Friday, September 23, 2005

press release

I've been quiet recently. It's gotten to the point that even the people who are closest to me have said things like "You're going WHERE for three months?" or "You're bringing WHO home for Christmas?" So here's a run-down of what's been happening for me and what's going to happen in the next while.

This summer I finished writing my dissertation and worked on experiments at a lab in Vancouver.

Over the past week I've done a lot of travelling. I spent last weekend in Ottawa with my baby brother (who is 28 and a homeowner) and his friends. It was my birthday on Sunday and we all went out for drinks. My brother's friends were the sweetest. One of them was charmingly astonished that I was actually turning 31. "I wouldn't have put you at more than ... (long pause) ... 30." Riiiiight.

As a birthday/graduation present, my parents gave me a stethescope--because how can I be a Doctor without one? I put it to good use when I finally met my long-time internet buddy Corey.

Doctor Rachel's first patient

We are soooo cool--rockin' out in the Rideau Centre food court.

totally badass

Travelling TO Ottawa was somewhat...problematic. The night before, my otherwise-lovely boyfriend tried to poison me. I'm not sure exactly how much I had to drink, but I learned yet again that any drink that includes both vodka and cranberry juice should be handled with extreme care because of the way that the cranberry masks the alcohol. About all I can say for myself on the plane trip to Ottawa the next day is that I didn't actually vomit into the first-class drinks cart while squeezing past it on my way up from the "Hospitality" cabin to the first-class bathroom. We of the Hospitalitariat have to line up for two little bathrooms while the first-class overlords have a bathroom all to themselves. Using their bathroom was a big enough act of class warfare in itself that I thought it was redundant to escalate hostilities by vomiting on anyone.

I got to spend a couple of days in New York after Ottawa, visiting with T-regina (whose birthday falls on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, yaarrrrrr) and with my friend Willem, his wife Debbie, and their new family member Isaac. His 84th-day birthday is today. When I told them my retreat is going to be 84 days long, they had a really visceral (literally!) appreciation of exactly how long that is.

At the moment I'm back in New Haven, sitting at my old desk in my old office. I got back here to find that someone had used the printer in the outer office to print out the results of a Google image search for "porn" with (get this) the Safe Search on. The results included things like images from the Muppet movie, for some reason. I'm hoping that this was a joke, because surely no physics grad student can be that stupid, but fearing that it really was just someone being dumb.

I'm packing up my stuff for my retreat. I'm leaving tomorrow and getting back on Dec. 16th. Lots of sweaters are going into my bags. (Also my wikkid-cool meditation cushion, which takes up a good chunk of space by itself.) Before I go, I'm going to hand in my thesis to the graduate school, and while I'm gone I'll be officially doctor-ified.

(And yes, the last paragraph does mean that I'm going to be out of contact until Dec. 16th. If I'm not commenting on your blog during this time, I'm not snubbing you. I'll catch up with you when I get back.)

I'm cramming for my retreat by listening to Leigh Brasington's Jhana talks. He just shared a brilliant quote: "You can't have a belief system without BS." har har har

After my retreat, I'm heading over to the UK to start my new job. I'll be working as a post-doc at the University of York. Before I start that, I'm taking a trip to Turkey to visit my parents, who are settling in nicely there.

So that's my life. Between that and my flickr updates, you know everything. Doesn't that feel better?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

it just occurred to me...

...that if my name were Katrina I'd be royally pissed at all the headlines about how Katrina is the worst disaster in the history of the US.

Also, everyone has to go read Waiter Rant's latest. Sample:

God suffers with us. He shares in our pain. If you’ve ever been to a child’s funeral you know the only thing you can do is cry. God is like that person weeping in the funeral parlor. It was God who was pulverized when the Towers fell, it was God who burned in the Nazis' ovens, and it was God who drowned in that nursing home in New Orleans.

Contrast this with Pat Robertson's usual pronouncements, and ask yourself which one of them should be talking theology in public.

(Don't even bother going to look at what has to say about the storm. It's revolting, as usual.)

(Oh, and my favourite bit of Pat Robertson? His "biblical" justification for why you shouldn't get a tattoo. "The Bible does talk about scarring and marring of the body and cutting the body. These are pagan customs, and the Bible condemns it. All these scars, you look in pagan cultures, they cut themselves. They leave great scars in their bodies. And usually it was a scarring to indicate their allegiance to some pagan deity. So that’s what tattoos are all about. Plus the fact, they’re ugly.")

Saturday, September 03, 2005

This is what the era of small government looks like

An online acquaintance of mine bragged yesterday that he had given "$250 EACH to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army". I had to step away from the computer and take a few deep breaths after I read that. This is someone who, like 16% of eligible American voters, voted for Bush, and who has made the argument that charity is "more meaningful" when the donors get to decide how to allocate their money.

To that latter contention, all I can say is: people are dying because of your sentimentality.

If you fight tooth and nail to cut the revenue of the federal government by cutting taxes, thereby undermining the kinds of services that could have saved thousands of lives this week in New Orleans, you are NOT the good guy when you donate money to the relief organizations. That money should have been contributed in the form of taxes and used to reinforce the levees. But as long as individuals, and not the government, get to choose which "charity" projects they're going to support, the projects that will actually save and improve lives will always be underfunded. For example: me. I give money to the Nature Conservancy, Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Doctors Without, I'm missing a few, but one thing you'll notice is that there's not a single civil engineering project or water purifying plant in the list of the Causes I sponsor. People will donate to libraries and schools (both vitally important) before they'll donate to the things that actually make life in the developed world possible.

This somehow is connected in my mind to Salon's review of "The Dukes of Hazzard". It's been bothering me for weeks now.
The press notes for "Dukes of Hazzard" feature a quote from producer Bill Gerber: "I was searching for a project that really captured the American spirit," he begins. "The heart of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' is family and protecting what you love."

Is that really the "American spirit"--to fight for the people you are genetically related to, and to say to heck with the rest? Another name for that "spirit" is "tribalism". It's the system that the most regressive Muslim states effectively operate under; heck, it's the spirit that most social animals operate under. Is that really what America has come to? What happened to "Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses"? Has that spirit really been replaced by greed, racism, and xenophobia? If they haven't, what explains the fact that some of the busses to evacuate the people without their own cars STILL haven't arrived--instead of having arrived in the days before the hurricane struck? Why have so many of America's own poor, tired, huddled masses essentially been left to drown?

I forgot one of my charities: Plan International (a.k.a. Childreach). It runs projects in developing countries where the governments don't have the money for social services because of corruption (giving tax breaks to the friends of the leaders for example) or because there's no money (in some cases because the entire budget goes to the military). Right now I have a sponsored child in Indonesia and one in Thailand. I wonder if they'll let me sponsor a child in New Orleans.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


So the thesis defence was not all that traumatic. I quite enjoyed giving the talk itself, and the questions were on the whole manageable, although I did come out of there saying, "huh, I really don't know any nuclear physics anymore."

But anyway, I am now a Doctor. And I'm going to be absolutely insufferable about it. I will insist on being called "Doctor" at all times. I didn't slave away here for...god, don't want to think about how many be called "Ms." or "Miss." I will refuse to answer to my name, first or last, or to any random salutation, unless there's a Dr. in there.

"Bitch, make me a sandwich."
"I said make me a sandwich, bitch."
"...oh, are you talking to me?"
"Oh, right. Make me a sandwich, Doctor Bitch."
"One sandwich, coming up."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Titles, and countdown

The title of my dissertation, on my first progress report:
Levels in 27Si that are resonances for 26Al + p

My private working title of my dissertation, after I had the first good look at the data:
Levels in 27Si that are NOT resonances for 26Al + p

The title I was considering when I realized that I had 50 figures on 60 pages of text:
Baby's first illustrated guide to explosive nucleosynthesis

The "sexy" title that my supervisor suggested:
26Alm + p resonances in 27Si

The title that I ended up putting on the title page of the document that got circulated to my committee:
27Alm + p resonances in 27Si'll notice that that last option involves adding 27 + 1 and getting 27. I'm looking for new and unusual phenomena, but not quite THAT unusual.

