Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sun and the Sea, no longer enough.

Albert Camus said "A man is not poor if he has but the sun and the sea." This was Oran, Algiers, cerca 1940, but when I read them in Queens in the year 2000, after my father died and we lost everything, I looked around me and felt even poorer in the grey desolation surrounding me. All I had was concrete, and awful 70s modernist architecture. We lost our mansion in the New Jersey forest, back to where it all began - in Queens - because that was all my mother knew, and all we could afford. I had no sun and no sea.

But I felt something deeper in Camus' words. He meant more than he said. I didn't have the sun or the sea, but every poor man gains something, if only he looks and feels, closely. It is there. And that is what Camus meant, that in a man's circumstance and plight, he gains something that is distinctly his own. The suffering, the struggle, nobody can take this away from him.

I looked around me, like a rat in a cage, sleeping in my mother's living room, stealing just enough money from her purse everyday to buy a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, to then write bad poetry, on napkins. Sometimes I wrote little love letters, wanting to slip them to the punjabi girls working behind the counter. They would look at my kara, my sikh bracelet, every time I paid them, every time I took my coffee, I could feel quietly that they recognized a piece of themselves in me. But we never said anything. My punjabi is terrible.

Why is it that we don't get what we want when we most need it? Fuck the world.

I looked out one night through the neon donut shop window and saw the train rumble by and beyond it, stood majestically, the public library. The library of my childhood, the place I went to use the telephone (to place bets) and to take a piss (and jerk off) when I couldn't make it back to the apartment. It was newly renovated and was shining in the darkness with its lights on, like a phoenix rising above all the dirt, filth and madness. There it stood looking at me, calling me. Another train rumbled by above. It came to me. I had my Sun and Sea, too.

I never took much to reading. I don't think any hot blooded young man growing up in New York City can. Too much noise, too much to do, too many people screaming at you. Hustling is much more fun and necessary. Carrying a book around my neighborhood was an invitation to get murdered. So much so that many people got two copies of their textbooks, one to keep in their lockers at school, and the other at home for homework. This way you never looked uncool, kept your street cred and your grades up (we all secretly wanted to go to Bronx Science, even if we pretended we didn't care).

But slowly, when one is unemployed, suffering mental anguish and has nothing better to do, books open up to you. I thought I would start with the classics. Kind of like the best ofs for nubile autodidacts. And then I explored world cinema, and then one day I came upon a journal on Latin American studies from Austin, Texas, about Cuba. There was a picture of Fidel inside. I saw that he and I shared exactly the same hands. I was moved. Yes, there had to be a greater purpose to my life. The library, like the Sun, reminds you of that through its unconditional nourishment. Knowledge also burns. But let's not get into that, just now.

The subway my sea, with its ebb and flow, a steel wave crashing into manhattan day after day, never stopping. The library, knowledge, as radiant as the sun, opening me to the pleasures of the soul. Movement and knowledge, the modern day gifts for a poor man.

Bestial needs used to be enough. The sun, the sea, a good meal, making love to your woman, feeling the breeze in your air. Now it's about travel, in all senses, into the known and unknown. Escape. Paradise is a trap.

In my darkest moments, I remember feeling, that if this was all I had, it was enough. It gave me life, even if I felt a strange monotony in taking the train to Times Square and back everyday, just to think and watch people, and search for the great answers to the questions I had. There it was, everything before me, 2000 years of civilization in a building, the culmination of the world's dreams in a city, and back and forth I went, feeling lulled by a certain rhythm. A certain rhythm only the New York City subway (the sea) can give you.

Soon, I began combining all my pleasures into one. The train, a library book and a cup of coffee (with napkins and a pen, of course). 28 minutes Main Street Flushing to Times Square. That's enough time to fill to a young man's heart, to the brim. And to then get out and watch the world being made. And back, with the sun coming down, but at least I moved, and thought and bettered myself. Doing nothing, but moving, with my mind and my body. My primal needs met. Like in Algiers, with the sun and sea. No money, but you felt mother earth move her lips to your song. And you felt blessed inside, even if slowly you wasted away.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Love, come back to me

A woman is a woman is a woman. Even one who sells her self. Because we all sell ourselves, though some are more aware than others, what they sell.

For a night to feel that innocence, sweetness and joy of a beautiful woman in bed. To sleep and to feel and to hold someone until the morning comes.

After making love she wants me to fry her eggs. The hunger inside her is deep and true. I offer her the finest Belgian chocolate, prociutto, parmesan cheese, some left over caviar, even. No, none of that, she doesn't know what that is. She just wants fried eggs and looks at all the marvels I put in front of her with indifference. And in the darkness, naked, there we stood in the kitchen, with the neon lights from the apartment parking lot seeping in through the half drawn curtains. It's not enough light for me, I go to flip on the light switch; no light, electricity gone. She gets her cell phone, and uses it to guide me as I crack the eggs and then - sizzle, pop. I find her irresistible.

Kundera says to be careful with metaphors when it comes to Love. One metaphor can enslave a man to a woman forever, the deeper poetic meaning, etched in our soul, never letting go. But for me it's less metaphors and more the cinema of the moment, the pure aesthetic grace of being in a film together, no matter how absurd. If the story fits, wear it. And here I am after making love to her, I'm on the stove, in the middle of the night, frying her eggs and kissing her, and she's got one eye on me and the other on a late night dinner. Our passion may burn out, but the eggs won't; I am careful. She comes over behind me, caresses me, and says she prefers them easy over.

