This writeup is brought to you by The Committee for Prohibiting Public Idiocy.

I hate everything.

No, I'm not trying to be pointlessly angsty. It's just a simple conclusion to the multifaceted irregularities that I seem to be facing on a daily basis. Not that they will necessarily prove to be of any importance to you. Or interest. I'm pretty sure I don't really care.

Hate is a strong word, too. But I think it summarizes my general appraisal of the situation well. It's not one of mild-to-moderate disgust, since that would be somewhat of an understatement. Nor is it a simple disapproval, or a sentiment of disappointment. Well, it is, but the magnitude of my sentiment can hardly be approached by weak similaries like "disapproval" or "disappointment".

"Hate" hits it home, and it hits it fast. No mercy.

I hate everything.

It's not that I'm dissatisfied with my status in life. Comparing to those that are truly needy, I have it pretty easy.

But ... well, either I'm just being a disillusioned brat, or I've realised something profound:

The more secure you are, the more you're inclined to be miserable.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. But think about it. If you're a slave, working the fucking corn fields for 18 hours a day, making about enough money to buy your starving family of six a packet of peanuts for dinner, your only hope and concern is to provide your loved ones with the means to survive. Hence, your life has immediate meaning. You have a purpose; not only that, but you have a genuine incentive to live. To provide for your family. You're not concerned with existential matters.

Still sounds shallow? Well, how about the middle class family, with their mortgage and two healthy children that attend high school and whine about their non-understanding boyfriends in shitty poetry. They still have to make ends meet. They'll work menial jobs they hate (or pretend to like), while still having to make time for cooking meals, doing dishes, washing clothes and shopping for the needs of a healthy family. It may sound like a piece of cake at an initial glance, but try doing that every single day for 40 years and your perspective might change somewhat.

It's only when you have everything you want that you realize you're still empty.

I'll use myself as a pitiful example. My family's not poor. I'm a spoiled kid; my parents love me, and they're prepared to offer their convenience and well-being for my sake.

So why the fuck aren't I content?

It makes me seem like the ungrateful snot-nosed brat to everyone who isn't in my position. I know, I'm supposed to be thankful for my peaceful upbringing that didn't involve sexual molestation and alienation (at least not from my parents); and believe me, I am. I'm not discontent with my upbringing.

I'm discontent with life.

It doesn't really matter how good a life you have. You'll still find something to complain about. And this is really my point: Even if you have "everything you'd want", as some would claim I do, you'll still be able to find faults with how the world has been assembled. You'll still find disillusion and discontent wherever you turn.

It's not because your life sucks.
It's because life around you does.

People are miserable. Streets are grey. Life is based on materialism and greed. Societal status is judged on a taste in clothes and popular culture decided by marketing executives and greedy corporations. You are expected to conform to standards that can be easily weighed and measured; otherwise you do not fit in.

People that do not "have it easy" do not have to deal with this. I do. I "have it easy", according to those that have to deal with immediate problems on a daily basis. They berate me for whining about inconsequential things. I don't think I do. When they solve their problems, they'll probably start thinking like me.

Or is it me that's wrong? I can't eliminate the possibility. But I don't think so. Dissidents may voice their opinions.

Is this why I hate everything? Yes. Because instead of thinking about these obvious obstacles, everyone opts to delve into wondering about inconsequential matters, such as gossip, fashion, sex or financial gain. Because it's easier to deal with.

That's why I hate everything. Because it's populated by people like you.

Oh yeah. A hearty fuck you to anyone who's bothering to vote (up or down) on this one. Go waste you votes on something useful, assholes!
I took a nap late in the afternoon, woke up to the phone ringing. My friend asked if I wanted to play basketball, but I was tired and said no.

I got up and walked to Subway. The park looked beautiful with its walkways lit up. It had this cold, distant feel to it. There was hardly any wind blowing, and a few scattered snowflakes floated lazily and haphazardly around the lights.

Later I called my friend and went to her place to eat pizza. We didn't talk much and when we did, it was strained. She asked why I was such a jerk last night. I said I was kind of mad at her for not calling in two weeks. Another buddy came over and someone put on some movie about ballet.

I tried to convince everyone to go to my place because I was uninterested in the film. I assumed a whiny voice, and, in jest, said, "C'mon, please."

"You don't do anything for me, so why should I for you?" she asked.

I said, "There's no reason why you should, but I think you might like one of the movies I have. You haven't seen them."

"Will you go to church with me tomorrow?"

"Meet me there. The 9:30 mass will have been the third one I went to tomorrow. I'm holier than thou. Let's go now."

"You don't even want me to come."

"It doesn't matter really. I just want to leave."

"Then go."

I left. The elevator was malfunctioning, so I waited for five minutes while the door opened and closed. I came home and went to sleep.

Crossing the threshold

Beginning today, 197 days remain to me before I have to teach again. I'm unsettled to see the count-down already below 200, and feel I should work even harder. Soon it will be around 160, and then below 100, and then before I know it I'll be down to the last couple of weeks and filled with sorrow at the passing of the days. Actually, no matter how hard I work, I'll still feel I could do more.

