Monday, October 30, 2006

"How does one lean on God and give over everything to Him and still stand on his own feet as a passionate human being? ... As James said, each person sums up a range of very personal experiences so that his life is a very unique problem needing very individual kinds of solutions."
- Becker, "The Denial of Death"

comic strip

Sense-scape of present experience:

Flocks of crinkled leaves tumble past as I sit in the bus shelter. And to my left, the roads and dirt are suddenly illuminated by the golden, nostalgic light of the sun, which promptly ebbs away. Humming motors and the sucking of air - these comprise the bulk of the soundscape.

Inside the bus, the world is mute, replaced by creaking steel joints and the rising and falling whir of the engine. Conversation among teenage girls: "There was like three people. Oh my god. I have the biggest headache ever. So Brandon was calling me last night. Seriously, it was so annoying."

I do not know the names of the trees, but I can say their colours: ochre, greenyellow, dark plum, and evergreen; mustard, brindle, maroon; dirty bronze, jaundice, mottled brown.

"Oh my god. Does Ava work with him? She always questions me about weird things. What! It's so crazy, like it's so much better than the first one."

Fr Joel is giving his homily on the healing of the blind man. I imagine what it would be like if I lost my sight. Sight is a gift - may I treat it with respect and reverence.

I find myself often playing The Fool ...

"In such a stifling and crushing scientific epoch someone has to be willing to play the fool in order to relieve the general myopia."
- Ernest Becker, "The Denial of Death"

Currently halfway through Becker's "The Denial of Death", which won the Pulitzer in 1974. It's about the fear of death which affects all human beings, whether conscious of it or not. It's well written - a page-turner almost. Great ideas for making sense of life and death.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

FW: Blogger post failed

I have just spent an hour scanning the LinkedIn pages for the University of
British Columbia, looking for familiar names. I found two or three near the
beginning, and promptly sent them invites. The rest of the time was
fruitless; still, going through those names brought back a flood of memories
- of rooms in engineering buildings, dormitory conversations, quiet
discussions in small libraries. It was a whole different world then, more
complex than the present in many ways. I breathe deeply and low as I
remember those quadrangles, those roads, those long walks across the wintry

Friday, October 27, 2006

"All-powerful Father, the refuge and strength of your people, you protect in adversity and defend in prosperity those who put their trust in you. May they persevere in seeking your will and find their way to you through obedience."  — Evening Prayer, Friday, Week I

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Today I had what could be termed a mild argument, a disagreement, with a loved one. But apologies are not necessary, nor regret. As I have learned from Metz's "Poverty of Spirit", these bitter herbs are part of the human experience, and to deny them or apologize for them would be to deny my humanness. So I simply accept, observe, and move on.

The house has its own faint indoor breeze. In my long-sleeved sweater I hunch over a small bowl of steaming microwaved noodles.

Today's work proper is done, but there is personal work to take care of, to spend the rest of the evening on. Or not - I could instead play games or other form of recreation. But for the past week I've been in a pragmatic frame of mind, and so I will work on some constructive activity.

Days are a dime a dozen; they pop up and wither and pop up again like dandelions. I keep needing to remind myself of the mission statement I drew up for my life, to avoid getting swept away by the busyness and hustle. Engineering beautiful software. Cherishing my family. Random acts of heroic kindness. Being conscious of my human journey.

I am the middle of my human journey, jostled by some small stones and breaks in the payment, pulled ever faster forward by some animalistic force, to who knows where.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Humble but steadfast. This will be my stance when working with others.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"We must learn to accept ourselves in the painful experiment of living. We must embrace the spiritual adventure of becoming human."
-- Johannes Baptist Metz, "Poverty of Spirit"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fr Joel is giving his homily on the Great Reversal. Power, service, selfishness.

The funny thing about working from home is that a week can easily go by without you ever leaving the house. It's Sunday, and I love this weather: cool, sunny, the trees a fiery autumn orange. Bus tickets in hand, I'm undecided about where to travel to today. I'm thinking Beacon Hill Park, where I can see the ocean.

I have recently been longing for community, friendship, fellowship with people who share my religious beliefs. Sunday mass at St. Andrew's Cathedral is one of the highlights of my week, but I hardly know the people there - there isn't time for meaningful conversation before or after.

Since much of my life is lived online, it is fitting that online is where I've found spiritual community. I inquired on the Cursillo mailing list if two or three others would be interested in forming a weekly "check-in" group, over email, in which we answer six questions about our spiritual journey. I now have two new friends from Calgary and Houston, and I am hoping this will be beneficial to all of us.