So, um, yeah. I'm sitting around, reading papers, going over my slides one last time, and watching the clock until it's time to leave for the airport. My thesis defence is on Tuesday (10 am EDT, if you want to burn a candle for me) and I'm having trouble sitting still. I know there's very little point trying to DO anything more at this point, but still I can't shake the feeling that there's one more paper that I can read that will make all the difference when I get asked a hard question.

tick tock tick tock

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Pat Robertson: An embarassment to the Church

Who would Jesus assassinate?

"I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don't think any oil shipments will stop. But this man is a terrific danger, and this is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, and we have other doctrines that we have announced, and without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another 200-billion-dollar war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

- Pat Robertson, advocating the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

This is from a Sojourners e-mail I just got. Pat Robertson is an embarassment to everyone who has ever been associated with Christianity or with America. It's time for him to do damage control, and I don't mean the travesty of an apology that he gave yesterday in which he tried to deny saying what had been captured on videotape. It's time for him to retire from public life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Butts are funny

Poppy Z. Brite's blog includes a passing reference to a puerile game she plays with a friend: replacing a word in the title of a book with "Butt". I'm still giggling about it...

Infinite Butt
Play with your Butt
Essays in Butt Astrophysics
Where the Wild Butts Are
The Oxford Butt Dictionary
How to Cook Butts

*snrk*...butts...heh heh

Welcome to my world!

ALMOST the perfect man

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Out for dinner just now with K+A+T, the conversation turned to chocolate. A said, "T, you make truffles, don't you?" K chimed in: "Wow, truffles AND your famous margaritas--you're ALMOST the perfect man."

Once she realized exactly how back-handed that compliment was, K was utterly mortified. A and I tried not to laugh too much...we did! we tried! honest! might have been hard to tell that we were trying, granted, given that it took us five minutes to stop cackling and wipe away the tears, and that periodically throughout the rest of the meal we'd look at T and start giggling again.

He'd already said that he wasn't going to work on another experiment with A and ML, because of how much whispering and cackling they do, and he's comparing hanging around with K and A and me to being in "Macbeth"...pretty soon he won't be talking to any of us at all, let alone doing night shifts for us. We'd better get back on his good side pronto.

*sigh* Happiness is working with someone who makes you laugh until you cry.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Holiday! Celebrate!

So I started my new job on July 4. Today the contract arrived in the mail. I leafed through it, skimming the bits about how working hours are "to be negotiated with your supervisor", skipping entirely the bits about pensions. What grabbed my attention was this:

"Holiday entitlement:
You are entitled to 38 days' holiday, including 8 statutory holidays, in any one year (commencing with the effective date of your appointment)..."

38 days' holiday, including 8 statutory holidays.


Having lived in the States for the past 7 years, I'm used to people complaining about how they don't get any paid holidays their first year on the job, and even after that they have to wheel and deal in order to be able to take more than two days off at xmas.


Couple that with "working hours are to be negotiated with your supervisor" and I can essentially spend all next summer on the Riviera.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I've got money in my pocket
I like the colour of my hair
I've got a friend who loves me
Got a house, got a car
I've got a good mother...

Canadians might recognize that bit of Jann Arden--Americans, think low-budget Melissa Etheridge. Anyway, that's the song that's been in my head today. I finally do have money in my pocket. It took close on two weeks, but my new boss figured out how to get me my paycheque to Canada from the UK. To celebrate, I paid off my Visa bill. I swear, any day now the "Girls Gone Wild" camera crew is going to start following me around.
I do also, as it happens, like the colour of the hair, but since I've never dyed it that's entirely fortuitous.
I have the use of both a house and a car, which strikes me as unutterably luxurious, most days.
My good mother celebrated her 59th birthday in Turkey on Sunday. Go wish her happy birthday.
My friend is about to cook some halibut for me, so I'd better cut this short and go try to convince him that he does in fact like beets. (He's skeptical, but keeping an open mind.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Camping trip

So this weekend we went camping. Like, real camping. Like, hike three hours uphill in the dark to get to the campsite without knowing for sure that there'll be anywhere to put up your tent when you get there.

...okay, I shouldn't try to sound like I'm Tough Outdoors Chick or anything, or my camping partner is sure to point out that (a) I carried nothing heavier than a sleeping bag all weekend and (b) I never once had to pee in the bush, there being nicely maintained outhouses all over the landscape. But still. Tent. Hills. Packing out garbage. And views. Like this one. This is what we saw at breakfast the morning after we arrived.

garibaldi lake and sphinx glacier

Garibaldi Lake is a glacial lake in Garibaldi Park (between Squamish and Whistler). Its waters look like this.

garibaldi lake water

On Saturday morning the plan was to climb Black Tusk. It's the little nubbin in the middle of this picture. It doesn't look like much from down there, does it?

black tusk from garibaldi lake

Near the top there's a sign saying (essentially) "Don't go past this point if you know what's good for you." My hiking partner went on (duh), I went for a nap. It was quite cozy, curled up in the sunlight there. Of course I missed out on the stunning views from the top, but at that point I was too sleepy to care.

you don't seriously think I'm going to stop here

...of course, even from where I was, the views were pretty impressive. We were looking down on our campsite, more or less.

lake garibaldi from black tusk

The next day we went to Panorama Ridge. About 4 pm I was completely exhausted (which I freely admitted), and also very scared (which I fiercely denied). What I find interesting about this photo is the non-dorkiness of my expression. This is something that's practically unique among photos of me. I try to smile nice for the camera, I come out looking dorky. I try to look sultry? Dorky. I try to look like a respectable upstanding citizen? Dorky. But in this photo I just look normal. Tired and normal.

exhausted but soldiering on

We were most of the way up the mountain, and we kept meeting people who told us how great it was at the top, but I just really didn't think I could make it the rest of the way up. It was shale scree. I hate scree. It disturbs and upsets me on some deep existential level. It's just so...hostile. It doesn't want to be walked on. Somehow my hiking partner calmed me down and coached me over it, and then he stomped out little steps for me on the bit of glacier we had to cross to get to the top.

my own personal wenceslas

From the top we could see...everything. This is looking down on Garibaldi Lake.

cloud shadows on lake garibaldi from gentian peak

Black Tusk also looks much more impressive from here.

black tusk from gentian peak

And then we went home.

That makes it sound a lot less effort than it really was. From the moment I first thought "That's it, I'm done" to the moment I collapsed into bed there were six hours of hiking and two and a half hours of driving (with a break for steak. mmm...steak...).

There was never that much physical exertion--mostly because of the patience and generosity of my hiking partner, who carried all of the heavy stuff and never complained that I was strolling instead of striding--but even strolling gets taxing if you do it for ten hours. But I was left with this wonderful sense of ...physical ease, I guess, the next day (once a little bit of stiffness wore off). Everything seemed like less work than it did last week--both physically, because now I'm used to climbing big things for a long time, and emotionally, because hey, I can climb mountains!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

even more updates

Things are good here.

...oh, you expected more detail? okay. Right now I'm watching someone make brownies, shirtless. He knows I'm watching, so he's pausing to flex from time to time. It's a good sight.

Earlier today I was laughing so hard I was crying at silly stories my new boss was telling. She plus her grad student plus me make a coven. The boys in the lab are a little bit overawed.

The harbour is glassy as we get closer to sunset. The adorkable little "water taxis" are making their adorkable little way back and forth across False Creek.

At lunch I went for a walk in the woods and stuffed myself on blackberries and thimbleberries. The brambleberries aren't quite ready yet, which is good: they'll come along right after I've eaten all the blackberries.

My dissertation defence has been firmly scheduled and my committee all have copies of my dissertation.

The cats that live at the place where I'm staying like to sit on my lap.

The experiment has finally started working, AND I don't have any more night shifts.

