Wednesday, December 31, 2008

End of It to Begin

Today is the last day of 2008--an arbitrary date and an arbitrary number. The older I get, the more in sync I become with natural time: the phases of the moon and length of day.

I've come to the realization this year that the energy I want to have relies upon its necessary "opposite": the time I take to rest, reset myself, and recover from the mental and physical drive to accomplish my goals. To have more energy then means to spend much more time asleep, in relaxation, in meditation and glacial movement. This upcoming year I hope to allow the process to take over.

This year, I'll write my exams and begin my dissertation (although I've really already begun drafting). I'll shift from student to scholar. I'll present at and attend more professional conferences. I'll have many more conversations about deeply meaningful subjects.

And I'll display impatience with the things that interfere with my goals. And I'll become angry with stupid people who don't bother to have goals. All the while aware that goals are merely unnecessary, external hoops I've set for myself. But I'll jump through and applaud for myself just the same. All the while aware that jumping and applauding are equally unnecessary.

I'll write and I'll read. Hopefully more than before. And with less distraction. And I'll listen to much more music, which really is the most proper nourishment for my soul.

Debts will be paid. Time to travel and time to stay. Love to love and love some more. Kitties to pet and brush and nap with. More body hair to shave and trim. Longer hair to wash and brush and style. All mere externals. All mere child's play.

And play and play and play.

Happy "new" year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Project Blog It: Red

Better red than dead.

We've been watching the film version of Angels in America slowly over the past few weeks after recording it off Logo. It's so dense, tightly woven, and painfully brilliant, reminding me with every scene that I will never write anything so pure and elegant.

The scene in Kushner's work when Ethel Rosenberg visits the dying lawyer who helped place her on the electric chair:
ROY: So what? Are you going to sit there all night?
ETHEL: Till morning.
ROY: Uh huh. The cock crows, you go back to the swamp.
ETHEL: No. I take the 7:05 to Yonkers.
ROY: What the fuck's in Yonkers?
ETHEL: The disbarment committee hearings. You been hocking about it all week. I'll have a look-see.
ROY: They won't let you in the front door. You're a convicted and executed traitor.
ETHEL: I'll walk through a wall.
Even the dead red discloses how nothing compares to the living death of Roy dying in the mid-1980s, his body marked by the red pocks of AIDS.

We now move to 2003, when Miguel Murphy's A Book Called Rats was published. (Today is Miguel's birthday, which probably accounts for why I'm picking up this brilliant text again.) He writes, in "In the Garden of this Night":
I ache
in a dangerous skin. Love's
leaving lives
in my body the way
wine lives
in its redness, deep in

a night made for forgetting.
The breath touching me now is not here.
In my own insomnious garden--I woke up at 3:30 this morning--I found myself unable to relax. Fists clenched. Jaw forward. Legs tense. It was easier to rise and read than to return to my dreams that only mirror and mimic the redness of the mundane real world. It's the way I live. In my skin. In my dreams. Better red and forgotten by my dreams than to live otherwise.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bullet-Point Friday

How academia is turning me into a stingy and petty academic.
  • When resources are already stretched too far, the small benefits afforded students and professors in the humanities become necessary carrots to keep us coming back to the job. These days I feel more like a hippo battling other beasts for a sip of water from a drying lake than a scholar high atop the ivory tower.
  • I applied for the paltry $250 travel grant for graduate students to present their research at conferences. My application was accepted, along with too many others, and my "refund" check came out to $135. The actual cost of the conference was closer to 10 times that amount.
  • Last June, when I received notice that my proposal was accepted for the conference, I asked my supervisor at the community college about the possibility of getting reimbursed for travel. His response: "I'll check on it." Finally, in November--months after the conference--after asking again about the possibility of getting some funds to help cover the costs, he did check on it: $500. With one catch: you absolutely must apply at least three weeks prior to travel. Fuck you, M.T.--you incompetent fuck. I hope your house burns down for Christmas! Fuck you, B.M.--you insipid fuck who can't even respond to an email in complete sentences. I hope your car crashes off a mountain!
  • Last week I was chatting with one of my colleagues who told me about a recent holiday departmental party he attended. The get-together was also to honor the TAs who were awarded a $500 prize for being such fucking good TAs. So much for the rest of us who do our fucking senseless jobs with no recognition whatsoever without complaining (to the administration, at least) about how grading 80 exams in US history three times a semester for the past three fucking years is really beneath me and a waste of my intelligence, education, and training. I hope the fucking department is swallowed by a hole that opens up in the earth!
  • A year-and-a-half ago I organized an informal graduate theory reading group as one way of supplementing the utter lack of training in theory at my institution. (My department, in fact, prides itself on its anti-theory stance! So much for the real students getting a fucking job when it's all over with.) One student who has shown no interest at all in attending the reading group, in ever reading anything theoretical or philosophical, or has ever attempted to actually learn a foreign language, or for that matter ever develop as a scholar who does more than summarize other "scholars" recently received a fellowship consisting of a "three-year award that includes tuition and a living stipend." Congratulations, motherfucker, for underachieving your way out of the poor house! And congratulations to the faculty who saw such promise!
  • Thankfully, I am done with this semester--this last semester of coursework. I could have taken useless, fluff classes that didn't challenge me, or that didn't even require any effort at all on my part. But instead, I signed up for the most challenging and difficult courses of my life. And over the winter break, I'll be preparing papers and proposals to send off to spring conferences all over the US. And I'm even prepared to pay all my own expenses if need be. And I'm going to be the best (and smartest) professor my students have ever had. All because--even with all the systemic flaws and deficiencies in higher education--it is worth it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Project Blog It: Words

I’ve been reading Ricoeur as a near-end-of-the-semester treat, so I’m not sure if I even have anything to say about words.

What I can say is that words speak themselves: I am utterly—in being uttered—superfluous. Words have intention not merely derived from their speaker’s intention. Words are signs to transcendent referents all the while remaining immanently sense. Words are the crossroads of the dialectical problems of event and meaning, of sense and reference.

Words are phoneme, lexeme, and grapheme. Words bridge the gap between syntax and semantics. Words are the gap between what is said and what will never be expressed.

Words de-scribe what is written. Words fall away when meaning gives way. Words exteriorize themselves in endless self-referential wording. Words are the wording of the word.

The word of God is the exteriorization of the wor(l)d as God, the necessary confluence of word and world per God. If in the beginning is the Word, then infinite λόγος wor(l)ds God as whirlwind and storm and brimstone. God reigns down on our heads as pure word.

I languish in the languid language, this temple of being.

When I (last) lived in Germany, I grew tired of words (grew tired of me) and attempted to use immediate, nonlinguistic semantics to dis-course with myself. I tried sound and tone. I attempted color and hue. Always returning ceaselessly to the ever-ceasing, ever-increasing word that subsumes all that is said and that which will never be said.

Now it’s time for me to hold my tongue.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Academic Pro-/Mastur-bation

Only two classes down. But for the third class, I already have an incomplete/extension. So, for the most part, I'm done with the semester. Done with coursework altogether. Not counting, of course, the 70 US history final exams I'll have to grade next Wednesday. Or the grade calculation for the philosophy course I teach online.

