January 1, 2007

Happy 2007

January 1, 2007

The Longest Hour

It was 17 years ago on this night that my mother believing my youngest brother’s sickness was incurable shot him and then shot herself. That is the simplest way to tell the story, the facts of which are as stupefyingly shocking today as they were when I first heard them over the phone on January 2nd 1990. Our maid had discovered them.

I was sitting in an office in the Citicorp Building in New York City when I got the phone call. I was four months into my first post college job. It was 10:02 in the morning. There were three calls actually, the first two were the sounds of someone wailing. Not understanding what was going on I hung up twice. When I finally answered I felt as if someone was turning a knob forcing all my senses into an uncomfortably accute range. I could feel the air on my fingers, hear the sound of the wind on the windows, see the minute hand of my watch move second by second. It was as if all the filters allowing me to tune out distractions were ripped from my head. Preternaturally composed, I made flight arrangements to Texas. Then I walked down the hall and told my boss the story and said I would be leaving for a while. My boss followed me down to the street, flagged a taxi, and told me to take as much time off as I needed. I saw him standing there with tears in his eyes as we sped away. A friend and his girlfriend met me at my apartment. We packed in just a few minutes, but the flight wasn't for a few hours. Not knowing what to do we killed time at coffee shop on Lexington and 78th before heading to Laguardia. In the cab we didn’t talk. I kept thinking back a few day to when a black balloon had appeared outside my office window on the 53rd floor lingering there in the air seemingly in defiance of physics. It had floated away horizontally. My mind was turning slow irrational somersaults. "There must have been some horrible mixup," I thought, "none of this makes sense."

I was wearing an old shirt with buttons thinned by wear, and on the flight I remember rubbing the buttons between by thumb and forefinger. The facts were what they were of course and when I arrived home late that afternoon to a houseful of family and friends all in various states of anguish it all hit me like a sledgehammer. I first went to my grandmother kneeling before her and wrapped my arms around her. "I don't understand," she whispered in Spanish, "why?" That night I couldn't sleep and felt the need to write something. The first words that came out were: "I realize with profound clarity that we have choices. The type of life I will live is determined by the choices I make. Starting now."

In the coming days I immersed myself in the bureaucracy of death, getting police reports, ordering official documents, canceling credit cards, arranging the funeral... I remember a funeral director wearing a tieclip in the shape of a shotgun. He said, "Don't worry son, we all have pain in our hearts eventually." This was Texas after all. Having something to do was easier than trying to explain the question everyone kept asking. "Why?" I didn't know why and what I did know—my certainty that this was an act of extreme empathy born of blinding if perverse love—was unmentionable. Too difficult for others to hear or for me to say.

The police report said that my brother died instantly, but that my mother was probably alive for some time, maybe up to an hour before finally bleeding to death. She had missed her heart. That hour haunted me. I had been hit by a car as a 13-year-old and remembered vividly what it was like to lose blood and go into shock. The mind is not turned off in those moments, instead there is a brilliant clarity as in a dream, but the body is immobile and helpless. Was she wracked with regret and doubt, did the terrible folly of it all come crashing down on her? Did she think of us?

When you experience tragedy, someone will inevitably tell you that time will heal you by scarring over your wounds. But time becomes meaningless when you lose the people you love and sometimes you don't want to scar. The rawness of tragedy opens you up as a human being allowing you to feel as never before both the good and the bad.

It was almost two months after all this happened when I finally arrived back in New York on a late flight. My cabdriver was playing a Charlie Parker tape and despite the crisp February air, his window was rolled down so he could take drags from a cigarette. As we drove over the 59th Street Bridge clouds parted revealing the thinnest sliver of a new moon hanging over a glistening city. The vision of the city filled my eyes with tears. "I choose hope," I said to myself, "I'll be ok". Half a lifetime later I can say I was right. The question I sometimes ask myself on January firsts is, "Is it possible to fully enjoy the deep sweetness of life without tasting profound sadness." I don't know the answer but I ask it every year.

