Archive for the ‘myself’ Category

Oh also, check out my kickstarter!

July 27, 2012

I am not sure how, but WordPress stats show that this blog still gets like 50 hits every day! There was one post that was featured in the “City Room” section of the New York Times website years ago, so maybe that accounts for it. In any case, maybe some of you random folks out there would care to take a look at my kickstarter project and donate a couple bucks. Thanks!


The Plight of the Unfriended

February 26, 2009

I have a random acquaintance who, apparently having decided that the “random” part of the equation now significantly outweighs the “acquaintance” part, revoked our claim to facebook friendship.

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, and I have no problem with it in principle. Friendship on facebook, as in real life, is a relationship based on feelings — an arrangement that depends on mutual esteem or fellow feeling. Of course the surreal nature of facebook allows one to accumulate “friends” without actually *being* friends, and this is generally harmless. But when the feeling of friendship is completely absent, its only visible remnant a fake facebook connection lodged somewhere in the digital void, then yeah, sure, unfriending makes sense.

But here’s the rub: every time I log on to facebook, the little “friend suggestions” tab features this person’s face along with the innocent declaration that “You and _____ went to Wesleyan.” Yes, facebook. I know this. What are you trying to imply? Frankly, I find your “suggestion” a little tasteless.

When you’re not friends with someone anymore, you don’t want to be constantly reminded of that fact. It’s awkward. But I think there’s additional weirdness here that comes from another source: the obvious disconnect between real life and facebook. In real life, there’s (usually) no decisive, permanent moment of “un”friendship — you just lose touch, you “stop speaking” as it were. On facebook, however, you are privy to a permanent, written notice, and in this case a near constant reminder, of mutual apathy. This taps into the coolest aspect of online communication from an English major’s perspective, which is that digital “speech” strikes a middle ground between the verbal and the written. And when the permanence of online stuff runs up against social convention of casual verbal communication, it produces dissonance. This is particularly true because facebook has become key to the way I interact with others — it’s part of how I socialize.

Of course I’m taking this insight straight out of the ethnographic work of the incomparable Jenny Ryan, so I’ll just go ahead and quote a paragraph from her amazing MA thesis:

“While many of my informants condemned social networking sites for contributing to a perceived decline in face-to-face interaction, by and large these sites serve simply as extensions of preexisting communication practices. The ubiquity of social Internet use among younger generations has given rise to the use of online social networks for expressing friendship bonds and group affiliations, lending an explicit affirmation of belonging in the world. In one of my interviews, a student related to me that before she came to college, her older sister informed her that “you don’t exist if you’re not on Facebook.” It is precisely this mentality that may lead some to depend on these visual articulations of their social worlds, especially in times of loneliness and depression. Online social networks enable the virtual expression of longstanding offline obsessions with effectively performing one’s identity, demonstrating one’s popularity,and acquiring information about romantic interests.”

The performance of identity is a key theme of current anthropology and cultural/ethnic studies — and Jenny points out that it applies perfectly to online social networking. People are very concerned with how they present themselves, crafting a digital persona or self to perform in the online arena, just as they do in everyday life. When being “friends” with someone no longer really fits with the self you see yourself as, then you shelve the friendship. It’s perfectly natural. I just wish facebook wasn’t in my face about it all the time!


February 18, 2009

So I couldn’t figure out why my enthusiasm for blogging had been on the wane — then I remembered one possible excuse, which is that I’ve been donating a good chunk of my time every week to being an intern at

The site is kind of a grassroots effort at showcasing under-reported humanitarian and environmental crises around the world, which unfortunately do not make the front page of the NYTimes, and making them more accessible to US readers. My work is basically to check a bunch of NGO sites and other alternative international news sources, choose some compelling tidbit, look for quotable background information and eye-popping pictures about it, and then write up a blurb. Then repeat. Most of the stuff I write ends up being ferociously edited, largely because I don’t have a lot of experience pretending to be a journalist. (Evidently journalism calls for a different tone from that of dense academic papers or pithy blog posts.)

