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Dec. 9th, 2014

15 years of jewel case, collage art, and hand sketched track listings

So, every year sometime around the holidays, usually a little after the New Year, my friends and I have been having this music mix swap party. Come to the party, bring a mix tape or CD, throw it into a communal pile, and at some point in the evening we'll draw randomly and you may go home with someone's electroswing highlight reel or someone will luck into your curated selection of Japanese babymetal.

We've been doing this about 15 times now, and the mixes that we've accumulated over time have been this audio record of trends and tastes through the oughts and 2010's. This is the year when a bunch of us discovered Sigur Ros. This is the year of electroclash. This is the year when someone got into Lady Gaga.

This is my mix. The title is 'band chasing' and the theme was bands that I've seen in concert between 2012 and 2014. There's a cheat in that one of the bands I haven't seen yet, but I certainly aim to in the new year. There's old shoegazer-y post rock, new Midwest hip-hop, singer/songwriter, and hipsters paying homage to the glamor of the 80s. I didn't see these concerts with most of you, but I hope that sharing the videos will give you a glimpse of what it was like.m

Nov. 13th, 2014


"You know," she said, "I still have a mixtape that you made for me from way back when."

And she got up, walked to one of her bookshelves, and pulled out a tape, like she always knew that it was there; like she had gone back to it many times in the recent past, to look at it and remind herself of me.

I don't actually remember the tape that I made for her, nor do I have a memory of what provoked me to make it, but I remember the postcard that I cut up to make the cover, and I remember the songs that were once so dear and meaningful. Turning it over in my hand, it was like holding this fragment of a self that I had almost forgotten, that existed before the memories captured in Facebook and Livejournal. There was a person that I was that loved making mixes for friends and sharing them as a gift. I don't do it as often anymore, but I like that this shadow of me lingers in her memories and in her idea of who I am.

"Do you still have a cassette deck?" I asked.

"No. I don't have a way to play it. I can't even remember the last time that I listened to this tape. But I still kept it, because it was from you."

Oct. 5th, 2014

keep on walking, don't stop

We ended our cruise near this village called Olympos. The town itself is a bit of a backpacker/dirtbag nexus, close enough to the big city of Antalya that you can get here in an afternoon if you need to, but inconvenient and remote enough that you don't come here unless you want to do a whole lot of nothing. There's a beach, and there are some ruins, and rock routes to climb if you'd like, but it's a lot of pensions and courtyards with young travelers putting in a lot of work on their tan. It is, in other words, the perfect place to transition from four days of dedicated idleness on a boat.

We spent a night in Olympos before ayun left in the morning, heading back to Fethiye and Rhodes, hugging us one more time to make sure it lasted. couplingchaos, mishak and I went down to the beach to do a bit of swimming and perhaps climb one more sea route. The obvious option was this twenty foot high outcropping poking above the sea. There were already a couple of folks diving from the cliff. And as we swum out and had our turn with climbing and launching ourselves from the rock, this young Texan swam up to us and asked us if we can hold his GoPro while he gave the jump a try. Because, of course, anything worth doing is worth documenting.

We hung out on that beach for a bit of the morning, waving down a street food vendor carrying a tray of steamed mussels stuffed with rice as a bit of breakfast, but eventually we chose to leave Olympos early to get on our way to Antalya so that we can sort out our next destinations: mishak and couplingchaos heading to Seljuk and Ephesus, and I to Cappadocia. It was on the overnight bus to Goreme (the main hub town in Cappadocia) that I sat down and noticed that my seat neighbor looked familiar.

two travelers, one long bus rideCollapse )
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Sep. 24th, 2014

swim, read, climb, repeat

August 2012, Hong Kong
ayun and I were eating at Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum joint with the distinction of having one Michelin star, and thus being the only Michelin restaurant in the world where you can have a meal for less than $20. We had somehow gotten to swapping stories about other cheap meals that we had elsewhere in the world, and she told me about having fish sandwiches on the Galata Bridge. From there we had started talking about traveling and answering that perennial question of whether you go somewhere new or return to a place that you'd been to before.

