synthetic zero


August 31, 2007

I made a big announcement today of a sad thing that has been stressing me for months. However, people tried to talk me out of it. I've decided to take some time off to consider it again, more carefully. I wish I could see a clear way forward; perhaps one will emerge, but perhaps not. If not, that's okay --- sometimes things fall apart.

August 30, 2007

Katharine tells me she is really getting into Simone Weil, and highly recommends Waiting for God. It's interesting that Weil was never baptized despite being strongly attracted to Catholicism; she apparently explains why she didn't do so in that book. Meanwhile, today, at dinner with Sue, Lilian, and Jim, the subject of Mother Teresa came up --- apparently throughout her life she was waiting to hear from God and never heard anything --- she went through spiritual adviser after spiritual adviser, and none of them helped her. It seems a very sad story to me. These two cases illustrate for me both the beauty and the failings of the Catholic Church... that is, in spiritual terms, not even thinking about the scandals. On the one hand, the symbolism of the Church is extremely powerful, and if you have had a breakthrough and understand something of what every major spiritual tradition is attempting to convey, then one can find both solace and truth in the Christian approach to spirituality. On the other hand, however, it is so easy to go wrong when taking a simplistic or literal interpretation of the Christian scriptures; thinking that the idea is that God is an external being, or taking up a simple, dualistic viewpoint of good versus evil (which is in fact moving away from what one might call God, not towards), or thinking that prayer is about talking to someone rather than being in direct relation to Being ... so many ways one can go wrong, and miss the mark, and live ones whole life, as apparently Mother Teresa did, without ever having the satisfaction of seeing or understanding the real point of spiritual practice. It's not talking to some far away being on a spiritual telephone. It is realizing that Jesus was not just one guy who lived 2000 years ago and died for our sins --- Jesus was and is everyone, you, me, and every other person, without exception. Jesus didn't save us 2000 years ago when he died on the cross --- that is a view of time and events which completely misses the point. We were all already saved, before that event, and you don't have to be Christian to be saved. Jesus dying on the cross was one powerful moment in the history of our civilization, but it wasn't an event in time that saves people: that event was simply a gesture towards something that was always the case, outside of time. As Simone Weil puts it, one can think of all beings as in some sense existing temporally as a movement away from the perfection of God; but as Buddhists would put it, we are all coextensive with God (the Dharmakaya), the ground of Being, from the beginningless beginning. That truth is both revealed by the life of Jesus and obscured by the story and mythology of Jesus, in ways that are both profound and tragic. Profound for someone like Weil, but tragic for someone like Mother Teresa.

August 29, 2007

Another site recommendation from Alyse Emdur: iheartphotograph.

August 28, 2007

Overheard at dinner, shouted at the other end of the table by an enthusiastic and energized coworker: "There is a direct causal link between Kafka and Garcia-Marquez!" Don't know what the context was but we all enjoyed it.

August 27, 2007

Check out McCloud's new project. McCloud is radical.

The PS3, it turns out, is an excellent Blu-Ray player as well as DVD upscaler (i.e., it scales regular DVDs to HD resolution beautifully). Apparently, last month, Sony's sales of the PS3 have skyrocketed due to a $100 price cut (which may be temporary, from what I have read...), but also perhaps because people are finally realizing it is a better value as a Blu-Ray and DVD player than it is as a game machine. I bought one primarily so I could own a copy of the stunningly beautiful series, Planet Earth.

August 26, 2007

Today did a very strenuous, but fun, workout at the Shaolin school I've been attending for the last half year or so; we basically did full-force strikes and kicks into people who were holding these large pillow-like "shields" to absorb the impact. Although I've done a number of martial arts, on and off, for many years, this was the first time I'd ever done anything like this. Chinese martial arts moves are also a lot more intricate than the relatively stylized movements typical in Japanese martial arts, such as the one I used to do (Shintaido); there's a lot more in the way of tricky, complex actions which have taken me some time to get used to. However, I actually like the challenge of learning all these moves, and in particular, I just like this school; the teacher (Thad Wong) has a good attitude: the atmosphere he encourages is relaxed and lighthearted, yet still intense --- a very good combination. Although I am not now and have never done martial arts with the idea of actually using it in combat (it seems to me that if you get to the point where you have to fight, you've already failed) ... still, I've always found martial arts to be an important component of a balanced life. It helps you locate yourself in your body, and in relationship to the world --- it's a good complement to meditation.

It's strange, though; martial arts were, according to legend, originated by Bodhidharma as a way of complementing meditation practice, yet these days, meditation and martial arts have more or less become distinct specialties. Even this branch of the Shaolin school, which is the direct descendant of the Zen temple that Bodhidharma was a part of, no longer teaches or practices meditation; and Zen temples that still exist in Japan do not practice martial arts. But for me, I find the combination very valuable in many ways; an almost essential combination. One without the other can be powerful, but there's something about combining the two which really creates a strong synergetic effect.

August 25, 2007

Alyse has been looking at Diane Borsato's work. She likes to touch and lick things.

August 24, 2007

Let's not forget about Pink Tentacle.

