Wed, 31 Dec 2003

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it's over now

Just wanted to post on the last day of 2003. Suffice it to say that it is a bad idea to try to cut your Zoloft dose by 50 mg when scarcely half a year has passed since you started taking it.

Maybe it was because I was driving down to San Diego. For some reason, this took me all the way back to my San Diego to Sacramento road trip in the summer of 2001. (I know the entry says nothing about the road trip, but just take my word for it. Perhaps will be more illuminating, although, again, it says nothing about the road trip.) Like I hadn't learned a single goddamned thing in all this hellish time.

I also recognized what my most dream signified. Let's just say that I, perhaps like Frodo Baggins, might understand that there really are wounds that will never heal. So be it.

Oh. By the way. I took Step 2 of the USMLE today. Admittedly with much less melodrama than Step 1. (Unfortunately, the completion of which also lacked much fanfare.)

I'm just glad that I'm not drowning in sorrow.

I was contemplating just going to sleep at 9pm and waking up to the New Year. This is partly because I've got no plans, partly because my mom, my brother, and my sister are flying to the Philippines tonight, leaving me and my dad by ourselves. I know I should probably make some phone calls and figure something out, but my little bout with depression has left me inexorably anti-social. This is not the night I want to be reminded how excruciatingly alone I am.

Ah well.

I keep hoping that the next year will be better than the last, but I've come to realize that the universe cares very little about what I hope. Still, I will hope. What else is there?

21:12:39 31 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 3 comments

Tue, 30 Dec 2003

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time, reality, and death

I had a really bizarre dream last night. I will try to relate it "chronologically," meaning, in the order that I remember events, but anyone who has ever had a vivid dream can tell you this is utterly futile.

The first part involved meeting a carload of people I knew who had died in a car accident. For some reason, me and my live friends could see them and talk to them, a la "The Sixth Sense." Afterwards, my live friends planned on going to the crash site, which happened to be somewhere on the eastern portion of Michigan, just north of Detroit. We were, however, in Chicago, and because no one would be riding with me in my car, I didn't feel like it. Instead, I tried driving home to my apartment, but for some reason I couldn't read the street signs, and the landscape was markedly changed, to the point where I didn't recognize it. For one thing, there were hills, and anyone who has been to Illinois knows that there aren't any hills for hundreds of miles.

The next freaky thing, though, was that I realized that I had seen one of my friend in social settings prior, but after the car accident had taken place. Meaning that she had been dead the last time I had seen her, except that everyone thought that she was alive. I later learned in my dream that the only one who knew the truth was the driver in the car accident, who had, miraculously, survived.

Because I have been reading Philip K Dick lately, I recognized that my sense of reality was being shaken, with ramifications throughout spacetime. A "realityquake" if you will. (This is a concept that requires thought and articulation, but I will defer for now.)

There was much weeping and wailing. I still feel drained right now from all the crying I did in my dream.

Later on, I found that my now dead friend would show up in random places and would start talking to me, and other people could see her too, as long as they knew her well. That is, the clarity with which they could see her depended on how well they knew her. So people who didn't know her at all would just see me talking to thin air, while people who were as good if not better friends than I to her would see me conversing.

Finally, though, I stumble upon a newspaper clipping discussing the fatal car crash, and while the newspaper was printed in 1999, for some reason, it was referencing events in March 2005 (yep, not this incipient year, but the next one hence) as if 2005 was in the past. At that point, I had a "Back to the Future" moment where I began to suspect that I was caught in some time paradox, and I would need to travel through time to prevent catastrophe from occurring.

The dream began to unravel at that point, where I had a vague feeling that 1. I could've been the driver of the doomed car, if time and chance had worked that way 2. I was dead, and the people who I thought were dead were the ones who were alive.

I also began to experience dread when one of the "dead" would manifest themselves. Because sometimes it wasn't someone I knew, it would merely be vague shadowlike manifestations of people (and perhaps even things—think Cthulhu mythos) that I had scarcely known. (Shadowy like those creatures in the game "Silent Hill", if you've ever played it, that could disappear into the floor and then reappear, grabbing at your leg.)

It took me a while lying in bed, still drowsy, to sort through all this. Remarkably, it took me a while to accept the reality that, in fact, my friends were not dead, and it was all a dream.

Huh. I have some really complicated nightmares.