Next weekend I might be going paragliding (parasailing? whatever). After all this experimenting I deserve a weekend off.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

more updates

Unfairness of the day: Last night I had my first spider dream in months. They're not supposed to happen after stress goes away. It just ain't right.
What I find weird is that in waking life I am not bothered by spiders at all. There's a large spider living on the windowsill of my new bedroom (I think it's a wolf spider), and there was a large yellowish spider who seemed to spend most of her time crawling around the wall behind my bed in my old bedroom. The way I see it (when I'm awake at least) is that they've got their own spider plans and aspirations, and I shouldn't mess with them. When I'm asleep, it's apparently quite a different story.

Good thing of the day: Today was my first day working with my new boss. We'll call her Allie. She's a month older than I am. She's been a professor in the UK for a couple of years now. She's tremendous fun. It's gonna be great working with her. Today was a good day, because it was mostly manual labour: assembling delicate detector arrays, mounting them, connecting cables--the sort of thing that takes a lot of attention, but not a lot of thought, which is absolutely perfect after the strain of the past few days. Plus there was a beautiful moment when Allie and I and another female physicist (Italian, charming and sophisticated) were taking detectors out of their containers: to handle them, we put on latex gloves. I found myself thinking, "Three smokin' hot female physicsts (and yes I AM including myself in that category--got a problem?) wearing latex gloves...this HAS to be someone's fantasy."

Monday, July 11, 2005

it is finished

Yeah, you heard it. I finished my dissertation.

...for some value of finished. I still have to upload it to the web so the long-suffering departmental secretary can print out copies for my committee (I'll send the link if you're interested in reading it...ha ha), and of course my defence isn't for six weeks yet...and after the defence there's sure to be changes to make before I actually submit it to the grad school. Still. Finished, even only approximately, feels...good. Very good.
...particularly after this weekend. It was a long weekend of frantic writing. Today my supervisor was literally standing over me in the control room where I was writing while I kept eye on the experiment. (Today it came in handy that I don't really know the set-up yet: when things went wrong I was able to claim ignorance and get someone else to do the debugging.)

I celebrated by buying myself flowers. They don't look like they'll last long, but for now they're making my room smell nice.

Other general updates:
I'm settled into Vancouver for now, after a weekend of enjoying being "of no fixed address". I have a cell phone that works nicely for short local calls, and I'm looking into Skype for long distance chatting.
I still haven't heard anything about the "real job" that I've applied for, but the more I hear about that department the less I want to work there anyway. They sound disorganized at best and possibly passive-aggressive.
I may start getting paid sometime soon. By my employer, I mean. My grad-school supervisor hasn't cut me loose yet, so I won't starve, but it's taking a while to figure out which hoops I have to jump through to get paid by the university in the UK. Apparently they want to deposit my cheques into a UK bank account, and I have yet to find a UK bank that will let me open an account from Canada. We'll see how that all works out....

I'm too sleepy now to tell you about my parents' adventures in Turkey. Maybe next time.

Monday, July 04, 2005

scenes from a roadtrip

"Spiders are incredibly intelligent. Also evil."
"No! Spiders are nice!"
"Nice? They control our minds!"
"Yes, but it's for our own good. Bow before the benevolent spider overlords!"


"I don't want octopusses to be arachnids. I also want the plural to be "octopi"."
"You're not a revisionist historian, you're worse: you're a revisionist biologist AND a revisionist grammarian."




"I bet I could climb that. Have to have multiple belayers, though."


"You should update your Orkut profile and put "hoodoo spotting" in the "interests" section."


"You know, hoodoos are often haunted. In Haiti, that would make them Voodoo hoodoos. I know you're keen to climb these ones here, but would you do voodoo hoodoos?"
"It may also surprise you to learn that several years ago I participated in a UN mission to bring peace to Rwanda by broadening the cultural horizons of one of the warring factions."
"Yeah. First we taught them ballet. That was a bit of a mistake because they were so taken with the costumes that they refused to take them off. Then we did a nature appreciation class with them. They were particularly good at imitating owls. Then we did a sightseeing tour of the Wild West, and they took to the sixguns-and-hipflask lifestyle immediately. And we capped it all off with a rockclimbing expedition to Haiti."
"uh huh."
"Yeah. You should have seen those rootin' tootin' hooting tutu-ed Hutus on voodoo hoodoos."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Also just in time for Canada Day: Parliament legalizes same-sex marriages. (Still needs approval by the Senate, technically, but still--hurray!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Just in time for Canada Day

My brother writes:
My afternoon project was to keep putting O Canada through the Babel Fish online translator in spare moments. I've lost track of all the languages it's been through, but the result is pretty fun.
The result:
Canada! Our natural houses and land!
Them themselves where the love patriot until now we powerful north look at truth completely in order of the thy thread thee of increase,
without either the powder, are far, are large it is moved and the lever,
Canada because of us, finds with the adaptation of of safety for thee.
God he of our will from attentiveness is the gorgeous land!
Canada, because discovery of the adaptation of of safety for us thee.
Canada, because discovery of the adaptation of of safety for us thee.
I'm all choked up.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

academia: a vignette

After my second year of university, I spent the summer working in a research lab. My friend Tom was doing the same, but instead of sharing an office with other undergrads he shared the office of his supervisor's post-doc Bill. Bill was a curmudgeon-in-training. His favourite rant was about how academia is exploitative and unjust, and he had all these elaborate stories to tell about professors who made their careers out of stealing the research of their students. It was entertaining enough, in its repetitive way, but we generally managed to avoid eating lunch with him.

Well, one day we ran into Bill and he was just glowing. He spontaneously started telling us about how academia is really the only possible career choice for a smart person, because it's the only true meritocracy around. He went on in this vein for several minutes, then floated off, his feet barely touching the ground.

I looked at Tom. I didn't even have to ask the question. He said, "Yeah, Bill just won an award."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Alex is very happy about his ten inches. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

today's weirdness

From a nuclear physics paper compiling spectroscopic data:

"This timeline shows the "Rise and Fall" (footnote 1) of the spectroscopy of light nuclei, a narrow peak in the years around 1970 with a height about seven times the 1995 publication rate."

footnote 1: From "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", W.L. Shirer (Secker and Wartburg, London).

uh. what?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

freudian mis-hearing

At a barbecue last night someone pulled out the 2006 edition of the GRE handbook. (I know, I know....) For some reason I thought they said it was the sex edition.... That would at least have made people's fervent interest in it a bit easier to explain.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

good old Dan Savage

From this week's column:

In other gay news: Last week, the pope condemned divorce, masturbation, birth control, in vitro fertilization, living together before marriage, and same-sex marriage. According to Bennie, all of the above add up to "anarchic freedom." The headlines the next day? "Pope Condemns Gay Marriage As 'Anarchy.'" The headlines should have read something like this: "Pope Condemns Majority Of American Heterosexuals For Private Sexual Conduct; Also, Gay Marriage."

Once again, he hits the nail on the head.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


So I'm getting together my committee for my thesis defence right now. I've got an off-site reader, a theorist (known for asking soft-ball questions), and a couple of others--and I'm also thinking about asking this one junior (very junior--he makes the transition from post-doc next week) professor to be on the committee, just because he blushes and stammers whenever I make direct eye contact with him. Not only is that very entertaining but it lends itself to certain...abuses.

Scene: the examination after my public talk
Prof: Can you be more specific about the calibration (I show a little leg) meth... er... what?

heh heh heh.


The fire station that's a block from my place (right on my way to the lab) has a flagpole with a big american flag on it. Today it's at half-mast. (I don't know why--anyone have any ideas?) A few weeks ago, though, it was at three-quarter-mast. Either the firemen were too lazy that morning to pull it up all the way, or they were observing a National Day of Bumming that someone had declared, unbeknownst to most of the rest of us.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Gay men make the best wives

So my dear friend A. is staying at my place right now. It's fabulous. I come home from work, he makes dinner, then he washes the dishes while we talk about boys and whether I should pluck my eyebrows. He's leaving tomorrow, which is sad; otherwise I'd have to buy him a frilly apron to complete the picture.

