Tuesday, April 28, 2009

kd lang on the Jim Henson Hour

Here's a bonus for all k.d. lang fans: k.d. lang singing "I Love Trash" on the Jim Henson Hour.

Seriously - you are nobody until you hang out with the muppets.

Monday, April 27, 2009

MONDAY LYRICS | kd lang, a spiritual practice and a song

I haven't been able to get my hands on the latest issue of the Shambhala Sun. (They don't have it here in Dubai. Go figure.)

I miss my monthly diet of Shambhala Sun. I started reading the Buddhist magazine about 6 years ago, and I rarely miss an issue. The magazine is one of the little things that supported my spiritual practice. I miss it.

Some things are good to have, and some things are absolutely necessary. We become unhappy when we are unable to make the distinction; Shambhala Sun is good to have - but it is possible to maintain a spiritual practice without the magazine. I just have to adapt.

Instead, I have been going online, where they do make some Shambhala Sun articles available on their website. I have been re-reading some of the old articles, which is also good.

Recently I was re-reading this interview with k.d. lang, for the release of her "Watershed" album. She talks about her music, her spiritual practice and it helps explain why it took eight years for her to come up with an album of brand new songs. She is a pracitioner in the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and that has been her priority these past many years. Music has simply become a means of paying the bills.

She has asked herself the question shared by many of us who first started a spiritual practice: does it means we have to give up our life as we know it? A big part of a spiritual practice is renunciation - but of what? A spiritual life often feels at odds with real life. For lang as a musician, she wondered if it meant she has to give up her music. She feels a part of herself changing as she practiced - does this mean she will never be the musician that she used to be? Song-writing became difficult. As she discovers later, with practice, things do start to fall into place: Ordinary mundane life and the practice "starts to integrate":

k.d. lang: Exactly. You can become pretty carried away, to the point where you feel you have to let go of your friends and your house and all sorts of things, and nothing can be integrated. It’s total chaos. Then all of a sudden everything starts to integrate. At a certain point, Buddhist practice is so inseparable from everything you do that you start to live and breathe it. I suppose that’s the gradual process of awakening—it’s naturally incorporated into your very being. You don’t even think that you’re processing things in a “Buddhist way,” particularly.

Our spiritual practice is not inconsistent with real life. In the beginning it will be difficult. Personally, in the beginning it feels like my life is being dismantled. I don't recognise what I am doing, and I wonder: will I still be the same person? Will I still be able to keep my existing friendships?

I believe what was happening to me at that time was - my practice was slowly breaking down my old mindset. This fear that arose. was my ego struggling against this change. What I came to realise much later, was that an established spiritual practice is not inconsistent with life. With practice, life do become more bearable. With mindfulness, your choices become more consistent with your greater intentions. My spiritual practice became the guide to my work and my relationships. Things become integrated. It doesn't matter if I call myself a Buddhist or a yogini or whatever. I am just a ordinary person, trying to make the right choices, the best that I can.

Most of all, I love what k.d. lang has to say about her magnificant voice. I have almost all her albums, even the odd collections where she contributes one or two songs. Lang herself remarked how she is amazed by the sound that comes out of her own body:

k.d. lang: On a purely mundane level, it is totally mind-blowing to have this sound come out of my body. It feels like a whole ocean of surfers are available to me at any given moment to open up my voice and play around with a melody. It does blow my mind.

But the deeper truth is that we all have world-level gifts. I’m not just saying that. I honestly believe it. Maybe sometimes we are not able to reach and bring out our gifts, but they are there. It can be quite ordinary—when you see a Bhutanese woman making cheese dumplings and you taste one and it’s the best cheese dumpling you’ve ever eaten in your life, it’s the same thing! It’s essence. Ultimately, I don’t really see myself as separate from anybody else in terms of having a gift.

I was undecided on which song to feature on this post. I finally decided to let the lyrics make the choice for me, since this is supposed to be about the lyrics. With k.d. lang though, it is her voice that carries the song - not the lyrics. She can sing the names off the phonebook, and it would still sound like the music of heaven.

I have chosen "Flame of the Uninspired" from Watershed. It's about looking back on life, relationships and desire.

