Into Thin Air

In order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you're too driven you're likely to die. Above 26,000 feet, moreover, the line between appropriate zeal and reckless summit fever becomes grievously thin. Thus the slopes of Everest are littered with corpses.

—Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

A Jaunt Through Upstate New York

Walking through Selkirk.

Being the girl who considers Westchester upstate New York, I've never really ventured north past Croton Point (Niagara Falls doesn't count). So when Josh offered to take me to his hometown of Selkirk, New York, I literally jumped at the chance.

Bear Mountain Bridge by way of the Metro North.

Taking the MetroNorth to its last stop in Poughkeepsie (where Westchesterites believe true upstate New York starts) was enthralling because while I've read about the Hudson up there from Boyle's book, I've never really seen it. Going past Bear Mountain Bridge was nice because it brought back memories of my first camping trip.

In Poughkeepsie, Josh and my friend Kayley were waiting for me. From Poughkeepsie, we drove approximately 70 miles back to Selkirk because it was cheaper than taking the Amtrack all the way there.

Hudson River and unknown bridges in Selkirk.

Selkirk is in the middle of nowhere, which isn't necessarily a bad thingit's just something I'm not used to. You need a car to get to and from places, and once in a while, this can be nice. After we stayed up all night watching random TV shows, Josh and I trekked through chained fences and overgrown with his adorably playful dog Kiara. Our destination? The Hudson River (of course) next to an unknown freight bridge and yacht club. Watching the sunrise here was gorgeously calm and perfect.

I wasn't tired at all.

Downtown Albany.

Then it was back to the house to wake Kayley up, take quick showers and then we were off to explore some part of upstate New York. Our original plan was to find the Lake Tear of Clouds, the official source of the Hudson River but being in the depths of the Appalachians and only a weekend to do so, we decided to save it for next time. Instead, Josh took us on a tour of upstate, driving us past downtown Albany where I judged it solely based on its architecture and the signs prohibiting bike-riding and horseriding in the streets and driving along that wonderful river. Driving through Troy, we found ourselves near Peebles Island, which became our next destination.

Peebles Island, the Hudson and the Mohawk (I believe).

Peebles Island is at the junction of the Mohawk River, the Hudson River and the Erie Canal, situated at Waterford, New York. Parking the car next to what appeared to be an empty-factory-or-warehouse-now-converted-to-offices, we crossed over the clean-cut North Bridge to see what's there. We didn't find much--just people maintaining their boats, older gentleman wandering around with his camera and a much older man tanning on his boat. To indulge our wilder-sides, we crossed the bridge back and wandered down to the river. We walked as close to the shore as we could, but sometimes, the bushes blocked our ways. No matter, we sauntered our way, climbing over fallen trees and examining abandoned garbage. We found upstate creaturesdaddy long-legs, toads and lots of spiders, Kayley's favorite, haha. We reached the end of the river (I'm not sure which, I'm thinking it was the Mohawk) and weren't able to continue on because of the dead end. After sitting around and throwing rocks and logs into the water, we climbed to the top of the cliff above us and walked back to the car.

The end of our path.

Later, that night, we watched Superbad at an Albany supermall with Josh's high school friends. Already hyped for the movie because of the magnificently amazing Michael Cera (who I already declared as my pretend awkward boyfriendwatch him in Arrested Development and Superbad and you will understand why), I wasn't disappoint. Though the film was more geared towards high school humor, Apatow's humor still translated. Best scene? Cera attempting to have sex with his high school crush and everything he drunkenly mumbled ("Samsies!").

Saratoga Lake.

After Kayley left, Josh and I spent Sunday at Saratoga Lake, where we rented a boat. Rowing on the lake was a big change for me since I'm more used to the currents of the rivers (especially that crazy Hudson River), but it was a nice change. The leisurely row was perfect since the skies were cloudy yet the air was humid. Sometimes, the sun would break through, making for a nice picture.

First-time driver, baby.

Then, in the parking lot in between Josh's middle and high school, I drove a car. Finally. After 22 years of never being behind the steering wheel, my unlicensed and un-driver's-permitted self learned how steer a car (kinda like steering a boat) and drove around in circles, speeding up when I dared to. There were two little girls riding around on their pink bikes, so I was sort of scared about killing them, but I didn't.

And then, after stopping at Josh's home, it was back to Poughkeepsie and the Amtrack back south to New York City.

Selkirk skies.

splitting fruit

Washington Monument.

from my senior work,
Get Away First.

