Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Namesake

Names are curious in that they often have to serve a twofold and contradictory purpose. Primarily, names are used for the purposes of disambiguation. Thus, for example, by addressing our comments to “John,” everyone not-named-John knows that we are not addressing them. Additionally, we know this book is not communal property, because “Stacy” wrote her name on it. But at the same time, names are also used for the secondary purpose of creating ambiguity, or unity, where otherwise, no apparent relation may be obvious. Thus, for example, if I were to present you with a given 3 year old girl from Ethiopia, you might not be able to tell me anything about her. If, on the other hand, I introduced her as “Zahara Marley Jolie-Pitt,” you might be able to tell me quite a bit about her by her name alone. Thus, our names concurrently distinguish us from some people while yoking us to others.

However, can we rightly claim that names carry no significance beyond their utility as outlined above? Shakespeare presents an affirmative argument to that question in the mouth of the character Juliet during her famous balcony dialogue with her love Romeo:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Juliet argues that it would be possible, and, in some instances, prudent, to negate one’s name by sheer will alone. For Juliet, identity exists wholly apart from one’s title: ‘thou art thyself, though not a Montague.’ While it is not at all clear what Shakespeare himself thinks of this question (Juliet does, after all, end up dead), it is clear that many others disagree with Juliet’s reckoning.

In the movie The Namesake, the lead character, played by Kal Penn, struggles to discover the significance of his name. Under Bengali tradition, a child is given two names – a legal title (or, “good name”) to be used in official documents and a nickname (or, “pet name”) to be used by close family or friends. Penn’s vacillation from one name to another is an outward expression of an internal struggle for cultural balance so emblematic of most first generation Americans. Penn’s restlessness (and correspondent nameless-ness) is only cured when he discovers the true meaning of his name, how it relates to his father’s life experiences, and how this will shape his identity going forward as an Indian-American. This movie makes the unmistakable statement that identity is inextricably linked to one’s name.


This week in Sunday school, we watched a video by Rob Bell that also explored the relationship between name and identity. (I’ve attached a preview above.) In many ways, it represents the middle ground between Romeo and Juliet and The Namesake. For Bell, our true name, which carries significance as to our identity, is often buried under layer and layer of meaningless labels. Indeed, the great majority of names we apply to ourselves – be they related to our job, our education, or even our emotional or physical state – do not reflect our true essence as individuals. Thus labels such as ‘ivy league graduate’ are shed like layers of clothing in much the same vein as are labels such as ‘homeowner’ or ‘one who is HIV+.’

Bell begins, “In the ancient near east, your name was more than just words. Your name was identity. Your name was reflective of your character, your substance, the very fiber that made you you. Your name told who you are.” Jacob of Hebrew Scriptures pretends to be his elder twin brother Esau in order to secure his father’s inheritance. He is pretending to be someone he is not. Later in the story, after Jacob wrestles with ‘an angel’ or a mysterious ‘man’ (depending on the account) for an entire evening to a stalemate, an angel blesses Jacob by renaming him Israel, meaning ‘one who wrestles with God.’ That is his true identity.

The above description reminds me a lyric by Hafiz, the Persian poet:

At night if I feel a divine loneliness
I tear the doors off Love’s mansion

And wrestle God onto the floor.

He becomes so pleased with Hafiz
And says,

“Our hearts should do this more often.”

Lending some credence to the above, of course, is that Jacob’s namesakes from Hebrew Scriptures – the Israelites, “the people who wrestled with God” – were interchangeably referred to as “God’s chosen people.” A mere coincidence?

Above I suggested that names served a twofold purpose – to disambiguate and suggest unity. But here, we see a third purpose. Names can also be used to assert identity or establish one’s essence. That is to say, when we can truly identify ourselves without relation to other institutions or organizations or outside influences, then we can truly begin to live as individuals, we can truly begin to shape an outward countenance reflective of our inward essence alone. That, I pray, is no easy task.

But the formula is clear. Wrestle with your God (whatever his name). Struggle for righteousness and justice and virtue (however you’ve come to understand them). Bite and claw against all of the things that you deem important, against all the things that give you joy, for they also give you their name: you are their Namesake. And in wrestling like that, you cannot help but discover yourself, not as the world labels you, but as you really are.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Road Trips, New Homes, and Mystical Experiences

Beautiful reader, it’s been too long. Let’s catch up.

My two week road trip to find a new home turned into a month long adventure, due to some car trouble and inclement weather. All in all, I ended up visiting 24 states and countless cities. The lifetime tally of states-visited now sits at 41. The 9 remaining states are Alabama, Louisiana, Wisconsin, The Dakotas, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii. Not sure when and how I’ll pick up Alabama and Louisiana, but the other continental states are on the radar for this summer. Stay tuned.

Of course, the purpose of my trip was the daunting task of finding a new home, which turned out to be quite easier than anticipated. Contestant number one was Denver, CO. I hated it. First, on my initial approach into the city from the south, I got snowed in. I have a lot of experience driving in the snow – having cut my teeth in New York and Boston – but snow in the Rockies is quite different than snow in New England. In New England, snow is heavy and wet, which means that, for the most part, it falls straight down, turns into slush upon hitting the warm pavement, accumulates rapidly, ices over, and is slow to melt. The slush and ice make the road very slick, which means that one needs to pump the break early and avoid sudden changes in direction. Easy enough. In Denver, the snow is dry, which means that it doesn’t stick to the ground, but it is also light, which means that it will whip sideways and upwards, depending on even slight wind currents. Such swirling snow makes visibility impossible. So, while my four wheel drive car and I were ready for slick roads, there was nothing we could do to combat zero visibility. When the snow subsided, I discovered that Denver is shrouded in perpetual smog and is perched atop a 50 mile strip mall stretching south to Colorado Springs. This is exactly the type of poor urban planning from which I was seeking refuge. If I wanted highways and sprawl, I’d move to Atlanta! I would like to tell you more about Denver, but I had to leave abruptly when I learned that another storm was blowing into the city that evening. I ended up passing through Denver again on the way back, and, you guessed it, I got snowed in again outside of Vail, CO. Indeed, Denver’s only redeeming quality, to me anyway, was its close proximity to Boulder, which had much to offer in the way of charm and was far more dog-friendly than its neighbor to the south.