Friday, June 03, 2005

overheard at a restaurant

"My doctor is the coolest ever. I had to do a drug test for work--they wanted to make sure I'd stopped smoking pot. When he gave me the results he said, 'Well, you tested positive for cocaine--but since the test was only supposed to be for pot, I don't think anyone needs to know about this.'"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

darn it

Last night I was antsy and not wanting to settle down to anything, so I started clearing out my bookshelves. First I picked out all the books I wanted to get rid of...all three of them. I realized a change of strategy was necessary, so I picked out all the books I want to either have with me this summer or store for a year or two. The ones I don't want to bother storing went into two big-ass canvas bags (there's probably another bagful or two that can still be weeded out) which I took to the used book store downtown this afternoon. Getting them there, on my bike, was a royal pain. They weighed me down and made biking precarious, and the straps were always threatening to slip off my shoulders. I distracted myself with thoughts of the quasi-philosophical blog entry I'd compose about the experience: I was anticipating the lightness of biking home emptyhanded, and making the obvious extensions to the the lightness of not owning much stuff, or at least of being able to walk away from it without regret...which would possibly lead to retelling the following anecdote:
A certain dervish was travelling through the desert, and stayed the night in the camp of another dervish. He was shocked to see the luxury of his host's tent--soft beds, colourful hangings--and most shocking of all were the solid-gold tent pegs. He upbraided his host:
"You call yourself a holy man? We must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, so you can purify yourself."
His host said, "Very well, let's leave at once," and began to walk. The traveller said, "--but aren't you going to pack up your belongings? What about those tent pegs?"
"They are driven into the ground, not into my heart."

So I was feeling quite excited and pleased with myself as I arrived at the book shop...and saw a sign on the door about how they're not buying any books for the next week because their manager is away.


It just goes to show, I suppose, that it's possible to attach to anything, even the idea of getting rid of stuff.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

why I love my family, reason #476

I recently spent several hours in the car with my brother. Road trips with him are more fun than with almost anyone else. He's ready to switch at a moment's notice from unfeigned enthusiasm about the scenery, to earnest discussions of Canadian foreign policy, in which I invariably learn something, to gleeful random silliness. In a lull in the conversation, I started meowing a Christmas carol, and....


oh fine. I'll start from the beginning.

Some years ago, T-Regina was given an...object for Christmas. It was a wall plaque with a dozen or so plush kitten heads mounted on it. They were arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree. When you pressed a button, they would all start meowing, and each of them meowed at a different pitch, and their meows were synchronized so that they would produce more-or-less recognizable versions of several Christmas songs. I have never quite recovered from their version of "Jingle Bells." I wouldn't exactly say that it's changed the course of my life; it's more that it's changed me. To this day, there are moments at which I'm compelled to start imitating the kittens' songs. Mostly people are so disoriented by this that they never do settle on a response. "You're" is the closest most come. My brother, on the other hand, joined in. Before I'd meowed my way to the end of the first bar of "O Christmas Tree," he was meowing along with me. In harmony.

The next day, the impulse seized me again, when he and our father and I were puttering about the kitchen. We had three-part meowing harmony going there for a bit.

(If Mom hadn't been reformatting her hard drive, it might have been four part harmony.)

this one's gonna lose me some friends, but the truth will out.

My recent trip to a wine region of California made me think of the experience of a certain friend of mine, who would sometimes introduce the subject of wine at cocktail parties. Invariably someone would bring up the concept of terroir, that ineffable combination of soil and climate and tradition and je ne sais quoi that gives certain great French vineyards their cachet. He would always try to counter their assertions with the results of his own research into grape types and modern viticulture methods, as well as the actual drinkability of the products of pedigreed and unpedigreed vineyards--but to no avail. He found that anyone who would bring up terroir was immune to logic, and eventually he learned to avoid such conversations entirely; in short, he made it his policy not to negotiate with terroir-ists.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Dharma talks

Here is an essay by Thanissaro Bhikkhu: it's an insightful piece of cultural criticism, on how the Western post-Romantic worldview tends to distort Westerners' perception of Buddhist teachings. Audio versions of this and his other talks are here.

Leigh Brasington works as a software engineer, and also teaches and leads retreats. He's one of the few people around who really teaches the Jhanas. The Jhanas are states of absorptive concentration that the Buddha described as being necessary precursors to mindfulness. Interestingly, the Pali word Jhana (from some Sanskrit root that I don't remember offhand) became Chan in chinese and Zen in Japanese.

His talks are fun to listen to because he sounds exactly like a software engineer. He'll say, "Now, many people underestimate the importance of practicing attaining absorptive states of concentration" and you'll do a double take because you were expecting him to complete the sentence with "defragmenting your hard drive."

Anyway, his talks on the Jhanas are here, and an essay summarizing his thoughts on the Jhanas and the Brahmaviharas are on his geocities homepage. (I find it rather touching that he's still loyal to geocities.)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

and speaking of books...

Photoshopped romance novel, from Longmire Posted by Hello
"Their romance knew no bounds--but would it increase shareholder value?"

book meme (late and reluctantly; also continually updated because I am a big cheater)

1) What is the total number of books I've owned?

Yes yes yes, we're all bibliophiles around here. But I don't think I've owned more than a few hundred. Not sure. I've moved around a lot, so I've had a lot of purges.

2) What is the last book I bought?

A few weeks ago I bought "The Feeling Good Handbook." It's been very helpful in my efforts to not completely lose my shit while I'm writing.

3) What is the last book I've read?

On the plane on Thursday I read Joseph Goldstein's book "Insight Meditation: the practice of freedom." On Tuesday on the way to the airport I read the latest book in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series--"In the Company of Cheerful Ladies". (What a lovely series. Check it out if you haven't already.) The last thing I read out loud was a chapter of the first Winnie the Pooh book.

4) What are the 5 (plus) books that have meant a lot to me?

Two by CS Lewis: the Narnia chronicles and the Screwtape Letters.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull--my grade 4 teacher read it out loud to us in class.

Rosemary Sutcliffe's novels of Roman Britain made me want to study Latin.

Cyrano de Bergerac forever warped my view of romantic relationships. It also gave me my first glimpse of the joys and perils of translation. For a while there, every time I went into a book store or library, the first thing I'd check would be whether they had a translation I hadn't seen before. Eventually I had the French original and my favourite translation practically from memory. Ah, the joys of blank verse.

The Fountainhead--it blew my mind in high school, and I now think it's fuzzy-headed post-Romantic trash. Contemplating it and its "ideas" over the years has served as a useful barometer of my attitudes.

Paradise Lost. It's come up three times: first in high school, when I read it for a book report as a one-person protest against the slack academic standards at my school (or possibly just as a stunt; it's hard to tell with fifteen-year-olds); then in college when we studied it for real and my friends and I would take turns reading it out loud (we'd each read different characters' parts; Jesus got a special squeaky voice. ... Well, c'mon, he's incredibly smarmy); then in grad school when one of my friends in the dorm would recite the first book from memory, as a break from demonstrating his blowjob techniques on a winebottle. Good times.

Wislawa Szymborska's poetry, as collected in "Miracle Fair." It's the best thing to come out of my internet dating experiences.

Extra credit question, 'What book would you wish to buy next?':

I'm going to have to get the next Harry Potter book, so that doesn't really count. When I take a bunch of books to the local used book store to sell them, I'll probably end up taking store credit instead of cash and buying whatever catches my eye. mmm. books.

ooh, there's one that gets advertised on the Sojourners mailing list, "The Joy of Work" or some such, that I'm v. curious about. (Update: I've ordered it, also a hardcover copy of "Cauldrons in the Cosmos", THE book on experimental nuclear astrophysics, which is sadly out of print. I found it for a reasonable price. W00T!)

