Thursday, October 30, 2003

Odilon Redon's Grinning Spider

(Lifted from a typically gorgeous post by misteraitch)

I flew back to san francisco yesterday. Despite a busy social calendar or rather because of it, I didnt get a chance to see about 6-7 people I was looking forward to seeing (one was a case of crossed signals.) I think I just need to get back there more often.

I wasnt going to post anymore photos but I realized I should post at least one of my personal photographer. That is me and him in the picture above. On my last day he actually gave me a CD of the 100's of photos he took while I was there. Too much to write about. Still, a few moments stand out:

• The night when LL accidentally smashed the mirror in the womens bathroom and her wrist was bleeding. The woman who descended like an angel to help her is the same woman who was later dancing wildly on the stage. The whole thing needed a Nino Rota soundtrack.
• Meeting Mitsu and Sue for lunch where we talked about Reality, Uncertainty, Mexican food and GNE. Its true that I'd never been to the South Bronx before.
• I had no idea three people could fill up on Dim Sum for $20.
• When I was again at the Pink Pony for coffee and the man in a military uniform walked in. He wasnt tall but still he cast a shadow over the room. The waitress explained that he showed up frequently and kept asking for the same person (who was never there.) I saw New York again as I always have: a thick setting for all these fantastic, intersecting stories.
• Obstinately, I walked from Union Square to the Lower East side in torrential rain. Water was sloshing out of my shoes.
• Learning again about small-worlds as I discovered that I knew one guy (Matt) through three distinct friends. I had also planned to get together with Matt but he was in Mexico.

Friday, October 24, 2003

I landed in new york city two days ago, right before my birthday this year. I am doing something atypical here. I am posting images (courtesy of paul) and trying to capture a few moments from the day.

Part I: Morning

By morning, I mean shortly after midnight. Me and PK and others went to the opening night of this new club called Nocturne. It seems every night is an opening night for some club in Manhattan. And as you might expect there is a group of regulars who go from club to club - they know the people in that world, the owners and bouncers and waitresses - and can easily slide their way past a line of frustrated people out in front. I am not one of those people but luckily many of my friends are. So we danced and drank for hours and different crowds arrived, stayed with us a while then moved on.

Note1: A girl who said she would say 'happy birthday!' to me every five minutes for the rest of the night. She didnt last for more than hour which I am thankful for.

Note2: One of the owners introducing us to his girlfriend and then leaning over and telling me in an excited boyish way, "Isnt she hot!? She's a model."

Part II: Late morning- early afternoon

After nocturne we headed out for kind of a post-party party at a smaller club called Bungalow8 which had no line out front but you cant get in unless you have a connection. After being out past 5am we then just headed to Paul's place. I slept until the middle of the afternoon. I had afternoon pancakes at the Pink Pony.

Note1: Herzlichen Gl├╝ckwunsch!

Part III: Evening

PK suggested we go to this artists studio as part of Moma-Ja. So we went to the working studio of Sarah Morris and met up with a few other people here. I had a few small-world encounters that day and one was that one of the other Moma-Ja people turned out to be someone I had met in San Francisco (a friend of another friend.)

After that is when the evening started to get interesting. New York is so dense with activity that you can literally stumble from one affair into another. All you need is to be social and creative and events will spontaneously link themselves together.

Six of us had seen bright lights and heard noise from another party in the building (this was in West Chelsea) and so we all went to investigate. The party was an industry party for John Frieda. There was a guest list but the bravest (and also most well-dressed) one of us walked right up, leaned over on the list and said 'Thats me right there!" He then generously explained that the rest of us were with him and so in that way we all strolled right in to an open bar of Cosmopolitans. We left as soon as the party started getting down to business (pictured above.)

At this point, a woman who had joined us explained that she had several invitations to private gallery parties that night and would we like to join her? (social life is also a tit-for-tat thing)

The first gallery was a slightly surreal exhibition of photos of children in underwear in Times Square. The gallery owner patiently explained how these images were deeply grounded in myth - Times square represented of course media and advertising who, like a bogeyman, is poised to kidnap these innocent things and inculcate them with brands and culture. And so on. We heard that the next exhibition had a rooftop party so we dashed over there...

