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Thinking about the sum of reasons which accumulated to determine that Lewis and I landed in California, not Washington, when we repatriated from Cambridge.  When your life is in the moment, it always seems as though there is a single, clear path by which order proceeds.  Only in retrospect do I realize how many degrees of freedom were available to me, all unseen.  I’m not displeased to have become a permanent Californian, but I’m surprised that this appears to be the case.   When you get right down to it, the reasons we’re still here are quite mundane.

  1. We were getting married in Davis, a few months after returning from Cambridge, partially because my parents had moved away from Seattle and it seemed harder to get stuff done there than somewhere we had a representative living.  It was also cheaper, and we had (collectively) more California friends and relatives than Washington ones
  2. Also because my parents left Seattle, there was no real support structure there when we arrived.  No place to stay while we got on our feet.
  3. When we started looking for jobs, looking in the Bay Area was easier than Seattle since you can drive there for interviewing purposes, and Lewis was familiar with the area since he grew up in Oakland
  4. All our stuff was in Davis, since we had driven the U-Haul here after graduation, in part to drop off Lewis’ (dad’s) car back where it belonged, and in part because it was closer and the Lawyers had space for our stuff

I suppose what it all really comes down to is that mom and dad left Seattle, and without them there to lean on while we found our way in the world, we didn’t have anything promising there.  I turned in my Washington passport for a Californian one for the same reason so many other people are here – the lure of opportunity that seems wanting in your home.

California is a lovely place.  It seems trite to even bother assessing a place of so much plenty on these terms, but the truth of it is, California is a lovely place.  A nice place to live, to work, to experience, to find yourself.  It’s so open, so accessible.  I don’t know if moving to most livable places is like my emigration here, but it’s nearly flawless.  We have our jokes, the things you have to attenuate to so the locals are appeased.  The hills are golden, not brown.  We have weather, it’s just not like your weather.  You can never have too much rain, it’s good for the crops.  Never, ever call it San Fran – and let us never again speak of Frisco.  Here in NorCal there’s only one City, even if you live in or near other metropolitan areas.  (It took me a while to get over that one, though I realize that all us Seattle metro kids always called Seattle “Downtown”, even us South Enders who were so much closer to Tacoma’s bleak downtown.)

In Davis, if not everywhere here, there’s an abounding optimism about life.  The city puts so much stock in livability, in a city for everyone to enjoy.  The attention paid to bike transit never fails to astound me and adds immeasurable quality to every day life.  I love that the bike path is full of runners and dog walkers and stroller ladies and kids biking to school every morning.  I love that everyone I pass says hello, and that even the disaffected youth aren’t getting into any more trouble than smoking pot in the arboretum.  I love that even when it’s really, really hot, the weather is dry and bearable.  I love that we get torrential rain throughout winter and spring; it’s good soup weather, and ones life should always be amenable to soup.  I can’t even express how much I love the adjacency to produce we have – I don’t know if I could live anywhere that didn’t have fresh peaches and pineapple guava and figs all summer, and squash and kale and carrots all winter.  And while I’m on the topic, let me mention what may be my favorite place in all of Davis:  I love the Co-op.  The Co-op embodies all of my favorite things about Davis and Northern California, from its social protests of Israeli goods to its cooking classes for kids, to its deep community commitment and its quirky but lovable staff.

Despite this all, I can’t help but feeling there’s a piece of me wandering the trails up north.  It’s the quiet, introspective, spiritual, hermetic me.  The shy version of myself that is checked out and disengaged and ready to process input without bias.  Maybe that’s just the feeling of my own naiveté having been left behind at a specific point in time.  I can’t help but feel like I went out for milk and never came home again, leaving all my baggage and memories and sentimental items in some abandoned apartment.  And this Californian me sometimes just yearns to be whole again, and to make use of all those lessons about life I had learned.  (It’s amazing when you realize all the things you thought were codified parts of your parents’ life strategy were just ways of passing time and pacifying bored kids).

We’re vising for a few weeks this summer, and I think we’re going to camp on the peninsula on our way up.  I’m half afraid I’m going to go native.  I’m going to pitch that tent in the Hoh and you’ll never see me again, even with the lure of your organic fruits and sunshine.  Well, except my dog will be in Davis, and the thought of his sad little brow waiting for us to come un-abandon him….  I guess I should add that to the reasons I’m still in California.

5.  My dog is still here.

smearing sincerity

This mental space is comforting, maddening, disturbing.   An item attempting to leave orbit with no way to judge the amount of fuel it takes to leave orbit, I’m seizing anything flammable and throwing it on the pyre.  I can only pray my resources and stamina can outstrip physics, and only then will I know whether my craft can even survive the atmospheric pressure.

