Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Elsewhere

25 September 2010

Dear J-

They say that you can’t count on people to share your politics or your religion (and I would extend that to include music too) but bear with me as I digress for a minute here. Although we were not a regular churchgoing family (my parents’ preferred church* was twenty miles away), I have developed a sort of religion — not a capital R organized sort of Religion**, but more of a personal stance on the everyday miracles that make me think there’s something intelligent up there pulling strings and putting things straight.

There is of course the miracle of you: of the billions of people in the world, it boils down to two people and of those, there’s any one of hundreds of eggs and millions of spermatozoa that could have combined. The astronomical odds boggle the mind. Might a guiding hand have some invisible influence in the process? I suppose this is how it all starts: people start thinking how and why and before you know it there’s an explanation, a creation story that encompasses what we know and how we count it.

The strange ideas I come up with to explain the world in terms I understand don’t bear much mention except to think of the invisible hand as a sort of cosmic accountant: for something here, we need to take away from something there. In all the wish tales I’ve read, the literal meaning of the wish is fulfilled without regard to the intent, so a birth comes from a soul freed by death, riches taken from something else you wanted; a never-ending cycle of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi. I wonder at our good fortune, worrying about what it must mean for someone else.

Mike

* I think they chose the church they did primarily for social reasons: it was the only Chinese congregation at the time, sermons were delivered bilingually, and the last Sunday night of the month was a potluck where we were regular attendees. The church shared space with the Grace Baptist Church, though we were generally shunted into a small basement room while services were held in the gracious upstairs space. It used to inspire a kind of strange gnawing envy: why didn’t we get the chance to head upstairs?

** My main objection to such Religion are the acts committed in the name of Religion from Crusades to jihad, Prohibition, and everything in between.

Past Perfect

14 September 2010

Dear J-

Last night after class we drove home in the dark: it’s a preview of life to come during the fall, time changes and longer hours are probably going to mean that we leave and reach San Diego without glimpsing daylight during the week. If I was a philosophical man, I’d say that you can’t expect it to be unusual for power plant workers: the nature of the service demands the jobs to run 24-7 and, when you’re not running, 24-7 to get back to running. And from what I’ve heard, where I am now is one of the better jobs for being able to maintain a fairly regular schedule, but they also say that you don’t quit jobs, you quit bosses.

I’ve been struggling to get any kind of quality time stitched together for life after work, whether it’s for getting figgy off to bed (this has turned into an hourlong team effort/ordeal, first to cajole her into getting her teeth brushed*, then to read stories**, and finally singing songs***), reading my own library books (I am always overambitious at the library for fear of running out of materials to read; three weeks is shorter than you think), or studying. Of course on top of that the storage/guest room beckons with project promises: hey, how about getting some hard flooring in here, some color on the walls, maybe a Solatube to keep the gloom out?

I realize that my life is so full right now that work is almost a distraction from the real business of living, and that’s a wonderful place to be. A hundred times I might have to do it differently, but I’d want to be here now; between Kung Fu Panda and the Stargirl novels I’ve had enough digestible philosophy. This resonates, though: the past is history, the future, a mystery, so all you can do is live in the now: the present is a gift that keeps unwrapping.

Mike

* She does some teeth herself, which is semi-helpful, but needs help with others in the back. And let’s not get started on talking about flossing, which generally sets off a chase through the house.

** Here’s where the library has come in handy, augmenting our meager supply; current favorite is Shrek! by William Stieg, but I also like the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, as there is a lot of Pigeon in most kids.

*** theVet handles this part, as my singing is soothing to no one, and besides which I can’t imagine that Nirvana and The Jam would be considered suitable bedtime material.

Red Fish Blue Fish

19 June 2010

Dear J-

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish repeats a few phiilsophical couplets: “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” Today I either had to laugh or yell, and I chose not to yell — I need to keep it up; one day is a start, but one day isn’t forever, as I mean it to be. You choose the humor in the situation, and it doesn’t make any sense to see it any way that would aggravate yourself. Society does enough of that for us, after all.

There’s a more salient section, though:

Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?
Did you ever milk this kind of cow?
Well, we can do it. We know how.
If you never did, you should.
These things are fun and fun is good.

Its one way to raise a sociopath, I suppose — allowing the crazy to run unfettered in the pursuit of fun, and those of you at our local Target might well accuse me of doing just that. I see it as an extension of the dedication phrase — learn to see the fun in anything, everything, and you’re on your way to enjoying life versus complaining about it. So long as she’s not actively hurting other people and not breaking merchandise, I’m inclined to leave her on a long leash. It’s how we learn.

