04 December 2012

December 4th.

December 4th by Jay-Z on Grooveshark
If there is a deeper symbol of "being successful with the cards life deals you" than sampling your own mother, I have yet to see it. Happy birthday to Hova, and thanks to Gloria.

02 December 2012

Terra incognita.

The brain is such a fickle and mysterious organism.  I mean I have reason to believe this statement is true in general, but it's abundantly and profoundly true for the only brain I have ever used.

Lately I've been writing this honors thesis which I will defend at BYU this Monday -- circumstance which has provided the occasion for me to fly home this weekend.  Yes, most people write an honors thesis before they leave college.  I can take a long time to get to things.  I'm working on that.

So for most of the past month, maybe a little more, this paper has been occupying tons of space in my head.  Do other brains work like this?  It's like other interesting thoughts couldn't move in until the lease expired for this nightmare tenant who was renting out every room.  Not even non-interesting thoughts could move in.  I would have liked to use some of that space to figure out what smartphone to buy, which credit card to apply for.  Heck, I could have used some of it to cook myself meals.  Sorry!  No vacancy!  So most of the month I ate bagels and burritos.  I was lucky to remember to apply for a passport just barely in time to get it (fingers crossed!) before I go abroad with my family later this month.  I was not lucky enough to remember to apply early enough to avoid the hefty expediting fee.

And it's not like this tenant used the space productively.  That would be great: I could have one room making connections with existing literature, another room configuring code for maximum efficiency, and one in which to just sit with the sun streaming through the blinds and craft gorgeous sentences.  Alas.  Most of the rooms in the house were devoted to the single-minded production of worry, distraction, and worry about distraction.  This takes up a lot of storage space; new concerns pile on top of old ones, leaving little room for productive work on the paper.  And of course I would worry about how little space there seemed to be in my head for productive work, and the cycle would perpetuate itself.

The closer the deadline got, the more time and space were consumed on the paper.  I even stayed up all night a few times in a subterranean computer lab on campus.  Over the past week especially, fun things started happening to my mind.  Once, in the aforementioned underground lab, I fell asleep sitting up in my chair and had a really hard time figuring out where or who I was when I woke up.  I don't know how long I was out.  Another time I dreamt I had forgotten about my thesis defense and it was the next day, and I was freaking out.  There were a lot of weird data dreams that I won't get into.

Maybe the weirdest thing my brain did was to apparently clear out the room normally used for appreciating a wide variety of music.  I was stressed, so I wanted to listen to soothing music, but I simply had no patience for it.  I couldn't focus on NPR or the podcasts that had been teaching me Portuguese either. There was only one thing I could stand to listen to: Auto-Tune the News.  And I wanted it ALL THE TIME.

Maybe my brain was pregnant?

Well, my brain delivered.  I sent off the paper this morning.  And suddenly the smelly hard-partying coke addict who was renting out all the space in my mind for his industrial worry-cooking kitchen, driving away the nicer tenants -- he's gone, and I can peer out the windows, recall that the world is big and brave and good, and invite in some fresh air.

I turned on Fleet Foxes and almost cried.


I have a friend who is of the class of people who get invited to conferences for teenage savant entrepreneurs.  She told me she thinks these people are really good at viewing their brain as a tool, which does what they tell it to do.  "My brain is mine," they seem to understand, whether intuitively or through long practice I don't know.  But it can't be very long practice because a lot of them just graduated from high school three or four years ago.  At age 12.  Somehow they're able to go sit in a coffee shop and work at their computer for 36 hours on a problem they're interested in until they fall asleep, and then wake up and say things like "I don't know what's wrong with me; I've been sleeping way more than usual.  I bet I slept for 20 hours this week."  These are the people.  Their brain is theirs.

And my brain is mine.  But not really in the sense of "My table saw is mine" or "My Camaro is mine" or even "My grasp of econometrics is mine."  Not something I have built or acquired through my own efforts, or over which I exert total control.  I could probably stand to learn to exert more control over my brain.  But I think one of my life's biggest and most interesting challenges so far has been developing a relationship with my brain.  I've learned more about what makes it tick and what it just won't stand for.  My brain is mine, maybe, in the same sense that "My dog is mine" or "My girlfriend is mine" or "My kid is mine."  I don't have any of those things, so I guess my brain presents me a with a good chance to practice learning how to respect and care for and learn from a living creature for which I have some responsibility.   My brain is mine. To paraphrase Stephen Crane:

It is fickle -- fickle.
But I like it
Because it is fickle
And because it is my brain.

