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O Captain! My Captain!

Meanwhile, there was a growing sense in the country, because of the recession, the lingering wars, and everything that could be seen as the aftermath of Bush/ Cheney that change was inevitable and ever more imminent. I participated in street demonstrations the night Obama was elected, and I’ve seen such a collective exhilaration few other times, and nothing like that. People poured into the streets with their kitchen pots and pans to just outdo the noise that erupted less than moments after the networks had called the electoral college contest. The intersection outside the bar we were in was completely blocked by revelers before we could even race out to it ourselves. After an extended period of general exuberance the street rolled into a rhythm begetting hours of dancing and chanting in the street to make your hair stand on end.  First the trolley train came along on its tracks, and the conductor blew on his horn. Was it a confrontation? No! He was just as happy as we all were. We could see him laughing as he continued through, tooting, as we made way for him. Then the police arrived. They too joined the fracas and turned on their siren in celebration. But what were we celebrating?

Click here to hear what I’m talking about:        obama chant

I never expected Obama to fix everything so I am not one of the ones who are now shocked and disappointed two years out that much of the old system remains. I think it is beyond the ability of a single president to fix what needs to be fixed in the world- and that is what people are asking for, for the problems of the world are America’s problems. Think about that. America is without the shred of a doubt the nest of an empire- an empire that is not truly American nor located in any one place, as by definition it cannot. It is wherever it exists in the world. Does it have a capital? No, not really- let’s just say it has hubs that integrate as needed. Let’s take a case in point: British Petroleum, or BP as it is now known. I assure you I don’t have the expertise to fully analyze this vertically integrated “supermajor” oil company, but what do you need to know? It is neither completely British nor American and for all I know has national components from elsewhere equally vital to its interests. As we all now are aware, if we weren’t before, BP has been extracting oil from the Gulf of Mexico and may have destroyed the area completely for uncountable stakeholders. Would that it all wash away, but the point is this- we all rely on such multi-national super-monsters for our daily life. Forget about the absurd rhetoric awash in the American political scene- I actually live in a socialist republic at the moment, Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a country that chased out American forces culminating in the “Fall of Saigon” on  April 30th 1975, and I assure you, they love their petroleum. If you want to make Saigon fall again, figure out a way to disable motorbikes, such as by cutting off the supply of gasoline, and the city will stop dead in its tracks. Sure, maybe the Vietnamese would stage a remarkable adaptation, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is, without British Petroleum, and Exxon and so forth, life as we know it in a socialist republic, and in America, which is not a socialist republic, would cease to exist. I think we often reward people with fame for stating the obvious; in an interview with Noam Chomsky I recently read he said something along the lines that commuting in hours long traffic in a mammoth air-conditioned Hummer is hardly the pinnacle of existence. I suppose I much prefer the pliant school of fish that is the Ho Chi Minh City mode of commute, but that too has its drawbacks. I’m sure the asthma rate would support this. My bet is that it will be discovered that the key that could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was a refusal to take routine maintenance of safety equipment seriously. There are devices and systems designed to react to the events that took place. I think it has already been discovered that they were neglected, rusted and jury-rigged. The suits in the Houston and London offices had their eyes on the ticker and snubbed out the cries of the ant-like Marlboro men on the platform about safety practices. Now many of those platform men are dead with countless dolphins, plankton, sea turtles and so on and so the suits and the American president have to suffer a few beads of sweat under the collar.

Don’t forget the collapse of the capitalist system as it existed in its past 25 years or so incarnation  (Financial Crisis of 2007-2010) and its anxiously awaited resurrection. Is this all something a heroic president could and should fix? I am not cynical enough to think that it doesn’t matter who our leaders are- this is why I voted for Obama and continue to feel it was the right choice. Although I would support electoral reform, I do not agree with friends of mine to the left of Obama that Ralph Nader, for instance would have done a better job. To really engage that discussion would take too much time, and basically doesn’t matter except for this: there is a paradox in American politics that needs to be resolved: any successful opposition is no longer a third way. It is now dominant, facing an opposition. Everything rallies around to co-opt anything that emerges with strength. Once you win, you are the system, though merely a figurehead. Then, those with countering views are splintered or united. So, for any other party other than the Democratic or Republican party, such as the Tea-Party, the Libertarian Party, The Greens, and so forth, in order to establish any policy as the executive, or in the legislature, they must become the majority. It’s the winner takes all ethos, probably a defining American characteristic as a historic movement- hopefully not true of all Americans or all American achievements.

