A Memory Series – Fighting For My Brother

Fight One
The first fight I remember being in is vague, and composed of half-formed memories that seem to waver, like I’m looking at them through water. Maryland. Beltsville. An apartment complex. We were behind the building opposite ours and there was something happening and there were several kids from the complex around and I was 9 or 10, my brother 7 or 8. I don’t remember what or why, and, to be honest I couldn’t swear to the fact that this fight was on behalf of my brother . . . but I feel like it was.

As fights go, it was pretty anti-climactic: basically the kid hit me and I taunted him by just taking the blow and grinning right back at him. I think this happened twice. What I most clearly remember after this was walking around the corner of this apartment building on our way home, and my brother yelling behind us at the top of his lungs “you motherfucker!!!!”

Fight Two
Rhode Island. The Wakefield Mall. We’d just moved to the state so I was 12ish and my brother was 10ish. My parents were in a store somewhere and my brother and I had gone to get something to drink. I don’t remember having a soda, but I remember my brother with a cup and a straw and some kid decided to pick on him. Was he telling my brother to give him his soda? Maybe. Was he pushing at my brother? I think so. So I got between them and told this bully to leave my brother alone. He punched me. Perhaps flashing back to my previous efforts, I just took the blow and grinned back, knowing that this would be far more infuriating than if I punched back.

Then he punched again. But I don’t remember that. The next thing I do remember was lying on the floor, looking up, my brother leaning over me with his cup of soda and asking if I was alright. “What happened” I think I asked. “He hit you and you went down” my brother replied (or something to that effect).


I wasn’t out for very long, and no adults got involved in the situation. I don’t think we even told my parents about it at the time.

This was all back before my brother and I began to fight against each other—which became our modus operandi throughout most of our teen years. Back when he would hold my hand. When I could protect him, just a little bit, from the world. While it is perhaps sad that we no longer look out for each other in any close or consistent way (and while I am already feeling bad for this post making my mom cry), nothing will change the fact that I have taken punches for my little brother and nothing will change the beauty and the sheer rightness of that fact.

Some Lessons About Making Myself My Job

Setting tasks is more important than setting time

I had originally set up blocks of time that dictated what I would do and when, but I quickly realized that I will be much better off making clear lists of actual things to do and then doing them whenever it makes sense. For instance, I’ve been taking my 30 minute walk in the afternoons or evenings. That routine works for most days, but today, knowing it would be a hot day, I decided to walk after my morning workout so that I could make use of the cooler, morning weather.

While I will still try to do my main exercises and writing in the mornings, there are some days when it may make more sense to read a play first or get some other small tasks done while having my coffee and then settle into writing a bit later. This is especially true now that I’ll be staying with other people for most of June instead of establishing my own routines in my own home. However, regardless of where I am, the problem with tying tasks to specific times is that if, for any reason I miss that particular window of opportunity, I feel like I am off the hook for that task since I have to move onto other things.

Vague Goals are No Goals at All

This whole, “learn to program” thing is way too vague. I had no specific tasks associated with it last week, just that I was supposed to spend 8 hours/week working toward it. This week, I’ve re-adjusted my plans and created a project called “Write an iOS Application.” For this week, I will be doing 4 lessons from an online source about programming in Objective C and I will be reading and taking notes on the first 4 chapters of Aaron Hillegrass’s Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X (3rd Ed.) Giving myself concrete items to do, means that I can have a much better sense of progress and structure. Over time I will be adding lots of tasks to this project, but I have an endpoint, something concrete and specific that will indicate when the project has been completed.

The same can be said of my work for school that I had originally just lumped in with “other” things to do in the evenings. The truth is that I’m going to want to use evenings for reading and watching movies rather than doing various school related work. So I am making sure that each day, Monday – Friday, I accomplish at least two tasks related to my upcoming preliminary exams, intro to performance class, and directed reading on the avant-garde with Bruce. Additionally, I am developing a syllabus for a class I’d like to teach on sex, violence, and death in theatre and performance, and I recently had a good idea for a Theatre Topics article that I need to flesh out and draft. All of these are projects and, as such, need to have specific tasks and goals associated with them, and, for those without deadlines—like writing an iOS app or that TT article, some kind of reasonable time frame.

