Wow! I can’t believe this ol’ thing is even still around! Against my better judgement, I’m waking up my O.B. (original blog) for a new project. Sorry in advance if you find something I wrote in the last nine years that should never have been written.


Modern-day me!

So much is new in my life that I don’t even know where to start. I moved to Kansas City, I bought a house, I got a job at the library, I quit a job at the library, I got divorced, I moved back to Upstate New York… a very long story that won’t be told today!

I also started a new blog called The Elephant in the Spaceship. Just some silly stuff.


There are few things I’ve hated so instinctively as networking. Sucking up to people and trying to manipulate them into helping you is bad enough, but to take pride in being a two-faced, shit-eating sociopath, as many young professionals who sign up for networking events do, is beyond the beyond.


Networking event in progress.

And even beyond that, if possible, is the feeling of being a networker yourself, at least for me. The last time I willingly attended a networking event was when I presented a paper at the American Historical Association’s annual conference a few years back. Before grad school ground my rose-colored glasses under its heel I thought that academic conferences were utopias were the lucky few get to listen to some of the most current and brilliant research out there, observe great minds discussing great ideas together, and perhaps even get to meet someone whose book changed your life. It’s like comic con but with delicious hors d’ouvres!

The reality, unfortunately, is that these are just desperate networking events were kids who know they’re competing with 99 peers for one attractive academic position converge. I saw one of my favorite professors at the AHA and she, being amazingly well-meaning, tried to help me with my elevator speech, an improbable two-sentence summary of all my interests, research, and plans that I’m supposed to pitch to random strangers. Then another person who I thought would be the most likely to attend my panel opted out to network with someone more important. Then, because Rebecca Scott did me the most humbling honor of not only attending said panel but offering her brilliant commentary, one of the panel moderators suddenly got brain-snatched. The organizer had told me get my final draft to this moderator the weekend before the conference, but she apparently expected it much earlier, and told me that she didn’t read my work and isn’t going to offer any substantial comments. However, after seeing Rebecca (who I met at another conference in Senegal and is not only a total genius but a super sweet and genuine human being) greet me and speak, this moderator suddenly had glowing, interesting, and incisive things to say. Not only that, she even emailed me after the conference with a link to one of her articles! Summary: The whole experience was a horror show, one of the deepest-set nails in an already pretty nailed-up coffin.

But whatever, it’s professional life. Although it clarified my career path since I was certain that I didn’t want a career like that, getting networked-upon at the AHA didn’t affect me psychologically, since none of these people had ever pretended to be my friends. Which brings me to personal life networkers, who make me want to throw myself under a train for lack of hope for humanity.


Not that you should base your life on things you see on Facebook, but HELL YEAH!

Nothing in the world makes me happier than being able to make my friends happy. That sounds cheesy but fake, kind of like American cheese, but I think a lot of people feel that way and I happen to be one of them. If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch the eyes of a person in the midst of surprising you with an awesome gesture or the perfect gift.That person’s probably even more excited than you are!

The word “unconditional love” gets bandied about a lot during wedding season, and I don’t really get it because conditional love (or friendship) isn’t any sort of love at all. At best, it’s narcissism – “I love you as long as your characteristics match up to my arbitrary and likely-to-evolve preferences.” Depending on the characteristic, there are changes so extreme that they couldn’t possibly be foreseen, and those changes aren’t what I’m talking about. I know for example of a woman whose husband got a dash of brain injury followed by dollop of meningitis. His whole personality now is completely unrecognizable. I don’t begrudge her for considering a divorce; she’s crazy amazing for deciding in the end to make it work. But if you, on your wedding day, feel that any in the range of moderate changes of characteristics would nullify love – getting fatter, losing sex drive, losing a job, losing interest in brushing one’s hair every day, etc. – then maybe consider editing your vows. To an equal degree, the word “friend” should only apply to a person who is free to walk down their own life’s path, pursue new interests, reevaluate their opinions and positions, without risk of falling away in your affections. And if you’re narcissistic enough to choose partners and buddies not even on their intrinsic characteristics but only on the condition that they can do something for you, then you’re a filthy, no-good networker and should be made to wear a scarlet N sewn onto the bodice of your velvet dress. For shame!

