Friday, December 12, 2008

On personal statements

I'm applying to law school, so I'm trying to get a personal statement ready for it. Generally these are essays about "Why I want to go to law school". My problem is I can't quite figure out what I should tell these people.

With Anannya's help, I've decided the approach is going to be a little more risky and personal. I can't afford to be conservative in my approach, with my less-than-stellar GPA and only adequate LSAT score. Knowing that is surprisingly unhelpful, though.

Should I tell them about what I'd like to do with the law degree? Should I focus on my desire to go through law student experience? If I focus on my personal development, does that make me seem too egotistical? If I focus on my desire to put a JD to work for the good of the country, does that make me seem too starry-eyed? Is there a way to cohesively bring all these ideas together in two double-spaced pages?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Home Sweet Home

A little less than a month ago I visited Puerto Rico. As some of you might know, I'm from there, and even though I haven't lived there for almost 8 years now, I still call the place home. I've had the great fortune that, in two of my last three visits, I've traveled with my good friend Hiro and my girlfriend Anannya.

Puerto Rico is a very fun place, I now know. Unfortunately, growing up, I had no clue that this was the case, as I didn't know how to have fun, and by the time I got around to learning and making friends, I was in DC and had no friends left back home. Going back with others lets me see all the things I took for granted.

This most recent trip with Anannya was particularly meaningful to me. Having never taken a girl to meet my parents, it was a big "first" for me. It was also a ton of fun! What did we do? Well, let's see...

Arriving Saturday evening, we enjoyed dinner at home and not much else. It was also a lazy Sunday, sleeping in and visiting my grandmother. My grandmother is ninety years old, and her English was learned seventy years ago in a business setting. Communication between Anannya and her was...strained...but I think she was happy to see me with someone.

Anannya and I then went and enjoyed a lunch at El Mariachi, which is not much of a Mexican restaurant. It is the best place to get a tortilla with a layer of mashed potatoes and pork wrapped up like a burrito, though. God only knows why they're so delicious. We visited the beach afterwards, which was gorgeous that day, and then lounged about until we went to Casa Dante, which has the finest mofongo and churrasco on the island.

Monday and Wednesday were passed the same way, more or less. We went to Old San Juan, which is generally considered the part of the city bounded by the old walls. We spent the day exploring one of the big castles, El Morro, and meandering around town. Old San Juan is full of stores and sites, including the world's filthiest pigeon park and the world's narrowest house. It also had one of my best friends from high school that we ran into. It also has cats--lots and lots of cats.

Tuesday was our sailing day. I like sailing immensely, and the whole family went out. Anannya had been sailing once before this, out on the Chesapeake, and suffice to say the tropical waters and clear blue skies beat that. We sailed from Fajardo, a small town on the east coast of the island, and set anchor in Icacos, a very tiny little island that my family frequented while we owned our boat, Tobosa.

Thursday was the day we went and ate pork. I'm talking about the town of Guavate, up in the hills, and it's a small place that has several vendors selling pig roasted on a spit. Along with their sides, it makes for one of the funnest and most indulgent eating experiences I've ever experienced. The pork is great, but they also have very rich and tasty blood sausage, as well as a few other local side dishes. I've yet to have anything like it anywhere else I've been.

Friday was the day spent up in the mountains. Not the rural areas similar to Guavate, but the national forest of El Yunque. Anannya and I took the hike down, dealing with a few showers (rainforest, go figure), and got to admire the waterfall at the bottom. We hiked up, then made our way Luquillo, where we ate at the "cuchifritos"-- small little fried good vendors.

As I mentioned, this all meant a lot to me. Why? As I said, I consider Puerto Rico my home, and I've spent the majority of my life there. That said, my adult life has been spent in DC, now, and the events and people from one part to the other are almost mutually exclusive. Just as I experienced a disconnect between my values and my country (see post below), I had been experiencing a disconnect from my life as it is and as it was.

Visiting with Anannya fixed all that. It's an understatement to say she's been great for me. Seeing her enjoy herself in Puerto Rico, though, was different. Seeing the best part of my life here in DC in all the best parts of my life in Puerto Rico made me extraordinarily happy. It's like reading a convoluted novel and having your two favorite storylines resolve themselves simultaneously in a surprising and satisfying way.

I might be a bit over-eager to read into things. That being said, I think it's useful to think of one's own life as a story. The problem I've always had with mine is that I've had trouble taking all it's disparate parts and joining them together. This trip to Puerto Rico did that, though. I'm looking forward to the next chapter!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes, we did!

I voted yesterday, casting my ballot for Barack Hussein Obama. I waited in line for three hours. I didn't mind a moment of it.

I got a little misty-eyed when Obama won, I admit. It isn't that I think he's going to be a great president (I do, but there's reasons to hold reservations). It isn't that I think we've crossed some great racial divide. It's really because for the first time in a long time we've seen a grand and epic story unfolding before us.

He was an unlikely candidate and he handled everything thrown at him and his campaign with grace and integrity. He was a candidate representing aspects of America that we've been told for years aren't really part of America. He ran on a promise to reject the last eight, and to a certain degree, twenty-eight, years of American politics and introduce us to the government that is for, by and of us. And he won.

