Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Impulses Love Coffee Shops

I’ve noticed something about impulses: they’re all about feeling. I was on the bus today, a few stops from work, when along comes this impulse. It says “Hey Eric! Why not get off early, grab a cup of coffee, and stroll the rest of the way in?” Then it winked. I knew this meant “Impulses love coffee shops. Maybe I’ll see you there and talk you into hanging out for a while.” So, this impulse makes no sense if you look at the ‘what’ of the matter: I’d just had coffee at lunch and I didn’t really feel like walking. But looking at the feelings involved, I see what I was after. I wanted to feel far from my destination. I wanted to feel the calmness of seeing space and time stretched out all around me. Thinking back, I’ve been chasing this feeling for as long as I can remember. To be honest, it’s a large part of what led me to grad school. Work makes me feel anxious and unsure of myself. It’s crippling. Learning feels safe. I do want to challenge myself but I don’t want to feel challenged. But maybe if I recognize that it’s not the space that I want, but the feeling of calm, I can cultivate this in other places?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Truth and Beauty

truth is beautiful
we have a hunger for this beauty
to see things as they are
without distortion

but one can't represent
with the atoms that are YOU
the infinity of what IS
to think is to summarize
to compress
to distort

but beauty isn’t honest
for any moment
there are bits of YOU
that can embellish what IS
for everyone involved

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fish are boring

On the bright side, I now have more faith in my instincts. When we met on Saturday, I got two vague impressions: awkward and cynical. But I couldn't remember anything in particular that made me feel that way. So I decided to give her a chance. Well. Three miserable hours later I've got to tip my hat to you, instincts. Usually, I find a touch of awkwardness endearing. But not with this one. There was nothing endearing about this one. What bothered me the most was her lack of empathy. Second most was her aggressive commitment to unfounded opinions. I've got this friend who's a grad student in the fisheries department and on Saturday her friend made out with his friend. So, naturally, our conversation migrated toward fish. We didn’t even get the chance to discuss what a person in the fisheries department might actually do before she let me know how boring she thinks "watching fish all day" would be. Clearly, the only thing she needed to form this opinion was the word “fish.” And -- as with everything else we talked about -- there would be no compromise. I felt that I should point out that it could be really interesting. I've always been amazed at how schools of fish move together. So fluidly. Almost like a single living, breathing, organism. But each fish is acting and reacting according to an isolated set of rules in its little fishy brain. No one orchestrates the behavior of the group. It just happens. Like magic. I think that imagining and testing simple rules that explain seemingly complex phenomena is probably the most creative, elegant, and fun part of science. “It’s fish. Who cares?” I felt that I should point out that a similar self-organizing system of things -- neurons -- makes us us. Maybe studying systems like fish can lead to insights about the very nature of thought! Wouldn’t that be interesting? Nope. Fish are boring.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Return of the Talcum

