Friday, March 7, 2014

This blog has moved over

My new blog is at:

http://www.deferredjustice.com/

It's supposed to be more growns up.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The New American Classic

"Do you really want to live in a world without Coca Cola?" - Heisenberg

For the past 15 years or so, it has been almost impossible to stop and pick up a book without it being required of me.  The internet has simply made information much more accessible, dominating how we consume media, distilling small personal insights into a Buzzfeed or a Huffington Post article.

Still, my greatest inspiration is literature, books that fulfill their timeless nature of recording human insight passed down generations.  In America, these books have taken form of epic novels.  The great American novel has been the impetus for a lot of cultural, social and political change over the past 250 or so years.

There is a completeness about good literature, the feeling that the writer has included everything that needed to be said about a story.  Since the mind is limitless in imagination, there's no avenue that can't be explored by a writer, they are free to create worlds however they see fit.  Whenever a movie gets made from a book, it's not uncommon to hear readers of the original claim that "the book was better", as the imagined world is not limited by constraints of production value and profitability.

It's not a coincidence that the "second golden age" of television has also come about these past 15 years.  With the advent of DVR, HDTV, DVD/Bluray sets and the internet, the production value and quality of television shows have changed dramatically.  Previously, television shows where each episode continues a longer story arc were looked on as a risk, because they alienated new viewers, and created confusion if you missed an episode.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, these shows caught fire, shows such as the Sopranos, the Wire, 24 and Lost.  They had almost cult-like followings and ushered in this new age of storytelling.  Nowadays, groups occasionally get together to watch the newest episode of their favorite shows, there are even bars in NYC that had nights hosting viewings of shows like "Lost".

15 years ago, a show like Breaking Bad would not have been made.  AMC, an up and coming cable TV network started to find original content for TV shows in the early 2000's, and took a chance on a show other networks about a 1960's advertising creative director now known as Mad Men.  When Vince Gilligan pitched the story to HBO, they essentially told him to GTFO.  AMC, soon after winning critical acclaim with Mad Men and eager to develop its clout as a original content provider contender, took on the pitch and agreed to a deal to broadcast the greatest TV show ever.

There is probably nothing I can say about Breaking Bad that hasn't already been said or unpacked by various media outlets.  (And there probably isn't an article written about the final 8 episodes that I haven't read, furiously searching for any update and any nugget of information with the fiendishness of a meth addict searching for some "blue sky").  But what I will say is that Breaking Bad has solidified certain TV shows as the "new American Classic".

Film by nature of its medium is limited, they can only be at most around 3 hours long (in modern days), and because of that, they have to move at an accelerated pace.  This is one reason for me which I believe Baz Luhrmann's the Great Gatsby didn't quite meet the mark (as I mention in my film blog), it captured the spectacle and the showmanship, but at the end of the day, it didn't capture the essence of Gatsby, leaving many blanks to be filled in by Fitzgerald's prose.  That's not to say films can't have excellent character development, but the scope of their development is limited to a few elements.

What makes Breaking Bad succeed in ways that no other show has is that it completes an arc from start to finish of a man's apocalyptic-like end-life crisis.  It delves into the deep questions of morality, as in what's the point of being good if you have limited time left and feel that you've already wasted your entire life by walking in the lines?  Was Walter White a good person before he started cooking meth or was he always innately evil?  Does this capacity for evil and rationalization exist in all of us?  As the show progressed, people had different views ranging from #TeamWalt to condemning Walt for being so heinously evil.  It served as a Rorschach test to people in more ways than one, even sparking debate on viewers treatment on Skyler White as an indictment on the viewing public's misogyny and the overall misguided view of "American masculinity".

But in addition to all these philosophical undertakings, the show is phenomenally fun.  Everything about the show is the highest quality, from the acting (Bryan Cranston's acting brilliance recently praised by Anthony Hopkins as the greatest acting performance of all time), to the beautiful cinematography of the idyllic "western" landscape of Albuquerque, to the ever quotable dialogue.  The influence of Godfather, Scarface, Sergio Leone, Heat, Tarantino, MacGyver  are all mixed together in a wonderful little chemistry set of Breaking Bad.  The grittiness of criminal violence is joined with a lot of "never seen before" explosiveness to which you can say nothing but "YEAH, SCIENCE!"

Gilligan and his team finally takes full advantage of the medium as a form of writing, employing callbacks to payoff a thread that had been dangling seasons prior and never ever wasting a moment.  The show is a thrill ride from start to finish because it has almost no B-plots (there were some in the early seasons like Marie's kleptomania, but vanished soon after) and every detail is followed through until the end.  As the show progresses, every subsequent season becomes more intense and exciting.  I've only seen one episode where I was somewhat disappointed, but that still makes the batch 99.1% pure.