He won! He told America who he was and America accepted him as their president. After seeing eight years of the other side in power, the huge sense of relief that it was to see a progressive win brought me close to tears. Seeing that millions of others felt the same way? That's what pushed me over the edge.

I've dealt with melancholy from loneliness for a very long time. I feel the last few years have seen a lot of that ending, though. Socially, I have friends in the area again. Romantically, Anannya's been my saving grace. And now, seeing America's progressive thread, I don't feel a disconnect from what I consider my country. It's like being home again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Big Picture of this Election

"Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people." -?

Anannya and I were discussing a few articles we read regarding the recent debate between Obama and McCain. People polled and pundits tend to reach similar conclusions: that Obama is doing appreciably better than McCain. I think it's a fair statement that his entire campaign is doing better than McCain's, and the closeness of the race can be attributed to how polarized our politics are and, you know...Obama being an unlikely candidate (black, brief national exposure, no executive experience).

Why does he do well? There are as many answers to this question as there are people. Ezra Klein and others point to the economy and a lousy Republican presidency. Other people will say that his ideas are more representative of what most Americans want. Finally, polls show that people think he understands what they're going through more than McCain.

My own thought is that Obama is able to show he is a great mind that can talk with small ones.

I don't mean to say he's smarter (though he is) or that people aren't comparing each on their policy ideas (though I'm not sure they are) or that the state of the country is such that it favors massive democratic gains (true). I also don't want to imply that people uninterested in ideas or events are somehow dumb (people are at the center of things, in my worldview). What I mean to say is that Barack Obama, in the debates, has shown himself able to discuss people, events, and ideas with ease and can link the discussion of all three to one another.

There are moments where both Obama and McCain seem to be saying similar things, but somehow Obama comes off as more engaging. McCain will talk about the financial crisis (event) and greedy CEOs (people), but he doesn't have much to stand on as far as ideas are concerned. He isn't able to link his ideas regarding deregulation and taxation to the event and the people in a way that benefits him.

Obama, on the other hand, can talk about the crisis and its actors, but also link these to the role of government action (idea). He can talk about what the government should do, how it should do it, and who it should do it for.

He can frame the discussion, and he's been able to do this on several topics. Regarding the surge, both men admire our troops and commanders (people), both have talked about the surge (event), but Obama is able to explain the general idea of the surge in the first place...while McCain isn't able to show what context the surge fits into. The same applies to healthcare, though McCain doesn't seem to be able to talk well about...anything...as far as that topic goes.

The quote I led with isn't meant to be offensive. People that show an interest in other people aren't small-minded. However, when you listen to Barack Obama talk, he says things that encourage one to give thought to what he says. I'm sure there are many cynics that think this is a liability. Who wants a professor for a president? However, if the odds are stacked against him, then anyone that starts thinking more about what he says is more likely to reach a positive conclusion...or at least one based on its merits.

McCain isn't changing minds. You either accept his take on things or you don't. Obama is out to show you a different way of looking at the same problems, and that's the best strategy to pursue. Let's just hope he delivers!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Banana Bread!

So Anannya and I got to work on banana bread last Saturday. Why did it take me a week to write about it? Because I've barely finished collecting my mind, which it's deliciousness totally blew.

Let's be clear here: in the following story, although I'm its narrator, I am the principal antagonist. If it were up to me, there wouldn't be any bread and the world would be a little darker for it.

A few days before the Day of Banana Bread, I had gone to the supermarket and come back with some bananas, which Nick (my roommate) had also done. With the surplus of bananas, he immediately suggested I make banana bread, thinking it would be easy. Being a contrarian bastard, I told him I wasn't sure whether or not it would be easy, and even went so far as to suggest he had no clue, either. How wrong I was...

Anannya and I opened up my tome of cooking (How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman) and brought up the recipe for banana bread. Flour, check. Sugar, check. Bananas, double check. Coconut? Finding a half cup of grated coconut would prove difficult, but I thought I could surmount this challange with...an actual coconut!

I took it upon myself to prepare the secret ingredient, the coconut. Anannya got to work mixing the flour and sugar and baking powder, while I went outside with knife and hammer to break open the shell of my most worthy opponent. This took me 30 minutes before I got a few pieces of coconut to send through my food processor for mincing.

What happened in those 30 minutes, where I cursed and nearly gave up on the whole endeavor? Anannya finished the bread, mostly. She had the flour and sugar mixed. She had the egg and banana done. She had mixed it all together, and it waited for one thing and one thing only: coconut. And in the end I did offer my small offering to the piece of art that was that bread.

It baked, less than an hour, and then came the moment of truth. We tasted it, and it was wonderul. I shed a tear and, I daresay, felt blessed. Things will never be the same, my friends. Things will never be the same.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And now my good friend James, who may be a regular contributor to this blog:

So, my friend Daniel says to me "James, I'm thinking of doing a blog, and if you want to write something, send it on over." Ok, I'm lying; I can't really remember how the conversation actually went, but the moment comes (and for me It has me, I don't have It) and in order for me to get to what I want to write about, the writer in me demands an introduction, no matter how poorly done. "Who is this random guy, isn't this Daniel's blog? Bad form, I say." The point is, according to my narrative, he asked me, and with my tongue happily extended in none-too-subtle mockery I will segue into... blogging.

