Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ratios and momentum in Messud

I finished Claire Messud’s book, The Emperor’s Children, two days ago. I enjoyed it. The plot picks up in the second half, and she has a talent for pacing -- building up characters to pivotal moments, then rendering the climax forcefully. But I had qualms with her style.

One thing I caught myself thinking while I was reading was why I didn’t enjoy her long, meandering sentences as much as I enjoyed those of, say, Dave Eggers. I ended up taking AHWOSG from my bookshelf and comparing sentences between the two books, trying to figure out what made Eggers’ prose pop while Messud’s feel wasteful. I did a bit of word association between the two authors.

Messud: adjectives, adverbs, filler, passive, non-visual
Eggers: nouns, verbs, strong, rhythm, direct, visual

Here’s a sentence that caught my eye while I was reading Messud. This is Danielle, describing her feelings towards her illicit lover, Murray Thwaite.

No, the alien was her intimate, the man she felt she so thoroughly understood, with whom she would now reluctantly have conceded she was in love (and how foolish was that?), who seemed, infuriatingly, impossibly, inevitably, to be able to turn her off like a switch, to relegate her to the realm of the irrelevant, a playmate for his daughter merely to be tolerated, and, ideally, escaped.

I’ve marked the sentence; in bold are the strong, tangible nouns and verbs:

No, the alien was her intimate, the man she felt she so thoroughly understood, with whom she would now reluctantly have conceded she was in love (and how foolish was that?), who seemed, infuriatingly, impossibly, inevitably, to be able to turn her off like a switch, to relegate her to the realm of the irrelevant, a playmate for his daughter merely to be tolerated, and, ideally, escaped.

Ratio of strong words to total words: 7:67.

Now, I’ll underline the weak adverbs:

No, the alien was her intimate, the man she felt she so thoroughly understood, with whom she would now reluctantly have conceded she was in love (and how foolish was that?), who seemed, infuriatinglyimpossiblyinevitably, to be able to turn her off like a switch, to relegate her to the realm of the irrelevant, a playmate for his daughter merely to be tolerated, and, ideallyescaped.

Ratio of strong words to weak adverbs: 7:7

These proportions are horrible. Long, winding sentences need to be staked with strong, short words. At the very least, the strong words need to outnumber the weak ones. Neither happens in this sentence (or in most of Messud’s other sentences). While I don’t subscribe to the rule that you should never use adverbs, having three in a row, in the middle of the sentence (infuriatinglyimpossiblyinevitably), is overkill.

The second problem with this sentence is that there’s no momentum.

No, the alien was her intimate [A], the man she felt she so thoroughly understood, with whom she would now reluctantly have conceded she was in love (and how foolish was that?), who seemed, infuriatingly, impossibly, inevitably, to be able to turn her off like a switch [B], to relegate her to the realm of the irrelevant, a playmate for his daughter merely to be tolerated, and, ideally, escaped.

Here's the bold section, by itself: No, the alien was her intimate [A]who seemed to be able to turn her off like a switch [B].

This new sentence, stripped of its detail, is the pith; point A moving into point B. When Dave Eggers, or DFW, writes a long, complex sentence, each section they add between point A and point B moves the action forward. Now look at Messud’s sentence. It starts at [A], but the next two clauses spiral the same point. When she arrives at point [B], she spirals around a few more times. Add insult to injury: the ending peters out with a halting, three-comma-three-word construction (“, and, ideally, escaped.”). There’s no momentum, there’s no rhythm; when the passage is already about something non-visual, that’s killer.

But hey, it’s her style. The entire book is like that – verbose circumlocutions of interesting ideas that seem to land flat. I know style is a personal preference. The friend who recommended the book to me said that she loved it because the prose was “pretty outstanding, and the kind of writing that deserves to be read aloud and [with] some rumination.” At what point, though, is style so inimical to the absorption of the plot, and the ideas, that we can say it’s the “wrong” style?

Sunday, April 7, 2013


A grab bag of memories from my time in the dirt-red city.

Weekday nights, we played basketball until dusk, and played harder as the sun sank lower -- cut hard, crashed hard, ran harder -- not because of the competition, or because of pride, but because if we ever took a play off and just stood on the court, watching everybody else move, the mosquitoes would alight on us and start sucking. Playing hard meant no sucking.

A graduation party for a white man, in the front yard of a black man’s house. The torches lit up with electronic orange embers. There was a whole goat, he said. We’re roasting it all. When it arrived on everyone’s plate, the meat was charred black – at least it looked that way in twilight – and so tough that chewing wasn’t possible. Rather, it sat in the pocket of one’s mouth, stewing in saliva, subjected to periodic attempts at mastication.

It was a celebration, I think, of Australia Day. What that meant I’m still unsure of. But on the rooftop in Ntinda, we saw the Nakasero hills, dotted with evening lights, before darkness swept over the sky, and then all there was to look at was an inflatable pool in the middle of the rooftop, plastic and rubbery and drained of almost all its water. There was maybe 12 inches left. It’s a party, right? Want to step in, wet your feet? Why not? As we ate hot dogs and hamburgers and talked vermiculture, the guests radiated outwards, towards the edges of the roof. 

Another party. This time a housewarming, or maybe just an overdue get together, in a front yard of a house on top of a hill, where the grass swept down and down and down back into the city. There was a vegetable platter. A burger was dropped on the concrete. A woman talked about her months living in the Congo. The only lights outside were candle lights, which lent all conversation an intimacy not wholly undeserved. The end of the night ended as it could only have: with a German drinking game.