"An egg without salt, is like sex without love" - S. Dali

I make sure to add the salt, because I knew she isn't the type to care either way. She just needed something in her stomach and I just needed to feed her, in this moment we were meant for each other; salt and eggs; love and sex. How certain ideas once inside us bear a fruit so beautiful. I've often quoted that Dali quote at many a cocktail party, in vain and feeble attempts to appear cultured, sophisticated and interesting, and here it came to life, in the strangest of circumstance.

It reminded me to add the salt, to put a little love in, it takes so little, means so much.

She ate with that ravenous hunger, the hunger of someone who eats little but wants more, always. Her body was perfect, tight and strong. A body that works to survive is always a healthy body. Nature is perfect that way, it gives so much in poverty and takes so much in wealth. And makes both want to come to the other, to complete each other, master servant, we run to each other, east west, strong weak, the good and the bad, we need each other, each defined by the other, unable to live amongst our own kind.

She smelled of roses and the earth, and after eating, as if she had been sleeping in my bed for years, she snuggled up to me, and took the covers over her and smiled that deep smile of contentment. I looked into her eyes, and smiled too. There was no way to reach her through words. I only had my smile and my manhood, to let her know how beautiful she was. And my kisses, and when you can't speak, and no one can hear you, something deep down in us comes through to touch someone. And that is what I felt.

In the beginning there was the word, but I long for the time before the beginning when there were no words, only energy, innocence and a joy that no longer exists. Well, maybe for a night, on a strange island, until the morning comes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

In Memory

The only time I loved her was after I hurt her, when she cried tenderly; tired and defeated.  She was most beautiful to me then.  There was such a moment here in Africa.  We had fought violently and she slumped down, at a loss for words, engulfed in tears and pain. 

A man's heart breaks, at such moments.

After some time she calmed down, collected her dignity, wiped her face, and walked by my side to where we were headed to, before we had started fighting.  She had nowhere to go; she had to follow.

The sun was a big piece of orange candy in the sky, slowing falling, falling down.  We were walking side by side, and it was one of those African moments that make you forget yourself. 

I felt her slowly ease up next to me, grasping my hand in hers, tightly.  I squeezed back, feeling uplifted, ecstatic, to be where I was in the world, with that hand in mine.  There was confusion and uncertainty, though we had each other.  We didn't look each other in the eyes; we knew we didn't need to, nor could we if we wanted to.  I just closed mine while walking, feeling the sun set on me, everything fading away.  I wanted to be in that moment, for as long as possible, before it left us, forever. 

I felt a sun like this before, once before. 

On the 7 train heading back home, twilight hour again, again that same sun in our faces, the buildings rumbling by, painted across the sky.  I looked at you through the heat of that New York summer, naked and alive, those nights. 

I asked you, in that rapturous joy only children feel, if you wanted to marry me.  You said yes, I will always remember, with your chestnut hair in your face and a smile so wide the world could fall in it. 

I laughed and you became self-conscious.  I didn't believe in myself enough though you always believed in us.  You loved English and ugly modernist Queens, your paradise; my prison - but you set me free in it.  Making love to you there, in the very place I suffered and lost, so poignant; so true.  You showed me how a rose blooms in the desert.      

I didn't know what I had, no one does.  But that summer, those moments, were precious.  Nothing was as beautiful after that.  Everything after took on a sadness and more anxious mood.  We tried to do it over and over again, and it never came back, the sun, like it was that day.  It only returned in Africa - the great mother - tearing us apart, as we held each other, all tangled up in blue.    

I was driving her to the airport in a broken down car with a radio.  The entire night making desperate love, a love that tries to suck dry the very source of our endless vitality.  I was tired, confused, not sure when I would see her again.  The car filled with a deathly silence.   I took the road to the airport, a long expansive road opening up into the African horizon.  The sun shining her face, the wind blowing in her beautiful hair, I turned on the radio and held her hand.  And then, as if in a dream, a karaoke version of Let It Be came on, all cheesy and elevator music like.  She lunged for the radio to shut it off and I stopped her.  I said no, let it be, Let It Be.   I sang for her and she smiled sadly, "there will be an answer, let it be...".  

And then as she was getting into the plane, I knew it would all be in the kiss.  The kiss
never lies.  And we kissed, as passionately as we could, though I felt something patronizing and assured in her kiss.  As if she was kissing a child good night, and no longer her lover.  I could tell she would be alright, she would live without me.  And when you feel that, you know it's over.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Speech to the Youth Of Africa

A speech I recently gave at a graduation ceremony for SPW - Students Partnership Worldwide - - the NGO I manage.   

91 volunteers spent 8 months living and working in rural communities of Zambia.  These words are for them, and their indomitable spirit.  
I want everyone to know that I wrote my own speech, like Obama.  Who likes Obama?  Who knows, amongst us today, we may have not only the future president of Zambia, but quite possibly the United States of America.  