Now and then, a friend would contact me out of the blue. Almost always, there’d be small talk first and then the inevitable revelation:

  • My friend’s or his/her child’s birthday is coming up
  • My friend is planning a party
  • My friend wants me to sponsor a race, buy something, or donate to a Kickstarter or GoFundMe page
  • My friend wants me to click on something, vote for something, or “like” something online
  • My friend wonders if I have time to write something for him/her
  • My friend just broke up with someone or got fired from a job

… and so on. Sometimes a particular person might even not bother getting in touch with me for years at all except for the few times every couple of months when (s)he wants my help. Unlike the harmless weirdness of an academic conference, these situations were always so disheartening. Since I consider the person to be an actual friend a it hurts even more that (s)he seemingly treats our friendship so cynically.

keep in touch

For personal life networkers it’s tough to make that call “for no reason.”

Ironically, despite the fact that our culture now glorifies professional networking, there’s still a bit of a residual distate for personal life networking. I’ve read many articles advising that we dump our selfish “toxic friends,” and spent a long time struggling with just how to go about that.

Because no matter how upset I felt, a part of me looked back with a huge grin on the good times I’ve had with this friend in the past and didn’t want to pull the plug on the possibility of having more in the future.

I’m embarrassed to it admit it but it wasn’t until a year or so ago that it occurred to me that is might be a “me” problem.

Maybe it has to do with meeting lots of refreshingly uncynical people here in Kansas City, maybe with having most of my friendships suddenly become long-distance phone friendships. Whatever brought it on, I finally let myself stop feeling like the victim for long enough to realize that my boundless and enthusiastic hatred for networking is very specific to my personality and how I grew up (My dad got passed over for promotions that he was overqualified for because he refused to play the brown-nosing game, and I think he was proud of getting where he was on the merit of his work alone). It’s also very specific to my experience in grad school. I began to realize that because I feel so strongly against networking I’ve been very, very self-conscious about never treating my friends in any way that would place conditions on our relationship and I’ve become ludicrously sensitive when they overstep my very tiny circle of approved non-networking friend behavior.

Friendships aren’t measured by the number of cellphone minutes logged. If we have a connection, if we understand each other, it doesn’t matter if one or both of us is too busy to text because we can just pick it up again when the pace of life slows down a bit. And it’s ridiculous for me to get upset about friends asking for help. Good grief, of course I want to celebrate birthdays, be good company after a bad breakup, and support whatever is currently floating their boats! Not because “they’d do the same for me” because, actually, that doesn’t matter. I’ve been given so much kindness that I could never hope to repay and if I’m finally in a position now to pay it forward, I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I started to wonder if the reason I’m being contacted after such a long time is not out of cynicism at all but because this other person feels that they can count on me to come through. I’m honored that anyone should think so highly of me! It’s been a journey (probably a boring one, sorry, reader!) but it feels so good to know that the n-word I’ve hated from the beginning was never a threat to my friendships at all. If my friends are making it easy for me by telling me straight up what I can do to make them happy, how can I be anything but overjoyed?

unconditional love

Hahaha! Oh my god. Took six months off from blogging only to come back with the cheesiest post ever. Sorry!



I’ll go ahead and add my voice to the cacophony of those disturbed by 10th Year Anniversary of Katrina celebrations, though perhaps residents of a city that brags that it “puts the fun in funeral” ought to scoot off their high horse just a smidge. It’s a fact that New Orleans commemorates everything with live music and drinks. Even if you’re trying to be somber, that combo tends towards festivities. And not that there’s anything wrong with festivities!

One of the hardest things to get used to, now that I live in Kansas City, is actually trying to celebrate stuff without live music and drinks.