Monopoly. At 9pm. We had finished dinner, the three of us, on a foldout table, and, with no plans, no events in the city, no desire to leave our gated apartment complex, we brought out a ragged Monopoly set and laid out the pieces. Within 25 minutes, we had our properties: orange and light blue vs. red and yellow vs. dark blue and the railroads. Money exchanged hands rapidly. After an hour, there was a winner, but nobody remembers who. The point was, after the game, after we packed it back in, after we brushed our teeth, after we tucked inside our mosquito nets, all of us thought the same thing: I haven't played that in years. 

I went to this roadside nursery yesterday. The seedlings and saplings were sequestered in black plastic bags, arrayed along the ground in formations that reminded me of Minesweeper. I tiptoed between them. Do you have any herbs? I asked the woman. She did, but only rosemary. Were there any other plants that were edible, or might produce edible fruit? She shook her head every time I pointed, and said, "No eat." The final accounting: 6 rosemary suckers and a clay basin for 12 dollars. The next day, I walked to a construction site along the road where a Pakistani had hired a crew to dig ditches for fiber optic cables. We asked him if we could take some of his dirt, then carried a 60 pound bag back to the apartment complex. The dirt was orange, nearly red, mud-water-and-scorched-earth. I plucked the rocks out of the dirt as I poured it into my clay basin, and then set the six rosemary plants. Postscript: They all died two weeks later.

I tried to learn how to cook, because when it got dark, I didn't feel comfortable walking outside, on our road, without lamp light, for fifteen minutes to the nearest restaurant. I made spicy pasta every day. On one heater, I poured water in a pot and set it to boil. On the other heater, I poured oil in a skillet and set it to simmer. When each was ready, I put pasta in the water and chopped garlic and pepper flakes in the oil. I moved the pasta from the pot to the skillet, and stirred it together. After dinner, I drank the leftover pasta water, and bottled the rest.

The move. We piled it all into the car -- kitchen appliances, backpacks, yesterday's plantains, books, something so fragile I needed to hold it between my legs -- and drove down the road, a five minute drive, if that, to the new house. The one with the capacious kitchen. The commodious living room. Two bathrooms, two bedrooms, enough space outside for a lopsided, uneven basketball court, and a backup generator that powered the lights, even when the rolling blackouts arrived. The house was different. New. More intimate. We had to wear slippers for the linoleum floor. The closet wood was a dark liqueur. There was a refrigerator!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

beachcombers in the bulwark

It's been a while since I've written here -- a few months removed from a year, actually. There's a new blog in town now, one catered to the needs of my nascent novel. You can find it here:


Quotidie, of course, is Latin for "daily." I'll be writing short posts every day for the next ~550 days on my Tumblr. It won't be a blog that's best checked every day; more like a blog that's best checked every fifteen days, when you can jump over to it and absorb all the small tidbits I've been working on. That way there'll be more of a narrative arc, you know?


The best New Yorker articles, ever

Constantly updated. This is a true work in progress. Every New Yorker article is great -- given a certain threshold -- but these are the ones whose forms and content have actually inspired the stuff I've written.

"Somebody Has to be in Control," Ian Parker.

"You Belong With Me," Lizzie Widdicombe.

"The Aquarium," Aleksandar Hamon.

"Grub," Dana Goodyear.

"The Other Obama," Lauren Collins.

"Master of Play," Nick Paumgarten.

"Alone in the Dark," Philip Gourevitch.

"Keeping it Real," James Wood, on the conventions of the novel

"Holden at Fifty," Louis Menand.

"Everything is Fiction," Keith Ridgeway.

"This week in Fiction: Junot Diaz"

David Hoon Kim. "Sweetheart Sorrow." (Just....wow.)

Mikhail Iossel, "Life: How was it?"

Jeffrey Eugenides, "Posthumous."

Donald Hall, "Out the Window."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The View From a Hill

Inspiration: Eric Weinstein.

The View From a Hill

A mango turns soft
The hill grows grass and I
do not grow grass
I drop guacamole on my heel

A dress turns soft
My firm hand on her back
very Titanic hand
Handshake awkward when I make to leave

A mango is red
unripe spots sour and bleed
I once-sip soda
courageous in excess sugar

A dress is red
fabric measured and quartered
I see clearly and walk slowly
above potholes of speeding motors

A mango rises in the sky
the sky swallows my sighs and
carves wide lengths to wallow
A galaxy expands that might otherwise dust

A dress rises in the sky
collects deciduous light
My slouch is curved yellow
I am curved not yellow

A mango sits
the flesh turns fibers
to sweet orange soda or a round pothole
a Milky Way spread thick with hummus

A dress sits
on a damp plaid cushion
in the downward slope of the city
in the lantern scope of the city

A mango and a dress turn soft
A mango and a dress rise in the sky
A mango and a dress sit
not long or tough or not enough or not sweet enough, not perfect

Monday, January 2, 2012


is my bowl. A spicy sauce
floats on top, steam

noodles heap in sun
rays. No credit.

Pucker and ladle
stems, beef,

penance into
these lips and teeth,

each bud, feed
me lemon

我, and bend, at the

of every day. Empty
the grit, dark
root dirt.

sake, spake, or would it
be enough

to just chew away, chew away.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The end of Peter Writes

You guys, you guys. I have important – and somber news – to announce. Today, November 8th, 2011, one hundred forty-six days after this blog opened for business, its doors will close (though they may be left open just a crack so the winter winds can occasionally rearrange the papers). It’s been a good run: 150+ posts, 5,000+ unique visitors, 25,000+ page views, and an unexpected symbiosis and synergy with my offline life.

I started this blog to become a better writer. After 120,000 words – about how I learned to play guitar, my relationship with alcoholJasjitSleep No More, Love and Other Drugs, tipsy writing, subway storiesmy Yale janitor, my first crush, a summer at a publishing company, my first Friday night in Manila, and an MLK essay – I have become a better writer. My voice is more self-assured, more nuanced. Big words ease into the prose, instead of sticking out. Transitions between ideas just flow better.