The consume and grow model has taken a hit with recent events- it’s starting to sound too much like cancer. Ideas like this, critical of the big boys have always been around, but now it is an international trend, like espresso, to position yourself within the wave of all that is, dare I say it, “Green”. I’m sure BP’s marketing is all green now, probably was green before now, and will remain “green” for its surviving days. But again, let’s not be entirely cynical. The movement towards “green-ness” begins not with a deceptive marketing campaign.

It’s been going on my entire life, to be sure, though I hesitate to present any historical explication. The organic movement, for instance, is a move away from petrochemicals, and rather than being an arch novel approach, is the way food has been produced for the entirety of human history up to the recent past. Of course oil products are used as fuel for powering machinery (including through electricity) and also in countless industrial applications and of course, for delivery, but not spraying petrochemicals on the food itself, or using as a fertilizer is an important step forward, if only a baby step. The Community Supported Agriculture movement is partially a response to the excesses apparent at your typical organic food Supermarket. A CSA sells subscriptions ahead of time for locally grown food that members pick up at intervals, perhaps once a week. This and other local farming models, like the explosion of farmer’s markets in urban America addresses the waste inherent in delivering food thousands of miles or more (including from overseas). Perhaps we are developing within these movements the necessary components of a food-delivery system that can withstand a peak oil event.

Some of my friends in Philadelphia, at least, take these ideas seriously.

Gather Round the Stove in Winter

The winter of 2010 was really an extraordinary one in Philadelphia. It was bone-chillingly cold with multiple blizzards that continually shut down the city. It was fun on some nights to take to the streets and wander around, as car traffic was mostly at a complete standstill.

Even when people could get out, they tended to stay put, as moving a car meant not being able to find a new parking space, and losing the one you had.  I spent a lot of time watching movies with my house-mates, in between my gigs teaching adults English here: http://www.nationalitiesservice.org/, and providing acupuncture here: http://www.barefootclinic.com/. Some of the best times were when my friend Rob would come over with his daughters Ruby

and Amelia, whom I had dubbed when I met them as Seven and Eleven, because that was their ages, and it made them sound like cool robots. I knew it wouldn’t last, so I let go of the nick-names, but to preserve the moment, I made this little slideshow.

Anyway, when they all came over we would usually cook a huge dinner and invite anyone else within earshot over to eat it, then we would play games, do arts and crafts, put on records and dance, and as I said above, watch a lot of movies.

When it got warmer we would take Ruby and Amelia to different parks and run them around like dogs for an hour to give them exercise and burn off their youthful energy. One night (when the girls weren’t there) we were catching up on our classic Russian Sci-Fi genre by watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris. We were transfixed and impressed, but at the same time we had to admit that it had the feel of a boring foreign film. Suddenly I had an idea. Why don’t we re-make Solaris? but as a ten minute ridiculous action film that somehow hit all the key parts? The idea was quickly accepted as the course forward. Now our movie and dinner nights meant making movies! The girls were promised starring roles in outer space suits. They absolutely loved the first night of filming and bravely pulled extra work hours during my last days in town to help finish the project, but it was tough convincing them to stay committed during the long in-between haul. To be fair, it never is much fun to sit around and watch other people’s takes when you want to be in front of the camera.

Red Ice

Part of the plan I had to get organized was to go through the various hard-drives I had collected and try and purge them, much as I had been serially pledging to purge various attic and basement spaces of my junk for quite some time. Similar to any storage situation, there had been times when I had moved from one residence to another, and put aside various projects into a digital realm, and never got back to sorting them out. In a redundancy of tendencies, there were hard drives stored in basements and possibly attics, and it was time to end this.

