Monday, April 20, 2009

Without power

During the recent windstorm our power went out 3 times. I was amazed that it was never out for longer than about 20 minutes. However, the second time, it was after sunset and I was in the bathtub.

It wasn't hard to find the soap and washcloth. It wasn't hard to find the shampoo, so I started washing my hair as I had intended. Only then did I wonder how I would dry it. At that point I began to think how dependent my life is on easy access to power of some sort. I could manage in the dark within the confines of the bathroom, but I needed electricity to dry my hair, gas to heat my water, light to read my book. As I sat there wet-headed in the dark in the cooling water, the resource worries of the world seemed a bit more real.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

things are breaking

Lately life seems more fragile than I remember it being.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Last night I had another dream about someone I know preparing for death, the 3rd in the series, I guess. I hate to say it, but this one was actually better because it was about cancer, i.e., not intentional.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

It's hardest when I'm driving because it's not like you can distract yourself too much when driving without the situation becoming very dangerous very quickly. The closest I have been able to come as far as distractions has been listening to podcasts in the car. They take more of my attention than just listening to music most of the time, unless I'm trying to sing along. Most recently Mosaic has been going through the beatitudes. Although I had been putting it off, I finally listened to Blessed Are Those Who Mourn. Despite the fact that it was a little rambling, it caused me to cry 3 or 4 separate times during the course of my 25 minute commute.

First: Mourning involves love and loss. We do not mourn things we love but have not lost, nor do we mourn the things we lose but have not loved. The second of these things is probably more important -- a deep sense of loss is an indication of our humanity, our ability to have deep connection with others, the fact that we are able and willing to love.

Second: We can take the fact that we mourn as an indication the love is stronger than death, because the fact that someone we care for has died does not cause our love for them to cease. The first time I heard (or read) this somewhere else, I thought it seemed like too much of a play on concepts; it seemed in some way too sappy. Now, although it does seem true, I'm not sure that it is meaningful to pit love against death.

Third: Jesus weeps with those who mourn in John Chapter 11. Maybe this is comforting because it reminds us that we are not alone. But the outcome for Lazarus and his loved ones is not the ending I am expecting to get.

Revelations 21:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

According to Erwin McManus, the "no sea" part seems a little arbitrary until you consider the fact that John had been exiled to the island of Patmos, an island with an area of 13 square miles, surrounded by the Aegean sea. Thus the sea must have represented to John separation from everyone else, including those he cared for, those he loved.

I don't know how to deal with the loss of a loved one without telling myself there is hope that one day we will meet again. Particularly, when she was taken so prematurely, seemingly in the prime of her life. In my mind this is why eulogies and memoirs allude to heaven. It's what's necessary to end on an uplifting note.

I am still looking for more of the comfort promised in Matthew 5:4.

Monday, March 30, 2009

people who share too much?

He asked how it was going, and I replied that things were okay, I couldn't stop sneezing, and maybe allergies were the problem. I asked "how are you" reciprocally, and he started to tell me about his father's poor health, being in and out of the hospital several times to avoid death, paperwork, notes from doctors, dealing with employers, medicare, disability, jury summons, moving, mailing addresses that banks and other organizations had that needed to be changed.

All this via instant message, initiated by him, the first time we had talked in almost 2 years. It's not that I don't care (at least I don't think it is), but to dump all that on someone who you were never particularly close to in the first place and after a few seconds in online chat? I guess I just don't feel comfortable with that level of sharing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

still early

I have been waking up too early, relative to other members of this household. I suppose I have also been going to bed too early as a result. And I don't like waking up before the sun comes up.

Right before I woke up this morning I had been in the middle of a bad dream. I think it was set in the present because everyone around me was the same age they are now, and I seemed to be the same age as well. But it also felt futuristic in that culture and social norms had changed to an extent. Basically, in this world in my dream it had become acceptable for people to decide to end their lives. I knew because one of my parents had decided it was time, and as a family we were making preparations for the appointment day. I found it to be incredibly disturbing that someone so close to me would choose this, but I was even more bothered by the fact that everyone seemed to think it was no big deal. That life should just go on.

