So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Ethnicity. that of my father and his father before him
Location Altadena, CA
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The Link To Zanzibar's Past
This is my page in the beloved art community that my sister got me into:
Extra points for people who know what Samarinda is.
The Phases of the Moon Module
The Tree and the Telephone Pole
I Do Not Know Their Names
Today I am Young
A Night Poem
Siren of the Sea
If I Were a Dragon
To the Dreamers Leave the Sky
The Honor of the Oyster
Return From San Diego
A Late Summer's Night
Of Dragons and Men
The Edge of the World
The Snake's Terror
Metaphysics and the Middaymoon
Of Adventures in Foreign Lands
The Rogue Wave: The Unedited Version
Adventures in the PRC
Voyage of Discovery
Drinking the Blood of Goats
Ticket for a Phantom Bus
Os peixes nadam o mar
Three Villages Far Away
The River Weser
Children I Should Have Kidnapped, Part I
Let's Get You Out of Those Clothes
If Underwear Could Speak
Croc Hunter/Combat Wombat
Only My Favorite Baseball Player EVER
Aw, Larry Walker, how I loved thee.
M: Science and Exploration
T: Cook a nice dinner
Th: Parties, movies, dinners
F: Picnics, the Louvre
S: Read books, go for walks, PARKOUR
Su: Philosophy, Religion
The Reading List
This list starts Summer 2006
A Crocodile on the Sandbank
Tales of the Alhambra (in progress)
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Lost Years of Merlin
Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (in progress)
Atlas Shrugged (in progress)
A Long Way Gone (story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone- met the author! w00t!)
The Eye of the World: Book One of the Wheel of Time
From Magma to Tephra (in progress)
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Harry Potter 7
The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency
Introduction to Planetary Volcanism
A Child Called "It"
Is Multi-Culturalism Bad for Women?
Americans in Southeast Asia: Roots of Commitment (in progress)
What's So Great About Christianity?
Aeolian Dust and Dust Deposits
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
When I was in Cuba, I was a German Shepard
The Golden Compass
Clan of the Cave Bear
The 9/11 Commission Report (2nd time through, graphic novel format this time, ip)
The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph
Animorphs #23: The Pretender
Animorphs #25: The Extreme
Animorphs #26: The Attack
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Sir, With Love
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Hunger Games
Shadows and Strongholds
The Jungle Book
Beatrice and Virgil
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
No One Ever Told Us We Were Defeated
The Name of the Wind
Tao Te Ching
What Paul Meant
Lao Tzu and Taoism
Sand and Sandstones
Lost Christianites: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
The Science of God
Great Contemporaries, by Winston Churchill
City of Bones
Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Old Man and the Sea
Flowers for Algernon
Au Bonheur des Ogres
The Road to Serfdom
De La Terre ï¿½ la Lune (ip)
In the Light of What We Know
Devil in the White City
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
How to Be a Good Wife
A Mote in God's Eye
A Gentleman in Russia
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism
Seneca: Letters from a Stoic
Wednesday. 1.16.13 9:50 am
I lay on the floor of my hotel, reveling in the feeling of not being standing up.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the wall, which was adorned with some kind of woven wooden fabric. I wanted to say rattan. What was rattan, anyway? I wondered how they made it. I took a closer look. If it was made by hand it must have taken forever. I wondered if it was really rattan. I figured I could look up on the internet how rattan blinds were made and maybe even learn how to make some myself. For a moment I was so overcome by how many beautiful things were on the internet that I wanted to cry.
But first I should probably take a shower. And then a nap. And then I should probably go look around Padua, where Galileo apparently observed the Moon through his telescope.
Nah, internet first.
Taking out the Trash
Tuesday. 1.15.13 3:01 pm
I realized that in the last three months I haven't taken out the trash unless I was leaving the country.
This is a commentary both on the frequency with which I take out the trash as well as the frequency with which I leave the country.
This time I'm off to Italia-- Padua. I'm mostly doing work, but I'm going to take a day or two in Venice just to see what they know there.
Next week London for work, not sure if I'll have enough trash accumulated by then to take it out.
