The Uncertainty Principle

I don’t know how many times it has happened, but in the months leading to and since I turned thirty, I have found myself stuck and not knowing what to do. Just minutes ago, before sitting down and flipping my computer open, I stood in the hallway of the Faculty Center, halfway from the entrance of the building to my faculty room, the lights darkened and other people far off at the galleries, and I stopped in the half-light and thought, “What the fuck am I doing?” This time, like the many other times that I have paused to ask this question, left me in a debilitating state of uncertainty, as if I were paralyzed with fear of not knowing. I literally could not move, my legs stuck in cement and my upper body heavy. Each step from there was a struggle, and the weight of the world bore down on me as if I were carrying Shaquille O’Neal on my shoulders.

This not knowing extends far beyond whatever I worried about when I was younger. Because then there was always the future, and many prospects. Now things are sort of locked in, and within the parameters of my life—work, writing, family, relationships—courses are defined and yet I don’t know if I am getting any of it right. In video games we get immediate feedback to know if what we are doing is right (mess up and you die, do well and you get points and move to the next level) but in real life it’s very rare to find such clear markers telling us if what we’re doing is right and if we should keep on with it.

And thus I find so much doubt in the things I am dealing with.  Read more of this post

Class and Food

When I was in high school I was friends with a kid called Balbon. He went to Ateneo, was a big thing in basketball when he was younger and played for the national basketball team, and though he wouldn’t admit it he was acutely aware of the pressures of the nouveau riche, as he would always have to tell people how much money they had, where his family had most recently gone on vacation, and other things establishing that they were a family of means. Among these establishing factors was apart from playing in pick-up basketball games with the squatter kids, he would steer clear of them. I’m pretty sure that if he had known what I really was, a kid whose family was hard up and on the brink of ruin at every turn, rather than what I had been introduced to him as which was a Fil-Am, then he probably wouldn’t have hung out with me either. But we wound up spending a lot of time together, on and off the court.

Just a few blocks down the way from us was Tomas Morato, and we’d cross that street and go a few more blocks down to play ball on a nicer court. In our neighborhood it was either the church’s half-court with the too-slippery floors—there were only two options to make that court playable, and here you could detect the class divide; either you bought some Coke in a plastic bag, spilled a good amount of it on the floor, and then stepped in it a while so that your sneakers got sticky, or you played barefoot—or it was one of the many makeshift courts scattered along various corners and side streets, each with their own obstacles and perils. But across Morato was a full court whose cement had just been laid and that made for a great place to play.

And so we would make the trip to the court every once in a while to get our game on. It was probably during one of these trips with Balbon that he asked me the question which forms the impetus for this recollection and essay. Memory’s a shady thing, bringing together elements and events which may or may not be accurate, which might have occurred in proximity to each other, but not necessarily as we remember it. It’s this I acknowledge as I recall Balbon—pale skinned, tall, thin and wiry but muscular, one of those fluke bodies that you can only ever see on a high school boy—and me—short and sunbaked brown, still scrawny and growing hungry with the turmoil at home and a diet of rice with tomatoes and red egg or chicharon or when things got hard up just fish sauce, and sometimes just going to bed hungry—walking along Tomas Morato as the sun was setting. He dribbled a basketball, easily passing it through his legs, behind his back, as we walked. And then he asked, “So how many of these restaurants has your family taken you to?” I can’t remember all the restaurants that are still around now, but I remember him pointing out Alfredo’s Steakhouse, Mario’s, and Alba (and come to think of it now, I still have not gone into those places).

I couldn’t tell him any. In fact, the only time that I ever got to go to restaurants was when there was a birthday or a baptism or something like that. All I knew was fast food, and even that was a treat. So that he wouldn’t think any less of me, I pretended to know some of the restaurants, and then I changed the topic.

But I think that stuck with me. And as I was subjected to more instances where I felt that there was a world out there, the world of food, that I was being kept out of, I would find myself making my way to the entrance to that world. In fact, once I started earning money, I would barge through that entrance and have my fill, to the point where I went from a scrawny 110 pound kid to the 195 pound walrus that I was when I turned 30.