At the same time, a substantial portion of my dream involved preparation. Making arrangements, gathering mementos, getting ready to say goodbye. You don't get that every day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5 things I am thankful for

Keeping a gratitude journal is supposed to make people happy or something. Here are my five for the day:

1. Being employed, getting a paycheck.
2. Rats that are super cute and sweet and non-biting. They even come when I call.
3. Good health -- yeah I'm getting over a cold, but the experience just highlighted the fact that it's pretty rare that I get sick.
4. Good students, the ones you want to teach.
5. Husband who will squash bugs, and fix things, and make bread. (Not all at once.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

attitude is everything

It's weird how your attitude towards things can change so quickly. In the past couple of weeks I've come to find ordinary household tasks and chores something of a relief to do. Initially part of my change in attitude towards making the bed, doing dishes, and generally picking up was due to the fact that I found them comforting due to their ability to distract my mind from dwelling much on grief. But there was also another thing. Whereas previously I had found myself keeping tabs on how much housework I'd been doing (particularly compared to others in the house who were less cleaning-inclined), it has since seemed so meaningless to waste energy and emotion on that sort of thing. At least compared to issues that are literally life and death matters, keeping score of bed-making and dish-washing is a waste of time.

I am so proud of my 4-year-old niece (who is not technically my niece but that is besides the point). She is a wonderful, bubbly, bright child. She was amazing through all of the events surrounding the funeral. Instead of hiding shyly from hundreds of people or crying for her mother, she sat quietly on her father's lap, handed her grandfather a tissue and held his hand. Last Monday her play room and bedroom were a bit of a mess, so I suggested we clean them up. Whereas I would imagine cleaning up to be an unpleasant task, she takes pride in being able to put things where they belong. She enjoys knowing where each toy, each piece of clothing goes. She put her jackets back on their hangers to put in the closet, and I got to show her a neat little trick -- that the jackets stay on the hangers much better if you zip them up just a little bit. She hadn't done zippers before, but she figured it out really quickly and seemed satisfied at having gained competence at a new task. Attitude is everything.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

things that are not helpful

Overall I haven't told people at work what happened, even less details of what occurred. Mostly I don't want to put people into the position of having to respond to the information or having to come up with something to say.

I don't know what it is about people finding out that you have lost a family member that makes them want to immediately tell you about someone they knew who also died. This is not helpful to me.

It's likely that what happens is that he or she will tell me that they had a grandparent pass away and how difficult of an experience that was. But 1) we expect people to die when they are old. If the person managed to reach a state of having grandchildren who are full-grown adults, I figure that they have lived a pretty full life. And 2) is that really supposed to make me feel better? to be reminded that, yes, people die, and it sucks for everyone around them?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

pop music dependence

I find pop music strangely comforting. It fills the silence but fails to evoke real emotions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

parental wisdom

Growing up it was very easy for me to cry. I don't know whether I specifically cried a lot (that would be the assumption), but my dad told me that my tears flowed too easily. He told me that I should cry more sparingly, or else my tears would become devalued. Today they started coming during office hours when my student asked me how I was doing. I managed to regain my composure as I pressed a tissue against my eyes. But I feel as though I am constantly at the edge, and the smallest things can start me again.

Monday, March 9, 2009

a tribute

Given for my dear cousin Shirley Ming Chang-Divadeenam, whose life we remembered today.

I’ve known Shirley since before I can remember. Our mothers are sisters, so Shirley is my cousin. But she’s the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had; and I have been blessed to have her in my life. Although I’m sure there were times when it wasn’t cool to hang out with her six-years-younger cousin, Shirley never let me know it. I looked up to her, and she took care of me and always made me feel welcome.