But maybe the local ethos just something I need to get used to. It’s just so weird, given that there’s so much music history here, especially Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Bennie Moten, and other jazz legends, and a small but lively local music scene even today (albeit mostly in Westport and in parking lots on First Fridays). As for the booze, it seems that statistically Kansas Citians already consume their fair share of it – they just do it in the comfort of their own homes. I can’t really fault them for that since beer (even New Orleans beer) is pretty cheap at stores.

abita on sale

Geez! I’ve never seen Abita Strawberry for less than $6 in Louisiana.

In New Orleans people pony up the ridiculously marked up prices at bars because they’re paying for an experience. Sometimes this experiece involves a 50-year old dude in full Marie Antoinette drag, sometimes a bunch of cats playing rock music.

The festivities start meow.

The festivities start meow.

Here there’s no experience yet. Unless you count the experience of paying double for a beer.

I’m sure someone will call me out on this and name a dozen cool events with live music and drinks that have gone down in this town in the past year, and of course they exist. My point is only that, in general, Kansas City celebrations are exactly that – events. They’re not a way of life. And maybe this isn’t a bad thing, because the locales that remind me most of New Orleans in terms of attitude don’t want to do the distinctly unfun work of fixing corruption, poverty, and other social problems. Cumulatively I’ve probably spent two years of my life in the Philippines at this point and it’s definitely like that there. When I try to think of places I’ve been that have their shit together but still know how to party, the list is short: Berlin, and New York City if we conveniently ignore the rampant criminality on Wall Street, which to be fair we really shouldn’t.

Will KCMO ever become a vibrant, progressive, ultra-diverse, hip yet ridiculously down-to-earth art, food, and fun capital of the world? I guess twenty years ago nobody saw it coming for Berlin, either 🙂 In the meantime I’ll continue enjoying it for how it already is. I’m very excited for Camey and my adorable genius of a goddaughter, Chloe, to come here. One thing the city has down pat: Between amusement parks, science centers, and kid-centered museums, it’s an amazing place for little people to visit.

i love chloe

And for little people to grow up in, too! My campaign to get Camey to move to Kansas City continues forthwith.

And yes, Berlin’s also surprisingly kid-friendly. I’m hoping its existence isn’t some freak error in the fabric of the universe, because just in case it’s real it would be a pretty inspiring urban role model. Yep, role model – if they can go from militarized Cold War chess piece to funky then anyone can get there if they put in the effort. So maybe I should stop pining online and do something to support the budding local celebratory culture in real life. From here on out I resolve to go see at least two shows a month, starting with the incredible band Truckstop Honeymoon this weekend.

The title of this blog post – “I have not worshipped wounds and relics” – is a line from a Leonard Cohen poem. Cohen, in my opinion the best English-language writer ever, is perhaps fittingly also the musician whose 2013 concert in New Orleans made me finally understand how deeply live music can drag us into sadness, ecstasy, and empathy. For it be omnipresent in a city would be a gift to everyone living there or passing through. One of Cohen’s more recent songs, “Samson in New Orleans,” also happens to epitomize the ambivalence I sometimes feel, now that I’m gone, about defending a place where the average white household makes nearly three times as much as the average black one, stuck indecisively as I am between pointing a judgmental finger at the New Orleanians who are insanely celebrating the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and longing to be just like them:

You said that you were with me
You said you were my friend
Did you really love the city
Or did you just pretend?

You said you loved her secrets
And her freedoms hid away
She was better than America
That’s what I heard you say

The first time my dad found out that my mom was sucking off strangers in Trenton for $10, she snapped “Well, I was orphaned!” and stormed out of the room. My dad was as shocked as I was. He let it go, and even five years and several high-profile arrests later, even after mom became immortalized in techno music as the “Cocksucker on Clinton,” when dad lay dying, he would tell me not to be so hard on her. Then after he passed and mom took me to the woman who answered her CraigsList ad, she soothed me on the bus ride over by saying, “This will be so much nicer than growing up in an orphanage.”

nj bus

Damn. I thought we were going to the mall.


