Thursday, June 29, 2006

claro que si

Before boarding the plane to Florida, I made a critical error in the airport bookstore. There, I encountered a book that I was obliged to finally pick up. It's my shameful duty to now report, with much humiliation, that I have never read any Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels. However, I dove into Love in the Time of Cholera, and I can tell you that I now know why I subconsciously avoided him before. He's killing me, peeps. I have so many problems with this book so far, but I can't put it down because I love the style of writing and the romanticism of the story so much. This is going to throw me into a funk, I'm sure.

Remember how I was bragging yesterday about having no responsibility for anything to do with this cruise? Um, yeah, well, as I write to you all from this stinking-of-cigarettes, shabby hotel room, I am eating my words. The only thing this place has to recommend itself is free wi-fi. But when you leave all the planning up to the broseph, you have to suck it up and deal. His girlfriend is similarly unimpressed with their hotel room, so I am sure the broseph is going to have plenty to regret about this reservation without me complaining about it.

I do not know if my whole family has turned some sort of proverbial corner, or they are just too tired from travelling. Either way, I am a little shocked that we have been in South Beach for a few hours now and heard nothing from them. I'd like to say this is because they've finally acknowledged that we're adults that do not need checking up on, but I think that is very likely giving them far too much credit.

So far in South Beach, we have seen a lot of breasts. As a woman, breasts are not particularly interesting to me, but there they are, everywhere, packaged in such ways so as to make them impossible to ignore. On the other hand, I've been gawking at a lot of Euro-looking men with wavy hair. So, South Beach does appear to be somewhat equal opportunity at the moment.

Oh, I have also seen about six gas-guzzling Hummers, and it took all of my self-restraint to keep from ranting at the drivers. Unfortunately, this means I will have no self-restraint left when I do see my family.

Tomorrow, I hope to wake up with a completely improved attitude about this cruise. This means that I will probably have to break my rule about liquor before noon, but a girl's got to do what a girl's got to do.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

a new ship to be built, new work to be done

you're gonna make me lonesome when you go

The absurdity of the cruise I am soon to board (okay, not necessarily soon, but Friday seems soon when you haven't packed and have a flight in the morning) was discussed at Roopali's farewell dinner last night. Apparently, I had no clue how common the cruise phenomenon is, since I was able to get opinions from several bloggers about various aspects of the cruise. My main concern, because everything else can be appreciated for its sheer absurdity, is the motion sickness part. I get motion sick if I sit in the back seat of a car for longer than ten minutes, so I have some reason to be a little paranoid. Consultation yielded the following:

    oodles: I used those wristbands. I'm not sure if they worked, but I didn't get motion sick.
    ads: I got sick the second and the third day.
    Roopali: Those boats are so big you don't feel it.
    SJM: I don't know, we were all too drunk to notice one way or the other.

I don't know about y'all, but I'm going with SJM's option.

Work was a bit demanding today. It appears that, by the end of July, I may be switching positions. I think this switch is actually a good test. It's a step down, less pay, less clout, but a step towards science and the things that keep me sane. And The Goal is an amplified version of this switch. If I falter now, and rethink the idea of getting out of the job about nothing, then I may well be a sell out who you all should beat mercilessly for wasting your time whinging about something I had no intention of remedying.

The broseph and I have pulled a Freaky Friday on each other in preparation for this vacation. Responsible older sister has transformed to flaky San Francisco sister. Distracted younger brother has taken the form of planner extraordinnaire. For this family cruise, my involvement has been so minimal that I don't even know where exactly the cruise is heading after we leave Florida. For a long while, it was my thinking that the ship would simply sail about in the ocean for a couple of days. All I have done is shell out cash as directed by the broseph. I can see why my brother inhabited this side of the seesaw for so long: my expectations now mirror my efforts, and are therefore so low that they are sure to be exceeded.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

oh Valencia

homegrown and down home

Somehow, I've derived a certain pride from having little to no life over the past year. I suppose it has to do with pursuit of The Goal, but it also has to do with laziness. I'm continually surprised at how often I find myself meeting people who are a lot of fun around here. On the other hand, it usually does not take me long to discover something that makes it impossible for me to feel really close or connected to them. This used to send me into a funk. But I've now realized that acquaintances might be exactly what I am looking for. It's as soon as all the internal drama that comes out on display that I want to run screaming for the nearest exit hatch. But when it's just you, me and a Grey Goose & tonic, it's all good. That makes me sound incredibly superficial, but I do think that, to some extent, scratching the surface is all I can handle just now.

So, it's been a little odd, these past few weeks, because I have been going out with unusual frequency. I forget quickly, but if I really think back on patterns, this sort of spike happens from time to time. It's been nice, but it's a temporary vacation from reality. It has also distracted me from some pressing matters, like the dust balls gathering on my hardwood floors, and yet another blown-out light bulb that has gone unreplaced for two weeks. It's okay, Saheli tells me it's my way of conserving energy.

Last night I was supposed to have dinner with the new GBF (the OG gets to caught up in World Cup action, and worse yet, refuses to watch with anyone else) and M, but the restaurant we had picked was closed on Monday evenings. Also, the new GBF stood us up (translation: at risk of no longer being my GBF). M then hatched a plan to head to Potrero Hill to go to Goat Hill, because the pizzeria has an all-you-can-eat special on Monday nights. However, when we got there, it turned out a million other hipsters had hatched the same exact strategem. Famished, and tired of plans being foiled, we retired to Aperto, and had a passable dinner.

