Sunday, December 30, 2007

Armenia journal: December 30

12/30. We slept really late. The power had been out for a couple hours by the time we woke up, and stayed off for a good while. Thanks, Armenia. Read a 60-page chunk of C&P, though. We had oatmeal for breakfast -- why don't I eat more oatmeal? I will do that more in the new year.

Eventually we walked down from Lee's house into downtown Yerevan. As we picked our way through the broken sidewalks and rubble of the neighborhood, down these switchbacks as cars clattered up the road, a stray dog started following us. He was just emerging from puppyhood -- he looked to be mostly yellow lab, maybe some german shephard too, padding through the dirt and dust and broken glass and street cap and keeping up with us. Immediately I imagined us taking him in, giving him shots, getting him through customs and teaching him to be a city dog, with a name like Armen or Army, but eventually he jogged past us and went his own way, as we trudged along the rubble and dirt, and I thought to myself: this country is fucked up.

We made it down into the main part of the city and walked around an outdoor art market, the art vernisage. Lee told us that most of the statues in the city are of poets, writers, and artists, and we saw one of film directors and actors. This, combined with the idea of an outdoor art market in the first place, softened my impression of the city and country. It was nice to see some visual art, some color to break up the monotony. Yerevan lies in the middle of all these mountain ranges, and due to some meteorological force called an inversion, there seems to be a gray grim cloud of dust hanging over the city constantly -- as a result, we can't see the mountains nearby, and this scrim of dust and grime mutes all the colors as well. So seeing this art was like a breath of life.

We walked past an outdoor skating rink, where they blasted tunes in English and where the Zamboni had not made a recent appearance, leading to a thick layer of snow on the ice. We walked through another vernisage of all sorts of junk: mechanical parts, trinkets to fix a toaster or something; more art; beaded and glass jewelry; samovars, china, figurines; wooden gameboards and inlaid art pieces; old soviet medals. Men in dark coats and hats smoked and hung around as people shuffled through the aisles. I am no fan of these kinds of bazaars (don't like them in New York either) but it's interesting to see another country's stuff, I guess.

Ate lunch at this very American-seeming cafe, Square One. Nice break from the freezing cold.

We walked through this huge new area of Yerevan, a wide pedestrian boulevard with tall new buildings rising around it; they are to be mixed-use places, condos and restaurants and shops. Expensive stuff for corrupt officials, diasporans and mafiosos. Real estate is booming around here -- all those cranes signify something -- but who is to buy this stuff? Seems like the economy is built on nothing real at all (the money of diasporans who come in occasionally, or money tainted by crime) without any real broad economic base to back it up. To see these bold new high rises next to the pathetic old soviet buildings was striking. The soviet buildings are so run-down, so mottled and ugly and abused, dwarfed by these imposing structures, maybe 9 or 10 stories high, ready to be filled with new money. But you wonder where it will all go. Today was good, Yerevan is becoming a more textured place than my first impression indicated. What a country.

Tomorrow we head out to a small village, Goris, for New Year's. During the soviet era Armenians weren't allowed to practice Christianity, so they tried to make New Year's a substitute, secular holiday, complete with a Santa Claus figure and his beautiful granddaughter. Kind of strange. Happy new year = Schnor havor nor tari. Schnor havor nor tari!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Armenia journal: December 29

12/29. Today we woke up and exchanged Christmas gifts (I got a book (This Is Your Brain on Music), chipotle gift card, subscription to Mens Health, and a great green sweater). We had some granola and yogurt for breakfast. Gagik picked us up and drove us out into the city.

Driving around Yerevan confirmed a lot of my initial impressions from the night before. Everything is made of concrete, or dark stone, or a pinkish grey stone that is pocked with little marks and bruises. People shuffled along the sidewalks and
through the streets, bundled up in dark winter coats and hats and scarves. Looking at people's faces, everyone looked grim and serious, like they had just undergone serious medical tests. Many women linked arms as they walked; many people smoked. Maybe they all looked the way they did because they had to pick out their paths in the middle of the road, or alongside construction areas and piles of debris and potholes and litter. As we waited at one stoplight I saw a bunch of small birds poking around the median separating the street from the sidewalk, and the median was full of stone rubble. What was this rubble from? Why was it still there? I wondered a lot about the trash, and broken streets, and piles of old stones. It looked like something had been bombed. The processes of construction seemed indistinguishable from destruction, but maybe that's just overly optimistic. Maybe it's a lesson in entropy.

Everything looks the same; the entire city is sepia-toned. The buildings, streets, wintry olive trees, gray skies, clouds, cobble-stones, people, stray dogs, cars, are all seen in a very narrow range of color. The visual monotony is broken by crates of fruit along the street, vendors selling oranges and pomegranates that seem utterly alien in their color. There are also a few strange monuments in the city, blocky statues of men standing resolutely in front of archways and walls, maybe as artifacts of the soviet past. There are stray dogs, sometimes roaming in small packs, but they don't seem too thin.

Our first stop was to an oriental rug factory and showroom, called Megerian. They're a big brand, featuring rugs from all over the world, but they are owned by Armenians and have a showroom in Manhattan. We saw 12 or so women working on a giant oriental rug for the Armenian president, nimbly knotting the wool threads and pressing them down to form patterns -- what dexterity and concentration it takes to prevent errors, all the while sitting indian-style on a bench. The girl who showed the rugs to us spoke excellent English and had an I-phone. She explained that they had previously tried to allow the women to make the rugs at home, but there were problems with quality control. Now, women in villages come in to work on these rugs, and this is one of the few job opportunities they have. It seemed as though they are trying to introduce a capitalist system of working formally for wages where none has existed before.

Next we went to this market area, called the Goom. (No idea how to spell it.) People swarmed through lanes of traffic to get to the market, which was a huge enclosed glass structure. Outside on thesidewalk people sold cow's feet, jauntily stuck in
pots in pairs of groups of four, and there was a table of pigs' heads. Someone had stuck an old cigarette in one pig's mouth. Inside the market, I was struck by the sweet rancid smell of meats. There were rabbits with the skin still on their legs (I was afraid it was a dog), pigs, cows, turkeys, chicken, ribs, small poultry, giant hunks of flesh hanging from hooks or lying on countertops, tongues, slabs of meat and people hacking at them with knives. The smell was repulsive. I had to breathe through my mouth and focus on the fruits and vegetables teeming on tables nearby: grapes hanging elegantly, pyramids of potatoes, stacks of apples and oranges, spices in large bowls, square hunks of cheese, dried fruit and nuts stacked and ordered all over the place. We bought some produce, potatoes, spices and flat bread for tonight's dinner and made our way back to the car.

Came home for lunch: chicken soup, beer biscuits, jello salad, some cokes. Delicious. Now preparing to do some reading or take a nap. Yesterday I read the first 100 pages of "Crime and Punishment" and am feeling good so far.

The language here: "hello" is "betev zez." "Thank you" is something hard, so we say "merci." "Happy new year" is something crazy that I usually can't remember. The characters they use are all swooping arcs and dipping lines, like mutant lower-case d's and b's. The language sounds somewhat harsh to the ear, it's all angry consonants bumping into each other and swearing, like the city traffic.


12/29. Lee had several of her Peace Corps volunteers over for dinner, and we enjoyed some good homemade Indian food. Then we loaded up into cars and drove over to Malkhas Jazz Club, a surprisingly cosmopolitan place where three Amernians (two young guys on keyboard and drums, an older guy on bass) banged out some classic jazz tunes. They sounded great; the keyboardist was really into the music and was bobbing his head and stretching his face with the music. The club was pretty empty since we arrived early in the night. I had a Katyak beer which nearly put me under the table; eventually I gave up trying to make conversation and instead focused on keeping my eyes open. I don't know why but I can't stay awake here -- jet lag? altitude? cumulative exhaustion? There was a table of a few men in the front corner of the place, who clapped for the drummer after his solo and seemed more gregarious than the other patrons. We were told they were the Armenian mafia, a force to be reckoned with here, and the Land Rovers outside the club belonged to them (they definitely stood out among the tin-box armada of Ladas that most people drive around in).

The Peace Corps folks were very friendly and chatty, and were refreshingly candid about the country and its challenges. The closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey have crippled it economically; the nation's focus on the genocide and other historical wrongs, however justified, limit its ability to grow and adapt to a market economy. I have been feeling guilty about being so ignorant about Armenia while I'm here, so I've been cramming some guidebook history, and the whole thing makes your head spin -- it seems like the country has been this geopolitical pawn for centuries, has been wronged so many times and is now struggling to fend for itself in a post-Soviet era. It's interesting to be in a place that really got screwed over by communism.

Also in the jazz club: a tall, statuesque, beautiful woman -- maybe Russian? along with some male friends of hers. She seemed like a celebrity of some kind.

Also: jet lag is still kicking. I thought I was fine, but L and I suddenly slipped into this deep nap this afternoon -- Henry knocked on the door to wake us up for dinner and it was such a violent transition from sleep to consciousness. Really unexpected and strange. Like you're all wrapped up in darkness and warmth and then blankets are ripped away without warning.