But the work is kind of fun, it’s certainly very informative, and I encourage you to check out the site. It seems to satisfy whatever mysterious urge causes me to blog.

Of course if that were true I wouldn’t be blogging right now…

Actually my current excuse is I’m trying to avoid writing a short paper due tomorrow on “Civil Society in China”. This is a tricky topic since most activities that American political scientists would associate with “civil society” are expressly frowned upon by the CCP. Of course there are fascinating exceptions to this rule (environmental NGO’s, local chambers of commerce, homeowners associations, etc.) that I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. There’s a growing body of research on the subject since people are looking for indications that China might either collapse due to social unrest or spontaneously transform itself into a democracy. Either possibility would be of huge global importance and both are well nigh impossible to predict. “Civil society” on the ground is supposed to be a good indicator to watch since it might coalesce into an opposition political party — in which case, it’s presence would be very significant — or it could serve as a “pressure valve” to allow malcontents to blow off the accumulated steam of post-reform society — in which case it’s absence would be significant!

Generally folks have “read the literature” and so they have this in the back of their heads, they proceed to do a whole lot of really focused, locally oriented research, and then they try make an intriguing (tenure-achieving) argument about “civil society” in general. But I can’t buy into the allure of these arguments since the definition of “civil society” is fuzzy, the evidence surrounding it is usually based on idiosyncratic local variables, and hence the stuff may or may not be applicable. That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, or that Joe Bloggs PhD doesn’t deserve tenure, it just makes it hard to write a coherent short paper about the topic.

What is this orangutan doing?

November 19, 2008


Give up?

He is doing WORK, he’s visibly CONTENT in doing it and he will continue to do it until it is FINISHED.

Or until a real person needs to use that computer…

Nevertheless, for the next several weeks until the end of the semester I must follow the example of this orangutan. No I’m not going to switch to Mac or start wearing those once fashionable big and shiny ties — but I AM going to WORK. While I work I will emulate this ape’s diligent attitude and placid demeanor. As a result, interesting and thorough research papers will be written and everyone involved will be happy.

That is all.

Goodbye Brooklyn!

August 30, 2008

So I have officially moved away from Brooklyn!

In light of this, I should probably change the title of this blog…but, I do like it. So I’ll keep it for now.

I wrote a previous post about how comfort can be perilous — when you achieve a certain level of comfort, especially in an urban environment, it’s possible to get caught up in a senseless routine. On the other hand, restlessness and moving from place to place doesn’t do much to address this problem; it only complicates things. I’ve spent a few years entrenched in a pattern of moving somewhere, finally settling in, then leaving for greener pastures…it can be quite a stressful experience. And here we go again!

Not enough time has passed for me to really get nostalgic. But here, in no particular order, is a non-exhaustive list of Brooklyn-related things that I have enjoyed:

Loud hip hop. It’s a public service! It imbues the surroundings with a syncopated rhythm for your walking pleasure. If you’re walking down the street in the ‘hood, as it were, there’s nothing like a dose of loud hip hop to give you a little more spring in your step — a little boost of joie de vivre if you will.

Patties, especially those hailing from Flatbush/Crown Heights, are a terrific way to warm oneself up on a cold day. I’m not talking about the sad yellow ones under the glass counter at the deli — I mean the fresh ones from the Caribbean bakery. Even Golden Krust is great!

The Subway system — even if the map *is* ridiculously distorted! What was once an impossible labyrinth became a way of life. The futuristic DC system does have its advantages, such as cleanliness and air conditioning, but the MTA will be missed!

24 oz Coors (and 23.5 oz Arizona) tall boys are only a dollar! You’d be a fool not to buy them. How could they be so cheap? Well, if you haven’t already, check out The Story of Stuff for some perspective on that question.

The Brooklyn Public Library is my true love — for reasons I’ve articulated in a previous post, as well as the fact that they recently hosted transcendent the amazing Scott McCloud to speak about his work. He is great.

