Nov 29, 2006

dark horse.

Here's to George, on the fifth anniversary of his passing. While John and Paul got all the press, before and after the band's time, George was the enigmatic, whimsical, talented, pure soul who made beautiful music, took a lot of drugs, was always called "the shy Beatle," and said he was happier being a gardener than a musician. Beyond all the accolades - for his clean and unique guitar tone, his beautiful harmonies, and his lyrics that went from pensive to blissful - he seemed to live the philosophy and spirtualism that he adopted after going to India in the 60s.

I mean, we're talking about the guy whose wife left him for his best mate, Eric Clapton, and he not only forgave them, but he attended the wedding! Can you imagine anything like that happening with the jokers that folks listen to now? Living in the Material World, indeed. Though I still love the famous scene in Let It Be when George throws a fit because of Paul's attitude during the rehearsal. Didn't George quit the band at some point, too?

Peace to you, George. Thanks for the music and the inspiration.

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Nov 28, 2006


The struggle now is to stay on this path I've found, at least for the next three weeks. I wonder how not to wander. This is when my one and only usually nudges me back to the trail.

I have to do that on my own right now.

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Nov 26, 2006

Keep it in the Family (3)

My extended family frustrates me sometimes, as I've written before, but there is something so pure about the bonds that you feel with some members of that family. I don't feel like I have to try to be someone - they know and love me for being part of the circle of kin, for my broken Gujarati, and probably for my connection to my mom, who they love in a way I can't even begin to understand.

I feel a level of comfort that I still don't fully understand when I'm around certain cousins and nieces/nephews. It is so bizarre to me that the person who I am generally is not who I am in their company, and even the majority of my conversations don't reflect the things that I care about or focus on in the rest of my life. But yet, it feels like something beyond just small talk. But I wonder what they all think of me, given that what I do or what I'm studying doesn't really ever come up. I find myself incredibly boring in that context - but I guess that's why family is great: they don't seem to think the same.

And every once in a while, I get to connect on a different level. Last night, I reconnected with a cousin who really mattered to me while I was growing up, and with whom I felt very close. It felt nice to retouch that connection that we'd had from our childhood/adolescence. I don't know what happened along the way, but it was just nice to find some path out of the thickets that had grown between our lives.

I feel blessed that my immediate family are who they are, even though I have less patience with them than I should. But I realize after these family events, when I'm alternately pleasantly surprised that people even speak with me still, and thankful that there is so much laughter, so much joy. I just wish I could be a better presence for my many nieces and nephews... I wonder what they are learning through their suburban upbringing, and what they could learn from my mistakes and minor life lessons.


But I still have reservations about the way that my cousins are raising their kids. This new generation of suburban brown kids has a built-in guju posse in their cousins, but beyond the convenience of age-matched playmates while growing up, they also have the potential for a built-in superiority complex about Gujaratis in the broader food chain. And there's more than a little competition going on between their parents, although I have seen how much they take care of their siblings' kids.

I'm just not sure of what values the 1.5 generation in my family - many of whom came here as adults (in their early 20s) bring to the mix. For some cousins in particular, the biases, dogmatism, and small worldview from their parents are being passed along directly. For others, their exposure to the system in the United States is incredibly limited, and their kids are calling them out on some things - which is interesting, but then how are their parents dealing with it? Do the kids have the compunction to work through these aspects of their parents' personalities?

It's very hard to tell, and sadly, I see some of the pitfalls that I reference when I speak about the next generation of desi kids generally. My parents' generation worked very hard to enter the middle class in the United States, and our period of second generation kids has its own range of issues. But the technical class that entered the United States in the 80s and even 90s, have settled down and have kids. Their kids, while second generation as well, are being raised in more upscale neighborhoods, by parents who are more removed from their humble beginnings, and from the India that our parents knew.

Their perception of "making it" is reflected in the general movement in Bollywood films from depicting the social aspects of modernization as the fledging democracy took its first unsteady steps towards free flight as a nation, to the mass consumerism and coca-colonization that has taken invidious and perverse forms by interspersing "hip" English-language phrases, hyper-gendered and sexualized musical numbers that are supposed to represent some new freedom but just come off as parody, and vacuous plots, dialogue, and actors.

Name brands and status symbols abound, and the parents seem to be showering their noveau wealth all over the kids, who know little to nothing of discipline, of struggle, of the valuation of material items vs. honest work and thoughts. While the kids may be able to go through the motions regarding religion, how much of it is filio-piety, and how much of it is real engagement with the philosophy that drive the machinations of so-called faith?