Armenia journal: December 27-28

When I travel I try to keep a journal of each day, to help me remember stuff. Since we are living the high life here in L's mom's house in Yerevan, the capital, I thought I would try to keep my journal online this time around and see how it goes. So here it is:

During the layover in Paris, we bought two cheese sandwiches, two Oranginas, and a Toblerone, for a grand total of $35. The guy behind the desk gave us a big grin and made a thumbs-down sign as we goggled at the total. "The dollar is way down," he said. The terminal at Charles d Gaulle was freezing, and we spent several uncomfortable hours watching other people board their planes. Every time I tried to speak French, I spoke Spanish -- si instead of oui, etc. I slept during the entire flight from Paris to Yerevan, where the meal was horrible and they tried to speak to us in Russian and Armenian, but to no avail.

The airport in Yerevan was strikingly modern and clean and beautiful. On two separate occasions we heard the Rihanna song "Please Don't Stop the Music," which was odd. We drove into the city with Gagik (sp?) at the wheel, and as we made our way down the empty highway the word that came to mind was: soviet. Even at night the road and the buildings and the dirt and the rocks seemed to share the same dull, tired character. There was debris littered along the side of the road, and everything seemed to be in a state of flux. Buildings were going up, or possibly going down. Casinos aren't permitted in Yerevan proper, but they lined the highway, garish red neon lines and flashbulb lights popping brightly. In the city itself the red neon theme continued, yet there were no shop windows or display cases, so most of the stores seemed like adult video places.

L's mom's house is huge, 4 bedrooms, with a courtyard and patio tucked along a lane of cobblestone and broken concrete. There is marble everywhere -- on the floors, all over the bathrooms, even the banisters. It's like one of Saddam's palaces. When we made it home we had some snacks and sat and chatted, and then went to bed. I took a hot, hot shower standing in the middle of a heart-shaped jacuzzi. Our bed is big and soft and luxurious. I slept soundly, woken once by the barking of the stray dogs outside (they are mostly German shepherds, it seems).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


It was a rocky Christmas. There was some holiday tension, complete with festering resentments, all culminating in a good old round of familial yelling. This was good, though -- it's how my people operate. Once things boil over, you stand around and yell at each other for a few minutes ("Hellooooo!", "GAA!"), let the storm pass, then hug and resume a life of nicknames and old familiar jokes: my sister dropping the ketchup, me spitting a cherry tomato at a lady at Sizzler, Dad being too intense at putt putt, Mom making seagull noises. All happy families are alike, in terms of occasional moments of discord and the old webs of stories and family lore that make up a shared life. On that you can rely.

With the holidays behind us and happily resolved, though, tomorrow L and I embark on a journey to Armenia. You know, Armenia: it's at the corner of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. I've been to Iran and I was raised in Azerbaijan, of course, but this will be my first time in Armen-- oh wait, I don't know where the hell I'm going and have never been anywhere near any place close to where I'm going. I guess the closest I've been to Armenia would be... Italy? Or wait, what if I came the other way -- is California close to Armenia? I don't know. Seattle?

I'm excited for the trip, and have not yet succumbed to the travel anxiety that will undoubtedly hit very soon. It's going to be cold out there, cold and utterly foreign, probably the place most distant to everything I know -- and that's exciting too. I'm picturing the ice planet of Hoth, from Star Wars. In any event, I've never been less prepared for a trip -- I haven't read any books, haven't looked at the language or seen a map other than the one below. I'll be relying on the expertise of my savvy mother-in-law and the fundamental decency of the Armenian people. January 6 is the date of my return, to start my last semester at school, and there will be more to report then.

To Armenia!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmastime is here

Notes from McLean:

1. My mom has cooked dinner the last two nights; L said she never had my mom's cooking before. The food has been so simple and good. Between regular rounds on the treadmill and dinners at home, I'm not feeling as comatose as I usually do upon returning home.

2. In what is becoming a holiday a tradition, L is feeling sick with a cold -- she's been partially quarantined in the bedroom and is excused from all family/holiday outings, as needed. But she is trooper and is bucking up as we speak.

3. I got a couple of new cd's on my ipod before we came down: Keyshia Cole's "Just Like You" and The-Dream's "Love/Hate." These will propel me all the way from Virginia to Armenia. There are some awesome songs here, and it feels very current -- like, this is what R&B sounds like in the last quarter of 2007; you got it, you're not missing it. I can't wait to blast it in the apartment so my neighbors can love it too.

4. We saw "Juno" last night, with my sis, and it was just as good on second viewing. Also spotted at the movie theater: Senator Chuck Hagel! Score!

5. We spent Friday night with Trish, Matt, Patrick, Cynthia, and Kateri -- very fun, very boozy. It was so good to see people I love, who know me well and where I'm coming from -- sometimes in New York you forget how that feels or how much you need it.

6. Tonight we're having a really early dinner (lasagna), then church, then preparing for tomorrow -- wrapping gifts, hoping everybody likes theirs, looking forward to that great period of 25 minutes when everyone's sitting around in pj's opening presents and feeling generous to the world. It hasn't really felt like Christmas lately (the mid-50s weather doesn't help, but thanks, global warming) but I know tonight that it will. I like the mysterious and spooky elements of Christmas -- thinking about Christmas Eve, carols of the bells, "silent night"/"night of silence," all those things that make the nighttime still and laden with meaning. Star of wonder, the shepherds in their fields, Linus on stage with his blanket. Things like that.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can't sleep

"I can't sleep at night, when you are on my mind, Bobby Womack's on the radio, singing to me 'if you think you're lonely now...'" That's a line from the 2005 Mariah Carey hit, "We Belong Together." When I think of the phrase, "I can't sleep," that's the line that my mind inevitably recalls. Thanks, brain. Definitely helping out here.

Why can't I sleep? What's on my mind?

1. It's too hot in the apartment; the heater's been on for days to combat the icy winter dreck outside. My skin is starting to feel crackled and scaly, like I'm made of tectonic plates.

2. I set the alarm to wake up for a 6:45 strength class tomorrow, which always leaves me feeling anxious to a completely unnecessary degree over stupid, made-up problems. What if I get to the class too late to claim an optimal spot, leaving me uncomfortably close to the front or the back? What if I miss the warm-up? What if, God forbid, I miss the class all together? Also, who the hell cares?

3. I have my last exam tomorrow, thank God. I want to beat it with a shovel.

4. Then I'm going to the law firm holiday party, which should be fun. I hope it's not awkward, though, and that I can navigate the social currents in a good way. Be dashing, charming, etc, always leave them wanting more.

5. I'm hungry, and it's too late at night to eat.

I looked outside and all the windows are dark in the buildings across the street -- it's a lonely vigil tonight. Today was a strange day; we slept really late, until 11, and I only left the house once, to grab some dinner. The day was getting dark before I had the chance to acknowledge it; in some ways I feel like time just passed me by. Maybe that's unsettling, too. "Don't let real love pass you by." That's from a Boyz II Men song I liked, but nobody else ever heard it.

Now I will try to sleep least tomorrow I can pencil in some time for a nap. Assuming I make the gym class, of course. I'm trying to type quietly so as to not disturb L, but I don't know if it's working. In any event, my mind is now empty before you.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grab your torches

Tonight is one of the most decadent nights in the TV season: the night of the "Survivor" finale on CBS. Two hours of the finale, bleeding into the ridiculous live vote-count announcement, followed by the nearly unwatchable reunion show, which I somehow usually find watchable. I really love "Survivor," which I know puts me squarely in the 2001 time capsule, but it can't be denied. I love it.

I rediscovered "Survivor" a few years ago and it became a staple of my Thursday nights. I like talking about strategy during the show, figuring out how scenarios might play out, who should vote for who, etc, and I even find myself thinking about these things during the rest of the week. The theme music is good (vaguely ethnic, vaguely world-beat) and you can pronounce the contestants' names in funny accents as they appear. Plus, the challenges are usually pretty creative and well-organized (unlike MTV's lame Real World/Road Rules challenges, which always end up in disqualifications and ties because the producers make things too difficult for their hung-over, drug-addled and over-sexed cast; don't get me started) and CBS dumps a whole lot of money into making hokey things like "tribal council" somehow seem vaguely cool (if not really authentic).

Like most other reality shows, I definitely would not want to be on it, for a lot of reasons. I don't know if I could handle the rest of the weirdos they cast; I don't want to put myself in gym-class-like scenarios, with money on the line; and I don't think being on a reality show would be good for my life, overall. But on the other hand, I would really enjoy the part where you write down somebody's name to vote them off, and then whisper into the camera your rationale. I would write in big block letters, every time, and the producers would end up coming out from behind their duck blind or whatever to make me stop writing, because after I voted out somebody in the game, I'd continue writing down names of people who simply need to go, and explaining why to the camera: George W. Bush, my copyright professor, Osama Bin Laden, etc. So that when the wankerish Jeff Probst read out the votes, the results would be like: four for Regine, two for Diego, and one for Mitt Romney. And I'd be sitting there wondering why my anti-Mitt alliance only scored one vote, again.