Nothing will match Breaking Bad in its scope and entirety in at least another decade or so.  It is a masterpiece that has been woven together almost by an accidental perfect storm of events, even the writer's strike in its first season helped in changing the original story from killing off Aaron Paul's character into keeping him to be an effective foil and chemistry (in more ways than one) partner to Cranston's.  It's every artist's dream in the entertainment industry to be able to make work that resembles this show, because it sparks conversation and debate long after the final episode has aired.  It is a true American classic, in the same vein as any work from Steinbeck, Hemingway or Fitzgerald.




*****

Other comments below contain spoilers:

*****




Felina thoughts:

My expectations for the finale were probably infinite.  I had expected the writers now to just simply blow my mind to pieces.  Unfortunately, it seemed that that part had just been reserved for the episodes Tohajilee and Ozymandias, as Granite State and Felina felt more like wrap up episodes.

One of the main problems for this was introducing the gun in the flashforward at the beginning of 5a.  I think the anticipation of the scene with the M60 far surpassed the payoff we finally were delivered.  Also, showing specifically what Walt was building in Felina, a sentry gun, also took away from the effect when he finally did launch the weapon against the Nazis.

The finale also suffered from the fact that a better finale had already aired, season 4's Faceoff.  This finale wrapped up Walt's feud with Gus, a villain that had been developed over several seasons, and thus his ending felt more complete.  The Nazis and Lydia were introduced to us pretty much at the end of season 5a, so there wasn't really that much satisfaction to seeing them offed, other than the fact that they had killed Hank.

My preferred direction would've been to have more of a feud and standoff between Walt and Hank or Walt and Jesse without the ancillary characters, to delve more into a conversation of how far would Walt go to preserve his legacy and what would he sacrifice.  Obviously, this would require that the whole arc of 5b go in a different direction without giving the Nazis a prominent role in the last 8, so I don't know exactly what it would look like, but the finale didn't feel like it gave Walt and Jesse a proper shake for what they both went through.

The fate for Walt also seemed a bit lukewarm, he wasn't quite redeemed nor was he quite condemned...I felt there needed to be more of a feeling one way or the other, like a final judgment to his actions instead of the choice the writers decided to give the audience.

I agree with many, that the finale felt "safe", like a gymnast who's done enough for an Olympic gold so she just finishes the landing with a fairly standard maneuver.  Much of it felt like it wanted to please the fans instead of going on its rip roaring unapologetic pace of the past 7 episodes.  It's still the greatest show of all time, and the finale is still better than 99% of TV finales out there, but it felt to me a bit rushed and uneven.  I suppose it had to do with the fact that they only had really 8 episodes to wrap everything up, the pace of 5b was so blindly fast I barely had time to think about what had just happened and to collect my thoughts every Sunday.

It gives me hope that one day something will surpass Breaking Bad, but until that day comes, I will be saddened that nothing else is as awesome.



But enough text VIDEO TRIBUTES :










Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making of Asian American

The video:




Disclaimer: Some of these things have been blogged about before and may seem repetitive, but I just wanted to give context as my experience as an Asian American in order to explain where my inspiration came from.  This entry is not supposed to reflect the normal experience for Asian Americans, but just my personal life and thoughts on American perceptions.


***


Towards the end of 2003, after my first semester of sophomore year, I had been struggling with a lot of things at once, a messy breakup, parents making my life miserable for mediocre grades and a lack of direction in life.  Life on campus wasn't great either, my friends and I were secluded to this remote area of campus called Edens, while fraternities and their ilk crowded the main campus.

I wish I could say that Kappa Sigma was an isolated incident against Asians at Duke, but the truth of the matter is that white fraternities for the most part treated Asians like shit.  I've heard numerous stories about raucous parties disturbing the peace, and when a friend of mine would go up to them, they simply responded matter-of-factly, "What are you going to do, you're Asian."


***

I grew up in the Westchester area of NY where there are a decent amount of minorities.  There is a large Jewish population and a few Black/Hispanics, so the high school that I went to was relatively diverse, even though it was pretty small (around 130 students in my class).  As a result, the amount of overt racism that I experienced was relatively low.  I would surmise that it was one of the least racially tense places in the country.  Combined with a relatively sheltered upbringing, I was blind to racism as a kid.

