I am a sometimes patron of Los Angeles cafes, where I meet stray talent and ponder life as a decidedly unzuckerberg-like twentysomething. Find me at @chavarisa.

What, if anything

I sat in a court room today, all day. Tall wood-paneled walls and wide arcs over the windows, the judge in her robes, lawyers in suits, high-back leather swivel chairs for the gallery. 

They spoke their own language, followed their rituals, quibbled over whether a witness had said “Shut up!” or “Shut the fuck up!” on a deposition many years previously. They made statements, and added “right?” at the end so it became a question for the witness to confirm. 

The jury giggled. We recessed and the lawyers huddled. “Why can’t I ask him if he’s gay?” The court reporter told the clerk about her visit to Dubai. She fell asleep during the proceedings. 

What, if anything, is this post about?

That language. The games they play with their words. Journalists should learn from lawyers to ask questions. The dynamic between the witness and the cross-examiner. He had a way of posing questions, and then ending them with a tone of incredulity.

"So you don’t know why being around people makes you anxious?"

It put the witnesses on the defense. They’re afraid to answer because from his tone it seems they’ve done something wrong by not knowing, that they’re helping him win the case by not knowing, and by agreeing to not know. 

Today’s case was also about memory. The incident happened over 20 years ago. There have been depositions in between. The plaintiffs on the witness stand remembered differently now. Are your memories more right after 7 months, or after 20 years? But what if you were a kid the first time? What if you have a different motive now? Are you unreliable if you remember differently?

And, can you lie about your emotional state?

You’re under oath. You’ve sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. You’re asked: Are you happy? Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Why are you anxious? What do you think about at night, at the bus stop, when you remember summer of 1995?

There are probably books about this - legal books - about what constitutes truth when it’s perception, not facts, that are the question. That makes me sad though, I like it better as a question. 

"What, if anything, was said to you by the officer while you were in the hallway?"

A lawyery tick maybe, that term, but it means one of two things. One, I know something was said but for some legal reason I have to ask it this way. Two, I make no presumption.

Also, it combines two questions into one. Efficiency. 

Booklog

My head is everywhere. In school, and in Los Angeles, and in am I happy, and in all the books I’m reading now. Those are much more interesting. 

The Modern Cult of the Factish Gods by Bruno Latour, philosopher of science studies

Totally upends the entire discussion of science, religion, belief and modernism. I’m not sure if the book is a scholarly essay or a cryptic message from another planet that only thorough study will fully unlock. 

Status: Just beginning

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, New Yorker author long ago

The book is a collection of stories about the bums and the tramps and the drunk of prohibition, about the shopkeepers, fishermen and gypsy kings of New York City in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Joseph Mitchell is an incredible listener, a voice of the people - cliche I know, but still true. I only wonder what the journalistic climate was then, how revolutionary he was, for his style and the subjects of his stories. 

Status: Almost done

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Khanneman, the psychologist who won the Nobel prize in Economics

This was a terrible choice for my first real Kindle read. It haunted me on the subways. I’d eye that little percentage in the corner and groan at my progress. The book has some great parts and if you remember any of it, it makes for some great anecdotes at parties, but I’m not a fan. Read the spark notes. 

Status: Done, and good riddance

Besides for these I starting reading Civil Disobedience by Thereau, an out of print book about sound reporting published by NPR, and a book of essays by Susan Sontag. Tentative reading list: Thomas Khun, a book that a guy suggested to me on Saturday about economics I believe, but I can’t remember the name. 

Tagged: #reading #books
The sadness is in realizing how phenomenally lucky I am, not only to have never been hungry or cold, but to be educated, to have access to books. Never before in history has a country been so blessed, materially and intellectually, and yet we’re miserable.
- David Foster Wallace in a 1996 interview, newly unearthed and digitized 
Tagged: #dfw

NYC 1

I was open everywhere

Luckily, none of the passersby noticed.

They were mostly sweating, running in the heat

a form of voluntary torture

peculiar to urban dwellers.