Anyways, so I'm excited for the finale tonight. This has been a fairly boring season: no real David and Goliath success stories, or miraculous triumphs, or good guys vanquishing bad guys, but there are still some interesting possible outcomes. It's something to look forward to at the end of a cold and slushy Sunday, when the city gets stuck with all the horrible leftover parts of a nor-easter (meteorological meat loaf), rain and wind and cold without some thick fat snowflakes to pretty things up and muffle the noise. But there will be time for that later; tonight it's time to eat a lot and yell at the tv. Grab your torches, head back to camp.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Best books of 2007

This year had a lot of great books in it. I discovered Joan Didion and read a bunch of her stuff; I read three Richard Fords, whom I have loved since college; and I read a bunch of books from the middle of the century that showed that there is never really anything new under the sun. And of course The Road, which was utterly harrowing and technically amazing. Of all the books I read, these were my favorites (in chronological order):

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Interloper by Antoine Wilson
The Emporer's Children by Claire Messud
Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks
Stoner by John Williams
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Butcher's Crossing by John Williams
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Of those, my absolute favorites would be Stoner, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

I hadn't heard of John Williams until New York Review of Books started republishing his novels in extremely good-looking editions. I read two of his books this year and both made it to my list. He writes so cleanly, with such economy, about things I don't know a thing about. Stoner was about the life of a man who grew up in the midwest and became an English professor out there in the first half of the 1900s, adopting a career that his farmer parents can't understand. The book is short, but swiftly covers events in his entire life. To tell the truth, his life is somewhat sad in many ways -- bad marriage, alienated from his kid, thwarted at work by academic politics. But his stoicism, and passion for his work, and sheer resilience become admirable, and by the time the book ends you're left a surprising affection for this poor old sack of a man, who by then seems no less than heroic. This book reminded me of The Namesake, and I devoured it over three days in August. Amazing.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem was better than all the other Didion stuff I read this year; she was reporting on the counterculture of the 1960s as an open but skeptical observer, writing with such intelligence and humor and creativity. I've tried to copy her style at times here, like when I wrote about the JT concert over the summer. The highlight of the book was the final essay, "Goodbye To All That," about her departure from New York -- when she realized her time as a young adult in the city was inevitably winding down. It rang extremely true and seemed like an prophesy as well as an elegy.

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
was simply amazing. I wrote about it in January when I was reading the book. I admired Murakami's gutsiness and bizarre creativity -- who knew you could be so weird in mainstream fiction? Yet the work is consistent and believable and emotional. I find his protagonists so easy to relate to, despite their troubles and dabbles in magical realism. I'm really glad I found him and have plenty of books to catch up on.

A great year of reading. For our trip to wintry Armenia in a couple weeks, L and I have stacked up on the Russians: she'll be tackling the new translation of War and Peace, and I'll be filling an embarrassing gap in my knowledge by taking on Crime and Punishment. I hear both books are breezy and hilarious. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stones in the lake

Extended metaphor: Sometimes I view my life as a deep, still lake. And at the beginning of things, early on, large heavy stones were thrown into my lake -- their entry into the peaceable waters caused waves and ripples to reverberate from the center out to the farthest shores, chaotic and white-capped waves crashing far beyond, and yet eventually things were calm and the surface of my lake was pristine and blue and clear. And yet: the stones thrown into the lake remain, tumbled at the bottom in the mud and vegetation. Sometimes I will dive down and look at those stones, smooth as they are by now, and yet undeniable and a part of me: the currents change and refract around them, the fish and plants and life underwater have incorporated these stones into their homes and shelters, the shadows of these stones on the lake floor are topography as recognizable as any mountains you can see. You can dive down and touch the stones, you can even pick them up and throw them through the still water, you can send them cascading somewhere else, dirt and silt blossoming from the lake floor as the water churns about, until it too subsides and things are calm again. Sometimes I go down to see the stones, I might touch them and feel the familiar cool hardness, something that cannot be denied or changed. Sometimes I will roll the stones along the murky wet earth, sometimes I will upend them, sometimes I will hoist the stones onto my shoulder and pitch them up through the surface, lunging forward and breaking the placid surface with my effort, and yet when the stones land they tumble back down into my lake, in a new configuration, a new way to see and understand them, but they are always there. Sometimes other people try, it's not even me, someone comes along to rile the stones at the bottom of the lake, and the water may be white-capped with the motion and energy churned up from below, but no matter what happens the stillness of my lake will be restored. Two truths emerge: the calmness always returns, and no one will ever get those stones out of my lake.

Tonight we saw this movie, "Juno," about a wisecracking 16 year-old who gets pregnant, plans on giving up her baby to a nice yuppie couple desperate for a child, endures various trials and tribulations, and eventually has her baby and sends him on his way into the world. This movie was great, very funny and sensitive and smart, and it hit me hard. I couldn't speak for a while after it was over. I thought about the closing images of the movie (spoiler alert, dudes), of the adoptive mother with her new baby, of the young girl weeping in her hospital bed with her gangly college boyfriend, the biological father of this kid, lying beside her in a tender and ungainly way, and the thought struck me: this is the best possible way it could have happened. If you moved this scenario back in time 30 years, this is the ideal thing I could have hoped for. And that idea was hard for me to bear, and it's hard to explain why.

Earlier this week, we spent the last session of my family law class talking about adoption. I was appalled by some of my classmates' comments. They were completely ignorant and stupid, seeing adoption as little more than an 18-year babysitting assignment rather than something full of the mystery and joy and unconditional, undeniable bond of parenthood. In that class I was literally trembling with anger and emotion. I didn't trust myself to speak, and I wasn't willing to put myself out there for their judgments and small-minded proclamations about what it is to be a parent or a family. Fuck them, I thought - they are not worth my story. Which was a sad thing to think about, really.

This movie tonight really touched me deeply with its compassion and mercy. It presented things in a new way to me, yet the overall narrative was so familiar; my own book of Genesis. To see this movie, with hundreds of strangers beside you, and to reach the end of the narrative, when the adoptive mother is full of joy and the birth mother is weeping but with her friend beside her, loving parents waiting outside and a promising future for all the players -- to see this and think, I hope this is how it was. This was the best it could have been. This is the ideal.

That is a lot to bear.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Finals postcard

Where things stand:

I turned in a 32 page paper yesterday. It was good, but it could have been stronger. I'm at that point where I'm hoping that maybe it's just gone stale before my eyes, and it's actually quite crisp and insightful and clever to somebody else. This seems unlikely though.

On Monday I have an exam in Evidence, which promises to be grim. On the last day of class the professor noted that this is a hard class, and seemed taken aback that the exam would be on Monday, the first possible day to take the test. You and me both, pal.

On Wednesday I have my Family Law exam, which should be under control except for the fact that I've got Evidence snapping its teeth at me. Remember that clip from one of the Alien movies, when the alien was right behind Sigourney Weaver, breathing heavy and bristling and oozing tendrils of snot at her back? That's my relationship with Evidence right now. But once that's over on Monday, I'm hoping a solid 24 hours is enough to prepare for the exam.

Then I have to teach myself Trademark law to prepare for the exam the following Tuesday. At that point things should be easy, although the last exam of the semester always gets a little short-changed because of the sheer exhaustion and tedium of the process.

The undercurrent of all this, though, is the joyous fact that classes are over for the semester, and I am almost 5/6 finished with law school. I am quite glad that classes are done. I had high expectations for the semester, I was really excited about my coursework, and those expectations were not met. Let's see, a sports analogy: like if you're driving in the team bus to go play in the Superbowl, right, and then the bus gets a flat tire. And then the bus pulls over to the side of the road, and when you get out of the bus to check out the tire, a bird poops on you. And then, when you are recoiling in disgust, you get hit by a car. And then the bus bursts into flames and the entire team is charred to a crisp. That's what the semester was like.

If law school was my job, I would be sending resumes out and looking for a new one; if I was dating law school, I would break up with it. I am ready for a change. The great news is, a change is coming, and it's a good one, and it will be here eventually; I just need to grit my teeth and endure until then. And remember that next semester, like every day, is another chance.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Top songs of 2007

Another great year of music. Reviewing what I listened to and what I purchased in the last twelve months, most of it emerged at hip hop class or helped propel me through training. I've been thinking about my top ten list for several weeks now, and I feel solid about it. The list reflects my devotion to R&B and my affinity for beats that guide you to a dance floor. The list is completely subjective and reflective of my own personal tastes and life experiences; with that said, if you disagree with it, you're wrong. Without further ado:

10. Maroon 5, "Makes Me Wonder." I liked this song a lot this summer; it was extremely catchy, the lyrics were self-righteous and pissy in an awesome way ("it really makes me wonder if I ever gave a f*** about you"...burn), and it kicked off an album that I really enjoyed. The whole time in California I felt like I was trying to pretend I was in a Maroon 5 video. But despite all of these great qualities, why do I feel that the song and the band are included on this list merely as the token whites?

9. Timbaland, Keri Hilson, & Sebastian, "Miscommunication." This song is an echo of my top pick for the year, and it has been unstoppable for me in the last few weeks. As usual, Tim's beat is undulating and constant. Keri sings Tim's verse right alongside him, then grabs hold of the song and doesn't let it go for the next three minutes. The chorus moves from a warbling staccato barrage of "you"s to longer, loopy "do"s, and in the second verse Keri's accompanying herself in a lower octave, hilarious lines that she beats to death (in the good way), even mocking Tim at the same time ("only gave you my number cuz, drinks made you cuter plus, you were lookin sad and lonely...") Then, Sebastian cames in with a rap, lazy, nonsensical, bringing the song to an abrupt close, leaving you mad for more. You could have recited a grocery list over that beat and it would have been one of my top ten. Perfect.

