equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
04 Jul 14

steps into strides

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It’s nice to be at a point where I don’t suf­fer sim­ply by the act of exist­ing. With my head above water, I can pur­sue a sense of hap­pi­ness instead of con­stantly decid­ing whether it’s worth going on.

But I have to admit that the depth of my strug­gle is what gave me the tools to thrive now. When I was try­ing to sur­vive the most dif­fi­cult times, I learned that I could limit the effect of life’s inher­ent insta­bil­i­ties by being in bet­ter con­trol of myself. Through my jour­ney with social injus­tice1, I learned how to empathize with peo­ple and under­stand their expe­ri­ences. From hav­ing lost all my most fun­da­men­tal emo­tional bonds, I learned to be a more patient friend and deeper lover.

It feels like I’ve been strug­gling in ado­les­cence, and am now tran­si­tion­ing to the next major phase, one that will involve as much heal­ing as grow­ing. That means I need to prac­tice using these tools, cause know­ing how to be a bet­ter per­son isn’t enough by itself; time and per­se­ver­ance are just as impor­tant for a per­son with so much damage.

There are still bad days, moments of weak­ness, and ground­less inse­cu­ri­ties, but they’re get­ting less fre­quent and less intense, and I have more time than I ever thought I’d have. As long as I’m on the right path, each step I take toward find­ing my stride will get me to where I want to go.

  1. And with the sup­port of Shawn and Tiana mak­ing me feel val­i­dated about my feel­ings every step of the way. []
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08 Apr 14

so we beat on

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Life at the comic book shop con­tin­ues to be the Empire Records fan­tasy every­one dreams it to be. Maybe that’s why some­one walks in every shift to hand in a resume. Even peo­ple who have no inten­tion of look­ing for a job ask if there are any open­ings as soon as they see the merch catered to every genre of geek.

The fact that there are only a dozen among us means the crew is tight. I get to play back-cash DJ and turn up the elec­tron­ica that’s come to define this period of recov­ery. Still, there are days when the com­puter breaks down on a night when I’m run­ning a tour­na­ment by myself, I have to do all the pair­ings man­u­ally, and get­ting home to a hot shower is the purest relief.

dog in snow

 

Having a steady stream of plans mixed in with work means I’m con­stantly wak­ing up to an alarm. It’s wear­ing me down, but my need for stim­u­la­tion is out­weigh­ing my need for sleep. For now, at least.

I don’t write any­more cause I get my val­i­da­tion through peo­ple. The right ones set aside time for me, lis­ten as much as they speak, and don’t treat me any dif­fer­ently cause of my past. I haven’t felt the need to sort out my thoughts — one of the main rea­sons I used to write — as much as accept myself. It’s a mat­ter of patience at this point, and weath­er­ing the rough periods.

Arcade Fire — Reflektor tour

Arcade Fire on their Reflektor tour, fea­tur­ing Stephen Harper as tambourine-playing box head.

That means I’m still learn­ing how to take care of myself. Still com­ing to terms with the fact that love is so rarely clean or tidy or in our con­trol, but real­iz­ing that’s okay. Still try­ing to believe that I shouldn’t be embar­rassed of any­thing I’ve suf­fered. Still fig­ur­ing out my idea of hap­pi­ness, what’s mean­ing­ful and what’s possible.

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20 Nov 13

stay is a sensitive word

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I haven’t been able to come up with a way of explain­ing the absence. I guess I’m still fig­ur­ing out where I stand at this par­tic­u­lar moment, and what it means to keep going. Many days were lost to the flux of ambiver­sion, when all I was try­ing to do was sur­vive the bal­ance of how much space I needed with how much com­fort I could only get from oth­ers. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned the impor­tance of tak­ing the time just to feel okay, which has mostly involved enjoy­ing the games I’ve put off play­ing for so long, spend­ing time with those who make me feel wanted+needed+awesome+loved, and draft­ing as often as possible.

girl and cat

 

My birth­day came some­where in between, a day I got to pick all the shows, eat dirty bird, and nest with the cats on me when they weren’t in the cud­dle train. It made the whole day mine, not because it was some­thing I asked for, but because some­one wanted to give that to me.

