Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Innovation. Integrity. Professionalism. Flexibility. Responsiveness.

Um. Whatever...

Off to a business gathering at the campus in the “planned community” of Irvine for a few days.

I'll be back to “entertain” all three of you soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

True Confessions

For some reason, I have indelible memories of two incredibly trashy novels that I read during my junior-high or high-school years. I’m sure that both were library loans that my mother had checked out and that I picked up out of boredom or (more likely) for the titillation factor.

I actually feel pride that my mother was a frequent library patron in a world that seems to have an awful lot people who don’t read books of any kind. Her choices may not have been Tolstoi — or even Agatha Christie — but at least reading was considered an acceptable leisure activity (though, make no mistake, the television was often on from sunrise until the wee hours every damn day).

In any case, the two books in question have come to mind now and then (for whatever neuro-electrical reason heaven only knows), as they did last night. Thus, I thought I’d share a brief summary of each train-wreck of a tome:

The Searing by John Coyne (I had to Google this to find the author, and I almost suspect that this was some kind of “best seller” in its time). This was a supernatural horror mystery about some phenomenon that was causing women in a certain neighborhood to have spontaneous orgasms which — if I remember correctly — progressed to the point of being so intense that they literally fried the women’s brains and killed them. I seem to recall imagery of striken women having a tiny trail of blood trickling out of one nostril [upon further reflection, I think it was actually gray matter oozing out of their orifices]. What I had forgotten (but re-learned, thanks to Google) was that this phenomenon was also killing little girls in the same neighborhood. Trashy as the subject matter of the novel was, I am pretty sure that the tots did not also get afflicted with the orgasmic consequences of this ungodly force. Please see the horrendous abortion of jacket art for this travesty of literature here. Those women look pretty ecstatic in an “I’ll have what she’s having” sort of way, don’t they? Note that you too can pick up a silverfish-laden remainder of this gem on the internet’s mega-book-purveyor for under a dollar. It’s worth every penny, and I may just need to re-read this for nostalgia’s sake.

The name of the second thriller has, sadly, been lost to time and gray matter deterioration, and I fear no creative Googling will ever unearth such a piece of pulp from the dustbin of paperback history. I want to say the title was something like Dark Abbess, and the plot revolved around a series of gruesome present-day serial murders at lovers’ lanes, in which the men were swiftly castrated before being killed. The murders were revealed to be the work of a medieval Northern European abbess being channeled through a local teenager. Clues to the origin of the mysterious killings were revealed through a psychologist working with the troubled teen while he was having a fit of what seemed like speaking in tongues, but discovered to be medieval Frisian. Interwoven were stories of the original abbess’s nefarious and authoritarian ways, including her determination to create her own castrati choir for her abbey (regarding which I vividly recall this bit of absurd dialogue: “The Vatican has them! Why cannot we?” In contrast to my ambivalence toward The Searing, I would absolutely love to read this nameless piece of trash again in a minute. If anyone ever procures information about this book, he or she will be richly rewarded with any bounty I have at my disposal. I dare you.

La Vie Rêvée des Anges

I awoke again in a terror sometime in the dark early hours one morning last weekend. Every now and then I have these horrific dreams of torture and persecution (or just simple, execution-style shooting), and I’m pretty sure I know what they stem from.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to escape from under the guilt and self-loathing that come from knowing that I’ve engaged in unsafe, somewhat safe, not-quite-safe, probably-safe, almost-certainly-safe, or not-quite-honest sex. Maybe there really is no excuse, and maybe some things I’ve done in the past were nothing but purely selfish and careless. Sometimes the life of a eunuch almost seems desirable. Hyperbole aside: the minefield of “casual” sex and skirting around the “P-word” really don’t seem worth it on a logical level. I truly hate it. There but for the siren song of biology go I.

Note to the sexually active: if health-related questions are important to you, it’s probably not a good idea to broach them for the first time only when you and your partner are already (or milliseconds away from being) in flagrante delicto.

My solution going forward seems simple enough, doesn’t it? So I’ve heard.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bringing Siesta Back

Rob Brezny really has all the answers, but I never seem to follow through....

PISCES: Week of November 22, 2007
“You owe it to us all to get on with what you're good at,” said poet W.H. Auden. Make that your motto in the coming weeks, Pisces. Your motivation for doing the useful work you love to do should not come from you alone. We, the rest of the world, want to be there inside you so that we can root you on and encourage you to give us your very best gifts. Tap into and refine and explore your talents for your own sake, yes -- but do it for us, too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Living a Minimum of Three Lives: Part II

October 21, 2007: Portland, Oregon
- Sitka Apartments
- Tanner Springs Park & Vicinity

Supposed to Fire My Imagination

“Becoming, which results from clinging, involves the idea of having or being something more satisfying than at present. We want to become a very good meditator, or we want to become spiritual, or more learned. We have all sorts of ideas but are all bound up with wanting to become, because we are not satisfied with what we are.

