Wednesday, September 29, 2004


When I came home this afternoon, all three cats were lined up at the door. Shaitan actually did make a break for freedom. I managed to catch him, without letting the other cats out, before he started exploring the corner where the rat met its end--but somehow I locked myself out of the apartment. The scary thing was that it took me about thirty seconds to break in, even holding a struggling kitten in one hand. (I'm not going to tell you how I broke in because some of you know where I live...then again, there's nothing worth stealing....)

I wish someone had filmed the episode. It must have been hilarious to see me trying to reason with Shaitan. "Look, you, the more you struggle the longer this is going to take, so settle down!...No, I am absolutely not going to let you go try to catch those birds, so don't even think about wriggling free....I know you're excited to be outside, but please, just be reasonable for once, okay?"

update on the little devil

Shaitan has taken to sitting on my feet while I'm making breakfast. (Yes, on, not at. He doesn't think I'm likely enough to notice him if I'm just tripping over him; he has to actually keep me from moving.) I still haven't figured out if this is because he knows there's food around and he's greedy, or if it's that he missed me and wants to say good morning, or if it's just that he's bored as heck and has already antagonized the other cats enough.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

dude, what you're telling me is that if I take out a line of code that reverses how the centre-of-mass to lab frame transformation is done, I won't get the right angular distributions? huh. And that if I don't realize that this is what I've done, I'll waste several days debugging? huh.

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again: Life would be a whole lot easier if I were just a bit smarter.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

hurricanes as agents of divine retribution

Whose side is God on? This chart gives us some clues. Hey, I'm just presenting facts here, people. We report, you decide.
I asked Debra tonight, "Do I shock you all of the time, or just most of the time?" I think she agreed that it was closer to most than to some. Maybe it was my abortion comment that tipped the balance--about how it should be not legal but mandatory. ... just a hunch.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

an airborne Shaitan is sooo close to killing that shadow Posted by Hello

cats, the pinnacle of evolution

I was putting some stuff into the hall cupboard just now when I noticed Shaitan stalking me. This isn't unusual. My toes are some of his favourite toys. Turned out what he was actually stalking was my shadow--the bright little lamp on top of the cupboard was making my hands cast most intriguing shadows on the wall. He demonstrated his hunting prowess with lightning-quick pounces and four-foot-high leaps, and yet somehow was left with nothing to show for all his effort--except for the pictures.

Yes, that's right. I've become one of those people who takes pictures of their cats.

But really, he's got some truly impressive hunting skills. I think my favourite move is when he gets so excited by chasing something that's moving in a circular pattern that he himself starts spinning in a circle, chasing his own tail. The one where he assumes a lying-slumped-on-his-side posture, so that he can either bat at his quarry with one paw, or take a nap, as the situation demands, is pretty good too.

I can't understand why cats don't run the planet.

Monday, September 20, 2004


I'd just like to gloat over the success of my hangover-averting endeavours. Staying up until 4 am drinking water meant that at 10 am I was happy to go out for breakfast with T&M. ... I kept trying to tell them that my resilience was proof that with age comes wisdom. They say that's true as long as I mean wisdom teeth.

It's wonderful that enough water protects one from the bad effects of overindulging in alcohol. Now if only there were a similar remedy for cheesecake....

Sunday, September 19, 2004

...and of course where TF is my water glass? uuhhhhh.....

so many questions

After a v. pleasant though not particularly rowdy party, I'm left with many questions. For example: Why did eveyone have to leave before midnight, when I clearly was not going to sober up anytime before 4 am.? Why did I think it was a good idea to eat that cheesecake on top of that ...was it pizza? most likely? How did I let myself be talked into those three last shots of akvavit? And perhaps most compellingly, do I never learn?

... all of which, of course, can be summed up as, WTF?

so many firsts

wow. so. both my first competetive shot-drinking AND my first phone-number acquisition as a thirty-something.

Not to mention my first drunken log-on to blogger.....

what a crazy world we live in

I loovvveee you guys. All of yu!