My idea for a solution became that I should post or publish anything that seemed worthy of saving to the internet, thereby accomplishing two things. I was relieved, even if only for a period of time, of the care-taking burden of archiving whatever work I had done, for if it existed on the web, meaning a server or an array of servers, it was at least temporarily safe. I would no longer have to see to its physical safety- a duty would be lifted, I would be liberated. The second thing that this accomplished was that not only would I no longer be needing to protect these things, I would no longer be guarding them either. That is, they would finally be free to be examined by whomever, and I would no longer have the false sense that I had never “done” anything. So, what we are talking about here is my artistic career. I had led several bands, been a member or a player in a few other bands, did some recordings. I had made a lot of films, which I discuss in greater detail elsewhere. I had done some visual art- here I feel the most an amateur compared to more dedicated people I know, but I have consistently done amateurish  illustration and painting my entire life. Despite my work, I never felt accepted as an artist and never accepted myself as an artist. My hoarding of whatever work I had actually done tended to support this state of tension. The pop psychology psycho-drama behind all this would include my experiences as a teenager visiting my girlfriend at art-school, over twenty years ago, where I felt looked on like I was a football player, which, if I have to explain, would be a grave sin in this particular freshman context. In all respect to (American) football players, I was far from one, the kind of guy they would love to punch, but I was tall, had played sports (though I mostly hated it), and came from a somewhat stable family.

My girlfriend loved these things  but because they were not especially cool or cutting edge, perhaps was a bit embarrassed in public, or so it seemed. My insecurities at the time were not anyone else’s fault. It was a jungle for such feelings though, and savagery was the result.

The actual dynamic between the Baltimore crowd and myself was varied. I had a few moments of friendship and camaraderie. To be fair, I suppose you could say I was partially there on unsound footing, to jealously possess what wasn’t really mine- a human being, my first “real” girlfriend. I wish I had some more photos from that era.  In terms of an iconic landscape, which young people love to prance around in, she was an emerging star in a Warholian milieu and I was more of a roving Kerouac, that is, I fancied myself that way. It was a classic juxtaposition, which she seemed to recognize at the time by signaling that our song was the Bob Dylan penned- She’s got everything she needs, She’s an artist, she don’t look back.

She’s got everything she needs,
She’s an artist, she don’t look back.
She’s got everything she needs,
She’s an artist, she don’t look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.

You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
You will start out standing
Proud to steal her anything she sees.
But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole
Down upon your knees.

She never stumbles,
She’s got no place to fall.
She never stumbles,
She’s got no place to fall.
She’s nobody’s child,
The Law can’t touch her at all.

She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She’s a hypnotist collector,
You are a walking antique.

Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
Bow down to her on Sunday,
Salute her when her birthday comes.
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum.

Our relationship started when I was sixteen and she was eighteen. Now she’s a happily married suburban mother who has put such shenanigans behind her. Are either of us “artists”? The question seems more and more ridiculous. It certainly can go off in a lot of directions.

I certainly know folks who have gone to art school and tirelessly presented their work. They have built resumes, perhaps even sold their work or presented it as public art. I see my story as being different than this model(certainly not better!) but as I dug through my trove I saw that I could fudge up a resume as well- that is what this blog is basically. But it takes a lot of work for me to not get side-tracked.

I opened my hard-drives after my return to Philadelphia and began sorting them out. Before I knew it I was running my film software again. The blood was flowing. My camera came out of the basement. My room-mates and I began writing a film. I bought a green-screen off of e-bay, and a home-made cheapo steadicam, and one of the new consumer grade HD video cameras. We stayed up to 2 or 3 drinking Scotch and conducting an NPR type interview in character with  “Kevin Spacebo: Space Psychologist”- the main character in our re-make of the Russian film Solaris. Rob (Wylie- a tireless Shakespearean actor) called me on his way home. He smelled smoke and saw what seemed to be a several alarm fire. We quickly mobilized as a documentary film crew. The result- Red Ice:

Back to the World

When I went to London for teacher-training I half had the notion of moving on immediately to other parts of the world to work. I was mostly fixated on Southeast Asia but considered myself open to other workable options. London itself seemed attractive enough to me, but there were many obstacles to remaining there. Britain’s visa rules begin with a point-based worksheet. Perhaps being the brightest teacher in my group would have given me more points, by making me irreplaceable to a London-based employer, but this was not so. I felt that I had a lot of rapport with my students, and some talent. I clearly wasn’t the worst teacher in the world- but striving in such a notoriously tough setting taught me that it was as important as it ever was for me to get more organized. On one illuminated evening in my college years I “realized” that being organized was an essential key to living correctly, yet I still struggled with the implementation of this directive. I had been through long periods in my twenties creating and studying systems that failed as a sort of scientific experiment, like blowing up a bridge to best understand its stresses, so as to build a spectacularly better one. In my research I added more and more categories to cross reference in my byzantine library. I curated stages of decay and growth and entered the junkyard as an acquisitions agent for my museum. Whatever these exercises taught me, it was not “organisation” in any standard sense.  The basic lesson that I learned was that, yes, I may need a non-standard system, one that is custom fit, but that I had to get more serious about results, as, like it or not, time is an important factor. I don’t remember seeming or feeling disorganized per se during my Celta courses- I think it was rather that I experienced a sense of shock at encountering what was for me, a successful system of organization. This sense of shock stunned me at moments, but it was a healthy experience. It still happens to me at some of the workshops provided by my new employer here in Vietnam and makes me feel quite dull even. It’s basically the same confusion I get when I have to perform simple arithmetic, or  remember someone’s name. These are tasks I could otherwise easily do, but I lost the ability somewhere, or more accurately, I stopped trusting myself. For example, there is an exercise language learners are sometimes asked to do called jigsaw reading. When we assign jigsaw reading to the students  we first divide a text into separate parts. These parts only tell the whole story when reassembled, similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Giving good instructions is considered an essential skill to the kind of teaching that I do and jigsaw reading potentially is the quintessential mind soup for me. “First you say we organise the students into groups of 3, then they report into groups of 5 and then assemble the text?” Or something like that. It’s really important to be able to make such things work. Thinking too much is really the pitfall- exercises like this are a plan of action, a map, not the goal itself. If you get the map right the students will wander around within it, but with a purpose. The lesson is hard to grasp at times: well-honed plans and organizational structures are dissolved into the experiences that they prepare one for. Since the experience itself is the paramount component, some mistakenly de-emphasize plans and organization, but you are never really without a plan.  Others over-emphasize structure and planning, as if the end result is this, and not the experience that arrives. The holy grail of it all is beautiful plans that seem to blend with the landscape, so natural in structure are they. They seem simple, but what is an orange, really? Is it a picture in a coloring book? Is it carried as pollen by a bee? When it grows and then is eaten or rots into the ground, what do we plan for then?

In any case, teaching was not the only profession I had trained for, nor was carpentry and cabinet-making. I was (am) also a fully licensed acupuncturist and had been invited to work in a clinic that shared my outlook. The selling point for me, and perhaps what essentially motivated the woman whose clinic it was (Jenny) to seek help was her pending maternity leave. The bonus was that without having to go through a lengthy process of building my own practice (which was not a practical possibility for me at this point) I could be seeing a diverse array of clients in an intensive situation that is the community acupuncture model.

My plan was to scrape by with some part-time carpentry in addition to the acupuncture, and also to volunteer as a teacher for adult ESL students.  I returned to Philadelphia in time for Halloween.

Hello London, and Goodbye

I arrived in London on the red-eye and took the Piccadilly line from Heathrow to the New Caledonian tube stop. From there I wheeled my luggage through the streets of London. My brother, who lived in London and was expecting me, would likely not be up yet. I gave a whistle when I got to his place and he popped his groggy head out of the window. Brunch, a long nap and an all-night party would follow later that day. I didn’t think much of the deejay at the party, and neither did one of my fellow partiers, the comic and writer Stephen Merchant, who nevertheless proceeded in his gawky hop, as did others. Another notable feature of the party was a false fire alarm, the first of several during this trip. The fire brigade showed up, and to my foreign unfamiliar eyes their helmets were bizarre space opera.  This is probably universally true for fire brigades. One party-goer found these brave men irresistible, and attached herself in a swoon to the shoulders of perhaps the captain as he strolled around in lackadaisical inspection.

The next day I slept in and then took an interminable bus ride to my rented room in South London.