I forced M to drop me home ten blocks from my place, so that I could have some time to walk. The fog was just starting to creep into the Mission, and I like the feel of it as it slowly permeates the air. What's more is this: I never feel more myself than when I am walking home. There is something about the singularity of it, the familarity of the streets, the complete indifference of the other passersby. When I got home, I was not tired. Maybe the nano was pulsing a little too much Hot Chip into my ears.

Whatever the reason, I was up for another failure. I had finally managed to tidy up my kitchen sufficiently to mess it up again. So I plunged into making poundcakes. It's the first time I have baked anything in months. Afterwards, I thought about all the other things that are so much a part of me that I am without right now. I may not miss them now, but is that just because I have not re-encountered them now? I have this fear about certain ex-BFs. On one level, I am over them. But if I saw them on the street, might my heart seize in sudden, acute realization of what I had left behind? I do not know if I want to find out.

Since I am writing about missing people, tonight, some bloggers are meeting for a farewell dinner for Roopali, who is moving away from my beloved Bay Area in pursuit of her own version of The Goal. One poundcake is currently being taste-tested by RR. If he deems it worthy, then one of these will end up with Roop tonight. Clearly, I am turning into an auntie, because I cannot bear to have someone leave the area without some sweet thing in hand.

Monday, June 26, 2006

and I must believe what I see

If you spend a lot of time reading about developmental biology, I imagine you could start to feel very old. Talk about stem cells and differentiation and whatnot gets you thinking that every decision was made for you when you were too young to know what you had signed up for. Not just that, but that you can never recover.

But if you happen to dork out like me and read such dangerous material, I suggest you also listen to this story that I heard on NPR this morning. At 50 years old, Susan Barry went from having stereoscopic vision to three-dimensional vision. Listening to her describe the experience of first seeing in 3-D will give you goosebumps if you are not an android. The NPR article at first brands this a miracle, but I think the important point is mentioned later:
What is especially fascinating about all these stories is they suggest that brains are more "plastic" -- more changeable and repairable in adulthood -- than many scientists and doctors had thought.

There is a lot about our minds that is still wholly unknown to the scientific community. And frankly, that thought gives me a lot of comfort. It helps me to believe in what often feels outlandish. It's not a miracle I am looking for; I'm just looking for something we haven't yet believed to be possible. It may seem a minor distinction, but it makes a world of difference in my twisted head.

In other news, Grey goose + Rob Base= it takes two to make it out of sight. I think I scared some friends of mine on Friday night.

Friday, June 23, 2006

deeper shade of soul

After the BART rant of yesterday morning, I decided, for the sake of my sanity, to take the company shuttle home. Even though it only stops in one place in the city, given my recent enthusiasm for walking everywhere, I felt the ensuing thirty minute walk would suit me just fine. So, I stood outside on the curb waiting for the shuttle, in the unusually still, late afternoon.

I was lost in my thoughts when a Benz pulled up in front of me. Inside was a recently acquired GBF of mine. He rolled a window down, and asked, in mock horror, "Are you actually taking public transportation home?" Such good-natured ribbing is a mark of any friend of mine. I nodded, and was about to turn back to my reverie, when he demanded that I get in the car.

For a moment, I was reminded of a million mornings of my youth, waiting for the bus to school. But it was different, because, this time, I was the jerk jumping into a cool kid's car. As we zoomed off, I was tempted to poke my head out the window and call out, "See you, suckers!" But thankfully, having been the one left behind on so many other occasions, I had the sense to have a little restraint.

The new GBF was supposed to meet some friends for dinner, but the amazing weather and my powers of harassment combined to coax him into stopping for a drink with me first. We picked out a lovely little French place, but the host informed me that the liquor license required that we order food. I shrugged, and we found ourselves the perfect table that allowed for people watching and lounging.

We both ordered bowls of fruit and cocktails. I guess it was dessert before dinner, but it felt more like getting exactly what you want exactly when you want it. It felt perfectly decadent. My drink was a concoction of fresh blackberry puree, fresh crushed mint, Grey Goose (big surprise) and a splash of champagne. After one sip, I was intoxicated, but it had nothing to do with the alcohol content.

As we compared and contrasted our previous relationship follies, I felt every hint of stress leaving my being. Usually, talking about baggage is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal. But talking about it then, with a purple drink in one hand, a spoonful of strawberries in the other, I was pleasantly bemused. I've been finding myself increasingly bemused with myself- like I am experiencing my own life vicariously, if that makes any sense. I look back and think, how on earth did you get yourself into that mess, and in the next moment, I have shrugged it off and moved on to make some other grave error. I know that this sort of passive living can be dangerous. But for someone who usually overanalyzes things to the point of microscopy, it has been a welcome change.

After the drink, we parted. I was too hyper or lazy to go all the way home, so instead, I barged in on the broseph. He was having a small barbecue. When I got there, I had to reckon with the OG, the original GBF, JP. For at least a week now, I have known that I need to make amends with JP, but have avoided it. I kind of fell off the face of the earth, and the timing coincided with his birthday. What is problematic but also undeniably charming about JP is that all my excuses are no good with him. He does not understand, Oh, JP, I was so swamped with all this sh*t with The Goal. While most friends are still pissed when I lay that on them, they grin and bear it. Not so with JP, which is fair, because it's important, occasionally, to have someone in your life that puts things in perspective.

All my fears were unwarranted. After a few minutes of "No, shut up, I don't talk to you!" and "You are e-stupid. You are e-stupidita!", he was back to being my OG. The presence of ample amounts of PBR and the current good standing of Brazil in the World Cup helped matters considerably, I think.