D.C. day,
he takes me to Dupont Circle where speed chess games
went lightening quick and shopping carts wielded by
men in drag and women in garters and inside,
light and shadows intertwine on walls from
a simple glass hoop twirling in place,

D.C. night,
he looks at the trees and i look at the blackened
blue sky and air with hints of winter, we stand
closer together and when letters run out,
one syllable words take over as
street names. i insist there is
reason behind the names
and he says it's just
coincidence, by

we first familiarize ourselves
with me & you (we slip hands
together easily, there is something

that feels
that feels


we walk along Davenport to
Rock Creek Park where
we stroll in the
middle of the street and
disregard cars

we jump the tiny creek
and are surrounded by
tall almost bare trees with
baby green leaves sprouting
the sun made them lighter and
lower branches lash at my feet

Rock Creek Park.

we sit and we eat
pasta and sauce and raisins
amongst fallen trees (unpredictable
rain storms) and we
watch deer
watch us
watching them

we familiarize ourselves
with us walking through
Arlington Cemetery
looking at rows of
chalk-white gravestones
trying to interpret the meaning of
a cross within a circle and
why unknown graves didn’t have numbers
at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider,
we watch in silence a soldier hand off
a gun after inspection with sharp turns
and clicks of heels

we wander across the Potomac and
venture to the western National Mall where
children play in unknown smoke billowing from
a grate and a man in orange play
handball against the marble wall
we sit near the Monument
watching that wall and the flags
dim gold
into darkened dusk

National WWII Memorial.

Familiar and Unfamiliar Pasts

The name on my original birth certificate wasn't Nadia—it was Fatima. My dad wanted to give his children religious names, Fatima and Aisha. He didn’t have anything picked out for my brother. Instead, I became Nadia because my maternal grandmother heard of the perfect-10 gymnast Nadia Comaneci (I found this out when I became obsessed with gymnastics and taught myself how to cartwheel, backward-tumble, swing on the uneven bars and prance on the balance beam at Hoover Park), my younger sister Nashid despite it being a male name, and my younger brother Fahad because of the Saudi King Fahd and it reminded my father of his times in Saudi Arabia.

In The Namesake, Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri brings up good names: the name your family and close friends call you. When I read that, I was excited because I didn't know it actually existed—I just thought it was something my parents did. We called it our home names. My brother doesn't have one and my sister's is Nasha, just a slight modification.

My home name is Sharna (shor-na), Bengali for gold. I was the first born, so I was special. Answering to this name is second-nature to me.


Sixty years ago in 1947, India became its own country. Sixty years and a day earlier in 1947, Pakistan (including Bangladesh, then known as East Pakistan) became its own country. Breaking away from Britain and all of its governance, South Asia was able to deal with itself. Oh, what a mess it was.

I knew my parents were born in the 1950s in Bangladesh (1951 and 1956) and that they were alive during the Partition War, but I never knew any real details about it. It's not something you really learn about in Global History. And it's hard finding books about it.

Because of my new interests in that corner of the world (to be fleshed out at a later date), Jon recommended Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. In it, Saleem Sinai is born during the midnight of India's independence and as he grows, so does India. Reminding me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Rushdie presents a whirling recount of Sinai’s family history, Sinai’s own history and the story of India through metafiction, history and magical realism through which I learned and relearned about my far past. After all, Sinai says, “Most of what matters in our lives take place in our absence.”

The perspective of the book is intriguing and refreshing because I don't get to see other Muslim Indian/Bengali perspectives. That’s also why Lahiri's works resonated with me. Despite her characters being Hindi, there were similarities. Though, with Lahiri, her characters usually immigrated to the U.S. (and usually to Massachusetts). With Rushdie, I became completely immersed in South Asia that I only knew in the summer during family vacations.

I never understood then-West Pakistan and then-East Pakistan were separated by India. I suppose it made sense in terms of population and their major religion, but the logistics of that wouldn't seem to work.

And it didn't.

After the Partition, Bangladesh strove for compete autonomy but the Pakistani central government stopped any attempts. In 1971, after the violently bloody Bangladesh Liberation War (also known as the Pakistani Civil war), Bangladesh was finally free. The BLW also led to the Indo-Pakistani War.

Religion is a powerful motivator. It was because of religion that the Pakistans came out of India, the Muslims away from the Hindus. This was how the lines were drawn, based on religious populations. But borders weren’t enough and the new Muslim nations of West and East Pakistan weren't enough—you then had the extremely religious Muslims and the more moderate Muslims, all separated by India. From there, you have Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to Rushdie, Bangladesh wouldn't have made it without India's help.