related: 1/1 2005

January 1, 2007

Snapshots from New Year's sebe in PA

January 4, 2007

The Physical Threads

One of my many hats is college interviewer for my alma mater. Every year I meet with nervous high school students trying to impress. And generally they do with curiosity and enthusiasm and great promise. But one trend I’ve noticed in the last few years amongst the recruits is the tendency to look at the internet as a complete reference to all things. This disturbs me. One unsmiling young man told me he no longer owned a single book. "Everything I need is online. Why be tied down?" he asked unblinking with complete seriousness. A girl looking for a career in politics happily informed me she had never read a physical newspaper. "I read 10 newspapers on the web, why should I get my hands dirty?" Another student, as she was about to leave, asked if I would prefer a thank you note by snail mail or email. "You haven’t hand written many letters have you?" I asked. She blushed and giggled, "Well actually I don’t think I’ve ever written one.... well, maybe except to my grandmother and that was a looong time ago."

I’ve always been one to embrace new technology. Growing up I was invariably the first kid with a computer, with a printer, with a modem etc. I’ve had email in one form or another since the 80’s, but I also appreciate the almost sensual pleasure of hand written letters, of words on paper, of books and bookstores and spending a day walking around without a cellphone unreachable by anyone. While I read plenty of newspapers online, none is a substitute for my morning New York Times. Online we tend to read the articles already of interest. RSS feeds give us an even narrower more filtered view, but with a paper spread out before us, we are much more likely to browse and read about that volcano in Guatemala, or the new species of lizard they just discovered in the Borneo or of an artist we’ve never heard of. What happens when everyone only reads narrowcast filtered stories catered to their specific interests? And what fun is it to read online anyway? Is there a better way for a couple to spend a lazy rainy weekend than with the Sunday paper spread all over the bed, reading side by side over one another’s shoulders?

We are probably the last generation who will have the pleasure of discovering bundles of our parents love letters. I pity the poor children born today. I imagine them in 2045 trying to revive a corrupt CD-R with data written in some abandoned Outlook format or trying to come up with a forgotten password of a long dead email account. Oh wait, I’ve just been informed email is passé, "You still use email?! I only SMS and chat," a sixth grade cousin told me last week, "Email is for old people."

We all take digital snapshots, but how many people back them up? What is the lifetime of a hard drive? Ten years with extreme optimism? Three is more like it. The great danger of the digital world is the very thing that makes it so appealing: in it’s forward speed, in it’s churning volume, we endanger our individual personal history, the documents that tie us to our past and our future... not to mention the tactile pleasure that comes from holding a book or a letter or a photograph. These are things each with their own histories passed from hand to hand. So while will I bite my tongue with my young forward looking interviewees here’s a long loud hurrah to slowness, to books, to newspapers, to letters and journals, to drawings, to photographs stuck in shoeboxes, and to all the physical threads that connect us to one another and perhaps also, over time, to ourselves.

related:: one of my favorite bookstores closes, on the disappearing pleasure of solitude, my mother's address book, This American Life: Letters

January 6, 2007

On Turning 40

By the time I finish writing this post I'll be 40. Many friends have been sent into mini panics by this particular milestone (one friend who still has a few months to go before his 40th keeps making gloomy pronouncements like, "the first half of your life it is all about possibility and doing stuff, and then you just start losing things..." But then again he's been having midlife crisis after midlife crisis since turning 20), but this is not my style. It is true that by 40 you become aware of your own mortality. Most of us by 40 have lost grandparents and people in our parents generation are dying at an increasingly alarming rate. But this sadness is countered by the delight in all the children being born. At 40 virtually all of my long time friends are married and busy making families. Two of my friends have just had their 5th kids. (They have their own basketball teams!) And children are the enemies of complacency. I wish sometimes I had met my wife earlier and that we had had kids earlier. I was 12 when my dad turned 40. 17 when my my mom turned 40, she died only 5 years later.

