at which point I pretended to look elsewhere.

We talked about a friend, twice-removed: a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Like us, she worked as a lawyer. Unlike us, she was fat and in a deep fat funk. You could see it on her face and on her body. We wanted good things for her. We hoped that she would turn her life around.

“My friend thinks that she’ll end up regretting her early thirties if she doesn’t do something about it,” he said.


“I think I regret some things,” he said. “Small things that seem insignificant in the bigger picture. Overall, though, I don’t regret anything.”

“I think I regret some small things, too,” I said. “Like studying too hard and not studying hard enough. Mmmm. Taking life too seriously. Not traveling more. Things like that.”


“I always thought I’d end up in a different country for a bit, living an exciting life and traveling everywhere… but that was always a temporary idea.”

“Yeah, I wish I traveled more, too.”

“Overall, though, I’m really happy with the way my life turned out,” I said. “I mean, is turning out.”

“Me, too.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

a lesson in human nature

Thank goodness, I have finally figured out how to embed hyperlinks!

Heaven Is a Place Called Elizabeth Warren

"But many of the people looking to Warren, as they did to Obama before her, are expecting material things — like readable credit-card pitches or safe bridges or jobs or a vote on a bill to create jobs — that are, at the moment, figments as imaginative as dragons and their slayers. And that’s dangerous, because when the person we decided was going to fix it all isn’t able to change much, it’s not just that we get blue but also that we give up. We mistake the errors of our own overblown estimations for broken promises. And instead of learning, reasonably, that one person can’t do everything, we persuade ourselves that no person can do anything.

The key is not just emotional investment in election-year saviors but also an engagement with policy. A commitment to organized expressions of political desire — like those that have been harnessed so effectively in recent years on the right — have been absent for far too long in Democratic politics. Now, with labor protests, campaigns to block voter suppression and personhood measures and the occupations of cities around the nation, there seem to be some small signs that liberals are remembering that politics requires more of them, that they need movements, not just messiahs. But their engagement must deepen, broaden and persist beyond last week’s elections and well beyond next year’s elections if there is any chance for politicians like Warren to succeed."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

on friendship

totally distracted
what was I saying?
P: yay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I don’t know very much about my mother’s earlier years. She doesn’t talk about it. As a result, her adolescence and early adulthood feels strangely blank to me.

She is not hiding anything in particular. There’s simply not much to tell. I sense that she merely arrived at the right places at the right time and, sensibly, took advantage of the opportunities that were presented to her.

She has told me the following stories about her youth:

1) She felt nervous during her entrance exam.
2) She lived in the United States and felt utterly depressed.
3) She lived in the United States and ate disgusting things like week-old Arby’s French dip and ice cream sandwiches (her own concoction consisting of two slices of bread hugging a thin layer of ice cream).

When I was younger, she confided in me that the best chapter of her life unfolded when she was hovering somewhere in her mid-to-late twenties – when she had a desk job and lived with a roommate and owned a lot of mismatched silverware.

Sometimes, when I am alone and quiet and feeling like her, I try to reconstruct her life using the small details that she has given away over the years. I picture her in my head: she is a pretty, slight slip of a girl. She is the same age as me and she is still considered a girl. She is self-contained and slightly aloof. She eats like a sparrow. She works in Santa Monica and is not dating. She spends a small part of her meager salary on art classes and clothes. She walks along the harbor, bare-limbed, in white platform shoes. She is utterly free.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Landmine of articles from The Atlantic

Where Human Workers Can Still Beat Robots (at Least for Now)

"In the physical domain, it seems that we do for the time being. Humanoid robots are still quite primitive, with poor fine motor skills and a habit of falling down stairs. So it doesn't appear that gardeners and restaurant busboys are in danger of being replaced by machines any time soon."

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

"Cherlin believes the reason for this paradox is that Americans hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism."

"In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage—or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love."

All the Single Ladies

"The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons (“something was missing”), I see now, is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfillment above all else."

"In the months leading to my breakup with Allan, my problem, as I saw it, lay in wanting two incompatible states of being—autonomy and intimacy—and this struck me as selfish and juvenile; part of growing up, I knew, was making trade-offs."

Why Many in China Sympathize with Occupy Wall Street

[As an aside, the rural vs. city residential permit refers to the hukou system, which assigns people to a residential area. It's almost impossible to survive without a proper one, as basic things such as housing and medical care are all tied in with the permit.]

"I could bear the mockery of my classmates, could go weeks without eating any meat, could spend my entire weekend cooped up in a library, could come back from studying on the weekend to see boys and girls dancing, could go running at the deep of the night out of loneliness and boredom. I dreamt that one day I would graduate, and find a job in the city. I wanted to work with the city-dwellers of my generation, and like them, to become a city resident. I wanted my parents to be proud because they had a son working in Shanghai!"

"I didn't write this to complain. The terrifying thing isn't that justice is relative. The terrifying thing is to witness injustice and to act as if one sees nothing. While I was getting my masters, I once had a conversation with a girl who at the time had 3 years of work experience under her belt. She is now the HR director of a joint stock company. We were talking about a marketing strategy for Weida's paper industry. Her idea was to carve out a new market by advertising Weida's high quality dinner napkins to China's nine hundred million farmers. Surprised by her cocksureness, I asked her if she knew how farmers wipe their mouths after each meal. She returned my question with a misgiving look. I raised my hand and wiped my mouth on my sleeve."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cities and Ambition

A few years ago, essayist Paul Graham wrote a piece titled “Cities and Ambition.” I remember the path it wove around the interwebs when it was first published. The piece compared the different types of messages/mantras whispered by various cities to its inhabitants. Graham wrote, “Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder… A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It's not something you have to seek out, but something you can't turn off.”

I thought of this essay after I flew home a few weeks ago. I traveled to the Bay Area, for reasons which I’ll leave for another time, when I’m ready to talk about it. All of my days were packed to the gills but I accomplished nothing substantial. I slept the sleep of the dead in a cold bed covered with stiff sheets, in a house located at the bottom of a hill and surrounded by a thicket of crickets, in a tiny town where all the stores had been replaced several times over and the cars were slow and indifferent. I wore thick socks to bed. What I did do: I followed my relatives around like a shadow and did stupid, extravagant things like scoff at my mother’s instant coffee mix and buy four croissants in one morning. I ended up leaving them (the croissants, not my relatives) on the kitchen counter because either I was not hungry at all or being sad affected my papillae receptors and they tasted like sawdust. Maybe they are still sitting there (this time, referencing both the croissants and the relatives).

