Category Archives: Life

The Noodles After the Last Time

With no small sense of wonder, I watch myself say hello to the waitress, a nerdy young Vietnamese woman with enormous black rimmed glasses, and I watch myself order food. It is absolutely incredible to me. My body is clenched so tightly with pain that I can barely sit up in my chair. I just climbed down out of the back window of my house, following my suitcase and guitar, to avoid seeing any of the people, the loving friends, gathering outside my bedroom door. It would have been too much. Too painful. How are the words, “and an order of spring rolls” coming out of my mouth? But there they are. Moving out into the air between us. Independent of everything that is me they emerge and elicit a smiling response from the waitress who dashes off to bring me the first food I’ll attempt to eat since yesterday, well after the sun has set and I looked into her eyes for the last time. After I touched her hands for the last time. After I held her in a tango embrace, both of us crying, trying to remember every detail of her eyes, her nose, the curve of her hip, just touching and holding for the last time.

The waitress stops by later and, bending down to look up at my face, which I can’t seem lift from my chest, says, “You’ve got the look.” I freeze. I don’t want to talk about it. Is it obvious? Does she know? I don’t want to talk about it. I have nothing to say. Just move along and stop noticing me. I’m not really here. I’m sick and you might catch it. Maybe I can just run for the door. If I rip a handful of money from my wallet and just throw it on the table… “The look of someone who’s pretty full,” she says.

I glance over at the pile of uneaten food before me. The bowl of my favorite noodles. The pile of spring rolls. “Yeah, I guess I’ll need some boxes,” I hear myself say.

As always, follow the photo link to the photographer’s site.

Mysteries of Love from a Dying Chinese Woman

I was extremely fortunate to have been in China just weeks before my girlfriend Weishi’s Da Gu (first aunt) died. There was an old wooden box full of smooth stones near the back door, and she walked up and down on it with bare feet each morning. Whether a way of stimulating certain nerves in the soles of her feet or just serving as a meditative practice, it was supposed to help somewhat with the extreme pain of the stomach cancer that was slowly killing her.

Da Gu was an extremely tough woman. She never once let her physical ailments get in the way while spending time with us, and she insisted on making us tea and having ranting, passionate discussions with me. After growing up in China as a child, she had traveled to England to study english literature. She returned to work as a reporter and, ultimately, editor for the China Daily, China’s english language newspaper. Her use of the english language was so far superior to my own that I felt almost as ignorant saying hello as when I tried to discuss American history and politics with her.

Da Gu’s ex-husband was a literature professor, and apparently just as tough, opinionated, and stubborn as she was. They had been divorced for more than fifteen years, and to the day still took the time to argue with each other. She explained that two people so strong willed could simply never make it work. What she said next etched itself forever into my brain. “But if I was ever going to get married again, it would only be to him.” Weishi assured me that he had said the same thing to her.

Several weeks after I left China, the cancer finally won out. Someone likely scattered the smooth stones that took in so much pain, leaving them, too, to rest. I wonder how her ex-husband felt now that she was gone. To me those almost, but not quite, solvable problems that linger forever are the most tragic. Is there a point when they should have given in and cut off communication forever? Or was it the dynamic struggle that made what was left of their relationship so irresistible? Maybe, once again, the only answer is to continue to ask.

Ugliness in Rejection

I was once given a warning about a guy I’d just met and it stemmed from something he’d said to a girl he was dating. Apparently he’d told her, “Face it. You’re fat and no other guy will ever be attracted to you”. From the language I think it’s already clear that this was at the tail end of a failing relationship, but what might not be clear is that they had dated for more than a year. I just heard another rumor recently about someone I consider a friend. He said some similar things, including calling the girl who was leaving him, “ugly”, which in this case was impossible to imagine.

Granted, no one is hitting or stabbing anyone here, but I myself am pretty much incapable of saying these kinds of things to people, and I have to admit that it’s a bit surprising to hear, even in the context of a relationship that’s souring. But it made me think about what it is that I do in those situations instead of lashing out openly. I’ve certainly been the one being left behind, and there is an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness in the rejection I feel when it’s clear that someone I love is separating from me.