09:43:25 30 Dec 2003 > /dreams > permalink > 0 comments

Thu, 25 Dec 2003

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let there be light

i woke up ok today. it's a dark, dreary, gloomy winter day, as wintery as it can get in southern california, and it's raining, but i am at peace.

whatever needs to be, will be.

that is the simplified essence of my faith these days.

sitting at midnight mass, as the priest droned on nonsensically in the stark, underdecorated church and the soloists missed their notes and flubbed their lyrics, i pondered how ridiculous it is that people dream of a white christmas. (which, incidentally, is a song that is ruined for me because too many people keep reminding me about the possible racial interpretation of this.)

nevermind the fact that jesus was probably not born in december (corroborating with the fact that he was supposedly born during the first roman imperial census), and that december 25th was chosen by the early christians because it coincided with the saturnalia, allowing them to celebrate without undue scrutiny from the romans. but consider that bethlehem is located near the mediterranean. if anything, the winter weather in southern california is probably the closest to palestine more than anywhere else in the u.s.

i reminisce about all the peri-Christmas seasons I've spent crossing the Mojave Desert (and this year was no exception, crossing from eastern edge to western border) and i think about fantastic spiritual kinships with the magi (star of wonder, star of night.... westward leading, still proceeding) and maybe the Mojave is at least a little reminiscent of the wastelands that John the Baptist wandered, and later, where Jesus Christ was tempted by the Adversary, the desert of the Essenes, the desert where James A Pike met his demise in search of his faith, the desert where war continues to brew (o come, o come, emmanuel, and ransom captive palestine....)

the desert is such a strong human archetype. if you've never experienced the desert, i do not think you can be a sincere adherent of any of the religions of the book (zoroastrianism, judaism, christianity, islam). the desert is the crucible of these faiths. the desert defines many of the tropes found in the sacred scriptures, and i do not think it is possible to authentically interpret the scriptures without understanding the desert.

i do not claim that i know the desert, only that i have been around it for a greater part of my life, that i have many bittersweet memories attached to those wondrous wastes. (i need to expand on this idea i've been trying to develop as i was driving westward.... but not here. in any case, like lao tzu mentions, many things we find useful are defined as much by their emptiness, their lack, as they are by their materiality. "We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being, but non-being is what we use." in the same way, civilization is probably defined by its deserts. anyway.)

but that is what christmas makes me think of. the holy land, the desert. the clear, brilliant sky with a trillion stars that kept the shepherds company as they tended their flock in the crisp desert cold.

more later.

11:36:56 25 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

Wed, 24 Dec 2003

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go jesus, it's ya birfday

(title courtesy of aaron mcgruder.)

i don't know why i do this. one, i'm horrible at gift-giving, two, since i'm a student, i have no money, three, i waited until the last minute and ended up spending way too much money and i only got things for my siblings.

being stuck in christmas eve traffic gives you way too much time to think. as faith hill's rendition of "where are you christmas?" from "the grinch who stole christmas" played, i pondered the trajectory of my life. as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to imagine it having gone any other way.

i don't know if it's only because i'm sick, and still weary from my sojourn, but the image i have in my head is a ship, an old style galleon, perhaps, with its sails tattered, becalmed in the middle of nowhere, without land in sight. (somewhat reminiscent of this post i wrote 2 years ago.

but, yeah, remarkably, blogging has become more and more therapeutic. writing about that brief depressive episode, it sort of all oozed out of me, and i feel ok.

heh. i don't know. i guess it's just been a long year or two or three.

18:17:06 24 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

Tue, 23 Dec 2003

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i'm not dying, i just can't think of anything else better to do

it's like i've been in a coma ever since i arrived in l.a. on saturday. it is now tuesday and i couldn't really tell you what i've been doing the past few days. excepting sleeping. i've been averaging about 16-18 hours of sleep these past few days. my dad is convinced that i have infectious mononucleosis. i do have swollen lymph nodes and unremitting malaise and fatigue. but no pharyngitis.

the four day sojourn really took a lot out of me. it's kind of funny. while i was probably no less sick while i was driving, the clarity of purpose really kept me going. it's nice to have a simple goal for a change. go west, young man. if only all of life were that simple. now that i have about a million and a half things to do, most of them mutually exclusive, all i want to do is curl up into the fetal position and bury myself under the covers.

it was also probably a mistake to watch "the return of the king" on saturday. having come off the tail-end of a 2,000 mile journey, i started feeling like i was with frodo and sam on the last wearisome leagues of their quest. never mind the fact that arizona looks a lot like what i would imagine mordor to look like. (it doesn't help that mostly orcs republicans live in arizona.) i probably need to watch "RotK" again, but my initial impression was that peter jackson had to rush through what i think is the best part of LotR. you definitely don't get the flavor of how agonizing the siege of minas tirith was. although, i must say, the visuals of sauron's armies advancing upon the city of the tower of the guard were pretty impressive. the battle of the pelennor fields was, despite the obvious shortcuts, pretty awesome.

still, though. i think they made denethor too idiotic. in the book, denethor was a worthy adversary of gandalf. they knew how to play psy-ops. they didn't even mention the fact that denethor had fallen into despair because sauron had been feeding him bad intelligence through the palantir. in the movie, denethor was just some doddering old idiot, not the horrifically tragic figure that he was in the book.

