Friday, January 28, 2011

another day, another interview

I didn't get the Palo Alto job for literally the most petty of reasons: one of the founders didn't like me. Even though the other founder did, and the people I'd have been working for and with wanted to hire me, that disapproval torpedoed the whole thing.

Maybe I could grow out my beard, wear different clothes, and try again in a month. He'll probably have forgotten me.

I still have a lot of anger and disappointment about it, and I'm just going to have to give those feelings some space. They'll take some time to dissipate, which sucks.

I went back to the Mountain View company today, for one interview with a guy who asked for some easy-for-me coding, and to talk to the director about what I'd actually be working on. Fortunately, he has a vision for the role, even if his minions have no idea what I'd be doing. So I'm a bit wary, but it might work out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

so very, very cranky

I didn't get the Palo Alto job, which sucks five ways from Sunday. The team manager is also bummed, so it'll be interesting to see if I can find out what happened: maybe I didn't pass the founders' cultural filter.

I'm especially cranky because, as I suspected, I really wanted to work there. Hip company, great environment, cool people, interesting work, across the street from the Caltrain station, giving a 25-minute commute on public transit.

It'll pass.

In the meantime, I have to continue to be present and engaged:
  • I had a phone call today for the Santa Clara company.
  • In Mountain View I have a 3-hour interview tomorrow...
  • ...and another hour on Friday, for the guy who works from home on Thursdays.
  • Monday is 5 hours in San Francisco.
  • Tuesday is 6 hours in Santa Clara.
  • There's probably an opportunity with a friend's tiny company in San Francisco, which is really tempting, but they don't actually have an office yet and it could easily end up in an untenable location.
For the past couple of years my life has been a bunch of huge changes either in-progress or in-waiting: planning to go to Chile, getting unexpectedly laid off, waiting to go to Chile, coming home. Now I need to find a job, and then we'll need to move into a bigger place. I'd hoped that this week I might finally get one thing settled, and in a pretty optimal way.

Not yet, apparently.

I don't want to overstate things. It sucks, and I'm angry and disappointed and annoyed. Today I also got to catch up with a couple of good friends, and have some nice time with Anna and J. In a few weeks we're visiting my family back East. I'm not angry about those things. Just...RAR, with the job nonsense.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

so many job possibilities

I'm in the middle of the interview process with 4 companies right now, which is overwhelming enough that I made a spreadsheet to track the status and contact names for each one. Today I went to the Mountain View Company--not Google, they already rejected me as their ritual part in my job hunt--to have lunch with my friend D and the team director and some other folks. It's a pretty shiny place to work: nice offices, if a bit well-lit for my taste, free food, good vibe from the people.

The job would be pretty intensive Release Engineering work, at least at first. It's not clear to me if everyone has read my resume and internalized that I have no Release Engineering expertise or experience; if that's a problem, I expect it will come up in the in-person interviews. I can learn, of course, but I'd like to have expectations properly set. The Palo Alto Company job is also Release Engineering as well as a wide variety of other tools, but we're all clear on my lack of expertise there.

Speaking of the Palo Alto Company, I don't know what they're doing or waiting for. It's annoying only because I've had so much major life flux in the past couple years that I resent their gratuitously contributing to it. Of course, they have no idea how I view it, nor should they.

Things with the San Francisco Company and the Santa Clara Company proceed apace, if slowly. Phone call with Santa Clara tomorrow, in-person interview in SF on Monday.

I'm also chatting with a friend about his tiny company in San Francisco; I'd love to work with him, but the gestalt of the thing feels not-quite-right this time around.

All told, it seems like pretty good odds I can have a job within a few weeks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

heresy, history, and doctrine: a ramble.

Having finished the heresy-centric book Out of the Flames, about Michael Servetus and his book Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity), I decided to ask Google about ["Episcopal Church" heresy], wondering if they bothered any more, and having a vague memory that the Church had run a heresy trial some years back. They did, in 1996, against a bishop who ordained a gay deacon in 1990; the Church eventually punted on the trial, and in any case the deacon is now a priest serving in New Hampshire.

