April 24, 2008

A good quote #2

Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.

- Albert Einstein, as quoted on the tab of today's Good Earth Sweet & Spice tea bag.

April 20, 2008

Aqueous Transmissions on a rainy day

It rained today. Great huge buckets of rain. This week, though, I refused to let either depression or fastidiousness get the better of me. I needed to get up to Shaharazade's, and to spend some time outside experiencing Spring. So, after a morning of lounging in front of the tv watching King Kong (Peter Jackson's version. The ending leaves me sobbing like a fool every time.), I threw on my rainjacket and drove, carefully (I'm not kidding that it was pouring), to West Va.

Shaharazade's was busy, so I didn't bother to pester the owner's daughter about the status of the restaurant (her step-father still hasn't gotten back to me with the info I need) and quietly enjoyed my veggie frittata and pot of Nepali tea like I used to before visions of ownership began dancing in my crazy head. Afterwards, I strolled down to the Lost Dog for a chai (no such thing as too much tea) and to read some Roald Dahl (the man's adult fiction is even more wonderfully subversive and perverse than his kid's stuff). While there, I got it into my head to once again wander that deserted old dirt road along the Potomac River.

The rain had stopped by the time I drove down to the river and began trudging upstream. With every step, I regretted that I hadn't brought my camera to capture the fresh, bright green of young leaves against the backdrop of misty grey sky. It didn't take long to reach the clearing with the make-shift fountain. There's now a small dead frog sprawled on the grating, being slowly pulverized by waterboarding. Poor thing. (It's very obvious I've been reading Dahl lately...)

It began to rain again on the way back downstream, but I just didn't care. I was out and wandering and coming to the realization that I need to begin doing this sort of thing more often again. I've always had issues with the effect of dreary days on my mood, but I never used to let bad weather keep me from the outdoors. I don't know just when I became such a weenie, but it's been years since I've hiked in the rain or biked through mud (The last time I did that, I ended up with my arm in a sling-- damaged a ligament in my elbow by landing wrong when my tires slipped out from under me. Never extend your arm to break a fall.). Today, though, I left my hood down and my rainjacket unzipped and became increasingly, pleasantly, soggy.

Back at the car, I sat and scribbled these words with my hair plastered to my forehead and water running down the back of my neck, feeling peaceful instead of morose. Could the sight of sticky little leaves perhaps have broken the spell I've been under?

And of course there's a song to match the mood. It's not about rain, but it is about a river, it's very soothing, and the ending makes me think of Spring so it's fitting. It's also one of the most beautiful things Incubus has ever created. Listen all the way through and enjoy...

Aqueous Transmission

I'm floating down a river
Oars freed from their holes long ago.
Lying face up on the floor of my vessel,
I marvel at the stars
And feel my heart overflow.

Further down the river

Two weeks without my lover,
I'm in this boat alone.
Floating down a river named emotion,
Will I make it back to shore
Or drift into the unknown?

Further down the river

I'm building an antenna,
Transmissions will be sent when I am through.
Maybe we'll meet again further down the river
And share what we both discovered...
Then revel in the view.

Further down the river

April 15, 2008

An interesting commute

There was apparently a lunatic on the train this morning. I didn't see him, but I heard him. I get on at the end of the line and board the very first car, which becomes the very last when the train pulls out of the station. I always get on at the middle doors and sit facing the direction the train will be going as it heads towards the city. Because it's the first/last station, there are usually only a handful of people in the car until we get to the next stop. So, this morning, I could clearly hear him behind me, at the farthest end of the train, a single voice muttering, growling, occasionally raising in volume to repeat one sentence over and over.

Homeless folk often accumulate enough change to buy a subway fare, and then take the train out to the suburbs. Sometimes they get off at my stop and I see the same people on street corners near home that I've seen on street corners near work. Other times, they curl up to sleep and just ride the train back and forth along its route. The ones who don't sleep are often very vocal. I remember one woman once who entertained the morning commuters with songs from My Fair Lady and a story about how she and her sister learned to play those songs on the piano as children. I listened to those songs and that story probably ten times in the course of my 40 minute ride that day. What is it about repetition that so appeals to the insane?

When I heard the guy this morning, I briefly considered getting off and waiting for the next train, but I didn't. I stayed in my seat, exploring my varying sensations of revulsion and fascination and wondering just what there was in me that inspired each.