The future is so tangible I can feel its inevitability and irrealis in even my most mundane actions.  My advisor has been slice time corrected and smoothed and sits before me the concatenation of every time sample simultaneously existing in the moment and serving as the culmination of decades of his actions.  His purpose is realized in the fomenting of my labyrinthal crusades, and it could not have been otherwise that he exists in this moment to give me sphinx-like hints to this quixotic riddle.

My erstwhile mind fixates on my own past, my foibles, my inconsistencies, my unworthiness.  I’ve been mentally tidying, mending this dusty web of acquaintance.  Apologizing for pains I’ve caused is ultimately futile, but somehow any end is better than a loose one.   I move from situation to situation, compulsively regurgitating agonies I’d swallowed in vain hope to rid myself of them.  My social failures dog me, but hopes of reconciliation and restitution have been long vanquished.  Failing toward forgiveness I find only my prostrate shame discarded, the detritus of accumulated actions and reactions no longer relevant to the narrative.

I rouse myself from these seemingly precambrian delusions only to discover I’m entrenched in the same mundane reality I ever have been.  Reading accumulates, papers get procrastinated, I impress, aggravate, avoid the same people in the same places, and I remember to walk the dog.  The inconceivably numerous voxels of reality concatenate together to form an interminable rope from past to future I am bound to follow.  Free will somehow remains: enduring, wieldable, oppressive.


Just got back from an excellent show – managed to get tickets to the house show David Bazan was playing here in Sacramento.  It’s a nice concept – only a handful of tickets given out so you can see him play in someone’s living room, who hosts for free, presumably.  Anyway, good crowd, good vibe, good set.  I’m feeling lucky to have gone, though looking forward to seeing him in a few months at a bigger venue, too.

Seeing a good show always makes me want to relive my life 10 or more years ago.  There’s a wonderful sense of escape I get at a show I get nowhere else.  I think this is what film buffs get going to movies, or some such.  Anyway, there’s a tangible feeling of bliss that settles in me when a band is good, and there’s really no external thoughts polluting my moment.  It’s not often in my life I find a place where I’m free from worry, but concerts do it.  I think most my happiest moments growing up were at shows, with or without my posse, or with my band.  I want to dive right into it again, after a night like tonight.  Sitting on that floor, I was planning how I could force myself to go see more bands in Sac and get some of that back, though knowing the whole time that it’s a futile effort.  Until I feel free and rich, going out to shows must be an extravagant luxury, both mentally and monetarily.

I should have been keeping track of every time I’ve seen Dave Bazan.  It’s uncountable now, the total number.  I can think of at least a handful of different venues I’ve seen him in – this house, now, the Independent, the Bottom of the Hill, Bumbershoot, a teen recovery center in Bellevue once… the RKCNDY?  I miss the RKCNDY.  I tried to find pictures of it online the other day, only to realize that there aren’t many (save this tag set on flickr),  This means that the RCKNDY, like so many other formative things from my childhood, exists functionally only in my mind.  Like my childhood home(s).  Like Teriyaki.  Like Marbletop, and the Java Jump, and 2nd Time Around, and the Fremont Sonic Boom.   And these days, even like my best friend.  I know life moves on, but I wish I had, at some point, realized that I was trading a new world for my old world.  I thought I could have my cake, and that the plate would still be there when I got home.  Turns out, even the house is gone.

Mana reqsisqani

The quarter is starting to get to its feet over here.  I’ve had all my classes save one, my neurolinguistics seminar, which I’m rather looking forward to tomorrow.  Monday was a bit more harried than I anticipated, as the professor I’m TAing for wanted us to hold section.  This is rather unorthodox for the first week, let alone the first day!  On the bright side, he also is in the habit of preparing exercises in advance, so there was not much work to be done in that short preparation period.  Section is required for this class, and as such it was completely packed this week – not a single spare seat in the house.  Teaching in cramped conditions is a little difficult because the room gets hot, and the kids are a little less apt to volunteer in a large class.  Last quarter I averaged something like 10-15 students in my non-required sections, and yesterday I had about 30.  It’s slightly ridiculous, and I think slightly unnecessary to have required section attendance, but on the other hand, this class is also going to be a fair bit more difficult. Other than a bunch of TA stuff, I only have Quechua on Mondays, so it works out nicely to have several low-stress hours of class attendance and then just one hour of teaching.  Very nice indeed.