Another thing I did: I wandered hospital corridors, scrutinizing sketches and watercolors and charcoals because I didn’t know what else to do. I challenged myself to memorize these paintings for the rest of my life, forever and ever, because to forget them would, somehow, cheapen the days and the details.

Everything felt new and troubling.

After a few days of puttering around uselessly, I surrendered and retreated. I scurried back to San Diego. I didn’t feel safe again until I saw afternoon harbor water.


For ten years going on eleven, I’ve been pining away, fiercely, for something that feels like home. I thought it was the Bay Area. Instead, I left feeling all out of sorts. The old unease had returned: I started to pummel myself with circular thoughts like why am I not making a million bazillion dollars in China why didn’t I start my own company already why do I have no real ambition. The city felt like a stranger and I was grieving for someone I didn’t even really understand.

I think the strong sense of disconnect boiled down to expectations vs. reality. I expected instantaneous comfort and recognition. I wanted to belong, immediately. I forgot, conveniently, that I never felt a sense of belonging, even when I lived there.

I forgot that erecting a home involves effort and investment of oneself. How could I feel at home when I visit once a year, when I put forth no real effort in coming back? To expect more is foolish and unrealistic.

Bottom line: “Some people know at 16 what sort of work they're going to do, but in most ambitious kids, ambition seems to precede anything specific to be ambitious about. They know they want to do something great. They just haven't decided yet whether they're going to be a rock star or a brain surgeon. There's nothing wrong with that. But it means if you have this most common type of ambition, you'll probably have to figure out where to live by trial and error. You'll probably have to find the city where you feel at home to know what sort of ambition you have.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

ABA Journal article: "Senators Seek Decade of Detailed Law School Placement, Bar Passage and Student Debt Data"

Two U.S. senators have asked federal educational officials to turn over detailed information about law school enrollment, tuition, finances, job placement, bar passage and student debt rates over the past 10 years.

In a statement Friday, the two—Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)—said they were acting in response to "serious concerns" that have been raised lately about the accuracy and transparency of information law schools are providing prospective students.

The letter cites media reports the senators say raise questions about the whether the claims law schools use to lure prospective students are, in fact, accurate. It also cites other stories they say call into question whether law school tuition and fees are being used strictly for legal education or for other, unrelated purposes.

The letter follows repeated calls from Sen. Boxer to the ABA, whose Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar accredits law schools, to provide stronger oversight of law schools and better access to information about the actual costs and benefits of a legal education.

The letter, addressed to the U.S. Department of Education's Inspector General, requests detailed information over the most recent 10-year window about enrollments, tuition and fees; spending on legal and non-legal educational purposes, student debt loads, bar passage and graduation rates, and post-graduate job placement data.

The senators are also asking the IG's office for a description of the methodology used to acquire and analyze the data they are seeking and to note any obstacles it encounters to collecting the information they're requesting.

The ABA's Legal Ed Section issued a statement saying it is fully committed to ensuring that law schools provide clear, accurate and complete reporting on the issues raised by the two senators. It also said it will cooperate fully with the senators' request to educational officials, and will respond to Sen. Boxer's Oct. 6 letter to the section next week.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

be still, my heart

Iceland video:

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Saw the following post this morning. Hmmm...

"Position: Court Attorney for the Chuuk State Supreme Court
Salary: $45,000 / Yearly
Location: Weno, Chuuk, Micronesia
Type: Full-Time
Zip Code: 96942

Chuuk State, the most populous state in the island nation of the Federated States of Micronesia, is seeking applicants for its attorney/law clerk position at the Chuuk State Supreme Court. The position is currently open.

The court attorney advises and prepares orders and decisions in all trial division and appellate division matters. Cases may include election contests, suits against the government and from government agency decisions, commercial disputes, and traditional land and tideland disputes, along with a significant amount of criminal matters. Legal issues may arise in the context of civil and criminal procedure, standing,jurisdiction, separation of powers, equal protection, due process, search and seizure, evidence, pleading requirements, standards of proof, tax, statutory and Constitutional construction, and probate. Additional responsibilities may include drafting court rules, general court orders, and advising on bar activities and disciplinary proceedings,testifying at legislative hearings, and participating in judicial conferences.Recent published decisions of Justices of the Chuuk State Supreme Court may be found at

Chuuk’s system of justice is based on the system. English is one of the official languages. Work is diverse and challenging in a relaxed yet professional atmosphere. Candidates should have strong analytic, writing and interpersonal skills; be self-motivated and be able to adapt well to cultural differences.

Membership in a U.S. state bar and at least two years of legal experience is required. Salary is $45,000 per annum plus benefits including housing,round trip airfare, and shipping of household effects.

Please send cover letter, resume, writing sample and references by e-mail to:


Responses will only be sent to applicants selected for an interview. Interviews will be by telephone or with a representative of the Chuuk State Supreme Court in the United States. All necessary documents must be received no later than October 7, 2011 and interviews will immediately follow."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Soul cleansing

The real thing is way, way better than any photo.

Monday, August 22, 2011

not your typical engagement photos

This link showed up in my Google reader.

I laughed pretty hard. Awesome!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Early Friday evening and there's a glorious weekend ahead.

Good friends arriving soon.
Good beer tomorrow.
Refrigerator chock-full of ingredients for homemade pho.

And I still have this to look forward to...

