Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Moon

There is a halo, a completed rainbow, around the moon tonight.  The cold is languid; the clouds stretch like endless ice floes.  Some are leathered, others smooth as snow ice.  One can almost hear them groan in the currents' push.

If tonight were not recycling night, I would not have seen this sky. While I often wish for a life spent completely present, my attention is usually scattered.  What is happening on Facebook?  Any news about Europe's imminent meltdown?  Is Mitt Romney going to bet $10,000 on Monday Night Football?

In this rare moment of repose, my mind basked, let me share an update.  I have kept quiet about my main project because, once revealed, my works tend to sit incomplete.  However, I want to explain why posts have been few and far between, and, with luck, the piece is far enough along to allow me a small reveal without jinxing myself.

I am writing a novel tentatively titled "The Marionettist".  Three hundred pages or about half the book is written, and the rest is mapped out.  It is a work of adult fiction that deals with power relationships in society, between family members, and between lovers; it talks about responsibility, desire, and paralysis.  It tells the story of a young man, Henry, who wakes to find that he has crafted two life-sized marionettes, one male and one female, in his sleep; he has no idea why he has made them or what they are supposed to do.  But he knows that they are supposed to do something, if only he could remember his dream that night.

Updates to Hummus and Kimchi will most likely continue to be scarce so I apologize in advance.  However, as the book nears completion, I will release excerpts.

With luck, tonight's quietude will last until this journey's end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Break

I have many thanks to give this Thanksgiving: a fulfilling job, a supportive family, a brilliant cadre of friends.  Holidays are wonderful because they give us a pause to savor what has happened and to dream about what is to come.  Four months ago, I did not think that my father would be alive to share these days with us.  As we sit in the living room, he is happily munching on popcorn out of a metal bowl painted with leaves.  How wonderful it is to live!

Yesterday, my father and I talked over breakfast about my future.  It was different than the conversations we had in the past.  He no longer harps about my inability to engage with reality; I no longer respond to his well-meaning criticism with childish hostility.  It took many years of bickering, of misread intentions and badly expressed love, to arrive at our current peace.  I often regret my past self's inability and unwillingness to listen, but these current days are worth every old moment spent in anger.

Between bites of French fries (my mother was in St. Louis visiting Grandma and so he had free reign to eat as he pleased), my father emphasized the need for credentials.  You have things to say, he told me, so you need a platform to say them.  His insight is staggering; even though we live hundreds of miles apart, he knew the foremost thought in my mind.  He accepted that I don't have an answer to this question.  If I did, well, then I'd be doing it.  Think about it, he said.  Keep thinking, keep doing, and eventually the answer will come.

Although that sentiment may seem hackneyed, it is true.  Last night, I met my high school friends for dinner.  It similar to the conversation between the Fox and the Badger: "They reminisced as old friends do about old times that, in hindsight, always seem better than they actually were."  It was heartening to see us all in good spirits.  We were bright, hard-working kids who dreamed of bigger things.  Now, we're bright, hard-working adults who still dream of bigger things.  We have all had setbacks and heartbreaks but are making good on the promise we showed as children.  I am proud of us in a way I could not have understood until recently.

So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things.  I am thankful for my wonderful, supporting family that believed in me even when I did nothing to earn that trust.  I am thankful for my inspirational friends who have done and are doing and will do spectacular things to make the world better.  I am thankful for so much that this post could go on forever.  Since this Thanksgiving break only lasts a few days more, I will instead set aside my computer and enjoy them in good humor and good company.

May all your Thanksgivings be as joyous!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and Margin Call

Writing about Occupy Wall Street is difficult because the protest is, in many ways, a Rorschach test. Michael Moore sees it as a response to the "kleptomaniacs" on Wall Street who have taken our democracy and turned it into a "kleptocracy." L. Gordon Krovitz at the Wall Street Journal derides the "crony capitalism" that has supposedly allowed the Occupy Wall Street protesters to stay at Zuccotti Park. Loren Heal at Red State calls OWS a "cargo cult" and "an Obama campaign stunt".