My single friends my age are generally solo by choice, the few who are single but not by choice often voice regrets about their lives. This last category is populated almost exclusively with friends who had one great love who got away. Talking to them always makes me thankful I met my great love when I did, at an age when I could appreciate what I would be missing if I were to lose her.

As a teenager I attended a family friend's 40th birthdy party and remember thinking of the guy as ancient, but I don't feel any older than I did back then. I'm better at virtually everything today and I've lost most of the self consciousness which plagued my young life. Also and perhaps most importantly I've finally reached an age where I can wear hats and only look like a semi-jackass.

The truth is I'll wake up in a few hours and feel pretty much as I did yesterday. My grandfather said he didn't begin to feel old until he turned 87. I hope to follow in his footsteps.

related: 39, 38

January 7, 2007

Diary of a 13 year old Evangelical

I found this diary in Philadelphia home of a family member who shall remain anonymous (her original spelling is preserved):

Precious Moments
September 19, 1993

Jesus, please make my pimples go away! Lord when will I ever learn that you are the answer to all things? Oh Hum. Don't let my period come during a very embarressing moment. :) You know if You weren't here my life would end instantly. Perhaps never even started. Lord. I am very sad. I really don't know why. People are moving on and I'm stuck on gum. Everyone seems to have something butt not me. I used to be quite conceited and look. Some people are scared to talk to the "snob" at school. Butt I don't want lo self esteem. It hurts alot. I need to be confident in myself and also in my friends. I don't know even how to act towards you. I know, tho, that I need you.

September 23
pimples are the least of my problems. Precious Moments ! Well, okay, I "talked" to my coach and got in major trouble. I really don't know what to do. Should I quit or play? I know there are some people who don't want me too butt what about the others? Lord, I'm sorry and I feel terrible. I wish you were visible. I need you. Tomorrow I want to be real and not transparent. I really don't like me. I wish Satan would stop pestering me. Lord, I give it to you and I'll try not to worry. Lord, I am sorry for all my sins.

I [heart] u!

January 7, 2007

Mark Alor Powell's V.I.P.

Mark Powell is a photographer who never fails to delight, intrigue, and challenge his audience (he also happens to be a great guy). His book of photos from Mexico City and Detroit titled V.I.P just came out and is reviewed by Michael David Murphy who also provides a link to purchase the book. Note that right now the only place to buy the book is via a Mexican online bookstore so you need to be able to read Spanish to order (this said the store is reliable). I'll update with links to American stores when the book becomes available here.

Mark's Alor Powell

Update: Mark just put up a mini book site with more info.

January 9, 2007

Fun Center

January 10, 2007


On Henry and Pacific
man in a pork pie hat:: There are goombas and there are goombas, and this guy is a goomba. He's a steal your car, hit you with a tire iron, acid in the face kind of goomba .

young greasy haired guy: Stop. He's practically retarted. I see him putting out milk to the stray cats and meowing. [Meows] That guy?

man in a pork pie hat:: You're so smart. What do you think happened to Michael's thumbs?
. . . .

On Dean Street
kid: Why can't we keep the Christmas tree all year?

mom: Because we have to leave them out for the poor people.

kid: Nobody wants a used tree.

mom: See you don't understand what it is to be poor. If you were really poor, even a used tree would seem nice.

. . . . .
on State Street
4 or 5 year old boy (to himself): fruit rolls are not candy. No. No. No.

. . . . .
on 23rd Street
street vendor selling toy cars: One for five dollars, Two for six.
customer: How much for three?
street vendor: Nine dollars.
customer: But that doesn't make any sense.
street vendor: Looks like you'll have to buy 4 for ten.

January 11, 2007

My Tia Olivia's 15th

This is from the church service before the quinceañera. Should be about 1959 in Monterrey.

January 12, 2007

Another reason to hate cats

letter found 6/23/99, original date unknown:

I ask myself, "Where is she right this second?"

I tell myself, "She is on her bed. It is dark. She's asleep."

I ask myself, "Which side of the bed, left or right?"

I answer, "Hmmm. Good question."