Life is darn good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Two more weeks! Seems so far away and so close.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


One of my favorite sensations in the whole wide world:

I’m driving along the freeway by myself. I’m driving with purpose. I’m going somewhere. I drive a little too fast because I can. There are other cars on the freeway, too, and they’re like me. They look like children running through a playground. All the cars look happy. The wind is blowing through the open window and my sunglasses are perched on my nose. It’s morning. The air could be cool and crisp or unbearably hot. I drive and I drive and I drive. I’m young and I can do anything. I could do this forever.

traveling thoughts

A few weeks ago, my friend invited me to an impromptu dinner. I wasn’t sure who else was coming. I had arrived early, as I am prone to do, and sat by myself at a white-cloth-covered table and traced the lines of condensation on my beer while I waited. Naturally, the other people in our party had arrived early as well. The waitress seated them at a different table. So we sat at our respective tables until the one friend in common showed up, at which point we smiled sheepishly at each other and reseated ourselves at one large table.

One of the people dining with us was a youngish, eager friend-of-a-friend who arrived here, a la Portland by way of Australia and New Zealand. The tenuous thread of connection was that the friend-of-a-friend had met someone in the group through couch surfing.

I looked at this boy curiously. He seemed to know, instinctively, when to pipe up with an interesting anecdote and when to fade into the background. He was both interesting and forgettable. Maybe this was a quality that had been cultivated by living off the kindness of strangers. He picked up odd jobs here and there to support his traveling habit. I wasn’t sure where he was headed to next but I could have sworn that he mentioned there was a New York circus willing to give him a temporary juggling job for the following week.

He ate really, really spicy food. I’m talking toilet-scouring hot. Between bites, he spoke, almost sneeringly, about his brother’s new job and newly-acquired mortgage. He said his brother had started his ascent towards “severe upward mobility.” The quotation marks seemed to pivot in the air. I thought of escalators trying to compete with elevators. It sounded like he had picked up the phrase during many heated, late night discussions with other young wanderers, probably British kids on their gap year.

He reminded me of me. When I was younger, I used to dream about erasing myself from this sort of life and replanting somewhere else. I’d almost convince myself and convince others. My friends and I would stay up late, talking very fast about our travel dreams. The conversation would take on an almost tangible urgency, a palpable joie de vivre. We’d egg each other on and hatch (sorry, I couldn’t help that pun) fantastic travel plans. I’d be too excited to sleep. I thought: how romantic, how bohemian, how adventurous! My life no longer defined by my studies and my occupation but by a smattering of cities and cultures and experiences.

The daydream never lasted very long because of two reasons, the second one being the real crux of the matter:

1) I didn’t have any particular place in mind. There were always too many choices. I’d feel paralyzed by the sheer cacophony of options before me.
2) Even in my dreamstate, I knew, in my heart of hearts, I wouldn’t decamp permanently or even semi-permanently. There was no intended action behind those fantasies. I can’t take off for months or years at a time without feeling repercussions. Compared to the friend-of-a-friend, I’m too grounded to live that sort of life. I need to be productive to feel right and I need to see the fruit of my labor to feel happy. My biggest concern/obstacle always centered on what would greet me when I returned from wandering.

Even a few years ago, the friend-of-a-friend might have triggered that old dream. I might have been wracked with jealousy. I might have spent a few obsessive days after the dinner brooding like an angry little bird and researching a new wacky way to send myself X continent for Y number of months or years. I would have questioned why I decided to join the ranks of the severely, upwardly mobile. The regret would have crippled my heart and left me reeling in deep disappointment for weeks.

So I feel relieved that the old travel bug doesn’t weigh me down and make me feel terribly sad anymore. It’s transformed into an idle thought. Sometimes I dust it off, pull it out from the recesses of my mind, admire it in the sun for a bit before I put it back.

Mostly, I feel that I’ve calmed down with age. I recognize that I used to feel things more intensely when I was younger. My default setting is no longer hyperactive, greedy, tumbling red. Now my baseline is a soft, pleasant yellow, the color of cornsilk or washed-out canaries or buttercream. I think more, I've slowed down my heart, I take the time. I'm right where I need to be, at least for now. I have time.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Slate article: "Mourning: Condolence notes? Casseroles? What our grief survey revealed."

What is grief really like? Earlier this spring, we posted a survey on Slate asking this question. Struck by how poorly our culture seems to understand the complexities of grief (each of us had lost our mothers to cancer and had written about the experience), we wanted to hear from readers about the lived reality of loss. As we noted in our first article about the survey's results, we had an astonishing number of responses—nearly 8,000 in total. In our last piece, we offered an overview of the data our respondents provided about symptoms and duration of grief. In this installment, we look at what our respondents said about interacting with others as they mourned: what helped them and what made their grief more difficult. Taken together, these responses may offer some guidance for people who want to console and help friends in mourning.

The most surprising aspect of the results is how basic the expressed needs were, and yet how profoundly unmet many of these needs went. Asked what would have helped them with their grief, the survey-takers talked again and again about acknowledgement of their grief. They wanted recognition of their loss and its uniqueness; they wanted help with practical matters; they wanted active emotional support. What they didn't want was to be offered false comfort in the form of empty platitudes.

Acknowledgement, love, a receptive ear, help with the cooking, company—these were the basic supports that mourning rituals once provided; even if we've never experienced a loss ourselves, we know from literature and history that people require them. Yet as American culture has become divorced from death and dying, we no longer know how to address the most rudimentary aspects of another's loss—what to say, when to say it, how to say it. Disconcerted by discomfort, friends or colleagues are all too likely to disappear or turn the conversation to small talk in the aftermath of a loss, not knowing what to say. Our survey-takers reported wanting to grieve communally and yearning to find ways to relate to those around them.

They are not the only ones yearning. "What should I say to my friend?" more than one person has asked each of us, about talking to grievers. Everyone fears putting a foot in his mouth, because in a world without scripted rituals to guide us, there is no "right answer": What comforts one person sometimes pains another. But what the survey reflected was that mourners want their loss to be recognized and reflected back at them.

And so mourners were sensitive to anything that seemed to minimize their grief. Platitudes offering false comfort were seen as unsupportive, and even hurtful. Saying the loved one was "in heaven" or that it was "a blessing" that they were "out of pain" was not helpful; nor was saying, "I know how you feel" or "It's all for the best" or "Time heals all wounds" or "It was God's Plan." No one wanted to hear these things, especially right after someone they loved and cared about had died. Instead, one wrote, "It helped me when people acknowledged—even nonverbally/tacitly—that I was grieving. Their acknowledgment meant (to me) that they knew I wasn't 'normal' and they weren't going to hold me to my usual standard. It felt unhelpful/unsupportive when people expected me to act like everything was normal (or seemed to expect that), since I did not feel like myself and didn't have the energy for the activities and conversations that were the norm before my mom died."