I'm not going to speculate on the specific policy claims of OWS because, as of now, the protesters haven't reached a consensus. They probably never will. For some, this is a negative. David Brooks dismissed the protesters as "Milquetoast Radicals" and "small thinkers"; the big thinkers are, in his formulation, people matching his own self-conception of "moderates in suits." I, however, see the lack of policy proposals as a positive.

OWS is a motley crew. Every truly grass-roots movement is, because our nation is motley. Some protesters are anti-corporate. Others are pacifist (and possibly aging hippies). Still others are proudly blue-collar. There are the young, the old, the middle-aged, the college-educated, the not college-educated, the male, the female, the...well...you get the point. They're not all going to agree on specific policy proposals because this protest is not fundamentally about policy.

Occupy Wall Street is about process. It is about the feeling that our political system currently consists of the rich striking deals with the powerful to increase the prosperity and power of both, to the detriment of those who are neither rich nor powerful. That's why the motto "We are the 99%" fits. This isn't purely about economics. It is about representation. It is about process.

More about that in a minute. First, let's take a quick digression into current cinema (it will make sense later but I am too tired and hyper to create a seamless transition).

"Margin Call" is an incredible movie made even more salient by the exquisite timing of its release. If you haven't seen it, go and watch it right now...well, after you finish reading this post. But watch it. It is a scathing indictment of the global financial system made effective by its refusal to demonize the bankers themselves. They are generally good people caught in tides of their own making that grew out of control. All of the characters have fallen prey to the seductive power of money. However, none of them are personally responsible for the disaster looming outside the glass walls of their high tower because the storm is far larger than any single person or financial institution.

Many felt, including many of the OWS protesters, that bankers and others in the financial industry got off too easy (this protester has a particularly Swiftian sense of justice). "Margin Call" reminds us that few of them broke the law. All of the damage was done through legal means. We, as a society, had created a system that incentivized bad behavior, a system that could coerce good people into actions with horrific ramifications. The bankers aren't in jail because they didn't break any laws.

That means the system itself is broken. It created shining cities on sand (Ozymandias comes to mind), cities that, as they vanished, bequeathed only fallout. It is a system that can convince decent people to do indecent things because they see no other choice. And it is a system that still exists today.

That's why Occupy Wall Street is about process. In a working political system, the practices that created a catastrophe like the financial crisis would be fixed and the institutions involved would be held responsible, even if only for cleaning up the mess they made. The government would help the hardest hit and focus on preventing future disasters. Instead, today we see banks like Citigroup posting huge profits and compensation on Wall Street rising. Meanwhile, unemployment is stagnating at 9.1% and median income keeps falling.

The OWS protesters are not economists or politicians; it is not their responsibility to design and pass policies that will get our country back on its feet. They are doing what citizens are supposed to do when the system breaks; they point out the malfunction and focus attention on it until it is fixed.

Right now, our system works for a select few; for most everyone else, it sucks. That's not how it is supposed to be, not in America. After all, the American Revolution was about representation, about having a system responsive to the needs of the citizenry. Occupy Wall Street fits proudly in this tradition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Both Parokhet and Compass desperately needed editing.  I edited them, although their current versions are possibly transitional (depending on whether or not I like the changes after a few days).

In any case, you can find the new versions in the Poetry section.  Another, more thorough update tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


There is a new entry, “Compass,” in the poetry section of the site. It is in the Parokhet series and, I hope, adds to the themes in the eponymous entry.

The idea behind Parokhet, which may become a collection (four poems and counting), draws heavily from Galway Kinnell's “The Book of Nightmares.” While Kinnell used the births of his son and daughter to examine love and death (or what it is to love a new, dying thing while dying oneself), I chose a romantic relationship as my lens. This may be a function of age and situation since I am not a father, but it explores a different aspect of love.