TAG! (5 people whose collections I want to pry into)

Corey, Julie, EvilScienceChick, Kevin and Christine Mitchell (is it cheating to tag both halves of a couple?)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

best quotes from the workshop

A rare moment of candour in a talk: "I don't expect you to be able to read all of this--it's just to impress you."

"People build Rayleigh-Taylor unstable stars all the time--until they're told not to."

A: "This is an anomalous nova."
B: "Every well-studied nova is an anomalous nova."

A: "In this class of novae..."
B: "Wait, that's a class?"
A: (pause) "...well, there's more than one of them."

"Here's the effect of metallicity (showing 2 dense pages of tables): there's no effect."

A: "According to 'theory'..."
B: (in his talk, later that day) "According to 'experiment'..."

"'Prompt' for me is less than a billion years."

A: "It's complicated."
B: (dripping with sarcasm) "Really."

and words of wisdom from Stan Woosley:
"We should all be drinking beer instead of doing numerical calculations."
(plaintively) "Why is everything so hard?"

By the end of the first day of talks, we young 'uns were a bit punchy and were tossing around ideas of how to liven things up. The keeper was to have the speakers don those sumo suits and have full-contact debates.
"I disagree with your rate estimate! RAAAH!"
"You've underestimated the impact of the boundary conditions! GAAAARRR!"
"The theory you're quoting is just gossip! OOOFFF!"

Sunday, May 15, 2005

various things about church and music

Aw. I'm so flattered. I was singing in the choir at church this morning, and at Coffee Hour afterwards a guy came up to me to say hi and to say he wanted me to autograph his copy of my CD. He likes listening to it because it reminds him of the song I sang at his wife's funeral.

The church is getting a new organ installed. At the moment there's an "electronic organ"--something with an ordinary organ console, but with sound put out by speakers instead of pipes. The organist last week was on a mission to demonstrate exactly how nasty this thing is. Most of the hymns sounded like they were being played on an ice-cream truck. It was also his week for startling reharmonizations. During the last verse of every hymn he would play a different harmonization of the tune, and every now and again he'd throw in a particularly bizarre chord, and the choir would react as if we'd all been simultaneously goosed. It must have been entertaining to watch.

Today being Pentecost, we had a procession. Processions at my church are fun. Besides the crucifer, there's four people carrying candles, one with a banner, and a thurifer (as well as three clergy-folk, the dozen-or-so choristers, and an MC to shepherd us all around). The thurifer who was on duty today takes his incense-making duties very seriously. As well as swinging the pot back and forth, he was doing round-the-worlds and over-the-head figure-eights. It's kind of unnerving to watch. It's a test of your faith in Newton's Laws: do you really believe that inertia will keep the burning hot coals from spilling out onto you as he goes by, or do you flinch?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

word of the day


It gives me chills.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

May 12, 1967

Oscar Wilde is appalled by people who wash their clean laundry in public. Nevertheless, I have to take a moment to brag about my parents.

Thirty-eight years ago today, they got married. They were barely into their twenties (they'd just graduated from university, having started it early as precocious youngsters). It being 1967, the bride wore a yellow hand-crocheted dress, and the wedding photos were taken on the lawn of the Unitarian church they'd found for the occasion. They were still just kids. They freely admit that they had absolutely no idea what they were getting into.

They've kept the promises that they made that day.

...I'm trying to think of something to add to that statement. It stands by itself. It's utterly staggering.

Two things come immediately mind when I try to talk about their relationship. One is a line Mom used in one of her sermons, about how human love exists to give us a foretaste of God's love, and how she experiences God's love in her own life by means of the tender, steadfast love of her husband. (That one still makes me a little teary.) The other is Dad's habit of kissing Mom the moment he came in the door when he got home from work. I can't remember a single time, through a long career that often made him compare himself wistfully to Count Belisarius, when he let himself get too preoccupied to greet her properly.

When I start counting my blessings, sometimes it seems redundant to list anything except my parents. I didn't do anything to deserve to be born to people who would model for me whole-hearted ethical compassion, and who would show me how love can be used as the organizing principle of a life--one's own life, the life of a family, and the life of a community.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

family, 1975 Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mothers' Day

Mother's Day Proclamation - 1870
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts! ...

Say firmly: "...Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice." Blood does not wipe our dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace...

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient and the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Miracle Fair

Commonplace miracle:
that so many commonplace miracles happen.

An ordinary miracle:
the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.

One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder tree refected in the water,
and that it's backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.

An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.

Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.

A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.

An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
the unthinkable
is thinkable.

--Wislawa Szymborska

DIY rituals

A couple of weekends ago I went for a walk up East Rock, trying to clear my head after a misunderstanding with a friend. All the way up to the summit I was disturbed and upset by my obsessive thoughts. Finally, as I started heading back down, I picked up a smallish, irregularly shaped stone from the side of the path. All the way back down I held it tight in one hand: "tighter, don't relax, don't let it go, you have to hang on, you have to keep this as close as possible; it doesn't matter how much it's hurting, how the edges are digging into your hand, how stiff your fingers are getting, or how much easier these steep steps would be with two hands free to balance; you've got to hang on tight tight tight."

On the bridge at the bottom of the hill I stood for several minutes, letting the sunlight warm and soften the hard knot between my shoulder blades. I held the stone in my open hands, thinking about all of the things I've been holding onto--this fear, this grudge, that desire, that image--and finally brought the stone close to my face to whisper to it, "goodbye, stone."

I threw it into the river and watched its ripples fade.

As I walked home, I picked handfuls of the flowers that had begun to bloom along my path.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I've found myself recently fantasizing about the fall retreat at the IMS. It's a particularly ludicrous--sorry, ludricious--type of fantasy, because it can be distilled to, "Wow, won't it be great when I'm spending all my time being present in the moment? Yeah, that'll be great, when I'm just focussing on the task at hand...."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

help with poem?

For my 12th birthday party, many long years ago, I got a book from the library: The Witches' Handbook. It was illustrated comic-book style, and it had stories and poems and various silly things. In the "How to throw a witches' party" section it had recipes for "Earthworms in Bat's Blood Sauce" (spaghetti with tomato sauce) and "Dubious Trifle" (you make "squashed flies" by soaking raisins and then sticking sliced almonds in as wings and then you put the flies around the side of the glass bowl before you make the trifle). But the bit I'm trying to remember is one of the "Witch Sayings":

Monday's witch is foul of face
Tuesday's witch is lacking grace
Wednesday's witch is long of nose
Thursday's witch has extra toes
Friday's witch.....
Saturday's witch....
But the witch that was born on the Sabbath day
Tends to smell, so keep away.

Any ideas for how to fill in the blanks?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

In this article from Salon, Richard Dawkins eloquently addresses the "debate" about evolution. I respect anyone who will insult an academic adversary to his face. It's putting in place Miss Manners' advice that there should be less thoughtless rudeness around, so that insults can be restored to their proper function of expressing contempt. I also love the way he addresses the question of how to find meaning in life without recourse to supernatural beliefs. The idea that we should treasure life because of its statistical improbability is something that the Buddha said--but in Buddhism there are all these different streams of thought and practice, some of which put great emphasis on reincarnation. (I'm not sure about this, but I think that the argument can be made that the Buddha used past and future lives as a metaphor for cause and effect, and that folk-Buddhism latched onto the concept of rebirth as a way of avoiding having death be The End.)