That's not to say that racism didn't exist in my area; when I was in middle school, there was a Korean boy around my age who was being harassed by another student with racial slurs continually for an extended period of time until finally he snapped and got into a fight with him.  When the school board decided to suspend him, I remember all the Korean mothers in the county banded together to protest.  They successfully appealed his suspension and it was a big victory for the community.  That was probably my first time being cognizant of an "us vs. them" mentality, though it was subconsciously ingrained in my head by my parents.

My parents grew up in the post Korean War era, when Korea saw a lot of economic hard times rebuilding and modernizing after Japanese colonization, WW II, and the looming threat of the communists in the North.  In addition to government appropriation of vast amounts of my mother's father's property causing his health problems and eventual demise, and my father's father being duped into a bad business deal that cost them almost their entire family savings, my parents were very familiar with financial instability.  They came to America in the late 70's/early 80's and were typical immigrant parents, working long hours to provide that sheltered life that I had.

However, with the opportunity they gave us came stipulations.  My sister and I were expected to make it into elite institutions, as they were seen as the holy grail to "making it" in America.  And after that, we were to go to good graduate programs and get stable jobs that no one could take away from us.  It didn't help that we grew up in what I considered probably the most academically competitive area in America for Asians, the NYC tristate area.  My parents also hung out with most of my dad's alumni group at Seoul National University, who pretty much used children as subtle (or not so subtle) bragging points.  My sister and I were in a pressure cooker; it was Harvard or bust.  I played an instrument I hated for 12 years everyday because it was seen as a way to improve my chances at getting into college.  When my best friend and I got 1510s on our SATs, we were both told to take it over.  My mother went to the teacher after my sister got a 4 on her French AP asking if she had failed it (she was probably one of a handful of students who got that score or higher in that class).

I still have nightmares at the age of 29 of somehow failing an exam, being late on an assignment or forgetting that I had a class completely and getting an F on my permanent record.  I didn't realize others had the same kind of nightmares until I asked my sister, and we both were like, "You have those nightmares too?"  We had been programmed with this pressure to perform.  There's a lot of pain and anxiety when you grow up and tie your identity to how well you do in school.

Towards the end of middle school/high school, I went through my adolescent phase of trying to find my identity.  I started to resent the way people viewed me as a result of media, perception and stereotypes, some of which were self fulfilling, as products of my inescapable upbringing.  But I also disapproved of the whole "Asian gangster" phase that a lot of my contemporaries seemed to go through, overly trying to be "hard" to compensate for their image of being repressed and submissive.  It felt like I had to choose between a bunch of bad options.

Going to Duke probably heightened my awareness of racial identity.  While technically in terms of statistical measures it is as diverse if not more diverse than my high school, there is definitely more polarization in college.  Students end up just hanging out with others with either similar interests or ethnic backgrounds, creating racial divisions.  I also didn't get along with the international Asians that were on campus, I thought most of them perpetuated stereotypes we were trying to get rid of, being antisocial and not really active in anything other than their academics.  I felt like the international Koreans were trying to impose their expectations of cultural norms on me when I was a freshman, because I was Korean.  As someone who is naturally inclined to rebel against established norms, it is easy to conclude that I did not get along with the FOBs.  But I resented the Asians who totally disassociated themselves with their Asian identity as well, trying so hard to be "white".  So the people I associated with were those that were in between, trying to fit in but also trying to retain their identity.

Because of the dominance of Greek life and selective housing, which rarely were inclusive of Asian people, it was easy to see how at Duke there was a repression of Asians built into the system.  I started to feel resentment at the unfair balance of power towards the "haves" who were definitely positioned to have a much better and different college experience.  I felt resentment towards Asians who were willing to "take it" because they can lead a comfortable existence if they keep a low profile.  I resented myself as I started to view Asians as how America saw them, as soulless creatures almost not even human.  I had been conditioned by so much media, programmed to think that Asian Americans didn't have narratives on their own.  I had a desire to be heard, to say that "yes, we are human, we have stories, we have lives that aren't the same as every other person like us, we are not like your portrayals of us in American media."


***


Part of my assimilation into American culture was liking stuff most Asian Americans didn't, like indie-ish artists like Ben Folds.  In 2001, Ben Folds released a song called "Rockin the Suburbs", which made fun of bands like Korn, Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit for having overly explicit lyrics full of angst when the source of their supposed angst was questionable at best.  The main hook was "y'all don't know what it's like, being male, middle class and white."