He turned his dark eyes on Gandalf, and now Pippin saw a likeness between the two, and he felt the strain between them, almost as if he saw a line of smouldering fire, drawn from eye to eye, that might suddenly burst into flame.
Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful, and older. Yet by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older.... And then his musings broke off, and he saw that Denethor and Gandalf still looked each other in the eye, as if reading the other's mind...."

and theoden's death (whoops, sorry for the spoiler, but hell, this is a book that is sixty years old, for god's sake) wasn't the tearjerker i was hoping it would be. that whole sequence, when theoden gets mortally wounded by the nazgul, and eowyn and merry finish the witch king of angmar off, at much cost to themselves, always gets me teary eyed in the book. when eomer finds his liege and his uncle dying underneath his steed, and when eomer finds his sister apparently lifeless beside him, and when he gets all fell and fey, with nothing left to live for, it sends a shiver down my spine.

He stood a moment as a man who is pierced in the midst of a cry by an arrow through the heart, and then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while. A fey mood took him.
"Eowyn, Eowyn!" he cried at last: "Eowyn, how come you here? What madness or devilry is this? Death, death, death! Death take us all!"
Then without taking counsel or waiting for the approach of the men of the City, he spurred headlong back to the front of the great host, and blew a horn, and cried aloud for the onset. Over the field rang his clear voice calling: "Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world's ending!"

And then when he sees the black sails of the Corsairs (not knowing that it is in fact Aragorn) and thinks that all is lost:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing. To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!

It makes me all teary-eyed too when they unfurl the banner of the White Tree and the Seven Stars, and Eomer realizes that Aragorn has won through the Paths of the Dead, and that they are saved, at least for the moment.

And, in all the wrack and ruin and confusion, after helping save Faramir's life, Pippin searches the battlefield for Merry. Pippin tries to cheer him up with hobbitish humor, but Merry just eyes him wearily: "Are you going to bury me?" and when Pippin chokes up, I have to stifle a sob too.

Yeah, there is a lot of variance with the book, but I can completely understand the limitations that Peter Jackson was working under. I am actually astounded by how faithful he tried to be to the book. Perhaps I am just being exceedingly forgiving since I never thought I would see the day that the book would be made into a decent movie. I also thought that intercutting Books V and VI was much better. It made the battle at the Black Gate much more suspenseful, and it made me despise Frodo and Sam a lot less. (My sister puts it this way: in the book, because Frodo and Sam's part in Book VI is so much slower than the action in Book V, you just want to say, die already! Who cares about the Ring?) I also thought the sequence depicting Smeagol's devolution into Gollum was really masterful. I wish Jackson had kept the sequence where Gollum contemplates giving up his evil ways, and just pledging loyalty to Frodo, when Sam shows up and misinterprets and ruins the moment, effectively sealing their fate. (I've had dreams about this sequence. Except that it involved a hovercraft and interstellar travel. But that is another story. Which I do hope to tell some day. Maybe even in novel form. Anyway.)

But enough of RotK.

there's a lot more to say about the past few days i've spent lying in bed, and of the days to come. there's just too much, too much.

08:32:24 23 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

Thu, 18 Dec 2003

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getting my kicks on route 66

I am currently in Amarillo, TX. I actually chose this hotel I'm at precisely because they have in-room Internet access. How geeky is that.

The first two days of my sojourn to the West Coast have been pretty good. The first leg, from Chicago to Springfield, MO via St. Louis had some nail-biting moments, as I was taken surprise by rain, and I feared that the road would suddenly freeze over, sending me careening off the Interstate. But this southern route is definitely more interesting than I-80. I guess it's all the Route 66 memorabilia.

This second leg, from Springfield, MO to Amarillo via Tulsa, OK and Oklahoma City, OK, was somewhat easier, since I started much earlier, the distance was somewhat shorter, and the weather was nice. (Wow. This entry is sounding truly inane. What can I say. I'm tired.) I did, however, take some interesting pictures. And I was plagued by my submandibular gland again, probably just a stone stuck in my Warthin's duct, although, of course, being the hypochondriac that I am, I started wondering if my salivary gland might be infected, or if I had Sjogren syndrome, or lymphoma. I'm not sure if I started feeling sick because of sialadenitis, or whether I had, yet again, caught a virus, or if I had had too much caffeine, too much sugar, and too much nicotine.

