Another run

Has it really been that long? Have I really been living in Baltimore for almost three years now? When I moved back here in late 2011, I had no real intention of staying, and then one thing led to another, one job to the next, and then I was three apartments in (2 good, 1 utter evil) and settled into routines. Or not quite, I don’t think I ever really found a great routine. I tried a number of things, but ultimately, I don’t think I built up a love and appreciation for this city that could rival those of lives past. I think that was mostly for lack of trying, for always being away, traveling up and down the coast, for always thinking that I would be gone in no time, and better to maintain my distance than build any real lasting ties. There are definitely some, a few people and places for which I will always maintain a certain fondness for in my mind, but overall, I am marred by a quickening desire to get away from here as soon as possible, to move on finally to somewhere new.

And life is really too short for that kind of living: why even bother with reality when we have futures to look forward to?

pinebarrens

But now I am doing both, enjoying my last week here and looking oh-so-forward to all the things to come. I think once I had made up my mind to move on, when plans transition from vague to concrete, then I can finally enjoy life in the present. There is no longer the subtle ill-inducing feeling that I might be doing just this one thing forever. So in a sense, it is not only the beginnings of things which I often anticipate, it is the ends.

My burthen is light

Sometimes, I actually like that universities will assign user handles based on your name. It takes the guesswork and responsibility out of picking a suitable internet handle, one of the most important decisions of one’s adult life.

A most shameful decision I made when attending MIT was to pick a horrible handle: lwang987. So many number, so ugly, and impossible to pronounce in any decent way. I was almost thankful when it expired after graduation.

At Hopkins, emails are assigned based on first initial and last name, plus a number if the handle is already in use. My lucky first handle was lwang69, which after a coy explanation to the IT department over the phone, was silently and efficiently changed to lwang78. Still not pretty.

I was determined, then, upon my enrollment at UW, to acquire a fitting handle, one without numbers and which easily references my actual self. You see, UW lets their students pick their own names. I was once again in charge of my own destiny, but this time, determined not the F it up.

Thirty minutes into the process and I was well beyond exasperated. UW is a huge state school enrolling more than 10,000 students a year. That left no iteration of a popular name like Lucy Wang unturned. Any and every combination of my name and initials had already been registered, leaving me with the sad fate of the trailing number. I even tried all sorts of greek letters and words, but nothing befitting turned up.

I finally settled on lucylw over lucylu, and I suppose I’ll have at least a few years to decide whether I love it or would prefer to bury it in the internet graveyard next to all my other broken identities.

Alignment

I’ve slept on the ground a lot lately.

In April, after visiting UCSD, I took the train up the coast since I was flying out from LAX. I had the intention of meeting up with my cousin (this was a Friday night after all), but a 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit La Habre while my train was coasting through and caused an extensive unanticipated delay. Worse thing was, since I was on a train, I didn’t even feel it. By the time I arrived at Union Station LA, my flight was about two hours away and I had to bus out to the airport. It was after 4 AM and I joined a small number of comrades curled up on the marble ledges for a quick snooze.

In late May, I hobbled up to Keene in New Hampshire for a quick meetup with Soo over Memorial Day weekend. After the bartend at a cute little place called Twenty One (I should have known) dosed me with what must have been a whole fifth of Beefeater (with a lemon rind thrown in for effect), I decided to forego the drive back to Soo’s place and the two of us camped out on her friend’s floor. It was all very reminiscent of childhood sleepovers: greasy food, gossip and all.

And just yesterday, after a few days with a crick in my back, my solution was once again to take to the hardwood.

When I was an infant, my grandmother made me pillows stuffed with hard filling. I’m not sure what it was, some mix of wheat bran or beads. Much to my mother’s ire, sleeping on this solid surface misshapened my occipital skull, and to this day, the back of my head is rather flat. My preference for sleeping on my back is therefore predestined, born out of the desire to minimize energy expenditure during sleep. I speculate that this penchant for back-sleeping is what makes the floor so appealing to me. After all, those several months I spent in China sleeping on an antique wood bed (sort of like these, though I’m not sure why they’re called opium beds on this site) were some of the best for my back: no aches or complaints, no waking up with awkward neck cricks.