But my mantra of self-improvement, especially with regards to writing, is centered around change. When comfort sets in, so does complacency. It would be easy – and I’d be happy – writing 800 word posts daily about counter-intuitive insights and dramatic stories. But there's only so much the medium can convey. Quality clashes with quantity. Beholden to the blog, I don't have the flexibility to spend a day vomit drafting,  or crafting one great sentence. I could just publish whatever I accomplished, as a means of – you guessed it, accountability – but that seems like a lackluster compromise.

So I’m taking my writing offline. Accountability will have to be derived from within, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s not like there are a dearth of projects: I’m attempting to write a novel (though I’m fast coming to realize that, holy shit, I don’t actually know anything about the world); I’m submitting non-fiction and personal essays to online publications; I’m a mercenary for an e-book publisher. I’m also dancing around poetry. I’m sure there will be more.

A month ago, I asked one of my favorite writers for advice. He took a look at my blog and responded, “Publishing a blog post every day is probably the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Instead, work on your best idea for a couple weeks, get it perfect and then send it out.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s a scaling up of priorities: I’m moving from daily posts to a few people to monthly posts for thousands. The inherent risk, of course, is that what I write won't be published anywhere, but that's the uncertainty built into the enterprise. Better get used to it. I wouldn’t give up this blogging experience for anything in the world, but now’s the time to move on.

Check back here every few weeks or so. I might continue to publish weekly updates, and maybe, when I’m inspired just to write, a short story or narrative of my past. And if you’re ever wondering what I’m doing, day-to-day, just email me!

Finally: a shout out to everyone who’s been a regular reader. You guys know who you are; thanks for the kind words and encouragement during this journey. Like I mentioned in my last Yale Daily News column, the world is wide, wide open. It's time to go exploring. Stay in touch,


Week 20 and Week 21: Marginalia and The Novel

Moments of clarity in life -- unblinking, elemental, mere momentary openings to pure consciousness -- often rise, unpremeditated, after the fallow yeast of experiences has had enough time to steep within itself. One such moment unfurled four days after I boarded a plane bound for Puerto Princesa, carrying a backpack containing Chekhov: Plays, four sets of clothes, my cell phone, a blue ballpoint pen, and my small Moleskine notebook. The situation: I had renounced my computer for a week, and, newly birthed into an environment without the weight of refreshing my online persona, I planned only to think, and then to write down those thoughts. It happened. I thought constantly: riding in a cramped van to El Nido, sitting on the sodden porch of our $3-a-night hotel room, balancing on the cramped seat of a motorcycle tricycle into the city, straddling the the rails of a rickety charter boat, walking down the bleached white sand of Helicopter Island. I observed; I questioned; I wondered.  The volcano of ants emerging from mounds of wet sand, the ersatz quality of local Gatorade, the indigo floral pattern on the dress of Art Cafe's most beautiful waitress, the translucent highlights of swaying moss growing on the undersides of river rock -- the details of the islands shook out some indelible truth out from my core, and while my emotion were bursting inchoate, I was convinced that scribbling it down would allow me to, after an indeterminate time, stumble upon those old words and thoughts after they had hardened into an unassailable truth about my world. After three days, my notes, scribbled in the margins of my Chekhov book -- words often in layers on top of each other, given my frequent night-time revelations -- looked, as an oeuvre, flighty and unfinished, the phrases antediluvian leaf pressings in a musty old book, thinned and dissolving with the passage of light and time. In the months since, I've tried categorizing them, and re-reading them, to stoke the kindle of revelation, but these questions, recollections, observations, well, all of them have become normal and affected, taken away from its original environment, as if the magic of the moment imparted from pen to paper had evaporated off the surface.

Except for one idea.

I'm going to write a novel. 

The idea first fomented when I was 6 years old, and wrote "Cosmo's Space Adventure." An intrepid space explorer on a time-warping, noble quest to save his parents, Cosmo needed to travel from Planet A through Planet Z, facing and surmounting challenges of increasing heft and complexity. The plot, as egregious as it seems now, was limpid and serene in my 6-year-old mind, an unapologetic romp through imagination and emotion. The story, on a Microsoft Word file, hasn't moved in 15 years; but the thought -- of having a story to tell, and wanting to tell it to the world -- has transformed, burgeoning and shrinking, competing for mind-share with the other ambitions and desires in my life. Writing, especially fiction, was a buried need, making spot appearances only when necessity called for it -- a final paper for a class, essentially -- and was never animated into a free-standing goal until I took my first fiction seminar, in my last semester in college.

Michael Cunningham, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel, The Hours, accepted me into his class knowing I'd never written fiction before in my life. I showed up as the oldest person and with the least experience -- reading and writing, most likely -- and proceeded to gorge myself on the fiction I'd been missing out on for 20 years. Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, James Joyce, Denis Johnson -- I was a virgin, initiated to the club. My first short story, "Beads," was an unmitigated disaster. My second short story, "Almost but Not Quite," was a more bearable attempt. Then the semester ended, and I strut into -- and past -- graduation sailing on an amateur cockiness about how artful a writer I was.

That cockiness is gone, dissipated long ago in the Manila sun, but on the fourth day of my vacation in Palawan, a redolent, gemmule triangle was sketched: a platoon of fiction knowledge, acquired and congealing in the last half-year; the flowering of latent resolve to become a writer; and, the last element in the trifecta, an idea. That idea is still a mere impression; an excogitation of the ideals that have surrounded my habits and actions for my entire time. It revolves, like an electron beholden to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, around the struggle between knowledge and social interaction; around the unquenchable vector of time, and around the mutability of living in a connected world. If this sounds vague, that's on purpose. Currently, without my own continental philosophy to drift upon, I'm simply going to take the advice of Haruki Murakami wrote: I have a single image in my head, which will take me away.


