Oct 30 2005

Verisimilitude

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, particularly as I grow older. Adults are encouraged to unwrap their imaginations and act as children again. We’re allowed to be scared of the dark and feel the apprehensive exhilaration of a good fright. We allow the atmosphere of spirits and ghouls and the all manner of supernatural a little closer to our conscious. The air becomes think and palpable. Our subconscious fill our reality with shapes, colors, and perceived movements in shadowed corners.

For an evening, we’re taken back to skulking around our primeval campfires, both curious and afraid of the sounds emanating from the darkness around us. Our constraints on the bounds of existence slacken ever so little. We’re allowed to doubt our convictions and re-create ourselves.

One Friday evening two years ago, on Halloween, I trekked out the park I regularly train at to get some intense martial arts practice in before heading out with the pack for some late-night decadence. It was already well past sunset, but the park was illuminated with a large full moon low on the horizon, casting a yellow pallor over the grass and trees. It was a trickster’s moon, throwing subtle shadows through the foliage and drizzling rain, encouraging the senses to heighten to the point of self-doubt.

That evening, I was concentrating on a dance themed after the unknown and the mysterious. At one level of the dance, past punching and kicking, you unlock subsequent doors to different planes and combat your inner demons. You summon your will and utterly destroy that which seeks to destroy you, you’re tearing away the false veils of the world, destroying facades. I was had created this world, turned myself inside out, conjuring reality out of myth. Every sense was hyper-acute, I could see every enemy and smell their odor. I could feel their scaly hides as I struck them, I could hear them sneak up behind be. I knew where the coyotes were running in the ravine behind the park, and was aware of the crows flapping three trees over. I could feel the elders watching me, directing me, and the Tengu dancing through their legs.

Before too long, I was soaked with sweat and rain and the film of my imagination. My black gi snapped against my skin with each movement, punctuating my techniques, the only sound radiating from park. My legs burned from exertion, steam flowed from my body and floated about world. I grew feral, crouched, snarling, explosive, looking a cornered cat but inside, a tiger, taunting my demons before dispatching them at will. I was fierce, alive, uncompromising.

After an hour or so, I pulled my legs underneath me, controlling my breath, and sat. First, eyes closed, settling myself, returning to this world. Letting my creation dissolve in the mist, allowing the cold and rain to seep back in. The world was less dangerous, I was still alive, and upon opening my eyes, grateful for the expansive view of Mission Bay glazed slick in the winder chill. The rain had stopped, and the neighborhoods below were frozen under a delicate slab of ice, a snapshot in time.

This was the first time martial arts become truly real for me. Digging deeper, pushing harder, driving through exhaustion and intemperance, focusing, creating, building, finding your metal.


Oct 29 2005

Viscosity

Inundated, yet again. For the last several months at work, we’ve had significant deliverables due at the end of each month for one of our several Big Fish clients. So far we’ve been doing well, making each drop. According to our company’s standards, as well as the feedback w from Big Fish, we’ve been performing extremely well. Nimble, responsive, performant, all the things that a start-up company should be. We’re playing our cards right.

Well, from the outside that is. From the inside, we’re so balls-out on development we have zero time scheduled for maintenance and customer support. Which means, of course, extended hours for everyone. I’m not terribly happy about it, and I have to limit OT hours due to my other obligations, but everyone’s really excited about all the potential floating around. It’s good to see that attitude, but I learned years ago, back in the era of the fabled dot-com, the extended hours don’t just mean less time at home, they mean you also enjoy your off time less. You’re just drained, a zombie. I do not wish to repeat this.

I recall one night, after having worked extended hours all week and through the weekend, delirious with sleep deprivation, curling underneath my desk through the wee hours, waiting for the burrito shop to open across the street so I could get breakfast, and becoming entirely enthralled with my CD-ROM tray. If you pushed the little button, it opened. And if you pushed it again, it closed! By itself! I can’t count the number of times I pushed that button before I burst into a solid fifteen minutes of gleeful laughter.

I never want to reach that point in my life again. I had put on twenty pounds (which I’ve subsequently lost, and more) from poor eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. In no way do I think that this company, which I’ve been with for several years, will put me in that position, nor do I believe I’ll allow myself, but I do feel shadows of that familiar fatigue in my body now.

Then again, it could just be the flu shot.