Now I don't have anything against fat people, since I do identify, what with a body mass index definitely above normal, but, damn, are people in the Heartland fat! Oh, to be a cardiologist in Texas. I'd have to have a drive-thru cath lab.

OK, I'll stop being mean.

Tomorrow, I'm aiming for Flagstaff, AZ, which is looking like the more grueling portion of my journey, being the longest leg. Plus, I'm crossing the continental divide, although hopefully it won't be as arduous as crossing the Rockies up by Vail, CO.

Anyway. Just wanted to say I'm alive and well. Hopefully my next hotel has Internet access too.

22:28:07 18 Dec 2003 > > permalink > 1 comments

Tue, 16 Dec 2003

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the road ahead

It is strange, now. My happiness (as artificial as it may be) is starting to wear off. I guess it's the part of me that wants to stay rooted. Inertia.

I don't know why I can't keep my eyes forward. I am dwelling on how there will be no one to see me off, and that there will be no one, no special someone at least, who will be waiting for me.

I can picture it now, as I ring on the doorbell, my sister opening the front door. "Oh, it's you. What took you so long?" Probably as she is on her way out.

No. Now I am glad.

I'm going home.

Whatever that means.

I think, I hope, that my spirits will be better when I am upon the open road. I don't know why I am compelled to do this, to traverse two-thirds of this great nation, to parallel as closely as I can the route of those intrepid pioneers of the Dust Bowl era (ah well, I never read The Grapes of Wrath.) I mean, I do not really intend to stray off the Interstates (but still, that song floats around in my head...)

Hmmm. I wonder if I should have shot for Joplin, MO? Instead, I am going to strike out for Springfield, MO (in vain hopes of running into the Simpsons.) From then on, I intend to stay true to the lyrics of the song: A night in Amarillo, TX, followed by a night in Flagstaff, AZ, before swinging through Barstow, down to San Berdoo. (I anticipate a clusterfuck, although hopefully, traffic will be mostly Vegas-bound) Now that CA-210 is completed, I will really be paralleling Route 66 all the way to just short of downtown L.A.

If I had someone with me, I might actually do the original Route 66, but as it is, all I really want to do is get home. Even if it is with the usual trepidation.

Ah, me. It's not so much that I don't get sad as often. It's just a lot easier to bounce back.

I've spent a lot of time avoiding the demons lurking in my brain. They will be, for better or for worse, my only travel companions.

And, appropriately so, I will mention the following poem:

The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say. —J.R.R. Tolkien

19:17:13 16 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 2 comments

Mon, 15 Dec 2003

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the illusion of "I"

So I am reading Barbara Jane's New Blog and stumble upon this interesting Quizilla, Which 20th Century Theorist are you?. Now I know absolutely nothing about postmodern epistemological theory—the farthest I really got was existentialism, with a dash of postcolonialism and neo-Marxism thrown in simply because I'm a person-of-color who hung out with other people-of-color who actually understand this stuff. I only know Freud from negative example: no serious psychiatrist or behavioralist takes him seriously anymore, and modern psychiatry and cognitive development is pretty much built upon neuroscience and cognitive behavior.

And now I know why this is so. Thanks to the seeds planted by Jacques Lacan, there is now a mechanistic theory of how various non-conscious neural networks conspire to form a vast, nebulous "I" (that is, Freud's vaunted ego.) As work in molecular neuroscience progresses, we are more and more able to localize where in space these non-conscious neural networks exist, but the "I" circuit cannot be pinpointed, and a contingent of neuroscientists and psychiatrists are starting to believe that there is no "I" per se, that instead it is an emergent property of the interaction of these neural networks. (To reiterate a popular catch phrase, there are demons lurking in your skull. I'll try to eventually elucidate what that means, but not now.)

Which brings us somewhat tangentially to both artificial intelligence and the nature of psychosis and what this means about reality. But I will not go into all that right now.

Anyway, the Quizilla said I was this guy:

Lacan
You are Jacques Lacan! Arguably the most important
psychoanalyst since Freud, you never wrote
anything down, and the only works of yours are
transcriptions of your lectures. You are
notoriously difficult to understand, but at
least you didn't talk about the penis as much
as other psychoanalysts. You died in 1981.

What 20th Century Theorist are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

It mostly, for better or for worse, really does apply.

Calvin: I'm a misunderstood genius!
Hobbes: What's misunderstood about you?
Calvin: No one thinks I'm a genius!

Anyway.