At Duke, there's a culture show every year called Lunar New Year organized by the Asian Students Association that takes place in February of every year, during the Chinese New Year celebrations.  Although it's supposed to be a showcase that celebrates Asian culture, I decided to use it to take my soapbox and I submitted an act where I would cover Ben Folds' song, parodying it to reflect Asian American problems and airing out my grievances against American culture on the average Asian.  It was mostly supposed to be a comedic piece, but my underlying hope was to highlight the racism that still exists today against Asians although we are considered the "model minority" and show that we are not the sum of those stereotypes.

How I managed to get a band together in that short period of a time (a couple months), convince them that my idea was a good one, write lyrics and prepare practices was beyond me.  I was a man possessed those Christmas and New Years weeks, committed to seeing my vision through.  I felt like there were all these bottled up emotions that I needed to release and dictate to the world, like Troy Duffy when he wrote the Boondock Saints.

We performed to an audience of over 1,000, and it was a successful rock show in my humble opinion, as far as student rock shows go.  A tech guy there told me I sounded exactly like Ben Folds (he used to work for shows Ben Folds would perform around North Carolina, as that's where Ben Folds was from), and numerous students came up to me and told me how much they related to the piece, and asked me if I had any plans on doing other shows.  I gained some notoriety from that performance as being the outspoken Asian guy on campus.

Unfortunately, most of my exploits stopped there, I gave a few more performances the following years but none quite as epic as that show.  I didn't maintain the momentum that I had because I was too busy, well, being Asian American.  That nagging feeling of having a stable life outweighed any idea I had of continuing on with a passion that I held.  I ended up shelving my feelings on the topic after I graduated from college.


***


After I was laid off in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis, I had decided to pursue a life as a creative instead of a businessman.  Part of this fueled my resurrection of my college performance of "Anthem of Asian American Angst" (I have changed the title to make it less whiny sounding, at the time I just wanted a title with a whole bunch of A's in it, GOT EM), and the idea of making it into a video, with the advent of youtube.  I got together with a comedic friend of mine, and we drafted up a preliminary script to the lyrics which were updated to reflect the trends of the time.

However, production in NYC is prohibitively expensive and finding an Asian director in the city who had the same vision as I did was just as difficult.  Convincing one to take on a parody of an old song that wasn't top 40 was like trying to convince people that the Earth was flat.  After shopping the idea to virtually every contact I knew that could be minutely involved in film, I gave up and shelved the project again.  But deep down I think I knew I wanted to eventually create it, in whatever shape or form I could.

As I was moving to LA, I again started my search to find anyone who might be interested.  I knew the concerns, that the issues I was going to touch upon weren't as current, that virality was predicated on being current with social media, but for me it was just something I wanted to create, it was a passion project.  So I made a few last ditch pitches to hit up anyone in the LA area that I thought might be interested in taking on the project.

Finally, upon meeting a Vietnamese director out here who had experience with music videos and loved the concept, I embarked on creating the music video that I had always envisioned when I wrote the lyrics to the song.  It was a very good experience for me overall, to just see how a concept turns into a finished product in the end, and having a big hand in all aspects of it, sound production, pre-production meetings, casting, performing, etc.  It's been a big relief for me to just make this and see what happens with it.


***



In the past couple of years, the issues of race and Asian Americans have been more salient then ever, and because of that, I decided to update the lyrics once again and rewrite the script (there have been countless iterations that I went through) to make it tighter and more fluid.

Amy Chua and her piece in the Wall Street Journal has been a sore subject for me for various reasons, the fact that she showcases her kids to the world as trophies of success, and proof that her way of raising children is the right way.  She alienates Asians from the rest of American society with her book, with her self righteous didactic ideologies.  She either coined or popularized the phrase "Tiger Mother", again providing a racially "otherness" by using an Asian animal to describe herself.  She sounds to me like someone who has just invested too much of her identity in her children's success, without considering emotional and psychological detriment that her parenting might cause.

Wesley Yang, in his rebuttal piece to Amy Chua in New York Magazine, doesn't do us any better.  Although there are some parts of the piece that I identify and agree with, such as the fact that the stereotypes are a combination of truth in self perpetuating behavoir stemming from Asian culture, and American media portrayal.  However, much of his tirade read as slightly misogynistic and resentment towards the fact that as an Asian man it is harder for him to get any with a white woman.  He basically says in so many words, "I wish I were white.  If that isn't possible, I wish Asians were seen as white."

These writers were writing to a predominately white male audience, and although the writers are Asian, the editors ultimately chose their content and because of that, I see these perspectives of Asians that white males want to portray and/or perpetuate.

