Mar 28, 2017

arrival

I'm at the DMV early but without a book. Of all the things to forget, the book I was reading seems like the best thing to leave behind. I panicked a bit about forgetting a pen, but there was one that had evaded the pen purge of past October still there.

Some state/federal agencies don't care when your appointment is for, they let you in as soon as you arrive. Or at least, this is the case with the passport processing office. The San Francisco DMV doesn't seem to work that way; I've got a good 45 minutes to wait.

The book I meant to bring is Mike Davis's City of Quartz, an ambitious attempt to reify the forces that operate on and within LA. It's weird how some books either fit well into your current context or don't, at all. I feel like I've been hitting a lot of books at the right time lately. Like synchronicity but for "content".

I spent 24 hours in LA last June. While there, I walked the whole of Downtown, past the Capitol building and the LA Times. I met up with my friend Tow, short for Roberto, who lives there. He works as a social media coordinator for the Metro & took me to see the the big dig that they're doing for one of the new Downtown subway stations. We were walking around what I now know is Bunker Hill, which Eli Broad and Walt Disney have crowned with two monuments to "culture": a concert hall and an Art museum. (Tow let me in on a little localism: Broad is pronounced like "toad"). I went by the central museum, walked through the "Mexican" tourist town across from the train station, Union Station, the early 1900s train depot that I'd later return to to catch Amtrak's Coastal Starlight train North to San Luis Obispo, aka SLO (pronounced "slow").

From Downtown I caught the new blue line out to Santa Monica. It took forever, almost an hour, to ride the line from end to end. Looking back along the track (most of it is above ground), the Downtown district receded into the distance; the view remiscient of New York City's skyline from the PATH train in Jersey. LA is built on a scale that rivals only Houston, the US's other car-bred metropoli.

I spent enough time in Santa Monica to eat some tacos and get a feel for the overbuilt retail interests that lined the main drag, then headed out to the pier and down the beach. I hiked from Santa Monica to Venice, stopping just short of the long pier that jutted into the ocean just south of there.

Venice was my favorite neighborhood, even the Google office there seemed attractive, with surfboards lining the wall, just inside the gate. It was just the right blend of urban, hippie, and beachy.

So now I'm reading this book about LA, right? One that outlines the power structure and the lines of cultural influence. It hasn't gotten to the part about celebrity yet, but I trust we'll get there, eventually. Then, just this weekend, I watched the new OJ Simpson series, recently released to Netflix. The OJ drama takes place, of all places, in LA, capturing through a different prism the police tensions, endless highways (car chase with a Ford Bronco), the consequence of celebrity and notoriety. The story is incredibly LA.

There's more to say about celebrity, but I'll save that for later. My numbers just been called at the DMV, I'm here to trade in my New York license for a California one.

"ellision"

a manual for cleaning women, in review

lucia berlin writes well. almost too well. her prose is descriptive, the imagery is fragrant, concrete, but repetitive. is all writing that isn't fantastical eventually autobiographical? or maybe there is no exception.

this book of short stories is like reading Lucia's autobiography, told in bits through many lenses but ultimately it's the same voice, the same rhetoric, the same scene again and again.

a sister dying of cancer, oakland, alcoholism, beautiful dark Mexican men, exotic waters and fragrances, the slow march of time, deep tight human connections that end, always, tragically.

it's too much lucia, too much closeness, by the end you're suffocating in the dismal regret that she claims not to feel, not to have.  her prose is loneliness, self-reflection and suicide, played out in characters that are really mirrors of her own life.

will it stick with me? yes but in a hazy constellation of melded autobiographical prose.