Then again, that can be said for any group, I guess. I wasn't raised within some shroud of poverty or difficulty, but I also didn't have an entitlement complex when it came to material possessions or station in life. I overheard one of my cousin's husbands speaking with another about the kids, and how without the feeling of urgency that comes from coming out of a disadvantaged background, the kids will not have the same drive as people who come from India. I tend to agree with that. But the problem arises when the parents still refer to the same system to judge success and "making it" for their kids - what possessions they have, what their parents can provide for them, and where they end up in school and as careers.

Even the pursuit of education is not seen as an end in itself - the education is only a means to get the gold at the end of the rainbow. My expedition into a second career in public interest law, after working for a number of years and getting married, doesn't make sense in this calculus filled with derivatives and permutations of wealth and earning potential. Success is the nest egg you've built for yourself and the assets you can accumulate and pass down for the next generation.

Of course, I'm essentializing their experiences and lives after only brief encounters, but the threat of such moral bankruptcy still scares me. And more than anything, the clannishness can be suffocating. Expanding beyond the tiny concentric (or overlapping) circles of faith, language, and culture in which they find themselves could be a very good thing for their kids. But I guess, just like it was for some of us during our period, that's up to the kids to work out.

For me, I'll continue to offer up my own unorthodox opinions for anyone who takes the time to listen in my family, or read here.

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Nov 24, 2006


I resisted the urge to join the throbbing, frenzied masses at the malls, outlets, and streets this holiday. I stayed home and did what I should have done last year: read.

My head hurts, and I don't know how much I retained. But there's nothing like being around my family without the dozen commitments that I used to make in the false hope that I'll be able to meet about half of them with only 1/3 of the attention I need to make it all worth it. So with all of that, I'm happy to leave the socializing for after reckoning day(s).

Went through some of my old shit that's still in boxes from a transition between apartments in the mid-nineties. My parents' home has become a repository of some of my old stuff because I didn't think it important enough to go through it and move it out. My mom has been as patient as you can hope, probably because of the fits I used to throw when she tried to get rid of anything. But there are more boxes than there should be, and now that I have room (and a car) I really want to go through this stuff once and for all.

I wish it were warmer - I have the desire to go through my old papers, my letters, my odds and ends and purge myself of a lot of it. The need to break free from things (even in light of my reverent post on books last week) and the attachments that come with this material culture which we've bought into (literally and figuratively, I guess) has never really motivated me in the past. But we carry so many effects with us, accumulating memories without meaning as we roll down the hill of life, an evergrowing brambleball of unmatched beginnings and endings, half-feelings and blurry recollections that wind up distorting a past that you'll never quite have the peace of mind to step back from and make sense of the whole thing.

I'm tired of finding half-written poems, and partial journal entries. I don't want to be the archaeologist with inside knowledge about the life I'm excavating (my own) box by box from the depths of my early twenties. I don't want to hear those voices anymore. My life here and now is good, and I want to be fully present here and now.

It's not the memories, but life's debris1 that bothers me now.

[1] Okay, borrowing from Bharati Mukherjee, of all people. She wrote in one of her short stories, one of the few I read, really, that "love flees, but we're stuck with love's debris." I liked that, and appropriated it here. At least I'm honest.

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Nov 23, 2006

Two Thoughts on Thanksgiving.

1] " Wait, we can not break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, and you will play golf, and eat hot h'ors d'ourves. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They said do not trust the pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all of these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground." Wednesday revising history at that fateful euphemized moment, in Addams Family Values.

2] Every year, Indigenous Political Prisoner, Leonard Peltier, has organized an annual gift drive for the children of the Pine Ridge Lakota Nation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge continues to be the most impoverished community in the United States. This is one way Leonard continues his humanitarian work for his people despite his incarceration. Help Leonard Peltier reach out beyond the bars that imprison him. The gift drives does not only help the families, but also helps Leonard keep his spirits strong through the difficult holiday season. Gifts can be mailed directly to Pine Ridge.

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Day 2 of distance. I had the chance to see a little of the hustle and bustle of the city in full holiday cheer. In the spirit of things, I almost took the head off of some lady in line behind me at the bakery when she asked me "are you in line?" Sometimes it seems like white women in the middle of whatever crisis they are imagining tend to treat men (and women) of color as if we're invisible, inept, or ignorant. I can't begin to imagine how people working in the service and food industries at Grand Central during the holiday rush can deal with it all.