As per usual, here are excerpts from my academic work this fall term. Should you be so inclined, enjoy!
Jew - Poet - Exile: Reading Jabès through Derrida
One wonders if there is ultimately any difference between God and the Book of God. But because we are familiar with the Derridean notion of différance, we know that this question is a ruinous trap: God in position a can never be the selfsame, identical God in position b. Each repetition of “God” is kept apart in a deferring difference. If God could coalesce into a hegemonic and boundless totality, there would be no word that could contain “him.” This “God” would be unspeakable and hence unknowable. Jabès can write “God” only insofar as he cannot write God (himself), thereby relying on the necessary apophasis of the divine. Moreover, the “Book of God” stands in synecdochically for the manifest universe—all that is, including God—but cannot ever merely substitute for God; otherwise, the entire universe (including God) would have to be contained within this one sentence. Additionally, the book of man is on the same scale as the Book of God. Both texts must incorporate infinity without overlapping or subsuming one under the other. This logical impossibility opens an aperture through which we can begin to understand both the divine and the mortal: in Jabès’ literary and theological systems, rationalism is not the route proper to our knowledge. The manner in which Jabès employs both apophasis and synecdoche requires a metaphysical framework that continually attempts to annul itself. Every word he writes both names and nullifies its referent.
Heidegger's "The Thing"
Although we stated earlier that a jug as a vessel is capable by its very form of containing something within its sides and base, we see now that we were speaking too hastily, for it is not the jug’s sides and base that actually do the containing after all. While it is true that the clay used to form the jug’s structure allows for its impermeability, that which is impermeable is not what does the containing. Rather, the emptiness “within” the jug is what does the jug’s containing; it is the jug’s nothingness that makes manifest the being of the jug. If this is the case, then the potter does not really produce the jug at all. Whereas earlier we saw how the jug stands forth on its own in an ontic sense, we now see how the jug, in divesting itself of the potter altogether—because, after all, nothing does not need anyone to produce it—stands forth ontologically by itself in its singularity. The potter merely shapes the clay that brings forth the void that does the jug’s containing. But even though the jug requires an emptiness in order to be a containing vessel, the jug is never really quite empty. We can of course view the jug scientifically: it is not empty per se but rather filled with air that is displaced when we fill the jug with wine. Yet it is precisely science that annihilates the thingliness of the jug, thus transforming it into a nonentity. Our scientific perspective is indeed paltry when we allow what the jug truly holds to escape our attention; namely, the outpouring of the gift. But what gives? What is offered by the jug? And how is the jug’s outpouring made manifest? For Heidegger, earth and sky, the gods and mortals all are ingathered into the jug’s empty center. These simple, singlefolded [einfältig] four dwell in the gift of the outpouring, gushing forth from the spring of being.
And here's my proposal for the as yet unwritten term paper:
The Already Ethical: Spatiality and the Problem of Da
Emmanuel Lévinas concludes his essay “Apropos of Buber” by putting into question the Da of Da-sein: “being-there, is that not already occupying another’s place?” His claim that Heidegger’s Da is “already an ethical problem” opens an aperture wherein a questioning of ethics within Heidegger’s articulation of Da-sein’s being can occur. How is ethics a problem—something thrown forth—for Heidegger? Does Da-sein’s thrownness into a there necessitate an ethics as Da-sein finds herself among other beings? How are we to measure the ethical dimension of Da-sein’s leeway [Spielraum] as she not merely fills up space but rather “takes space in” [“Das Dasein nimmt – im wörtlichen Verstande – Raum ein.”] (BT 336, SZ 368)? My essay will be a hermeneutical engagement with relevant passages dealing with spatiality within Being and Time—especially §70 The Temporality of the Spatiality Characteristic of Da-sein—in an attempt to tease out an ethics grounded within Da-sein’s there.
And yes, I do tend to overuse the word "aperture."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bullet-Point Friday

  • That's right: I'm bringing bullets back into fashion. Just in time, since some whack-ass bastards are trying to get an open-carry law passed in Texas. Just what we all need: asshole Texans waving their fucking guns in our faces as we try to fight traffic on the way home each evening. By the way, I fully embrace my own assholiness, but God gave me middle fingers to wave in your face instead. Even point blank, they barely pierce the skin.
  • I've finished one class so far. Only two term papers to go. And grading 80 US history final exams. And submitting grades for my own philosophy students. I already know the majority of the winter break is going to consist of finishing this term's projects and planning for the spring. And yes, I'm currently avoiding working on a term paper right now.
  • The ways in which I have allowed myself to become distracted so far today instead of drafting my essay include
    • checking email and Facebook updates as if my life depended on it
    • petting and playing with my cats
    • attempting yet again to set up a live webcam feed on my blog ... with no success
    • organizing my notes for the one class that I've completed this term
    • coming up with bullet-point content to post on my blog
    • thinking about shredding the stack of papers laying on the floor behind me
    • reading articles about African singers, the death of Patriarch Aleksy II, and the attempt to deem protestations of animal rights violations as a form of terrorism
  • I've just finished my fourth cup of coffee today: two over breakfast, one mid-morning, and one afternoon. I think it's time to introduce a late afternoon version of the tried-and-true.
  • My goddamned feet are still freezing even after wearing thick winter socks in my house-shoes and turning up the thermostat to almost 80 degrees. Cold feet make Frankie real mad!
  • Maybe I'll go see what the topic on Oprah is today while I heat up that fifth cup of coffee.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Elektro-Szokotczka

Back in the Soviet Union children of the formerly bourgeois often held names from refashioned revolutionary slogans and technological innovations. The most comical example of just such a name is perhaps Dazdrapertrak [Даздрапертрак, a word based on the initial syllables of Да здравствует первый трактор!]—Long live the First Tractor! In honor of those comrades long since shipped off to the distant gulag, I have renamed Malika. She shall henceforth answer to Elektro-Szokotczka, or Electroshock Kitty.

It is a much less shocking name than her original moniker: Princess Stinky Butt.

This morning, sometime around 3:30 AM, she discovered her secret powers as she lay atop my chest. It seems the pink blanket is a great conductor of static electricity. As I pet Malika, she built up quite a charge. She then stretched her paws out to hug my face, causing a flurry of aurorae between her furry toes and the fur on my chin.

Like any mediocre science nerd, I of course had to repeat the experiment in order to verify and validate the results. After a couple more shocks to the chin, I decided it was time to let science finally try to get back to sleep for the night. Malika grew disinterested, returning to the foot of the bed.

Of course, the question remains: why was I awake at 3:30 AM in the first place? Answer: because after waking up at 2:30 AM to be sick and nauseated once more, it was difficult going back to sleep. Lying awake for those few hours this morning, I began assessing my doctor’s appointment twelve hours prior.

I had written here that medical science is pure hermeneutics, but now that the question-and-answer period between man of medicine and man of sickness is long over, I have come to a remarkable insight. Medicine is a faulty and impoverished version of interpretational strategies. I treat my texts—even including the daily comics—with more care and respect than any M.D. has treated poor, little, sick me.

In either field, one’s assessment should always be a bit more than rewording the patient’s symptoms as if intralingual translation itself were a cure. I am still sick with no prescribed medicine and a splitting headache brought on by my limited coffee intake. Maybe I should just take a few more electro-shock treatments with a purring cat on my chest.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

World Philosophy Day, or A Lack of Education

Yes, I am the backwater, poor white trash that created a Facebook event page for World Philosophy Day. UNESCO, the sponsor of the global event, did not create one. Neither Richard Rorty nor Judith Butler created one. Nor Slavoj Žižek. Only I, the barely literate, suburban graduate student at the non-flagship university. It currently has seven “guests.” This truly is a global celebration....

Even before getting out of bed this morning, I waxed philosophical. Malika was attempting to kiss my chin, which I kept resisting. So she turned to biting my hand. I reproved, “Biting doesn’t solve any problems … except the lack of biting.” Assuming, of course, that a lack of biting could indeed be some sort of problem. (You know who you are.)

Then I started thinking of all the other “problems” we attempt to solve through equally faulty thinking. Education is perhaps the most misapplied solution. It is supposed to cure everything from global war and famine to suburban ennui.

Education only solves the problem of a lack of education.

Food will “cure” hunger. (With the political infrastructure to ensure delivery and a stable economy.) And not starting wars will end wars before they begin. (No, I do not expect anyone to really listen to or understand that last statement, let alone prudently apply it.)

Regardless, I love teaching. And I love learning, but usually on my own initiative. I despise being the slave to another’s poorly planned pedagogy and mountainous reading load. And I loathe merely grading exams in a field I have no business grading exams in. How could anyone think world peace would result from something that does not even bring me inner peace but its opposite?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sick Day

This is the first real sick day I’ve taken in months if not years. Whatever illness I’ve been suffering through over the past several weeks finally got the upper hand last night when it not only made me nauseated but also unable to sleep. There’s nothing like a double measure of the wrath of God to force little, old me to forgo the typical “eyes wide shut” approach to daily life and instead focus on interpretational strategies to help me understand just what the heck is going on with my body. My mind. My soul.

Medial science is pure hermeneutics.

And although I’ve looked up several new physicians in the vicinity, I finally made the decision to call my old quack from the neighborhood of south Dallas. At least I won’t have to fill in endless medical histories of me and my ilk. And I can get in tomorrow afternoon. Meaning: tomorrow will also be a sick day wherein I miss yet another class.