Shirley taught me gentleness when I was six. Shirley had some small bird figurines made of fuzz and wire. I had similar ones, shaped like baby chicks, but she also had a rooster and a hen. I wanted the whole set, so I took them. But kids aren’t very good at stealing things, so it was obvious I took them. Shirley asked me about her missing chickens, but she without accusation or anger. I felt sorry for what I’d done and started to cry. She comforted me, and I gave the birds back.

When I was in junior high, Shirley took me to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a theme park with roller coasters. Magic Mountain was the big kids’ park compared to Disneyland, which was obviously for little, elementary school kids. Shirley was the first person to take me to ride roller coasters. She was old enough to drive but nice enough to bring me along.

Three years ago I was engaged to be married. For whatever reason I had not been interested in wedding dress shopping, although some girls are, even before they have any plans to get married. A couple of months were left before the wedding, and when we were in Kansas visiting, Shirley learned that I did not yet have a wedding dress. She let me borrow hers, which had been preserved and boxed. Even this, she was willing to share.

Of course, over the years our relationship has changed in subtle ways. For one, we were no longer just an hours’ drive away from one another. Perhaps more significantly, we took on new roles and responsibilities as adults. But throughout my life she has always made me feel that I am a valuable person. Through her kindness, she always demonstrated her love.

I expect this is why I liked spending time with Shirley so much. When I was a child, her family would drive to our house in the morning, and after dinner, they’d be ready to drive home. Often I begged them to spend the night so that I would have more time to spend with my cousin. Occasionally I would successfully persuade her parents, and they’d stay over until the next day, but eventually they would have to leave. I would stand at the curb as they got into their car. We would exchange our goodbyes through the rolled-down car windows. The car would start to pull away, and I would follow it down the street and around the corner, running and waving.

Today, as I felt back then, I miss Shirley very much. The friends and family she leaves behind have experienced a tremendous loss. But I tell myself that she had somewhere to go, and seek comfort in knowing that one day we will meet again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

the lunch routine persists

I am at my desk, eating the same thing I always eat for lunch on Thursday between noon and one. Routines bring comfort, though spontaneity may bring excitement or interest.

Monday, March 2, 2009

some observations on grief

1. It is just like it is on TV.
In Season 2 of the West Wing, President Bartlet's personal secretary, Mrs. Landingham, dies after getting hit by a drunk driver. In the season finale episode, "Two Cathedrals", President Bartlet's memory flashes back to particular moments in his life with her at random points during the day. The particular interactions, things remembered, things said, interrupt you without warning. It is just like that.

2. So much seems so trivial.
When something of actual consequence happens, you realize that everything else is so trivial. I log onto Facebook due to habit, and looking at status updates I'm completely unmoved. I've had the book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, for probably a decade now. For several weeks it has been sitting in my bathroom. The book talks about how not to get angry when you're in the car and another driver cuts you off. Unless someone is being born or dying, emotions seem wasted now.

3. I find that I have to constantly do something. It doesn't matter whether it's washing dishes, cleaning up, surfing the web, or (most beneficially) working. I have to keep myself busy because if I stop for a minute and let myself think, the memories, the questions, and the pain creep into my consciousness. More generally, I can only describe my state as a complete lack of understanding. And I can't hold back my tears.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

It is a very dark day.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

early birding

I like being on campus before everyone else gets here. I mean, I don't have to be the only person -- that would be creepy -- but I enjoy the quiet freshness in the morning. It's not the lack of people and activity; staying late in the evening when nobody is here anymore does not seem to have the same effect. It's the cool, still damp air. It's the extra time I have to prepare mentally, unhurriedly, before my morning class. It's feeling like the day is fresh.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

the lunch routine

I can't say that I have a lot of routines. Or maybe I do have routines, but they aren't conscious ones.

