Routine

I’ve been pretty consistent with my exercise routine now. If the roads are dry, then I drive straight from work to the park and rollerblade for 10 miles on the Sammamish River Trail. It’s very lovely on the path and there is always something new.

Blue Heron and Duck
Blue Heron and Duck

Today I saw a blue heron and a duck having a staring contest.

Sunset on the Sammamish River Trail
Sunset on the Sammamish River Trail

And seeing the sunset over a vineyard with Mt. Rainier in the background is absolutely gorgeous. By the time I get back to my car it is dusk and I am very hungry, and I go home and cook a lot of food.

I like it when the sun is unobscured by clouds. Then I can close my eyes and face the sun, seeing white and orange and feeling warmth as the sun’s rays pierce my eyelids.

Memories

I look back at my memories and think they are the truth, that things really happened as I remember, that my web of redundant neural connections are doing a fine job. I wonder if or when I will ever doubt the accuracy of my memories, if false memory is something that only afflicts the old or ill or if I can be blessed with a strong mind to the end of my life. But then I look back, and though things I remembered did happen, they are only a part of the picture, not the entire truth. And of course it is not possible to know all the details of any singular event in my life, but at least I want to think that I grasped the main gist of it, and can somehow fit it into the narrative of my life. And then I think of incidences that were traumatic— though, thankfully, traumatic is probably too extreme of a word to describe any hardship that has occurred in my life, more like distressing— like betrayal, and then I have to think back on the interactions before that and what those actually were, and feel like the ground beneath me has shifted, that what I held true was a lie. But though based on false pretenses, I can take comfort in knowing that my emotions were real, and hopefully the brain will do its job so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes again. And here and then I am pleasantly surprised my some memory, a flash of something banal, like my older brother when we lived on Homer Ave., wearing a red, thick-knit sweater, for some reason flexing his arm. Or just today I remembered when my family lived in an apartment in New Jersey, I was swimming in the apartment complex’s pool, except I didn’t know how to swim and started drowning and the lifeguard wasn’t doing anything. Maybe given a few more seconds the lifeguard would have acted. But lucky for me, my dad jumped into the pool with his clothes and glasses still on and saved me.

I finished reading The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. It was a really great book, short and engrossing. The story is told from the perception of a retired man who had lived a self-described lackluster life. He talks about the imperfect nature of memories and recalls a certain period of his youth. In the latter half of the book, he finds that his memories and perceptions of that period of his life were wrong, suppressed, changed to fit into a narrative that he could make sense of, and certain tragedies in the past had unknowingly been caused by him. After I finished the book I was drained for a day, with that same feeling as stepping outside a movie theater and driving home in silence.

One More Thing

I finished reading One More Thing, by BJ Novak, a decent collection of humorous short stories. Some stories were extremely short― one story was two sentences about carrot cake. Some stories were really great, they made me laugh out loud. Others seemed like filler and the humor fell flat. One of the problems was with characterization. The characters all felt the same. It felt like they all had the same thought-processes, thought in that same modern, ironic, faux-logical voice. A lot of stories starred celebrities, like Johnny Depp or Nelson Mandela. I felt it was kind of lazy of the author, that with no effort or skill, merely invoking the name of the public figure immediately established the main character of the story, and the reader could fill in all the details of the main character’s persona based on what was read in tabloids. And then the story could get straight to mocking the main character in a completely ridiculous, contrived scenario. That is the defining feature of the book: ridiculous, contrived plots. Then the author would take one of his homogenous characters or a celebrity and put them into that ridiculous, contrived plot, and the result would be hit-or-miss. But I am being too harsh; I mostly enjoyed reading the book written by the writer/actor who played the temp from The Office.

Saturday

On Saturday I went to the Frye Art Museum and was impressed by what I saw.