Today all I had was Phonetics, which I fear is going to be equal parts trying and inspiring.  It’s taught by the professor I TAed for last quarter, who is the most laissez-faire professor I’ve seen.  We have no syllabus, no book, no readings, no homework, and no real expectations for our term paper.  This is nice, but it also means he teaches the class with the expectation that none of us are really learning anything, or even want to be there.  He told us this morning that he expected us to attend class “at least 51% of the time”, which I know is a joke, but sets an odd tone for a graduate seminar.  Graduate students don’t skip class – we’re putting a lot of our lives into being here, and we tend to be rigorous and reliable students.  We wouldn’t have been admitted if we weren’t!  For all that, it’s still going to be an interesting class.  We’re doing acoustic phonetics exclusively, and it’s a subject that’s one of my secret loves.  I feel some days like I could have been a phoneticist in another life, if acoustic phonetics had been taken seriously by our Generative-minded undergraduate department.  As it’s not really part of the Generative research paradigm, it wasn’t actually taught at USC.  What little of it I’ve done (which is more than most, admittedly) was from my very favorite professor, an adjunct who USC didn’t hire and who was teaching Intro Phonology, though he was in fact a phonetician.  I got a big kick out of reading spectrograms, and he inspired me to be a linguist.

Sometimes I look back at those days and I see what it was that got me inspired about linguistics and linguistic research.  If I hadn’t continued to bark up the phonology tree (though each class after his was somewhat of a disappointment), I certainly could have ended up as a phoneticist.  There’s a lot of room for phonetics in phonology, actually, particularly in the cognitive science approaches.  I think all three of these things converge in some way, if for no other reason than both being concerned with scientifically describable data with direct language interface.  In other words, both cognitive science and phonetics are among the very few contact points of hard science (biology, physics) and language.  Typology fits into this picture too, if you think of it as an offshoot of applied statistics interfacing with evolution, biology, migration, what have you.  Typology is an interesting grab-bag of domains, which I think takes a particularly large mind to grasp and is probably why Lewis is well suited to it.  It’s like majoring in world history.  The world is a large place, with lots of history, affected by an inconceivable number of factors, and those who can synthesize that knowledge are laudable.

My brain feels flushed with thoughts of career.  And today, I’m feeling determined to be a straight-backed eyes-forward engaged-in-my-life sort of individual.  This happens to me less than it ought, but if there’s anything less useful than being a defeatist by nature, it’s feeling defeated about being a defeatist.  I’m not getting much work done today, but I’m determined not to let it get the better of me.  I’ve been to class, finished my Quechua homework, emailed all my potential referees for the internal fellowship application whose deadline is coming up, and I even found time to blog.  I’m prepared for tomorrow, and I’m not going to feel swamped or behind on anything though I am, at turns, both.  Today, I do what I can, and revel in the very success of doing.

Days of Future Passed

It’s odd, to age on the internet.  I went back to read my livejournal anniverary post today – the first post I have on this very day, but 8 years ago.  Perhaps I’ll post a snippet at the end here tonight.  It’s from a very odd time in my life. I wonder sometimes if this quixotic little adventure I’m on trying to semi-regularly blog my ridiculous graduate school foibles will end up standing the test of time.  Where does it all go, when I stop paying for this domain?  When becomes passe?

There’s an amazing amount of time.  An incomprehensible spread, like taffy, effortlessly but enduringly covering every moment of every life.  I read a paper from 1988.  Lewis call is “old school”.  I counter: “..not that much older than what I was reading yesterday”.  I was five, in 1988.  I was in Bellevue.  I was in Kindergarten, at Sunset Elementary, and I was in class with my not-quite-yet-best-friend Bryanne.  We were the English Kindergarten, not the Spanish Immersion next door.  Those kids were strange.  1988.  Soundgarden released Ultramega Ok.  Chris Cornell was already a grownup.

My sister was 15… and dating, or almost dating Lonnie?  One of my first memories of Lonnie was the feeling of absolute mortification and instant regret after playing a game of jacks in our entryway.  Instead of bouncing the ball on the floor, I bounced it off his forehead.  I thought he was going to find it funny, but it must have hurt, because I think he got kind of mad.   It was one of those lessons you learn as a kid – actions have consequences, and sometimes the things you do hurt other people, even when you only mean to be having fun.   Around this same time, I have my first memory of disappointing my Dad.  Mom was out somewhere that night, and just Dad and me were at home, so he was responsible for getting me into bed.  I remember it was bedtime already, and he asked if I had brushed my teeth.  I hadn’t, but out of some feeling of insolence, I sort of proclaimed proudly that I hadn’t, and he was pretty mad.  I rushed upstairs and brushed my teeth pretty quickly thereafter, but I remember being worried for a long time that I had let my Dad down, and that I should do what I’m supposed to do without being asked.  Funny how long these things stick with you.

