Saturday, January 31, 2009

Groaning for grace

Lately, I've been trying to get back to some good spiritual habits, like writing down the five things I'm grateful for each day before I go to bed and 10 minutes of prayer at Sacred Space. I've also tried to begin reading something spiritual every morning: I used to read a Bible reflection from this Men's Devotional Bible I had, but I finished that a long while back.
I'm now reading passages from Shane Claiborne's upcoming book Becoming the Answer To Our Prayers, a look at how we pray and how we can turn our prayer life into fuel for engagement in the world. This morning, I read this passage that really hit me:
"Christianity can be built around isolating ourselves from evildoers and sinners, creating a community of religious super-piety. It can also be built around joining with the evildoers and broken sinners of our world crying out to God, groaning for grace. That's the kind of Christianity we have fallen in love with."
Groaning for grace. Absolutely. I am longing for it. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, I am yearning for a faith community that truly affirms the presence of God in my daily affairs, despite all the ambitions and urgencies that drown his voice out.
I've been doing yoga, and it's been great for becoming more meditative. However, nowhere in the practice has there been talk about gratitude to God or to a higher power. It's all been about us, and our personal energy. I want more.
I want to re-enter a spiritual community that builds me up. The group I meet with every other week is a great respite from the rest of life, but I need something with more constancy as well.
I once started writing a song called "It's hard to see the face of God in New York City." The chorus ended with the line, "But to this very mission, I am sworn." That was back when I was working for Rick Warren's magazine and struggling with his brand of Christianity. I need to remember how much I yearn for God: when I lived in DC, I used to meditate on the phrase "God is in me and around me." And often I believed it. I'd like to believe it again.
God is in me and around me, in me and around me...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Post of the day: question

Hey guys, do you find that you spend more or less time with friends in person since you started using Facebook? There's an article I'm reading tonight on the website about this. Take a look and give me your opinion, please.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A digital confession

I've started a web journalism class called "Beatblogging" that's about beat reporters who are using blogs and social networking tools to enhance their reporting. Our work in the class is to research reporters around the country who are using the Web in such ways. I'm fascinated by the topic honestly, but whenever I hear about reporters using these live blogs at events or doing their weekly blog posts and building an online community, I can't help but have one nagging thought: who wants to spend that much time on a computer?

I've always been a very active guy, enjoying traveling, athletics, running and wandering around town. One of the things I enjoy about reporting is the opportunity to explore and the rush of going out to cover a story. Somehow, the web work seems a bit anticlimactic.

However, I also know how difficult it can be to keep finding a good story, and to keep fully abreast of news stories when there are those in authority who prefer you out of the loop. So, if this technology can be used to enhance the other reporting skills I've got, all the better. I guess I just fear that the web technology will come to replace going out into the neighborhoods, walking beats, meeting random people. I got my first story in a local paper because I caught an ad on a telephone pole in Washington Heights.

I guess it also depends on your beat: if you're working with the homeless, chances are most of your clientele aren't on Twitter. However, if you're a tech, science, politics or arts reporter, you've got a better shot of getting some scoops through this stuff.

So, a mix of emotions continues as I delve deeper. At the very least, I now have set up some RSS feeds on topics I enjoy.

When I was doing my story on the fall of the Greenwich Village folk scene, Robin Hirsch, the owner of the Cornelia Street Cafe, said that he felt the Internet was hurting the independent art scene, because people were more likely to search for events they specifically WANTED to see rather than just showing up somewhere and seeing whatever show happened to be playing that night. Similarly, one of my reporting profs felt the danger of reading news on the Web is that you can easily cut to the stories you want, rather than reading through and maybe noticing something unexpected buried deep within, as you would with a newspaper.

However, I also remember that Geoff Wiley, the owner of Jalopy in Red Hook, said the Web presented incredible opportunities for discovering the history of folk music in ways that he had never had as a kid.

So, there's a tossup perhaps between a sacrifice on the breadth of news one may get, versus an increase in the depth of intimacy with certain topics.

What do you think? What have been the effects of social networking for you: has such software enriched your life or mostly been a fun waste of time? Is it important to you that this software exists, versus using e-mail or phones? And do you see a difference reading your news online versus in print?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama says hello

"It's been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come," sang Sam Cooke, back in the early 60s. Sam was talking about a change for oppressed black Americans, and Sunday in Washington, you could feel that change had arrived. I stood on the National Mall with hundreds of thousands Sunday watching "We Are One," a pre-inaugural concert welcoming Obama, performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. President Obama was there along with Vice President Biden, their families, and visitors from all over the world, filling the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

Here's my video segment on the concert- merchants, travelers, and performers galore!