What a thing, though. 1996.

The latest news, though, involves a striking comment from the Presiding Bishop, at the 2009 General Convention, no less. I think I know what she meant, but she said
"The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy - that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It's caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention." [emphasis mine]
This is mind-bogglingly inarticulate, and the conservatives had a field day, because
  1. as far as I can tell, they already hate her for being the female head of the modern gay-and-women-ordaining Episcopal Church, who furthermore referred to a feminist-theology "Mother Jesus" in her inaugural sermon, and
  2. individual salvation by way of Jesus is kind of...the whole Christian thing.
The Buddhist Thing is the fundamental lack of separation between the seemingly different entities in the world of our lived experience.

The Jewish Thing is about God's relationship with his Chosen People in the world.

The Muslim Thing is submission to and worship of God according to the Qur'an.

The Christian Thing is individual salvation through Jesus Christ. If you're a Christian and you're not doing that, it's worth asking yourself what you are doing. (And tell me, if you're willing: we all work out our religion and spirituality in different ways and I am typically really interested in hearing about it, especially if I get to ask questions.)

I'm inclined to go with her clarification that she intended to talk about how Christianity also intends for people to live and function in community, and that's what the General Convention was part of. I don't know if her bad phrasing reflects her deeper thinking, or if she's just determined to stick her foot in her mouth. But come on, you're the head of a major national church. Surely you can avoid even the appearance of declaring your religion's central tenet to be heresy. I can do that, and I've only been a seriously practicing Buddhist for 4 years.

Conservatives are funny, though. I liked this guy, for his honesty. The Episcopal Church
has resoundingly declared its intention to stay on its revisionist course, and damn the torpedoes. It has now officially given its approval and encouragement to men who have an irresistible urge to have sex with men, and women with women. It is only a very short step away from giving the same approval to men who want to have sex with boys, and women with girls. If man/man sex is good and to be encouraged, what's wrong with man/boy sex? Or man/child sex? Or man/beast sex? Essentially anything goes in the sex department, and the prime responsibility of the church is to make sure that everyone is happy and comfortable with their sexuality.
Right, that's not a classic homophobia argument at all. I'm never sure what kind of failed sexual maturity leads people to draw comparisons of gay sex to pedophilia and bestiality. The typical conservative approach seems to be that WE MUST HAVE RULES, and it doesn't matter if those rules are arbitrary or harmful, we must have them and we must be strict, because otherwise, chaos! Our author continues:
We are merrily slithering down a long slippery slope at the bottom of which we will be greeted by the complete collapse of our Western way of life, just in time to submit to the gathering energy and suicidal passion of the radical Muslim alternative. Like the ancient Romans, we are sitting ducks for a new generation of Barbarians.

The Africans have had the guts to call a spade a spade. They are in the frontline trenches of the great Christian/Muslim divide, while we sit in our comfortable living rooms watching a daily torrent of news stories of men abusing and murdering women and children, and the filth glorifying sex and violence billed as entertainment by Hollywood and the media. We pretend to be horrified by the Muslim mistreatment of women, and soak up a daily dose of American-style abuse of women. Sooner or later we will get what we deserve - probably sooner.
Ah, yes, the decadent-society-in-decline thing. It's a core Christian idea that the world is inherently flawed, that God made it perfect and then humans sinned and screwed it up. Far outside Christianity in space and time, though, complaining about the decline of one's society is so universal that I think it's just an expression of fundamental human discontent. It seems like kind of a downer to see the force of theology behind something that seems to encourage the perception of conflict: between God and humans, between heaven and earth, between Christians and non-Christians. (And between humans and devils, if that's how you roll.)

