equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
20 Oct 06

The Gerry Project

Thumbnail: Gerry 1

Thumbnail: Gerry 2

This is Gerald, or Gerry as he prefers, an alum­nus of my high-school, Upper Canada College.

Gerry was born in Germany, but being a German-Jew, he soon moved to Holland in the years lead­ing up to the Second World War. “My father was rather pre­scient”, he put it. Eventually, he came to Canada. For four years, he attended UCC, grad­u­at­ing in 1940. I was in the class of ’99. After a year at uni­ver­sity, he vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice at 19.

19?”, I asked in dis­be­lief. With a smile on his face, he told me, “You grow up fast”.

He began as a com­mis­sioned offi­cer for an artillery unit. Responsibility of the lives of many men under his com­mand was some­thing he didn’t want, but his knowl­edge of German, Dutch, and English moved him to a more prefer­able posi­tion as an inter­ro­ga­tion offi­cer. His supe­ri­ors would send him co-ordinates of intel­li­gence to gather, some­times behind German lines, some­times in a downed tank, and a pri­vate would drive him in a jeep to obtain the information.

He sur­vived.

From left to right, his medals are:

His proud­est accom­plish­ment is the Maltese cross he wears on his chest — The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, pre­sented by the Governor General her­self. Even though he’s a com­man­der of the order, sec­ond only to knights or dames, he’s extremely mod­est about it. The framed award pre­sented to him lies in a pile of assorted things in his bedroom.


I first met Gerry a few days ago, after find­ing out about him from the bi-annual newslet­ter pub­lished by UCC. The newslet­ter, called Old Times, is a way for alumni, called Old Boys, to keep track of the goings’ on at the College. There was an arti­cle about the school’s prized Victoria Cross medal col­lec­tion being pre­sented to the new Canadian War Museum here in Ottawa. These were the same medals I walked by in the front hall dis­play case every day at school, too young to appre­ci­ate their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Gerry was one of the vet­er­ans invited to attend the pre­sen­ta­tion ceremony.

However, my inter­est in Gerry stemmed from a dif­fer­ent sec­tion in the same issue of the newslet­ter, announc­ing a photo con­test open to all past and present stu­dents. The con­test seemed like a great project, not only as a way to prac­tice my pho­to­graphic skills, but to test myself as well. I would have to find a sub­ject related to the school in some way. Gerry, being an Ottawa-area Old Boy, was my clos­est con­nec­tion. Taking pic­tures of some­one, let alone some­one I had never met before, was a daunt­ing idea, and I would have to step out of my com­fort zone to do it.

After look­ing up his name in the phone­book and gath­er­ing up the courage, I called Gerry. He was happy to meet.

I’ll be sub­mit­ting the sec­ond photo.

Update: Here are the results of the project.

16 Oct 06

Mom Threw Out My Weed

The woman likes to clean.

I mean, I clean my house when I have guests, but every time she would visit, she could go over what I did and get things cleaner. Everything. Like hand-scrubbing the bath­tub. Or wash­ing the glass light-fixtures. Or maybe even to going through my freezer to throw out old frost-burned food and odd-looking, pungent-smelling dried herbs with red hairs in them, kept in an air-tight alu­minum jar.

Herbs you could roll in cig­a­rette fash­ion and smoke to alter your mood and change your per­spec­tive. About $70–$80 worth, kept in three dif­fer­ent Ziploc bags, each with a dif­fer­ent strain that I could choose when I felt that my tol­er­ance to one was build­ing up.

There was hydro from BC I bought off Matt. Some that John got for me, with a funny story behind how he acquired it. Some I don’t even remem­ber who gave me.

I won­der what the expres­sion was on her face if she smelled it, or how she would react if she ever found out that I did such things. I doubt she even knew what it was.

It was prob­a­bly for the best. Even though I quit, I never threw it out.

I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.