I think, "I can imagine her breathing."

I ask myself, "If I were there would she be facing me or would I be holding her?"

I tell myself, "It doesn't matter, at least you would be there."

I ask myself, "Why do you torture yourself this way?"

I tell myself, "It's like a wave crashing over an ant. The ant has no say in the matter."

I think to myself, "The cat is there. The cat is on the bed. She is not alone, she is with the cat."

I ask myself, "Why do cats have all the luck?"

I think, "Damn cat."

I say out loud, "I hate cats."

January 12, 2007

Christopher Herwig's Soviet Bus Stops

The online magazine Polar Inertia is featuring a set of images of wonderful Soviet era bus stops. Good stuff. You used to find similar bus stops (and bus stations) in rural china featuring exuberant off kilter designs. Sadly most have been modernized out of existence.

January 13, 2007


Last week I noticed my two year old son staring out the window with his face pressed against the glass. I came over and he pointed out to the curb. "Tree," he said.

I had worried about this. The night before we had undecorated the Christmas tree while he was sleeping. Now it was 6:30 in the morning and it was the first thing he noticed.

He had been pretty excited about the tree. The night we put it up he kept disappearing and reappearing from the living room as we arranged the lights. We thought he wasn't interested and was getting cars or something. He was actually hauling his pillows and blankets into the room so he could go to sleep in view of the tree. For the month it was up, turning on the Christmas lights was the first order of the day.

And now the tree was out on the street with the garbage. He insisted on an inspection, so we went outside. There it was on the curb wet from rain and with a single ornament dangling from it's lower branch. He immediately ran over and began a valiant attempt to drag the 7 foot tree back to the house. He's less than 3 feet tall. I explained the tree had spent a long time with us making us happy but now it was time for it to go away to be with the other trees. I pointed out the many trees scattered on the curb up and down the block. He paused, considered the explanation, and solemnly waved goodbye to the tree. We removed the ornament. Then, grabbing my hand he led me down the street and with real gravitas said goodbye to each and every tree.

Other than my own dim memories I knew nothing of the world of toddlers until I had one of my own, but I've come to believe that our early years are the ones in which we are the truest versions of ourselves. In those years we are without the accumulated layers of knowledge, the cruft of life, that gives our world boundaries. The truth was I was sad too and at that moment it felt unfair we couldn't keep trees in the house all year long. I almost believed my own white lie about the trees returning to the forest. Comforting. And of course that's how it starts, one day you realize the trees are just going to mulched and sent to the dump and you wonder why your father lied to you. You don't realize until much later that this is the lie he had heard from his father.

Afterwards we returned home and my son searched through the house until he found his Christmas book featuring a tree. Again, he said "bye bye," and then, satisfied, he threw the book aside and bounded upstairs ready for the next thing.

January 15, 2007

365 Days Project

One of my favorite radio stations, WFMU, is hosting the 2007 365 Days Project featuring a new set of outsider recordings in friendly MP3 format each and every day of 2007. The original 365 Days Project from 2003 is revered by my sound obsessed friends both for it's impossible to find recordings and well researched scholarship. This year's edition promises to be equally relevatory.

January 16, 2007

The Central Paradox of Dentistry

All day long you look into their mouths
Teeth unflossed.
Gums receding.

You hate candy.
You hate garlic.
You hate their hot breath on your hands.

This pain you inflict,
The pain they feel—
It's their own fault.
You have no remorse.
You think, "Go ahead curl your toes in agony,
I'm helping you."

You live with knowledge
This woe is preventable.
If they would just listen.

And yet
If they do listen.
If they really listen
And change their ways.
You're out of a job.

January 18, 2007

Yamasaki Ko-ji

If you've ever wandered the streets of Tokyo you've no doubt wondered what was going through the minds of all those Japanese salarymen in their identical suits... Click through to the world of Yamasaki, a salaryman with a camera to find out...

January 20, 2007

slow news day...

