Making something more of a holiday

Thanksgiving is upon us. I find it challenging to actually slow down and soak in the meaning of an given holiday. It’s not for a lack of trying. On some Veterans Day, I stop to reflect on soldiers of war and pray for peace. Yet it’s not easy in the U.S. to really commemorate an occasion. Most around me just see these days as another day off. The newspaper is typically full of advertising for the special shopping to be had.

So with Thanksgiving, I am faced with another great chance to give thanks. I will try to give thanks and not just run around making my dish or just sit around stuffing my face. Let’s see whether I succeed.

Some books on my mind

Let me offer up a list of books that are on my mind lately as a substitute
for some "real blogging":

Some moments from today

This morning, I attended church and sat beside Lloyd and Pepe. I wrote an entire page of reflection based on the sermon and may go into those reflections in this space — but not tonight when I’m tired. I will say that the sermon series on 1 Peter was immensely challenging for me.

Last night, when feeling a bit down, I turned to doing a bit of programming. That actually lifted my spirits, though I need to fight against programmers’ obsession.

Riding my bike is another good way for me to fight the blues. What a lovely autumn afternoon in which to cruise around Berkeley.

As I type this entry, I’m listening to Rough Guide to the Music of China. Such a nice way to get introduced to some big artists who had previously been utter strangers to me. I await the selection of Cantonese opera that will surely transport me back to my childhood.

It is time to go to bed, lest I get a second wind and not be able to fall asleep until 1am!

Memories that launch a day

Something I wrote in my
blog almost two years ago
:

I am also painfully aware that I have live in a narrow band of my life because
I have seemingly forgotten most of what I have ever known or experienced.
I say "seemingly" because on occasions, sometimes in ephiphanic
moments, I have glimpses into my past — memories of snow crunching underneath
my boots in cold, cold Timmins, of gym classes I hated, of classmates who
have gone to places I know not where. I am an iceberg and only the surface
is apparent to others and to myself.

I regularly return to the metaphor of self as iceberg. In several months, I
turn 37. I often anticipate the future and obviously have no choice but to live
my life moment by moment in the present. As I lose more and more of life to
the past, I become increasingly zealous about accessing my memories. Writing,
I suspect, will be a primary tool in my remembering process.

Let me brainstorm some memories, true or false, and see what this process jogs
in me.

At about 10 pm, as I was returning home in a taxi from Kidd Creek Mines,
after working really late, I looked up and saw colourful splotches of light
in the sky. Things didn’t seem right at first. What was that stuff? I then
realized that it was the first time that I ever saw the northern lights (aurora
borealis). I’m surprised that living in Timmins that the aurora borealis isn’t
more common. I’ve not seen it since.

At the end of grade 8, a girl I had a mad crush on was moving to Texas. I
wrote a card and bought her a present and walked several miles through the
"suburbs" of Timmins to say goodbye. On occasion, years later, I’d
wonder what had ever happened to her. I even did a few google searches, though
I never paid for a PI to track her down. But I never found out where she is
now.

When my younger sister, who was 8 years younger than I, was born — my other
sister and I ran home to see her on her first day out of the hospital. I remember
her lying in her crib. How I wish to remember more about that day.

There was a summer in which 3-d glasses were all the rage. I went out to
buy one of those cheap pairs (with the paper frames and flimsy filters), eagerly
waiting some flick about a gorilla in a zoo. The show was so disappointing.
Not only was the story line lame but the 3d efforts were terrible. Why did
we get so excited?

These days, I like walking by the elementary school in our neighborhood,
peeking in the windows. I like to say proudly that I don’t care about my own
surroundings since I’m a man who lives inside my head — but what is it about
the brightly lit, extremely colorful, rich immersive environment about the
K-6 classroom that calls out to me? I daydream about Queen Elizabeth Public
School, where I attended K-6. There were two floors — and I’ll have to come
back to all the images that are surfacing for me even as I try to transport
myself there: gyms on the north and southside, a big (oak?) tree on one corner
of the yard, cleaning the chalk erasers one afternoon, school buses parked
in a row, walking towards home and then turning back to see the school (now
why did I turn around?), the things I did during recess by myself for many
years, where the principal’s office was, distributing valentine’s day cards.

The mundane has taken on a magical tinge.

Deep but fun; Present but aloof

Rebecca Mead’s Love for Sale in The New Yorker is a review of a book that advises women to apply the notion of personal branding in their search for a mate. Mead mentions The Brand Called You, the famous essay by Tom Peters that apparently kicked off this whole think-of-yourself-as-a-brand craze.

Let’s see how I’ve branded myself: The Bach Nut; The Geek Scholar; The Quiet And Responsible Friend; The Deep Thinking But Fun Guy; The Bible Loving But Not Bible Thumping Very Reasonable Christian. The Bad Blog Poet on Late Nights.

I think that I’m going to need a better marketing guru to help me play this game of self-branding….

