Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Week In Pursuit

Colombo is a city where information circulates by way of clandestine candle-lit dinners. Stories of corruption, abductions and arbitrary shootings are prefaced with a distancing "I've heard" or "They say" to avoid liability, not for false statements but dangerously accurate ones. There is no tangible truth here.

"Surekha, it's gone. I promise," he says in an effort to comfort me.

The branches invading our airspace ruffle and I see a bat briefly eclipse the moon. We're on a dirt driveway, standing around what looks like a boat with wheels. No doors, no windshield, no mirrors and a vacant space for a backseat that one has to share with a tool box. We're preparing for a joyride.

"Dude, there is no way I'm stepping into that vehicle till you catch that cockroach."

I lied. Ten minutes later we're roaming the empty Tuesday night roads of Colombo. The engine spits out sounds disapprovingly every time the gear changes. As we pick up speed he involuntarily groans, then belatedly tries to muffle it. He's in the seatless backseat with his legs braced and his arms clinging on to the metal frame of the car. I'm in the front seat, with my legs stretched out over where the left mirror should be, utterly at ease.

Now I'm stretched out in the back of a van listening to Elliott Smith on my iPod. Parked for the past hour in an obscure village slightly inland from the southern coast, waiting for the male reporters to return from interviewing a Sheik who does not tolerate the presence of women. For a while I entertain myself by watching a goat troll a cluster of roof tops in a shanty town, but now I'm growing restless with my exclusion from the action. The raw heat from the afternoon sun isn't exactly helping me keep a cool head. Elliott, of course, never fails.

I haven't eaten since dinner with him the night before, but after walking around that mangled Mosque I'm not hungry. The senior reporters briefed me on the assignment during our hour long trip from Colombo. Muslim sectarian violence in Sri Lanka manifested itself on Friday night in the form of arson and murder in a small village near a booming tourist town. We originally planned to attend the court proceedings - woah, I'm going to photograph killers! - but police postponed the case. Our van re-routed to the scene of the crime.

From Black Sand Journal

I never expected to be granted entry to the Mosque, especially in a t-shirt and without my head covered, but in the eyes of these Muslim men the testimony of my camera trumped my gender. I received a guided tour in English from a man with an entourage that carried 9mm pistols in their sarongs. With a crowd circling he showed me the atrium of the Mosque, every inch of it covered in shards of glass and charred furniture. I snapped away at soot-coated walls covered in fingered-graffiti along the lines of "Prepare 4 Jihad."

Then we walked to the area for ablutions, where the massacre took place. The noxious stench foreshadowed the actual scene. A large room of wall-to-wall white tiles stained with dried pools of blood and splatter. Discarded makeshift murder weapons - rakes, concrete slabs - littered the floor. The hacked wooden doors that lined the back of the room looked like something out of The Shining. Flies swarmed the scene, buzzing between the patches of gore, sometimes landing on my arms or feet in transit. Thank God I didn't have breakfast.

My guide wanted me to photograph a thick layer of blackened blood with a victim's name scribbled in Tamil on a piece of paper lying next to it . There is no way my editor is going to publish photos of this slaughter house. I ended up taking over a hundred shots to appease my guide; I figured my cooperation would earn his. He explained that his sect of Islam is more orthodox than that of the mob that attacked his Mosque. Tensions had been brewing since his Mosque was first built in 2002, primarily due to its proximity to the rival sect's Mosque. A Friday midday sermon that called members of the rival sect "unislamic" ignited hostilities. The attack occurred shortly after midnight prayer the same day, and lasted about an hour. Two men slayed, nine injured, every window shattered, the Mosque and adjacent library and medical clinic all incinerated. The sound of crashing glass echoed through the Mosque even as I took pictures four days after the incident. Clean-up operations had just begun when we arrived perhaps a few hours too early.

From Black Sand Journal

Back at the back of the van, I'm absorbing. It is only a matter of time till the villains and victims switch roles. I'm dreading editing those photos. The smell won't vacate my nostrils. I contemplate going vegetarian, because currently I cannot fathom eating anything that bleeds. The war is over, but Sri Lanka is by no means cured of conflict. Muslim sectarian violence isn't a mere glitch - it is a symptom of what allowed a civil war to rage for a quarter century. The substance of divisions - Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Christian, etc. - is insignificant compared to the fact the divisions simply exist. In the absence of ethnicity or religion, I'm sure people would divide themselves as fiercely based on shoe size or favorite flavor of ice cream.