But there is something rather juvenile about these actions now. Now, waking up on the floor means I probably stayed out a bit too late, drank a little bit too much, or am in the midst of another horrible leg of some travel itinerary. Haven’t I outgrown this yet? I can already imagine my TCM friends worrying over me, something about those chills you get from the floor, and how even though I’m not feeling it now, these poor choices will come to bite me in the future when I am aging and feeble. What can I do but shrug? We all pick where we give and take, and at least for now, there’s something rather pleasant and nostalgic about the whole transaction. Maybe when we get under-floor heating everywhere, even my more worry-prone friends will be placated.

Redundant times and space

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I am travel fatigued. After these two months of jetting around the States, numerous transfers, red-eyes, small propeller planes shaking vigorously during the entire period between take-off and landing, and unnecessarily rough pat-downs (why is the TSA still allowed to do this?), the thought of booking yet another cross-country flight seriously pulls up a hint of nausea. I know, this is some serious first-world problem syndrome, especially since I’m not even footing the bill for most of these flights (I’ve been interviewing for graduate schools). Traveling on someone else’s pursestrings? I mean, isn’t that one of the more finer pleasures of my life?

But that’s the distinction. I’m not traveling for fun; that’s rather secondary. All these back-to-back interviews are flavored like blind dates, where an explicit decision on my end means entering into a four-year long (or likely longer) relationship with a professor that I’ve spoken intensely to for maybe an hour, at most two if you count all the in-between times, and exchanged a handful of emails with. What if I make the wrong decision? What if I don’t predict correctly?

Then again, when have I ever been all that great at predicting the future? It dawned on me recently (probably because this is the first time in my life when I’ve really been reading the news everyday) that sometimes, news headlines are actually really surprising. Like, last night when I went to sleep, there were just some peaceful protests, and then I wake up in the morning, and the world’s on fire, Putin’s taken over Poland, making my map outdated yet again. That was just a supposition, but it could happen. In fact, it’s not even so far outside the realm of expectation. And that’s it, the uncertainty, how am I ever to know? How can any of us ever know that we are making the right decision? After all, even the slow-moving mass that is human society is prone to unexpected and surprising maneuvers.

There is always the comfort of the status quo, the unchanging present, the skin depth within which everything is predictable. It’s a turbulent world out there, but I suppose the only way to make an impression on that world is to hurl myself out there, one blip on the face of humanity.

Luckily, I’m sitting in an airport right now, so I’m not just full of blithe banter and crap. I’m looking forward to a real vacation at the end (or beginning?) of all this. And yes, I am grateful that I can afford to take a vacation, and travel to beautiful far-off places, that I can coast inside a slender metal tube hurling across the sky at hundreds of miles per hour, held up in the sky by air (isn’t this stuff just crazy?) and fossil fuels, and that on the other end of each journey are thousands and millions of other individuals just like me, living intricate, complex, interwoven, yet completely unpredictable lives. Man, this is getting a bit much–but the world, it really is quite grand, and I’m not ashamed at times like this to wallow a bit in its sublime grandeur.

Jus in bello

Suppose the section from Declaration (IV,3) of the 1899 Hague Convention:

The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions.

…were rewritten as:

The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of ammunition which can pierce and/or do significant damage to the human body, such as traditional cartridges containing metal bullets and gunpowder, and all manner of missiles, bombs, or landmines which target individuals. Combat will instead be carried out using surrogates, which may undertake the form of traditional weaponry. The offender signals the initiation of combat by simulating the sound and recoil of a real weapon. The defender must react to the onslaught as if besieged by a real firearm.

Would the world not be a better, funnier, more peaceful place? Imaging this glock pointed at you, pew, pew

2014-02-22 17.55.13

Would not fear still be instilled in your heart as you recoil, fall to the ground, and writhe in conjured pain as you cry out for your loved ones? The difference is, at the end of the day, you can still stand up, walk home, and be a real human, one that is alive and fluttering with life.

If the Osakans can do it, why can’t the rest of the world??

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WknMhk9J_EE