13 Oct 06

Dusting Myself Off Like I Just Stole Third

Thumbnail: Green tea ice cream
Thumbnail: Bronwen with Dolly
Thumbnail: Pumpkins for sale
Thumbnail: Bandit
Thumbnail: Quebec view
Thumbnail: Speciality sushi
Thumbnail: Autumn leaf
Thumbnail: Crab claws
Thumbnail: Sarah
Thumbnail: War memorial
Thumbnail: Spicy pork soup
Thumbnail: Olaf

More than a crazy week, I man­aged to sur­vive a crazy fort­night. Something went wrong almost every day, from get­ting my hair high­lighted, to almost get­ting killed in a near-miss car acci­dent, to find­ing out that my com­pany was bought out. On top of this, I kept los­ing sleep, which only expo­nen­ti­ated the stress. Now is the process of pick­ing myself up and dust­ing myself off.

I still feel over-stimulated, so I’ve been her­mi­tiz­ing. Staying away from peo­ple for a while. I’m lim­it­ing myself to one social inter­ac­tion or extra-curricular activ­ity per week. It would actu­ally be noth­ing if I had the option, but I keep get­ting pulled into things because of their annual exclu­siv­ity, such as Thanksgiving din­ner at Louise’s.


I’ve cut off the woman who gave birth to me. There’s a tremen­dous feel­ing of relief, after hav­ing done it. I’m grate­ful for all the sup­port that peo­ple are show­ing me, as well as the fact that none of them have given me advice as if they know more about the sit­u­a­tion or have more wis­dom than I do.

I hold Pat’s opin­ion in high­est regard because he’s the only one who under­stands from both a cul­tural and first-hand point-of-view. He was also the only one who told me, “Good for you”. This, from one of the most for­giv­ing, car­ing peo­ple that I know, con­firmed to me that I made the right decision.

John offered a unique per­spec­tive too, since los­ing his mother at a ten­der age. “You only get one”, he said, although he never chided or judged me about it, per­haps because of the num­ber of times I’ve called him up in tears because of her.


Of the last five times I’ve tried to play table ten­nis, things didn’t work out once. It cer­tainly made the last two weeks a lot more dif­fi­cult to handle.

Table ten­nis is the only thing that helps me sleep well, not to men­tion the fact exer­cise releases endor­phines that fight the exact depres­sion I was going through. I’m tak­ing it as a sign that I’m not meant to play at the moment, so I’m giv­ing it up until next year.

In the mean­time, I’ve taken up Tai Chi. Through the last while, I went back to the Tao Te Ching look­ing for answers, and it renewed my inter­est in Tai Chi, which I see as a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the the­ory. I was also able to clar­ify a few of the con­cepts with my uncles while they were here, so I’m read­ing things over with a fresh perspective.

10 Oct 06

Letter To My Mother

You didn’t know it, but for years I’ve come close to burn­ing the bridge with you. It was a heavy step to take, because in doing so, I knew that I would never be able to go back on such a dras­tic decision.

I appre­ci­ate all the finan­cial sup­port you’ve pro­vided. It’s been more than I can ask for. Unfortunately, what I wanted and needed the most was emo­tional support.

I’ve always played the role of the sub­mis­sive son. Your boy who’s always done what you wanted and agreed with what you said. When we exchanged tears on the phone in August, I let you know how poorly I was treated grow­ing up. I’ve always put up with it, but the way you acted last week was the straw that broke the camels back. I keep giv­ing you a chance, over and over. Seeing you over those few days was the last one. Even if you say now that you can change, the risk isn’t worth it. The poten­tial mis­ery, frus­tra­tion, and anguish you may cause me aren’t worth it.

Normally, I would be sen­si­tive about the tim­ing — the fresh divorce, the tran­si­tion — but I don’t care any­more. I’ve put my feel­ings aside my whole life. You pushed me too far, and now I have to con­sider myself.

Don’t con­tact me again. Not even if some­one dies. Any calls, mes­sages, e-mails will be ignored. This is not an easy or a brash deci­sion for me, a deci­sion I’ve made after cool­ing off and calm­ing down, but from my point of view it’s for the best.

You give me noth­ing but pain and money, and the money doesn’t mean a thing.

From now on, I don’t have a mother.

And you don’t have a son.

06 Oct 06

A Place To Stay

Thumbnail: Scratch sand 1

Thumbnail: Scratch sand 2

Gua sha, or sand scratch­ing, he calls it.

