Friday, September 30, 2011

I am predictable

Anna's mother was visiting briefly yesterday, and as J was eating his dessert banana, he took the sticker and told her, "Watch!" and put the sticker on my hand.
"Wait. What? What are you doing to me?! Stop that! Huh...I guess I'm organic!"
Everyone laughed, and J said:
"See, that's how I get my parents to be silly!"
I guess it's good to be reliably entertaining.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


You're in luck! I've been reading a lot while sitting around the house. It's been a good few weeks for links.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

lesser evils

This came up again in one of my online communities last week, as it does every few months and especially every election cycle. It's this idea that "the system is corrupt, so I refuse to participate." It's normally about voting, though an old friend of mine is also missing my wedding because they refuse to submit to the idiocy of modern air travel.
Gil [to Chris]: alright how about Pinochet vs. Hitler. donating to the Pinochet campaign? he only killed his political enemies, not 6 million members of a particular race. that's indisputably less evil
Gil [to Chris]: i'm asking if you really think voting for the lesser evil is always the right thing to do, or if there's a line at which you would say no, i'm not participating in this
Gil [to Chris]: remember we only get 2 choices, that's the nature of the system
Chris [to Gil]: "always" is a big word that I work very hard to avoid, but I do think that in general I have an obligation to create the best world I can given the options available to me. so, yeah, I probably would, unless there were some other action I could take.
Chris [to Gil]: but ducking out entirely and hoping things will take care of themselves? I don't think I can do that.
Gil [to Chris]: huh.
Chris says, "even if you think no one's listening when we speak, there's definitely no one listening when we're silent."
Chris says, "in the Pinochet vs. Hitler case, look at the choices: 6000 dead and 45000 tortured, or 10 million dead. it's a shit sandwich, but I can't imagine saying 'this system is corrupt, I quit' and not doing the minimal bit to prevent the greater number of deaths."
Set aside that Pinochet's definition of "political enemy" was pretty broad--the comparison is sound. And I don't get the attitude. I understand that things are frustrating, the system is broken beyond belief. But where do I get off deciding that I'm not even going to do the bare minimum of speaking up? How important do I think I am, really, that my very absence is some magical form of protest?

My friend is missing my wedding because s/he "doesn't want to give them the satisfaction" of putting him/her through the security theater. Well, whatever. The security theater isn't going to notice. The things accomplished by their avoidance are (1) they feel more comfortable, and (2) they inconvenience themselves (including missing other people's life events).

Every moment of every day, we choose whether or not to show up. We choose what to say, how we say it, whether to be cruel or kind, harsh or compassionate, honest or deceitful. They're not obvious choices, and we're often not paying attention. Think of our life as being an endless conversation with the entire world. Some people in the world know us, some don't. If I'm silent around people who know me, they'll notice because they expect me to speak. If I'm silent around people who don't know me, well, they have no idea what's normal for me. They'll draw their own conclusions, but the one thing we can say for certain is that I won't be part of the conversation.

Now imagine that voting is part of the conversation with all our fellow citizens who don't know us. What happens when we're silent?

No one really cares. They're too busy participating. They're showing up.

I just don't get it. How is that useful?

Even if we think no one's listening when we speak, there's definitely no one listening when we're silent.

no hiding place

The other day I walked out to my car and noticed that my (poor, neglected, dead-battery) motorcycle cover was hanging low, like there was a weight inside holding it down on the ground. I thought maybe one of the neighborhood kids had somehow managed to get one of the sidecases off and it was on the ground, though that was unlikely and very difficult.

I went over and pulled up on the cover, and there was in fact a weight inside--and it started moving.

What the hell? Did a raccoon fall asleep inside my motorcycle cover? I backed away to let whatever it was figure out how to get out and away, without biting or scratching me.

After a couple seconds of frantic scrambling, the sleek black cat who lives a couple houses down escaped and ran away at top speed to the safety of the fence behind the building.

Sorry, cat.


