Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Johns' voice is warm wind that sweeps through a field of barley, growing in the belly of a finely tuned timpani.

Morgan's voice is a mighty river that flows through the sky, dancing with itself.

Monday, December 30, 2002

A task has been thrust upon me, and I have never never felt more unqualified. The three semesters left of undergraduate bliss seem miniscule compared with the five behind me--12 classes, a matter of months. And then invisible hands push me out the Van Wickle Gates, out of wonderland and into, well,
in my waking nightmare I am walking into a pigeon hole. Dark and small, so narrow that I can't stretch my arms or legs, and I can't even turn my head to look about my cramped surroundings.
Why would I walk into a pigeon whole? It is what I dread and loathe most. In all the uncertainty of my future, I feel most certain that I want to defy the pigeon whole, to break lose of it, or, if possible, to avoid it all together.
But what does that even mean? I have to do something and I can't do everything. Really, nothing short of assured immortality will sufficiently quell my fears. I can't be everything I want to at once, and I can't even be everything I want to in sequence. I only get one shot.
And that's the ring of graduate school's 7-10 years starts sounding like a prison sentence. All the worse because I have chosen it for myself. Because really who am I to know? How could I possibly qualified to make this kind of decision?
I step out the gates, and some body hands me a lifetime and tells me,
here you go.
What do I do with that? When has anyone put a year in my hands? Two years? I have passed from one sure thing to the next, without any question. And too soon the clear well-trodden path ends, and I with no training as a trailblazer am left with feeble nose to sniff around frantically, with no idea what I'm smelling for. How ridiculous.
Give me a job I'm qualified for.
I want college forever. Solid ground. And yet I already feel myself being thrown off a diving board and into a pool, except that once I go under, there's another diving board, ten feet under, and people on that diving board will grab me and pull me down and throw me off the underwater diving board farther down into the pool, the pool has no bottom and I am thrown down and down by invisible hands from one diving board to the next until I lose all hope of seeing the surface. What use will it be then for me to scream to ask "what if i wanted to dive at the other end of the pool?" I'll be deep in, and it will be dark.

So this is what my sick mind has been playing with recently. Morbidly mixing multiple melodramatic metaphors, making me mightily morose. And it will take me for a while, until I snap out and tell myself that life is simple, and I can live well even in the smallest and darkest of places, wearing any one of a thousand hats, or no hat at all.

Running helps. Thump-Thump-Thump-Thump my feet, metronomic, give me an easy 4/4 rhythm, and in and out through my lungs too. So rhythmic I can trick my brain into a sort of sleep. That's all sleep is--as much as science-folk understand it--desensitization to outside stimulus helped along by the rising synchrony of thousands of neurons firing in rhythm. I dub this new sleep stage RUN-sleep. Thump-Thump-Thump-Thump is all that occupies my mind for a while, until eventually my mind is ready to dream a bit--visions and thoughts that fall in and scatter themselves back out almost immediately, with no inner narrative to string them together except what I might try to construct afterward--if I would even want to. Such a blissful vacation from narrative--the inner narrative, ever-binding. Focus, connecting one vision or thought to the next, constructing sense out of life is so consuming. No wonder I awake--from running or from sleeping--well-refereshed.
Strange how we try to construct narratives out of dreams. As soon as we are awake, we reach back, and try to chain our visions together, to make them mean something, barely cognizant that, for a couple of hours, we had dropped the chains to rest, and let the visions run free.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

It has begun.
Will I stick with it. 771 pages or so. I'm on page 7. The prologue. We'll see how long I last.
Of Hobbits "they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions."

is an uneventful movie is adaptation's ghost orchid?

Me: Where you're going, you won't need land vehicles. You'll take the world by air, then you'll become a seal. Then, if that's not enough, you'll be a cheetah too.

Avi: But cheetahs don't really have the endurance.

Me: I guess not. Hm. What can go the distance? Hm. A land-salmon! You'll be a cheetah and a land-salmon.

