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Harvard has decided to shut down the blogs of those who no longer are affiliated with the university…understandable, and I was surprised they allowed us to keep them for so long anyway. I left Harvard in 2006! I blog so rarely that it’s not a tremendous loss, but does make me a bit nostalgic for the old blog community. It ran its course and now a new generation of people with things to say has moved to Youtube. Only recently, thanks to my young nieces and nephews who are Youtube-obsessed, did I discover that there is a major community of Youtube vloggers out there very similar to the former blogging community I once enjoyed. They post daily, tag each other, link to each other, and hustle to gain subscribers and views. A few break out and become stars. Same story, different platform.

I’ll be exporting all of this content, though I don’t know if I will bother to import it to a new blog, considering that I don’t have much to say any more. Don’t look for a Youtube channel from me, it won’t be happening.

Somebody that I Used to Know

Learning of the death of Chris Cornell was like hearing that an old and once-cherished friend who I hadn’t seen in 20 years had died. That is what I felt, and I suppose it is literally true. His music was everything to me in the early 90s, but I left it behind when Soundgarden broke up and Cornell went off in some strange direction of which I did not approve. He was now simply someone I used to know, to borrow from Gotye, and there was a weird delay while I tried to conjure the old feelings and reminisce about the past. It took pulling out my old Soundgarden albums–I have them all, EPs, singles with B-sides, etc–and listening to the music that I can honestly say formed me.

While the news of his death was shocking it was at the same time not surprising for those of us who have known his music from the beginning. Depression, anxiety, suicide–all were themes that ran through his work. Grunge in general was the music of the stoners, the outcasts, the kids with absentee parents and broken homes who found solace in each other and in music to make up for their lack of a healthy family life. To say you were a big Soundgarden fan in the early days, then, reveals something about you and your teen years/early 20s. Cornell himself said in an interview once that he liked sad music, because when you’re sad, sad music make you feel better.

So it was that I was shocked to hear of his death while also not terribly surprised that it was by suicide. His family disputes this, of course, and perhaps it was Ativan that caused him to hang himself in the bathroom of a hotel room, but that is a short-sighted theory. The suicidal drive has been there from the start. Family members always think they know someone best, but so often they do not understand how much a person can hide, even from those closest to them. Indeed, that very fact is a dominant theme in all of Cornell’s lyrics–hiding, masks, having two faces, not recognizing oneself in the mirror, and feeling locked inside yourself without a mode of authentic expression. That last one was what hooked me on Soundgarden, being a person on the shy side who often finds herself unable to find the right words. They come out wrong, or they don’t come out at all. It’s why writing is my preferred mode of expression. And Cornell’s as well. Some examples:

Your face has a different exterior
permanent disguise (from Hunted Down)

Someone says
my words are out of balance
Nothing to say
Dying words
I bury everyday
Nothing to say (from Nothing to say)

Dying to squeeze out
the ugly truth
for everyone to hear (from Mood for trouble)

I did not want to fight
I did not want to kill
I wanted to be real
I wanted to believe
that I was not the only one alive
(also from Mood for trouble)

The words we say
never seem to live up to
the ones inside our heads (The day I tried to live)

The mirror shows another face
another place to hide it all
and i’m lost behind
words i’ll never find (Seasons)

There are countless other examples (see the entire song Fell on Black Days) but you get the picture. As I had stopped listening to his music I figured he was getting along ok, happily married with beautiful children and living in France and churning out pop-ish music. Happier music. But the depression demon followed him. And it is the folly of a generally happy person to believe it could be conquered.

Shall I start blogging again? Today at least. I’m not sure it’s something I can ever sustain as regularly as I once did. These days all I care about is: Cooking. Babies. Puppies. Humor.

To that end, here is a recipe for a soup I invented last night, which is now one of his favorite dishes.