Let me just say how much I love the compassionate teacher and Zen Beginner blogs (always linked in the sidebar there). They're doing it right in every way, and they write about it so well. Like this:
The forms of oryoki are starting to make sense to me but I still can't figure out if I'm supposed to be present for my food or efficient in eating it.
Yes! Exactly! (It's both.)

How am I feeling?

You know something was really wrong when you wake up with 4 incisions and one less organ and you feel better.

I checked with the doctor on Friday to make sure my various pains are normal, including pain where the gallbladder used to be. He said that the inflammation had been very bad, so that area is still recovering from the original problem. The painful one of the three incisions--I can't feel the other two--is just under the ribs near the sternum, and feeling much better today than yesterday. Overall my system seems to be coming down from its week of rude shocks, and settling back into an equilibrium.

I'm thinking a bit about capability: normally I'm very lithe and agile, and right now I'm neither. From aikido, I have very strong core muscles that I use quite a bit, often just for fun, and with the incision just below and to the right of my sternum, tensing my core muscles means pressing against my stitches, which isn't dangerous but can hurt quite a bit. I also get tired after 30-60 minutes of doing anything except sitting down or puttering slow around the house. I sat zazen this morning for the first time since Wednesday, and I was pretty beat afterward. Because I'm young and in shape, I don't always stop to consider what a physical practice it is, even though I rely on it to get my body warmed up for the day. It takes a lot of core and back muscles to sit still for that long, which of course is why half my sangha sits in chairs.

It's certainly much better to have the gallbladder out, but still. Ow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

surprise surgery

Sunday night, a bit before bed, I started developing a weird sort of ache in my upper right abdomen, just under the ribs. I've had occasional pain there over the past year or so, but this was much stronger and bigger, and quickly escalated to include all the muscles around it on both sides. I thought it was some form of gas, since every few years I'll get some sort of intestinal-gas experience that puts me on the floor, but it wasn't responding to my usual gas treatments, and while my anatomy is dodgy, I didn't think there was any intestine up that high, and it didn't feel connected to my digestion. It's a lot like what I imagine being stabbed feels like.

At midnight I decided it was not improving at all, and with my panting and sweating, Anna woke up and dropped me off the E.R. and went home to sleep and be with J. My heart rate when I got there was 39, which is low even for me, so I got a bit of atropine to bump that up, and some oxygen, and then they did an X-ray and a low-contrast CAT scan and blood and urine tests. The doctor, who was awesome, thought it was a gallbladder problem, but the ultrasound tech wouldn't show up until 8. They gave me some Dilaudid, which took the edge enough that I could sleep 20-40 minutes at a time. My heart rate returned to its apparent normal of 45-55.

During the ultrasound the doctor came in and talked to the tech.
"Mind if I look over your shoulder?"
"Not at all."
"Oh, wow. Good for me, not so good for him. I mean, wow, if I can see it, it's pretty obvious."
It turned out to be a giant pile of gallstones (he was relieved to actually have a diagnosis so he could stop worrying). I don't know why it never turned into an acute problem before, but there it was.

The recommended surgeon is on vacation, so I called a guy JD and Hope recommended, and when I used the magic words "I'm in constant pain", they fit me in yesterday, and there happened to be a surgery slot open this morning, so we were off to the races.

Anna brought me in this morning, and my friend Ann came to take over when Anna went to get J. My only memory of the operating room is of being shocked at how cluttered it is. It looks like someone's attic, if they were the sort of people to keep their attic sterile and full of millions of dollars of equipment.

I didn't get to see the surgeon (I was asleep), but Anna reported that everything went well, though the gall bladder was so inflamed and cranky it was a challenge to get it out through the small laparoscopic hole. It's done, though, and even though one of my four incisions hurts quite a bit, my body is clearly more comfortable now.

So, hey, ouch. I'm really glad to have it done so quickly, though.