The reason I was in London if I haven’t explained well enough- I was to undergo training as an English teacher. From the web-site of my school: “The CELTA Course is an introductory teacher training programme for candidates who have little or no previous English language teaching experience or who have substantial teaching practice but lack a recognised qualification”.  I had never taught before and was on a gambit to find a way to make a living during the horrible jobs situation back in the states. Teaching had always seemed in the cards for me, but I had always been distracted, you might say, by what was otherwise going on in my life. Now, with nowhere else to turn, my attention had sharpened. We began teaching the second day while we were being trained, – our students from all over the world, drawn to London. I was the only American in our group- there were two on staff at the school, but no other American teacher trainees throughout the entire program. Often at the beginning I was asked why I had come to London. Wasn’t there training available in the States? Yes of course, but I wouldn’t have saved any money, and I wouldn’t have been in London. Why wouldn’t I want to be there? A fellow student, a Russian, seemed to be giving me a hard time on this point. When I discovered that he grew up in Siberia I was awestruck and insisted on shaking his hand. He was disgusted. “You Americans are so easily amused”. Apparently no American could resist wanting to shake his hand when hearing of his origins. Everyone around the table was equally perplexed by this, not understanding that in America, Siberia was not so much an area on the map as an epic concept. Maybe it was to the Americans to fascinate on and glorify the frozen steppes of exile and punishment, inhabited only by prisoners and “the horde”. He was clearly an Ivan russkiye, not a descendant of Genghis Khan- perhaps he was of the GULAG, descended from criminals or dissidents, or those presumed to be. His education and caloric intake however suggested mineral exploiters. “Out on the tundra- riding like thundah” was a ditty a friend of mine composed about a horse-devoted barn girl we knew, a small example of the myth-making abilities of Stalin’s plains of relocation- Siberia.

I found ruminations such as these inevitably clunky but endlessly fascinating. I had never met so many people from so many parts of the world- I had to be somewhat comfortable with the notion of myself as a bumbling naïf, a bumpkin. It’s true enough, but potentially unsettling. I didn’t mind terribly and I couldn’t afford to. I at times flaunted my ignorance, blandly asking my friend from Crete if she had ever been to Lesbos-“Yes, and it was such an interesting experience” she teased. “Tell me more about Singapore” I asked my other friend- as I was aware that I more or less associated a Chinese Junk and a caricature of a “slant-eyed lady” in a long slit dress winking at a sailor with Singapore until fairly recently- my information gleaned from the drink on the placemat next to the Mai Tai and the Zombie. The lease was up on such provincialism- overdue from the start of course. The English, well, they talked different! They spoke of Americur, Obamer, and drunkenness in Barley. I imagined going to Barley with John Barleycorn and drinking up, but why were there always so many Australians in these stories? Could they mean Bali, Indonesia? Truly an intruding “r” is easy enough to get accustomed to on occasion. It was really the same language, just used differently. Only once did I encounter what I took to be frank ill will- a cranky woman bus-driver hurled “do you speak English!” when I said “What?” too many times to her. London, one of the capitals of the world, is an odd model of diversity. Is there a true Englishman? Of course, yes, but when you blink and look again, it isn’t so clear. This question was thrown into political relief during my stay when the head of the far-right British National Party was featured on the BBC’s topical debate program, Question Time. Holocaust denier and former National Front organizer Nick Griffin, the Chairman of the BNP was simultaneously given a platform of legitimacy and a public tongue flogging. To some, he was shown to be quite “slippery and indeed repugnant”. Others felt that the guy was piled upon and gained sympathy for him and his party. He indignantly described his vision of “indigenous” Britons swarmed by the immigrants now under policy debate. A British Pakistani Baroness no less soundly put him in his place to the satisfaction of many. She of the Conservative Party, the Whigs! My brother, however, was intrigued by this concept of the white indigene. “Don’t be seduced,” I said, “it’s clearly nonsense”. The whites of course chased shorter naked people off this Island, I asserted to him, with no clear grasp of the facts myself. “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin portrays a recurring motif in history of course- conquest at the hands of Vikings. Immigrants conquering Britain, to make it white! “Come on, you know- ‘We come from the land of the ice and the snow’- ‘Hammer of the Gods’- and all that”. Sources outside of mythical hard rock, such as scientists, say that in the distant ice age Europeans wandered by foot over what has also served as a moat. Now you can ride a train through the English Channel. At some point along came the Romans, the French, and then the stiff upper lip. One legacy of England’s, The British Empire, forged the avenues that now drew back folks. Their Empire partially collapsed, the British carried on, leaving Americans to be the new imperialists. I have no idea how many expected me to embody this.