Pay close attention to the dog. He wanders from poem to poem, sometimes symbolizing fidelity, sometimes faith, and in the final entry, the threshold we must all cross alone. He only makes a cameo in “Compass” but you'll see him again soon.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Boredom, Death, Royalty, Taxes, and Jews

I have not yet finished "The Pale King", David Foster Wallace's posthumously published final novel.  It is not due to lack of time, as I have achieved a somewhat embarrassing high score on Word Bubbles, but to re-reading the middle section of the book.

As a fast, practiced reader, I rarely return to the same chapter more than twice.  However, "The Pale King" does not reveal its secrets easily.  It is a frustrating, brilliant, and unsettling work that is clearly unfinished yet nearly perfect.  DFW began researching the book in 1997 and writing it in 2000.  When he died in 2008, he left over 1,000 pages for his wife and editor to compile into a novel.

Large sections of "The Pale King" are boring.  This is a novel largely revolving around accounting and the IRS, so this is unsurprising. While the first 20 pages are beautiful and engaging, huge swathes of the next 100 pages are consumed by lengthy, meandering interviews and numbing technical terminology.  There is no central narrative to follow; scenes with no definitive time or place circle around the accounts of various people drawn to work for the IRS.

This is by design.  You, the reader, are supposed to be bored.  Yet if you dig deep, really deep, bones of the Earth deep, and pay attention to these stories, you will be rewarded.  There is a gorgeous, searing chapter in which nameless IRS employees converse during a smoke break.  If you didn't pay attention and simply skimmed the previous chapters, you might skim past portions of this chapter as well.  You might notice the startling prose ("Everything is on fire, slow fire.").  But then you will move on, untouched and oblivious.

You will have failed, both as a reader and as a person.  You will have failed because you will have missed the difficult idea at the center of "The Pale King"; some truth can only be found through boredom, through pain, through careful attention to minute details over long periods.

When my Dad talks to me about the law, he is filled with light.  He is transformed by his love of the cold, technical language that instills dread in law students and everyday citizens alike.  Yet to him, there is poetry in the law.  There is meaning and mercy and problems to be solved.

At some point in his studies, after countless hours of reading, writing, and thinking, a change occurred.  It wasn't a big change, at least in a cosmic sense, but it was an important one for him.  The law was no longer just "the law".  It wasn't a set of statutes to memorize or briefs to analyze.  It was a source of meaning.  It was a way to illuminate the world.

He had achieved expertise beyond expertise, knowledge beyond knowledge.  He had drunk and drunk and drunk until the law seeped into his bones, into his organs, into his soul.  Like the IRS agents in "The Pale King", he had wrestled the great beast of boredom and won.

Attention, real attention, hurts at first.  When I watched the devoted pray at the Kotel or Wailing Wall, I was always amused by the davening of teenage boys.  They rocked back and forth, imitating their elders while shooting furtive glances all around.  They checked on the prayers of their peers; they made sure others could see that they were, indeed, praying.  And when they did try to focus, their pinched expressions betrayed their effort.

I watched young men in their twenties and thirties pray.  They shut their eyes and rocked back and forth with purpose.  They were no longer distracted by their surroundings but by the maelstrom in their heads. Praying wasn't painful, but it was work.  They knew they had to pray but could not find the transcendence they desired. They were, and are, like I am.  Their expressions blank, they scrabbled in the dark for something they could not name.

It was the old men who knew the truth.  They talked to friends, neighbors, and family.  They checked up on past acquaintances and swapped stories about their grandchildren.  When they did turn to face the Wall, they sidled up to it like an old friend.  Here I am, they seemed to say.  It's another day to live by the grace of G-d, to bathe in the light.

"Everything is on fire, slow fire."  That's what DFW's commencement address at Kenyon College is about; it's what "Parokhet" is about too.  We only have so much time to live and love.  What do you love?  Because what you pay attention to is what you love.  So pay attention to what you pay attention to.

You cannot find joy, real joy, in Facebook status updates or talking dogs on Youtube or British tabloids or reality TV or any of the trillion fleeting contrivances of the moment.  Grace is found through hard work.  Grace is found by paying attention to important things even if they're boring, especially if they're boring, until the attention feels like pain, and then it feels like nothing, and then it feels like praying. Because we're all praying to something.