"Unweaving the Rainbow" specifically attacks the idea that a materialist, mechanist, naturalistic worldview makes life seem meaningless. Quite the contrary, the scientific worldview is a poetic worldview, it is almost a transcendental worldview. We are amazingly privileged to be born at all and to be granted a few decades -- before we die forever -- in which we can understand, appreciate and enjoy the universe. And those of us fortunate enough to be living today are even more privileged than those of earlier times. We have the benefit of those earlier centuries of scientific exploration. Through no talent of our own, we have the privilege of knowing far more than past centuries. Aristotle would be blown away by what any schoolchild could tell him today. That's the kind of privileged century in which we live. That's what gives my life meaning. And the fact that my life is finite, and that it's the only life I've got, makes me all the more eager to get up each morning and set about the business of understanding more about the world into which I am so privileged to have been born.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Somewhere recently I came across someone's account of being advised by his meditation teacher to "sit as if you were about to die." The speaker puzzled over that advice for a while before realizing that it's just a variation on "be present." A dramatic variation, sure. If you're about to die, there's no need to worry about taking the garbage out, or to plan your next career move, or to wonder if your butt is too big. There's a lot less room for ego and a lot more room for noticing what's really happening. As Dr. Johnson says, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

I've been working with that idea the past couple of days. If today is my last day on earth, I don't need to worry about my committee laughing at me at my thesis defence. I don't need to worry about anybody laughing at me, in fact, because at the present moment nobody is laughing at me. (Ususally. That I'm aware of.)

I feel a little self-conscious at having re-derived the cliche "Live every day as if it were your last"--but then again, we've all heard it said, but how many times have you thought in detail about what that means to you?

If I knew today were my last day on earth, I would have taken a nap. I would have told a whole list of people that I love them. (If you're wondering if you're on the list, you are. I love you, man.) I would have listened to some good music. I would have picked some violets. I would have winked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I would have put aside worries and fantasies and regrets as much as I could and concentrated on the task at hand.

--so I would have done pretty much what I did today.

...Well, I probably wouldn't have had quite that much ice cream at the departmental lunch. Like Anne Lamott, I want to have eaten dessert on the day I die, but I don't want to have a sugar rush when I go.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

If your sugar daddy is taking you to the Hamptons this summer

...then you will want to get your underwear from Toot. If you're a seventeen-year-old Man-Vixen, that is.

There are many things to like about this site.
  1. somewhat disturbing icons, including a teddy bear to indicate "snug fit"
  2. extensive use of camel toe
  3. Engrish translations of product blurbs. My favourites:
"Natural cotton stitch makes you feel pleasant."

"With improvement, innovated jock straps are back with 12 color variations."

"Please try this item with color-linking and full of originality. The completeness is quite high."

"Limited items for black tencel, pile processed, painted piece by piece, The two patterns would not be same. Please enjoy the dynamic expression and white hue." (well, okay, since you ask so nicely)

"The material of inside leg is mesh. The cup design protects your anxiety. sporty, sexy and ventilationa are excellent." (But I don't want my anxiety protected!)

"The hue of beige and blend is basie of TOOT. The color combination of waist and legth is so cute. "

"There are not too many left comparing with other items, only for membership holder. Oatmeal and red number show the confidencce of TOOT!"

"The number is 1,2, 3. With different color and diagonal way create demensional shade in original font."

"The best of TOOT! You'll want to experience the feel! The cut is small but you won't feel squashed in. This fine fabric is flexible, very natural, and the gauze stretch has a very pleasant feeling. "

"It is made with thin denim, full-flat of jean type. The stretch works perfectly.So simple, So cool!"(Oh good. I hate that non-functional stretch)

"One of Flat-type boxer. Botton taping in the frontal part,design creates sporty. Long time using will feel it's tasty. Hook under the taping, (Convenience?) . It was made shallowlly than any other Microboxer items, Much more Sexy!!"

"Sturdy denim stretch swim wear with expertise design. All 5 pockets are riveted, decorative loop stopper, side piping -Too much you say? But that's TOOT style for you."

"The stretch is perfect with marcerization material. Through it was made by cotton, but it is so elegant. Low-rise design." (Through it was made...sounds almost theological)

"Basic, *white underwear*, express the truth of TOOT.The material is tencel, more comfort! "

"The style of texture is gorgeous. It may not use for active sport supporter. Y-back, truth of TOOT was made."

"Just think about TOOT when You want to purchase pants." (Okay. I'm having the urge to purchase pants, but instead I'll think about TOOT. ... kinda like baseball statistics.)

"Our sizes are 3 sizes : S/M/L, but we must point out that "Size" have implied meanings, illusions and miracles." (it's so true.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thinking of people I can't do without, my supervisor rocks. Without him I would vanish without a trace. Any prospective grad students out there? Make sure your thesis advisor rocks. No smooth jazz allowed.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Abstinence only sex education, taken to its logical (/hilarious/dirty) end. (Someone also pointed out that by this logic strip bars should be renamed "abstinence bars".)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

pwitty fwowers

Yesterday I was going to start complaining about the weather--something like...

Spring in New Haven is
(a) a time of renewal and rebirth

(b) an intoxicating season of freedom from winter's constraints
(c) April 19th

...because Tuesday was sandwiched between the near-frost earlier this week and yesterday's oppressive heat and humidity (culminating in the first thunder-shower of the season, which left us with an evening full of the smell of wet pavement, a summery smell if there ever was one).

But today was one of those breezy almost-warm days that has everyone walking around outside with these looks of amazement on their faces. There are colours again. After an endless winter in which we all worked very hard at admiring the austere elegance of bare grey branches against a flat grey sky, all of a sudden there are leaves on the trees...and they're green! And the magnoliae are candy-floss pink, and the periwinkles make your eyes ache with their supersaturated greens and blues, and the forsythias make me wonder who detonated the sunshine-mine.

It's all too much, all this exuberant verdure. We could make do with just a little bit of new growth, a little bit of joy. But this is the season when abundant life is poured out upon us, whether we like it or not.

(I do like it, by the way.)

It's official

...I'm going to spend the fall at the IMS. Got word this morning that my registration was confirmed. I'm still vaguely simmering with excitement.

Of course, a bunch of stuff could still happen to prevent me from going. Nevertheless. Woohoo!

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

- Soren Kierkegaard

bonobo research

cool article from cnn
...who, btw, are a bunch of prissy wusses if they can mention bonobos without mentioning that they are primarily known for having sex all the time in all possible combinations. If chimps are the aggressive, warmongering, sometimes cannibalistic, sport hunters of the primate world, bonobos are the flower children.

Make love, not war, man! ...And use computer touchscreens to permit or deny visitors access to your specially-designed viewing rooms!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

song lyrics

All the cool kids are doing it, so here's my lyrics of the day:

She wore raspberries and grapes
--the kind you buy at a second-hand store
Raspberries and grapes
and if it was warm she wouldn't wear much more.

I ran this by someone earlier today and he set me straight: she's actually wearing "fast-berry sorbet".

Friday, April 15, 2005

best. palindrome. ever.

Tulsa nightlife: Filth, gin, a slut.
Many years ago one of my piano students entered a cross-country ski race--the Silver Spoon, for any Deep-River-ites out there. Even in her age group (7 years) there were some mad keen skiers who zoomed through the course in no time flat. Chrissy, on the other hand, was in no hurry...she'd pause to adjust her toque, look at the nifty bird in that tree over there, wave at one of her friends on the sidelines--so she came thirtieth in the race, out of thirty.

Her mother, who is on the competitive side, assumed that Chrissy would be upset about losing the race, and so was surprised to see her looking so cheerful. She asked her, "Aren't you disappointed that you came last?" Chrissy answered, "Well, I may have come last out of the people who entered--but just think about all the people who didn't enter!"

Chrissy came to mind yesterday when I was giving myself a hard time about my work. Yes, it is true that many people I know could do this stuff better and faster and with less effort than it's costing me--but it's also true that many people's heads would explode at the very thought of attempting what I'm doing.

I'm declaring today to be National Self-Gratulation Day (for two reasons: one, that I suspect that I'm not the only human being who habitually gives herself too hard a time; two, that it's a really cool word that hasn't been used much by anyone since Jane Austen). I invite you as you read this to pause and congratulate yourself for something--anything. Just getting out of bed this morning is something to be proud of: there are people out there who didn't do even that.


in the cemetary
magnolia buds are swelling

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Not by mere eloquence nor by beauty of form does a man become accomplished, if he is jealous, selfish and deceitful. But he in whom these are wholly destroyed, uprooted and extinct, and who has cast out hatred -- that wise man is truly accomplished.