I just finished watching a PBS/Nova documentary about the Bible’s “Buried Secrets.” Spoiler alert: the Israelites are really the remnants of low class Canaanites, most of whom were born and bred in the highlands. And that whole monotheism thing of theirs didn’t really take off until after the Babylonian Captivity during the 6th century BCE.

Before the destruction of the First Temple, thousands of deities/idols were kept in the cupboards of the ever self-righteous. Little clay Asherah figurines kept the Midianite god YHW(H) company on those long, lonely Promised Land nights.

I wanted to watch this documentary after sitting through three hours of intellectualizing over Freud’s text Moses and Monotheism yesterday morning. So many repetitive secondary sources ill chosen for the task of not annoying me with subject matter or reading load! I was hoping some “scientific” exposition would help bring my mind back to life after being intolerably numbed in class.

Now—if I can sit up, eat some food, and stay awake—I need to shower and get other work done now that I have some time to actually work productively. I would rather sleep, but it’s probably not a good idea to jump start full-blown insomnia while I’m still sick with heaven-knows-what.

By the way, I’m on hiatus from scheduled blog posts for the next few weeks. I had intended to announce this obvious development several days ago, but as usual, my schedule got the best of me. I’ll try to check in every few days. I hope all is well out there with you and yours.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election Coverage: Full Disclosure of H8, or California Goddam

Despite the false headlines in The New York Times Wednesday morning, Obama has not moved America beyond race politics. Very little has changed as far as the electorate goes. Otherwise, the International Herald Tribune would not have had to carry the following story this morning: US gun shops attribute rising sales to election.

And there would not have been a noose hanging at Baylor University in Waco, a shit-hole of a town about two hours south of here known for several lynchings back when it was socially acceptable--and sanctioned (nay, sanctified!) by religion to lynch.

But even the Southern Baptists came up with an apology for their complicity in the torture and murder of African Americans all those (not-so-long-ago) years ago.

In my county, only 37% voted Democrat this last election! I feel more like a minority here than I did in Japan as a white man.

I am truly thrilled with the Obama win, but even though I went to bed late that night feeling somewhat proud of my country, I still felt a significant amount of unease. Two things still overshadow his victory for me: (1) that he won only 6% more of the popular vote than the McCain/Palin ticket. It should have been a fucking landslide after the past eight years of this corrupt, immoral administration and against that Dynamic Dunce Duo. And (2) the fact that every anti-gay legislation on every ballot in every state passed. Does this mean the same people voting for Obama are the same ones voting against same-sex marriage and gay adoption?

So we Americans--at least a slim majority of those who went to the polls--have ultimately just elected yet another politician to serve in a political office--another man, another heterosexual in the confines of a legalized, state- and church-sanctioned marriage with kids to parade out in front of the press corps. How mundane and conventional. Traditional even.

Big fucking deal. The Obama girls get their puppy while every child with same-sex parents has her or his family erased. Voided. Canceled out. Swept aside. Annulled. By law and by a majority of voters.

Since when did inherent rights become something we allow the electorate to vote on? Since when did democracy stop including protection of minorities against the majority?

Just 41 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, annulling the legislation still enforced in at least sixteen states. One would think--and by this "one," I mean it in its fully vexed and most unjust use--that one who is a product of "race defilement" would be able to show a little bit more sensitivity on the issue of marriage that goes against so-called social mores.

The only hope we as human beings and as Americans have now is in a similar ruling on anti-gay legislation. Maybe one day, in the future to come, legislation based on hate and fear can be eradicated as simply as gay marriages and the right to adopt were Tuesday evening.

My country makes me sick. To paraphrase Nina Simone: "Florida Goddam! Arizona Goddam! Arkansas Goddam! California Goddam!" And I mean every word of it....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Disintegration

Saturday evening was “opening time down on Fascination Street.” Stephen and I went out to the Halloween street party on Cedar Springs for the first time in several years. Overall, it was a very casual evening. We ate at Buli’s, and after walking around the “parade route” a couple of times and checking out the hot costumes, we came home in plenty of time to catch the opening of Saturday Night Live. You know it’s a good night when you get home before 10:00 pm!

There was a time once—perhaps around the time when I received this cassette (which was a gift from Michelle and Alf (spit! spit!) for my twenty-third birthday—when I would’ve stayed out until the sun began peeking over the horizon. Walking past what used to be Below Xero, the greatest dance club of the early 90s in the gay district of Dallas, brought lots of things back to me: dancing there with Marc and Toni to great house, dancing there with Michelle and Sophie to great retro 80s, and dancing there with James and Daisy to heaven only knows what they were playing that evening.

All I remember from that night was James doing back-flips on the dance floor because it was Tuesday and so few people were out. Only the die-hards who had sworn to party every night of the week were there. (Thank you, Daisy, for joining that mad, mad crusade.)

It was at Below Xero that I first heard Deee-Lite’s “What Is Love?”—the B-side to “Groove Is in the Heart”—another two-track that brings back memories of dancing with Marc and Toni all those years ago.

There was a time once—about a year before then—when I listened to the EP of “Lovesong” over and over again over a weekend until I forced myself to fall in love with someone (Toni from the previous paragraphs, in fact) I had previously despised. It worked. And now I still feel a tinge of regret years later for the love I let die.

Thinking of Toni reminds me of the two-track of Peter Murphy’s Deep, which I had borrowed for a few weeks. Now Peter Murphy himself reminds me of the love I once let die after trying so hard to cultivate it to a song by the Cure over the course of a weekend. Indeed, “poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”

In my final semester in college (as an undergraduate), I produced a performance art piece with Maureen—another love with other songs in mind—entitled “Rain and You” and based on the lyrics to the songs on Disintegration. I’m not quite sure anyone got what was going on: I was dancing and writhing on the floor after waltzing with Maureen. We were dressed in black. I think there was a rainstick involved and perhaps a few other props, perhaps sponges soaked in water. “It was sweet; it was wild. And oh, how we….”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Project Blog It: Wishes

I wish that I didn’t feel like I had to choose among
  • getting a decent amount of sleep/rest
  • completing all my reading assignments
  • exercising
  • having a social life
  • having a sex life
  • being creative
  • meditating
  • organizing the budget
  • beginning term papers
  • brushing my cats
  • grading my students' papers
  • cleaning the house
At most, I get a handful done every week. And most of them from the academic requirements as I neglect my cats, my friends, and myself. Sorry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Project Blog It: Migration

They came from Mexico to work our fields. They came from Russia to marry us. From Poland to clean our offices. From Japan to serve us tea in expensive restaurants. Passports and visas define their existence in our world. Some we hate—most we hate—but others we adore: the Cuban dancing for dollars on the bar, Armenian and Turkish club kids in San Francisco (but of course, not at the same time), German tourists asking for directions and making w sounds instead of v. So many borders to cross, so many miles to go. Across continents and time zones.

Once—over the course of seven months—I traveled around the world. All the way. From Dallas to San Francisco to Kyōto to Pusan to Frankfurt to Amsterdam and back to Dallas. I felt like I had betrayed myself by going in a circle. Instead I should have zigzagged around until I somehow broke free from my orbit—sometime before breaking my own bank account—and flung myself out further, beyond time. Beyond space. And meaning. I still contend to this day that my day is actually tomorrow.

I am a time traveler. I have traveled beyond being, deep into the heart of nothingness. Across the event horizon of my own temporality. Yet I always manage to get back home before the end of the day. To shave and take a shower. To clean the cat boxes. To watch another sitcom recorded on the DVR.

At times, I stop to talk with my fellow travelers. Some I lead. A few I follow. Most I ignore. Although space is vast, it still is finite. Time, however, runs adjacent to eternity and parallel to perpetuity. Yet my time is a function of my space that will someday run out. We will meet again, though, at our final destination. Someday. But we’ll cross that desert when it’s our time to migrate to our mother country whose language we no longer speak. I’ll see you there, sitting at a café beside a bridge and a cathedral in a land on no map.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Songs for Drella

It was while forcing my friend Shayne to listen to this tape on the way back from Fort Worth in 1990 that I realized that our friendship had an expiration date. Or at least the person I was—the kind who would practically force one of my oldest friends to listen to the kind of music that I was obsessed with at the time but who had no interest in this type of music at all—thought, perhaps too easily, that if we couldn’t share a common taste in music, then my friendship with her was hanging by a thread.