Sometimes women avoid you because you like them too much for their own comfort --- and other times they avoid you because they like you too much for their own comfort. The former is something that men do, as well --- but men very rarely do the latter. I suppose I admire the self-restraint of the women who do this, though it also seems a bit comical ... don't they think they can control themselves? On the other hand, perhaps their restraint is sensible after all; love can be hard to control once it gets to a certain point.

August 23, 2007

I've decided to start writing again every day.

I love European culture, but there's something very powerful about American culture, which I think comes from the fact that we take work more seriously --- perhaps more so than any other culture in the world, except perhaps Japan. Americans don't identify with their work in the way people in other cultures do --- we think of ourselves as doing a job rather than being a job --- but we take it seriously. We work more hours and take far fewer vacations than Europeans --- we stay late when there's a deadline, we innovate new ways of working, etc. Even things like flex time help us work more, not less. It's in a way an unbalanced way to live, so focused on work --- but the upside is we can be straightfoward and pragmatic, which makes it easier for us to take big risks, and create new industries and technologies. Even when we're being playful about work (and we do mix work and play), we are professional: which is to say, the play has a pragmatic element. But then again, play is inherently pragmatic: it has an educational function. That's something Americans understand, I think, better than nearly anyone.

August 12, 2007

Of course, SCO loses again, this time it's pretty much the ball game, in its futile, evil, and idiotic attempt to cash in on Linux.

August 5, 2007

Liz Losh tagged me as part of the Eight Random Facts meme, so here goes, my eight random facts about me. She used her iPod on random play to inspire her to think of random facts; I'm going to use the Random Word Generator.

Networks: When people first started going online, people thought of it as a strangely impersonal, mediated experience; as though someone meeting someone "online" was a bit like meeting someone who was part computer, or somehow flat or artificial. Yet "online" is really just writing + networks ... we've had writing for ages, yet no one thinks of a letter as somehow inadmissably mediated communication. These days, however, that impression has faded --- people now, I think, see the online medium as an extension of social space in a much more legitimate, alive, sense. Most of my life as it is now would not be remotely what it is without the network. The network has, in general, I think, made our somewhat disconnected modern life more like it was in the 19th century --- filled with community groups, social interaction, etc.

2. Defeats: Though I grew up in the US, my parents are both Japanese (one from Japan, one Japanese-American), and I tend to have a lot of Japanese character traits. For example, an American baseball player was spending his latter years playing in Japan, and he said a major difference between American and Japanese baseball teams is the American teams would like nothing better than to totally annihilate the other side, but Japanese much prefer a game that is nearly tied all the way, and then someone barely wins, almost by accident, at the very end. I have a lot of sympathy for that attitude. I don't like to defeat others, at least not by a lot. What's more: in many if not most cases, most people, including myself, become worse after winning, and better after defeat. So why be so eager to always win?

3. Junk: My father said, when he was growing up, his mother would throw out pretty much anything that he or anyone else left lying out for too long. It was a harsh policy but it did create a sense of non-attachment to things, I imagine. I remember him mentioning this when I was in high school and he threw out my beloved Linus doll, which (who?) I used to talk with for hours when I was falling asleep as a young child. I was a bit shocked (though he had been stored in a closet for years by then), but, there was something symbolic in his throwing that out --- teaching me impermanence, in a way. My dad has a lot of good intuitions.

4. Landlord: The world has billions of people in it, yet why is it that so many people I know seem to know other people I know from different places? This happens to me constantly. One of my former landlords, whom I had found pretty much at random, was talking about me to a friend of hers visiting from Minneapolis. Apparently this friend of hers had been a long-time reader of my weblog (which is not exactly read by millions). Or: a filmmaker I had shown at one of my events had made one film where he interviewed a number of people he met randomly on the street. One of the women, it turns out, was an artist (thought he didn't know that at the time), and she happened to be someone I had also shown at one of my events. They met and were surprised to see each other again ... also at one of my events, the one where I was planning to show the film he had shot with her in it.

Maybe the world is really filled with only about 1000 actual people, and everyone else is a dream character.

5. Closely: We have vague words like "friend" and "lover", but it seems to me everyone I know I have an absolutely unique, distinct, and quite difficult to explain relationship with. Sue once told me that she thought every pair of people create their own universe. And even those universes, moment by moment: yet another world.

6. Advertised: My father is an artist but he's never really spent any time marketing his work. He hates art dealers, he says, and thus while some of his friends are famous, today, he himself is pretty unknown. But he's fine with that --- in fact almost revels in it. His friends all treat each other the same, anyway, whether they are famous or not. It's the world that treats them differently. I personally strongly understand the desire for anonymity.

7. Twins: They say opposites attract, but studies show that most happy relationships are between people who are very similar. There is something mysterious about difference --- there can't be an erotic without the unknowable other. But at the same time, aren't we the most thrilled by the prospect of someone who can really understand us in ways that others cannot? Where is the perfect dividing line between sameness and difference when it comes to sex, or love?

8. Appointments: I gave up wearing a watch when I was a freshman in college. I wanted to see what it might be like to experience time in terms of intuition, just feel what I needed to do. The problem, of course, is that these days, clocks are everywhere: on your computer screen, in your phone, etc.