8. Kanye West, "Flashing Lights." To me, this is one of the most polished, smartly-produced tracks I've heard in a long time. The first time I heard it was on my 10-mile training run (how naive I was back then) and I replayed it twice, immediately, as soon as the song ended. (If I hadn't been in the midst of a run, I would have stopped to dance, yet even as I ran, I managed to work in a few of my patented forearm raises in appreciation.) Besides the "My Love"-like production, the catchy chorus from Dwele, and the disembodied female voice chanting the song title for an unclear reason, the song marks the rare occasion when Kanye isn't rapping about how awesome he is. All that, plus some of the rhymes and meters of the lines are brilliant: "if somebody woulda told me a month ago frontin' though yo I wouldn't wanna know; if somebody woulda told me a year ago it'd go get this difficult..."

7. Ne-Yo, "Do You." This was one of those songs that seemed like a typical R&B ballad at first, but I was compelled to get it, and once I did, the only thing our neighbors heard for weeks was me sounding like a strangled cat trying to sing along. This is a great song because: it builds the entire time, from first verse to last adlib; it tells a coherent story, of a guy wondering if his old girl (now with kid and fiance) ever thinks of him; and the song is built around long notes, notes long enough for you to bless them with your own interpretations and runs. There is something great about the time when you first learn a song well enough to know the words, but it's still new enough to add your own spin without every recorded vocal dip and trick cluttering up your mind. I really loved learning this song and singing it my way, then Ne-Yo's way, then in a country way. Maybe I'll try it in spanish next, I don't know. But it's beautiful, Mary J. Blige turned it into a great duet, and that last 80 seconds kill me -- I can't help but follow the dude on every word, and then close it out singing along with the flute blipping up and down the scale, as Ne-Yo presumably breaks down into a sobbing heap contemplating lost love. Because that's what it sounds like he does.

6. Beyonce, "Kitty Kat." A lot happened in 2007. For example, I got sick of Beyonce. But before my Beyonce fatigue set in, I was captivated by this track. Another extremely typical R&B confection, perhaps, with her signature spare beats, except this has a couple distinguishing elements: 1) she is sing-songing the chorus and has this killer rap-chant at the end that is the sexiest she has ever sounded, and 2) this whole literary device of a kitty cat -- the kitty cat as allusion, kitty cat as metaphor. What could she possibly be talking about? "Let's go, kitty cat, it's time go, kitty cat..." Who would let Beyonce's kitty cat walk out the door?

5. Omarion, "Ice Box." I had to remind myself how passionately I felt about this song in the first half of the year, because I'm kind of sick of it now. But Timbaland added his weird, lovely rhythms to it, and the chorus has some unexpected beauty: "I've got this ice box where my heart used to be." Omarion threw some intensity into his vocals on his second verse, and he really comes at this song with some tenacity. And who can't love a song with Tim muttering, dozens of times, "I'm so cold, I'm so cold, I'm so cold"? The song has this goofy literalism that makes it fun to dance to in a regular way as well as an extremely dorky, direct-interpretation-of-the-words sort of way.

4. Lloyd, "Get It Shawty." This song! Oh sweet lord above, this song. This track is so light, so ethereal, it doesn't even seem to have a bass line. Lloyd's thin, wispy voice wanders throughout the track, around the little sample from Technotronic, but the song brings some surprising force. The first time I heard it was in hip hop -- we were doing some other song, but Russell put this track on, and the class just came alive, like this big communal awakening, as we all realized that this song is ridiculous. Like a few other songs here, it ends with a playful little rap verse, which I really dorked out to in San Diego and performed for a bunch of people, which happened to be caught on film, which I sort of regret. But this is a great track, cool and smooth, perfect for a summer night.

3. R. Kelly, T.I. & T-Pain, "I'm a Flirt." This song perfectly encompasses the cheesy brilliance of R. Kelly. "I'm a flirt," it's a verb and a noun, a boast and a warning, a confession and a lifestyle. The piano beat and bass line are simple enough for all three artists to really throw some of their best into each verse. And maybe this is me projecting, but I swear on his final chorus Kelly is throwing some emotion into the words -- some rueful lines, maybe, explaining himself to the hearts he's broken? When that last verse kicks in, what else can you do, really, but dig in your heels, breathe deep into your stomach, warm up your upper register and sing the hell out of it? There's nothing else you would want to do.

2. Diddy and Keyshia Cole, "Last Night." At first it's another Diddy vanity project, one in which he seems to be flaunting his own vocal mediocrity and tunelessness. Over a decent drumbeat, and with a haunting melody provided by something (a harpsichord? who knows), he's complaining about last night's romantic battle and the emotional paralysis that followed. Just when you think you're about to endure four minutes of his muttering, a revelation: Keyshia Cole steps in, offering her own verses, choruses, bridges, ad-libs -- and not only that, she is singing with all the emotion and pain that Diddy can't find himself. Is she responding to what he's saying, or (this is my theory) is she expressing the words that Diddy can't? The song becomes a six-minute epic, both sides battling for love, reaching a climax and surprisingly good denouement as Diddy picks up the phone to call the object of his love and frustration. I couldn't get enough of this song this year; I was singing it in Barcelona, on the train, in school. Yeah, I threw out "denouement" in the context of a Diddy track. It's that good.

1. Timbaland, Keri Hilson & D.O.E., "The Way I Are." The first time I heard this track I was in hip hop. Within about 30 seconds, I thought to myself, oh, snap this song is good. Except instead of snap, I said shit. Tim takes his sweet time bringing in the beat, and when he does it's another staccato, chopped up tone like in a lot of his recent work. He kicks in some verses explaining how he has no money or wealth to offer his lady, and then he gives the four-word command that really sums up the musical year for me: "Talk to me, girl." And in response to this incantation: Keri comes swooping down on the electronic beat, multi-layered, hard to pinpoint for a moment, surrounding this song in this melodic tone, and kicks into her lines leading up to the chorus, all the while accented by these synthesizer curliques that keep the song bouncing upwards. The chorus has Keri and Tim (but a better sounding Tim) trading lines: "I like you just the way you are," "can you handle me the way I are?" Grammatics aside, the song rides this great beat, these quick, smart vocals with interior rhymes, those quirky repeating high notes, into a great little rap that ushers in a fantasic, easy-riding close to the song. I've heard this song hundreds of times now and it still feels fresh and fun. I relate to the message of the song, as much as it relates to cockiness without financial resources to back it up. I was shocked when the song became a hit and they started playing it out on the town; hearing it at the JT concert was a highlight of the night. In sum, this song is loose, upbeat, unserious, textured, flirtatious, humorous, and undeniable. Like a fine wine.

I like writing about music because I try to capture how a song hits me, but without the benefit of knowing what I'm talking about musically. I listened to all these songs as I wrote this stuff down, and obviously I could say a lot more about each one (perhaps that's why I'm doing this instead of writing about the transformative use doctrine in copyright). As difficult as it is to articulate why you love something, let me just say that these songs brightened my days this year and brought me a lot of joy.

Music makes me so damn happy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Laundry lessons

This morning, when I was planning on picking up the laundry I had dropped off at the nice Chinese laundromat around the corner, I realized I had lost my receipt. I remembered the price, $20.20, both because it was unusually expensive and because it reminded me of how I used to spend Friday nights. I searched around the apartment, but I could not find that stupid slip. Immediately the nervous old woman inside of me launched into action. "Do you think they'll let me pick up my clothes?" I said to L, knitting my hands together worriedly. "Of course," she said. "What if someone finds the receipt and steals my clothes?" I whimpered. "That's not going to happen," she said.

But it might happen, I thought as she turned away. As I walked to the subway, dejected, I tried to make a mental inventory of my clothes at the cleaners -- basically everything I own, plus assorted bedding. I know those Chinese ladies pretty well, but would they stop a potential thief from handing over my receipt and receiving all of my clothes, valued in the tens of dollars?

Immediately after class ended this afternoon I went to the laundromat. "I DON'T HAVE MY RECEIPT," I said. I spoke loudly, since they're not native English speakers. I looked around for my white mesh bag, and the nice lady pulled it down and brought it to me. "It's heavy," she said. The bag looked familiar, but something wasn't right. "THIS ISN'T MINE," I said helpfully. Suddenly it clicked in my head. "THIS IS MY WIFE'S, IT'S NOT MINE," I explained. "I WANT MINE." With relief I located my bag, with my clothes, with the proper price ($20.20), safe for me to retrieve before some receipt-wielding thief rushed in and caused some sort of wash & fold dilemma. Thank God. "OK, I'M ALL SET," I said, indicating that the situation had been resolved.

The nice lady was looking at me. "I'LL TAKE MY BAG," I said. She looked at me still. Then something clicked in my head. "YOU KNOW WHAT? WHY DON'T I JUST TAKE BOTH BAGS, MINE AND MY WIFE'S."

The nice lady nodded. "Good boy," she said. "Good boy."


And on a completely unrelated note, this happens to be my 250th post on ol' Clarity. Not too bad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Could have been a country boy

It's happened on a few occasions in my life, especially back in college. It happened in Nashville a couple years ago. And it happens a lot more frequently now, thanks to L: the feeling that maybe I should be listening to country music. Country is like the flip side of R&B, the twangy yang to the soulful yin. Despite the differences, I do feel like the white people singing country approach their craft with the same kind of emotion and vocal expression as any good R&B singer.