I realize now that I was probably being the kind of jerk who in his infernal enthusiasm for arty music of the early 90s (as well as other periods) insisted on listening to this tape whenever anyone else might be listening (or should be listening). How would the masses know how sophisticated and intelligent I was if they didn’t hear the kind of music that would let them know?

Of course, I wasn’t that self-conscious about it. I was probably just too enthusiastic for my own good. I still really like this tape. Listening to these songs this past week made me want to run home to paint and write poetry. I never got around to dragging the paints out, but I did sit down to work on some writing that I’ve been neglecting far too long.

I’m sure Shayne doesn’t remember this “event” from eighteen years ago. That’s the kind of friend she is. And even if she did remember, she probably wouldn’t hold it over me too badly.

So, in honor of Yom Kippur 5769, which I missed a few days ago, I just wanted to apologize for making everyone listen to my kind of music. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time. I’m certain it won’t be the last. But I really do love music. Too much. Even some of the shitty pop music that probably rots my mind the way saltwater taffy from the state fair rots your teeth. I’m addicted. And when good stuff comes out, I’m even more fanatical about it—to the point of pushing it on all my friends. At least it’s not crack cocaine.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fragments & First Beginnings

Protokoll: M. Heidegger’s Being and Time

Έν άρχη ήν ̀ο λόγος…

“Wherever I begin, it is all one to me, for there I shall return again.”

– Parmenides

At first, a word toward “fragments and first beginnings,” the “fragmentary and incipient” [“bruchstückhaft und in ersten Anläufen”]: how are we to begin with Heidegger’s text? How to receive its message? If it is purely original and autochthonic, sharing no common ground and outside all horizons, then who are we to break its hermetic seal? But if this text is open to us—indeed, if we are open to this text—we may in fact find we have a share in its message (being) as mediated through a shared language (wherein being resides).

Yet the question remains: how to begin? Within which horizon? If by way of Plato’s Sophist—the manner in which Heidegger himself begins—then we find we understand neither is nor is not, yet conclude with Theaetetus and the Visitor from Elea that we nevertheless must go on with our inquiry. If by way of Hesiod’s Theogony—from where the reference, via the Sophist, to the gigantomachia comes—then how are we to think our own beginning from the blood of giants vanquished by gods? Or if we take a different route, via Elea, back to the Paremenidean fragments themselves, then how are we to think being when being and thinking are the same? Do we need to read Being and Time if we already adequately think being? Is everything, including Being and Time, always already merely quotations of quotations, a palimpsest par excellence with no beginning and nothing new to say?

As we begin to read this fragment, we come to understand that there is not ever a pure beginning but always already a beginning-entering—a beginning to enter something already there, the necessary and fragmentary processuality of coming to understand that we are already within our own horizonal frame. Our content is our (temporal and historical) context. Regardless, it is only by beginning do we begin to recognize our own inadequate cognizance of being. Even though we daily use this term, we still do not understand what being is, what we mean by it. Therefore, we must raise the question of the meaning of being anew. But before we can begin to answer that question, we first must begin to try to understand what we even mean by that question. What does the question what is the meaning of being? demand of us, especially as the only beings from whom being can demand any sort of answer? Our approach needs to be grounded within our lived, everyday existence; that is, the concrete and experiential. The only understanding of being we could possibly have is one that is informed by our experience of time, our self-understanding that we are finite and limited beings defined by finitude.

Not only do we not understand being, but we, for the most part, have forgotten being altogether. Yet the question of the meaning of being is of prime importance. It once served as a stimulus to the philosophical projects of Plato and Aristotle. Yet since, philosophy has not considered it a subject worthy of thought. Instead, it has even trivialized being, thoroughly dogmatizing its neglect, thereby making being (seem) utterly superfluous. Most thinkers contend that being is so universal as to be self-evident, requiring neither thought nor attempt at definition. Despite the fact that pre-Socratic philosophers found being to be disturbing enough to devote their lives to exploring its hidden and unfathomable truths, we charge any contemporary philosopher who thinks about being with misunderstanding and methodological error.

To counter these claims, Heidegger asserts that being is not a universal category subsuming all beings; that being truly cannot be defined by beings (i.e., being cannot be depicted as having the same characteristics of any being qua entity), but its indefinability itself demands a re-questioning of being’s meaning. The fact that we already have an albeit undisclosed awareness of being necessitates further the raising of the question of being’s meaning yet again. We may begin only by first formulating an adequate way to raise the question of being in order to make being transparent.

Questions have their own horizons, their own limits. When we enter into the questioning, we allow ourselves to be guided by what is sought. In this case, being will guide us toward itself if we allow ourselves to be in a position of being guided. Asking toward being is a way of being itself. More importantly, being is already available for our inquiry even though we may fail conceptually to grasp the is in our undemanding, preliminary question what is being? We seek that which we know beforehand only tacitly, but despite the fact that being is not a being, we can only approach the question of being by way of questioning beings themselves.

Since being encompasses all that we see, all that we know, and all that we comport ourselves toward—everything that is, is (within) being: the totality of what we include in reality, the objective presence of things [Vorhandenheit], subsistence, validity, Da-sein, and the there is [es gibt, il y a]—we must choose a being whose interrogation will guide us to being itself. Da-sein is that being whose questioning of being is a mode of being, and interrogating Da-sein will make this being transparent to her own being. Moreover, Da-sein is not merely yet another being among (other) beings; instead, Da-sein is the being whose being becomes a question for her. Da-sein’s ontic uniqueness is that she herself ontically is ontological; Da-sein’s essence, therefore, is existential. Our pre-ontological understanding of predicative being is our entry into the question-frame of existential being. It is only by way of questioning the being whose mode of being can question being itself that being can be questioned. The essence of Da-sein is that Da-sein already knows being—knows that she is—even before being becomes a question for her. However, Heidegger’s project is not mere abstraction and theorization; instead, he seeks an understanding of being that is grounded within the everyday and concrete: the fact that something is, is a call to (call into) question its “isness.”

We can only conclude here with an anarchical word: being. And now, at the end, let us begin to enter, to re-question the ever-fragmentary Being and Time. Even though we may “believe that we are spared the exertion of rekindling” the gigantomachia, perhaps Heidegger would rather we stage our own authentic [eigentlich] reenactment: let us therefore divide ourselves into giants and gods. To arms to battle for being!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Track Tuesday: Love


Since I had no free time over the past several days to listen to any of my old two-tracks stored away in the closet of the office, I decided to venture out from that series and instead offer a "new track" of sorts in the form of an iTunes iMix.

I searched song titles for the word "love," edited the original list of 111 tracks down to 25, then had iTunes "delete" all the ones that weren't popular or worthy enough according to their standards (or their collection). I hope you enjoy the 15 songs that made the final cut.

You gotta admit: that's more love than most of us have survived....

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Big Gay Vice-Presidential Nominee Debate, or Thank you for your tolerance, or Some of my best friends...

IFILL: The next round of -- pardon me, the next round of questions starts with you, Senator Biden. Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.

It's what the Constitution calls for. And so we do support it. We do support making sure that committed couples in a same-sex marriage are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples do.

IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately that's sometimes where those steps lead.

But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

But I will tell Americans straight up that I don't support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think through nuances we can go round and round about what that actually means. [Hint: It means that one man can marry one woman at a time. But since divorce is such a favorable option for the "straight ups," you can certainly marry more than one spouse throughout your goddamned, holier-than-thou sojourn on this earth with no penalty.]

But I'm being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non-support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.

IFILL: Let's try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she think there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple. If that's the case, we really don't have a difference.

IFILL: Is that what your said?

PALIN: Your question to him was whether he supported gay marriage and my answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.

IFILL: Wonderful. You agree. On that note, let's move to foreign policy.

Thank you, Governor Palin, for not traveling the tacky road most taken and resorting to the typical paradigm of "some of my best friends are gay." Instead, you subverted any good sense you may have been born with and as an alternative simply stated that some of your best friends are indeed gay-bashing homophobes. What a diverse crowd you run with!

