Sunday, November 30, 2008

Two more weeks of this

I slept late today and messed up Jennifer’s dinner plans. I don’t normally sleep more than 6 hours so I thought I would be safe. Nope. The boss told me I would be missed and congradulations on moving to California. Jennifer says we’re “stepping out into the unknown.” I have to think inside “not really.” Steven Curtis Chapman sang about this more than 10 years ago: ‘Saddle Up Your Horses’ and ‘Go West Young Man.’ Malicious Christian rock songs. We’re handing out our furniture like it’s Black Friday and we are a Wal-Mart in Long Island (a location known for its singular enactments of stupidity) – Just trying not to get trampled. The world seems to get even more sad and chaotic as the weeks go by.

John the tall old Mormon Indonesian with the bad knees and the flatulence was mugged until his whole face was huge and puffy and his money was gone while he was riding in an empty car on the 6 train at midnight on his way to work the other day. John is 74 years old and he has thick white hair like the grandson of the owner of an overseas Chinese tofu factory. He likes John Denver and Britney Spears and collecting broken figurines which he glues. He gives me glutinous rice wrapped with tin foil sometimes and he likes to go swimming in the public pool down at 23rd street. I haven’t seen him for a week now.

I think when we get to California I’m going to make a little circle with stones down by a river and live there for a week like Johanna Newsom. I’m not going to do anything but read Chinese poetry in Chinese, do fanciful etimologies, and eat seeds. That’s probably just a fantasy, but it’s a pretty good one. And it feels good to write it down. One summer when I was 21 I drove in my black truck to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and lived like a solitary nudist for a week under some pine trees. Not sure if that’s completely true, but it’s a pretty good memory.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Of Glaring Quiet

“Come out and show us your comeliness again, “ Jennifer said in between syncopated claps, putting words to our understanding of the banality of the contemporary pageantry of classical music appreciation. The Capuçon-Angelich Trio, an ensemble of extremely talented young Frenchmen with burnished fiddles from the 18th century, fierce haircuts and wicked black shoes had just finished up Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E.Minor, Opus 67: A fantastic whirlwind of drunken pageantry, ethereal dancing, relentless death marching, and of course melancholic reflections high in the clouds over a stilled field of stark, naked trees and stones as fall turns to winter.

Jennifer says I can do whatever I want with her when she dies. Except stand her on her head like an acrobatic yogi in full Mennonite dress, or allow a professional disemboweler to disembowel her. She thinks it would be good to save her ashes until I’m dead too then we can mix them up and scatter them to the four cardinals or maybe into the dead wind whistling over Shostakovich’s field – I think the Hunger Steppe in Western Kazakhstan might work. She wants me to play a recording of Quartet No. 6 and say nothing. Just the music. Then I can hand out programs which detail her life in all its small pleasures. If I’m dead – then she will get Matthew to do all this. “I love Matthew and Olivia,” she says. Presumably because she knows she can trust them with her dead body.

“I don’t know why anyone would play anything other than Shostakovich,” she said. “He must have really lived.” And I agreed. Haydn and Mendelssohn seem a bit trite, a bit disengaged from real life. Now I’m listening to John Fogerty, and thinking about moving on with life in a drunken drama of reckless passion – so that the long moment of utter silence at the end of the movement will be completely pregnant with meaning right before the ludicrous clapping starts.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Images from the Archive



08.03.2008 Gatlinburg, Tenn. WOMAN IN MID-STREAM

08.02.2008 Gatlinburg, Tenn. NOAH AND HIS GRANDMA IN THE VAN

07.26.2008 Museum of Natural History, New York. GENE AND AMY

07.26.2008 Museum of Natural History, New York. AMY TALKS EXCITEDLY

07.26.2008 Museum of Natural History, New York. STUFFED ANIMALS STARE

07.26.2008 Museum of Natural History, New York. GIRL ON A LEASH

07.04.2008 Slate Run, PA. LITTLE COUSINS


Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Cricothroidotomy

This weekend I experienced something like what Olivia experiences every Saturday after an exhausting week of fixing children and their parents from across Big Valley: the depression of the feeling of ironic insignifiance which follows a period of intense anticipation and experiance. Not that I performed an emergency cricothroidotomy, or stuffed an eyeball back into someone’s face, or saved some small child from an early grave as my high-flying relatics probably have this past week. My life is not so regularly exciting so the occasional event requiring any sort of extended orchestration in real time just makes me anxious.

On Friday I put together an event which required four of my favorite academic authors to bus, train, and fly across the country to discuss some questions I’ve been emailing them for the last few months. So I dawned my best yellow shirt and matching tie with faintly Islamic designs and trotted down to Columbia University and introduced myself in person: Darren Byler, second year graduate student, small-timer of the first order.

It went really well – over 100 people from at least three states and the District of Columbia squeezed into a room with enough seats for 70. Even the first Uyghur to immigrate to America 40 years ago was there. We took two hours to talk our way through Uyghur history, culture, and politics – and then another sweaty hour eating Uyghur polo (pilaf) and samsa (dumplings). We had Uyghurs in dopas (skullcaps), Chinese officials from the UN, nervous human rights activists, and the occasional Yalie graduate student in there.

Back to my Olivia-like experience. When it was all over and the chairs were restacked, I was exhausted and cranky and disappointed. I spent weeks of my life putting this three hour event together – burning my life force for one short evening of frantic delegating and careful speaking. It was really nice to get some hearty Uyghur handshakes afterwards and it was nice to get to know the eminent figures in my field of study. But right now I’m just exhausted and depressed. Olivia usually feels better a couple hours into Saturday so maybe the good vibes will start rolling in soon. Right now I’m sitting in church listening to Rich Swartz talk about world religions (Christianity turns out to be the best one, he says) – so I’m thinking like a Hindu for the moment, just working the dharma.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From the Old Brown Armchair