Saying "I'm so sorry for your loss" was considered helpful by many, but at least one respondent objected to that phrase, especially when used in a rote way—a reminder that many mourners are looking for recognition of the unfillable hole in their lives, rather than for routine sympathy.

Many respondents felt that rituals that brought people to collectively mourn together—i.e., wakes, burials, shivas—had been deeply helpful to them. This finding underscored the importance of such events (and reminded us how important it is for friends and colleagues to make the effort to attend). Asked about whether rituals had felt meaningful, and if so, which ones, one respondent wrote, "Memorial service. I had the funeral home give me a small box of ashes and we planted a tree in our yard and I included the ashes." Another said, "We had a 'roast' for my cremated husband a few days after he died. A few months later, I scattered his ashes with friends. His soccer team planted a tree in his honor. I started a soccer tournament in his name."

Even when those surveyed found some kind of solace in rituals, returning to everyday life often proved difficult. What was most helpful? Mourners reported feeling that there is a sharp dividing line between those in the "grief club" and those who are not. One thing that's worth doing, even if you are not in the "grief club," is getting in touch and acknowledging the death. Many of our respondents noted how painful it was when friends or colleagues failed to send a card or make a phone call. "I'm sure they were uncomfortable and didn't know what to say," one respondent wrote, "but it felt to me like they didn't comprehend the extent of my grief and they were trying to just rub it out and move on."

Many people focused on the painful fact that loved ones often ignored their pain or were uncomfortable with it. Discomfort sometimes led to awkward encounters: As one respondent noted, "At my husband's wake my sister actually said to me 'Why do bad things keep happening to me?' after her car broke down." And those who had dealt with serious illness of loved ones noted how hurtful it was when friends or partners refused to acknowledge that death might be the outcome.

The respondents also spoke of the wisdom of following the lead of the mourner. There is a right and a wrong time to express condolences to someone who is grieving. We've both had experiences like this—and so had many of our respondents. "It's difficult when people bring up the loss at totally inappropriate times, like when I'm out on a Saturday night and someone comes up to me and says, "I didn't know that your mom killed herself," and proceeds to talk about it for 20 minutes despite my efforts to change the subject." Two months after Leeat's mother died, she ran into a colleague in the hall as she was about to give a lecture. She had her hand on the door when the woman began to apologize profusely for not coming to the funeral. "She started to ask me how I was doing, how could she help. This was the worst possible time she could have asked me these questions. She was bringing up a lot of pain and suffering for me at a moment when I needed to be focused," Leeat notes. The way to help someone grieving is as much about context as it is about content. Being sensitive to where you are and what the grieving person needs in the moment is paramount.

The survey results also suggested that it's important to be concrete when you offer help. A number of people commented on how unhelpful they found the vague statement "Let me know if I can do anything." As one respondent put it, "I don't have the energy to call you. I'd rather you suggest something then come over and do it. One friend talked so much at the wake about how much she was going to help me, then didn't call for 3 months. When I asked her about it, she said, 'Well, he's still dead, so I didn't think there was anything I can do.' " This insensitive comment about being "still dead" brings up an important point—supporting someone in grief is not about "fixing the problem" but about simply sitting with the pain of the loss and acknowledging that the dead are indeed still dead. Helping does not require heroic efforts: One respondent mentioned an invitation to dinner or the movies; another, a phone call saying a friend was going to bring over a meal or look after their kids or help them clean their house. Of course, as mourners noted, there were times when they weren't up for any of this—and what they wanted was friends who could understand that that was fine too. Sometimes the bereaved just need to rest. Crucially, continuing to call and be present after the first few weeks or months after a loss is also important. The first months after a death are often accompanied by feelings of shock and numbness; for many, the hardest pain comes long after everyone has stopped calling or coming around.

The most important thing the survey found, though, was that grievers wanted recognition. (See our last article for more on this subject.) A death, after all, is not a problem; its pain cannot be hurried through, or tackled. Instead of stressing that one day the mourner would "get over it," helpful friends—according to our respondents—shared stories about the deceased, or just sat and held their hand while they cried. As one respondent wrote, the most helpful thing was simply the willingness or "ability [of others] to listen and accept my feelings, thoughts, memories—whether they brought tears, laughter, questioning—without responding with advice or redirection."

Make a point of knowing the bereaved person's "death dates," which include anniversaries of death, birthdays, and holidays like Mother's Day, Father's Day, or religious days. These death dates are often difficult for grieving people and can make it feel as if the death just occurred. ("The anniversary of his death has always been very hard," one respondent said of their loss.) Simply saying, "I know this must be a hard day for you" is a way to show that you care for the person who is grieving and that you are thinking about them. Another respondent noted, "A very close friend's mother died the same time mine did and we strongly supported each other. We go out to dinner at each year's anniversary for a 'mom dinner' and talk about our moms and how we've progressed coping with the loss."

At the end of the survey, we asked mourners to address the complex question of whether the loss had taught them more about themselves—whether anything positive could be said to have come out of the experience. Many of the answers fell on both ends of the spectrum. Some said they would never find anything positive in it. As one person put it, "I think it has made me more scared, more sad, more nostalgic for the past. It's been very difficult to move on successfully from the loss of someone who was so important to me, yet whom I didn't understand very well."

On the other of the spectrum, some respondents felt that having suffered a loss had made them more empathetic and gave them a better sense of their own ability to survive. "I learned a lot from it. I saw firsthand how my family pulls together and how lucky I am to have them," one wrote. Of course, even those who found a silver lining in loss were eloquently ambivalent. "I am stronger than I ever thought I could be," as one respondent put it, "and I am also weaker than I thought I was."

