The forward march of

Lately I’ve been alternating between this blog and an honest-to-gob physical paper journal for my daily diaries. Between the two, I manage to make an entry about once every three years or so. You do the math.

Had a weird idea the other day and decided to run with it. Will be personally financing a piece of concerted weirdness cum social commentary. Hand-drawn diagrams have been hand-drawn. Secret experts have been secretly consulted. Have just sunk my first sum of monetary money into equipment (about $180 in real money). Here goes nothing.

Don’t worry. It’s not illegal or subversive. If I ever get myself thrown into jail I’ll be sure it’s for a hard crime, like jaywalking or… or… or like jaywalking for a second time.

I leave you with a visual bit of “And now, in Shanghai…”IMG_5940.JPG

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Somewhat less existential than the last post I remember writing about trains, years ago. Do you remember that one? I seem to remember that it devolved into incoherence. Sounds familiar.

The train ride from Beijing to Tianjin is a microcosm of something, I’m sure of it. You start off gliding through the edge of Beijing, seeing the backs of buildings you never thought of as as having backs. Then the buildings peter [not all the way] out and get spaced by fields, some of which grow crops, some of which hold trash, some of which surround fish farms, but none of which are empty.

By the time you get a few miles out of the city the tracks are raised, roughly to the height of a highway overpass, just high enough so that you can see over the tops of the trees you never thought could exist so close to Beijing. What buildings are left at this point are, almost without exception, puzzling. Clusters of thirty-story luxury apartment buildings and huddles of three-story whitewashed concrete shells puzzle the mind through their proximity to each other. An unmarked three-story gray building inspires the imagination with a huge antenna on the top and plethora of surveillance cameras that are, for some reason, densely clustered on the southeast corner of the second floor.  Later we pass a curious construction that looks like a cross section of one side of a college football stadium, 20 yards wide, with its back to the tracks. In the distance, a seven-story white building with uniform black windows that stretches on uniformly for several hundred yards.

I’m sure they all have perfectly reasonable explanations. I wonder if anyone knows what they are.

I remember an ad for an Amtrak program of a few years ago, wherein authors were to go on trak journeys (or so I assume they would be called) around the am (ditto) and auth (none of these words actually work, do they?) about the experience. I read one of the resulting authees and found it to be distressingly solipsistic and not at all in evidence of the supposed romance of rail travel. That it failed to enhance the romance of rail travel was disappointing to me; the solipsism less so, as in retrospect I realize it was all but entailed by the premise of a young writer forced to sit in one place for a long time and then write about it. Not that my own train reflections were any better.

On a solipsistically related note, finding the “right word” is becoming increasingly more difficult. I encounter “tip-of-the-tongue” sensations in almost every English sentence. In most cases, I can’t even think of an appropriate Chinese word – there is just the impression of a meaning that I want to express, and a feeling of the inadequacy of all the words I throw at it. I tried to cover one such impression in the above paragraph with the words “evidence” and “impression” – and I believe both to be wrong, and I am not disappointed, and (because) I find myself thrilled by the sudden tangibility of nonverbal meaning. Maybe, perhaps, there is more in heaven and earth than is spelled out in our philosophy.

If I find out what it is, though, I’ll never tell you. I won’t be able to. Maybe I should take up painting.

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Luxury

Beijing is going to be absolutely gorgeous after they get over the whole pollution thing. It’s surrounded by the most splendid green hills you can imagine. Today I saw them against the deep blue morning sky, a horizon jagged and crisp. It’s the second time I’ve ever been able to see them from inside the city, and the first time I could see that they were green.

A friend made fun of me for having to spend such an rare and incredible day on a work trip to Shenyang. Joke’s on him, though. He was stuck on the ground, looking up at the sky and marveling at how pretty it is up there. I was actually up there, marveling in a much more direct manner. It was indeed the perfect day for a double flight; a perfect day to remind a jaded generation why were so gung-ho about figuring out how to fly in the first place.