At each station, the train filled up with more passengers. Within a half-dozen stops, other voices had drowned out the babbling lunatic one, and I wondered about the reactions of the people boarding that far end. Were they repulsed, compassionate, embarassed, apathetic? How many of them wondered who he was and what might have brought him to this state of being?

I wish now that I had turned around and gotten a look at the guy, so that I could watch for him on the street corners downtown.

April 13, 2008

Coming out of Agoraphobia


Two people touching lips
Hands on each other's hips
Nothing in else in the world but one another
The 42nd floor
On a distant shore
I wonder how we've strayed so far from this
Remember when we were
Just flesh and bone
You, sir, may have forgotten how good your world can be
So, put down your hollow tips
And kiss your lover's lips
And know that fate is what we make of it

Please end this, please end this
Before this ends us, ends us
I wanna stay inside
I wanna stay inside for good
I wanna stay inside
For good

I read the news today
And everything they say
Just makes me want to stay inside and wait
But the better part of me knows
That waiting in the throes
Is on par with reading with my eyes closed
"What can I do?" you say,
"It's just another day
in the life of apes with ego trips"
Put down your hollow tips
And kiss your lover's lips
And know that fate is what we make of it

Please end this, please end this
Before this ends us, ends us
I wanna stay inside
I wanna stay inside for good
I wanna stay inside
For good

I'm gonna stay inside
I'm gonna stay inside for good
I'm gonna stay inside
For good

I wanna stay inside
I wanna stay inside for good
I wanna stay inside
Don't want to stay inside for good

I was listening to this song while driving recently and originally decided to post it with little comment, just because I feel it's a good one. But since then I've finished reading Three Cups of Tea and watched the film Into the Wild, and I suddenly found some connections. In the latter, a man walks away from the evils that he perceives in society and into the massive solitude of the Alaskan wilderness, where he succumbs and perishes. In the former, a man wanders out of the solitude of a mountain wilderness and into a tiny Pakistani village, after which he devotes every bit of his financial, emotional, and physical resources to improving the lives of the people he encounters. Both are incredibly moving true stories, though only one of them continues as I write this.

I'm gonna cheat here and use Amazon's description of Three Cups of Tea:

Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse's unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world's second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, [Greg] Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town's first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Co-author [David Oliver] Relin recounts Mortenson's efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls.

What Greg Mortenson has done is absolutely amazing. He's the polar opposite of the anti-social creature described in Brandon's lyrics above, and of Christopher McCandless' disenchantment. I can't imagine doing anything like what he's accomplished, but that's ok. Not all of us have the drive and energy to dedicate our entire being to helping others. But the rest of us can certainly do small things here and there to support people like Mortenson, or to find other avenues to connect, give back, and avoid agoraphobic dissociation.

There was a time when I rarely thought about any of this. I actually once prided myself on my misanthropic tendencies, and I still have many, many days when I make every effort to escape into solitude away from other people. It was through exploring Buddhism that I first began considering not only being more tolerant of others, but also the possibility of taking steps to actually help someone else. In Ethics for the New Millenium, the Dalai Lama writes:

What is entailed, therefore, is... a reorientation of our heart and mind away from ourself and towards others. To develop a sense of universal responsibility-- of the universal dimension of our every act and of the equal right of all others to happiness and not to suffer-- is to develop an attitude of mind whereby, when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will take it in preference to merely looking after our own narrow interests.

In a nutshell, looking beyond our own desires and perceived needs and doing something to alleviate the external suffering of others will, in turn, ameliorate our own internal suffering. Even the littlest thing can do the trick and, in the process, go a long way towards changing the atmosphere of evil in the world that has been perceived by souls like Chris McCandless.

Getting into Incubus and reading about their Make Yourself Foundation has further encouraged me. Knowing that buying the band's cds and dvds means I'm contributing in some small part to worthy causes has made me proud to be a fan, and motivated me to figure out ways in which I can do more. For anyone else out there who's considering the same, here are a few avenues I've found:

-- Three Cups of Tea homepage and the Central Asia Institute.

-- 10,000 Girls, an organization in Senegal providing education and employment for young girls through their own efforts.

-- Kiva.org, investing instead of charity as a means to help others.

