Sunday, April 27, 2008


I went to West Meadow Beach today for a beach clean up.

The day was gray and damp, rain splattering down onto the sand, leaving it pocked and patterned. The rocks on the shore gleamed like pearls. At this beach, the smooth stones all seemed translucent and bright: a garden of tumbled quartz, rose and white and peach and lavender. The occasional white seagull floated on the gray water, arching its wings and squawking.

We scrutinized the tangled beds of blond reeds washed up on the sand and stone. We stooped and selected the things that didn't fit: inorganic-looking rods (discarded straws), strands too brightly colored to belong (escaped plastic ribbons, curled), bottle caps blue and red, the corpse of a tin can, frazzled and frayed rope. The shriveled skeleton of a popped balloon. With chilled fingers, we teased these artifacts out of the reeds, collecting them in a huge dark sack. The black bag flapped in the ocean breeze and dragged on its belly across the lovely-hued stones.

Beside us, the waves murmured. Overhead, the sky continued to cry, as we crept along the shore, discovering and discriminating. Each moment was like one of the shore's sleek stones, and every stone was like a jewel, and I wanted to take them all home.

Friday, April 25, 2008

About Me, II

Ok, well, it's a Friday night at the moment. But same principle.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I'm working on a research paper type assignment for a class on the history of math. I wanted to look into the discovery of imaginary numbers. Discovery might not be the right word--invention? revelation? creation?

Anyway, it turns out there was a ridiculous amount of drama amongst the 16th century mathematicians looking for the cubic equation. How amusing/disillusioning--I thought mathematicians, being analytical and logical and intelligent and (back in the day) male, would not be prime candidates for secret-keeping, betrayal, public fights, insult-hurling, etc. But apparently not! Maybe Cardano and Tartaglia's silliness can be blamed on their being Italian.

Or, if we take the view of men v. women expressed in Candide, we could blame it on their being male and therefore impractical and idealistic and obsessed with honor. Hmm.

But anyway, the thing I am currently really interested in is Euler's formula, which yields the infamous "e to the pi times i equals 0." How do you wrap your mind around the idea of raising something to an imaginary or complex number? I need to look into this more.

What does it say about me that looking at this kind of math makes me so happy, huh?

I think it says I'm my father's daughter. :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Everything is painted with memory. How can I forget?

I will wait for time to wash my world, wait for a return to the plain sense of things. Time will dull some colors, brighten others. I will overlay new memories to gloss over the old, and a bed or a couch will no longer shout stories. I will not have to cover my ears to close out their clamor. I will go on, and on. Memory will soften in the sea and drift away on the tide, and it will not matter.

Monday, April 21, 2008


When I have a cold or sinus infection or some other physical ailment, I stop feeling hungry. I abandon sugar/fat/dairy in favor of Indian food. The spice clears my head. I need cleansing, via curry, gallons of hot tea, salad, grapefruit, dozens of oranges. I also need to numb the pain in my throat and head with menthol, more tea, and hot showers. I eschew the energy-expenditure of going to class, and spend hours in bed instead. I don't talk to anyone when I'm sick.

I'm not properly sick now--just heartsick.

I am self-medicating with loose fitting t-shirts, too many chocolate cookies and an excessive amount of ice cream, pizza, long conversations in the sun or on the phone, long walks with no proper jacket or shoes, extra doses of church. Max, effusive as a puppy, is the best antidote to the poison of a person I just cannot deal with. Crying cleanses the stuffed feeling in my eyes and chest. The cold of a clouded morning numbs the pain in my heart. I am avoiding homework. Instead, I sneak outside (abandon my cell phone, who cares if it rings?), ditch my shoes at the base of a pine tree. It takes wriggling and pulling and twig-breaking and leg-scraping, but I squirm up into the crest. The bark chills the bare soles of my feet, my palms. I want to cry, but tears do not come when I call them.

I break off a twig with its explosion of pine needles and tear them off bundle by bundle. Each bundle has five needles. I pluck those one by one, too, letting them fall through the criss-cross of sticks and branches below, until this seems too sanitized and controlled, about half-way through the bouquet. The needles are not as pungently-scented as I am accustomed to expect, so I tear into tiny segments and crush them in my palms. They leave my already sap-spotted skin tinged green. When I drop them, they scatter through the air, falling, falling.