"I'd go back to Turkey," she said, "it's beautiful. It's affordable. The food's great. but you know what I'd want to do? There are these boats they have called gulets and they cruise around the Aegean. I jumped in with a group for a day trip and it was awesome. But you can charter one yourself, and it'll sail into these little beaches, and over the course of a few days, you can swim, eat some fish that your crew will just catch that morning and grill for you that night. Split the cost with a bunch of friends and it's not even that expensive. So that's what I want to do. Go to Turkey, charter a gulet, share it with a bunch of friends, go swimming, maybe explore some fishing villages, eat grilled fish on a beach, sleep on deck."

So that was the nugget for this ideaCollapse )
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Sep. 15th, 2014

The City Legendary

There was this one evening, when I was on a business trip and I was relaxing in the hotel room. I'm not usually one to turn the TV on just to have it on, but it was a long day, and I was in an unfamiliar town without many other options for passing time. Taken 2 was on HBO, and while it was, unsurprisingly, a dumb movie, I kept it running because it was set in Istanbul and I was planning on visiting there. At the very least it would give me a preview of the city.

Of course, the thing that I failed to remember was that cities as they appear in movies aren't real cities and instead exist in some parallel dimension where the geography of the city has been mutated and maligned so that it can be a suitable avenue for all sorts of ridiculous and photogenic movie moments. Cinematic Boston is one where you always have a car chase through the Big Dig tunnels even if you start the car chase in Cambridge. Cinematic Paris is one where every street is romantically empty and the Eiffel Tower is visible from every street corner.

Cinematic Istanbul is basically a Middle Eastern metropolis where the color palette is teal instead of orange, which is a shame, because Real Istanbul is beautiful, and aside from the monumental mosques that dominate the skyline of the Old City there are aspects of it that are closer to Barcelona or Marseille than they are to Cairo or Damascus.

However, liked a practiced seducer, the city doesn't reveal its beauty to you right away. It does look like a crowded, noisy, dusty metropolis on one's first ride in from the airport. The tram is crowded, the city is hot, and the muezzin will likely be the first sign reminding a visitor that they are not in North America anymore. The first glimpse of its splendor is when you ride past the old walls of Constantinople and you see them in all of their ruined majesty. Broken, shambled and yet towering above the shops and apartments that scatter at their feet, the walls of Constantinople still manage to be imposing despite their years. I spent my first day in Istanbul deep within the working class neighborhoods of the Old City, working out some last minute change-ups on an AirBNB that we were staying in, and by the time I could walk around, it was well past dark and aside from the flood lit glow of the Hagia Sophia in nighttime, the rest of the city's skyline was subdued. I spent my second day wandering through the Grand Bazaar and flipping through art prints at the old Bookseller's Quarter. I saw an old illustration of 18th century Istanbul and it looked like something out of an Orientalist fantasy -- sail clad ships navigating a port dominated by minaret towers while a hazy sunset sky clad everything in orange and fire. But then I actually did get to see the Golden Horn at sunset, to witness that yellow sky set off the Blue Mosque and Suliehmaniye and the Topkapi Palace in their late afternoon glow. And I realized then that I have seen this scene in film and books and art; but it all seemed so fantastical and legendary that I didn't believe that it was a real place.
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Jul. 3rd, 2014

a different kind of Throwback Thursday

I was sitting in a bar in Vermont on the night before we were scheduled to run the 2014 Vermont Tough Mudder and at some point someone put on Janet Jackson's "That's The Way Love Goes." And I am sure that I've heard it at some point in the last 20 years since the album, janet., came out, but for that moment, it felt like the reappearance of an old friend, of a resurgence of nostalgia for the summers of college years marked by their stamp of idleness and potential. And it didn't matter that there was this incongruity of being on the precipice of running an event with mud, barbed wire, ice water and fire, all that I could think of during that moment was, "oh, my God, I forgot. This song is so good."