I never got much luck at home. My father was, let’s say, a voracious eater. To say he was enthusiastic would be an understatement. However I feel that the appreciation, though genuine (seriously, if you see him eat) was never really an educated one. The tastes were simple, and he had killed his palate with years of smoking, which meant that everything we had was over-seasoned so that he could taste it. His appreciation was quantity-based, and his tastes were of generally pedestrian fare—we only ever went to one restaurant, Kowloon, and we would only ever order the same things; now I love that place and the food, but still, there was no sense of new, of adventure in the eating—and he had the tendency to fixate on specific trends or foods and get stuck there. For example, there was a time when he read about how juicing vegetables was healthy, so from that point on he would force us to drink beets and all these other things that once juiced, tasted terrible. He was also always eating hopia, and he was obsessed with monggo, which he would impose on us so that we would eat it for two to three weeks straight.

What bothered me more about my father’s eating habits was that their indulgence would come at the cost of my own eating. It was a common thing that I would arrive home and there would be no food left because he had eaten it all.

Still, I like to think that I was lucky when I was in high school. I got by on the kindness of friends. When hanging out at friends’ houses after school, their parents would insist that I have dinner with them. I was a nice, polite kid who got good grades and they were glad their sons were hanging out with someone like me. I had friends that I rode to school with every morning, and on our way they would drop by McDonald’s for their breakfasts. I didn’t have enough money for that, but they would take turns buying me breakfast value meals. I had friends who would let me chip in a few pesos for an order and they would take care of the rest. And I don’t know how I made it through all of that, but there was always somebody who was willing to spot me for something or other, someone who would buy something so I could eat, or augment whatever meager funds I had.

The first real “restaurant experience” that I can remember was with a high school girlfriend, at Pancake House. Up to this point, all I knew were McDonald’s or Jollibee or some other fast food place. This was a time when a one-piece chicken went for something like 30 bucks, and what we’d do was order a one-piece, then just get an extra rice and an extra gravy to fill us up. So sitting down somewhere, ordering off a menu, talking to a waiter, these were snazzy things I was suddenly experiencing.

During this time I had a little bit of money, but could have always used more. One of my fondest memories of these times was when my friend Poldo and I wanted to pick up the first Silverchair album. Poldo normally would collect stuff to sell to the diyariyo-bote, but this time there was a perya down on the K-streets (for those unfamiliar with Kamuning, on one side of Kamuning road is the Scout area, where we lived, and on the other side were the streets named K-1st, K-2nd, and so on). We pooled our money together to play the Color Game, and the dice fell our way, so much so that we were able to win enough to get a tape each (they were selling at the record bars at buy-one-get-one so we only needed 120), and to eat some of the street food, and I can still remember the crunchiness of the isaw on sticks slightly charred and wonderfully chewy.

On my own, I had little earning power and I would have to rely on saving up. Usually I managed to save enough money every day so that I could buy a tape a week. But that week, all that I had saved from not buying lunch and asking for food from people (this was effective because most of the kids in class had lunches their moms made them, and so all you had to do to get by was ask each kid to give you a bite of his lunch) was devoted to the date with said high school girlfriend.

Thing was, whatever had been saved I had spent on bus fare, movie, and snacks. So when it was time for us to eat, I had nothing, and I knew that this was a very embarrassing predicament. She handled it by pulling out a credit card. She said that she wasn’t allowed to carry much cash, but she had been given the card so that she could still eat out and her parents could track her activity. I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about that, but I just went with it. I can’t even remember what we ate or how things turned out. And now it’s kind of a funny thing to think that, man, Pancake House held a very special place in my mind and heart for quite a while

Of course, like that relationship, Pancake House has been displaced and many other places have become favorite or memorable restaurants. Still, you start somewhere.