Edited the photos (before breakfast), wrote the article, visited Stefhan, ate sandwiches (yum!) and discussed this short anime (it is 5 minutes long - watch it!).

It walks the line of women-who-live-with-cats cliché, but I love what this film says about being single. I've never said "I hate being single." When a romance ends I am undeniably unsettled, not out of hostility towards the idea of being single, but because I miss that person in particular for a considerable length of time (oh, say a summer?).

But I enjoy my solitary morning routine. I enjoy my melangé à trois cereal experience while I read the news online. I enjoy yelling at messages in my inbox, then determinedly storming out on my computer. I enjoy the smell of CK One and FA Caribbean Lemon deodorant and St. Ives aloe vera cream. I enjoy only putting on my shirt 30 seconds before I walk out the door. I enjoy that last look in the mirror. And I do all that for myself. I do not need a lover to appreciate all those things for me to still enjoy them. I am the proud owner of an inner cat.

If the stakes are high I let my sense of duty guide me - even if it ends up leading me in the opposite direction of happiness. Applicable to journalism, applicable to my personal life. Maybe it was unfair of me to expect the you to take the same risk.

Hm, then again, maybe it wasn't at all.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Village Heartbeat

The preschool children kept singing and marching barefoot in the ungodly heat. Every surface exposed to the sunlight looked bleached. My searing skin certainly felt bleached. The costumed kids, however, danced happily through a corridor of proud relatives (I hesitate to say parents...) as the procession wound from the school premises to the nearby temple and back again. The little troupers exhibited a resilience to the scorching sun that I severely lacked.

From Black Sand Journal
After taking photos of the Perahera (a Buddist-Sri Lankan cultural festival) for half an hour, the language barrier and high temperatures conspired to drive me crazy. I wanted to ask for names and ages, favorite colors and cricketers - what do you want to be when you grow up? But I couldn't. I smiled when the sun didn't compel my face to convulse with dissatisfaction. Essentially sulking as an adult, how on earth would I have handled the sweltering weather as a kid (with no football to distract me)? A tantrum of sorts, I suspect, followed by feigning heatstroke. Out of sixty-something preschoolers, I saw just one cry. I swear, kids today! - how I envy their temperament.

It is rural community like no other on this island - the literal English translation of its name is SugarTown. I volunteer for a local NGO that adopted this southern coastal region years before the tsunami occurred. It tried to improve the standard of living for impoverished villagers by providing children with educational material and their families with dry rations. On the day the tsunami hit, children from towns all along the southern shore were bused in to collect basic school supplies and backpacks. Those who could not run up to the temple were washed away by the waves. They say not a single family in town was spared losing a loved one. The trauma did not recede as easily as the tide. The harrowing search for bodies soon gave-way to the realization that by a whole generation of new orphans survived their dead parents.

From Black Sand Journal
Five years on, with the help of foreign and local donors alike, the NGO has rebuilt or restored over a thousand houses in the region. It established both a medical and dental clinic - services unavailable before the tsunami. English, computer and vocational training are offered to both kids and adults. The state-of-the-art sports center would sate any school in Colombo. Bryan Adams even donated a swimming pool. All that - housing, health care, education, recreation - free of charge.

Make no mistake - SugarTown is an entirely unique phenomenon. Rural stagnation is an epidemic in Sri Lanka's 12,ooo villages. Areas in the deep south are still struggling to recover from the tsunami after being left untouched by government relief. Though literacy in local languages is above 90%, the difference between realized potential and wasted talent is often a rudimentary knowledge of English that escapes most of the island's rural population. Even in areas where outside assistance is extremely pervasive, some of the renovated housing communities are slowly deteriorating into shanty towns. I saw young mothers cradle newborns in hollow door frames, using concrete bricks for chairs in otherwise unfurnished homes. Those villagers lucky enough to receive aid simply cannot earn enough money to maintain what they've been given. Even a child's free education comes with an opportunity cost to the poorest families. Reaching 10th grade is an achievement in itself, university for these children doesn't even register as a pipe-dream.