Racism against Asians is not as overt as it is to other minority groups, such as Blacks or Latin Americans.  Because we have been seen as "making it", some Americans are content to believe that economic success is equivalent to being accepted in America.  However, Jeremy Lin has provided the neon yellow highlighter to the racism that America has towards Asian Americans.  His underdog story has shown how he had to fight through bigoted perceptions in order to be taken seriously.  In the Ivy Leagues, he was regularly thrown racial epithets by students in the crowd, where the fans were supposedly representing the elite intellectual population of America, people who essentially should know better.

Even when he had made it, some sports journalists covered news about him in overtly racist manners, ranging from references to fortune cookies to speculation about his penis size.  There was so much mishandling of his race in the media that eventually, SNL made a skit showing how it was somehow acceptable to make racist remarks against Asians instead of showing the same sensitivity we do about other races, such as Blacks.

Fortunately, Lin is a great ambassador for being an Asian American in the NBA.  He's humble, forgiving, generous and best of all he's relatable, making Youtube videos and showing his personality and humor.  He is one of the first real Asian American role models that young people can look up to and see as a source for inspiration, and not just for Asian Americans, but Americans in general.  Part of the reason Linsanity was so huge for Asian Americans was because many Asian Americans needed that "hero" to fill that void, to give them a voice and a narrative that people could follow and relate to.

I'm still a realist, I know that there will always be racism in some shape or form.  There are going to be a few bad apples in any group of people.  But when it still exists to the point where a UCLA student can feel like it's fine to publically post a video about "ching chong ling long ding dongs" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNuyDZevKrU), or where moviegoers glorify killing Asians (it doesn't matter if they're Chinese or North Korean, apparently) as outsiders (http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/11/26/red-dawn-spurs-racist-tweets/), or where Duke students can actively send racist themed invitations without a second thought, it shows that America still has progress to be made when it comes to accepting Asians.  There is a lot of "go back to China" sentiment I feel exists that perpetuate these events, as if we're never really going to be accepted as "American".

And sometimes I can relate to why those feelings of anti-Asian sentiment exist.  I get mad at the Asian from abroad who comes here and doesn't make any effort to assimilate and thus comes off as standoffish and rude, perpetuating a stereotype.  I get mad at the William Hung for prolonging his 15 minutes of fame and setting the Asian man back a few decades with his off-key singing and his awful dance moves.  I get mad at my parents for doing things in public that I consider to be rude from an American viewpoint.  I get mad at the Asians who just want to be "white", and self hate on their on race in their efforts in doing so.  I get mad at Asians in American media who still act in roles that perpetuate stereotypes.

Ironically enough, I am a stereotypical Asian.  I used to be a math wunderkind, I play Starcraft, I was quiet and reserved as a kid, I worked as a management consultant, etc.  I fulfilled all the "model minority" checklists.  But just as I don't like being associated as "that poker guy" in certain social circles, I don't enjoy being compartmentalized by non-Asians who see me as nothing more than a replaceable part.  I'm a singer.  I'm a writer.  I'm an actor.  I have family, friends, hobbies, interests and emotions.  

I recently talked with a female Asian friend of mine who told me what offends her most about "yellow fever" that some white Americans have.  They would say, "What's wrong with having a preference of someone you're attracted to?  How is that different from being attracted to blondes or brunettes?"  She told me that when guys are attracted to her for being Asian, they've already put some sort of image of what they think she is on her, they've put her in a box.  Their interests in her are purely self serving, in order to fulfill their preferences and desires.  I think we both agree that there isn't a problem with whites being attracted to Asians, but when it is exclusively being attracted to their Asianness, it becomes creepy.  We both want our humanness to be recognized underneath our Asianness.

***

My biggest hope with the video is that it sparks conversation and raises awareness.  While many of the issues it brings to the table have been talked about before, I believe that awareness will eventually combat the ignorance that still exists in American culture today.  My goal is to be a person that American people can relate to and call one of their own without having to become "white".

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Running

Resolutions aren't really my thing.  Being a cynical person, I believe that most people don't change, so setting things like resolutions for 99% of people is a pointless exercise.  I suppose it's because most of the time resolutions are amorphous statements like, "I'm going to go to the gym more" or "I'm going to smoke less" without specific values assigned to them.  It's hard to come up with real tangible goals that you want to accomplish by the end of the year, a year is a long time, and yet it isn't.  So I've only made pseudo resolutions twice in recent memory.