The rooftop party was a disappointment - it was an ambient sound installation (the erie noise reminded me kind of those strange loops near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey) and the rooftop was cold and windy so everybody huddled inside.

Inside they had some interesting visual installations (above left) and walking around, PK recognized and chatted with this man with a leather jacket. When I walked over he introduced me to Andres Serrano (top right)

At this point we were starving. A couple people dropped off and calls from other friends meant that another group was joining us at corner bistro. The place was full and the baseball game was on. The photo on the left is of people up against the window next to us, peering at the television screens.

Note1: One waiter there is now "the fry nazi" for arguing with us so vehemently and expertly, he pointed out contradictions in our own version of events in placing our order. We guessed that he was a frustrated ex-lawyer.

We moved on to another art exhibit and party of a friend's brother. His work seemed to consist of kitchen implements (forks and spoons really) shaped and arranged to look like things that resembled animal spines.

The group stayed there, others scattered to other places, I could barely stay awake and went home.

Note1: Feliz cumpleanos!

Part IV: denouement

Friday was mostly sleep, playing piano on Paul's conservatory grand or walking around the city.
The celebration continued over into friday and shows no signs of stopping. This is the city I remember. When I lived here in the mid-90's this was a typical night. The city will exhaust you, maybe consume you if you let it.

And yes, if you dont already know me, that is me in three of those pictures, including my hand in the upper left.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Playing pool against Andy last night, we both again got to witness something at once supernatural and hilarious. Ever since we were both teenagers, he has always beaten me. This outcome is inevitable, unquestionable, as predictable as any other constant rhythm in our lives.

At the end of one game last night, having cleared my own balls, my only shot left was a clear shot at the 8-ball into a corner pocket. I aimed, fired and the cue ball literally hopped along the table, actually jumped over the 8-ball leaving it unperturbed and sunk into the corner pocket by itself. I lost, of course, and somehow neither of us was too surprised.

He knows that if I am ever beating him, if I am too far ahead, all he has to say is something encouraging, pointing out clearly how well I am doing. This will almost guarantee that I will miss my next shot. I can play well if I am acting on instinct (he and I are both great players, confidently taking on others in contests in bars) but as soon as one of us invokes that higher consciousness, that sense of self-reflection which over-analyzes, over-thinks, ties up instincts into knots, he and i both know that it is over for me.

So it is too with my younger brother Antonio except that the roles are reversed and instead of billiards, the contest between us is one of brute strength and will. He is only two years younger than me which was an enormous gap when young but negligible now at our ages.

My brother and i like to wrestle with each other even today. There is no doubt that he could beat me if he only would allow himself. He is a tattooed, ex-gangster who has been in and out of jail, who has had to defend himself against real and brutal attacks. Me, I'm a softened intellectual type. The mismatch seems laughable and yet when we wrestle, even as he seems to be gaining control, he is held back by a realization (I can sometimes see it in his startled eyes) that this is his older brother he is battling, who always bested him as a child and who even now will inevitably, assuredly win. And so I do.
I had to lift this directly from Not only is it a reference to a beautiful anecdote but also echoes subtly some of the themes i've tried to express here: memories, dreams, our confounding sense of identity.

Interviewer (Francine Prose): What was the first thing you wrote, the first thing you thought was really something?

Lydia Davis: I can remember a day when the teacher read aloud my story and also a story by a classmate. I loved her story. I wasn't so fond of mine. So I can say her story was a big influence on me, the first thing that I really remember liking. You know the book Iron and Silk where the English teacher asks a class of Chinese students to describe their most memorable experience? One of the students hesitates and hesitates and finally says that his most memorable experience was when his wife went to Beijing and ate duck there. He didn’t go. She went, but that was his most memorable experience.

-From an Interview with Lydia Davis.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I was playing around a bit with epidemic models. Its not just a morbid fascination with zombies (a great word to repeat to yourself and have it lose its meaning) or the spread of disease. Models as to how diseases spread are now being re-purposed to model more abstract infections such as the spread of ideas.