I've been thinking about this lately because I read a great article by Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker, talking about the lack of what he calls "musical miscegenation" in contemporary rock. Unlike previous eras, today's whiny indie/emo musicians seem to ignore the black heritage of most rock music. Frere-Jones talks about how most great rock incorporates the rhythms of black music, offering as an example the drumbeat in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- it could belong to any dance track. Yet today's music (and he called out Arcade Fire and the Decemberists and other bands I could care less about) seems more focused on precious lyrics and affectedly bad singing than rhythmic impulse. Why would anyone do such a thing?

He traced one vein of "musical miscegenation" (still not sure how I feel about that term) back to the old recordings of folk songs from the 1930s. Songs sung by white country folk were nearly indistinguishable from black blues recordings. From this common source you get both country music and R&B.

The Oxford American magazine puts out a southern music issue each year, including a CD, and I always try to remember to grab it -- it's introduced me to some great tracks by southern and country artists I never would have heard otherwise. And the similarities to the black music I love are striking -- the same kinds of narrative, the same subject matter, the same vocal acrobatics and ad-libs.

L, of course, has provided me with a steady country diet, adding artists like the Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, Sara Evans, and Johnny Cash to my iPod (I've also added some Keith Anderson, Chely Wright, and LeAnn Rimes on my own). Some of these songs are so striking and so beautiful. Many of the elements of country music are completely enjoyable in their own right: the twangy guitars and wurlitzers, the celebration of a rural American ideal, the optimism that marks most of today's country-pop. Even the reliance on real live instruments can be a breath of fresh air, when the purely electronic beats of, say, Beyonce, seem utterly synthetic and unreal.

What's most interesting to me are the songs that could fall into either camp: Ne-yo's "Do You," Keith Urban's "Tonight I Wanna Cry" (or as L calls it, "Just Drunk Enough"), or the Reba/JT collaboration, "The Only Promise That Remains." Any of these songs could be a hit in the other genre, simply by adjusting the instrumentation and changing the vocal style just a bit. I was trying to figure out how to sing "Do You" in a country way, and after a long while I tried to slow the song down, add some twang and some of those old-school country swoops where your voice drops in the middle of a word and then comes back up -- and it sort of worked.

Country music: the genre I could have loved. Clearly I don't know what I'm talking about with any of this, but I do enjoy thinking about it -- trying to figure out precisely what thrills you about music, what makes the music so vital and necessary to you, and then searching for that same thing in unexpected places. And then, of course, the startling thrill of actually finding it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

November Sunday

Sunday turned out to be a really pleasant day. Here's what happened:

1. Abruptly woken up at 5 am by the incessant clanging of the pipes in our apartment. For whatever reason, the pipes, which seem to be carrying lava directly from the bowels of hell, make this horrible series of clanging noises every few hours. You try to be polite and ignore it, but it's like the infrastructure of our building is having a heart attack. So I was awake and thinking about this already when the carbon monoxide alarm started shrieking, perhaps in the wake of an extremely successful Second Annual Faux Thanksgiving, which required the oven to be on all day. Ultimately I took the batteries out but not before noting, first, that we don't have a smoke alarm in our apartment, and, second, the neighbor's carbon monoxide alarm also seemed to be going off.

2. Woke up alive.

3. Spent two good hours at the gym, sweating out the red wine and yams that I steadily consumed for five hours the day before.

4. Had a fun breakfast at a fantastically lame restaurant, Johnny Rocket's, with my friend Russell from hip hop. Got a coke from Chipotle to pull it all together.

5. Read the paper, including some really good op-eds and a column discussing the design elements of the candidates' logos and bumper stickers. This is one of those topics I really get into, thinking about fonts and momentum and what colors mean.

6. Embarked on a meandering walk with L: to the bookstore, where we had a nice chat with the owner; to Rickshaw for a snack; and then on to the Angelika for a random screening of "Margot at the Wedding." It was the perfect kind of movie to see when you're wearing winter clothing: a moody indie film, bland colors, with screwed-up families and relationships that make you feel better about your own life. But I was perfectly entertained by it, there were some funny parts, Jack Black was less insufferable than usual, Nicole Kidman was great, and I really liked the ending -- emotional, kinetic, definitive, and unlike the rest of the flick. Thank you Angelika for these random winter afternoons.

7. Came home, did some work, and enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner again. Everything tastes even better a day later. Went to bed happy.

And now I'm off to Virginia in a couple hours. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

A.M. New York

On Saturday night L and I had the great fortune of celebrating the engagement of two of our favorite people in this city of millions, Ashesh and Mona. We had known Ashesh was going to pop the question; being the astute woman she is, Mona figured it out too, which meant for several days we were all tap-dancing around the issue and asking prodding questions and trying to keep a straight face. But on Saturday night everything happened, and we happily crossed the hallway to Mona's apartment to celebrate with champagne and the kind of boozy good cheer that is the best part of having friends and alcohol in the same night.

I've known Ashesh since my third year of college, I think, when he and I were fellow history nerds. He kept me sane through college; he kept an eye on L in Greece. Margaritas at Amigo's in Charlottesville smoothly transitioned to margaritas at Benny's in the city, and wherever we are, Ashesh's intelligence and humor have brightened many of my days. And who can forget the rehearsal dinner for my own wedding, when he was the only person to make fun of my grandfather during his toast! I certainly can't. I can't wait to mock his relatives to their faces, as soon as I get the chance! Point 'em out to me! Outstanding.

I met Mona through Ashesh a few years ago, and I knew I would like her when she started making fun of me moments after we were introduced. She has definitely lived up to this initial assessment, and I've enjoyed the years of mockery since then. Nobody gives a backhanded compliment like Mona.

In sum, I could not be happier for these two. They are two of the funniest, snippiest, and most generous people you could hope to meet, and I feel lucky to be able to celebrate these momentous days with them. And to know that the best is yet to come ... what an honor to share this with you. Congratulations, you guys.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Today on the way to the gym my path was blocked by yet another parade down 5th Avenue. On every Sunday that I find myself in midtown Manhattan, there is some random parade going by, and it's generally an Ethnic White Parade. The Polish people had one earlier, and today's might have been Austrian or Croatian or something -- some culture where they have white people, marching bands, and flags with rectangular blocks of color. The cops directing traffic looked utterly bored. The crowds on the streets were either dedicated groups of fellow Ethnic Whites ("Viva Bulgaria!"), or else your standard New York mix of the curious, busy, lost, indigent, visiting, or irritated ("Which white people are these? Croats?").

There are two kinds of big public urban celebrations here. The first, like the Ethnic White parades, or even the Marathon, are generally very well-organized, very disruptive of traffic patterns, and very heavily monitored by cops and other city officials. They usually end within a day and are as fleeting as a summer rainbow. The second, like Halloween and the Gay Pride Parade, are more raucous affairs, where many people barge into the city for the sheer childlike pleasure of yelling in the middle of the night and vomiting on the sidewalks. On the mornings after these events, it looks like God took a frat house, turned it inside out, threw up on it, and then put it down outside your apartment building. There's also a third set of celebrations, like the St. Patrick's Day parade (and don't even mention the Puerto Rican Day parade), that manage to combine, in a most magical way, municipal organization and drunken anarchy. Those are really special moments.

I didn't know what to write about tonight, but seeing that random Ethnic White parade got me thinking about all the other celebrations you endure here in the city. Generally you decide to hunker down and wait them out, rather than actually participate in them -- but maybe the right Ethnic White parade might change my mind.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Run Mike Run: the marathon

Yesterday I ran the marathon. It happened, it was a success. I was pleased with my time (according to the New York Times, I came in 10,012th out of some 39,000). I got 3:55:01, just above the respectability line of 4:00:00; that breaks down to 8:58 per mile. I was thrilled to complete it and to come in at that time, as I realized midway through that there was no way I would make 3:40. I had heard that your first marathon is all about finishing it, rather than making a certain time. I hadn't believed this, but it turned out to be true. It was harder than I thought, and today I still feel stiff and sore and tired, but it was wonderful. Let me break down what happened.

The night before the race, I was extremely anxious, and only got three hours of sleep. At 4 am I woke up, pulled on my clothes and caught a cab to midtown, to catch the bus to Staten Island. There was no one waiting for the buses, I hopped on one immediately and reached Staten Island, in the pitch black darkness of night, at 5:20 am. Out of 39,000 runners, I am sure I was one of the first, say, 200 to reach Staten Island. So I spent four hours -- four hours -- sitting on a curb in the cold, thinking about things, eating a bagel listlessly, finding a new curb, peeing, sitting, thinking, not talking, sipping Gatorade, thinking, sitting, squatting, sipping, peeing, and walking up the same stretch of sidewalk. It made me think of how sometimes, in adulthood, you have to do unpleasant things, things that are unavoidable and require patience and fortitude, and there's no reason to complain because there's nothing to be done and you just have to endure. I first learned about this facet of maturity on bitter winter camping trips with the Boy Scouts; the same lessons applied as I waited for a November sunrise in Staten Island, in old sweatpants and an undershirt.