Often we do not even pay attention to what we are now, but just know that something is lacking. Instead of trying to realize what we are and investigating where the difficulty actually lies, we just dream of becoming something else. When we have become something or someone else, we can be just as dissatisfied as before.”
~Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies

Monday, November 19, 2007

Qui Enlève le Péché du Dimanche

Broiled Lamb Tenders marinated in garlic, lemon, rosemary, & mint
Oven-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Butternut Squash

Living a Minimum of Three Lives: Part I

October 21, 2007: Portland, Oregon - Sunday morning

Friday, November 16, 2007

Att Vara Precis Den Hon Är

Belated Wishes...

Grattis på Födelsedagen!

Anni-Frid Lyngstad ~ November 15

And here's a video of hers for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Diagnosis: Life

There's a Buddhist proverb that goes something like this:
If you don't think about death in the morning, the whole morning is wasted;
If you don't think about death in the afternoon, the whole afternoon is wasted;
If you don't think about death in the evening, the whole evening is wasted.
By many benchmarks, I'm lazy. But if the proverb above holds any wisdom, I don't waste much of my time.

It's not that I have an obsessive, pathologic/phobic preoccupation with death. Partly, it's just that, being on the cusp of the age of forty, my awareness of death is more heightened than it was at twenty-five. To be fair, circumstances have also conspired to provide me with what I consider a damn good reason to think about death a lot: though I'm a reasonably healthy man, I'm also HIV-positive.

Upon further consideration, I'd probably say that I think a whole lot more about life than about death. More specifically, I wonder and worry about how much more life I've got.

Even in "the best of times" (whatever that means), that kind of speculation is a fool's game. As anyone who reads a daily newspaper knows, we can't be guaranteed that we're going to make it to work or back home again on any given day. However, the laws of probability are still on our sides most of the time: If you make it to forty, your chances of making it to eighty — all things considered — are better than not. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it's still an average life expectancy. Probability...

There are times I've wanted to corner my doctors and demand that they tell me: What can I expect? How long do I have? What's the best I can expect?

For the most part, I've come to understand that those would be foolish questions, and I'm a voracious enough reader regarding HIV that I know (sometimes, I think, too well for my own good) the details of a slew of various "best" and "worst" case scenarios. Still, I can't stop my brain from wondering: What's going to happen to me? In that regard, I may not be different from any other human being on the planet. Don't we all wonder? What's going to happen to me? How will the end come? Maybe we're not all thinking that, but somehow I'm convinced we should be. And therein has been the blessing of Buddhist philosophy in my life.

I hesitate whenever prodded (though that's rare) to call myself "A Buddhist." But I admit that "Buddhism" has had a profound effect on my life, both as a cause and an effect: my first ten-day meditation retreat prodded me (in a purely undramatic way) to finally get tested after years of being afraid and "assuming" the worst without accepting the responsibility that "confirmation" would confer on me. In turn, after receiving my not-quite-surprising diagnosis, I found that many Buddhist-oriented writings helped me make sense of the "impermanence" that is perhaps the central hallmark of "all of this."

Last weekend, I read and saved the obituary of a physician, R. Scott Hitt, of whom I was perhaps only peripherally aware at some point, but whose death notice was somehow as striking to me as the handsome photo that accompanied it. In 1996, Bill Clinton appointed Hitt (a prominent and high-profile HIV physician in the Los Angeles area) chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. In 1999, at the age of 40 or 41, Hitt was diagnosed with the colon cancer that eventually led to his death last Thursday (I haven't seen any references that indicate that Hitt was HIV positive, so I assume he was not). He was a physician who certainly knew and cared for many who suffered and succumbed in the pre-HAART era; he would have seen many virtually resurrected in the mid-1990s with the advent of protease inhibitors. He was a man at perhaps the apex of his career a mere ten years ago. Ten years! How easy is it in thought to flash back through ten years as if they were just an eyeblink! In the same eyeblink, ten years hence, where will we be...?

Of course, medical situations similar to Dr. Hitt's play out for thousands or millions of people every month. What draws me to his death notice is that it's a sharp reminder to me — a clarion call — to focus on exactly that which I don't know and will never know, but which I must expect, if not greet as an expected guest, without surprise and without lack of preparation.

I'm not really ready for a visit from death or severe illness, and I'm afraid of them. Terrified, at times. But I like to think I'm somewhat prepared. I know they're in the neighborhood somewhere. They may not knock for awhile, or they may be right next door, or on their way up the front path. They may visit a close friend, relative, or acquaintance first, and then stay far away for some time. It could be a swift, surprise visit that's over before I know it, or it could be a long, drawn-out affair. But I know, at least, that I've contemplated what I might say to them, how I might greet them, the conversations we might have, and the unfathomable places they might take me.