From Black Sand Journal
And this is what I've witnessed in the South - I cannot fathom the desolation in the war-ravaged North. The government makes it impossible to independently estimate the number of internally displaced people. The military conflict may be over, but there are countless other issues on the island that have gone unaddressed for decades. People keep referring to peace as a wonderful opportunity for this country to flourish, which I fear is a euphemism for rural development taking a backseat to commercial exploitation. In 15 years, I don't want Sri Lanka to be a land of hardened adults, who grew up in rowdy neighborhoods that discouraged them from dancing carefree down the street.

You can see the full album of my trip on my photography site.

Friday, July 3, 2009

No One Will Know

From Black Sand Journal

Though it can't guarantee no smoking, my zippo (more precisely, its engraving) promises no smalltalk. The aphorism comprehensively delineates what makes my friendship with Stefhan both compelling and durable, and it is the brazen model I'll adopt for this post.

Two weeks worth of private thought has woven together the bad patches of my past into a blanket personal philosophy. With some apprehension, I relived the moments that exposed my weaknesses, brought me to my knees, and left me feeling pathetic and worthless. Why I plummeted to such unbearable lows, I have recently learned, is intertwined with the fabric of my personality.

What makes me who I am? Let me start with what doesn't make me who I am. My nationality isn't obvious to me. Born in Vienna to Sri Lankan parents and the product of an international school education casts me as a cultural mongrel. My mélange accent is an apt testament to this. I am ethnically Sinhalese, but I can't even speak the language. Any attempt I make at pronouncing common words or phrases is often drowned out by laughter. My household has never been a religious one. My father raised me to be rational, not God-fearing. As for sexuality, I simply like people who challenge me. Ambiguity surrounds all the conventional characteristics of my identity. Because these traits don't narrow me down to a certain 'type' of person, they are about as useful as the thumb print on my pendant in describing who I am.

From Black Sand Journal
Who I am is wholly reflected in my personal choices. I don't hide myself behind labels. I do not identify with a religion to convert bigotry and homophobia into socially acceptable traditional values. I do not identify with a nationality or ethnicity to reclassify racism as a historical dispute. I do not identify with a sexual orientation to justify my behavior or dictate my social circles. I do not derive my 'wisdom' from a pool common to a community. I am accountable for my own opinions and actions.

But being exactly who I choose to be is both liberating and lonely. When I make a mistake, it is not a habit of my culture or religion or sexuality. It is just me. As my alcoholism began to bud with the flowers this spring, there was no way I could write it off as a part of the college lifestyle or my genetics. I made the decision not to drink this summer, supplemented with a wager with my brother-in-law. Now, whenever I decline to booze because of the bet to stay sober, someone always insists that "no one will know."

I am happy to say Dick Cheney is everything I am not. My mind could never follow a logic like: "3,000 Americans killed on 9/11 by Muslim extremists. I am American, therefore I am a victim and can authorize the use of torture on untried 'enemy non-combatants' with a clear consccience because it is all in the name of national security." Before Cheney tried to vindicate his sadistic orders, he acted like he never made any. Cheney vehemently opposed the disclosure of CIA memos that incriminated him (again, supposedly in the interest of national security). He carried out his most underhanded work as Vice-President assuming he would never be held responsible for abusing human rights. No fear of a guilty verdict, because no one was supposed to be aware of the crime.

But I fear my own recognition guilt. I do not know how to escape it, but the unyielding urge to neutralize guilt often foments the moments that expose my weaknesses, bring me to my knees, et cetera. I overcompensate or I realize later that the reasons for which I felt guilty were fabricated by people who act with no remorse. If vaccinating myself against guilt by disregarding my conscience is the only way to avoid revisiting those lows, then I rather be harmed than cause harm to others. I never want to share common ground with Dick Cheney.

Returning to why I still refuse liquor when confronted with that airtight "no one will know" argument? Well, I don't consider myself "no one."

From Black Sand Journal

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Lies We Like To Believe Are True

I've dutifully contemplated, composed, reread and subsequently deleted many an incomplete post in the past week. So I'm back to fragments, though noticeably in larger chunks - paragraphs rather than sentences. Enjoy.

A shapeless intruder, that fragrance-cum-miasma redolent of a painful-once-pleasant memory. If we hold harrowing experiences like a revolver at our lips, then smell callously pulls the trigger. It is an unhappy coincidence of anatomy that our weakest sense is controlled by the part of our brain most closely associated with emotion. Too enamored by an aroma to question from where it emanated. Too easily other senses blunted, blinded and bound by romantic resignation to a mere scent. Too fleeting a visit, leaving in its wake unbearable sensory deprivation.