Ironically, ‘exceptionalism’ is built into the American psyche, and following suit, I sought to be treated as an exception. I am somewhat of an eccentric in my own country was my thinking, so I hoped my friends from around the world would cut me some slack as I nevertheless became a de facto ambassador of Americanism. Americans, as the supposed new masters of the world, were really just running amok, masters of nothing, other than their cultural exports of music, films and television. So the world loves us, and they hate us. The best place to be of course is where it’s not all about us. That’s what I was looking for at least, but I didn’t exactly want to leave myself behind either. It’s an odd place to be actually. I don’t really want to pretend to be anyone other than who I am, but why should anyone have to figure out who that is? My speech reveals me to be an American, and I can brag about my intimate connections to the HBO series The Wire, for instance. On the one hand, The Wire is considered by many to be the best television series ever made,  but on the other hand, what does it show? How a city built on slavery is a sociopolitical dystopia? That Baltimore, as its creator put it, ultimately compromises the individual through his or her ties to whatever institution keeps them afloat? If Baltimore is one of the coolest things we have to offer the world, what does that say about us? Plenty of Americans are in love with their malls and chain restaurants, another one of our gifts to the world, but it’s not for me. I’m more fond of the crazies, like Edgar Allan Poe, and old things in general. Our glory is not altogether in the past either, consider the iPhone for example- who doesn’t love or covet this gizmo? Of course The Wire and the iPhone  were ultimately intensively collaborative efforts, whose true history would no doubt reveal the contributions of many nationalities. All the better I say that America rule merely by being the world rather than conspiracy and plot.

My brother, when confronted with anything that would provoke self consciousness of our national heritage, usually wants to offer a staunch blanket denouncement/outrage/apology at the Bush years – I saw this ripple through him when we were hanging with a couple of his friends from Germany, his roommate Sven and his co-worker Dennis, both architects. I diverted the seriousness of this effort by asking Sven if he remembered the Angela Merkel, George Bush incident. This tender anecdote illustrates perfectly well the folly of tension between Germans and Americans. To emphasize the fellowship of our countries I recalled the G8 Summit in July 2006 when George Bush graciously and without invitation relieved the strained shoulder muscles of fellow world leader and German chancellor Angela Merkel. Sven guffawed: “I actually miss that guy. I know it’s not correct but he would frequently make me laugh. He was just so…I don’t know, out there”. Dennis chimed in, “Didn’t he have that thing with the choking on the pretzel?” This happened in 2002. “It kind of humanized him,“ I admitted, “He said the pretzel didn’t seem to go down right, the next thing he knew he was on the floor.” About the only thing he ever said that I liked is when he told everyone “I hit the deck” about his choking/fainting episode. “Ah- but what about the elder Bush in Japan?” I reminded them. “Didn’t he simultaneously vomit and have diarrhea on the Japanese Prime Minister?” Of course, the Germans have their national shame. I am speaking of course of the one feature of the German experience that holds endless fascination for people from the world over. Well it’s not the first or the second Reich, to be sure. Our German friends let out a collective sigh of exasperation. “I tell you I never hear the end of it,” says Sven. “Take Merkel for instance,” he says, “I’m actually not a supporter of hers, but she is absolutely not a Nazi at all. Nevertheless, the British papers are ridiculous. She was out walking and she waved at her dog.” He sticks his hand up in a Queen Elizabeth wave to demonstrate. “The headline the next day was something about Sieg Heiling- very playful, because she waved at her dog. Everything is Nazi Nazi Nazi” “I know, everything is Nazi,” said Dennis. He went on “Like what is wrong with Thomas. Every time we talk about anything he brings it up. I thought we had completely exhausted the topic but then we went out to lunch with the Japanese team. Before I knew it we were talking about the Axis. He doesn’t understand that I am not serious about everything.” “The other thing the British don’t want you to know is that the Windsors are all German” Sven went on, “They just took the name of that castle because supposedly they liked it but the real reason was that it was becoming too unpopular in those days to be German. Some plane from Germany was bombing London and it was the same name as the Royal family. I can’t recall all the ins and outs but look it up- it’s all true. Incidentally practically all the Royals in that war were cousins”. At this point I became excited to talk about Gloria, Princess of Thurn und Taxis, who I referred to as “that crazy German princess,” though I couldn’t actually remember her name, try as I might. Sven and Dennis (who was actually an Austrian) denied that there was any royalty anymore in Germany. “Yes, of course” I said “ but there used to be and some are still alive, and some of them quite rich,” but I couldn’t remember her name so we had to drop it. I was just grateful I had gotten through an enthusiastic discussion of Inglorious Basterds with those two without stumbling horribly. My brother blandly stated that the supposed Nazi obsessor was actually just a history buff that would respond with equal fervor to any period under discussion. It was clear that Dennis and Sven were not buying this explanation for a second, but they let it go, and we drifted into silence, and then whatever greeted us further down the road.

