Apr 30, 2016

Facebook Mirrors

Every time I get on Facebook I can't help but wonder what life would have been like if I had stayed in Texas. I had some good friends in Houston, managed to date more than I've ever succeeded in New York, was building relationships and social ties that in some way would have grown with me as we all grew in the city. I knew a lot of good people there.

So much of Texas life is there, on Facebook, nicely encapsulated. Most people I'm friends with seem married and happy. I am a little in awe of their roundness - their lives seem full, well-balanced. In comparison, mine is definitively lumpy -- not terribly well balanced out. I'm OK with it, it wouldn't be any other way.

And you know, maybe it's a good thing that nothing in NYC worked out perfectly. I mean, things worked out but not in the way I hoped they might. Perfection is a tinfoil goal; it would have kept me from being able to see myself, however eventually I got around to looking.

In hindsight, coming to NYC was ambitious. I don't know why it wasn't obvious before. I *am* ambitious, but most times it doesn't feel that way -- I always figure that someone will stop me when I've gone too far but, and this is the secret, no body is really paying you that much attention. No body really wants to see you fail, but that they're not really rooting for your success either.

Most of us have our own priorities that have little to do with one another and that's OK. You know,

I rather like the freedom.

Apr 24, 2016

Updates from the mindfulness project

Recent events have led to the conclusion
that tripping is not the same as Nirvana. 

Reassuringly, this fits all prior hypotheses; bliss is something else entirely.

It is something worth seeking.

(Magneto waits in the wings)

Apr 16, 2016

Political Lessons I've Learned From TV Shows

Over the past decade or so of TV binging, I've learned a surprising amount of life skills from the various shows that I've watched.  What follows is a short summary of the ones that I remember the best.  I've indicated what seasons of the show that I watched, in most cases it's less than the entirety of show.  Any lessons that I've drawn from these shows comes solely from the seasons/episodes indicated.  You may notice that most of these deal with lessons about interpersonal relationships; why not learn from fictional character's mistakes?


__Suits__ (Seasons 1-3)
Suits is a drama about a high profile corporate lawyer named Harvey, the law firm that he works at, and his 'illigitimate' protege, Mike.  Mike is a first year associate at Harvey's firm, whom Harvey has hand-picked to be his protege.  Mike's illigitimacy stems from the fact that he didn't graduate from Harvard, which is where all associates at the firm must come from.

Throughout the three seasons, Mike seems always to be on the verge of getting into major trouble, either with the partners, or with Harvey, or with Louis, Harvey's rival at the firm.  None of the other first year associates seem to get anywhere near the level of near-misses as far as being tossed out on their asses as Mike does.  And that's the lesson -- if you're not in a position where you're exposed to constant threats to your continued employment status, you're probably not in much of a position of anything.  This is instructive in two ways: first it's possible to keep your head down and coast.  As long as you're not attracting too much attention to yourself or really too caught up in the drama, there's really not much you'll have to worry about corporate wise.  The other way this is instructive is that if you're constantly worried about getting fired or in the midst of some drama or the other, it's totally ok.  There is no position at a firm that is high profile and also not constantly atop shifting sands.  All corporate, positional victories are fleeting.

Network: USA.  Premiere: 2011  Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suits_(TV_series)


__House of Cards__ (Seasons 1-2)
House of Cards is a Netflix drama about Frank Underwood, senator from the South with scheming machinations on the White House.  I only watched the first two seasons, in which Frank manages to considerably advance his political standing via some brilliant maneuvers, some more savory than others.  Watching Frank work, one thing that really stands out to me is how much he needs other people to support him.  Frank's brilliance is nothing without other, loyal people; he's constantly on the lookout for more people that he can do a favor for.  To Frank, other's mistakes are opportunities.  For example, in the second season, he develops a relationship with a Secret Service agent who fucks something up.  I don't remember the exact specifics of how this helps Frank out, but I do remember Frank's forgiveness.  Reinvesting trust in people who have broken it is a thing that you *can* do.  One failure and you're out is a quick way to burn bridges.  You can always use more good people.

Network: Netflix.  Premiere: 2013.  Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Cards_(U.S._TV_series)


__The Wire__
There's a lot to this show, but I'm only going to concentrate on one particular aspect of it: Thomas Carcetti's relationship to his deputy campaign manager, Norman Wilson.  Norman is Carcetti's right hand man.  As such, he's largely responsible for sharing bad news, and getting the mayoral candidate out of potentially disastrous social situations.  It's a subtle relationship and probably something that's assumed for a coterie of a powerful politician -- you cultivate relationships with people that will help you out of tight spots socially, so that you can get what you need to get done, without burning bridges or ending up in awkward situations.  Watching Norman work, his ability to be honest and upfront with Carcetti and helpful to him in any and all situations, his loyalty and belief in Carcetti and their mission, his sense of humor and positivity: Norman is a force for good in humanity.  Normans are good people to have in your life; they're also not a bad person to be for other people.

Network: HBO. Premiere: 2002 Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wire

__Better Call Saul__ (Season 1)
I love Saul. Absolutely love him.  His relationship with his piece of shit brother is another thing though.  Without giving too much away, trying to understand why people stand against you is sometimes a deeper rabbit hole than you might wish to go down.  If you find yourself pit against someone who doesn't seem to have a deep seated hatred towards you, but works to block you regardless, look to their broader loyalties -- their actions rarely have anything to do with *you*, per se.