One thing I learned tonight

My friend Krista and I saw Alice Sebold from the second row of Zellerbach Hall tonight. What a treat! There’s a lot I’d like to recount — but since I’m dog tired and it’s late, I’ll make one observation here in the hope that I’ll be able to say more later:

Alice Sebold extolled the excellencies of poetry in her own writing process. Though she is a prose writer, she draws inspiration, energy, and new vision from meditating on poetry. Sebold read several poems during the course of the evening. When asked whether she herself writes poetry, she replied that although she writes some decent poems, she is not currently attempting to getting any of them published.

Shrinking life into my writing

How does my writing relate to my life? Sometimes when I sit here before my blog, I struggle to find something useful to write about. Other times, I’m overwhelmed by the overabundance of topics. Tonight is an example of the latter case. If I just drew from a running list of stuff I maintain on my wiki, I could write about anything from Studs Terkel to a Taiwanese dance company — with Bach thrown in. Too many things have been happening to me for me to get all of my life down on paper. Maybe I should shrink my lived experience down to what I can write about. In that case, I would stop reading another book, seeing another film — or talking to another person. I could then contain my life, bottle up the essence of my life into written words. But what kind of life would that be? A writer’s life?

The adulterated pleasures of half.com

I’ve not been blogging much lately — though the reason for my slowdown is a matter for another day. Tonight, as I was describing to friend what had been happening in my life the last couple of months, I realized that I had the makings for a good blog entry, one that would cure my blogging drought.

My name is Raymond Yee, and I am a half.com/ebay addict.

As with many addictions, it all started innocently enough. In August, I wrote about giving my books away to people who could make good use of them. Around that time, one of my housemates told me about half.com (which was owned by ebay), where he was selling off his books. I had never sold anything on ebay but had bought a CD-ROM and a computer cable on that site. I knew how popular the company had become through creating essentially the world’s largest garage sale. But I have never been a fan of flea markets. Moreover, I had never sold any of my books, accumulating them as I go. But being the Web geek that I am, I was always up for trying out something new on the internet — and placed one of my old physics books up for sale on half.com.

Nothing happened for weeks until one night, I got email from half.com. “Funny”, I thought. “I didn’t buy anything there — why am I getting email?” Well, it was a message saying that someone had bought my book! The rush that came from having someone out who I will likely never meet be willing to pay much more for an old book that I ever imagined getting for it laid the foundation for my addictive ruin. These books that I had been planning to just give away (to worthy folks, of course) had monetary value that wasn’t that difficult to extract.

I packaged up the book, made my way to the post office a couple of days later, and sent it off. I should be seeing the $30 I was paid soon. I guess that I hadn’t lost that much money from the purchase. Sure, I probably shouldn’t have bought the book in the first place. I had a soft spot for advanced physics and math and computer texts — and I tried to steer myself away from those dens of iniquity (a.k.a. bookstores) where I knew I’d succumb to temptation. I even had told myself that the real costs of the books weren’t the list price of the books — but the 100-200 hours (and that’s optimistic) it would take to master the materials of the books — and hence, the real question at stake was whether I had scheduled that time into my life by buying the book. (Of course, I hadn’t!)

But now, half.com redeems some of my experience — at least partially. It seems that the resale value of physics books is fairly high — or at least much higher than what I had naively believed it to be. I can’t imagine getting that much money from the used bookstores around campus. Still, as I packaged up the third book that I’ve sold in the last couple of weeks, I could not help noticing that the only marks in the book was my own name. I had been living a fantasy that I would become a master of solid state physics by buying the book. Slowly, I struggle to give up that illusion. When I was a Ph.D. student in biophysics, working for a theoretical chemists, at the peak of my scientific “prowess” (such as it was), I couldn’t find the time and energy to master arcane topics like the condensed matter physics of complex fluids. Over seven years later, with my mind immersed in totally different fields (which I find overwhelming enough), what chance do I have to study physics seriously? The time has come and gone — and yes, I am flourishing quite well, thank you very much, without physics. (When I was a kid, I never imagined that I would be happy without math and physics being at the center of my life….)

So I’m on a tear to sell off most of my books. My current inventory is around twenty books. I can see placing dozens more books before I’m done. I surprised myself this morning by using the repricing mode on the books. How much time should I be spending tweaking my selling price for various books? My housemate’s strategy has been to sell his books at cut rate prices. When I started with half.com, I thought that I would use the same procedure. Now I am trying to squeeze some more dollars out of my inventory.

Odd, isn’t it?

I’m here, yes I am

It’s not that I have nothing to say
Oh I sometimes wish that be the case
No, I seem to be overwhelmed

Slow down I say.
Take time to pray
Maybe I should crawl into a cave
Stay in my bed
Lose myself in a book
Unhook my phone
Filter away all my email
Read no more blogs

Each day adds another dozen ideas
Expands my mind and my to-do list
Ozu beckons me —
Why does the PFA have to be so thorough?
Now don’t ignore nanotech
Or that spec or this acronym
Can’t forget the new exhibits
Or forget to keep in touch with friends

So I’m still here
Even if my blog is most silent these days

Help
me
to

Sleep.

The homebody is at home

I returned late this afternoon from Anaheim. There’s no place like home, even when I was away for only three nights. Maybe I’m more of a homebody than many and maybe Anaheim was not that much of a name destination as places like New York City — but I suspect that there are many of my fellow travelers who are enjoying sleeping in their own bed tonight.