While there were only 3 “official” contenders, I decided to have an open mind about the other cities that I happened to visit on my trip. I was particularly impressed by Salt Lake City and the entire state of Utah for that matter. I also found Nashville and Little Rock to be fun places. Boulder, which I mentioned above, was also impressive. However, none of these cites boosted themselves into serious consideration for a permanent move.

The second official contender was Portland, Oregon, which was amazing in every way. Indeed, I was so impressed that I decided that I would not even need to visit Seattle (the third contender). If I was moving, it would be to Portland. Since I’ve returned home, people ask me how I decided upon Portland and I tend to drone on about how it is an exceptionally well-planned city, how it’s walk-able, how it has great public transportation, how it’s so green, how it’s so dog friendly, how there are almost exclusively independently owned shops and coffee houses, how it houses the world’s largest bookstore (Powell’s), how it has a great music scene, etc. That is all true. But the praises of Portland are most concisely recorded in Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz.” Miller, when asked to explain his decision to move from Houston to Portland, pointed to a topographical map and concluded (I’m paraphrasing), “I live in a place that’s flat and brown. I want to go somewhere that’s green and lumpy.” Greater Portland is geologically exciting, teeming with rivers and forests and even volcanoes! And as Miller surmised, that’s how home should be: green and lumpy

There you have it. I’m moving to Portland at the end of the summer.

***

It took me one week to trek all the way across the country from Chapel Hill, NC to Portland, OR. While it was supposed to take me just one week to get back, it ended up taking three. On the second day of my return trip, my engine seized up 25 miles east of Winnemucca, NV.

Being the Ant that I am, I packed all kinds of survival kits in my car. I had plenty of bottled water, a few days worth of food, several blankets, a first aid kit, and all kinds of tools, including a battery device to jump my own car and supplies to patch a flat tire in the unlikely event that I blew out two tires in the same catastrophic event. Of course, given my lack of know-how, I could not fix a car engine, so all of my survival kits were useless at the moment. Actually, the only time I used my tool kit during the whole trip was to duct tape a hole in the driver’s seat of my car. The only time I used my first aid kit was to bandage my finger, which I had cut while duct taping the hole in the driver’s seat of my car. I had to have my car towed back to Winnemucca.

It was around 7.00pm on the Saturday before Easter when the tow truck dropped me off in town. The only mechanic still on duty told me that my engine was shot and would need to be replaced. To install a new engine would cost almost three times the value of my car, so that option was out. A used engine would likely approach the total value of my car, but an exact figure would have to wait until the junkyards reopened on Monday. I did not want to wait until Monday, so I asked if there was some other way for me to get out of town tonight. The last bus out of town had already left. The last train out of town was due in an hour, but it wouldn’t allow me to take my dog on board. The rental car agency in town was closed for the weekend, but even when they opened on Monday, they would not permit me to take the rental car out of state. The nearest airport was 3 hours away and there was no way for me to get there. Even if there was, I could not fly with my dog on such short notice. Then the mechanic turns to me and says, and I kid you not, “I’ve got a delivery to make in Elko on Monday morning. I can have my boys give you a ride on the hay truck. You can rent a car there.” Hay truck? The only way out of Winnemucca is on the back of a hay truck?

While I was open to the idea of ditching my car and hitching a ride on a hay truck out of town, this did not turn out to be a viable option either, as the rental car agency at the Elko airport also did not permit out-of-state rentals. My prospects looked bleak. I then recalled a conversation I had with a church friend who encouraged me to try and find God on this trip. She said that I should try to talk to him while I was bored and driving through corn fields in Oklahoma or something. She was not the first to suggest that I try to ‘talk to God,’ but I’ve always responded to such suggestions by saying that I would ask God to do something impossible, so that I’d know it was really him talking back. I often mentioned asking God to have a friend of mine find sunken pirate treasure in the middle of a city street. This, I reasoned, was a legitimate request, because I was not gaining personal wealth by this request - a friend was – and it was something that could not be explained other than to say it was done by the hand of God in accord with my prayer request. But I also knew that God, unlike a Genie, was not likely to grant such a wish.

Still, Easter Sunday was said to be a day of miracles, so I made up my mind to do the following. I would get into my car and insert the key into the ignition. I would then say the following, “God, maybe you’ve been trying to talk to me all this time and I didn’t notice or I refused to hear, but I’m in kind of a bind right now, so if you want to say something to me, then I’ll listen.” Then, I would turn the key and the car would start. It would be a miracle! That’s how I pictured it and that’s what I resolved to do. It’s worth a shot, no?

Only, when I arrived at the mechanic and told him I was going to see if the car worked today, he laughed and said there was no way it would start. He even rebuffed my contention that Easter was the day on which miracles can happen. I was a bit flustered and hurriedly got in my car and turned the key without saying any of the things I had planned on saying. The car didn’t start. Easter or not, there would not be any miracles in Winnemucca this Sunday.

It appeared that the only way home was if I got my car fixed… which would take a week. There was no way I was staying in Winnemucca for a week, so on Monday, I left my dog in my motel room, hopped a 3 hour bus back west to Reno, where I found a regional car rental agency that allowed me to go to Salt Lake City, Utah. I then drove the 3 hours back east to pick up my dog, checked out of my motel, and continued on to Salt Lake City some 5 hours away. There, I was able to get a new rental contract that allowed me to travel to other states and return my car back in Reno. I spent the next week meandering through Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. This was the Russian doll segment of my trip - the doll within the doll, the small road trip inside the big road trip. . .

***

I was in Boulder, CO on the last day of my small road trip when I stumbled upon this curious bookshop called Lighthouse Books. The bookstore caught my eye because it claimed to specialize in “ancient wisdom.” That’s my kind of bookstore! When I tried to go inside, I found that they were closed for the day. I made a mental note to return first thing in the morning, before hitting the road back to Winnemucca.

On the next day, I found the store open for business and I excitedly bounded down the stairs into the showroom. What immediately caught my eye was a large banner to the left of the stairwell which read, “Psychic on Duty!” I thought to myself, “Oh no! It’s one of those stores.” But perhaps the sign was pointing to something metaphysical that was about to transpire here in the aisles of a bookstore in Boulder, CO – a bookstore that, for right or for wrong, claimed to be so close to the Light.