Coming back into Beijing I looked down on the endlessly rippling hills and for a moment saw them as snapshot of a vast emerald ocean on the verge of eruption. It’s a novel phrase, but I’m sure you can imagine what an ocean would look like if it erupted. For a moment I saw the frame unfreeze, the peaks and valleys roiling into each other, shades of green crashing and frothing up into the sky. Almost fell out of my chair. Good thing they make sure you strap yourself in. Glad I was not on the ground during that particular hallucination.

Been staying up almost all nights to make calls to a foreign country in which we’re trying to win a project. Slept on the couch next to my computer every night for about a week now. Couch is comfortable. Thinking of subletting the bedroom.

Got 2.5 non-work projects on the burner now: got myself selected to translate a book that is still in the process of being written in Chinese; got myself selected to write a book in English that will then be translated into Chinese; co-hosting a podcast in Chinese about random topics. The last one counts as a .5 because of the 10 or so episodes we’ve recorded, none have been edited to the point of being able to put online.

With any luck I might end up accidentally enjoying something I get paid for. For now, I’ll keep trying to convince the world to smile while the next big luxury product is rammed down its throat. I guess I could stop, but then how would I ever be able to buy my own luxury products?

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For the sake of putting words on… whatever blogs are on.

2pm. Crossing an intersection. Cheap car awkwardly blocks an expensive car’s right turn. Expensive car honks, cheap car doesn’t move; expensive car honks more and more, cheap car doesn’t move; expensive driver turns red in the face and begins cursing idiots, illegal cab drivers, and uncivilized hicks, cheap car doesn’t move. Expensive passenger gets out, knocks softly on cheap window and politely asks if cheap car could be moved; cheap driver responds courteously and moves cheap car, apparently never aware that the honking was directed at him; expensive driver continues to fume.

Moral of the story: words spoken to gratify your hissy fit are less communication than masturbation, and one should under no circumstances masturbate in expensive cars at busy intersections. It’s illegal, as I understand.

Also, honking is annoying.

Good night. My new apartment is still a mess.

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s30e02.blg

I mentioned previously about having written the first sentences of three good posts.

This is not one of those posts.

After coming down from the house on that hill just north of my hometown, I haven’t stopped in any one home for more than 12 months. Every time I open a window to let in a breeze on the first day of summer, it’s the first time for that window. Every time I snuggle back into bed on the first cold morning of autumn, it’s a different bed. They say you can’t step twice into the same river, but I haven’t even tried.

Changed rooms every year of college, so that’s six domiciles: dorm with friend, dorm with another friend, dorm with guy who never became a friend, house with three girls, house with one fewer of them, then an efficiency on 42nd, if I recall. Haven’t had a roommate since.

Then I had my fuckit moment and moved into a fifth-story two-bedroom with no elevator, arranged for me by my new boss in Guangzhou. My second fuckit moment put me in the luxurious three-bedroom mansion of an apartment in the banana-farming suburbs, owned by a close friend’s relative. A desire for a shorter commute put me in a two bedroom fourth-floor walkup with the window that will always be the place that I was sitting when I suddenly realized, for the first time in my adult life, that I was happy.

When the disillusionment with everything that made Guangzhou what it had become to me weakened my affection enough to succumb to the move-it-along itch (personally, not specifically geographically), I ended up on the thirteenth story of the tallest building on Longhua Road, a backstreet off the main avenue of a mid-size (3 mil) tropical island capital in which nobody I knew of could speak any English. Summer, season and person both, showed up just in time to help me pack when the time came to go to Beijing.

Took me a long time to decide that flight was worth taking. After a year on Chaoyang Road, I traded up for a dingier apartment next to a higher-paying job (notice how I avoided saying “better,” even though I must grudgingly admit that all I’ve been through in the last couple years has not only not killed me, but made me stronger [not to imply a correlation]) that paid off when I doubled my rent the following year for the fanciest address I’ve ever had, the kind that often invokes a little “Wow” and serves to let other people know you mean business.

Not that I mean business, though, or at least that kind of business, which is why I’ve just halved my rent again (plus change) for a thirteenth-story apartment outside the fourth ring, the kind of address that often invokes a little “Wow, that’s far” even though it really isn’t. It’s a house where the cost that should be incurred by its first highlight (its size – biggest I’ve ever lived in) is offset by its second highlight: the green living room, red TV wall, yellow kitchen, and pink bedroom.