While most mourners are resilient and will "bounce back" (as it is often put, rather crudely) the alterations of loss are subtly stitched through one's ongoing life. "The one thing that I learned is that you never stop missing those that you love and who have died," one survey-taker wrote. Would any of us want it to be different? Loss is the flip side of love, in so many ways. Judging by the response to the survey, the silencing of grief in American culture feels to many mourners like a silencing of love.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

faith and chances

Try not to think about it
Alice Childress
Try not to think about it anymore
Try not to think about it
Alice Childress
Anymore, no not anymore

Alice, the world is full of ugly things
That you can't change
Pretend it's not that way
That's my idea of faith
You can blow it off
And say there's good in nearly everyone
Just give them all a chance
Now let's give them all a chance

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No thanks

It's taken me almost three decades to discover: I am not a Los Angeles-suburb person.

Friday, July 1, 2011

facing the fear

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the nature of fear.

I have two recurring nightmares. They visit me every once in awhile, depending on my stress level and/or if there is something penciled into my calendar that I’ve been dreading and/or if I’m scared of something. Sometimes, the nightmares appear for consecutive nights; sometimes, I don’t encounter them for months.

Nightmare number one, I am trying to force my contacts into my eyes. My contacts suddenly expand into the size of pancakes. I stuff the pancake-sized contacts onto my corneas, anyway. My eyes sting like hell. Nightmare number two, I am shopping in a mall. There is a sea of clothing. I have no idea what I’m doing. My head is spinning. (Note: I've mentioned the shopping nightmare before: and

If you asked me which nightmare was worse, I’d have to point to the shopping one. Both are laced with panic but the shopping one screams of indecision. At least with the contacts one, I have an end goal in mind, however deranged. I am trying to accomplish something. The shopping one, on the other hand, feels lost.

My grandma, the one that I’m sorta mad at right now, has two recurring nightmares, too. Nightmare number one, she’s trying to find the right classroom on her first day of school. Her students are expecting her to teach. She can feel them waiting. Nightmare number two, she lost one of her children. She is running around like a chicken without a head. She is so, so scared.

My grandma’s nightmares are grounded in reality. Nightmare one, she was a history teacher and is a stickler about time. Nightmare two, she packed up her children and ran away from the Communists by dressing in men’s clothing and hiding in the countryside. (Tangent: once, she told me a story I had never heard before, which is rare: she needed to cross a torrential river and the water level was too high. She couldn’t turn back so she clutched a son in each arm and her foot sought out each slippery rock. One misstep and the three of them would have been washed away.)

Compared to my grandma, my nightmares are laughable. Compared to my grandma, I am living a good and easy life. I do not dispute these facts.

I don’t usually think about fear; however, once in awhile, in a particularly panicky and vulnerable moment, I will bemoan my fate, quietly. I will resist the urge to slap myself silly. The inner monologue will sound something like this:

whywhywhy do I do this to myself (insert a multitude of exclamation points and question marks); whywhywhy do I continue to place myself in uncomfortable situations; whywhywhy do I feel the need to prove that I am a capable human being; and on and on, ad nauseam.

It’s almost as if I feel like my life is too easy so I must construct and install obstacles for myself. If it weren’t for this constant stupid urge/need to prove that I’m stronger/braver than I really am, I’d never have tried 99% of the things I’ve done.

For me, the trick is to face the fear and do it, anyway. The trick is to endure. The trick is to keep it cool on the outside so that no one knows about the bundle of nerves on the inside. These little personal fears are comparable to my contacts nightmare. You conquer the fears by facing them, over and over, even when every molecule in your body protests. Even when you’re scared.

It’s an altogether different story for the Real Fears. The Real Fears are the ones that used to plague me when I’d wake up on painful Sunday mornings. The Real Fears are the bigger, vastly more important ones. The Real Fears feel like my shopping nightmare. They are fears which you have no real control over, fears which do not produce results, fears which tap into what it means to be human and alive and here. They’re not like my personal, middling fears that I tackle by doing and confronting. And when the Real Fears strike, which they inevitably do from time to time, the only solace I can find is in other people, in my friends and family and acquaintances who also feel the fear, not myself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

high apple pie, in the sky hopes

1) Two more days until the end of the fiscal year.

2) Speeding thru the mountains vroom vroom + dessert + me pretending to drive fast in the back seat while imitating car sounds.

3) Another amazing trip booked with P. Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

take the plunge

I got a new phone!!!! Ahhh it's so cute. I really like it!

It's so nice to use a phone that is in one piece, not two. :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

the difference between Angus and Kobe

I was leaning against the door frame. My feet were planted in the no man’s land between my co-worker’s office and the hallway, a spot deemed safe by the California earthquake league. She was telling me about her date night with her husband.

“So it turned out to be Angus, not Kobe.”


“The burger,” she said. “Lower than Kobe but still a really good burger. Also, the best shoestring fries.”

“I love shoestring fries.” I didn’t, really, but I didn’t want to impede the flow of conversation.

“Then you should check this place out. Great date spot. It was funny – you could tell all the married couples from the daters. The daters were talking nervously a mile a minute and the women were flipping their hair. They were all trying so hard. And then you see the married couples and they’re on their phones checking emails”-she demonstrated with her Blackberry-“and if they were talking, they were snarling at each other. Like, what do you want, I’m checking work email.”

I laughed.

“I pointed out the differences to my husband,” she continued. “He said, honey, but what we have is real. And it’s true, give me comfort and comfortable, any day.”


Some things you remember, suddenly, with no warning. When I turned 21, two of my girl friends took me to Las Vegas. We ate dinner next to a couple who barely spoke to each other during the entire meal. They weren’t sullen or sad or anything-they were just preoccupied with eating. Still, it made me feel a little sad for them. I made a mental note that I never wanted to sit through a silent meal.

So call me naive, but I still want that meal where I can look at someone and not want to look away, even if I have a very fine burger sitting on my plate and a smart phone tucked into my coat pocket.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

good. bye.

I feel obliged, somehow, to acknowledge this conclusion with a few veiled statements. Pausing before the last nail on the coffin, if you will. (Note: I spent a minute thinking of appropriate, unique analogies but came up with nothing significant. The only situation I could think of was the last digestive gurgle of a condemned man's final meal, which is gross.)

I started this blog because my world was collapsing on me. It's been four years, give or take, and the psychological weight is gone. It dissipated with that last message. It's convoluted - sort of monumental, but also provoking the sort of involuntary reaction I'd produce if I were cleaning out the fridge and stumbled upon an organism sporting the first stages of mold - oh. ok. there it goes.

