My car is stopped in the middle of the interstate right now. My fault. Ran out of gas. So I’m here, right now, waiting for help. I have no where to go. It’s OK.
My emergency lights tick like a metronome, hypnotizing me to sleep. But then a semi truck rumbles by at 70 miles per hour and rattles my black station wagon just enough to keep me awake.
I’m here, in the middle of Massachusetts, because today I drove two hours today hoping to gain a little certainty about my future. I came back with Schrödinger’s Box still sealed shut. I like to think I handle incertainty well, in the same way I like to think I’m good at poker. I like to think I’m OK surrendering my fate to the odds of the universe, but I’m scared she will rage as if I just woke her. I fear she may be violent, or perhaps just immature, volatile — that she will stay away from the regression curve she is supposed to hug.
It’s OK to bet with a pair of fives; it’s OK to lose on the river; it’s just part of the sway of uncerainty. It is a pleasant daydream, filled with the type of productive reflection that reminds me of the passage of time.
I’m stuck in the middle of the interstate. I crawled to a stop on a roomy shoulder, out of fuel, where surely others have come to rest. I’m stuck. It’s OK. It will be OK.
Drew the picture above while bored in the car after waiting for an hour. I don’t know what it is either. Alien on a swing?
May 13, 2013 Leave a comment
I recently downloaded an app on my phone called “Poet’s Corner.” I was immediately ambushed with amateur poems of angst and personal problems, reaching to be universal but achieving only vagueness, and I wanted to understand why I despised the majority of poems written on that forum. My starting point was this quote from Robert Rowland Smith (via Explore):
We’re at a point where more poetry is being written than published, let alone read, mainly because poetry has come to be considered so much as an outlet for personal feelings — the poem as the stylized mode of the journal entry. Even among poems that do get published — and there is a parallel with recent art — the emphasis on the recording of subjective experience is overwhelming.
I’m tempted to combat this sentiment, if only out of self-preservation. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, as evidenced by this entire blog. But it’s not as if Smith is condemning poetry about subjective experiences; rather he’s pointing out the disproportionate amount.
Poetry illustrates what makes us human. Homo sapiens developed the ability to communicate through language, but we maintained our ability to communicate through biological cues — through rhythm and aesthetic, much like a dog understands what three short barks means. There are messages encoded in our language that we did not create; a poet does not choose the meaning of a short cadence or a rhyming scheme; a speechwriter does not choose how an audience reacts to parallel statements. But rather, they work with those human universals. Poetry asks that we consider our biological tendencies as we use language; poetry as a form asks questions about our mysterious universe — a place we will never conquer, an idea we will never grasp.
There is nothing wrong with poetry that explores subjective experiences. But the problem may be that the questions asked by the content ignore the ones asked by the form.
April 28, 2013 Leave a comment
I’m learning how to ration my vacation days. If I could save them forever, I would pile them up into a big heaping pile called a sabbatical. But my vacation days expire, so I had to use them — and with those days I went to a Red Sox game and a Greek restaurant and a car dealership and a beautiful park on a sunny day. I sat in the 10th row, ate the best meal of my life, got an oil change and had a conversation that had been delayed far too long.
We live in a culture driven by productivity. And that means many people feel like they don’t have time for something like baseball. Over the past few years, I stopped watching, too; it wasn’t efficient; I got too little entertainment out of the time I put into it. But over the past few weeks, I began watching again, almost in a contemplative state. I spent a week in a newsroom reacting to the events in Boston; I watched the full bombing footage dozens of times. So I guess it was partly a restorative act. But that connotes that it was a net-zero; instead, it was more so a time to observe the universe exist around me. It sounds like the zen, holistic lifestyle that is supposed to be healthy, but I’m brainwashed by the capitalist motor of production so I need to find a back road there. So I’ve convinced myself it’s a productive act — kind of like stretching in the mornings.
