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Mar. 9th, 2014



A nylon wind vest that I pulled from my drawer, still bearing the smell of the rich, damp earth of France, triggered memories of misty bike rides and laughter in a dozen languages.

A hoodie picked from a pile for laundry, that someone borrowed after staying over, still bore the scent of her. I thought of breakfasts shared together, and the way she would laugh at some joke that I had long since forgotten.

A t-shirt pulled out of a camping backpack, still smelling of fire and wood smoke, provoked images of friends' smiles on the edges of firelight, huddling together against winter's chill.

In their own time, I've put each of these garments in the wash, but before I flush them with soap and hot water, I hold them to my nose. I smell so that I can take in the memory one last time; to hold it in my mind long after the clothes emerge, clean, new and fresh.

Feb. 25th, 2014

Dirty Dozen deleted scenes: a reunion and inspiration

December 2012

I was in Long Beach for the first time. After three weekends of volunteering on Staten Island I switched to this project, because I wanted a change of scene, and also because I knew that brigid's parents lived on Long Island, and while All Hands wasn't running projects in her town, I still wanted to do something for that area. couplingchaos and mashuta had gone down with me, and were both working on fire brigade-ing out the contents of this woman's basement. I was in the midst of another drywall demo stint, and was taking a break to sip some water and clear the dust from my lungs, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small group of volunteers walking up to us. Reinforcements.

actually, not that. A reunion.Collapse )

Feb. 24th, 2014

Dirty Dozen wrapup

(adapted from a post that I made earlier to Facebook)

After Hurricane Sandy crushed parts of New York City and Long Island in the fall of 2012, I had, for various reasons, started making trips down during the weekend to help out with fixing homes. At first it was just me taking a Chinatown bus down on Friday, and crashing with incarnadine_ich and A in their loft in Brooklyn, and after heading back to Boston on Sundays, I'd tell stories of what I'd see to my friends here. Stories of disaster sites teeming with a dozen groups trying to help. Of determined residents, veteran disaster response workers, and a hundred strangers doing the right thing. Of Occupy and community fire departments and church groups serving their friends and neighbors. And, of course, All Hands -- that group that I hooked up with so many years ago in the Gulf, in the wake of Katrina, and who, so many years later, are still keeping the faith and kicking ass.

I have learned that if society ever breaks down, if disaster ever strikes, there is a certain breed of people that I want to seek out and keep closeCollapse )

Jan. 11th, 2014

complex questions with not so simple answers

This morning, over coffee, I was reading Metafilter and was reading this thread about a short race/feminism/identity web comic essay called What Would Yellow Ranger Do?. It's this great piece talking about being a minority and having to put up with the surprisingly complicated nature of being asked "where are you from?"

Because, yes, it seems innocuous, and many times it probably is, but many times, when we are asked, "where are you from?" and we say, "Somerville" or "Canada", we get follows up like: "no, I mean originally? / no, I mean where are your parents from? / no, I mean which Racial Tribe should I be putting you in, you piece of Other?" Even if that follow-up doesn't arrive, we're so used to having the question be asked in that way, that we can't help but cringe a little every time it comes up. The comic captures this admixture of anxiety, outrage and sadness so perfectly that while reading it I kept wanting to reach through my laptop and high five this stranger so hard and so many times.

And the MeFi thread (as well as this previous one) also has some interesting discussion points where people indicate that "where are you from?" can also be asked from a well-meaning place. You're curious, you're trying to make small talk, and you genuinely want to know more about a person -- and I get and respect that, but it is kind of one of those statements, like complimenting a girl's ass or asking a goth kid to smile, that the speaker may think is innocuous but the receiver has been conditioned to take it as a trigger for trouble.

For some reason, the thread reminded me of a recent example on the flipside. Every day that I was in Stockholm, I had a different, random person come up to me and ask for directions somewhere. Usually I had to disappoint them by saying that this was my first visit, and I was still figuring out my own bearings, but I was happy to share my map with them and help them out. Yet, at the same time, I found myself oddly pleased to be asked. Because to be asked directions at least implies that the person believes (or is willing to believe) that you are from the area, and you know how to get around. You look like you belong.

I like knowing where people were born and grew up. I think that is an important part of understanding someone, but it's like asking "what do you do?" as an opening ice breaker to a stranger. It kind of screams, "I only relate to people by the definition of their occupation. I need to know what you do before I can figure out how to talk to you further."