I am on campus Tuesdays and Thursdays (at least). This semester I have developed a Tuesday/Thursday lunch routine. I get lunch from the salad bar on these days. It
is the sort of salad bar where they weigh you food, and you pay based on how heavy your plate is. I get the smallest plate available, which is not a plate at all but a rectangular-shaped tray, the sort that french fries were served in my junior high school cafeteria. I load the tray in the following order:

spanish rice (approx 1 scoop)
black beans (approx 1 scoop)
pineapple chicken (3-4 pieces, which probably comes out to 2 oz.)
cooked plantains (2-3 broken broken pieces)
romaine lettuce with occasional slice of tomato (until the tray fits no more)
topped with about 2 Tbs of guacamole

(I would call the ordering of salad bar items atypical in that salad bars generally start with lettuce, then you add stuff on top. Secretly I wonder if this is all part of the plan to encourage customers to load up on the heavy (thus costly) items in a diet that runs opposite any sort of Volumetrics plan.)

I have my money out or easily accessible, and am ready to put my tray on the scale as soon as the person in front of me in line vacates their food from it. My lunch costs between $3.50 and $4.50, and as soon as I know this, I move my tray off of the scale so the next person can put their food there. (Secretly, I pride myself on being very efficient at this, and feel slightly superior to those who fumble for money and allow their plates to linger on the scale, holding up the rest of the line.) I move myself and my lunch over to a small table which holds a huge bin of plastic forks and another huge bin of spoons. The counter next to the table also has a small bin of pepper packets and a small bin for salt packets. I take one of each in my left hand, tear openings into them with my right, and try to sprinkle salt and pepper evenly across my food, which from the top, looks like romaine lettuce and guacamole. Grab a fork and wedge it into the food so it stays. And I'm on my way.

Routines are good for me because I'm not a particularly decisive person. Having this certainty of a non-decision reduces stress from my day. But I did not go out of my way to create this routine -- it just happened. Call me boring, but I wouldn't mind having a few more routines.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


There is a window of time in which it is possible to be on time, and after that, I find that I don't really care anymore. It's possible that I should treat 'on-timeness' as a continuous variable, but in my mind it feels so binary.

Friday, February 20, 2009

from expectations to execution

Particularly when something bothers or upsets me, if I step back for a moment and think about it, it is inevitably a case of the situation not matching my expectations. I expect that this is why special occasions become stressful for me. I have a mental schema of what birthdays, holidays, etc. are supposed to look like, some pre-existing notion in my head of how things are supposed to go. But instead of doing something about it or communicating these expectations, I just expect them to happen. This is the perfect setup for FAIL.

Possible solutions:
1. get rid of expectations
2. do something to bring about expectations

The last couple years I have focused on option 1 a lot with little success. Perhaps I will look into option 2.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I mixed tea and hot chocolate together

8 oz. hot water
1 black tea teabag
1 heaping tsp of Ghiradelli hot cocoa

It's pretty good. One might describe it as chocolatea.
I like to try new things.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

the service man came to check out our plumbing problem

Apartment living takes away some of a man's opportunities to be manly.

Friday, February 13, 2009

valentine's day plans or lack thereof

Some thoughts regarding the upcoming Valentine's Day:

1. I used to REALLY like Valentine's Day. Strangely, I think all the years I really liked Valentine's Day happened while I was single. To me, then, Valentine's Day was about expressing love to everyone, friends and family. Valentine's Day was not about romance but appreciation and gratitude. I took the opportunity to be a reminder to myself to love others. What happened?

2. I guess that happened was that I succumbed to all of the socio-cultural hype. The norms inculcated into me by popular media and, perhaps more disappointingly, my social network and/or friends. When people start asking whether or not you have Valentine's Day plans, you start thinking that you should, and if you don't, there's obviously something wrong with you or your relationship.

3. But I didn't buy into all of the social norms, particularly, the one that says that the entire burden of responsibility falls on the man (in a heterosexual relationship). I also don't think the proper way to celebrate or acknowledge Valentine's Day necessarily includes chocolates, candy, and flowers. Although having a more restricted sense of what the holiday entails would be so much easier.