15 November 2012


Boston's tallest building, if it moved to New York (like so many other people born in the 70s have done), would be #18.  Just behind the Woolworth building, completed 1913.

This is my little town.  So friendly.

05 November 2012


I'm listening to this song by Julieta Venegas which I first heard in a McDonald's in Morón on a p-day, and feeling the same sensation of nascent possibility and delicate abundance.  Something about the gentle persistence of that drum machine, the easy coexistence of organic accoridons and saccharine synthesizers, the unexpected spaciness of the harmonies on the chorus.  Above all it's the newness of it: the song still feels like something fresh off the plane, like the first day of summer, like sunrise.  It still wears the fragrance of the magic era in which I met it.  I had lived in Buenos Aires for about a year -- just starting to feel like I was part of the fabric of the place, able to move around, familiar but not accustomed.  Julieta sang this song on the radio and seemed to murmur in my ear that I stood at the new door of a world which would open itself to me as my care for it grew.  Where I could navigate the web of buses and trains moving among 14 million people, could hear their stories and tell them mine.  Where I could be surprised and delighted in dimensions I hadn't even been aware existed.

Sé delicado y esperá.
Dame tiempo para darte todo lo que tengo.

It was the word or the look or the smile that suggests things are coming.  It was whatever rare ether occupies the fleeting space between crush and girlfriend.  It was the city fluttering lashes at me, her dark eyes shining like stars.

26 October 2012


Pinocchio's is, for my money, the best cramped cheap greasy pizza joint in all of Harvard Square.  As I waited for my slice to come out of the oven, a long-haired student was telling his friend "...and even if I do go to grad school, I feel like I'll never be smarter than I am right now."  He was younger than me.

12 September 2012

Nice work if you can get it.

Note, 12 September 2012: I wrote most of this last summer in Buenos Aires.  I don't know why I never posted it -- probably too busy buying groceries, if the essay itself is to be believed -- but I dug it up and dusted it off today and find it kind of relevant to Current Me.  They're ideas that are on my brain again of late, at least.
I cooked myself mashed potatoes and gravy tonight.  Here, the dish we call "mashed potatoes" in America is described as "potato pureé" -- an equally misleading title for what was in fact a packet of flakes of dubious origin, dumped into a pot of water and stirred.  The gravy was prepared using the same method, prepared from a packet of salty brown dust I brought from the United States because Argentines (inexplicably, given their affinity for meat) don't really believe in gravy.

Say what you will about the sophistication of either my culinary skill or taste.  This much I'll say: the meal was easy.  And that is an enormous relief in a place where lately I've come to the disappointing realization that everything is hard for me.

It's hard to cook.  My supposedly fully furnished apartment contains about 3 dishes, and it is my goal to use these, along with the oven big enough to fit my whole fist inside, to make food that won't kill me or the loved ones I want to make it for.  There are measurement unit discrepancies and ingredient discontinuities to be overcome, but those are secondary to the real obstacle to any kind of culinary endeavor: grease.  There is a certain level of tenacious stickiness reserved uniquely in the world, I believe, for Argentine kitchens.  A layer of grease graces the stove, the tile walls, the pots and pans and most of the dishes, fiercely and immutably resistant to scrubbings with dish soap, yellow side of sponge, green side of sponge, and steel wool.  I've tried them all.

My woes extend beyond the unctuous walls of my kitchen.  All day long I try to get work done on my tiny computer, which defiantly chooses only the most unnecessary moments in which to run smoothly, and otherwise executes commands with all the supercharged velocity of chilled molasses.  Of course this problem is independent of my computer's position on the globe, but here in Argentina I don't have access to the lighting-fast alternatives on my university's campus, like I'm used to.  Buying a new machine is out of the question: thanks to protectionist import tariffs, consumer electronics routinely sell at about double the going rate in the U.S.