I had a good few hours between studying and getting ready to spend some time with family. It's nice to step away from the law school/studying bubble into the bustling metropolis. New York during the holidays is the one time I feel like it's okay to be a little more forgiving of tourists, though I still wish they'd spend their money and fuel our economy while walking at our pace and enjoying the sublime subtleties unknown to them in their suburbs (rather than Times Square and the Capitalist Concourse on Fifth Ave).

Okay - that's a lie. I just can't stand people who come into the city, treat it like a well-treaded carpet and go to the same old places in Midtown Manhattan, then call it a day. I am offended that so many people think they can somehow distill this vast and strange and beautiful polycultural landscape of tastes, struggles, art, songs, stories, sadness, and rebirth into a family vacation documented by a few staged photographs, cheap souvenirs, overpriced musicals, generic food, and an adventure or two downtown. I am incensed that people don't take the time to learn more about the many nuances of the city. That the white people who come in from middle Amerika can't ask the right questions or see what a beautiful and fluid tapestry our city's many peoples are weaving beneath our feet even now.

But I better understand when people who live or have tried to live here feel overwhelmed. It is a place where perpetual motion is the rule, whether while you're walking a mile through the busy city streets, or you're hustling for your job - be it on Wall Street or Church Avenue. Without stamina, or a fire inside that is fanned with each unexpected turn or encounter, this place can wear you out. I've stopped trying to keep track of all the changes. And I'm scared that in a place where the unexpected business or artistic expression creeps up out of the concrete like some delicate, urban bloom, there is a rapid movement of big box stores, chains, and suburbanization that seems to be wiping out a lot of what kept NYC ours.

Anyway - this is all old news. But seeing all the tourists, seeing them sipping away comfortably on their mochachinos that taste exactly the same as wherever they came from, seeing them shop for things in stores that are just flashier siblings of the same stores they have in their nondescript towns, and hearing their pronouncements about New York after coming through and leaving with the faintest of ideas about its people, its magic, and its importance in the history and future of the country, I feel helpless and angry.

Perhaps not the Thanksgiving story I set out to write up above.

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Nov 21, 2006

First Lesson.

I learned the hard way that you can't make chai with rice milk. Ewww.

Reminds me of when I put both lemon and cream in my earl grey tea.

Though I guess I drank that.

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Loneliness. 1.

Loneliness is the growing pit you feel in your stomach as you climb the stairs to the apartment that you have gradually turned into a home with your partner who is on a plane currently somewhere over the Atlantic. I started an entry like this a long time ago about a summer goodbye, but this feeling is so different from that time.

An infatuation, or even a more earnest love affair during youth is a cluster of elusive emotions: the constant status-checks, the insecurities of what tomorrow may bring, and the pressure cooker of modern-day romance turn many of those moments of pure connection into anomalous blips on the widescreen of neurosis in interpersonal relationships. In the lucky moment, we are conscious of how fleeting those moments are when they are happening, and we find some way to memorialize them, perhaps with a shiny coat of new paint for good measure. "Trust the memory more than the thing itself," Shawn Wong wrote in American Knees. Maybe we should question the memory, especially as it becomes more removed in time from the person you are now.

But as you grow with someone, adding to the newness of springtime a depth that only comes with time and patience, you realize that that was just little league. The struggle to make one life between two individuals, while respecting the needs, goals, and quirks of each of us, is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I can give advice about many things, but relationships wouldn't be at the top of that list. And challenging yourself to bring new things into that space that you share with this person you've chosen to be your life partner... well, that's not easy either. Standard relationship entropy gives way to routine and patterns of interaction, responses, and interpretations.

With 12 days and a couple of continents between me and the one I love, I'll have a little time to think about who I am, and who I am with/out her. The loneliest moments are those few that come between finding a comfortable spot on the bed and drifting off into the nether domain of Dream, when the mind drifts towards the last few words you usually share with that person. The bookend conversations of your days and nights smoothly melting into one another even as your consciousness and hers mingle on the edge of sleep and beyond.

Relationships are hard work, and it's easy to waste a lot of time in battles of will that don't really matter. But I cannot imagine the alternative anymore.

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Nov 18, 2006

In the company of friends.

Waiting on my furniture delivery as I start to work through boxes of books that we've had in storage for more than a year. Actually, it may have been even longer than that. Once upon a time, I imagined a life with many bookshelves everywhere. The clutter of that vision wasn't as clear then as it is now, but I think we're working on creating an organic space where we can read, relax, and just check the troubles of the world at the door like your bag at a small downtown shop.