The author could stand to read The Inheritance of Rome. Rome didn't "fall" as we usually think of it: it faded, and for centuries afterward the victorious Germanic tribes (especially the Franks) viewed themselves as the continuation of the Roman Empire. They didn't think they were its conquerors. They thought they were its descendants and preservers. While we now remember Coffee Talk's repeat of Voltaire's "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire," they didn't call it the Holy Roman Empire to be funny.

The Byzantine Empire also thought it was the continuation of Rome, to which it did have more of a claim than the Franks, since it actually started as the Eastern Roman Empire. They were also fading, but hanging in there, until the Fourth Crusade, not the Muslim empires, sacked Constantinople in 1204, and they never really recovered. Reality is always so much messier than our stories about it.

My ultimate takeaway from all this is how grateful I am that I get to study it academically. I don't really care about doctrinal disputes. Yes, it would be nice if religious leaders would stop advocating the execution of gays and telling people that condoms cause AIDS, but those are cultural issues, and that's ultimately what we're seeing here. To me, it's all angels dancing on the head of a pin: arguments between Buddhists, too. What matters is practicing meditation, practicing listening and speaking skillfully in relationships, practicing practicing practicing. One of the old Buddhist debates, still unresolved to my knowledge, was whether Buddha attained such a state that negative impulses/feelings/desires never even arose in his mind (rare to nonexistent in post-Buddha people), as opposed to having them arise and being able to let go of them immediately (which plenty of people learn to do).

I realize that the participants in doctrinal arguments, especially in a salvationist religion, often feel like there's more at stake than just whether they're right or not: it's the eternal fate of other people's souls. That's why they burned heretics, you see: heretics were worse than murderers because they imperiled other people's souls instead of just their own. It's hard to wrap my head around that kind of severity and urgency, but it still survives in a lot of modern debates even in the West, largely subjugated to the standards of liberal democracy. Abortion in America would be the choice example.

I feel like this history and emotion and doctrine is nothing but a distraction. In the end, who cares exactly how perfect Buddha's mind was or wasn't? My question is: what's my mind like? What happens when things arise for me? When I go looking for the supposed permanent thing that I think is me, what do I really find? Buddha is long, long dead. It's my experience I have to deal with, not his.

Why are humans so concerned that everyone else should think and believe the same thing we do?


I've been busy studying to get a job, but somehow I always find time to read...well, mostly crap, really, or things you would find breathtakingly dull, but here are some interesting bits.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

job hunt

Last Friday, the 14th, I spent the day interviewing at Company A. This past Friday I went back to meet the founders, which I'd run out of time for previously. I was a little confused about why this was important, but it turns out the company has a written "No Assholes" policy, and the founders are still the final gatekeepers. I don't think there are particular formal criteria: they meet every candidate, and if they think you're a dick or even a bad cultural fit, you don't get hired. It's a little nerve-wracking, since they don't go out of their way to help you feel comfortable, but they were nice guys and I liked talking to them. Completely up in the air if the company hires me, but given the short commute to Palo Alto by train, seemingly meritocratic and functional company culture, and variety of projects the team works on, I'd almost certainly take the offer.

I'm also talking to other companies in San Francisco, Mountain View, and Santa Clara. I had a lot of fun talking to the SF company, first because I know the team lead from around my communities, and second because they had a homework problem that was a lot of fun to work on: parsing a data format the company uses. I actually saw the team lead at the cocktail party last night, and he said one of the warnings my code printed out--I wrote it like I would write production code, which means it was really good--reminded them that they have to update the problem description, because strictly according to the description, all of the sample data was invalid in one aspect. (I decided to make those be non-fatal errors, because otherwise the exercise was useless.)

The Mountain View company is moving very. Very. Very. Slowly. It'd be nice to give them a chance, but I need to get to work.

I've been struck pretty hard in the face not only how rusty I am at coding, but how a normal interview process doesn't really capture what's useful about me. I'm an unusual package as a software engineer, and I've struggled for years to describe it. I'm a good programmer, but not the absolute best. I'm very good at complex systems, understanding and affecting what happens in networks of many moving parts. I'm good at translating and facilitating communication between human beings who can't seem to communicate. I'm pretty dogged about tracking down bugs. And then a lot of the time, information and questions come past me, and I have something useful to contribute.