Current Big Obligations:

  • Work
  • Martial Arts, classes and outside training
  • Martial Arts, teaching and assisting
  • Photography
  • Writing, blog
  • Writing, novel #2
  • Japanese class
  • Coding, Hot Spot Defense Kit program
  • Coding, PowerPC disassembly library
  • Coding, Mach-O file parsing library

As I had mentioned previously, although the post got lost in the crash, I’m completely overcommitted. I won’t analyze why I do this (hah! you’re thinking) but I will say that I have to scale back. I can’t ever see myself cutting out the 10 to 20 hours of martial arts per week, as it’s my physical, mental, and spiritual anchor. Nor will I drop my Japanese class, since it’s entwined with my training and preparation for future travels. And if martial arts provide my ground, the photography and writing provide my release, so it would be foolish to abandon either. So I’m left with coding. I’m significantly into the HSDK project, and so I will attempt to reach some form of “releasable” and call it a day. Sadly, I will have to bow out of the two remaining code projects.

Beyond cutting obligations, there is something … else. I believe I want to live alone again. My roommate and his fiance are great, I could heap piles of extolation upon them, but the simple fact is, the years I lived alone the happiest I’ve been at home. (Of course I’m not home all that much, so it seems slightly odd for me to say. Beyond that, however, I’d like to correct a tone I seem to have set right thus far: I’m extremely happy and doing very well. There’s just something alienating about living with an engaged couple. It’s like you’re always visiting.)

I’ve been feeling these rumblings of potential upheaval for quite a while, deeper than I’ve felt before, below the Gantt charts and time tables. I’ve been setting them aside, acknowledging them but not becoming driven by them, waiting to see if they’re representation of the Real Deal or some mild discontent. They’re still growing, and of course there’s some things I can’t remedy immediately, as I _do_ have a mortgage, and need to wait at least nine more months to sell, but I do need to scale back. Perhaps sell some things, clean out the closets, re-prioritize.

I feel that without deeper devotion, all my arts will turn mediocre, and that’s not something I’m willing to let happen.


Oct 28 2005

Humility

Ten years ago, 1995: First year of college, UCSD. It was now October, just after my nineteenth birthday, and I’d spent the last four debaucherous months largely couch surfing in the polluted heart of Mission Beach.

I spent most of my time on front porches overlooking the boardwalk, steps from the sand, taco shops, and liquor stores. Since remodeled, the apartment complex was a termite-infested inhabited by waves of dubious barely-pay-by-the-month characters. The ones I knew best were in 1B: Lenny, Eric, and Hollywood. Their apartment was eternally open for anyone to come and go, although there were usually more people coming than going. It was saddled between Jamaica and Isthmus courts and central to the decadent vices of Mission, and there were more bodily fluids on that section of boardwalk than sea-water. Such was the reason the incongruous three lived there.

Lenny was a twenty-three year old ‘Guido’ from Jersey, working God knows where during odd hours to cover the cost of one room. Eric was in this late twenties, a shyster car salesman that’d regale me, without remorse, of tales of screwing poor families out of a couple thousand on a used minivan – or at least enough to rent the other room and keep a kitchen stocked with alcohol and living room with hardcore porn. Hollywood was the a-periodic couchsurfer, and butt of all derisive jokes, a towering slab of black homosexuality on loan to the armed forces.

Everyone was there to fuck women, except Hollywood, of course, who was there to fuck men.

The most important thing was to have was activity: nobody wants to hang out with a bunch of guys just drinking on their porch, even if it did have an ocean view. We pulled out everything: speakers to the porch tossing a blanket of cable-radio over the beach, dancing, interminable games of Asshole and other drinking pastimes, cardboard placards to rate passing women (only supporting the grades of ‘2’, ‘9’, and ‘10’), squirt guns, strobe lights, kegs, footballs, Frisbees, beer bongs, Jagermeister, hoses for wet T-Shit contests, day old pizza.

We each had our own ways of pulling women. Eric had the rapid-fire velvet speech of his trade, seducing girls to his bedroom before they knew they were interested. Lenny flaunted his vulgarity-laced East Coast directness to take pairs group-wise in the bathroom. Hollywood had impeccable gay-dar, and would essentially walk up to a gay man he wanted and grab the stranger’s crotch. I knew if I could cajole an unforgiving computer to draw exquisite images on screen, I sure as hell could use some combination of logic and artistry to nail a girl doggy-style on the back patio.