"Flame of the Uninspired"

I spend a lifetime carving out my fate
Things I like, things I hate
My very nature is to criticize
And then cut myself down to size

On the cusp of compromise
To living hell, I slipped and fell

I´m in the corner licking off my wound
Loves come and go, all too soon
Looking back upon my life as such
And the remedies they cost too much

Such a frail and fragile place
This egg and shell upon my face

Fueled by desire
Wind adds to fire
Flame of the uninspired

On the cusp of compromise
To living hell, I slipped and fell
Such a frail and fragile place
This egg and shell upon my face

Fueled by desire
Wind adds to fire
Flame of the uninspired

Thursday, April 23, 2009

READ | Paper Towns by John Green

Just needed to write something about Paper Towns, by John Green. It's not going to be a very in-depth discussion, I'm afraid. My mind just isn't ready for long blog-posts these days. But I thought I better start getting into the habit of writing about what I've read, and of course - actually reading more so that I can write about them.

Quentin Jacobsen is an ordinary high-school teenager who has been in love with the girl next door - Margo Roth Spiegelman - since he was a child. According to the social hierachy of high school, Quentin belongs to the nerd side of the fence, while Margo is on the cool side. While Margo was kind enough to keep the local school bully off Quentin and his friends, Margo and Quentin just don't mix in the same circle. That is until one fateful night, Margo sneaked into Quentin's room dressed like a ninja, and pulls Quentin along for a night of adventure - and revenge on Margo's cheating boyfriend.

After that night, Quentin felt maybe there was a connection between Margo and himself. Except, Margo suddenly went missing. The police and Margo's parents didn't seem to have a clue where to find her. Margo's parents in fact, don't seem all that eager to go looking for her. Then, from a poster of Bob Dylan in Margo's room, a note Margo left hidden on Quentin's bedroom door - and most of all, an annotated copy of Leaves of Grass, Quentin decided Margo had left clues to where she could be found.

Paper Towns is about Quentin's search for Margo Roth Speigelman. On a more metaphorial level, it is about Quentin's search for the real Margo Roth Spiegelman - that elusive search for the authentic person, instead of an idea of a person. It explores that universal desire to be known for who we really are, rather than merely existing as an idea, a stereotype, for the other person.

In particular, I found myself ready to identify with Margo, especially with her record collection. (I don't have records, but I have plenty of CDs) The idea that our record collection can be too personal to be shared - because it represents such an important part of ourselves - I get that.

Margo Roth Spiegelman was a person, too. And I had never quite thought of her that way, not really; it was a failure of all my previous imaginings. All along--not only since she left, but for a decade before--I had been imagining her without listening, without knowing that she made as poor a window as I did. And so I could not imagine her as a person who could feel fear, who could feel isolated in a roomful of people, who could be shy about her record collection because it was too personal to share. Someone who might read travel books to escape having to live in the town that so many people escape to. Someone who--because no one thought she was a person--had no one to really talk to.

And all at once I knew how Margo Roth Spiegelman felt when she wasn't being Margo Roth Spiegelman: she felt empty. She felt the unscaleable wall surrounding her. I thought of her asleep on the carpet with only that jagged sliver of sky above her. Maybe Margo felt comfortable there because Margo the person lived like that all the time: in an abandoned room with blocked-out windows, the only light pouring in through holes in the roof. Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made--and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make--was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.

I liked Paper Towns. It was charming, written with good humour. It isn't heavy-handed in its messages, and the ending particularly - was left wide-open to possibilities.

MUSIC | St Vincent's New Single: "Actor Out of Work"

The music video is out.

I actually prefers this video of her rehearsing the song. It's the way she handled that guitar.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One Person Less in the Apartment

The inevitable has arrived: my housemate, H, just moved out a few hours ago. Well, she packed a bag and an extra mattress, so maybe she's not gone for good. Since our apartment is provided by the company, she may not get to change accomodation as easily. Still, she has made her intention pretty clear.

How did this happen? A gradual build-up of frustration and resentment over the last 6 months in this desert city. A colleague and I were talking about this the other day: it's living in this desert city - we become less patient, our temper grow shorter.

My side of the story is - for the past 6 months, I have been picking up the slack for H at work. I have only told my Department Manager about this - and he has been trying to talk to H one-on-one. Unfortunately H just thinks we are bullying her.