In Week 20, I spent 38 hours online: 13 hours and 9 minutes writing, and 13 hours and 11 minutes browsing the web. In Week 21, I spent 25 hours and 44 minutes online: writing for 12 hours and 55 minutes, and browsing for 4 hours and 22 minutes.

Here are some articles I think you’d like. Hopefully you will find one or two satisfactory. The 9 
essential geek books; the top 10 moments in Full Tilt Poker; a comprehensive recap of Obama’s chances next year; this Aaron S.C. guy at Yale is a pretty good writer. The group behind the enlightened(?) mayhem? The birth of Jeff Bezos. Rebecca Taber and a story about war and love. I’m not sure if Foong is a great blogger or notSteve Jobs’ commencement addressAmazon war stories. The future of punctuation is here, and it’s not pretty. Steve Bartman on NYT. Again on Yahoo SportsHow to get published by Jennifer Weiner. Stanford in 2009 beating USC. Music discovery sites: The Sixty One. New Yorker: How Steve Jobs took back Apple, and Truman Capote from the 1950s. And, I could have used this app while I was in LA on public transportation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Epic Poem #1: The Sex Bear

One to read aloud to the kids. It rhymes, and I'm working on the iambic pentameter, via the verse form Onegin stanza. (Go Vikram Seth!) Dedicated to all those FOOT trips gearing up to go into the woods.

The Sex Bear

To introduce a story sweet and scary,
Enter Yale. The ides of summer, 2007,
Our hero is a wide-eyed freshman.
His name is Forest.
A high-school whiz: 10 APs, 10 clubs,
His love life, though, had been a flub.
So college – sans parents: new life,
midnight food runs, frats, and mixers
blue-ball redress, seduction’s elixir.
“Forget my roommates, the guys next door—
The girls will adore me, every floor!”
Loading his backpack, for FOOT
Forest waltzed in his day dreams,
Saccharine images stayed put.

He stepped through Phelps Gate September 1st
Pots, pans. A make-shift band pounded
His ears, the shrieks, cacophonous bursts,
His heart turned weak, a tremendous first.
He saw neon shirts and bandanas
Stately Elm trees and soft crabgrass
And his leaders. “Hi, I'm Panda!
Senior in Morse, best college ever,
That’s what we all say—get used to that.”
His fellow FOOTies: normal, crazy, fine
Normal was Colin, Trevor, and Jay,
Crazy Steph, and Kira, let’s just say
Her tan legs, blonde hair, and ample,
Uh, personality, befit a dime.

The Appalachian was duress, inclined,
Boulders, nettles, iodine-sapped-time.
They worked on bear bags, tortillas with honey.
No phones, no watches, no need for money.
At night, fires, A-frames, eased their burden,
And Forest told stories, details dead certain,
Of his life, for example, 5th grade gym,
Falling on his bottom, class guffawing him.
Colin bored, Steph still crazy, but Kira—
her honey eyes met Forest’s, and he saw an
I want you look. So midnight, snores sonorous,
They crept to Ender’s lake, flashlight in hand
In nothing but long johns, warm but porous.

Their lips touch fire, ears start roaring
With the scritch scritch of crickets’ wings.
Forest thinks: “I’m young, sexy. I’m soaring!”
This nighttime thing – his first college fling.
Buttons ripped off, the briar bush heaves
They stumble tree to tree, crunch dead leaves.
A hook comes undone, a B-cup dangles;
Kira’s wrists drop silly bands, all her jangles.
“Ohh, right there,” she groans to the clouds;
“Shhh,” whispers Forest. “You’re being too loud.”
The moment dawns, call to consummate
But, alas, they can’t see him, watching from above.
He’s hungry, grumpy, with a fiend gait.
So he pounces. And eats them whole.

The next morning, over a chocolate pan-cake
Colin yells out, “Kira, Forest! They’ve flaked!”
The search party fans out, distresses,
Until Panda, poor soul, discovers the messes.
Here’s a collarbone, here’s some muscle,
“That’s a distended eyeball,” says Steph.
“Little ones, what happened was no puzzle.”
(Says Panda.) “The two, at night, vamoosed,
Seedy intent, hormones too loose,
Unaware of villainy in these woods,
black/white morality, the gangsta’ hood.
Not Loch Ness, nor Decepticon awaited:
'Twas more cruel fated. Hardly prepared,
unaware, predated by—(wait for it)—the sex bear.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Non-profits in the Philippines: Overview of development work

My goal for this blog post is to have it reach #1 for the Google search, "Non-profits in the Philippines."

1. Overview of Philippines
2. Sector Specific Overview of Development Work: 
  • Macroeconomy
  • Housing
  • Basic Social Services
  • Gender Equality
  • Good Governance
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Conflict Prevention and Peace-Building

1. Overview

Bird's eye view of the Philippines: There are an estimated 500,000 civil society groups in the Philippines, though only around 3000 - 5000 are development-oriented NGOs. The Philippine Council for NGO certification only lists 367 official NGOs -- don't believe them. The number is a gross underestimation, mainly because the Council hasn't done substantive work in years (The President chided them for being useless). In aggregate, the NGO sphere is "large and vibrant by developing country standards," but many of them are still "small, struggle financially, and have weak capacity." (The biggest victory by an NGO was the passage of the Indigenous People's Rights Act.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spring Cleaning at the Lu residence

Sometimes, when I feel like "a naked strand between two immensities," I ask myself, "What's worrying me right now?" After harvesting the oblong fruit of my anxieties, I lay them out in front of me and ask a second question: "How can I fix them?"