America is everybody's country.  The blood, sweat, tears and dreams of the world are tied up into America's destiny.  It is the reason I am here, so deeply honored to speak to you.  I suppose you want me to speak because you deem me important.  But you are the true heroes and dignitaries.  You are the most important people here today, more important than ministers, presidents, NGO country directors and senior managers.  We are brought up to respect these people of authority, as they seem very important.  But they rarely do anything as noble as what you have done.  You didn't just talk about social change, or give money, or take a class, you were social change.  You went directly into the community, lived with them, shared in their joys and sorrows, and broke bread with them, and listened, and guided and provided for them a service that the government cannot provide.  You took responsibility for your fellow countrymen and made their problems yours.  Do you realize how tremendous this is?  Do you realize what you have done?  You have done more than any of us who sit in our comfortable offices, and go to our conferences and trainings.  Who fly all over the world and buy expensive things in duty free shops ( oh, I am sorry, maybe that is just me).  

I am honored, first of all, to be here in your presence, asked to say some words to mark your tremendous achievement.  

You are truly the heart and soul of SPW, without your works and efforts, SPW would cease to exist. 

This is only the beginning, that is why it is called commencement.  Your new life begins here, in this moment, today, as you now you go on, into the world as ex volunteers of SPW.  

Let me remind you, that we have numerous managers, even our current country director is an ex-volunteer.  So the future is bright if you seize it and make the most of your experiences.  You will have help along the way, but the ultimate responsibility for your life is with you.  As the bible says, "ask and you shall receive", not receive even if you haven't asked.  You need to voice yourselves, be active and engaged, in a new york city word, as I am from New York, you got to be a hustler.  The world is yours, if only you ask for it, and see yourself as worthy of having it.  

Look at your older peers, and see where they have come from.  They were one day like you, and now they are coordinators, managers, country directors, and have traveled to Europe, America, India, and other parts of Africa to join the global movement to fight not only HIV/AIDS, but to give a voice to young people who consistently get spoken for, rather than speak about their own needs.  And this is what makes us special.  Youth teaching youth, youth leading youth, youth are our future, without the youth we are nowhere.  

I can't express in mere words my joy in working with fellow young people ( I consider myself forever young).  Your energy and joy is contagious.  Don't lose your youthful spirit, no matter how old you get.  It is the ultimate elixir against all the perils that surely come in our way, along life's winding path.  

You may not realize everything you have learned, but over these past months you have built the foundation for future success, both professional and personal.  Teaching, presenting, meetings, mentoring and being responsible for the day to day operations of the program, these are not little things at all.  These will help you no matter what you undertake next, and opportunities will be vast if you apply yourselves, and move with the same energy you moved with in SPW.  

And let's not forget about what you were a part of.  You were the embodiment of young people making a difference in their communities.
Your work makes a huge difference.  Not because I say so, or Richard and Mary, or anyone else.  This program has undergone external evaluation from reputable sources from the United States of America which have determined that your work changes young people's behavior.  This is a landmark for SPW, to have such results, and its because of your efforts.  You are making a difference.  You also have gained the support of the Finnish embassy, DFID in the United Kingdom, personal individuals, new Zealand aid and a host of others who have visited and continue to be impressed by your teachings, your enthusiasm, and your songs.  

I thank you very much, and for those of you who know me, know how much I like the songs of the program.  

I remember my first visit near kapiri, in a rural school, on a visit from new zealand aid.  It was my first day of work, four months back.  I observed a lesson, by a volunteer who had a michael jordan buckle on his belt.  And they came together and went through the lesson, which was excellent, though what struck me was the songs and happiness, the smiles, and positive energy emanating from that classroom.  That was beautiful, something magical for me to see and feel.  

The world has so much to learn from Zambia, from Africa.  

Here we were, in a community that struggled under the weight of poverty and disease, and still some how the human spirit soars and sings.  It fights back against all circumstance and refuses to be defeated.  You were a part of this fight, this struggle for dignity and refusal to resign in the face of so many odds.  Don't see yourself alone in this.  Look around you and see who is here, people from different parts of Zambia, different tribes and languages, even all over the world, all coming and working together for a new and better world.  

We can't make it alone, we must seek help, genuine help, from anyone who wants to work by our side.  SPW is international, and we express solidarity with young people all over the world.  Be it America or Ghana, people are people, and we must learn from and work with each other.  We are more than zambians and americans or British, we are people, young people, who want to change the world, for the better, a place where young people are listened to, who help shape the world according to their dreams and aspirations.  That is a day I am sure will come upon us if more people do what you did.  It is for this day and the work required to bring it forth, that keeps me in SPW, and makes me happy to see that we can work side by side, for the years to come.  

My profound love, blessings and good wishes for your future.  A future brightened by the African sun.  

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Don't call it a comeback (I've been here for years)

It doesn't take much to be happy.  All children know this; give them a stick and a ball and the great outdoors and they  are free.  

Television, we are bored without it.  Internet, makes us lonely without it.  Stimulating, titillating only to withdraw, leaving us dazed and numb to the simple pleasures.  

To sleep when sleeping, eat while eating, be while being.  Life and nothing more.  

We don't need much to happy.  A simple smile, and the basics, and we feel that warmth and energy inside of us.  You know that feeling, don't you?  The one that springs forth in effervescent bursts, where you feel happy being who you really are; a child of heaven and earth, both the sun and the sky.  My My My.   


Bare your feet in the soil of our mother and feel that cool warmth.  This is where you are meant to be, always. 

Some acts, even when performed for the first time, make you feel as if you have been and done them before.  A connection.  Re-legion; reconnection.  A religious experience.    

Swimming in the sea.  Feeling the sun brighten your childhood.  Love making.  Wine.  Meat.  Killing a man??

Yes, take me back to the essence, to the pure and harmonic, instinctual virtue.  When the Lion didn't apologize.    