The concert was full of cameos from the stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel, Samuel L. Jackson, Ashley Judd, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx and scores of others appeared. Sometimes, the lesser-known celebrities seemed to have been chosen specifically for their racial identity, such as Indian-American actor Kal Penn of the "Harold & Kumar" movies, or Latino comedian George Lopez. Each read the words of famous presidents and contributors to the civil rights movement. Samuel L. Jackson did a lovely reading of Rosa Parks' words on her historic protest. Tom Hanks on the other hand seemed off reading Lincoln's words, while a symphony played in the background. Jamie Foxx pulled off a fun and yet stirring imitation of Obama reading his election night speech, capturing Obama's cadence and tone just right.

Along with movie stars was an incredible musical line-up: Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and to top it off, Pete Seeger, singing this Land is your Land with Bruce and James at his sides. Seeger had on a knit green and red winter cap that made him look like everybody's favorite granddad. He seemed to be having the time of his life, and he even jogged off stage at the end!

Of all the performers, though, Garth Brooks got the crowd the most rollicking, leading a Gospel choir through a gutsy "American Pie" and a rousing "Shout." Brooks was about the only one that made it feel like a real party.

In the end, none of them though could top the crowd's reaction to Obama: every time the camera flashed to him bopping his head to the music, singing along with the lyrics, or flashing that perfect ear-to-ear white-toothed magical grin, you could hear the crowd swooning.

The excitement about our new president is electric right now. However, it'd be short-sighted to see this energy as being just about having a black president, or even a Democrat: from what I have heard from everyone I talk to, this victory is slaking a thirst in this country to believe in our leaders again.

I remember the day Bush v. Gore was decided, and I felt that day like I had lost my faith in politics. I'm not sure what Obama will do to heal the economy and this country, but I believe with others that he will honor his office and the country that entrusted him with it. That alone gives me hope, and from the energy in the crowd today, I know I'm not alone.

Here's my video! Merchants, kids, travelers from around the world!

All the best, Dan

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush says farewell

After Bush's farewell address, the first thought that came to mind was a quote John Oliver once delivered on the Daily Show, "President Bush is exactly the man this country needs-- to pull us out of whatever horrible mess he gets us into next." Oliver delivered it with the same kind of assurance that Bush had on his face tonight. As he talked about the triumphs of the administration, standing for freedom, standing for human rights, I wondered whether where he was getting his information.
It doesn't take liberal bias to see that this country's image took a real downturn in the world's eyes during the Bush administration: that image has only recently begun to recoup itself, perhaps now that Iraq seems to be improving and Obama's been elected to take over.
Bush called these last eight years a "period of consequence, a time set apart"- rather hollow rhetoric. Like the eight years before weren't important times for America, or the eight years before that. What really got to me in his address was his inability to address openly the damage that the war in Iraq did to the country. I think he truly believes what he did was right, despite the hundreds of thousands of lives lost.
Iraq might have lost Saddam Hussein, but I think in many ways our image in the eyes of many in the world was irreparably damaged by our invasion. Just like the Supreme Court's stopping the Florida recount, I see the Iraq war as having been an unnecessary intervention, one that likewise caused and me and many others around the world to lose faith in the American government.
I don't care frankly if Obama lives up to all of his campaign promises: what I do demand is that he conduct the office with a greater respect for the intelligence of the American people, for national sovereignty worldwide and the lives and dedication of the people who serve this country, whether it's as a soldier or a citizen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The job search routine

I spent today at the NYU Career Resource Center on 14th Street trying to find a job. It worked out well: I applied to two temp agencies and sent a ton of letters to contacts I've made, friends and employers from recent times and years ago.
This place is excellent for my productivity. It's comfortable, spacious, quiet, and there are plenty of students doing the same searching I am. The computers have complete MS Office suites and free printing. I can even catch CNN playing on mute in the corner.
So, for now, this place can be my workplace, which I need. I realized my biggest depression in being unemployed comes from being at home in the morning after others have left for work. I'm much better off leaving with them and heading here, rather than stay at home.
There are three devils I have to fight in searching for a job: depression, distraction, and impatience. I think I can conquer the depression and distraction just by coming here. As for my impatience, it's just a matter of breathing, writing down my tasks and going easy on myself. I was searching online for some tips, and after reading many useless webpages, I came across the Goals To Action blog. Writer Rodger Constandse, from San Diego, put up this blog on productivity back in '07 and though it seems to have stopped running, the old posts are still worthwhile: try for an example.