To stratify society in a developing tropical country, look no further than the way people keep themselves cool. An electricity imbibing air conditioner? A humming ceiling fan? The breeze running through the open windows of a home? Or lacking all of the above, how about the gust of wind generated by a speeding jeep? A zephyr imbued with asphyxiating exhaust fumes and the ruffled dust of a dirty street.

From Black Sand Journal

The fortunate eavesdropping of a conversation between two very intriguing women (no idea what their names were, but I guess I wouldn't publish them even if I did).
Veritas: It's not that I think I'll stop loving her. I just think I'll never stop being attracted to men. (Pause) And, you know, wanting dick. Not that sex with a woman isn't fantastic. I cant even say one's better than the other.
Nyx: If only being bisexual meant living parallel lives, a straight one fucking men and a gay one fucking women.
Veritas: Yeah I know, that would be awesome!
Nyx: Oh my God, we've become that loathed bisexual cliché - polygamists!
Veritas:(Laughs) Where is the harm? Who made up this "only one person for everyone" crap anyway?
Nyx: All the people who get jealous. (Pause) Which includes us.
Veritas: (Sighs) True.

A weak stream of pity trickles into her cupped hands. The worn palms converge and withered fingers straighten to smoothly transform the gesture of begging into one of prayer. In an unnecessary token of gratitude, she bows till her nose kisses her thumbs. An elegant expression of thanks disproportionate to the "charity" she received. Her routine continues unwaveringly, even as in the minds of passersby the memory of her existence expires with the minute of the day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Casual Conversation

"You're the one," he sighed.

"You're all I could ever want,"
I replied.

"I'll love you forever,"
he said with vigor.

"I'll never leave you,"
I promised.

Under a thatched umbrella, we sat facing a sea with black waves. The moon surfaced sporadically from behind the sailing clouds, but we relied on candle light to pour our drinks. It could have been any night from the last three summers, except I refused to indulge in any alcohol (much to his dismay). I let the sand surround my feet and invade the gaps between my toes. My legs pushed downwards with increasing force till the damp grains began to make my ankles itch. This process preoccupied me as we spoke.

Amused by our embittering experiences, we were trading insults not sweet nothings. We found insincerely repeating to each other all the unfulfilled commitments we had suffered so simple. As simple as the liars, who once convinced us to fill our faith in those hollow words, must have found it.

"I need you," he added through muffled laughter.

"I'll never let you down," I recited - after a moment of hesitation - from a now distant memory.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dislocation Blues

I lead a private existence on a strict schedule in Sri Lanka. My social interactions are limited to morning conversations with my personal trainer at the gym. Otherwise, I'm in my hotel-style room, reading political blogs or writing for my summer internship, with only the hum of the ceiling fan for company. Events in New York last semester contaminated me, so now I'm on a self-imposed quarantine in Sri Lanka to - in a sense - disinfect myself.

I'm seeing "results" - I guess. I've lost six pounds since my first day in Colombo, if weight is a metric of happiness. It usually isn't for me, but when my rational and empathetic values fail me, I revert back to the shallow basics. Less weight = better person is an easy formula to follow, but I hope a more sophisticated idea strikes me soon. I'm going to resist the urge to regurgitate feminist musings on weight and its negative correlation with a woman's sense of worth.
From Black Sand Journal

Here is a peculiar divergence from my normal pattern of behavior that I just observed. Anyone who knows me must know that I drink no nonsense black coffee. I like it brewed strong, I don't take any sugar (God help the barista who dares add 2% milk) and I enjoy multiple cups of the stuff at all hours of the night. BUT not only have I stopped drinking black coffee and switched to tea this summer, I have my tea with sweetener AND milk. [Okay, if you don't know me you are probably reading this and thinking, "what is the big deal?" but if you do know me then you're probably frantically searching the internet for the closest bunker because you recognize this as a sign of the apocalypse.]

I've always been such an "all or nothing" person, this unfamiliar balance of tea AND sweetener AND skim milk frightens me more than an Alfred Hitchcock film. Maybe I am changing in ways more substantial than I am conscious of.