Mar 26, 2017

tells

when i go out on blind dates i often wonder what my tell will be. what the other person's tells are is often easy enough to figure out. what it is that when you talk to them will tell you their story.  will it be their awkward laughter or their tendency to blab some kind of deep secret after a few drinks. will they say nothing but deprecating comments.  will they talk endlessly about themselves.

city of quartz, review of ch 1 & 2

i've just finished the second chapter of Mike Davis' strange treatise on L.A. and thought it would be worthwhile to get my thoughts out on paper before diving into much more of it, as the book is quite dense.

the first chapter traces the cultural hegemony of L.A., from the 1880's to the 1990s.  the second, called 'power lines', traces the sweep of power in the same period.  both chapters are densely packed with references to names and places, given up more as a reference to other work than as any way of explanation.  it makes it difficult to truly parse because the density of information that Davis' prose rides on top of. i'd almost rather that he would expand out his own writing, bringing the relevant stories and explanations into the book as a way of better pinning down, explicitly his point.  the chapters are packed because there is much to unpack -- characters, movements, waves of new money.

notice how culture and power are considered as separate spheres; there are power dynamics in play in culture, however.  perhaps a better term for the 'power' chapter is something along the lines of money-land-politic figures.  the family that owns the Times, the developer cabal, the Westside hollywood contingency.  the importance of promoting L.A. / SoCal as a desirable location because of property values.  as in, if you can drive demand for tract houses and suburban lots than the value of the thing that you already own is worth even more.

perhaps one of the most striking things is how strangely relevant the characters are today, on a national scale.  in the list of players of foreign money that flow into L.A. real estate in unprecedented amounts is one Donald Trump, with a multi-million dollar tower play in downtown LA.  there's Lew Wasserman, the "Supreme Being of Democratic fundraising in Hollywood".  i'm guessing there is much relation between this Wasserman of Democratic glittertown funds and the recently disgraced Deb Wasserman, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.  a daughter, perhaps? or a close niece?  and if you've been following congressional opposition to Trump, surely you'd recognize the name Maxine Waters; she gets a passing mention in the Prologue (and as the index assures me, much more coverage in later chapters).

then there's the theme of Anglo supremacy, the unspoken but now pointed out rationale behind the siren song of the SoCal coast.  come to SoCal and embed yourself into a suburban White utopia. at least, that's how the land developers and tract kings peddled their wares to the Midwesterners that funded the first wave of migration thru the 1920s and 1950s.  there was more to it than white supremacy, but not much.  it's eye-opening to discover how much of the past is ever present.

Mar 20, 2017

dream log

We were out on an outing with everyone else. This was late dream, after I had been on the carride and moved apartments and had that strange hotel experience. Then we were dancing out in a courtyard beneath string lights and blossoms. It is springtime after all. I wasn't supposed to dance with you, but we were all there together and your date was off doing other things. We left to go get cake from the shop nearby as everyone else had gotten some while we were on the dance floor. It was just the two of us in a back booth, laughing. They had a last call for cake, fruity cake, and I wanted to get up and get fruity cake and fruity tea but you stopped me, forcibly, and said: are we doing this?

And I asked: what about your girlfriend?

And you said: two envelopes mailed.

I nodded then you

Jumped into a dialogue about how I needed to know that you were a nerdy geeky thing who loved crochet. Like totally manly crochet but it was hard to express that because so much of the crochet market was just not, and you meant *not* manly.

I noticed I was holding a list of restaurants and it was short and then I needed to know if this was it, if this was the sum total of places you eat at and you said yes mostly but we both agreed that maybe it was more like a template, a pattern for finding restaurants you'd enjoy.

I forced myself​ awake then because I was nervous about not knowing what might come next, how things wouldn't work out after working out so well, so fast.

Mar 18, 2017

an offer for help

someone on the internet posted an offer for help on personal projects. i'm interested in getting help, or at least engaging in conversation for conversations sake. i don't really have a project that i need help with. i mean, sure, i've got plenty of projects but none of them are ones that i really feel like i need help deciding direction or approach.  

On the other hand, none of them are getting done, so maybe I do need help.

