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 à 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
want to read: Last Hunger Games Book, Honeybee Democracy, The Bell Jar
A Russian Tale
Wednesday. 6.20.12 6:47 pm
We had been in Venezuela for four days when we met the Russian on the street. He was covered in dirt from head to toe. His clothes were the same color brown as his skin. He was barefoot. All the stores were shuttered and the road was full of debris. We had empanadas.
The Russian was from one of those islands off the coast of Kamchatka. It's probably one of those islands that Japan claims as theirs, but it doesn't matter. No island like that could really belong to a country, and no man like that could ever be contained by an island.
Lord only knows how he made it to Canada, but judging from his looks, he probably swam straight across the Bering Sea. He bought a car in Canada and drove it clear down to the tip of Mexico. After he sold the car he hitchhiked through Central America, as one is wont to do. Upon reaching Panama, he sneaked aboard a cargo ship headed for Colombia. Because nothing bad could possibly happen to stowaways on Colombian cargo ships and "snuck" is apparently not a word.
Once in Colombia he hitchhiked his way across the Venezuelan-Colombian border (and a guerilla war) and eventually made his way to Caracas, where he met us and our styrofoam container of steaming empanadas. He had been sleeping on the beach, he said, but he was a bit worried because he heard that some sketchy characters had been hanging out on the beach. We wished him luck and gave him the empanadas and he smiled and wished us До свидания. We decided not to warn him that he himself was probably the sketchy character that others were being warned about.
High School Memories: Part I
Friday. 6.8.12 1:37 am
I first met him in middle school. I remember him running after the bus. The kid I hated said, "Hey, look at that kid running! Ha-ha! All those guys look like cartoon characters."
By "those guys", he meant my friends. I didn't say anything because I wasn't very good at witty retorts. Plus he was kind of right.
By the time ninth grade came around I was in love with him, of course. My best friend and I admired his triceps from afar. He had at least five different code names that evolved every couple of months. All of the girls in history class were in love with him, too, but I was in love with him more and I was in love with him first. I suddenly cared desperately about a bunch of things that I hadn't thought that much about before, like the Green Bay Packers, Blink-182, and freeing Tibet. His necklace broke when we were playing football and I spent maybe an hour trying to find all of the pieces in the grass.
We had stupid things in common. We both liked Tibet, we both liked Blink-182, we both liked staring off into space for long periods of time. Ok, so maybe staring off into space was the only thing we had in common. We went bowling with our friends and he asked me if I wanted to come out to his car and check out his new stereo system. I sat in his car and he played me some music and nothing else happened. My best friend and I drove by his house one time and we were so distracted that she side-swiped a concrete guardrail.
I called him and talked to him for an hour about nothing before I got up the nerve to ask him to our school's Sadie Hawkins.
He said yes.
I got grounded for staying out too late that night. It was the only time I was ever grounded in my life. My parents said I couldn't take any phone calls for two weeks, unless it was him calling.
But he didn't call.
Friday. 5.18.12 7:19 pm
I stand in a line with all of humanity. Not just the kind of humanity that you see at the DMV, no, a whole new definition of humanity including Africans, Asians, Europeans and Americans in all state of dress and all stations of life. A large African guard lets us in one by one after peering into our personal effects. We file upstairs, where a hard-faced woman sorts us to the right and to the left. She is yelling at a middle-aged Korean. A gauche! A gauche! she shouts (to the left, to the left). The woman is trying to explain something in English but the french woman keeps shouting over her. A gauche, a gauche, no no no, we are busy here, busy busy busy, in English. The Korean woman persists. Finally her words penetrate the frenchwoman's shouting. "Ah," says the french woman, her face changing completely, "In that case, to the right. I see what you mean now."
I go to the right. There is a long line. There are large African women wearing turbans and sitting in chairs, fanning themselves. Old people, fat people, everyone who can't stay standing long enough to wait out the line. A frenchwoman yells at them: "If you never get in the line, you will never be seen!"
