Saturday, October 30, 2004

1. The houseguests have gone back to their homes in Amsterdam and Rome. A. is in Colorado, working to help swing the election. The city feels so quiet now. A distant shout feels like a rude interruption. This seems like one of those days without rhythm or pace, as if the music has stopped and the people in the street are just ambling along like confused dancers.

2. A fat Mexican man is strolling up and down 22nd St. in the Mission. He is dressed normally except for the paper bag he is wearing on his head. His eyes look out from two small eyeholes. It is lightly adorned in bold colors, as if his children had made it. He belongs either in a comedy or a horror movie. Take your choice.

Why is it more disturbing when a thing is only slightly altered? A garish halloween costume is not frightening. But when we detect that a small detail is out of place, that the scene or event has been subtly altered, then it may be something more subversive. We are being deceived. We are in danger and danger has unknowingly betrayed itself.

3. I am used to the Mission bus being packed with homeless people, young gangsters and even the occasional prostitute. But, today I was standing next to a man who had blood coming out of his mouth, with spatters on his shirt and coat. "You need help" someone said. "I'm heading to SF General" he replied. He was on the wrong bus.

When he got off the bus, I followed him even though it wasn't my stop. He seemed dazed and wasn't walking straight. I tried to get him a cab but all the cab drivers shook their head and drove off stone-faced when they got one look at him. I asked him what had happened to him, what circumstances had led to this. He insisted some random kids had socked him in the jaw.
I sat with him at the bus stop, sitting with him at the curb until the bus came. He was leaning over like a drunk. "You're a mess" I said. "Thank you for all your help" he replied.

The Vostok Orbiter

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Conversation Yesterday with all the Context Removed:

Man #1:
I mean, I said yes but I can't really say that I have it in me, that I
even know what that means or how it would work in the future...

Man #2:
Don't think about the future. Think about the moment, about now, about
what is happening to you. Focus on the present. Things will start
happening now but they will happen suddenly, driven by emotion,
emotions you didnt know you had.

Man #1:
You know what will happen to me! What will happen to me?

Man #2:
Things will change quickly for you now. In a month, you'll be a
different person; in a year, you'll be another person. You'll look
back on this time and it will all seem so confused, so mad, like a
nonsense dream.

This whole next year will all feel immediate for you, really vivid and
real. You will feel it all deeply. You will fall in love with the
world one day and you will despise it the next. The smallest things
will make your heart race. The memory of this next year will be burned
deeply into you.

It's odd but a part of you is waking up, is about to wake up. That is
why you will be and feel more alive.

I can tell you that things will be terrible but they will also be
wonderful. Things will just happen and they will make no sense but
later, you will look back and it will seem, well not obvious, but ...
inevitable. you go...

Take good care of yourself

Man #1:
Thank you, Sir. And thank you for your advice.

Seeing Lichtenstein at the SFMOMA this week is a treat. But also see some of the original comics images that Lichtenstein used. As in the case above, the changes were sometimes small and cosmetic.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I was at Amnesia with MB last night. While we were drinking I noticed this man walk in, an Asian man with unfashionable glasses, slightly stooped, walking timidly, dressed in khakis and a white shirt, like an oppressed office worker. Except, he also had a guitar case and he headed straight for the stage.

The stagelights come on, he brings out his guitar and, in heavily broken English, tells the audience how much he adores the country singer Jimmie Rodgers. So, he breaks out into song, twanging his guitar and even doing country yodels. His name is Toshio Hirano, a native of Japan. He learned to sing country blues before he learned to speak English.

The people in the bar were slightly stunned but that didnt stop them from breaking out into wild applause.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Notes from my Birthday:

1. Friends from Costa Rica had invited me to come visit them for my birthday. But this year I decided I would just stay in the city and fill my day with quiet reunions with friends.

2. I didn't recognize B. not only because I hadn't seen her in a year but also because she had a wig on and was dressed like the St. Pauli girl. This was the theme of the party. Oktoberfest. I dont think she knows how much I really like her. (Well, perhaps now she does.)
I had been invited to a few parties Saturday. Usually my tendency is to stay home but Saturday I decided to go out with A. and LR (and a few others later) B.'s party was the highlight of the evening.

3. The home-cooked Italian meal that Alessandra made was amazing. She grew up in Rome. Now I know how to make Pasta Carbonara (with eggs and pancetta!) and Saltimbocca alla Romana (the prosciutto makes it)

4. Alexie, hands waving, is telling me how he cannot find the right woman. Two blonde girls are walking towards us. Alexie, in an extroverted mood, gestures to one of them and says "See? Here for example is my ideal woman! The way she walks, her hair..."

The girl Alexie had pointed out is understandably startled but they both pause to try to make sense of this. Alexie adds "I bet you are a Taurus! This always happens between me and Tauruses..."

