Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: March, 2003

“Have you found any good men recently?” asks my one of my roommates.

I pause in the midst of mixing ingredients for a pie crust. The change in conversation from baking to lack of boyfriend issues momentarily surprises me. Then as I slowly begin mixing again, I say, “No. To be honest, I haven’t been looking.”

“My friend says that most of the people in your department are on average older.”

“Yes, that’s right.” And practically all of them are attached to someone else. In fact, I’m part of the minority that isn’t attached. I don’t think I care about it all that much. I don’t even think about it unless she brings it up in her long ramblings about lack of boyfriends, or “good men” as she calls them. Thinking too deeply about my single state leaves me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. I know I have faults and personal issues of my own that have resulted in this, but for the moment I do not want to dig them up, I am satisfied as I am–individual, independent.

I wished she had asked me what temperature I would bake the pie instead. So I braced myself for her further lamenting.

“I’m worried that I won’t find anyone,” she continues, no longer looking at me but into space hoping that some higher power would hear her plea. “I’m almost thirty. I’m afraid of living the rest of my life alone.”

As someone who is content in her hermit status and is deaf to the biological clock, I reply lamely, “Well, some people find someone when they least expect it.”

Earthworms and Pit Bulls

Like Bert and his bottle caps or an old woman and her cats, a cellist can never own too many versions of Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites. The Suites can be used for relaxation or analysis. Every time I listen to it or play it, I notice something different. A former cello teacher gave me a copy of the complete Suites as a going away present and it’s still something I “read” and play from whenever I want to warm up or practice or simply to noodle and let my mind wander.

Recently I got a hold of Yo-Yo Ma’s 1983 recording of the Suites. One can admire Ma’s flawless technical prowess, something an amateur like myself would always aspire to but rarely reach. However, it was today that I realized how perfect the weather’s mood was for the Suites.

This morning when I stumbled about back and from lab, it had been drizzling. The air was contemplative, morose–not like Ma’s version–but like the gritty playing of Pablo Casals, the man who made the Suites famous, who studied the Suites his whole life, worrying on it like drips of water that eventually makes holes in stone. Casals’ breathy version echoed in my head as I watched earthworms twitching against the pavement because their tunnels had been flooded and as I passed by a young man in baggy pants, eyes downcast, walking his pearl white pit bull with tan hindquarters. The dog had been paralyzed for a moment, frightened by the sight I made as an enormous green phantom, before scurrying behind its owner like the impossibly fast skittering of Casals’ strings.

Later, the rain turned to snow and the wind blew it into my face even when I tried to duck my head down. Now this heavy blizzard was more of Ma’s style, Ma’s version of the Suites–manic, highly emotional. The poor earthworms that had been above ground previously, gasping for air, were slowly freezing as the temperature dropped. Most of them had rolled over onto their backs exposing tender pink bellies. The sentimental solo cello played lingering notes, mentally, at the worms’ inevitable deaths.

Perhaps a Mozart Requiem would have been more appropriate for such a sad scene, but I found Bach’s Suites more fitting. A choir for a requiem is a flock of harpies, an army of demons, ready to devour an errant soul. I saw none of this. The soloist is alone except for the music just as the dying earthworm is alone except for the wet snow.

Unconscious Mutterings. (via Taco Shop Psychic again)

Smell :: Coffee
Caramel :: Square
Parallel :: Lines
Miami :: I hate palm trees.
Sleep :: Nightmares
Double :: W, vision, chocolate
Kiss :: Ick
History :: Ranting. That’s what a high school U.S. History teacher did for most of his lectures.
Vodka :: Puke
Click :: Arg! Another @#&%! popup!

I recall that last year in April I attempted to do a novel in a month thing outside of November (the actual month for noveling). It was an ambitious goal–too ambitious–since I never got off the ground after the first couple of days. I don’t think it was because I had more work because typically November is more hectic. It was probably the lack of motivation and that no one else was doing it then.

I’m not going to retry writing a novel this April. My goals this coming month will be much smaller. I’m going to edit one short story and finish another one. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to send both of them out before April ends and start chewing my fingers waiting for a rejection or acceptance.

Anyways, some other stuff:
New Hampshire Writers’ Project. (via Private Ink) I’m thinking of attending one of the poetry readings around the state on April 25. Hopefully nothing will come up before then.
BlogShares. (via Taco Shop Psychic) Now this raises some interesting thoughts. In one very big sense, how much your blog is worth is due to your popularity and how many people link to you. I know this is just a game, but a blog is an extension of someone. Will undervalued blogs cause their owners to feel underappreciated? Will overvalued blogs cause those owners to also have over-inflated egos? This reminds me of a rather morbid anecdote: medical schools do not pay the same amount for every corpse.
Exploratorium Magazine. The current issue is interesting if you don’t already know how an fMRI works. The back issues however contain articles on a variety of topics like paper, language, and chocolate–things that I don’t know very much about.

First Name Basis Or Not

I’m uncomfortable with addressing people who are older than I am by their first name. It’s probably due to my upbringing where I was accustomed to addressing everyone older than me by their titles: uncle, aunt, older cousin. In fact, I addressed my parents’ friends and their kids as “uncle”, “aunt”, and “older cousin” even though they were obviously not related. It’s a sign of respect in Asian cultures. So it was natural for me to call teachers as “Mrs. Johnson” or “Mr. Smith” or “Dr. Brown.” That was expected and required.