This new frenchwoman is at once brash and affable, brash when speaking to us, affable when speaking to her many co-workers who drift in at five-to-ten minute intervals despite the fact that it is past 1:30 in the afternoon. Our names are called. A waiting room. I'm in some kind of special group but I don't know why. One by one our names are called again, each one butchered so much that its owner can hardly recognize it as his. Each person disappears behind the same blue door that slams with a crash. Friendly cartoon posters warn us about Hepatitis and female genital mutilation in a variety of languages. Don't go to work if you are sick. Wash your hands. Every so often our old friend from the desk comes in with new clueless Japanese people to deposit in the waiting room.
My name is called. I disappear behind the blue door. The man pushes me against a wall. My height is measured. A piece of paper appears before my eyes with tiny writing on it. I read the sentence in french. Do you have insurance? he says. Yes, I say. God, I love it when they say yes, he says. I stand on a scale, still holding all of my paperwork. My weight is taken. Stand in these footprints. Read these tiny letters from afar. Read them again. Go through this door and take off your shirt.
Take off your shirt. And your bra.
The door closes. I am alone in a small room with doors on either side. I hesitate, and then I take off my shirt and my bra. The sign on the wall says to lock the door behind me. I lock it a moment before someone tries to open it. I hear him laughing about how none of the ladies ever wants to take off her shirt. I sit alone, my shirt draped over me. For the first time in years, I am actually frightened. I try to focus on the absurdity of the situation before I hyperventilate.
The other door opens. Several squat nurses are there with an X-ray machine. I am instructed to face a low wall panel. She pushes me into it, first guiding and then smashing. I am instructed to stay still. "Waiting room!" she yells, and I stumble back into my two-doored room, confused. I put my clothes back on. Is this the waiting room? Or does she mean the larger waiting room? I venture back out the original door. There is a young Japanese man there. "Do I go in here?" he asks in body language.
"I have no idea," I say in French and English.
We exchange a look that needs no translation.
My name is called again shortly and I go into a doctor's office. She tells me that my lungs look fine and asks to see my vaccination record. I give it to her and she wonders what in God's name I did in 2005. Semester at Sea, I explain. I try to explain the program. She is intelligent and kind. She asks me how I like living in France. I shrug, not expecting the question. It's great, I manage to say, and then I am dismissed. I flicker a smile at an Iranian man as we watch a confused Korean girl. Are you allowed to smile at Iranian men? My name is called again and a lady in a dirty white lab coat gives me a piece of paper. I go into an adjoining room and a woman pulls out some paperwork that I did six months ago. "Stamps." This is her greeting. I pull out 369 euros worth of official stamps. She puts x's through all of them and sticks them to my paperwork. She hands me the Holy Grail... my residency card, for which I have been waiting for more than 8 months. "What stamps?" asks my Iranian friend. I explain to him in French. He looks confused. The woman calls his name. Good luck, I say. He smiles.
I walk out of the building into the sunshine. I present my card to the office secretary, victorious.
My goodness, she says, we had better get started on the renewal process for next year.
Saturday. 5.12.12 2:27 am
I crept carefully into the darkened gymnasium. A low, orange glow painted the bleachers and equipment from the emergency lights above. The gym had been built on the beach so that the ocean could come under the wall at high tide and fill the deep swimming pool at the western edge. Through the darkness I could see the gentle waves of sea as they lapped onto the hard linoleum. The sea lions were there; I could sense them despite the calm surface of the inky water. My heart pounded in my chest. My hands were shaking. He was there, too. He had to be.
It was a mistake, the first time I came to the gymnasium at night. I forgot my keys in the locker room, and I could not get into my cabin. I had entered the gym through an open window. He had been there, standing in a beam of moonlight: a perfect, beautiful, ordinary boy. He had floppy hair and long, graceful fingers. He had been wearing an old pair of sweatpants and a mesh pinnie. I was in love with him from that first moment. But he was not an ordinary boy at all, and when dawn came he would turn back into a sea lion.