18:29:45 15 Dec 2003 > /blog-bites > permalink > 1 comments

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iBook saga continues

I miss blogging. Of course, lately I have very little to blog about, what with my life completely subsumed with my internal medicine subinternship, and interviews with med/peds residency programs, but, frankly, I'm beginning to feel pretty mentally constipated.

So I have been struggling with my iBook for a month and a half now. After two logic board changes, it still struggles fitfully with Jaguar, and invariably locks up completely with Panther. (I am typing this running Jaguar, over ssh. Although it still locks up even on 10.2, at least I can actually get a message out.)

So it was Saturday, and I was still recovering from my bout of flu, when I decided to go to the Apple Store on Michigan Ave. Of course, it started snowing, and being that it is the peak of Christmas shopping season, I had to park about half a mile away after circling for about 45 minutes. The guy at the Genius Bar was really helpful, running Norton Disk Doctor to make sure my hard drive wasn't screwed up. I'd already gone through the drill of testing my SO-DIMMs and pulling out my Airport card, and doing a clean reinstall of Panther, resetting the PRAM, and all the usual magical incantations that Macheads like to invoke. No dice. He then starts up my system with a Firewire drive, and it runs 10.2.7 without problems for the most part. Then he starts up my system from a Powerbook with Panther on it, and all seems well, as I startup massive, resource-intensive programs like Photoshop, Quark, InDesign, Final Cut Pro, and God knows what else, and, like clockwork, it eventually locks.

He offers to do a third logic board replacement, and I assent, given that I have thrown away countless hours trying to solve this futile puzzle. As long as it's fixed. He consults some coworkers, checks out some info, and comes to the realization that it would probably be more fruitful to simply give me a new iBook. Now, of course, since my model is no longer in production, they might have to give me a new one. And since it was Saturday, there were no higher-ups to approve or disapprove the request. So I wait.

Now, not being able to run Panther isn't the end of the world, I suppose, although these random system lock ups aren't exactly a walk in the park either. All I want is a working iBook, really, and if I have to send this one back to the depot, then so be it.

Still, overall, the experience is still superior to my historic battles with various incarnations of the evil spawn of Redmond, and still better than screwing around with Linux on my ancient i386-based computer. (For the latter, I may very well have either a flaky motherboard, some bad RAM, some other defective component, or some unholy combination thereof. It also doesn't help that it is oh-so-easy to install beta and alpha and just plain broken releases of any piece of software, from mp3 players to crucial things like GNOME and the kernel. I can do that on MacOSX, too, but at least I can't take out the kernel with a foolhardy foray into beta-land. So it works, and can maintain an uptime of several days, but half the time, things won't launch. Mostly because I went crazy with apt-rpm. Ah, the foolish things you can do as root. Oh, and now that Redhat uses the Bluecurve theme, it's actually quite aesthetically pleasing, although I can no longer put the window buttons on the correct side of the window frame.)

(This entry was inspired by Michelle's meditation upon, among other things, the genderization of computer operating systems. Don't ask me how, it just was.)

P.S. I am intending to drive from the frozen wastelands of the Midwest to proverbial sunny Southern California, roughly paralleling old Route 66. I have some trepidation as I know at least two people who have met their demise on the Interstate Highway system, but it is much too, much too late to get a plane ticket for a reasonable fare, plus I don't have anywhere to put my car to keep it from getting buried by snow, and I'd much rather have my own car when I'm back in L.A. So that's my cockamamie plan. I'm hoping that my avoidance of the high passes of Colorado through the Rockies will work in my favor, but, well, like the rest of my life in general, whatever happens is out of my hands. Fight fate, indeed. I hate sounding so ominous, but what can you do?

18:05:28 15 Dec 2003 > /computers/macosx > permalink > 6 comments

Thu, 11 Dec 2003

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small tragedies

My sister calls me, her voice quavering, asking me if I want them to wait for me before they euthanize our 13 year old dog Lucky. I am nonplussed, taken aback, but I guess I've been desensitized to death, I've known that this would come at some point eventually, and I tell her, do whatever you gotta do. Lucky has lived a full life, especially for a dog her size, and it would grieve me to know that she was in pain for her last days.

Then my sister backtracks, says that, while Lucky is injured, it isn't fatal. She's gonna need some surgery, and I nor my siblings have no job and very little money, and while our mom might consent for surgery, it is almost certain that our dad won't.

So, like any other family contemplating whether or not to sign a DNR form (and I don't mean to make light of anyone whose family member is the end stage of a chronic disease, but Lucky is definitely a member of our family), we have nothing to do but wait. Because nature will take its course anyway, whether or not we make a decision, and sometimes you have to treat the family as much as treat the patient, and everything has a psychiatric component to it.