Also, truth be told, I'm lazy.  This is nothing new either.  But for some reason I have so much trouble focusing here.  I'm supposed to be performing an evaluation of this gas installation program at the NGO where I'm volunteering.  But I realize that I don't have a very solid notion of what I'm doing and I get overwhelmed and don't know where to begin; I make interminable lists of what I still need to learn in order to get started, a cowardly exercise that leaves me stressed with nothing to show for it.

I wake up most mornings with snot, lots of snot, and I evacuate it from my nostrils (Spanish: fosos nasales = "nasal trenches".  Gorgeous.) frequently throughout the day only to have more of it continue its unflagging exodus from whatever inner region of my body seems bent on filling the whole world with the fruits of its manufacture.  I don't want to go to the doctor, because it takes time (and phone bill -- I pay Arg$2, about 65 US cents, a minute) and I'm enrolled in this online course so I'll be able to graduate in December, which of course consumes way more time than I expected.  All this complicates my ability to just explore this fascinating big terrifying repulsive elegant melancholy gorgeous incomprehensible anthill I live in, which is what I really want to do but it's hard.

I wash my undies by hand in the sink because I always forget to take clothes to the laundromat before I run out.  Always.

The banks charge me Arg$20 every time I withdraw money.

The light in my room burned out.  It's not the bulb; I changed it.

I know this looks like unabashed whining, and in fact that's exactly what it is.  But I'm also observing.  I've never had occasion to do this before -- move far away, on my own, even if only for the summer -- and it's different than I expected.  It's got the romance and challenge of carving a completely fresh life from the raw materials of a new continent, like I anticipated.  It's just that some of the challenges are things like dry-cleaning, and having a fridge approximately the size of a cinderblock.

It occurs to me that I may be experiencing in a small way the frustrations of all immigrants -- the minuscule shavings of value taken off over a wide range of activities, by unfamiliarity and relocation, that diminish one's sense of abundance.  Maybe that's what it means to live in a fallen world: it's less that the world has fallen than that we have fallen into it.  Displacement is uncomfortable.  Is this how Adam felt, expelled into the lone and dreary world?  "What, you mean I have to WATER the plants now??"

Adam's dislocation was, well, probably more significant than my privileged brush with life in a place one tiptoe closer to real need than what I'm accustomed to.  But even he seems to have ended up just fine.  Clearly the million tiny or large shocks that compose migration are things people learn how to deal with.  They stay in new places, settle in, have abundant babies who have abundant lives.  I'll adapt.  I mean, my immigrant ancestors did, so I don't even have to trace my DNA all the way to Adam to find that trait.  But I think Adam's story holds the key to the whole project, which is that of course it wasn't just Adam's story: it was also Eve's.  They each had a meet help, a soul mate (Spanish: media naranja = "half orange".  Gorgeous.) with whom to share the frustration and heartache that come with adapting to a life suddenly turned on its head.  And with whom to share the exorbitant and sweet satisfaction when they finally started, together, to figure it out.

11 September 2012

On this day.

Just this: that stories are holy and powerful, that my country is beautiful and incomprehensible, and that God is good.  I'll even say, today as every day, God is Great.  I'll sing it.

26 August 2012

Tiger's Blood.

I was away from my home for the last few months, but I'm back to the American West. Man, this place crackles with magic in the summer. It billows with lazy pride in the faint breeze.

Driving around my hometown with the windows rolled down on a late August evening, through warm dry gentle air like a kiss on the lips -- this is what peace is made out of. I'm convinced drives like this increase the net calm in the world, and I pray that it wafts across oceans and into hearts around the globe. I know what you're thinking: fossil fuels, &c. I'm considering all that and I still think if you were the one driving, and I were in the passenger seat, you would hasten to uphold my claim.

The snow cone shacks, which sprout here each summer from the dry ground, have become sacred spaces to me. I won't let Summer go by without going to burn a candle to the gods of ice and liquid sugar, who must also be the gods of youth and sun-bronzed skin. Their oracles keep appropriately casual vigil at these seasonal shrines to the fleeting, bone-deep joy of mortality.