That revelation launched me into a small month of having to indulge in Spotify's private listening feature so that I wouldn't have to expose my friends to the guilty pleasure of my Janet Jackson binges. That phase is slowing down, but before it does, let's take a moment right now to acknowledge the genius that is the "If" music video. I had sort of forgotten about it, letting my mind be preoccupied by 'art' or 'worthy' crap like the imbecilic viral marketing campaign for the last Boards of Canada album1. But I revisited the "If" video last week and I was kind of blown away with how well it's aged. I mean, it's a music video that's set in a vaguely cyberpunk Chinese speakeasy (!) with a gender-bending race-ambiguous clientele (!!) who flirt and seduce each other over webcams and digitally mediated interfaces (!!!), and it was filmed in 1993 (!V) which, alone, is kind of mindblowing. Virtual voyeurism as a metaphor for unrequited yearning was not yet a cliche. Cyberspace was still a term for William Gibson's fiction, and Joss Whedon was four years away from producing Buffy, much less promulgating his Pan-Chinese Firefly Future. Based simply on the setting, I remember watching "If" when I was 19 and thinking it looked like a gorgeous future. I now see it as a 39 year old, and I want to high-five everyone for getting so much right. Where is the producer who conceived of this video and why didn't they go on to make an entire movie on the concept of Janet Jackson as an android superfly dancing Pinocchio in a dystopian Asian cityscape?

And, I'm just talking about the setting and aesthetic. I'm not even talking about the song, which as a dance number is still fantastic today. The samples, the solid drum machine backbeat and the oh-so-90s use of guitar flair -- it is a fantastic emblem of its time. The choreography is also pretty amazing with the breakdown sequence in the bridge at 3:30 being an emblematic memory for many of us who grew up in the 90s, when music video choreography flourished in the wake of Paula Abdul and her various acolytes2, and before hiphop/R&B dance collapsed into the bump'n'grind.

There are some who say that it's a bit tragic that Janet lived in the shadow of Michael and Madonna, but I think it's arguable about who has been more "deserving" of fame. Janet wasn't as provocative or as bold as Madonna in declaring her sexuality or in using her star power to setup broader conversations about religion or homosexuality, so that would always limit the amount of attention and influence that she could wield. However, I think that Janet presented a good alternative path for pop careers, building success on solid music, choreography and consistent quality rather than controversy. She may not be as iconically hegemonic as Madonna, but in terms of spirituals heirs and leaving a legacy, Janet Jackson's done pretty well. If anything, you can take this cover by K-Pop powerhouse, Girls Generation as your primary bit of evidence of Janet's legacy. As a sign of history moving in a loop, it's kind of amazing. Because once again, we find ourselves in Asia with midriff-baring dancers, surrounded by video screens and networked cameras, but it's not some near future fantasy but our now. Here we are, caught up to your vision. Well done, Miss Jackson. Well done, indeed.

1 I mean, yeah, I love most of BoC's stuff, but will anyone be talking about that marketing campaign in 20 years? I don't think so.

2 in my minor Janet Jackson fetish frenzy, I looked up the Wikipedia article for "If", and it turns out the choreographer is Tina Landon, a former Laker Girl and apprentice to Ms. Abdul. I swear if somebody does a biopic of Paula and just makes it about all of these classic moments of MTV music video choreography, I would love it so deeply.

Jul. 1st, 2014

the limits of empathy

I am not usually one to just randomly turn on the TV and watch whatever's on, but I recently reorganized my living room, the effort for which involved disassembling and re-assembling the stereo, then testing everything to make sure that I had properly reconnected the cable and wasn't redirecting my center channel into my subwoofer. That was how I found myself on CNN watching this guy talking about coming out as gay in high school. I was about to switch away to test the Playstation when I heard him switch to Tagalog to talk about how his sexuality was extra complicating because he was a Filipino on borrowed time and his family plans for his US residency had hinged, as they frequently do, on him falling in love with an American woman. That's when I realized that I was watching Jose Antonio Vargas, arguably the most brazen and famous illegal immigrant in the country today.

From time to time, people have asked me what I thought about illegal immigrants, and what my opinions were on the proposals for amnesty that were going around. "Don't you feel like they're cheating? Like they're cutting in front of you in line?"