But being there means no consciousness.  No literature, no art that is self-referential.  Though there will be dancing and singing, of course, though you won't remember enough of it to package and sell.  It will pass through you, like a rose does, in the desert, alone and free, both in its beauty and in its demise.  But it bloomed.  It bloomed for you:  ((((((()))))))    

Can you let go?  Can you go back?  Has the illusions of the modern world become more real than reality?  

I feel a rush with technology.  I can't imagine my life without popular culture.  Nature is over-rated.  I want to be moved while sitting still, in an office, during a meeting, I want all these thoughts and desires to rush into my head, converge into one big cataclysm.  

Cry, break free, and yearn for something better, always, that's what I want.  Always on the run, the ups and the downs.  Modern man, hear me blog and text, and live in an alternate universe where I am who I want to be.

What does this all mean?  Do these questions even matter, any more?  They hurt and torture me less, though I express them better.  My anguish has given forth to cogency.  It doesn't feel the same.  And I miss that.  I would give up clarity for opacity for it gives birth to ambiguity; the mother of all genius and ecstasy.  Contentment is not always a good thing.

When we don't need all this junk to make us happy, why do we do it, and why can't we live with out it?  

Life is more than "happiness".  

Creation, destruction, absurdity, resurgence.  To feel the Earth move, under your feet and the sky fall.  

No looking back.  Head into the abyss.  

Get your kicks before it's all over.          


Monday, July 27, 2009


On a drunken revelry in Bologna, with an Italian professor, I chanced upon a universal truth that only comes to you at such moments of surrender, rapture.  When that dollhouse of a city shines with all its lights, through porticos and piazzas, only for you.  Only for you.  During my time there, I often pictured what Bologna looks like from up above.  It would make anyone say, "what is that preciousness?"  And I was there in that walled city and one night in particular, I remember quite fondly.           

It was myself and four white american classmates of mine, WASPS.  Anglo-saxon to the core, white as white can be.  I rarely hang out with white americans, not because I am a reverse racist or something, but only because they are usually so uncool.  I still give it a go, at times, who knows, there may be a Jack Nicholson, a Sean Penn, or a Johnny Depp amongst them.  But that's only in the movies, I am convinced.  Plus the cool ones all moved to France.  I digress.

We had a common purpose these white people and I.  We all loved dearly our cynical and tough-minded Italian professor who was so cool, so casually, effortlessly hip even though he was stereotypical; approaching 50 though always with younger women, and driving only classic cars; Porche, Alfa romeo or the Mercedes depending on his mood.  He chain smoked and always looked as if he had somewhere more important to be, and if he was talking to you, someone more important he needed to talk to.  But he indulged us, of all the uptight professors at our elite institution, he was the only one who drank with us - if only to mock us.  But such abuse turned us ON.  Yes, we wanted to be made to feel inferior, to be broken down only to be built up again, as cool as our Italian professor.  We worshipped him.  We wanted to look into the future with wonder and awe, wishing - dare I say hoping (our Italian professor hated this word)- that we too would eventually dress better, have young ladies, classic cars and the cigarette dangling off our lips as we popped champagne corks on the Amalfi coast, on our spare time, when we weren't engaged in the exciting and glamourous world of international affairs. 

He came to our parties, hit on our women, and then drove away with them in his fancy cars.

He outdrank us, and was always the last one home.  And the next day he would be in seminar as sharp as a razor bearing down on our collective ignorance.  He was tough and mean in the classroom, and jaded and cynical outside.  But we loved him, a group of us, don't ask me why.  Some people just have that kind of hold on you.  

He knew quite well that I was a romantic, and idealist, a lover of life.  We would often talk alone, about literature and women.  Though he studied in the UK and America, I could tell he loathed the Anglophone culture.  He couldn't truly open up, and I asked him, on a particular night, in the company of my classmates, if there is a difference between Italy and America and by extension the UK.

He said:  "Let me put it to you this way.  In the form of an allegorical exam.  Imagine you are at school, and your school has a strict honor code against cheating.  You know this though one day during an exam your best friend asks you for answers.  Do you help him?  Do you tell on him?  What do you do?"

Our Italian professor's answer differs from answers most WASPs give.  

So does mine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

real love

Yes, yes.  This is the article I have been waiting for that perfectly explains why I look for love outside of the hyper-educated liberal elite that I am a part of.  RISK.  PASSION.  LUNACY.  That is what makes love so grand.  Not the companion-ship bullshit currently being played out in sunday brunches across the nation and at IKEA.  FUck.  

I knew something was wrong and leave it to the NY Times to FINALLY figure it out.  Because they themselves ARE the hyper educated liberal elite, they are a bit slow on trends and only 5 years down the line get it right.  Iraq war, slow food, and Kristof wrote about polluted water supply the other day.  When I was talking about, way back when, I was called paranoid.  But things slowly take their turn in America.  

Obama is compilation of everything that has come before.  The country truly responds and changes, albeit slowly, but it comes around and is not tied to any dogma.  At heart, we are a practical people, and if it don't work, we are game to fix it.  Health care is coming around.  And eventually so will all the other irrational and unjust policies out there.  We have been pushed to the brink.  And there is no better time to be American, and to be a part of all these changes.  I see them clearer in the distance.  

The times, they are a changin.  