He had to stay wet, that was the tricky part of being in love with a sea lion boy, and we would meet in the empty locker room where we would talk over the sound of the shower. Sometimes I would stand under the shower, too, and walk back to my cabin shivering violently in the freezing dawn.
I stole along under the bleachers, keeping out of sight of the water's edge. I imagined the sea lions watching me from the blackness, their dark, penetrating eyes exposing my secret. They looked so friendly and playful during the day, but they were the only thing my love was afraid of.
All at once he appeared, taking me into his wet arms, smiling through the darkness, kissing my hair, silent but ebullient. He cast furtive glances through the bleachers towards the water, but the water was still. We made our way towards the locker room.
Neither of us saw the shapes in the darkness until it was too late. We stopped short in the same breath, but the sea lions were already upon us. They wrenched our arms apart. They dragged us into the center of the gym, towards the water. I struggled against them, but their mammoth weight was immovable. They pulled him into the dark water. I saw his hand become a flipper as it disappeared under the surface. I could see their dark shapes as they pulled him deeper. They held him fast. They were drowning him. They were drowning him. They were drowning him.
I broke away from the slippery flippers of the sea lions. I dove headlong into the pool. The sea lions terrified me. They were the perfect predators of the sea. They thrashed and dove like lightning through the three-dimensional battlefield of water. I dove. I dove and dove until my ears threatened to explode. I swallowed and dove deeper, my eyes locked on the sea lion that was my everything. When I reached him the sea lions that had been holding him let go. They seemed impressed by my wild desperation. I put my arms around him. He was still. His natural buoyancy helped me pull him to the surface. I rolled him with all of my strength onto the dry land. The sea lions grabbed me again and dragged me away from him.
"If he had stayed in the water, he would have stayed a sea lion forever," said the chief sea lion. "Now, when he becomes dry, he will stay a human forever."
I screamed. I fought against the wet, blubbery fins of the sea lions. I had thought that they were drowning him. Now I had made an irreversible decision for him that I did not feel like it was my place to make. If he became a human he could never again be a sea lion. It would be my fault. I wanted in every bone of my body for him to be a human, for him to want to be a human so that he could be with me, but that was his choice, it was not mine. I collapsed into sobs. He lay still, slowly drying.
I woke up.
"You're right, I would have wanted to be a sea lion," said Shark Boy.
"I'm sorry," I said emotionally. Even though he was joking, and it was a dream, it stung me very hard for some reason to hear him imply that he wouldn't have chosen to stay with me.
"It's ok," he said, conciliatory, in a way that made it seem like it was.
Wednesday. 4.25.12 6:40 am
Throughout the years of my youth, I was consumed with an all-encompassing wanderlust, an unstoppable desire to move, to keep moving, to see the world, to travel across every continent on Earth.
So I did.
Now I am suddenly consumed with an all-encompassing desire to stay put. Get a real job, have a garden, buy a dog. Own something and fix it up. Is this what happens when you turn 28?
Oh well, I guess it's time to go see some Viennese palaces and eat some wienerschnitzel while planning my next trip to Morocco.
Thursday. 4.19.12 1:26 pm
For some reason I was always aware of her skeleton. Perhaps it was because when she arrived she was thin and her hair was sparse, and when I rubbed my hand along her side I could feel her ribs, her pelvis, her elbows, her tail. Apart from her skeleton there was only her eyes, which contained the non-physical part of her being and which were profound and sad. When we paid her attention her skeleton would wriggle back and forth in a frenzied manner, as if all of her ribs were connected by single threads of tendon, forced into waves by the motion of her tail. When we ignored her she sank with a deep and heavy sigh into the corner, stared a thousand yard stare, and thought deep and heavy thoughts. Perhaps had she not been a dog she would have agitated for justice, or spoken out against abuse. But as she was a dog, she was a philosopher, and as a philosopher-dog her stomach sometimes won out over her mind when she made decisions. I knew her muscles well, having spent hours massaging them. Her skin slid in a rubbery sheet across her ribs as if it were only attached at several critical points around the edges. In return for my attentions I received a patient and thorough bath from her wide and methodical tongue. Together we felt like more than two beings, like between us there was a large black space filled with colliding galaxies.