I realized another reason I liked Amelie (which I saw with my Brother in NY this weekend) while watching "Adaptation" with No-omi, Stacey, Jackie, and Avi:Amelie made me feel really good about watching people's faces in dark theaters. The faces of people falling into other worlds. If people wore those faces more often....if people fell into each other more....

glimpses through silver-screen starlight were all I got of No-omi and Jackie and Stacey, who seemed to appear and fade with the credits. Into the blizzard. They also gave me some words:

from Jackie--"Stop tapping!" (whispered) and "There's no way Mustard Seed is open" and "I have to get home for dinner"

from Stacey--"bybye"

from Nomi--"you are the second worst person to watch a movie with" and "no way" (grimace) and "it's definitely not open"

Adaptation betrayed me. It succeeded in doing what most Hollywood movies half-heartedly try and fail: it made me believe that nothing was going to happen, that no great change was going to occur, that no one was going to find love and no one was going to die.

And then, it went further: unlike almost any other movie I've seen, it Adaptation made me WANT nothing to happen. No one was going find their soulmate or lose their soulmate, and I was thrilled. On the edge of my seat waiting for nothing. A big Fuck You to an industry of sham lives.

And then, everything happened. People died, found love, made profound realizations. There were crocodiles or alligators involved. And sex and drugs. Not necessarily in that order.

An artful betrayal. Screenwriter to audience: "I'm going to make you, a movie audience, want what no movie audience ever wants--to identify with the strife of a screenwriter until you are INVESTED in nothing happening. And then, not only will things happen, but they will happen in droves."

Ari to screenwriter "you bitch! but i can respect that."

And I do. And I learned a lot. He played the meta-card full force, and I managed to learn something about narrative through orchids, and something about orchids through narrative in the process.