I'm, uh. Gonna go fall asleep again now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

the GREs

I took the GREs today (Graduate Record Exams, basically the SATs for grad school). It was sort of an entertaining practice run: I was going to apply for an MS program in computer science, but then discovered that I can take as many graduate classes at Stanford as I like, and up to 18 of those credits (at 3 credits/class) can transfer to a master's program whenever I feel like applying and making the commitment. Good things about this:
  1. If you're actually enrolled, you have 5 years to complete the master's. That's just barely possible at one course per quarter (the most I could manage while working); accumulating 6 quarters' worth of credits before enrolling makes that 5 years a lot more feasible.
  2. Good grades in actual Stanford graduate classes will weigh much more heavily on a Stanford application than the GREs or anything else.
The GREs were paid for, and I haven't really had time or inclination to really feel prepared, so I figured I should just take them anyway, as a baseline experience. Remember, these are the new GREs, as they just revised the test and deployed the new version in August.

I'm glad I studied what little bit I did, because they are sneaky bastards, those test authors. It's not hard in the usual sense. Just...sneaky.

It's a computerized test, which is actually pretty cool. I imagine I tanked the Analytical Writing section, because I thought it was 30 minutes for both writing questions, and it turned out it was 30 minutes each, so my first answer is probably unacceptably short.

The Verbal stuff seemed pretty easy (shocking!). The Quantitative was harder, but I found that I kept flashing on the answers as I went through, especially as time started to run out. I'm sure it helped that I was taking them as a dry run, with nothing actually at stake. I felt like eventually I was getting a bit into the swing of how those problems are constructed, although for many of them I definitely did not resolve them the elegant way. (One guess which is faster and more reliable: me staring and trying to figure out the clever shortcut, or me typing 5 different things into the on-screen calculator to see which one matches my answer.)

For the Quantitative and Verbal sections, they give you your score at the end. Unfortunately, the scores for the new revision won't be available until November-ish, so they just give you an estimate of how you would have scored on the old test. Memory is hazy on which was which, but it said "720-800" for (I think) the Verbal, and "750-800" for the Quantitative. Doesn't seem too shabby on an 800 scale, and for not studying.

How's that look for a grad school application? The Stanford CS department says:
While there is no minimum requirement for GRE scores, a strong application would include percentiles in the high 90s for the Ph.D. program and scores in the 90th percentile for the MS program.
Okay, so what are the percentiles? Wikipedia's chart agrees with this test prep site:

Scaled scoreVerbal Reasoning %Quantitative Reasoning %

Holy crap! 800 on the Quantitative, a perfect score, is only 94th percentile. That means that 6% of everyone who took the old GRE got a perfect score. 94th percentile for Verbal is all the way down at 660.

No wonder they revised it: that right there is a test that is very seriously out of balance.

(A corollary is that any range they gave me for Quantitative is pretty meaningless, being a range that starts at 84th percentile. Imagine if, on a standard American grade scale, your teacher said "You got somewhere between a B and an A+": no shit, Sherlock, I knew that when I walked out of the exam. The Verbal range, by comparison, says that I would have gotten a 98th percentile and up.)

At any rate, I'm glad I took them. While tricky, they weren't as scary as they might have been, and I still have some of my gift for standardized testing. I have no idea what my actual scores might be, and I'm looking forward to finding out.

[EDIT: If you're curious, it's now adaptive by section rather than by question, so you can jump around and skip questions and go back within each Verbal and Quantitative section, which wasn't possible before.]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

catching up with the kid

I was on J-minding duty tonight so Anna could teach. I'm glad to have some regularly-scheduled stretches of time with him: we already didn't see each other much, and then I've been busy and the custody schedule changed so he's with his dad for 5 days at a time.

The kid cracks me up.
"Huh, I'm getting married in seven weeks."
"You are? Oh, is it to Mama?"
"Yes, to Mama."
"Oh, good. I'm glad it's Mama."
"Yeah, I think we all are."
He has a sophisticated sense of humor, but if he was playing that conversation, he's miles ahead of where we think he is. Seems unlikely: he just forgets things.

Anyway, we had some lovely Lego time, then a seamless dinner through bedtime routine. It's after 9 PM and I have no idea if he's asleep: that's not my problem. But I left him tucked into bed with the lights off! My work is done.