"I don't," is my usual reply, "it's like asking if I'm jealous of some 29 year old dot-com millionaire who may not have worked as hard as I have, but just happened to be at the right startup at the right time. We're all trying to live our lives, and some people just make riskier choices than others."

because, to an extent, it will always be, "there, if but for the greater grace of God..."Collapse )

May. 22nd, 2014


Sunday morning, in the parking lot campground, amidst the dewy morning light, Willow and I were in the car together swapping stories of travels abroad as I waited for my new lead to show up. For variety's sake, the organizers reshuffled our pool, so the Hobbit was going with someone else.

"Who're you seconding today?" I asked, taking a break from my story of Patagonia

"Aztec," she said, "He got up early and went to the cliff ahead of everyone else. Said to just meet him there whenever I was ready. He's a keener. How about you?"

"My lead's EasyG."

"Don't know him."

"Kinda young, curly hair, Boston accent?"

"Oh yeah, little bro-y?"

I smiled and looked in my side view. "A bit. He's almost ready, I think. Just needs to collect BigMike. Apparently, Mike's going to be our third."

"Wait, BigMike's climbing again? Even after his fall?"

"Apparently so."

"Gosh, these people are crazy."

and, yet, here we are.Collapse )

May. 21st, 2014

save points

It is past 6 in the afternoon. The shadows over the valley are long. Night is not far. I am 180 feet above this valley, grasping this thin ledge of rock, and I don't know where to go. I have to traverse about fifteen feet across an exposed section of cliff, and I can't see any footholds. And if I can't put my feet anywhere then I'm going to fall. I am tied in and my leader has me on belay and will catch me if I fall, but otherwise he can't help me across this. He can't come up and grab me. He can't pull me over. No, if I am going to finish this route, if I am going to go home, I need to figure this out on my own.

I stick my right foot out on to this diagonal flat of rock that fits half of my big toe. It's tiny but it's solid, and I can put a lot of weight on my big toe. Then I jam my right hand into this vertical crack of rock, letting my fingers curl around the fold, and I lean back into that. Left hand up onto a ledge above me, and I pull up and try to place my left foot ... somewhere. No, that's too smooth, I can't put weight on that. That's too tiny. That's too awkward. My left hand is getting tired. I push myself back and get back to my ledge. Reload. Back to the save point. Let my hands rest and try again. This is, like, the fifth time that I've done it, and I'm starting to doubt that I can make this move.

On playing games with yourself, and being someone else"s squireCollapse )

May. 13th, 2014

the hum drum life

"Hey! I know you!" was the way that Greg introduced himself when he pinged me to ask for a ride to the AMC course. We'd known of each other the way one does in a scene. Faces that show up at enough events in common. Friends who include us in the same conversation but don't always introduce us to each other. Voices that appear on shared comment threads in social media. So on one level, he was asking for a ride, on another it was probably this observation of, "it's about goddamn time that we became friends."

Because, yes, we did need to become friends.

A few months ago, on a cool fall evening, I was riding my bike over the river from the South End. I had taken the route through the Musical Locks, towards the path that ran underneath the Zakim, when I heard dance music thundering from below the bridge; and I remembered an event that some of my friends had been mentioning to me: Bike Party

I had been curious about Bike Party after someone described it as "it's like Critical Mass but without the entitled assholes." I liked the idea of a spontaneous parade of cyclists, but did not like the way Critical Mass turned every one of its rides into an exercise of grievance and self-righteousness. And what I found, underneath the Zakim, with cyclists towing trailers with jury rigged soundsystems to create a ten minute flash rave was exactly what I was looking for. I wound up riding with that pack of hundreds for an hour through the streets of Cambridge, weaving through Kendall and Central, blasting music and high fiving pedestrians. If Critical Mass was vinegar, a display of solidarity amongst a disenfranchised class of road users, then Bike Party was honey, an enticement towards every pedestrian who looked at the fun that we were having and saying, "hey, you can be a part of this too. All you need is a bike."

And Greg? Greg was one of the organizers, as well as the mastermind of a little thing called the Midnight Marathon Ride.

I don"t know what the future holds for us, my friend. But I am confident that we"ll figure something out.Collapse )

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