Friday, September 17, 2004

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

--Emily Bronte

Thursday, September 16, 2004


"The history of one's hatreds constitutes the single most important, most comprehensible, and most stable sense of identity for many people and nations. [To the ego, hatred is seductive, a] self-chosen bondage to another,...serving to structure the psyche. [Love can bring true attachment and meaning; hatred is] a cheap imitation of love....Hatred makes hopelessness meaningful, and thus bearable. You, my enemy, are going to become the coffin for my feelings."

--C. Fred Alford, professor of political psychology at U Maryland, quoted in the Sept/Oct Yale Alumni Magazine

this is getting boring

So for the third night in a row--and the...uh...twentieth? night in the past six months--I woke up at 2 am convinced that there was a big spider six inches from my face. Once again, I turned on all the lights, checked my bed for bugs, and waited for my heartbeat to stop deafening me so that I could go back to sleep. It's happened often enough now that I'm getting good at convincing myself that I was still asleep when I saw the monstrous hairy arthropod: it took me only half an hour to get back to sleep. Also, interestingly, the spiders I'm "seeing" are now just pretty big, whereas the first few that showed up ranged in size from "will suck my eyeballs out without a second thought" to "oh dear Lord I don't want to live in a world that contains critters like that" to "Shelob".

But really, this is all exceedingly vexing. Why should I get so freaked out by dream-spiders when I'm not arachnophobic in waking life? And it's so repetetive. I'm screaming to my brain, "I get it! I know I'm stressed out! Now can't you mix things up a bit? Make me dream of plane crashes, or accidents at chemical plants, or Republicans." But no. Spiders it is.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

from "post-modern" to "pre-apocalyptic"

So I just opened msn messenger, and one of the headlines on the ...well, we'll be kind and call it that opens up at the same time was: "Is your kid old enough for makeup? Find out if lipstick is appropriate for elementary school."



Is this a sign of the impending apocalypse?

Monday, September 13, 2004

I live with Satan

So my new roommates (who are very nice) brought with them two cats. The cats are brother and sister from the same litter, Ying (orange male with hindquarters that look like they were put on wrong--he kind of waddles) and Yang (black female) by name. Big, with big soulful eyes, and indolently inquisitive dispositions. Also declawed, and prone to streeeeeetching uuuuup to sharpen their claws against a wall...and of course sliding down ignominiously--cute, but not bright. Just when Ying and Yang were getting the hang of their new digs, my roommates adopted a stray kitten. (The grocer down the street had been feeding it, and figured it needed a permanent home.) This new little one is a ball of energy. He's very curious and very quick and very playful, which means that tying your shoes has become a hazardous activity: even if he's in the other room when you start, by the time you finish he will likely have appeared and started wrestling the shoelace away from you. He's been terrorizing Ying and Yang. Well, he thinks of it as "playing with", but he has claws and they don't, and they're clearly losing sleep over the situation. Quite apart from his disposition, his outsized ears give him a rather devilish appearance. Finally my roommates decided that the only possible name for him is Shaitan. I love it. It makes me giggle to say, "Who's a good little Shaitan? Does Shaitan want to be scratched under his chin? Who's my creampuff?"

Sunday, September 12, 2004

random memory

K (pointing at E): Other!
E: You can't other me. I'm going to other you! (pointing at K) Other!
K: Don't mess with my hermeneutics.
E: Dude!

That snippet--part of a dinner conversation five years ago, in the graduate-student dorm here--just popped into my head for some reason. It encapsulates my experience of living there. Happy days....

wouldn't YOU be totally psyched too?

So last week I finally talked to the music director at my church about what he wants me to do there for the remainder of my time in town. We agreed that I'd do the same thing as last year: two song each week as part of the early mass. The moment I hung up the phone I started rooting through my music...uh...well, actually, my database....see, I have this spreadsheet set up for all my church repertoire, with columns for texts and translations and biographical information and a couple of words about the theological point being made.....yeah. Life has been much easier since I've just accepted that I'm a geek. Anyway, I picked out a bunch of my favourite pieces from the past five years of doing this kind of thing at that church, and ended up with the following:

  • a lied by Wolf
  • four arias by Handel ("O thou that tellest", "Let the bright seraphim", "But who may abide", and "Comfort Ye/Every Valley", if anyone's keeping score; and yes, they are each written for an entirely different voice type)
  • two arias and a trio by Mendelssohn (and no I'm not going to sing all three parts of the trio, smartass)
  • the first movement of Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate"
  • only one Bach aria (!)
  • three pieces of mediaeval Armenian liturgical music
  • three spirituals
  • two of Copland's "Old American Songs"
  • half a dozen other random things

I'm totally psyched to have a reason to get back into practice singing. The choir director laughed at me, though, when, the day after we talked, I showed up at church with a binder for him, containing copies of all of the pieces for the rest of the semester, complete with little post-it flags labelling each piece. geeeeeeek.....

