Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 favorite lists for 2009

(Note: Some of the stuff below I know was not released this year but it was what I watched/read/listened to this year.)

(500) Days of Summer
The Class
Entre Líneas
Everlasting Moments
Food, Inc.
The Hangover
Man on Wire
Rocket Science
Sin Nombre

"How I Met Your Mother"
"In Treatment"
"Lost in Austen"
"Mad Men"
"Top Chef"
"The Wire"
Didn't watch enough good TV to fill out the next 4.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman
Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
King Dork by Frank Portman
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Idiot's Guide to Philosophy by Jay Stevenson

"I Love the Unknown" by Eef Barzelay
"This Modern Love" by Bloc Party
"If You're Thinking of Me" by Dodgy
"This world is not for the faint of heart" by Hypernova (don't know the name of the song, only this lyric from the chorus)
"Heartbreak Warfare" by John Mayer
Wait for Me. by Moby
Grandes Exitos by Shakira
Far by Regina Spektor
No Line on the Horizon by U2
Boy for You by Astrid Williamson
- RE: my last post - Is it really such a big deal to be so uncommitted? I'm 27, not 40. *sigh* Too much thought.

- I think the allergies that made my life miserable earlier this year may be back. *double sigh*

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It was around a year ago that I was describing my life to someone and the adjective that I used was "sheltered." In the years since I graduated from high school (in 2000), it seems like I've made an art out of dodging major social and financial entanglements. In the first big decision of my life, I decided on good old UTEP right here in El Paso for college. It was simpler that way, that was the main reason -- I had a scholarship, so I didn't have to spend anything on tuition, and there were no dorms or flights at holidays or credit card debt. I finished my bachelor's degree (well, education is the exception, at least there's *something* I committed to) but I didn't get into a "real" career straightaway, instead meandering through years of grad school and working part-time at a newspaper, not a career choice I think most grad students in computer science typically make. Even as I've settled into more lucrative work, I still have never had a car or house payment. Too much commitment, even if I had the money for it. I have lived with my mom all except for one year out of my life. I've never been married or even had a serious relationship, and I've never had a kid to take care of.

Am I very weird? Maybe I just don't take so-called achievements or life milestones very seriously. I didn't really want the degree from a name brand college or the high-pressure job that pays a lot of money. To me loans and debt have always seemed like having a bag of rocks tied to your ankle for life. I'm happy with my old Honda and upstairs bedroom and four-year-old cell phone. I laugh at status symbols, nice clothes and iPhones and shiny new trucks, I like to think I don't need them to prove my worth. As for romance, I don't really like the idea of being chained to another human being, especially a man. Men who I have previously admitted that I don't understand. Don't I have enough quirks of my own, without adding someone else's unpredictable neuroses to the mix?

I've stopped just short of living in a convent with the simplicity thing. Looking back I see the simplicity as a choice, a willful act of defiance, because the default seems to be complexity. Complicated finances, complicated relationships. But looked at another way, I suppose there's something else in the self-imposed course of avoidance. A fear. I fear investing too much of myself into anything, only to have it not work out. And immaturity. I've written before about being shy, and I've read that shy people are slower to reach life milestones like the ones I've written about. Not that it's true for everyone, but it has been true for me. It's taken me years to get a tentative grip on the career and relational issues I gather that most other people figure out much earlier.

I think all this is on my mind because I see things about to change for me as I head further into my late 20s. I anticipate admitting more complexity into my life as I get older. I tell myself, the pared-down life is weird enough in your 20s, in your 30s it will just seem absurd. I can't see myself as George Clooney in "Up in the Air," with nothing in the backpack. I've already moved into a somewhat stable career. My car will break down at some point, wouldn't it be nice to get a new one? A place of my own seems more and more tempting. And as I see friends and family my age getting married off and starting families, won't I want the same someday? It terrifies me now, but maybe one day it won't.

But can't we just toss out the timelines, that you get a real job at 23 and get married by 27 and have your first child at 30? I don't much care if I'm the exception. At this point I don't think I'm a general commitment-phobe. It's more like I'm running things on a case-by-case basis these days, and I think that it's just not the right time for some things in my world, that's all. But maybe it will be soon.
Another Christmas has come and gone. My Christmas loot: $75 in Barnes and Noble gift cards, yay! I don't know yet which books I will choose. A couple of sweaters and shirts. A box of truffles. Day-by-day calendar of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (why did they include the word "die" in the title, it sounds so morbid). A scarf. Money from Mom and Dad. Etc.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm getting addicted to New York Magazine. This end-of-decade reflection is awesome:

Ever-increasing bandwidth and mobile computing brought us tantalizingly close to a world of infinite, instantaneous communications. Those who saw this coming convergence at the start of the decade were the winners. Those who didn’t were the losers.
Is all this good or bad? Depends where you sit. If you’re reading this magazine, meaning you’re capable of maintaining your concentration for more than 140 characters, it’s probably bad.
The fear now is that no one is in charge. That we are all adrift in a vast, roiling sea, the contours of which none of us can fully discern.

Monday, December 21, 2009


This has been a good year. I've been to London and back. I got a job I really like, the job I kinda/sorta envisioned myself having at this age when I was a kid. I was able to forgive people when I very well could have chosen not to. I started Spanish classes again and plan to continue them. I was busy, but not too busy to hang out with interesting friends and see indie films and read good books.