The peril of comfort

July 1, 2008

I knew it! You are going through one of those “what does it all mean?” things! 

I have about 6 weeks before work is over and the process of moving out begins — this is a sobering realization.

The original purpose of this blog was to muse about life in *Brooklyn*. But as Brooklyn became the background for my life, I stopped wanting to analyze Brooklyn itself — it lost its significance. I like Brooklyn, but I no longer wonder about Brooklyn. Its distinctive beauty and energy are just another part of life. I’ve become comfortable here.

Comfort! Despite the bouts of drama, despite the undercurrents of Albee-esque malaise, despite the psychotic landlord and the power outages and the relentless critters plaguing me throughout, despite my bizarre work situation, despite the severe lack of money which has shaped my life since day one, indeed despite all the manifestations of ubran insanity, comfort prevails! How does that work? And why does it bother me?

I took my position with Americorps in order to get experience in the field of counseling and community work while I weighed my options for seeking advanced training in those fields.  I wanted to help people deal with their feelings, their needs, and their life goals in some kind of community health setting. And I’ve been quite sucessful! I’ve learned alot about counseling, education, cross-cultural communication and social services in general.

That said, when I took my job I wasn’t totally prepared for how difficult it is to follow through with wayward or disinterested clients, or to put forth the effort to deal with onerous everyday office tasks, or to negotiate the heirarchy that exists even in a non-profit community organization. I wrote about how I was being forced to work independently; organizing my own work load as I saw fit. But when nobody is there to guide you or supervise your development, it’s easy to build a little world for yourself comprised of daily rituals and little more.

So I’m in an awkward situation. I’ve helped alot of people during the course of my Americorps year. But I’ve also found myself buying into, or perhaps creating, a work-a-day reality where I have little real responsibility, room for growth, or opportunity to be creative. This, it seems, is what happens when you settle for comfort.

But is comfort such a terrible thing? Must it always lead to complacency? It is perplexing.

Finally, a word about Americorps and social class. Of the original group of thirteen Americorps volunteers placed in various positions throughout my program, six have left without completing their term. Of those six, all came from working class backgrounds. None were college educated. Two were single parents. Five were people of color.

Of the remaining seven (who have either completed or are slated to complete their terms very soon) four are white (including myself), one is hispanic, two are asian, all are middle or upper-middle class.

It’s not surprising that people with parental resources are the only ones who could complete a year of penury in one of the most expensive cities in the country. But it does perhaps trouble the goals of the Americorps program. Just as Peacecorps was originally created to bring American values to countries that were potentially within the Soviet sphere of influence, Americorps seems to have been created to deliver middle class values to the rural or inner city poor.

Root Beer Revelation

June 26, 2008

I don’t usually read the Dining section of the NYTimes because I don’t have any money and I’m not a masochist. But today there was an eye-opener about root beer tasting, which made me want to recount my own experiences with the mysterious beverage.

As a kid I was raised on cola, encountering root beer only very sporadically at birthday parties or the like. As such I developed a vague but persistent distrust for the brew. I was (and am) addicted to sugar — and yet, as far as I was concerned, no soda should be this sweet! And what was that tangy aftertaste all about? The old timey medicine chest ring of the words “root beer” didn’t help things…exactly what “root” were they referring to? And what century did the root come from?

Finding no satisfactory answer, I embraced a staunch policy of avoiding the stuff. In situations of the absolute last resort, when even ginger ales or lemon limes were unavailable, I would not say no to a proffered Mr. Pibb or Dr. Pepper. But root beer was categorically out of the question.