This post isn't about much, but I'd like to share a couple of newly acquired nuggets of knowledge. The first is if you are ever facing a crisis, take a moment to listen to Chris Whitley's album that is the namesake of this post. The second is a challenge to conventional wisdom. We are wired to chase our desires in all fields of life - that boy, this girl, those shoes, an iPhone, a slim waist line, the ideal job. Having goals and the ambition to accomplish them is commendable (and the sentiment behind my tattoo), but there are times when we are forced to grudgingly accept some of our aspirations will escape us. This realization is usually accompanied with a great deal of disappointment, and in some cases anger and resentment. But if we know that getting what we want does not necessarily make us happy, why can't we embrace the reverse as equally true? That we can still be happy, despite not getting what we want.

I think it's a powerful idea. Meditate on it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Couldn't Help Myself

Apologies - I need to write. The vlogging stuff is fun (reference last one with Stef), but much of what I'm compelled to say sounds awkward when, well, said. I'm returning to my favorite medium to reflect on my day in Unawatuna.

From Black Sand Journal

The sea expanded endlessly before me from where I sat atop the hillock in Unawatuna. My grandfather owned this land before gifting to the temple. As a kid, I wondered why he hadn't kept this beautiful place to build some elaborate holiday home. If he had to, surely he could have given away the estate in Ambaghawatta - with its wild cattle and overgrown vegetation - to the temple instead.

Beneath the sun-baked rock, my feet burned. My eyes must have looked blue as I studied the clear skies and open ocean - the boundary between the two ambiguous at best. The sound of the waves and the wind ricocheted in my ears, drowning out all thought. My tongue tasted the salt that landed on my lips, carried by the gentle sea spray. Now a little wiser at twenty, I'm glad this sensory explosion is shared by more than just my family.

Just when I felt my metaphysical self departing, the thunderous noise of fighter jets drew me back to reality. Victory parade today, right. In the morning, the waiters at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I had stopped on the drive down watched coverage of the celebrations in Colombo on a TV that predated my birth. My breakfast background noise was translated into three different languages. When I did glance at the aging television, I saw the familiar face of the president. I say familiar because in the south his image is plastered on as many as eight billboards at any given roundabout; overkill, don't you think? (No pun intended). Mahinda's mug is second only to the number of AK-47s on my list of the most frequent sights in Sri Lanka. I see at least twenty cops or soldiers cradling their weapons whenever I leave my home. The closest I came to a gun in New York was standing behind a cop in line at Dunkin' Donuts.

From Black Sand Journal

Before I found myself upon the charming rock, I visited two schools in Unawatuna. Both were tsunami schools, the first funded by people in London. My Dad sent me to take photos of the makeshift kitchen, which was literally a small hut with a campfire, to help raise money in England for a new one. The children, seeing my big camera, attempted to draw my attention by repeatedly screaming "hi, hi" through their grins and waving furiously. Adorable, and not much unlike my behavior in front of cameras as a kid. The boys were flying kites and the girls crowded onto the swings and slides. The hi's seamlessly switched to bye's as I turned my back on them after taking a few photos.

The second school was in a temple and the children there were considerably more mellow. I wanted to photograph them playing, but when I drew near they put down their toys, stopped talking, and stood in a line in front of me. I can't speak Sinhalese and they nor their teacher spoke English. After a few failed gestures to convey that they should continue playing, I left.

Around the back of the school, I found a priest who thankfully did speak English. He told me to explore the temple with "little monk" as my guide. The "little monk" was a child of no more than eight. He didn't know English, but his demeanor spoke volumes. He silently escorted me up the steps to the temple and places of worship. I wondered what this child - this monk - thought of me with my expensive camera and sunglasses and my impossible to mask bad vibes. I felt distinctly ashamed while I snapped away in his presence.

From Black Sand Journal

On the drive home, I tried to locate the source of my shame. In the day since I got back, I've come to the conclusion that my restlessness sickens me. It is no secret that I've spent a good chunk of the last two months feeling unhappy. To put it simply, I didn't get what I wanted or felt I deserved. I tried to constrict the expression of my displeasure, but I inevitably threw tantrums while intoxicated. No wound strikes deeper than love that is turned to hate, Sophocles wrote in one of his Theban plays. I've quoted that line at least once a year since 16. I'm now in that mindset (perfect for working out, actually) where I am so consumed by hate that spite alone propels me to move on and distinguish myself from the girl who foolishly let her heart break. I have to become a worse person before I can become a better one, and that fact shames me.

