politics, rice pudding, & the ocean: also, science 101

I’m going on holiday soon and was thinking what to take to read. This morning, I decided: mathematics. A long time ago, I was a math/physics student, and then a NASA science drone. Mathematics, unfolding, is as beautiful as the ocean, alive, intricate, complete in itself. Physics unfolds mysteries, and I don’t mean the God-particle nonsense that people have been getting excited about but the even more wondrous daily mysteries: wind, weather, why there is that odd-shaped shadow on my ceiling, how to park on a hill so your car doesn’t roll away…

Physics enchanted me, as a girl, because it the fundamental rules were essential simple, and clear. Water rolls downhill, ALWAYS. Stuff like that. Studying physics was a way to allow my mind to be simple, and clear. It does not contradict itself. Subtlety exist, but there is always the real to measure against.

For some years now I’ve been a writer. Fiction, mostly cross-cultural, dealing with social, political, and emotional issues. My community is now mostly writers, artists, activists, and nothing is simple, or clear; or rather, much of it probably could be, but people cultivate complexity. To include ALL the data — by which I mean all the facts, not all the opinions — on something, or as much data as one can get, and look at it all in balance, is not a popular sport. Balance, as best I understand it, requires calm. But the troubles of our times, from tars sands to Islamophobia to economic class warfare, call for concern. And most people don’t find concern and calm coexistent within themselves, especially in American culture, which says, subliminally, that we should be able to fix anything. So there is tumult, and shouting: a noise of long-winded thoughts and exhortations that seem to be saying, ‘Care more, care more! Don’t relax, don’t spin down, not for a minute, the world will cease to be if you do, the battle will be lost…’

I’ve tried to get people to care about some of these issues, particularly the race-related ones, without stirring anxiety. I think I have failed. Caring deeply while being staying as calm as we can is an emotional reality in daily life for most people, else we’d never let our loved ones go out the door, never mind become skydivers or firefighters. I think it’s okay, even essential, to deal with political issues the same way — do what you can, everything you can, and then let go and fix dinner. I talk a lot about politics, but I’ve never said this before, and I apologize for not doing so.

I am going to read, on my vacation, not a novel, full of sculpted emotion, or a nonfiction book full of argument, however just, but mathematics: to find a state of clarity in my mind again. It will be like eating fresh fruit, or rice pudding, after too rich a diet. Cleaning, and strengthening. In-between, I will go to California farmers markets, which are a paradise of grounded goodness, and I will cook dinner. I will look at the ocean.

I will be simple.

Cantonese talk radio

People arguing on a Cantonese language talk show on the radio in California. I recognize a word every few minutes and am ridiculously happy, imagining it’s Malaysia 30 years ago. Words i know in Cantonese: ‘hurry up’, ‘don’t make a fuss’, and ‘beautiful’. Also, ‘how much is that?’ accompanied by a pointing finger in a marketplace.

Dancing feet

One more week in CA to prep for getting self and stuff cross-country, Also for NZ trip, also… It’s getting interesting.

2/4, 10pm: TruthOut: it is perfectly possible to be able to dance with a sword on one’s head and then turn around and sprain an instep while falling out of a shoe. So now you know. Into every life a little embarrassment must fall.

2/5, 12pm: With a little help from my friends: trying to write a sensible proposal while packing to ship my stuff cross country while distracted by nonsense injuries and actually going to get it done because I know some smart and generous people.

2/7, 9am: Pinched nerve and I am still movement challenged. Trying to figure out if travel is possible on saturday. Must get over this tendency to get snake eyes when I roll the dice.

2/9, 2:30pm: 5th chiropractor visit in a week. He’s stopped charging me 🙂 I need to shake this and return you to your regularly scheduled babble. But meanwhile, did you know that taking every muscle relaxing amino acid… at the same time can make one feel quite loopy? No actual happy pills involved but I’m so relaxed I’d swear there had been a bottle of champagne somewhere.

2/12, 5am: In NY. Safe flight, quite pain free. Jammed things up again in a taxi where there wasn’t leg room enough for me and now contemplating the wonder of this (I’m only 5’3″). Several small kids on the flight. 2 year old introduced me to his shoe: held up his foot, pointed, and said, ‘shoe.’ We should all be so simple.

2/13, 2:30pm: First post-travel dance practice, gimpy leg and all. Baby practice, but good enough to remember who I am. In another 1/2 hour I can probably hazz shimmy.

Car shipping

The auto-shipping service (Dependable Auto Shippers) that’s sat on my car for a month didn’t answer its phones all day today. Totally surreal, and fingers crossed there is contact/resolution tomorrow.

1/6, 10am: My car is still AWOL but suddenly I’m not angry; this morning, listening to how their online system isn’t working, and the GPS on the truck isn’t working… and being reminded that they did a great job for me about 2 years ago I realize it’s the economy. This company, like many others, isn’t being run by the people who do the work and know how it should be run. It’s being run by a board, the stock market, owners absent any motivation except maximized profits. And since every company in this country is being run into the ground at the same rate there is no fear of customer flight.

2011 final sky

final sky

Pacifica, CA. I didn’t have the real camera with me. iPhone seems to have color-balanced in a way that shifted the sky colors, to be honest. But both the original and this are really beautiful.

My touch with the iPhone is getting better after working with the real camera. It’s just interesting that with the other camera the colors would have looked completely different. Or maybe not. The iPhone makes some sort of averaging decisions about brightness, and I guess one could program a regular camera to make the same choice.

I just record. The engineer on this light show is pretty awesome.