My brother was fond of reminding me that when I was little — so little that I either can’t remember it, or I’ve successfully supressed it — I broke a glass display at one of the fancy stores in Spokane. Keeping with the unreliable narrator theme, I was either horsing around or climbing on it, both of which boil down to the same clumsy cause, but I’m sure I had a good reason for it (I wanted to, or I needed to), just as figgy has good reasons for saying no as much as she does. Stubborn hearts collide in pitched battles; what we seek is not dominance but freedom — to do what we want when we want how we want. That fight begins within, trying to relearn the courage we had at three to let the heart take the lead more often.

Mike

Morning Drive

26 May 2010

Dear J-

Because I had yet another doctor’s appointment today (really, is it too much to ask that I not see him every month for some random follow-up or another — I have been variously diagnosed with various anemias and other deficiencies in the last year since switching to this one, who is nice and reasonable but rather aggressive with the followups) I got to drive myself in to work again, and that always means I’m out with roving eye spotting cars as well. Some of the always-tempting RX-8s were on tap, but it was the new Hyundai Sonatas that were out in force today — I pulled in next to one at the clinic’s parking structure very carefully because I thought it was some sort of exotic European sedan-coupe hybrid (think Mercedes CLS or Volkswagen CC).

It’s bigger than I thought, and better-looking, to boot; if I didn’t have an unreasonable bias against sedans and goofy coupe-roofline sedans in particular, it would make more sense, but it’s a sign of how far — along with the Genesis — Hyundai has come from the days of the Excel twenty years ago. Cars are funny things; you either regard them as appliances — something to get from here to there with as little drama as possible — or aspirations — extensions of who we are, two-ton glass and chrome rolling monuments to our egos. There is some middle ground, but it’s reflected in my mind — keep the one I’ve got, find an appliance, or something that makes me want to drive more.

Having gotten used to driving a car with a failing clutch means assuming no power reserves, no sudden bursts of acceleration, and jockeying for position — looking further down the road than I’m used to — it’s ultimately a humbling experience, but it’s taught me that horsepower isn’t everything for a car, expecially in our Southern California ecosystem. I watched someone bounce from lane to lane today, going progressively more slowly as their desperate maneuvers ended up costing them time — we’re our own worst enemies sometimes. It’s hard to give up excitement for numb appliances, but isn’t it more about our perceptions and assumptions?

Mike

Multiplex Division

13 May 2010

Dear J-

I’ve been thinking about Google lately; if you remember before the browser wars, there were competing search engines all around, from the first efforts of Jerry Yang’s Yahoo! to various spidering sites like Inktomi. The one that I used reliably roughly fifteen years ago was Altavista — this probably because I had a soft spot in my heart for Digital Equipment Corporation, at one point the number two vendor of computer equipment behind IBM and dedicated to going it on their own path — from the semi-PC compatible Rainbow 100 to the speed-is-everything Alpha chips — before being swallowed up by Compaq.

Google changed that; from the first inklings of how broad it was to the fascinating depths it could plumb, it soon became my default go-to engine. When I was little I learned that the term ‘google’ meant the number one followed by a hundred zeroes (1E100, if you rather), and it felt like the secrets of the Internet were laid bare in an unassuming little text-entry box. Although no one’s quite replicated the secret sauce that brings back bushels of hits, the current commercials from Bing are amusingly spoofy: there’s still a lot of work to be done to separate the chaff from the wheat, although a lot of people prefer doing just that.

I suppose that’s part of their success: everyone’s developed their own algorithm to sort through Google results; better to include everything rather than feel as if some robot somewhere is deciding what’s important. It’s funny that we’d accept that, but then again this is the land of super-sizing and SUVs: better to get more than you might need: you’ll grow into those shoes, kid. It works for search engines (as wide a net as you can cast is never a bad thing) but now Google wants to be Microsoft (everywhere, all the time) and I’m not convinced that their corporate motto (“Don’t be evil”) and generic bigger-is-better philosophy is sufficient any more.

Mike

Morning Glory

11 May 2010

“You know what I miss most about the mornings? BREAKFAST,” he offers, as he slides his plate down next to me.