Curried Chicken and Dumplings 

He is from Trinidad, where curry is the national dish. That and roti (see roti pic several posts below). Roti is a lot of work and a lot of mess and a lot of cleanup, though, so I do not make it nearly as often as he’d like. But curry is not so much trouble. And last night I had a pack of chicken drumsticks I needed to use, and thought of chicken soup. There is nothing easier than dropping some chicken, onion, and other veggies into a big pot with some water and letting it boil away. But to make it a little bit special, and a little more like home for him, I added curry and some cornmeal dumplings, as well as a bit of green seasoning as a topping. After two bites, and a bowl still full, he exclaimed, “I’m going to need more of this!”

Sorry no pics. We ate it too fast.

6 chicken drumsticks
1 large onion, sliced
2tb vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots or 1 sweet potato, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon curry powder (Chief brand if you can find it)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (use fresh if you have it; I didn’t)
2 tsp salt, or more to taste
black pepper to taste

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
about 1/3 cup milk

Green Seasoning:
Handful Italian parsley or cilantro (Culantro is best if you can find it, but you probably can’t)
2 scallions
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon lime juice

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onion slices and saute for about 2 mins; add curry powder, cumin, and ginger. Let the mixture simmer for several minutes, until the onions are browning and the curry is darkening and separating from the oil. Add garlic and stir, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pan, for about 30 seconds. Add chicken and stir together so chicken is coated. Add enough water (or chicken broth if you have it) to cover the chicken by at least two inches. Add carrots, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, partially covered, at least 45 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, make the dumpling dough. Mix all ingredients together. The milk measurement is a guess; just use enough to bring all the ingredients into a wet dough. Cover bowl with a towel until the soup has simmered at least 45 minutes.

After 45 mins, taste the soup for seasoning; if you like it, start dropping the dumplings in by the teaspoonful. If it needs more of something, add it. I must confess I added a spoonful of chicken soup base (similar to boullion) to amp up the flavor. If the water has boiled down too much, add more.

Let the dumplings boil for about 15 minutes. While they are cooking, make the green seasoning: put parsley, scallions, garlic, and lime juice into a mini chopper (or whatever device you use to blend small amounts of things) and blend away until everything is chopped finely together.

Test the dumplings–if they are ready, your soup is done! Spoon it out into bowls and top with a spoonful of green seasoning. The soup is delightfully rich and smoky, but the raw green seasoning adds the most wonderfully bright, fresh, tangy taste!

For Dad

Japanese Maple

By Clive James

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that.
That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

“It used to be so easy, my emotions were so close to the surface…”

–Gena Rowlands on acting

That’s me, on writing. I used to have words dripping from my fingertips. But no more.


Silverdocs 2011

Swinging by soon to pick up my pass and am very much looking forward to friends from all over converging in Silver Spring next week. Also very excited about the opening night film, Swell Season. Despite myself I loved Once, the simple love story that inspired the real-life love story between the film’s two stars and which is the topic of Swell Season, so I’m eager to check it out. Somehow all of my writing about film has moved to Facebook in the past few years…indicative of trends in social media, I guess, as well as a change in me. But Silverdocs starts Monday and I’ll be posting reviews and more in this space, so stay tuned. Or just keep catching up with my 140-character facebook status film reviews:

From the Freer Gallery’s Japanese Art Exhibit. 14th century Japan. Grainy cuz all I had on me was my cell phone.

Swedish Recipe Design

The above is the recipe for gingerbread. As printed in Ikea’s new cookbook. So awesome I have no words.

Podcast Love

Awhile back I recommended The Moth podcasts which had kept me happy on my hellish hour-long bus commute. I no longer take the bus, but podcasts are still keeping me happy during workouts. Today’s love goes to Radiolab, the science-y gabfest that has gotten even this non-science-lover hooked. Those boys are masters at the art of storytelling. This bit about the straight, transvestite mayor of Silverton, Oregon was especially moving and had me in tears as I chugged along. It’s part of a broader piece about what is normal, and how his town redefined it. Listen:


Nine Years Ago

My job at Harvard started at 11am and it took nearly an hour on the subway so I left the house at 10. I never listen to the radio or turn on the Tv before work, I hate the noise. So I arrived at my building and stepped into the elevator. Halfway up a woman got on and said “Did you hear?” I was puzzled and said no. Planes crashed into the World Trade Center, both buildings came down, she said. Speechless, I left the elevator and went down the eerily quiet hallway into my office, switched on the computer, and saw an email with the subject GO HOME. It was from the HR administrator. In addition to it being a horrifically tragic day, she wrote, the Middle Eastern Studies department was in our building and they didn’t want to take any chances. I read a few news pieces about the disaster and then obeyed. As I was walking out a professor who was leaving shook his finger and said “You shouldn’t be here…” I said I was on my way out.