But I never did. Something always niggled at me. Perhaps it was my conscience, or a fear of contracting STDs during some inebriated and poorly-executed sexual escapade, perhaps both. I did however, meet M-. M- was exquisitely attractive – olive skin, a petite frame, long umber hair, with large almond eyes. We’d been out on a few dates over the summer, but the start of school had been hectic enough I hadn’t seen her in a month or so. I’d turned 180 degrees in the last few weeks, from sloven boozehound to poor, studious, dorm-living gakusei.

On this chilly Saturday night, we had plans to see her friends’ band (always a dangerous proposition, but they actually weren’t bad) out in a little joint in El Cajon. Running late as usual, I showered, threw on my last pair of clean jeans and a T-shit proclaiming some suitably obscure reference, and whisked myself out dorm suite. Anxious and behind schedule, I was taking all the shortcuts: jumping over the couch in the common area instead of walking around, combing my hair as I ran down the stairs instead of taking dawdling elevator, slipping sideways through the rapidly closing stairwell door – not fast enough. I was still trying to stop my forward momentum when I heard the denim tear.

It must have been like one of those slow-motion car crash scenes: a close-up of my face, a montage morphing from carefree and excited, and at the first resistance my eyebrows curling upside down, eyes curiously flitting toward my back, and as the first stitches pop, side of my mouth leading the rest of my lips into a downward march, eyes scrunching together in recognition and resignation, jaw tightening, skin wrinkling around the muscles and taut between them, until forward momentum is finally extinguished.

Frantically, I patted myself for the source of the sound – my back pocket, torn open, taking the seat of my pants with it exposing my at least eight square inches of boxer-briefs in all their glory. I groan, and looking back to the shred of denim still fluttering from the clasp of the door, dancing in the A/C, mocking my haste. It’s that small sheet of metal with a slight curvature at the end, the piece that guide the tumbler lock into it’s mate. Looking at it in profile, from above, it is indistinguishable from a hook – now complete with Levi bait.

Metal-door-lock-claspy-thing: 1, jeans: 0.

Clean pants: 0.

I borrow a bunch of safety pins, pour some coffee on my shirt, ruffle my hair, and call it punk. I must have looked about as punk as those Wal-mart Halloween costumes look like Barbie or Yoda.

The date went well, we smooched a little, but she never once put her hand on my bum.


Oct 27 2005

Resourceful

The Chinese fortune writers are certainly playing the odds these days:

”A resort area will be part of your next holiday plans.”

Not particularly enlightening, and only slightly prophetic. Did the Peking Noodle Company boss come down on the creative staff for too many incorrect predictions? God damn it, Harold, we’ve had six complaints today that no one in the last month has found true love, and absolutely no one registered lucky number confirmations! Or perhaps it’s a distribution issue – the fortune cookie elves swapped the San Diego and New York shipments?

Either way, they’re certainly hedging their bets.

Typical of my digressions, I started analyzing the propriety of “hedging bets” across spectrums – certainly, I’m of the financially conservative ilk that prefers to have a diverse portfolio, hedging against catastrophic losses. And at work, I suppose, I periodically do the same – pad hours on a project schedule predictions to take into account the inevitable engineering details only realized after digging about in code all day. But in terms of life outside the mundane, where is it appropriate?

I never hedge my bets with women; I don’t date a girl on the side, just in case the one I’m currently with doesn’t work out. I don’t (intentionally) double-book weekends so I have an excuse to leave the first event if I feel the desire. I don’t schedule Thanksgiving at both my mother’s and father’s in case one of them decides to have it at their significant other’s. I don’t train at two martial arts schools, in case one doesn’t have what I’m looking for. When I travel, I have a copy of my passport.

Hedging has this negative connotation, a lack of commitment, and I’m going to buy into that. Am I alright with hedging aspects of my life because I deem them “not as important”? Or are there times when hedging is a Good Thing? Or are there details I’m missing?

As always, yes, yes, yes. There are things that are not as important, and you should only commit yourself to things that are. And there are times when hedging can be beneficial – in terms of martial arts, it’s difficult to attack someone that has not yet committed to this movement or that. (This brings up an entire digression regarding a martial artist’s commitment to adaptability, or strategy, as opposed to a particular technique, but that’s only partially germane to the point of this post.) And of course, yes Virginia, there are details I’m missing.

