Tag Archives: Transience Divine

Balkan Ballad

I’ve dropped off the net with looming deadlines at the end of this month. But, before the deadlines were scheduled, Flame and I planned a trip to the Balkans, where we are now! Well, we didn’t exactly “plan” it. But we bought tickets, and are figuring it out as we go.

You can follow our journeys as she blogs them at http://ift.tt/1SUn3ZT! There is also a steady stream of Instagram photos (featuring food, scenery, and art, in that order).

Travel plans

It’s going to be a busy six months for travel! I returned to Berkeley after a week in NYC, and in just a month I will be there again. And again in March and May. Between now and June, I will also touch New Orleans, DC, Boston, multiple Balkan countries, and Iceland! (Both of the last have had great sales recently– you might still be able to get $99 tickets to Iceland if you don’t mind being encased in ice.)

In the spirit of Mystery Hunt (except that I’ll give you the month names, so you don’t have to infer them from the month pictures of my shiny new Worlds of Fiction wall calendar), I give you my travels:

Travels planned for 2016

Homemaking

Flame is in Berkeley for the week, celebrating the new year with me and helping me make this house a home! After a whirlwind of IKEA, World Market, and the Alameda Antique Faire, she has transformed the space completely.

Before:

After:

A few items to note in particular:

    • The wall art is from the Antique Faire, a beautiful canvas for $60. ¬†We had to strap it to the car with an ATM sign.
    • The bookcase is a really hip wood and metal mix, and I definitely need more books to fill it up.
    • The Willow lunchbox is from my families most recent White Elephant, labeled “Jim Rising”, so it must have been my dad’s…
    • The cabinet next to it is built into the apartment, one of many beautiful original fixtures.
    • Hanging on the knob of the cabinet is a MIT-Columbia-SusDev pendant which my mom made (Johanna has a Wes-Columbia-SusDev one to match).

A life history in phases

I’ve been struggling to recover my childhood over the past few years. See, my memory contains a profound gap. I recall almost nothing of my life before I was about 12. Since then, my memory and sense of self seems like a continuous thread; before it, I know what others have told me, but it never resonates the same way.

At least, that is how things stood a few years ago. Since my summer quest to better understand my father, I have been chipping away at that wall (or, to keep my metaphors consistent, chipping away at the ledge to give me a stairway across the gap). I have been grabbing onto fleeting images, cataloging together floating pieces, and generally disbelieving that these memories are not mine to share.

Here is the product of my most recent tact. I thought to dissect who I am today as the extension of ribbons that have evolved over my life. Every couple of years, these ribbons take on a new turn– an every 7 they twist into a new core (something I’m due again for soon). The roadmap I have figured out is incomplete, but it goes something like this:

Years Self Community Inspiration Practice
2013-5 World modeler Collaborations complexity coupled models
2010-2 Dev. at large SusDev worldchanging susdev. classes
2008-9 Traveling Dev. Flame social justice TN startup
2006-7 Contract Dev. Rocky traveling signal processing
2004-5 Olin superninja Olin College big ideas education
2002-3 Growing Jimmy SCA human models dance
2000-1 MIT student ESG & Random philo. & learning study groups
1998-9 STEM geek Computer lab college webpages
1996-7 Smart aleck Lowell home self-directed edu. math
1994-5 Slowpoke Lunch gang self-discipline programming
1992-3 Basementeer Moving schools collecting BBSes
1990-1 Sleep-less Redwood Valley Elem. fantasy taking apart
1988-9 James Friends Capella Elem. invention reading
1986-7 Mama’s boy Lutheran school sister problems no naps

There are connections between all of these, which I can’t represent in the table: features that disappear and reappear for reasons complex and unknown. But for all it’s abstruseness, that is my life.

Axial Age: Sessions 0.5 – 1.5

Session 0.5:

Zaidu (Paul), a Mesopotamian army cleric, recently arrived in town looking for an escape from army life.
Vishnaya (Cat), a wandering Persian bard, was doing some entertainment by the new Zoroaster temple.