Before I started my trip, I came across a poem from Rumi entitled "In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo Dreaming of Baghdad." The gist of the story is this. There was a man looking for God. Try as he might, he was not able to find God in his hometown of Baghdad. He spent his days on the city streets wailing for God to come show himself, but God did not. When angels questioned God on why he didn’t answer this man’s sincere and heartfelt prayers, God said, “Because that’s how a man should seek Me! Wailing in the streets! Crying with all his heart! Let him stand as an example to the others as to how one should look for God!” Still, God was somewhat troubled by the fact that the man himself did not know that his strife was so pleasing to God. God devised a plan. The next day, an angel appeared to the man and told him that an amazing treasure was buried in such-and-such location in the far off city of Cairo. The poor man, hardly within his means as it was, undertook the long sojourn. By the time the man reached Cairo, he was reduced to a brow-beaten beggar. As he was wandering the streets at night, he was picked up by a patrolman who was looking for a thief. Imagine the incredulity of the police officer who was told by the beggar that he was not the thief but was in town because an angel had appeared to him in a dream with instructions to travel to such-and-such a place. Only, rather than consider the man a suspect in the recent robberies, the police officer said, “You fool! I had the same dream that I should go to Baghdad to such and such a place,” and the officer offered the exact address, “and an angel told me that I would find a treasure there. Only, I never listened to the stupid dream, but you did. And now look at you – a lost beggar in a far off town!”

The resolution to the story is this. The address in the far off town that the police officer so flippantly dismissed in his dream was the exact home address of the man before him. God sent this man on a long journey so that he would realize that the real treasure – his presence before God – was under his own roof all along. I was open to this possibility for myself, as well.

As I walked down the second aisle of Lighthouse Books, I saw the psychic sitting on a chair with her back toward me apparently staring off into nothing. This lady purports to know the future and the past, the known and the unknown, and I asked her, “Do you know where the books by the Sufi’s are?” She pointed to my left shoulder, and I turned around to see a book of golden color, entitled simply, “The Gift.

I opened the book and beheld the inscription by the author:

I am
A hole in a flute
That the Christ’s breath moves through –
Listen to this
Music.

The third poem read, in part:

If your heart really needs to touch a face
That is filled with abundance
Then why didn’t you come to this
Old Man sooner?

For my cheek is the universe’s cloister
And if you can make your prayers sweet enough
Tonight

Then Hafiz will lean over and offer you
All the warmth in my body
In case God is busy
Doing something else
Somewhere.

Why complain if you are looking
To quench your spirit’s longing
And have followed a rat into the desert.

If your soul really needs to touch a face
That is always filled with compassion
And tenderness
Then why,

Why my dear
Did you not come to your friend Hafiz
Sooner?


***

Largely, I reported all of the above – the stuff about going on a long road trip, about searching for God, about trying to find a home, about breaking down in Winnemucca, about trying to stumble upon significance, about praying for a miracle, about being stranded in the desert – to provide context for the poem on page 273 of The Gift, entitled Bring the Man to Me, which reads:

A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.
He was stretched out around the fire one night

And said to one of his close ones,


“There is a slave loose not far from us.

He escaped today from a cruel master.

His hands are still bound behind his back,

His feet are also shackled.


I can see him right now praying for God’s help.

Go to him.

Ride to that distant hill;

About a hundred feet up and to the right

You will find a small cave.

He is there.


Do not say a single world to him.

Bring the man to me.

God requests that I personally untie his body

And press my lips to his wounds.”


The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours

Arrives at the small mountain cave.


The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.

The disciple, on orders not to speak,

Gestures toward the sky, pantomiming:


God saw you in prayer,

Please come with me,

A great Murshid {Teacher} has used his heart’s divine eye

To know your whereabouts.


The slave cannot believe this story,

And begins to shout at the man and tries to run


But trips from his bindings.

The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.


Think of this picture as they now travel:


The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.

Every particle of existence is a dancing alter

That some mysterious force worships.


The earth is a church floor whereupon

In the middle of a glorious night

Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,

With a speechless rider

Taking him toward the unknown.


Several times with all of his might the slave
Tries to break free,
Feeling he is being returned to captivity.

The rider stops, dismounts—brings his eyes

Near the prisoner’s eyes.

A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.

The rider motions—soon, soon you will be free.

Tears roll down from the rider’s cheeks

In happiness for this man.


Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,

Mashuq,{Sweetheart}

God has seen you and sent a close one.


Mashuq, {Sweetheart}

God has seen your heart in prayer

And sent Hafiz.


Admittedly, I’m skeptical that God “talks” to people in the direct manner popularized by mainstream Christianity. By way of contrast, when the ancient Greeks wanted to know the will of the Gods, they had to seek the mediation of an oracle. The latter conception would make it somewhat plausible that if God were to contact me, it would be through the direction of bookstore psychic and through the mouth of a 14th century Persian poet named Hafiz of Shiraz.

As I was leaving Lighthouse Books, the man behind the counter, who did not advertise any psychic ability himself, said to me, "I will speak to you as if you were my own son. Use the question 'why?' like a shovel and dig deeper and deeper into your true self. That's how you can attain self-knowledge." Then, after a pause, he continued, "But it appears that you already knew this." I returned to Chapel Hill with a metaphoric shovel in hand, perhaps one that I already owned. And while I did not unearth buried treasure or bear direct witness to a miracle, through the help of a Winnemuccan mechanic, a bookstore psychic, a bit of adversity, and 6,000 miles of road, I did find The Gift, an ancient poet/teacher, a fair amount of life experience, and, most importantly, a new place to call home. I'd say it was a good trip!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kahlil Gibran

The Ghost of Kahlil Gibran

Last Sunday, I had about 20 minutes to kill before my Ultimate Frisbee game, so I stopped by Borders to do a few minutes of aimless browsing. I noticed a new addition to the poetry shelf published by Everyman’s Library. Everyman’s Library is a subdivision of Randomhouse and boasts the motto, “With 100 volumes, a man may be intellectually, rich.” Of course, this motto made more sense back in 1906 at the publisher’s founding when 100 volumes would only cost 5 pounds, and would, thus, be available to every man. Now, however, it costs $2,219.45 for 100 volumes, meaning that you need first to be financially rich before you can be intellectually rich. Still, I do trust their selection of the best books by the best authors. The particular Everyman’s volume that caught my eye on this afternoon was “The Collected Works of Kahlil Gibran.”