I’ve been here in the lab since 9am and I've done nothing. I have a meeting in one hour in which I'll own up to doing nothing for the last week, so it seems pointless to change that now. I’m about to put on some music. That’ll help me feel better. Nope. I feel scared. I stayed up late last night, numbing my mind with sudoku puzzles. This is ridiculous. I’m so paralyzed right now. I’m literally paralyzed (figuratively). P a r a l y z e d ( f i g u r a t i v e l y ). On Saturday, I woke up around noon with a mind to make up for a week of slacking. I was going to get shit done. On my way to the front door, I decided to make a pizza and watch Colbert. I decided that the day must die and I killed it without remorse. I bludgeoned it with frozen food, tv shows, and sudokus. Let’s not focus on the bad though. I was feeling avoidy all day but around 8pm I started to feel a bit like my old self. My self from this summer. I felt like soul-dancing. I decided to go to Talcum for the first time in months. I invited Kathleen; she was with Eleanor. I invited Neil and Kraig; they were uninterested. I invited Jim; he was already going! With his friends from fisheries (fish people)! We’d meet up later, briefly, just enough to say “hi, friend.” I went alone -- just like I used to. It really is better that way. It’s just awkward dancing in a group of people, you can’t really talk and communicating through dance is prone to misunderstandings. Either you have a perpetual dance-off (admittedly, this can be tons of fun with the right people, Ryan Brown) or you half-ignore each other while you try to balance the proper amount of personal space with the proximity that says “hi, friend.” I feel much more comfortable just blowing around all by myself on the dance floor. And the attention is nice. Whether it’s due to, in spite of, or completely indifferent to my lack of dancing ability, I feel like I get a lot of "you're cute" looks. And I can almost remember how to be comfortable with myself again.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Last night I was feeling a little empty as I walked around. I had a strong impulse to reach out to someone, but had no one in mind and I let it pass. I was listening to music on shuffle. I decided that the next song would be significant to me. Up comes a catchy composition entitled “Blah Blah Blah” by Ke$ha. Good one, universe. Okay, Ms. Dollar-sign, I’ll hear you out and see what light your message can shed on my situation. Though it's a stretch to say a song like this "about" anything, the theme is carefree indulgence in life and the dismissal of false pretenses. It's about someone who doesn't want responsibility but -- at least at some level -- wants to be honest. Maybe the universe is making a caricature of my penchant for living in the present. It's telling me: Choose this path and these are your people. They mean well, but they're simple and full of contradiction. This dovetails nicely with my adventure last Monday where I met Doug the middle-aged scuba-diving vagabond. I was playing pool at the Canterbury with Brandon. Turns out that Doug's twenty-something girlfriend -- recently fired from taco bell -- had flaked on date-night and he ventured out for a drink. Doug has made a career out of living in the present. It was clear that he genuinely wants to be a good person and he claims that he’s never hurt anyone. But this isn’t true. Doug loves to talk, so it was easy enough to find counterexamples. For instance: In his twenties, he sold copious amounts drugs at grateful dead concerts. When busted, his half of the proceeds were with his wife and newborn daughter, while the other half were in his friend’s pocket. He played the dimwitted lackey and got off while his friend served eight years. Later in life, he smuggled Thai prostitutes into foreign countries, getting deported from a few. Also he told us all about how to make fake 50 dollar bills and use them in Canada. He seemed subtly anxious about his plans to visit his estranged daughter this Spring for her 18th birthday; I wonder what she thinks of him. Judging by Doug's stories, he’s rarely done anything to improve the life of another human being. Just groped the world for money to survive. This isn't the life I want. These aren't the friends I want. They mean well, but they aren’t good like I want to be good. Thanks for the lesson Ke$ha.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Egg and The Mountain

Eric has an impressive aptitude for avoidance. Not in the way that many go about it: where the subject of avoidance sits gnawing at the back of the mind. This avoidance is numb. Anxiety grows rapidly as his thoughts approach the subject and, like an Egg being pushed up the side of a smooth, conical, mountain, it takes careful and sustained effort to keep his attention -- the Egg -- at the top. But the Egg gains momentum as it wobbles downhill and Eric engages earnestly in anything interesting or fun that the Egg comes across in the valleys below. This freedom makes Eric happy. Of course, this stifles Eric's progress on the subject, which in most cases is a problem but this acknowledgment and the acknowledgment of this acknowledgment are just more mountains for the Egg to roll away from. The bigger problem is that mountains cast shadows. And each shadow is a vague but powerful sense of guilt cast in all directions. When there is nothing else to notice -- in the empty space between moments -- Eric notices this shadow of guilt. This vague sense of guilt makes Eric vaguely sad. But when the mountains are small and the sun is bright, these shadows are barely noticeable and Eric is happy and productive on the endless tasks he spots as the Egg wobbles through the valleys. But with time, the mountains grow and their shadows spread until it's too dark to work on anything in the valley. All Eric can see are the mountain tops. And they are so far up. It takes courage to roll the Egg up these giant peaks but the preparation takes much longer than the journey. And when he makes it to the top, Eric balances the Egg at the center and feels very proud. For a while, he works diligently. Chipping away at the mountain whilst making sure that the Egg stays balanced on the peak. Subtly, the mountain starts to shrink. This subtle progress makes Eric subtly happy. But breezes and bumps threaten to send the Egg rolling back down into the valley. Often, Eric reaches out just in time to catch the Egg as is starts to wobble down the mountainside. But being on guard like this is not sustainable. Thinking about thinking about the task at hand takes too much thinking. Looking away at the wrong moment, a breeze or a bump sends the Egg wobbling down the mountain and Eric sets about another task that the Egg comes across. Or does nothing at all.