Network: AMC. Premiere: 2015 Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Better_Call_Saul

__Breaking Bad__
Check your motives carefully, as your ego is a precious, dangerous, lying, conniving thing.  Little good comes from any ego-driven action.

Network: AMC. Premiere: 2008. Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_Bad




Apr 14, 2016

fantasy

of being that person, like Bob Dylan, with a face that is impossible to remember.

Apr 9, 2016

The Lost Child

I've been wanting to write this post since I finished the last of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan novels in November of last year.  What stopped me was both the belief that I would have the opportunity to have this conversation in person and that publishing spoilers on the Internet was bad form.

I've reached two conclusions: one) any such in person conversation about this would be mostly a platform for me to get it off my chest and hence not a very good conversation, perhaps, for the other participant(s); and two) fear of providing the means to get to the ending without going thru the journey of arriving there yourself, while a very valid and well-founded fear, is hindering my ability to fully express myself.  I realized that until I sat down and typed this essay out, I wouldn't fully know what exactly my thoughts on the novel are; as it is I have some very concrete points I'd wish to make but they're wrapped in a nebulous conclusion.  Curiosity, you are a scoundrel.

Let this be a warning then: I plan to marvelously spoil and lay bare a core conceit of the Neopolitan novels.  If you haven't read them yet, but are planning to, I'd advise you to stop reading now.

The Neopolitan novels are the story of two lifelong friends, and their long, complicated lives together: Elena and Lina.  They grow up in a camorra run neighborhood in Naples, set in the latter half of the 1900's (they're students in the 60's and are directly or indirectly involved in the student revolutions of '68).

Elena and Lina's relationship is complex.  Elena is a smart, studious student who goes on to become a famous writer, leaves the neighborhood for good, mostly.  Lina is her best friend, a searingly bright personality that gets her life wrapped up in the neighborhood and never leaves.  The novels are told from Elena's viewpoint; whether or not there is any correlation to the Elena of the novel and the author, also an Elena, is unclear.

Lina is bright, firey, deeply gifted. She's an inspired creator and artist; when her and Elena make a painting together, it is a clarifying moment of living collaboration for Elena. Elena's relationship with Lina's brilliance is both complicit and complicated. Elena struggles with the knowledge that her first book is a re-interpretation of a book that Lina authored (but never published) during their childhood. Elena's struggle with the tension between her admiration for Lina's brilliance and the deep disquiet of inferiority marks her entire life's work: her writing is not as good as Lina's, but she (Elena) is a writer -- Lina is not.

The excuse for the existence of these books is given that Lina has disappeared and Elena is using her disappearance as an opportunity to tell their story.  Both in their 60's now, with fully grown children and still complicated lives, Lina packs up, leaves her home in the neighborhood, is not heard from again.  Soon after, Elena finds the doll that she had lost as a child, the doll that she and Lina had searched for in grade school, the doll who's loss started the friendship of the two, on her doorstep, decades old but no longer lost.

Elena's most treasured possession as a child, the doll was lost in childhood when Lina threw it down into the cellar of the school.  They search for it together, unable to find it they begin an adventure that is the start of their lifelong relationship.

How would it feel, to discover that your closest friend had based your relationship on a lie, on a trick that she had pulled on you?  That she had hidden the doll and the knowledge of it from you, for as long as you had known her? Would it cause you to re-evaluate your whole life, to question the very foundation of trust?

Or maybe truth is not the most important thing.  How much does it really matter that Lina hid the doll?  Does that change the beautiful work that Lina and Elena did together? Does that alter the fact that Lina has the capacity to build beautiful things? Does this revelation make Elena's life much different, her lived experience altered by knowing now, decades later, what Lina knew the whole time?

In this revelation, of deceit and lies and coercion I feel the deepest sense of sorrow not for Elena, but for Lina.  For Lina had been the one who had to live with the knowledge of her deceit; a lifetime of knowing and of fearing that if Elena ever found out, the deepest friendship of Lina's life may end.  She carried the burden of understanding the depth of her own capacity for deceit, without being able to share it with her friend, hidden until the moment she decided it was time to leave, to disappear, to no longer exist in her life.

A secret, held long enough, hurts no one but the bearer.

Apr 8, 2016

Cellular Automata

Weird strange thought that once we've solved the question of what everything is and there are no more mysteries left in the universe other than "what will I do", what becomes the next most fascinating thing is ... other people. Other people are the final frontier. Think about it. Each of us is one autonomous, inter-actable computer with a uniform interface. There are millions of AIs running around you - characters in your own VR. What will they say next?

Apr 2, 2016

practice, love

Me, questioningly, at the altar of God: what. What would make me better?
Tutor, with quiet authority, in the first row of pews: practice, love. Practice at what you want to be better at.

Strange Stranger

drunken, spun dreams of a tall. towering stranger that told me all wonderful strange and unbelievable things. i woke with a start. it was dark out still. and i couldn’t help but wonder, who was the stranger? was it me? 


if it was me, 
who was i?

sound reflecions: observations from SF MOMA's Soundtracks exhibit

karthik and i went to the SF MOMA today to check out the last few bits of the soundtracks exhibit. we saw this great video work that i can&...