I need a more compelling pitch than "I'm generally really handy to have around."

UPDATE: My friend at the Palo Alto company says that when they asked why I was useful, he said, "He fixes shit." Which is true! But begs for elaboration. I'll have to work on it.

UPDATE 2: Anna reminds me that J said I'm "like a Google, but one you can Skype." Good brainstorming so far.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prohibition and historical perspective

I just finished reading Daniel Okrent's Last Call, which is a wonderful, wonderful book, with a brilliantly droll turn of phrase about every four paragraphs. The subtitle is The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, and the thrust of the narrative is that Prohibition altered America in ways reverberating down to the present, which we have now mostly forgotten. Some are cute, like the fact that "scofflaw" was coined by a newspaper contest to come up with a word for someone who defied Prohibition. Others are a bit more intense and immediately relevant.

For example, some of us are now, rightly, concerned with the expansion of government surveillance, unchecked by the courts; and the Fourth Amendment has been a vague shadow of its original self for a long time now: e.g. your refusal to take a breathalyzer test becomes probable cause to arrest you (or in the new strategy, there's a judge on-site to issue a warrant for a blood sample). And yet, wiretapping didn't require a warrant, from the first time the Supreme Court considered it in 1928's Olmstead v. United States, until they overturned it in 1967's Katz v. United States. Olmstead was a 5-4 ruling, and Justice Louis Brandeis's dissent is now famous, as Supreme Court dissents go, being cited in pretty much every pro-privacy decision of the past 50 years:
The protection guaranteed by the Amendments is much broader in scope. The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. [emphasis mine]
So this case, coming out of Prohibition, has moved along all kinds of decisions that have shaped our world, like Griswold v. Connecticut (birth control), Miranda v. Arizona (Miranda rights), Katz mentioned above, and Roe v. Wade. But it took 39 years to get from Olmstead to Katz; 39 years for the Court to decide that another area of technology was subject to rights of privacy and protection from search.

Knowing that we've had a previous period of warrantless wiretapping adds some perspective to our current one, doesn't it? Not that it's not bad, but that it's not unique: it changed once, and it can change again.

Or, take the Jones Act of 1929. This escalated most Prohibition violations from misdemeanors to felonies, maximum sentences for a first offense from 6 months to 5 years, and bumped fines from $1000 up to $10,000. Failure to report a felony also became a felony, so if you happened to see someone transporting alcohol (and it was hard not to), you were subject to 3 years in federal prison. This was part of a spasm of draconian enforcement in the years leading up to Repeal, when people refusing to acknowledge that Prohibition couldn't work focused on how weakly enforced it was, rather than how unenforceable.

On March 29, 1929, six officers, "'armed with sawed off shotguns, pistols, machine guns, bulletproof vests, and tear bombs'"
"invaded the home of Peter DeKing, a suspected bootlegger. One of them clubbed him over the head with the butt of a shotgun. As he dropped senseless, his wife Lillian sprang to his side. A blast from the shotgun killed her. When told of the atrocity, Ella Boole of the WCTU [Women's Christian Temperance Union] remarked, 'Well, she was evading the law wasn't she?" [quoted in Drug Policy and Human Nature]
In Michigan, where the state legislature had passed a stricter-than-federal enforcement law, Etta Mae Miller, mother of 10 whose husband was already in jail, sold two pints of liquor to an undercover cop, and since it was her fourth violation, she was put in jail for life.

The War on Drugs has made this sort of thing routine, imprisoning endless millions of Americans and producing locally-controlled paramilitary police forces who constantly screw up and kill innnocent people (without consequences, of course).

BART Police
Photo by Flickr user kchrist/Kenn Wilson

Those right there are two officers from Bay Area Rapid Transit, the light rail system, which to my knowledge has never experienced an incident requiring machine guns. In addition to being over-armed, they're also under-supervised, as we learned with the Oscar Grant murder.