They both got knocked out and captured near a bottle merchant, accused of abducting a local prince (and generally making trouble in many places), and eventually released to be accompanied by a thug named Zoloft.

After getting plastered at a Haoma bar, they’re on their way to a job interview with the Babylonian deputy secretary for finance.

Session 1.5:

The session started with Vishnaya and Zaidu visiting the Minister of Coffer’s Deputy for Security (Parusiyati) at the palace. He asked them to travel to Cunaxa to figure out why tax requests had gone unanswered, and to take with them an overly curious traveler named Wu Tian. They were told they must leave the city now, and report to the guard when they return. They got a tablet to identify themselves in Cunaxa and another for the guard upon return.

On the way out of the palace, they were accosted by an certain Contrax, offering help and asking them to take a tablet to a noble in Cunaxa.

The group decided to take the overland route to Cunaxa, camping near a forest edge. During first watch, wolves attacked and began running off with bags. The group pursued until a rag-covered man arrived to help the wolves, leaving his last target, a trade wagon. The trade wagon had two passengers, one nearly dead and one injured and hiding. The injured one heard the commotion and went to help, promptly getting killed by the wolf-man. The group killed the rest of the wolves, but did not pursue the wolf-man.

After the battle, they found Karam, an African woman, covered in blood, completely looted, but conscious by the wagon.

Milan Expo 2015

I am now back in Berkeley, enjoying the sun as New York State slowly covers in snow. So to remember my brief time in Italy, I give you some photos.

Coffee Forum finale Milan Expo 2015
Coffee Forum finale Milan Expo 2015

Above is the last event of the World Coffee Forum, with a ceremony of countries around the world symbolically pouring coffee beans into a mixed bag (which we all got a small sachet of). After the event, we were left free to wander the Milan Expo, 12 million square feet of exhibits designed to make a person hungry.

Malaysian Expo site Another Expo pavilion
Malaysian Expo site Another Expo pavilion

Every country had a “pavilion”– or part of one, or multiple ones– consisting of a building constructed solely for the Expo. The pavilions seemed to reflect the aspirations of each country, whether mosque-like Qatar, souring Russia, Poland-the-hashtag, or Korea’s building of robots.

Train in the Milan Science and Tech museum Park Sempione
Milan Science museum Park Sempione

Having seen the Expo on the last day of the Forum, I wandered the city before heading to Nice, visiting the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”, with its building of trains, and Park Sempione near the Castello Sforzesco (deserted, because of a little drizzle).

I went to Nice, France, before coming back, but I have no pictures of it because the rain followed me and drenched my phone. It took the phone a week to recover, but it did.

World Future Day in Milan

Every trip is about something different. And no matter what you want it to be about, life seems to impose its own meaning and expose just what you need.

My trip to Italy has something to do with the future– or maybe past visions of the future and their impossibility. Here are the pieces I’m trying to puzzle together.

For my recent birthday, my mom created a self-declared “box of old books of the month club”, to give me some of my dad’s old sci-fi paperbacks as she prepares to move. I brought with me “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1965”, which the introduction informs me is the first of its kind. The longest story, which I read on the plane, is called “Four Brands of Impossible.”

Also on the plane, after a round of edits on my report, I watched Disney’s Tomorrowland. The movie is meant to be an inspiring reinvigorating of our hope in the future in the face of global problems, but ends up making that vision seem even more ridiculous and inapplicable.

My reason for visiting Italy was to present a year’s work on the future of coffee at the Global Coffee Forum. For many of my results, I had targeted the year 2050. Jeff Sachs, who did the actual talking, just came from securing global agreement on the “Sustainable Development Goals” as the successors to the MDGs until 2030– an incredible achievement– and used his allotted time mostly to discuss these. The Forum was set for the first World Coffee Day, ironically to discuss the eve of the industry’s lean-times consolidation.