--the Dhammapada

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not selfseeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

--1 Cor 13 (NIV)

There but for the grace of god...

A couple of years ago I looked into management consulting. I went to a couple of information sessions, I almost filled out an application for McKinsey; the career-type counsellor person at the grad school here said that I'd have a good shot at getting a job if I did apply. While I was considering this option, I kept getting messages from the universe that said "DON'T DO IT, GIRL!"--I remember this one newspaper headline, in particular, about how management consultants are destroying the world by replacing story-based local ways of doing things with quantitative analyses. I finally took the hint and threw out the application.

Anyway, this article from Salon is a review of a book written by a former management consultant about what a demoralizing and pointless job it is.

The funny thing is, I still sometimes find myself thinking about it as if it were something I'd consider doing, whereas in reality it's absolutely the opposite of everything I'm looking for in a career...except for the part about the six-figure starting salary. More money is always better than less money; but on the other hand if that's the only attraction of the job there's just no point.

The article makes the comparison with prostitution. I don't think I could actually do thatjob either, but I do think that it would be fun to be a stripper. Think about it--after a couple of years as a stripper, you've got flat abs and some fabulous stories to tell and you know you've brought joy into people's lives, whereas after a couple of years as a management consultant, you've got...a lot of frequent flier points and no self-respect.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I'm having a very educational day. I've learned two ways to make a do-loop NOT run: either you can require 1 to be not equal to 1 before entering the loop, or you can not increment the variable that you're looping over. Fascinating, eh?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Better it is to live one day seeing the rise and fall of things than to live a hundred years without ever seeing the rise and fall of things.

--The Dhammapada
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.... If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.

--from Romans 8, NIV
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

--from the Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostomos (~400 AD) (a couple of weeks after its time)
Joy isn't dependent on getting things, or on the world going the way you want, or on people behaving the way they should, or on their giving you all the things you like and want. Joyfulness isn't dependent upon anything but your own willingness to be generous, kind, and loving. It's that mature experience of giving, sharing, and developing the science of goodness. Virtue is the joy we can experience in this human realm. So, although what society is doing or what everyone else is doing is beyond my control--I can't go around making everything how I want it--still, I can be kind, generous, and patient, and do good, and develop virtue. That I can do, and that's worth doing, and not something anyone can stop me from doing. However rotten or corrupted society is doesn't make any difference to our ability to be virtuous and to do good.

--Ajahn Sumedho
If you let go a little you will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.

--Ajahn Chah

Thursday, April 07, 2005

east rock, sunset

the glow fades
the rock remains
Some time ago--it must be several years ago, now--on one of those days when my lungs were rebelling at the very idea of being forced to continue to draw breath (you know the kind of day I mean--don't pretend that you don't) I went and hid in the bathroom in the basement. There I saw the following message:

Posted by Hello

At the time it made me laugh and cry and feel grateful that even inanimate objects were lining up to give me advice. Lately, though, I've been feeling like I've had enough of pushing. I'd rather take a different piece of advice from the same source.

Posted by Hello

Just rest.

Posted by Hello


Yesterday morning I went for a walk up East Rock.

Posted by Hello

It's still very much an Easter Saturday time of year. You have to look very closely to see any sign of buds on the trees. And yet I never doubt that someday--someday soon--the trees will be green again. Why then do I doubt that my heart will find peace?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Now this feels like stepping into the void. I just registered for this fall's three-month retreat at the IMS. Yes sirree. Eighty-four days of silence. I knew I had to look into it more seriously when I was describing it to D the other day and realized that I was all but jumping up and down with excitement. (I've written earlier about one of my previous experiences there.)

Of course, this may not be the year I get to do this. I've applied for a job in Vancouver, and if I do get that I'll have to start in September. In that case I'll go to IMS for a week or two in the summer--but I must go. That much is non-negotiable.

I can't decide whether this is a smart thing to be doing or not. As Spinal Tap reminds us, "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever." Either this is bad juju because it's telling the universe that I'm not 100% committed to the idea of being a professor and taking this job, or by making this plan I'm inviting the universe to continue to thwart my plans--and of course the most efficient way for the universe to thwart this particular plan would be to get me the job. --See? Either very, very clever, or very, very stupid.

Monday, March 28, 2005

rain and the rest home

It's raining today. I like rainy days a lot more since I got my hot pink wellies. The sky may be grey, but my feet are colourful, darn it.


This morning I found myself thinking about the nursing home. When I was a candy striper I spent a lot of time in the extended care wing of the hospital, and I was struck by how undignified senility is and how the parts of our personalities that persist are random ones that we wouldn't necessarily have chosen...there was the woman who whistled, for example, and the woman who kept talking about how she had to go feed the chickens. Now, I do a pretty good impression of Cartman, Gollum, and a few other tv/movie characters with strikingly weird voices. What if, once all higher cognitive capacity has gone, that's what remains?

Nurse: Well, and how are we doing today? Time for your pills. Let me adjust your bib for you.
Me: *ululates like an orc falling off a bridge in Moria*

The more I think about it, the narrower the window seems in which we're able-bodied, in control of our own destinies, and at least able to choose whether to behave in a dignified manner or not.

Friday, March 25, 2005

no secondhand hives

So I'm looking into mailing a bunch of my stuff to Canada, and I was checking out the USPS's rates and restrictions. Some of this stuff is...curious.

Among the things that cannot be mailed at all:
  • Commercial tags of metal.
  • Altered or renovated butter. (you know, honey, I'm feeling antsy. I think it's time to renovate our butter.)
  • Perishable infectious biological substances.
  • Perishable noninfectious biological substances. (well, that about covers it.)
  • Radioactive materials.
  • Shipments bearing caution labels indicating the contents are flammable. (flammable materials are okay as long as they don't have labels)
  • Used or secondhand hives or bee supplies. (there goes my idea for BeeBay, your transborder source for secondhand hives)

Banknotes valued at $100 or more must be put up in a compact package and securely tied with strong twine before wrapping. The wrapper must be linen or other strong, woven material, linen lined paper, or two thicknesses of strong kraft paper. After wrapping, the package must be again securely tied or stitched and sealed at the points of closing. (they fail to mention that the package must be decorated with origami cranes)

The following must not be accepted for insurance:
Bees, postage stamps (canceled and uncanceled) and albums in which they are mounted, and parcel post packages addressed to CFPOs. (bees can't be insured? But think of the children! they have larvae to support!)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

cue hysterical laughter

So I thought I'd go back and check a calculation I did a few months ago--I'd use the same procedure, and just confirm that the results made sense.

Before: 25% of the 27Si created decayed to the ground state of 26Al, and 25% to the first excited state. A total of 50% of the 27Si was accounted for; 50% was missing and I wasn't sure whether it was an efficiency problem or just something weird I was doing in the analysis.

After: 75% of the 27Si created decayed to the ground state of 26Al, and 75% to the first excited state, for a total of 150%.

Not, perhaps, the subtle change I was hoping for.

Excuse me for a minute. I think there's a wall that needs me to bash my head against it.

(Edit: just after I finished writing this, someone came home with a whole bouquet of free-range flowers for me. All better.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


My Inner Nag was having an energetic day today. The only way to keep her in line was to use what I call the STFU technique, as follows:

You should be writing right now.
Shut the fuck up.
No really, you should at least be doing that figure that you've been putting off for a month now--how big a deal can it be? You should have finished it ages ago.
Shut. the fuck. up.
Okay then, you should be worrying about this relationship, or that other one, or hey, how about that one over there. If they're not what you think they should be, that means you're a bad person.
Wow, you're looking dowdy today.
Fuck you.
This all shouldn't be this hard. If you're finding it difficult to finish this dissertation, that means you're stupid and incompetent and clearly have no future in the only field in which you're qualified, and of course you have no qualifications to do anything else.
Did I mention "Fuck you"?