But without doubt the essence of the season's spark is fresh peaches. One cool point in the Mormon cosmology -- and I don't know where this idea comes from or how institutionalized it is, but I love it -- is that God enlisted the help of his noble and great kids in the creation of the world. Since childhood I've felt that in that great collaborative effort, my baby was the peach. Or at least that I fetched coffee for some assistant producer working on an early draft of the peach. I'm so happy it has done well.

21 August 2012


Annie Dillard: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time."

I wanted to photograph that lineup of bright enamel-painted old converted pickups emblazoned with "Danger Towing" out in Bukoto near Kiira Road. But there was always somewhere else to be; it could always wait; and now my camera's broken.

This is something hard for me: the tension between living and reflecting, experiencing and describing. I think it's a tension I'll struggle with as long as synapses fire in my brain. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, seems determined to convince aspirers that Real Writers lead shadowy, anemic lives, deprived of the extravagant richness available to regular humans. They collect gems of experience during their brief forays from their Selectric caves, then chisel and polish them until they glow with something almost like sunlight.

That light, crafted and belabored, has an undeniable beauty and depth. I agree that the unexamined life is not worth living. But I also suspect that at some point a life obsessively and exhaustively examined also starts to look pretty Not Worth Living. We start to live life at one remove. Facebook and Twitter are just new and widespread tools for the old writers' habit: living a recursive life whose substance is describing itself.

I guess what I'm doing right now is life at two removes: writing about writing about life. But I feel like I've spent little enough time examining lately that I can stand to step back for a moment. My real life is enhanced and stabilized by my attempts to articulate it, if only to myself. Still, here I am at the end of the summer, tying up loose ends on one life while I stare down the next, with two dozen embryonic proto-essays languishing in my notebook. It's okay; I had other things to do, I was working, I was exploring, I was making friends. The only direct casualty of all that realness is those pieces, which might still see the light of day, but could have seen it with more brightness and immediacy. Instead I thought about them, second-guessed, hemmed, hawed, feared, and forgot about them as new experiences took their place in my imagination.

I guess I'm saying I want to take time to distill more sparks from my real rich lovely life into thinking and ultimately writing. But inasmuch as writing is also a subset of living, a visceral mortal activity to be drunk to the lees, I could stand to think less and act more.

A gorgeous girl introduced me to Hildegard von Bingen today, a 12th-century German mystic who had a vision. One thing she saw was the embodied and anthropomorphized Fear of God. It's a woman.

12 July 2012

Kind and Degree.

. . . and the next thing you know your son is playing for money in a pinch-back suit.  And listening to some big out-of-town jasper here to tell him all about: horserace gambling.  Not a wholesome trotting race, no, but a race where they set down right on the horse!  Like to think of some stuck-up jockey boy settin' on Dan Patch?  Make your blood boil?  Well I should say.

I'm just thinking about how human horrors are often rooted in defects we all have, scaled up, left to ferment and multiply in unusually the wrong circumstances. I guess the peace hopeful here is that the same logic should then hold for miracles. These sparks of compassion and humility and courage that fly off us all the time into the night sky -- these are miracle germs.

21 June 2012

You are most welcome.

Benson greeted us from the porch of one of the hundreds of indistinguishably ramshackle government dwellings in the police barracks.  "Hello!  You are most welcome."  We explained that we were a couple of university researchers conducting a very brief survey, and talked to him.  He smiled.  He spoke proudly of his family: "In fact, I am having many children."  7.  But keeping them all fed and clothed is a challenge, to say nothing of keeping them in school.  "This one," he said, gesturing back into the house at his teenage daughter, "this one is a wise lady."  But she got a year behind in school after he couldn't afford school fees.  They live, he said, by God's mercy.

Benson is from the north of Uganda, and he came to Kampala 20 years ago fleeing rebel violence.  His parents were killed.  There, he told us, whether you wanted to or not, they would arrest you and bring you to the bush.  Benson escaped, but he showed us the scar from a bullet just above his elbow.

Just seeing us there, in the police barracks, he told us, gave him hope that "I am not forgotten."