At the same time, Milan is hosting the EXPO 2015, a kind of World Fair. Like a 100x scaled-up Epcot Center, every country had its own pavilion, but the exhibits showed a bizarre juxtaposition of the desire to present their modernity of industry next to idealized representation of traditional agriculture. I went into a score or more buildings, but the most popular were clogged with wrapping waiting lines.

For my free day in Milan, yesterday, my top tourist visit was the Museo Nazionale Scienze e Tecnologia. When I couldn’t find an obvious entrance, I went into the building with a 20-foot billboard announcing their temporary exhibit on Space. It turned out to only be the exit, and I would need to enter through their exhibit on the history of clocks (a clear allegory for time itself).

It’s easy enough to distinguish objective reality from meaning, but impossible to distinguish the meaning I experience from my mood. Nonetheless, there is something ironic in this trip. Repeatedly, I see a connection between the future and our only approach to it through the past. The near future is in the process of being made, and it is hopeful: the SDGs, the likelihood of an agreement in Paris, the recognition that better knowledge can produce better action. The point is not that this isn’t the future we envisioned; it was never going to be. The point, perhaps, is that the path to the future is more shoots than ladders.

Gnostic Doubts

A while back, I got very excited about Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Library. I’m stumbling upon more of that world, with a weird coincidence. The roleplaying game I’m making is set in the time of the rising of Zoroastrianism, and its crusade against untruth and error. Then, this morning, I attended my first (and last?) service of the local Christian Science branch, in a beautiful wooden cathedral on my corn. The rhetoric was strikingly similar: Truth is the only reality, and it is unchanging and godly. Matter and the world as we perceive it is unreal and can neither think nor feel.

With the huge caveat that I know very little of Christian Science or the other two, part of me loves this rationalist vision. It quickly leads to a new conception of the soul and God Itself. If the world does not exist as such, then neither do we as such; whatever it is that is not-matter in us is very close to God, and it is exactly that entity that finds Itself in (or at least surrounded by) error. But therein lies Gnosticism’s central problem.

1. Why would God cause there to be error? The Gnostics blame the demiurge and Zoroaster blamed Angra Mainyu, setting a figurehead on the two sides of their dualistic universe. Christian Scientists have no such choice, so the blame falls to mere mortals. Even for the earlier Gnostics, God seems to have basically given Itself a split-personality disorder. Why would It do that, except that It liked it better that way?

2. It seems dreadful to treat all of nature like an abomination. In his writings, John Muir speaks endlessly of the divinity of nature, the wondrousness of its infinite complexity and the vibrance of its multitudinal spirits. To him, the trees are cathedrals, the clouds are cities; he writes that “many other beautiful winged people, numbered and known and loved only by the Lord, are waltzing together high over head, seemingly in pure play and hilarious enjoyment of their little sparks of life.”

And while I’m sure that many kinds of disease are horrible and without mitigating benefits, those are not the one’s I have been lucky enough to encounter. The diseases I know are wise and deep. As Ginsberg says, “Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!”

Perhaps there is only one reality, and error is all around us. But if so, it seems prudent to look for that reality in the infinite beauty that surrounds us.

A Day for Labor

The meaning of Labor Day seems lost on much of my generation. Many take it to be intrinsically ironic: what a funny thing that we don’t work on Labor Day. But of course it is not ironic at all.

The 1% and the 99% are new names for a newly harsh distinction between Capital and Labor. Even my knowledge-worker class is trapped in a cycle of laboring, with 60 hour weeks just to keep our jobs and housing prices chasing away the gains. We are, all of us, Labor.

99% of our days are spent serving capital, and yet we feel lost on the 1% reserved for ourselves.

So I want to live this day outside the cycle. To contemplate and read. To cook eggs and vegan sausage. To enjoy the sun out of doors. To clean a little, but not for maintenance sake. And yes, to work, but not ironically: I will do a little work for Labor that our day of liberty can come sooner.