A few years ago, when I read America Afire: Adams, Jefferson, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800, I thought, "Wow, the election of 2000 looks pretty calm and civilized by comparison." For some reason I learned that we'd had worse elections, but I didn't continue on to think that we've had really bad everything at various times.

America has lots of problems right now, and lots of stuff we need to fix, and directions that we need to change. I wonder if we lived longer, long enough to see everything more than once, would we be wiser? Would we understand that the way things are, good or bad, has happened before in some form or another, and will happen again, and are going to change? Or is it a human thing, and our history would follow other cycles longer than a human lifetime? Maybe we're inherently short-sighted. Me, I'm going to relax a little bit. We've been here before, and it's lame; but it will change.

Friday, January 14, 2011

interview day. ugh.

I had a full day of interviews at Company X in Palo Alto today. 2/3 of them did not go poorly! The other two might be enough to torpedo my chances. I realized that I'm extremely rusty at coding, something that only becomes harder when you're doing it on a whiteboard with some stranger waiting for you.

Coding problems I screwed up:
  • Given a sorted binary tree, print out the values, from lowest to highest. This is called an "in-order" traversal, and it took me about 30 seconds to do it recursively. Then it took me 25 minutes to cobble together a non-recursive, iterative version.
  • Given an integer, calculate the corresponding Excel column number. For example, numbers 0-25 correspond to A-Z, 26 is AA, 27 is AB, 78 is CA, 79 is CB, etc. This is a slightly different case of an ancient and well-known problem, of converting an integer to a string (itoa(), if you're curious: normally you would be converting the number 25 to the string "25." This took me the entire 30-40 minutes and I did a really bad job.
To be fair, the others were fine:
  • Write some code for a build system scheduler.
  • Write some Java code for a hashtable. (That was exciting. I've never actually written a hashtable, because every modern language has one that's more efficient and better-tested than anything we would cook up. The interviewer said, "That's good!". Also, apparently I can still write correct Java after 5 years.)
  • Model a game of Monopoly using objects.
  • Describe how to search a list of objects with given attributes. Make it faster (by adding indexing).
The two problems that I screwed up would have been hard even if I were in coding-shape. With itoa(), in particular, I've never really internalized why it works. Something about it has always blocked my complete understanding.

The Director of Engineering was the last guy I talked to, and he was wonderfully honest and direct: he wanted to talk to me and get a sense of me and my experience, because given the interview feedback, hiring me would be more of a risk than usual. He recognizes I haven't really actively coded in a long time, and they'd be hiring me based on my past accomplishments (which are more important to them), and especially based on my friend's recommendation. If it doesn't work out, the company and I part ways amicably.

Anyway, I feel crappy and incompetent. Which I'm not, really, but my competence wasn't exactly on display today. Either of the guys from those two bad interviews could torpedo the job with their feedback, so we'll just have to see what happens.

I got home late and needed to eat and unwind, so I bailed on aikido tonight. I decided to go to the early class tomorrow--completely forgetting tomorrow is the first Zen sangha event of the year--when I checked my mail and discovered the instructor asking if I could teach the class. I love teaching and she needed somebody, so in theory I'll go for the early part of Zen stuff and then go to the dojo.

Blech, what a day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

life really is unfair

Anna had a kid-related meeting yesterday morning, so I got to drive J to school for the first time. (I do very little caretaking at the moment: J and I mostly interact in trying to live together with Anna in a small apartment, negotiating when and how I'm involved in playing with him, or not, depending on what he wants to do and how I'm feeling. But, yes, my car has a carseat, and yes, it's weird.) It's a good 30 minutes up to his school, and normally he would play games on Anna's iPhone. This time, I'd told her she should hang onto it so she had phone, and we couldn't find her old one, so J just had books. This worked until he asked for Anna's iPhone so he could play games. I explained that I didn't have it, because Anna had hers and we couldn't find the old one.