Hooded mergansers

Hooded mergansers in the micro-pond outside the window. 4 males, 3-4 females. tipping back and forth and under the water to washing, bobbing up out of the water unexpectedly for all the world like rubber ducks in a bathtub. Hoods up and down. The white hoods of the males look larger in life than on a nature show (!) and the sensible mouse brown of the females looks adorably soft. males are chasing and bobbing up around females. A male with hood up and moving across the pond looks rather like a small toy boat, especially with the cute racing stripes on either side of his white tummy. I think I’m in love.


Just found this while sorting pics. it gives a sense of the scale of Big Sur. And the wind. I’m tilted. My hair is tilted. The kelp is tilted…

Kelp at Gibson Beach

When kelp’s floating in surf, you get these isolated curves popping in and out of the water. I shot about an hour of what I thought was a school of seals before I realized I had a thousand pictures of kelp.

Wetlands night walk

Solitary night walk at the wetlands by the SF Bay. A dozen species of invisible shorebirds singing. A couple some distance away on the path, we cannot see each other. She is singing, an untrained contralto warm with love, eros and agape both, by the richness. There are stars overhead, and lights bejeweling distant hills. I walk to the end of the levee talking to my father. He was a great traveler. He would have loved that moment.

Extraordinarily difficult to leave and return to civilization.


Wetlands restoration area by the San Francisco Bay, walk-score: 1 great blue heron, many yellow-slippered & snowy egrets, California clapper rails, brown pelicans, mourning doves, 1 plump jackrabbit, curlews, coots, hooded mergansers, assorted ducks (mallards, and some sort of micro-mallard that shrank in the wash), dowitchers, some flavor of sandpiper, avocets, possibly snowy plovers, coots… Going back tomorrow with binoculars and telephoto lens and hope they’re all there again.

Best of: territorial argument between the great blue heron and a large snowy egret. Stares from the heron, a rather astonishing hoarse noise from the egret. Egret won. Have seen birds here before, but not quite so many at once. Only the cormorants seemed not to be out today.


Return from San Luis Obispo

1K miles driven under CA’s luminist skies. Ocean, coast, mountain and central valley in stunning vistas, intoxicating new-baby pheromones and fragrance of spit-up, mimosas in the night and robust western wine at the table with equally robust Chinese duck. An old friend’s embrace. A new friend’s sweetness. A sweetness of friends all round, in fact. I am refreshed.

And now the next lap…

The non-fairytale version … would also include: crossing the coastal mountains at dusk and dark, in the rain, with winds gusting to a gale, wiper blades that turned out to be worn (a borrowed car), brights that didn’t work, and getting desperately sleepy at the wheel. One would also have to remember the old friend’s parting embrace and – from the sublime to the ridiculous – much bad highway food.

Alum Rock Earthquake

Hi folks. Just writing this down so I remember myself. Thought I’d pass it on.

About 5 mins past 8 this evening, first sensation was a rumbling noise. At first I actually thought it was the kid upstairs, who does produce a sound like thunder, and a little shaking in the in-between floor (California construction, don’t ask). And then it got louder, so I thought, real thunder, as it is about the time of year that N. Cal monsoon-ish rainy season (cold monsoon rain, *very* weird to somebody from my original part of the world, but that’s another story). Right after that ‘thunder’ thought came the realization ‘but the house is shaking’ (much more than even the kid upstairs could do) and then the slowly dawning idea that this was an earthquake actually strong enough to feel. After that, several seconds to think, what is it we’re supposed to be doing now and a fascinated staring at pictures on the wall, to see what they would do. And then deciding we should locate the most sensible part of the space to move to, figuring it out, and then further seconds yet to actually get moving, by which time the earthquake got tired of waiting for us to get it, and, fortunately, left. For the moment.

After the earthquake, a chagrined process of checking on our earthquake readiness status (flashlights, food…), combined with a sense of wonder that the building seemed to be handling it okay.

Checking online next, and encountering this on the USGS site
“Please wait several minutes for the earthquake to appear”

After several minutes, the verdict: mag 5.6, about 17 away as the crow flies. Although somebody at Stanford, just up the street from us and with an active population of earthquake geeks, logged it at 6.0 (by the amount of stuff flying around, etc).

Warnings of aftershocks, probably minor, but 5-10% possibility of a stronger quake yet.

Taking Rescue Remedy. Monitoring the web for a while. Finally remembering to eat dinner, followed by a trip to the grocery store for the correct amount of bottled water, crackers… On the principle that carrying an umbrella prevents rain (yes, I have a degree in physics, but I still believe this) we have helped prevent the big one. At the store, the ‘ENTER’ key on the cash register stuck, and rang us up about a hundred bags of sunflower seeds. Possibly a small, mechanical earthquake victim.

Wondering what the people on the trains felt like, when things started to shake and the trains stopped for a while. Glad I wasn’t sitting in a train in a tunnel. Wondering what it would have been like to handle a car, or be on a bike, during a quake. Realizing we have no idea.

Home again, sitting down to write this post, realizing that I’m sitting right up (inches, CA condos are *small*) against a tall bookcase. We put the chair in this location on the assumption that anybody sitting in it would have sufficient brain to pick themselves up and move if the ground started shaking. Shaken to discover I didn’t have sufficient brain. Or anyway the wrong kind.

Realizing this is a disadvantage of not having kids. With kids we would have conscientiously run earthquake drills after moving here. With only two adults, we assumed (wrongly) that our brains would figure things out in realtime.

Now thinking about how to develop a higher level of practical intelligence, and very glad, for everybody in the Bay Area, that nothing more happened.

Drinking sherry. Would prefer a good bottle of wine, but forgot the wine at the store. Several other people there buying water in quantity, and whatever they consider essential nutrients (chocolate syrup…)

On a completely unrelated subject, I’m rooting for John Edwards for the Democratic nomination.

Signing off now.