Saturday, September 11, 2004

This is me walking down the street

May all beings be happy and peaceful
May all beings be healthy and well
May all beings live in safety
May all beings live with ease...

Get out of the way, ya fat cow! Stop cluttering up the sidewalk with your stroller and your two big dogs! This isn't your living room, for heaven's sake! Some of us have places to go!

Where was I?

May all beings be free from suffering
May all beings be free from the causes of suffering...

food porn

Once again I find myself eating the following things for lunch:

whole wheat/sun-dried tomato bread (homemade)
basil/walnut pesto (homemade)
roasted red peppers (homemade)
fresh orange grape (?) tomatoes (from the farmers' market)

Dinner is going to include a salad made from roasted beets of various kinds (from the farmers' market again).

Are grad students even allowed to eat this well? Isn't there some line in our contracts that specifies that we must subsist primarily on ramen?

Friday, September 10, 2004


I'm turning thirty next weekend. That started to seem like a milestone only very recently. I'm hoping people will use it as an excuse to make a fuss over me. There's no such thing as too much attention, if you ask me. T-Regina is going to have a party for the two of us--mine until midnight, hers thereafter--making it the sixth year running that the two of us have celebrated together. Miss Manners says it's in appalling taste to use these events as an excuse to shake down one's friends. I shall therefore make no mention of my Amazon wishlist.

Why they're happy:

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Present and Unaccountable

I spent the last week of August at a retreat at the IMS. It was...well, here are some different levels of summary:

Casual conversation:
The retreat was fabulous! Very intense. I didn't want to leave. I'm going to have to go back as soon as I can.

Somewhat more in-depth:
The setting is idyllic. The retreat centre is in rural Massachussetts, a few miles outside of Barre. The centre itself is a big old house that was first built as someone's weekend home, then taken over by a monastery (if I remember correctly) and eventually bought by IMS in the seventies. Around the centre are farms--there's one place that seems to train horses and give horse riding lessons, there's another place that has a roadside stand where you can buy tomatoes, and there's another place that sells maple syrup. The only thing all the farm houses have in common is that they without exception have animal statues in their front yards. Seems a bit redundant, given that there are real live deer and rabbits and turkeys that are very likely to be in someone's yard on any given day.

The schedule was intense. Up at 5:15 (the bell actually started ringing at 5:05; the first morning I heard the bell, saw that it was dark outside, looked at my bedside clock, and said out loud "You have GOT to be kidding me"), sit for half an hour, breakfast, chores (or "washing-dishes meditation", as I came to think of it), then alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation for the rest of the day, with breaks for lunch and tea, and some instruction by the teachers, and the occasional chance to speak directly to the teachers.

The teachers were brilliant. As compassionate and insightful as you'd expect of meditation teachers, with all kinds of personal anecdotes that were useful and insightful (sitting with fear and aversion when her meditation hut in Thailand was invaded by a large lizard; a teacher's experience sending metta to a tiger that wanted to share his walking-meditation path with him). The only funny thing about them was their Boston accents. They weren't noticible at first, besides a slightly mush-mouthed approach to consonants, but eventually I realized that they were telling us to pay attention to our "tho-wats." I had a hard time not grinning every time that word came up.

The walking meditation often made me grin too. To stay mindful of what our bodies were doing, it was often helpful to walk very slowly. The result was that there were a hundred people walking baaaaack....aaaand.....foorrrthhhh....looking like nothing so much as the Ministry of Silly Walks, Slow Division. (I nominated myself the Undersecretary in Charge of Falling Over for No Reason.)