Maybe I should go fly a kite?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Summer VLog: Featuring Stefhan!

As promised, the new VLog entry features my best friend Stefhan! We recorded this in the living room (we were supposed to tape in Barefoot, but the Sunday jazz session would've drowned out our magnificent commentary on life). We tried doing one long take, but that didn't work out too well with my Dad hovering around ("helicopter parenting") and Stefhan's phone ringing. There aren't enough cautionary words in the English language for this video. We're immature, we make wildly inappropriate jokes, and half the time we're laughing at ourselves. How do I function without this boy around?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer VLog: First

Alright, here is my first vlog entry, which I recorded in bed. I must be in that lucid-sleep stage to be stupid enough to publish this post, but whatever. I'll deal with the backlash in the morning. Enjoy the rambling and incessant gum-chewing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Back On The Island

From Black Sand Journal

Today, I decided to take a nap at 3 in the afternoon and I didn't wake up again till 10 at night. This does not bode well for the start of my 9am gym routine.

I wonder if Emirates reads my blog, because on the Dubai-Colombo leg of my marathon trip home I was cut some serious slack with a free upgraded to business class. I didn't ask anyone for it - the guy who rips the boarding passes just issued me a new one and I didn't realize I was in business till I was looking for my seat on the plane. They were offering freaking Möet before takeoff (of course, I couldn't accept because of a certain bet I have going this summer) and my food was served on a table cloth - A TABLE CLOTH! - oh, the luxuries of life.

Usually when I return to Sri Lanka, I (and those around me) suffer a week-long tantrum until I adjust to the fact I won't be in New York for X-amount of days. It takes time for me to accept I cannot walk everywhere and anywhere (thanks to the unforgiving sun and charming catcalls from men). It takes time for me to remove the words fuck, cunt and asshole from my vocabulary. It takes time to remember I cannot drink the tap water.

But this time round, my demeanor is eerily calm. I think it may have something to do with acknowledging I was in dire need of a 14 week break from New York to get back in touch with who I am (free of certain "stresses"). 14 weeks of sobriety, working out and meditation (yes, that means I'm going to temple...).

Exciting news - as of my next post I'll be vlogging instead of blogging. I really shouldn't be, because every time I post a video on someone's facebook wall I tend to come off as clinically insane. No matter.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Summer in Sri Lanka To Do List

From Black Sand Journal

1. Intern at a newspaper...
2. ... Not die in the process.
3. Photograph what the government doesn't advertise in brochures...
4. ... Not die in the process.
5. Volunteer for Equal-Ground...
6. ... Not die in the process.
7. Gym 5 days a week...
8. ... Not die in the process.
9. Live with my parents for 14 weeks...
10. ... Not die in the process.

To summarize, staying alive is the low bar I'm setting for a successful summer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Somebody That I Used To Know - Elliott Smith

From Black Sand Journal

I listened to the namesake of this post on repeat all of last night.

Mike and I were taking a tea and coffee break yesterday afternoon at Irving between helping our friends move out of dorms. He'd been listening to this Elliott Smith song and said that it reminded him of my current predicament. "That first line, what was it?" he said before pausing for a tense moment to think. "Oh yeah, it goes - I had tender feelings that you made hard. But it's your heart, not mine, that's scarred."

I can't emphasize enough how horribly apt an articulation the song is of my entire year, so just listen to it.
From Black Sand Journal

Sophomore year is over. I'll be leaving the city in eight days and won't be back for fourteen weeks. People in Sri Lanka will ask, "So, what went on over the last few months?" - and what the fuck am I going to say? I should just link them to my blog and tell them to figure the whole mess out.

But here are a few shards. I never feel more alive than I do immediately after a concert. Photography is therapeutic. The most unexpected people read my blog. My perfect vision probably dulls my other senses. It's worth jumping fences after midnight for certain people. As a 20 year old, I don't take my good health for granted. The same two figures have alternated casting a shadow over the other in my life - while in the presence of one, all I could feel was the absence of the other.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Thermals at Bowery Ballroom

From Black Sand Journal

I will feel as free as Kathy looks in this photo on Tuesday night.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Patrick Wolf at Le Poisson Rouge

From Black Sand Journal

I love bouncers who can't do math. Approximately 12 hours before my politics final, I stood in line outside Le Poisson Rouge to receive my wristband for the Patrick Wolf show. I showed my real ID, but entered without underage X's marring my hands. I took it as a sign, and walked straight to the bar to order a pint of Red Fish Ale.