-- FreeRice.com, an addictive word game that helps to provide food for the hungry.

-- Make Yourself Foundation MySpace profile, at which there's a PayPal donation box.

If anyone who reads this is so inclined, please feel free to add your own links in the comments section.

Another Philly excursion

Drove up to Philly yesterday to check out the Star Wars, Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit at the Franklin with my buddy Leo. It was damned nice to have a change of scenery, so I took the camera along...

On the way up, I took a detour off of Rte 95 into Havre de Grace, MD to get some breakfast at Java on the Bay. Yet another coffee shop in a quiet little historic town, but with none of the yuppified feel of most that I visit. It was a very appropriate spot to spend a few moments perusing Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times while wolfing down a carrot cream cheese muffin and spiced chai.

A row of windows above the store-fronts on Washington Street

The weather forecast included the chance of thunderstorms, but those never materialized. The day was a tad bi-polar, though, with cirrostratus clouds streaking across a blue sky one moment, and almost totally grey overcast the next (which made for wacky lighting conditions, so all of these shots are in solarized camera mode to give them a little extra oomph).

After picking up Leo, the first stop we made on the way down into Philly was at the very excellent InFusion Coffee and Tea shop (sensing a theme yet?). Fantastic place in the Mt Airy district of Philly, with a great spinach and lentil burrito.

Germantown Ave, Mt Airy

The Star Wars exhibit and the Franklin Science Museum were very cool. Climbing around in the giant heart exhibit was as much fun as displaying what a total nerd I am by deluging Leo with geeky trivia at each of the Star Wars displays. Afterwards, we wandered up towards Eastern State Penitentiary. There wasn't time to tour the prison, but we did hit up Mugshots CoffeeHouse and Juicebar (I really can't pass one up at this point, I think it's an addiction) before heading back to the car with three minutes to spare on the meter.

An apartment across from Eastern State Penn. Awesome windows with an eerily terrific view.

One of the highlights of the day was having the chance to cruise through Valley Forge National Park again. If I lived anywhere around the King of Prussia area, I think I'd spend every spare moment in that park. Absolutely wonderful place. I took advantage of being there to finally snag photos of the Kennedy Supplee mansion. All in all, a very excellent day-trip.

April 7, 2008

Anxiety and insuperable effort

In the world of the dreamer there is solitude: all the exaltations and joys came in a moment of preparation for living. They took place in solitude. But with action came anxiety and the sense of insuperable effort made match the dream, and with that came weariness, discouragement and the flight into solitude again. And then in solitude, in the opium den of remembrance, the possibility of pleasure again.

The above quote is from Anais Nin's Children of the Albatross. I first heard it in the opening footage of Incubus' tour documentary dvd, Look Alive. Brandon Boyd reads those words over a montage of video clips of the band members enjoying some free time, surfing, skate boarding, spending time with pets, re-charging themselves before coming back together to work through all the preparation necessary to launch a world tour. Brandon compares the feeling of Nin's quote to the "daunting" effort involved in preparing to hit the road. I find I can apply those words to my own life, as well, especially lately with all the details I'm having to plow through in making the decision whether or not to buy Shaharazade's.

The restaurant. Well. At this point, things are moving very slowly. It's tricky because I haven't told my current employer, so I can't make phone calls while I'm at work. I called in sick Friday a week ago (I actually was sick) and took advantage of the time to call a financial planner, then on Saturday I spent the afternoon with a neighbor who once owned an ice cream shop/cafe, then that Sunday I went up to Shaharazade's for breakfast and had the chance to introduce myself to the wife/owner (up till this time I've only talked to the husband/owner). I think she was a bit peeved because she had just stopped in to collect her husband so they could go to church and I caught her on her way out the door. Oh well. Then, on Monday, I called a bank loan officer to discuss what's required to apply for a loan and what some of my options might be, and called a second financial planner as a possible alternative to the first. On Thursday, I sent the owners of Shaharazade's an e-mail with a looong list of questions about the business and a request for their financial statements. But this is where it gets really hard for me. All of the phone calls wear me out, I'm just not used to talking that much and having to answer question after question, much less think of the questions I need to be asking. And anything financial is stressful for me, so I'm fighting my own resistance to dealing with this part of the situation. I keep telling myself, though, that if I can't handle the financial process of obtaining the restaurant, what on earth will I do if it becomes mine and I'm responsible for all of it? So this process is a good test. If I can buck up and get through everything I have to deal with (figuring out whether I can afford it, getting a loan, working with a lawyer and the current owners on a contract, fixing up my condo, renting my condo, finding a new place to live, learning the restaurant biz), then I would hopefully be able to deal with anything that comes at me once I'm a "restauranteur".