The simplest model is the SEIR model which is a simplistic model of how a flu-like disease can spread among a sea of random interactions. I was playing with the Java model linked at the bottom of that page. You can see for yourself that the behavior never attains any sense of real complexity (scroll down to see the atoms of infection) I did come up with these two parameter sets:

Zombieville: Everybody goes through a phase of infection. The ratios all remain fairly constant as if a truce has been reached with the disease. (10,10,80,200,200,1000000,2,2000,0)

Exploding Zombies: The disease is infectious only at the end of the lifecycle. (20,20,1000,80,1000000,1000000,4,800,100)

More sophisticated models take into account both the complexities of how diseases really spread (types of interaction) and the way in which opportunities for spread are created.

(A fun applet which has made the rounds recently is this Zombie Infection Simulation)
I was looking around on the web for more information about a book I had as a kid. It was called 5000 BC and other philosophical fantasies by Raymond Smullyan. Sadly, it looks like the book is either out of print or hard to get. Its a book just filled with original stories, puzzles, aphorisms and other notes from Smullyan himself, a logician and philosopher with a really playful sense.

The title is a reference to a set of philosophers in his book who live in 5000 BC. By reading about how they debate the features of their world, you yourself realize how absurd some of our own premises might sound (They debate for example the meaning of "Up" and conclude that something must hold the world up, but then something must hold that up etc. - an infinity which they cannot resolve) Excerpt: A Universal Philosophical Refutation

I'm still trying, however, to find this other small book that changed my world around (Do most readers have a book like this?) It was on my grandfathers bookshelf in Mexico. It was a thin book with a short introduction to different deep concepts in science and philosopy. One short section introduced Relativity by talking about the Twin paradox. It even had a drawn picture of two identical looking guys in spacesuits. (I dont remember enough about the book to make a competent search. It would have to fall into my hands.)

Finding that book had the effect of a drug. What's this? I didnt know any of this! Its strange stuff but even stranger because it is real. Ever since finding that book I've held onto that uneasy feeling that there is something deeper and more beautiful, more sublime which others have found but I have'nt yet discovered. Its an optimistic sense.
Last night, the light came in and illuminated the bar and I was watching my bourbon drink scatter it like a prism.

We walked into the opening at Pirate Tattoo. The two people I was with both reached their arms inside my coat to feel the fur lining. I could see that others wondered if this was one of the exhibits.

The large silver cross was mesmerizing, the one that fell out from his leather jacket as he babbled in spanish. His girlfriend ran her fingers through my hair in a sort of maternal way which felt strange in public. She cuts my hair, you know.

The street had so much life. People in a nearby crowd chattered like birds. Restaurants spilled their customers into the streets.

When I asked M. for her advice she said to me:

" We delude ourselves sometimes by choosing to live in small worlds. These obstacles we imagine can be like a mirage, as real as the haze conjured up by this drink. "

"Or, the haze conjured up by your cigarette", I said.

"Oh Shit! Let's go, I need another smoke."

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I am busy wrapping up a few things here in San Francisco before I head to NYC for a week next week, staying with Paul in The Lower East side. My calendar is already filling up with people I want to see.

I'll be there for my birthday, next thursday. It'll be good to spend it with old friends.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Monday, October 13, 2003

"What is it that has called you so suddenly out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while a spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you?...

It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling, and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings.

But not in this sense--that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite, being as in Spinoza's pantheism. But inconceivable as it may seem to ordinary reason, you--and all other conscious beings as such--are all in all. Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in a single glance. Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you.

You are as firmly established, as invulnerable as she, indeed a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely 'some day': now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end."

-Erwin Schroedinger, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, from My View of the World

Schrodinger's book What is Life? is a little-known classic. He was a student of Vedanta but of course among most people he is familiar as the man with the notorious cat.

Mathew Borrett
I went movie-hopping at the Metreon last night with a couple other people. We saw Kill Bill (as fun and as forgettable as a comic book) and Intolerable Cruelty (Intolerable Movie).