There is something so soothing about being in the company of books, not only for the stories that lie within, but the particular stories that the physical books elicit from your own life - the memory of the person who gifted you that favorite book, the fossilized record of friendships that no longer exist either as the result of attrition, distance, or an actual parting of the ways. The memories of a self we once were, and the impact of the words of others upon our own writing, thinking, being.

I loved to read, and the first year of law school almost kicked that from me, but I feel a resurgence. I ordered American Born Chinese (still waiting) and just received Li-Young Lee's latest collection (an impromptu reading of one of his poems for a visiting friend reminded me that I missed my poetry, which I'd shoved away in a box without ceremony... the sounds I heard at night were the poems calling for release, they needed to breathe again). But all this in good time.

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Nov 17, 2006


Oh yeah, one other thing. Check out American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang. I just ordered it, but his website is damn cool, his reflections on Asian American stereotypes, and his use of a stereotypical character is particularly telling of how dope this dude is:

There is always the danger, of course, that by making a comic book about Cousin Chin-Kee I’m helping to perpetuate him, that readers — especially younger readers — will take his appearance in American Born Chinese at face value. I think it’s a danger I can live with. In order for us to defeat our enemy, he must first be made visible. Besides, comic book readers are some of the smartest folks I’ve ever met. They’ll figure it out.
And you know what else? He's an educator too. Check out this site on using comics in education that he did for his masters thesis. Man, if this graphic novel is 1/2 as good as I think it will be, a lot of people are getting it for Kwanzaa.

Check out this interview with Gene Yang on the Asian Pacific Forum (WBAI).

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In the wee hours of the morning, I'm having a crazy flashback to a time, many moons ago, when I was on the other end of the student budget process. But it meant something different back then, partially because it was so new at that time, and partially because we had real autonomy and really felt like it was a government of sorts, because it was a public university, our budget was at $1.4 million, and we were truly running the show. In a private school (and a graduate school at that), money is tossed around like it's nobody's business, and the numbers don't really feel real. I've taken it upon myself (of course) to try to do something a little more serious, but it's very weird, and very different from a past I once had.

I miss those heady days of my last undergraduate year. I felt like I was on top of something at that point, even though it really wasn't much of my academic work. Still, it was a good time, and so much of who I am now, and what interests me, derived at least in some small part from those experiences. Whatever man - this is a boring post. You still reading? Aight then. Let's see... what's a more interesting topic?

I'm crazy scared about finals, which I think is a good thing. I'm definitely reading more, and I feel more focused, though I'm unhappy about what the end of this weekend means. The one who keeps me grounded and nurtures the wounded ego I bring home each day will be out of town for about 10 days. So that means I have to stay focused, though lonely, for that time.

Anyway, can't believe I'm still working on student group budgets. Dag, man. Some things just don't change. And that was 12 years ago.

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Nov 15, 2006

The Better Bowl: Chili.

Damn! I can't believe the first actually really good vegetarian chili that I've had in I don't know how long was actually served at my law school cafeteria! It has the following criteria that I've found profoundly lacking in all the other chilies I've tried (including places that are supposed to specialize in this stuff):

1) Spicy. It has a kick, without my having to add anything. There's nothing worse than bland chili. Why make chili at all if it's going to be bland. Of course there are limits that you have to maintain so that it's more than the one or two folks with steel stomachs who can actually eat the chili. But if I can't find hot sauce (like today) I would like to have some chili that has its own flavor. This one did that - and did it very well.

2) Tender vegetables that are mixed together into a uniform taste. This chili has obviously been cooked for a long time - the onions are very tender, the tomatoes are soft, and though there aren't too many other vegetables, the beans seem thoroughly cooked as well.

3) Hearty. If I wanted a moist mix of vegetables, I would get vegetable soup. Chili should have a texture and taste that permeates the whole dish. It has to be hearty - I think that this one has crumbled veggie burgers in it as the beef substitute - which kind of works (definitely better than the Textured Veggie Protein that I get in other chilies, which just has a rubbery texture). I guess I would pick a burger that's a little more amenable to this taste - something like Spicy Black Bean burgers from Morningstar Farms.

Anyway - I know that it's odd to have a discussion of veggie chili in what is supposed to be some kind of brown power site (whatever) but hell, if folks can navel-gaze endlessly about the contents of their pockets or whatnot, then the search for a perfect vegetarian chili isn't so far off the mark. I have to give another shout-out right here - my cousin, who's an amazing cook, makes a mean, bad-ass chili. I have to get her recipe.

