Sunday, March 11, 2012

Wheel in the Sky

Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
-Journey, "Wheel in the Sky"

After three long weeks, I was on my way back home.  When I last checked in, I had finished with my American Music Abroad auditions and was on my way down the vastness that is the Golden State.  I arrived to Hermosa Beach to stay with my cousins for the auspicious occasion that was my cousin’s 50th birthday.  The birthday party was a rambunctious affair with ample amounts of vino.  My cousins Jeff and Deidre are some of my favorite family, truly the coolest of cousins and it is always a joy to stay with them and their two teen daughters.  It always offers a brief window into the teen psyche, a segment of the population I am not often in contact.

I spent my days preparing for my two lectures at the Sister Cities convention.  As I noted, previously I had to stand and deliver my first lecture on gastrodiplomacy, but that went just fine as I spoke at a Japanese restaurant.  We switched the location outside, and I used a menu stand as a lectern.  How apropos.

It was my second lecture, however, that really earned me my PD stripes.  I should point out that Sister Cities convention was related to US-Mexico sister cities.  Well, as I got prepared to give my lecture, it became apparent that the vast majority of the audience were Spanish-speakers, or strongly bilingual.  So rather than give my lecture as I had prepared in English, I winged it in Spanish.  While I speak Spanish pretty well, there is a difference between my functional, travelers Spanish and actual lecture-quality Spanish.  But I rolled with it, and gave a decent enough presentation.  I think the audience appreciated my efforts.  I also think that if I had tried to prepare for the lecture in another language, it would have been much more difficult and taxing.  This was better because it was on the fly.

The week continued over in Burbank at Castle Hallquist, the house of my pd classmate Mike and his wife Amanda.  Mike works for the British Consulate, in the trade division.  He is also considering the professorship path, but is more interested in traditional IR than moi.

We were both making pilgrimages back to Trojanlandia to solicit opinions from our old professors for our PhD prospects.  I stopped in to see my old friends at CPD, and haunted Annenberg for a bit before chatting with one of my best professors, Dr. Starr.  She had some good advice on seeking out constructivist schools, where there is emphasis placed on the role of institutions, identity and socialization within societal norms and values.

Anyway, I spent my time in Burbank, working in my virtual office and hanging with the lovely couple, their adorable black cat Puma and watching episode after episode of Game of Thrones.  I got hooked quickly on the show.  I had never watched an episode, but in three days I watched the whole first season.  It is a terrific show of medieval fantasy, and takes wonderful twists and turns through pursuits of power; I would recommend the show, it is quite addictive.

I got to catch up with my PD buddy John Nahas.  One day, we are going to start Semite Consulting (he is Lebanese Christian) to . I also had the chance to have coffee with Rajiv Satyal of Make Chai Not War fame.  He contacted me after my CPD blog post, so we caught up to chat over a cuppa chai (truth be told I had coffee) and discuss the more humorous side of cultural diplomacy.

I returned my way to Redondo to stay with my Aunt Phyllis.  Just as I arrived, I found out that her ex-husband had passed away.  For as long as I knew him, he was my Uncle Frank.  He was always kind to me, and made me laugh when I was a kid.  He taught me a fine trick to holding a baseball glove with two fingers in the last part of the mitt to create a bigger pocket.  Years later, I still play baseball that way.  They had a nasty falling-out and I never saw him again.  She had a bit of mixed emotions but remained rather impassive.  

I continued to work remotely, and also headed back to USC to meet with Prof. Wiseman, whose classes I enjoyed in my USC days (Polylateralism- how states and nonstate actors interact, and other thoughts on diplomacy that perked my interests).  He had good advice on seeking out a “practical PhD” so that if I do purse such a path, I will be done this side of the big 4-0.  We also discussed the difficulties of the academic market these days, something a few others have warned me as well.

I headed back up to happy hour with my PD friends Vice Consul Dame Keith and Lady Rousseau of the British and Canadian Consulates, respectively.  We swapped stories of ministerial life and the difference between theory and practice of our fair craft.

I caught the metro back up, blue to green.  At the green transfer, the platform smelled of chronic as only LA can.  The moon was rising like a giant wheel in the vast purple tank of night.  I met my aunt and we headed to a restaurant fav, The Spot.  The Spot is California veggie cuisine at its finest.  It has a dish we always get of steamed veggies over brown rice with tempeh and tofu, covered with a savory sauce that is truly delicious.  

Friday began in a bit of a frustrating fashion as I got a parking ticket on the car I had just rented.  Street cleaning day, as the signs said, but the signs were nowhere in sight, placed at the far ends of the block while I was in the middle.

But Friday also marked the wedding of my dear PD friends Kenya and Cesar.  Prof. Kenya is one of my more brilliant friends, she received her PhD at the tender age of 21.  I believe she received tenure this year, an honor she well deserves.  I had the joy of attending one of her classes on race in America- it was fascinating.  Her husband Cesar is from Mexico City.  He is an expert on Expos, and I had the fun of getting to tour around the Shanghai Expo with him.  It was a lovely affair, even more so because I helped introduce them.  Cesar and I went out for a drink after my last class at USC, and I was meeting Kenya later that evening, so I had her meet us at the bar.  So began fate.  This is the third wedding I contributed to, thereby securing my place in heaven, as is Jewish lore.

Leaving LA this morning, under the placid perfect skies, I was struck by my feelings for the city of Angels.  For me, LA is like a tumultuous love- one that burns torridly but flames out after the honeymoon.  The more we come in contact, the more I know it won’t work, yet she winks at me with bright blue skies and smiles at me with her pacific waves.  The promise and potential that she always represented to me remains, and I am left thinking “what if,” and “maybe this time it could work” like any abusive relationship borne out of passion and peril.

And I know it isn’t all her but me as well: me, and my own inabilities to still, to be content.  I want to blame this dysfunctional relationship on her, because  deep down she is truly dysfunctional, but I know I share some of the blame.  She is as she is, and I am as I am, and it is our own respective dysfunctions that clash.  I love about her what I have always loved about her: her people and the multitude of diversity; her perpetually perfect weather; her food; my dear friends who remain here.  But I was never able to build on those foundations.  And her vastness, and her chaos overwhelmed me.

Perhaps it is that the city of Angels has already served its purpose on my path, and it is sad to realize that one cannot turn back lest we be turned to pillars of salt.  The city’s connection to my dharma has already played itself out at present.  Fate and destiny, meaning and fulfillment—words and thoughts that this Jacobin has long wrestled with.

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.  The events that cause them can never be forgotten, can they?”
Cormac McCarthy, “All the Pretty Horses”

As I come to close out a period of three weeks on the road that were punctuated by moments that very much shape my days moving forward, I am working to regain an equilibrium that I had and lost, and I am working to regain.  That fine balance begins with allowing myself to accept my present, and give myself the permission to be happy in that present.
And somewhere, when I was lost in thought, the desiccated desert with its filigreed lines of river bed and vast canyons gave way to the snow-capped peaks with black tree shading like black sprinkles on vanilla canvas.<

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