It is cold and secret and silent. I would like to be a pine tree, clothed always in rustling green needles, fresh sap oozing instead of blood and tears and sweat. Trees cannot cry. Neither can I . . .

Do the trees ever want to weep?

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So little time has passed, and already I miss the feeling of your arms around me. I, I know, do not want to go back. I (I know) cannot go back. But my body doesn't listen to me. My body would be happy to go back to where it felt it belonged.

Now that I am away, I can almost afford to listen to my body.

Almost. I will hear it, no matter what. My body does not stop talking to me. I (my choosing self) is done. Done in. I need to collapse on my metaphorical back and stare at the symbolic ceiling with blank metaphysical eyes. I have no more words. I will not--cannot--respond to my chattering body even to tell it to shut up. I only sigh and shut my eyes, and my body's craving threatens to drive me crazy. Somehow I need to get my body outside the room, and lock the door.

Stop. Stop telling me what you want. Don't bother wanting things you cannot have, things you were not happy with when you had them. Don't tell me you were really happy with them--I know you weren't. Stop editing the past. Stop revisiting the past. Stop wanting. Stop whining.




Seven thirty, and it's still light outside. The sky is luminous blue. Small birds flit across the expanse, black drops against cloud-brushed sapphire. Behind me, orange tints the horizon where dusk is creeping up through the still-barren trees. Springtime has strengthened the sun. Light fills the air still, gleams and glows.

And I too am light. I was a dark drop of despair, plunging through endless space--but the sun shone through me, piercingly, and now: I have evaporated, am drifting in the warm air. I will not fall.

There is a lightness in me, a clarity at my core. My heart floats, steady, steady. I breathe in, and it seems the whole sky dwells for a moment within the vault of my ribs. Breathe in, and it seems for a moment I rise off the ground, that the sky lifts my weight. The balls of my feet touch the earth, but no weight rests on them. Breathe in. Breathe in, and the sun shines on my cold heart.

And breathe out and come back to the world.

The sky releases me, lowering me carefully. I am, again, my small self. But the sun is still shining, and the naked trees are putting out hopeful, knobbly buds.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Where are you going, where have you been?"

If you leave a dangerous situation quickly, are you always "running away"?

Flight is, physically, a running away, regardless of motivation. Whether you're physically running away doesn't say that much about whether you are running away in the sense of being a coward, though. Sometimes the hardest thing isn't the right thing. Sometimes trying to deal with a problem is the source of a new problem. Sometimes you have to leave.

Courage is facing your fears, is doing the right thing in the face of fear, of hardship. But if you have fears pressing you in every direction, courage also means running away from some things. You look one fear in the eye and walk towards its object determinedly, head up, heart beating fast. The monster looms large before you, horrifying. Your feet drag, your eyes dart. You hesitate, look around. And then you choose to keep going. You see the monster, and you continue towards it.

The thing is, in choosing that direction, that monster to face, you have turned your back on a host of other fears. The faster you move toward the monster you have chosen, bravely, to face, the faster you are running away from the other threats. They snarl and slobber behind you, and the onlookers shout and jeer that you are running away.

You are running. But "away" and "toward" require a frame of reference. You are running: away from the starting line, toward the finish.

Whether your running away is more important than your running toward pertains primarily to your motivation. Motivation: the moving force. Fear of the monsters behind you? or courage to face the monster before you? Activity, or passivity? Are you the agent, or the acted upon? Do not let a fear be the agent. Fear is meant as a message, as a tool, as an energizer. The decision is yours to make. You, not your emotions, are the agent.

I made my choice. I picked a direction. I am going there, and I am necessarily going away from where I am now. I am running. Forward.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Away from sin and hindrance, toward the right and the Light. Toward the person who turned away from shame, turned toward joy. Turning, turning, turning, away and toward. Turning into the person I want to be: being "transformed by the renewing of my mind." (Romans 12:2).

[note on the title: from Judges 19: 17, via Joyce Carol Oates.]