Geez.  There's me, smartly dressed bright-faced pink-scrubbed American university student, loving Benson with all the shards of the heart his story has just broken in me.  Basking and cowering in the magnanimous warmth of his acceptance, the sacredness of his sparse sincere narrative.  Retreading all the recurrent qualms, considering in the brilliant light of this human being whether anything I do means anything.  And hoping that to the extent surveys and data and analyses matter, they matter because of this smile, this welcome, this story, the holiness of which I pray I can communicate some germ.  In my uproariously inadequate offering.  Let me have ears to hear.  Let me hear.

14 June 2012

God's Plan 3.

The taxis here are called matatus.  They're kombis that run in their foreordained and unalterable courses, like stars, while their conductors lean out the open window and bang the sides of the sliding door, yelling out said courses: "Tambula Wandegeya!  Nakawa Kamapala Wandegeya Kamowkya!"  Like a star, each matatu is unique and has an outlandish name, emblazoned across the top of its windshield in gaudy lettering 10 inches high. "God is Able".  "God is Final".  "Bismillah".  "God's Plan 3".  "Jesus is the Answer".  "Black Jesus".  "Patience Pays".  "Be: Patience".  "Be Smart".  "Sleek Figures".  "BIG".

I don't know who names these sweaty heralds of God's glory licensed to carry 14 passengers.  But I like having them around, reminding me that my life is not my own.  Or that it is.  Depending on which starry, Technicolor matatu names Fate sends past my eyes.  Here's the best one I saw today:

"Love: God | Fear: Stan"

08 June 2012

On Dirt Boogers.

The red dirt on the roads and the shoes and the buses and the people here has colonized my nasal passages, making nose-blowing a mild adventure like playing a slot machine.  Those of you who have been camping can understand me.

This essay's title is misleading because it's really about love letters.  The booger thing was on my mind because I was surprised it took me a week here to notice it.  Also because my ringtone here is a Kool and the Gang song containing the phrase "baddest little boogie in the land."  But what's on my mind more often and deeper down is, dammit, love.

I'm in favor of love.  My experience so far has been positive.  Being in love is what I'm talking about, specifically.  There are two guys doing research here with me who are in love with girls in other places (one in Italy, one in USA) and they're adorable.  They chat with their girlfriends and say stupid things to them over the phone even when other people are within earshot.  They think they have great epic stories about How We Met.  They are people in love.

They are people in love with girls far away, and you can and should call me a romantic, but that slays me.  LOVE LETTERS, man; those are the most important documents in history, right?  They have to be.  John and Abigail.  Robert and Elizabeth.  Solomon's Song.  This is the marrow in humanity's bones, what animates and sanctifies civilization's otherwise mechanical advance.  Maybe love letters have little place in today's world, but still I laud those who have the courage and foolishness to feel those love lettery feelings for someone by putting themselves in a position to pine.  It's obnoxious and juvenile and lovely.  Long Live Love Letters, even if their noble bloodline has been diluted down to, well, Skype.

I'll write love letters.  To a girl I'll be in love with and then I'll marry said girl and write more love letters to her.  More and better.

04 June 2012


Today might have been the day when the contours of this trip took shape and it became a real and tangible creature with real and tangible claims on my affections.

Autonomy.  I went for a run with Corrine, Brady, and Matt, and came back to find that we'd run about two pages' worth of big-comprehensive-Kampala-map-book each way -- probably close to 4 miles total.  No marathon, but enough to see new scenes at a proximity impossible from a matatu ride.  A matatu is a kombi.  And enough to feel some slender sense of dominance over the geography.  Corinne made homemade chapati for lunch, after which she and Brady and I took off for central Kampala to get Things done on our various Projects in the Uganda Bureau of Statistics -- a tall building with an exotic outside and a shabby inside, both of which feel like about 1963.  It has enormous steel letters on its side reading "STATISTICS HOUSE".  We discovered a restaurant sunken down in a roundabout on Nile Avenue and accessible only by a dark, smutty-looking passage underneath the road.  We never got lost or mugged or kidnapped, facts which I attribute at least partly to my map book.  At Family Home Evening there was another foreigner, even newer than me -- a BYU Public Health Master's student who has been here all of one day.  There comes a point when the mantle of total wide-eyed dependency passes on.  I guess I wrote from that perspective a few days ago, and I'm glad I did because today was the day I realized it's gone.  I mean to her credit, this girl seemed pretty savvy.  Still, I'm not the newest muzungu anymore.

