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An Exercise

May 11, 2011

This is from two years ago. I used to do writing exercises like these every now and then, when I felt like I didn’t have enough ideas, just to prove to myself how much you could do with barely one idea.

once we were going to take the train.
take the train to florida we were going to
take the train, like you had in the old days.
all the way down to florida we were going to
take the train.
it would take 3 days. the idea was so exciting.
this idea of traveling all the way.
taking the train all the way.
watching everything change. seeing not just the start and endpoint.
seeing everything all the way down when we were
going to take the train
to florida.
all the way down. then all the way back up.
up and then down.
taking the train. we were going to.
and then we didn’t.

once we were going to take the train.
once we were going to take the train to florida.
to florida, we were going to take the train, once.
once, from here to florida, we were going to take the train.
going to take the train to florida, we were.
we were going to take the train to florida.
it would take 3 days.
for us to take the train from here to florida.
we were going to.
and then we didn’t.

to florida, we were going to take the train.
from here to florida. it would take 3 days.
to take the train from here to florida.
we were going to. that way there would be all the in-betweens.
not just start then stop.
there would be everything changing inbetween.
on the train that we were going to take to florida.
we were going to.
and then we didn’t.

the man made out of math (leftover from the end of last term)

January 31, 2011

Yesterday I was handed a yellow form by my new advisor. 
He wanted to understand my story, described best he said by the numbers. The numbers of classes that I’ve taken, the numbers that I’ve received so far. The numbered array that I had yet to complete. The rooms and halls, numbers made concrete.

I remember the spectacle, the small crowd that formed around it 
when they were constructing the man made of numbers.
How we checked on it, to see if it was complete, the crane arching over it, like a bird tending to her nest, building it branch by branch. And indeed the pieces did look like branches here too, except for the fact that they weren’t composed of nature and earth.
Sticks or wood. Were made instead of cold metal forming symbols and expressions that had blurred our vision through the day:
computer screen to text book to completed problem set.

And when it was all done, they lit him up. Leaving out his face and knees. Left blank, I reasoned from a window above, to let the light through. I thought about the design trick of it. Remembering summers spent in Western Mass, talking to sculptors, watching them bronze a statue. Remembering the story of how they lit up the Lincoln Memorial with the reflection pool. Then much later actually seeing it, that summer we spent in DC. Feeling connected to slabs of marble, cool and pink.

I heard that The Alchemist as the statue is called, belongs to an alumni. That he
had commissioned it to sit on his lawn and was lending it to MIT for their 150th anniversary. I remember watching the last piece fit into place as I waited for the bus. We all looked at each other, because to us it seemed that they hadn’t really finished and that maybe it wasn’t enough. That the numbers could not complete the portrait, and that the man was not really a man not a representation of a god or some mythical creature. That he was instead just white metal on top of the grass, bumming in front of the student center all shiny and shit.

so it seems this writing on the airplane thing has become a habit.

November 25, 2010

Six hours pass slowly and I look down at our continent, traced in amber light. The glowing beads seem like they have been placed there delicately, one by one. I think about the bricks of amber beads I played with as a kid. Bricks formed from threaded wires. The wires arranged into a rigid lattice flat and square so that when many of them were stacked together, they formed a brick.

Below the concentrations of lights are changing. Sometimes an entire network, bright and organized. Then an entire amorphous fragment. Some of the lights are so dim that you cannot tell what is land and what is water.

There was another game we played in pre-school. With water droplets. You had to be so careful with the dropper, so as not to splash the water everywhere. I remember the intensity of the action. It was less difficult than the game with the tweezers. That took forever. Playing with the water, precisely handling the dropper, I imagined myself a scientist. I imagined that I was in the midst of an experiment and that it was very important that the procedure be followed as closely as possible.

We spoke in extremes then. “You will be my best friend forever” and Fariel’s favorite: “Do _____ or else” (I later realized that she must have picked this up from the villain in Alladin). Life was certain and had a pattern to it. Bright and organized and though we hadn’t yet learned the steps, we had some notion of what they were, could pretend. We could count on things, count beads on bricks, count the droplets falling from one volume into the other.

The engine shifts pitch, over an octave. Perhaps a tenth and I think that we must be getting closer, that maybe this means we’re moving slower and therefore all most there. I’ve lost track of the time. No more devices. Think about cold wind on closed eyes. Zooming around the city like it is ours for the taking. Hills and lines of people wrapped around buildings. Party kids and homeless people stand in single file. Close my eyes and hear the bounce of car tires over train tracks. Learn that rubber on concrete makes the same pop even if the source of the sound is completely different. Sounds completely different from tires that fall out from the sky. Never graceful. Never pleasant. The worst part being the frantic deceleration that follows the thud clunk bam out of the sky. Like, hit the breaks okay? Because we’re here and I’m tired.

Leaving Jerusalem: 2nd Iteration

October 27, 2010

I wrote this in San Francisco after reading David Hare’s “Via Dolorosa”. I want to continue having this series be completely transparent so I decided to include the full draft. However, some parts of it are sections I copied from the book that I was looking to tie in somehow.