But today this sensation is attenuated by my having finished one stage of my big project and begun another. For about four and a half years I've been collating fanqie from the major Chinese rime-books, and now I've finally reached the point where I'm satisfied that I have all that I need - I mean my database finally has all the significant fanqie for all the significant characters in classical Chinese literature.

I feel like celebrating, but when I get up to do it I realize there's not much I can do that would actually feel as good as it's supposed to. If I take any time off, I'll just feel I've wasted it. If I think about eating something delicious but unhealthy, I can tell that after enough time has passed I'll feel more remorse than pleasure. Sometimes not eating feels better than eating, even when my throat is eager to swallow something. I already drink enough sherry and sake to lubricate my work, and any more might slow me down. So the best thing is just to plunge ahead with the next stage of the work, like a cavalryman charging into driving rain. I spent about three hours today beginning to plan for the second stage of the work.

Collating fanqie is not exactly mindless work, but it certainly doesn't involve much intellectual effort. The greatest good that came to me from it was learning to recognize hundreds of variant characters and ancient forms, and picking up bits of lore from the Guangyun and Jiyun and the other books. The only way to really do that is to just sit and read the books, and almost no one else I know in the western world has ever done that for any length of time. So, looking back, I feel I've done something really unusual and worthwhile. Now that's a sensation I think few of my colleagues ever get from their work, so maybe just noticing it and feeling good about it counts as a kind of celebration.

The next stage of the project is much more challenging, but I believe I can finish it within the time I actually have. It involves a lot of reading in Chinese reference works - dictionary definitions, citations from Classical texts (yes, you have to read and understand each one), and dictionaries of the ancient script. Doing this is far more interesting than combing fanqie, and involves learning a certain amount of new vocabulary (modern and Classical), but it also makes me more tense. I always find that projects with a high proportion of mechanical to mental work are the most soothing. Well, I guess I'm in for a lot more tension from now on, but I still intend to try to enjoy it.

But that's not all that has changed in my life in the past few days. With the upgrading of the terrorism threat level to orange on Friday, the outside world has intruded on my idyllic scholarly life. I live in a part of the U.S. that is one of the prime targets for terrorism, and my apartment building is large and highly visible. It is also, obviously (to those who know how to look for the signs), run in such a way as to accomodate Jewish residents. I suppose I should really prepare an emergency travel bag, as I have long meant to, in case I do suddenly have to leave in a hurry. The most important thing would be to make it possible to continue doing my work, and that means keeping a complete set of backup CD-ROMs in the bag all the time.

When I was young, the Second World War was still fairly fresh in the minds of my parents and their friends. My father had been conscripted at age 16 and my mother had been in charge of distributing war ration coupons in her neighborhood as a teenager. In the 1950's and '60's, many of the people they knew at Columbia had been refugees from Europe, and almost all of those people had at a certain point abandoned one life and picked up a small suitcase or two to carry to a new life in England or the U.S. The more aggressive little boys I played with knew all about German tanks and airplanes and Nazis and such. The consciousness of the Second World War was really alive then, in a way that I don't think any war is today for my 18-22 year-old American students. Many of my own cultural heroes when I was growing up - Leo Szilard, Paul Hindemith, Sigmund Freud - had for several years kept packed suitcases that they eventually carried abroad.

I suppose in the back of my mind I've always thought the day would come when I would have to do the same thing. If it does happen, where will I go, and how will I live? On that day the world will look pretty grim, but at the moment the emergency suitcase still seems like an object full of romance and possibility. It's a little like listening to bluegrass music when you're feeling fine - but if your love really does walk out the door, you're going to curse every minute you ever took happiness for granted.

Maybe it's better, then, to put my head back down and read another Classical Chinese passage.

last day-log entry: February 7, 2003 | next: February 12, 2003

My first one-liner of the day:

"C'mon, Mom. You've been married to the man for 27 years now. Surely you know what his literary preferences are by now." - to my step-mom, in regards to what I should get my dad for his 55th birthday today (literary genre).

I decided to take another tack and focused on movies instead. "All right, then, what kind of movies does he like?"

"He's very fond of Clint Eastwood."

"Westerns?" I asked pointedly.

"No. More like Dirty Harry. One guy against impossible odds. You know. The good guy underdog that doesn't stand a chance but ends up pulling through. Drama and action."

"Ah-hah!" I exclaimed. "Did he see The Bourne Identity? If so, what did he think of it?"

"Oh, he liked it very much," my mom said. "He was really impressed with it."

That cinched it for me. Dad likes Robert Ludlum novels. There's not much I do know about my dad's personal preferences, but I can spot a person's literary likes and dislikes in a heartbeat. He's never explicitly told me that he likes Ludlum, but it just makes sense. "Well, from what I've heard, Robert Ludlum's book version of The Bourne Identity was somewhat different from the movie. I think that's what I shall get him. Thanks, Mom."