January 20, 2007

My iphone "i want" list

Like everyone else, I'm pretty exited about the iphone. But I won't be head over heels excited until I find out if 3rd parties can develop apps for it, because a slick phone would be neat, but a real version of OS X with 3rd party apps would be like cherries every day. This list of "I want" apps came to mind almost immediately. What's on your list?

1. I want to be able to find photographs on the net geotagged to my current location with a scroller that goes back chronologically. Imagine standing at a particular spot, and instantly be able to see what happened there last week, last month, last year. (idea originally from Jakob Lodwick)

2. I want fingerpainting. (allowing you to choose between watercolors, gouache, oils, etc... and with paint running down the screen based on the phone's orientation)

3. I want an intruder alert. In other words you lock your phone with a special code, and if someone picks up your phone it starts taking pictures, recording sound and sending you an email with photos and the recording. Also it should have a siren.

4. I want an alarm clock set to one of my itunes playlists.

5. I want Netnewswire.

6. I want a portable antfarm with virtual ants.

7. I want a timelapse function for camera where a series of images is taken at a preset intervals and turned into a movie.

8. I want the phone to read me my mail if I'm in the car.

9. I want to be able to record my phone calls with a click..

10. I want voice annotated email... yeah it would just be voicemail via email, but it would mean I could send a voicemail to someone without a phone.

11. I want to be able to transfer files user to user via wifi or bluetooth... if iphone really runs a flavor of OS X this should be no problem. We can always email files anyway, and not allow auto-discovery via rendezvous.

12. I want the option to connect a small keyboard. Will this be possible via the ipod socket? Probably not, but we can keep our fingers crossed.

13. I want to be able to set custom mail sounds for different users.

14. When someone in my address book calls, I want to, with a click, have access to recent email from them while we speak.

15. I want an open API for the document viewer so I can view files in a variety of formats including word, excel, etc...I know most of these document types are viewable through the web, but wouldn't it be nicer to have this native?

16. I want to run skype or to be able to do voice chats when I'm connected via wifi.

17. I want to be able to directly sync any folder on my computer to any folder on the phone with a push of the button and without going through .Mac or some other third party.

18. I want to be able to share a calendar with selected people so we can all sync whenever we are online.

19. I to play games with the the person across from me on the subway via wifi.

20. I want play a song for a friend over wifi. ("Hey listen to this.")

21. I want subway maps. With real time arrival times/traffic reports.

22. I want the Oxford English Dictionary.

23. I want a local copy of wikipedia.

25. I want to be able to take a picture of a barcode, have it scanned and understood, and find out what the best price for that product is online.

26. I want directions when I am lost.

27. I want to be able to call in and with a secret code have the phone tell me where it is, so I can find it when I lose it.

28. I want to be able to access files on my home computer when I forget something.

29. Did I mention fingerpainting?

30. I want it now.

January 21, 2007


January 21, 2007

From a book of imagined conversations

We were on the grass looking at the sky and you asked, "What if we had never met?"

And I said, "Hey that cloud looks like a Japanese castle."

And you said, "I've never seen a Japanese castle, but if they look like that cloud, I can imagine them."

And when I finally turned to answer your question, you had fallen asleep.

-July 12, 1986

January 25, 2007

Photo Eye Galleries

For the past couple of years Photo Eye has been my favorite photo magazine/photobook source with consistently smart editorial choices and thoughtful reviews. Tonight I gave their website a spin for the first time in a very long time and discovered they host online galleries with scores of artists. Unlike many similar sites these gallery feature decent sized images (on each artist click the small thumbmnail, then the medium sized one, to get a pop out window with large images). Many photographers also have prints available. Navigation of the galleries is clumsy, and artist selection is somewhat tame, but suffering bad HI is a small price to pay to be able to check out so many excellent photographers in one place.

January 25, 2007

New Digs

Last night I finally hunkered down and ported this blog from blogger to Movable Type. Nothing exciting design-wise, just a more functional (I hope) layout with some long overdue new features (categories, search, custom feeds, tags, etc).