Things got sticky when I got older. Friends’ parents began introducing themselves by their first name. That was weird because I don’t address my parents by their first names and I didn’t see why I should start with other people’s parents. And then I started working at the local library and I was forced to address the other librarians by their first names because they never gave their last names upon introduction. If I had worked at a grocery store, this would not have made me uncomfortable since the clerks were typically young. However, the youngest librarian there before I came aboard was at least thirty years older.

Admittedly over time I’ve “loosened up” some. I call my advisors and the younger professors by their first names. I even call the secretaries by their first names (well, everyone does, although judging by the sour faces that are always pasted on “administrative assistants” maybe everyone ought to revert to addressing them in a respectful manner). However, if someone is really old, I will always by default address him or her by the title. It seems demeaning for an older person and false for me to address someone who is by far wiser and more experienced like a peer.*

However, the opposite is not true. What I mean is that I do not prefer to be referred to as “ma’am” or “miss.” Not only does this make me feel older than my years, but also the person who is addressing me is according respect, wisdom, and experience that I have not earned. This is not to say that I prefer endearments either. In fact, they’re worse. “Honey” and “Sweetie” makes me cringe because those “titles” relegate me to one of the masses of stereotypical girls. Once somebody called me “Princess” and I had to check my urge to shove him into the oncoming traffic.

Perhaps that is why so many people prefer to be on a first name basis. It emphasizes the person over mob.**

*One exception is older people online. I will typically address them by the handle or name they refer to themselves on their sites.

**Another exception is the prestigious title. If you are president or dean or CEO, your title says you are an Important Person. To a lesser extent, this is also true for PhDs and MDs but most “doctors” I’ve met are very laid back about it and prefer to be called Professor or by first name. Unless, of course, if the doctor happens to be a high school teacher who likes beating teenagers with authority problems into submission.

Some news on SARS (since I’m less than 3 hours drive from the border):

From Medline: 25 people in quarantine as of March 25.

From Canada NewsWire: All SARS cases under treatment are stable or improving as of March 27.

From CBC News: 85 new cases identified around the world as of March 28.

From The Globe and Mail: “thousands of people are under home quarantine orders” as of March 28.

From Toronto hospitals closed to visitors as of March 28.

Monkeying Around:

I am the Purple People-Eating Stealth Monkey! I am also the Fire-Eating Psycho Monkey and the Haggis-Eating Love Monkey. Get your own battle monkey(s) here (via Metafilter). If your rating is lower than mine, you will most certainly lose. Actually, I’m curious as to what algorithm the author uses to calculate what type of monkey you are. It’s not associating letters with numbers because when I mix the letters up, different results come up. Whee! Monkey news. All. The. Time.

Snow Monkey Cam. At the Minnesota Zoo. Cute. Obviously they weren’t doing much when I looked in on them.

I stumbled on the “famous abu-shabat, the terror of the Soudan in the way of spiders, as large as your hand and ten times more venomous than a scorpion” while reading a Nature paper. I’m fascinated by grotesque creatures. By just looking at them, you wouldn’t know that we humans are related to them at all.

The solpuga or “sun spider” in Latin means “fleeing from the sun”. Another name the solpuga goes by is the “windscorpion”. Its abdomen is segmented and appears to have ten legs although one pair is really the pedipalps, and solifugids like to gorge themselves until they nearly pop. Some species can even “swim” in the sand. More info and pictures can be found on

Of course, it’s one thing to be interested in spiders intellectually. However, if I saw “the terror of the Soudan” scurrying across my bathroom floor, I’d probably bring down the house with my screams.

The Thursday Threesome: Lights, Camera, Action

Onesome: Lights- Did you watch the lights of Hollywood at the Academy Awards the other night? …and were you surprised by any of the winners. …or did you spend the evening doing something else?

I do not have a television. And even if I did, I’d have probably watched something else–if I had been watching at all. As for what I actually did that night or any other night, I was sleeping.

I know I’m a boring old prune, but somebody’s got to be.

Twosome: Camera- Do you enjoy photography? …and do you take pictures for your web site if you have one? Hmmm… Digital or film? Inquiring minds and all that…

Yes, but I’m only an average photographer and I would never consider being behind the camera as a career choice. I use film, but I have a heck of a time trying to find a reasonable place to develop it (they charge you an arm and a leg out here in the boondocks) so taking pictures have taken a backseat to, well, everything else. I have pictures on my Caltech website 2 X 11 and my Dartmouth website Turning. There are also some pictures here which can alternatively be accessed via the gallery on the links page.

Threesome: Action- For some, March Madness has begun. Have you succumbed to the action of the basketball tournament, or are you immune to the madness and just waiting for regular programming to resume?

See the answer to the first question.

This is what I meant by commentary:

The Ageless Project. (via Kalilily Time) I’m sure with the copious hints in my past posts, my age (or lack thereof) is pretty obvious. I just recently submitted this site so I’m not listed yet, but of the people who’ve been listed, there are only two with my same birthday, a guy who is nearing 30 and a gothy teenager. Some other people who share my birthday are over at the Globe of Blogs which include more teenagers, mothers, a sex addict, political junkies, and frivolous linkers. Wonderful company.

U.S.-German Rift Reaches Schoolyard Level. (via Metafilter) What’s scary is that I actually visited that particular Tennessean high school two or three times before. My impressions of it weren’t exactly favorable.

“If the world as we know it comes to an end and Hanover is the last remaining outpost of civilization, Dartmouth students could still count on a meal at Food Court.” The first image that popped into mind was a horde of trendy students fighting over chocolate bars.