Call it irresponsible, call it badass - I value my education, but I don't skim on thrilling life experiences. It doesn't get much better than witnessing Patrick Wolf - the omnisexual demigod - perform a live acoustic show at a club on Bleeker Street.

Befitting the musical tone, the scene at Le Poisson Rouge was quite subdued. Fans obediently occupied tables, while those of us who came late lined the walls. Patrick shared the stage with a violinist, but played more instruments than I've heard of throughout the show.

Patrick emerged from his dressing room in a fitting black jacket and elaborate neck piece - both of which he had stripped off by the second song. I had never been all that attracted to him, but when an inebriated woman in the audience yelled, "C'mon Patrick - Get yer kit off," I found myself nodding in silent agreement.

His onstage banter is second to none. He spoke at length about his family, and what playing in New York means to him. His childhood fascination with Bleeker Street while growing up in a small town near Sussex certainly resonated with me. "I imagined a street full of cafés with fabulous musicians, but instead I got an American Apparel," he joked (I think, I hope).

He didn't have a fixed set list, and pretty much took requests from audience members all night. We sang happy birthday to his cousin Natalie, he asked whether anyone knew of a good line-dancing class for his Aunt Brenda. The show felt so homely.

He sang a bare bones version of Vulture for his encore. Not nearly as hot as the music video, but it was worth hearing just for his costume change. My jaw almost dropped when he said he'd finally found "the Yoko Ono to my John Lenon." I would have envisioned Patrick as Yoko.

Of course, it was pouring rain after the show. It was nearly 1AM and I hadn't eaten since lunch, but Lauren and I decided to run in the direction of the library. On the way she yelled "CART" and we ducked under its awning to order me some lamb over rice, before continuing our jovial scamper back to Bobst. I don't think I've ever shoveled food into my mouth so quickly. If you want to see more photos of the Patrick Wolf show, or just some stunning photography in general, check out Lauren's flickr site.

I ended up going to bed at 5AM, waking up two hours later to sit my final, and now blogging about the show. I haven't even had time to collect my thoughts on the phenomenal New Yorker Summit, but I will say that Ana Marie Cox (a.k.a. Wonkette, frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show and writer for the Daily Beast) tapped me on the shoulder to ask why I was twittering about her. Most bumbling, star-struck moment of my entire life. Movie stars? Who cares. Journalists? I'm weak at the knees.

One last thing - Patrick Wolf did an acoustic version of The Magic Position. The sneaky bastard let it creep up on me by blending it into the end of another song. Before I could prepare myself, the chords were booming out of his grand piano and he sultrily whispered the song title into the microphone. It wouldn't be a Black Sand Journal entry without some sort of revelation - and mine came as Patrick sang:

"Out of all the people I've known, the places I've been,
The songs that I have sung, the wonders I've seen,
Now that the dreams are all coming true,
Who is the one that leads me on through?"

It's (still) you.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The End of Poetry

From Black Sand Journal

It is the eve of finals and I know things are bad when my mind subconsciously turns to religion. Not to worry - my real Holy Trinity is Elliott Smith, Feist and Wilco. Since life is a mere exercise in citation, my final swing at poetic writing will be the splicing together of lyrics from my three saviors.

I met a girl, a snowball in hell, she was hard and as cracked as the Liberty Bell. Baby I can't figure it out, your kisses taste like honey. Forget the implications, infatuations end. This very secret that you're trying to conceal is the very same one that you're dying to reveal. You once talked to me about love, and you painted pictures of a never never land, and I could have gone to that place, but I didn't understand. The hope I had in a notebook full of white, dry pages was all I tried to save. It was hard to tell how I felt to not recognize myself. A sleepy kisser, a pretty war, with feelings hid, she begs me not to miss her. You beat up on yourself 'cause there ain't no one else, who feels quite as good to put straight through hell. All my lies are only wishes. You beat it in me that part of you, but I'm going to split us back in two. I thought you'd ask me not to leave. I'm never going to know you now, but I'm going to love you anyhow.