To any Catholic, or indeed any Christian, who has wondered, as I have often, what it means to be a Christian, how the life of one who is a Christian differs concretely from one who is not - there is a nice summary on pp. 8-12 of a Cursillo booklet titled Our Fourth Day, in the chapter "Recapping Your Weekend". I will type it out here if there is demand.

Norris' "Amazing Grace", bookmark: p.120

Friday, October 20, 2006

I cycle through various mindsets. Sometimes I'm in a frame of mind to read poetry; sometimes to write poetry. Sometimes I'm in a spiritual frame of mind; at other times, a commercial frame of mind. I'm in the latter state at present - heavy into my computer programming work, not reading or writing much of a religious nature, on my off hours trying to be efficient with my time, completing errands and personal tasks. So for the moment I'm trying to be an efficient machine. I'm sure the meditative, contemplative side of me will displace the efficient, mercantile side soon enough.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

St. Andrew's Cathedral, 5PM. It strikes me that the form of prayer that works best for me are those read or recited, rather than the spontaneous or extemporaneous. These rubrics that are repeated week after week or night after night become a kind of comfortable house of words in which my soul walks about and speaks with its creator. If I grow bored with reciting the prayers I find that speaking them *more* slowly, more thoughtfully, can bring them back to life.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

We subscribe to feeds because we find what that person writes interesting. If the feed is by several people, it is less successful. I don't think I've subscribed to any multi-author blogs.

But even a single-author blog is too general. We're interested in what the person has to say on one subject but not others. Many blogs are single-author, single-subject, but even that may be a bit too general. We're only interested in what they have to say on a single product, a single idea, a single issue or individual.

The perfect feed would filter by author and idea. Joe Smith + Kensington Expert Mouse. Or many-to-many: [Joe Smith + Dale Jones + Jane Doe] + [Kensington Expert Mouse + Manga + RSI]. Perhaps this is what RollYo does? I'll need to check that out.

Since we cannot find a person exactly like ourselves, we fashion one out of the bits and pieces of the shared interests of many.

Friday evening. Today was mostly work, then personal errands, and I'm now trying to slow down the train for bedtime. The house is quiet except for me tapping on this handheld computer, and mom carrying a ladder to the garage. My mind is hyperalert, my body thoroughly awake, a marked change from the past two days of headache. But I need to slow things down--it is time for rest.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thursday evening. I had a headache focused on my right temple today (and a worse one yesterday). I think it must be a combination of twisting my neck to view my two monitors (I have since arranged them vertically) and the stress of a very tricky software problem (in the end solved with something like a decision table but still pretty tricky with a number of special cases).

Anyway, it is evening now--I'm going for a walk to shake off the dregs of this headache. Buddha the cat sits beside me but isn't touching his food. The air is perfumed--perhaps from the neighbour's bath. I'm going to take it easy for one more evening--no errands, no studying, no dvds, no reading--just walking and thinking while I try to kick this headache.

In front of where I sit are knee-high fir trees--four green ones, three red ones, and two somewhere between green and red. The season is changing and the trees show it. The red ones, dried up, are quite striking in their unusual colour--a daring, grizzled red, and strongly odorous. Perhaps this is the source of the air's sweet perfume. Dead red is best, it is said.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"...theology really happens in relations between people." -- Merton, quoted in Norris' "Amazing Grace"

11:25 PM Back home in Victoria. The work day was calm but long--I expect tomorrow will be more intense. Today was a standard day, with work comprising most of it, some small errands, a meal shared, and then the evening with various errands, things to learn, things to consider. And finally a story to numb the brain into sleep.

But before I sleep, I sit in the dining room, one hand supporting my forehead, as I write, trying to squeeze from my memory some insight or valuable thought from the day. Today I did not do my daily good turn--I want to get into that habit.

" what I have done, in what I have failed to do." --Confiteor

"Do not let us stretch out our hands to evil deeds, nor be destroyed by the insidious snares of the enemy, but bring us to share the lot of the saints in light." --Liturgy of the Hours

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thanksgiving (Canada). I love the smell of the Cathedral as I walk in. It's the warm smell of wood. And during the mass, my favorite places to look at are the painted lines that crisscross the roof, and the celtic rose window high up on the left.

5PM. The southern windows are bright; the northern windows dark. I sit with my mom in the pew. The musician appears, carrying a microphone stand to the piano.

I felt quite lethargic yesterday and a little so today. I'm hoping this Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, away from all manner of computing machinery, will be an efficacious revitalization.