Three days ago, around 3 p.m., I realized the benevolent chaos that is my "Blog Writing" folder on my desktop was creating undue stress. So I sluiced my resolve from the eddies of my mind, found a room with solid internet connection, and began the spring cleaning: deleting ideas that weren't worth their salt, archiving items I'd already written, and finishing all the half-formed, sexy ideas languishing in my computer.

You'll notice – especially if you've subscribed to me – that there are 22 new posts up, about OKCupid, Taylor Swift, dessert, and Greyhound bus accidents. I hope you enjoy them. While there are 8 more topics still crying out for my editing eye, I am all burned out. So 22 posts for now will have to do.

My detox plan is imposing a moratorium on my internet access. An entire week – 168 hours – without Facebook, Quora, Gmail, OKCupid, Blogger, NYT, Yahoo Sports, WSJ, Spotify (maybe), YDN, ESPN, Grantland, and The Mercury News. I want to live simply, and I want to focus my energy on the 4 or 5 longer, publishable pieces I'm writing, to see if I can actually concentrate on longer horizons, even with the World Series in the background. I don't know if I can pull this off, but that's what's exciting: we'll see what happens.

I'll be back after a week, and I'll let you know how everything turned out.

The curse of having 1,000 unique visitors in one day

On June 15th, 2011, I decided the time had come to share my personal musings with an audience; that my percolating thoughts and unanswered questions deserved to be approached with a transparent intensity; and that the creative willpower governing my private journal entries would be re-purposed for the denizens of the Interwebz. I was the architect of a master plan to Internet relevance. I reasoned that, with an hour every day, a pithy, astute post could be drawn from a broth of ideas, and people (even those I didn't know) would sign up to hear what it was like, living the life of Peter Lu. That dream has ended.

The blogosphere is a dangerous beast. The accessibility of statistics -- page views, average time spent on site, location tracking -- quantifies popularity and clout. Maintaining a website becomes a game, and, as with every game, it's excessively tempting to snatch up unfair advantages when they present themselves. Solid content will always win over readers, but a few well-placed links improve the bottom-line all the same. During these four months maintaining this blog, I've spent an egregious amount of time playing by an "armchair work ethic" that served only to burnish my ego.

Here's an example. In the beginning of July, I followed the prescriptive formula for new bloggers: post my links to blog heavyweights; ask small-fish bloggers to connect; and set up Google Webmaster and Analytics to maximize SEO.

The strategy "paid off." On Wednesday, July 27th, and Thursday, July 28th, this blog received 1,018 unique visitors and 1,429 page views.

I was at work in New York when I found out baseball's biggest free agent, Carlos Beltran, with his ridiculous .280/.400/.900 split, was headed for my hometown San Francisco Giants. The San Jose Mercury New's Tim Kawakami, who writes original analysis of Bay Area sports teams on his blog, Talking Points, already had a blog post up insta-analyzing the trade. There were no comments yet.

The Talking Points comment system has no moderation and no membership. Every comment is splattered below Kawakami's original post. It's too crude a system for a blog that receives thousands of visitors a day, but newspaper websites are notorious for being behind the Internet adoption curve. So I took advantage. I wrote a post on the fly aggregating information about Zack Wheeler, the prospect traded for Beltran. Then I posted the link. It showed up as the 2nd comment.

For the next 2 hours, I furiously updated my blog post, transforming it from a barebones, 3-link collection of scouting reports to a content farm: I linked to every corner of the Internet, and added, at the end, a bit about my own experience as a fan. Every 10 minutes, I'd update and refresh the post, because I knew people were clicking through. It was piecemeal, and the cyclical refreshing was insane, but I was flowing. While alternating between adding new content and self-promotion, posting my link on Mets blogs, ESPN, and the Sports blog network, I threw in a few quick Google searches and confirmed that nobody on the Internet -- not even ESPN -- had done as thorough a job putting together this information, from interviews to obscure AAA game reports, as I had. Every time I checked my blog statistics, the page views would jump by 20.

The feeling of euphoria -- I'm an Internet celebrity! -- lasted ten minutes. Then I fell back to Earth. At the end of the workday, my blog, which had just crossed the 5,000 page view benchmark in the morning, hit 6,000 page views, ten days earlier than I expected. Instead of feeling happy, though, I felt empty. I was still at the office -- only now, everybody else was gone. I was hungry, and my eyes were tired. My life, from every relevant angle, hadn't changed at all, other than the gaudy 6,000 number bludgeoning my eyes every time I opened up peterjlu.com.

To fight the vacuity of my "accomplishment," I took a proactive measure to install AdSense, so I could commoditize my writing. After a week, Google's monetize tab showed that I had 843 page impressions, 27 clicks, a CTR of 3.2%, and earnings of $.20. I removed all my ads shortly after.

One month ago, my profile on Simple Pickup appeared in Salon. From my back of the envelope calculations, the article was viewed 50,000 times, was "liked" 293 times on Facebook, and spurred 163 comments. The blog link in my author biography was clicked 238 times; at its peak, this blog had 995 page views in one day. But those numbers barely registered with me. What mattered more were the real-world outcomes: the emails from people around the world, from authors to friends. And the blog, far from being noticed because of pure self-promotion, was there only to augment my existing legitimacy online.

That's when I resolved: I will no longer attempt to define myself with this blog. Now, what comes next is anyone's guess.