I still loathe Americans, don't get me wrong.  We got a long way to go.  Especially culturally.  The hyper pragmatism is daunting and completely uncool.  It gets things done, though so do sweatpants.  But like Seinfeld says, if you wear sweatpants outside the house, you might as well say you've given up.  For Americans, what they have given up is:  The good life.  

Time to be a dignified Empire, worthy of emulation.  Step it up, come on, the world depends on us, if you haven't realized already. 


It's been a good month for reckless romance in America. The nation's most famous reality-television father, Jon Gosselin of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight," threw over his marriage for a fling with a 23-year-old schoolteacher. Not one but two prominent conservative politicians torpedoed their careers with public confessions of adultery — with Mark Sanford's Argentine disappearing act eclipsing John Ensign's accusation of extortion against his lover's spouse.

These irrepressible passions make a fascinating counterpoint to the complaint, advanced this month by two of the nation's finest essayists, that modern relationships have been drained of danger and purged of eros.

In her new polemic "A Vindication of Love," an assault on the idea of safety in romance, Cristina Nehring complains that contemporary couplings have so restrained true passion that "the poor beast has become as impotent as it is domestic." In a post-divorce essay for The Atlantic, Sandra Tsing Loh autopsies not only her own marriage but those of her peers, a cohort of middle-aged Los Angelenos who've let the quest for security turn them into sexless drudges.

Both writers depict a country where pragmatic anxieties — think of the children! think of the mortgage! — are forever trumping romance and dulling the libido. Theirs is a nation of nesters who have clipped their own wings.

So which is the real America? Is it Tsing Loh's dystopia, where everyone "works" grimly on their relationships, and post-feminist husbands happily cook saffron-infused porcini risotto but rarely practice seduction on their wives? Or is it tabloid country: The land of Jon minus Kate, and governors who vanish to "hike the Appalachian Trail" — not to mention gossip-column fixtures like Britney Spears (rumored last week to be contemplating her third marriage in six years) and the mistress-parading Mel Gibson?

One possible answer is that our stars and politicians are a species apart — more impulsive and incautious than the average Dick and Jane, and more libidinous as well.

But the evidence suggests the opposite. The high-wire love lives of a Jon Gosselin or a Mark Sanford — or a Spears, or even a Lindsey Lohan — are remarkably true to the America that watches their shows, buys their CDs, and votes them into office. It's the highly-educated, highly risk-averse milieu lamented by Nehring and Tsing Loh that's a world unto itself.

Their complaints about this world's romance deficit are substantially overstated, obviously — and shot through with a dash of self-justification. (Tsing Loh had an affair; Nehring recently became an unwed mother.) But both do put their finger on a post-sexual revolution paradox — namely, that the same overclass that was once most invested in erotic experimentation ended up building the sturdiest walls against the passions it unleashed.

As Nehring observes, our hyper-educated, socially-liberal elite is considerably more romantically conservative than its blasé attitude toward pornography or premarital sex would lead you to expect. The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there's often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate "safe sex" segues into the upwardly-mobile security of "companionate marriages" — or, if you're feeling more cynical, "consumption partnerships."

This tameness has beneficial social consequences: When it comes to divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, Americans with graduate degrees are still living in the 1950s. It's the rest of the country that marries impulsively, divorces frequently, and bears a rising percentage of its children outside marriage. Indeed, if you're looking for modern-day Percy Shelleys or Mary Wollstonecrafts (to pluck a pair of Nehring's romantic risk-takers), you're more likely to find them in Middle America than among the environmental lawyers and documentary filmmakers who populate Tsing Loh's depressing social world.

Better, perhaps, if this dynamic were reversed. Our meritocrats could stand to leaven their careerism with a little more romantic excess. (Though such excess is more appropriate in the young, it should be emphasized, than in middle-aged essayists and parents.) But most Americans, particularly those of modest means, would benefit from greater caution and stability in their romantic entanglements.

Maybe this reversal could start with some creative matchmaking across lines of class and politics. The dutiful, somewhat-boring husbands from Sandra Tsing Loh's Los Angeles, for instance, sound like ideal soulmates for Kate Gosselin, the soon-to-be-single mother of eight.

And as for Cristina Nehring, who can't live without being "derailed by love, hospitalized by love, flung around five continents, shaken, overjoyed, inspired and unsettled by love" — well, maybe someone should introduce her to Mark Sanford.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

scenes from a marriage (of Heaven and Hell)

"What if I turned you on with a button and made you happy, would you want it just as much baby?  Would you enjoy it just as much?"

Two reasons for a failing relationship:  

1.  We're Different

2.  It's (one of ) our fault(s)

1.  I acknowledge difference, unlike most people who feel we are all part one big happy human family.  If I indulge in, what people consider, hyper-generalizations, it's mostly an effort to navigate through difference, not allowing it to come in the way of our common goals, aspirations, dreams.  

This requires study and commitment, to languages and culture, travel and those unmeasured nights of revelry where the stars and sky take on a deeper meaning.

But first, we must accept that we are different, in ways that matter.  Differences are overcome if the love is there.

2.  So, it's (one of) our fault(s)

Rings true, and works well with my American self-reliant upbringing.  Blame yourself.  Accept responsibility.  But when passion and magic are lacking, it's hard to have your heart in a plan; feels mechanical and forced.  Sometimes our acumen of organization and go-getting, can land us in a lifeless relationship.  One can adjust to anything if one tries hard enough.    

The fundamental question becomes:  Do you feel it?  But what am I suppose to feel?  Sexual passion, respect for the other person, a feeling of awe as the light of their inner and outer beauty bathes me in ecstasy?  