In college I would be introduced to the various culinary pleasures to be found in UP. Even when I had already been taken to Chocolate Kiss and Chateau Verde, I found that I still preferred a good old tapsilog at Rodic’s with the shredded beef. My friend Anna and I devised the street food crawl, which began at the Faculty Center, where we would get a snack from one of the manangs (choice of lumpiang ubod, karyoka, or banana-q), and then if we were particularly hungry monay with a slice of cheese. We’d eat these things while walking beneath the fire trees to the isaw stand that used to be in front of Kalayaan. After lots of innards on sticks, we would progress to fishballs, kikiam, and kwek-kwek outside the shopping center. Throw in some of that sweet corn in cheese soup. Then we’d head into the shopping center for scoops of Fruits in Cream in cones. We would undertake the food crawl regularly, as it was occasioned by both disappointments and celebratory gestures, both of which we had in abundance.

I would learn to eat exotic food and regional cuisines as I made friends from different provinces. There were a few memorable road trips where we visited our friends’ provinces and ate what they had to offer. Also sticking out in my mind now as I think of it, is a Bicolano friend who insisted that I go with him to a carinderia a few blocks from our street. He was looking for a taste of home and he knew the kind of food I liked. He got himself a Bicol Express, which I thought I was going to have too. But he ordered me a Dinuguan, Bicol style with the coconut milk and I was jarred by the taste and initially found it repulsive. But as I kept eating the taste grew on me, the sweetness on top of the spiciness, just the right amount of heat and then the depth and flavor of the blood and the meat. It was something of an epiphany to find this mix of flavors in a dish that had seemed so familiar that I had almost dismissed it. It’s because of this, and my overbearing love of Filipino food (it’s one of the reasons I’m reluctant to cook any Filipino food, because I’m so afraid of messing it up) that I find myself often excited by restaurants that claim they have a new take on old Filipino classics.

One of the biggest influences on what I eat is an ex-girlfriend, K. Before her I’d never eaten pesto (and now I have a fond memory of her pesto-stained smile), I had never eaten real sushi (not that fake California shit, nigiri sushi that really lets you taste the freshness of the fish), and I had never been in a fancy restaurant. When I started courting her she decided she wanted it to be a lengthy courtship because though we had already been best friends, I was coming from a long-term relationship and she wanted to make sure I wasn’t just rebounding. Her parents though, probably weren’t privy to any of that when they made the restaurant reservations.

And so, on a Valentine’s Day many years ago I found myself in a hotel restaurant with the parents of the girl I was courting. There were so many forks on the table! And spoons! And everything else! This was a fine dining situation, and up to that point I had no idea how one operated in that kind of setting. Obviously I wanted to show her parents that I was an okay dude, but I thought that it would just be made clear that I was some kid who “lacked breeding” and who was not good enough for their daughter.

I fumbled with the little card that had the menu on it, and whenever food was served I would pretend to admire it first. In truth I was watching which utensil they picked up and how they ate the dish. I learned in this way how to eat, and what appropriate table manners were (I had a pretty good idea of what improper was, as my father chewed with his mouth open, talking too, and reach over the table; my mother was polite at the table, but wasn’t really equipped with the tools of upscale social niceties). It was also with this family that I would learn how to use chopsticks, eat peking duck, and other kinds of food which I had never been exposed to. I have many fond memories of that relationship, and I messed that one up, but I do hope that these recollections show that I do appreciate how that family helped to enculturate me. They even put up with my weird quirks, like an inexplicable insistence on wearing shorts, which became a problem many times. K and I would suddenly be called to dinner with her parents, and it would be at some fancy restaurant that expected its diners to be dressed properly. K’s father would use his clout and probably slip people some tips to let me into the place. I’m sure this caused some embarrassment and I am eternally grateful that they tolerated my inability to follow the dress codes. Of course, now that I can afford it I like to get dressed up and go out to nice dinners, and I again thank that family for showing me an aspect of the culinary world that I had never known before.