I’m slowly let­ting my guard down, let­ting myself share new songs in the dark, so the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences become a per­ma­nent part of me. Making new mem­o­ries is a step towards sooth­ing my his­tory with heart­break. The com­fort I find in our embraces car­ries me through the time we’re apart, but feel­ing safe is still very for­eign. Just touch­ing fin­gers is a vul­ner­a­ble step, and it’s like being on a tightrope every time I put aside my inse­cu­ri­ties to make progress. Thankfully, she hasn’t let me fall yet.

Magic: The Gathering and beer

 

Most recently, I started work­ing at the busiest comic book shop in the city as one of the res­i­dent Magic experts. It’s left me try­ing to find my bal­ance again, even though the job is part-time and never feels like work. The posi­tion mostly involves run­ning the tour­na­ments, trading/selling/organizing cards, and giv­ing peo­ple game advice; things I already love doing in my spare time. A nice bonus is the fact that a new friend hap­pens to be one of the reg­u­lars at the Modern Constructed tour­ney, and I get to root for him and see how he does between matches.

Shawn even came in to say hi and give me hugs on my first day. Reminders all around that make me feel worth­while, instead of just believ­ing it. It’s the dif­fer­ence between know­ing some­thing in my head to my heart, a gap I’m start­ing to bridge with help from the right people.

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20 Sep 13

moment by moment by moment

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It’s turned into a month of impro­vi­sa­tion. Even my reg­u­lar events are being resched­uled, so I’ve lost the only anchors I have to a nor­mal week. It’s hard to make plans when I don’t know how I’ll feel from one day to the next. Harder when I don’t know the next chance I’ll have to spend with the peo­ple who love me the way I need to be loved. I can tell it’s been too long when I start to dwell on my inse­cu­ri­ties, and the days feel more and more heavy.

I’m let­ting this period be a way for me to ease away from alter­nat­ing between iso­la­tion and anx­ious cling­ing. Being busy is forc­ing me to pay atten­tion to the cur­rent moment. To be present with the per­son I’m with, but more impor­tantly, with myself. Otherwise, I can’t han­dle the thought of how much stim­u­la­tion I’m facing.

cat in slippers

Slippers, because she needs to find ways to be more com­fort­able in her day-to-day life.

Dolly’s been sleep­ing on my duvet again, an old habit of hers. It’s a sign that fall is here, as she prefers to swad­dle in the dark when it gets too cold by the win­dow. She also recently decided to start sleep­ing on my pil­low1, and I can feel her purring through my skull, a new and unex­pected devel­op­ment in our rela­tion­ship. I love the fact that I’m still learn­ing things about her, that she’s still capa­ble of change as she approaches a decade with me. As always, I have the fall to thank.

backyard garden

 

A lot of pro­gres­sive trance has been in the mix dur­ing all this upheaval. It’s a genre I’ve never pur­posely explored until recently. I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out how to make my own cov­ers inter­est­ing by adding lots of dynamic ele­ments and mak­ing sure phrases aren’t used too often. These DJs do the exact oppo­site with lots of rep­e­ti­tion and min­i­mal ele­ments, yet some­how make each song a jour­ney in itself. It’s a pleas­ant puz­zle to try to solve. Now I have many new addic­tions that have been per­fect for night time rides and count­ing yel­low high­way lines.

I won­der if these songs will end up remind­ing me of a time I’m con­stantly being bro­ken down so I can heal prop­erly. The old ones don’t mean the same thing anymore.

  1. Although I can’t fig­ure out how she fits on it by her­self to begin with. []
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22 Jul 13

terminal velocity

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The jour­ney lasts an hour, by turns mov­ing and bit­ter­sweet, a mix­tape with­out a name that’s pos­si­bly the most thought­ful col­lec­tion of music any­one has ever given to me. It’s the addic­tion I’ve been wait­ing for. Proof that I can still be under­stood when a feel­ing is shared if not a history.