Looking back, the continued positive direction of my life seems so tenuous. One unexpected disaster or unpleasant circumstance could have made this year something different, but it didn't. Some wonderful things in my life this year were just plain luck, blessings that I don't deserve and can't take much credit for, and for those things I say "thank you," for God's grace shining down on me for one more year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nice Sunday night -- good dinner, excellent company, a movie starring Harry Potter, and no work tomorrow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The NY Times asks, "Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?". Apparently Nancy Meyers can. Upwards of $12 million per film. Wow. I don't love all her films but I've seen "The Holiday" three or four times and find it a nice bit of escapism.
Can't remember the last I was so grateful for a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas shopping update

As of yesterday I'm done with 98 percent of my Christmas shopping. Yay! I went shopping during the day and thought the stores wouldn't be crowded, but they were. Toys 'R Us was an especially unpleasant experience -- babies crying, almost getting run over by shopping carts, long lines. They also didn't have any good Twilight merchandise, which is what I was looking for. Fortunately I was able to find nearly all of the stuff on my list at other stores within three hours, so I won't have to make a return trip to the mall and surrounding stores. Thank God, that's really a Christmas gift in itself...

Monday, December 07, 2009


Before I start, let me make clear that the following is all my own opinion and not those of any current or former employers. OK, enough with the disclaimer.

So my friend and I are standing outside an El Paso bar on a Friday night and the topic of conversation turns to Juárez. She said she has heard from her Juárez friends that the violence there is getting worse and the situation is more hopeless than ever. The family of her friend was carjacked, and there was a shooting at the nightclub her friend's brother owns. Her friend is planning to move away to another city in Mexico to get away from the violence.

"When will the violence be over?" I wonder aloud.

She doesn't answer me and we fall silent. There's not else much we can say about the drug cartel war in Juárez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso, where over 2,250 people have been killed this year. Here is a good summary of the current state of things, if you haven't read much about it. Body after body has been found gunned down on the streets. Some are found tortured and dismembered. The victims have included women and children. There are also reports of a rise in crimes like extortions, kidnappings, and carjackings.

Reports of the violence across the border typically come to me secondhand as above, through a friend of a friend or through the media. Enough for me to give a polite "I'm sorry to hear that" sort or reaction, not enough to provoke the gut-wrenching reaction that comes when the crime is against someone you know well. The streets of El Paso remain very safe, and even when it's in the city nestled right up against my beloved hometown, the violence to me is still in the abstract, a shadowy, humongous problem that there's not much I can do about, like AIDS in Africa or global warming.

Am I hopelessly insular, that I have so little direct knowledge of Juárez, its citizens, and the violence tearing it apart? Even before the drug cartel war started, I always associated Juárez with danger. It was the place my mom always said she was afraid to go. I suppose that childhood fear is why I can count on two hands the number of times I've been to Juárez. Three times to visit the mercado, once to Villa del Mar, a seafood restaurant, three times to a church camp. That's seven times in 27 years of life, none of those visits in the past two years, when the war has been going on.

Also, unlike a lot of native El Pasoans I have no family members in Juarez. I have acquaintances who live there -- people I went to school with, former co-workers, friends of friends -- but no one in my inner circle, which I suppose makes me lucky. It's not my parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, or close friends getting killed or seeing the bodies pile up.

But when the media do their job and start digging into who these people being killed actually are, I am reminded how closely these two communities are connected. People who lived and worked and studied in El Paso have been killed. Some of the most disturbing headlines this year:
A 7-year-old? Yeah, it's unbelievable, it's utterly horrible, tragic, despicable, and unfair. But solutions that will end the violence aren't forthcoming. The Mexican government has sent in thousands of soldiers to the city. It seemed like the answer, then it failed. Decriminalizing drugs in the U.S. has been suggested, but that likely is not going to happen any time soon.

The U.S. government has added more southbound inspections to curb weapon and currency smuggling into Mexico, and some Juárez groups even want to bring in U.N. peacekeepers. Meanwhile, the BBC suggests poverty and corrution are the real problems.

The experts have done the analyses and some solutions have been tried but the killings continue, and we're back to "what a pity" then silence. It's like this wall of frustration builds up. We need the facts on why the situation is getting worse and not better, but it's not a situation where we can get all the facts, given the dangers for anyone who dares to investigate.

And what's really frustrating is that there is so little that any one average person can do. Tell people about it, I guess (part of the reason I'm writing this). Write to representatives in Congress or to the White House, maybe, and some protests have been organized.

But I think the attitude that "there's nothing I can do" leads to complacency. I'm frustrated by the lack of urgency in the conversation at this point in the war, the attitude that the murders are unstoppable. Especially here in El Paso, where you'd think we'd be hypersensitive to what's going on just across the border, people like me who don't have close ties to Juárez continue on with our lives that are mostly undisrupted by violence, and it starts to fade from our consciousness. I've been guilty of this, too. I'm busy with my own life here, and I am tired of thinking about drugs and violence and death. But in this situation it's not a matter of choice. With about 4,000 people killed in the past two years, and an average of between 200 and 300 killings a month now, we in El Paso and the rest of the U.S. and the world need to keep thinking about it and keep talking about it, and express our solidarity with the citizens of Juárez.

No, I don't have answers for the problems plaguing Juárez. I'm as bewildered by the situation as anyone as I sit here writing from my safe perch. All I'm saying is the fire's still raging there, and we shouldn't allow anyone to forget about it.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

TIME calls the '00s the "decade from hell": "It was almost as if we as a nation said in previous decades, 'Why do today what we can put off until the first decade of the 21st century?' But we didn't rise to those challenges. What we just lived through, then, was the chickens coming home to roost."

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Snow storm

Woke up to this bleak scene:

Took these photos near my house after the sky had mostly cleared up in the afternoon:

Makes me not mind winter so much.