All in all, my first week on the job was not a rousing success. If I were to grade myself I’d get a C-. However, I did learn some things and hope to get at least a B this coming week.

A Tale of Two Selves

One of the reasons I chose “Living the Liminal” as the title of my site and the nom de plume of my blogging self is because I have, for as long as I can remember, felt as if I was poised between two selves, struggling to reconcile equal and opposite impulses. Stuck on the threshold between two selves. I am a homebody who has never found a place to call home. I desire order and structure to my life and to my days and yet feel stifled and resentful of anything less than the freedom to come and go and do what I wish. I yearn for a loving and intense and supportive relationship and yet I also crave solitude and fear the responsibility that comes from relationships.

These things are not just jumbled up in my head, making my goals and desires something less than a straight line. I really do feel like there are two of myself competing for what I want out of life. Of course we all have competing desires, and maybe what I feel is more normal than I like to believe. But I think that one of the reasons I continue to feel liminal and displaced from my life and isolated from people is this division of myself, this continual pulling in opposite directions. (I think my tendency to look at people around me with a sense of alienation is not necessarily bound up specifically with this particular issue, but I don’t think feeling constantly between selves helps the matter. And by alienation, I’m talking less about individual interactions and referring more to those times when I look around at people going about their lives, falling in love, having families, staying in one place for longer than 4 years, managing to have careers, building communities, etc. and feel an emotional vertigo that makes all of that seem, well, alien.)

What’s even more frustrating about my two selves is that one is not necessarily “bad” or self-destructive or purely desire driven. If it were simply a matter of the id fighting the ego that would be one thing. It might lead to problems, sure, but it least identifying what was necessary for balance would be easier.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here. I am trying to write more about myself as a means to enunciate some of my emotions and map out my mental landscape for myself. However, one of the reasons I generally don’t offer up this kind of writing is precisely because I don’t have a narrative or any real sense of what my point is. I mean, just because I feel something doesn’t make it worthwhile as writing.

Oh well. It’s written. And with a simply key combination it’s about to be posted.

Some Savings on Zagg Products

I don’t usually pimp products and am constantly aware of the tension between my desire for minimalism and my urge for materialism. However, I do want to mention to anyone reading that Zagg is having a Memorial Day sale on this coming Monday and Tuesday and offering up to 50% off a number of their products. I have InvibleShields on both my iPhone and iPad, and I have a pair of their Smartbuds that, while I don’t use as my primary earphones, are brilliantly designed for exercise and have a decent sound quality (if a little muddy compared to my Etymotics). I recommend checking out their site and seeing if they have anything that you might find useful.

The Best Laid Plans

And so . . . after my whole long diatribe about what I have planned for the summer the universe decides to switch things up on me and force me to change my plans. Now, the basics—considering my health, writing, and learning to be my “job” for the summer—?will remain in place. However, I was really hoping to have about 4 weeks to turn those into habits before heading to RI. Today, however, my living situation here got worse and I’ve decided to spend almost all of June in RI (with some weekend trips to Boston & Maine).

 The Backstory

Very quickly after I moved into my current apartment—a seemingly charming little cottage with the kitchen and living room on the ground floor and the bedroom and bathroom on the second—I realized that the people from what appears to be some kind of adult half-way house next door like to sit out behind their building and smoke. All throughout the day. And this smoke goes right into my apartment and there is only one window (my bathroom window) that can be opened without my apartment smelling of cigarette smoke.

I looked forward to rainy days precisely because they were the only days I could open the windows in my apartment without having to then shut them every thirty or so minutes. This did not a happy LtL make. Of course, throughout the winter and until recently, things weren’t too bad in my apartment, but now that it’s spring and not raining constantly, the fact that I cannot open my windows is becoming rather annoying and oppressive.


But I was going to deal with it until yesterday when the management of the building next door decided that what their tenants need is a large tent out behind their building so that they can sit out and smoke all day long no matter how strong the sun or if it’s raining. Oh. Fucking. Joy.