I haven’t named this place yet, but “The Crayon Box” and “The Kindergarten” are two candidates.

A note for posterity: luck works opposite for me. 13 is my lucky number. This apartment is not only on the 13th floor of Building #13, it’s also at entrance #4, which is an unlucky number in Chinese (my office building has no 4th, 13th, or 14th floor). That would have been – nay, was – enough for me to sign the lease sight unseen, but when I finally did get in to do the routine inspection with the landlord, I accidentally broke a mirror and knew that I was home.

Right! So, let’s get down to business. Objectives for this year include: output. Started recording a radio show, which I co-host and co-edit with different co-s, and whose episodes haven’t yet reached a quality or quantity that would make us feel good about putting it up yet. Writing now. Getting ready to do another show. Thinking of doing a solo podcast. Looks like I might translate a book.

With all that happening, you might wonder when I have time for a full-time job. Excellent question.

All this and more, on the next episode of: Me Continuing to Be Alive.

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Eeerg

Eeerg. Eeerg. Wrote first sentences of three good posts then translated urgent proposals until past midnight.

This is the sound of writing struggling to be written. Eeerg. Eeerg.

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Old Roads

A movie is a universe bookended by credits. In the beginning, there was the executive producer; and this is how the movie ends, this is how the movie ends, not with a bang but a gaffer.

Similarly, moving to a new city stretches the fabric of spacetime, stretching it to make room for a new life; and when you leave, time folds back on itself, trapping the memories in a relativistic bubble, preserving the life and world of that former you in a reality loop that hums away while you go on to live in other places. But the loop is not absolute – some energy radiates away and entropy seeps in, such that if you were to fly back to that place, walk the old streets, breathe that old moist air, see that Korean restaurant on the corner, hear the familiar local drawl (I swear that southerners of every country on Earth have a drawl, no matter the language), feel the shadows of everyone who has ever walked next to me down Jiangnanxi Road pass by on the pavement as I look up across those same caged-in balconies, those hanging plants, that window, the realness of that other time (not past, but parallel) would be slightly transparent, like a lightly double-exposed photograph; and every time you visit, a thin layer of newer yous is laid on top of that you, such that even though that old youthful, ignorant optimism still grips your muscles, lightens your breath, and makes your eyes flit just a bit quicker than they have been lately, even though your 26 year-old self already seems quaint and queerly infantile, you must admit that you cannot muster with scientific rigor an absolute argument that the you of today is better or better off than he is. If physical entropy is a constant reduction in complexity, then emotional entropy is the opposite, a constant creation of new complexity compounded on itself such that the light of contemplation, fixed on the growing and swirling mass, reflects a twisting infinity of themes and narratives, weaving together into devilish fugues endlessly composing and recomposing each other, until one might be hypnotized into a vision of the self expanding to fill the known universe, complexities reiterating without restraint until all of creation is completely filled in, becoming once again without form, and void.

Sorry. That paragraph kind of got away from me.

But it does raise the question: is there any kind of living that is cannot be fit into these bubbles? Can we one day achieve a self that is somehow not dependent on place and circumstance? Or are we always going to be stuck resonating within the echo chamber of our own experiences, each contained entirely to the self? It is a question so essential that it is repeated in a preponderance of books and blogs, and so ridiculous that it would take a writer of considerably more skill and less fuzzy-brainedness than myself to be put comprehensibly.

For what do we have to thank for my sudden and unintelligible obsession with solipsism? Paris is burning, and with it many of my assumptions of the sustainability and relevance of many of our other preoccupations (including my current occupation): a memento mori moment. I have been stricken for as long as I can remember with a feeling of urgency, a sense that there is really some formless “other thing” that we all really need to be doing, which has been continually offset by the apparent apathy of the “we all” in question. Perhaps I’m too trusting, too ready to trust social cues. Yet I’ve had gray hairs since high school.

This is the way the blog post ends, this is the way the blog post ends, not with a moral but a preposition…

I have no up-note to end this on.

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