Community.  While we were eating homemade chapatis for lunch, Peter announced he'd received a text message from Lillian, a branch member, who had seen "CRN, MTH, WYN, and BRD" out exercising by her place of work and sent "GRTS to all".  I've been here four days and already someone in the branch knows my name, or at least 3 letters in it.  In the right order.  On the matatu ride into Kampala, I started talking with a guy named Alinda because he had really cool sunglasses on, and he helped me figure out the word the driver was yelling at every stop ("Wandageye" - it is, perhaps predictably, the matatu's destination).  On the matatu ride back to our house in Ntinda, I talked to a dude named Patrick who is a chef at three different restaurants, and who told me his favorite radio station (91.3 FM.  Our phones have FM radio!).  Brady and Corinne and I celebrated our survival watching the French Open in an ice cream parlor.  Family Home Evening with the young single adults of the Ntinda branch was a delight.  We played Simon Says and Duck Duck Goose and then ate chapati and drank watery hot chocolate; I mean it was like a chocolate tea more than anything.  And it was a delight.  I was able to have actual conversations with some of the ward members, who are bright and humble and warm and riotously funny.  Later, Brady and Corrine and I met Matt and Peter at "GABRIELLAZ" for a regular, traditional Ugandan dinner of assorted starchy things and beans.  Washed down with Stoney, the spiciest and most mysteriously beautiful ginger ale I have tasted.  And we just enjoyed one another's company.  Last night we ate at Khana Kazana, the best Indian restaurant in Kampala, and talked about our research and other people's research and our travels and other people's travels.  Which was good.  But tonight we just sat around and shot it and some of us even got more than one drink like they were real drinks.  And it was good.

02 June 2012

Short Calls.

The title is a euphemism here for going number one.  Nice, huh?

I don't have that much to write yet, and I'm also really bad at taking compelling pictures (suggestions, anyone? And if you blithely chirp "just buy an slr" your name is mud) but I want at the very least to record that I'm in a new place and it's beautiful.  I will get familiar with places and sounds and smells and people and that familiarity will bring its own pleasures. But just now there's a refreshing and fleeting purity to knowing nothing.  I can't get anywhere without asking someone, and this imbues humility.  But also there's the delight of quotidian living unencumbered by the web of associations that accompany experience.  I mean when I walk down a street, I'm not equipped to know what to think about my destination, or the incentives of people around me, or the interplay of social forces.  What's available to me to notice is sights and sounds and smells in their lovely and ostentatious intricacy.  Wonder itself, too, is available in great supply for the same reason.  And it's gorgeous to be coaxed onto that plane of existence, which so easily eludes us as we accumulate savvy.  That sounds a little zen for my habitual taste, but I feel like it's real.  The scriptures hint that God has a special place in his big heart for wanderers, and I think this is one of his tenderest mercies to them.

31 May 2012


To whom it may concern:

I'm in Uganda, working on a field experiment in microsavings and generally trying to learn things.  An intention I have is to write about the things I learn.  Watch this space.


27 March 2012

A fighter.

David Cramer had a Haiku party in January from which I took home a goldfish. I put him in a Mason jar (the goldfish, not David Cramer) and fed him crumbs of whatever my family had for dinner.

He’s still alive, and I’m so proud of him I’m giving him a name. Manitou. After Theodore Roosevelt’s horse.

Tough guy.

06 March 2012

Mystery Peak.

I recognize that we are storytelling creatures, and that this is a big and beautiful part of the genius of our human souls.  But sometimes I like to remember that we weave these stories from pretty minuscule data points strung together by miles of unknown wilderness.  I mean there are billions of people on earth I don’t know and don’t even know about.  But you would think that I’d have at least a passing familiarity with the people that live around me every day.  Especially if the people in question were actually mountains.  Not so!