The fact that we work more than we don’t seems to indicate that there is something about the very nature of the universe that we must overcome — that whatever we would do in our free time is not as important as making the machine of our culture churn out whatever it churns out. But the unstoppable entropy of this world means no matter how much we work to organize the universe, we will be overpowered by its sheer nature, which is stronger and more inevitable than gravity.
I know vacation days are supposed to be for workers to recharge, but that insinuates that our purpose is to be workers — to be at full strength to make the world go ’round. But if you turn off your phone and your e-mail and stop working for a few days, I can attest that the Earth still seems to rotate on its axis at 1,040 miles per hour.
April 27, 2013 Leave a comment
I recently got an e-mail from an editor thanking me for my work, and I told him the honor was all mine. The story helped vulnerable people; that’s why I got into journalism, but it may be a naive notion.
I call it naive because, in my short career, I’ve done more to make money for multi-million dollar companies than help single mothers in poverty. I’ve done more to propagate the stories of mindless celebrities than to spread the stories of vulnerable children. It only got worse when I learned some technical skills, because there were more things I could do to make someone money.
People have said this is how the real world works. The real world requires us to think about money and to play to the crowds, and sure that makes sense.
The amazing thing about human beings is that we aren’t just happy as individuals. When the people we love are in pain, we feel their agony. When the children in our community go hungry, we feel the pit in our stomachs. I can’t say with any certainty where this incredible trait comes from, but we call it empathy.
I fell in love with journalism because I thought it was the profession in which I could exercise the most empathy. It was a job in which I could feel the joy and pain of those around me. Many days, that is not true for me. Some days it is, and I hold close those days.
April 5, 2013 Leave a comment
I just got back from the police station. I had to clear my name. I was told I had a warrant on me. I was told it was a sex offense. It’s been a terrible day.
This morning I had to call the IRS — to verify that I was Alvin Chang. I answered questions about myself. With each answer, the IRS agent responded, “Correct,” as if I could be wrong. Eventually, they were mostly convinced I was Alvin Chang.
On my drive home, a homeless man was walking in the crosswalk. He motioned for me to keep going. So I kept going.
Five seconds later, a police car with lights and sirens is right behind me. I pull over. “I stopped you because you didn’t stop at the crosswalk,” he says. I tell him the homeless man waved me through. But the officer just wants my papers. I hand them over. I think to myself, “I’m not the careless jerk you think I am! Hell, I did my graduate thesis on the homeless! I’m a good person.” The officer walks back. He hands me back my papers. He says he’ll just give me a warning.
But then he says, “Do you know you have a warrant on you?”
“I just ran your name and birthdate. You have a warrant. It could be a glitch in my system, but…”
“What’s it for?”
He hesitates. “It’s a, um, sex offense.”
“You don’t have any open containers, do you?”
“Well, it might be a glitch in my system. You should go to the police station and get it checked out.”
He doesn’t arrest me right there, right then. He drives off.
Alvin Chang, the man who hates homeless people and might’ve stolen someone’s identity to file his tax returns because he might be a sex offender, drives home to his apartment. He eats a spoonful of dinner. He’s not hungry. He wants to go to the police station and figure out if he really has a warrant on him. He wants to clear his name.
He drives to the police station. Before he goes inside, he hands his car keys to his girlfriend — just in case. He thinks about what he will say if he’s arrested — just in case. He decides he’ll ask for a lawyer — just in case.
He walks up to the front desk. He gives the nice woman his license. He explains the situation to her. She enters his name into the computer. Nothing. She tries it backward — maybe “Chang Alvin” — because that apparently happens sometimes. Nothing. She tries “Alvin Chan” because that apparently happens, too. Nothing. She tries the name in the historical database, in case something happened a long time ago. Nothing.
She tells him he’s good to go. She gives him back his license.
Alvin Chang is a, um…
Alvin Chang was a, um…
After clearing his name, Alvin Chang goes to the hardware store. He buys mouse traps, because there is a mouse in his apartment. Alvin Chang doesn’t like mice.
March 25, 2013 Leave a comment