Frye Art Museum
Frye Art Museum

The temporary exhibition, which takes up most of the floorspace, currently features Chinese calligraphy-influenced art. The exhibition featured three Asian artists and one Western artist. Prior to the exhibition, I did not hold ink paintings in high esteem. They were something cheap and lacking in any specialness, like American Chinese food. I remember in China, ink paintings were hawked on the sides of dusty roads for less than a dollar a piece. Even though their subjects were different (here a crayfish, there a bird, there a frog), the paintings felt generic and uninspired, lifeless black ink on parchment that failed to evoke any emotion in me. The exhibit broadened my ideas of what Chinese ink painting could be. In the paintings, I saw how expertly the width of the strokes were modulated. And the traditional Chinese calligraphy brushes hold a lot more ink in them and can create longer strokes than traditional European brushes. But unlike the soulless paintings sold by the street hawkers, these paintings elicited a feeling in me, despite also being solely black ink on parchment. I could see the different strokes used to outline figures, medium strokes to give shading, and broad strokes that did not even correspond to some equivalent seen in the natural world, but gave a perception of form and movement.

Postcard. Isamu Noguchi. Peking Drawing (man sitting)
Postcard. Isamu Noguchi. Peking Drawing (man sitting)

The Frye Art Museum also had an impressive permanent collection of European art. The permanent collection is one room, its four walls covered in paintings from top to bottom. I was kind of annoyed by this arrangement. I thought the paintings could use some spacing so that each painting could get the attention that it deserved. And also since the paintings were so crammed, the lighting was such that one could not simply scan the wall up and down, side to side, because of the glare. To see each painting clearly, I had to constantly move towards or away from the wall. I was impressed by the technical skill and detail of each painting, whether the painting was a portrait of a girl or a bucolic landscape full of cows.


Afterwards I watched the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Compared to the revelrous boozefest of NYC, Seattle’s parade was very sedate and community-focused. Motorcyclists from the Seattle Police rode in lines that intersected and weaved through each other. There were pirates that fired a loud cannon. There were step dancing crews. There was even a group of ten or so DeLoreans.

DeLoreans
DeLoreans

A lot of the groups in the parade were in no way related to Saint Patrick or Irish culture.  But I can imagine how they could all be strung together in a D-Movie plot. Saint Patrick travels back in time in a DeLorean, dressed as a pirate, using step dance to assist his preaching, riding a motorcycle across Ireland.

Break Even

Today I rollerbladed along the Sammamish River Trail, from Redmond to Bothell and back (15 miles total). The weather was perfect– warm, bright, with occasional cloud cover. There were a lot of people on the trail, from intense bicyclists to families enjoying a casual stroll. Whenever I saw a fellow rollerblader they would smile and nod. I think it is some unwritten rule of rollerbladers. There were many things along the way that caught my attention:

  • a bronze statue of a girl sitting at a 90 degree angle
  • two riders on horseback
  • fuzzy caterpillars, black with a wide band of orange
  • roosters that crowed in dilapidated sheds
  • remote-controlled trick planes that hummed high above grassy fields
  • acres and acres of farmland (vineyards?) surrounding the occasional office building
  • a crescent-shaped wooden statue with a moon carved on one side and a salmon on the other attached to the top of a metal barrel
  • a bridge with green dragonfly sculptures on each of its four pillars
  • shack houses by the river
  • extremely fit elderly runners
  • areas of the trail lined with tree stumps, and areas lined with young, one-foot tall trees surrounded by baby blue protective cylinders
  • the omnipresent mountains in the distance
  • mallard ducks that slept by the shore with their heads tucked into their bodies

When I got back I ate a whole bunch of tacos loaded with extra guacamole and cheese. It was a good day.

Quiet

I was jogging along a bike path and came to an intersection of a highway and a large road. The highway cut straight through the trees, and I could see straight ahead the Olympics, and to my right the Cascades, and as I focused on the snow-covered mountains that extended across the horizon, my mind was without words, but I felt an overwhelming sense of awe. On clear days like this, there is so much beauty at every turn. It is a blessing that this is standard in the Pacific Northwest.

And when I see the shallows in a particular shade of blue, I cry on the inside.

Big Sur
Big Sur

I wish I brought a better camera to do it justice. To show the movement and the sparkle in the water without overexposing the picture.