The girl's eyes brighten. "I am a Taurus!" Her friend says "Wow, perhaps you two are soulmates."

A few minutes later, Alexie has gotten the girl's phone number. As we are walking away, her friend yells at us "You'd better call her!"

5. Fudge cake birthday cake

6. Butterflies

7. Reflexology
She ran into the woods and was not found by the servants until the sun was going down.

Seven years later she sneaked away from St. Torpid's to buy forbidden jujubes.

The hippopotamus attracted her attention from the back of a pantechnicon. "Fly at once! he said. "All is discovered."

She remembered the novel with yellow covers at the bottom of the laundry bag.

-from Edward Gorey's The Admonitory Hippopotamus

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the wing.

-Omar Khayyam (trans. Fitzgerald)

The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.

-Henry James Sr. (as quoted by Donoso)

I found Melissa, washed up like a half-drowned bird, on the dreary littorals of Alexandria...
-Justine, Lawrence Durrell

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Paul Brennan: You end your book with a quotation from Rousseau, who has written about writing as a kind of dreaming. He says:

The dreams of bad nights are given to us as philosophy. You will say that I too am a dreamer. I admit this. But I do what others fail to do. I give my dreams as dreams and leave the reader to discover whether there is anything in them which may prove useful to those who are awake.

My question to you is: are you allowing me to interview in much the same spirit - as a dream to be taken as the listener or reader wishes?

Jacques Derrida: Yes, but if I were to indulge in saying so, I would imply that I am totally awakened while dreaming, and I have no illusion about that.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Synchronicity: The House which bursts into Flames

I've always really loved Jung's anecdote of the scarab:

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me his dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to the golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetoaia urata) which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since, and that the dream of the patient has remained unique in my experience.

Jung was the man who coined the word "Synchronicity" to describe this strange confluence of events. It's not that the beetle emerged from the dream but that the dreamworld is one of several parallel paths in our life, paths which sometimes collide. These parallel events are intertwined and the law of cause and effect runs not only forward in time but also laterally, across worlds. Novalis puts it best:

There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide. Men and circumstances generally modify the ideal train of events, so that it seems imperfect, and its consequences are equally imperfect.

Jung was also the author of Synchronicity, an exploration of this collision of worlds or rather how the effects and meaning of the world can emerge fully-formed from its smallest elements: a scarab beetle, a house on fire, the timing of a death, the collisions from which love affairs or catastrophes emerge.

Koestler, an admirer of Jung and author of a book called The Roots of Coincidence (he was also a lover of Simone de Beauvoir), once sponsored a contest asking the public to send him their outrageous coincidences. Letters came in and told of books which opened up to reveal prophetic advice, unfathomable reunions of families or old friends, all kinds of eruptions of the unexpected in everyday life.

Not surprisingly this is where Edgar Allan Poe comes in again.

A man named Nigel Parker wrote in:

In 1838 Edgar Allan Poe published a book "The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket ". At one point in this novel four men are adrift in a boat and they kill and eat the cabin boy Richard Parker. Some 40 years later four desperate men were adrift in a boat and to survive they killed and ate the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker.

The man Nigel was related to Richard Parker. This is how the story is told in Charles Fort's Fortean Times. The incident is real and the Poe story is of course well documented.

Charles Fort loved stories like these. Like a metaphysical detective, he kept detailed notes on striking events, hoping that viewed with the proper intuition and imagination they would suddenly arrange themselves into an undeniable order, like a symphony.

This short quote from Fort (from Wild Talents) reveals his passion for these hidden notes:

But always there is present a feeling of unexplained relations of events...

In Hyde Park London, an orator shouts "What we want is no king and no law! How we get it will be, not with ballots, but with bullets!"

Far away in Gloucestershire, a house that dates back to Elizabethean times unaccountably burts into flames.

The Literature of Synchronicity, if there is such a thing, itself has re-ocurring themes. One of them is the house which bursts into flames. I can trace this back to Swedenborg and his sensation that his own house, 300 miles away in Stockholm had just burst into flames. But it might go back farther, like an idea which resurfaces from time to time, caught in the wash and turbulence of history.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

When I started xulsolar, I meant it to be a weblog about strange and beautiful things in Physics and Mathematics, a sort of encyclopedia of observations about the universe we happen to inhabit. The intent is to draw upon my background in Physics and Astrophysics but really distill it down, stripping away the cold equations and just presenting the bare concepts.

I still intend to do this and I'll let this post act as a spur. I just discovered some old notes I had made about some topics I intended to write about and here they are, with more details to follow...