For the short-term future, I'm going offline for a week, starting 6 p.m. Tuesday PST. No nothing; it'll be a necessary "detox." After I come back online, I'm going to try something new: read as much as possible, and attempt to write between 2 to 5 hours every day, focused solely on improving my craft. The plan is still to post every day, as a means of accountability, but it'll be more for me: updates of previous entries (like this post right here) and less "new" material.

Chapter 1 in this blog experiment is now done. Looking forward to Chapter 2.


Lips too tight

Fiction. Nowhere near done.

"Expensive this, unfair that, people need to open their eyes," Hanna's father said. American eyes tended to stay narrow, slitted so only certain bandwidths of experience could be made out. It was a frequency of immediate, visceral pleasures, of profligate lifestyles; it was a crying shame. He yelled all this over the phone. Yelled: 30,000 CHILDREN WERE DYING EVERY DAY.

"Just think about that," he said, afterwards, calmly.

Hanna's father, Miles, was doing something about it. He was a social worker in Szechuan, China, had been there for 8 years and counting, had given up consumerism for dusty, spartan housing and a chance at Purpose. Before that, he had worked twenty years as an engineer for Boeing. What he called "a nihilistic endangerment of his soul," is what he told his boss when he quit.

"One-third of this world lives on less than $1 a day. So that sushi you bought for lunch, that's a week's worth of food," he reprimanded.

No matter that Hanna didn't actually eat sushi her mother ordered during the power outage. Hanna hated sushi, always had, couldn't stand the smell of raw fish, couldn't even look at the fish eggs, glistening and textured and too conscious for her queasy constitution.

Every Saturday night, she held the phone to her face while her dad called from halfway around the world. She listened while lazily examining her pores in the mirror, pulling out strands of fabric from her comforter, flipping her special wheathead penny up and down, up and down. Often, she wondered what would happen if she just left a voice recorder that went "uh huh," "right," and "I do that already" playing on repeat. Would her father, expounding on the virtues of Christ and the spartan life, hear the affected cadence?

She couldn't do that, though. Her dad would go ballistic. Besides, some weeks, he was on a mission to learn as much as possible: "How is school? Social Studies? Is that what they call it these days?"; "What are you reading right now for fun?"; "How is the 4-H club? Is Shadsky still there?" Of course, before Hanna could tell him she had tested out of social science, that she was reading Dostoevsky, and that she had forgotten to renew her 4-H membership years ago, he would burst into a tangent, spitting out a laundry list of nagging worries that he wanted her to be wary of.

"Remember to buy blueberries -- antioxidants galore."

"Is your mom talking to you about this new online hacking scheme? Nigerian princes? Don't open email from anyone you don't recognize!"

"I realized last night the importance of keeping your back flat when you sleep. You're not curling up every night, are you?"

"Dad," Hanna would say, her glasses dangling at the tip of her nose, sliding down millimeter by millimeter from the accumulating sweat in her non-air-conditioned house.

"Daddy," Hanna said. "I know."

"Was he always like this?"

Hanna's mother paused, it seemed, to digest the question, so she could analyze the subtext and prepare for an appropriate level of commiseration, before peeling off her answer.

"He loves you honey. He misses you so much."

"Right, which is why he never comes back, right?"

"You have to understand -- what he went through, it would be hard, maybe impossible, for anybody. China's treated him well. He'll be back as soon as he's ready."


"You know, when you were a baby, he would pick you flowers? Those clover that grow by Litchfield. He'd sneak off, spend an entire afternoon stringing together hundreds of stems into a crown, and then present it to you as if you were a princess. You giggled and curtsied everytime."

That was fine. He loved her before. Adored her, maybe. He might still. But problem was, Hanna had heard this story before. Her mom dusted it off the shelves every so often to curtail a premonition of anxiety, bitterness, injustice. Its adequateness as a big-picture repudiation of her small, human needs was unfair. It dug into her skin, pricked her. A flower crown? What kind of person had the patience to make something like that? If he was smart, he could have been watching his health, or working, or buying her real presents, or, god forbid, actually spending time with his family.

Hanna had decided: it wasn't a good idea to keep up a dialogue with her mom about this. Pointless. Boys and shoes she could do. Her father -- well, she was the one who had drawn up the deal herself: an hour every week, and she wasn't the kind of girl who broke her promises.

Aboard the Greyhound Express: Accident and an Audi

The inauspiciousness of the journey that lay ahead; e.g. almost being killed is not a good start

“They tried to speed up and cut us off, like this was Fast and the Furious. Ain’t no Fast and Furious,” the black man next to me said, to whomever would listen. I nodded. The damage looked terrible – the underside of the Audi had come loose, the tire had popped, and the side mirror, obviously, lay in shards. We – the other passengers and I – were loosely milling around the Greyhound bus, surveying the five cop cars and two scared 20-year-olds and our big-bellied bus driver.

“We got Miley Cyrus here whining and complaining and acting all scared; they probably hit two other people on the way there,” the European across the way exclaimed. The accident, as it were, happened 5 minutes after we left the Greyhound bus depot, on the corner of Market and Fernando Street in San Jose. We were supposed to arrive in LA at 6 a.m.; now, none of us had any idea when we would arrive.

“We didn’t want to be there on time anyway,” the bald man next to me says. We all laugh a little.

The details of said accident; or why I slept on Santa Monica pier for 4 hours the next morning

The accident sounded as bad as the damage. I was just falling asleep when what I was woken by a large aluminum can being crushed from both sides, the air hissing out while the crackle of metal sparked in the air. At that moment, our bus was making a right turn in the second-to-the-right lane; a black Audi was in the rightmost lane making the same turn. The big, wide berth we made apparently wasn’t enough, and the two cars squeezed together against each other. The Greyhound bus won, so vigorously that the Audi was literally lifted onto the curb.