4. Instead, there is now lots of ambiguity. Nobody is really in charge (unlike birthdays, in which case the non-birthday-haver should take more responsibility for planning). There's no specific script to follow -- buy a gift, buy no gift, go out, stay in. And if there is anything I have discovered about myself (or that has been discovered onto me) in the last few years of living, it's that I deal with uncertainty very poorly.

5. So all in all, my feelings about Valentine's Day are mixed. Even more so because of all the newspaper, magazine, and blog articles about how to celebrate Valentine's Day without breaking the bank (given the economic crisis and all) suggesting that a really great way to celebrate Valentine's Day on a budget is to "Make your partner a home-cooked dinner." Because it'll be really special and all. Maybe it would be more special if I didn't already do that five times a week.

I think I would be much happier back at one.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The story of my Kindle

I bought myself a Kindle back in June as a graduation present, and as something to make the train rides to work a little faster. I really liked it, basically for all the reasons people were supposed to like it; and then I broke it.

It turns out that "forgetting that the Kindle is in your backpack and thus throwing it over a fence" is not covered by Amazon's warranty. Yes, I was also surprised to learn this. It also turns that replacing the screen is prohibitively expensive, so I went back to paperback.

But now there's a Kindle 2, and I have to decide whether I'm willing to risk another relationship with a beautiful but fragile device. It seems like it's better than the Kindle 1, but not fundamentally different. Same price, specs improved by ~20%. Since I loved the first one, this seems like it ought to be a good thing; but I was still hoping for something... new.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

a nearly empty nest

When we found out one of the two female rats we'd adopted might be pregnant, we had no idea what we were going to do. When 12 baby rittens popped out, we still didn't have a clue. Overall, I've discovered that Facebook was pretty useless, and Craigslist pretty good, for findings baby rats new homes. Now we've got just one little guy left (schedule to be picked up this weekend), and I feel both relieved and a smidgen glum. When I separated the baby boys from the girls (at 5 weeks, to ensure no more accidents), the girls' cage seemed so lifeless and sparse.

I hope we raised the rittens well. I hope they make others happy and enjoy their lives.

Monday, February 2, 2009

good things

I played tennis four days in a row. Thursday -- class at Central Park. Friday -- practice match with Harish, Chris, and Lisa. Saturday -- 7.0 mixed league in Redwood city (6-2, 7-6) and today's 8.0 mixed in Burlingame (unfortunately, 1-6, 4-6 and Alex watched us get crushed). Concurrent with my rediscovery of tennis I have also had the first time discovery of pain to the back of my right hand. Initially I associated the pain with a past wrist injury. But then I realized it's in a totally different spot -- not the wrist. This is good because the previous injury prevented me from playing altogether due to pain. The current injury just produces pain when I hit shots a certain way, like when I try to add a lot of wristy topspin to my backhand.

Yesterday and today I decided to take some Tylenol before my matches. I think it helped with the pain. Specifically, I didn't feel like I was hitting shots in such a way as to minimize pain. Instead I was just hitting the shots that seemed like good ideas strategy-wise. I think that's the way to go.

I worry about overdoing it though. I guess what I wonder is whether it's reasonable to play through the pain, and the pain is just a sort of nuisance. Or whether the pain is trying to tell me something, like "Hey, lay off the tennis a bit." I worry that by continuing to play I might be worsening the condition, or worse, causing some permanent damage. For now I just hope (perhaps too idealistically) that the pain will go away on its own. Because I'm not yet an old person.

I have enjoyed playing tennis. I feel like my doubles game is getting better, and today I had quite a few decent points at the net. I'm excited for the rest of the season's games.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

free car wash

I moved my car onto the street in anticipation of rainstorms and a free car wash. I did not anticipate that this might cause birds to deposit poop on the front windshield of my car.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

how the rain sounds

The sound of rain falling on the roof at night is wonderful. It is improved if I have a hot cup of tea or am tucked into blankets. It is degraded by the sound of traffic that whizzes by. I remember falling in love in an unusually rainy winter in L.A., and the sound becomes magic.