Dirac and his Large Numbers (Done!)
Feynman and the Timeless Universe
Irreducible Complexity: It is evidently true
Least Action Principles: An alternate view of reality
Kaluza-Klein: The symmetry of higher dimensions
Mach's principle and extreme relativity
The Universe as a broken mirror

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I've finally become a paying member of the Harry Stephen Keeler
. Its a group I discovered years ago and have only kept up with
peripherally. The full membership list isnt available but I know that
Neil Gaiman, William Poundstone and Richard Sala are members. From Poundstone:

How did Keeler create such a volume of densely plotted fiction? According to Nevins, Keeler was an avid collector of newspaper clippings of bizarre events. When he started a story, he would grab a handful of clippings at random and try to figure some way of linking them all together. That sounds like something the Dadaists might have talked about doing, and maybe tried once. Who knew that in Chicago Harry Keeler was turning out novel after novel that way?
1. I have been listening to Pink Martini's new album Hang on Little Tomato on repeat. People have been waiting for this album for ten years. You can listen to the entire thing, as well as their first album, on their website (Here's a good photo of the band) China sings songs in Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Croatian, French, and English too. Her voice is as sensuous as ever, evoking the feeling of a dark French cabaret, patrons swirling their drinks and contemplating love affairs that have vanished.

I last saw them live here in San Francisco in 2001. Its the first time I had seen Thomas (the bandleader and pianist) since college. When I knew him, he and I were both going through difficult times, trying to find our way in the world (yes, it was college, but it was more than that)He has a lot of passion and when he sits down in front of a piano, you can hear him release it: light but transcendent, aware of tragedy yet choosing to revel in the joyousness of the moment.

I only saw him briefly backstage. I introduced him to my girlfriend at the time. He and I hugged each other like old friends but had little to say, little that could be formed into words.


2. I was at the bookstore yesterday and since Edgar Allan Poe was on my mind I picked up an old copy of Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I also happened to pick up a copy of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. Later, flipping idly back and forth between the books, I noticed something strangely odd, strangely parallel beteen the two. From the very first page of Auster:

"...Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance...we know that he wrote mystery novels. These works were written under the name of William Wilson..."

Now, from the very first line of my Poe book:

"Let me call myself, for the present, William Wilson. The fair page now lying before me need not be sullied with my real appellation."

The former is obviously an allusion to the latter. But this is what happens when allusions are left out there like silky threads for others like myself to stumble into.

Friday, October 08, 2004

My brother and I are out getting some ice cream and I realize this girl in the shop looks strangely familiar. I look at her. She glares at me. I look back. She furrows her brows.

"Excuse me," I say, "but do I know you from somewhere..."
She lets out a small exasperated huff and says "Yeah. Its me, your cousin Valerie!"
As we're leaving my brother scratches his head and says "Yeah, I thought she looked familiar too..."


At last count, I think I have 34 first cousins. But, because of the way in which the family is distributed, there are second-cousins I feel closer to than some first cousins and so my family feels even larger than that. I only have one sibling, my younger brother. When my mother stopped at only two kids, she tells me that relatives wondered aloud if something was wrong, if something was the matter.

Friday, October 01, 2004

If you open up your copy of Goethe's Theory of Colours, you read this:

I am not too proud of my achievements as a poet. Excellent creative writers lived in my time, even more brilliant ones before me, and there will always exist some after my time. But that I am the only one in my century who knows the truth about the theory of colours - that is which I am proud of and which gives me a feeling of superiority over many!

The author of Faust was looking for immortality in his scientific excavations. Goethe's work in this book has small practical value today but the case can be made that it is Art not Science. Goethe practically invented a new way of looking at the world. He wasn't looking at a way to reduce or explain Colour so much as to impose or discover patterns about our own subjective experience.

This old Physics Today article calls it "exploratory experimentation" Goethe drew conections between what was seen and produced a color circle for the senses.

In some sense it reminds me of the stuff that Murray Gell-Mann did preceding the discovery of quarks. He arranged every known particle into a pattern and called it The Eight-fold way (the reference was lifted from Buddhism) But the pattern was broken and so Gell-Mann predicted another particle (the omega) would soon be discovered, and it was.

It reminds me too of the strange cosmology of Edgar Allan Poe. I think of Poe as that teller of creepy tales, The Cask of Amontillado being my own dark favorite. But Poe believed his most important work, the work that would outlast him would be his rambling prose poem, Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe.

IT is with humility really unassumed — it is with a sentiment even of awe — that I pen the opening sentence of this work; for of all conceivable subjects, I approach the reader with the most solemn, the most comprehensive, the most difficult, the most august.

What terms shall I find sufficiently simple in their sublimity — sufficiently sublime in their simplicity — for the mere enunciation of my theme?

I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical — of the Material and Spiritual Universe; of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition, and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men.