In 2008, I was ready for a change.  I hated the way my life was going, I hated most of the things about the job I was placed in.  One of the last projects I worked on was managed by a guy who was both incompetent and a douche.  As someone I know stated recently, it's hard to work for someone who doesn't know what they're doing and treats you like they do.  So when the new year rolled around, I had this premonition that something life changing was going to happen.  

And something did happen.  I was laid off from my job.  It was a blessing in disguise, a step I may not have made on my own if push came to shove.  Of course in that moment, the resentment of being laid off was there, the feeling of ingratitude that the company showed you after dicking you around for a while.  The best part of it though was getting severance that I wouldn't have gotten if I had just up and left.

In that moment in time though, my life had stopped becoming a progression and more of a journey.  There wasn't a "track" I was on anymore, to career development and beyond.  I was free of a 20 year long program, free to pursue what I believed was what I was meant to do.  But in that freedom came uncertainty and lack of structure, which I struggled with for the next few years.

In my field of work, it's hard to know if you're "doing things right" or if you're "on the right track", but looking back, I think there were definitely things I wish I would have done differently.  I have more of a handle now on what I should be doing and how I can be helping things along, as well as setting tangible goals, but back in 2012, I had probably been having the same kind of feeling I had 4 years prior.  I was going through bouts of depression, mainly because I had emotionally invested too much in people who took selfishly and never gave back.  I also felt like I had wasted my time because I lacked the stability and the structure of "track" life, because I had justified it to myself by saying that it wasn't my fault because the whole of my path wasn't entirely decipherable.  I slept a lot.  I ate burgers.  Lots of shack burgers.  2011 definitely didn't bring out the best in me.  

In 2012, I was "fat", weighing in at 183 lbs., and feeling more out of shape than ever.  My parents would tell me I needed to lose weight in my face.  I don't know what exercises there are for face fat, but I suppose thinning out in general will help.  In January 2012, I decided to awaken the high school track guy in me and start running, after being harassed by a friend of mine who usually runs marathons.  Although his "yes you can" shtick can be supremely annoying at times, his persistence had its effect on me, as he signed me up for a half marathon to be run a few months later.

There are a few things I realized as I started to run regularly again.  



a) At an older age, it is hard to get the energy to keep any sort of consistency.  Although I never strayed from the suggested training schedule, it took more mental energy than I remember to keep going, than in my younger days when it was easier to just go everyday and not really think about it.

b) Skipping out on training when you're older is harder to make up, you backtrack faster.

c) A friend of mine said once he found the girl that he wanted to be with, he'd just get jacked for her then, as if it was something you could do pretty quickly pretty easily.  While it is "easy" to accomplish in a short period of time, as opposed to other kinds of achievements, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be unable to accomplish it.  Maintaining consistency to work out just to not be out of shape is hard enough, to get toned and ripped takes another type of commitment that I now have a new found respect for.

d) Tracking progress is paramount to motivating yourself to continue.



This last part was the most important to me.  Every week or so, I would bump up the speed around .1 mph of the same distance, to push myself to run a bit faster.  Every half pound lost would confirm that I was building something.  That evidence of something changing within me, even though it was physical, was something I needed.  I needed to just be moving forward.  I could spend all this time thinking and plotting how I was going to change but until I took that first step, literally in this case, nothing was ever going to happen.  It was almost as if God telling me that he got me out of prison, and now it was up to me to do something outside of it.

Eerily enough, you get Paul's analogies of running the race a lot better when you start actually "running the race"; it's a continual thing built on long periods of training and can't be just solved by a quick fix.

There were many reasons for me to take up running, losing weight, getting in shape, looking younger for acting, but sparking that idea of just doing things even if you're not sure it's the right thing to do was paramount to change.  I needed to get out of a rut of doing nothing, and I think I've started to get going in the right direction.  I've lost 20 lbs in that past year, still run pretty regularly, and have finally moved my ass out west to do the things I've been wanting to do.  In the coming weeks, I will release what I consider to be one of my life's manifestos, after years of concept design and waiting.  I didn't make any resolutions for 2013, but I will say that I will try to live life running.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

aesthetics

i'd like to think of myself as someone who can appreciate a wide variety of things, more so than the average person.  however, there is one area where i'm definitely deficient, in the realm of art.

i am not a visual artist in the traditional sense of the word.  i have never had an experience at a museum (and i've been to a shit ton of them) that did not result in me bemoaning the amount of walking that had to be done.  (yes even the louvre and the palais du versailles was not exempt)  i just never got art.  sometimes it's kind of nifty and cool, but cubism, impressionism, realism, surrealism, expressionism, pop art, it's all foreign to me.  i can't appreciate it.  i just don't have that gene, my sister got all of that from me.