Like most modern Westerners, I don't care much for poetry, but there are a few that stuck with me from my school days. This one is from Francis Darwin Cornford. (Don't worry, he's not famous.)
The Guitarist Tunes Up

With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conquerer who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the state of things

We were gone over the weekend, but the Elephants upstairs have been, if not quiet, subwoofer-free in the evenings. We'll see if that continues through the weekend. Their landlord sent us the text of his email to them saying he wasn't renewing their lease and asking them to move out before it expires. It seems there have been various other complaints from other complex residents about them, including some concerns about a rotating cast of people living there. The landlord asked the Elephants about this, but somewhat incredibly, the leaseholders don't return his emails or phone calls. There's circumstantial evidence that they're fresh Stanford graduates, possibly MBAs (always a bad sign), and this may be their first experience living around non-students. Hopefully they learn from the experience, or just rent a house.

I'm still looking at the rental and housing markets occasionally, just for fun, and it's still insane. Houses are still too expensive, rentals are impossible to find. By the time house prices come down, getting a loan will likely be a dodgy thing, requiring a full 20% down payment on what will likely still be a $400,000 house. We may be here a little while, which is all right because wow, this is a nice place. Granite countertops, wood floors, spare bedroom, two bathrooms. And mostly unpacked, even.

I bought a new case for my home server. I'd intended to get a small one, but then I saw this guy's writeup of it, and it sounded so amazing that I went out and bought one. And it's amazing.
mobo side closeup

It has a pair of 200mm fans--that's 20cm, or 8". The big fans have white LEDs that make for a soothing glow in a dark room, as well as being really quiet and cooling the case really well. The sides have latches: no need to unscrew anything. The hard drives and optical drive slide in, with no screws. The only time I picked up a screwdriver was attached the motherboard to the case.
other side closeup

All the cables run along the back side of the motherboard, getting them completely out of the way of both the fans and any work you want to do in there. There are USB ports in front of the case, and all the fans plug into a built-in fan controller.

The whole thing is a bit of an extravagance, but I figure I'll keep it for many years, and it's such a pleasure to have well-designed things in the house.

I've been working a lot. We're doing this 6-week push to increase our code quality and testing, and it's really an epic project, but also puts me a bit adrift, just when I'd started digging into the Transcoding System re-architecture which is the thing I really care about. I have a nominal project, but I've quickly found more interesting things to do.

I've realized that my bosses' expectations of what I should do are in fact very vague and noncommittal, and what's best for everyone is my new realization that no one has much stake in my doing anything in particular, and I'm perfectly capable of picking important things to work on and just going and doing whatever I feel like. I'm the only one of my kind in the company, so there's no model to follow, not even another person to compare me to. Also, it's been impossible to hire anyone else like me, so I'm not going to get fired. I'm feeling less stressed overall, though still I'm always casting about to get my hooks in something cool, like a torpedo looking for a target.

[EDIT: In addition to few people being able to do my job, nobody else wants it.]

Today I discovered that with all my years of designing complex interacting backend services, what really impresses people is a webpage they can look at to see what's going on. Awesome. I hate webpages.

Apparently Anna and I are getting married in 7 weeks! We've decided to start writing the ceremony. She's been a complete bad-ass about organizing the whole thing. It feels like there's a lot to do, which there sort of is, but it's all manageable. Should be a good time. And then we go to Portland and fall asleep for a week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

more elephant adventures

If the upstairs neighbors make noise on weeknights I'll often wait to see if they stop, since they do have day jobs and tend to go to sleep by 11. At 10:45 I heard a robust bass line through the ceiling and decided that was enough.

I pounded on the door. No one answered, so I went around to make sure someone was awake, and the light was on in the room above ours. Pounded on the door some more. Knocked. Pounded.