I cracked open the book to a random page and was immediately taken by Gibran’s style and content. In the first chapter of The Prophet, the mysterious title character is asked by the townspeople to describe the nature of love to which he replies:

…Even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning…

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast….

But if you fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Whoa.

In other chapters, the Prophet expounds upon marriage, work, joy, good and evil, law, freedom, friendship, and self-knowledge. This book is perfect for me! I wondered how I didn’t find it sooner. Indeed, I often peruse the poetry shelves at bookstores and I had never once noticed the name Kahlil Gibran. Given my fascination with religiously and ethically themed poetry, I suppose it was destiny that Mr. Gibran and I crossed paths eventually.

Only, upon learning that the book was priced at $30.00, I decided that destiny would have to wait for another day, and placed the book back on the shelf. I figured I could find a cheaper soft-cover online or at the local used book store another day.

With instant gratification temporarily postponed, I attempted to sate my curiosity by doing some research on the author, which is something I never do. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Kahlil Gibran is the third best selling poet of all-time, behind only Lao Tzu and Shakespeare! It’s practically a miracle that we didn’t run into one another until now.

Gibran was born in Bsharri in the mountains of Greater Syria (presently Northern Lebanon) to a Maronite family. The Maronites are a Christian sect that traces its roots back to ancient city of Antioch, which was the original seat of the Christian Church under the patriarch Peter the Apostle. Years later, when the Muslim’s came through, the Christians in Antioch had a choice to make: create a political alliance with the Pope and, thus, garner military protection from the Church in Rome or remain independent and face possible Muslim conquest alone. Those that re-aligned themselves with Roman Catholics came to be the Maronite Church, while those that remained independent become the Syrian Orthodox Church. Gibran owes his upbringing to the former, while I owe mine to the latter.

I also learned that when Gibran immigrated to America as a young boy in 1895, he lived in Boston’s South End, which was then home to Boston College, my undergraduate alma mater. Not only that. Gibran had a long love affair, if seemingly one-directional, with a woman named Mary Haskell, to whom he had written innumerable letters. She held onto the letters and her diaries from the time even after her relocation to Savannah, GA and well into old age. She would bequeath the entire collection to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, just down the street from where I presently live. Strange.

But that’s not all. I also learned that Gibran had two schools named after him, both in New York. One school, which has come under some scrutiny, is located in a Lebanese enclave in Brooklyn where they teach all the students Arabic. The other school is in Yonkers, NY, which has an insignificant number of Lebanese immigrants, if any. Of course, the more immediate connection to Yonkers is that it is the town in which I was born and raised. Very Strange.

I google mapped the school and it turns out that not only is it in my hometown, not only is it in my particular neighborhood, but just as with the other parallels in this post, it, too, is just down the street from where I once lived. I called my dad to ask him if he remembered a school named Kahlil Gibran Elementary in our neighborhood and described its location in relation to our old home. He said, “Yeah, that’s where you went to second grade.” What?

I looked into this, and it is, indeed, where I went to second grade. Only, then it was called Public School 28, or PS 28, according to the primitive school naming system of New York in the 1980’s. Apparently, I went to Kahlil Gibran Elementary. Bizarre. This guy has been coming to get me all my life!


Wisdom: 98¢ of Best Offer

I ended up finding a few Kahlil Gibran books at a local used book store. I’m amazed at how affordable used books can be. Rather than fork over $30.00 for the new copy of Gibran’s collected works at Borders, I was able to buy 6 of Gibran’s books at the used book store for $13, including one that isn’t in his collected works.

The hardcover copy of The Prophet I ended up finding cost 98 cents. Ninety-Eight Cents!

Think about that. Some celebrated author writes down everything he knows about the nature of love and work and God and friendship and marriage and good and evil and that’s the resale value! Less than a dollar! Wisdom comes that cheaply!

Meanwhile, if I wanted to buy Zombie Nation, which IMDB ranks as the worst movie of all time, I would have to spend $12.99 at Amazon. What value do these things have for a man? An economist would say that Zombie Nation is 13 times more valuable to a man than The Prophet, as evidenced by all relevant market factors. Then again, I never cared much for economists.


All in the Timing

This past weekend, a grad school friend was in town for a visit. The last time she was in town, she took me to the above mentioned used book store for the first time. I have since become a big fan of the store.

While we were in grad school together, this same friend mentioned that I might like the writings of Rumi. I looked into it at the time, but didn’t care much for him then. Recently, however, I re-discovered Rumi and I now find him to be an incredibly insightful writer.

In contrasting the spirit and the body, Rumi writes:

Don’t feed both sides of yourself equally.
The spirit and the body carry different loads
And require different attentions.
Too often
We put saddlebags on Jesus and let the donkey
Run loose in the pasture.
Don’t make the body do
What the spirit does best, and don’t put a big load
On the spirit that the body could easily carry.

Elsewhere, he comments on love:
The way of love is not A subtle argument. The door there Is devastation. Birds make great sky-circles Of their freedom. How do they learn that? They fall, and falling,
They’re given wings.

There is definitely a thematic parallel between Rumi and Gibran. Indeed, Rumi wrote “wheat remains wheat through the threshing,” which is certainly pointedly evocative of Gibran’s description of love in The Prophet, or vice versa. I suspect that Gibran drew inspiration from Rumi.

Two things occur to me.

First, a person’s appreciation for literature is so intimately tied to where they are in life at the time. I can make a library of all the fine literature that was wasted on me in my high school days, before I had developed any sort of palate for anything worldly. Indeed, I may today have a greater appreciation for Joyce and Faulkner if I hadn’t had the misfortune of first attempting to approach them with 16 year old eyes. I am certainly thankful that I did not discover the likes of Rumi, Kabir, and Gibran until after I turned 25. I’m curious to learn what it will be like at 50 to happen upon an upturned rock and have my eyes alight upon an old literary treasure for the first time. Will it feel just like this? Or does this sensation improve with age?