A trip to Singapore was another eye-opener. Sure those tiger shrimps at the hawkers were awesome, but even more overwhelming were my first tastes of manta ray and eel. These were only things I had seen in documentaries on the Discovery Channel. I had no idea that you could eat them. And that they could be so good! The sauces, the spices, the kinds of flavors that I was suddenly eating in that little foreign city were things only hinted at when I ate at Rasa Singapura (an outstanding Singaporean restaurant that is sorely missed, as where it stood just blocks from my home remains charred blocks and crumbled concrete). This exciting mix of Indian, Chinese, Thai, these foods that I had experience with but never imagined all coming together, stand as an extremely significant life experience.

There’s also a dinner that I distinctly remember in Singapore. I could not understand anything on the menu. But I saw something that looked familiar, Duck a’la Range. This to me was nothing more than something I had heard in Looney Tunes cartoons, when Bugs Bunny would try to convince Elmer Fudd to shoot Daffy Duck. But this duck was my first taste of French cuisine.

I started reviewing restaurants for newspapers and magazines. At the time this was food that I would never otherwise have been able to afford. It blew my mind that I could eat a piece of beef that cost more than a thousand pesos, because that same thousand pesos was enough for my family’s groceries for a week, week and a half.

The downside to eating in the best restaurants as part of work was that my palate would develop and would learn to look for better food. As long as you don’t know what you’re missing, you’re fine. So a kid who found a couple of sticks of barbecue, extra rice, and a side of libreng sabaw to be a feast would have been fine and happy with that, as long as he wasn’t exposed to other food. But I couldn’t say no. I just had to take those assignments, had to understand what went into a meal that would cost as much as my family’s groceries for a week. What’s in the food? How is it prepared? What makes it all a dining experience?

When I started earning a decent amount of money, I committed myself to trying to experience as much food as I possibly could. I would eat at any restaurant that popped up, any place that friends recommended, and even if the place caught my eye as I passed by. I was trying to make up for those years when I was hungry by eating all that could be offered me. I gave up on the pizza stands and the Scott Burgers and Burger Machines that constituted the pamatid gutom meals of my youth (though I will hit up the Burger Machine every once in a while for nostalgia’s sake, or drunkenness’s sake too). I loved the dimsum stands, especially the Kowloon stand that used to be just two blocks from my apartment.

Though I eat alone often, I wanted too to share these experiences. The various significant others I have had were probably witness to my evolution in eating. I kind of feel sad now for not knowing food better when I was younger, and not being able to have shared better eating experiences with people sooner in my life.

Beyond romantic interests, there were two females who I would make a part of my culinary experiences. My mother, who is quite possibly the nicest person ever (which has made her susceptible to being taken advantage of, bullied, neglected, and taken for granted) deserves so much more than my father’s terrible dietary quirks. She wanted to pursue a career in food when she was younger, but her father demanded that she take a science course. She wound up with a degree in Food Technology, which she was able to use only briefly when she would help to design flavors for Baskin & Robbins. She is an outstanding cook whose talents have never been truly maximized or appreciated (I keep telling her that it isn’t too late for her to pursue her passion, and I do hope that she will do it soon). The thing is that my mom who is good with food, good with cooking, was stuck in the pedestrian culinary tastes that my father held to. And so I committed myself to taking my mom to the restaurants that she had never been able to take me to. Every payday, I would have her set time aside (we would have to go out in secret, as my father would resent her going out with me) so that I could take her to a nice restaurant.

And when my parents left for the States and I was left with my sister, it was her turn to benefit from my compulsive need to eat out. She, much like me, had not been taken to any place other than Jollibee or Kowloon by our parents. For her, special was getting a salad at Wendy’s. Now she’s a sushi connoisseur who’s following in my footsteps by eating out and trying to accumulate as many food experiences as she can.

At this point in my culinary adventuring I have started eating well and I am currently exploring vegan cuisine as a healthy alternative. Don’t think that I’ll ever give up eating meat, but I appreciate the design challenges posed by vegan standards. I am still exploring different cuisines, and there’s the hope that I will get the chance to travel and eat like one of my favorite writers, Anthony Bourdain (whose influence shows up in a later essay). I have to watch my weight these days, and that makes the food I choose to eat even more important; on a daily basis I want to eat good food that is actually good for me, and when I indulge in sinful food like crispy pata or aligue pasta, I have an appreciation and a sense of the increased value of the experience. From a hungry kid who could barely afford to eat out, I’ve become an overweight foodie.