For Palin's real stance on this and related issues, I recommend On the Issues, where you can find links to her record, including:
  • Vetoed bill denying benefits to gays, as unconstitutional
  • Comply with same-sex partner benefits despite disagreement
  • Ok to deny benefits to homosexual couples
  • No spousal benefits for same-sex couples
Finally, I do acknowledge that Palin has shown tremendous growth since the time she listed as one of her top priorities, "Preserving the definition of 'marriage' as defined in our constitution." It seems with all of that executive experience came a crash-course in "constitutional" [sic] law.

And Senator Biden's major blunder on this issue was to conflate civil law with ecclesiastic practice. My dictionary--as well as Palin's "constitution" [sic]--defines those in opposition. So what Biden effectively said was that he will gladly allow a religion's (or any religion's) anti-homosexual prejudice to dictate what any queer American can and cannot do. (Just so you know, Senator, I'll gladly use my Second Amendment rights to protect my First Amendment rights.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Melissa Etheridge

My twentieth "anniversary" is approaching. Twenty fuggin' years! (No pun intended.) What the fuck?!?!

Driving in Arlington, down E. Abram Street, past Meadowbrook Park where horniness and wine coolers blossomed into what tried to pass itself off as full-blown love. And subsequent heartbreak. I was a mere twenty-year-old boy with no business being out that night. On a school night, no less. Underage drinking. And raging hormones. It all sounds so much more trashy from the perspective of hindsight and middle-age conservatism. Although I'm still not quite above public lewdness even now.

It wasn't until late spring 1989 when I first heard Melissa Etheridge's "Bring Me Some Water" as I pulled into my work study job at the bank. Even after drinking myself blind--for I had indeed already turned twenty-one--and going through three counselors, almost flunking out of college, and following that blissful trajectory of random sex acts, I was still most definitely obsessed with the other boy who was caught with his pants down that school night early December 1988.

"Go on and close your eyes, imagine me there.
She's got similar features with longer hair."

I still maintain that she did look like me. With longer hair. He probably didn't see it.

I was working through this obsession for most of that summer. I had finally stopped driving by the house. Stopped calling the number and hanging up. Stopped defacing the car every time I saw it parked on campus. I was training my mind to think other things. I developed my own therapy that involved focusing on the color of random things: "That car is brown. This paper is white." After several months of knowing that training myself not to be hurt, not to focus on the pain, was the only way I was going to survive, something finally clicked. It probably wasn't until late that summer. After listening and taking to heart every word Melissa Etheridge sang on her album.

"I gotta do something. 'Cause if I can't love you, I don't want to love you."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Project Blog It: "Love is an art...

... you learn degree by degree."

Love is artifice, a construction. It is μίμησις; ποιέσις. It is, what Heidegger calls in "Die Frage nach der Technik" the "irruption of the bringing forth" à la φύσις, which, Heraclitus reminds us, loves to hide.

Love is τέχνη; it is erotic technology. It is the disclosure of the radically asymmetrical other in his own light. (Perhaps it's the far-too-young boy standing in the corner trying too hard to fade into the shadows he wishes would rather expose him to love.)

It is most definitely the 40-year-old man sitting at home on a Saturday night typing crazy shit in Greek and German after trying to salvage the technological shite cluttering his desk, the one who has somehow managed to transform an external hard drive into a useless piece of Chinese plastic with a yellow light.

Perhaps by the time I earn my final (and thankfully terminal) degree, technology—and love—will not be so useless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: The Dream Academy

It was 1985, and I thought that the world would freeze.

“The Dream Academy.” What could be a more pretentious, schmaltzy name for a band? For an album? To some extent, you almost expect the oboe and timpani. You don’t expect the well-crafted lyrics to blow through you like a snowstorm in some northern town. You don’t expect the level of musicianship holding the really tight songs together—what would be “taken care of” these days by punching one button on a computer but back then required talent, skill, and dedication from classically trained musicians.

You certainly don’t expect to listen to this cassette after storing it away for so many years and still be thinking about the songs a week later. You don’t expect something with this much pop sensibility to have anything worth speaking about these days. You don’t expect the oboe and timpani and layered vocals to sound—in their very ‘80s sort of way—almost timeless.

But there you are. And with David Gilmour at the helm of production! And Peter Buck stepping in for one track. In some ways, this album is just too bizarrely good; these musicians just too damn talented to produce a top-10 hit. You half expect them to be the one-hit wonder they most definitely are.

I have to admit that the oboe was one of the chief reasons I fell for this band back then. At the time, I played oboe as well. And here was a band that had oboe solos on almost every track. It gave me reason to believe that I too could be a popular musician. In that way, the pretentiousness and schmaltziness of The Dream Academy was really quite effective.

Every song is catchy and listenable. Except for the last track: I never liked that one. It seemed like cheating after so many good songs. At the time—and still—“The Party,” with its self-referential allusions to other songs on the album was really quite novel and cutting-edge in that high-postmodern sort of way. After only one recent listening, three tracks still stand out in my memory: “(Johnny) New Light,” “In Places on the Run,” and “The Love Parade.” But I always liked those songs. I had just forgotten how good they were when I stopped listening to this two-track regularly decades ago.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Project Blog It: September

What do we even mean by the term September? The seventh month? Unless I'm counting on my fingers incorrectly, this is the ninth month. And what about that so-old-as-to-not-even-be-archaic suffix -ber that we now use only for the names of four months?

It still amazes me that much of how we measure time was devised so long ago in Babylon. The original 360 days per annum had a nice equivalence with the 360 degrees of a circle. Time as well as space were marked by the same measure.

Yet somehow--via the Hebrews, via the Persians, via the Greeks, via the Romans, and/or via the Goths--we still have seven-day weeks hearkening back to when there were (only) seven gods, seven wanderers: the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. But our Woden's Day never turned into "Middle Day" during the Industrial Revolution.

During the so-called American Revolution, our Founders never shot at the clocks or renamed the months after their newer gods of Liberty and Justice. The French do everything with so much more panache. We just kept shifting the equinoxes until Easter finally fell on Easter again. Not too early, not too late. Finally Washington's birthday could be set in stone.

And we're still using the name of a month that hasn't really existed in about 1600 years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Rising from the East

Bally Sagoo is one of those rare musicians and DJs who can take something as ethnically cramped as a Bollywood hit and make it an international sensation. I don’t remember when I first heard about him, heard his music, but Sonia passed this cassette on to me when she was leaving Japan in 1998. I guess this story would be more interesting if I knew where she had come across it.

Music was one of the most productive ways I was able to survive the two years I lived isolated and on display in Japan. Being a very visible ethnic minority in an overwhelmingly homogenous society was sometimes hard to bear. Even worse was the ghettoization with the other foreigners with whom I had even less in common. Every time Joanna would declare that we were best friends, I would always correct her with the adverbial phrase in Japan.

Funny that out of the foreign friends I actually made during my time in Japan, Joanna is the only one I’m still in contact with.

I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Sonia, one of my longest-held and dearest friends from our days of under-employment at the International Office at the University of Texas at Austin. We kept in touch across several countries and continents over the many years, but since she married and started a family, we’ve barely spoken.

It was nice that our time in Japan overlapped for about a year: my first year in Shimonoseki was her last in Kumamoto. We only got together maybe four times during that year, but that was plenty for us to get into trouble.

When I visited her in Kumamoto over Thanksgiving, I very easily convinced her to shoplift a trinket that she desperately wanted but didn’t want to spend money on. I can’t even begin to sort out the international insensitivities we indulged in while staying in Nagasaki during Golden Week. Who knew that sleeping in public at a strip mall was considered taboo in Japan? And that was only after we horribly offended a few war veterans at a bar the night before by telling them they were responsible for Japan being so fucked-up these days. Ah, good times when alcohol and the truth flowed freely.

I had been listening to world music for a few years already, but during my time in Japan and afterwards, I managed to increase my collection considerably. Bally Sagoo’s “Rising from the East” was a catalyst, especially when I began to recognize some of these songs at the Indian restaurant I frequented in Kokura, Kitakūyshū. This cassette was a good soundtrack to those crazy times in Japan.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Project Blog It: "It is the hour of departure..."

The hour of departure is not the departure. It is the anticipation for the leaving that remains to come. It is the last minute rushing around the one instant that was planned and pre-planned days, weeks, and months beforehand but then appeared as if out of nowhere, calling to fruition and completion the agreed-upon timetable, the temporal contract to leave where you had always found yourself and go someplace new. It’s the beginning of the motion but not the motion proper. It is the preparation to depart that is itself already a departure.