She's been gone a long time now. In my memories she is tinged in golden afternoon sunlight. The scaffolding of the dog, of which I was so aware, turned out to be an order of magnitude less important than what hung from it, what lived with in it, what filled its spaces with flesh and blood.
I miss her.
Fieldwork on Mercury
Thursday. 4.12.12 4:33 pm
I look up at the cliffside. So this is Mercury.
For some reason I always thought that I would go to the Moon first. "Is this what it would be like to walk on the Moon?" I wonder, thinking of the Apollo astronauts who went before. But it doesn't matter now. I'm walking on Mercury.
The outcrop is made of massive gray bedrock. It towers over me, and spreads out to either side, impassable. All along the cliff I can see the sparkling of different kinds of beautiful minerals. Rubies, sapphires, amethyst, lepidolite, topaz, calcite, all in gorgeous perfect crystals a least a foot long. One after the next I place them carefully into a black plastic garbage bag. I look up. The other astronauts. "Hey, what's up, are you ready to start looking at the outcrop now?"
I hide the plastic bag full of beautiful minerals behind my back.
"What's that there, have you already collected some cool stuff?"
I sigh heavily and bring them all carefully out of the bag again to show my colleagues. Each one is a glittering beauty, a perfect type specimen of all of the most beautiful minerals known. Better yet, the appearance of each one in the outcrop revolutionizes our understanding of the planet Mercury.
Sometimes I wish I could just stay asleep forever.
Monday. 4.9.12 10:47 am
And then there is the question of Henry.
Henry and I have been friends since March of 2007. We travel in the same circles, we tend to do similar things. He went to UCLA, I went to Pomona. He went to Yale, I went to Brown. We've both lived in Bremen, Germany. We've both traveled to Antarctica. Henry's friends look just like my friends.
Only I have no idea who Henry is.
The only way that I know that I am friends with Henry is that Facebook tells me that it is so. We have no mutual friends. We were both in Bremen but not at the same time. We were both in Antarctica but not at the same time, or for the same reason. We are both scientists but he studies marine ecology.
Who are you, Henry?
I waste a good half-an-hour looking through photographs of Henry to try to determine where he fits into my life. There are any number of ways that I could know him, but nearly all of these should have left a trail of "mutual friends" from which I could devise our mysterious association. How did I know you, Henry? And why did I forget you?
Henry has a beautiful girlfriend. She looks like a model. She's an excellent photographer, and Henry's facebook photos benefit dramatically from the fact that she's in love with him. Many of the photos have that hipster, instagram feel to them, making them look like old pictures of somebody's parents when they were young.
I tried to imagine what it would be like if Henry were my father. What if he died right before I was born, and these facebook photos and my mom's memories were the only thing I had remaining of him? There he was, scuba diving in the Antarctic. There he is, catching giant cod up north. There he is dressed like a hippie, drinking a cocktail in an empty open-air tropical bar. Diving into waterfalls, wearing silly hats, presenting marine biology studies to the UN, preparing to eat raw eels, juggling coconuts. Wearing aviators and smiling a mega-watt smile, his muscled and tanned arm around my beautiful mother. Would he have inspired me to go to Yale? Would I have inherited from him a love for the sea?
I never knew him. My whole life had been defined by his absence. You could cut him out of that picture with my mother and if you pasted me in I'd never be big enough to fill up the hole that he'd left behind.
I came out of my imagination. How the hell did I know Henry? I didn't do anything in March of 2007!
I asked my old roommate if she'd ever heard of him. Nope. I tried to explain my fun game of redefining my relationship to someone in my head and then seeing how that would change my emotional reaction to their facebook photos. She didn't really say anything, but I could tell that she thought I was crazy. Oh well. Maybe games like that should stay in my head. I wonder what Henry Sr. would have thought?
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