If you start the conversation by trying to define a stranger, then don't be surprised if you get some resistance from people who spend their lives having to deal with the arbitrary definitions of others. Get to know someone by talking about the shared circumstances that somehow put you into the conversation. Ask them for directions. Make a comment about something that you can both observe. And if work or origin somehow comes up as part of the conversation, then ask about it like you'd ask about a favorite band or a piece of clothing that they're proud of. Let the person draw your attention to what they want to present of their self; and always start from a position that you're both human beings and therefore part of the same greater tribe.

Dec. 19th, 2013

hacking your city

I was in a car with kteich on the way south for another trip to New York, orange lane reflectors streaming before us in the yellow glow of headlights.

"So," I said, "last Wednesday, I went with this architect friend to a lecture series at LivableStreets, and this guy gave a short presentation on this thing called Par(king) Day. Basically, a couple of folks in San Francisco went to an empty street parking slot and filled the parking meter with quarters. They then rolled out some sod and created a small temporary park for the two hours that the meter was running. Then, when the meter was done, they rolled up the sod and went on their way. It was like a little thought experiment -- what if you reframed a 'parking spot' not just as 'a place to park a car', but as a 'piece of public urban space that you can rent for a short time using a few quarters'?

"But, the big thing was they took pictures and posted it online. Then, they released a manual and basically told the rest of the Internet: hey, give this a try."

"So, they open sourced it and it went viral? That's cool. How many cities have picked it up?"

"I don't know. It's worldwide now, I think. Still, I keep thinking about it; about other uses for the concept. Like, say, how about going to an actual parking garage that charges $17 for all day parking and then renting enough spaces where you could set up a one day bazaar or dance party."

"You could find one of those garages that's near the river in Kendall and go up on the roof. Most people don't want to park on the roof unless they have to because it's so far from the street or the mall."

"Yeah, and we could maybe crowdsource the money for the parking fund and the size of the party depends on the amount of money raised."

This reminds me that I've also had it in the back of my mind to take the rules and structure for Dungeon Bar Crawl, put it up online, and do a similar thing of letting the rest of the Internet run with it. It's good to know, though, that there's already a template for this sort of viral idea distribution; and a rich world out there of clever inspiration to draw from.

Dec. 9th, 2013

circadian rhythms

When one prepares for a trip, you do your research and read up about your destination. You find out that the view from the edge of the Grand Canyon is, indeed, grand; and the ice cream from that little shop in the middle of Paris is quite tasty and delightful, but facts don't measure up to experience, and no matter how many times you read about it, the words will not prepare you for how the Grand Canyon will literally make you forget to breathe for a few seconds, or how that first taste of ice cream will dissolve your consciousness into a ball of bliss. Similarly, one can read about how Sweden, on the edge of December, only gets 6 hours of sunlight, and one can read those facts over and over, and imagine what that feels like; but that is little preparation for the odd sense of panic and anxiety that comes when the sky darkens at 3 in the afternoon, and you want the sun to come back because you aren't ready for it to leave quite yet.

"You never get quite used to it," M said when I joined her and her fiance for dinner. "With the exception of that brief stint in America, I've lived here all of my life and it's still unnerving."

I remember leaving this museum at 3:30, to see that the sun had already dipped below the horizon and the street was wrapped in the dark blanket of the gloaming, and my thought was, "oh, maybe I should head back to the hotel now, and consider where to have dinner ... but, oh wait, it's 3:30. I just had lunch 90 minutes ago. What's wrong with me?"

What was wrong was that our bodies are trained to certain cues. The onset of darkness is mapped to a shift from the daytime world of being at work, regular business hours and getting stuff done; and into dinner and maybe a bit of going out and then getting ready for bed. Walking around in the early night, it was easy to imagine how vampires get dreamed up because one can't help but imagine another species living in reverse rhythm to us, revelling in this reversal of time.

Still, if there is one consolation for this condition, it's that when the sun does rise, it never gets particularly high in the sky. There's a term among photographers for "The Golden Hour" which is that period in the sunrise or sunset where the shallow angle of the sun highlights everything with long shadows and a golden hue. Stockholm in the winter is a city where there aren't many hours of daylight, but every hour is a golden hour, and that seems to make the days even more precious and beautiful.