Yet new songs on repeat don’t define this moment, cause I can’t tell when one moment ends and the next begins any­more. There’s no sense of per­ma­nence in any­thing. I don’t know whether to be scared or relieved to know that every­thing will inevitably change.

view of Mississauga, Ontario

 

Shawn thinks I’m plum­met­ing towards rock bot­tom cause I need to prove to myself that I can pull myself out. The idea was on the very tip of my con­scious­ness, and it’s get­ting harder to deny how right he is. I’ve always been a per­son who needs to explore the lim­its of the pos­si­ble. I just won­der whether I’ll sur­vive the fall.

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26 Mar 13

moulting

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Holy shit how did this song find me in the mid­dle of blan­ket­ing white snow­fall, instead of sum­mer? I’ll take it either way1. I’ve needed a new addic­tion after too many maudlin jazz albums, too often fuelled by hard-living and a woman. This means I’m ready for a taste of warm weather. I miss the wind through my clothes and the smell of girls’ skin when it’s been touched by sweat and sunlight.

cat close-up

Guizmo.

I’m in the process of sim­pli­fy­ing, which has meant fig­ur­ing out my pri­or­i­ties, and truly let­ting go of the things I don’t need, whether it’s a bad habit or rela­tion­ship or thought. Maybe this is why I haven’t been feel­ing my age; it feels like I’m con­stantly start­ing over in var­i­ous parts of my life.

This hasn’t made writ­ing any eas­ier. I’m always wait­ing for a feel­ing to last, but it tends to pass before I have a chance to get it down on paper. Maybe the insta­bil­ity is what I should be writ­ing about. Not about who I am, but how much things are changing.

Audra recently wrote about how frus­trat­ing it is when she can’t get into a state of per­ma­nence. She said it par­tic­u­larly well here: “I know it is not real­is­tic for all progress to be lin­ear, or for things to be able to become con­stant once they become good. But I sure do day­dream about it.” It makes me feel so val­i­dated when some­one is able to put into words the things I’ve been going through with­out hav­ing talked about it with them.

Chinese dinner

My dad asks if I want to get a pic­ture before we start, Lisa says he must know me very well.

In between: Chris finally kisses Angie. It’s a good­night kiss while her creepy col­league is asleep in the same room, yet some­how man­ages to be the sweet­est first-kiss ever. I start to grow my hair out and wear it down, out of bore­dom. People say it fits me. Byron brings me his toys so I’ll toss them again, and I begin to won­der who’s train­ing who. Lisa meets my dad. We finally watch True Romance and Gary Oldman becomes my new favourite actor. I rack up over 150 hours played in Awesomenauts this year, and I’ve made online friends (it’s weird). Assad loses another gen­eral to the rebels, there’s still no end in sight after three years of fight­ing, and oth­er­wise I remain bliss­fully igno­rant to the world.

  1. Also comes in a highly enter­tain­ing music video ver­sion. []
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03 Mar 13

feels like falling

Before play­ing at Slaysh we decided to call our­selves The Jeff Band, fea­tur­ing Jesse as front­man and Father as Dad. Our half-hour set con­sisted of five songs, Jesse charm­ing the audi­ence with his ban­ter (as always), and not a sin­gle unre­cov­er­able mis­take made.

When there’s only one take, it’s easy for me to get caught up in focus­ing too intently and los­ing my place. That’s why no mat­ter how much I prac­tice, I’m always ner­vous about play­ing solos and car­ry­ing vamps. Nevertheless, it’s good to know I’m still capa­ble of such feel­ings, and that in some ways, we’re for­ever children.

Howard the Fox Project

Howard the Fox Project on her Godin 5th Avenue, an arch­top with curves in all the right places.

Slowing down hasn’t been easy. Being effi­cient is an old habit of mine. Only now do I under­stand how much passes by when you’re con­stantly going at full pace. I’ve been savour­ing every expe­ri­ence, hold­ing each one in my aware­ness and let­ting it be as intense as possible.