If you don't think about death in the morning, the whole morning is wasted...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If It's Sunday, This Must Be Kâmpóng Saôm

Continuing through my breezy social calendar of "highbrow faggotry" (a term coined elsewhere)...

On Sunday night I dragged J. to a concert by Long Beach band Dengue Fever at Goleta's inimitable Mercury Lounge. That link to the band's MySpace page includes music clips, including the infectious Sni Bong, for which you can also see a video here.

Dengue's brand of resurrected 1970s "psychedelic" Khmer rock is just plain fun, and it was enjoyable to see them perform in a bar rather than in the somewhat sterile auditorium or theater setting that I'm used to seeing most "world music"–type acts perform in.

I need to finally pick up a CD by Dengue (eBay and truly love me). The concert also prompted me to do a little bit of research, and it's always interesting to discover (hail, Wikipedia!) information such as the tragic biography of Khmer diva Ros Sereysothea.

Update: An interesting article from the UK Guardian that details Khmer rock and includes references to Dengue Fever, lead singer Chhom Nimol, and Ros.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Neither Fear Nor Ambition

Roses, Late Summer
What happens
to the leaves after
they turn red and golden and fall
away? What happens

to the singing birds
when they can't sing
any longer? What happens
to their quick wings?

Do you think there is any
personal heaven
for any of us?
Do you think anyone,

the other side of that darkness,
will call to us, meaning us?
Beyond the trees
the foxes keep teaching their children

to live in the valley.
So they never seem to vanish, they are always there
in the blossom of the light
that stands up every morning

in the dark sky.
And over one more set of hills,
along the sea,
the last roses have opened their factories of sweetness

and are giving it back to the world.
If I had another life
I would want to spend it all on some
unstinting happiness.

I would be a
fox, or a tree
full of waving branches.
I wouldn't mind being a rose
in a field full of roses.

Fear has not yet occurred to them, nor ambition.
Reason they have not yet thought of.
Neither do they ask how long they must be roses, and then what.

Or any other foolish question.

~Mary Oliver ©1992

You Can't Win, You Wonder Why...

Illogically, I'm not really tired right now, but I was pretty agitated last night after waking up around midnight and staying awake for two hours tossing and turning. I was tempted to get up and start typing away, because it seemed like so many things were on my mind, but I thought that would only prolong and make the insomnia worse. Instead, I just lay there restlessly, beset by a gastric distress that didn't really help things (damned middle age breakdowns!).

It felt unusual to have so much on my mind. I rarely suffer from insomnia, to the envy of at least one of my friends, whose problem in that regard I really don't understand at all. I was ruminating on everything from my long-ago year in Africa to lists of failed (and benignly-petered-out) romantic relationships to this enigmatic immunodeficiency virus.

I've felt somehow blocked from writing about anything meaningful (to me) lately. I'm hoping some of last night's ill-time energy is sustained and that I can write about some of the topics above and others soon. I know that my three steadfast readers are just biting their nails waiting...

Friday, November 09, 2007

On the Verge of Something Big

I said Big. Big like a french toast, sausage, and brie omelette breakfast.

Yeah... it's the pictures that got small!

Squint Your Eyes and Savor the Pork Belly

October 20, 2007: Pok Pok Restaurant, Portland, Oregon

I recently learned the following Thai proverb:
เข้าเมืองตาหลิ่ว ต้องหลิ่วตาตาม (khao mueng tar-lew, tong lew-tar tarm)

It literally means: “When in the city of the slanted-eyed, squint your eyes”

I figured “when seeking out food in Portland, eat where the Portlanders eat,” and I think that Pok Pok (specializing in the Northern/Northeastern Isan-style cuisine of Thailand) fit that bill. It was busy, exciting, hip-but-not-too-hip, and it didn't hurt that there was more than one attractive waiter flitting about.

Thus, after a very long drive, Huntington and I hunkered down for a selection of Northern Thai victuals. Forgive the photo quality — I still need to master the art of low-light photography with this new digital thigamajig.

A tamarind whiskey sour cocktail:

Kai Yaang (charcoal roasted game hen stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro) and Khao Man Som Tam (green papaya salad):

Hoi Thawt (foreground; crispy broken crepe with steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, eggs, garlic chives and bean sprouts) and Kaeng Hung Leh (classic Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry with ginger, palm sugar, tamarind, turmeric, Burmese curry powder and pickled garlic):

Dessert: Pok Pok Affogato (condensed milk ice cream drowned in a shot of Vietnamese coffee, served with a Chinese fried donut):

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007