I want to tell H this to her face: No, you moron. If we really wanted to bully you, we would have told the Store Manager about how you did not re-order Obama's Dreams From My Father. How you allowed Eat, Pray, Love to go out of stock for a month before I asked you about it. How you hid in the office on weekends when the store is busiest to avoid the customers. So many things we could have done to discredit you in front of the bosses. We did not. I walked away so many times when I could have confronted you and mock you for the incompetent, political backstabbing bitch that you are. You tried to drive a wedge between my Department Manager and myself when we first came to Dubai. You tried to take credit for my work. You thought we were stupid. We are not. We are just more decent, and we were too busy to play your games.

And you think we are bullying you.

What happened today was just the straw that broke the camel's back. I asked H to follow up on the order for a bestselling travel map. We are down to ONE COPY of the #2 bestselling travel map, and we need to order more urgently. It was part of her job, and I was tired to doing her job for her. Later in the afternoon, I found out H "delegated" the order to a colleague, Moideen. Except she didn't follow up with Moideen on the orders. So, her method of delegation is to throw the job to somebody else.

I decided I had enough. So I wrote an email to H, copying my Department Manager. In that email I told H that in future, if she would like to delegate her orders, I would appreciate it if she could at least supervise or check through the orders. I pointed out that Moideen's orders did not include our #2 bestselling travel map - which I highlighted to her. I sent it out right before I left the office, so I did not see her reaction. But I knew which button it would push.

H doesn't care about her job - but I still care about the store. I worked so hard to build this store and we are doing better than anyone expected. I will not allow a weasel like H to undo what we have built.

Now H has moved out. There will be repercussions, of course. Eventually the bosses will find out, and we will have to explain the accomodation change. My Department Manager will be alarmed (but he will not be surprised) when he hears about this.

The internet service in the apartment is registered under H's name. So when she moves out, she might want to cancel the internet service. This means I will probably be without home internet access for a while. Yet the idea of finally being able to come back to an empty apartment without H is so comforting.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Neko Case on Letterman

I am so glad Nymeth posted this on Twitter. It took my mind (briefly) off the stupidity at work today and sent me spinning on a tornado of LOVE.

*sigh* Marry me, Neko.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Neko Case Interview in TimeOut NY

Just like to point everyone to this TimeOut New York interview with Neko Case. In between she talks about wielding a sword and animal revolution, where the whales should just bite off their trainers' legs.

Whose gas-guzzler is that on the cover of the album?
That’s my car. I think I’m going to auction it off for charity in the next couple of months.

Springsteen auctioned off one of his motorcycles at a benefit here in New York a while back. I imagine your car will fetch a good price.
Um, well, I’m not as popular as he is, but we’ll see what happens.

He threw in his leather jacket to sweeten the pot.
I’ll throw in some of my used gym pants. That’s all I’ve got. I don’t have any awesome leather jackets or anything. I’ll throw in a skanky sports bra. Drive the price higher. Up about 60¢.

Neko Case, I would gladly buy your skanky sports bra for more than 60¢.**

**Yes, I know how pervy that sounds. But it's probably for a good cause.

Monday, April 13, 2009


"As much as movies, books and television shape our youthful definitions and notions of love, it's music -- with its lyrics ripe for memorization and repetition, and often written for and about the beloved -- that becomes our guide and our adoptive ode. We insert ourselves into a song's narrative -- which, of course, we can do with film. But with a song, it's neatly packaged inside of a scant few minutes; the story is brief, fleeting and, best of all, instantly gratifying because of its quick conclusion. For our young, impressionable hearts, a love song is just a metronome that keeps the time until a new beat comes along."
~ Carrie Brownstein, Monitor Mix

I tend to be the sort that prefers the sad love songs. "Good Things" for me is a song about the failure and futility of love. It's not epic in terms of its lyric, and the song itself concedes as much. But it is the kind of angst-ridden post-breakup songs that you listen to over and over. One can easily identify with the sentiments and slip ourselves into its narrative of angry disillusion that is only possible, because you were once foolish enough to believe in the romance.

All things changes, all things ends. Even love - especially love. How true, these lines: "why do good things never wanna stay/some things you lose some things you give away". Sometimes your heart is broken, sometimes you are the one doing the breaking. Why do we keep making the same mistakes? Why do we never learn? Why do we insist on falling in love in spite of all the pain? Because we need to believe it, we tell ourselves that it will better the next time.

this time it'll be alright
this time it'll be okay
this time it'll be alright
this time it'll be okay

Will it? Will it really be better the next time?