If only it didn’t feel like I’m falling every step of the way, con­stantly expect­ing to land on solid ground. I’ve never been so unsure of every­thing. The book says it’s nat­ural to expe­ri­ence some unnerv­ing ground­less­ness when the foun­da­tion of old beliefs falls away, but know­ing this is all part of the process doesn’t make it any eas­ier. I never would have expected to be going through so much upheaval at this point in my life.

French toast loaf

French toast loaf is the most inge­nius thing since syrup.

Good com­pany has been help­ing me ride out the storm. People have been nur­tur­ing my sense of secure attach­ment by say­ing the things I need to hear, help­ing me get shit done, and tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to make plans. If only it didn’t leave me feel­ing even more over­stim­u­lated and dis­tracted at a time when I’m con­stantly try­ing to remain focused and present.

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04 Jan 13

tides

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I’ve been look­ing for new inspi­ra­tion and lis­ten­ing to as much new music as I can find recently. I haven’t dared go into much of my old music. I sup­pose that means I’m not yet com­pletely over some­thing or other. Thankfully, peo­ple send me new songs all the time (this gem cour­tesy of Mansour Chow), and often it keeps me going until the next addiction.

I haven’t picked up my gui­tar lately either. For the first time, the break has been self-imposed, though out of a desire to pur­sue other inter­ests more than any­thing else. Also pos­si­bly the fact that I lost two months of growth when I chipped my thumb­nail, and I’m not inter­ested in learn­ing any­thing that requires a thumbpick right now. Ever since my dad gave me Larissa as a birth­day present two years ago, I haven’t able to put her down until now. I’m hop­ing it’ll reset a few bad habits, and give me more focus when I start again.

Practicing gui­tar has been the one tan­gi­ble way in which I could tell I was improv­ing. Now that I’m tak­ing a break, I’ve been faced with an unset­tling sense of stag­nancy, cause I’ve always held self-improvement as one of my main rea­sons for liv­ing. But I’ve also real­ized that it’s not always pos­si­ble to con­tin­u­ally improve, so I’m try­ing to be happy with who I am at the moment, and accept that it’s nat­ural to go through cycles of growth and stag­nancy, pain and heal­ing, frailty and strength.

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23 Dec 12

finishing the game

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It’s been an aim­less win­ter. Some days full of mean­ing, oth­ers pass­ing with­out so much as a moment worth remem­ber­ing. I’ve learned to cher­ish every storm cause each one could be your last. Who knows when you’ll get to walk on trails cut through tan­gled branches with the snow as wet and thick and heavy as this again?

long driveway with snow

 

The hol­i­days snuck up on me. I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out where all the time has gone and how best to use what’s left. The only dec­o­rat­ing I’ve done for the sea­son is a real pine wreath (gen­er­ously given to me by Steph) hung on the office door. A small act that doesn’t seem like much com­pared to the glo­ri­ous ceiling-scraping trees in the houses of my friends and neigh­bours, but cer­tainly more than I’ve done in the recent years. It’s an easy con­ces­sion to make against my grow­ing dis­taste for the com­mer­cial­ized Christmas cul­ture when my room is filled with the scent of sap, scat­tered pine nee­dles, and other reminders of life.

car-in-snow

The ever-faithful steed.

My exis­tence is defined by what I have left to do, and the list grows ever shorter. I live week-by-week, through cycles of pro­duc­tiv­ity and play, try­ing to meet each need in turn. It’s always a del­i­cate bal­ance to be man­ag­ing when so much in life is out of your control.

As for the short term, I’m off to Shirley’s for Christmas and my annual dose of fam­ily. It’ll be a com­plete break from my reg­u­lar life of single-serving meals and never being around more than one per­son at a time. I imag­ine we’ll spend most of the days eat­ing fin­ger foods and watch­ing real­ity TV among the ram­bunc­tious flus­ter of her kids. I always look for­ward to see­ing how they’re car­ry­ing their grown-up voices and how their styles have changed.

hot chocolate

 

This is the time of year I’m most scared of being left with­out plans1, but recently I haven’t had enough time alone. It’s left me feel­ing numb and tired and that’s exactly what I need right now.