Yes, yes, and yes, if that is how you want to live and be.  How alive do you want to be?  How much can you handle before it tips fatally into the "Anna Karenina" realm.  

Beautiful, passionate, irrational women are riveting as much as they are dangerous.  That is what attracts us to them.  Their capacity to both create and destroy, that balance and uncertainty, is what turns us on.  


After awhile we become tired and old, and then we look to someone we can build a life with; pay the bills with.  A very different form of love grows; the loves of comfort and certainty.  The joys of bearing beautiful fruit; children and careers, and a home in the world.  

Can a man have both?

What was founded on recklessness and irrationality, can it grow into taking on the very serious conditions of human existence; War; poverty; suffering; death?

"I'm a warrior baby.  I believe stronger in the fight, then our love.  You feel uncomfortable that I believe in a truth so strongly, that I can kill for it?    

But not believing is believing; in nothingness and nihilism.  

You were my joy, my salvation, for those dark and quiet nights, after a hard day's work.  Someone understood me, and beauty filled my life, as if I had plucked the most precious flower from the garden of Eden, whose fragrance bloomed only for me, forging my soul, renewing my strength and faith for the good fight.  You made it all make sense.  You saved me from selfishness, cruelty and a bitter life nursed by Jack Daniels and Marlboro Reds.  

Though slowly this flower began to whither in my arms.  And though I was made of the same element as the Earth, from which she came; wind, rain and fire; there was nothing I could do to bring her back to me.  She was gone"

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Joy of Less

The Joy of Less

"The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches…My [life] is one long sequence of inner miracles." The young Dutchwoman Etty Hillesum wrote that in a Nazi transit camp in 1943, on her way to her death at Auschwitz two months later. Towards the end of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen," though by then he had already lost his father when he was 7, his first wife when she was 20 and his first son, aged 5. In Japan, the late 18th-century poet Issa is celebrated for his delighted, almost child-like celebrations of the natural world. Issa saw four children die in infancy, his wife die in childbirth, and his own body partially paralyzed.

I'm not sure I knew the details of all these lives when I was 29, but I did begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we make of them, in every sense. "There is nothing either good or bad," I had heard in high school, from Hamlet, "but thinking makes it so." I had been lucky enough at that point to stumble into the life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a great job writing on world affairs for Time magazine, an apartment (officially at least) on Park

In the corporate world, I always knew there was some higher position I could attain, which meant that, like Zeno's arrow, I was guaranteed never to arrive and always to remain dissatisfied.

Avenue, enough time and money to take vacations in Burma, Morocco, El Salvador. But every time I went to one of those places, I noticed that the people I met there, mired in difficulty and often warfare, seemed to have more energy and even optimism than the friends I'd grown up with in privileged, peaceful Santa Barbara, Calif., many of whom were on their fourth marriages and seeing a therapist every day. Though I knew that poverty certainly didn't buy happiness, I wasn't convinced that money did either.

So — as post-1960s cliché decreed — I left my comfortable job and life to live for a year in a temple on the backstreets of Kyoto. My high-minded year lasted all of a week, by which time I'd noticed that the depthless contemplation of the moon and composition of haiku I'd imagined from afar was really more a matter of cleaning, sweeping and then cleaning some more. But today, more than 21 years later, I still live in the vicinity of Kyoto, in a two-room apartment that makes my old monastic cell look almost luxurious by comparison. I have no bicycle, no car, no television I can understand, no media — and the days seem to stretch into eternities, and I can't think of a single thing I lack.

I'm no Buddhist monk, and I can't say I'm in love with renunciation in itself, or traveling an hour or more to print out an article I've written, or missing out on the N.B.A. Finals. But at some point, I decided that, for me at least, happiness arose out of all I didn't want or need, not all I did. And it seemed quite useful to take a clear, hard look at what really led to peace of mind or absorption (the closest I've come to understanding happiness). Not having a car gives me volumes not to think or worry about, and makes walks around the neighborhood a daily adventure. Lacking a cell phone and high-speed Internet, I have time to play ping-pong every evening, to write long letters to old friends and to go shopping for my sweetheart (or to track down old baubles for two kids who are now out in the world).

When the phone does ring — once a week — I'm thrilled, as I never was when the phone rang in my overcrowded office in Rockefeller Center. And when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven't missed much at all. While I've been rereading P.G. Wodehouse, or "Walden," the crazily accelerating roller-coaster of the 24/7 news cycle has propelled people up and down and down and up and then left them pretty much where they started. "I call that man rich," Henry James's Ralph Touchett observes in "Portrait of a Lady," "who can satisfy the requirements of his imagination." Living in the future tense never did that for me.

I certainly wouldn't recommend my life to most people — and my heart goes out to those who

Perhaps happiness, like peace or passion, comes most when it isn't pursued.

have recently been condemned to a simplicity they never needed or wanted. But I'm not sure how much outward details or accomplishments ever really make us happy deep down. The millionaires I know seem desperate to become multimillionaires, and spend more time with their lawyers and their bankers than with their friends (whose motivations they are no longer sure of). And I remember how, in the corporate world, I always knew there was some higher position I could attain, which meant that, like Zeno's arrow, I was guaranteed never to arrive and always to remain dissatisfied.

