Friday, December 29, 2006


Writing is hard. This is my problem lately: I start writing some introspective piece, then I get pretty far into it and I realize that it's like pulling a piece of yarn from a sweater. You pull one string and the whole thing starts coming apart. Writing is thinking, and the more I start thinking about things, the more complex they get. And it seems like as soon as I start putting things on paper (or computer), I get frustrated because I think, this is not true. I mean, it's not a lie, it's not like I'm making up who I am as I go along, but it's not the 100 percent real truth. Especially here where many things can't be discussed or I don't want to discuss them.

I think we all have this tendency to make everything a narrative, with a pat ending, all nice and neat and tied up with a bow, but the reality is jagged and curved and cut into pieces. You can take the bird's eye view or you can really be honest and get down into the curves and sharp edges. But I look at those and sometimes I don't like what I see. I write about myself and try to do so with some honesty, then I take a cold hard look at it and realize these things I don't want people to know about me may be things that I need to change.

I've always had this thing about fiction, that it's somehow inferior because it's not true, but lately I've begun to see things a little differently. Maybe in some ways fiction is more honest than nonfiction, because in fiction everything is made-up and there's nothing to cover up. Because it's actually less complex than reality, it's easier to get to general truths without wading through the compounding details. It's easier to get into that close-up view with fiction because it's in the realm of character rather than the realm of reality. You're criticizing the character, you're not criticizing me as a person. And I've never been very into creative writing but sometimes I am tempted to switch to writing short stories or semi-autobiographical novels rather than writing about myself and what's really happened to me and attempting to make some kind of narrative out of it. Do you know what I mean? Or am I just rambling?

Going places

It's dark and I'm going 70 on I-10 headed to Downtown, towards the Wells Fargo building lit up like a Christmas tree in the distance. Blue Oyster Cult plays on the radio. I feel like I'm in a movie. Maybe because of the music, or because of the speed, or because of where I'm going, or most likely the perfect combination of the three, but at this one moment I'm excited to be alive. I sing along, street lights are a blur at either side of me on the freeway.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From an interesting essay by anchorman Brian Williams in Time:

"It is now possible — even common — to go about your day in America and consume only what you wish to see and hear. There are television networks that already agree with your views, iPods that play only music you already know you like, Internet programs ready to filter out all but the news you want to hear.

The problem is that there's a lot of information out there that citizens in an informed democracy need to know in our complicated world with U.S. troops on the ground along two major fronts. Millions of Americans have come to regard the act of reading a daily newspaper— on paper — as something akin to being dragged by their parents to Colonial Williamsburg. "

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top 10 lists for 2006

I've gotten into the habit at the end of each year of making lists of the most memorable things I read/watched/listened to, and I thought I'd share that here this year. Yes, I'm aware that many of these were not released in 2006.

Books - Not a big year for heavy reading. I think Madam Secretary was my Mount Everest this year.
  • Ash Wednesday Ethan Hawke - surprisingly good book written by a celebrity
  • Blue Like Jazz Donald Miller
  • Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • Harry Potter, Books 1-3 J.K. Rowling
  • In Her Shoes Jennifer Weiner
  • Lost and Found Carolyn Parkhurst - funny
  • Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright
  • Mockingbird : A Portrait of Harper Lee Charles J. Shields
  • White Oleander Janet Fitch
  • Why Do I Love These People? Po Bronson

Movies - Ah, the year I subscribed to Netflix.

  • 7 Up documentary series
  • Akeelah and the Bee
  • American Dreamz - hilarious satire
  • Cars
  • Click
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • I Heart Huckabees
  • Late Night Shopping
  • The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - looks like it was filmed in El Paso
  • World Trade Center

Music - I admit it, I listen to Top 40 radio. A lot. Some of these are songs and some are albums.

  • "At My Most Beautiful" REM
  • Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor
  • "Crazy" Gnarls Barkley
  • "Hate Me" Blue October - read the lyrics
  • Hopes and Fears Keane
  • Hotel Moby
  • "Over My Head" and "How to Save a Life" The Fray
  • U2: Best of 1980-1990
  • Vivaldi Concerto for Violin and Two Cellos - I heart Vivaldi
  • Why Should the Fire Die? Nickel Creek

TV - What happened to all the dramas? And it was a big year for reality TV.

  • "30 Days" - Morgan Spurlock is a genius
  • "Everybody Hates Chris"
  • "Iron Chef America"
  • "Little People, Big World"
  • "The Office"
  • Oprah Winfrey Show 20th Anniversary Collection DVD - highly recommended
  • "Project Runway" - so addicted to this show
  • "The Soup"
  • "Survivor"
  • "VH1 Nocturnal State" - best thing on TV after 1 a.m.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Funny poll

Vote in this poll on NMK. I wonder where those two people live, because I want to move there.