I’ve decided that the solution is just to get out of Dodge for the next month and then come back and move into my new place in the first week of July. While staying the next month with friends and family is not the ideal way to try to start new habits, it’ll probably be much healthier than spending my days pissed off and annoyed and my living situation and wanting to either a) flee my apartment for coffee shops or libraries all day long or b) shut myself up in my bedroom with the ac running all day long on any day that it’s even moderately sunny and warm.

The plan, then, is to wait until my application has gone through on the new place, spend some of this weekend and and next week packing and seeing a few people in the Pittsburgh area, then I’ll bus it to Philly or NYC for a day or two then bus it to Providence and then spend June bouncing between my folks house in South County and my friend Jen’s place in Providence . . . and trying to keep to my major responsibilities of writing and exercise and teaching myself Cocoa. Then I’ll come back to Pittsburgh on July 1, finish packing, and move on July 3. This shift in plans has already disrupted my schedule somewhat the last couple of days, although I am keeping up with my exercise regimen and did write 1000 words today.

So that’s the current plan. We’ll see if the universe throws me another curveball between now and next week. I’m sure I’ll let you know if it does. In the meantime, I’m practicing acceptance and flexibility. Or at least trying to. 🙂

My Summer Job

I had originally hoped to spend about 6 weeks of the summer traveling to various parts of the country: SF, New Orleans, New York, Maryland, Rhode Island, Maine, Boston, and Vermont. Then I took a good long look at my finances and realized this probably was not going to happen. Then I got word of a research fellowship offered by the department and realized that since I have valid research interests in NY, DC, and at UC Davis, that if got the fellowship I could, indeed, do the majority of my travels as planned.

Alas, I did not receive the fellowship.

So it looks like I will be taking a quick jaunt to MD for a long weekend, as well as spending about 10 days in the New England area and that’ll have to do me for for the summer and so I won’t be seeing an exceedingly lovely group of women who all happen to live the in SF area and that, above all, makes me sad.

Still, lemons from lemonade, right?

Which brings me to my job for the summer: me.

I have enough saved to eke out a frugal summer without getting an actual job. I have my producing gig for PodCastle which will bring in a small amount each month (about 2 weeks worth of grocery shopping), and I’ll be looking to pick up some public speaking tutoring gigs, and I may keep an eye out for short term gigs here and there, but my actual job is going to be becoming more of the me I’d like to be. I have three main areas of responsibility: health, writing, and programming.

Health (6:30am – 8:00am)

I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of September (that’s 2.5 lbs per month, which is reasonable). But more than that, I want to accustom myself to exercising regularly to the point where it’s simply something I do, not something I force myself to do. My current exercise plan includes the 100 pushups program, the 200 sit-ups program (though I’m technically doing crunches, not sit-ups), on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Also on those days I am doing at least 30 minutes of cardio split between my step machine and my rower. However I plan to increase that time to 50 minutes over the next 6 weeks.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I’m pursuing the Couch to 5K program if it’s not raining. If the weather doesn’t permit a run, then I will substitute the stepper/rower combination on those mornings.

In addition, Monday – Saturday I will be taking a walk for at least 30 minutes (again, if it’s constantly raining, then I can substitute with the stepper/rower combination). That can happen any time in the afternoon or evening.

(There is a diet component to this project: eating way more fruits and vegetables, as well as being much more conscious of portion sizes at dinner time and when eating out, but that will be ongoing and constant, and deserves its own post about the specific challenges and goals involved. Also, in order for me to guarantee that I’ll be getting up in the morning for this first part of my job, I need to get enough sleep, so I’ll be striving to get to bed, with lights off, by 11 pm at the latest on Sundays through Fridays.)

Writing (9:00am – 1:00pm)

Monday through Friday, following my exercise routine, I will shower and have breakfast, then write. My daily word goal is going to be 1000 words (for fiction) or 6 pages (for scripts). When I have reached those goals, I will then turn to other writing work: revisions to previously written drafts, submitting short stories, writing blog posts, writing/editing academic work, etc.