But I ramble.

So it has been about five weeks of practically living in my own filth (and I hate to brag, but, R, you ain't got nothing on me when it comes to disaster areas.) Piles and piles of mail sit unopened on my ironing board, even larger piles of clean laundry lie unfolded, partially mingled with dirty laundry, and it is only now at the end of a long, hard day of trying to put things in some semblance of order that I am able to walk a clear path to my bed.

I picked up my iBook yesterday (when I was certain that I had pneumonia and that I would die in the middle of the Magnificent Mile, but I'm over it) and I'm sad because it still doesn't work, and my faith in Apple is wobbling, but I will press on. And perhaps need to buy a new computer. With the money I don't have. Even as I can't afford to buy anyone a Christmas present. How sad am I?

Times like this make me despise the commercial nature of the end-of-the-year holidays.

Times like this I am reminded that I am still in the throes of a crisis of faith.

"Someday soon we all will be together, if the Fates allow. Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow."

I think that is the most poignant line I've heard coming from a Christmas song. I ponder the possibility of spending the next four Christmases out here in the frozen Midwest all alone, unable to come home, with no one to come home to, and my will just freezes, and I wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life, what does it matter?

And still, I suppose I am doomed to make hard decisions for the rest of my life, knowing that I've closed some doors permanently.

They say you can never go home again. I never realized how that meant so much more than being unbearably distant from a geographic location.

I'm still looking for that light at the end of the tunnel, forging ahead on the rumor that there's something more than this.

20:11:11 11 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

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dizzy

I love how medical school has made me a hopeless hypochondriac.

(If you don't like dark, depressing stories—even if they're entirely hypothetical—I urge you to skip this entry. That means you, B)

So I've been having these dizzy spells for the past couple of days. Now, while I'm pretty decent at eliciting a history from a patient, I'm absolutely atrocious at giving one. So this is not the beginning. A couple of days ago, I was exposed to a cat. I am deathly allergic to cats—typical type I reaction: allergic conjunctivitis/rhinitis and bronchospasm. So the next morning, I wake up feeling like ass, feverish and having chills. (Weirdest thing, my temporal muscles were involved....) Half convinced that I had pneumonia, I weighed the pros and cons of starting antibiotics. The public health official in me rebelled at the thought, so I thought I'd just tough it out. About midway through the day, I was pondering whether or not I should stop on by the emergency department.

So I'd get dizzy every so often, which is not that surprising when you're sick and dehydrated. So I drank a lot of water. At least a couple of liters. And, magically, I felt better by the end of the night. I felt tired and beat-up, but my chest no longer felt like it was on fire, or that it was trying to implode, and I was no longer hacking up icky-green stuff. (Thank goodness for the flu vaccine. Yeah, I still got sick, but, as I am wont to say these days, it could've been worse.)

And I was fine all day today, up until I finished my interview.

I suppose it could all be psychosomatic. (And for all of those who know me, I'm sure you're satisfied with this diagnosis.) I am, after all, in a rather stressful part of my life, where the direction I go is completely out of my hands, entirely at the mercy of Chance.

Or, it could be the obscene amounts of caffeine I've been ingesting (which is great for the bronchospasm, but not so good for trying to get to sleep at a reasonable hour.)

Or, because I love worst case scenarios, I could have a brain tumor.

I figure I'll just keep drinking gallons of water, try not to drink too much caffeine, and see if it improves or worsens in the next week, after which I am definitely going to see a doctor. I've always wanted an MRI. Heh.

(Of course, I can hear the governor of California now. It's not a tumor!)

13:41:09 11 Dec 2003 > > permalink > 0 comments

Wed, 10 Dec 2003

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interlude

Four interviews within five days? Sure, no problem.

I clearly have no concept of reality. I've only done one site thus far and I am already deathly ill.

It boggles the mind, really. I swear I got a little dizzy thinking about how the next month and a half will determine the trajectory of my life. Or it could be that I'm just dehydrated and got a little woozy.

Why is it that when you're sick, you're always dehydrated?

What I wouldn't do to have some normal saline dripping in my veins right now.

Oh, and antibiotics, or no antibiotics? That is the question.

I'm so very tired.

More later. My mind is definitely not working correctly right now.

14:48:16 10 Dec 2003 > > permalink > 0 comments

Sat, 06 Dec 2003

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graceful cascading failure

Renowned writer Arthur C. Clarke comments on information overload. From slashdot.org, natch.

My favorite quote:

But it is vital to remember that information—in the sense of raw data—is not knowledge; that knowledge is not wisdom; and that wisdom is not foresight.