Why blog is an excellent question, but even before that I like to ask what blogging is. I don't have an answer, and this is all rhetorical, so I also would not like definitions of blogging sent mysteriously to me by way of poor friend Daniel. I have things to write about, like all of us have things to write about, think about, dream about. Want is what I'm talking about here. For the person who blogs to voice his or her gripes, either because their expectations are disappointed or because they wish to arouse the suspicions of an invisible readership that there are, in fact, things out there in the world to be upset about, it remains about want, Want and it's ability to make us speak, as eloquently or discouragingly in such a way that we would be emotional enough to share it with the entire world.

Want. I'm 26, which, according to my immense library of experience means to me that I'm standing at the crossroads where I understand now that my decisions, habits, and behavior will determine greatly (like each minute tick of the second hand added together) how close I get to what I want for myself, because it's still under scrutinizing argument whether or not actually getting what one wants is a good or bad thing. So, I'm trying to be careful, and I was born neurotic, so that means I'm going crazy paying attention to every little thing (like each minute tick of the second hand) and even more so remembering every little thing. And right about here is where I put in a D&D reference in my first draft (I'm lying, there aren't drafts, but the lie served itself); it related to digressing in 5 foot step increments until falling to my demise. That is to say, I want a lot, and I have to be honest and realize that each of them isn't vital, or overly important, somewhere on the list of things I want, I'll admit, is one of those nifty cell phones with the touch screens and the keyboard and the minutes that start at 7pm and I really don't need one of those. My thumbs are much too big and my mind much too prioritizing to read any sort of instruction manual that doesn't have pictures and is less than 20 pages. I wish someone smart at one part had said something about "through imagining comes the understanding one can use not only to define but divine a phenomenon" but there wasn't; I made that up just now.

That is to say, I think I figured out what blogging is, and I think I figured out why a person should blog.

But, sifting around in my thoughts and desires, and this stuff on my desk, I found a photograph of three young children, each with timid, confused eyes and unsure bottom lips, looking into the lense a little curious and a little brave. I know them, of them. And they know me; sometimes they come over and ask me questions and borrow my things, break them and give them back. I'm their cousin, Big James, and they don't have a father. I want them to be as great as they can't imagine; I understand this process is long, complex, and what they see me do and say comprises one set of bricks to cobble the way that will surmise the stairways of their lives, but I Want to own that, almost, I think, more than anything. I Want to be responsible for that which they seem me go, to be successful so that they will know that it is possible for them to follow, and to surpass, what I have done, and to convey that they are the reasons why.

And right up until then I was having a pretty bad day.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It beats going to Applebee's


"Does this look appetizing?"
"It looks like a human liver."
"I'll take that as a 'no.'"
"I really don't think you can photograph food to make it look appetizing."
"That's still a 'no', though."
"Oh, I wasn't disagreeing with you."
-James and I

Last Friday I decided to make my girlfriend dinner. Being a special night, I thought I'd try and go for something fancier than usual, and decided to prepare lamb with a fancy schmancy cucumber salad. This is a picture of the result. I don't think I'll be getting any points for presentation, but I certainly think it tasted great. So what is it, exactly?


Well, the lamb chop is seasoned with a mixture of parsley, olive oil and anchovie. We spread half of the mix on the chops before cooking, letting it marinade in the fridge for an hour or so, then spread the other half on them while they were broiling. They came out wonderful.


The salad is just cucumbers, salted, and then coated with a dressing made of cream, vinegar, oil and mint. I was happy with the dish, but it was a little unusual. Cucumbers and mint yielded a crisp texture and cool taste, but the cream and dressing made it creamy in a way I associate with potato salad. Despite a few mishaps during preparation --the cucumbers fell on my filthy kitchen floor and needed a fair amount of washing --the overall effect was satisfying but not what I expected.


Dessert was had as well. I don't know why, but any time I see "poached pears" on a restaurant menu, I'm convinced the place is fairly upscale (it's a hope of mine to find a hole in the wall that has them). Since I was aiming for a nice evening, I decided to try and prepare some myself. Most recipes call for the poaching liquid to be made from sugar and water. I was gonna go with variation that uses wine and honey, but...

Cooking wine is not like regular wine. It has salt and other preservatives. I knew this because I tried drinking it. I'm sure many readers would wonder what would compel me to drink cooking wine, but I was curious. I'm glad I did, as using something that salty in making sugary poaching liquid would have been a disaster. Anyway, some water and honey later, the above dessert was made.

Why bother cooking at all? Well, I've eaten these things at restaurants, and I can honestly say that they're rarely worth the money spent. If I'm going to go out, I want to get something I couldn't do better myself. Eventually, I hope to make it such that any meal that tops mine is either so expensive that I can't actually afford it (which makes my own food my favorite) or that I find a place that's sufficiently tasty and affordable that it's worth visiting for the food itself. Anything else, and I'm just paying to be served on.