Multiple mini-responses

I’m really quite gratified by the responses I’ve gotten to my new personal
blog. I still think of the encouragement I received in the early moments by
Lloyd and Laura.
I’m thrilled that I have a group of loyal readers — and their responses energize
me. For example:

  • Tonight, I took to heart Catherine’s
    encouragement to see Ursula K. Le Guin
    . Not surprisingly, tons of people
    filled the 2nd floor of Cody’s Books. It was better than the usual book reading,
    not only because the stories read were so fine but because Le Guin is a really
    charming respondent. She seemed quite unpretentious, mixng humor with rather
    sharp insight in her answers to questions. More than that, she had an audience
    full of fans intimately knowledgeable about her work who wondered about that
    essay or this story written over decades.
  • My friend Ginny Hearn responded to a whole slew of my previous posts. I
    responded to one
    of her comments
    and plan to answer some others when I’m less sleepy
  • I wonder what Lynn
    will have to say about my new blog when she has a moment.
  • I didn’t realize that there would many others in our
    blogging community writing about faith, Christianity, and religion
    .

Off to bed — I’m still hoping to turn my daily blogging ritual into a morning
rather than a late-night activity.

Tempted to go hear Ursula K. Le Guin tomorrow

I’m tempted to go hear Ursula K. Le Guin speak about her new book Changing Planes: Stories at Cody’s Books tomorrow. I knew nothing but her famous name until I read a review of The Birthday of the World: And Other Stories by Margaret Atwood in (you guessed it), The New York Review. I wish the review were publicly available (because it turned me on to both Le Guin and Margaret Atwood) — but this quote should give you a flavor for both:

Which brings us to Ursula K. Le Guin. No question about her literary quality: her graceful prose, carefully thought-through premises, psychological insight, and intelligent perception have earned her the National Book Award, the Kafka Award, five Hugos, five Nebulas, a Newberry, a Jupiter, a Gandalf, and an armful of other awards, great and small. Her first two books, Planet of Exile and Rocannon’s World, were published in 1966, and since then she has published sixteen novels, as well as ten collections of stories.

Collectively, these books have created two major parallel universes: the universe of the Ekumen, which is sci-fi proper—space ships, travel among worlds, and so forth—and the world of Earthsea. The latter must be called “fantasy,” I suppose, since it contains dragons and witches and even a school for wizards, though this institution is a long way from the Hogwarts of Harry Potter. The Ekumen series may be said—very broadly—to concern itself with the nature of human nature: How far can we stretch and still remain human? What is essential to our being, what is contingent? The Earthsea series is occupied—again, very broadly speaking—with the nature of reality and the necessity of mortality, and also with language in relation to its matrix. (That’s heavy weather to make of a series that has been promoted as suitable for age twelve, but perhaps the fault lies in the marketing directors. Like Alice in Wonderland, these tales speak to readers on many levels.)

Only the lack of time during the week I leave for the east coast makes me hesitant about attending what should be a great reading.

Ang Lee: Inner Hulk

China, Chinese, Chineseness, Chinese-Canadians (and by extension, the Chinese-American experience) have been on my mind a lot recently. Much of my interest has more to do with connecting to my own family background: hence, the creation of a “Finding My Roots” category in this blog.

Not surprisingly then, the profile of Ang Lee in the lastest issue (June 30) of The New Yorker caught my attention. The first Lee movie I saw was Eat Drink Man Woman. I was then surprised (but delighted) to learn that Sense and Sensibility was another of his films. I later found myself repeating the quip that Lee’s most famous film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was Sense and Sensibility with martial arts.

There’s a lot in the profile to which I reacted. Let me recount the easier-to-blog about matters and see whether I reach the more challenging materials. (In blogging, I find it a challenge not to do what I’m about to do: when faced with a rich source that provokes multiple and deep responses, I often do not have the resources of time or energy or courage to publicly respond; when I do react in my blog, it is often to point to the quirky, fun, delightful. My blog entry barely does the source justice, but if I wait to do it justice, I will have nothing to say.)