So I close my eyes and notice: the footsteps of oxfords against wooden floors, the ambient refrigeratory hum in the background.

Father Joel is speaking on Jesus' words on divorce. My eyes are unfortunately drooping. But pulling out my pen, my eyes snap awake.

Father Joel is now speaking of the frequent communication that happens in good marriages. "When the hurts come, remember that God loves us first, so do the same."

The people around me are singing the offertory song. Silver clinking shimmers in the pews before and behind me. The priest speaks a prayer during the singing. A plastic wrapper crinkles behind me to the left. The song finishes.

A line forms to receive into our hands a piece of bread which is also mysteriously the body of Jesus. There is a hushed reverence afterwards. Then all stand.

8:15 PM. The tiredness is quite heavy. I am sitting in the lounge at the ferry terminal. Read a couple of chapters from This Alien Shore--it's a good story. Voices fill the room. People conversing, smiling, reading a newspaper, writing intently, sneezing, scratching their heads, shaking a leg, ambling glumly, shrugging seriously, gasping, laughing, singing a snippet of a song, stepping loudly. Writing, I am more awake, alert. Keeping my mind engaged seems to reverse the lethargy.

The lounge is a warm shelter. Warm fluorescent lights peek through the slats of rough wooden planks and iron tensor rods that make for a ceiling. An aboriginal totem god grimaces fiercely at one end of the hall. At the other end is an unwatched plasma screen showing departure times. A seventy-year-old woman clasps her rolled-up newspaper to her lavender jacket as she ambles past. Voices. "The hardest question is interesting--I don't think you asked that." "Do you have to pay for those?" "Another office had the same problem with that woman.." "The bizarre thing is..."

Deck 4 green.

Always this self-pressure to be the best, ever since I was a child. To be the center of attention, the receiver of praises, amazement, and awards. An unnecessary, inefficient, unnecessarily limiting self-pressure.

The next 24 hours loom ahead in my mind. I hope for a comfortable sleep followed by a day of feasting and conversation. What I wish to avoid: a rough sleep, excessive reading, excessive argument, excessive television or other distractions, excessive politeness.

More voices. "Everybody's asleep." "Yeah, well, he knew where to go." "3, 2, 1!" "Did you hear what he said?" "What are you drawing?" "It's part of the experience--figuring out stuff on your own." "C'mon, mom-mee."

9:38PM. Forty minutes into the sailing. Read another chapter from This Alien Shore. We are well into the journey, and have lapsed into reading. I take a moment to take in my environment. I am seated on a foam-filled vinyl-covered cushion with a back of bronze fabric with a cross-hatched pattern. The soundscape has a rumbling base with a faint, high-pitched lining; on top of that is a layer of dialogues, conversations, and exclamations punctuated by a few voices at close proximity. The character of the overall mass of voices has the consistency of jelly--tearable, pliant, thicker than a soundcloud but more porous than a siren or a scream. It is built up of earnest speech, rustlings of paper, prattle, tired murmurs, speech, and spit.

The ceiling has various odd protrusions from its inch-deep gridded surface. The lighting wells have dual fluorescent tubes behind agitated translucent covers. A conical smoke detector blinks its solitary red eye. There is an unused recessed tracklight. And throughout are circular ducts behind offset perforated screens. A man with a black toque and a Choppers sweatshirt leans his head on the doorway, closing his eyes as he listens to

It is time to depart.

"It's all in the code." --This Alien Shore

Soundscape--Tsawwassen ferry terminal marketplace

Buzzing of freezer equipment, tinny music from an overhead speaker, metal boxes sliding on metal rails, the high-pitched whir of a blender, a din of muffled voices, faucet water rushing, paper crumpling and plastic doors shutting, unintelligible voices shouting orders.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

So we have arrived at Sunday again. Outside my window the grey day drizzles with rain.

I could spend the day watching DVDs or reading stories, but that would be unsatisfying. So today will be about reading meditative things, and writing down impressions. Hopefully this process will reveal some grains of truth about my life's purpose.

When my brother and I are in our seventies, and looking back, what will we see? Two lives comfortably lived? He will have a wife and children and grandchildren; I will not. Two lives comfortably lived--is that enough? If every day I do some kindness or generous act or create some noble work, that would be a good life.

"As a poet, I am used to saying what I don't thoroughly comprehend." --Kathleen Norris

I'm resting my back uncomfortably on the slding glass door. The frigid air and the stream of robin and sparrow calls flow into the carpeted floors of the dining room and the mechanical whirring of the refrigerator. It is the border between the verdant, dew-covered outside and the hushed, suspended inside.