Oh well

Mar 17, 2017

stories of your life and others, a review

i just finished ted chiang's book of short stories, aptly titled stories of your life and others.  it's a masterpiece, not so much in the telling of the stories, but in the characters and the conceits.  the framing is impeccable. unfortunately, the dialog and cadence is not -- often the narrative feels driven by the underlying message more than a natural progression.  that Chiang's vision overcomes the obvious weaknesses in his prose speaks strongly to clarity and unbridled compulsion behind his tales.

broadly speaking, these stores are amatuerish prose driving deep, biting, provocative thoughts.

technical mastery aside, several of the stories circle the theme of the limits of intelligence, and what alternative forms of perception might feel like.

what he reveals says much, in my own estimation, of how we perceive and understand intelligence.  chiang's collection could be seen through the lens of really questioning the limits of human cognition, driving at what about human interactions changes when we move the boundaries of intellect.  what struck me the most forcefully about his projections was how much forms of 'more' or 'less' intelligence relied on barriers between the levels; a character's perception is as much defined by another's lack.

what is intelligence? is it speed of thought?  ability to see patterns? capacity for recollection?  in what ways do these skills become more or less important, depending on context?

ultimately, intelligence *is* context driven; pushing the boundaries of how we think is a test of how permeable and transposable that context is.  chaing's tales reminded me of an anecdote I read years ago, probably from one of Jared Diamond's books, of how IQ and SAT tests and the like would roundly be failed by an aboriginal or Papa New Guinea native; conversely a man who had done well on the SAT had little chance of surviving for long in the outback without assistance.  Forest dwellers can identify plants and tell what way is north with an acuity that 'civilization' dwellers find uncanny.  what you know is only as important as the requirements of the environment you find yourself.

ted chiang's construction and description of intelligence, while acknowledging the contextual nature of any intelligence, still insists on creating a world where 'higher order' thoughts become unintelligible.  there's a boundary at which thoughts of a higher order require a faculty that most do not possess.

however, such a construction is in direct contradiction to what we can observe about intelligence in the real world: that while new ideas contain within them the power to alter our fundamental understanding of the world (a point that Chiang hits with remarkable clarity), the ability to clearly and concisely communicate them in such a way that they are readily dissemenable is a hallmark of the genius.  Richard Feynman's diagrams often come to mind.  what chiang then seems to be proposing is a future where the context of our selves has shifted such that we cannot communicate.

and perhaps this future is not as far off as it seems.


Mar 14, 2017

dream log

It was raining and I went to the hacker house alone, a large drafty house thing with high eaves and stuffed full of antique furniture and boxes of left over conference t-shirts.

LHogan came by later to help clean it out, when everyone decided they needed to move on. She  wrangled boxes and people; it was crowded as everyone had come to say goodbye.

It was raining and my apartment wasn't water proof so we hid the carpet and a mostly dry comforter in my closet, which was suspiciously the same size as the closet I had had growing up.  My parents were in the kitchen until a fire happened and the firemen came so we bundled up and went down beneath the highway to talk and get lost. I tried really hard to not think about what would happen next but curiosity got the better of me and I had to know what your intentions were, this time, and you told the truth because I asked.

Nothing lasts, at least, not how you hope it will.

The whole place smelled like DUMBO in the spring when there's a fresh.breeze blowing in off the water and the sun is bright but weak, anemic without the full force of summer behind it yet.

Mar 12, 2017

dream log

Ginger broke a leg and we were riding around on bicycles to get to a meeting. She kept trying to walk on it, so I had to keep an eye on her so that I could come pick her up and carry her whenever she wanted to move. I kept thinking we should go to the vet to fix it but there was always some bigger emergency looming that got in the way of taking her to the vet.  Or maybe we were underground and going to see the doctor wasn't on the list of things that we could do, at least not without risking everything.

I'm not sure how much more I should tell you.

Unrelated to dreams, I went to the acupuncturist several times this week for a very very stiff/painful neck and they fixed it (mostly).  It feels sore now, but it's entirely usable; the sharp immovable pain is largely gone.  The needle poking continues apace, however, as it's still not gone gone gone but I want it to be, desperately.

I don't know why acupuncture works but it does.  It seems to point out that our current understanding of how the body works is incomplete.  My inkling is that there's something mental or neurological that's attached to pain and poking at muscles with tiny needles triggers some widely missed connection between the self and the body.

When they poke you with needles it's like having your skin pinned more firmly to you, like a tanner pinning a hide to a board.  It's like having a half dozen lightning rods affixed to the plain of your skin, so that you can breathe out energy through more holes than just your nostril.  It's also none of these things because by and large they are unnoticeable.