What’s most interesting to me about keeping track of the changes like this is seeing into how nonlinear the process really is.

“I don’t know where I fit anymore,” you said. I listened. Said: “I know what you mean.” I don’t think you believed me and that was okay. Because right then all I really wanted to do was  listen.

Tomorrow I’m leaving this place. The streets are familiar now and I know where to park. I don’t slip on the steps of the Old City anymore and I can dodge the walking traffic without looking up. I’m ready to go and still I’m sad at leaving. David Hare calls the Jerusalem stone subtly pink rock. The Dome of the Rock– saffron-yellow golden. I wonder at the pink. The Jerusalem stone. I think of the marble in our apartment. I imagine my newly-wed mother choosing it. Matching the stone to the Lincoln Center’s. White with black. Natural-looking, as if the black is the sediment from the side of the cliff it came from.

My friend’s roommate wanted him to bring back arabic coffee. I found him in a convenience store in East Jerusalem, trying to figure out what to get. I told him that all their coffee is imported from the same places we get our coffee. What makes it Arabic coffee is the ground cardamom. I don’t know where they get the cardamom from. He doesn’t believe me and gets the coffee anyway. The store smells so good. It’s hard to leave without wanting to take some of it with you. But my suitcase is almost at capacity.

I buy vintage photographs from the Armenian–as he is known in the Old City. We ask a vendor where his photographs are from and he gives us directions to the Armenian’s shop. Tells us his son, who is seven, will take us there. We follow the boy through the crowds to the photographs. They are his father’s photographs, taken in the thirties and forties. They are in black and white so you can’t see the gold of the dome. Even still it reflects the light in such a way that you almost know it is there. There are pictures of other holy sites. Pictures of people in their every-life. Pictures of people leaving.

Leaving is all I manage to keep on doing lately. My friend once told me that all you need when you go anywhere is a credit card and a passport. I hold onto both, and bring dad everywhere. Assemble his features into anecdotes. Each one a fracture of his personality. Some stories I know and some I’ve been told so many times it feels like they are mine. They’re not but still they bring me back.

My life translates between the two realities.

First: I am listening to WQXR with him. Making the Champaigne cork popping sound along with the commercial. Falling asleep and drooling onto his white T-shirt. The room is showered in shades of gold. The sheets, the picture frame. The sun is setting into the corners of the window. The shade is closed nearly all the way down.

And then: I am on the plane, drinking coffee alone. I add some half & half, hesitantly after reading the label. NO REFRIGERATION NEEDED. I think about where they keep these Land O’ Lakes Mini Moo’s. Decide there is a drawer somewhere. The man sitting next to me orders some orange juice. Searches the can and says he’s not sure if it’s from concentrate. It is. I tell the story about dad and the oranges. The one from his early days on the road, making his first sales calls. He’s at a B&B with his sales manager getting breakfast. He asks if the orange juice is fresh squeezed. This is somewhere in Connecticut and the waitress just looks back at him, says that it probably isn’t. Dad leaves and later returns with a grocery bag filled with oranges.

you are just an idea

stones or ideas.

we see only what we want to– we remember only what we want to.

the memory cannot be complete, just as the stones are only tastes lefover of what happened. an important history

that we have access to– another reality.

And what’s more — hold on, here we go — is the stone, in fact, on the right spot? Nobody knows. Archaeologists also dispute. Nobody can know because nobody knows where the city walls were. Nobody agrees. Where was Calvary indeed? So for now — look, is anything certain? — let’s just do as the family next to me and drop alarmingly to our knees, on the working assumption — let’s just assume — X marks the spot, and kiss the stone. After all, does the literal truth of it matter? Does the literal truth matter? Aren’t we kissing an idea? Stones or ideas? Stones or ideas? (37 Hare)

But even I, inside the Arab sanctuary, taking in the cleanest, most oxygenated sun-dazzled air you ever breathed, looking across to the Mount of Olives, yield to the splendour of the place and realize: oh I see, how provoking it is to own beauty, to own the most breathtaking space of them all (37 Hare).

We begin to feel the sun. Voltaire said you have to choose between countried where you sweat and countries where you think. The confusing thing about Israel is that it’s one where you do both. And my mind is racing now. We’re all blind. We all see only what we want to. Don’t we blank out the rest? (39 Hare)

Tell stories about him endlessly to leave him nowhere.

Assemble anecdotes into his features. Each one a fracture of his personality. Some stories I know and some I’ve been told so that they feel like they are mine. The stories that are mine bring me back. Back to naptimes after school. White T-shirts and Scope. Smooth hands, perfect even. The perfect hands that my mom first noticed about this Brooklyn business-man. Fingernails perfectly kept.

If I close my eyes I’m right there. Smelling your stinky breath and giving you a hug. Watching TV and eating dinner at six. Always. Hearts of Palm. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

These are only tastes left in your mouth. Reminders.