 

Uncle’s Dream, Desiring Money

I finished reading Uncle’s Dream by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The gist of the book is that the protagonist of the novel, Maria Alexandrovna, is trying to manipulate an old, mentally ill prince into marrying her daughter so that they can have his money. Meanwhile, Maria’s social rivals and another suitor for her daughter have plans of their own that Maria must thwart. But Maria is clever and eloquent, the leading gossip and best at controlling conversation in her small village. She manages to talk herself out of all kinds of predicaments. Overall I found the book readable, but as a comedy it was lacking. The descriptions can get dense and the action moves slowly compared to other comedies. On the plus side, the characters are fleshed out and motives explained in such detail that all their crazy antics are completely believable. The main character, Maria, is dislikable, and yet the reader still roots for her because of the sheer audacity of her schemes. And unlike other Dostoyevsky novels, the characters do not repent and find redemption. After Maria’s scheme is foiled and she and her family must leave the village in total humiliation, we see in the epilogue that another of their marriage schemes succeeded and they get exactly what they want— riches and social status.

As a segue from that, I heard a sermon on 1 Timothy 6 about how the desire for money corrupts people. From now on, I’m going to write down what I remember so that I don’t forget.

3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

(6) Be content in God. There is no one more worthy of praise than God, who is infinitely merciful and loving. There is nothing in the world that can bring more contentment than God.

As stated in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46), there is no greater treasure than the kingdom of God. In the parables, the people are willing to give up everything for something of true value.

Related to what is gain and what is not, there’s the verse from 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

A person can go to such extremes as to be a martyr, but their actions are meaningless and they will gain nothing unless they love God.

(7) Whatever wealth I save up, after my death it will be meaningless to me since I can no longer use it.

(8) In terms of material goods, God has provided me with all the necessities— food, clothing, shelter— and more. And of far greater value than anything material, God has given me salvation.

(9) Being rich is not a bad thing, and the Bible mentions many people who used their wealth to aid the church. However, wanting to get rich is bad. Wanting to get rich will cause people to “fall into temptation”. Not “maybe fall into temptation”. Falling into temptation is a definite consequence. On the other hand, the warning against desiring money is not license to be lazy, as the Bible says to work hard and devote my labor to God.

(10) If someone loves money then they have set up money as an idol. But as Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The love of money is not a singular evil; it leads to other evils. Imagine a diseased tree, of which love of money is the root. But what is seen above ground? When I see a tree, I see the trunk and branches are quite substantial in relation to the roots. These branches, these additional and substantially-sized evils, are nourished by the love of money.

A particular danger the pastor mentioned was feelings of independence from God and others,  that I deserve and earned my possessions through hard work and don’t need God’s provision, creating distance in our relationship. On the contrary, we should depend on God for all things and ask God for help.

An old woman and an old man

I was thinking lately about growing old. I hope I age well like a Parisian and stay healthy and active with a spark in my eye. For some reason, these two random encounters from my recent memory stuck out.

 

Back in Chicago, I used to do late-night coding sessions in the 24-hour Starbucks on North and Wells. One night, after programming for a few hours, I felt exhausted and ready to head back home. I waited at the bus stop for five minutes, when a bus stopped (not the bus I needed). The doors to the bus opened, and a set of arms pushed a small luggage bag in my face. “Take my bags! Help me off the bus!” an old woman ordered. At first, I was taken aback that she would be so bossy to a complete stranger. She could have asked nicely. A verse flashed in my mind: “Ask and it will be given to you.”
“I hurt my hip, you’ll have to help me cross the street.” For the next five minutes we inched across the intersection, the old lady leaning on me and her large rolling luggage bag. The stoplight turned red and green and red and green and red again. Cars stopped and idled patiently. “I just need to get inside that restaurant. My friend is coming to pick me up.” So I helped her into Elly’s Pancake House. Across the street, I saw the bus home go by, but I didn’t care.

 

I was on a flight from Phoenix. The stoutly old man sitting next to me reached into the seat pocket and took out the plane schematic with the pictures of emergency procedures. I did as well, since out of habit I always make a note of emergency exits whenever I’m on a plane or in a movie theater. We started chatting about cats. He had three cats, and he thought there was something strange that every cat he had ever owned had weird quirks. For example, one of his cats would stand on its hind legs and paw at the doorknob to open the door. Another of his cats would watch TV with him. And another of his cats would consistently meow at the same early morning hour for food. “I love them to death,” he said. “And my wife too.”