because of this, i can accept that people have limitations.  we all do.  so when people say that they like in n out better than shake shack, i understand that their palette of taste has limitations, that they just don't have the ability to appreciate a higher quality of food, just like i can't tell you the difference between a monet and a van gogh.

i'm not the biggest foodie.  i'm a picky eater, so my tastes aren't as eclectic as some of my foodie friends.  however, i do believe i am a burger connoisseur.  i eat burgers high and low, far and wide, and i try new burgers any time i get the opportunity.  there are a few burgers i have yet to try in new york, but i will definitely put those as events on my list of things to do.  but in the medium-speed food category, (let's face it, neither shake shack nor in n out, despite its misleading moniker, are fast), there is just no comparison.

of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.  a foodie blog did contend that shake shack indeed won a side by side taste comparison (although such a comparison is technically impossible since both franchises do not exist in a nearby area together):

http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2011/05/in-n-out-vs-five-guys-vs-shake-shack-the-first-bi-coastal-side-by-side-taste-test.html

and my own blog entry 3 years ago:

http://sweetjuicyjustice.blogspot.com/2009/08/in-and-out-vs-shake-shack.html

and my yelp review on shake shack written earlier this year:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/shake-shack-new-york-2#hrid:il-kB93xp-9fuPztBJeE-w




people say that i'm biased, that because i'm from new york, i'm gonna like shake shack better.  and they also admit that the bias works both ways, that californians would probably like in n out better, but that they are essentially equivalent.  this is just not so.

since moving to LA, i've probably had in n out about 8-10 times or so.  that's an average of once a week.  so i know their items well, i've had them plenty of times.  their fries are horrific if you don't get them animal style.  their shtick revolves around the animal style-ness.  but animal style is a gimmick.  it is a trick that masks the overall blandness of the actual important part of the meal, the meat of the burger.  the meat is just not that good.  i've actually had to eat wendy's or mcdonald's once or twice because i was tired of in n out as a burger.  it just isn't a good regular option, i would say i go to chick fil a more often that this place.  chick fil a is awesome.

until today it had been 75 days at least since i had my last double shack burger.  since i had my first shack burger, it's probably been the longest i've been without one by far.  i expected the same juicy goodness i've had with every shack burger i've had in the past 6 years.




from what i experienced, i finally understood the old adage: distance makes the heart grow fonder.  i literally turned to my shackmate, david tae, and asked him, "was this always this good?"  he responded, yeah it's the same old shack burger.  i couldn't believe it.  it was even better than i ever remembered.  having in n out burgers so frequently killed my sense of what a burger should actually be.

it was freshly cooked as we went to the UWS location late night, with few customers around, so the temperature was popping hot, where it was almost burning my tongue.  but the juices that flowed out of the meat made the pain well worth it, as i savored every bit of the burger in my mouth.

i actually couldn't respond to my shackmate's conversation he was having, as i had to use my entire mental faculties to enjoy all that the food was offering to me.  there was a moment of silence as i had my "anton ego" moment.  it truly was an orgasm for my mouth.  when God said, "let there be hamburgers", this is what came out of his fingertips.  a juicy double shackburger.

i do not get any such enjoyment from an in n out burger.  but now i am enlightened; i understand.  people have certain limitations to their enjoyment of different aspects of life.  just as i cannot appreciate a finely painted mona lisa, i have come to accept that some cannot enjoy the masterpieces that shake shack churns out daily.  now instead of feeling indignation when people think in n out is better than shake shack, i merely feel pity.  pity that they will never experience the joy that i have experienced, that their capacity to understand the universe of hamburgers is limited to a cheap thousand island dressing.  pity that their misplaced loyalty to their childhood burger joint has blinded them from the truth.  pity for the meaninglessness their lives must contain for not having experienced the full justice of a shackburger.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

darkness

there is nothing but the hum of the engine and my parents snoring that indicates any semblance of life in the dark nebraskan country side.  driving nights on the road across country is a lot more dangerous and scary than days, especially in these backroads.  as a result, nights are my shift, as my lasik enhanced eyesight gives me an advantage in the darkness over my parents' aged vision.

the sky is filled with nothing but emptiness and i can't help but wonder where i'm going.  driving into the blackness of the unlit pavement feels like getting swallowed into nothingness.  the silence and the absence of outside stimuli forces my mind to fill itself with things of the past, and sometimes i can't help thinking about someone, how i partly never wanted to leave the northeast a decade ago to stay close, how i didn't want to move to atlanta for a job after college, how when finally we were on the same 13.4 mile long island, we couldn't be farther apart if we were on opposite sides of the planet.