Monday, January 19, 2009

rats are kid pets

I have been thinking about how I have this perception of rats as being kid pets. You don't think of grown people as having pet rats, really, unless they are the sort of person with characteristics that make them seem not quite fully adult. Before we ended up having rats ourselves, the person I had most recently encountered having rats fit this stereotype. This guy with rats had a dark room with shelves full of board games and card games, and his house had fantasy art (like, D&D style) on the walls.

I think the thing about pet rats is this: they are a non-committal sort of pet. A convenience pet. A trainer pet. A pet that is not a burden, because rats don't live very long. You are making a 2 or 3 year commitment when you get a pet rat. A cat or a dog will probably be around for 10, maybe 15 years. I know that this is at least one reason we got rats -- because one member of this two-person household said that he did not want to rush into making a decision that would last 10 or 15 years.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about this idea of investing in things (in a non-monetary context) -- primarily relationships, but also things like work and leisure activities. I have also been considering the notion of "You get what you pay for." I think the principle applies to rats as pets. I think that the short-term commitment / minimal investment involved probably reaps proportional rewards. Rats don't ask for much, but they probably don't give a lot back either. Although I like our rats and appreciate that they display sociability and intelligence, I don't think the emotional rewards and relationship is comparable to long-haul pets. Of course, even if they were, I'm not even sure I would want to become so deeply attached to something I know is only going to live for 2 years.

Friday, January 16, 2009

belated resolutions

Two weeks into the new year, and I am finally getting around to coming up with some new year's resolutions. Better late than never, right? Which brings me to the first one...

1) I will do important tasks before the last minute (or beyond). Mostly, this goal has to do with creating self-imposed deadlines for those tasks that are not urgent but are important. It is particularly applicable to tasks which I perceive to be onerous. In order to ensure that tasks are done in a timely manner, I will create checklists with small, specific actions that should be accomplished in order to complete the task or reach the end goal. Fulfillment of this resolution will allow me to be less anxious, more relaxed, and feel less guilty. The quality of work I produce will also be higher, and I will be proud of what I have done.

2) I will not go two days in a row without some sort of physical activity. The standards for what counts as physical activity can be lax -- a 20 minute walk, 10 minutes of jumproping, 500 jumping jacks, 3 sets of push-ups. But there should be some exercise every day, or at a minimum, every other day. This will improve my general well-being. My mood will be better, since exercise is a known enhancer of mood. I will be more alert because of the oxygen circulating through my body. More generally, this is also good for health.

3) I will not drink soft drinks. When I am looking for a little caffeine boost, I will drink tea instead. Bored? Water will do. This will help me not to feel bloated, as sodas sometimes cause me to. Also, my teeth won't decay from all of the acid, like those teeth kids use in their science fair projects about soda pop.

4) I will be thankful for what I have rather than dwelling on all the things I want. I will get rid of the things that I have but don't need. I will be okay with giving or even throwing these things away if necessary. This will make my life better by making my living environment less cluttered (me, more relaxed). It will reduce the hassle of constantly having to deal with the extra stuff as it takes up space and collects dust. In the future, I will not have accumulated so many things that they become a burden. This also includes being thankful and not critical of not-so-tangibles, like relationships, family, being employed, and nice weather.

5) I am going to read the books I have purchased but not read. I am going to spend more time reading books and less time reading blogs and the news online. It's not that I have anything against blogs or online news, but I think I do it in excess. Blog and news reading is shallow and frenetic, whereas reading books takes focus and is deep. I think taking time again to read books will help me become a more focused person. Also I won't feel like I have wasted my money to just have books that take up space.

6) I will blog even when I don't feel like blogging. I will remind myself that my future self will wish that my past self had been the blogging sort.

I opened the windows to change the air, and it is loud outside.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

going out

Today I managed to leave the house and make it to the grocery store without my purse. My purse, which contained my wallet. The wallet that keeps cash, credit cards, and generally, means of purchasing groceries. And I had been so proud of myself for having remembered to bring my re-usable grocery bags.