I’m already sob­bing. The cul­mi­na­tion of another week of stress and lack of sleep. One dis­ap­point­ment after another.

With the bowl of a porce­lain Chinese soup spoon, he scrapes the mus­cles along the back of my neck.

This causes rup­ture of the small sub-dermal cap­il­lar­ies (petechia) and may result in sub-cutaneous bruis­ing (ecchymosis).

According to Chinese med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers, the inter­nal tox­ins in the blood are released and cir­cu­la­tion is improved.

Before con­tin­u­ing down my shoul­ders, he rubs on some Vic’s VapoRub. It lubri­cates the process, cools the skin to ease the burn­ing dis­com­fort, a mix of east­ern and west­ern tech­niques. The patch he rubs turns a muddy mix of red and gar­net, and from this he tells me that I’m work­ing too hard. I have to look after myself bet­ter. Relax every day. Take an hour to exer­cise or walk. The first step to a healthy mind is a healthy body. The colour indi­cates that I have a lot of tox­ins built up in my body.

The darker it is, the more it’s sup­posed to hurt, but I feel nothing.

I take a sip from the mug that he hands me, full of pale yel­low liq­uid. It burns going down. Flavourless, but maybe that’s just the congestion.

It’s spicy”, I mum­ble, no longer speak­ing Chinese. It’s too much on my mind. I need to express myself with­out limitations.

It’s just ginger-water. If you can’t take it, you can add some sugar.”

I don’t reply. The unas­sum­ing con­sommé raises the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture, killing the sick air. To quell the spasms in my chest, I take slower, deeper breaths. It doesn’t work.

I admire you, uncle. One day I hope to be a father like you.”

He breathes a short but heavy sigh. I can tell that these words pain him more than any­thing else I’ve said. He tells me, in Chinese, “Uncle doesn’t make a lot of money. I make sure I spend a lot of time at home”.

I like you, uncle. I hope that no mat­ter what hap­pens, we can still be friends.”

No mat­ter what hap­pens, you’ll always have a place to stay with us in Hong Kong.”

01 Oct 06

Family Tied

Over ten years ago, I lived at my aunt’s house for about four months in the sum­mer. Much of my mater­nal fam­ily was vis­it­ing from Hong Kong, so every­one stayed there as a cen­tral location.

One day my par­ents had a blow-out. It was triv­ial, as always. As a result, from my mom’s side of the story, he went out with another woman that night. From his side, my mom tried to kill him with a steak knife. It cut his fin­ger to the bone when he was defend­ing him­self. The next day, with swollen eyes and a weak voice, my mom showed me the yel­low bruises down her arm. They had to be pho­tographed by the police as evi­dence before they healed. Two subpoena’s later and they were bet­ter than new, for the next few months at least until the next fight.

This is the last mem­ory I have of my aunt’s house. I haven’t been back since. Not until this weekend.

Now every­one from my mater­nal side is here, all my mom’s sib­lings and their respec­tive fam­i­lies. It started out as an act of com­mis­er­a­tion, to help her out dur­ing the divorce. Aunt, uncle, and son, aunt, uncle, and son, aunt and uncle. And then there’s me, with my mom. Without father. The only bro­ken family.

At first I think it’s just a coin­ci­dence. My aunt and uncle have the same vac­uum cleaner that we had, the same piano, the same brown cowhide cor­ner sofa. And then it clicks. Since the divorce, my mom sold the house after buy­ing out my father of the con­tents. Everything is stored here until she moves into her new house, from the base­ment to the fam­ily room, from the kitchen to the bathroom.

My child­hood is strewn across every floor. The fam­ily pho­tos. My old finger-painted, art­work from ele­men­tary school. My dad didn’t want any of it.

I need to get out of here.

I need to get the fuck out of here.

29 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 4

Thumbnail: Becky cries 
Thumbnail: Me with gramma Currie 
Thumbnail: Becky tickles John 
Thumbnail: Going for a dip 
Thumbnail: John's birthday present 
Thumbnail: Parade pairs 
Thumbnail: Swimming doggie 

300 km, Windsor to Kincardine, from the bor­der of Detroit to the doorstep of the cot­tage. Due to the break-up, John was too jit­tery to drive. I took the wheel until he could com­pose himself.