I look over with a touch of asperity; from the size of his gut to the seismic shift as he touches down on the bench, it’s clear that he hasn’t missed many meals lately, or perhaps the reverse is true. Here I was getting my groove on and marking time in my head, and now this metronome of small talk howaya, pleesta meetcha fires off in my ear every few moments.

He goes on: “If I were in charge [… static …] When I ran that project [… details …] Back when I was divorced, the hours I used to put in were immense; my youngest son started to act out because he knew that it would get him noticed. Kids, you know, they don’t see no difference between notorious and famous, and all they want is a little attention.”

The undercurrent of loneliness washes over me; here I’ve been thinking of ways to eke more hours out for work, and wondering why I can’t seem to control life at home. One pushes the other; there are only so many ways to slice up the day’s pie and I’ve been hogging all the best parts for myself.

I remember letting my belt out an extra notch last month.

I remember pushing her away and steeling myself against the cries.

I look over and the resemblance is startling. Again. “You know what?” I rejoinder, “I do miss breakfast and all the quiet hours of the day we spend together. We know how valuable our time is, and we need to invest wisely, don’t we?”

The smile creasing his face is all I need to know.

– Lumic Lutcher

Revision History

10 May 2010

Dear J-

I like to see V1.0 on something — it’s telling me that they’ve gone through some beta testing and believe that now, some important niche in my life has been filled, whether it’s something as prosaic as putting zombies to a final rest or as profound as giving my words license to take flight (although to be honest the Internet is full of self-published cranks like me). There’s real innovation here, and they’ve reached a point where sufficient stabilitiy means that you can get real work done here. The sandbox is open for play, and there’s all kinds of new tools and goodies (or new ways to get things done) that you might not have guessed at before.

I also like seeing V2.0. That’s telling me there’s a major overhaul in the interface or toolset and the capabilities are greater — like early Stephen King, too, it’s not such an obnoxiously high number that the feature/prose set has gotten too bloated (c.f. The Drawing of the Three, still easily the best in The Gunslinger series, to the original The Gunslinger, or the ultimate disappointment that awaits in book seven, The Dark Tower). They believe they’ve wrought useful changes, or implemented their initial-concept wishlists that may not have had time to make it into the first release, this before they’ve had a chance to overthink it to death. I’d almost argue that this is what their vision of perfect would be, the right balance between needs and wants, true to the founding principles.

Where are we at in our lives? At eighteen you’re supposed to be a fully-formed V1.0, at least according to some definitions: ready to make life-changing decisions on your own. It’s a frightening and exciting time, stepping out of the nest and watching yourself change your world. When do we get to 2.0? There’s no specific age, and no definite criteria (no, getting your first Porsche doesn’t count, unless you count it as selling out), and it’s not like we wear our version history on our sleeves. I suspect that many of us muddle through at a 1.x level, incomplete bugfixes based on reaction to stimuli without taking a long-term approach to improvement. But you start by outlining a vision and committment, right?

Mike

P.S. There is no version 42. Don’t even go there.

Wide World

10 June 2009

Dear J-

As the work piles up I keep finding excuses to do other things — finding interesting links out there was something I always thought was the whole purpose of blogs:  a brief comment, a short analysis, and then the link to be shared with the rest of the world.  At different times I seem to pick up different themes; camera gear is an evergreen topic as only an infinite amount of money for the seemingly infinite amount of stuff out there would scratch that itch, but I also find time to look at the work of others.

Part of that has to do with the way they shelve photography books; whether it’s at the bookseller, Dewey Decimal, or Library of Congress, monographs are usually in close proximity to instructions and gear listings, so it’s a natural palate-cleanser to look at various bodies of work.  If you consider that flickr, for instance, regularly increases its collection of photographs by around 2-3000 per minute (that works out to over a billion photographs every year), there’s a ton of photos out there, and most of them are going to end up unremarked and unseen.

A couple of days ago, though, I ran across the World Press Photo of the Year gallery — one photo from all the journalists out there, out of the billions existing gets selected, so it’s a teeny little gallery of approximately fifty shots.  To my untrained eye, they are all stunning in different ways, but I will note that a good portion of them are heart-rending.  We humans are innately visual creatures — I believe it’s our dominant sense — and the photographs allow us to share realities around the world in a universal language.  Petteri has an excellent essay on boring photographs, by the way; it’s one that should be required reading for the next time you’re tempted to dismiss your own work as useless and trite.