Finally the skinny one answers, in shorts and a tank top.
"You the guy in back with the stereo?"
"No!" An annoyed denial, with an unspoken "What the fuck is your problem?", but he is clearly not in charge here.
"I heard the subwoofer again."
"That was the washing machine."
"The washing machine?"
"We're all asleep." Points at his clothes. "Do I look like I'm listening to music?"
I looked at him and snorted.
"How the fuck should I know?"
And went back downstairs.
I really dislike doing this. The intimidation is necessary because they weren't responding to clear communication, and without profanity (or physical violence, I guess, though I haven't needed that in decades) I'm not very good at being intimidating. I'm also so unfamiliar at playing the role of Angry Male that I wasn't able to master the situation completely, and I got pulled into a staring match instead of using my words to manipulate the conversation.
  • Someone in the back room was awake.
  • Unless their washing machine has a variable melodic bass line, it was the stereo.
  • Anna says the music stopped as soon as I pounded on the door the first time.
So I feel pretty good about my grounds for action.

I suppose I've successfully done some sort of alpha male thing, since I clearly make them a bit nervous, but I'm not really happy with having a relationship with the Subwoofer Douchebags that's based entirely on me banging on their door and spitting profanities to intimidate them. I was avoiding calling the police on a weeknight because they tend to eventually turn the music off, but probably I'll just do that next time.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

reveling in uncertainty

One lasting effect of my time in Chile is a stronger sense of relativism: of just how arbitrary cultural norms are. I have a much better sense of how strongly cultures can differ on points that initially seem really important, and how the set and sequence of what matters in Culture A can be more or less orthogonal to what matters in Culture B.

Let's illustrate this with two social-religious issues: divorce and gay sex.
  • Divorce in the United States has gone state by state, but a brief scan indicates that Maryland legalized it in 1701, while South Carolina legalized it around 1949. Chile legalized divorce (fault-only) in 2004, and no one uses it: they just separate and go start families with other partners.
  • Chile legalized gay sex, by repealing the laws, in 1994 (yes, 10 years before divorce). Many American states never actually legalized it: Lawrence v. Texas struck down all the sodomy laws in 2003, but states only rarely bother to repeal laws rendered unenforceable. (Especially if, like the American South, they're a little cranky about the law being struck down and they want to leave it on the books as a middle finger to the Supreme Court.)
Abortion is illegal in Chile, with no medical or rape exceptions. It's tempting to think the country is a right-wingnut's dream, but pre-marital sex is ubiquitous, and teen pregnancy is generally treated cheerfully. It's a tolerant society; they just tolerate different things, at different rates of change.

A couple weeks ago some of us at work were chatting about our various migrations around the country, and I was explaining to one of our interns (whose parents are Taiwanese!) that Chileans tend to stay within a 20-minute drive of their family, and if that impacts their career, they're generally okay with that, because the family is what matters to them. Furthermore, Chileans who do leave their families behind often face significant pressures to come back. He wasn't getting it.
"Wait, so they just...take whatever jobs are near where their family is?"
"For the most part."
"They're happy like that?"
"Of course. They're living according to their values. If they weren't happy about it, they'd do something else."
This doesn't mean that we can't have values. There's a small raft of things I won't tolerate at all if it's in my power (rape, torture, slavery), and then a somewhat larger raft of things I disapprove of but I recognize exist more reasonably within their cultural context: like teen pregnancy in Chile, which hinders girls' prospects for a better life, but because of their tighter-knit family fabric, it's a more manageable thing than here. Or veiling women in the Muslim world, which you can write many books about, itself having many contexts, some good, some bad, some just very alien to us generic whitebread Americans.

Most cultural differences, though, just aren't that important once you start looking at them. Chileans eat horrible, awful, boring food as a matter of course, but it's still a beautiful country full of perfectly friendly people. Their map of social dishonesty is different: they can't say "No" to a request, and we can't say "You're looking fat today". It's not really possible to say that's a terribly important difference, and to have relationships there, you really have to open up and accept those differences.

Here's where this can change everyday life.