Programming (2pm – 4pm)

I have, for a while now, wanted to learn how to program in Cocoa so that I could write some programs for the Mac and the iOS platforms. With department chair suggesting I look at using computer programming as a possible second language, I have even more incentive. I know at least 2 simply but potentially interesting programs I’d like to write, but if I’m going to be serious about learning this, I need to devote at least 2 hours a day to really working through various training materials (books, websites, etc.) and working on samples and examples of code. This will be hard to do on my own, but it is possible, at least to get some of the basics down.But the only way to do this is to be diligent. Thus, Monday through Friday, I will be learning the basics of how to program.

Now, there may be times when I need to out for appointments of one sort or another, but I will be trying to make those for late afternoons. If they disrupt my programming sessions, then I will make up the time in the evening. However, starting tomorrow, to the best of my ability, nothing will disrupt my morning routines of exercise and writing.

Other Areas of Responsibility

Those are my primary responsibilities in the job of me, but I have others. During the week, late afternoons and evenings will be a combination of reading, practicing guitar and composing music. I will also be doing slow but constant studying for my qualifying exams. I may also try to get into a more regular habit of analog mail correspondence with my far flung friends (not promising on that front just yet).


Other than morning exercise and an additional walk on Saturday, I haven’t scheduled much for the weekends and am going to try to use those to get out of the house a bit: maybe go to museums, meet people for brunch, possibly take a weekend trip or two if I can afford to, watch some movies, work on podcasts, read, and clean house.


I will be in New England for 10ish days at the end of June into early July and that will change my schedule quite drastically. I will keep the pushups and sit-ups going as I can do that no matter where I am, and I’ll do my damnedest to keep up with the Couch to 5K program. However, I probably will let the rest of it go since I’ll be visiting people and socializing and it’d be a drag to try and maintain a strict schedule on this “vacation.” I’ll be moving in early July – so that’ll be another day I don’t observe my regular schedule, Other than that, however, this is going to be my job schedule from tomorrow until the start of school in late August. At that point I’ll have to come up with a new schedule for myself that takes teaching and taking classes, as well as doing my 12 hours/week in the marketing office, into account. Mostly likely, I will have to cut back on my word count and some of my programming time, but I hope to have established exercise and writing and studying programming as habits that will remain as part of my life even during the semester.

So that’s my summer job. While I’m not responsible to anyone but myself to make this all happen, I hope that by framing these practices as my job will give me some motivation during those times I want to delay or skip something. Or when I have to make a choice between going out drinking on a Wednesday versus taking a rain-check and letting people know that I can only really socialize on weekends. (Challenge to myself: make sure that I do socialize on the weekends instead of holing up in my apartment.)

A Little Something I Made Today

Just a little somethin’ I put together this evening to exercise the ol’ music composition muscles. This first draft was done entirely in Garageband (with the exception of using Audio Hijack Pro to capture the sound byte from Battlestar Galactica), using mostly samples except for the melody parts. It’s a rough draft, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Boom Boom Boom

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Letters to Lost Friends Reboot?

This morning I updated the WordPress installation on my old Letters to Lost Friends site and ended up listening to the final episode that I’d recorded in July of 2008 – nearly three years ago! It got me thinking about my life back then, about my life now, about friends, and about making things that mean something to me and, hopefully, to others. I’m proud of that podcast, even though it was so short-lived and I have to say that I’m considering starting it up again. The only thing is that I never really got many submissions and the whole point of the show was to have other people’s letters to lost friends so that it wasn’t just about me week after week.

If you’ve got some time, I’d really appreciate you listening to an episode or two and letting me know if you might have any interest in this podcast coming back to life and, more importantly, if you might be interested in submitting a letter. If I can get at least 6 submissions of “letters to lost friends” and 3 “friend of the day,” I will definitely bring the show back.

Thoughts on Kauai


Clean, ocean air. Silence broken only by waves. Mornings that greet you with brightness and expectation and warmth, like a friend’s embrace. Aloha. Kauai.

As I write these words, casting my mind to the brief times I spent, in 2005 and 2006, on that island, I can feel my body suffused with desire and longing. Yearning. For the air, the silence, the stars.

The stars.