Second, if I am truly haunted by the ghost of Kahlil Gibran, it stands to reason that the ghost might wait until I first learned to appreciate Rumi before he revealed himself to me. Granted, I would genuinely be surprised if ghosts really do exist in this manner. However, if ghosts do exist, it would come as no surprise to me that I am haunted by an early 20th century Lebanese-American mystical poet. All in all, that actually sounds eerily plausible.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Westward Bound

Counting My Blessings

Last week, I decided that it’s time to move… far away.

I’ve been in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) for over 5 years now, and this place has been very good to me.

First, with regard to my education, I was able to complete a marketable and versatile degree from a well-regarded university.

Second, with regard to my profession, I was fortunately enough to muster the support and encouragement necessary to stray from the beaten path and attempt to undertake my own business venture, which, to date, has not been an outright failure but, instead, has been quite rewarding.

Third, with regard to my personal life, I was lucky enough to fall into and gracefully out of love, while at the same time, making great friendships, which I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Fourth, with regard to my spiritual life, I had something of a religious renaissance and have been able to reengage the eternal questions of my youth and early college years, which, for whatever reason, had been shelved for a number of years.

Fifth, with regard to my intellectual pursuits, I was fortunate in finding the resonant voices of authors such as Jack Gilbert, Stephen Dunn, Rumi, Kabir, Carl Dennis, and Tony Hoagland, in addition to challenging singer-songwriters such as Josh Ritter, Alexi Murdoch, Damien Rice, Joe Purdy, and Mason Jennings.

Most importantly, I’ve learned a great deal about myself as a person over the past 5 years: my strengths and weaknesses, my proclivities and disinclinations, and the effects, both positive and negative, that each of these may have in a community of others.

Indeed, I have much for which to be thankful. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel as though the best that this place has to offer me may be behind me. True enough, the revolving door of faces that comprises a transitory place like the Triangle may serve you well in trying to understand yourself in counter-distinction to others, but, having put away the mirror, I’m finding that it’s a difficult place to take root. It’s time to go.

***

Searching for Pearls

Of course, deciding to leave is only one-half of the equation. The other half asks: to where?

What occurred to me almost immediately is that I am in a privileged position at this point in my life. Until now, my decisions on where to live had to be reconciled with the desires of others to have me: my parents, my college admissions board, or my graduate school admissions board. But now that I work for myself, that I don’t have to consult with the desires or employment needs of a wife or serious girlfriend, that I don’t have to consider the educational opportunities of children, and that I don’t have to apply to a school or employer, I can pretty much point to any place on a map and move there. The world is my oyster!

Well, that’s not exactly true. Because most foreign countries would require that I kennel my dog for 3-6 months to ensure that he is not transporting a communicable disease overseas, I think I’ll limit my search to the US, to save him that fate. Still, the country, if not the world, is my oyster!

***

Packing the Caravan

Ever since high school, I’ve had this vision, perhaps inspired by then-required-reading such as On the Road or Grapes of Wrath, of packing up the Buick (or horse caravan) and heading West on Route 66 until I found what I was looking for. Somehow, that ideal has remained until now, even if I don’t own a Buick and most of Route 66 has been turned into Interstate 40. Thus, I resigned myself to leaving the East Coast and began considering the Midwest destinations of Madison, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Denver; the Western destinations of Austin, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City; and the Pacific Northwest destinations of Seattle and Portland.

Seeking to avoid bitter winters, I eliminated Madison, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Having little desire to live in a desert, I eliminated Texas and Phoenix. And desiring a certain degree of diversity, I eliminated Salt Lake City. The remaining options are Denver, Seattle, and Portland.

While I’ve read a good deal about each city, I’ve decided that the best course of action will be to visit each city for a couple of days before making a decision. Accordingly, I’ve planned a two week cross-country road trip for mid-March. Portable internet will definitely come in handy for the start of March Madness and for blogging. Here’s a look at my tentative itinerary with overnight stays flagged in green.


View Larger Map

While I will keep an open mind for all the places I visit, the early favorite seems to be Portland, Oregon. Indeed, all week, I’ve been singing along to the song “Boston” by Augustana, while changing the lyrics to: “I think I'll go to Boston [Portland]/ I think I'll start a new life/ I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name/ I'll get out of California [Carolina].”



Additionally, this trip will take me through 18 states, 12 of which I've yet to step foot in. I'll hopefully get to visit with some friends that have been scattered throughout the country. And, I'm sure, I'll encounter more than a few interesting characters on the road. I'm very excited about the move and everything associated with it. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Day


Deep in the South, where Interstate 575 dead ends into State Route 515, about 70 miles northwest of Stone Mountain outside Atlanta, in Pickens County, in the land that used to belong to the Cherokee, there lies the unincorporated town of Tate, Georgia, which, though otherwise nondescript, is home to a rather fine marble quarry.

***

On February 12, 1809, two uneducated farmers living in a one room log cabin in southeast Kentucky gave birth to the boy who would become our nation’s 16th president, until his untimely death due to complications stemming from a gunshot wound he had sustained the evening prior while watching a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in the Northwest Quadrant of the District of Columbia.

The last photograph taken of Lincoln, due to a crack in the photo-plate, quite prophetically, shows a line bisecting his head in the exact place a bullet fired from the gun of John Wilkes Booth would enter his skull. He was 56 years old.

***

On January 15, 1929 a young Baptist preacher, named Michael King, and his wife, living in a humble home in the bustling metropolis of Atlanta, in the land that used to belong to the Cherokee, gave birth to a boy, Michael King, Jr., who would grow up to be a noted civil rights activist until his untimely death due to complications stemming from a gunshot wound he had sustained hours prior while talking with a friend on a balcony outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The man’s last words to his musician friend were, “Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty." The song to which he was referring begins and ends:

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

33 years prior to the shooting, when Michael. was six years old, his Baptist father changed his own name and the name of his first born son to honor a famous protestant reformer. And by the time he was wheeled into a Memphis hospital, a lifetime later, it was too late to save him, and Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead at age 39.