This week­end was espe­cially impor­tant for John; it was his birth­day and an over­whelm­ing num­ber of fam­i­lies wanted to visit in cel­e­bra­tion, includ­ing his father. Being the mater­nal cot­tage, Dr. Lea hasn’t been up since his wife died, and this was more impor­tant to John than any­thing else.

By May, the week­ends are already booked past August at the cot­tage. It’s filled with rooms, beds, cots, couches that can accom­mo­date more than a dozen peo­ple. Families come and go, and only Gramma Currie remains con­stant. For most of the year she lives in an apart­ment in town, but when it’s warm enough to live by the fire, the cot­tage is opened for lodging.

This time there was Ross, the cousin who’s since fin­ished pay­ing off his tat­too. There was Ray, hus­band of Fran, father of Heather, uncle of John, who eats his hard-boiled eggs by reg­i­mented rou­tine: dash of salt, dash of pep­per, scoop of mar­garine, scoop of yolk in sequence. There were all the asso­ci­ated fam­i­lies, about five in total, and even a few kids run­ning around, mak­ing four gen­er­a­tions of the Currie family.

I couldn’t even remem­ber the last time I was here, but my last entry in the vis­i­tors log shows that it was three years ago.


Thumbnail: Ballon garden 
Thumbnail: Beach front 
Thumbnail: Beach bench 
Thumbnail: Clear water 
Thumbnail: Carcass 
Thumbnail: Monarch butterfly 
Thumbnail: My pasty feet 
Thumbnail: Praying mantis 
Thumbnail: Beach shells 
Thumbnail: Rock shells 
Thumbnail: Watery log 
Thumbnail: Yellow butterfly 
Thumbnail: Stormy beach 
Thumbnail: Stormy waves 

The best cot­tages are off the beach, and the begin­ning of fall is the best time of year to appre­ci­ate such things. Even though the wind com­ing off the water keeps the area rel­a­tively cool, the sum­mer heat can still over­whelm such delights.

There’s nowhere else like this.


My house was 650 km away, nine more hours on the road by car, bus, and taxi. On Sunday night, it was good to be home.

25 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 3

Thumbnail: Hamilton Market
Thumbnail: John and Sandra

A short detour, 80 km, Toronto to Hamilton.

We met up with Sandra for din­ner. Prior to this, I only knew Sandra as John’s “best friend from school”, the one he spends most his time with when he’s not with his girl­friend. On the drive up my curios­ity was killing me. Was this Sandra per­son a threat to my friend­ship with John? Would she even­tu­ally replace me as the one he goes to with his prob­lems, his inse­cu­ri­ties, his excite­ments, and would I lose my best friend in return?

No.

Social graces dic­tate that you don’t strike up a din­ner con­ver­sa­tion on which not every­one can opine, but when you get two legal-minded peo­ple together, there’s isn’t much non-law-student can do but lis­ten and observe.

They got along well, but there’s a cer­tain level of inti­macy miss­ing. They still feel each other out, whereas John and I have con­ver­sa­tions with a sin­gle look. When we left, I was reas­sured of my posi­tion as best friend, and felt silly about how I could be so inse­cure about a bond so strong.


Thumbnail: Iced tea
Thumbnail: Club sandwhich
Thumbnail: Club 29
Thumbnail: Lounging in the club
Thumbnail: Serious John
Thumbnail: Julie
Thumbnail: Laura

300 km, Hamilton to Windsor.

I had never been to Windsor before. It’s always remained a place in my head, never tan­gi­ble, because it’s always John who vis­its me. Windsor is where he goes to law school, where he spends the major­ity of the year, and where he works. This was the first chance I had to sub­merge myself in his life and lifestyle.

I went to work with him at the com­mu­nity law office. It’s here that he shares an open office with a dozen other stu­dents, who defend clients from bad land­lords, ten­ants, par­ents, chil­dren, shoplifters, or any other type of liv­ing thing.

Law stu­dents are a dif­fer­ent breed. They’re peo­ple who have ini­tia­tive, who can be extro­verted at the right time. After work, they meet at a pub, sit on the patio, and talk about their cases, about the crown attor­neys who have vendet­tas against them, about moronic clients who speak out of turn and plead guilty to a charge before a bar­gain can be reached.