One young man stopped to wipe his brow

A shower of sweat fell from him

into my open spaces.

I licked it thirstily, my sudden summer blessing,

but it had evaporated on contact.

The sun was faster than I.

The young runner moved on. 

Strange, I thought, 

that the sun didn’t reach me. 

A Handwriting Analysis

At work the other day, I was doing the tedious job of typing up handwritten notes from customers. It was for a client, an appliance repair company, and most of the notes were some combination of “professional”, “courteous”, “got the job done”, “punctual”, “thank you” - the same message written over and over in big loopy handwriting, in illegible scrawl, in carefully shaped capitals, in prim or flourishing cursive.

One note was written in thick purple marker. It was a unique purple - violet, bluish - probably from a giant 64-pack of markers that kids use. It brought to mind a dining room table strewn with yesterday’s playtime, or a junk drawer full of the flotsam of family life. A mother in a house somewhere with a now-fixed dryer had reached for the nearest writing utensil, the purple marker, and written “Very efficient! Fixed problem fast.”

As I typed it up, I stripped it. Gone was the imaginary mother, the house, the coloring books. There were just 5 words in black 11-point Arial, listed with hundreds of similar comments, all uniform. I felt like I was robbing the world of something. The more I tried to convince myself that these notes were meaningless in the grand scheme of things, written briskly out of politeness or casual gratitude, the more I saw them as poetry, as artifacts of humanity.

I tried to think of a digital equivalent to the expressiveness of handwriting, and when I couldn’t, for a digital compensation for this glaring detriment. And then I wondered how much individuality is lost in the digital transposition of everything. I’m still wondering.

Full Sentences

Does it ever happen to you that you see a phrase and you think, that would make a good title. It will trigger a flow, or at least the suggestion of flow. Just by putting the two words at the top of the page, or in the title line of a post, they will birth the possibility of something. Of what? A transient thought, a snippet, a post, to publish or for you alone. 

It’s like they’ve opened the curtains on an empty stage and there’s an audience waiting for something to emerge. 

They aren’t expecting anything in particular, just a general, pregnant expectation. Will it be music, poetry, comedy, an idea, a sadness, a satire, an attempt at irony? Will it be a fully formed story or a piece of dialogue overheard in a parking lot that has every kind of meaning because of lack of context. 

Will it be less than 140 characters? Will it be a half sob, the kind that despairs mid-sob of even sobbing?

Will it be an homage or imitation? Will it ramble or state, stammer and lose its footing? Will it choke on its own cliches?

For me it was the words “Full Sentences”, and this is what came of it. I was visualizing a Tumblr post when I wrote it (originally in a notebook), that empty white space. But that’s really a visual metaphor for the space it space it creates in your mind, a coaxing {Insert text here}, and your mind complies without knowing why. 

Tagged: #writing

The Macklemore Matter

Read the question below and circle the correct answer. 

Macklemore wore a disguise that looked like the nazi caricature of a Jew to a surprise concert in Seattle. This implies that Macklemore:

a. is a Jew hating Nazi-sympathizer who purposely dressed to look like the caricature of a Jew while singing about how great it is to be thrifty. 

b. picked up a a random mask and a beard as a disguise and meant no harm. You are a Jew hater if you look at a big nose and think “Jew!” And jeez people need to stop getting so worked up and thinking that everything is about them.

c. (his audience, and anyone who circles b) is ignorant of the propaganda against Jews during the Nazi era. They’ve never seen the posters/cartoons which depicted Jews with large hook noses. Like this one:

  image

If they had they might have realized how insensitive such a visual is, regardless of intent.

d. (and his audience) is an idiot, who should have known better (a la c) but slept through history class so either didn’t know or didn’t care about the implication of using a visual homage to Nazism as a disguise.

PS

Please be advised that the four options are a consolidation of the many hundreds of comments on the issue found on the internet. The original language in said comments was much more colorful, and not appropriate for publication.

PPS

For your edification, From a children’s publication in Germany in 1938:

image

"The Jewish nose is bent at its tip. It looks like a number 6…"