One of my favorite moments in my trip came later in the day when, on our country jaunt out to see Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and a few other spots, we had stopped at an old inn to take in some Sunday roast, ale, fish and chips and the like. A very short ruddy man walked up to our table and asked us how everything was and whether we needed anything. This was a very old inn that had made an appearance supposedly in a Dickens novel. Quite taken, I exclaimed to my friends, “why that must have been the owner of the inn!” With a bored expression in an unrushed manner, Dennis countered while buttering a roll, “maybe he was just a curious customer?”

The training in my CELTA program was well organized and disarmingly difficult. It was also humbling in that I was clearly not in the top third in my performance as a teacher. As fascinating as London and England might sound, my nose was mostly to the grindstone. This was actually very valuable to me, to experience London as a commuter and a very busy person who actually lived there, albeit for a fairly short time.

I had ideas about staying but lacked the funds to just cast about for work. In the absence of a spectacular job offer, my mission was pretty clearly defined- return to Philadelphia to practice acupuncture for a short period, volunteer as a teacher, and clear the deck so as to best be prepared for any adventure that might await me, such as the high seas of ESL.

My voice collapsed during my class’s celebratory banquet at a Thai restaurant. I was to return to Philly in this overtly changed manner, just a sign that I was once again no longer quite myself anymore.

I love you Philadelphia…

So it’s been a month since I initiated the new blog- what have I been doing in that time? What a time it was…

Let’s go back to this past summer when I knew I wouldn’t be doing shop carpentry anymore and I somehow felt that I would be projected into a larger sphere, perhaps even the stratosphere. I remember having a discussion that same week with an acquaintance- she seemed wishy-washy in her affection for Philadelphia. Would she be staying? Well, she wasn’t really in love with the city, there were these vague experiences she felt she might pursue. I’m not really making a secret of it here that inside I was smirking, though outwardly doing my best to seem intrigued and supportive. I unconditionally loved Philadelphia and would stay and fight to be there, I was thinking. How could I know that within days this certainty would collapse? On another day that week I was introduced  to a new acquaintance  who had just returned from South Korea, from a gig teaching English. “That’s cool” I thought, I had always imagined that had things been different, I would have done that-oh so long ago- when I graduated from University. Again, no clue that instant that within days I would be returning from Star Trek and intensively researching that option, that very night, in hopes of jetting out in 4 weeks time perhaps. I actually was offered several jobs, accepted two, in a major blunder, and on August 23rd, did not get on a plane.

The Korea option, at least phase one, did not come to be. It’s just as well, I wasn’t actually ready to leave. There were issues with my house (I own a two-story row-house in South Philadelphia) and other loose ends. Luckily, as I was solving these issues I found new friends and new paths opened up.

In the end I decided that teaching English overseas was what I wanted to do. At the last minute I engineered the resources to get training, rather than just diving in, (many do just go, especially to Korea). I applied and was granted an interview at International House London for their CELTA – Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. I bought a calling card and borrowed a landline and called at the appointed time, 40 minutes later I was offered placement in the course starting two weeks later, and I accepted.

I found a house-share through Gumtree, the British craigslist, booked my flight, and continued repairing my house and tying up loose ends. I wasn’t actually sure I would be returning to Philly, but I decided it was best to get a round-trip ticket- I could always adjust this if necessary.

I also began eating Pho, vietnamese noodle soup, nearly every day for lunch.

Next: Hello London

Hello world!

Hello everyone-

I started this blog a while ago. It was more or less a calling card for a career that I had run out of time for and I did little other than post photos and my contact info. My plan now is to expand this to explain everything I was ever interested in and everything I’ve ever done, am doing, and plan on doing- we’ll see how that goes, so I should probably keep my promises to a minimum.

