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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Moving Backward to Go Forward

There is similar irony in the two poles of social interaction: altruism will forever be latently accompanied with self-fulfillment, as hedonism with ennui. And it is in the later where Ivan Ilyich finds himself in so much agony; on his deathbed, he realizes “his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests”, his entire raison d’ĂȘtre was “false”, meaningless in the way he defined and pursued them. But, following in this paradoxical pattern, it is his brokenness in this understanding that enables him to find true contentment. Through divine revelation and Christ symbolism, Tolstoy is able to portray Ivan Ilyich’s deathbed conversion as directly attributable to his admission of powerlessness and acceptance of God’s divine will.

On the surface level, Tolstoy’s palpable use of Ivan Ilyich as a Christ figure highlights what Ivan is converting to, and also what Tolstoy advocates for as the story’s practical application. However, when heeding that these references are all pertaining to death and the Jesus’ physical and emotional struggle with it, it is apparent that Tolstoy is adding a wrinkle to the standard symbolism. With these specific references, the focus is not merely on the suffering, but how the subject views the suffering, namely whether they try to fight it or submit to it.  The first instance occurs with Ivan yelling out "why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me here? Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly”, a clear paraphrase of Matthew 27:46- “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Similarly, there is a parallel between Ivan’s post-communion exclamation "To live! I want to live!" and Jesus’ post-last supper fervent prayer that “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:35-36). It is in this anguish we see the humanity in Christ and Ivan, and thus we are able to empathize with him, and the aversion to blind servitude that is faith.

But without this suffering for Christ, are sins would not be absolved, and similarly, Ivan is not able to change his depraved ways until he is faced with the ghastly results of his selfishness. For Christ, it was merely his willing participation in God’s plan for the absolving of our sins, but that was because Christ was without sin. For Ivan, as for all of mankind, his repentance was a prerequisite for him to escape death. In direct contrast to all the pain and anguish he has gone through in realizing this, his unglamorous admission that “Yes, it was not the right thing” is all that is needed for him to find fulfillment. He is reborn withno fear because there was no death. In place of death there was light.”

Tolstoy hammers home the sincerity of this conversion with his most blatant, and most poignant instance of symbolism. At the announcement of Ivan’s passing from an ambiguous character- the omission of identity apropos of this final selfless moment- it is a reiteration of John 19:30, and it is indeed “finished."

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

            “That kid,” my coach keeps his finger pointed at a pixilated, curly haired youth on the monitor but turns his gaze to meet mine, “He reminded me, today, of why I live track”
            The speakers crackle out the roar of thousands of fans, track die-hards whipped into a frenzy by the 3200m relay’s anchor leg of the Penn relays. Celebrating it’s 116th year, it is the longest-running track event in the United States. On this day, everything inside Franklin Field is a celebration of accomplishment and innovation, of history and it’s upheaval.
            The stadium is an amalgam- its ancient, scholastic spires and stadium on the north end bordered by it’s state-of-the-art stadium seating- in the same way each athlete is: age-old blood and sinews straining symbiotically with gaudy apparel and footwear. Blood and sweat wicked away by nike-swooshed Dri–FIT jerseys and speedsuits (62 percent cotton, 34 percent polyester and 4 percent spandex), lower extremities pumping like pistons, propelled by spike-plated, fly-wire, glove-type-fit footwear with spectacular arches.
            At this level, all distance athletes’ quads (a term which is misleading, as they are optically construed as more of a muscular triumvirate) look similarly ropy: so finely-toned that the vastus lateralis plateaus out over the meaty vastus intermedius, butting up to the slightly-cantilevered vastus medialis, forming an arroyo of sweat, double-helixing with the Sartorius and spilling out over the knee cap in steady rivulets. These hypertrophic quads look comical on the otherwise-ectomorphic greyhounds, and are not dissimilar to the dominant arms of their raquet-weilding counterparts. 