I think back every once in a while to that time when Balbon asked me where I had ever eaten in Morato. When he asked it, it was something of a challenge. I like to think I’ve taken that challenge. I get just as hungry as I used to when there wasn’t any food at home, but now I know what to eat and where to go and that I can afford it, and it’s good to have that sense of capability.

A Secondary Education of Love

I was sitting with my friend Cris, and she had asked me to tell her about my most recent dating travails. She tried to provide me with some comfort by telling me that she was older than me and she was still going through similar things. I said, “So I guess some people get it right, and others, well, we take more time?”

She had been married before, and considering how successful she is in her field, as well as how accomplished she is as a writer, she seemed to be in a pretty good position to provide me with some insight. She said that it never gets easier, even if you get older. And man, don’t I believe it.

But as we talked, I could not help but think, perhaps it isn’t merely a looking forward to the future, an expectation that as we go through relationships and we get older and we, in video game parlance, accrue experience points, we become better at the whole enterprise. It’s not a looking forward that will allow us to be better, but rather, a place in our past from which we never moved from. As the cliche goes, “Those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” And I wonder if the mistakes of our past are what doom a lot of our relationships. I speak specifically of high school, and I speak here based on my own experiences.

Read more of this post

Isn’t it All Fanfic?

I don’t know if this counts, but I like to think that it does. My earliest acts of fan-fiction were as a kid playing with my action figures. Like a lot of kids, I got toys from different franchises and pantheons and smashed them together. One of my favorite toys was B.A. Baracus from The A-Team, who, in my first act of creative crossover, I would have drive the KITT car from Knight Rider. And though the action figures we had ranged from Ninja Turtles to Ghostbusters to G.I. Joes to Transformers to X-Men and Visionaries and the now little-remembered Toxic Crusaders, we only had one backdrop for it all, The Ghostbusters’ Firehouse playset.

I, along with my brother and cousins, would construct intricate storylines bringing these characters together and creating plausible narrative devices which allowed for the crossovers. These stories we made would be serialized—once play time for that day finished we would try to remember where in the story we had left off so that at the following day’s playtime one of us would do a voiceover of “on yesterday’s episode” and then we would get back to playing. One of my cousins was smart, and a real smart-ass, and he was the self-appointed Consistency guy, always calling us out when we made our toys do things out of character.

It’s from this memory that I gather three things that are major elements of fan fiction: Love, Playfulness, and Creativity. We only want to spend more time with characters, only want to make more stories for them, because we love them, we are emotionally invested not only in the stories already created about them, but in the stories enabled by their character and our imagination. We are playful in that we take what’s there and we work with it not because we’re required to, not because someone has asked us to write a paper for a class and a grade, but because we find pleasure and fun in creating these new stories within the parameters set forth by the original creators. And we are creative in that we are engaging one creative act to produce another. So it’s creativity begetting creativity, one narrative giving birth to many narratives all joined by a collective kind of imagination and sense for story.

Fan fiction has become a topic for study in recent years because of its proliferation enabled by the internet. But I daresay that well before the internet age we were already constructing new stories for already existing characters, filling in the gaps of the shows that we followed or movies that we watched. The What Ifs which in my mind truly began with my first reading of a Marvel What If title, were what got me started reading and writing. Somewhere in a landfill is a notebook filled with my scribblings of What Ifs from the Marvel and DC universes.

I bring us then to the idea that fan fiction is not a terribly new thing, it is only relatively new in that it has been given a name and a classification thanks to its being observable and to its having a significant readership. And it’s here where we find the sudden struggle between our own literary/academic trappings of what is literature, smashing head on against the millions of fan fiction works of varying quality. I suppose that may be one of the things that the academe can’t stand, and one of the reasons for the insistence that fan fiction is not “real literature.” Yes, there’s so much bad fan fic out there. But hey, can we not also say that there’s so much bad literary fiction out there? So many bad CNF essays? So many bad poems?Sturgeon’s law is, after all, applicable. 90% of everything is crap, whether it be fan fic or high brow academic poetry.

