A Short: “Fishing”

I take my notebook, slide up on a weathered log, and look. The sunlight rising and

After sunset on the Allegheny River
After sunset on the Allegheny River

falling on the river resonates, and a fisherman inches into the water. Running his fingertips along the bill of a stained, weather-beaten baseball cap, he adjusts it. I watch him hold his line above the water with the natural, unconscious care of a mother, peering into the river.

He juggles the line, grips the pole, and catapults the lure out like a lasso, letting it sail skyward and plop in the stream. As it flashes in the sun, being tugged and buoyed by the current, the fisherman reels it in, gathering it up and casting again.

As the quaking aspens shiver in the cold wind and golden air, the sun continues to set. Hills guard the horizon, motionless blinds to the sun’s retreat. The clouds slow their silent shuffling. Nature stills. I cross my legs and wait, resting on the log.

Hearing the husky rhapsody of geese, I look up. A flock rolls over against the clouds and flies toward the silhouetted hills, over the fisherman’s head.

The sun sinks lower and lower, and I shiver like the aspens. The heat evaporates in a warm poem of lush reds and oranges. The tongues on the river cease to sway with the current; the glints against the water cease to blind. The geese calls become eclipsed by distance, and the squirrels nestle into their nooks for the night. Reeling in the bobber, the hook, and the spider-thread line, the fisherman holds the rod a bit and sighs.

Winking over the mountains, the sun vanishes, leaving the residue of its brilliance lingering like a faded photograph. Its fiery hues subside into shades of purple and of blue.

The fisherman comes to life and takes a final cast. In time, he reels it in, wades out onto the rocky riverbank, and leaves without his catch. Closing my notebook in the sinking twilight, I leave with mine.

Feeling “at home”

I spent the last three days traveling to Boston with an old friend and his girlfriend, House picturescouting for apartments. They’ll both be PhD candidates in the fall–one at B.U. and the other at MIT. My old friend called me about a month ago to catch up, and we decided it may be neat for me to move in with them.

I didn’t get into the MFA programs I applied to last winter, and the prospect of a gap year living with my parents at home as I applied to other programs didn’t seem pleasant. My friend agreed. Boston would have plenty of people, schools, and opportunities to explore. I’d be out of the house, living in the world.

The plan was to find a two-bedroom in Cambridge area for a reasonable price. Turns out, it wasn’t that simple.

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Making the Switch

Dave glances at my plate of spinach, beans, and brown rice as I eye the meatballs Not me... yetnestled in his spaghetti.

“You eat like a rabbit,” he says.

“Rabbits don’t generally eat garbanzo beans or cooked rice,” I reply.

“But still…”

As the conversation changes, he forgets my rabbit food, and I forget his meat. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what we have.

According to a 2008 study by Harris Interactive Service, about 7.3 million people are vegetarian in the United States—that’s about 3.2 percent of the population. Most are young, from middleclass backgrounds, and live in the Western or Southern regions of the United States. I’m one of them, a skinny, grain-eating, tofu-crunching middle-class American.

Nothing radical there.

We vegetarians eat about three meals per day—just like our omnivorous counterparts. We don’t all use organic paper and beet-juice ink or attend regular services at hippy churches on weekends.  Most aren’t PETA extremists who throw red paint at fur coats and survive on seaweed and unpronounceable grains. Perhaps our farts smell a little bad sometimes, or we’re be a pain to take out to dinner, but most of us are pretty normal. At least I think so.

Still, some people berate me with things like, “why the hell would you do that?” or “we deserve to eat animals,” or my personal favorite, “you’re going to die because you’re not getting enough protein.”

Others aren’t so malicious. They just don’t understand, or grow up thinking that all vegetarians fit the same model. But we are all very different and have very different reasons for becoming vegetarian.

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Clichés and images

In seven days, I put on a cheap, fire-hazard of a cap and gown, shuffle across the Charlie Brown One Nightoverpopulated floor of a gym, grab a mass-produced sheet of sepia-toned paper, and graduate–along with thousands of others in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I have a lot to think about.

I auditioned to be one of the commencement speakers. I don’t think the committee appreciated my attempt to deconstruct the clichés that crowd most ceremonies–those lovely nuggets of wisdom we pocket heading out into the “real word” to find a job because “we’re the future” and “our education is only the beginning.”

“I didn’t think we’d make it,” but we did. Hopefully we’ve “found ourselves” and “remember where we came from” while we’re at it.

I think I’ve made my point…

Clichés are the Easy Mac of our language: artificial, devoid of nutrition, but easy to make. No one really likes clichés, but we use them at important events for well-trod expressions and cheeky adages. They’re quick and malleable. Few of us take the time to truly consider what the event means, or if we do, we can’t find the right words. There’s too much going on.