Christmas shopping at the liquor store

I went into a liquor store for the first time yesterday. A few minutes earlier I had been in a grocery store--the grocery store with its wholesome smells of baked goods and ground coffee and fruits and vegetables. But the smell of the liquor store reminded me of a warehouse. It was a very utilitarian place, both in smell and decor. Here's your liquor, and that's all. No Christmas decorations or cheery displays, just shelves and shelves of every alcoholic beverage imaginable, and absolutely nothing else. No shot glasses or random gift items. No food products of any kind, not even the usual display of candy bars. It didn't seem like the kind of place you'd want to buy anything that you were later going to ingest.

I went up to the counter and asked a gray-haired man at the cash register to get some small bottles of Bailey's and tequila from a shelf behind the counter. Then I asked which brand of tequila he would recommend. Cuervo, he said, and it looked like he knew what he was talking about, so I took his advice. I bought the Bailey's and Cuervo. Got carded, of course, paid and left. And that was it, my first trip to the liquor store. I don't think I'll be going back any time soon.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Person of the Year

Time magazine names You as the Person of the Year. I think that's an appropriate choice, but I'm not as excited about it as I could be because, personally, I'm not a big fan of YouTube. Blogger, yes, YouTube, not so much. To me it's too much like regular TV, where you can just spend hours and hours watching mindless stuff.

According to Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel (in the "To Our Readers" section): "Thomas Paine was in effect the first blogger, and Ben Franklin was essentially loading his persona into the MySpace of the 18th century, Poor Richard's Almanack." I think that's stretching it just a little.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The postmodern Christmas Eve

I'll admit to feeling a little Grinch-like this Christmas. Last year's Christmas Day was OK, but Christmas Eve was hands-down the most disappointing I've had so far.

First of all, I had to work. On Christmas Eve! But as the saying goes, the news never sleeps. It wasn't too bad, though. I was happy because I got to come home early (around 8 p.m. instead of the usual 11 or 12). As I drove home I imagined myself coming home to a nice Christmas Eve dinner with the family. I envisioned some nice turkey cooked in the oven, cranberry sauce on the side, mashed potatoes, corn, and a salad. And then after dinner maybe we would all watch a movie together (It's a Wonderful Life, maybe?). Then I would fall peacefully asleep in anticipation of the unwrapping of presents on Christmas morning. This is what my family usually did on Christmas Eve in years past.

Instead I got home and this was the scene: my sister (I'll call her V.) and her friends were sitting on the couch watching a marathon of "My Super Sweet Sixteen" reruns on MTV. My other sister (A.) was talking on the phone. My mom was not home. She had left the house to see some friends of hers. And after a careful inspection of the kitchen, not only had she not made the fancy Christmas Eve dinner I imagined, she hadn't made any dinner at all. My stomach went into shock. I sat in the kitchen, totally bummed out, pretending to be interested in "My Super Sweet Sixteen". Finally hunger won over and I decided to make my specialty: grilled tomato and cheese sandwiches.

When my mom and A. had both arrived home later that night, and after all V.'s friends had left, we all decided break with tradition and exchange presents right then instead of waiting for the morning. Which felt extremely weird, but no weirder than any of the other things that had gone on that night. "My Super Sweet Sixteen" replacing It's a Wonderful Life as Christmas Eve viewing. Tomato and cheese sandwiches replacing a turkey dinner. And everyone sort of doing their own thing. I think you could definitely say my Christmas Eve last year was very postmodern. And maybe I'm more of a traditionalist than I realized because it bothered me so much.

My expectations are definitely different this year, in that I really don't have expectations. I may have to work again. And I know that if I want that Christmas Eve dinner I'd better be prepared to make it myself. And watch Christmas movies by myself if necessary. I am trying to look at it as just another day and not expect it to be the way it was in the past. The same way you unwrap a present and try to be happy about whatever it is even if it's not really what you wanted, I'm prepared for whatever I get: the traditional Christmas, the postmodern Christmas, or something in between. Maybe it all just doesn't matter as much anymore. We find our time to be together, why does it have to be in one particular way, on one particular night? We're older, the world is different (Exhibit A: the very existence of a show like "My Super Sweet Sixteen"), and things are not going to be the same as they were when I was younger. I should learn to put my expectations away. But honestly, I am sad about it, especially on a gloomy day like today. I wish we all made more of an effort to do things together and to hold on to long-standing traditions. I wish there were things I could depend on, things I could look forward to. At this era in our family, it seems we don't have these sacred traditions that we aren't willing to break, and that really makes me sad.