I asked the man why he was travelling. “To pay my respects to a dear friend. At my age I do this a lot,” he said. As we neared our destination, I asked his thoughts about the city. “I lived here for 20 years. I don’t like this place, it’s too moist, makes my joints hurt. I’ll take Phoenix any day.” He talked about his children in the area, pointed at their houses as we flew over neighborhoods full of evergreens. “I used to drive trucks as big as this plane up and down the coast.” I looked around the cabin, and the plane was awfully big, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to drive a vehicle with such an awful turning radius.

Home for Graduation

I like to read SkyMall magazine. I like to look at all the clever inventions and read some ad copy at its finest. The blurbs almost make me want to buy a posture-fixing chair pillow or a mobile elliptical machine.


Graduation ceromonies are really boring, what with their long side-tracked speeches and self-congratulatory awards. And every graduating class is somehow the best ever. But the ceremonies are peppered with heartfelt moments and unintentional humor, and that is why I didn’t mind sitting for three hours at my brother’s graduation. By far the best moment is when the dean hands out diplomas and calls each student by name. “Doctor [first name] [last name].” There was even a “Doctor Michael Doctor”. He was probably destined to become a doctor. I liked how with each name called, an absolutely ecstatic section of the audience would whoop and throw toddlers into the air and shout the student’s name. There was one person who graduated– I have no idea what he even looks like, but I just remembered hearing the father shout “Edmond! Edmond! Edmond!” in a thick accent. And for some reason hearing that felt really touching. Here was a dad who couldn’t even pronounce his son’s name in perfect English, and like my own dad, I imagine he must have immigrated to the US from some foreign country and did everything he could to support his son through college and med school and now this ceromony celebrated the culmination of all his son’s and his hard work. So it was a feel-good fest all around, each degree as much earned by the student as by the teachers and faculty and families that supported them.

My little brother likes to prank his peers with statements such as, “It’s okay to eat food off the ground.” He backs up these statements with the claim, “My brother says so, he’s a doctor.” Even though my older brother never said this. But my little brother and my whole family is so happy now, because my older brother is neither a doctor in training nor a “doctor” (of philosophy) like my dad, but a bonafide doctor of medicine. Even with something like a minor rash, it’s very reassuring to consult my brother. My brother suggested an over-the-counter cream that healed faster and did not produce an allergic reaction like the cream the family doctor suggested.

Spring is Here!

Finally, the temperature in Chicago is consistently over 50°F. Back to tennis and rollerblading along the lake path in the bright sun.

I had a relaxing weekend to make full use of the warm weather. On Friday I went to Mercadito’s. Their Carne tacos were the best, perfectly flavored and crunchy. Afterwards we went to Blue Frog on LaSalle. There is absolutely no blue frog theme; the only hint of its name is a blue, neon light frog in the window. From the outside the Blue Frog looks like a shack at the edge of a parking lot. We had a lot of fun singing karaoke there. The bar goers are supportive. The atmosphere as a whole is delightfully unaffected. Afterwards, we went to the Rock and Roll McDonalds for some baklava. Then we went to another restaurant, then I went home early. I’m getting old.

On Saturday I had a picnic at Montrose beach. A dog wandered onto my blanket and ate all the pepperonis in one gulp. Then it slobbered all over the cheese. It left its muddy paw prints on the blanket. I shrugged it off and napped for an hour or so. Later I went to the gym then went out for dinner again.  I feel like I’ve tried most of the well-known Chicago restaurants, so I can leave this city happy. On that note, I’ve resolved to eat out less and cook more. At night we went to Sound Bar. I was wearing sneakers but the bouncer lady was nice about it. We drank, danced, and played Connect 4. I feel like a Connect 4 pro.

On Sunday I rollerbladed eight or so miles along the lake. The wind tends to blow southward, so the return trip required more energy. Then I read A Visit from the Goon Squad. The book was told from different characters’ point of views, their stories interwoven and jumping around chronologically. All the children are miraculously precocious and the adults keep making mistakes. *SPOILERS* The author was really creative in that each character told his or her story differently, switching between first person and third person, structured in subchapters, or a newspaper article, even a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation. How a character structured his story revealed a lot about his personality. In the title, the “Goon Squad” is time. None of the characters have a traditional happy ending; most come from broken homes and have failed marriages. The future is never what they imagine; time robs them of their original dreams. And yet they find some semblance of peace in a form that they do not expect.