Rage and anger! He growled, and I said, "Okay, now's a good time to use words," and he was so good about stating how angry he was, and bringing his voice down when I asked. But, so angry! It was startling. At one point he even punched the back of my seat, which was a pretty solid punch even from the passenger side of the back seat, which gave me some new information on why it's such a problem when he drastically mis-reads another kid's social cues and goes all Angry Hands on them: J is a big kid and apparently he can put more force into a punch than several adults at the dojo.
"I am so angry at you! I'm never going to snuggle you and Mama again! Except for the morning snuggle."
(The morning snuggle is pretty important around here.) We talked a bit about how threats weren't really okay, but mostly I was happy he was talking it out instead of having a tantrum seizure in his carseat. I was also trying to explain that there was no conspiracy to deprive him of computer time, it's just what happened, and maybe before taking his revenge on us he should talk to Mama about what happened. Finally I took a step back.
"So, J? I feel like you're not listening to me. I keep telling you that no one meant to keep you from having your computer time, and you keep threatening to withhold snuggles, and I don't feel very good that you're threatening me when I don't feel like I've actually done anything wrong."
There was a few minutes of silence, and then I heard him laugh: he'd picked up one of his books and started giggling at whatever he was reading. And everything was fine for the rest of the dropoff.

No more snuggles, ever! Except for the morning snuggle. SO CUTE.

Monday, January 10, 2011

home life: food

We went to Point Reyes Station this past weekend, to get out of the house, have some quiet time alone and offline, and put some more distance between us and Anna's mother. I haven't met her yet, but she is, to venture into judgmental language for a moment, A-1 Batshit Certifiably Crazy, with a history to match. I haven't met her yet, and we would all be perfectly happy to leave it that way; I'll meet her for a few minutes tomorrow, just to satisfy my curiosity and get a sense of what Anna has to deal with. Hopefully, that will be it, and I won't see her again.

So anyway. A few days in a small beautiful town in Marin is totally a good idea. It turns out that Marin Sun Farms is, in fact, in Marin, and at their butcher shop in Point Reyes we picked up beef cheeks (fantastic stew meat) and garlic-mint goat sausage.

I wasn't joking before when I said that J eats just a handful of foods. The list is basically variations on or combinations of:
  • Melted cheese on bread (crusts cut off).
  • Unadorned chicken or turkey.
Then there's boxed macaroni and cheese and a handful of fruits (apples must be peeled). You get the idea. He's 6. I used to eat ketchup-and-American-cheese sandwiches. I have to keep some perspective.

(If we had him full-time, there would probably be a "This is what's for dinner" protocol, but shared custody has its pros and cons--we also couldn't have gone to Point Reyes.)

J watches Barney at his dad's house, and has been convinced that if Anna would just try it, would just watch one little episode, she would love it, because Barney is great. They would occasionally have this conversation where J would try to sell Anna on Barney, and Anna would reply that she's never seen Barney, but she knows she's going to hate it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This sounded suspiciously like the conversations where Anna tries to get J to eat a new food, and he says, "I don't need to try it. I know I don't like it." I passed her a note suggesting that she could set an example of trying things, and maybe bargain J into trying new foods. So for every 3 bites J eats of an unfamiliar food, Anna watches 5 minutes of Barney.

Tonight I idly suggested to J that hey, we have sausage, if he'd like to try it--Anna hadn't suggested it, because normally he won't go for foods that have things like seeds or spices in them (or any kind of multiple colors or textures or etc. etc.). Which he did! Did he like it?
"Well, it's not delicious, but I did like it."
It was unfamiliar, but he didn't make contorted faces while eating it, or try to scrape the taste off his tongue afterward, which means he liked it. Either he ate another 5 pieces, or he did a professional-quality job of hiding them under the rug or something.