Nov. 20th, 2013

wish you were here

I became friends with MrDevilsAdvocate because he had a Fields of the Nephilim t-shirt. This, by itself, should give you enough clues to understand the context of our friendship or that at least it happened a long time ago because, really, who does that anymore? It was college and I did not know who the Nephilim were at the time, but he filled me in on them, and on others. If OlderSister was responsible for giving me a tape that introduced me to Nick Cave, Front 242, and Bauhaus, and thus helped me become aware that such a thing as a 'goth subculture' existed, then MrDevilsAdvocate was the first goth kid that I knew. Midnight sessions of listening to The Sisters of Mercy, loaner copies of Propaganda, first clove cigarette, yeah, all of that. He was the first person to play The Cure's Disintegration for me. He also loved Mazzy Star.

on sending pictures to ghostsCollapse )
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Nov. 10th, 2013

mine is the god of typhoons and volcanos, yours is the god of bake sales

A couple of weeks ago, while in California, I was hanging out with pyrric and she said, "I just learned the most useful Tagalog phrase recently."

"Oh, yeah, what's that?"

"Ay nako"

"You know that's basically our equivalent of "Oh My God", right? Like, it literally translates to that."

"I know and it comes in handy in so many situations. Our nurses use it for frustration or exasperation, positive and negative moments. It's versatile!"

"It is, but it's usually used for situations that are also appropriate for 'WTF'."

"That may be because I hear it in a hospital."

"No, that's just the way it is. You have to remember, our version of God tends to be the judgey Old Testament one. Whenever we invoke His name, it's usually because He's fucking with us."

I still have a fondness for the way lilmissnever once translated Filipino Catholicism to netik: "(Filipinos) are religious in the way that any people who are subjected to volcanic eruptions, typhoons and earthquakes are religious." Where you're used to having no control over your life, and the only thing you can ever do is pray.

no, I haven't heard about how my relatives dealt with the super typhoon. And it's not that I don't care, but when you come from a place like the Philippines, you learn to stop worrying and just accept that whenever they die, you will find out. Until then: live on.Collapse )

Nov. 8th, 2013

so long have I waited

It's been more than twenty years since OlderSister gave me this tape that changed my life. It was a compilation of the late 80s British zeitgeist, and I listened to it in the middle of the night, imagining English cities and adult lives, punk rock hair and future skies. There would be more that I would discover on my own, genres that I would explore further than anything she could show me, but she set me on my course and gave me this gift that opened my world.

Yet, in the midst of it there was this track that was all hazy guitar and wordless singing, my first exposure to art rock as it was, where the human voice was an instrument of a different kind and the music was less about being a message or a story than a texture and a gesture. It was an emotional connection that, like a hug, surpassed words and lyrics; and it was a song that ruined me from the first listen, because nothing else would be able to take its place. It was My Bloody Valentine, and the track was the Weatherall remix of "Soon"

I did not know, at the time, that it would be the last great thing that My Bloody Valentine would release for a long while; and as I built my music collection, I had to satisfy myself with other artists in that vein. Slowdive, the Cocteau Twins, Lush, then later the post-rock sounds of Mono and Sigur Ros and the electronic moodiness of Beach House.

Then, when the band reassembled, I was simultaneously excited and skeptical. Would they be as good as I imagined? Have I grown past them? Is this all just nostalgia?

Yet all it took was hearing the opening chords of "When You Sleep" to have those fear banished, and to know that this was what I wanted to hear. And everything else in life, at least for that moment, could just fade into the haze of guitars and bass and those ethereal voices. When "Soon" came on, I could just close my eyes, let the lights on stage flicker and flash, while my body danced along like it was sixteen again and the world was bright, new and promising.

Oct. 28th, 2013

nice to haves

There were four of us in the rental car, sitting in traffic between the office in Sonoma and a dinner party in San Francisco. To our left, a vista of SF slid by with the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, and the skyline bathed in a golden sunset. One of our co-workers, a goateed product manager from New York, was talking about how he was getting teased by our CEO on Twitter, and liza said, "you know, Cris doesn't even have a Twitter, and I won't mention that he still posts to Livejournal ... except that I just did."

"Ah, you know," I said, "I'm still trying to maintain some polite separation between work and private life."

"Except," she keenly pointed out, "that pretty much failed as soon as you took this job."


The lines. They blur.Collapse )
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