If those differences are not very important between cultures, it follows that they're not really that important within a single culture, either. If you learn to accept vast differences when you're embedded in a different culture--when you have no choice, if you want to have relationships and participate in that society--then you've already re-wired yourself to let go of things you thought mattered but actually don't. You can meet someone who disagrees with you, or that you have a negative reaction with, or whatever, and instead of thinking, "This person is a jerk" the way you would have thought, "Holy crap, Chileans are insane" (which they kind of are but I totally have anecdotes to back that up, and Chileans don't disagree), you can think, "Huh, this person and I aren't getting along. I wonder why?" and you can start out by asking questions instead of making judgements.

Most of us need to be less sure of our judgements, and living abroad is an excellent way to do that.

encountering the neighbors

We have these upstairs neighbors. I don't know anything about them, because they don't seem interested in chatting. It also seems like there's a leaseholder and some amount of rotation in other residents: consistently, two Asian guys with near-identical polished black Infinitis (a G35 and a G37), and then an unpredictable assortment of other guys and girls.

They stomp around pretty gracelessly, and the building transmits a lot of sound, so I started calling them the Elephants, which was cute until they started playing techno with a subwoofer, first during J's bedtime and then later in the 12-4 AM stretch, especially on weekends. They woke us up Friday night around 1, and Anna went and talked to them for what was probably the fourth time. I think they started to dismiss her as an Oversensitive Female, so after the techno made it impossible to nap in our bedroom this afternoon, I thought maybe an Angry Male might be a useful addition.

I had some wine at the dojo party, to go with my bizarro ex-girlfriend conversation, and went to bed a little amped-up, so I didn't blame them when I woke up two hours later to their laughing. As I lay awake in bed, the talking and occasional bass snippets actually seemed pretty reasonable, and Anna woke up briefly but got back to sleep pretty easily.

Then came the techno. At 1:40 AM. Enough.

A couple eventually cracked open the door I'd been pounding on, to discover a very cranky man they didn't know, saying "It's two in the fucking morning and someone is playing thumpy fucking subwoofer music in the back room. Turn it off. Or just turn the bass down." Note that despite the profanity, I didn't actually accuse them of anything, not knowing if it was them.

And behold, silence. I'm taking some time to settle down, but I think a message was delivered and the thumping will not wake up Anna tonight. Probably I should have added that I'm just going to call the cops next time, but next time I'll probably just call the cops. It's a little weird because in their room the sound is probably fairly moderate. In our room it sounds like someone hitting the frame of the building with a large mallet over and over.

I wonder what those two people saw, how they interpreted it, what their response was. I wonder if they'll take it differently than they did Anna's polite engagement. This is a strange role for me to play.

I wonder what their names are.

Friday, September 2, 2011

work issues

I was cranky about work this week. Not just cranky, but sunk in a bit of a fog, what's left of depression for me after

Anyway. Cranky. I spend a lot of time working on things I don't care about in between the things I do. As useful as I've been, I look back on six months and don't feel like I've been particularly effective. Certainly I haven't been engaging the sorts of system-design skills I'm good at; i was just starting to, when the company stopped new development for six weeks to work on various quality-focused initiatives. Now I'm working for at least a week or two on spewing out some kind of inventory database for all our servers, which is not the least bit interesting to me, though it desperately needs to be done. (And which I've been hacking on over the months, but only implementing the things I need.)

I watch other people of both greater and lesser seniority becoming technical leads. How do you become a technical lead? By having an impact and pushing others to do the same. What am I not doing? Having an impact.

Also, I'm getting married, one old friend is missing my wedding for reasons I'm not entirely clear on or at peace with, another old friend is very extremely ill, and being a stepdad is an ongoing process. Among other things. It's a busy time. I can't recall ever having this much stuff to deal with.

I've been through this cycle before, of course (that's what makes it a cycle). Over a period of a few weeks, I'll wind up tighter and tighter. I get irritable, which is a lightweight form of anger. I feel it in my aikido instincts, where I'm much more likely to want to use force and be combative, even if I don't act on it. During this part of the process, zazen keeps me in touch with what I'm feeling, but doesn't actually help me settle down.