The Academe (emphasis on the capital A) insists on its power to define whether something is Literature or not, and more often than not it believes itself to be the “Gatekeeper” of quality and taste. This leads to the exclusion of anything which does not fall into the leading academics’ paradigms (and these leading academics are not necessarily those who are most active, producing the most relevant work, or the most insightful, but usually those who have the most political clout in their respective departments). It has these academics casting themselves as the protectors of the good, trying to stop the entry of “unworthy literature” into the annals of academic study.

And so now we find ourselves in the curious struggle to convince our academic elders (especially because we often find ourselves in these institutions) that fan fiction is a legitimate form of literature. I’ll admit to our own attempts at this project many years ago when Adam and I were still active young members of the UPWC, when we released the Fan Fatale zine, which tried to show how Fan Fiction and literary writing could easily be one and the same.

But it’s clear to me now that this is a mistake. It is not for Fan Fiction to find a way to be elevated to the status of Literature with the capital L. Rather, it’s for us, who write, read, and engage in literature, to realize that all writing is in its essence fan fiction.

To wit, it’s love, playfulness, and creativity. And are these not among the things that drive us to try to contribute to literature? Are not these things catalysts, impetuses which drive us to write? These are definitely things that drive me. I believe too that these are the things that have driven writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives since art began. We draw inspiration from what is around us, and thus, we are practicing fandom and attempts at replicating and expanding that by our own engagement in these things. Sure the definition of fandom is constantly changing, but can we not point to significant works that would justify this assertion?

Off the top of my head are Louise Gluck’s poetry collections, like The Garden which draws upon the story of the Garden of Eden, or Meadowlands which takes from Greek Mythology. In an ultimate declaration of fandom, Dante casts his literary idol Virgil as his guide in Inferno. Shakespeare wrote his historical plays based on various sources such as Plutarch. Allen Ginsberg hangs out with Walt Whitman in “A Supermarket in California.” Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution is a Sherlock Holmes novel (and there are so many Sherlock Holmes stories all over). Alan Moore takes Victorian public domain characters to make his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Scott Edelman takes Of Mice and Men and turns Lenny into a zombie going after George. LA Noire: The Collected Stories is a short story collection based on a game based on a film genre based on hard-boiled crime novels. These are just overt examples.

But all work seeks to contribute to the dominant mythologies of its time. References to the monomyth may be applicable here, but I do believe that at any given time there are many different mythologies and belief systems that one can subscribe to. And inevitably, all literary work falls into one system or other, whether it be the nature-moralist mode of contemporary Filipino lyric poetry, or the middle- to upper-middle class domesticity-drowned-in-irony tendencies of Filipino literary fiction, or the fact that the majority of our novels attempt to replicate the Noli Me Tangere. Attempts at subverting the dominant modes are, in doing so, creating their own alternative mythology.

The difference isn’t the attempt or the intention, it’s the approach. Where all of these different works of writing are driven by love, a desire to contribute to a mythology, and an outpouring of creativity, one kind of writing (literary) takes an approach accepted by the dominant academic/literary institutions and publishing models, while the other builds itself around online communities of sharing run voluntarily and with passion by enthusiasts.

I personally attempt to navigate these various monomyths in my own work and because of my own background. As a product of the undergrad English and MA Creative Writing programs, a member of the English Department faculty, and a person who works in publishing, I am aware of what the dominant modes of thought and writing are within these institutions. At the same time, my own writing, literary production, and reading, seek to move beyond what is prescribed by the formal literary institutions.

The fiction that I have produced is always playing on a motif, an element, a trope, or something from a story or novel I’ve read, a movie or TV show I’ve watched, or some other cultural input. I will never try to call my fiction wholly original. Conversely I will ask my readers to identify the cultural touchstones upon which I have drawn.