Immediately after the accident, the driver walked down the aisle, passing out slips of paper. “Fill out these papers for claims adjustment, please.” I look at the paper: “It is required by law that Motor Bus Companies shall make reports to the US Department of Transportation and the State Public Utility Commission concerning all accidents. Your assistance to Our Driver in the performance of his duty will be appreciated. WE THANK YOU.” There are 10 questions:
  1. 1.      Were you a passenger on the bus at the time of accident?
  2. a.       Mark Seat Occupied on Reverse Side
  3. 2.      Place of Departure?
  4. 3.      Final Destination?
  5. 4.      Where did the accident occur?
  6. 5.      Time of Day?
  7. 6.      Date accident occurred?
  8. 7.      Were you injured in the accident?
  9. 8.      Did you witness the accident?
  10. 9.      How did the accident occur?
  11. 10.  Was the bus stopped before the accident occurred?
I start to answer each when I look up at the man next to me, who has begun to shout. “I’m not doing anything until you tell me when we’re getting to LA.”

“I don’t know when we’re getting there,” the bus driver says, sighing.

“Well I’m not filling out crappy paperwork. I’m not going to help you with your problem, I have a plane to catch.”

There’s a rumble from the back of the bus. “Shut up. The sooner we get this done the sooner we can leave.”

“You might get something out of it,” the bus driver explains.

“I don’t need anything out of it. I’m not filling out anything.”

“We’ll probably be an hour late.”

“Let me out, I want to get some fresh air, just because we’re going to be here for a while.”

I wonder if anyone is going to sue Greyhound; or, if we would get a refund.

The humanity of the situation occurring through conversation with strangers

“Damn that’s a nice car,” my seat partner says as he steps off the bus. “They’re driving that? That’s 55, 60k right there.” The bus is damaged as well. There’s a dent where on the luggage compartment door; during the crash, there was a big bump that felt like the entire bus was falling down a step. We were literally a minute away from the highway ramp.

At this moment, the driver, who is 65 years old, with white glasses, a blue shirt with a starched collar, and a lick of white hair (he looks like a grouchy retired postal worker) is arguing with the 5 police officers (who came in 4 different cars) on the scene. He blames the twenty year olds: they tried to squeeze past the bus on the turn and failed to judge the gap accurately. The police officers aren’t buying the story. “You’re going to have to go to court to explain your case,” one of them tells the bus driver. “You should always be turning on right most lane.”

The rest of us are just watching. Most of the officers have their arms folded, and are looking around. There’s one bystander who is writing down her version of the events on a single sheet of paper. The bus driver is still gesticulating. “Last time got into an accident we were late for 4 hours,” someone mentions. Someone else visibly sighs. It’s going to be a long night.

The best thing to happen is the lowering of social barriers. Passengers who wouldn’t have exchanged one word during the ride are now joking with each other; there are two black guys riffing off each other, doing pull-ups on the traffic signal bar, asking the two girls driving the Audi what happened.

The accident occurred at 11:25 p.m. At 11:46 p.m., the hot dog vendors have smelt their pray and are out in full force, hawking their wares. My mouth watered. At 12:33 a.m., we file back onto the bus and continue our journey. “The midnight riders ride again!” someone yells. Everyone starts to clap.

I strike up a conversation with my seat neighbor until both of us, exhausted, fall asleep. We’re at LA by 6 a.m. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

the paisley dirt hole

the paisley dirt hole

A maroon rabbit, loose and
lumpy, cotton, fluff, on my
child's palm. Sits on top a
totem toke, squeezes
sky scraper scribes
circumscribe a yard sale,
the blanket wrapped in the
rabbit on the rack, ragged clothes
smooth: hop: hop: hop: at home it circled
our citrus, lime, pummelo, and burst,
in a bitter rain of house pets.

Tidbits from Yale

It’s a rainy night here at Yale University. On my left, Mike is reading a philosophy book. Tommy is lounging on a sofa, legs up, head buried in a Newsweek. Zach is on his bed, computer in his lap, having fallen asleep with a finger in his mouth. The other two suitemates, James and Wade, are in their rooms, already tucked in. A girl’s laughter floats inside through an open window, but it dissipates, soaked away by the pattering of the rain. Mozart’s piano concerto #23 is whispering its melody; after 3 minutes, iTunes abruptly switches to Divertimento in B-flat Major, the violin vivacious and arresting. It jars me. “Peter, we have to discover nuclear fusion,” Tommy says. “It will make us rich and solve all our problems.” I ignore the waggish comment and continue typing. But the comments keep pouring out: “San Francisco banned happy meals.” “You look like a waiter, Mike. Pretty sure you don’t need to wear a white shirt for waiter-ing jobs.” “I have 45 pages the week we get back.” “Does it actually require research?” His feet smell. His nose-blowing is perverse. His voice is grating. But then I look at him, and my exasperation melts away: he's Tommy, that's all. 

T-$: word why?

When you shower, do you bring speakers with you, so that you can engage your mind with music?

Oh, right: I cut myself with the razor. I put my entire thumb on the plastic tab and pulled down; it came off too easily and my thumb buried itself into the newly exposed razor. I didn't feel anything, it was so sharp. The cut, though, was half an inch deep, and as I waited for the blood to start seeping out of the cross-section of veins, I slathered Neosporin over the area, creating a messy seal. The rest of my time in Port St. Joe, I would gingerly use my left hand for most tasks, my right as good as a dummy prosthesis.

In the Dominican Republic, after two weeks of Ed and I serenading each other with the first two lines of Drake’s most popular songs, John D's computer computer came alive with Drake the first time he opened it.