I was a fish out of water.


Thumbnail: Hall handles
Thumbnail: Room number
Thumbnail: Stair arrows

Given a short tour of the University of Windsor, I took a few quick snaps.


Thumbnail: Helen sign
Thumbnail: Helen dies

The first night we arrived in Windsor, John noticed the win­dow was open, with a note from his girl­friend about car­ing for the hibis­cus just out­side. He stuck his head out the win­dow to see. “How fit­ting”, he said. “The plant has fallen over, and died”.

Minutes before leav­ing for the next part of our trip, they broke up.

22 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 2

Thumbnail: School piano
Thumbnail: Baseball plaque
Thumbnail: Baseball bleachers
Thumbnail: Board of officers
Thumbnail: Front hall
Thumbnail: Graduating photoset
Thumbnail: Jackson's logo
Thumbnail: Lockers
Thumbnail: Music stand
Thumbnail: Student centre
Thumbnail: Old windows

Before leav­ing for the next part of our jour­ney, John and I revis­ited our old stomp­ing grounds: the high-school where we grew to be friends. We didn’t get to know each other until we had to share stor­age lock­ers in com­puter class, even though we had already met four years before that another ele­men­tary school. Everyone else paired up for the lock­ers, but being the lon­ers that we were at the time, we had no one else with whom to share, so we resigned our­selves to being alone together.

Turns out things worked out for the best.


While we were there, we found a photo mon­tage of a trip the band took to Hungary back when I was around 15 or 16, prob­a­bly in ’95–’96, and not ’98 as I say in the video. They needed more flutes to fill out the wind ensem­ble, and there so I was invited to come along for the three week trip. The framed mon­tage still hangs in the music room, next to the dou­ble basses.


We also vis­ited his mother’s grave. It was fresh with flow­ers, laid there for the anniver­sary that week. We stood in the mild rain, and John told me the story of her death for the first time: how he cried, how it affected his father, and how long it took them to get over it. I had never brought it up until then; it took nearly ten years until I was com­fort­able enough to say anything.

18 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 1

Taxi, bus, car, 500 km from Ottawa to Toronto.

John, com­ing from a week­end wed­ding, took a flight from Thunder Bay to pick me up. We spent the first three days at the house of John’s par­ents. Circumstances like these always put me on edge; with adults around, we tend to behave, and I’m gen­er­ally obnox­ious when I’m with John.

The step-mother rules the house with an iron fist. No noise after ten. No noise before seven. No using the guest tow­els or soap.

One morn­ing, I was hav­ing toast with some mar­malade when I real­ized that the orange, unla­beled spread in the back of the fridge had a rather sharp taste, sig­ni­fy­ing that it was either offal or expired. John stopped me as I opened the kitchen garbage bin.

You can’t throw that out”

Why not?”

It’s food. Food smells.” John pointed to the dish dry­ing rack. It was filled with milk bags which were used, emp­tied, washed, and dried before being thrown out.

What am I sup­posed to do with it?”

We’ll throw it in the back yard for the birds”

What if the birds won’t eat it? A piece of toast cov­ered with mar­malade would be harder to explain than food in the garbage.”

Eventually, we put the toast in a Zip-Loc bag and dis­posed of it in a pub­lic trash bin four blocks away from the house.


Thumbnail: Flower 1
Thumbnail: Flower 2
Thumbnail: Flower 3
Thumbnail: Fly
Thumbnail: Garden birds
Thumbnail: Garden

The beau­ti­ful gar­den in the back pre­sented some great photo opportunities.


Toronto was our chance to relax. We just hung around and rented movies. When I’m with John I get to see the clas­sics that I’ve missed — every time it’s men­tioned that I haven’t seen a cer­tain title in the store, it’s always met with his button-pushing, “You haven’t seen that?!”. He already has of course, but his mem­ory is so bad that it’s like he never watched them in the first place. This time it was The Shawshank Redemption (very sat­is­fy­ing), Diner (a great coming-of-age film for guys), Four Weddings and a Funeral (ruined by Andie MacDowell’s deliv­ery of “Is it rain­ing — I hadn’t noticed”), and Sideways (fuck­ing amaz­ing). We also saw Out On Bail, which gar­ned many an excru­ci­at­ing reaction.