I grew up thinking that the pointy mountain visible through Rock Canyon from the Provo Temple was called Provo Peak.  Wrong.  That guy is Shingle Mill Peak.  The guy to his south is Freedom Peak, and the guy further south and west is, finally, Provo Peak.  Provo Peak is the tallest out of all of them, but you don’t see him from most of East Provo because Y Mountain is in the way.  (You can actually get a great view of him through Rock Canyon from the top of the hill by University Mall.)

But there are also lost mountains I wouldn’t have even know to look for.  There’s this shy girl who lives between Squaw Peak and Cascade Mountain, and most of Provo can’t even see her -- Squaw Peak completely covers her up.  But if you’re driving south on I-15 toward Provo, you can see her clear as day, just hanging out between Cascade and Squaw.  She’s actually taller than Squaw Peak, and gentler.  I don’t even know her name.  If you know her name, would you tell me who she is?

25 February 2012


It seems like people are always calling this kind of thing "Piece for Prepared Piano," but if you ask me it looks an awful lot like a bunch of surgeons around an operating table.  Is not a piano a living creature?  Is this an operation or an autopsy?  I guess without hearing it you'll just have to conjecture.

16 February 2012

Roberta Sá.

Maybe I’ve talked to you before about the role music plays as a barometer of my emotional well-being. I often love happening upon fresh and unexpected grooves. But there have been months at a time when I had no patience for it. Trying to pick something to listen to stressed me out. You know how an invalid has no appetite? I should have realized something was up with my soul, for what is soul-food if not music? The music I did listen to was old comfort blankeys, for which I don’t mean to discount my deep affection. Staples are important. But it was worrisome that I had no appetite for newness. I mean I could have gone through my whole life without ever hearing Del tha Funkee Homosapien ask “What is a booty, and how will I know if I’m shaking it?” That would have been a very sad consequence of me losing my appetite for musical discovery.

And it still happens from time to time. But I’m hungry again. I’m okay! Brazilian pop. Hip-hop. Steely Dan. Sure, go ahead and suggest me some more. Be adventurous. Let us be adventurous.

Here’s kind of a tangent, but I always come back to jazz, you know? For peace. I mean it’s the land where my musical inquisitiveness sparked into incandescent being, and it’s a wide enough land to sustain a lot of discovery. This is deeply and trustworthily good stuff.

08 February 2012

Gregor Mendel.

Gregor Mendel failed the examinations to become an accredited teacher, so he started doing a bunch of genetic experiments on pea plants.  After observing and recording data on 10,000 plants, he published his results, which allowed him to pinpoint the likelihood that certain traits would be inherited.  No one cared.  He gave up and spent the last 20 years of his life just running the monastery.  I mean understanding genetics and running a monastery are, I think, both valid ways to serve Jesus.

01 February 2012

She's a mom.

I bought The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill two months ago and finally finished listening to it today. You might say that took a long time. It did. But if you say it took too long, you’re wrong. I don’t know how it happened -- stretching 77 minutes over 64 days seems like a physical impossibility. I think there was magic afoot. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I would only press play if I knew I had time to at least hear one song the whole way through. Or that I would mainly listen to it walking home from school when it was dark and solitary enough that no one could see the tears streaking my face as I heard “To Zion” for the first time. Somehow, every time I needed to listen to Lauryn Hill for two months, I was listening to something new.

I recognize I came about fourteen years late to the Lauryn Hill party, and I’m sure it must have been incredible to listen to The Miseducation during its zeitgeist. But one of the perks of living a pop culture-ignorant childhood is digging up other people’s old news and singeing your eyebrows on still-burning fires.

So I got to the end of it today and it was kind of sad. I know there is a lot of beautiful hip-hop in the world to encounter, but Lauryn Hill’s not making it. Fourteen years after the whole world, I discovered Lauryn Hill, and I never will again.

I was telling someone recently about how I would kind of rather be in the middle of a book I love than finish it, and she seemed kind of appalled. “You just have to finish things,” she told me. I’m not so sure. She’s probably right, eventually, but it’s not that simple. There’s a great ecstatic holiness in discovery. But there’s also holiness in ripening and cross-pollination and rebirth and even decay. The whole wide project is holy. So I guess in a sense finishes are an illusion. To quote Jorge Drexler: nothing is lost; everything is transformed. I will hear you again, Lauryn.