So, for all my complaining yesterday, it turned out to be a fantastic, swoonworthy evening. This morning, I spared the air again, but this time, I had adjusted my expectations considerably. Besides, in all the rage of yesterday, I forgot an important detail- hey, I loathe my work. So, showing up late? Not such a tragedy. What's more is this: when you are bound to public transportation for your commute, you cannot work late, because the last shuttle leaves at 6. And that is way more glass half full than I've been in recent memory.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

signed sincerely me

Dear BART,

You're making it hard, b*tches. Look, I want to Spare the Air, I really do. Plus, you know, I have my Guju tendencies to consider, so when you tell me, free rides all day!, I think okay, this is worth the little extra hassle. Oh, except, it was not a little, it was a lot.

Here was my morning today:
    Leave home: 7:40
    Get to BART station: 7:52
    F*cking impossibly ridiculous wait for SFO/Millbrae train: 8:25
    Chug along to my BART stop: 8:45
    Board my shuttle to work: 8:47
    Get to work: 9:03

Now here was my morning yesterday:
    Leave home: 7:45
    Get to work (and this was with an accident on the 101): 8:02

Yes, b*tches. You more than tripled my commute. It is almost like you don't really want me to conserve energy. I want to be good to the environment. I drive a pretty fuel efficient car. My travel in the car is fairly limited to just getting to and from work, with the occasional drive to the grocery store if I have too much to carry to walk. And I want to do more. I really would like to take public transit. But I am not losing three hours of my day getting back and forth from work when I have an alternative that takes a total of 35-40 minutes total for the day. You're killing me, BART.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

we are agents of the free

In case it was not abundantly apparent previously, I have some of the most horrifying eating habits on earth. I happened to luck out with a good family history and a general lack of taste for high fat foods, so I have not managed to topple over from a heart attack (yet), but no one would mistake me for healthy. But there are a few things I have tried to be vigilant about over the years. I am big on getting a steady supply of calcium into my body, because I believe in that sh*t. Will you still feed me when I'm 64? Um, yeah, I'd really prefer to be able enough to feed myself when I'm that age. So, to avoid hip replacements, osteoporosis and all that other stuff, I actually pay attention to getting the right amount of calcium.

This year, I have also started to pay more attention to Vitamin C. It was convenient that I also discovered Mineola Tangelos around the same time. However, recently, my local grocery store has played a cruel game with me, and stopped stocking the tangelos that they introduced me to in the first place. Bastards! Since I do not want to develop scurvy, I have stooped pretty low, and started drinking what is basically a a glorified form of Tang. And here's the really embarassing part: I actually like the taste of it. Class-ay!

Don't worry, there is far more interesting news to be found in the NYT, in which Toxoplasma gondii was reviewed so perfectly, I was gleeful reading it. The evolution of parasites is fascinating. Unlike viruses, parasites are alive and, in that way, are somehow even more tempting to anthropomorphize. The writer of the article in NYT clearly indulged himself a bit:
"Researchers in Sweden report that the parasite fans out through the body by manipulating mobile cells that are part of the immune system. Toxoplasma hijacks these so-called dendritic cells and makes them race around the body and ignore commands from other immune cells to commit suicide. The dendritic cells sneak the parasites into the brain and other organs, acting much like a Trojan horse."

Some people get really bent out of shape when we attribute human qualities to parasites and viruses and stars and whatever else, but personally, I think it's a critical part of our comprehension. Maybe it is a problem of language or a limit of imagination, but the way those quoted sentences sum up how Toxoplasma successfully infiltrates the body are an ideal jumping off point. If you can sketch in your mind what the parasite could be doing based on that description, you can go back and get all the pesky details and data to fill it into a real picture.

The most fascinating thing to me about Toxoplasma gondii is not that it's one of these nifty parasites that figures out a way to get into the body and thrive, while not really causing any harm to your average healthy human host. Work on Toxoplasma gondii and other parasites is showing a connection between infection and behavior in a host. The most familiar example of this to most people is the way the rabies virus causes rabid behavior in the infected host. But Toxoplasma gondii shows more subtle effects.

Pregnant women hear about Toxoplasma gondii if they own cats, because cats are major carriers of the parasites, and one of the most successful species when it comes to infecting other hosts. And while the parasite does not hurt a healthy human, it can be dangerous to a baby, because of their underdeveloped immune systems. So, women with cats often have to get their pets tested for the parasite to make sure they are not putting a baby at undue risk. See, I knew there was more than one reason I disliked felines.

But here's the cool part (to me). Because cats play such an important role in the proliferation of Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite appears to alter the behavior of rats. I know- wha?!? But rats have a natural fear of cats. And rats that are infected with Toxoplasma gondii appear to develop an actual attraction for cats. The theory is that the parasite would find such a physiological change in the rats beneficial, because it would make them more likely to be eaten by cats. And if the infected rats are eaten by cats, then the parasite is successful in getting into its ideal host.

Researchers still do not understand exactly how the parasite manages to induce the attraction. When they figure that out, I will be signing them up to work on what parasites I have, and why they induce an attraction to Gael Garcia Bernal, even when he's playing an incestuous sociopath. You know, the really pressing issues.

Monday, June 19, 2006

some days you feel ahead

Every once in a while, I get homesick for the east coast, or for my family, or for a sense of familiarity. This is my city, indeed, but I still feel that, on some level, very few people know me here. This is because I have moved here as an adult, I believe. When you come to a place more or less fully-formed, there is a bit less angst and growth, at least of the variety that is exposed to your friends. I tend to be a little intolerant of people who are around my age and still have no self-awareness, because, by now, you should have figured most of that sh*t out.