Back to my place, bouncing around the walls doing nothing with Avi, playing with an old workbook of the constitution and then finding maya in the snow who took us to her home and told us blue grass stories. What a quality woman she is. Always emanating a soft glow.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Excuse the melo-drama of the following entry. It reflects my perception of past days events as they occurred.
I thought I was finally putting myself together. I was wrong.
Was it the shabbat dinner with five adorable toddlers, alternately wailing and throwing up over their parents' shoulders?
Was it a spending a weekend with my friend Karra, who had been in the infirmary through a chunk of finals period?
Was it the upper-west-side diner spinach omlette, which bore striking resemblence to brightly colored cud?
A mystery for the ages.
Whatever it was, it started catching up with me right around the time I started off on the road home to Chevy Chase from my brother's apartment in New York. This trip has classically been the road-trip equivalent of a warm bubble bath for me. One road. Four hours. No surprises.
For some reason, I was not too worried by the faint rumblings of my stomach as I left my brother's house--a vague premonition made me grab a couple of napkins in aniticipation of possible emergency rest stop. I set off for home unconcerned.
Over the first two hours, feelings of light-headedness and nausea grew slowly. I noticed I was feeling drowsy--very peculiar considering the fact that I had slept like a cat over the weekend. My waning ability to focus alertly on the road overcame my loathing for caffeine, and I picked up a coke at a rest stop. I drank half of it on the way to the car, and my toyota's floormat drank the other half after a left turn dislodged its cover. Still, refereshed and more alert, I resumed my voyage. Crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge. As I made my way over the Maryland state border, my nausea and light-headedness again instensified. I weighed my options: Do I pull over at the next rest stop, call my parents out to the edge of civilization to pick me up? I knew I only had 1-1.5 hours left. If I could just hold on for that much longer, I could become safely delerious and infirm in the hands of my parents.
About fifteen minutes later, the tips of my toes and fingers began to tingle, kind of like the way your foot tingles when you sit on it wrong and it falls asleep--except this was persistent. It spread and intensified quickly, and soon most of my arms and legs were tingling, and I was breathing heavily. I looked for sign of a rest stop. None. I had passed the maryland welcome center and the cheseapake rest stop, and had entered the quiet rest-stop-less void that stretched about thirty miles to Baltimore. I had no idea what was happening to me--funny, thought, my last entry's description of dissolving now seemed to me quite apt--and I could not think clearly or focus on the road. Convinced that I would likely black out or faint right in the middle of 95, nightmares of plowing 70miles an hour into a four car pile up sent me into the right lane, and got me off the highway at the first exit: white marsh. I had little idea where/what/who was white marsh, but I looked to it desperately. No gas stations, no restaurants. Some stores that were closed for the night (it was now about 815) and a clustering of what might be called town-houses if there was a town. Not brick though. Panneled siding. Reminded me of Mr. Citarella's old apartment. I for a second wondered if had actually managed to wander into Mr. Citarella's old neighborhood, but then remembered he had moved to Maine or somewhere thereabouts and was no longer teaching calculus at JDS.
I looked for lighted windows--and suprisingly, I found few. I pulled my car over beside a promising window, and, exiting my car, discovered that I was no longer able to walk straight. I staggered up some stairs and knocked on someone's door. I am not sure what I said to the man who answered, probably something to the effect of "I am very ill. Help me." Whatever I said was probably nonsense to him anyway, as I was panting very heavily. "Should I call 911?" he asked? As my legs gave out on my and I fell to the ground, I said "Yes." He grabbed a phone and shut the door, leaving me at his doorstep, still panting and whimpering, clueless as to what was happening to me. The most likely option--that I had caught some sort of stomach flu and my paniced hyperventilating had been screwing with my circulation--did not really seem likely at the time. Totally ludicrous possibilities flew through my head. Meningitis? Stroke? Some weird neurodegenerative disease that would leave me paralyzed within minutes? My inner hypochondriac was out in full force.
I waited for the siren. It appeared, and approached. I managed to rise myself from the fetal position at this guy's doorstep, and stoop up to flag the ambulance down. The guy who took care of me in the ambulance was very amiable but had trouble taking my pulse--"I'm a DJ," he said with a light smile. "So my hearing is not that great." He was very calm--attentive, but unconcerned--no doubt a strategy to calm me down, I thought. He got my vital signs and information, told me that I seemed alright, that the tingling probably came from hyperventilating, but that I should probably get myself checked out. Then he asked me whether I wanted to go to the hospital. This point confused me quite a bit. I had called 911 for the explicit purpose of going to the hospital, hadn't I? Still, the DJ-EMT explained to me, he could not take me to the hospital without my explicit permission. "That would be kidnapping." In a bewildered moment, I got some advice from the security guard who had appeared. You don't look so good, he told me. You should probably go. With this minor validation, I told the DJ-EMT I wanted to go to the hospital. No matter how seriously or not seriously ill I was, I knew I was in no shape to drive home, that I would need to wait somewhere for at least an hour for my parents to come out to pick me up, and that I should probably have people making sure I was allright during that time.
A trip to the hospital, three information forms, and about 20 regurgitations later, I got myself a saline IV for rehydration, a doctor came in, prodded my stomach in a couple of places, proclaimed "your appendix is fine" and signed me up for some anti-emetic juice through the IV. I have a vague memory of pressing the doctor for the mechanism of action of the drug she was giving me. This seemed to frustrate her. "Something with the brain. Something with dopamine. Just lay back, relax, and the let the drug do its work."
About 19 hours later, I am home. I slept until five. In the past 28 hours, the only solid food I have eaten is a piece of babka. But I kept it down, and I'm feeling better.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Somehow, in Friday's storm, I became soluble. I dissolved. From all sides.
This has never happened to me before--
if I have dissolved before,
the memory of the trauma dissolved with me,
leaving me
to congeal myself without it later.
What disappeared me into a solution of confusion
frustration, shattered confidence, general dispair?
A frantic rush through barely drivable downpour
up 95 to beat the sunset--
which I didn't manage to do.
But mainly some looming B's
Yeah, that's right. B's
How pitiful.
I am a weak, weak soul.
Shabbat came and went and I slowly congealed.
I was solid in time to give my brother a hug.