Monday, December 18, 2006


From an article in USA Weekend:

"A few weeks from now, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls will welcome its first 150 students. Winfrey built the state-of-the-art school for poor girls with potential; she personally interviewed every finalist (from a pool of more than 3,000 applicants) and plans to teach classes there via teleconference.......When these girls leave the academy, she believes, they will become the doctors, educators and leaders who will 'turn that continent around.' "

I really can't describe how much I love this idea. This is probably the best idea I've heard about trying to change the situation in Africa. If I had a billion dollars I think I'd try to do something exactly like this.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


The key to a happy holiday is low expectations.

Not a baby

My baby sister turned 21 today.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I'm well on my way in my quest to try to watch every documentary on Netflix, lol. The latest was Street Fight, about the 2002 mayoral election in Newark. Really interesting if you like politics. I didn't know corruption like this still went on in America in the 21st century.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stu's take on science vs. religion. I've always wondered what 'non-denominational spiritualist' meant.
This week's cover story in Time has some really good ideas about reforming education. I've seen some of these ideas in action in my college education (esp. the "teamwork approach" to learning) but definitely not in high school. Unfortunately, if you're not a subscriber to Time you'll need to watch an ad before you can access most of the article. Still, worth reading.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Latest batch of photos

A few obligatory holiday photos:

A pretty poinsettia plant. What happens to poinsettia plants after Christmas?

Mom's holiday dining room table.

Taken this morning:

Northeast El Paso desert. I don't know what that white spot is. It kind of looks like a bomb going off.

St. Francis of Assisi who watches over the front of the house.

Classic rock

Awesome radio station: 99.1 The Eagle.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cheesecake bites

I can't think of an unhealthier snack than cheesecake bites from Sonic. Bits of fried cheesecake dipped in sugar. Which I was lucky enough to sample yesterday. Right after which I thought I might have a heart attack.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Movies I re-watched this weekend that were funnier than I remember:
-Clueless: Brings me back to 8th grade, when people started saying things like "As if." Art of word play is brought to a new level. Check out this quote page.
-Mean Girls: I played hooky from school one Friday to watch this. I remember eating a huge bag of popcorn and laughing like crazy. Tina Fey is my idol. This movie is hilarious. Also captures high school pretty well, I think.
-The Wedding Singer: I've watched this movie so many times I can recite the dialogue. "Julia's last name is going to be Guglia?" Still funny every time I watch it. And I love the '80s motif.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Excellent essay by Eleanor Roosevelt in the This I Believe project.
The highlights of my college days were my two stints on my student newspaper, in spring 2002 and summer 2003. Both times I was hired as a "correspondent" earning $10 per story, essentially a stringer. I didn't get paid much at all, but in a lot of ways it was the best job I've ever had.

I really felt at home among the journalism types. One thing that can be said about journalism is that no one does it for the money. Or they do, in part, but they also have to love it since the financial rewards are so small compared to what you find elsewhere. My editor from my first stint at the paper remains one of the coolest people I've ever met. A short guy with a crew cut and glasses, he was funny and smart and dedicated. I can still see him smoking cigarettes in the back of the student union. Once after a meeting of the newspaper staff, he said to us, "Isn't this what you all want to be doing for the rest of your life? So go out and do a good job." You could tell he really loved what he was doing. Best of all, he told me he liked my stories and gave me some good assignments.

When I was researching a story I felt like a different person. I was determined to do an excellent job on my stories, and because of that I found a boldness in myself I never knew existed. In my new role as a footloose, hard-nosed reporter, I would ask the tough questions. I decided I was willing go anywhere and talk to anyone to add to a better story. In other words, I was willing to risk making a pest of myself, something I would never do in my regular life.

In my two semesters I ended up talking to all sorts of people. I would go around campus, long skinny reporter's in hand, jotting down quotes in my bad shorthand. I marched into the UTEP police station and asked to see some records about an accident that took place on campus. I asked students what they really thought about the financial aid office. I went down to the Don Haskins Center and interviewed some cute kids at a basketball camp. I talked to fraternity boys and sorority girls about their rush weeks, and I asked a dietician about the dangers of diet pills. But I think my favorite story of all was an interview with Phil Jones, the Australian digeridoo player who gave a demonstration on campus one afternoon. He drove around the country giving demonstrations on the benefits of deep breathing and playing the digeridoo. For some reason I thought this was extremely fascinating. I came up with a huge list of questions and interviewed him for about 10 minutes, you'd think I was interviewing some famous rock star. Sadly, the story was cut and never saw the light of day, but I did find out more than I ever wanted to know about the digeridoo.