The other retreatants gave me a lot of stuff to think about...or rather, led to a lot of thoughts arising. There were a lot more young people there than the last time I went--even one kid who'd just begun college, but over a dozen in their (our) late twenties. There wasn't all that much variety in backgrounds (Rick the pipe-fitter seemed to be the only one with a blue-collar job) and the few people of colour were very few (but present!) and the bumper stickers on the cars were reasonably uniform (three occurrences of "Let's not elect Bush in 2004 either", three "Free Tibet", several meditation in-jokes). But it was interesting to notice my reactions to all these people. How do I react to people I find attractive? how is it different from my reaction to unattractive people? Who do I tend to be impatient with? whom do I smile indulgently towards? My favourite was probably the kooky old guy with the haystack of white hair, multiple piercings (including an alarming septum ring), a tattoo that said "VEGAN", and a "Veterans for Peace" hat festooned with buttons advocating various progressive causes. He must have some interesting stories to tell.

My roommate was neat. I was hoping to get to talk to her at the end of the retreat, but unfortunately she left partway through. We hadn't been doing a good job of keeping silence: we always seemed to be having conversations at 3 am, whether on account of one of us waking the other with a nightmare or by tripping over her (!) or on account of the truly impressive thunderstorm. Pity that we didn't get to talk in an officially-sanctioned way. I felt like we had a lot in common: she's a massage therapist, and I introduce myself as a massage therapist at parties.

I didn't want to leave at the end of the retreat, and I'm thinking of making a week or two-week retreat a yearly thing. I felt like it was too long between my first retreat and this one, and I think I can make a lot of progress with more time for concentrated effort. I'm even fantasizing about doing a three-month retreat. I was talking to some people about their experiences with it, and it makes me want to put all my other plans on hold so I can do this.

More detail than you need to know:
I was terrified going into the retreat. I was carrying a heavy load of remorse and fear, after having carelessly hurt (possibly quite badly) three or four people who are very dear to me. (Sordid story which I have no intention of going into here.) I was expecting to have storms of emotion break over my head as soon as I sat down to meditate. I was bracing myself for tears, rage, despair--all these big cathartic emotions. What I got instead was endless repetitions of the Sesame Street theme song: I spent the first six days of the retreat coping with the wandering of my mind. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it was probably exactly what I needed. I got to see exactly how undisciplined my mind is usually, and how much time I spend lost in fantasies or memories or planning. It was also a chance to encourage my mind to settle down, in a gentle compassionate manner. My natural tendency is, when I see my mind wandering during (say) metta meditation, to start chewing it out: "Look, motherfucker, do you want to be free of suffering or don't you? Settle down already!" The teachers emphasized over and over that the thing to do is just to notice the wandering and gently bring your attention back to whatever it is that you're attending to, rather than getting upset about the wandering itself. Hmm. Tricky, that.

One of the most healing interactions I had was with one of the resident chipmunks. Since everyone at the IMS moves slowly and deliberately and has taken it upon themselves to not harm any living being, the wild critters around there are not shy. The chipmunks in particular will climb on you at any opportunity--no doubt in hopes of your having brought them food. I did get in the habit of sharing my teatime sunflower seeds with them. (Someone pointed out later that we'd been instructed to not feed the animals. oops.) Quite apart from how adorkable they looked as they stuffed their little cheeks, it was good to realize that they were willing to trust me. If a chipmunk climbs up onto you, all you have to do to prove yourself worthy of that trust is to stay still. Since I was feeling spectacularly, deeply untrustworthy, it was reassuring to be reminded that being trustworthy, like all "character traits", is simply a set of actions, and that I can earn people's or critters' trust if I give my attention to it. The Earth is crammed with meditation teachers.

One thing that got mentioned in the Dharma talks was the preliminaries to meditation: Before you even start to meditate, the Buddha's instruction is to practice generosity (by supporting the communities of meditators) and to live a moral life so that your mind won't be preoccupied with remorse. Huh. Clever lad, that Buddha fellow.

The catharsis came, eventually. Once the tears started it seemed like they would never stop. At the end of the retreat I was still in full-blown Repentence mode, and in no way ready to go back to quotidian responsibilities.