Mike

Photographic Memory

25 February 2009

Dear J-

Watch the traffic rolling by and close your eyes; do you hear the whirring of engines, or imagine a busy river?  I like the old story about the five blind men coming upon an elephant, each declaring, with justification, that they’d come upon a snake, tree, sheet, brush, or house, depending on which part they touched.  You would imagine that upon hearing the conflicting information they’d each take the time to verify each other’s conclusions, so that’s why the story adds a little addendum about how crochety and stubborn each one was.  Point is that we see so much and, as our primary sense, we believe it best.

Susan Sontag had some interesting thoughts about photography, including that it grew popular amongst cultures with veneration of long work hours (Germans, Americans, and Japanese) because it provided a pleasant sort of work in leisure time.  On vacation?  Sure, go document x, y, and z and bring back proof in some form.  The old cliche first assignment of “What I Did for Summer Break” is so familiar and trite because we’ve all had to do it at some point — I did a double-take when Godai recalled that he had the same assignment when he was little in Maison Ikkoku, more evidence that the inculcation of a work ethic starts young.

Photography serves as an exact record, in miniature, with less effort and expense than doing your own illustration or painting.  One of Sontag’s assertions is that everything has been photographed at one point, and it leads to a sort of overload where the impact of any one photograph is lessened, whereas when it was practiced by relatively fewer people and photographs were not as readily available, the impact of each was greater.  There’s some truth to it — I am guilty of the kittens-babies-sunsets variety on flickr myself — but in the whole I reject that.  Yes, photography plays up to only the visual sense, but there are so many different ways to depict a scene that the images we take and choose to share are inevitably tied to our own aesthetics.

Different people have different photographic styles, what they call a visual voice; it may degenerate to the form of self-parody but I’m reasonably sure that any number of people would be able to tell an Anne Geddes picture from an Annie Leibowitz one, for instance, or Helmut Lang from Duane Michals from Weegee from Arbus from Weston.  The good photographs tell complete stories with one sense — vision — and between voice, mood, and light, there’s so many different methods of relating experiences that  doubt we’ll ever truly capture all the possible images in the whole world.

Mike

Aquarium Two

4 January 2009

Dear J-

flickr tells me that it’s been almost exactly six months since we were last at the Birch Aquarium (June 2008) and prior to that, eight months (October 2007), which implies that a yearly membership may not be financially justified (especially if they keep up these secret deals — first Sunday of the month free to Bank of America customers?).  Regardless of visit frequency, it’s less about the undersea wonders that await (I suspect that their old octopus must have gone to see the Great Cephalapod of the Sky, as the current resident of that tank is significantly smaller) than it is about photographic philosophy.

You see, when I took pictures six months ago, figgy was interested but not fascinated by the sea’s residents and animals in general, and the pictures bear it out — I’ve got photographs of fish and atmospheric lobster shots (okay, shot) but relatively few pictures of figgy, who spent most of the day in a stroller or strapped to my chest like some sort of two-headed beast out of Total RecallThis time, there are fewer fish shots — and virtually no shots sans people, in general.  I chalk part of it up to not knowing where we would end up prior to setting off, and thus neglecting to bring along a fast lens, but I ended up being glad I hadn’t — I’ll see the fish at other times, and they’ll still be fascinating.  But watching a twenty-month-old figgy laughing at how that silvery river swirls — that’s something that happens, well, once.

around-and-around-9680-sm

So the lens, for all the lenses I have access to (on the Nikon adapter, 15, 24, 35, 50, 55, 85, 105, 180, 300, 400, 600, 80~200, and 100~300mm; on the Leica R adapter, 35, 50, and 60 — it was no joke when I said most of my grad school stipend went up in glass costs), the lens that lives most often on the camera and the lens that consequently has borne the brunt of my photographic ambitions for the past sixty days or so, is an autofocus zoom lens, with no distinguishing characteristic (e.g. marketing-speak for special glass, motors, coatings, heritage, etc.) aside from a few aspherical surfaces:  the Zuiko Digital 11~22mm f/2.8~3.5, which roughly corresponds to being a 22~44mm angle of view on a regular 35mm film camera.  It’s what I had today; I found myself increasingly drawn to watching figgy’s reactions to the fish, rather than the fish themselves, and a (relatively) fast wide-angle proved perfect for that.  I still wish I had a bit more speed, but anything wider wouldn’t have the same spread in focal length, and thus wouldn’t be quite as useful for me.  And with that said, I find myself rarely venturing much wider than equivalent f=28mm, so … stay tuned.

Mike