Buddha the cat comes and visits, but is frightened away by a sneeze. He has a soft, thick coat and doesn't mind petting.

" rid ourselves of idols, and live in the real world." --Kathleen Norris

I am journeying to Vancouver this evening to pay a visit to my brother for Thanksgiving. It's a long journey of many hours. Ferry and restaurant reservations have been made--how will the day play out?

There will be some quiet conversation when we arrive late at night, and perhaps some television; but I hope to get a good night's sleep (rarely happens on these visits) so I will make sure to bring blankets and a pillow (and earmuffs perhaps). On the morrow, there will be more conversation, perhaps some television, lunch at a restaurant, conversation, hopefully no shopping, and then the journey home. There will be times of togetherness and aloneness, cheerful banter and quietness. I promise myself not to lose myself in books but to open my eyes over the course of the journey, to be fully alive and conscious of these rare sights and places, to be fully present and listening to the people I'm with, whom I so rarely spend time with.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

To be patient, to refrain from finding fault, from ridiculing, from ribbing, even gently; To be patient, yet firm, steadfast, without recourse to anger, yet not giving in, not buckling, nor breaking. Like the wise oak tree which neither bends nor breaks in the wind, nor grows angry or bitter. It looks at the hands wielding the ax, tries to guess at the needs behind them. Nevertheless it will not break itself, will not willingly lie down, but looks with compassion on its tormentor. It is a third way, beyond anger and passivity. It is a quiet dignity.

I wonder if some illnesses come from hate. The anger, the grudge we bury in our hearts erupts to the surface in some frightening ailment. We injure ourselves and we don't even know it.

Today I saw something grotesque and I did not look away. I saw something grotesque, a twisting of the natural order, a caricature of what is normally good and right and whole. I did not look away because I was stunned. I was incredulous, baffled; my reason did not believe my eyes. I was tempted to gawk, to stare, to drink in the strangeness, but in the end I decided to leave.

Friday, October 06, 2006

My will.

This evening the air is noticeably chilly. It smells like the exciting days of school, or evening choir practice, board games at a friend's place, or purchasing something long sought for. It smells like Halloween, or Christmas, or Winter Break--the cold pinches the skin as it always has.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Anger. Today I followed Anger, not for Anger's company but for the company of the one who accompanied him, Steadfastness.

But Anger is violent and gloomy, hurtful to those who travel with him, injurious to those who meet him.

Tomorrow I will foresake the company of Anger. I will seek out Steadfastness and journey with her alone.

Worked until 2 AM last night--the timing was critical--then until 8PM this evening, gradually easing back into normal hours. This evening I take my rest more leisurely than usual--most of the chores can wait until tomorrow--as I recover from the intense expenditure of energy over the past couple of days.

The refrigerator's mechanical breathing hums in the other room. I am filled up from a meal of tomato soup and tortillas. I can hear my mother in a telephone conversation downstairs. My brain is pleasantly numb. Exeunt.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

11:30 PM. Day is nearly done. Worked hard; brain's tired. The comforting hum of the refrigerator fills the air as usual. Eyes ache; I'm looking forward to reading the Neverending Story. This is the cusp in the day, between labour and rest.

Monday, October 02, 2006

How to tell what files have recently changed:
find . -printf '%T@ %p\n' | sort

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Even then, something begins faith--a memory of a reality or of an experience that doesn't quite fit with everything else, the longing a soul has to find its shape in the world."
-- Nora Gallagher, "Things Seen and Unseen"

This would seem to fit what I recently experienced--the deep feeling of nostalgia for my childhood upon watching one of Miyazaki's films. Is this the "longing a soul has to find its shape in the world"? I believe it is--though at the cusp one can direct this energy to either destructive or constructive ends. The easy and unsatisfying course is to channel it into a celebration of the past--expending energy to recall and relive past memories and events. A better way is to turn it on its head and ask: What memories, what moments can I make *now*? Instead of living in a dream world, we make the present world into a dream--we steer reality towards what we would have it be.

Currently quite relaxed. The chilly air gently swirls about me. A cacophony of chirping is above me to the left. Fluorescent pink rose petals draw the eye away from the robust thorns behind them. The coolness is refreshing but also uncomfortable--the sun refuses to disperse its cloudy veil.

The black and white cat gazes at me with incredulity, then looks away, then back--calmer this time, and sated with the dry food I have poured into its bowl.We stare at each other from a distance of ten feet. Its ears and head swivel to meet sudden sounds. The grating of the dear Sunday lawnmower springs to life, and we listen with pleasure. Nothing to do but sit, stare at one another, and wait for the next mealtime.