Friends still make the best dis­trac­tions. It’s easy to hide from any­thing when you’re shar­ing a blan­ket and some early episodes of Trailer Park Boys.

  1. Also why I usu­ally make a trip to Toronto. []
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26 Oct 12

Matteo Carcassi: Study in A Minor (Etude No.7)

While study­ing this Carcassi étude — and ana­lyz­ing as many ver­sion as pos­si­ble in aid of that — I real­ized that clas­si­cal music is like wine. They’re both based on a cen­tral theme or taste, and it’s the sub­tle dif­fer­ences between the inter­pre­ta­tion of each per­former or wine maker that make them unique and inter­est­ing. That’s why you need to lis­ten to a lot clas­si­cal music (or drink a lot of wine) to develop a palate. I bet two dif­fer­ent musi­cians (or even the same musi­cian at two dif­fer­ent points in their career) play­ing the same piece would sound the same to some peo­ple for the same rea­son that two dif­fer­ent mer­lots would taste the same to others.

This is sup­posed to be played alle­gro, but I’ve yet to hear a ver­sion above 105 bpm that didn’t feel rushed to me, so I pre­fer to play it andante1. Luckily, I enjoy clas­si­cal music, and I can tell the time I’ve invested in devel­op­ing that foun­da­tion trans­lates over to non-classical songs, not only in the extra fin­ger pre­ci­sion but in prac­tic­ing tech­niques too.

I’m still using elec­tric strings2, which I’ve had on longer than any other set, cause I love how crisp and brassy the tone is through­out the range. For a piece like this where the melody switches between bass and tre­ble, that becomes really important.

  1. Also cause I’m not good enough to play it that quickly yet. []
  2. XL Chromes, warm/mellow, flat-wound, extra light gauge. []
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05 Sep 12

going out in style

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Cause I want to has been the rea­son for every­thing lately.

I started to under­stand how we’re all dying in the Silvia Plath sense of the word, so I decided I might as well go out in style. Vonnegut got it right with his Pall Malls, though I choose not to add tobacco to the mix.

Magic draft

Steve draws some­thing really good or really bad.

I quite con­sis­tently get my ass kicked at the drafts that Seth hosts, his crew always being made up of vet­eran play­ers. The advan­tage is that I always walk away hav­ing learned a thing or two, and get­ting enough new cards to build on a con­cept is a nice lit­tle bonus. If some­one told me I’d be spend­ing money on a col­lec­table card game at this age, I never would have believed it.

Magic has been keep­ing me busy in a good way. It’s never just about play­ing, it’s also about being around friends, and the cama­raderie, and get­ting fat on Steph’s amaz­ing meals. Those are exactly the things I need in my life.

pho and spring rolls

#1, beef rare, every time.

The red bean ice is a treat I don’t get often enough.

It was hard bal­anc­ing my time around oth­ers and the time I needed alone. I have needs that require the com­pany of cer­tain peo­ple, and when I’m try­ing to meet those needs, that often leaves me feel­ing very over­stim­u­lated. The exhaus­tion had been giv­ing me flare-ups, not to men­tion headaches that dulled the senses and eloquence.

Now I have some breath­ing room, and a chance to do all the lit­tle things I’d been too occu­pied to han­dle, like catch­ing up with peo­ple I haven’t seen in a while, get­ting the car fixed (from $9k worth of hail dam­age), fil­ing my taxes (from two years ago), chang­ing the strings on my uke to high-G tun­ing, or just watch­ing a movie. I’m still in night mode though, where I tend to get the most done after 10pm, and I find myself staving off sleep to do just one more thing.

root beer float

Root beer floaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

I want to travel some­where, cause it feels like it’s time to step out of my com­fort zone again. I haven’t made enough of my own expe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries for too long. But I’m in too unsta­ble a place right now, and I prob­a­bly will be for at least another year or so. Ironic that it’s insta­bil­ity I crave. It’s left me won­der­ing what I should be explor­ing here.