Good Things
by Sleater-Kinney

got this feeling
when i heard your name the other day
couldn't say it
couldn't make it go away
it's a hard place
can't be friends we can't be enemies
it's just too much
feel the weight crushing down on my face

the hardest part is things already said
getting better worse i cannot tell
why do good things never wanna stay
some things you lose some things you give away

broken pieces
try and make it good again
is it worth it
will it make me safe today?
it's a dumb song
but i'll write it anyway
it's an old mistake
but we always make it why do we

the hardest part is things already said
getting better worse i cannot tell
why do good things never wanna stay
some things you lose some things you give away

this time it'll be alright
this time it'll be okay
this time it'll be alright
this time it'll be okay

the hardest part is things already said
getting better worse i cannot tell
why do good things never wanna stay
some things you lose some things you give away
some things you lose some things you give away

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Trying to Find Sattvic Strength

Things have been a little challenging at work lately. There has been some issues raised on how a certain co-worker has been negligent on the job. It doesn't help that the co-worker is my housemate, so there is no way to walk away from the unpleasant emotions stirred up along the way. It has been an emotionally draining week. Enough to make me want to just quit this job and go home.

Still, I have at least 6 months on my contract before I decide to extend or to leave. I have to weather this storm. Which was why I am re-reading Sally Kempton's essay for the Yoga Journal - on strength to weather life's difficulties.

In the article, Kempton talks about the gunas (rajas, tamas, and sattva). She explains: "Rajas is the energy of passion, aggression, willpower, determination, and drive. Tamas is the energy of inertia, dullness, passivity, and sleep. Sattva is the quality of peacefulness, clarity, and happiness."

I can see the forces of rajas and tamas at work in the situation with my housemate. I am now at the tamastic stage. The problem feels so difficult I am ready to resign. I am looking for sattva, the wisdom to resolve this .

The word sattva comes from the root sat, which means "being" or "truth." It's literally the power of beingness, the inner integrity that let the Buddha sit under the bodhi tree until he became enlightened, the power that supported Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the power that you feel in cathedrals and redwood forests and in people who quietly offer help to those who need it. Sattvic strength is one part discipline and three parts trust—trust that the invisible is stronger than what you can see or touch, and that what you are speaks louder than what you say.

Sattva is born in stillness. True sattvic strength arises out of a willingness to wait, to allow actions to unfold out of the quiet of your center. The forceful agent of sattvic strength is the force of clear intention—a subtle, yet unbending clarity about what it is that your heart and soul truly want.

Intention—the formulation of what you want to happen—is created in silence, through contemplation. It's refreshed each time you return to it. Then, often without your knowing how it happens, the subtle power of intention will guide your actions and words, and gradually, almost invisibly, create change. The key is to keep acting from that stillness out of which the intention was formed.

Why must human relationship be so challenging?

Monday, April 06, 2009

MONDAY MUSIC | Wicked Little Town: Tommy Gnosis Version

This is from the last song on the film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

"Wicked Little Town: Tommy Gnosis Version"

Forgive me,
For I did not know.
'Cause I was just a boy
You were so much more

Than any god could ever plan,
More than a woman or a man.
Now I understand
How much I took from you:
That, when everything starts breaking down,
You take the pieces off the ground
And show this wicked town
something beautiful and new.

You think that Luck
Has left you there.
But maybe there's nothing
Up in the sky but air.

And there's no mystical design,
No cosmic lover preassigned.
There's nothing you can find
that cannot be found.
'Cause, with all the changes
you've been through,
It seems the stranger's always you,
Alone again in some new
Wicked little town.

When you've got no other choice
You know you can follow my voice
Through the dark turns and noise
Of this wicked little town.
It's a wicked little town.
Goodbye, wicked little town.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


I've been having a lot of problems with Google and Blogger. Anyone knows what it means when they say:

The security certificate presented by this website has expired or is not yet valid.

Security certificate problems may indicate an attempt to fool you or intercept any data you send to the server.

Are there hackers/some nefarious worm hanging around my blog or on my laptop? I can't log in using Safari or Firefox. Only Explorer. Which sort of creeps me out, because I prefer not to use Explorer.