The further I get from my childhood, the less it makes sense to me.  I took so much on faith, that life is how it is, and it’s normal, and everything is okay.  Now I wonder – is life how it should be?  Am I the way I was meant to be?  What if I’m messing something up that I don’t even realize, because I haven’t learned one of those ball-to-forehead sort of lessons?  I know you can’t think your way out of this.  But I feel like I have to loosen my grasp on some things I had held dear.  I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up.  I’ve got this idea in mind lately, that I have upheld my end of the bargain, but that there was no contract, and nothing to be followed through upon.  It’s pervasive, and it permeates most my feelings about growing up these days.  I feel like I was a really naive girl, who wanted to believe in the the best of everyone.  And I’m slowly starting to realize that the adults in my life kept me in this state of unknowingness because it was the nicest place to grow up.  But that I grew up, and now I don’t understand why everything seems so different in retrospect.

Case in point lately:  my brother.  I only have two siblings, which are in reality half siblings.  It was a point of pride in my life that, to quote my Mom’s mantra about the situation, my siblings were “real siblings to me”.   I don’t have any full-blooded siblings, so I honestly don’t know what the difference would be anyway.  So I grew up with this underlying assumption that my siblings are my siblings are my siblings.  And that even though my brother and sister have other step- (and maybe half-?) siblings, they were sort of inconsequental, because the three of us were The Family Unit.  So my brother, like any real brother, would want to stand up for me, to protect me, to guide me through life… to deal with me, at all.  Turns out, my brother doesn’t like me.  Turns out, he maybe doesn’t like anyone.  But I’m pretty sure, standing from where I am now, that my brother never thought of me as a real sister, as a real part of his life, or as anything more than the kid his mom had to replace him.  I know he’s fucked up, so maybe this isn’t all his intention.  The feeling stands though:  when people ask if I have any siblings, do I still tell them I have two?  What does it mean to have a half-brother you thought was an enduring force in your life, who it turns out you’ve seen less of than some of your cousins?  And who doesn’t seem to regard your existance as noteworthy at all?  I haven’t even seen him in five years.  I haven’t spoken directly to him since… I can’t remember when.  We had one nice conversation once after he got out of the Army.  So I must have been in… high school?

I degree from the point. What I’m attempting to pontificate on is the fact that bunch of seemingly fundamental things that formed the basis of how I viewed life seem to have been good faith assumptions based on what things the people around me told me were true.  And I’m filling with this creeping sense of injustice I’ll eventually have to let out, or somehow get over.  Maybe these were feelings I was supposed to deal with 10 years ago.  In some ways, I think I must be as naive as ever.  But I just don’t see how I can progress in Life (big “L”) without figuring out whether the fundamentals of my outlook are sound.  And they’re not looking very sound.

I’ll sign off with a quote from my past self.  Context:  this is me, in my senior year of high school.  I’m living in a hotel, because my parents have moved to a different city, but wanted me to finish school in the same place.   I’m about to take the IB French test, and I think I already know that I’ll be moving to California in August to go to USC.  My life is basically filled with being an honors student, and trying to date an exchange student, which is going pretty shittily.  But I am surrounded by good friends (Tiffy, mostly) who are keeping me bouyant and I’ve got my eyes securely locked on the future.  This was my May 14th, 2001:

I’ll keep this short this morning.. partly because I need to bust out to get to my test, and partly because I dont remember what really happened, and what I dreamed.. but I just had the strangest night..

I guess about 1:30 some random girl screamed in the hallway, and woke me up.. I gave it a big, “what’s this for?” and went back to sleep.. and then someone randomly decided that they wanted in my room and kept trying to open my door, so that really woke me up.. on top of that someone kept going in and out of their room and the doors in this place make the biggest loudest closing sound.. so all of this caused me not to really get any sleep after 1:30 which is bad, because i was planning on being very rested for this french test.. but oh well. After that I just kept dreaming about all this weird stuff.. girls getting kidnapped and people trying to barge into my room.. it doens’t sound so bad on the LJ but I was sort of disturbed…

but it all really worked out for the best, because my alarm wasn’t set and so after spending this whole sleepless night i was like, “hey, i should be getting up.. where’s my alarm?” I guess being tired is the price i’ll pay for being awake. bleh. i need to get outta here…. but not before i say, “bonne chance!” to myself :)

It’s okay, past Laurie, it all works out.  And you did pretty good on that French test, despite the weird day.  In fact, you remember that French test much better than you remember this odd night.  So no need to fret.