Let’s draw a distinction between “hedging” and “planning.” Having a contingency plan is antipodal to hedging, as there exists a strict hierarchy or flow of conditions: first this, and if not that, then this, etc. Concretely, it is what Michael Brown lacked in the aftermath of Katrina. A contingency plan is actually a total commitment to a defined process, an acknowledgment of the volatility of variables and a method for dealing with the probability distribution. Hedging is simply a lack of responsibility. In this, light, I don’t know if I ever intentionally hedge, even in the above examples. I’ve merely developed an exigent strategy for change.

In a nutshell, I sound extremely boring.

Where does my excitement come from? Spontaneous cavorting? Improper nudity? Do I ever let loose? Of course, but it’s less of an internal drive (although I definitely have my moments), and more of situational awareness. I know what will spur me to toss the contingency plan out the window at the last minute and drive to Mammoth to ski for the weekend. I know when I’m bogging myself down in a world full of computer geeks, or literati, or other such nonsense. I make the conscious decision to throw caution to the wind, well aware of when I’ll have to reap the consequences. At those times, I call my friends, the ones that will pull me away from some overly-intellectual lethargy (or push me back in it, whichever the case may be) and encourage me to get a little demented. I may not want to go downtown and gets ridiculously tipsy, but I know when it’s good for me, and who to do it with.

I know where my resources are. Those that support me, those that I can’t live without. And hopefully, they know where I am when they need that which they lack.

Then again, I’m more of a backpack-and-crash-somewhere sort of guy, not really a resort-vacation sort of guy, so perhaps I should regard this as a harbinger of some sort of inverse gallavanting.


Oct 18 2005

A Night on the Art Circuit

Suitably chaotic, the meetings arrive like hail, a-periodic, intense, painful. With a hint of complacent relaxation.


Cursory familiarity, a pretense of profundity. She says, “I love this place.” She says, “I come here all the time.” She says, “It’s wonderful, full of character.” I say, “I didn’t know there were any drum-n-bass joints left in town.” She says, “I know, it’s awesome.” I say, “And LTJ Bukem is slated, I saw on the door.” She doesn’t say. She looks at me with blank eyes and a false smile.

I continue my slide toward the bar.


They say we associate with that which we wish to be, not that which we are. Do I associate with the dragon because that’s what I desire? To be carefree, playful, chasing my desires with intent, obstinacy, and abandon? Always looking for that pearl in the sky and sea, that which I cannot attain? And if so, then what is my reality, my base, my foundation, my purgatory, that which I am projecting from? The tiger? The pragmatic, do-what-must-be-done, nose-to-the-grindstone beast, fierce in his determination and unforgiving in his judgment?

Too much, too much. As usual, it is somewhere between there and here.


The music moves faster than your soul, your soul straining to accelerate, to match pace. It drives, a master behind a hundred slaves, pushing, whipping, without remorse, until exhaustion and collapse, at which point it dances on, not even rubbernecking past the scene of the crime.

I bob my head drowsily, one-eighth time, wallflower, appreciative, observer to the shapes and colors graphed in my head, an ephemeral cranial seismograph, trailing between my ears and dropping on the floor, and exit.


Enter “Random,” a gangly man attired in a blue sequined shirt, orange construction safety glasses, and a feather boa, glossing his self-conscious discomfort with a patina of alt-/art-something. All was as it should be, that is, carefully constructed chaos that is the antithesis of random.

My stomach growls, quietly, with annoyance.

And I know people named “Cast Iron Rat,” “Archlight,” “Noid,” “Falcon Red,” and other such improbable monikers.

If he had called himself “Pragmatic” or “Constructed,” – or even “Deconstructed” – I would have given him props. Even “P.M.,” as an abbreviated Post-Modern, as over-abused and in-accurate as it would be, would have sufficed. At least something orthagonal.

As it was, I greeted him with a heartily apathetic: “Oh.”

Or is it like wearing a an anti-irony shirt, without the kitsch?

No, I think it’s more like wearing the shirt of the band you’re going to see. Don’t be that guy, Gutter, don’t be that guy.


Is collecting things a physical manifestation of emotional requirements? Do we fill perceived voids of the psyche with artificial sets of paraphernalia? I believe I should be wary of hundred porcelain trinkets, every horizontal parcel occupied, no room for even a glass of wine. It is over, and arbitrarily so, but also, not. Again, limbo. Purgatory. That which is not hell, but that which is the denial of the ecstasy of feeling. I cannot throw her down on the couch and make unrestrained love to her – we may end copulating impaled on a ceramic pug or glass unicorn. As Cypress Hill says, “Ain’t goin’ out like that.”