It makes me think of something Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in The Left Hand of Darkness:

When action grows unprofitable, gather information; when information grows unprofitable, sleep.

It brings to mind the rationale of cascading style sheets. Ideally, every web browser should support CSS, but if not, then there should be a reasonable fallback. And you can specify different levels of fallbacks. And if you end up at the bottom of the cascade of failures, you still get the information, although perhaps it isn't presented in the prettiest way.

And for some reason, it makes me think of the three rules of internship: eat when you can, sleep when you can, shit when you can.

Oh man. Apophenia. My excuse is that I'm post-call.

22:53:53 6 Dec 2003 > /blog-bites > permalink > 3 comments

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ruminations continued

I've just been pondering how too many people disdain activists. Yes, I accept the fact that people have jobs and have families to take care of and sometimes they can't afford to be idealistic. Survival ends up coming first. There is nothing wrong with that. You can't help anybody if you're dead.

But the disdain I often encounter is based on an observational fallacy. Because of my youth, I am often challenged to name my accomplishments. I am often assumed to be foolish and lacking wisdom. Not to say that I am all-wise and all-knowing, but I rarely get any credit for any wit I do have. The assumption is that I don't know what I'm talking about, without any regard to actually getting to know what I'm like.

This is the nature of the typical challenge: "It's not enough to just talk about something. You've got to do something about it."

This is, prima facie, a valid challenge. But here is where the fallacy comes in. Especially in American society, people tend to be very results driven, end-point oriented. Slow and gradual processes are disdained. No one ever gets credit for working in the background and making sure things run smoothly. Hilariously, these people are sometimes the first ones who get laid off, because when they get reviewed, they have no significant "accomplisments" to show for. And then, of course, once they're gone, the CEO starts wondering why productivity has dropped, ends up blaming it all on the tanking economy, never once realizing that they probably just pissed away their greatest assets.

Activism, despite all our talk of flash flood revolutions, and the torrential downpour of change, is a slow and gradual process that rarely shows any outward sign of accomplishment. But, truly, it is like a rainstorm. Occasionally it does occur, but for the most part, a single rainstorm is not going to dramatically alter the landscape. Maybe a few new rills here, maybe the mountains lose a few micrometers of sediment. Nothing to write home about. Who cares? But, given time, and enough rainstorms, even Mt. Everest will get eroded away. As Gandhi once said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it."

Back to my point. So, when an activist is challenged to "actually do something about it," what can he or she say? If their goal had been already accomplished, would there be any need for activism? Of course not. So since it's not accomplished yet, what evidence could an activist possibly point to that would show that their words are not idle? Nothing. Of course a work in process will have no outward sign of accomplishment. There will be no finished product if the product is, in fact, not finished. So of course it will look like the activist does nothing, and just spouts out inflammatory, combustible rhetoric.

That, of course, is the nature of the revolution. When the Powers that Be allow freedom, the revolution is invisible, coursing through the water table underground, moistening the soil, welling up quietly in hidden valleys, concealed springs. When the Powers that Be demand obedience, create oppression, decide to dam up the rivers and fill in the seas, the revolution rises up like a raging river, like the wild tide on a full moon, like a typhoon, a tsunami. JFK noted this. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

I admit, the burden of proof is on the teller of the tale. But how can you prove something that is, for the most part invisible? You can't. You either have faith, or you don't. And most people in this time of the Age of Humanity have very little faith. Myself included.

07:03:24 6 Dec 2003 > /soul > permalink > 0 comments

Fri, 05 Dec 2003

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the way

I have been embroiled in a flame war regarding, of all things, Taoism in, of all places, the Alibata Yahoo! Group. Which is remarkably synchronous with my ruminations regarding Ursula K. Le Guin, whose works are pretty much infused with Taoism, and who wrote a poetic interpretation of the Tao Te Ching as well. The at-times rancorous exchange has gotten my mind back on the Tao, and how I really should get to finishing reading all those different translations that I've started, and how, ever since my crisis of faith, precipitated by September 11 and the Catholic Church's abysmal handling of the child molestation charges, the only thing I've really had any faith in is the Way.

Perhaps it's because, ultimately, I have a pessimistic nature, but I really like the naturalistic interpretation of the Way. It is Western physics expressed in poetry instead of equations. Both the Tao and the laws of thermodynamics reveal a relentless indifference to human aspiration and existence. They do not require human participation in order to be true. (Because, even if Heisenberg and Schroedinger are right, and the universe only exists if there is an observer, I think it's possible that the universe observes itself, though as a mind, it is Godel-incomplete, like all minds and mathematical systems.)