This is my problem.

I can feel the day approaching, but I don’t know what it means. And I’m not the sort of person who can blithely steps off into mystery like a trust fall. I need some clarity.

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Almond Blossoms

Another excerpt from my memoir, a polished-up and expanded older piece: almond blossom

On Sunday, Jun. 24, Egypt announced its first democratically elected president: Muhammad Morsi. It’s a milestone for any nation. Egypt is no exception.

I ‘d like to say I was huddled in some austere bunker nibbling rations as a radio murmured Morsi’s name through static, or that I was near Tahrir, watching a sea of faces, cheers, and gun shots rattle in the air as people celebrated the pick.

They’d make good stories.

Instead, I was taking a nap. From my window, I heard someone shout Morsi’s name from the street, so I cracked my lids open to decipher the echoes. When no one else shouted, I closed my eyes again.

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So I am neither dead nor lost in some Tron-like universe, detached from reality. I’m treasure_map__skull_island_by_pumpkinjack6-d30me8qjust very busy: a starring role in a musical, an honors thesis, and the day-to-day tasks of tutoring and studying. Still, I apologize for my absence.

That said, I don’t have anything new today. But I figured I could copy-and-paste part of my honor’s project, a memoir that also involves French writer Albert Camus called Coming of Age with Camus. It’s coming along, but still needs work. Call it a peace offering.

Here’s the first chapter, Maps:

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Sunset on the Allegheny River

I went for walk tonight along the river that runs behind the school. The sun was setting

A picture of the trail just after sunset.
A picture of the trail just after sunset.

over the hills, making me think of a piece I wrote four years ago during my freshman year. At the time, I didn’t know anyone, so I would sit by the river often, writing and reading Aldo Leopold, Khrishnamurti, and Thoreau.

The silence and solitude of the path still moves me. I think the piece captures that well:

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Reflections in an empty cafe

Okay, so the cafe isn’t quite empty. It’s got a few green-shirted workers sweeping the

Cafe La Verna, as pictured on St. Bonaventure’s site.

floor and standing around balancing on their heels. But it’s almost empty.

A gray drizzle shadows the campus outside and a warm fire flickers nearby, giving the illusion of warmth. Most of the students have left for break or are elbow-deep in packing. I’m staying to work and reflect. It’s been a busy few weeks and I need to catch my breath, write my thesis, and sort out my post-graduation life.

A few thoughts swirl in my head. Last fall, I sat in this same cafe for 12 hours. It’s a campus-bound Starbucks with earthy colors and cozy chairs called La Verna, a place where time slips away unnoticed and people pass through like birds in migration. Grounded there for so long, I felt like a rock watching the seasons change.

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Stars and Broken Seashells

I haven’t posted in a while. I apologize. Life has a nasty way of putting things we enjoy doing to the edge of our days. But, in any case…

Raindrops slapped the tinted leaves and rolled onto the path, now dyed black by moisture. I kept my hood down, sheltered by leaves, and took in the ruddy hills and open fields, the trees around me sighing with the weight of rain.

The air was wet and subdued, while a rumpled gray spanned the sky, tucked into the horizon like an old blanket. I could feel things slowing down, fall coming, a dimming twilight before winter, the air changing.

I started talking Sunday walks–once per week–after I stopped going to church last fall. The empty ritual and hollow chants didn’t nourish me. I figured a walk in the woods held promise, unbound by the time-soaked labels of the Latin Rite and the Christian cannon.

Even if I didn’t call it God, something in nature holds the same transcendent immanence for me–even if it’s just an illusion of experience. It’s something I can cling to and feel cradled in.

I also use my walk as a time to think. Today was no exception.

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Philosophical Journalism

Philosophical journalists would be an interesting breed. I don’t mean bent, bearded men toting reporters’ notebooks and tape recorders stumbling across Capital Hill–although that would be interesting. Nor do I mean reporters jabbing politicians with barbs about how the latest bill violates Kant’s categorical imperative. Instead, I imagine people curious to see what other people think, people who like asking questions about our basic assumptions.

Today, I watched a documentary called the “Nature of Existence.” The filmmaker, named Roger Nygard, chronicles answers to those “big questions”–like the meaning of life–by interviewing people from around the world, including hard-core Indian ascetics, fiery evangelists, physicists, artists, and waitresses. Some dash off the questions with a humorous observation, others admit their own ignorance, and some weave stories substantiated by absolute conviction.

His methods are those of a journalist, but his focus is on first principles, the realm of the philosopher.

Scanning titles in the non-fiction and creative nonfiction shelves at bookstores, I realize modern readers still have a lot of questions. We like to pretend we are practical these days, zeroed in on the nuts and bolts of economics and applied science. But I feel we only use new disciplines to fill an age-old void: purpose and meaning.

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