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

           There are certain forgotten knick-knacks strewn about Shane’s deli that go largely unnoticed by customer and employee alike. There is a miniature Spiderman action figure dangling daringly above the chip rack, a similarly spandexed action figure propped on the catering-order clip, and a frayed, wicker dream-catcher-esque ornament hanging directly above the register. A palpable layer of dust and grime gives each of these objects an archaic air, seeming like holdovers from the old Cock Robin regime, decades earlier. It wasn’t until months into my employment that I first saw these little doodads, and it is fascinating to me that the only people who ever do see them are the children that come in with their parents. Countless times, a kid tugs incessantly at the hem of his mother’s sweater, gesticulating upward and yelling incoherently of Spiderman this, Spiderman that, to which the parental reply is invariable disregard- no sweetie, you left Spiderman in the car, remember? I realize it is likely the disparity in height that enables these young ones to have a clearer perspective of Spiderman and friends, but I prefer to think of it as a metaphor for the ironic wisdom of children, the inheritors-of-the-kingdom type of primacy. 
           A recent Spiderman-sighting that caught my attention. A pudgy, blonde-haired kid- his cheeks so chubby, I was amazed his toothy grin could even lift them- accompanied his mother on her daily errands, and as she rooted through a cornucopia of change and coupons in her over-sized purse at the register, his eyes ignited at the discovery of the arachnid hero. The excitable little guy began the standard freak-out, but then, to the surprise of both his mother and myself, he collected himself and imparted this impossibly sage insight: “Spiderman would be nothing without a villain, though.” His mother and I shared a befuddled chuckle, and she acknowledged this statement the same as if he had just successfully recited his recently-mastered addition and subtraction tables.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

            I toss up my bare feet on the adjacent couch, its grainy surface making the skin on my calves and hamstrings itch. I’ve always hated this couch, a beige, maroon, and forest green plaid aberration in a living room that is already kitsch-ily decorated, to put it lightly. It is so hot in the room that whenever I shift my glance, it’s in that slow, exaggerated swivel where your eyes close for a good couple seconds between the embarking and ending angles, trying to conserve even the infinitesimal energy it takes to keep your eyelids open. A sense of mild, yet effective perturbation is implicit in this movement, and this look seems particularly a propos as Dustin just made some especially snarky comment I’m choosing to ignore.
            “ I said,” he insists a bit louder, sitting across from me in a questionable ensemble of long argyle socks, pin-stripe shorts, and brown felt oxfords, “it looks like you have fucking trench foot”
            I try to hide my amusement, affecting an air of placidity as I walk over to my open MacBook, pronating terribly, and discreetly google trench foot. A shiver xylophones the length of my spine and I feel my breakfast lurch in revolt. The image results look like giant, microwaved candy corn. Scrolling further down, there is a significantly less severe case that actually bears a minor resemblance to my left foot, beleaguered by a blister that starts at the crown of the big toe and stretches through the entire forefoot into the incipient curvature of the arch, roughly the length of my index finger.
            Its geographical likeness to the state of Michigan is uncanny; geologically it is more reminiscent of Chernobyl. The ribbed, blistered skin has ripped off in strips and reveals an infant-purple lower layer underneath, a flushed hue and perfectly smooth- save for the spider-webs cracks of dry skin at the creases of the toe. I neglect to show Dustin the picture, and also withhold from him that the blister in question has been, on several occasions, much worse.

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We make moves in stage coaches 
Rah Digga likes the roaches 
If anyone approaches 
We be like noches, buenos 
And I compose a poem for the many gun-slingers 
R & B singers, perpetrating guns with two fingers. 

My style is perhaps one of the foulest 
I inhale large clouds of smoke through my chalice. 
(Buckin' at stars) and write rhymes for hours 
The ghetto missy, drinkin' whiskey sours. 

Bust this scenario, can't no other niggas in the barrio 
(From Newark to Ontario), bust us when we in stereo. 
Cause me and Rashida rock the battles 
It's apparent, you're no talent, cause your blazin' in your saddle. 

Watch these rap bitches get all up in your pockets 
Then bounce with accountants that give me good stock tips 
Cause props is up, Digga's through the roof 
Burnin' niggas like I'm 90 proof. 

And for all you head beaters 
The lead eaters, the cheaters soon to be retreaters 
While mamasitas carry real heaters. 

I rock the Dooby and 
L rocks the Nubian twists 
Muthafuckas gettin' dissed 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

        There is no air conditioning at 804 N Washington Street. There are, however, several rows of single-hung, sash-and-case windows stretching along the perimeter of the north, south, and east walls, whose lead counter-weights in the glazed frames are exceptionally finicky, with a couple being so iron-willed that they snapped the ropy pulley system during overly exuberant attempts to dislodge them. Even after carefully manipulating- con amor, amigo, con amor!- these windows up the warped, sooty grooves, only a select few have screens, leaving one to pick their poison of hot-box heat or an insectile swarming of biblical proportions.
            So now, with the just the screened windows open, I bake, wearing only sweat-starched running shorts that are little more than tattered wisps of cotton and elastic. The late morning sun pours in through the windows, and since the muntins on the top panes are split and splayed off at incongruous angles, running neither parallel nor perpendicular to the paint-chip mullions, they cast colliding, helter-skelter shadows over the main room. The smell that wafts from various epidermal crevices is pungent.