This past weekend was a serious struggle against Nin's "weariness, discouragement, and the flight into solitude". It's very easy for me to get stressed and frustrated and begin to feel that I should just forget this whole thing and stick with my boring, meaningless, yet very stable and well-paying, job. And then I get frustrated with that. On top of that, I've been needing to get out on my bike or to wander in the woods or something. I've really lost my connection to the outdoors over the last few months and that's having a bad effect. The cold I picked up the week before last triggered some extreme asthma symptoms and I've been coughing and wheezing since then. In spite of that, I was determined to get out and ride on Sunday because all last week the weather forecast was for sunshine and 60 degrees that day. On Saturday while I was at work, though, things turned around and it ended up raining all day Sunday. So instead of riding my bike, I watched tv (I had never seen Bridges of Madison County before. Damned sad movie, and the wrong thing for me to have watched on that particular day), went for a drive to get some lunch (at a very cool place called Beans in the Belfry), then came home and watched more tv and tried not to dissolve into anxiety-induced tears. I should have forced myself to do yoga or some other form of exercise, but between feeling so fucking blah because of stress and the weather, and still having some breathing issues, it was way too easy to just be a morose lump instead.

And on top of everything else, I've had a couple of slaps in the face lately that contributed to my being so shaken up over the weekend. I've mentioned before how much I love to drive, and how obeying the speed limit is something I don't love to do. This has caused me trouble before, back in my early twenties, when I received a warning from the MVA that I had too many points on my license. Since then, I'd fallen into a pattern of getting speeding tickets just far enough apart that points from the last ticket were almost ready to fall off my license. I've been slipping up the last year or so, though, and got another one of those little warnings from the MVA. Then, last month, I got two tickets over the course of one weekend, one of them courtesy of a brand-spanking new camera set-up in the small town of Poolesville. The irony is that small towns and residential areas are just about the only places in which I do normally obey speed limits. I received notice of the camera-generated ticket just this past Saturday, and paranoid visions of some MD traffic judge cutting up my driver's license contributed to Sunday's black mood. And, of course, I had to go out and drive to feel better. (Seriously, does anyone know if there's a such thing as Speed-Demon's Anonymous?)

The other factor contributing to a state of dukkha on that day was logging into my bank's website and finding out that some fucking moron had somehow gotten ahold of my check card number and used it to rack up charges of over $700 to Sprint (I don't have phone or any other kind of service through Sprint) and The Children's Place (I certainly don't have any children). So I called customer service and they immediately invalidated my check card, before I'd had the chance to pay any of my bills on-line or make it to the ATM to withdraw any money. Fortunately, grocery-store bank branches are open on Sunday (genius idea on someone's part) so I was able to get some cash. But this was just one more bit of anxiety I didn't need to deal with. Especially when finances are very much on my mind. Having something like that in my banking record might not work in my favor at a time when I'm going to be applying for loans, y'know?

So, I've been struggling to continue taking action and not revert back to Nin's world of the dreamer. In moving beyond that "preparation for living", I'm having to face so many issues I'd rather avoid and so many stresses of my own making. And consequence is one hell of a bitch.


Blink and you miss a beat,
Keep one of your eyes open at all times.
Think that you're on the brink?
The shit hasn't even begun to hit the fan.
Consequence, you'll see, will be
stranger than a gang of drunken mimes.
Situation has a stink,
Better clear the air before your son
becomes a man.

Blink, everything's been augmented,
You've been left so far behind.
I think, for sure, next time you should
wear a pair of eyes in the back of your head.
Consequence, you've seen, has been
stranger than sci-fi of any kind.
Situation baffles me,
I guess it's true you too are one of
the walking dead.

You better think fast!
Cause' you never know what's comin'
around the bend.
You better not blink!
For consequence is a bigger word
than you think.
It's bigger than you or me.