Cut to the race. Four hours later the cannon (or whatever) fired, and the race was on. Twenty-five minutes later, my lowly corral of people actually started running. The first couple miles over the Verrazano bridge felt great; a few people spread across the wide smooth asphalt, the city to our left, finally running and warming up the muscles. It was profoundly quiet, considering the unending scream that accompanied most of the rest of the course. I was feeling great, and darted quickly through the first section of Brooklyn, say the first ten miles. I really didn't feel a thing. As we began to see people along the sidewalks of Brooklyn, cheering and handing out paper towels, I couldn't help but grin as I ran. It felt amazing; the first ten miles or so were heavenly.

I knew my friend Sarah would be out on the course ("Incessant Anonymity," in the links) so I looked forward to seeing her early in the race, an occasion that gave me something to think about and focus on. The best part of knowing people would be on the course was both the thrill of seeing them, that lightning flash of energy and happiness it gave you, and the ability to break down the race in terms of friend-sightings, rather than mile-markers. Much easier to think, "four miles until I see the Core," rather than, "twenty-two miles until I get to sit down."

And so it went. L and the family had bought two blue "It's A Boy" balloons, so it was easy for me to spot them all as I chugged down the pike. It was great seeing them on a few different occasions, as they darted around the city to intercept me. I saw my friends, and friends of friends, and people from law school, and work folks. It was more than I could have asked for. I saw 12 people on that course cheering me on, and I found out later that there were others who had seen me and were cheering, even when I didn't see them.

The key to everything, honestly, was the shirt that said "Run Mike Run." From now on, I will be wearing that shirt to school, work, funerals, etc. It was the best feeling in the world, to be running along and hear some random voice yell, "RUN MIKE RUN"! These people didn't know me from Adam, but it always gave me a little boost. I always tried to smile or wave or pump a fist in acknowledgment. (And let me tell you, strictly in confidence, that it seemed to be a big hit with young women of a certain demographic -- I felt quite a bit of encouragement from the twentysomething crowd. Find me on Myspace, ladies!) Sometimes, though, I would sort of want to be left alone, so I would run in the middle of the pack, where no one could yell at me by name; other times I could hug the edges of the running pack, so people would clearly read it and call out. The other funny thing was at the water stops, when I would be walking and drinking Gatorade and somebody would yell it, and I'd think, all right, for God's sake, give me a minute. But it was all meant kindly, I guess, and sometimes I would reply with an exaggerated "Okay!" of faux annoyance as I set off again.

The crowds were massive throughout. Brooklyn was fun and multi-ethnic and optimistic, given the earliness in the course; I loved the gospel singers and steel-drum bands and garage bands rocking on the sidewalk. There were desolate stretches where the locals eyed us warily as many male runners ran off the road to pee against warehouse walls. In Manhattan there was a wall of people 5 or 10 deep in places, holding signs and offering candy (I ate a lone Sour Patch kid someone offered, unthinkingly, and regretted it shortly thereafter). In the Bronx people were yelling into microphones, "You're in the Bronx now baby! South Bronx welcomes you!" In Harlem I shamelessly pumped my fist to the rap music blasting from speakers. For the final couple miles in Central Park, I ignored the crowds and ran as hard as I could, with great result.

The 26th mile was a good thirty seconds faster than the 25th; I did finish strong, which I was really proud of. The race was slower going than I had planned. Maybe I started too strong in the initial euphoric miles, but the narrow roads and tight turns made navigating the crowd nearly impossible. Spectators would loom into the roadway, and due to the odd system of start times, corrals, and staggered starts, I always felt like I was in the middle of a much slower crowd that I should have been. I was constantly battling to move ahead, for the entire race; I spent a lot of time and energy moving laterally to dance around slower runners and find a clear break where I could move ahead. This was frustrating, and I think it definitely slowed me down overall.

On the other hand, the last eight or so miles were hell. My knee was hurting, my muscles were tired, and the novelty of the experience had nearly burned away in the hazy sunlight of midday (that's a really bad sentence, but forget it). I had only done one 18-mile run, and one 20-mile run, before this; it's not like miles 18 and 19 were a walk in the park, but I was aware of those last 6.2 as uncharted territory. But there was no question of stopping, and I was happy that I didn't take any walking breaks besides the water stations. And once we hit Central Park, I shoved the discomfort to the back of my mind and the event became something between me and the road and the Park where I had traced loop after loop after loop; I tried to make the crowd dissolve and finish strong, and somehow it worked. And here I am now, 26 hours later.

I am still wretchedly sore. Last night we went to bed at ten and I slept wondrously. As soon as I finished the marathon yesterday, I felt woozy and hot and cold and feverish and twitchy. Several people were vomiting along the fence as medics were dispatched in every direction. To be honest I was trying hard to not pass out and control my bodily functions during the twenty minutes it took to inch through the crowd, and collect my medal, tin foil blanket, and bag of food. Fortunately it worked. I could barely stretch, though, could barely touch my toes to relax my muscles. Right before I crossed the finish line, and in the moments after, I did find myself getting a bit emotional; for many reasons I guess -- pride, surprise at myself for accomplishing it, disappointment that it was over, and maybe the sheer overwhelming physicality of doing this without much sleep or food. It was a heady mix of stimuli, I'll tell you that.

It meant a lot to me to think about how much support I've been shown during this whole thing. Since this started in earnest in July, I've really appreciated people asking how training is going. There aren't even words to thank my family and friends who cheered me on and made signs and t-shirts. In training, during particularly rough moments, I used to encourage myself by fantasizing about seeing my friends and family on the marathon course; the reality was even better. Their presence, and support, and faith, is what gave me the strength to do it (as well as the tacit pressure they provided by spending their own time to be there). The night before the marathon I wrote about the people for whom I was doing this run -- and it was the truth, during the run I thought about all of them, or rather, all of you, at different points along the way and it pulled me through. It really pulled me through.

Anyways, as you can see by this absurdly long post, the marathon really meant a lot to me. It's one of the best New York things I've done, it's one of the biggest (ok, the biggest) athletic accomplishment of my life, and it gave me a lot of faith and pride in myself. I stick with what I said before: the marathon was the entire 18-week period, not just this last 26.2; but damn, this 26.2 was brutal, and difficult, and sublime. I'll be turning this experience over in my head for a while, I think.

To end on a lighter note: my two favorite signs of the entire race: "YOU SHOULD BE PROUD," and the classic three-word mantra: "U GO BITCH."

Dear reader, that was the marathon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More reflections

You know what? I'm ready for this. This is going to be fun, and it might be amazing. I'm ready for this, I trained my ass off, and this is going to be wonderful. The marathon experience isn't tomorrow's race, it's the hundreds of miles I've been running since July, and tomorrow is the victory lap. I can do this. I'm an athlete. This is the marathon.

So, this is for my parents and grandparents and Kels; my friends (including the Core); Eliza, Russell, Arnold and everyone else at the gym who got me into shape in the last couple years; the people who have encouraged me about this whole endeavor; and the old, small, irrelevant part of myself who thought I couldn't do things like this. And most of all, for L.

This! Is the marathon!

Reflections on training for, and competing in, the New York City Marathon, on the eve before the actual race

Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.

You try to tell yourself that this anxiety is normal, that it's something you feel when you're about to accomplish something, but still, oh, shit.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Marathon panic update: three days left

As the week began I was feeling pretty nervous about the upcoming marathon -- it was like a low rumbling underlying everything else that was going on. I felt anxious, like a squirrel, or someone who lives in southern California.

But as the week has progressed, as I've made an effort to sleep as much as possible and battle the potential head cold I'm feeling, I'm gaining some confidence. Today L and I went to the marathon expo, which was remarkable: every brand of shoe you had ever heard of set up their own shopping area, other marathons were advertising, and people had all sorts of products to sample and try: insoles, energy bars, sports drinks, gels, sunglasses, shoes, water, even beer. I bought a wicking-away running shirt from my fave running shoe company, Brooks, and later on we got it customized down at Paragon Sports (after a ride on their complementary shuttle). Now my shirt says, RUN MIKE RUN. Also at Paragon, they had a complimentary "Runners' Lunch," including pizza, bagels, bananas, apples, and water. We all ate as if we had just finished a race (and, uh, ordered a pizza) even though the most activity any of us had was taking off our jackets to try on running shirts.

Oh, one fun thing to look for at the marathon: oblivious people from other countries, who were bonking around the expo all day and seem ready to make a big splash at the race. Try to run in a general forward direction, everybody!

I'm looking forward to the marathon. We watched a documentary on PBS (we're big PBS fans in our house, naturally) featuring real, everyday, lazy people who spent nine months training for the Boston marathon, and by the time these people crossed the finish line, sobbing and running with their families and kids besides them, L and I were getting emotional too. This evening I just spent twenty minutes at the gym bouncing around on the elliptical, which is the last training thing I have to do in my eighteen-week plan. Now I'm ready for a big run, I'm ready to push my body after a fairly easy couple weeks of tapering.

I think the pieces are starting to come together here: my body is ready physically, mentally I feel like I understand the challenge and am ready to tackle it, and emotionally, as I mentioned before, I'm choking up at marathon tv shows. If that's not adequate preparation, then I just don't know what to tell you.