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Relatively Unappreciative

It’s been a minute since my last post, so I think I’m going to mix it up a little bit. Keep things not so long-winded, and hopefully adding the slightest element of spontaneity to my otherwise overly-calculated day-to-day.
Ushering in the first days of June, the Chicago humidity diffuses (from where I can only assume is Hades itself) and sits oppressively, us suburbanites personae non gratae of the Great Lakes breezy respites. The heat settles in interminably like an unwanted relative, of whose unforgiving suitcase brims with stuffy car-air, crimson plumages of sunburn, and sweaty nether-regions. And this is all kicked of with perverse pomp and circumstance by high school graduations, and their dreaded commencements. Packed like cattle into troublingly-malleable folding chairs- I spent a good chunk of the ceremony staring, spellbound, at their creaking support of the most corpulent grandparents- I’m forced to celebrate something that 8 out of every 10 Americans accomplish, the kind of ubiquity rivaled only by relative obesity and porn consumption. Anyone who truly feels that they’ve merited something more than a handshake or pat on the back by making it through high school is about to get a rude awakening by the long, uncircumcised dick of the real world.

I started Super Sad True Love Story today, the first book of the Odd Future Book Club Kill Them All (title pending finalization), and got a good third through during the A-Z’s. Not crazy about it yet, but I’m starting to get drawn into it. Immortality is a torture I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, especially after sitting next to the senility and varicosity that essentially comprises my mother’s mother. At one point, said grandmother, a staunch fundamentalist/prohibitionist/racist/awful person, leans over to me and ask if the crosses next to some of the graduates names in the program* (denoting Nation Honor Status) signify their religious affiliation as a Christian. I wish I could simply ignore the heaping scoop of crazy** sitting next to me, but she helps foot the bill for my college education, so I have to answer her unbelievably condescending and ignorant statements with I dunno Nanny, maybe so. Is it selling out? Because I feel dirtier than a crack whore

* Which she of course cannot read because she refuses any sort of optical assistance, risking the lives of any vehicle passengers or fellow drivers- or pedestrians and houses without significant parkways for that matter- for the sound rationale that glasses are for ”old people”, says she of eighty-two years.

** Also important to mention is her conversation with me the day prior, in which she felt it necessary to describe to me (with not one, but two examples) the concept of Time Zones, as in Collin, you see, if it is 12 here, that means that it is 10 on the west coast
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Friends and Failure

Rey Rey's Broke Ass

My good friend Reshma celebrated her 21st birthday (so she gets a shout-out and a pic!) last Monday, so I called up Rey, Anna, Mike, and Chin and we kicked of the week the best way I know how: dirty girl scouts and green line at Muldoon’s. Rey had class the next day, so we kept things pretty low-key, but it was a blast hanging out with everyone. I, for one, am certainly glad that Reshma was born twenty-one years ago, even with all the grief and grey hairs that our delightfully unconventional friendship has brought me. But jokes aside, she has a kind heart, and I’ve cherished every shed-climbing, car-crashing, ginger-bread-constructing (above) moment.

The mix of celebrators was eclectic to say the least. Anna and Rey and I had hung out throughout the majority of freshman and sophomore year in high school, but we had never been all together again for at least a couple of years. And with Mike and Chin (who are stellar Muldoon’s companions, by the way, just great all-around guys), I had just met them working at Shane’s, and it wasn’t until recently that we started spending time together that did not consist entirely of cold-cut assemblage. I’m not exactly sure how these two distinctly different groups, relative opposites of the friend continuum, came to be sharing drinks in that mahogany nook, but it worked out.

Despite my undeniable enjoyment of the night, the reunion of old friends always manages to evoke a nostalgic melancholy for me. It’s the kind of feeling I picture accompanying the exhumation of a back-yard time capsule: a postmortuary air of concern over the contents’ intrinsic value having seeped into the soil. The effort it takes to rouse dormant emotion- it just seems sometimes more like rehashing than reminiscing. This admission might seem strange, or overly pessimistic, but I can easily trace the origins of this sentiment to this last year, a period marred by the indecision and ambiguity from being in between schools. It shaped an underlying fear that my life has become a terminal for the people in it: a constant shuffling of relationships old and new, wearied and indifferent. Amidst the hustle and bustle around me, I’ve come to a standstill. It’s a sentiment effectively summarized in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated: “She felt a total displacement, like a spinning globe brought to a sudden halt by the light touch of a finger. How did she end up here, like this? How could there have been so much - so many moments, so many people and things…- without her being aware? How did her life live itself without her?”