Back to matter at hand: I laughed in reading about a date between Ang Lee and his-wife-to-be Jane Lin (p. 76):

On that bus, Lee met his future wife, Jane Lin, an independent, outspoken graduate student in microbiology (on whom Lee later based aspects of the fierce, intrepid character Yu Shu Lien in “Crouching Tiger”). “I never pursued a woman,” Lee says, “She came and talked to me. She’s a good listener, and she has the smallest ego of anybody I know. I was a shy guy, but I was a future director–I had that ego thing and I wanted to express it. I couldn’t find anybody to listen to me. And there she was, interested in what I did.” Lin also remembers their meeting. “I could be a chair. I could be a bucket of water. It doesn’t matter, he just talks–about everything,” she says. “I fall asleep, I wake up, he’s still talking.”

Interestingly enough, Lee is also described in the following way: “Lee doesn’t hector; he doesn’t bluster; he doesn’t insiste on his own superiority; and he’s not materialistic….In fact, there is nothing conspicuous about Lee’s behavior but his talent. ‘He has the most quiet footprint, a tremendous humility,’ Hope says. ‘He once said to me, describing his process, that movies pass through him.'” (p. 72)

A major theme of John Lahr’s profile is the role of Lee’s Chinese/Taiwanese background on his work and his psychology. I’m still working through the piece, wondering whether Lee is caricatured/stereotyped in the profile or whether he is indeed as he is described….

More later perhaps.

A little note for a grand day

I could tell you about how moved I was by the long-anticipated wedding of a friend on a sweltering afternoon in Livermore.

I could write about how I learned that I had misremembered a quote by Albert Einstein in a way that says more about myself than anything about the great scientist.

Instead, I’ll just scribble down that because I didn’t want to miss a blogging day, I am writing trivia from my wireless phone while lying in my bed. I will also commend to my gentle readers a profile about Ang Lee in the June 30 issue of The New Yorker. Tomorrow, I’ll say why specifically I am intrigued by the piece.

How to have Movable Type post automatically on schedule?

MovableTypeTrickle: “Trickle allows automated posting of deferred Movable Type entries. To use, create a category called ‘Deferred’, place entries in ‘Draft’ status, add them to the ‘Deferred’ category, and set the created date to the date when the item should be posted.”

This script should be very handy when I go on vacation but have a series of posts written ahead of time that I wanted posted. I’m not sufficiently organized in my blogging to be in need of such a facility yet. But one day….

What kind of man on the street am I?

I just have to get this down.

As I walked towards my usual lunch-time haunts on Telegraph Avenue, I was approached by two girls and a boy in their early teen years. One girl, who held a piece of paper, seemed to be the leader and asked me whether I was willing to answer some questions. They happen to be well-groomed, well-spoken white kids. However, I immediately knew what they were probably about.

I said, “Sure, why don’t you tell me who you are and where you’re from.” I don’t remember the exact exchange of words, save that they were from a Baptist church and had been sent by their youth pastor to ask these questions. They asked me one question — which I can’t remember exactly, except maybe it was about what my purpose in life was. I immediately asked them for the other questions. The kids obliged me and read off all the questions to me. They were predictable ones and went something like: Do you know where you going in life? What do you think is important? What do you think will happen to you when you die? The last question was “What do you think of Jesus?”

I didn’t answer any of the questions. I didn’t feel like submitting to a regimen of deep, engaging, powerful and potentially highly personal and charged questions submitted by a group of kids that I knew for 10 seconds, who probably had only the foggiest as to what they were actually asking. Instead, I turned the game around, asking the teens what they were hoping to accomplish through asking me these questions. They said that they didn’t know, that they would be informed of the purpose after they finished the exercise. I told them that people don’t usually talk about deep stuff like what they are asking, especially to strangers. I asked them how they would feel if they were to ask their friends these exact questions. I thought I saw some squirming.