As if the referencing and drawing from other works were not enough in my short fiction, the project of my second novel will be as a piece of extended fan fiction. The main character, Carljoe Javier, unable to cope with the real world, plunges into an existential coma which can only be worked out of by passing through various fandoms. So each chapter of the novel will be set in a specific fandom, with the character trying to navigate through that world and understand the real world through the experiences in each fandom. This allows me to play with What Ifs that have been in my head for a long time: what happens when Skynet attacks the Philippines? What would a Pinoy do on the Nostromo? How could we as Filipinos tell a Replicant from a real person? Where in the Firefly ‘verse would we be? What happens when the TARDIS lands in Kamuning?

The project of writing is a large one, and the project of the academe to understand what is labeled Fan Fiction is only beginning. What we have to do, as readers, is to break down the barriers which prevent us from reading and critiquing. We must move beyond prescribed notions of what is and isn’t literature. In effect, I’m saying, Fan Fiction isn’t fan fiction, it’s just Fiction. Our question when reading it should not be whether it’s appropriate for us to use these characters or settings, or whether this mode of writing is literature or not. What we should ask is always whether the writer is successful in his/her project, ask how the writer has utilized the tools that are available, and if the writer has made a contribution to the literature that s/he is trying to write in.

As writers the questions are similar. Have we written well (in terms of aesthetics and technique)? Is what we’ve written worth reading? Does it contribute to the mythology? To the larger projects of Philippine Literature and Literature in general? Have we imbued our works with enough love, playfulness, and creativity to bring them to life?


The One Friend Request I Can’t Approve

Here’s an essay about my Daddy Issues, and how I’m seeing things on that front, which will be included in the Essays@30 project. It’s kind of heavy on the family drama, you’ve been forewarned. Read on!


I have more than 1,500 friends on Facebook, a few hundred Twitter followers, a small but steadily building group of friends on Google+, and I’m the kind of person who adds anybody who sends me a Friend request. I’ve got nothing to hide (generally) and I don’t feel the need to hide my movements, posts, or thoughts. I’m all out there with the online presence, and I have no fear of my identity being hijacked, people stalking me, or people using my social networks against me because I’m just not important enough for someone to do that. Read more of this post

The Literary Career

Jonathan Lethem wrote, “I was what I would be if I wasn’t a writer.” He had been a bookstore clerk before attaining literary fame. This idea made me stop and think about my own career trajectory and whether I wound up where I should be, and what I would or could have been.
After all, good friend Ken Ishikawa once told me, “You know Carl, you don’t really spend too much time in any one job.” This I thought, was being adventurous, trying out new paths, expanding one’s horizons and capabilities, and a way to stay excited about work, by keeping it varied and always new. Apparently it could also be misread as lazy, easily bored, and unable to hold down a job. Read more of this post

On Clocking In

There are some advantages to working in the office, in the same way that I think that there are advantages to having meetings. (I like small meetings, of at most five people or so, the kind where once you all stand up you’ve reached a consensus and there’s action that can be taken. Big meetings are a waste of time, and the bigger the meeting, the more of a waste it is. You invite people who are irrelevant, and you invite digressions, and you invite people who want to show off or work on their grudges or whatever, and a need to keep things democratic hinders the process of decision-making. Plus, a two to three hour meeting doesn’t take two to three hours, it takes two to three hours multiplied by the number of people in attendance. A meeting of ten people? That’s twenty, thirty work hours wasted.)

My favorite thing about offices: air-conditioning. I know that sounds terribly shallow. But seriously, can you imagine having to work through smoldering heat? I don’t have to imagine, because I did that for a few summers when I still couldn’t afford an air-conditioner. I’d be sitting in the living room which was hot as an oven, and I’d be sweating out, every single thought or word meant for the page preempted or blotted out by thoughts of heat, of wiping my brow, of wanting to move to some climate which wasn’t as severely affected by the heat brought on by global warming.  Read more of this post