So for tonight, I'm thinking boil it down to the basics: exercise, a simple dinner, and then hopefully prayer over at Riverside Church. Sounds healthy, and hopefully it'll give me some inspiration.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I watched Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” this week and loved it. Ever since 2001’s “Memento,” I’ve sought out Nolan’s films, and every single one has impressed me. He’s got this ability to create an atmosphere of suspense, combined with real feeling and empathy for his characters.
He also seems to be constantly examining men either on the verge of madness, or deep in the throes of it. He brought us Guy Pearce as a man sunk in rage and confusion as a widower trying to avenge his wife’s murder in Memento. Then he remade “Insomnia” and turned the rather slimy cop that Stellan Skarsgard played in the original, and turned him into the haunted cop trying to redeem himself played by Al Pacino. Likewise, in the two Batman films, Christian Bale has played Batman as a man driven by rage, ego and a pained hope for a better Gotham: Nolan’s films have been far more psychologically complex than the “Batmans” of the past.
The great thing is though that despite the psychological complexities, Nolan’s films never fail to be entertaining, suspenseful, and incredibly atmospheric. I still can’t get the score from Memento and The Dark Knight out of my head sometimes, and he has an ability with both elaborate chase scenes and intimate monologues that’s incredible.
So far Nolan isn’t a household name like Spielberg, Scorsese, or Tarantino but with a few more films of the quality and commercial success of his past work, he should arrive there. In my view, Christopher Nolan is already this generation’s Hitchcock.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I read the headline stories from the Times today and then listened to a podcast of a reporter stationed in Gaza City. It's horrifying. I read a bit earlier this evening about the history of Israel on Wikipedia. I know it's not the most reliable source, but I started reading a bit about the Balfour Declaration. Balfour was a prime advocate for the creation of the Jewish state during World War I. I read a statement from Balfour that just shocked me: despite the fact that the majority of Palestine was Arab, Balfour wrote that the establishment of a Jewish state there was valid because "Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, and future hopes of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land."
How horrible. It's the same logic that has driven us to drive out "inferior races" in the name of our own manifest destiny. Perhaps that's what will become of the Palestinian Arabs, something akin to our system of reservations after occupying the Indian land and moving them out. This has been done so many times by colonial powers, and yet it never fails to shock me.
I only bring this up because I'm searching for some kind of origin point, some kind of patient zero for this madness. Blaming colonialism doesn't make things any easier now though: what appears to be happening is an organization deciding to fight a guerrilla war from a residential area, and the civilians suffering more than anyone as a result.
The other thing that always amazes me is the air strike campaign that aims to win the hearts and minds of the people bombed. We did it with Iraq: "Blame Saddam!" Turn against him! We did it with Milosevic in bombing Serbia during the Kosovo conflict. This strange idea that we can turn the people against their own while bombing them. Admittedly though, Hamas is using the city centers for their fighting, provoking the targeting that Israel's engaged in, but as the Times reporter said, ultimately the bombs that kill the families are being dropped by Israel. Can the Israelis really imagine the people will find them blameless?
No matter what the demands of war are, that blood remains on their hands, just as the Israeli victims' blood is on Hamas.
God help us all.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

More on searching

  I felt like breaking down today at my friend Bowie's wedding at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Though I was happy for her, part of me felt sick from the wanting of the kind of happiness and fulfillment she seems to have found.
  Bowie and her conductor husband George were married in April in India, but they decided to do another ceremony for their American friends and their families.
  St. John is a huge Gothic cathedral, just recently reopened, and our group of about 100 guests sat right next to the massive altar. The service was a high mass with a white-robed choir singing in Latin, and a feverishly hardworking classical organist. It all felt very stately, with us sitting on a marble floor in this huge echo chamber of a cathedral. I wish I had felt more of a sense of wonder about the place, and at times I did.
  But most of my mind was on my loneliness, and on the feeling that I wanted to no longer be the guy out at bars with friends, but the guy on his way to a successful career and a marriage and children.
  After a few songs, the lector brought out the first reading of the service, the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis speaks of Eve being created as Adam's helper, and being in one flesh with him. As I heard these familiar words, I started to cry, and I headed to a 40% joy, 60% pain feeling for the rest of the service.  Afterwards, I was too down to mingle at the crowded reception and left after a quick bite.
  This pain's been gnawing at me a lot lately. Whether it's being envious of the happiness of my roommates, a couple named Brandy and Lewis, or even just of random couples on the subway, pain seems to be hitting more consistently. I wonder if I'm starting to lose hope: I know I'm losing patience.
  I spoke to my friend Katie tonight who suggested the best way to fight this yearning is to work to feel complete inside myself. She said I'll most likely do best in a relationship when I don't actually NEED one to be complete. That seems backwards to me. I always liked how Rocky Balboa said that the thing about him and Adrian was each of them had "gaps." "I got gaps, she got gaps," he said. "Together we fill the gaps." Is it even possible for me to fill my own gaps, and be complete without a partner?
  Maybe I should at least begin asking what are my gaps that need filling. What is the completion that I need to give myself to make the pain a little more bearable?