i check the odometer and the gps for progress.  miles whiz by by the tenth, but crawls slowly by by the tens.  no big deal though, as i've driven for over 500 miles nonstop before, under the same silver 2004 toyota camry LE under my feet.

it's only been a couple hours since we left the denny's.  the parents love the denny's, cause of its all american menu and cheap prices.  i can't help but think of the breaking bad fifth season premiere, and arranging my bacon into my age.  i'm an older person now, nearly turning the page on my twenties.  by this age, i thought i'd have things figured out, but here i am, driving into this nothingness and wondering what the hell i got myself into.

i think about happiness, and how i could've charted my life in that direction.  there's so much i could have let go of in order to pursue that avenue.  i thought of several possibilities that could've led to a traditionally stable and functional life, that would've made sense.  i wonder if i would really be happy in those scenarios, and ultimately decide that i would have felt trapped and wondering.  the pure pursuit of happiness ironically leads to disappointment, when you realize that it's fleeting.

i'm not going to fool myself into thinking that i will be happy if i am "successful" in my endeavors out here.  happiness is not what i'm searching for in this career path.  but i can't help but think to myself, what the contingency plan is if i "fail".  in a sense, it doesn't cost that much for me to try my hand at this career, one in which the majority of people aren't fulfilled by, whether artistically or financially.  i am in a economically advantaged position to pursue it.  but in terms of opportunity cost, there's plenty of pressures telling me that i'm being insane.  finding myself in my mid-late 30's with no professional career to speak of is a daunting possibility.

my mother has her own aspirations for me, becoming an academic and saving this nation from economic turmoil from the reigns of the past couple of federal reserve chairmen.  but i could name a host of other career "options" that i could go into that would be considered safe, practical and even meaningful.  more of a sure thing.

most of the real actors i've talked to, the ones that work at it and are serious about it, tell me that you can't go into this business unless you think it's the thing you were born to do.  i believe that that sense has been within me for a long time, i've been told that i'm hypersensitive to things and that i have a flair for the dramatic.  but at the same time, because of the uncertainty in the whole industry, everything you do is a step a faith.

my thoughts bring me back to the road i'm driving on.  my faith is in the united states and nebraskan governments and my iphone's waze program, trusting that i'm not driving into a brick wall or off a cliff, racing along at 80 mph.  i sigh as i pull into the 4th holiday express, and mutter to my parents that we're here.  i wonder to myself briefly how they must feel, thinking how they spent their youth surviving the darkness of life just to watch their son plunge into darkness headfirst.

whelp, can't turn back now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

contentment

A couple weeks ago, I visited a friend of mine who's also a professional poker player.  I went to his place of work in Charles Town, West Virginia.  Personally, I had one of the most horrific runs of my life and lost a decent amount of money.  In the long run, I'll be fine, it was just a nice reminder of why I didn't do this kind of a thing for a full time job.  I think being a pro would decrease my life span by 10 years.

I ended up talking to another player sitting next to me, as he started chatting it up after he took a few thousand off me in a standard kings against aces all in preflop scenario (FML).  People seem to be more friendly when they're winning off you than when they're losing, I've found.  Anyhow, he got to telling me a bit about his life, where I found he was independently wealthy (so not from poker).  I found that he was a bit older than I thought (I think he was around 47, but I thought he  looked like he was in his 30's).

He told me he loved playing poker, and that it was one of the main activities of his life.  He hosted a private game in his house, with an actual poker room, dealer and security, where he'd invite friends to play.  I voiced some sympathy for his marital issues (he was recently divorced from a second wife, with whom he had kids), but he said he wasn't too concerned about it, being content with seeing his kids early in the week, and playing poker for the rest of it.  "Poker's my life now!", he proudly claimed.

Now I'm not judging anyone's lifestyle or what they find makes them happy, but it seemed kind of odd to me that he was genuinely content with the way his life was at his age, just playing poker for most of his life as a hobby.  I guess his life is definitely in a better spot than most people at his age, but it just seemed empty.  I guess most people's lives can be empty in some shape or form, there are plenty of wealthy people who do other kinds of pointless things with their lives.  But perhaps because of my experiences with poker and how I feel about it now, the hollowness was more clearly illustrated to me.

I definitely want to be more thankful and content with my life, but I don't know if I ever want to do it without a sense of purpose.  It is hard to find both purpose and contentment, I guess.