The inner demons, of course, remain, because they never really go away. But while some of my friends are willing to bring their demons out for a good group flogging, I am less likely to do that. I somehow believe I can swallow my demons, and that the pH of my stomach will simply corrode them away. If I can just keep them inside for long enough, the caustic burn will break them to pieces.

But all of this is misdirection, because I did not feel in the least bit homesick this weekend. In part inspired by Saheli's call to arms, in part compelled by the mindblowing weather in San Francisco this weekend, but most of all due to an inner war cry, I could not stop putting one foot in front of another this weekend. I have not been hiking in ages because of The Goal. Even though it takes a lot longer than it does with most athletic people, my body reaches some tipping point and always bursts forth with the same battle call: get off your a$$, b*tch!?!

On Friday, I met MG in Cole Valley, and I walked there the way I usually drive there. This may seem a statement of the obvious, but walkers in San Francisco tend to think of routes topographically. Many times I will stray from the most direct route a block or two in order to avoid a heartstopping hill. But I was in no mood to wuss out on Friday. On Saturday, I walked to Potrero Hill to meet maisnon for dinner. And then on Sunday, SP returned from her envy-inducing vacation and we strolled about aimlessly, eventually winding up where you must if you are walking around on a good day in my neighborhood: Mitchell's.

It is hard to convince me that you really have an appreciation for a city unless you have spent time really walking its streets. Exploring a neighborhood does not suffice. You have to take a long walk, the kind where you witness a transition from one part of the city to the next. If you do this, and you are a city person, and this is your city, I guarantee that you will fall in deep, unabashed love. On Friday, coming down 17th Street, the same street I had summited (and yes, that is the word I'm using for climbing to the top of 17th Street) earlier that evening, the city seemed to spread out before me for a moment. On Saturday, after trudging through the hot, hot heat of the Mission and passing through some neighborhoods that are, let's say, low on charm factor, I encountered a spiraling walkway at the top of 18th Street that turned into an overpass above the 101. That was a mixture of vertigo and amazement. On Sunday, upon marveling at the number of Peruvian restaurants we encountered as we went up on Mission, SP and I turned our eyes slightly upward, and we saw Bernal Heights dotting the hills.

Sometimes, I really am a complete simpleton, because these walks were enough to make me feel giddy. Sometimes, I really wonder who can ever compete with this. I don't know if I am in love with myself, or the world, or my place in this world. I just know that this is what it means, more than anything else, for me, to live.

Friday, June 16, 2006

a scientific means to bliss

Sometimes I wonder why I do not go back and delete some of my more crappy posts. In fact, I am tempted to delete the last two posts I wrote, because they were incredibly disjointed, contradictory, and high on the maniacal rant quotient. I resist the temptation, because I feel like I have to put it out there. If I pressed the Publish Post button, I have to live with the consequences. And maybe I will look back on it and think, huh, even though that was poorly written and borderline insane, there was that one sentence that had a point in it. Maybe I should expand on that. Or I will look back on it whenever I get delusions of adequacy, and it will keep me humble.

Anyway, today is probably the best day of the week I have had so far, maybe even of the past month. The weather is one contributing factor- I cannot remember the last time it was so lovely where I work, a part of the Bay area that always seems beset with strong winds when everyone else is enjoying calm days. Today, I walked outside and it was nothing but sunlight.

But the main reason this is turning out to be a good day is that my nerd-ridden ways paid off. Based on previous nerd-like tendencies and a few nerdy things I brought up at a meeting today, I was approached by another department about a change of employment. It might come with a bit of a pay cut, but it will get me out of management and knee deep in full-on nerdtastic day-to-day activities. For example, part of my work could then include reading journal articles, whereas now that is something I do on the sly to keep myself sane.

While I am really flattered that I got an unsolicited recruitment like this, I am not 100% decided one way or the other. No job is perfect, and what's more, I need to make sure this work will not get in the way of The Goal. And the job would be an about face from my current position. However, given my constant whinging about my work, I think you can join me in supposing that an about face might be just what I need.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

you must atone some

My last quarter of graduate school was not exactly the best time of my life. Sensing that I was on my way out, I had slowly started to drift away from all of my classmates and labmates, and they, in turn, had done the same. This is not unusual, even under the best of circumstances. It is some sort of subconscious weening in expectation of separation.

But these were not the best of circumstances. And yet that last quarter turned out better than I expected. Even though so much of that time reminds me of turmoil and despair, it also makes me think of the concept of salvation. I am not sure what compelled me, the first time, to walk to the library. Unlike a lot of students, I was never a big fan of camping out in the library for hours on end. For one thing, this was before the days of the iPod, and a tape in a Walkman was not going to keep my ears happy for much longer than an hour. I was always someone who could concentrate in my room if I was in the zone. So, heading to the university library really was inexplicable to me.

A part of me went there because I did not know what else to do. The music was not helping. It felt like every song I played on my stereo was some confirmation that my world was dwindling down the drain. Reading novels or poetry was equally dangerous; I am far too susceptible to fits of melancholy. Turning to friends just was not my style at the time. I am not sure it is my style now either, but it definitely was not my style then.