When I leave, I usually know I’m going months in advance. Ticket bought. Documents in tow. But before actually leaving, I first have to leave my house, having packed my bags. The trip to the airport, to the train station, to the port is the worst leg of any journey. But once inside the terminal, I already feel as if the journey has finally begun, all the while enjoying the last few minutes where I have yet to leave.

The anticipation of leaving is never the journey. Not the time in transit at 30,000 feet. Nor the nine hours on an overnight train. The journey is what happens when you arrive at a new destination, the transformation that takes place when we return home and remember what has transpired. The journey cannot be mapped, cannot be located geographically. It only happens inside perhaps the soul. And that’s precisely why we must go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Zimba Leaf
March 19, 1994 - September 6, 2008

Rest in peace, my little green-eyed "monster." Zoom zoom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: 1999

I was dreaming when I wrote this.

Who knew that way back in 1982 we had the technology to cram 11 rather long songs onto one two-track cassette? What took two LPs to contain would now fit on this new medium albeit with a few drawbacks: because the reels held more tape than usual, cassette players sometimes couldn’t pull all that tape across the deck heads at a consistent rate, causing the audio to flutter and drag. Sometimes more “sophisticated” tape players would misread the tension of the tape and, thinking it had reached the end of that side, would switch to the other track in the middle of a song.

Girl, you got an ass like I’ve never seen.

Who knew there was such a talented artist from Minnesota who could pack religion, sexuality, violence, lyricism, and danceability into 11 songs that ranged from pop to soul, from electronica to funk, from rock to ballad? I have to admit that Prince was the forbidden (musical) fruit that satisfied my ears as well as the cravings of my teenage libido. “Little Red Corvette”—whose imagery is both apparent and elusive—stands out as a success that has transcended its own historicity as well as my own immaturity.

“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”—the title says it all. I remember hearing—really hearing—the line near the end of the song for the first time at Lake Tawakoni, listening to this tape on Chris’ jam box, on some cool winter day around 1984: “I’m not saying this just to be nasty; I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth. Can you relate?” It was like pulling off a scab, like jumping into a fire, like a deep cut across the chest. It was dirty and illicit, and I wanted to hear it again and again.

Of course, “Can you relate?” became a catchphrase for the rest of my high school years.

Not knowing where I’m going, this galaxy’s better not having a place to go. Now I know.

I’ve always been a huge fan of “Lady Cab Driver,” especially the rape scene that bizarrely turns into something like a proselytizing: “This one is for the rich—not all of them, just the greedy, the ones who don’t know how to give.” Which one is more fucked-up here: Prince for conceiving such a song, or my twisted, pseudo-religious, horny ass that sang along all throughout my teen years? We’ll let the Son of Man judge.

Ha!

Thank U, Prince, for getting us through the 80s. And for getting us off.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This is not how I am.

The vitriol coursing through my veins. The black, black cloud of grief nestled in the corner of my soul. I find myself torn between these two old pals lately, and the knot in my belly tells me I need to let them both go.

I’m stunned when people who are at least just as intelligent as I am and presumably much better educated (having graduate degrees from Ivy League universities) are utterly uncritical about the pure shit of American political culture. I vote Democrat and I have long supported Obama, but I know when he is merely pandering to the voters and resorting to inconsequential rhetoric. The Democratic National Convention nauseated me nightly.

But how can anyone (especially someone with a Ph.D. in art from Princeton) listen to the hooting and hollering of the Republican crowd (who weren’t even above booing when non-Republican politicians were mentioned!) and think they could share a common policy goal with that? That anybody could think that someone who has been in municipal and state government for the past sixteen years can be considered an “outsider” to politics is beyond me. Thankfully, the McCain/Palin ticket has no chance of winning, but too bad intelligent Americans are going to have to endure the next couple of months of their asinine oratory on top of the insipid speechifying of the Democrats. What am I doing wrong if I can be so critical of my own party, my own candidate, while smarter people heedlessly throw themselves into the NASCAR-watching throng?

Rereading through Heidegger’s Being and Time for the past several days has got me thinking much more about being. And time. And the horizon of my own being-toward-death. Losing one of my precious cats yesterday makes me even more aware of the mortal vastness of this life. Or perhaps I just mean the vast mortality. Not Hiedegger’s “possibility of the impossible” but rather Lévinas’ and Blanchot’s “the impossibility of the possible.” The death that recedes. The death that is forever (not) to come yet remains always already present. Without remains.

Philosophy on death doesn’t even do justice when you’re holding a dying animal in your arms. It's too paltry. Too human.

Now that the move to the suburbs is over, now that the Seattle conference is finished, now that the semester has begun, now that my schedule is much more codified, I’ll try to be a bit more tuned-in here. I’ll be back to posting my Two-Track Tuesdays this week. I’ll get back to posting the Project Blog It entries. I’ll even try to post more personal things, more real things, more thoughtful and reflective things. Don’t give up on me or my blog just yet.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Project Blog It: Certitude

I am certain that Barak Obama and his Obamanations are quite nice people.

Senator Obama unquestioningly and with certitude will defend Israel’s right to exist. Yet certainly Palestinians, too, have the right to defend themselves against the incessant encroachment upon Palestinian lands and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure at the hands of Israel.

I am certain that queer Americans do not appreciate being sandwiched between abortion, gun control, and immigration within Obama’s long-winded speech last night, as if we were mere issues or not even tax-paying citizens (second) and human beings (first). Certainly queers are not interested in being the new nigger.

I am certain that the middle class is mere rhetoric and self-misperception. The middle class does not exist; it is a figment of politicians’ (un)imaginations. Yet certainly 95% of Americans still claim to be part of it. (I am certain that the only other self-misperception that remains more prevalent is the claim to Christianity. But just because you says it, don’t makes it so.)

I am certain that the Athenian portico set of Obama’s speech similitudinarily served as Washington in general as well as the White House specifically, as if to remind us that this (half) black man, this Halfrican American, looks like he belongs among the alabaster columns designating the Halls of Power.

I am certain that there is nothing of real power within the word “change,” especially when etymologically it simply means “exchange” or “return, to turn back.” Certainly it means even less after being used far too many times these past few days. I am certain that far too few people in Denver saw it that way.

Despite my many reservations, however, I remain certain that Obama would be an improvement over the alternatives. I’m just tired of the uncritical hero-worship signifying the utter uselessness of American political culture.

I am certain most people would disagree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Ancient Heart

It was the summer of ’89, while working at the General Cinema in south Arlington, that I discovered Tanita Tikaram. Because of my weekly pay, I was visiting music shops at least once a week to stockpile tapes and increase my already vast collection.

I had never even heard of her before. But there was something about the cover that spoke to me: the brown and green fonts, the sepia photo of her standing in an empty landscape, the scribbled drawings. I bought the tape and had no idea what I would hear after I popped it into my truck’s player.

It was smooth, with a strong country vibe, but with some heartbreaking lyricism that still mesmerizes my ears. Every song, including those I don’t care much for, contains some poetic nugget worth contemplating.

I’ve carried these songs on my back across the world. “I Love You,” “Valentine Heart,” and “Twist in my Sobriety” sometimes have bubbled up as I was walking a dark back road in some dusty country. When I was living in Ukraine, I bought her ’98 tape The Cappuccino Songs to try to recover from some of the damage suffered in that sad, sad country.

By then, even Tanita Tikaram could offer little assistance. She had, however, warned me all those years ago.

“The lie is the angel, it doesn’t exist.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Big Gaping Kitty

Malika, the newest cat to cross our threshold, was spayed Tuesday at our veterinary in south Arlington. After moving to Plano, our veterinary is an hour’s drive away. I went to pick her up yesterday. Her shaved belly revealed a handful of stitches, but she didn’t seem to mind them at all.

When I returned home from work Friday afternoon, I laid with her on the sofa. She stretched across my chest and gave me sweet kisses on my chin and neck. When the phone rang, I put her on the cushions while I talked to my friend.

Somewhere about ten minutes into the conversation I glanced at kitty who was sitting up and noticed a strange, ear-like fold in her belly. She had already pulled out two of her stitches and was well into the third.

I screamed something about a giant hole in my kitty to my friend, hung up, and immediately dialed the vet. One hour later, we were in south Arlington getting her belly stapled back together.