Friday, April 18, 2008

Confrontation & Culture

The story of my relationship with confrontation: I pretty much never confront. I have a some stereotype-based excuses for this:

1) I'm a girl. Girls like to negotiate instead of fighting. (Obviously, this depends on the particular girl.) Girls value the capacity to notice what someone else wants. The value placed on complying with that desire varies among people/subcultures, naturally, but I think the ability itself is valued almost universally among females.

2) I'm Asian (sort of--mainly by where I grew up). Japanese people particularly avoid open conflict. Maintaining harmony is far more important than getting your way on something. Instead of making demands on other people, you make sure not to inconvenience or discomfort those other people. Since they, in turn, are doing their best not to get in your way, the system works out all right, generally--in Japan. When you transplant an individual who is following this pattern out of the context of a communal effort to keep everything running smoothly and into a culture where the individual is expected to stand up for his/her own rights and desires--where stating desires clearly is considered less of an imposition than expecting the other to pick up on them--then the system breaks down. If that displaced individual cannot adjust, he/she ends up getting walked all over.

3) I'm my father's daughter. My father and I would rather suffer through a little inconvenience than exert the energy to try to effect a change in someone else's behavior. In particular, avoiding confrontation is avoiding the risk of invoking someone else's wrath.

Prime example from my day-to-day life:
My roommate, whose initials are also JP, was eating Lucky Charms while I was out, and I returned to the room to find a number of them smashed into the carpet. Grr! I hate it when there is junk in the carpet and I can feel it on my bare feet. It's even worse when it's visible as well as tangible.
This reaction, apparently, showed on my face, because the friend I was with when I made this discovery said, "Ohh, your roommate's going to get in trouble! You're gonna make her clean it all up."
"No, I'm going to sweep it up and forget about it," I said.
"What! You're going to let her get away with that? Noooo, what you're gonna do is, get a can of bug spray and put a thick line of it down the middle of the room. Then go get a few ant-friends and deposit them on her side of the line..." (Can you say "passive aggressive?")
Obviously, I did not take that silly suggestion. My friend wasn't serious about that one. But he was genuinely shocked that I wasn't going to yell at my roommate for the Lucky Charms. To me, it just wasn't worth the conflict, when I could quickly deal with the problem myself. To him, it was vital to assert his desires and defend his rights.

I'm pretty sure this the sort of situation to which the title of the book Different Games, Different Rules applies.

Epilogue: I mentioned the Lucky Charms in the carpet to my roommate, and she, being a girl just as much as I am, apologized and backtracked and said it wouldn't happen again, without my even saying it had annoyed me. Sometimes subtlety works fine.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Musings on a Sunny Morning While Listening to the Music of a Desperate Man

Reality is tenuous in my hands, slipping over my fingers like a sheer scarf. What will remain to me when my grasp of reality slackens? I stand with hollowed palms, fingers suddenly holding nothing, frozen in the moment of loss. My eyes swirl over the ground, whirl into the barren tree branches, strain into the sky--searching--for what? What is it I have lost? What is the difference here?

I stand searching, and the world blurs around me. Edges soften and bleed. Tree branches fade into the sky. The pliable spears of grass melt into each other, into a green carpet, and then their green fades to a tired color. Gauze-like clouds fill the sky: space is no more. The wind is intoxicating, taking me away, away--

I drift on the wind like a leaf fallen from a tree, twirling and swooping.

The world is changed, changing. The old colors are gone, replaced with nameless new ones. The texture of things is altered, somehow, but I could not say how.

Soon, I cannot even remember the way things were.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Moodiness + Facebook Analysis (no logical connection implied here)

I really don't feel like writing. I think that means something is wrong. Prime suspect is that I haven't been doing sufficient processing in places that won't be read by whoever is wandering the internet. Perhaps the trouble is just that my attention is all over the place because there are so many things on my to-do list. Vicious cycle--no attention span, no productivity, longer to-do list, even less attention span by consequence.

But sitting down to write something out is always a good choice. A means of focusing...