Thursday. 1.10.13 8:31 am
An excerpt from my most recent Nanowrimo novel (that is to say, only half true):
He invited me to a bar. I resigned myself to spending the night pretending that I drank alcohol. Like all Parisian bars, it was small and crowded and authentic. Authentic Parisian bars had unbalanced my conception of authentic American bars. I started to realized that all of our authentic bars and restaurants and interior decor were actually imperfect European facsimiles. Not knowing what they had been based on, I had accepted the copies as originals, and only now was I discovering that the originals existed. For this reason it always shocked me to see wooden tables that were not artificially distressed, paper that was yellowed at the edges from time instead of tea, old magnifying glasses that were really made out of brass, and cast iron candelabras that were actually made out of cast iron. Thatched roofs that were actually made of thatch. The authenticity of everything shocked me. I had discovered everything in the world backwards, from the streets of the Paris: Las Vegas to the streets of Paris, France. This bar was no different. It was built of crumbling brick with low wooden beams. The whole building leaned slightly to the side over a small alleyway. If I had been a giant I would have straightened it out like a deck of cards. If I were a giant I would fix everything, and never knock anything down. As a kid I used to build towers out of blocks. Other kids used to always knock them over, but I would patiently collect all of the blocks back together and start building again. When I was really small they had a wall as school that was made of bricks. They had a bunch of big paintbrushes and a bucket full of water. I remember painting the wall with the water, painting and painting and painting, and when I reached the end of the wall the beginning of the wall would be dry again and I would have to start all over again. I guess that’s why I do so much computer programming.
He met me out front and kissed me quickly on each cheek. I was still getting used to that— I was afraid that one day I would lose all control over myself and accidentally kiss somebody full on the mouth. Probably my boss, knowing me. Blushing, I followed him into the bar. He led me down an impossibly narrow staircase to a large brick cellar with arched pillars. A band was playing. The lead girl was playing the accordion. A young, unshaven boy behind her was playing bass, and a guy sitting on her right hand side was playing some kind of incredibly ethnic African percussion instrument. A reddish orange light on the stage bathed everything with a warm glow. The place was crowded and everyone was feeling the music. I always liked to squint my eyes when I was at concerts. Each light would become an eight-pointed star, and I would pretend like I was partying so hard that I was about to pass out. I called this exercise “Youth”. At least, this is what I imagined Youth was supposed to be like. A little blurry, lights flashing everywhere, the heat of other young bodies pressing in from every direction, music so loud that it filled your mind to the exclusion of everything else. Claude bought me a cider. I smiled brightly, glad to see that it was something that I would be able to choke down without too much awkward grimacing. I returned to my exercise of Youth, but he tapped me on the arm. He wanted to talk. If speaking a foreign language had a Master’s championship, this would be it. Low light, overwhelming background noise, a conversation that could go in any direction. I reeled my brain back from its rock-and-roll vacation and placed it back into its gears. We had to stand very close—of course we did. We had to speak directly into each others’ ears, which required leaning towards each other just so. Occasionally his lips would brush the side of my face while he was speaking, and while it was all so contrived I could suddenly understand why other people did it. Whenever he looked away I squinted my eyes until he was blurry. If I looked at him like that he could be anyone. That was part of Youth, too, wasn’t it? I grabbed a straw from behind the bar and put it in my cider. With the straw in the back of my throat I could pull back most of the cider without actually tasting it. I took a long pull and turned back to Claude. The girl playing the accordion was sexiest accordion player I had ever seen. The fellow playing the African drum wasn’t so bad either. Everyone in the bar was getting sexier and sexier the blurrier they became.
I don’t remember leaving the bar. One moment we were in the bar, my feet aching from standing for so long, awash with orange light and accordion music, Claude’s lips brushing my ear as he spoke in unintelligible French, and the next we were out in the blue night, walking along the maze of uneven cobble stones next to the marina of the Bastille. I dragged Claude to the locks on the canal. They were silent for the night, and I tried to explain how they worked but I did not have sufficient vocabulary. Instead we passed quickly through the tunnel from the canal to the edge of the Seine. No one ever came here; it was the one place along the Seine that was always deserted. We sat and looked out over the Seine. One time Abigail and I had seen a turtle in the river. I always told people about it but they never believed me. I told Claude, but he couldn’t understand what I was saying. He kissed me. He kissed me... and for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel anything. I had always heard people claim that this kiss or that kiss didn’t mean anything, and I never believed it could be true—after all, it was a kiss! But then there was Claude, and Claude could have been any boy in the world. But I kissed him back, poor fellow, I kissed him back and I kissed him all along the edge of the Seine until we reached the street again. “Here’s my metro station,” I said, as if I hadn’t known that it would be there. He kissed me goodnight. I knew it would be the last time. Is this how hearts get broken? Did French hearts break like American hearts? Could I have been any girl in the world to Claude? Did it matter to him? Was any girl in the world exactly what he was looking for?
The metro home was blurry, but not for the same reason as before.
Saturday. 12.22.12 2:33 pm
Well, we all know what I would do if I didn’t have any children. I would become a desert explorer like the great Brigadier General Ralph Alger Bagnold. There isn’t an aeolian scientist that exists that doesn’t worship R.A. Bagnold. He literally wrote the book on the physics of sand dunes. He was a pioneer of desert exploration back in the 1930s, when if you were an officer in the British Army it seemed like you could do anything you wanted at all.