I tried not to be hard on her. I tried to understand. It helped that the lady who took me in, Mrs. Schieden, had a daughter who was also 14, Beth. In return for doing Beth’s homework I had a comfortable home, my own room, bland but plentiful home-cooked meals every day, and a friend and playmate. Beth went from a C student to valedictorian! When she accepted the offer from Brown, Mrs. Schieden began paying me $1,000 a month to continue helping her, and that allowance is still what pays my rent and allows me to pursue my dream of becoming a fitness model and martial artist to this day. Much nicer than growing up in an orphanage, hell yeah!


This leg day sponsored by Mathilda Schieden.

Leg day sponsored by Mathilda Schieden.


Still, my mom’s mysterious childhood intrigued me. I always assumed that she, like dad, was born and raised in Thailand, but the one time I brought it up she snapped, “I was orphaned here in America!” and stormed out of the room. I began reading up on the history of American orphanages. There was a time when they were truly horrible, with poor children being stolen by the state and institutionalized, “orphans” dying of hunger, disease, and exposure. The so-called “inmates” were sexually vulnerable to adults and older orphans. No one loved them or even respected them as human beings! But in the United States orphanages have tots been passé for a century. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any horrible orphanages that my mom would’ve likely grown up in, and none at all that seemed traumatizing enough to drive her to star in a self-produced film called “Rudee Awakening: Rudee Drinks a Milkshake at 3:01 AM,” featuring 301 male supporting actors.

Even though my mom barely tried to keep in touch, I always loved to hear her voice speaking to me through a pay phone. I wanted so badly to tell her that I understood what she had gone through. Being an orphan drove her to a dangerous and demeaning lifestyle, but I’ll help her overcome the trauma and start anew. The last time mom called was for my birthday, a couple weeks late.

“You’re 25 now,” she mused, barely audible over the sound of her pimp in the background. “Almost as old as I was when I was orphaned.”

Breaking! We now interrupt your regularly-scheduled soapboxing to bring you a short, unsolicited blurb about the debt crisis in Greece!

Okay, I admit it, I’ve spent the better part of the week wringing my hands about this thing. First, the referendum, which ended in a heart-breaking “no” to the latest EU rescue package that may as well have been a “no” to other questions such as “Will Greece keep the common currency?” or “Can we be sure that Tsipras isn’t a psycho shape-shifter sent by Hades?” I held out hope for this morning’s EU summit based solely on a reasonable certainty that the Greeks were bluffing and don’t actually want to plunge themselves into economic chaos on purpose.

“The Akropolis? You ain’t seen Greek ruins yet, Voldemort.”

I guess I was wrong. New finance minister Euklid Tsakalotos showed up to today’s summit without even a new proposal to show. At a point when news sources estimate the time remaining before Greek banks run out of money in the unit of days or even hours, just wow. And meanwhile Alexis Tsipras is frolicking about happily, still high off whatever he snorted to celebrate the referendum results a few days ago, without a care in the world even though each day of capital controls will make any EU rescue effort that much costlier, and therefore a lot less likely. If only the man’s brain was half as big as his balls! I can only assume that an economic free fall is what he’s actually angling for.