Yesterday was the first day of Ramaddan. My friends say that fasting is easier if you  don’t brush your teeth. That your empty mouth will haunt you less.

But no matter the stories told, I am always incomplete. Like it is a fact. Fact not feeling. Feeling you disappear again and again and again. Like it was yesterday. I’m reminded of it whenever I feel for my heart because I can feel its holes.

Tonight is my last night in Jerusalem.

I walk around Jerusalem. I know its smells and how smooth the stones are. I imagine what it would feel like to walk on them barefoot. To absorb the heat from the day onto the soles of my feet.

Holes that I try to fill with my deepest memories. The memory of you can never be precise and is reduced to shades. I can’t keep you

no matter the stories told, I will never be complete again. I know this. I’m reminded of it every time I feel for my heart, feel its holes.

right after the morning meal.

But all i can do is to keep leaving.

Leaving all the places that don’t feel right.

Leaving Jerusalem: the very first draft

September 29, 2010

My good friend, Fatima, is taking her first essay class this semester at MIT.

I think it’s so exciting, and she asks me the most amazing questions.

I don’t really remember how I started writing, or what it was that got me to actually enjoy writing essays! :.)

I think one of the most important things about writing is to be brave and to forgive yourself.

Currently I’m working on a piece about Jerusalem. I decided to save it in drafts and then post each draft to kind of give a little bit of insight into my writing process (for sake of the blog and myself, blogging it helps remind me to actually do it).

It also seemed a little nicer than just blah blah blahing on this thing. It also goes against my rule of posting things that aren’t actually finished. I like breaking rules.

I wrote this draft on the plane from Israel to Philadelphia. When Fatima first asked me what to do and said that she couldn’t think of anything, I told her to just write. To just type “I can’t think of anything, the screen is blank.”

This is actually what I used to do and what a good teacher once told me. I once dated a guy that wrote exclusively like this and had this policy that he’d never delete anything. I’m not quite that extreme, and I don’t usually begin this way exactly anymore. These days I start with some line of an idea that I might write in the mini-notebook I bring most places. But from there it really is just typing the next thing and more importantly, being ok with what comes out! Even if it’s mushy and ridiculous!

Ok, ok no more chatting. Here it goes:

Leaving Jerusalem (8/11/10)

“I don’t know where I fit anymore,” you said. I listened. Said: “I know what you mean.” I don’t think you believed me and that was okay. Because right then all I really wanted to do was  listen.

Tomorrow I’m leaving this place. The streets are familiar now and I know where to park. I don’t slip on the steps of the Old City anymore and I can dodge the walking traffic without looking up. I’m ready to go and still I’m sad at leaving. Leaving is never easy but it’s all I manage to keep on doing lately.

My friend once told me that all you need when you go anywhere is a credit card and a passport. I hold onto both, and bring dad everywhere. Tell stories about him endlessly. Leave him nowhere.

Assemble anecdotes into his features. Each one a fracture of his personality. Some stories I know and some I’ve been told so that they feel like they are mine. The stories that are mine bring me back. Back to naptimes after school. White T-shirts and Scope. Smooth hands, perfect even. The perfect hands that my mom first noticed about this Brooklyn business-man. Fingernails perfectly kept.

If I close my eyes I’m right there. Smelling your stinky breath and giving you a hug. Watching TV and eating dinner at six. Always. Hearts of Palm. Manhattan Clam Chowder.

These are only tastes left in your mouth. Reminders.

Yesterday was the first day of Ramaddan. My friends say that fasting is easier if you  don’t brush your teeth. That your empty mouth will haunt you less.

But no matter the stories told, I am always incomplete. Like it is a fact. Fact not feeling. Feeling you disappear again and again and again. Like it was yesterday. I’m reminded of it whenever I feel for my heart because I can feel its holes.

Tonight is my last night in Jerusalem.

I walk around Jerusalem. I know its smells and how smooth the stones are. I imagine what it would feel like to walk on them barefoot. To absorb the heat from the day onto the soles of my feet.

Holes that I try to fill with my deepest memories. The memory of you can never be precise and is reduced to shades. I can’t keep you

no matter the stories told, I will never be complete again. I know this. I’m reminded of it every time I feel for my heart, feel its holes.

right after the morning meal.

But all i can do is to keep leaving.

Leaving all the places that don’t feel right.

July 31, 2010

Your face fractures into pixels
on my computer screen. The light
the sound. anonymity.

Familiarity was
the flesh and bone
the blood that flushed your face.
Your freckled skin.

My neck is tight
thinking and thinking and thinking
because this isn’t easy
but it just has to be:
losing you and finding me.

Working With Other People is a Skill

July 20, 2010

you have to learn it.
Often this includes making powerpoint slide(s) for the rest of your team.
The music plugin group that I’m instructing for MEET were having disagreements as to how their team should be run.

Ahmed had the minority opinion, and so I asked him to prepare something to say for the following day.

The result:

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