Once I could easily overleap the soluble phase,
sublimate and float above such meager regional storms.
"I've driven in blizzards and ice storms" I told my friend Karra as we plowed our way through a half-flooded 195North to Brookline, Shabbat creeping up on our left. "But never anything quite this bad."

Thursday, December 12, 2002

The oftener he falls the better. He will soon learn to pick himself up. The blessedness of freedom makes up for many bruises.

Monday, December 09, 2002

A lucky man feels love through honest friends:
desperado1926: i fear your prose has struck stiffened by the starch-serving scholastic
desperado1926: i.e. grown too academic :-)
desperado1926: how i ache for descriptions of the potomac's "gated flow" (03/02, as i recall)
desperado1926: i pray it fails to mirror a diminution of your spirit

Sunday, December 08, 2002

I am home again. Tomorrow I will go to the Third Annual Antiviral Drug Resistance Conference, hosted by the HIV Drug Resistance Program at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (notice the scientist's fondness for naming). Really not quite sure what to expect. It could be embarassing, frustrating, disillusioning, frightening, or terribly upsetting...

but only if I'm lucky.
More likely, it will be inconsequential, and I will be summarily dismissed as an odd-looking vestigial organ--a pony-tailed college student pitching big ideas at a scientific conference. Who will possibly stop to listen to me, or to let me listen to them, for that matter.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll get lucky, and meet researchers that open my eyes to the field in new ways. Maybe people will read my essay. Maybe I'll get into some debate and discussion. Maybe I will leave stronger and wiser. Tomorrow will tell.

Saturday night I hosted a triumphant finally to an unsteady semester as a Neuroscience Teaching Assistant. Some weeks my section went well, but other weeks I left feeling as if I had just killed my own puppy. And I don't even have a puppy.
But last night, oh, was marvellous. It worked, oh did it work. And when it works oh it is marvellous. At our review session for the final exam--I bet at least 100 people attended--Mike Klein and Deepa (fellow TA's) and I showed them the neuroscience of motivated behavior like they had never before experienced it--we lost our PowerPoint viginity,gave a live demonstration of rhythm generation, hosted a pie eating contest, and threw play dough and small squishy foam brains at rather startled premeds. We got laughs. And Applause. At a review session for a final exam. Spectacular.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

On entering the Silver Diner, Dan told me to remove my kippah. I refused--I wanted to wear my kippah at that time, but more importantly, I wanted to choose myself when I was going to wear a kippah. A rather intense conversation between Johnny, Avi, Dan and I ensued. For much of the first part of it, I felt pretty directly affronted and attacked, so much so that I became disheartened from defending my stance. But after I explained this, Avi and Dan changed their tones significantly, and, feeling a little less vulnerable in front of my friends, I was able to explain myself better. Apologies and explanations made, hugs shared, and Johnny ate his first desert in months.
I understood their points--we had all read the same Talmudic passages dealing with the kippah as a public display of Jewish identity, and the significance kippah wearers bear as representatives of their religion. Non-Jews, the reasoning goes, may form their conception of Jewish laws, customs, and moral character based on the actions of those who appear outwardly Jewish. Therefore, those who choose to display their Judaism in this way take on the responsibility of representing their community to those who do not interact with it directly.
I understand and accept the dilemma this poses, and embrace the tension between personal and communal spiritual identity. I made the choice to wear my kippah into the Silver Diner and not to purchase anything, and perhaps I may have taken my kippah off had I chosen to order a milkshake. However, I consider that wholly my decision. What made me most uncomfortable, I think, was the feeling that my right to wear the kippah was being threatened, that I no longer had autonomy over that decision. By the time Johnny was done with his pie, I had clarified a little my thoughts on the topic, and was glad to have friends who were close enough to challenge me.