So I found myself a cubby in the library, and grabbed a stack of the latest journals. I made certain not to pick up any journals related to my actual area of study. At the time, I was taking one class that was not related to my actual area of study, and this was a graduate course on climatology. The first few classes gave me a terrible sense of inadequacy, as I could hardly understand what the professor was discussing. But somewhere into it, we started talking about carbon dating of ice cores, and plots of carbon dioxide and temperature over time, and suddenly, I was intrigued. And so, the stack of journal in my cubby were not always comprehensible. But I always gave it a shot if the subject matter even vaguely interested me. And I felt a great sense of triumph when I managed to suss out what the journal article was meant to convey.

All of this came back to me because MG, some friends and I went to see An Inconvenient Truth tonight. It is all too raw in my head right now to really write about, but I urge everyone to see this movie. Saheli invited me to go see it on Saturday, but since I am an idiot and had left my cell phone in my car all weekend, I had to wait until tonight. Then again, given my extreme laziness, I likely would have driven to Berkeley to see it with Saheli, and then felt like a completely jerk as I drove back, emitting unnecessary greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Saheli had the positive reaction of wanting to take some personal responsibility to help curb the coming crisis. I had a much more negative reaction. While a few reviews of the movie have mentioned that global warming is undisputed in the scientific community, what I have not seen asserted is exactly what infuriated me. While global warming and the unprecedented and unnatural rise of greenhouse gases is undisputed in the scientific community, in the popular media, it's about 50/50 undisputed vs. hmmm, might just be a speculative theory. That is about the time that I nearly threw my empty box of Junior Mints at the big screen.

It is perhaps a bit ironic that Al Gore, who has spent the majority of his life in public service, managed to cause me to completely loathe all politicians. Oh yes, b*tches- the Democrats can kiss my a$$ as well. Just this week, an NPR piece on windpower uncovered that f*cking Ted Kennedy opposes the installation of windmills in the Cape Cod area, because he owns property in the area and I suppose does not want windmills sullying his view. Ted Kennedy, supposedly a total leftie in the Democratic party. That is pathetic.

And go ahead and call me a pinko, but I really do agree with a recent assertion that perhaps many of the ills of our current political system can be tied to how funding is provided to politicians. It is really high time to get rid of all the lobbies. In a nifty coincidence, I had just caught David Sirota on The Colbert Report last night. When I walked out of the theater, the two pieces seemed to fit together just the way Africa and South America clearly did at one point. Al Gore has been bellowing about the environment for a long time. I can attest to this because I grew up in a state where presidential hopefuls used to show up a lot to run in the primaries. The running joke with Gore was that he may have actually had no interest in getting elected. He was that dedicated to delivering his global warming and environmental lectures to anyone who would listen.

Yet the government has done very little, and has wasted a lot of years trying to turn global warming into a theory instead of a fact. One of the main drivers of this inertia has to be the power of the oil and gas lobbies, the car lobbies, and all the other bullsh*t lobbies out there, keeping politicians from representing their constituents and actually doing the right thing. Why are we allowing this to continue? If we started using public funds for campaigns, and got rid of lobbies, we could focus on the science. I remember reading about those ice cores and it is amazing how much quality data have been collected from a tiny little sliver of a glacier. And if I can figure that out from taking one class, it seems like politicians should have grasped this years ago, from the first day Gore was belly-aching about it. And maybe then the media would also be released for the clutches of lobbies and the political system, and start communicating correctly about the gravity of global warming to the public.

If I was being less cynical, I suppose I might attribute the problem to prioritization. I would not be able to crucify them for that much, as that would make me a hypocrite. When I say it is about prioritization, it is in the how of priotization. Do you prioritize based on what is easiest? Or do you prioritize based on what is most urgent? I can say with great certainty that most of the time, I prioritize what is easiest. And I can say with almost equal certainty that politicians seem to do the same thing. Hmm- so I guess that is cynical too.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

doors slam shut

Here is something to file under ridiculous, but strangely true: I do not think I ever mentioned it here, but someone now reports to me, and someone else soon will. If I cared about this job, I suppose I would find this an accomplishment of sorts. Unfortunately for my direct reports (what a wholly distasteful term, btw), I mostly think of it as a nuisance.

So this woman that reports to me can be a bit of a harpy at times. I wish that when we wrote annual goals, I had offered up calming the f*ck down as one of hers. The work I do, meaningless as it is, requires a certain demeanor at work. It's the kind of demeanor where you quell people's anxieties at a meeting, and then go into your office, shut the door, crank up Welcome to the Jungle and yell, "Stupid motherf*ckers!" at the top of your lungs. But the point is that you have the meltdown in your office, not in your meeting. And this meltdown should last approximately the length of Welcome to the Jungle and no less. By the end of that time, you should have grasped that all of this is just absurd, no sense in letting it bother you.

But this woman seems to let everything get under her skin. I guess that does not even bother me so much, because that earns her my lecture on how there is no point in taking it all so seriously. What bothers me more is that she can be mean-spirited at times. I think I have realized finally that, even though I am an a$$hole more often than not, I am really not a fan of making fun of people. And for me, there is a pretty thin line between good-natured and mean-spirited when it comes to teasing. I was talking to my direct report (blech!) about a fellow colleague. And, yes, he carries himself a little like a merry sprite who shops at J. Crew but he is quite good at his work. I just mentioned his name, and before I could even say a word about his abilities, she burst out with a shrill, "he's weird looking."

What annoyed me so much is that we were talking about work. This was not a watercooler chat, where, perhaps, such an observation might have been acceptable as an entitled opinion. Instead, here we were talking about work, and she had made a snap judgment about someone based solely on their appearance.