Being self-employed will always make for a precarious life; these days, it is more uncertain than ever, especially since my tools of choice, written words, are coming to seem like accessories to images. Like almost everyone I know, I've lost much of my savings in the past few months. I even went through a dress-rehearsal for our enforced austerity when my family home in Santa Barbara burned to the ground some years ago, leaving me with nothing but the toothbrush I bought from an all-night supermarket that night. And yet my two-room apartment in nowhere Japan seems more abundant than the big house that burned down. I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn't pursued.

If you're the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn't where your joy lies. In New York, a part of me was always somewhere else, thinking of what a simple life in Japan might be like. Now I'm there, I find that I almost never think of Rockefeller Center or Park Avenue at all.

[Editor's note: an earlier version of this post included an inaccurate reference to the constitution of Japan. It has since been removed.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Virtue of Strong Ideas

I'm Drunk.  On South African wine.  In the middle of fucking nowhere with my Italian girlfriend gone wild.  The only thing that keeps me going is olive oil.  And the stash of French films I have guarded for those impossible nights; yearning for anything that isn't simple. 

The nature, the people, all pristine, almost untouched - pure - the only word that comes to mind.  I gather that for some, expecially those who are sick of the modern, civilized world - this is paradise.  A respite away from ambition and energy.  But I'd rather choose a place with both good and evil, rather than a place that is good by default; because it is forgotten.

What feels strange is the terrible incapacity for people here to feel tragedy.  Tragedy, that deep sense of it, comes only to those who were great once.  Having fallen, knowing full well what they were capable of.  But here, no.  There is no barometer of success and little anxiety as a result.  Some may envy this, especially those who despise what is done in the name of progress; environmental degradation; war; human exploitation.  But it is easy to forget what beauty also comes from these horrors.  I don't justify civilization and developed societies, though, more and more, it does seem that once you've bitten the Apple, there is no going back to Paradise.  

Especially if there is no internet.       

I smoke Dunhills and listen to jazz and cook spinach risottos and go to the racist white guy's cafe to drink espresso from his 6000 dollar coffee machine.  In the middle of nowhere, as if he exists only for my edification.  The great coffee and cosmopolitan food remind me how certain places can be replicated, anywhere, all the way here in Africa, even.  It makes me sick, but it tastes so good.  A homemade banana muffin, some espresso and wireless, and I've orgasmed.  How pathetic.  

This place is fucked.  By disease and christianity.  I can't figure out which is worse.  And here I am .  A New Yorker, of third world descent trying to save....I won't even try to live up to such pretension.  I just want freedom and to be left alone to write my short stories, and enough to live in a huge bungalow with a maid who can't iron.  

I read books on colonial history and see little difference in what I do and what the British did in the past.  They were probably much more succesful.  We half ass it, though I can't say I don't touch peoples lives; I do.  But so much more can be done; if only we controlled the place more.  Instead we need to appease donors who need to appease corrupt governments.  We are the middlemen, enriching our careers, and having our adventures, providing a service and doing effective and worthy work.  But nothing will change if governments are not held to account and if people here don't start producing something of value to the world.  Everything else is just fighting fire.  

But hey, at least we are trying, and personally, spiritually the experience moves me, deeper into parts of myself and my belief systems.    


This time I refuse to deal with the absurdity and impossibility of the situation with nihilistic cynicism.  There has to be another way to deal with the failures of the world, ourselves.  At the very least, it feels good to confront this, and myself, in the process.     

Love from the heart of darkness, dear reader.  I miss you. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mysterious Ways

Addis Ababa 

Here in an airport lounge, stuck after missing a connecting flight, I ponder the wonder and grandeur of it all.  The hurt and the heartbreak, the love and the love lost.  Nothing challenges me deeper to my core than traveling. 

You really get to confront all your demons, in a strange land.

"Oh holy holy holy.  All land on this Earth, sacred, all men, my brothers."  

With this prayer I enter the great mother continent, again.  Africa, deep into your heart I go.    

India my love, my first true love, I've left you behind for now, though these past nine months have given me a sense that you are never far; always close to my heart, right from the start.  

The love India has given me, the strength to make it anywhere, knowing I have in her, home.  

Home is where the heart and hurt are.  

I left India again to the fireworks of a wonderful party, with my dearest friends, amidst such positive energy.  A strange sort of tradition of mine, parting with a party.  In the past it was with family, and now, it is with friends and loved ones.  How times change.  I party it up while next door my cousins sleep, and I leave without saying goodbye.   

I wonder if it hurts them as much as it does, me.  After all, I was the one descending into wonderland every couple of years on vacation, toting gifts to buy their love and affection, to assuage the inevitable jealousy and frustrations that defined their lives.

And now India is my motherland; spiritual home; my Israel.  And for them it's just a corrupt, backwards and cut throat jungle.  They lack perspective because they've never traveled.  They don't realize how special it is as a result, caught in routine and mundane habits.  Kind of how I felt about New York until I went to University, and then I understood.  Education, from books or experience, gives you that perspective to understand your life - what they lack - and what kills them slowly.  

My poor Indian family, and they have money!       

In India my creator, my soul, the divine energy, I felt it flow through my core, aware of the blessings and joy of following the path of love and spiritual rejuvenation.  This is my life, how I've decided to live it and what I work for.  India saved me, again.  Though it is never easy.  It always make me suffer and brings me to the edge of what looks and feels like the abyss.  I stare out into that unknown, unsure and apprehensivve, humbled and destroyed; my arrogance checked, my ego vanquished.  And each time I feel tested by Mother India.  Do I trust and believe and transmit the smiles and good feelings, or do I allow the negativity to engulf me?  And that is what India is about, about making the right choice, amidst the chaos, about believing in humanity and the struggle.