I like these philosophies because it frees us from the oppression of some greater deity controlling our destiny and demanding our worship. And I think, in its pure form, Christianity is also free of this oppression. The God I believe in (most of the time) is a God who believes most of all in Free Will. God created us so that we might love him, but a commanded love is not love at all. So he/she lets us hurt him with our rejection, because the reward of our acceptance, free from fear of punishment, or desire of secondary gain, or any sort of compulsion, is perhaps the greatest force existent in the universe. If God is Love, than everyone who loves him/her back, truly loves God, causes a multiplication of God, and of Love.

But I digress.

I have come to accept that the world's organized religions are mostly instruments for the consolidation and preservation of power, and power is always greedy, always paranoid, always oppressive. Oppression is to power, at least this kind of power, as gravity is to mass. Ah yes. Power. There is the typical power wielded by men of state, by CEOs, by abusive husbands, by the mighty. Most people, particularly those embedded in a Calvinistically embued culture, such as the U.S., readily recognize this as power. The power to make you do things you'd rather not do. The power that grudgingly feeds you, houses you, and clothes you, only because you aid it in continuing to consolidate its power. This kind of power is a voracious black hole that swallows anything within its reach, imploding further and further upon itself, until it swallows the entire world. This is the power that is wielded by Jonathan Edwards' wrathful God, the vengeful God of the Old Testament, the Punisher, the Destroyer.

But the other kind of power, the power that is creation and creativity, the power that is God, is the Tao, is generative and life-giving, that is the power that is given to the oppressed. It is all around us, unharnessed, because we continue to strive for the other kind of power. It is the spontaneous power of laughter, of hope in the face of overwhelming odds, of doing more than just surviving, but of living with integrity and passion, despite the forces arrayed against you. It is the power of the fluctuations of the vacuum, which literally creates something from nothing. From the Void there was everything, and remarkably, even Western Science has figured that out, at least those in the vanguard who have gazed upon the vastness of creation and were awestruck. And instead of feeling lonely and insignificant, they rejoiced. Even in the austere gleaming gems of the skies, the stars hanging out so far away that the distance is incomprehensible, there are enormous mysteries, beautiful structures to be explored and discerned, and comprehended, however imperfectly, by our minds.

I think, and it is only my humble and uninformed opinion, that a true follower of the Way is special because he keeps this power in his heart, despite knowing that the Way brings him to the edge of doom, that the Way will eventually overwhelm him or her, from nothing to nothing, back into the quantum foam from whence we arose. That the Way is unencumbered with worrying which power will prevail, because in reality, the two powers are in lockstep, parry-to-parry. Neither side will ever win, because the balance will always right itself.

But our part to play is not to save the world, which does not need saving. It is not to cure all the ills of the world, to once and for all solve the problems of the suffering. This is, if you think about it, mere laziness, the desire to not get involved, to refuse to be drawn in to the stinking muck and mire of the powerless. Just set it and forget it. Find the cure, and give it to them, and they can go home happy and stop bothering me. This is not the salvation that the Tao has to offer.

It becomes clear to me that the cliche "It's the journey, not the destination" in fact harbors much Taoist sentiment. The big things are impossible for one person to overcome. But the little things are many, and surmountable, and instead of giving into ego and trying to figure out how to save the most people in one fell swoop, start by fixing your own little corner of the world.

We are born to die. This is a consequence of the Tao, a consequence of the Laws of Thermodynamics. It is folly to rant against this truth, though we try, with our medicines and computers. We try to cheat death, to somehow live forever. But the values don't add up. Immortality is akin to the perpetual motion machine. If you screw with the variables enough and fudge some co-factors here and there, it seems like it will actually work. But something has to give. There is a price for everything, either morally or energetically.

So I ramble.

I was pondering the other night, how I felt tired and beat down. How my soul ached, not for one giant sadness that smashed me down, but the hundreds of tiny cuts and lacerations on my soul. I truly believe that it isn't the big things that get you in the end. It's all the small things added up. And for a moment, I mourned that there was no one I could share my experience with, no one who I dared burden with my sadness.

I know there are some who would listen. I thought about telling them, spilling the dark secrets in my heart, but I could not dare. What was my small, tiny suffering to them? They are good friends, and they would not turn me away, but, it comes back to that idea: I wish there was someone who had a stake in what I had to say. But this is not the sort of thing that gets granted out of thin air. Everything has to be in place. And I recognize that I haven't found my place yet. I'm getting closer, but I'm definitely not there.

And so I kept it to myself, and slept in silence, my unremembered dreams easing my care.

I think it might be enough. For now, at least. And I suppose that's all the really matters.

14:45:28 5 Dec 2003 > > permalink > 0 comments