Look, I am not fooling myself. I know that appearance does influence how a person is perceived. And I would not even try to claim that I am not guilty of letting a person's appearance sway me into having a bias of one sort or another. But on the other hand, I do have the awareness to know that I ought to try to correct for that in my thinking. Sure, sometimes I go too far- like how I now have this programmed response to think "total jerkbag" whenever I see a guy who is really attractive.

Anyway, from all of this, I think we can conclude that I should not be supervising anyone. More proof that my department is run by idiots.

Because I have kind of turned myself inward since completing the milestone for The Goal, I have diagnosed some other issues. Yesterday at around seven o'clock at night, the guy in the office next to me said I needed to go home, and that he would write me a note if I needed one. I think I am run down.

And I am also in need of getting back into some habits of mine that kept me in line. It occurred to me this morning that I cannot remember the last time I turned on my oven, but I know it has been longer than a month. I think that might have been to heat up a frozen dinner of some kind, so it has probably been even longer since I have baked anything. That makes me feel like the scary dude that lives two floors up from me. He chain smokes in the apartment lobby (which is not allowed and pisses me off because he is giving me lung cancer), unwashed and barefoot (and let's just say that no one wants to see his bare feet) with a vacant look in his eyes. Sometimes he also reeks of PBR, and I can just imagine that the entire contents of his refrigerator consist of a six-pack and maybe some beef jerky. Except that I suppose you don't keep jerky in the refrigerator. The point is that I need to get it together, people!

This is shaping up to be the longest post ever, which is what happens when I allow myself to complain. It also runs parallel to something I heard this morning on (and I'm not even going to start my rant about how I may have to break up with) NPR. Researchers are concerned that all the hoopla surrounding avian influenza is leading to a shift of resources away from other important infectious diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. My idealistic, drowsy morning mind arched at this assertion- why could they not just increase the amount of research funding altogether instead of favoring one at the expense of the others? Now that I am more lucid, I am more pragmatic and know that funding is finite, as are the number of researchers. You have to make choices, even if you are making the wrong ones at times.

I am feeling a little like that about words right now. When I was on supposed blog hiatus, I was emailing more, catching up with more personal correspondences. You can see where this is heading. But at the moment, blogging feels uncomplicated and easy, and my lazy a$$ is all for that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

no matter how cold the winter, there's a springtime ahead

Depending on what time of year I took finals, I had nearly diametrically opposed reactions. In the fall semester, it always seemed that I was fighting off some nasty bug, dragging myself to the finish line. When all the cramming was behind me and the tests taken, I crashed hard. Inevitably, my immune system would give up and I would come down with some illness. Even though I never really pulled all-nighters, I felt spent in the aftermath of finals, and just wanted to loll around doing nothing. When I went home in the winter, all I wanted was my morning cereal, and a blanket wrapped around me, until well into the afternoon. When my friends from high school called, I made up excuses about family obligations.

Maybe it was because I knew I still had a long haul ahead. Maybe it was because the weather in Boston in the winter encourages such lethargy and nesting. The spring thaw melted me along with the ice. I had more trouble studying for finals in the spring, but it still felt like more fun. The spring is something I really miss about the Northeast; I wax nostalgic about the frenzy and wild enthusiasm accompanying the first few nice days of the year. These days always seemed to fall on the week before finals, distracting me out of the library for a brief walk that would turn into a two hour excursion. I would start out telling myself I was just going to take a quick stroll along the river, and would wind up on Newbury Street buying flowers and CDs. But even studying did not seem tiresome: each hour of studying was one step closer to summer.

It was too long ago now, so I cannot remember the exact moment of walking out of my finals in the spring. But I remember the feeling. I remember the feeling of the dark, clammy hallways that opened up into bright, warm sunlight. A smile from ear to ear. The overwhelming desire to curl up in the grass and bask in the brightness. Drinking beer in the afternoon, going dancing until dawn. Okay, not dawn. It was Boston, after all. Nothing stays open that late.

Last night I was annoyed with myself for not feeling sufficiently elated about finishing the first major milestone of The Goal. Today, I realized that it is just not spring semester yet.

But there is something more at play. Even back in those days when I was jubilant and responsibility-free, I was never one to jump on a table and shout hurrah. Sometimes I feel very jealous and possessive of my happiness. I want to hoard it all to myself. I sometimes think of happiness as a secret and selfish thought. Perhaps that is why my friends are often surprised when I reveal that I am usually pretty happy. I may still feel in my fall semester right now, but even at the end of it all, I know I will not be sufficiently bubbly to satisfy those around me. What can I say? I live to disappoint.

Monday, June 12, 2006

shock the monkey

hey monkey, where've you been?

Yes, I am a jerk, because it was SJM's birthday this past weekend, but instead, I'm posting a picture of two hot chicks from the party. Whatevs, yo. Think of it as an added birthday present for SJM. Also, only in this picture did I manage to capture the all important beverages. We went to a Thai restaurant with a monkey theme. Roops and I reeled from how spicy the food was, but it was nothing a vodka tonic could not neutralize, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it.

Everyone in my neighborhood was excited about Mexico advancing in the World Cup yesterday (I’m assuming they won- if not, my neighborhood broke into spontaneous eruptions of “Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!” for no reason). For my part, I was still tickled over a Mallorcan who makes a habit of wearing capri pants.