They thanked me and I told them that I myself was a Christian, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. I mentioned that I would hope that people would be won to Jesus. But I didn’t think that this exercise was terribly helpful.

Now at a moment when I should be sleeping, I ponder what that whole exchange was about. Why was I so adamant in responding to the kids the way that I did? Did I actually perform a service of love to them by sharing my perspective? Or was it an ill-considered deconstruction of some possibly useful but poorly constructed exercise? What was the point of sending kids to ask such deep questions of strangers? Why weren’t they told about what they were doing?

Now I wish I had taken down the name of the church and gotten the name of the youth pastor. I’m curious about the motivation. If I were teaching teens, would I do the same? As the creator of The Nexus of Newton and Nietzsche, I was hardly against people talking about deep things. But the evangelistic hook as the last question made me unhappy. (But was my own course evangelistic?)

How do you tell you love someone?

If I could put in words — exactly — what is in my heart of hearts, then I would do so with alacrity. But rarely is such the case. Most of the time, I fear. Scared that my words would lie. Uncertain of what would happen if I could speak of love. Frightened by being swept away, losing all perspective, all logic, all balance. Yet I want to be swept up by something/someone good. Yet I want us to be swept up — together.

But words fail me. Less talk, perhaps, and more walk?

If Robert MacNeil didn’t figure it out until recently….

I am blessed — and cursed — by the overabundance of cultural opportunities
in Berkeley (let alone, the surrounding area). Attending readings at Cody’s
Bookstore
is a favorite opportunity for me to hob-nob with the many famous
authors who pass through this town and renown bookstore. The array of writers
is overwhelming, and I need to be selective in whom I go hear. Why this writer
and not another, I need to ask myself. Otherwise, I try to take in more than
I can absorb.

Last night, Robert MacNeil, known to me and, I suspect to many, primarily as
the broadcaster who retired
after many years at PBS’ NewsHour,
spoke about his new book Looking
for My Country: Finding Myself in America
. I went to hear MacNeil because
he is a Canadian who in 1997 became an American citizens after many long years
in this country. It was no accident that I learned about the talk from my friend
Peter (and fellow Canadian-living-in-the-US).

MacNeil spoke about his search for self-identity, specifically that part which
resides in nationality. He spoke about things that I understood — that of being
an outsider/insider. I know a lot about the U.S. — so it’s easy to appear for
me to pretend to be an American. Yet I come from an alternative existence, one
not well-known to most people south of the border but one shared currently by
35 million people ("Canadians"). Although MacNeil came from a Canada
of the 1940s and I, from a Canada of the 1980s, we share, strangely enough,
enough commonalities for me to say, "hey, we’re both Canadians — maybe
all Canadians share these experiences."

I’ve been in the U.S. for thirteen years with no immediate plans to return.
I am working on getting a green card. I even surprise myself with thoughts of
becoming an American one day (thoughts that are tinged with guilt and intimations
of betrayal). When MacNeil spoke about being torn between being Canadian and
living in the U.S., the conflict that inhabited his body of seventy years is
probably going to be one that sits in my for the rest of my life. There’s all
that me that grew up in the north — and though most of the time these days,
Canada seems remote while I pass my days in northern California, I only have
to let my guard a moment or two, stare out the window at the wrong time to be
transported back to a long lost moment of purity and tranquility that I associate
with childhood or Canada or fantasy. I have no desire to make my residence in
the city I was born — Timmins — but there’s something there for which I still
long. I can’t name it; I don’t know what it is. Canada has something to do with
it though, I’m sure.

(FYI and FMI, I’ve blogged in the past about being Canadian: when troubles
come, the differences
surface
; remembering Canada Day through the Maple
Leaf flag
; Glenn Gould as an eccentric
Canuck
)