This mental pain is dukkha, that troublesome Buddhist word usually translated as "suffering", but "angst", "stress", "distress", or "discomfort" are usually better. The root of the word means "a wheel out of balance". The Buddha, as was his way, gave everyone a fine definition:
Birth is dukkha; aging is dukkha; illness is dukkha; death is dukkha; grief, lamentation, bodily pain, mental pain and despair are dukkha; having to associate with what is displeasing is dukkha, separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not getting what one wants, that too is dukkha.
Faced with this dukkha, I become hard, trying to defend myself against it. Trying to defend myself against the world outside myself, as if that's the problem. As if there's some kind of separation between "me" and "everything else". There isn't, though not in any particularly magical mystical "everything is connected" way. It's actually very concrete, though counter-intuitive: every phenomenon's existence depends on every other phenomenon's existence. Thich Nhat Hanh, while I'm allergic to his writing, named his monastic community the "Order of Interbeing", which describes it quite well. Everything in the universe is interdependent to the point where it inter-is. The chain of cause and effect is often so complex that we can't enumerate every link, but it's there. I get hard and angry in response to my conditions at work. My conditions at work arose because I took the job and then started executing on it in a certain way. I interviewed for this job because I'd worked with the recruiter at a previous job, which I'd taken because I was burned out at the job before that...the details are endless. But every decision and every interaction and every response and every happenstance all create what we call the "causes and conditions" of our current state of affairs.

All this is to say that there's no such thing as "Chris" being separate from "the world Chris lives in". I have created that world. That world has created me. We have arisen and developed together. We're not two different things: the world would be very different for a lot of people without me in it. I'm not special in this way. It's true for you, too. It's true for everybody.

At this point in the cycle, I'm getting hard and, in a way, angry about my suffering. This continues for a week or less, when one day I've had enough and I sit down for zazen again, and this time, at some point I change from being hard and angry to being soft, and sad. I let myself feel sad because after all, things are not what I want, and feeling sad about that is okay. I finally accept my dukkha, stop fighting it or protecting myself, and really fully acknowledge it as part of my experience right now. I open up to my immediate experience (which has a lot of unpleasantness). I become quieter and less confrontational, especially at work. In aikido, I lose the impulse for violent, linear motions (like punching people) and my fluidity returns. I give up trying to force my experience of the world to be a certain way. I let go of my desire to control, to stop feeling bad, to shut the world out, and once again I can create flexible, spontaneous responses to the needs of whatever's really happening.

I'm feeling a lot better now. I was in a couple friends' aikido tests on Friday, and that's always fun. I'm still a bit on edge about work, but I've settled considerably, and after venting to my team lead a bit, I've discovered that the current view from the higher-ups is that I should make of my role whatever I want.
("After this current project, I'm going to spend 100% of my time on X. I'm also going to have the team run me through like a new employee, so I'm fixing bugs and knowing the code better."

"Oh, definitely! I'm actually surprised that wasn't happening already."

Has this ever come up before? No. I'm the only software engineer on the Ops team, so there's been no one else trying to do this job that we could use either as a model or for comparison.)
It's good to be on the up-cycle again. There's still a lot of stuff to work through, but I'm definitely settling down, even with some stuff left over from Chile. My one response to everything is "Let Go": people, places, things, ideas, beliefs. Just because you let go of something (or someone) doesn't mean it goes away. It might, but that's better than grabbing onto it and trying to control what happens. Letting go means allowing the world to take its natural shape, accepting The Way Things Are as your starting point and going from there.

If you're feeling hard and angry in any part of your life, consider letting go and becoming soft and sad. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

cold feet

I must take a moment to fret. Here's a true story.
"Hey, I see the container for French basil. Do we have a container for California basil?"
"I...might have thought it was redundant?"
"What? They're completely different. Here, smell."
"See? Completely different."
"California basil is drier. The French has this citrus accent."
I mean...what?

Is marriage really advisable under these circumstances? To someone who can't tell the difference between French and California basil? I am distressed.

Excuse me, I think I have the vapors.