What do you love?  Whom do you love?

Pay attention.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York, New York

I usually do not write about political events here, but last night's vote to legalize same sex marriage in New York transcends mere politics. On Andrew Sullivan's emotional live-blog of the vote, he says that “what equality really meant [was] the right to marry.” The vote wasn't about petty politics but about deeper values: equality and dignity.

The inclusion of equality is obvious; the state privileged heterosexual relationships over homosexual relationships. Now the law treats both relationships equally so heterosexuals and homosexuals are equal under the law. However, legal equality is intrinsically tied to dignity.

Dignity is derived from Latin (dignitas) through French. In everyday life, it means respect and status. This is what this vote was about, and why it was so important. In New York, along with Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Iowa, gay couples are now afforded the same respect and status as their heterosexual peers. The state and, by extension, the public, views them as full citizens, with all the rights and privileges afforded by such citizenship.

Gov. Cuomo deserves a huge amount of credit for his leadership. During a speech to state Republicans, he supposedly said (reported from someone who heard the speech), Their love is worth the same as your love. Their partnership is worth the same as your partnership. And they are equal in your eyes to you. That is the driving issue.”

This is about equality. This is about dignity. This is about gays being accepted by their fellow citizens and by their government as complete people, worthy of respect and status. This is about their love being seen as true, their relationships as full and rich.

Now, at least in six states, this is true.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This poem, which you can find under the poetry tab at the top of the page, began where all great poems begin: Wikipedia. Sara and I had spent the morning, as we usually do, talking about anything that pops into our heads. This particular morning, she referenced folic acid deficiencies in passing. Later that day, I had a few free minutes and decided to look into its specific effects.

Some lines of what later became “Parokhet” came from this research. The lines were:

“Folic acid

too little
and we die of rot

too much
and we burn”

They were cut in the second draft because they are awful. However, they led to more interesting places, specifically the section about our in utero heroine.

I couldn't think of a way to start the poem, though. It seemed a bit abrupt to start in media res with the scene about the child, God, and Devil. There had to be a decent beginning, a frame for the trinity.

As the opening lines implies, it started with the sky. Thunder tore me from sleep and I lay awake while a storm wrapped around Sara's small house. It was dark, the profound dark that comes when electricity leaves. It was then, while a storm cried its first, angry breaths, that I realized what the poem was really about.

Sidenote: If you are interested in some of the references in the poem, a good place to start is “The Book of Nightmares” by Galway Kinnell, specifically the poem “Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight”. You can find it online here.

Waiting Redux

There is an answer, of sorts: wait-listed. This amounts to rejection, although with the usual “it's not you, it's me!” appended. This is not untrue; the economy has many victims and the arts is among them. Several prominent programs severely cut funding and, in some cases, acceptances. A few suspended their programs for a year, letting the fields lie fallow and hoping for better weather.

I was hurt at first. Well, that's not quite true. I was hurt for a while (thus the delay in posts). If there is a graceful way to handle rejection, I have not mastered it.

For the first few days after receiving the dreaded small envelope, I sulked while insisting to everyone who would listen that I was definitely not sulking. Sara bought me peanut butter M&Ms and patiently listened to my non-complaining complaints. Then, I went through a brief bout of dreams in which the New School took me from the wait list, offered me a scholarship, and bought me a brontosaurus to ride to class.

Unfortunately, none of those dreams came true.

My nascent adult instincts intervened a few weeks ago and shook me from my malaise. I accepted a full-time position with my employer and made plans for the upcoming year. If waiting will happen, then it will happen on my terms.

So far, I have submitted a poem to a literary magazine and have been writing more frequently than usual. It is a good start. This summer, there will be no harvest. There will be the hard work of tilling fields that will only yield when the work is done.

I will post a version of the poem, “Parokhet,” tomorrow. Expect to see more work in the near future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I am still waiting to hear from the New School's admission department, and the lack of communication, the emptiness of not knowing, has manifested in variations.  Sometimes, it is sand in clockwork; the seconds drag one after the next, a weary procession of defeated soldiers.  Last night, it was a needle poised a breath before sleep.  My limbs ached and rain washed the stones.  But just as the last thought sighed its end, lightning slapped the skies.  And then I waited restlessly in the dark.