I would be a professor at a university, of course, and I would have a large and comfortable office with a leather arm chair with a high back. On one wall I would have a giant map of the Sahara, and on the other wall I would have a giant map of Western China. The Lop Nur. The Taklamakan. If I had room I would put the Peruvian coastal desert or the Australian outback or the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. On the African map I would make important oases, old trade routes, and important geological features. On my desk would be a brass compass in a mahogany box, a large brass magnifying glass with a wooden stand, and one of those jars with a fake butterfly inside that flew around when you tapped it. There would also be photographs of all of the friends I made in small, remote villages while I was in the Peace Corps. On the walls I would have a collection of fine, leather-bound books. Naturally the most boring book of them all would be a secret lever that would cause the bookcase to swing around to reveal my secret laboratory, complete with petrographic microscope. In the corner I would have a large, old fashioned four-legged globe of the world. It would open up to reveal bottles of cognac and brandy and a pair of tumblers, none of which I would actually ever use. Obviously I would teach classes and publish scholarly works, but I would spend every spare moment flying off to China and Mali and Antarctica to wander ever farther into the world’s greatest and most mysterious deserts. I would supplement my terrestrial studies with studies of the great Martian deserts, about which I would be a renowned expert. I would hardly ever be lonely, of course, because who could be lonely when they were flying over sand dunes in a jury-rigged para-sailing apparatus pulled by my research assistants in a Jeep? Ok, I would probably be lonely. Every year I would plant a garden in the spring and then I would never be around to see it bloom. My neighbors would tell me how lovely my tulips were and how the deer got into the vegetables. I would always mean to be around for the harvest, but something would always take me away. I would give them some money and thank them for collecting my mail. Christmas and Thanksgiving might be difficult, when I went to hang around with people with normal husbands and children and lives. I would remark upon how fast the children were growing up because I would have nothing in my own life to mark the passing of time. I would entertain the children with stories of my adventures, but I wouldn’t really know how to connect with them. But it would be ok, because in the imaginary "no family" scenario it couldn’t have been any other way.
I know what would happen if I did have a husband and children, too. I have planned out this life trajectory as well, though it is necessarily murkier as it depends on a variety of factors inconveniently outside of my control.
I met a psychology major once who said that we all had a series of negative and positive future selves. When we go to college, we might imagine a positive future version of ourselves as a success with a good marriage and happy children and a satisfying career. We might also have negative versions of ourselves, where we fail out of school, become broke and start living on the street. Our course of action, she explained, was determined by our striving after the positive future selves and actively avoiding the negative future selves.
“But I don’t have any negative future selves,” I told her at the time. She didn’t believe me, so she tried to make herself better understood.
“It’s like when you run a race, or give a speech” she said. “Some part of you can imagine winning the race, while the other part of you imagines having lost it. Some part of you imagines having dazzled the crowd, while the other part imagines seizing up at the most important moment and being unable to continue, or having your speech rejected.”
“But I don’t ever imagine that I will lose the race or be rejected by the crowd,” I say. “It isn’t because I overestimate my ability, I am perfectly happy to concede that there is a good possibility that I will lose the race. There is a lower possibility that I will give a speech to a hostile crowd. But I don’t spend any time imagining them.”
I thought of a time when my friend wanted us to promise that if we ended up disillusioned and divorced at forty that we could meet up at a particular bar in southern China and share our woes. I agreed to his plan, but it was impossible for me to form the scenario in my mind. Why would anyone even spend time making such a plan? If each one of your thoughts is a brick in a road towards your dreams, weren’t bricks towards divorce and failure at best a wasted effort and at worst lowering the energy barrier for you to end up there?
The psychology student still didn’t believe me by the time our conversation ended, but it was true. If I watched a concert cellist I imagined myself buying a cheap cello from the internet, signing up for cello lessons, joining a string quartet, and after ten years of consistent effort drawing such notes from that cello that the cello would in turn draw a great sigh of longing from anyone near enough to hear its notes.
If I found a pamphlet on how to make your attic into a livable space, my mind would fill up with fantasies about my livable attic and my future prowess as a master carpenter. I would think about the garage that would double as my workshop, the smell of the sawdust and the buzz of the saw as I expertly guided wood through my jigsaws and panel saws. Why stop at an attic? I would build a tree house, and a fine wooden rocking chair, and maybe a small boat. The fact that I did not own a structure with an attic, nor a garage, nor a tree… the fact that I did not own any structure at all did nothing to stem my fanciful ponderings.
So I know what life would be like if I had a husband. Or, at the very least, I can imagine very fully one of a million different positive ways that my life could unfold. Every morning I would wake up and see him there sleeping. There was very little chance that he would wake up before me, because I was a very poor sleeper when there was someone else in the general vicinity. But there he would be, warm and alive and made of man, and I wouldn’t be able to help myself from kissing him awake, his hair, his elbow, his fingers. How could you love a man and not want to kiss his beautiful and lovable face? To hug him in the morning and to say, “I love you darling, it is time to wake up.” We could have three or four children. You never know how many children you will have, though modern people like to feel like they have closed their modern fingers around this slippery issue. Modern people are usually concerned about having too many children, and then, as time starts to escape from them; too few. They want to space them apart just so so that you can make appropriate savings schedules for their college educations. Never mind bunching them up so that they can play imaginary games together, never mind having them one grade apart so that they can date each others’ friends—fiscal responsibility and the approval of the family planning authority is what is really important.