Cat cries behind me. The sun deigns to appear. Cat's wearing white padded shoes.

A dragonfly noisily flits about, reconnoitering. Palm fronds steady themselves in the wind. The breeze is stronger now, a gentle relentlessness. The lawnmower stops, and an ambient machinelike hum comes into focus--a prolonged machine breathing, like that of refrigeration equipment.

I yawn. I am spent. I return inside to drink from my books.

"Help us to discard all those things that keep us from our true self."
-- Nora Gallagher

True self. The notion attracts me. What is my true self? I believe it is expressed in the fourth part of my mission, the one I had taken out and recently restored: Random acts of heroic kindness. Generous largesse, especially for the underdog--I find that thrilling when I can do it--when I have the means, and the right person comes along who is in need of it. That makes my day.

The sun is now overhead, basking the air around me in warmth. It's almost a little uncomfortable, but I'll take it over the chill anytime. The chirpings and cawings have subsided to a quiet din. I hear the neighbours moving about over the hedge. "Daddy, can I play for a while right now?" "Sure." "What do you want to play, Daddy? Pirates, or Batman and Robin?" "Aye aye, captain."

In the clouds I see: a fish wearing a mask, the glittering eyes of a frowning alien, a PlayStation controller, a winking cat, a coat of arms tilted, Kai the Roc, a cat's face pressed against the glass, the stare of an angry woman.

The air turns hot. I return inside.

Sunday evening. I'm sitting in the dining room; the lights are out. The ambient sound of faraway cars is in the background--I hear a motorcycle rumble past. Behind me the refrigerator slowly inhales, slowly exhales, then whirs to a stop. An otherworldly ringing is in my ears. The refrigerator inhales again.

The air inside is frigid. I resist the temptation to while away the evening in storyreading--no, this day shall be for reading and writing. The story here is life itself.

Police cars in the distance beep and buzz. Beside me is a glass vase of roses--I smell them to check if they are fake. My mind is empty, so I open my book.

* * *

Finished Nora Gallagher's "Things Seen and Unseen". It awakens in my heart a yearning to be a part of some small "extra-curricular" spiritual group. There are a few options--I'll need to check the church bulletin.

Sitting outside is a bit like a game. The sun is pleasant, but after a while becomes unpleasant. So you move into the shade but it is too cold. Inside it is even colder.

Today, Sunday, has turned out to be a day of reading and writing. I have foregone the temptation to lose myself in stories--that will be desert for bedtime, and too much desert too early leaves one feeling sick. So I am supping on the nutrition of meditative reading and writing. It does get tiring, but fresh vegetables too can be tiring, yet the body needs them.

I really am not in a sociable mood these days. Apart from work, I have room in my heart for only a few close relationships, and those are almost exclusively family. For acquaintances my communications trickle out as a quiet, narrow stream of email. How can I fully participate in the world under these constraints? How can I achieve the "random acts of heroic kindness" expressed in my mission? And yet, knowing myself and my energies, I know that this is the right pattern, the most efficient. It is a life more of contemplation than activity, with activity happening, when necessary, in short, premeditated bursts of concentrated energy.

I am sitting in St. Andrew's Cathedral in Victoria BC, third row from the back, in the middle of the Offertory. Father Joel preched about the supernatural life taking precedence over the natural, and the need to "cut off" any habits or behaviours getting in the way.

Reading along in my Nora Gallagher book, it occurs to me that at this very moment I am living while others have died or were never born. I am sitting here in the sunlight, among the scents of a garden and the tweets and chirps of birds. In the sea of overlapping lifespans of individuals, mine is at its midpoint. In honour of the many who have lived and died, I will savor this moment, this hour, this life. I will cherish this journey, while I still walk it.

The journey is strange and wondrous, by turns aimful and aimless. I began it carried on the shoulders of others; I then walked on my own with uncertainty. I am now used to the trek, comfortable with the routine of walking. But I am not yet certain of my destination, or the direction in which it lies. Perhaps this unknowing, this routine, is exactly where I need to be. Like a still pond, sure of itself, still itself when a rock is heaved into it, absorbing the new element, and still itself afterward, perhaps I am to live at peace with the uncertainty, an existential peace rather than one of destiny.

I scanned my Outlook contact list for friends that I haven't been in touch with for a while. Sent out emails to Takeshi Ideguchi, Martin Anderson, and Duane Lecky. It'll be neat to hear what they've been up to.