My parents still hold prejudices against Pakistan and radical forms of Islam.

Borders still aren't very clear in Southern Asia. Kashmir is still a highly disputed territory between India and Pakistan. In order to make its border more defined, India is building a fence along its Bangladeshi border.

But then, to balance that, test runs of the Moitree Express (Friendship Express) between Calcutta, India and Dhaka, Bangladesh were successful. The train service was shut down before because of wars and violence between the two Pakistans in the 1960s. Yet progress still hasn't been made because of said-fence.

After Rushdie's book, my friend Hannah lent me Pankaj Mishra's The Romantics. After Rushdie's extraordinary novel, Mishra's is, at first, very slow paced and very subtle. He writes of Europeans collecting in Benares, India in order to experience something other than their veryday privileged European or American lives and the Indian narrator is witnessing and experiencing this all. Superficially, it is about the meeting of the cultures and different worlds. Here you have spoiled, whiny Europeans who think by willingly coming to India they have to be better than their parents, better than the rest of the world, because they willingly subject themselves to third world conditions. This is perfectly shown through Catherine and Anand's home. While the narrator walks over to their home for the first time, he comments on the rundown houses, and when he is inside for the first time, he notices how clustered everything is. And also, this is perfectly exemplified with Miss West, who appears to be worldly but instead is a broken down women who is trailing after a man who uses her at his whim and she lets him. Mishra makes up for this in the middle of the novel by sending Samar off to the Himalayas. From here on, the novel is much more pleasurable, Mishra revels in the isolated beauty of the mountains while divulging in Samar’s inner-self. I do have to hand it to him—Mishra knows how to describe rivers. He writes,

“A deep gorge appeared on our left, the river in it seeming to sneak shyly past all obstructions. The illusion was broken when, after we had been traveling for an hour down into the gorge, the river appeared roughly parallel to the road, and all the bus’s relentless grumbling and rasping and clanking could not muffle the thunderous boom of thick white jets of water pummeling the huge white rocks squatting in its way. Away from the angrily frothing river, the thinner, humbler streams flowed into small quivering pools on whose banks grew delicate irises.”

And he mentions Frooti, the delicious “cool mango drink,” so more points for him.

Amidst the celebrations, with good tidings, Pakistan and India exchanged prisoners, as the BBC reports, 134 Indian prisoners for 72 Pakistani prisoners. And yet, according to the Associated Press, Bangladesh still houses Pakistani refugees who dream of going back to Pakistan.


While reading Rushdie and Mishra, I sounded out all of the foreign words and was surprised to find familiar words: accha (yes, okay), bas (enough), ek dum (always, complete), sabkuch ticktock hai (everything is okay), dekho (look), arré baapre baap (equivalent of oh my god, I think).

But there are differences.

Saleem's Ramazan is the same as my Ramadan and his Dacca, where he was surrounded by Bangladeshi independence as a wise and sullen Pakistani solider is the same as my Dhaka, where my parents grew up, where most of the Chaudhury/Begum families reside (with exceptions in Germany and Singapore/Australia).

At home, we communicate through a blend of Bengali and English. I understand Bengali (with bits of Urdu and Hindi) more than I can speak it. On phone calls back to Bangladesh, I accidentally speak in a hybrid of Spanish and Bengali, my mind tries to substitute English words for any foreign words it can find. When forced to think about it, I can't say a Bengali phrase. But I will say this: I am well-versed in Bengali curses.

Writing Bengali is a different story. While my parents write long letters with the beautiful scripts of Bengali, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi and so on, they aren't sure how to romanize their language. Writing emails to my mama (maternal uncle) and cousins are easy enough because we write in English, but some words are difficult to spell out and I, being the person that I am, want to make sure I'm spelling it correctly. My cousin once called us picchis which means little people, but I thought he meant picchas which means dirty or garbage.

I remember making my mom show me how to write "Nadia" in Bengali and I practiced it over and over again, connecting curving lines with a neat horizontal line on top. I can't do this now.

In both novels, the men wore lungis, what my dad changes into at home, this sheet of cloth he somehow folds onto his waist. It reminds me of saris, the mechanics of which I never fully understood either. When I have to dress up for Indian/Bengali events, I either wear salwar kameezes or lehengas adorned with loads of gold jewelry, even though I don’t like gold. I eat parathas and basmati, I drink chai.