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Nov 14, 2006


Just wanted to say I'm thinking about my sister, who I haven't really had the chance to fully catch up with since her recent trip and return from abroad. I don't get to speak with her much anymore, though we lived in the same city for three years at one point. Now we're not in the same place, and that sorta sucks. And you have to work harder to make those links and ties mean something. I've been working on that with friendships, with people moving away and onward with their lives, but I haven't made that effort with family. It's always easy to settle into some false lull of comfort knowing that holidays and the like come and the opportunity to reconnect come with them. But it's not about the occasional face-to-face eating or family-togetherness, right? It's about the times in between, and the times when, despite ourselves, we're growing and changing. I feel this same tug with one of my close friends who is going through a lot of transitions right now. A major shout out to her as well, though I know that she's okay, we trade an email here and there, and we've been playing catch-up through our voice mail messages.

But this one is dedicated to my lil sis. You're awesome. Don't let the bastards drag you down. Thanksgiving is going to be a time of much studying, but there's gotta be at least one or two movie premieres, shopping sprees, and baking adventures that we can still share.

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So much to do, but finally feel like I'm hitting some kind of groove in a lot of things. I still have many questions about where this is leading me, but I feel like I can actually build again. The positive flow is rejuvenating.

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Nov 9, 2006


Sometimes you don't realize how fortunate you are until something or someone tries to take that away. I'm working on my priorities, of which, sadly, this blog is not one of at this time. I realize how lucky I am to have a partner who really cares about me and where I'm going on this roller coaster called life, but with all of life's distractions, maybe I don't make it clear enough that I do realize how fundamental she is to me. So... sporadic posts, if any, in the weeks to come. Maybe some spontaneous, ugly poetry if I feel like sharing.

But I have to say a couple of things:

1) Rummy's out, is Dick next? I don't think so. And let's not get overly excited about Rummy's replacement. We're already in Iraq, so it's just another head on the chopping block, as far as I'm concerned.

2) Let's also not get overly excited about Jim Webb or the Democrats, for that matter, winning. Yes, it's change. But how much change? And did the Dems win without big corporations hedging their bets and supporting both candidates or parties in the tight races? No - so if you think people are crazy to say there's no difference (there are differences, but they aren't that great) - answer this question: are we going to see comprehensive campaign finance reform to get rid of corporate influence? If not, what's going to change?

3) Lieberman is still in the Senate. Connecticut sucks. Mofo is probably going to get a committee chair, just to spite me. Someone should make a video game about him with a companion parental guidance heavy album.

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Nov 5, 2006

Answering a Call?

I've been thinking about missionary or quasi-missionary work that some of my former contacts have been doing. I still don't really get it. But I'm trying to understand. I mean, I really admire people who meditate and who find new ways to explore personal development through spirituality, but I just don't really understand the calling. Why try to convert people? Why trample over their personal beliefs and ways of life? I guess I can see the institutional compulsion, and even that for the powers that be within the church leadership, but why do young folks feel so inclined to turn away from other methods of actualization through good humanitarian work, and feel driven by this calling?

Their commitment is compelling, but troubling. It almost feels like they are dropping out of society. I have a good friend from a past life in the arts who shocked us all in his complete aboutface and headlong dive into this work. While it would be great to have some more progressive folks involved in ministry, I still find faith to be a very personal thing, and I don't know if the calling comes from social justice tendencies or some reaction to modern society that pushes people into what I view as a different kind of isolationism. I'll write more when I think more about this.

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Nov 1, 2006


Clearly many issues are of interest to me, but I just can't get around to writing about them at this point.

But I like to name things.

So, consider this my contribution to creative commons, folks - if you want one of these, take it and drop me a thanks, because I'll never end up using it, given the crazy schedule I'm on for this semester/year/lifetime.

1. Twilight in the Orchard of Cloned Mangoes: The Prodigious Growth of Unoriginal South Asian Writing in English.

2. Browns vs. the Board of Elections: Voter profiling/intimidation and immigrant communities in the United States.

3. Throw Some Money at Me: The Rise and Obsolescence of Indo-PACs. (alt: The New Photo Op: Uncle Politicking and the Myth of Effective Ethnic Political Fundraising).

4. Attention Surplus Disorder: If We Stopped Reading "BlogStars" Would They Just Go Away?

Feel free to add to the list... I'm sure I will.

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