On more than one occasion my stories would get cut like the Phil Jones story. More often, they were banished to the inside pages of the paper. But a couple of times my editor would give me a plum assignment and my story would end up on the front page. Maybe this is silly, but even now those occasions still come up when I think about what I am proudest of in my life.

I look back and see a colorful collage of experiences, a collection of things I would never have seen otherwise. But it ended up being a bittersweet experience because at the end of my second stint I had to admit to myself that I was not cut out to be a reporter. When push came to shove, I was too much of a marshmallow to ask people things they really didn't want to answer. There were times where I felt like I was really annoying people, where I got embarrassed and lost my nerve, and I didn't like that at all. I could put on the aggressive reporter persona for a couple of semesters, but I knew I couldn't do it as a career. Sure, it was rewarding to think about a lot of people reading what I wrote and getting something from it, and it was fun getting to meet new people and see interesting things, but in the long run, I knew I wouldn't enjoy the day-to-day reporter tasks of making a million phone calls, banging on people's doors, and asking annoying questions. Being a reporter isn't my calling. It was hard to admit, but I knew it was so.

After that summer I quit the newspaper and spent the rest of my time in college studying things like math, computer programming, and software engineering. Yet somehow those days as a correspondent will always be special, more fun and exciting to me than any of the time I spent churning out code in the computer lab. Me as a bold and adventurous journalist, who knew it was possible? I'll always be glad for that experience even if it was short-lived.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Does anyone else think this is a bad idea?

12 Months of Monet

This painting is the December picture in my Monet calendar. It took me by surprise when I turned to it. Claude Monet actually painted that? Interesting.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Where is home?

I've lived in this house for over a year but I don't think of it as home. Maybe because it's in a different area of El Paso than where I grew up. I live in the Northeast but I used to live on the Westside. To be completely honest, I never really liked the Northeast much. And now, due to circumstances beyond my control, I live here. It's not so bad. This is a fine house. Nice neighborhood, great view of the mountains. But when I drive home from work now I don't think of it the same way I used to when I was coming home to the other house, where I was just so happy to be going home, to that neighborhood I knew I so well, to that sense of comfort and familiarity, you know? I live here, but it doesn't feel like home.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and for a second I think I'm back sleeping in my bed in the old house, the one I lived in from age 5 to 17. I remember the ugly flower pattern of the bedspread and how the moonlight used to come in through the oleander bushes outside my bedroom window. I remember waking up sometimes when I heard my parents talking late at night. I haven't lived there for seven years but for moments in the middle of the night my subconscious mind thinks I'm still there.

And I suppose I still think of that house as home. Home even though I don't live there and will never live there again. The house has been sold, painted white on the outside from the original red, remodeled on the inside. Another family lives there. My own family is all grown up and scattered. There's no going back, obviously. The house I knew exists mostly in my mind at this point. But maybe your childhood home will always be the one "home" you come back to. When you're young your house is your whole world, and the streets and the neighborhood and the house itself become ingrained in you in a way that doesn't happen when you're older. It was 12 years of this and this and this happening, the happy memories, the sad ones, the fights, the lazy weekend afternoons, meals shared, holidays spent, here's where I used to ride my bike, here's the backyard I used to play in, here's where I skinned my knee. So many individual moments with that setting as the background for it. Maybe that's why my subconscious mind always returns there. I grew up there and I can't imagine feeling the same way about any other place.
Yesterday I saw An Inconvenient Truth. My first impressions of the movie were about the slide show. I gave about a million PowerPoint presentations in my college career so I suppose I had an expectation that the slide show would be somewhat similar to that. Namely, boring, with the bullet points and the remote control clicker and all that. But instead it was this beautiful multimedia extravaganza, a seamless integration of facts and video and really effective charts and graphs. The one graph about the correlation between CO2 levels and temperature, where Al Gore climbed onto the stepping stool, that was genius.

And the message of the movie, of course, is a very serious one. I had no idea that Al Gore was so dedicated to studying this subject. He's a very credible and authoritative speaker on global warming. Out of all the things that I've seen or read on global warming, this movie has been most convincing to me of the seriousness of the issue. This problem is on such a huge scale with such great ramifications for the entire planet. But it just seems that fixing it is going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible. How do you get the entire world to change? Particularly when some U.S. leaders are still waffling on the issue of whether global warming is happening at all. I'm worried. I'm very worried.