I have spent a great deal of my adult life moving about, going from one place to another. Sometimes searching for a home, sometimes trying to outrun myself and find a new me (that never seems to work), sometimes in the pursuit of knowledge or love or a dream of a place. Because of this—and mostly because of my habit of running away instead of toward something—I am suspicious of my motivations when I consider moving someplace. So I struggle against my yearning, not trusting it, sizing it up to see if it’s going to turn around and bite me. Yet it remains, this fantasy of someday moving to Kauai.

(And no, I’m not talking about even considering this until after my PhD is complete.)

If the greatest gift I received from Joya is her love and support (lasting even after we are no longer “together”), the second greatest was the opportunity, with her family, of going to Kauai and spending time on this beautiful island, of allowing me to experience the air and the silence and the mornings full of warmth and light and the rainbows and the chickens and the ocean and the feeling of being in a place that felt so entirely safe and that made me feel grounded in ways that I cannot really attribute to any other place I’ve visited.1

But then the voice inside warns: this is nostalgia, this is a feeling that you have inscribed and re-inscribed over the years and made all the bigger and more beautiful than it ever was in real life, and you are just looking for a place to run, a place to hide from the world and yourself, a place that is nearly as far away as you can get.

Stupid voice.

And I wonder: what is the difference between a necessary fantasy and actual necessity? Is going to Hawaii a necessary thing for me to do? A goal that I should plan for and figure out how to make happen despite any logistical issues? Do I ignore the voice who argues against it and listen to desire or do I listen to practicality and ignore the yearning for a place I’ve only been in for what, 20 days? 20 days out of 40 years. Even if I were to go back for another 10, 25, 20, even 30 days, how could I know that moving there is the right thing to do? Instincts? Gut feeling? I don’t necessarily trust those. At least not unreservedly so. Even if I did seriously plan for this, I would need a job, preferably teaching, that could help pay back my student loans in addition to supporting me and, really, what are the chances of there being a job in the University or Community college system out there just when I become available for the job market? But if this is more than just a fantasy, should I assume that I can overcome those kinds of obstacles in order to make it happen? When I tell someone about these plans, when I mention how I felt more peaceful and grounded on that small island in the Pacific then anywhere else I can remember, I will sometimes choke back tears because something in me has been wounded for years and is desperate to recapture that feeling of peace and of being grounded, of being in a place that will allow me the security and space to be more fully myself. Is the lesson here that I deserve to go there and find what I’m looking for or that I need to find a way to make my peace here and now, to recover myself to myself in Pittsburgh?

Ok, so I know the answer to this is the latter and that it would be folly to expect a place, even a place as beautiful as Kauai, to “fix” me in any real way. Still, is there something wrong with wanting to be in a place that resonates in such a way as to give you strength and courage and that might reveal yourself more fully to yourself than other places? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. At least not today. Not this year even. Not for several years. Still, I wonder, I dream, I doubt, I yearn for the air, the ocean, the silence, the stars, the light, the warmth, the island, Kauai.


  1. Actually, Lila is probably the second greatest gift, with traveling to Hawaii as 3rd. []

My Film Diet

I realized recently that my movie diet has become rather anemic. Not only have I been spending a lot more time watching television series through Netflix and (ahem) other means, but the movies I have been watching are just that: movies. They may be good movies (Shutter Island) or they may be pretty but bad movies (Tron: Legacy), but they are not, in general, and to make a rather blurry line of distinction, films.

I’m not sure why this relatively thin gruel of a film diet. Perhaps just my predilection for genre stories (specifically science fiction and horror), perhaps because a series demands less attention at a single time, or just that the more difficult films require greater emotional investment, or perhaps some other completely different reason. The point is that I haven’t been exposing myself to as wide a range of stories and films that I really feel I ought to. Not out of obligation or necessity, but because truly great films are a gift and I deserve to spend the time and focus that they require.

To this end, I loaded up my Netflix queue with a handful of John Cassavetes, Frederico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman films, as well as some Woody Allen, Hal Hartley, Lars von Trier, and Wim Wenders. I’m very much open to suggestions of directors and films that you would suggest, especially by truly great filmmakers and not just competent directors.

If anyone is interested in watching some really great films over the course of the summer (either in person here in Pittsburgh or coordinating a series of movies that we correspond about through email or phone or via blogs), let me know. As for tonight, I’m going back to one of the true greats and will watch Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.