It's not angry.
It's not sad.
It's not vengeful.
It's not regretful.
It's not pained.
It is what it is.

Even when I try, I don't feel much of anything anymore except a small flicker of recognition, a passing interest.

Memories are just memories.
They may be good or bad or sweet or interesting or glossy but they belong in the past.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

why we try

Signs of maturity:

Buying a shiny new car + chipping away at student loans + purchasing fancy forged German knife for newfound chefery skills + wearing suits and patterned pantyhose without batting a second eyelash + etc, etc


And then I returned home for the long weekend, to yet another act in their undoubtedly shitty marriage. It's 8:30 pm and you could slice the tension with a butcher knife (perhaps one of those aforementioned German ones would do it) and again there's no dinner and suddenly I remember being 14 years old and fidgeting and feeling like a wind-up doll. Except now I am 2x14 and my hands are still. I don't feel anything except mild irritation.

What I've learned:

Why do we try?

We try and we try and we try because this is what we do for family, for the people that we can't help but love. When I was younger and dumber, I swore I'd never look back. Just leave, I said. I packed up everything - literally everything - in 17 boxes and those 17 boxes filled the car to the brim and obscured the back window the whole way down.

We can't swear them off. It doesn't work that way. Real Life doesn't work that way. I don't know how to give up on them. I keep returning like something futile and witless. They reassemble themselves in the same form. It's maddening and familiar. The stupid non sequitur: things change but they stay the same. Part of the process involves erecting white-picket-fence boundaries in the grass and telling them not to cross it. Part of the process involves separating me from them.

It's painful at times. Sometimes you ignore the jabs and absorb the blows. Some days, a tornado rips through the plot and uproots my fence. What can you do? You rebuild, I rebuild. My sturdy little heart can take it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

anticipation nation


Thursday, May 26, 2011

haha, funny!

Perusing Slate today (surreptitiously) and I couldn't help but post this article.

By the way, the part about the animal slaughter is accurate:

One afternoon in Ulaan Baatar, Otgoo invited my husband and me to a traditional Mongolian feast. Otgoo, a friend of our host family, had given us tours of little-known temples; she'd helped us bargain for belt buckles in Naran Tuul, an enormous outdoor market. Young and fashionable, she'd even brought us to her favorite nightclub—a slick bar where, at the stroke of midnight, a pair of teenagers emerged in 1950s costumes and performed a choreographed swing dance to "I've Had the Time of My Life." She was, in short, an excellent guide. So naturally we said yes.

"Good," Otgoo said, as we nodded from the back seat. "We will get a sheep."

Her phrasing—"get a sheep" instead of "buy some meat" —should have set off warning bells. But even if I'd realized what she was saying, I still would have accepted her invitation. We were in Mongolia, after all.


Several days later, Otgoo, Peter, and I set out to meet some of our host family's relatives. A driver took us to the outskirts of the city, where the concrete buildings of central Ulaan Baatur gradually gave way to dirt roads, wooden houses, and white gers—traditional round, felt tents in which many Mongolians still live. Plumes of smoke wafted upward from wood-burning stoves, and outhouses sat in many of the yards. We turned down a narrow, bumpy street and pulled onto the grass outside a home that was indistinguishable from its neighbors except for one important feature: a sheep, alone, tied to the fence, and very much alive. With a black muzzle and cute, droopy ears, it was the type of creature you might find at a petting zoo. But its frightened posture indicated that it knew this was not what its future held.

"There it is!" said Otgoo, happily. Then, in a high-pitched voice, presumably of the sheep: "Peter and Catherine, I am waiting for you!"

Now, I knew from Otgoo's original invitation that the food for the feast was not likely to come plastic-wrapped. And I think it's important to connect animal products, especially meat, to the creatures that provided them. But I'm a city dweller, not a farmer, which means that aside from a one-time experience eating road kill, I don't encounter my bacon until it's arrived at the grocery store. Standing face-to-face with the creature that would soon become my dinner made me realize that everyone has a line of how close they really want to get to their meat—and mine falls somewhere between lamb kofta and the animal that stood before us in the yard.
After welcoming us inside, the man of the house picked up his knife. It was a small knife, similar in size to what I'd use to slice a peach, and was barely noticeable in his hand as he pushed open the door and walked toward the fence. Meanwhile, the female family members disappeared into the kitchen—women don't usually witness the killing, Otgoo told me. I started to follow her, but then turned around. I felt that I needed to watch—not just out of respect for the sheep, for whose death I was indirectly responsible, but out of support for Peter. Male guests weren't just allowed to see the slaughter; they were expected to participate.

I stood in the doorway as our host dragged the sheep to the middle of the yard. With Peter holding one rear leg and the family's driver holding the other, he plopped the sheep on its haunches and ripped out tufts of fur from its stomach—a pre-surgery shave. Then he cut a deep incision just under its ribs and plunged his arm elbow-deep into its chest.

In Mongolia, blood is considered a valuable food that should not be wasted. Hence their preferred method of slaughter: cut a hole under the ribcage and, with your arm deep inside the animal's body, use a finger to sever the aorta. The heart, unaware of what's happened, continues to pump blood into the chest cavity until the animal dies. It is difficult to watch—especially if, like me, you mistakenly believe the goal is to actually pull out the heart, Temple of Doom-style, and thus feel horrified when your host's arm emerges empty-handed. But as grisly as the technique may sound, it is surprisingly efficient: Within 10 seconds, the sheep was dead.
Part of me hoped that the sheep's body would be taken somewhere out of sight for butchering, emerging hours later as part of a savory potpie. Instead, the host used the same small knife to cut up the body right there on the lawn. He started by pulling off the hide and chopping off the sheep's hooves, leaving the skin on the ground as a drop cloth to keep the meat off the grass. A neat and methodical disassembly followed, with nearly every organ carefully preserved. With the exception of our host's 2-year-old daughter (who was watching from the car), the entire family participated: The women brought out buckets of water and scrubbed the grass-filled stomach; the men used a funnel to flush out the small intestine, then coiled it into a neat bundle and tied it to itself like a climbing rope.