This morning, I woke late, edited a friend's essay, and tutored.  After the student left, I dawdled at the office because the mailbox sat, Sphinx-like, at journey's end.  Eventually, I gathered the remnants of my nerve and drove home.

The constant chatter of email has done little to lessen the muteness of the unopened mailbox.  When I check Gmail, the sender and subject are first and foremost; there is usually no unwrapping, no mystery to unearth, just the efficient transmission of information.  The New School does not send its decisions over email or phone.  The simplest packet of information, the yes/no on which all computing is based, is in their opinion fit only for the formality of the physical letter.

There is poetry in this decision; after all, writers aspire for their words to live in ink.  Pixels lack romance.  But I desire neither poetry nor romance.  Over these last weeks, I have ached for brutality, for directness, for bleeding in black and white.  1/0.  Win/lose.  Yes/no.

It is night now; there will be no mail until morning.  And so I will wait as the seconds grind one into the next until I face the mailbox once more.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Living Right Now

It's a gorgeous, sunny afternoon at the Bakehouse and I am happily digesting a tuna melt and mac & cheese.  The place is packed; a group of Chinese mothers are chatting while their infants stare at the strange sights.  At a window table, a young couple is eating lunch.

When the couple first entered, they seemed very much in love.  They sat down holding hands and made silly faces at the babies.  They shared soda out of same glass, Norman Rockwell style.  Their faces were joyful, their voices clear.  I felt their happiness and perhaps even a touch of jealousy.

The moment fully enveloped them.  They were engaged with, and engaged by, where they were right now, what they were doing right now.  This is a rare thing, rarer than it should be.

As a child, it was so easy to be present, to embrace the moment.  I remember one summer day when I, all of 10 years old, realized that inter-dimensional invisible dinosaurs were trying to destroy the universe.  No one else saw them; the responsibility of defeating their nefarious schemes fell on my shoulders alone.  My weapon?  A hockey stick.  Two hours later, I banished them to their nether realm and fell sweaty and blissful into the grass.

The young couple isn't saving the world from possible catastrophe, but that's the domain of children.  Their food arrives: a reuben with chips and a pickle for him, a lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella panini for her.  They grasp their sandwiches and lean in for a kiss.

Before their lips meet, he jumps as if waking from a dream.  His hand digs the phone out of his pant pocket and raises it to his face.  Her face goes blank; she leans back and takes a bite of her sandwich.  It doesn't taste as good as she had hoped.

His fingers flick across the screen, sending information out into the endless ether.  He apologizes and puts the phone away.  She accepts his apology.  They speak as they eat but their sentences stumble together.  When the food is gone, they don't linger.

As they leave, his hand twitches towards hers, then falls to his side.  They drive off and my jealousy disappears.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Goblin Prince, Updated

Long time no post so let's get right to it.  I recently finished a significant overhaul of "The Goblin Prince".  There is now significantly more back story and a couple new characters inspired by Anne Terres' fantastic artwork.  You can see some of the new concept art in the slide show.  The reading level is now a bit higher.  The book is now meant for readers transitioning from picture books to chapter books, although there will still be illustrations on every page.  The extra words were liberating, though, and opened the possibility of future books about these wonderful goblins!

On a completely unrelated note, teaching is completely eating my time.  Steph Becker has been wonderful and patient with me, considering that her illustrations have been complete for quite some time.  However, I cannot find the time to A) learn how to layout a book and B) actually lay out the book.  Is there anyone out there who would be willing to help me with either of these steps?  "The Fox and the Shadow" looks absolutely incredible (and hopefully, reads just as well), and I feel awful that it is still unfinished.

Now it's time to finish a baseball article before my editor devours my soul for tardiness.  Hopefully, there will be a couple updates over the next few weeks including, but not limited to, news about graduate school admissions...