Flash forward to high school. I was hanging out with a friend of mine and we had just made a trip to Jerry’s Subs and Pizza, where we each got cheese steaks of the insanely gargantuan size that only Jerry’s can furnish forth. When we got back to this kid’s house, he offered me a bottle of Stewart’s root beer. I was hesitant…

But I chugged it! Pure joy. I immediately chugged another one. It had the same root beer tang, but balanced with a happy hint of vanilla. I ended up drinking so many Stewarts’ that I didn’t have room for my continent-size heart attack sandwich. (I think I saved it for later, but that’s a waste in itself because the bread got soggy and the grease congealed…the fate of forsaken cheese steaks is not pretty) At any rate (here’s some free advertising for Stewart’s) my whole attitude about root beer was changed instantly and forever.

So Stewart’s being placed in the bottom slot of the NYTimes Top 10 list is a revelation: Wow. There are in fact better root beers out there!

— and I’m a try ’em.

ALSO It should be noted that the method of transmitting the root beer makes a huge difference. Root beer on tap is a beauty that bottles just can’t convey.

ALIENS PREDATOR TERMINATOR (Stan Winston dead at 62)

June 17, 2008

As a kid I spent hours watching and re-watching a VHS tape crammed with 6+ hours of classic 80’s action fare; labeled “ALIENS PREDATOR TERMINATOR” in my step dad’s stark handwriting, this amusingly lo-fidelity tape was a relic of his days as a bachelor, and a staple of my own development as a hopeless movie nerd.

At the end of Aliens, as the eerie Goldsmith theme plays and the credits start to roll, I would be *just* about to turn off the TV (perhaps to go play outside or read a book) — when suddenly Predator is on! That movie rocks! Gotta watch.

Alright, alright. The Predator has blown himself up with a final gesture of extraterrestrial bravado, Arnold is scratched up and dusty but otherwise miraculously unscathed by the explosion and sitting safely in his evac chopper, and all is well in the jungle.  Time to get up, stretch out, maybe get a glass of water. Then BAM! It’s Brad Fiedel’s Terminator theme, with its military rhythm and beautifully simple 80’s-tastic synth melody, and I’m right back in.  Yeah dude! The Terminator!

I don’t care to reveal how much of my early adolescence was spent in this fashion.

One time (in the days before IMDB) I tried to think of some of the different intersections that those three classic movies share:

James Cameron directed two of them.

Lance Henricksen featured prominently in two of them.

Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in two of them.

Michael Bien starred in two of them.

Bill Paxton had roles in two of them.

And Stan Winston did the visual effects for all three of them!! Unbelievable.

On the one hand, this means that I can’t think of any one person more responsible for gluing me to the television and wasting my precious youth (except for my step dad of course!)

On the other hand, Winston’s contribution to special effects in the movies we all love is unparalleled. Like Syd Mead, he is an  unsung hero of mis en scene, especially in sci-fi films that would fall flat without that element of sheer, eye-popping spectacle.  What an amazing body of work, what a brilliant mind, what an untimely death.

I want to send my sincere condolences to his family and friends.

An encounter with Non-Violent Communication

June 12, 2008

Like my rambling encounter with Theater of the Oppressed from a few weeks ago, this post is mostly for my own edification — I’m trying to write out stuff that I learned recently before I forget it all!


The Ideology of Nonviolent Communication

    states the following:

  • All humans have energy that sustains life
  • This energy expresses itself in our dreams and our needs
  • If you are human, you have this spirit. If you have this spirit, you have needs. Hence, everyone has needs
  • Wants and desires are strategies to meet your needs

What is the point? Well, these are premises for developing strategies for communication that satisfies human needs. The performative quality of words implies that language itself can be a violent act (thanks Judith Butler) even when it’s only meant to be expressive. Think about the last time you asked your roommate to pick up the slack and wash his share of dirty dishes — it always comes off as a criticism, and makes you sound like an asshole. But really you feel frustrated with the kitchen and you need your roommate to help you out. So why should that be grounds for you being the asshole? It shouldn’t.

Phrasing, tone, and style are important — if you say, for example, “Hey man I really feel like you’re not doing your share of the dishes” then you are implicitly imposing a judgment upon your roommate. The emphasis placed upon the really implies disappointment, and quasi-paternal shame at your dirty roommate. Also the “you’re not doing your share of the dishes” is not actually a feeling, it’s a quite specific thought and statement about your view of the situation masked within an “I feel like…” sentence.