Thursday, January 1, 2009


It started with a simple mistake anyone could have made. I left my keys on my bed before I left my house. At 4 pm, I left for yoga, went through my class, then out to Washington Heights for a New Year's Eve party, and got all the way back to Brooklyn at 3:30 in the morning only to discover that my keys were neither jangling in my pocket, nor were they anywhere in my gym bag.
The roommates were out cold after their revelries at another New Year's Eve affair, neither answering the phone nor the doorbell. I called other friends and none answered while I waited 15, 20 minutes. Curiously, I did not think to call my home in the suburbs and ask my sister, Kaitlin, to come get me: I guess I assumed she'd be just as asleep and unresponsive as everybody else, and farther away at that.
I stopped in at a local deli and asked a customer if he knew any hotels or motels in the area. He wished me the best of luck: he was staying at one nearby, but it was $250 for the night, being New Year's Eve. There was no way I'd be doing that.
I began considering just waiting it out until the morning. Find some all-night diner to crash in, read a book over an early breakfast, and wait until a proper hour to begin ringing every doorbell in my brownstone till someone let me in.
I found a late-night coffee shop with a few counters, but it was more of a take-out joint than a restaurant: my body was starting to give out and asking for a bed.
I saw a cop car on the corner and flagged it down, asking the cops if they knew any low-cost hotels or motels. They said the Y was right around the corner.
The Y! My mother had stayed at the Y when she was going to school. I'd heard about it as a place to stay, but not for years. My sister's first question when she heard I'd stayed there was "Were there a lot of skeezy people there?" Another person asked, "Do the homeless stay there?"
Well, I guess if a homeless guy can pay the $68 for the night, he can stay there too. I arrived there at 4:30 am, and the clerk told me I was lucky there were two rooms available: the place was nearly full from New Year's visitors. I got my own room with a twin bed, with two towels,and a bureau. It was a room made for a comfortable night's sleep and an exit: it reminded me of Jake & Elwood Blues' apartment, the one Carrie Fisher blew up with the rocket launcher. Cozy and perfect for an emergency crash. I got six hours sleep and got ready to check out.
As I washed up and left, tons of young people and tourists were in line at the bathrooms and the lobby. A trio from China stood ahead of me on the checkout line: I suppose some have realized the Y is a smart way to save money on coming to NY to celebrate New Year's. A kind of international hostel that no one really thinks about anymore.
Walking home, the wind was the only thing breaking the silence: I wouldn't have been surprised to see a tumbleweed rolling on the road. No cars, closed stores, and just a few pedestrians stumbling down the sidewalks, hopefully on their way home.
I got home, rang the doorbell for our 3rd floor apartment, and waited.
No answer. Fear. I rang again. Counted 15 seconds. No answer. Rang again. Waited. Nothing. Doubt coming in: maybe they can't hear the doorbell from their bedrooms?
I started ringing all three apartments: there had to be someone awake and able to hear it. 1st floor, 2nd floor, 3rd floor. Waited 15 seconds. Not a sound from inside. Rang all three again. Nothing. I had no idea what to do.
And then I heard a sound, and a young Asian man opened the door and squinted at me in confusion.
I was ready to be whoever the hell he needed me to be... The man was a houseguest who'd stayed with my roomies after their party and slept right next to the doorbell, luckily for me.
When my roommates later woke up and heard my story, they expressed their sympathy and apologized for not being there for me earlier. However, the more I think about it, I'm not at all angry about what happened, nor did I see it as suffering. I had a good place to lay my head, and good cops who led me there.
In the end, the Village People were telling me the gospel truth all along:
"No man does it all by himself
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I'm sure they can help you today."
Amen, brothers. Amen.