Desh means country. Bangladesh means literally “Bangla Country.”

The Bengali national anthem is "Amar Shonar Bangla" ("My Golden Bangladesh").

There is so much about the area that I'm just beginning to learn about and hopefully, I will put this knowledge to good use...

Baptism by Fire: An Interview with Justin Kirk

Justin Kirk in front of The New School.

In honor of the Weeds season 3 premiere tomorrow (I've watched the first four episodes, and let me say that they are excellent), I am posting an interview I had with Justin Kirk (playing Andy Botwin, Nancy Botwin's pothead brother-in-law) back in November 2006 for Inprint. Although the main peg of the interview was his film Flannel Pajamas, I still managed to talk to him about Weeds.

Standing in front of The New School on a Monday afternoon, Emmy-nominated actor Justin Kirk looks just like a regular student—hair arranged messily, hands in his pockets, standing slightly hunched with a stylish rip in his jeans.

Kirk is probably best known for playing AIDs-stricken Prior Walter, whose boyfriend abandons him, in the HBO miniseries Angels in America and his part as the sex-obsessed, pot-smoking brother-in-law Andy Botwin in Showtime’s TV series Weeds—who, among other things, teaches his youngest nephew how to masturbate into a banana peel. Currently, he is promoting his newest film, director Jeff Lipsky’s Flannel Pajamas, the story of the rise and fall of a relationship. In person, Kirk is similar to his acting persona—unabashedly delivering smart, sarcastically tinged laugh lines, all the while exuding charm.

We begin the interview in the Gigantic Pictures’ downtown office. I tell him I’m majoring in poetry. “Nice, so this will be a very poetic interview,” he says. “Feel free to twist my words.”

Justin Kirk grew up in Washington state and attended elementary school on an Indian reservation—“I was just a kid, so I don’t have great sociological insight,” he says. Then he moved to Minneapolis, where he enrolled in the Children’s Theater School. From the beginning, Kirk says, he felt like he wanted to be an actor. At the age of 18, he moved to Los Angeles and then ended up in New York, where he did theater. Currently splitting his time between Los Angeles and New York (he comes back at least once a year for work), Kirk says he “loves Los Angeles for all the reasons you’re not supposed to like it. I’m a kind of person that doesn’t need to be doing stuff, so I don’t mind being stuck in traffic and staring. I’m sort of a daydreamer.”

“There’s something just really sweet to me about people from everywhere who have come to this place with their big dreams, and they’re going to roll the dice and it’s going to happen,” he says about LA. “And a lot of people find it depressing, but I think it’s kinda cute.” He laughs. “The difference is that in New York, life is thrust upon you. In Los Angeles, you have to search it out. I couldn’t leave my apartment [in New York] without running into some asshole that I knew, whereas in Los Angeles, you gotta have a destination, and you have to get in your car to go there.” But, he adds, “I find myself in New York a lot. You can’t get out. In the beginning, I was really burnt out [by the city], but each time I come, I realize I do miss it a lot.”

In Flannel Pajamas, Kirk plays Stuart, a man whose profession is to entice unknowing tourists to Broadway shows by fabricating elaborate stories. He embarks on a relationship with Nicole, played by Julianne Nicholson, the eager-to-please girlfriend with a slightly neurotic family. Stuart is “a guy who seems to have a plan for his life and in the world of relationships, [when] he meets Nicole,” Kirk explains. “He thinks [she] is pretty perfect for him and fits all the things he wants, and starts hammering her into the hole of that plan that he has.” The character, he adds, is “confident and also insecure. It’s sort of what actors are. A mix of egotism and insecurity.”

Justin Kirk as Andy Botwin in Weeds.

Kirk clears up one confusing aspect of the film: how Stuart and Nicole meet. It is, he says, not through their therapist (as most viewers are led to believe) but their dermatologist—a detail that greatly changes the audience’s perspective of the movie. “The question of why they were going to a dermatologist,” he jokes, “is equally important,” as to what hidden, psychological issues the characters might have.

He recalls his most famous role, in Angels in America, as “such an ordeal.” The play (Angels in America) was the play of my generation of New York actors,” he explains. “Actually, the first play I did on Broadway was across the street from Part Two [Perestroika] of Angels in America, and our play was not a huge hit, and they had huge lines.”