Telling someone they are ugly, fat, or stupid is a quick and dirty way to put someone lower on your hierarchy when you’re scrambling to keep their opinion from mattering. On the flip side, at times in the past I’ve made myself completely unappealing by wildly struggling to anticipate, and be, everything that my significant other must have wanted, turning me into a driveling, pathetic mush. More commonly, though, I think my unconscious strategy has been to transform the process into a cerebral challenge and a story I’m writing.

The challenge is to solve the puzzle by gathering all of the pieces of data and using them to construct an understanding of why the breakup is starting to occur. This understanding does in fact have a lot of value in helping work out problems, but it’s also a really great way to emotionally detach from the details as each is categorized for analysis and placed in a box.

As things move ever more quickly towards their inevitable conclusion, I craft the events into a poetic story and start adding it to the collection of stories that make up my life. By doing this even as it occurs, it gives the event purpose, meaning and value. The breakup and suffering become, in fact, a process of creation, the very thing that makes the blood flow through my artist veins.

In the aftermath, this stage becomes crucial and I am very disappointed if I haven’t harvested my intense emotions for poetic profit. Fortunately, this does no harm to my long term relationship with my former girlfriends. Better yet, by avoiding pawning their iPods, burning down their apartment buildings or, worst of all, calling them ugly I’ve so far been able to emerge with some interesting scars, a nice little musical repertoire, and some incredible lifelong friends.

The Place You Love Will Always Move

Saturday night I took a break from hacking together my next demo reel to hang out in an old horse barn downtown. While a small jazz group sounding like a chainsaw fighting a swarm of bees turned up to twelve and spun the hot night air, I climbed between rotting wooden tables over dirt floors to stacks of paintings. The canvases were everywhere, heaped and discarded like old windows pulled out of an abandoned building. A selection of these had been hung around two walls and provided a variety of views into the same moments as a nude model moved through poses. The aged glass of these particular windows was rippled and cracked by each artists’ life experience such that their hopes, lost loves and living dreams made the same model, in the same moment, appear in one view bitter and hopeless and in another sweet, innocent and full of hope.

Outside bicycles spun back and forth between old houses and warehouses that shook with metal or blues bands. In one an older woman hammered passionately at a huge old electronic keyboard as three hipsters lurked near the bar, nursing cans of Lone Star. Only blocks away sat the house my ex-fiance and I had built several years before. I think the walls are still wonderfully “classy Alice in Wonderland” stripes and the spiral staircase that took up most of the 800 square foot house still climbs to a tiny loft space. At the time the neighborhood was entirely Hispanic. I remember talking to an older guy who had grown up there who explained that the whole place was entirely Swedish before that. I was increasingly troubled by my accidental role as the flag bearer of gentrification, the sign that it was “ok” for white people to start moving in. This reached its peak when a white guy bought a house down the street and installed two aggressive dogs and a huge metal fence. He himself took on the task of snarling aggressively at anyone who walked past and treated the place as if it were a bunker in hostile territory.

The trouble I have is that I miss the old place where my neighbors would ring me up and say, “hey, I got an order for drywall, is that you? I’ll just swing by with the truck after work!” We bought a dented stove and the guy who brought it by lived in the house right across the street, where at night his father and friends used to practice with their mariachi band.

I also dig the crumbling horse barns and warehouses full of enthusiastic artists chopping at stone or slashing up scrap metal with oxy-acetylene torches. Without the income to afford cars, a lot of these people are reviving the joy of zipping through the streets on bicycles. There’s nothing like feeling the wind tossle my hair while gliding among the people out walking. Being on a bike makes stopping to babble with random passerby simple and frequent. I love that there are more people sharing this experience.

But all of this is but a brief spot on a continuum. The cycle continues and the briefest moment is this one, a time when the old neighborhood still has some of its character and artists can afford to perform and create before all of it is swept away by condo builders intent on capitalizing on the momentum. There have been attempts to stop or slow this progression, but most have met with little success. Fundamentally, the world over, we are humans and motivated by the same things. In Germany artists poured into east Berlin when it opened cheap spaces and squats, and when developers rushed in to capitalize I understand that now west Berlin has emptied out enough to become the new affordable place to be.

This leaves me realizing that my favorite place to be will forever be a moving target. If I want to stay in the sweet spot I’ll have to be willing to migrate every few years, or at least stay within cycling distance of the purple spotlight as it sweeps across a city. The mechanized guard dogs in Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash heated up so much from their internal power sources that they had to stay in constant motion to stay cool and alive. I feel you my brothers.