I have been thinking a bit about Facebook: its merits and demerits. Someone recently made the claim to me that "Anyone who spends more than three minutes a week on Facebook has a problem." Hrmph. If that logic is correct, I definitely have a problem. I haven't logged my FB hours, but since it's the primary means by which I stay in touch with a fair number of people, I check it frequently (perhaps obsessively), though that's not to say that I spend a lot of time on it every time I check. However, I use it rather like email, with the result that I periodically stay on FB for, oh, maybe an hour?

My accuser didn't buy the "FB is like email." The primary accusation made was that FB is a popularity contest: who has more friends, whose friends write on their walls, what sorts of things are written on people's walls, ... It's all about grabbing attention, supposedly.

I disagree. There certainly is a component of attention-seeking, and FB certainly has a huge potential for time-wasting and obsessing and social comparisons. However, FB also offers an extremely useful consolidation/integration of communication tools with a range of implied meaningfulness: from the completely ambiguous and non-committal Poke, to the as-fluffy-as-you-want-it Wall, to the hidden Message. The conventions and culture of FB allow you to contact someone you haven't talked to in a while with less awkwardness than other forms of communication, because FB presumes very little intimacy, probably because it imposes very little. Also, FB is useful for organizing events, groups, etc..

Not to imply that FB does not get abused or addictive, nor that it never feels like a popularity contest.

But think about human interactions in general. We are social creatures. We need attention from each other, and seeking that attention is entirely legitimate, so long as that need for attention is kept to an appropriate intensity. A phone call, an email, a conversation: these all require attention. My accuser's complaint referred especially to the "hey, look, I got a wall post! (and you didn't)" reaction--or rather, generalized that reaction to everyone on FB because everyone's wall is essentially public. My reply is that having a wall conversation is like talking in public. Though you can be overheard by people for whom the information is not intended, that's not at all the purpose of talking in public. It's just a natural consequence of choosing a form of communication that presumes little about your right to impose on someone's time and space. Alternately, you might be talking with a group of people, but address your remarks to one person in particular even though the whole group is listening, or can be if they so desire. This scenario tends to occur around a table at dinner, for instance.

Facebook is like any form of communication, in short: capable of accommodating a full range of interactions. It can reveal immaturity, neediness, etc.. But it can also perfectly normal social exchanges, or even private conversations. It's a tool like any other: having its use, but having also the potential for misuse.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Went to a "Renaissance Masquerade Ball" tonight. It was like prom, but three dollars instead of $40... and with rubber ducky souvenirs. I was told I was good at dancing and asked if I go clubbing often. What?

What does it even mean to be good at dancing these days? I know I have absolutely no capacity for choreography, which was rather the essence of dancing skill back in the day. Perhaps "good at dancing" now mostly means being able to focus entirely your body's movement--that intensity, that energy. It's always passion that attracts. When someone is into whatever they are doing, that focus exerts an almost magnetic pull. You want to look at them, to look at whatever they are looking at so intently. That's how it is with the good dancers: they are utterly absorbed in the motion and the music, in the moment. They hold your eye.

Friday, April 11, 2008

All Summer in a Day

That was a depressing story, about how kids can be horrifically cruel to each other and not even realize it, or perhaps about how people in general can be really cruel. Ray Bradbury, how I love thee.

But the title has a rather lovely ring despite the darkness of the story it belongs to. Today felt like all of summer's promise, condensed into twenty-four lovely hours of sunlight and warm air and light breeze.

Summery days: They feel so much more valuable when they are scattered here and there among dreary days. After a succession of cloudy mornings, inclement afternoons, evenings when you wonder whether it's really April--after all the chill and the rain that falls when you most dread it--after all the grey: then the golden, shining air and the arching blue sky seem a masterpiece to be stared at. A hot bath to be soaked in. A jewel to be polished and treasured. A bird to hold gently, curl your fingers around, quiet your voice for--and to release a moment later. It flies up into the air, and you run after it, laughing. The world is new again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Looking Back

I think it's in looking back and truly feeling separated that I can really know I've moved on: to a new emotional state, a new attitude, a new stage... It's in looking at what I wrote before and remembering, "Oh, that's right, I felt this way. Funny. Things have sure changed. I remember now how it was." It's strange to reread the outpourings of my heart and find that they don't immediately touch me anymore, find I have to look hard, to peel back some layers, brush aside the present.