There is much that is wrong in India; where does one even begin?

But the vibrancy and the colors truly open up a man's heart to the possibility of what it means to be human.  

Behaviorists, believing in the sanctity of experience/environment as the defining influence on humans, need to come to India.  For if experience was paramount, nobody would ever smile in India,and the place would wipe away any humanity that has to suffer such indignities and cruelties.  But not only does humanity endure in India, it bursts forth in unexpected ways.  There is something that refuses to give in to circumstances, almost perverse in its tenacity.  That is India for me.  And for all her lovers.  She moves in mysterious ways. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Journals - India, Africa

"They remain slaves because they can't see what is beautiful in this world."

"Any talented decadent can make unreality believable.  To make reality convincing is another matter, a matter for only the greatest masters."

New Delhi, India
December 30, 2008

I am here to prove all those fearful and cowardly people wrong.  Those who doubt, who feel that life happens to them, rather than make life, happen.  

We are here for one reason only:  To choose love and the righteous path in the face of everything and everyone that tells us to act otherwise.  As spiritual love warriors, we have to accept being burned, we need to revel in the risk and insecurity, because the safe way, is death.  

If we choose life, then be prepared for a wild ride, with courage.  Determination.  Perseverance.  Hard work.  Embrace the struggle, and all things will come.      

On a train to Jaipur
January 23, 2009

Travel, like the cinema, is a grand party in this country.  Everybody happy, joyously sharing what little they have, together.  Extraordinary manners for such uncivilized people.  

Traveling in India tempers my cruelty, makes me realize the wonder and magic of this place.  My frustrations and disappointments dissipate in movement.  

Ajmer, Rajastan
January 26, 2009

On the way to the most holiest of shrines, my woman, sitting next to me on the bicycle rickshaw, begins to weep.  The rickshawallah looks back at me, and I just shrugged my shoulders.  

It is a powerful place.

I got off and left her outside, indifferent to her, unable to care.  I was on a mission; to make it to the center of the shrine, give an offering and make a wish.  

Quite suddenly I was approached by a well dressed and handsome Muslim.  I was immediately impressed.  He was a kind of 5 star guide/fakir.  I told him I had a 100 rupees and a wish.  But he looked through me, told me not to worry.  

I waited on no lines and while masses of people packed themselves in, waiting, I was praying with the head priest.  And then afterwards, I was let into the center, thrown in.  This I had to do alone.  It was a bejeweled room, filled with chaos and madness.  Screaming and crying.  And all I could do was smile.  I'd never felt more at peace.  

Money, money, everybody wanted your money.  The inner priests, everybody wanted to bless you, I took what little more I had and gave it to whoever wanted to bless me.  

There was a child inside, being held, his nose began to bleed, and the blood went everywhere.  And it left my heart so tender.  And before I knew it I was thrust back out into the sun.  What a profound, beautiful place.  

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
February 7, 2009

I've come here, passing through, on work, to see a doctor friend of mine from ten years ago who I met in New York.  I met him when I was still on the medical school path and right before I was to go to Namibia, with a grant from UNICEF.  I was 22 and wanted to change the world.  And now I am older and, well, I still want to change the world.  Though I wouldn't put it quite in the same way.  Not change it, more, change myself, work to make myself strong and true, to fight the good fight.  It exists, but in oh so subtle forms I have realized over these years.   

My doctor friend went on a Fulbright 20 years ago and never looked back; adopting children, settling down, saving and bettering lives.  He was an automatic hero in my eyes back then; I was fascinated and in awe.  

But now I was indifferent and didn't want to spend too much time around the horrifically deformed and sick people in his midst.  I admired his courage, patience and honesty - he was a New York Jew who made no airs of sainthood.  But everything else about him left me cold and perplexed.  Everything about him was a mess.  If he wasn't a famous doctor, one would think he was a mental patient who lacked female companionship.  His house was a mess; his car filled with garbage; his nails uncut and dirty.  He was absent-minded as one could understand, but something just wasn't right.  His loneliness and having given up to do anything about it, distracted me from his nobility.  

But it went beyond aesthetic, there was something inhuman in the way he went about his work.  It was as if there was nothing else in the world he could do without completely falling apart.  All I could think about was how much love he needed.  And why it was that he was alone with all these kids in his house, and what was it that prevented him from opening up and sharing his beautiful life instead of being lonely through altruism.  

But he has found his niche, but somehow it felt like he was pouring water into the ocean.  The essence, left untouched.  That it was also more about him than anything else.  

I left, after only some hours with some patients, and didn't want my entire time to be in a clinic, warping my perspective of Ethiopia in the process.  Kind of like all those people who go to Calcutta to Mother Theresa's and leave without realizing the majesty of the Bengali Renaissance.  I knew there was more to this place than sick people and I went in search of it.  

I started wandering the city, an ugly city, a modern unplanned nightmare.  Dead, poor and stagnant, though full of people so beautiful, and a sense of some past greatness.  Christianity is also a profound undertaking in Ethiopia.  As well as coffee and food.  A refinement and confidence not felt in other parts of Africa I have been to.  

I ended up focusing in the hedonism; sex and cigarettes, great conversations and a whirlwind of movement so grand, that I will never forget.