***

Starting in 1911, large blocks of stone were hauled from limestone quarries in Indiana and marble quarries in Colorado to a patch of swampland between Virginia and Maryland, near the nation’s Capitol Building, which had been drained and set aside for the purpose of housing a monument honoring the contributions and achievements of our 16th president. The formal construction of The Lincoln Memorial began in 1914, when the first stone was put into place on what would have been Abraham Lincoln’s 105th birthday.

The crowning jewel of the monument is a 19 foot 6 inch reproduction of the likeness of Lincoln himself, comprised of nearly 200 tons of single-source white marble drawn from a quarry just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, near Stone Mountain, in the town of Tate.

***

The pivotal year for the Civil War was 1963. In January of that year, Lincoln signed his Emancipation Proclamation, which effectively freed all slaves of the Confederate States of America. Then, in November of that same year, Lincoln delivered perhaps the most famous speech in American history, a short two minute address during the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It began, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” and concludes, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

***

By the time the Northern troops marched past Tate, about 40 miles to the West, during the War of Northern Aggression, as it was characterized in those parts, the war was largely decided. Atlanta, one of the last Confederate strongholds, would fall in July of 1864, the final major victory before General Sherman would march his troops, largely unimpeded, all the way to the sea by winter. Thousands of freed slaves are reputed to have followed Sherman all the way to Savannah. The Confederate Army would formally surrender just a few months later at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. Civil unrest came to an end and the black man had his freedom secured by a series of Constitutional Amendments created by acts of the United States Congress.

***

In 1963, exactly 100 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and made his famous Gettysburgh Address, our nation was still struggling to give form to Lincoln’s vision, when a young black Baptist preacher then living in Birmingham, Alabama climbed the limestone steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looked down upon 200,000 supporters, engaged the eyes of history, and began his own speech that would ensure that those men, some hundred years before, had not died in vain. In the shadow of a larger than life marble rendering of Lincoln himself, fashioned from white marble taken just a stone’s throw from his birthplace, King, Jr. began his speech, in homage to Lincoln, “five score years ago.” Then, during his 16 minute speech, King Jr, an unlikely figure in an age long overdue, gave breath and ‘soul force’ to the calcified remains of Lincoln’s 100 year old dreams.

King concluded his powerful speech addressing the nation as a whole, asking that the echo of freedom be permitted to reverberate through “the mighty mountains of New York… the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania… the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado… the curvaceous slopes of California.” And when he turned his attention to the pressing needs of the South, he began with the land that used to belong to the Cherokee, the place of his birth, the home of the marble that shapes Lincoln’s countenance, and its highest peak: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

But King’s vision of freedom extended beyond black and white, beyond the color of people’s skin, as he concluded, “And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Finally, a century removed, this nation had ‘a new birth of freedom.’ Just two months later, acts of Congress would topple the oppressive Jim Crow laws of the South, and separate was no longer equal.


***

Here in the present, as I reflect back upon our nation just 45 years ago, it's hard for me to imagine how different life must have been then. It's also hard to imagine that such cruelties were commonplace, and even legally sanctioned, just 45 years ago.

But at the same time, as I view the partnership of my affluent and nearly-exclusively white church with an modest inner city nearly-exclusively black church, I have to wonder why some things are still the same. I can't help but wonder why there are any instances or circumstances under which, even today, after all we've been through together as a nation of brothers and sisters, it's all too easy to picture how life must have been 45 years ago. In his speech, King, Jr. warned against the 'tranquilizing drug of gradualism,' and stressed, instead, the urgency of Now. 45 years ago, "Now" was "the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children," and, yet somehow, it still is.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Paperwhite Narcissism

The past few weeks have been chock-full of adoption stories. First, a book I’m presently reading, Free of Charge, comments favorably on adoption, with the author asserting his theological belief that his two adopted children were “meant to be,” seemingly chosen by the hand of God. Second, the girl with whom I’m reading said book has shared her own passion to adopt a child and shared some family stories about adoption. Third, some friends and I went to see the movie Juno, which is about the trials of a high school girl that gets pregnant and decides to give her baby up for adoption. (By the way, I recommend that you go see Juno, but I don’t particularly endorse the book.)

In all the conversations that followed each respective story, I have steadfastly maintained my position on adoption: it’s nice and all (for you), but I really, really want to have my own kids. I even recall going into some degree of detail, suggesting, first, that my worldview was shaped in part by the few evolutionary psychology classes that I took during my formative undergraduate years, which suggested that part (if not all) of “the meaning of life” is to replicate your genes. Second, if I may say so, I’m rather fond of my particular genes and I imagine I’d be equally fond of the genes that comprise the woman I will eventually marry; consequently, I’d be rather fond of the gene-milkshake we could make together. Thirdly, I have a desire to look at the face of my son or daughter and see a family resemblance.

All three of my points boil down to the same thing: narcissism. While I recognize that there are plenty of children that need to be saved from difficult situations, I would still rather make a new kid, who looks like me and is more likely to act like me. Such a position, if not the most empathetic, does seem to be the majority rule, with most parents viewing adoption only as a last resort. And while I will resist the temptation to make an appeal to normative ethics (i.e., “c’mon, everyone’s doin’ it!”), I will point out that a certain measure of self-admiration, even when at the expense of empathy for others, is necessary for self-preservation, and may even be a component to healthy self-esteem and a keen sense of self-worth.

The key here, however, is that the level of self-admiration must be healthy. Personally, I would place wanting-to-have-my-own-kid on the “good” side of healthy narcissism, though I understand how others may disagree. On the flip side, I’ve certainly encountered enough research to suggest that people learn to love what’s theirs, if only because it is theirs, no matter how they came to possess it. That would seem to suggest that adoptive parents are able to love their children every bit as much as non-adoptive parents. But if we love something only because it is OUR something, then isn’t that, too, just another form of narcissism, if only one step removed? Maybe. But, if it’s with respect to an adopted child, I would argue that that, too, is a healthy form of narcissism.