The effort the family put into cleaning the colon made it clear that Mongolians and Americans have very different tastes—items that seem exotic to us (sweetbreads! pork jowl!) barely qualify for the kids' menu. Whenever I asked Otgoo about what I considered an unsavory body part—the snout, for example, or the hooves—she would proclaim it to be "delicious." Heart, lungs, kidneys, all delicious. Her favorite part was the stomach; I felt like I'd given her a gift when I taught her the English word tripe.

Once the organs had been removed, our host sliced through the tissue separating the chest from the abdomen. Blood poured into the emptied cavity, which the family scooped into a painter's bucket with a plastic bowl. The process was gruesome, but impressively neat—not only was nothing wasted, but there was no mess. When the butchering was done, there was no blood on the grass, or even on anyone's clothes.
With night falling, the family lit a fire under the kitchen stove and invited us into the living room to watch basketball beneath a tapestry of Genghis Khan as they prepared dinner. (Genghis Khan may have died in the 13th century, but his name still graces everything from beer and vodka to cigars, clothing, restaurants, hotels, universities, and the country's international airport.) I was relieved that the slaughter was over, but as smells drifted toward us from the kitchen, my apprehensions returned.


We weren't sure what to expect for dinner, but we did know that much of traditional Mongolian cuisine is not for the faint of heart. Strongly influenced by the country's nomadic culture, it tends to be seasonal and animal-based: dairy products in the summer and lots of meat and fat in the winter. Nomads, who move their gers at least twice a year, don't usually plant crops and often view vegetables with suspicion—a food more appropriate for livestock than for people.

Up to that point, our most notable Mongolian culinary experience had been drinking a nomadic staple called airag, which translates to "fermented horse milk." We'd also tried some other nomadic treats, such as aaruul—rock-hard dried cheese curds that taste like parmesan that's done hard time in a barnyard—and Mongolian milk tea, a weak concoction of low-grade black tea, milk, and salt. (Luckily, we'd avoided boodog, a goat or marmot carcass stuffed with hot stones and then blowtorched—a bold dish for a country that has outbreaks of marmot plague, aka, Black Death.) I didn't mind Mongolian dumplings, and I actually liked öröm, clotted cream that nomads slather on deep-fried bread. But I wasn't eager to re-create any of the recipes at home.

Nevertheless, we remembered our manners and didn't alert our hosts to our squeamishness. When Otgoo emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of what looked like cheese-covered rubber, we responded with as much enthusiasm as we could muster.

"Oh wow," I said, as the mystery substance glistened in the room's overhead light.

"What is that?"

"It is the liver," Otgoo replied. "And this," she said, pointing at the coating I'd hoped might be melted mozzarella, "is special fat, from the belly." She set it down on the table.

As I took a bite, the flavor that greeted me revealed another important distinction between American and Mongolian cuisine. In America, even a dish as straightforward-sounding as "Fat-Wrapped Liver Chunks" would probably include a few unnamed, yet complementary ingredients like onions, or salt. But in Mongolia, the title says it all. Like everything we ate that night, my first bite had not been salted. It contained no herbs or spice. It was exactly what I knew it was: the liver of the sheep I'd just watched die.

Next came a purple plastic bowl filled with a larger selection of boiled organs: colon, kidneys, lung. As I nibbled on the latter, Otgoo began by slicing into the bloated stomach. Skin stretched taut like a water balloon, it was filled with a dark brown, firm substance that could have been mistaken for dense chocolate cake, but was actually boiled blood. (The colon had been similarly prepared, with extra intestine stuffed inside for good measure.)

"Here," said Otgoo, as she served us both thick slices of blood-stuffed stomach, each roughly the diameter of a grapefruit. "It is delicious."

By the time I'd tried the intestine-stuffed intestine, I'd concluded that, when it comes to the question of deliciousness, Otgoo and I have no choice but to respectfully disagree. I also was getting a bit desperate, caught between my desire to be a good guest and my inability to stomach the delicacies I was being served. As family members popped in and out of the room to deliver new organs, I scanned the table for something, anything, nonvisceral to chew on. I found it among the beer bottles: a jar of pickles, which I began cramming into my mouth with a ferocity that would make a pregnant woman proud. The good part was that I could mask the organs' taste with pickle brine; the downside is that from here on out, I'll associate gherkins with sheep intestine. Worse, my enthusiasm for the pickle jar made the grandmother of the family think that I hadn't gotten enough food. She emerged from the kitchen to slide a few more slices of blood onto my plate.

By the end of the evening, I'd developed a lot of respect for the Mongolian approach to a dinner party—it embodies the connection to the land that American foodie culture preaches yet rarely practices. And yet I have to say that, having met my meat, I'd prefer never to do so again. One photograph from that night best captures my true reaction to the meal. I am sitting on a couch in front of a table covered in serving dishes and bottles of Mongolian beer. There is the bowl of ribs, the plate of blood, the box of tissues we used to wipe the mutton grease off our chins. The pickle jar rests incriminatingly beneath my elbow; on the wall hangs the tapestry of Genghis Khan. Mouth full, slightly sweaty, I am staring straight into the camera as I hold aloft the food that I, the adventurous eater, had found the most delicious: a boiled potato.


And, on a completely unrelated side-swipe, note-to-self: ORGAN RECITAL. :D

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

two thoughts


Sometimes it boils down to this very juvenile thought: for all of my attempted, semi-brainy undertakings, I don't know much. It's very little-slash-not-enough. I've concluded that a lifetime's acquisition of knowledge is actually a feeble thing, like a wobbly pup.

I don't trust myself to ever feel quite satisfied with How Much I Know because it will always be far outweighed by Things I Don't Know.


I feel really anxious about this upcoming trip. / I am 100% excited. BUT.

As much as I crave excitement and adventure, I am a plodding creature of habit. Also, I don't know how I will survive without a steady stream of coffee in my system. I think my heart might go into shock.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

six word memoir

Six cups of coffee not enough.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Trip booked! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Funny things happen to me all of the time. They always leave me feeling tickled. A part of me is rolling and reacting while the other part of me is still sitting in five-minutes-ago, asking myself - did that really just happen?!

