Tuesday, June 1, 2010




: a very intelligent person

I discovered the band BRAINIAC in a music magazine sometime during the mid-90s. I was probably sixteen. I remember consciously deciding I should "get into" a band on my own, meaning, without a recommendation and without even hearing any of their songs. The interview or article seemed cool, so I decided to take the plunge. The next time I was in Manhattan, I picked up a BRAINIAC c.d. from Tower Records, excited I was investing in a band I had only read an article about. It felt very—adult.

Luckily, I genuinely liked my purchase (1994's Bonsai Superstar) and I got really excited about spreading the joys of BRAINIAC to my friends (friends being about 3-5 people). I coveted the band, having "discovered" them, and wanted to claim a bit of ownership to the rights of their influence. I looked forward to being able to say, "Well, I stumbled upon BRAINIAC in a magazine and just decided to buy the album—can you imagine where we would be if I hadn't been so spontaneous?"

I guess my friends liked BRAINIAC, but the band never did catch on the way I had hoped. It didn't help that shortly after I bought the album (literally, within months) lead man Tim Taylor was killed in a car crash and the group dissolved.

But what is this really about.

I'm a pretty honest person (at least, in this venue of highly manipulated arrangements of words...), and I'm not afraid to admit things, like coveting ownership over a band. But honesty is embarrassing. Just because I admit things doesn't mean I'm proud of them, or in any way willing to back up my actions. This uninhibited dissection of self is actually pretty mortifying most of the time. But I'm obsessed with identity. I just don't know any other way.

Yesterday I finished reading a book called Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman. It's a memoir about her experiences as a Polish immigrant, mainly focused on having to understand and reframe one's self in a new set of cultural cues and language. She spends a lot of time illuminating the differences in self-understanding between Americans and Eastern Europeans, specifically on the topic of character:

It's a problem of identity. Many of my American friends feel they don't have enough of it. They often feel worthless, or they don't know how they feel. Identity is the number one national problem here. There seems to be a shortage of it in the land, a dearth of selfhood amidst other plenty—maybe because there are so many individual egos trying to outdo each other and enlarge themselves....

"Identity," for my Polish friends, is not a category of daily thought, not an entity etched in their minds in high relief. My American friends watch the vicissitudes of their identity carefully: now it's firm, now it's dissolving, now it's going through flux and change...They see themselves as pilgrims of internal progress, heroes and heroines in a psychic drama. If they're unhappy, they tend to blame it on themselves, on how they haven't fine-tuned their identity well enough...

For my Polish friends, an identity, or a character, is something one simply has. If they take to drink, or become unhappy, or get depressed, they look for reasons in their circumstances: it's because a lover left them, or censorship stopped their book, or the situation in Poland is hopeless, or life is hard...The drama of daily life exists in the world, in small and extraordinary events, and introspection is a process of dwelling on what one has experienced, rather than a means of systematic analysis or self-reform.

I read this and I am embarrassed of my incessant introspection and excessive self-consciousness. Even now, I go on, telling you of my embarrassment. But I have only ever understood myself in this way: trying to make sense of the weird space that exists between me and the rest of the world. That's what this whole blog adds up to. I see the word BRAINIAC, and I think immediately of my preoccupation with a band over which I wanted to exert ownership. The anecdote doesn't even really matter. I could break it down even further: I see the word BRAINIAC and I think—how can I bring this back to me.

Not that Eva Hoffman is any better off—I mean, it's a memoir.

In a sea of individualists, my goal is to fully embrace the fact that we are all exactly the same. Of course, I will continue on with this drivel, but I realize I am saying nothing new. I'm just rearranging the words in my own way. Mixing them up, writing them down, and offering them to you. I'm really nothing more than the loner on public access television who draws the lottery numbers from that weird machine in which numbered balls jump around like popcorn kernels in a stream of hot air. Except, I do it alone in my room. And nobody wins.

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