I walked to the subway and found the station completely empty–a rarity at Harvard Square–except for me and two painters sitting on a bench. They had thick irish accents, white overalls splotted with paint, and were discussing a bee sting one had just gotten on his forehead. He rubbed it as the other peered at it concernedly, both speaking their brogue in hushed tones. Surreal.

The train came and I got on, the only person in the car. Once I switched to the Green Line there were many more people. One woman was crying, most looked stone-faced and I wondered if any had not yet heard, as I hadn’t when I left for work. When I got home I switched on the Tv and watched the nonstop coverage, on every single channel, all day and night, with my roommates. We did other things of course, puttered around, made dinner, called friends and family, but the TV stayed on the disaster coverage for days. I felt a sense of doom and growing hopelessness as the anthrax scare seemed to get worse every day.

And then the anthrax letters stopped, and the hopeless feeling subsided, and a few weeks later we talked about how weird it was that things seemed essentially to be back to normal. How strange it was to at one point think the world may be coming to an end and then … business as usual, be a patriotic American and go shopping. Don’t mind those armed guards in the subway station rifling through people’s bags. Images such as the one above began to disappear from the media, which I only realized years later when I saw one again and it instantly brought tears to my eyes.

As I look at them again it is incredible to me that it’s been 9 years, it feels like yesterday.

Why Parents Hate Parenting

“from a 2004 study by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, who surveyed 909 working Texas women and found that child care ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of nineteen activities. (Among the endeavors they preferred: preparing food, watching TV, exercising, talking on the phone, napping, shopping, housework.) This result also shows up regularly in relationship research, with children invariably reducing marital satisfaction. The economist Andrew Oswald, who’s compared tens of thousands of Britons with children to those without, is at least inclined to view his data in a more positive light: “The broad message is not that children make you less happy; it’s just that children don’t make you more happy.” That is, he tells me, unless you have more than one. “Then the studies show a more negative impact.”

On Artists

“The only artists I have ever known, who are personally delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.”

-Oscar Wilde, ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’

Spam and Waste

Had to put a 30-day limit on commenting because WordPress seems to have stopped blocking spam or something and I don’t want to be deleting hundreds of emails every time I (infrequently) update this thing.

But here’s an update: watched HBO’s John Adams, which was kind of bad but I was quite transported by the set design. So I watched the “making of” bit on the DVD and was kind of sickened by the amount of waste that goes into making a big-budget Hollywood film. They razed a stretch of land and actually built a mini Boston, tons of wood and bricks and all that. What happens to all this material when the production’s over? I hope it at least gets reused for other productions. But either way I was suddenly struck by how wasteful moviemaking is, all for the sake of make-believe. Check it out for yourself:

And just for kicks here’s Tracy Jordan/Morgan on 30 Rock in his Jefferson film, clearly a John Adams parody:

Drunk History

I am crying from laughing at this.

Michel Gondry’s Best Work

Flight of the Conchords, Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor

Trinidad Roti


Courtesy of Teddy’s Roti Shop in D.C.  Very delicious. This is the goat, which I would not have thought to order myself but my Trinidadian beau said it’s the best so that’s what we got. Big thumbs up.

Crocheted Robot


Oops kinda blurry but you get the idea.


“There are many ways for Chinese to say ‘no,’ even including ‘yes.’” –Helen Zhang, author of Think Like Chinese

Sad Can Be Good

The study also found that sad people were better at stating their case through written arguments, which Forgas said showed that a “mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.”

“Positive mood is not universally desirable: people in negative mood are less prone to judgmental errors, are more resistant to eyewitness distortions and are better at producing high-quality, effective persuasive messages,” Forgas wrote.

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