As most of my friends seem to be moving forward, towards aspirations and careers, I’ve regressed in muddled passivity. This has no doubt put a strain on my current interactions with long-standing friends, as I feel hesitant to initiate a phone conversation or small talk in which my response to their accounts of festivity and prodigious accomplishments is invariably limited to the latest episode of high school drama that I’ve snatched from my athletes or the most recent mechanical malfunction at the deli. I find myself showing further disdain for optimism in my perception of new relationships; as most people still residing in Wheaton are in a similarly transitory state, even the most meaningful of these interactions seem hopelessly fleeting.

While the gradual events (or non-events) of this last year that have molded this fear, it was the Wednesday before last (April 27th) that brought this concern into the forefront of my thoughts. Two years from that day, my close friend Ryan passed away, and as I have wrote about before, it was a crippling loss. But as tragic as it was, it was also the most instrumental moment in my life in shaping who I am, and in drawing our group of friends together. The bond that connects us was forged in a turmoil so strong, that I could think of nothing that could ever break it completely.

That being said, I am quickly learning the inevitable nature of friends growing apart. As our respective paths are starting to become more pronounced, the heterogeneous nature of our group that once made us so inseparable is now causing significant divergences in the near future. My friend Kimmy’s recent post reminded me of a Dave Eggers quote from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and indeed, I can’t help but fell like I am losing friends in the same way we lose weeks: “like buttons, like pencils.” For a completist like myself, this process feels about as subtle as a riot, the tearing-apart utterly seismic.
         The deterioration of friendship is every bit as pervasive and inescapable as our physical atrophying, but my fear of this natural process is paralytic. I find myself, as a result, jaded towards others; at times there is nothing in me that wants to invest in new relationships, to go through the vulnerability of becoming acquainted with that new person. It’s the same juvenile mentality that we all have experienced: Why should I make my bed if it’ll just be messy again, or for the more feral of children, why should I brush my teeth if they will just be sugar-coated again? Looking at it rationally, I can understand the seperation as progress, but I guess I’m just too immature young at heart to embrace it.

         To call this feeling an undying loyalty would be giving myself far to much credit, as a significant aspect of this perspective can be chalked up to egocentricity. As I admitted, I’m a completist, and with this pettiness comes the more egregious tendency to “collect” my friends. Instead of accurately perceiving the strengths and flaws of my peers, and accepting the whole in its beautiful complexity, I frame the traits that I find to be most congruous with and beneficial to myself, and carelessly toss the rest. 

         This self-centered compartmentalization is in large part due to finding the vast majority of my worth in the perception of others. As my priorities have gradually shifted over the last several years from loving/fearing God or religion to loving/fearing people, I’ve grown increasingly in tune to the scrutiny of others. This theological shift has also produced a life perspective centered more on the present, and that adds exponential importance to daily, interpersonal interactions. In other words, the erosion of a friendship during high school might have seemed inconsequential from my macro-spiritual viewpoint, but identical occurrences from this micro level now seem glaring. As irrational as my fear may initially sound, I don’t have much trouble seeing why I would take the petering out of a friendship so personally after heeding my current existential convictions.

         It was the shift in friendships that first made this fear plain to me, but this concern transcends mere camaraderie. I’ve always placed a lot of stock in my friendships, but I am also threatened by shifts in things of more practical importance. I have already elaborated on my personal feelings about running and its weighty effects on one’s self-esteem, and as a consequence I have seen my personal aspirations in the sport dwindle. Countless changes in my major and career path over the last few years have also resulted in significant stress, and even now, there is much uncertainty with the direction I plan to take. It is the doubt that crosses my mind every time I toe the starting line, every time my cursor hovers over the “Publish Post” button- it is, simply put, the fear of failure.  
            In the words of Dessa Darling of Doomtree in her song “Mineshaft”, I feel ashamed that “the list of things I used to be is longer than the list of things I am: ex-lover, ex-friend, ex-communicated atheist, ex-patriot living in the heartland.” Just as I’m hesitant to start a new friendship that’s bound to end sometime, I worry about starting something new (like writing), when some level of failure is inevitable. And odds are when that failure comes, it will detract from whatever modest attributes I possess, and tip the scales that much further towards the things I am not. 

Micachu- Fine feat. Brotha May and Baker Trouble

Stumbled upon this song after reading about Micachu's latest mixtape, Filthy Friends. Micachu is an English singer-songwriter and producer, and is best known for her band Micachu and the Shapes, and their critically-acclaimed album from 2009, Jewellery. She does a whole lot of crazy, artsy shit like inventing instruments that I don't really care about. Lackluster description, but the song more than makes up for it. 

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