I still laugh my ass off every time I watch this.

14 Sep 06

Carlo The Crook

Edit: Carlo has taken down his site. I’ve put up a cached ver­sion. Thanks to every­one for the sup­port — goes to show that a voice can count for some­thing on the internet.

Carlo, who lives some­where in Metro Manila and some­times, not most of the time, in Pangasinan, Philippines, has stolen from me. There are oth­ers who steal my work, but this is usu­ally the pic­tures I take, which they use as back­grounds for their own sites (most com­monly the starry sky at Bancroft). I try not to take offence to this; the file sizes are com­monly small, so it doesn’t make much of a dent in my monthly band­width. There are also peo­ple like Sophia, who has made her pres­ence known to me, and uses my words every so often in her own writ­ing as a flat­ter­ing gesture.

Carlo is different.

He’s taken one of my entries and passed it off as his own.
Word for word.

This entry, which I strug­gled days to write, into which I poured my heart, was posted on his blog a day after mine. He did change the title, although I think this hardly ame­lio­rates his actions. He also used my Petal Game pic­ture (per­haps with­out notic­ing my water­mark in the lower right-hand cor­ner), as well as a line from my post inspired by Eternal Sunshine, for a dif­fer­ent entry.

It sad­dens me to think not of how eas­ily some­one can steal things on the inter­net, but how will­ing they are to do it. I can only won­der how many other peo­ple have stolen from me. Lorelle, who offers some great points on what to do if some­one steals your con­tent, sug­gests open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in com­bi­na­tion with as a let­ter of cease and decist. And while I’m in com­plete agree­ment with this, I felt that for the first time I should write about it instead, to make it pub­lic, so that oth­ers may be aware of their own works. There are peo­ple who will quote with­out ref­er­enc­ing. There are peo­ple who will take with­out returning.

Because what’s the point of blog­ging, when one’s words aren’t one’s own?

11 Sep 06

Autumn Recall

Fall approaches. The trees have yet to shift their colours along the spec­trum, but the tem­per­a­ture has begun to drop. Even when the air is calm it’s a play­ful shiver down the spine.

One of my favourite things to do around this time of year, before I quit, would be some wake and bake to start the day. After smok­ing a joint, I’d open the win­dows, turn up the music, and let the breeze drift inside. Sometimes I would go for a walk with my iPod before the sun fully showed itself. When the beat was right, the hard­est thing to do was not to move my body to the music, to groove embar­ras­ingly, and grind and sing and twirl.

With enough weed in the lungs, any­one will dance.

I won’t say that I don’t miss that lifestyle, because it was a way I could view things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. My thoughts would run freely on those early autumn walks. Music would sound bet­ter. Girls, cov­er­ing up in sweaters and long sleeves, would look nicer. It was a pre­scrip­tion I would need every week.

The expe­ri­ence isn’t the same until it’s this time of the year. Smothering sum­mer heat dulls the senses. Winter over­stim­u­lates them into sobri­ety, and even after a full bowl, all one can feel is cold. It’s only in the fall, in the per­fect weather, that brings one to ones’ senses. The green air, full of that cold con­crete smell, gives a rush to the head.

Until I walked out­side this morn­ing, with !!! pound­ing in my ears, I never thought I could feel this way again.

The approach of fall has brought this back to me.

09 Sep 06

To Steep

Thumbnail: Bacon grease

Thumbnail: Breakfast

Thumbnail: Dolly's milk treat

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a lit­tle stronger with each year that passes.

—George Orwell

On Saturday morn­ings I wake up a lit­tle past seven, no mat­ter how late I was up on Friday. Get dressed, check the mail, read the news, go upstairs to cook break­fast in a pan of grease. Everything is timed per­fectly. The toast is started two min­utes before the eggs are bro­ken into the pan, but only after the bacon is done. The tea starts steep­ing two min­utes before that. Everything is ready and warm within 25 minutes.