For instance, I wrote the following poem a couple months ago, and I thought I would feel like that for a long time. But at this point, it feels like a stranger's words:


I write you these love-poems,
secrets of my heart squeezed out onto paper,
like the juice crushed from apples in a cider press:
       sweet and strong on the tongue,
       murky in the glass.

When the poem is over,
droplets of yearning still cling to me,
like droplets of juice around my mouth,
       waiting for a swipe of the tongue.

But my heart is lighter now,
free to absorb other emotions:
       the nectar of friendship,
       the mead of wondering who? what?
       the mysterious cocktail of having choices.

In the poems, I say I miss you,
and I suppose I do. But I don't want you back.
I am savoring the exquisite flavor of longing,
       gulping draughts of freedom
       like cool water after a long race.

Monday, April 7, 2008


I saw the movie "Atonement" on Friday. It was really intense: depressing, because it shows not only the obvious evils of war, death, rape, and excruciating strife within a family (between two sisters, no less), but the subtler pain of self-delusion. You tell yourself a certain story about the way things are or the way they are going to be, you believe it, jealously guarding that hope in your cupped hands, breathing on it, feeding it gently. You make it grow, keep it alive, and in keeping it alive you keep yourself alive. For without a hope and a story, we have nothing. There is no reason to live if there is no place to go toward.

And then, you find that your hope was a lie. This creature you have kept and cherished does not grow up to take care of you in your old age, but sprouts angular wings and flaps away as you run after it. You implore it to return, stretch your hands skyward as though you might be able to reach it if you just reach, reach-- but it rises and rises, and doesn't even look back.

You are left alone with reality, to face the consequences of your choices, the fact that your hopes were unfulfilled, the heart-wrenching truth that wanting something cannot make it so.

We all do this, to a greater or lesser extent, and for better or worse purposes. In "Atonement," Cecilia's dream of Robbie keeps her going, gives her strength when she is alone and alienated from her family. In feeling she has a calling, a mission, a love that will survive against all odds, she finds the sustenance that nothing but a sense of purpose can provide. Robbie, of course, relies on his bond with Cecilia to get him through the horrors and terrors of prison and war. Without that hope, despair would have destroyed him.

Most profoundly, though, Briony herself makes herself believe that she can atone for what she did... For her, as for Cecilia and Robbie, the end is that her hope was a tattered and torn thing, stained and threadbare and false. Unable to cover her guilt or keep her warm. She cannot atone, in reality, for her awful mistake.

The question the ending raises, however, is to what degree atonement in writing and penance can take the place of changes in actual events... Like The Things They Carried, "Atonement" dwells in the border region between truth and lies, reality and fiction, dreams and events. What does it mean to be "real" or "true"? What does it mean to truly atone for wrongs done? When is guilt effaced?

["Atonement" does not answer these questions in a way that satisfies me, and neither does O'Brien's book. When I get the time, I'll try to write up the answers Atonement gives and the answers I would give...]


                        I fear
the ponderous fall of disappointed

the eternal wait as they linger
in the air on the way groundward,

the Crash!

of collision on concrete,
the violent physics of it,

the jolt

through the floor I stand on (the floor
the expectators stand on):
The whole structure trembles
with released energy--

               Sound and fury
shimmer in the air
             then dissipate

I sag down to the cement,
wilt into a curl of a girl,
                          stifle sobs
in the silence

[another poem of mine, written a few weeks ago and newly edited.]
[Gaah, it is so aggravating to put in the spacing in html.]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

East Village Opera Company

I saw them perform on Sunday night, and I was sitting in the third row. It was absolutely amazing. The singers were so into the lyrics--vivid facial expressions, dramatically changing postures, emotion-saturated movements. . . I also loved the contrast of the two delicate violins with the rawness of the electric guitar. Despite the difference in sound and attitude in the two instruments, they complemented each other, rather than clashing or overwhelming each other. They both have so much energy. . .

The fake fog and the variously colored spotlights also added to the performance, and definitely made it feel more like a rock concert, despite the violins and cello and classical tunes. In general, the show was a fascinating blend of associations in presentation and in sound.

p.s. It was odd to find out how many opera tunes I recognize but had never categorized as opera music.