My point is this. Yes, it is narcissistic for me to want my own biological child. Guilty as charged. However, it is also narcissism that permits an adoptive parent to love their OWN child more than every other child in the world. But that just shows that narcissism isn't all bad. Indeed, sometimes it's quite healthy, and even necessary.

And then, there’s the unhealthy kind…

***

The story of Narcissus, as recounted by Ovid in his “Metamorphoses,” goes like this. The most beautiful nymph of all bore a son whose name was Narcissus. His mother asked a prophet if her son would live well into old age, to which the prophet quizzically replied, “If he does not know himself.” By the age of 21, Narcissus was so handsome that he was courted by numerous maidens and nymphs. However, due to his hard-hearted pride, he would not permit even a one to touch him.

Meanwhile, Zeus was not showing quite the same discretion when it came to nymphs, as he often partook of one or two in his spare time. So that his wife Juno would not catch him, ahem, in flagrante delicto, Zeus told Echo to distract Juno with long-winded stories until Zeus’ bedmate could escape undetected. Eventually, Juno wised up to what was going on, and punished Echo for her part in the deception. For all eternity, Echo would not be able to initiate conversation, but would be forced to double the voice of anyone she hears and return only their last words.

One day, Echo happens upon Narcissus in the woods and immediately falls in love with him. However, because she cannot initiate conversation, she has to follow him around, seemingly forever, until he happens to speak first. Their conversation, in abbreviated form, goes as follows:

“Is anybody here?” asks Narcissus to the woods.
“Here,” replies Echo.
Then, after some more beating around the bush, Narcissus cuts to the chase, “Why do you avoid me? Let us come together!”
“Let us come together.” returns Echo, at which point she reveals herself and passionately throws her arms around Narcissus, as she was so eager to do all along.
Narcissus, completely disgusted, pushes her away and rebukes, “Let me die, before thou should’st have the enjoyment of me!”
To which Echo must sheepishly reply, “May’st though have the enjoyment of me!”

Echo, for her part, was completely devastated and vowed never to show her countenance again. She remained hidden in the woods until her very bones fell to nothing and all that remained was her voice.

Others, too, would fall in love with handsome Narcissus to the same effect, until one spurned lover prayed to the gods, “So let him love, so let him not enjoy what he loves!” When that prayer was answered, Narcissus was made to fall in love with his own reflection in a spring. His love object would laugh when he laughed, would cry when he cried, would reach out for him when he reached out for it; only, he couldn’t actually hold it. Narcissus asked the woods if anyone in the history of mankind had ever loved so tragically, to which the woods remained silent. Still, Narcissus would not leave his reflection. He did not eat. He did not sleep. He simply lay by the water, gazing at his own reflection, while realizing that the only way out of this cursed affair was to leave his body, for his death would be the death of them both.

Narcissus took one last look at his beloved and with his final breath, he uttered, “Farewell,” to which, Echo returned, “Farewell.”

His sister would come to bury his body the next morning, but instead of his body, she found a yellow flower with white leaves encompassing it in the middle.

***

The other day, I was cleaning out a closet when I happened upon an old vase, in which I used to have some rocks and a few bamboo chutes. I dusted off the vase, filled it with water and rocks, and set out to the grocery store where I had purchased the bamboo some years ago. Unfortunately, the grocery store no longer carried bamboo, but, as I was walking out of the store, my eye happened to catch a discount cart with 3 plants, each priced modestly between $2 and $4. Though my “green thumb” has been able to summarily kill any plant I have brought into the house within 10 days - except for bamboo and cacti, two of the most virulent of plant species on earth - I decided that this plant might be worth a $4 gamble.

It's been 3 days now and the plant is not only alive, but thriving. Indeed, she probably now has twice as many blooms compared to when I bought her. I have to admit, however, that I had to move her from the kitchen counter, where I'll often sit and do work for hours, to the dining room, because she had become so fragrant that it was giving me a headache. She is rather charming to view from a distance, however, what with all her white and yellow blooms.

And, upon looking for care instructions, I noticed a label which, quite appropriate for the week, read: Paperwhite Narcissus. I've decided to name her Echo.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Intimacy and Androgyny

Last week at young adults, we were discussing the topic of intimacy between men and women. To a large degree, the conversation devolved into women asking men to be more like women: to enjoy talking on the phone for hours at a time, sharing feelings, etc; and men asking women to be more like men: to enjoy watching sports for hours at a time, to love playing Halo, etc. That is to say, many were of the opinion, implicitly, that intimacy between men and women would be more fluid if they were both androgynous, which is to say, both male and female, or, effectively, neither male nor female. That’s a losing proposition to begin with, and besides, where would be the fun in that?

Pardon, my optimism, but I am of the general option that we should focus on each other’s strengths, rather than seek to rectify each other’s shortcomings. Thus, for instance, rather than say that men are emotionally shallow, perhaps we would be better served to consider them as being emotionally resolute. Conversely, rather that state that women are prone to bouts of fancy, perhaps we would be better served to consider them as having a great degree of emotional flexibility. This is not a mere rhetorical ploy, but it has its utility, as well. For instance, imagine that one was befallen by some measure of tragedy and needed to talk about it. If one wanted the listener to be relatively unaffected by the news, to be a pillar of strength against which to lean, for instance, one might seek a male ear. If one wanted the listener to empathize and cry with them, to serve as a measure of consolation, one might seek a female ear. Thus, rather than asking all of humanity to grow more androgynous, individuals would be better served by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses belonging to each gender and learning where and when such strengths would be best utilized.

Of course, any psychologist or sociologist will tell you that there is far greater within group variability than between group variability. Hence, the degree of difference between all men and all women tends to be less than the difference between any two randomly selected individuals of the same gender. That is, individual differences are too nuanced to be accurately reflected in the average differences between two large groups such as men and women (or any such crude grouping, really). Averages are blunt instruments. Accordingly, stereotyping in the manner above is not a substitute for getting to know people on an individual basis. There is no replacing that. However, understanding group tendencies is a quick and dirty place to start. Of course, before we can being to utilize the strengths of each gender, we must come to understand what strengths each gender brings to the table, or, more broadly, we must begin to understand the way in which our other halves come to view the world.