The place I went for acupuncture in Manhattan's Chinatown had a machine with electrodes that they'd hook up to needles across a muscle and send pulses down and into it, a flood of alt-signals all attempting to coax your frozen muscle fibers to stop sending out distress flares, to relax, to forget about what they were mad about and just chill the fuck out.  This new place doesn't do that but I wonder sometimes what it'd feel like to get those pulses into the very core of soreness and tenseness that comes from holding up my head.

Mar 10, 2017

Dream log

I dreamt about this life for the first time and it was good, if not deeply weird.

I rode on a bus in my pyjamas and left flowers on the street and almost lost my glasses case but the driver stopped to hand them over. He didn't think that he'd see me again. There was the rising sinking floating motion of a bus on a long avenue, heading towards the ocean on undulating hills. We had a conversation about my dilettantism and no one was in a hurry.

Mar 3, 2017

so sad today

I feel devastatingly sad today and I don't know why. Things feel really hard and out of control and I don't know how to fix it. I'm stressed about coming up with money for my stock options at my new job. I asked for and was granted an early exercise but now I need to find the cash to exercise but I just blew a bunch of money on a move and a security deposit on a new apartment and a bunch of furniture. I'm struggling to find a groove with my co-workers at my new job which sucks because I really really like them but feel like I'm unable to just chill out about everything. I can be really stubborn and judgey and I don't want to be those things.

I got two parking tickets and I need to get one dismissed. It's for not having a plate on my bike; it fell off last October and I didn't get it fixed til now. A new plate holder arrived earlier this week. It was the wrong size so I had to buy some drill bits strong enough to drill a hole through the back plating. I did the job yesterday and it worked fine. I took it out for a spin after work and it was good to be moving again. When I got home, the emergency cutoff switch wasn't working which was terrifying until I remembered to just turn the key, like a car. Tomorrow is Saturday and I'm planning to drive it to the nearest precinct to get my ticket commuted.

Moving is a lot of paperwork. I've been consolidating bank accounts too, one step involved printing a form with all kinds of personal information on it and mailing it to all involved parties. I did what I usually do which is mail it to FedEx and then walk to a store to self print it on a machine. I was counting on security by obscurity but the self serve file server was broken so now the clerk has enough information to open a new credit card or bank account in my name or just rob that other account of all my money. How great is that. I feel like a moron.

I have no Internet at the apartment because my doorbell is broken and when they came by on Monday to turn the cables on I didn't hear them. I had put up a sign and called the company to leave my phone number but there's only so much you can do in the face of insurmountable communication barriers. When I called to inquire about where they were, I was incorrectly assured they'd be there the next day. When I called the next morning to double check they said they'd call me back. They didn't call back. Twice. Finally  a very unapologetic customer rep let me know the earliest they could come was that Friday and it wouldn't be until the next Thursday that I'd actually have Internet. It was Tuesday and I had signed up over a week ago; I had picked them, a small local ISP, over Comcast because I really do believe in putting my money where my values are. I got mad at the rep and he just laughed at me so I hung up and called Comcast. They promised me Internet as soon as I could get a compatible router -- either rent one with them or buy one on Amazon. I went the Amazon route, as with shipping it promised to be there by Thursday and it'd pay for itself in 6 mos of service. Thurs came and went; my router made a round trip from West Sacramento to Portland and back again. Rumor has it it'll be here by Sunday but I've completely given up hope at this point. To add insult to injury, my phone data bill was double this month due to all the photos of horribly lit Craigslist furniture I've been looking at while at home.

My rent is really expensive and I'm looking for roommates to help split things up. I have a few leads for the two other bedrooms but they feel paltry and I'm worried no one will come live with me and this apartment will turn into a boondoggle. It's the not knowing that's the worst.

Drew was planning to come to SF to visit. He would have arrived today if I hadn't broken up with him last week. I'm just sad because it in no way was a good thing but it wasn't awful either so now what.

blank canvas

this canvas is blank. does that mean it's time for me to start afresh? that's one of the side effects of blank canvas -- it brings...