These kids will be exhausting. No longer will I be able to lounge in bed until ten in the morning on a weekday. [What kind of working person does that, anyway? I guess you have to move to France to find out]. But we’ll go on walks in the park. And we’ll have a dog. And we’ll plant a garden. And we’ll all carve pumpkins together. We’ll trim the Christmas tree together. We’ll carve the turkey together. And all of those things that would be trivial and small in my single-life future would be huge and important in my married-life future, and we’d build all of our memories around them. I randomly bought a Christmas book, once. It was a book that had a space for each year’s Christmas photo, a space for another favorite Christmas photo or two, and some lines where the Christmas festivities for each year could be described. I buy things like that, for the distant future, like some kind of little stockpile of hope, some way of building of hopeful bricks towards a future I’d like to realize. Yet sometimes I would have crises of purpose, I suppose. I would wonder what I was leaving as my mark upon history. I would imagine that my children would remember me, and my grandchildren would remember me, but after that my deeds would pass unrecorded and unremembered into the trash heap of history. But of course just by raising children at all I would have changed forever the course of time....
It's not really fair. R.A. Bagnold first married when he was 50. He had two children, a boy and a girl. I just don't have that kind of flexibility. Well, Nutang, I guess I'd better stop writing this entry and start leaving my mark upon the history of mankind TODAY, while I've still got the chance.
Almost, almost, almost.
Friday. 12.7.12 5:46 pm
Love in a Box
Wednesday. 12.5.12 3:57 am
On Saturday the Canadian and I went to the Catholic church to help put together "Boxes of Love" for little poor kids. Big poor kids, too... the boxes went all the way up to age 18. It was interesting to me to see what the big kids got... one person had made a male-oriented box with a nice hat and scarf and then a very handsome leather pouch with Bulgari cologne. I was thinking that only in France would that be a necessary accessory for a teenage boy. I was in charge of wrapping boxes that hadn't been wrapped or that had been wrapped incorrectly. The whole side of the church was overflowing with gifts. I really felt like one of Santa's elves for a couple of hours.
I also got to interact with the American Boy Scouts, which was pretty fun. The Scout leader was careful to take each boy aside during the afternoon and talk to him individually about his life and his goals and his accomplishments. I think I'd like to be in that kind of role some day. I think I'd also like to find a guy who liked to be in that kind of role. I guess most guys my age don't really have it together yet for themselves, which makes it difficult for them to mentor others. But on the flip side, I think mentoring others often helps you figure out your own priorities.
A Boring Entry
Wednesday. 11.28.12 11:52 am
I've got too many things going on. So many things, in fact, that taking time out to write them all down in this entry is stressing me out.
First and foremost I am writing this paper. It must be done by December 15th. So far I only have half an introduction with hardly any references.
4. Meeting up with my friend so she can tell me about her serious woes (tomorrow)
5. Mailing stuff to my random friends (tomorrow)
6. Returning library books (tomorrow?)
7. Writing a random abstract and applying for funding for a conference I'm not sure I really want to go to (?) (due Friday)
9. Editing a paper that I'm a co-author on (asap)
10. Storing some random suitcases in my scary, haunted basement for a random friend (this weekend)
12. Making Christmas gift boxes for little poor children (Saturday)
Then I'll have a week to finish the paper so that I can get it out to my co-authors in a reasonable time-frame... I still have to run all of the simulations AND make the figures that result from them... then I have to welcome these random official Mars people and sit in useless meetings for two days... then I have to host writing club (I'm now the president)... then I have to go to Münster to give a seminar and inspire some students... then I have to pack all my stuff and go to Denver...... and then there are all these things that I forgot that I promised to do, like being editor on a special journal issue about explosive volcanism... or being in a group to study the surface of Mercury... or finishing a paper about awesome stuff on Mars... or starting to model the complete martian sulfur cycle... or figuring out how to swing a sabbatical in Hawaii when I don't have a job yet... or reading about early Christian gnostics/Winston Churchill/sand stones...
le sigh. I think my soccer team forgot to contact me to come to games, but I haven't contacted them to remind them because I've been too busy to play in any games.
But after a very rocky start, my Nanowrimo novel turned out AWESOME. Someday I'll have to go back through it and fix it so it is actually complete/readable. WHEN I HAVE TIME...
To All the Matts I Knew Before
Saturday. 11.10.12 2:39 pm
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