This is, incidentally, a favorite Wesleyan kid tactic for avoiding responsibility; you know that kid who raises his hand to proclaim “I feel like Shakespeare wrote King Lear as a metaphor for political power in general.” Damn it, you don’t “feel like” that! You think that!

But I digress. The point is that there is a judgment inadvertently entangled in that sentence about dishes — if you utter it, your roommate will be more likely to counter-attack or go on the defensive than to communicate openly. To judge a person before you’ve walked a mile in their proverbial shoes is an act of linguistic violence and it will most likely lead to a battle, roiled with sarcasm, eye-rolling, and sighs (at best).

The way to avoid this is to express your feelings and your needs clearly and simply, without casting aspersions upon the other person. NVC theory says that you should deal with others compassionately, observe what’s going on around you, and pay attention to your own feelings in particular (because they help you figure out what your needs are.) This way you can more effectively seek positive changes that work for all parties involved. Strive for no labeling, no judgment, and no violence.

A personal note to all this: Once upon a time I was experiencing serious, soul-crushing, Bell Jar-esque depression. Then I began to realize (thanks to the support of friends, family, and extraordinarily uplifting albeit un-bloggable circumstances) that this suffering was self-imposed. I had been shouldering a burden of my own narrow judgments, ignoring my own needs as well as those of loved ones, and thus actually causing my distress that had spiraled into despair.

For me, the most interesting thing about NVC theory is that it jibes with what I was thinking at that time — it is essentially the same theory that I conceptualized during the incredibly euphoric phase of my life that took shape after I climbed out of the mire. I thought: If people could know their needs and speak them to others, then individuals could act together to solve collective problems. I was thereupon *completely* convinced that I should become a counselor or therapist — the profession of helping people understand their own feelings and act upon them by making positive change in their lives.

Now I know that this isn’t necessarily the case; rather, I can work to affect positive change through communication in all sorts of other, broader ways too. Even though I stumbled upon NVC by myself and in my own original way, others have been working on developing its applications for years. And I hope to be part of generating this discourse.

A sigh of relief

April 28, 2008


The first story. Yesterday I found an alarming lump on my body, which fueled my paranoid fantasies throughout a long, sleepless Sunday night. Would I have to have surgery? What about chemo? How could I ever afford to have cancer? Perhaps the toxic chemicals that I use to spray my apartment for bed bugs have caused a tumor to grow — those little bastards could actually be, albeit indirectly, my cause of death! Or maybe this is my punishment for being so pretentious. When I got to work this morning, my mind was spinning with images of suffering, loss, weeping relatives and dreaded medical bills. Plus I was in the peculiar state, so familiar from college days, of being hopelessly over-tired while also ridiculously caffeine-wired. I was, oh…quite worried.

Now my place of employment is technically an outpatient clinic — I work for a hospital where they actually provide job counseling and basic education services, in addition to medical care. Employment and literacy are components of health, or so they say. So I imagined that being a hospital employee, I could be seen quickly and then return to work.

Laboring under this misapprehension, I trudged through the pouring rain over to the main site to see a doctor. As I waited for hours, well into the dreary afternoon, my Woody Allen angst got more and more intense. Eventually, agitated into sentimentality, I felt grateful for my years of life and love up until now and cataloged all the people I’d contact with the tragic news.

I was ultimately diagnosed with <gasp> folliculitis

An inflamed hair follicle. I think I’m gonna live.

But those moments of genuine fear, inspired though they may be by absurd self-inflating hypochondria, do put things in perspective.

The second story. Went to the post office, still in the rain, to send the cropped orange pony tail of a certain young lady I know who decided to donate her lustrous locks to charity. While there I also sent in my deposit check for Graduate School (capital G, capital S) where I intend to take my China-related nerddom to the level of professional qualification. My goodness, isn’t life exciting?