"You're welcome, honey. Love you! See you tonight at six. Bye!"

And that's exactly what I got for my dad. Six o'clock rolled around and when time came to open the presents, I learned that my instincts were spot-on. Dad used to read Ludlum's books voraciously when he toured a lot on the road. And he absolutely loved the movie. He was very pleased with the gift I gave him.

Terrible secret #201: I don't normally give presents to people because I'm usually very boneheaded at it. I've actually gone for years without giving gifts to my family members because, honestly, I don't know them as well as I probably should.

Bygones. Today I got lucky.

Tonight, while playing pool with toastido and another friend (whom I have been flirting with like a madman, which is more out of character for me than most things... especially since this person happens to be an 18-year-old girl and I'm 30... but it's fun to flirt and surprisingly easier these days), I met the new bartender at George's Pool Hall. A nice, slender, attractive mid-twenties woman. We got to talking for just the briefest of moments and I hadn't actually intended to strike up an honest-to-god conversation, but that's what ended up happening. She's a student at Watkins College of Art here in Nashville with an eye towards computer graphic design (which happens to be somewhat of a passion of mine as well). And that's what kicked off our conversation. I won't recount the entire thing, but it ended with her asking me for my number (the first time that's happened in almost 5 years, much to my pleasant surprise).

I haven't been on a decent date in quite a long while- much less seriously hit on by a member of the opposite sex. I'm not expecting anything (hell, I'm expecting exactly nothing from this exchange), but it was certainly a nice change of pace for a woman to take a somewhat active interest in me, to make a pass at me. I hope I played it cool enough for her to follow up and call me or send me an email. She seemed very interesting, to say the least.

Here's to hoping that more days like today are ahead of me. There certainly aren't enough of them behind me.

My 100th node.

People think we have, as a civilized society, passed the point of progress.

Hell, I feel shitty every so often. I get pissed off at friends, co-workers, customers. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. But nothing I've ever felt - nothing - compares to that empty feeling in your chest.

That feeling you get when you think good and hard about the lives of others in less fortunate situations.

When you think about people that can't even vote.

When you hear that black people can't golf in certain U.S. country clubs.

There's that heart-draining, empty-chested, halfway-to-puking, what-the-fuck-kind-of-world-is-this feeling you get when you get over your fucking fears and give a damn about anything but yourself.

And then I realize that I don't even vote, and I teased the poor kids in high school. I chuckle to myself. I feel afraid for the world. We were brought up to live in fear, and when not in fear, invoke fear on others. I fear society. I fear the consequences of my actions. I wonder if words that I have said have driven people beyond the edge of reasonable action. I fear - and that's just how a society remains manageable. By being afraid.

Next time you think you have it so rough, ask yourself... on a scale of 1-10 how rough is it. 10 being a happy rich lifestyle, 1 being you haven't eaten in days, you have every disease in the book, and a broken leg or two.

And no, having no friends and your wife dying in some terrorist attack does not immediately reduce you to a level-1 status. Yes you may feel like shit. Yes you may be temporarily alone. But in the whole scheme of things, putting aside the fear of something new, how well are you compared to others that would call themselves a "1"?

With any luck, you'll always be between 4, 5, or 6. I don't personally know anyone below 4. Even most bums on the street are around 3 or 4. We have it pretty good, if we get over our daily dose of fear.

Comparing todays society to society 50 years ago, there's been nothing but progress.

So noone loves you. So you don't have any friends. So you lost your job. Thank god we live in a country that allows us to go to a pub and meet someone new. We can go to a gym. We can go for a walk around a beautiful park. We can log on to the Internet. Of course, living in fear, we can't bring ourselves to talk to each other. We think everyone else is out to get us. We think our lives are perpetually in danger.

The truth is calming.

We were designed to be afraid.

Does anyone want to be afraid with me?

I am amazed by how my words increasingly mean nothing to me now.

I dream of an old, old lover who I have not considered in years. I wake with his arms and lips and sex dripping all through my mouth and eyes; his art is in my ears again and I can feel my skin grow heavy with words and fingertips, thick black hair and averted eyes.

We make love the way we used to, when I believed that I could grow inside of the holes he left for me. I know in my pseudo-waking mind that I am cheating on my present partner, but somehow it does not feel like infidelity. It feels like a dream, and it feels like home to be in the arms of a man I know I can never love enough because he will never let me get that close.

These illusions weave past me with nauseating speed until I am sick with wakefulness and yet still heavy with sleep. This lover of my dreams and of my past is gone and yet his breath still hangs on my skin.

So much timeā€¦.

I know now that he reads exactly like the book he wrote, and that the spaces between the text, pungent with meanings I cannot fathom, are best from some distance where I cannot know the hollows inside of them. I know that my imagination is better than what could have ever gone on behind what I am reading.

(I have always been inclined to love the things I cannot hold. And I am reminded now that this dream was the most elegant and most elusive of them all.)

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