Meanwhile, Anna is stuck with another 10 minutes of Barney. It turns out parenting is pretty easy when you can contribute, and then someone else deals with the consequences. Who knew?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I've been sick and my sleep has been broken, so coherent insights have been few. But the Internet never rests!
Sleep well.

Monday, January 3, 2011

new milestones

New dimensions in family life: I had to leave the house yesterday. I've been persistently underslept and was generally having a mood downswing, and J was having a dramatic episode around having to do a bit of drawing for school today. He makes himself miserable with his perfectionism, which is characteristic of his package of stuff: after every stroke of the pencil, "THAT'S NOT A VERY GOOD NECK/ARM/whatever" and he's at the edge of a meltdown. Anna patiently and lovingly intercepts him so he can keep going, but it's a stressful to thing to watch, and I have no comfortable bedroom to go and hide in. I went for a drive.

This is not uncommon among my friends with kids.

I have a job interview on Friday! It'd be working alongside an old friend from Danger, in a comfy office across the street from a convenient Caltrain station. I really hope it works out, because then I won't have to actually look for a job, which I hate doing. So this week is all studying and learning Ruby and getting my coding brain back in action.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

he's got a point

J is an observant, affectionate kid. Anna and I were hugging and she was petting my head, covered with short, fuzzy, freshly-buzzed hair. J appeared.
"Mama, it's time to read that book."
"Just as soon as I'm done snuggling Chris."
"It's gonna take forever for you to be done snuggling Chris!"
Well, fair enough.

Happy New Year

I'm not very good at holidays any more, in the sense that special days tend not to feel all that special to me. We could call it a loss of my childlike sense of wonder, although if you can say that with a straight face, maybe we should hang out more. I think it's just that my sense of time has smoothed out, as I get better at taking each day/hour/moment for itself. My life is also, by most people's theistic standards, relentlessly secular. Yes, we mark the anniversaries of Buddha's birth and enlightenment, but:
  1. It was 2500 years ago in a pre-literate culture and reliable information is just a little hard to come by, so we don't take that too seriously, and
  2. We mark those days (especially the enlightenment one) by doing more of the same thing we do every day: sit in meditation. Okay, sometimes we have cake. But wild excitement is not the order of the day.
It's good to have those reminders that Buddhist teaching came from a human being, has been passed down to us through other human beings, and we're human beings too, and not only we can do what he and they did--understand and move past the causes of human anguish in order to grow peace and harmony in the world--but that it's a pretty important thing to do, and we should do it. They just lack the cultural and personal weight of whatever holidays we grew up with.

(On a side note, the "relentlessly secular" description breaks down pretty quickly: using a broad enough definition of "religion," I'm easily among the most religious people in my communities here in the Bay Area, and we're not slouches.)

So, for me, one year blends into the next. Same for birthdays: excellent opportunity for reflection and getting the friends together, but really, on my birthday I'm just a day older than I was the day before. It helps that I'm now reaching the age where I have to think about how old I am, because it doesn't matter so much. A lot of people feel time passing differently, though, and 2010 brought death and divorces and problems for many, as every year does. Facebook and IRC are inevitably full of things like "2010, you sucked. Good riddance."

I'm no optimist, but you know, 2010 was pretty awesome. I spent 9 months of it in Chile, far away from my girl, but learning and doing some pretty cool and useful stuff.
  • Gave teaching a fair shake (notwithstanding the bizarrely restrictive and unproductive environment) and discovered I mostly like it and I'm good at it.
  • Plowed through a bunch of ancient emotional crap from my younger days.
  • Learned a lot: about second-language learning, cultural conditioning, Spanish, Chile, South America.
  • Managed to keep meditating, and at a reduced level, doing aikido.
  • Discovered that the girl and I can, if some lunatic need arises, not see each other for months at a time. Though we're cranky about it.
  • Spent some time living with the girl and the kid, and having that all work really well.
Now I'm home, and 2011 has other adventures in store for me. Some of them might suck! But that's fine, too. =) I think it'll turn out just fine.

Happy New Year, everybody.