Let’s put aside that he makes me go a bit a-flutter when he speaks Spanish (or Spanish-accented English for that matter). Putting aside the shallow aspects, there was a big game on Sunday in France, if anyone tore themselves away from the World Cup to notice. Roger Federer had, for the first time, a Grand Slam within his reach. To achieve a career Grand Slam is a massive accomplishment by itself. Federer was going for the true Grand Slam- that comes from winning the Australian, Wimbledon, the US, and the French Open consecutively in one year. The last person to do that was Rod Laver.

The world of tennis seems to have evolved such that a Grand Slam has become a virtual impossibility. This is why I will never give Sampras the credit he deserves- not only was he boring, but he never won the French. Agassi did, but one wonders if the Agassi of then would have stood a chance to the players of today. Amusingly, since Agassi won in 1999, the French Open has been won by a Brazilian, an Argentinian, and three Spaniards. These guys seem to drink clay with their coffee.

There has been a lot of excitement in the tennis world regarding Federer though. When he is playing well, it is breathtaking, and he plays well frequently. So, as soon as it was starting to look like Federer was going to make it to the finals of the French Open, the history books started opening and the frenzy began. I’m among the many guilty of impatiently wanting to call him “the best ever” already. But, as Frank DeFord pointed out, recently, there is just one problem- Federer keeps getting schooled by Nadal.

Most of the time, Federer is that guy on the treadmill next to you. You decide to pick up your game to keep pace with him, and just when you’re about to congratulate yourself for staying neck and neck with him, he cranks the machine up and breaks into a sprint. He did it with Agassi at the US Open- Agassi appeared to have a chance for a little while, and then, click, Federer turned it up a notch. It could be diabolical, but his easygoing demeanor suggests something more of the Andre the Giant characterisitic of “I want you to feel you’re doing well.”

It is that sort of thing that makes people want to love Federer. He’s a good guy, he plays flawless, he can make arrogant remarks sound modest, he gives the other player their due. Except when it comes to Rafael Nadal. Every great hero has their vulnerability- Achilles had his heel, Krishna had his foot once he assumed mortal form. Being human means having a weakness. For Federer, that weakness is Nadal. He gets under Federer’s skin. He’s beaten Federer on clay and on hard court. But more impressively, he has beaten him. Federer has remarked in the past that, in losing to lesser men in other opens, it was more a case of Federer beating himself. But not so with Nadal. He dominates over the Fed, flustering him, unsettling him.

In yesterday’s game, Federer tried to pull off the click, tried to break off into a sprint, but it did not happen. He won an amazing point that ultimately led to the fourth set going to tie break. But Nadal did not do what the rest of us would. He did not, deflated, fall back and let Federer run to the finish line. With an energizing, “Vamos Rafa!” he went into a breakneck pace of his own. And if you didn’t break into tears when you saw Nadal climb into the stands to hug his family, then you are made of stone, b*tches.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I have a new theory on why Bud Collins still has a job. He is such a horrible interviewer, and has asked such awful questions to players over the years that I think it’s become one of those hazing rituals. If all the previous players had to put up with him, the new youngsters have to be tortured as well.

Friday, June 09, 2006

see for yourself you have been sitting on a time bomb

Since someone actually found this site by searching about viruses and the theory of regressive evolution, I am reminded to point out that there is an excellent review of the AIDS timeline that is worth perusing if you have any interest in understanding the course of this illness in the last 25 years. When I really stop to think about it, HIV is equal parts success story and bumbling failure. On the one hand, great strides have been made in understanding HIV and how it develops into AIDS, in developing therapies that can effectively combat HIV in dramatic ways. On the other hand, it is a terrible depiction of the divides between class and economics, from the people who are at most risk of contracting the virus to how many people cannot get access to anti-retroviral therapies.

I am also reminded that I once used to write about such things as HIV and regressive evolution. And I wrote about it because I was so excited that I could not help myself. But again, I have had to temper myself recently. It is far too easy to wade into a stack of journals and drown in leisure reading, when I need to be focused about finishing a major task. Mimosa wrote in the comments to yesterday's post:
Writing is a craft and can't be honed in one day, must be done again and again and again.

And actually, if you read through those comments, you get a nice taste of why I miss all these people's presence so. But Mimosa's remark, characteristically, burrowed into me. It's a statement I have been telling myself repeatedly of late. I've taken to giving myself little pep talks. And I swear I am not begging for compliments here, but I have come to terms with some severe limitations that come with my writing. Some ages ago, one of my writing instructors had picked it up herself, with a comment on a sestina that read:
While the restrictions of a formalist poem have generally been beneficial to most students, I think they have been for you, well, restrictions.

I still remember that comment because it stung a bit at that young age, especially coming from her. Even though she was a graduate student at the time, I was somehow in awe of her. She was one of my favorite instructors. There was something always a little inaccessible about her, but somehow I imagined that to be exactly how a poet ought to carry herself, slightly self-contained. She wrote poems about grey New York winters, poems that could have been so slight but instead had big impact.

Anyway, it has only taken me all of this time to accept her criticism. And I have only accepted it because I am trying, swimming upstream, to observe form. I am observing form only because I have to, because The Goal demands it. But I am failing miserably, repeatedly. And as many pep talks as I give myself, in the end, I know whatever the finished product will be will fail to meet the mark I set for it.

Of course, when I am banging my head against a brick wall, what do I like to do best? That's right- take it out on other people. To wit, here is some general commentary that has been running through my head:
  • When reviewing my work, it is not helpful to write somehow, brimful is missing from this. At this point, that is akin to writing, this needs more cowbell as a comment. Plus, look, it's a little bit of a gay remark, okay?