The women in the vet’s office coo and praise Malika for being so beautiful and sweet. Apparently only my two 14-year-old cats and I know the real Malika, who bites our faces and fingers when she’s sleepy. Since she’s a cat, that is pretty much a continuous state. In many ways, she’s like a child who tries its damndest to fight the urge to nap and instead unleashes its hellion nature on all those nearby.

I mistakenly thought that they had removed all of the mean parts when they took out her uterus and ovaries.

Payback, however, can be just as rough. To honor the third two-hour roundtrip in four days, I gladly strapped on an “Elizabethan collar” when I got home. Considering her first name was Princess Stinky Butt, I have to confess that she now appears considerably more royal.

Project Blog It: Function of Art

Art has no function, but the function of art is to revolutionize society. Art that functions to revolutionize society is nothing but mere propaganda. But art that serves its functionless function transcends propaganda.

The function of art is to enact magic, but art that functions to enact magic is mere hypocrisy and superstition. Art that serves its functionless function transcends hypocrisy and superstition, thereby enacting magic.

The function of art is to enfold its viewer within a dialogue with being, but art that functions to enfold its viewer within a dialogue with being is mere kitsch and pretension. Art that serves its functionless function transcends kitsch and pretension, thereby enfolding its viewer within a dialogue with being.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: There's nothing casual ...

... about being a casualty.

Listening to these songs in the parking lot this afternoon made me feel a bit antisocial and embarrassed. I was sitting in the car with the windows down, and every time someone would walk by, I either turned the volume down to a mere whisper or ejected the tape altogether.

These songs are a bit in-your-face after 7½ years of substanceless rhetoric under Bush's regime.

Back before I claimed "post-political" as my personal ideology, I was a bleeding heart radical. I stopped eating meat in high school, which on the farm, in my backwater town—population 1700 (Salute!)—amounted to burning down a church and aborting Baby Jesus. Never mind the fact that I was still reading the Bible daily, speaking in tongues, and attending worship services. More on that later....

PETA and ALF were, aside from the National Geographic Society, the first organizations I joined. I purchased the Animal Liberation cassette directly from one of those organizations. It seems that I bought the Sun City tape from some big store bargain bin. I've often wondered just how much of my money went to support those causes, especially after the markdown.

Animal Liberation begins with "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on" translated into several languages over ominous music. Ministry's Al Jourgensen was a master at producing the segments between the songs. For the most part, they are the only elements of this tape that still hold up twenty-one years later.

Regardless, this tape was not only a token of my then political involvement but also served as an entry point to music completely different from what I had been listening to before. Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Luc Van Acker, Shriekback. At that point in my musical experience, the only artist I had heard of prior was Howard Jones. I still think Chris & Cosey's "Silent Cry" is hauntingly sublime; the other tracks are almost unlistenable these days.

My funniest memory concerning this tape: teaching my then toddler nephews and niece the chorus to "Don't Kill the Animals." One morning I worked them up into a frenzy after several minutes of rehearsal and turned them loose on my mother. They surrounded her, chanting the never-so-subtle "Don't kill the animals. Don't kill the animals. The animals are free!" followed by the screeching and ascending "Hee hee hee hee!"

These days, I'm afraid the animal rights activists would have my head on a platter. I haven't eaten meat since I was eighteen, and I still refuse to buy products that include obvious animal by-products or use animal testing. But I now wear leather. And I have my cats declawed. And aside from that one year when I kept to a vegan diet, I remain a huge fan of all dairy products. (Don't blame me: my partner is from Wisconsin!)

I have tremendous respect for animals rights activists. Not celebrities who put their face in ads or wear tee shirts, but the real activists who burn down laboratories after rescuing animals. But there will be no more midnight, flashlight-wielding break-ins for me.
Come on, let's educate the mutated human race
By the super power of amazing grace
The missing link of human evolution
Is sexuality - it needs a spiritual revolution
My individual god-identity
Is what you've gotta meet
It's the rhythm of the beat!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Project Blog It: Seven Dwarves

I couldn’t come up with the alternative Seven Dwarves’ names on my own, so I asked various family members–all who live in trailers in east Texas–to help me out. Here's what we came up with:
  1. Bobcat Jesus – because bobcat is Daddy’s favorite animal & Jesus is his Lord
  2. Farrah Lantana – because Farrah is Mama’s favorite hairstyle & lantana is her favorite flower
  3. Gypsy Rhiannon – because that’s Sissy’s two favorite Stevie Nicks’ songs
  4. Sam Whiskey – because that’s Granny’s favorite Burt Reynolds’ movie
  5. Snoopy – because that’s what Other Granny names everything
  6. Mike Hunt – because that name always makes Cousin Billy laugh
  7. Princess June Bug – because nothing seems more magical
If I were Snow White, I’d run screaming.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Boomtown

David + David's Boomtown is not the kind of cassette you want to have in your pickup truck as you peel out of the gravely parking lot of some abandoned grocery store after getting stoned and picking a fight with your white-trash lover. There'd be no coming back from that trip.

Maybe in ten years' time, someone would track your sorry ass down. You'd be living on the west coast with other junkies and amateur alcoholics, all too burnt by the sun you've been staring far too long at.

You didn't see the sharp turn ahead--one never does--when taking a year off from college became a way of life. When your parole officer started dealing. When your heart became as burnt out as your lungs from cheap smokes and bags and bags of grass. When sleepless nights were measured in six-packs. When a sober sun never rose, and the colors of the dawn looked just like the bruise on your busted lip.



Writing in the dark of the afternoon with the shades pulled down and the air conditioning refusing to cycle off even though it's set at 80 in the 107-degree afternoon, I long to pour myself a drink. Back then, it would've been vodka mixed with some juice. Now I drink whiskey, 10-year single malt. Straight.

David + David never made it big. They were far too smart and talented. Their critique of the vacuousness of the 80s veneer was far too subtle and intelligent to get much airplay. They were certainly in the minority when it came to making sense of, and good music in, Reagan's America.

Toni Childs, who sang backup on Boomtown, cut a few albums of her own. David Baerwald released some solo work to critical acclaim. None of them, however, received the recognition they deserve for redefining music of the late 80s, for writing smart songs about social and personal ills. Their reach was wide, though: even The Belgian knew their songs. In their flannel-before-flannel-was-cool shirts, we see here the evolutionary "mistake" that would lead to full-blown grunge a few years later.

The cassette case is broken and cracked. I'm nowhere near the kind of person I was when I first heard "Welcome to the Boomtown" on Dallas radio and went out immediately to buy the tape. It's been years since I listened to these songs, but they are still cool and smooth and just what is needed. Like a chilled single-malt whiskey. A little rough, a little refined. But still the only thing worth living for.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Project Blog It: Strawberries

To contribute to Project Blog It today, I decided to post an excerpt from a book I've been writing over the past few years based on the journal I kept during the time I lived in Ukraine:

Saturday, June 10, 2000, L-

We had been waiting for the ordination service to begin since 10:00 AM. Finally, around 11:30, we left the choir loft of the cathedral and sneaked back downstairs to leave. The organist began playing the benediction as soon as we were too far down the road to consider turning back and abandoning our walk to the city for drinks.

We changed Polish złoty for a handful of Ukrainian bills and found a café where Przymek could have his coffee and I could get a Coca Cola.

Kostya saw something he wanted: ice cream smothered in whipped cream with strawberries and some kind of smaller version of a strawberry whose name in Russian and Polish is different from “strawberry” but whose name in English I didn’t know. Years later I was to find out that poziomki are simply wild strawberries.

My Ukrainian friends—who are actually Ukrainian transplants to Poland—spend a lot of time singing songs, performing for me, asking me to fill in the gaps to missed lyrics of American pop songs: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my what?” “’Chevy’—it’s short for Chevrolet: a kind of car.” “To the what?” “’Levee.’” “What is this ‘levee’?”

Using universal sign language, I describe a river—my frame of reference: the Trinity in Dallas—and the mounds of earth keeping the river from overflowing its bounds. Here, too, I mentally reference something close to home: the Wycliff Street bridge, over which I pass daily to work, except those days when the Trinity is flooded.

I want to show these friends the pictures I have in my head and yet I regretfully acknowledge that anything short of a Vulcan mind meld would be inadequate. I wonder what pictures they have in their heads and wonder what it is of their world they wish I could see.