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09 Aug 12

Slept Through a Landslide

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Jesse Dangerously — Slept Through a Landslide cover

Rap Legend Jesse Dangerously just released his lat­est sin­gle1, a remix of Tired Angels from Krista Muir’s most recent album. He wanted a bit of breath­ing room between verses and asked me to write a ukulele solo, so we hit the stu­dio a cou­ple months ago. I was lucky enough to learn a lot about the record­ing process that had largely remained a mys­tery to me.

This was my first time try­ing to write music that wasn’t a cover. It was unique chal­lenge, cause it’s hard for me to tell what sounds good vs. what sounds good only to me. I also have a habit of try­ing to fill my arrange­ments with too many ideas instead of fol­low­ing a theme, so this time I tried to build on the hook that Krista sings. Then I added as much vibrato as I could on my soft cedar-topped nylon-stringed uke to fill out the sound.

I also pro­vided some backup har­monies at the start of Noah23’s verse, and it’s weird to hear my singing with some real pro­duc­tion. I don’t think I’d rec­og­nize my own voice if some­one didn’t tell me it was me.

Jesse has the abil­ity to piece together a bunch of mot­ley musi­cal ideas from var­i­ous gen­res, and it’s awe­some to hear some­thing that started out as a sim­ple rap song become more than the sum of it’s parts.

  1. In the cred­its at the bot­tom, the city of each per­former is included. I love how Rosie’s loca­tion is “lives in a van”. []
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30 Apr 12

I filled the void you left with the rest of my life

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And that’s why I spend so much time with peo­ple now, why it’s a lit­tle eas­ier to bend each pitch, and why I don’t mind hazy night dri­ves through pur­ple sky and deer warn­ings as long as Mogwai is on. Everything I do is an attempt to be whole again, cause I still think of you with me at every din­ner, movie, episode, nap, ride, gath­er­ing, and concert.

But surely you can’t be the same per­son I see in these pho­tos taken so long ago. You’d be a lit­tle wiser from the years, a lit­tle stronger from the expe­ri­ences, almost cer­tainly sport­ing a new hair­cut, but I bet your heart would always be the same. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to let go. I real­ized that no mat­ter what hap­pens, regard­less of how peo­ple grow and change, I’d always love that heart. That’s the only rea­son I under­stand what you meant by always have a weak­ness.

I filled the void you left with the rest of my life, but it’s still hard to be whole with­out you.

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28 Mar 12

he was never the same

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I have a feel­ing this day will be the new divid­ing line in my life, some­thing that was pre­vi­ously pre and post-kiss, and now also a sep­a­ra­tion between who I reached out to and who I didn’t call. And, oddly enough, this song will for­ever remind me of what hap­pened, some Canadian indie-rock hit from ’94 I had on repeat the whole day.

Things are going to be dif­fer­ent now, even though nothing’s changed. I just wish I knew what that meant.

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04 Mar 12

The Little Man Must Go On

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Live accord­ing to the sea­sons
In the town where I was born
Things have gotta have a rea­son
The sun don’t come before the dawn

(Thanks again, Antje.)

How did I lose another week? Another week of that snow smell and gui­tar lessons and Nordique red­heads I never asked out again. Lost to the trap­pings of life. So much has hap­pened, and yet noth­ing has changed, though things will be dif­fer­ent soon enough. And while I wish I could say that I had more to say about it all, I don’t.

teas in spoons

 

tea-table

 

tea served

Sublimity in a teacup.

Over some ancient moon­light white tea, Heather G asked how my belief in Taoism was going. It made me real­ize I hadn’t thought about it in a while, which is exactly the point. I’ve been try­ing not to try to act, and just been act­ing. Doing my best not to over-think things. Taking it one call, one con­ver­sa­tion, one day, one week at a time.

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