I've only tested on Safari and Firefox, so if there's any wonkiness in Internet Explorer (or just in general) let me know. There is still quite a bit of fine tuning to be done and a few features I want to add. I also need to get busy tagging/categorizing old entries.

Jenn hates the new design (or lack of design) by the way ("is it finished?" she asks).... Ultimately I don't think the design matters much as the vast majority of you read this site via RSS.

If you're curious as to the process, this is how I made the move.

1. I installed a local copy of MT on my Mac. These instructions are a bit outdated, but they will get you in the ballpark.
2. I also installed fastcgi locally for much speedier rebuilds. I used these instructions to get fast cgiinstalled and these ones to get movable type running on fastcgi.
3. All the CSS was coded live in CSSEdit which is arguably the worlds best css editor. The live preview function saved me countless hours. All that remains in CSSEdit is a visual editor. Perhaps in 3.0. (I threw out the default MT templates btw which seemed over convoluted for a simple blog and just started from scratch).
4. Many people encouraged me to install FastSearch which I did. I also installed an apple style search box.
5. Archive columns in the sidebars come via Columnize.
6. Zebrastriped comments were accomplished with roundrobin.
7. Once I got the design tweaked, I need to import my entries. I referred to my own exporting from blogger to wordpress to mt guide to get all the entries out of blogger. The resulting text file was in good shape save for a few repeating garbage characters which I removed using good old search and replace in bbedit.
8. My big worry with the switch was preventing comment spam to which mt is vulnerable. I'm trying out a combination of a keystrokes plugin, a spam firewall, and a few homegrown techniques... we'll see if they work...
9. So at this point, the blog was working, my data was in, and I just powered through categorizing almost 500 of almost 900 entries in the batch edit screen. If anyone knows a way to batch edit tags, please let me know, because I haven't found anything yet.
10. Moved everything to my online server, published it and everything went fairly well. The only issue I see is that some entries with long titles have been truncated differently by blogger/mt so that google still points to the old pages... I like having the few extra characters in the titles so I'll let that one be. Mainly it all seemed to work. Old links less than 35 characters should not break.

My server has been having mysql issues and when this happens, the search fails.... If this problem isn't solved very soon I'm switching from Verio which has been nothing but headaches since the hurricanes in 2005 which affected their server farm to Media Temple about which I hear nothing but great things (and a few dollars cheaper to boot).

Again if there are any display issues just email me at myfirstname.mylastname@gmail.com where myfirstname is my first name, my last name my last...

January 25, 2007

Travis Ruse

If you have ever tried to make photographs in the New York City subway system, you know what a difficult task it is. The lighting is terrible. People are wary. It's hard to get a clear shot because of the crowds. Etcetera. And yet Travis Ruse has managed to take countless beautiful candid shots in the subway, day after day, year after year.

Tonight a show of his subway photos will open at 6:30 at Redux Gallery (116 E. 16th St. 12th Flr). I happened to see several freshly printed images over at Gabe Greenberg's studio and they look spectacular, so much more alive than any image on a screen could ever be, can't wait to see them on the wall. The show runs through March 9th.

Related: Bruce Davidson's Subway

January 27, 2007



January 27, 2007

Linn Schröder

A friend of mentioned I might like the photography of Linn Schröder and indeed I do.
Making Room did an interview with her a while back and features a gallery of her series "Sind Sie ein echter Frosch". The image above is from a series titled A Play (sometimes translated "A Piece"). One or two more shots from this series can be found on a page called The Art of Being German which is chock full of interesting photography.

January 29, 2007

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

That's the first line of Michael Pollen's article Unhappy Meals in yesterday's Times magazine on the food industry. Odds are if you are reading this blog you've already read the article, but just in case, there's the link served up for you. We're big Michael Pollen fans in this house and happen to be in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma which is excellent (Jenn is further through it than I am and keeps hitting me with corn facts... read the book and you'll understand). The Botany of Desire is another must read book we push on all our friends. If you love food and incisive writing, these books are for you.

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