This is the marathon!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Top Halloween costumes for women, 2007

Slutty nurse
Slutty cop
Slutty matador
Slutty UN Peacekeeper
Slutty clergymember
Slutty terrorist
Slutty ghost
Slutty prostitute
Slutty kitten
Slutty Hillary Rodham Clinton
Slutty pumpkin
Slutty headless horseperson
Slutty witch
Normal bitchy witch.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fall into the gap

L and I went on a massive shopping excursion today, a four-hour trek that left us exhausted (her) and irritable (me). Besides our fruitless search for cool sneakers, the main point was a trip to The Gap (specifically, Gap Men) for my official fall/winter shopping "spree" ("spree" means, "I went to the store willing to buy more than one item, but I still felt bad about it").

Here's what I got: a pair of dark jeans, a pair of brown pants that are somewhat jeans-like, a dark blue sweater that will probably get a lot of use, and a cool sort of shiny brown shirt that I can wear when go out. The shirt is shiny in such a way that it looks like it might be water-resistant, or possibly flame retardant, or might even be made of actual tent material, but I think it's coolness really radiates through. Things I didn't buy: a striped button-down shirt that made me look like 1989, a pair of bizarrely skinny jeans with a button-fly that took me way too long to deal with, and a pair of gray pants that looked like half of a gas station attendant's uniform.

The best part was that they were playing awesome music throughout our time in the store: some Beyonce, Janet, Usher, Amerie, and more. So of course when it was time to hit the dressing room I made a beeline for the handicapped room (with the full-length door) so I could rock out as I changed my clothes. It was great, and made trying on clothes a lot more like a music video, which is my general aspiration for life in general.

As we paid for the stuff, we complemented the guy at the register on the music selection. "Oh, we're not actually supposed to be playing this," he said.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marathon training update: week 17, day 5

Now is the time in the marathon training schedule when I am getting freaked out by the whole thing. Sometimes I'll be ambling along the street feeling good about my life, and then a malicious little voice in my head will chirp, "You think you're going to run a marathon in a week!? Bwa ha ha!" And the stone drops into the pit of my stomach and I'm in an existential funk.

The other day I saw an email that a fellow marathoner sent out to wide list of people. This email included: a spreadsheet with her anticipated times and mileage markers, the address of the bar where she booked a room for the after party on Sunday afternoon, the colors of the clothing she would wear, the fact that there are special t-shirts made up for the people who are cheering her on, and a detailed explanation of where people could watch her run, and which parts of the course would be especially challenging.

This email blew me away because compared to her, I am grossly unprepared. We haven't figured out where L and my family and hopefully my friends will be; I assume I'll be wearing running clothes, but I haven't quite committed to that yet; based on previous experience, I'm planning on spending the afternoon after the marathon in bed or in the bathroom; and I had figured on not worrying too much about the course, since I knew I wouldn't make a wrong turn anywhere and since I'm already fantastically bored with Central Park, which right now is about as new and exotic to me as my local subway stop. I'm trying to keep this marathon under control in my head: it's just a long run that I'm ready for, and know I can complete. It's going to be a little crowded and weird, but ultimately it's just about me and the road and running in a smart way.

The other day my mom asked what would happen if it rained on the marathon day. I had never even considered this possibility, with my marathon fantasies involving crisp autumn days with leaves falling majestically around me. So I'm trying to broaden my imagination here, to make sure I'll be ready for the main event, no matter what happens. I'm focusing hard on resting and not getting hurt and staying healthy and upbeat; the hard part of the training is done, and now I'm trying to let my body recover until it reaches that point where it is awake and springing up, ready and alert and alive and hungry to do the longest run it has ever known.

This is the marathon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Languishing in the library

I've been here a while now, eight, nine hours, maybe more. Same carrel for the last three days. Extremely little progress on the paper -- now I'm just summarizing all these cases so I can hopefully arrange them in an interesting and enlightening way later on. I hope this is helpful and not stupid. Sometimes it seems like a fine line, much finer than it ought to be, but these are the lines we draw when we do things with reluctance. And resentment, maybe.

I've rediscovered YouTube as my own personal jukebox. One of the first bands I really was into was called The Party, and they sprang fully-formed, like Athena out of the head of Zeus, from the Mickey Mouse Club on the Disney Channel, which could very well be the pinnacle of all television for a lot of reasons. Anyways, The Party was this ethnically-diverse, totally rocking pop band from about 1990-92 that came out with some really kicky songs. Needless to say I bought their first tape immediately and my entire family was really into their music. And who wasn't? "That's Why," "Coulda Shoulda Woulda," "Summer Vacation," "I Found Love"... The list goes on. Honestly, can you even imagine 1991 without "Coulda Shoulda Woulda"? Unrecognizable!

So I've been rocking out to The Party on YouTube, wondering why they aren't on iTunes, noting with dismay that their cds are bizarrely expensive on Amazon. Some of the clips on YouTube are from a concert special they had on the Disney Channel, and I laughed when I saw the screaming fans. Not out of callousness or mockery of their early 1990s style; no, I laughed because I immediately recognized my long-dormant envy of those lucky 13-year olds who actually got to go, since at that point I would have gladly sold myself into white slavery to make their concert, and was stuck instead banging on the tv screen with my hammy youthful fists and dry-heaving a little bit, and yet now I can't even find their music. I'm pretty sure I tossed out their tape a few years ago.

Man, why can't I write a 25-page paper about The Party? I definitely have a lot more to say.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Call me Ishmael

I signed up for NaNoWriMo, the horribly abbreviated name for National Novel Writing Month, which is this project where you bang out a novel in the month of November that's at least 50,000 words, or at least 175 pages. I heard about this last year but I missed the boat on signing up for it. I'm excited to do it, to have a project post-marathon, even though I'm already right on schedule to develop carpal tunnel even without this, thanks to the law school professors who just won't rest until I have bloody fingertips and wristguards on both hands.

The NaNoWriMo people say that the important thing is just getting the words out, and to not worry about editing or direction or anything like that -- the goal is quantity, not quality. This is the kind of low expectation that makes me think this could actually work. Every once in a while I feel a strong hankering to write creatively, so for a few nights in a row I'll irritate L by punching at the keyboard while she's trying to sleep, then I'll come up with a few vignettes and false starts and nothing to show for it. When I was younger I used to write a lot more: in 8th grade there was this ridiculous adventure story featuring a character who was basically Bilbo Baggins, enmeshed in the Colombian drug trade; there were also a few stories, humiliatingly enough, imagining adventures for the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." ("Lt. Worf, throw me a phaser!")

I'm thinking for this latest attempt that I'll generally stay away from sci-fi fan fiction. Instead I'm thinking it will probably be a thinly-veiled autobiography, about some young dude in the city, maybe with some wacky neighbors and friends, work experience in the legal realm, and a dope soundtrack. But hopefully I can make it a little bolder than that.

Anyways, I'm sort of excited about this. Hopefully having some external framework around the writing process will help me get through it better, like training wheels or physical therapy. If I manage to complete it, chances are the novel will be a total trainwreck, but at least I'll be the only one who knows it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live"

Last night I had a really remarkable dream. Usually I find that people generally don't care about other people's dreams, but this one was significant and I don't want to forget about it, so I'm putting it up here.

In my dream I was with myself as a young child in a strange and foreign place. It was like Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" -- we were outside in this barren wasteland, me and myself as a kid and many other people, on this dirty road next to a gully or something, stark and empty. There was a body in a plastic bag off to the side. And yet it wasn't a threatening environment, really -- it's just where we were.

So I was with this other version of myself as a little kid, and I was there to protect him and watch over him. I felt a strange love for him, as he was myself and yet someone totally different. Yet his physicality was so familiar to me. At one point I asked him if he thought we looked alike, and he laughed and said no. I remember walking along holding his hand and just chatting and moving through the day.

I don't think I've ever felt such paternal feelings before, consciously or not. As I've mulled over this dream today I keep thinking about different facets of my life that were expressed by it. Current facets as well as things I can't begin to grasp: the idea of fatherhood, of being responsible for a child, of feeling that innate connection, of seeing someone else with your very features. Knowing someone as intimately as anyone possibly could, because you knew and loved them from the start. Yet unlike fatherhood, in my dream I loved this kid because I knew he was me and that things would work out for him and he would be happy. I knew he would have a sense of humor and that the body he would grow into would be mine.

Anyway, it was a complicated stew of emotions and thoughts, from walking around an alien place with a little kid who was and was not me. It was oddly serene, and I felt all right when I woke up. This dream, though, took a lot of threads in my life and knotted them up in a way that I can't quite untangle.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Marathon training update: week 15, day 6

Today I ran 20 miles. Twenty miles is so far, today I basically ran from New York to LA and back. And then back and again. Or at least that's what it was feeling like for the last few miles, and specifically how it felt when I stopped for water with my finish line in sight, having already run 19.96 miles, but I was thirsty, dammit, and I was going to stop and walk for a moment because at that point most of my leg muscles had dissolved into liquid and were sloshing around in my calves.

It wasn't really that bad. In fact, when I finally made it up to the park today, tired and boozy, I was shocked into wakefulness by the beauty of the day: bright clear sky, brazenly cloudless, a brisk breeze and the first signs of fall hanging from the trees and underfoot. It reminded me that it was almost time to bring out ol' "Autumn in New York" -- another year, another season of change and renewal.

As I ran I thought about how this is such a pleasant experience, to be placing one foot in front of another, keeping it nice and easy, in such a beautiful place -- where else would I rather be right now? The truth, for the most part, is nowhere.