**********

I made a mix CD for a girl friend the other day. She liked the mix, but pointed out that, like most mixes made by guys, the playlist was dominated by male voices. Of the 18 songs on this particular mix, there were only 3 songs by female artists. True enough, my music catalog is almost entirely male. Of the 9.4 days of music that makes up my itunes collection, there are only 11 female artists represented.

She is working on rectifying the problem by making a mix for me made up exclusively of female artists. It will appropriately be named “Estrogen,” and will surely help me gain perspective on my better half.

*********

More to that end, I decided to buy a book of poetry written by a female to see if it was all that different than all of the books of poetry written by males which I have consumed over the years. I picked a collection entitled “Strike Sparks” by Sharon Olds, whom I encountered on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keilor. I opened the front cover and found myself knee deep in issues that were decidedly feminine in nature.

The first poem was about spousal abuse. The second poem was about growing up with a sexually abusive father. A little further in, there was a poem about what it’s like to have a miscarriage. There was a poem about what it feels like for a mother to envy the youth of her daughter, and another that recorded the burgeoning of a female orgasm, while another documented what it feels like to fall in love with a man. I realized that many of the issues dealt with in the book were things that I could never experience first hand simply by virtue of the fact that I am male. Even if I was immediately present to the event – say a woman was falling in love with me – my experience of the event would be markedly different than hers. Indeed, my perspective is the mirrored image. My knowledge about her experience is limited to how able a given woman can articulate her side of the story to me.

The most remarkable poem for me to read was one entitled “New Mother” about what it’s like for a woman to make love for the first time after having a baby. To begin, it was a great poem, if a bit racy. But it was eye opening, because I never once stopped to consider what that would be like. The beginning of the poem documents the new mother’s fear and uncertainty, which are each allayed by the new father’s patience and tenderness.

All of you so tender, you hung over me,
over the nest of stitches, over the
splitting and tearing, with the patience of someone who
finds a wounded animal in the woods
and stays with it, not leaving its side
until it is whole, until it can run again.


I also liked the title poem, “I Go Back to May 1937,” from the perspective of an abused child that goes back in time to the day of her parents wedding. Initially, she wants to stop the wedding, having knowledge of all of the hurt that is owed to it. But then, defiantly, she assents to the marriage, choosing instead to live, to endure the suffering, and to write about it.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar make of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips back in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it - she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to die. I want to go
up to them there in the at May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like male and female
paper dolls and bang then together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Chew on that one. Tomorrow morning, I get my hands on the "Estrogen" mix CD and I expect it will be equally eye opening. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Matt Wertz


(Fall Concert Series, Part III)

Matt Wertz is another act out of Nashville, whose style is characterized as “acoustic pop.” I think that means that it gets your toes tapping, even though the lead singer plays acoustically. I generally don’t like pop music, so I guess Matt Wertz defines the upper limit of my pop-palate. While playing it in the car, the preacher’s daughter commented that she thought he sounded a bit like John Mayer, which I told her was impossible, because I hate John Mayer.

I then recounted the story from grad school when some friends and I went to a Counting Crows/John Mayer show, and how we left early on principle because Counting Crows were opening for John Mayer, instead of the other way around. We had nearly fled the scene before John Mayer started playing, but due to some car trouble, we had to suffer through the first couple of songs of his set. The exact details are fuzzy and even recounting this abbreviated version of the story is traumatic enough. In any event, the preacher’s daughter is a big fan of John Mayer and she was not amused by my story.

That being said, Jason Mraz may be a more appropriate comparison, which is to say, this is good, happy music to listen to while falling in love, or with the windows down while driving down a windy country road. (After writing that sentence, I paused to consider the possibility that falling in love is much like driving down a windy country road with the windows down. I even entertained the possibility that falling out of love is much like being stranded in a parking lot at a John Mayer concert. The jury is still out on both questions.)

My favorite songs are “The Way I Feel,” which had the whole crowd singing, “Carolina,” which he was only too happy to play in Chapel Hill, and “Heartbreaker,” which is the first song of his that I had heard. I don't have any of his albums, so can't recommend any of them. But take a listen to those singles. If you’re looking for something deeply introspective, you won’t get it here. But if you’re in the mood for a little sugar, take a listen. Here’s his myspace.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The War


(Fall concert series, part II)

The War was formerly a local Chapel Hill band of some repute named Starting Tuesday. They have not yet released a full length album under their new moniker, but they do have a 5 song EP, which is solid top to bottom. I was amazed by how much energy these guys put into a show. At more than one point, I felt like the audience was being bludgeoned by the riffs of a trio of guitarists, in a good way. For one of the songs, they invited the audience play percussion as the tech’s rolled out two 20 foot sticks of 4” PVC pipe and several dozen drum sticks. These guys are definitely my favorite local band, even though they’ve since moved on to Nashville. If you like The Fray, you should check these guys out. “Goodbye July” and “Satisfied” are my favorites. They, too, are available on itunes and myspace.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Meiko

As I mentioned earlier, I caught two of Brett Dennen’s shows when he came through town in September. I feel like it’s necessary to give a plug to his opening act, a half-Japanese girl from Georgia named Meiko. Truth be told, I don’t actually know if she’s half-Japanese. She could be three-quarters or perhaps one-eighth, but I like to consider her one-half, because, if nothing else, it reminds me of the opening line from my favorite Weezer song/video, El Scorcho, which is worth watching if only for the chicken dance the drummer does during the breakdown.


Meiko, for her part, did not do a chicken dance, but she nonetheless had great stage presence, despite her unassuming personality. Indeed, the fact that she was slightly uncomfortable up there only made her more endearing and even downright funny at times. This, of course, is on top of the fact that she’s a talented singer and song writer, with a voice that was made to sing about heartbreak. My favorites are the tracks “Under My Bed,” which laments a recent breakup, “How Lucky We Are,” a ballad pregnant with hope, and the brutally honest Untitled Track about a hopelessly unhealthy relationship from the perspective of a hotdog. Yes, a hotdog. Adding to her charm are the facts that she has a stripped down under-produced style, has refrained from signing with a major label, and keeps a blog! What’s not to love? Keep your ears peeled for her. I understand she’s all over the soundtracks for TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy. She’s blowing up! In the meantime, hit her up on itunes or myspace.