“Fuck off.” “Acquaintance.” “Take a piss. Take a shit.” These are some of the things I later teach Przymek over a bottle of Ukrainian beer. I scold him for being lazy with his tongue when speaking English: he too often has relied on “z” instead of a better “th” sound.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Reflections

I cried a tear.
You wiped it dry.
I was confused.
You cleared my mind.
I sold my soul.
You bought it back for me.
And raised me up
And gave me dignity.
Somehow you needed me.

Thus begins this 1979 K-Tel compilation of pop ballads. Reflections is most likely the oldest cassette tape I own and probably the first pre-recorded tape I ever purchased.

I listened to the entire tape again over this past week, and the sound quality is fairly good for something so anachronistic and obsolete. I guess I'm lucky to have one of the last Camry's with a standard tape-player.

It's difficult for me to remember who exactly I was when I saved enough money to buy this at Perry's, the dime store in the next town over. I know that I was a fan of this first song, "You Needed Me" by Anne Murray, as well as a fan of the two songs by Barry Manilow: "Even Now" and "Could It Be Magic." These songs were some of the first pop songs I learned to play on the piano after I started lessons at about the same time this cassette hit the market.

I was far too young to have understood anything about love or sexual relationships, but I sang along with each song as if I indeed had suffered the tragic heartbreaks sung about by these (more often than not one-hit) pop stars. To some extent, the translation to what passed itself off as religious devotion back then was easy enough; hell, I had even heard Anne Murray's hit sung in a church or two. But, of course, with the subjunctive adverb, "So high that I could almost see eternity," changed to the declarative, "clearly." Such things impressed my far-too-easily impressed mind back then.

Now at 40, I don't recognize the part of me, then at 11, that would've wanted to spend his hard-to-come-by cash on such a compilation. Each song comes across to me now as pure kitsch, even the Chopin-inspired introduction to Manilow's "Could It Be Magic." Even Chopin comes across to me as kitsch these days, though. Each song's hook had gotten caught in the impressionable, overwrought, and melodramatic heart worn too openly on my sleeve.

That melodrama, I do recognize at times, especially when I try to feel what it was I felt back then. I'd like to be able to cling to this music as to an emotional life raft once more. I deeply mourn the loss of such naïveté: it was such a huge part of my childhood and early adult life. But I'm faced with too much truth about who I actually was at the time and its conflict with who I thought I was.

I played the role of the wounded lover, the unlovable, at 11 because I had been conditioned by generations of abuse and neglect to never accept love. My angst was too much a manifestation of the pain heaped upon my too young and too sensitive mind. I no longer need those ghosts to keep me company. That little, sad boy is no more, not even the man I am today.

What could I say to that kid now? Can I just casually toss that cassette in the recycling bin and forget it (and he) ever happened? Not likely. But I also don't feel the need to hang on to something outgrown like a pair of shoes, two sizes too small for a heart that has expanded in the past three decades, so much so as to totally embrace such a scared, lonely boy, to hold his hand in the dark places of the world, but also to let him go when it's time.

It's time.

Friday, August 1, 2008

♥ + 5

While driving to Allen last weekend for a fiasco of a cook-out, we heard Haircut 100's "Love Plus One" on the radio. Afterwards, I confessed that when I was in high school I had written a similar song entitled "♥ + 5." I even sang the parts I remembered.

In honor of my 17th anniversary today, I hearby reveal those long-lost lyrics. I won't sing them to you, but try to imagine them sung by Prince in his "Raspberry Beret" heyday.

♥ + 5 (is wot i feel 4 U)

1 day i met U
1 + 1 = 2
a common skin, a common soul
2 ½'s make 1 whole

♥ + 5 is wot i feel 4 U
No-1 alive + ["adds"] 2 my life like U


I never finished this song, and I don't plan on finishing this relationship. Happy anniversary.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Legacy Content

I came up with the idea for this latest series a couple of weeks ago when I realized just how many cassettes I have stored away in my living room closet. Then yesterday, the New York Times published an article about the demise of the cassette as a viable format for audio books. There seems to be no better time to begin culling through my great audio cassette archive in an attempt to begin digitizing--or just recycling--the music and sounds that brought me safely through the '80s and '90s.

Every cassette has a story to share and is encoded within some biographical context that grew around the musical content of the two-track I was listening to at the time. In sometimes perfect symbiosis, I couldn't always tell where the song ended and my life began.

Each Tuesday, I'll pull out one cassette tape--or perhaps a handful--and begin working through some of the stories that remain encased inside the little plastic coffin.

I invite my dear readers to contribute their own stories and their own musical collections stored away in a box somewhere.

Next week's cassette: K-Tel's Reflections.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Courtyard Catastrophe

Holed up in this hole of a hotel all day has allowed me to transcend my normal, everyday sort of asocial behavior and arrive at a point of pure misanthropy. There's nothing like one angry night in a strange bed with three anxious cats to get the old eyeball a-twitching.

After spending all day yesterday reading the great ethical thinker Levinas, I arrived home to a blast of hot air and panting cats languishing on the hardwood floors. Sometime during the 100-degree heat of the day, the air conditioner konked out. The thermostat was at 93 at 6:30 pm.

After the requisite call to the landlord and a quick packing of overnight necessities, and nearly a 30-minute drive, we checked in to the Marriott Courtyard on the other end of town with three cats and all their supplies, including a litter box, in tow.

Here is the official policy: "For the convenience of other guests and in an effort to help us provide the cleanest and most sanitary accommodation available, pets are not permitted."

Are you serious! After seeing what passes itself off as the American family over the overpriced and utterly tasteless breakfast this morning, my flatulent and flea-ridden cats are the least of Marriott's worries when it comes to keeping the rooms clean or inconveniencing their guests.

Stringy-haired Susie in her stretch-fabric tank top and her little bucked-toothed brother Billy returned no less than four times to the breakfast buffet to fill up on food not fit for a dog. I couldn't even finish the tiny lemon poppy seed micro-muffin because of its epoxy-like consistency.

To worsen my own antisocial nature, I spent almost three hours after breakfast this morning watching "Mega Catastrophes" (or some such series) on the History Channel. If it wasn't a flood of biblical proportions, then certainly the "hypercane"--a souped-up version of our meager hurricanes--was going to destroy life as we know it. Thankfully Obama's rather uninspired and history-laden speech brought me back from hypothetical destructions to those most likely to occur in my lifetime.

Otherwise, I would've actually thrown open the sliding glass door this afternoon and shouted, "All of you ugly people, get out of my pool!" Instead, I just joked about it. The humor lies in the fact that for me there really is so little difference between joking about it and actually doing it. I'm never going to see these people again. Unless later this summer the AC loses its will to go on again. But if that happens, I'm finding some other place to stay. One that doesn't nickel-and-dime their "guests" for every sip of coffee, every drop of syrup. That doesn't have a pet-free policy.

To break even on this deal, I've decided I need to steal something when I check out tomorrow. I thought about emptying the litter box across the carpet, but that would only "punish" the lowly, low-paid Hispanic housekeeper. The arm chairs seem kind of nice. And Malika, the newest addition to our feline family, enjoys scratching at them. I'm sure I can find use for something that's not bolted down in here....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Antisocial Network

What can the word “friend” mean after Facebook, where it is really a synonym for “coincidence”?
Verlyn Klinkenborg's recent editorial in the New York Times is necessary brilliance and should be required reading--only so that you can later meditate upon his very wise insights.

I've been battling my own inertia in killing off my Facebook and MySpace identities. I mean, do I really need to have people from middle school find me? I find it so disgusting in many ways when I see political or religious affiliations posted on their pages. They should be ashamed for aligning themselves with terrorists!

And the applications that allow me to peruse their virtual bookshelf makes me dream of a virtual library burning. I'll gladly flick the virtual lighted match after dousing the area with a virtual can of gasoline. (Real gasoline is too precious!)

Seeing such titles reminds me of the already ancient truth of basic informatics and computer programming: GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out. No wonder these people are so intellectually and socially stunted! The key reason such people thrive in online communities.

Just so you know, I'll gladly add you to my cadre of "friends" on Facebook or MySpace. But you have to send me your contact information first: I dare not post my real name here for fear my students find out what I really think of them.