It's days like this when I want to invoke Palden Lhamo. She vowed to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where she was the queen. When her husband wouldn't change his pagan/cannibalistic ways, she killed their son, ate his flesh, and took the king's best horse and rode to Siberia. Not a woman to be messed with. Today that's the level of fierceness I need just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Friday, March 11, 2005

My Star

All that I know
Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
(Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower hangs furled:
They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
Mine has opened its soul to me, therefore I love it.

--Robert Browning

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

-- Louis MacNeice


INTEGRAL is a gamma-ray telescope operated by the European Space Agency. The "Orbit view" sidebar starts a Java applet that lets you look at the telescope in orbit around the earth.
I'm sitting at my computer wrapped in an afghan made for me by my dear late great-aunt Margaret, wearing a sweater made by my grandmother, socks made for me by my mother, a shirt that was a gift from T-Regina, a skirt that used to belong to Elisa, and underwear that...uh, let's not go there.

In the most simplistic and literal-minded way possible, I am enveloped from head to toe in love.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hans Bethe dies


A sad day. Bethe was one of the giants of 20th-century physics.

Myself, I'm still endlessly delighted by a paper he co-wrote that I sometimes get to cite: authors Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow. In that order. *sigh* It's the simple pleasures, really.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

life koans

I've been finding myself thinking of my last experience at the IMS recently--mostly just because I'm dying to go back. (I'm trying to figure out whether I can take a week or two in May or June.) During group meetings with the teachers, we go around the circle and talk about what we've experienced in the past couple of days. Since this is only real talking that the retreatants do there, these sessions can make a big impression. One meeting in particular stuck with me. The teacher was talking about questions that come up during meditation, and how they're not always easy to answer, and not necessarily supposed to even have answers. Instead, they're questions that we carry with us, taking them out to look at and turn over in our minds, using our responses to them to inform our actions in the present moment. Life koans, she called them.

We all latched onto the concept immediately. As we went around the circle, people started phrasing their experiences in terms of questions--the woman who'd been dealing with the fear of aging associated with physical pain asked, "Can I be happy without a healthy body?", the woman who realized that she was a retreat junkie, hopping from one to the next with no sense of commitment or stability, asked, "Can I grow by picking something and sticking with it?", the man who realized how actively he'd been seeking out distractions in his daily life asked, "Can I survive this sense of emptiness?"

It was like Buddhist Jeopardy.

My own questions were "Can I be happy without following the precepts?"--to which the teacher responded by quite involuntarily laughing out loud and saying "No!"--and "Is it possible to be in a romantic relationship without deceit and without the attachment that leads to suffering?"

(She didn't try to answer the second one for me.)


The last one seemed to go over well, so here's another random childhood thing.

When I was (again) sixish, I learned from somewhere or other (possibly my friend Elizabeth who not only had a teenaged sister and brother but also went to a Catholic school) about strippers--people who get paid to take their clothes off. This idea seemed a bit odd to me, a little like someone getting paid to brush their teeth, but I took it in stride. After all, my parents had explained that, although grownups called children silly for doing silly childish things, grownups themselves frequently did things that were just as silly but in a grownup way. So I figured that this was just another example of grownup silliness.

Upon further reflection, though, another thing was clear: If there were people who were paid to take their clothes off, then by analogy there must be other people who were paid to put their clothes on.

For quite some time after I made this deduction, I would announce to Mommy, when she came up to help me get ready for bed, "I'm going to do a strip show now," and then methodically take off my clothes--and then say "And now I'll do an unstrip show," and put on my nightgown. (There may have been prancing about and ABBA music involved--I don't recall--but if there was it was certainly of the "I'm a fairy princess" variety.)

Eventually I lost interest in unstrip shows, but I never really questioned my certainty that there were unstrippers. To this day I find myself speculating that this idea could be a gold mine of career possibilities.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


One day, when I was about six, I heard something on the radio news about someone being assassinated. I asked my mommy what it meant. She explained that it was what they called it when someone famous was murdered.

I was enraptured. To be so important that your death has its own separate category--and such a gorgeously sibilant one at that--...that seemed to me to be something worth striving for.

And thus it was that I shocked an avuncular friend of the family when, to his friendly question, "Well, and what do you want to be when you grow up?" I calmly replied, "Assassinated."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Vulva Puppets

Oh my god. I have to have one of these. In my head I'm already writing scripts for puppet shows.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Death, be not proud, tho some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for thou art not soe.
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poore Death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure--then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do goe,
Rest of their bones, and souls deliverie.

Thou'rt slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sickness dwell,
And poppie or charmes can make us sleepe as well
And better than thy stroake. Why swell'st thou then?

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die!

--John Donne
I talked with my supervisor today about my dissertation. I don't think he realizes it, and he'd probably laugh if I pointed this out to him, but he's a Buddhist. Everything he said to me can be summed up as the Three Characteristics:

unsatisfactoriness: There is no way to make this document perfect.

impermanence: No matter how good my measurement, how precise and elaborate my conclusions, someone else--probably, in my case, very soon--will do a better experiment.

non-self: It's not me my committee will be evaluating: it's just this document.

This last Characteristic is in a lot of ways the hardest to get one's head around--but it's liberating. The work I do is not self. The judgements other people pass are not self. The heart that grieves is not self. The body that dies is not self.

Monday, February 28, 2005

A call to repair the Hubble Space Telescope

Congress Can Keep Our Eye on the Universe Open

This article represents the consensus of the scientific community (more or less). The Hubble is one of the most significant pieces of scientific equipment ever developed, at least in terms of its power to inspire. To leave it to die an early death would be a scandal.

learning experience

I learned a bunch of stuff this weekend.

  1. It takes 35 minutes to walk to the train station from my place. (I thought it would take 30 minutes. Instead of arriving at 4 48, in time to scamper onto the train, I arrived at 4 53, just as the train was pulling away from the platform with leviathan-like inexorability.)
  2. It is impossible to not drink when I'm with T-regina and Her Husband.
  3. Even squiffy, I still got it when it comes to Settlers. (We play the game by very friendly rules, motivated mainly by H.H.'s desire to not have to sleep on the couch, but I don't need to steal their resource cards to whoop their asses.)
  4. It is a Very Bad Idea to forget about the "no alcohol" label on medication. Bleurgh. (How does something like that slip one's mind?)
  5. Bride and Prejudice is a fabulous movie. H.H. and T-Regina usually watch different movies when they go to the theatre, since H.H. likes cerebral and/or action movies while T is unabashed about her love for weepy chick flicks, but both of them loved this movie--although H.H.'s enthusiasm decreased when T started claiming that she was going to make him put dance routines to the silly songs he habitually sings for her, in order to make her own life more like a Bollywood musical.

What an educational weekend I've been having!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

It's the dream

It's the dream we carry
that something wondrous will happen
that it must happen--
time will open
hearts will open
doors will open
mountains will open
spring will gush forth from the ground--
that the dream itself will open
that one morning we'll quietly drift
into a harbour we didn't know was there.

--Olav H. Hauge, translated from the Norwegian by Robert Hadin

Yahoo! News - Canada Says Will Stay Out of U.S. Missile Defense

Yahoo! News - Canada Says Will Stay Out of U.S. Missile Defense

Hurray! This is the best news I've heard in a while. The missile defence "shield" is scientifically, er, indefensible (rimshot), an utter waste of money, and almost certain to lead to worse international relations. Hurray for Paul Martin for standing up for reason and common sense.

More good news, sans link: Connecticut is getting closer to a civil-unions law. I saw this on the headlines on a newspaper box on the street and almost started crying right there. It's possible that not all is lost when it comes to politics around here.


Posted by Hello
My mother e-mailed me a little while ago to make sure she had my address correct in her palm pilot, because she wanted to mail me some socks she had finished knitting for me. Quite aside from it being wonderful to have people I love make things for me, this was an e-mail that pleased me greatly: the combination of high and low tech was just too delicious.

And of course the socks themselves are lovely. The pattern is extremely intricate, and they're one of my favourite colours of blue.

As I write, my feet are both warm and happy. (yes, feet have feelings too.)