“It was a burden to say the least. The legacy the play already had when we started was immense, and then added to it was Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. There was no question that people would be watching it while we were making it, so that felt a little scary,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot from it, I will never have the same sort of fears and torture that I had making it, cause it was sort of like baptism by fire, which was a good thing.”

Kirk says he’s obsessed with with political television and blogs (especially during the months leading up to the elections) and with music. He sings a little bit of Wilco to me (“I know we don’t talk much”) and recommends The Replacements. As we leave the office and wait for the elevator, he asks me how I am getting back to school. The subway, I tell him.

“I can give you a lift,” he says. After looking for his driver and car, we are off, and that’s how Kirk winds up having his photo taken in front of The New School.

On Weeds:
"I feel really blessed to have that job. I worked with Mary Louise Parker in Angels in America, and so I heard about the show, she was doing this show called Weeds on Showtime. And then I didn’t come on until the fourth episode of the first season. They sent me some material and it was the scene where I’m pretending to be my nephew (Silos) and masturbating while I IM his deaf girlfriend. And I was like, this is going to be good.

"I just sort of connected to it right away. I went in and met them one night, pretty simple process. Most of the time, getting on a television show…I think maybe it’s different if it’s on Showtime, well It’s this horrible process where we have to go through network and studio both, Then you go into an office or a tiny little space with about 20 or 25 suits, guys that are executives who just got their jobs a few months ago or whatever, and they watch you do your thing, and then maybe the head of the network is there and when he laughs, they all laugh. I mean, it’s right out of a movie. It’s just at their whim, it’s just so ridiculous. This [Weeds audition] was a much simpler process. When I went in, I didn’t’ know if it was going to be for an episode or two episodes, and the next day they said, they signed me up for a regular, and I was very pleased about that. It was the perfect television show. All the reasons not to do television are nullified by our show. Our seasons are short, and most importantly the material’s just better than anything, you know, it’s different than most shows, the writing’s great, the people’s great. Long may we wave, I hope that."

On "Pittsburgh," Season 2 finale:
"I think she [the writer] wrote that so Showtime could never get anyone else to, so they could never fire her, cause no one else would know how to get out of it. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I have an idea about some of the stuff, though."

And here's to another amazing season.

Beware of Hello Kitty

Amidst insurgents and violence, an unstable government and the looming possibility of an election and new constitution, Thailand has figured out a new way to keep its police force in check: Hello Kitty armbands. Cops who commit minor infractions, such as coming to work late or littering, will have to don wide, pink armbands featuring Miss Hello Kitty herself peeking over a polka-dotted heart with her name elaborately displayed in pink cursive.

Pongpat Chayaphan, the acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division, told the NY Times: "This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor. Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.”

Now that's putting them in place! The Times also reported that Chayaphan tried plaid armbands at first, but it wasn't humiliating enough. I guess plaid was a bit too macho. Now, the question is, what happens to cops who follow the rules or those who, gasp, remove their lovely pink armbands? They don't have anything set in place but perhaps give them another armband, this time bearing Pochacco's figure. And what about those who go above and beyond? I think Badtz Maru is a worthy badge, I mean, just look at how bad-ass he is. He puts Hello Kitty in her place, that swaggering penguin.

Maybe Sanrio should just sponsor the Thai police force and design their uniforms. Hand in hand, Sanrio and the Thailand Police can fight crime and police-misdemeanors together.

Ossining Wanderin'

Ossining (a.k.a. Ossining-on-the-Hudson).

Train up the Hudson where we rowed down to the city, the cliffs of the Palisades, New Jersey/New York, past Sing Sing Prison, the sort-of-Alcatraz of these parts with its layers of walls adorned with wires and bars, right by Louis Engel playground right by that Hudson where we discovered the SuperNova and gaggles of geese, this walkable, hilly suburban village-on-the-Hudson (named for appeal) where cars aren't out of place, coconut/lemon/raspberry talian ices at Vinnie's and talking about Mel Gibson taking over the world, Sabbath dinner outside, watching Scrabble games and reading the Times, looking for "On Language" and "The Ethicist," basement escapades, too-much-ice cream and lime sherbet, waterfront protection and Alaskan adventures with a second viewing of The Simpsons, chocolate milkshakes, dried mangoes, split personalities with Fight Club, fruit smoothies, a reintroduction to China via Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, squeezing in Arrested Development, the most stars I've seen all year long, my introduction to the band of the Milky Way, night walk to triangle park, strolling around Maryknoll where we walked with deer and a bunny and walked through his elementary school days, early morning train rides home until next, next time...