We collected plates and cups from the entryways in Berkeley. There were utensils hidden everywhere —some suites had upwards of 7 cups in their rooms. We entered the rooms in the most cursory, perfunctory, and disingenuous manner possible, proceeded to look through the cupboards, refrigerators, and rooms of everyone living in the suite. The responses ranged from friendly (“This is a great idea!”) to extreme annoyance (glares of hatred and disbelief). In all, we collected 62 cups and 28 plates.

At Warren's beach house, one of the "hicks" who lived in town stumbled into my living room, drunk, and said to me, “I'm having a better time with people I’ve just fucking met then my fucking friends." 

I moved from Canada to California when I was 5 years old. The last thing I did before leaving was write a card to Katherine that said, "I'm going to come back and marry you," or something like that. I might also have called her the prettiest girl in the world -- I don't really remember (my mom does, though). She friended me on Facebook in college. I remember having a short Facebook message conversation, too, but every time I search for it, I can't find it, which makes me think the entire episode might have been a dream. 

For 10 of my 14 meals every week, I sit at the Berkeley senior table. Over the course of a year, that’s 400 hours sitting on the beat-up maroon chairs, revolving around the same topics—the Jacksonville Jaguars (thanks for wasting my life, John), hedge fund investment strategies, and Youtube videos (search: “Greg Jennings”). I’ve grown used to the routine, and don’t recognize the awe-inspiring features that first struck me when I walked in 4 years ago: the loping chandeliers, demure portraits of former Masters, that admonishing elk head directly above the trays, admonishing people to go trayless.

A ghost frequented our common-room at points. One day, as I was tying my shoes in preparation for a run, the glasses on the table started tinkling – all by themselves. This also happened one night…at 3:38am.

On a chilly Yale night senior year first semester, I sat with Sangay D. in shaded area of the School of Management in a settling twilight and talked about Bhutan. The country is what environmentalists in the US wish our country was. Every 2nd of June, their children engage in Social Forestry Day, where everyone plants one tree and takes care of it for the rest of their schooling. Sangay's tree was 8 inches high when he first planted it, and now it's 12 feet tall. Watching it grow up with him, he said, was an unbelievable experience. In high school, his class adopted an area, and tended to it once a week. The Bhutanese economy is also inherently tied to the environment: 40% of its GDP comes from hydropower and 10% to eco-tourism. 40% of the entire country is a protected area. 

In the Dominican Republic, I accomplished 2 important feats with Ed. The first was recalling 150 of 151 Pokemon over a four-hour hike on the tallest peak in the Dominican Republic. (We missed Paras -- but not Parasect?) The second was creating a MECE framework of all the different types of humor: whimsical, exaggeration, long-form (referring to a prior incident in a novel context later on), storytelling, ironic, non-verbal and sarcastic. For the rest of the trip, whenever someone laughed, we looked at each other and slotted it into one of the categories. 

Week 19: Bookstore magic and Quora inflation

This week, I spent 4 days in Dumaguete, Philippines, on a work-related assignment. The city straddles the seaside, and there are hardly any cars – most people get around via motorcycle or “trikes.” The city is not sleepy, but it is quaint. During the 4 days, I read Chekhov, discovered the most amazing cookies, bought bunches of ladyfinger bananas, and visited two rural communities. I’d tell you those stories – walking between the mud and through rice paddies and listening to mothers who had tumors the size of watermelons in their midsections because they couldn’t afford the bus fare to the free clinic in town – but I’d sound patronizing, just another ex-pat slogging through desolate conditions for a sense of benighted purpose. So I’ll tell you another story.

At the used bookstore in the middle of town, as I navigated through the aisles picking out books I wanted to read (blackjack, John Muir, sports writing), I frequently had to let three boisterous 15-year-olds walk past me, they too attempting to pin down their reading list for the week. They spoke perfect English, ragged each other on their book choices, debated the merits of Dan Brown – I’d never heard 15-year-olds speak like this before, let alone 15-year-olds in a rural city in the Philippines. I couldn’t help wondering why they weren’t playing Nintendo, or basketball, or wasting time walking around the city, instead of at a bookstore on a perfectly sunny Sunday morning. I tried to talk to them, but they were as irreverent and hare-brained as teenagers should be, and didn’t get much, other than the fact that they just liked reading.

As I paid for my books and walked out, I really hoped that they made it to a good University, and maybe even out of the Philippines.

As for online life: this week, I spent 9 hours, 48 minutes on Quora, and around an hour each on Facebook, New York Times, Yahoo Sports, TechCrunch, and WSJ. Everything else was under 30; email just 2 hours, 15 minutes. And writing -- 20 hours, 45 minutes! That's an average of 3 hours a day! Not too shabby.

Highlights from my Internet browsing this week.

I’m frankly inspired by this profile of George Clooney. His former girlfriend Sarah Larson, who figures prominently, totally didn’t see the break-up happening.

The New York Times have strong essays on the hazards of confidence, this Haruki Murakami fellow, and Herman Cain supporting alcohol and cigarettes. I also learned how Romney and Perry almost came to blows, which isn’t surprising given the history between them. And go California olive oil!

My tech digest: Hipmunk is the new Kayak; and there are a ton of people on planet Earth using Google+. The Google-Facebook-Amazon-Apple tech war, 2011 edition. If you need motivation to make your Facebook more private, take this lollipop. See how many times your name has been searched with Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Why Jeff Bezos is a baller. Online gift cards.

Here’s the evidence I’m spending way too much time online: I know the rules of Calvinball, learned a new way to pronounce “octopus” (Click on the audio), read half of the Duke University “F* list,” watched the most contentious handshake in NFL history, and know that Yale’s #4!

Finally, I’m debating whether I should become a writer. Here’s the flow chart I’m using to make my decision. (And here’s a little more on if writing is worth it.)