Do I blame the Greeks for voting “no”? Not at all – the IMF itself found that there’s no way for them to ever repay the loans under the terms of the austerity plan. But I do blame them for the ridiculous show they’re making of being the only victims here. Yes, the euro ended up benefiting Germany more than any other member country, and their stellar economic performance in the last decades was in great part due to the blunted competitiveness of Greece and others. I don’t think that’s how it was envisioned when the currency was introduced in 1995, but it surely played out that way and I think Germans should acknowledge that they have been systemically blessed by doing more than their share of helping their euro neighbors in their hour of need. When the Greek crisis first broke, triggered by the 2008 Great Recession, I thought the first austerity-conditioned bailout was a bad call, and Greece probably should’ve defaulted and declared bankruptcy then and there instead of taking it. But they did choose to take it. Fast forward to 2015 and they’re still retiring 10-15 years earlier than other Europeans and haven’t managed to collect the taxes they promised they would. Even if it’s just a drop in the bucket maybe they should’ve done something more to help dig themselves out of the hole, instead of shoveling full blame plus interest on someone else’s doorstep.” I read that on average every European (man, woman, and child) has already contributed $500 in taxes toward the last two Greek bailouts. That’s a whole bunch! Even so, I still think Germany and the rest of the prosperous European countries should just do the morally right thing and cut Greece’s debt. Unfortunately for the Syriza party, the rest of Europe are democracies, too. I don’t think they’ll ever consider a debt haircut now, thanks in great part to Tsipras’ ridiculous strategy of old school demagoguery and brinksmanship, and Tsakalotos’ note to himself not to gloat today when the rest of the continent imagined that he would be there to humbly ask for an exception to the written financial law was the nail in the coffin. If Merkel dares to bend the rules now she’ll be out of work in a month. The average European tax payers are suffering from this crisis, too – and they had as little to do with the bad loans as the average Greek did. For the Greek populace to keep denouncing them as stingy and imperialistic, after all they’ve been doing to try to solve a complicated and unprecedented problem, and on top of that to ask for more and more from people whose lifestyles are in some cases a hell of a lot more austere than their own, is seriously shocking to me.

“Good people don’t need laws to act responsibly. Bad people will find ways around the laws. And ridiculous people will pass a law that a dead man’s pension is inherited by all his unmarried daughters.” – Plato

I hope that the Grexit goes as amicably as it can. I’ve been following the news in a couple of newspapers and even from the Germans and Spaniards who reacted to the audacity of Greek brinkmanship as one would expect them to, there was a call for humanitarian aid while the country rebuilds itself. It’ll suck and life will turn out way more miserably for the bureaucrats and military personnel than any EU aid package ever could’ve made it, but maybe the only way out of this for Greece is through a new drachma. The hardest part will be finding someone else to give them loans after they declare bankruptcy. Unlike Argentina, which bounced back from bankruptcy as if it were Diego Maradona’s hand, Greece imports a lot of its food and fuel. It needs to secure loans to survive, because its economy is that unproductive at the moment. Will Russia step up? As much as Putin is looking chummy with Tsipras, I highly doubt that he can afford to put his money where is mouth is. Neither China nor the U.S. are likely to find it an attractive investment, either. The defaulted-on IMF and soon-to-be-defaulted-on ECB won’t be able to give more. So that leaves… the European Union. Oops.


And puny DIY economic stimulus: We had a bunch of Greek olives for dinner, in hopes of helping an olive farmer.

For the record, they were so close! Even in Germany, where most of the supposed “hardliners” live, even as late as last week, the majority were for the referendum and many criticized Merkel for never offering Greece a reasonably generous bailout. When polled on their greatest concerns in the Greek crisis, a measly 31% of respondents cited the disintegration of the European Union and 69% worried about the suffering of the Greek people. I haven’t been able to find a more recent poll but it doesn’t take a political scientist to see that the tide of sympathy has shifted dramatically in the last few days. From interviews posted on German news sites it seems clear that at least some Greeks are blaming Germans for keeping “their” money away and Merkel even for directly closing Greek banks. Even if Tsipras didn’t encourage this thinking, he certainly thrived on it (and let’s be real – he and Yanis Voldemort, er Varoufakis, pretty obviously encouraged it). I’m worried sick about the impending suffering of the Greek people, too. I hope that their recovery from bankruptcy will be quick but without access to credit or a viable economy I think they might be living in a third-world country for generations. How deluded Tsipras and his ministers must be, to think that they have something to gloat about!