Did it?

I think so.

Like: sitting in the Rock Bottom parking lot in disbelief, undergoing a blood pressure test.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

great day

It's been a kinda long day at work and I don't have anything special planned tonight - judo, shower, crash.

Still, there's something special in the air. :)

I've been a bit of a grump this weekend, which I hate. Last night, my dad sent me a fatherly, adorable, misspelled text message re: birthdays and work. It was the kind of text that managed, within three grammatically-incorrect sentences, to fill me with tender childlike feelings. I felt like a small owl sitting next to a big, wise owl wearing thick glasses. By the time I woke up, the delightful and wonderful and unruly enthusiasm returned. And then the day continued and I sat in an unfamiliar apartment that smelled of smoke and met some sad-slash-chipper people and now I'm here. I'm 28 and I've arrived and I'm still arriving to this-or-that point.

Sometimes I just need to be reminded.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I drove around San Diego today and something about the shrinking atmosphere and the grayness reminded me of being in Ohio.

Some days you wake up and you just feel scared, really really scared. You're not sure why or maybe you have an inkling of an idea.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Found: one cast iron skillet and lid.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Who stole my cast iron skillet and lid?!!!

I will hunt you down!


Stumbled upon/found the moral center of my novel.


Scared but did it: threw much-loved passages out the window. Wrote up a storm with a lucky pen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

skip down memory lane

Last night, I got it into my head that it was time to Get Rid Of More Things! Namely, the busted laptop that's been languishing in my metal cabinet for, like, forever. I downloaded all my files onto an external hard drive and started organizing. Sitting there on the floor, legs splayed on carpet, back against the bed. Every picture and music snippet and academic paper uncovering collegiate and early-law-school Sharon.

It was truly hilarious and wrenching and fun. Whimsical query: Why did I download Hypnotic Clambake? Laughing: Why did I have so many songs about pirates? Faintly surprised: I guess I went through a serious ska punk period. Amused: How many times did I really watch Boondock Saints? In passing: Galactic's Crazyhorse Mongoose reminds me of drinking hot tea on a cold day. Mild annoyance: 38 Special conjures up images of outlining on LRC's first floor and trying to ignore the noises around me. Painful: Does Grandaddy, The Get Up Kids, and certain songs still sound the same way they used to, when I was raw as an unpeeled onion? And on and on.

The pictures were hard on the eyes. I looked really happy in some of the photos.

I wondered and I still wonder if things would ever be the way they were again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ok, I've finally done it...

I've invested in good cookware. Another sign of maturity.

There's something inexplicably sexy about the weight of a quality, non-stick skillet and the sharp decisiveness of a German blade. Gah.

Really, I am too excited for my own good!!! :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

procrastination nation

This assignment is hanging over my head. I'm a prisoner of my perfectionist tendencies, so much so that I'm frozen and unable to just dive in.

I used to want to be a writer-with-a-capital-w but it's too scary living in my head sometimes.

Just do it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Everything Good Between Men And Women

has been written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. The walls and
the floors used to be gorgeous.
The socks off-white and a near match.
The quince with fire blight
but we get two pints of jelly
in the end. Long walks strengthen
the back. You with a fever blister
and myself with a sty. Eyes
have we and we are forever prey
to each other’s teeth. The torrents
go over us. Thunder has not harmed
anyone we know. The river coursing
through us is dirty and deep. The left
hand protects the rhythm. Watch
your head. No fires should be
unattended. Especially when wind. Each
receives a free swiss army knife.
The first few tongues are clearly
preparatory. The impression
made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much... The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.

-C.D. Wright

Saturday, February 12, 2011

bruises and weather

Omg my skin is covered with sunbursts of mottled purple. I look like some sort of Ebola victim. Interestingly, the bruising is confined to my left side, since I'm being thrown exclusively by right-handers.

It's ridiculous-hot today.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We interrupt this broadcast to bring this very important news bulletin...

Apparently, there is another Transformers movie coming out soon. They are milking every last drop out of this franchise.

This makes me ridiculously angry!

Also, how does Shia LaBeouf keep getting work?! Argh.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The other banality would be: I wanted to do something real American, about what it's like to live in America around the millennium.

"There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know."

-David Foster Wallace

Sunday, January 30, 2011


"Your dog is cute," I said, noncomittally.

The dog looked up at me with a stupid expression. Its mouth was smeared with blue. Its left leg was also blue. Less than an hour ago, I had watched Giada de Laurentiis eagerly drip cobalt coloring into a batch of frosting. She was teaching viewers how to make blue cookies for a themed football party. I thought about all of these Southern California women and how they dressed their dogs in sweaters and dyed their fur to suit the occasion.

The girl (she was more of a girl than a woman) looked down and smiled. "He ate a pen."


"He ate ink."

I looked more closely. The dog looked like a toddler who had been confined to a highchair for dinner and had been released with most of its meal on its face. For lack of better words, it was a very adorable sight. I wanted to hug the dog without touching it and move all of my pens into storage and feed it blue cookies. I almost wanted to kick myself for thinking so.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My foot and other physical ailments

My right foot is sprained.

It is smooth and veinless and purple, like a lazy elephant seal.

So sad. :(

I feel frustrated because I wanted to practice judo this weekend, perfect my techniques; instead, all I did was eat and eat and sit and eat.

I don't know if this is solely (ha, couldn't help that pun) due to the foot issue -- lately, I've been feeling stuck again. My ankles feel like they're welded to the ground. My writing is static and boring. I need a jumpstart.

This morning, I woke up in the foulest of moods. Things just felt all sorts of wrong. Then I went outside and drove around and did things. Now I'm more or less the same, except I'm watching Black Hawk Down and it's nighttime.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011



That is all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I started reading David Foster Wallace’s work at the beginning of 2010 and he's quickly became a favorite author of mine. Here’s the commencement address that DFW gave to Kenyon College graduates in 2005. I’ve taken the liberty to bold and italicize the portions that really speak to me or hold me in some sort of tight-fisted reverie (which is ironic, given that the piece is about choosing to interpret the world outside of your own worldview).


‘(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education--least in my own case--is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master".

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship--be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles--is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.’