Dolly gets a treat on the week­end morn­ings: a bit of Fancy Feast, or half-and-half mixed with water. Cats are lac­tose intol­er­ant, so they can’t drink straight milk, but they’re drawn the fat that their noses can smell.

Bacon, bread, egg, bacon, bread, egg. I eat my break­fast in order, going clock­wise around the plate, but I always save a few sips of tea for the end. Even though I’ve given up the Hong Kong style milk tea, Orange Pekeoe is an appro­pri­ate black leaf sub­sti­tute, round­ing out the meal.

It’s a lit­tle rit­ual that keeps me sane. At the end of break­fast, sat­is­fied and full, I can reflect and recharge, down to the dregs.

Every year, as I grow older, I find that I let my tea steep a lit­tle longer. Maybe life has got­ten a lit­tle too com­pli­cated, and I need the tea as a dis­trac­tion, or per­haps life has become too sim­ple, and I need the com­pan­ion­ship of a rich mug to stim­u­late me.

Strange how a teapot can rep­re­sent at the same time the com­forts of soli­tude and the plea­sures of company.

And I’ve never needed this more than I do now.

04 Sep 06

The Beginning To The End

This was the week­end we first met.

The first time we kissed. The first time we held each other. The first time we slept with arms entwined, bod­ies bare and buried under the covers.

It was before the snow melted on the verge of spring, when I would open the win­dows to dry the sweat from our skin.

I put on a song that made me cry, because she said that it turned her on, and with the tears welling up in my lids, we stared into each oth­ers’ eyes.

From the moment we touched, there was never any awk­ward­ness. Only a com­plete trust, a com­fort­ing famil­iar­ity, as if we’d known each other for years, a gen­tle nuz­zle of the nose from my baby-faced doll.

And now it’s over.

Someone who saw this video sent me this very touch­ing let­ter about her story of rape and recovery.

01 Sep 06

Musical Context

For years, I lis­tened to music based on my mood. Playlists were well suited for this. I had one full of sad songs for my sad days, days that would last months at a time. I had one with only quick-paced, aggres­sive gui­tar riffs and lung-spitting screams, for the pock­ets of rage I’d encounter every now and then. One that was mostly elec­tronic inspi­ra­tion — songs that would move me when I needed to move. One for the par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult days, con­sist­ing of stoic melodies that could fill me with grit deter­mi­na­tion. There was even one for the bit­ter­sweet moments, per­fect for a post-show buzz. Every song served a par­tic­u­lar purpose.

This mot­ley group­ing of sin­gle tracks may have been the result of the way I dis­cov­ered new music. Tenaciously, with ears always open, I would record as much as I could that caught my fancy, jot­ting down any dis­cernible lyrics I could use as a basis for a search, and never stop­ping until I could find the song. Hysteria, by Muse, is just one exam­ple, which I hap­pened to dis­cover while watch­ing an awards show. For a long time, it remained a song I’ve enjoyed on my for it’s sub­tle build-up, and ener­getic, nearly chaotic, synth-inspired bass lines.

Things changed when I lived with Trolley. He exposed me to bands of dif­fer­ent gen­res, and being a musi­cal col­lec­tor, this expo­sure took the form of com­plete albums. One of them hap­pened to be Absolution.

Now that I have the entire album, Hysteria is known to me as track 7, com­ing after the pen­sive Interlude, but before the gen­tle, ethe­real, Blackout. In this con­text, pre­ceded and suc­ceeded by two equally sig­nif­i­cant tracks, the song doesn’t sound the same.

Eventually, none of my playlists were appro­pri­ate for what I was feel­ing. At first, I thought that this was the result of increas­ingly sub­tle or com­plex emo­tions, but I’ve come to real­ize that it’s sim­ply because I’ve matured, and as a result, my emo­tions have evened out. With the wis­dom and seren­ity asso­ci­ated with grow­ing older, came the loss of emo­tional highs and lows that would inspire me.

Now it’s become dif­fi­cult to lis­ten to a song in a playlist. Every album has an order. Every track has its place. Listening to a song out of its musi­cal con­text may be hard, but lis­ten­ing to music with­out the rush of inspi­ra­tion is harder.

And this has become my musi­cal context.