Listening to the cello music of Zoe Keating puts me in a sort of trance. It reminds me of a mantra. I saw her perform live once at Bruno's with the band LaughingStock.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

If you go to Paris, you shouldnt rely too heavily on Karen Elizabeth Gordon's Paris out of Hand

"..catch the Metro Marquis de Sade for Ars Poetica, La Toucherie, and further wondrous adventures. From the disconcerting Brasserie Loplop, steal your chair for the Pont Neuf cinema, whose movies flow onto the Seine. Your curiosity sated for the day, check into the Hotel des Etrangers where phantoms change the sheets.."

The Paris she writes about is imaginary. But each city has its quirky charms. When my girlfriend (at the time) and I landed in Madrid, we booked ourselves into the Hotel Monaco. We knew it was a converted brothel, but the mirrored ceilings still took us by surprise. But that hotel, like all first impressions, affected everything else we saw there. And so Madrid still feels like a city that seems unknowable on the outside but is charming though a bit surreal in its depths. I blame Almodovar too.

But a real guide to a city should be more than a list of museums and famous streets. The heart of cities like San francisco, my own city, is not to be found in a casual stroll in North Beach. It is also there on Sunday mornings as the hipsters on Valencia st. vie for brunch tables at Boogaloo's, leafing through the Atlantic at Farley's in Potrero hill, standing in the burrito line at Pancho Villa, watching the campfires at Ocean beach, Shopping for fruit on Mission St. on a weekend, coffee in Noe Valley as a small parade of baby strollers and dogs go by...

But even as I wrote that, I realized I was hesitant to write too much. The best city is the one you discover on your own. Perhaps the best guide would be called The City guide to Moments of Accidental Discovery. By definition that perfect quide to a city cannot be written.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Our lives move fast cluttered as they are with details, chores, small rituals. We barely have time to collect a few memories (the image I have is of orchids placed selectively in a hothouse.) We keep going back to them and so they become stronger in our mind, like a recited chant.

There is an old philosophical puzzle. If you replace a plank on an antique ship, it is still an antique ship. But, if you replace all the planks, you have a whole new ship. At what point, the puzzle asks, does the antique ship become a new ship?

We ravage our memories like this too. Each time we visit them we re-play the story in our mind in a subtly altered way. We smooth out the narrative. We omit awkward or incongruous details. Soon, our own re-telling has more weight than the original. We've lost our first snapshot and all we have is the memory of those memories, a spiraling well of revision.
I am on my way to see my doctor downtown. Across from me on the BART an asian girl is sitting properly, dressed in a smart business suit, holding a leather binder carefully on her lap. She looks up at me and says to me with a nervous smile, "Is it that obvious that I am on my way to a job interview?"
My metabolism has been going crazy on me. Its a long story but its my fault. I've been unable to concentrate, i've had a strange sleep schedule and I am always cold. I'm still not better.

(as proof, i can't even get past 2 or 3 levels in this addictive flash game!)

I've been dreaming a lot - deep, feverish dreams.Over the past year or two, I've noticed that my recurring dreams fall into one of five categories:

1. Self-aware dreams (with portal too)
I have a shimmering portal inside my dreams that I can use to escape the dream at any time (borrowed from cheesy science fiction I guess)

2. Attacker in a closed space
These are nightmares and end up messing with my claustrophobia. I enter a small space. An attacker is there. Often i have already closed a door behind me. I usually wake up, terrified, before anything happens.

3. Serial dreams
Sometimes, over a series of nights I'll have a continuation of previous nights dreams. When these happen, rarely do they ever have anything to do with my life now. It is more as if I am dreaming someone elses life. The last one I recall had me traveling across a desert with a small family of aunts, uncles. Over a series of nights, the family would setup camp or wrestle with its internal conflicts. I help an aunt hobble across some rocks. The sun is setting and we all share stories while bathed in twilight.

4. Archetypal class dream
A class i signed up for, I just learned, is having a test or quiz. I realize that I have no idea where he class even meets as I have never showed up. So I am completely unprepared for this quiz - it looks like i'll fail.

5. Out-of-body dreams
I see myself from afar. I go out for a walk. Sometimes, in the morning after these types of dreams, I'll see something around the house that looks familiar, as if I was there during the night.
(My brother is a sleepwalker. My mother, who somehow awakened too, used to follow him around at night. As kids, we shared a room, and he would always babble constantly too, sometimes yelling, having arguments with someone in his dreams.)