The low point, inevitably, was when I sort of walked into a woman on a bike. I had just finished 12, and was getting ready to buy a gatorade, when I turned a corner and basically walked into a European woman who, fortunately, was riding her bike at a glacial pace. I apologized immediately, and she chided me with a "be more careful" in a lilting accent, and I couldn't even be mad. Unless she had been targeting me with her slow, rickety bike, like a 1912 missile.

So I came home, showered, iced, and fell asleep, hard, until now. I haven't eaten anything and I feel a little woozy, so I need to find some food and draw up some energy. I feel tired and beat, but in a very good way. This week was the most intense training of the whole 18-week program, so now I just taper down until the actual event in November. This is the marathon!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rocket ship

This morning I was standing on the train considering the fact that I was facing opposite the exact same girl from yesterday morning's commute. I could tell it was her because she carried the same black plastic purse with spacey pink flowers spiraling towards you -- I had been listening to Kanye West's "Flashing Lights" and was considering how this song could send you into a real psychedelic trance with the art on that purse, and how I was surprised that the subway provided me with this bizarre visual nugget that coincided so aptly with my song of choice. I was thinking about this, and wondering if the girl had any clue that she had seen me yesterday in the exact same circumstances, when a crazy person got on the train.

You get used to crazy people in New York; you learn to ignore them, for your dignity and their own. This person was short and stout, in casual clothes, with a majestic, jet-black pompadour that flowed into a mullet trailing down most of his back. He carried a red folder high over his mouth, like he was in a choir. He started talking.

"I am an angel," he said. "I am an angel Don't look at me my eyes are sensitive I am an angel."

I turned off my ipod so I could hear him better. He started talking about how he was in the ministry, and how he was friends with God and God had sent him rocket ships for all the unbelievers, and they would be shot into space. Also in attendance on these spacebound rocket ships: demons, disbelievers in his ministry and followers of Sodom and Gomorrah. All the while he was clutching this folder in front of his face and telling people not to look at him, as he turned and addressed everyone.

"For those of you who have just come on board, I am an angel," he would helpfully announce when new people got on. I actually couldn't help but laugh at the good-natured crazy of it all, and I made eye contact with one guy who was smiling too. Most people ignored him with the Manhattan expression of studied indifference. By the time we got to Columbus Circle he had been drowned out by the crowd and he couldn't command the same kind of audience.

It was nice to have a laugh on the subway today, to break my morning stupor. I wonder if he finally got off the train thinking he had finished his day's work, or if he's still riding around telling people not to look at him. Either way, no sign of any rocket ships today.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A great moment

This afternoon I stopped in the men's room after a particularly dispiriting day at law school. I had decided to leave my backpack in my locker overnight, since I'll be back first thing in the morning, so I was ready to go: I had the New Yorker rolled in my pocket and my ipod in my ears. So I walk into the men's room and there are a typical number of other people in there -- three, maybe four. So be it.

So I sidle up to the urinal and proceed to begin going about my business, when I quickly realize two facts: 1) through some horrible confluence of timing and circumstance, it is completely and utterly silent in the men's room, and 2) I am listening to the new Britney Spears song on my ipod, and it might be loud enough for other people to hear.

Gimme gimme MORE, gimme MORE, Gimme gimme MORE!

I can't very well try to change my ipod now, when I am fully engaged with the urinal process. I can't be that guy with one hand on his junk and the other spinning around the ipod wheel until you hit that perfect song to pee along with.

But wait a second -- what the hell are these other guys doing that it's so quiet in here? Mooning at their reflections in the mirror, staring at the paper towel dispenser, contemplating the urinal cakes? It's like a still life or something. Britney is still yammering away as I start to think, Make some noise, please someone make some noise. I will take whatever excruciatingly audible bodily function anybody wants to engage in, just somebody please wash out this constant and growing threat of

Gimme gimme MORE, gimme MORE, Gimme gimme MORE!

Ultimately, of course, I have to accept my situation and realize that I am the guy listening to Britney Spears as I pee. Maybe these other dudes will pass judgment on me, but my question to them is: what are you doing in the bathroom that makes no noise at all? Are you a ninja? Because if you're not, you should be making some noise by doing your business, running the faucets to wash your hands, slamming the crap out of the soap dispenser to get some soap, or pumping the paper towel box to finish up and get on out of there. Enough with the mime act, fellas -- either make some noise to bury my embarrassing musical selection, or leave so I can enjoy it in peace, and fleetingly wonder if my support of Britney Spears' musical career is contributing to her very downfall. See? Everyone's a winner.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Marathon training update: week 14, day 1

Yesterday I ran 18 miles. I have never run that far, and I find it hard to believe that anyone else ever has either, because that is a long way. I am happy to report, though, that it went very well. Keeping in mind my ultimate goal of 8:00 miles for the marathon (which is now looking more like 8:20, maybe) I aimed to mosey along at a nice 9:00 pace for the 18-miler, following my training plan. After a glacially-paced first mile at 9:30, I did a fine job of keeping it between 8:15 and 9:00 for the rest of the race. For the final mile, I wanted to finish strong, so I really tried to keep up a good clip, regulate my breathing, and end on a high note. I was pumping my legs, eyeing the finish line as it approached, systematically overcoming runners ahead of me, and after I ran through the line I checked my watch and was shocked to see that I ran that last mile in 7:31. Unbelievable! Where does this come from? How am I doing this?

I had a huge grin on my face for the next few moments as I shuffled along the line and got some Gatorade and an apple. I really didn't think I had it in me to run 18 miles, let alone run my 18th mile so well. This training program is actually working, apparently. (Incidentally, my average mile time for this race was 8:35, which was great, considering that I was trying to go even slower.)

Some more good news: the thigh/knee pain I've come to live with and accept, like a prominent mole or a conjoined twin, was nowhere to be found. Instead today all of my leg muscles are generally throbbing, and the muscle behind my left knee is pulled so tight that I can't quite extend my leg. I am trying to keep my limp under control, but it was well worth it.

Some good or bad news, as you look at it: my ipod battery died at mile 8 of the run (leaving me ten miles to go), so while I got some good thinking done during the race, it looks like it may be time for me to go blow a couple hundred bucks at the Apple store and come back with an awesome new ipod, one a' them fancy square kinds. I'll keep you posted. (I also have amassed some good new tunes lately: the new Kanye album, which is way better that I would have expected, the new Britney, which is undeniable, and a little touch of Reba for those tender post-run moments.)

A few weeks back I realized that this marathon is much more than the 26.2 miles I'll be doing in a month. I've come to consider each training run, each dreaded weekend long run, as a part of it, too. So even when I think to myself, I'm going to run a marathon!, I remind myself that I am running it already, and I've been running it for 14 weeks now, and what happens during that last 26.2 is merely the icing on the cake.

This is the marathon!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Manhattan malaise

My old boss and I used to discuss a condition we called Manhattan malaise: that sense when everything to do in the city, all the shows and events and restaurants and people and possibilities, seems completely boring and stupid. You just feel like the whole city is in rerun and there's nothing remotely interesting or appealing about any of it, and the only thing that grabs your attention is the idea of commandeering one of the ferries to New Jersey in order to get off this craphole of an island, so you start thinking about if it takes any special skills to drive a boat and if there are enough inland waterways to get you where you're trying to go.

I have basically been battling Manhattan malaise for a couple solid weeks now, and have been feeling sort of depressed about things in general. That's partly why there's been a scarcity of posts up here. I don't know why I've been down lately; I think school is really boring me right now, and I feel like each day I'm lurching out of bed to perform tasks and jump through hoops that I would really rather leave unperformed and unjumped. I don't like spending my days waiting for the evenings, when I get to be with L and see friends and watch tv and perhaps even drink. I've caught myself being really irritable and cranky, cutting people off on the sidewalk, mentally cursing out strangers for the smallest and most unintentional infraction, and I don't want to hold on to this anger. It's like an ingrown nail or something, this sense of frustration that is directed inward, where it just digs at me and makes me crazy, and I can't find a damn outlet for it. I have been pounding the streets running, I have been at the gym three days a week as well, but I can't sweat it out either. I don't know. This Manhattan malaise, as I charitably call it in this case, is maybe part of my Piscean character. I don't know.

All that to say, tonight I have had a really pleasant night, and tonight was the first classic Thursday evening of the year, and I couldn't be more thankful. Let me tell you how to spend it: you go to the gym for a hell of a long time -- two and a half hours -- for an awesome set of classes and a surprising amount of decent socialization. On the way back, sweaty and content with pounding dance tracks ringing in your ears, go to Chipotle and find that the thugged out guy behind the counter gives you a free burrito, because you've become friends with him. Return home, burrito in hand, to settle in for a night of the best TV ever. Think fondly of your good buddy James, who used to enjoy these Thursday nights with you. In his honor, make sure you and your wife pronounce the names of the "Survivor" contestants in a funny accent as the opening credits roll. Then watch "The Office" and laugh like a fool and think about why this show is so damn good.

I'm really trying to pull myself out of my funk or malaise or depression, and nights like this really help. My life is still so ridiculously blessed and fortunate; there are so many great people I love and see and miss; the city is still unfolding itself to me. I always try to remember to be grateful, and at times it can be hard, but the beauty of things is undeniable.