I first put together this web-page to inform potential customers of what I would be able to provide them in the way of custom cabinetry and carpentry solutions. This was aimed primarily at homeowners as well as the contractors who serve these same homeowners. I had worked for more than twenty years on houses and have enjoyed the work and the skills I acquired along the way. I enjoy the pace and momentum of working in a skilled trade as well as the sheer beauty and elegance of a job well done.

Switching careers has always been in the cards however, for more than one reason. On a purely mundane level I have found that I don’t have lungs that hold up well to the level of dust I encounter as a matter of course. I found that even as I greatly increased the level at which I used safety devices such as dust masks and respirators, usually surpassing the usage of those around me, too much dust still got by. It helped, to be sure, but you just can’t wear a respirator all day long and besides, how healthy would that be?

Also, like so many people of my generation, I’ve never felt comfortable with or much less, invited into, a world where a single career was possible. As a result, perhaps I never properly prepared myself for an actual career as a cabinet-maker. It was only near the end that I even organized my thoughts around what the necessary underpinnings of a good cabinet-making business would be. Sure- I wanted to be paid for the work that I did, and I liked working outdoors and at different locations. For quite a long time this was very easy to do.

(For those interested in studying cabinet-making as a business, a good place to start would be Jim Tolpin’s “Guide to Becoming a Professional Cabinetmaker” as well as his book “Working at Woodworking: How to Organize Your Shop and Your Business”. These are no-nonsense guides. You will also need to have a grasp of the needs of all small businesses, such as accounting and geeze, you’re asking the wrong guy… but most of all I recommend mastering digital drafting on any application available to you, you will have to decide which, but if you don’t have a clue, go to Google and download SketchUp. It is a fantastic program that is free and used throughout the industry.)


Our recession ended shop carpentry for me about six months ago, and I can’t say that I’m crushed over it. In fact I have been preparing for another career for quite some time. After a Masters degree and years of training I am now licensed to practice acupuncture in the state of Pennsylvania. The problem is that although the practice of Acupuncture can be a rewarding career, it typically does not start off ready-made. Again we are talking about a well-crafted business where word-of-mouth is the most important advertisement for one’s work. It takes time to build this practice so it is often handy or even necessary for those starting out to have another source of income.

I was wrestling with this problem when I went to the movies to wind up a summer evening and took in one of the blockbusters I had heard wasn’t half bad- the latest Star Trek movie. Although I wouldn’t categorically endorse the movie, as I am prone to micro-analysing the political propaganda I find in Science-Fiction (and other) films, I did find it quite gripping. I was drawn to the intellectual power and courage of the Spock character, but found myself to be more like young Kirk, stupidly casting about with real skills, albeit under-utilized in the backwater of our economy (or Earth, vis-à-vis the film), while Star Fleet Academy awaited to unite him with a far more engaging and international fate. My mind grabbed on to this formula as I tried to unravel and translate what the meaning might be for me. My first thoughts went to the Peace Corps. I have had mixed thoughts about their mission as long as I have known about them but the truth is, I didn’t really know enough to have a legitimate opinion. I decided to look harder. It was easy enough to find out what I needed to know through the computer tubes and it was this- you don’t make any money working for the Peace Corp. You seem to get a cot and a bowl of gruel, or whatever some missionary might serve up, and a check for $2500 upon completing service, to help you blend back into society. For those with a clean slate, the terms seem like no problem, but I had acquired some debt through the magic of graduate school and underemployment and had some bills that needed some attention and maintenance, even if I was away, not creating new debts.

The idea that came next for me was the one that led me to where I am today writing this and what I plan to write more about. So I will be opening up this blog to topics beyond its original purpose- perhaps to things I haven’t yet foreseen. Today I am in a situation I will only refer to now as ‘my Star Fleet Academy’. It’s quite a timeless state, and yet time is whizzing by at a ferocious pace. Even when I was just recently back in Philadelphia the quality and nature of time had changed into that precious state where the timeless becomes novel, and the new seems familiar. It’s fantastic to experience that again and it is so nice to see all you people out there, thronging the city and trains and roadways, or just sitting down the table. Hello everyone- hello people!