  • It is also not a great revelation to read the comment I don't like this sentence or I don't like how this sentence is worded. Hey, guess what?!? Neither do I. That's why I sent it you, jacka$$.

  • Lord, it's not that I do not lurve all the offers of people reading my unworthy words, but holy sh*t, the reason I'm not sharing with everyone is that there is only so much abuse one person can take. Also, when you get one reviewer tell you I really like that sentence, definitely keep it followed by another reviewer saying That sentence is absolutely terrible, self-aggrandizing, and is a landmine of trouble- this is a recipe for my impending brain implosion.

It's a shame really. I so wanted to be finished with all of this, because I have been feeling the effects of not having a weekend of calm for some time in recent memory. Atlanta relented on the weather end, but wound up being so jam-packed with work-related activities that I feel foggy and frazzled even still. And a little embittered, because I did not get to meet Chick Pea as a result. Remember that part where I explained that I suck? Exhibit Z, right there.

Now it is time to get my a$$ in gear, get out of this joint, and get a little done before SJM's birthday dinner. Let's see if I can stay awake past my first Grey Goose & tonic.

p.s. Whatever, I am a fossil, but you know what still rocks all these years later? Tears for Fears. Yes, they do. No, you cannot convince me otherwise. What? Sowing the seeds of love? I'm sorry, I can't hear you, because I have Break It Down Again on blast.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I'm sick of sitting around here trying to write this book

Some of you peeps who use Firefox might have told me that this place looks like an eye sore. I just, finally joined this decade and got Firefox and was horrified at the aesthetics up in here. I’m working on it, but as with everything else, it will be a gradual process that takes forever and will probably still look like amateur hour at the Apollo.

For some reason, I felt old for the first time in a long time this past week. The strange thing is that I felt old due to a bunch of people that are all younger than me. And it was not in that oh, I am so jealous, they are so spry and sassy, while I am this old clod way either.

J has suspended blogging. As I was wading into deep melancholy about that, I began to think about how many people have curbed their blogging. Some of these people were dedicated writers who waxed lyrical about all sorts of things near and dear to my heart. Others captured their feelings and experiences in a way that was so acute that it felt immediate as I was reading it. Still others made me feel unworthy. And others just cracked me up with random awesomeness.

It seems like I am in the camp of a few others who are in some kind of blog-xistential crisis about whether we should continue forward. For me, some of this relates to a type of old guard, a crew of people who encouraged me when I first started writing here and nudged me along. Now it seems a large portion of these folks have moved on and away. I have not even met some of them, but it feels like that divide that occasionally forms between married and single friends. It forces you to stop and think, I am still here. But is this where I want to be? I still do not know. But I’ll agree with Maitri, who pointed out that blogging does require some back and forth. If you feel no one is reading, or is not sufficiently interested to make a remark, you can keep writing for some time, but not indefinitely. With so many of that old guard gone, I do question whether I rely on their fuel to keep lighting my way.

Then I tell myself to shut it and admit that some of this also has to do with having no time. This is another reason having no leisure time is problematic- truly busy people are a little boring. They seem interesting, because they are on the run. But unfortunately, what they are up to is only interesting to them, and even if interesting to others, there is no time to talk or explain.

I am so close to finishing a major milestone for The Goal and yet so woefully far away. In parallel, the process is also getting me so close to realizing something and yet that realization too is far away. A match light illuminates a thought, but just when I am about to make it out, the light goes out. So, I keep seeing the shape of a thing. I feel I am onto something big, but I just have not made the big discovery, not yet.

The problem, of course, is that it’s me who keeps extinguishing the light. It’s not a match so much as a spark in my head, but I have, of late, taken to telling myself not now, there is not time for such thoughts right now. And that is odd, because I never used to be that person. When the spark sheds lights, ghosts and demons appear in the darkness. They offer to show me the way, but I have spent too much time with apparitions in the past. I have been misled by their ethereal light in the past, wandered around in the haze. So I choose darkness instead. And that feels weak.

Friday, June 02, 2006

well I'm long gone darling, lonesome blue

    Welcome to Atlanta where the players play.

Yeah, except not so much. Here is the thing: at the moment, I am overcome with temptation to write the sentence- I loathe Atlanta. That, of course, would be ridiculous, seeing as how I have been here for less than 24 hours. Furthermore, B & I went to the ATL with another coworker for a long weekend some years back and did not break out into hives. Though our coworker G had some meltdowns- in the CNN cafe, G burst into tears, prompting an exchanged glance between B & me that cemented our friendship forever- for the most part, we found the city worthy of recommendation.

Maybe it is the sweltering humidity. Maybe it is the fact that this is the first, brief respite I have had from my very needy coworkers. But maybe, more likely, most probably, I am homesick. Absurd, but true. Not two days after returning to San Francisco, I rearranged my suitcase and shipped out again. I do not know how some people do it. Sure, there are accomodations, heavenly beds. But honestly, nothing could be more heavenly than being back home, in my netherworld of a crack shack.

There is curious contrast at work. My previous trip to Atlanta was prompted by the exact opposite sentiment about home. When living in New Jersey, I felt so uneasy and restless that I was available at any moment's notice to leave the state. So, any excuse or opportunity to take off for the weekend was seized. And I went with no expectations, because I blindly accepted that wherever I was going was better than my point of departure. Conversely, now, no place measures up.

But the ATL and I shall have to make amends, or I shall have a rough five days to be sure. If it lowers its humidity by 10%, I will lower my expectations by 20%. Deal?