august, 2005

Mon Aug 1 19:44:52 PDT 2005

Just last week, I started feeling old. Not ancient, a concept laughable for my age, but rather, older than I used to be. Don't cry "tautology!" -- I mean that I started to feel less willing and less able to go out night after night, and, on little sleep, perform the same way I did in college.

But internalizing that proposition is a scary business. I'm ready to mature; I'm not ready to age. So this weekend, consciously or un-, I decided to wrest control from my sleepy body and disprove it. To that end, I began by allowing myself to be convinced to stay out long past my bedtime Thursday evening, lured from the crap beer at Thalassa to Beckett's by the promise of the best Guinness in town and a bevy of neuroscientists cajoling me. I woke up too soon on Friday, having sworn off all my weekend plans as well as drinking ever again.

But somehow, just as the lengths of the minutes of walking in between five-minute running spans tend gradually towards zero, so do the times between when I [facetiously] make that promise and when I break it diminish. All my body thought it wanted Friday afternoon was a nap; gradually, during dinner with Mark in the city, I managed to convince it that it wanted to go out partying. So on to the Fillmore, where we took in the scene being made by Hieroglyphics; and a mere hop, skip, and gin-and-tonic over to Jacob's place in the Haight, where the music was loud and danceable, a Googler wearing a bottle of single-malt poured me a sip or three, where a drunken Lih-Chern took it into her head to draw Chinese characters in blue and black Sharpie on equally drunken guests. About as much sleep as the previous night was had, and my body was starting to like it. (The Sharpie proved to not be as permanent as it promises, at least judging by the alacrity with which it cleaved to the white sheets.)

My weekends again these days seem to center around running. This was intentional, and I love the obligation of the marathon training programs. But, as waking up the previous morning with the thought of doing twelve miles on the opposite edge of Golden Gate park at eight AM Saturday had been about as appealing as a Guinness for breakfast, and since there was something more exciting taking place the same weekend, I let obligations morph. Why run twelve miles the morning after what promised (and turned out) to be a fun party, I rationalized, if I could instead run the 13.1 miles the morning after that? And so I recruited Jacob and a few other Googlers to vet my insanity, and to sign up for the first half of the San Francisco Marathon on Sunday.

Lih-Chern drove Jacob and me over to the race expo to pick up our bibs and schwag on Saturday (which had somehow skipped morning altogether and gone directly from pre-dawn to afternoon). Thousands of people milled about the tents, apparently buying last-minute sports bras. The thrill of the marathon, and the promise of pasta for that night's dinner, was palpable. It's probably good for me to demystify these events -- while I was relying mostly on performance adrenaline to get me through the baker's dozen of miles the next morning, it was also the reason the last six miles in Marine Corps were as hard as they were. Half marathons (I rationalized) are good for me.

I had to repeat that rationalization to myself the next morning -- despite getting to bed at the reasonable hour of 10 PM after a sleepy Saturday, since the race started at 5:20 (I double-checked -- antemeridian? Oh god, they're not kidding ...), I'd had to set my alarm for 3.

But by the time I'd driven roommate Alexis's car into the city, found a miraculous parking spot, and was waiting for Jacob to join me under the gigantic bow and arrow on the Embarcadero, I was starting to believe it. An announcer was sending the early-starters off, wishing them Godspeed; a sliver of a moon hovered behind the so-called "Cupid's Span." My adrenaline kicked in.

The course wound around the edge of the bay, up through Fisherman's wharf, across the northern edge of the peninsula, and across Golden Gate bridge. I had hoped to see its unmistakable rufous spires rising out of the water; instead, I heard foghorns blatting hollowly, and shivered from the chill as I poured water on my face to wash off the accumulating salt. July in San Francisco! I was almost incredulous, but I know better by now than to be surprised by it.

Jacob and I took off in the dark, running without my usual intervals of walking, and met up with coworkers Misha and Benjy around mile 3. They zoomed on, me keeping up until right before the turn of the fifth mile, when I saw a hill in the distance -- a 60-degree slope, says the map -- and told them to go ahead. I held back only enough to fit my walking into my pace, and, though it meant I finished between 10 and 25 minutes behind the three boys, they were hurting and exhausted at our post-run brunch (me in borrowed clothes) at the Pork Store Cafť in the Mission, whereas I was just hungry and a bit sleepy. A cup of coffee and mango mimosa -- ahh, California! -- rounded out a perfect morning, which rounded out a perfect weekend. I should do half marathons more often.

My SF Half marathon
time: 2:24

Fri Aug 5 22:52:36 PDT 2005

This is why I love having a bike: The mobility to dash up to the fringes of the Gourmet Ghetto, meet a newly-relocated John Mark for Thai, and, in ten minutes, be the two miles back home. Downhill, lightless, on Milvia, I recall that I should repair my Cateye, and I thank my good sense for having gotten a bike with thicker tires that wouldn't get stuck in some unseen rut. I'm glad I have my vest; as on the bridge on the San Francisco Half, my hands tingled from the cold of the night air. I caught a whiff of woodfire, then of some flower, too fleeting for me to identify as I had the cardamom in the evening's dessert of fried bananas.

And this is what I wanted from California (I think, as I come into the Goat House and remove my helmet): To live in a house with friends my age, with more bikes than there are people; to be able to ride around town powered solely by my legs (my hamstrings ever hardening, 13.1 miles last weekend and a hip-hop class with Emily last night); to read about the Berkeley Bowl's tomatoes in the Times and then, having snagged a ride straight up 880 and gotten into the East Bay by seven, to go there and purchase (in addition to the lillies I got myself -- "who're they for?" asks the checkout girl; "me," I counter) four perfect tomatoes -- each of a different color, shape, and promise. Tomorrow, with a sharp knife and a salt mill, I will taste the fruits of summer.

Sat Aug 20 24:37:03 PDT 2005

Something in the air last Monday made both me and Emily separately think it was fall. It can't have gotten drier, since there's no humidity here to begin with; the leaves on what few deciduous trees there are haven't even begun to think about changing, let alone falling (though the fragrant eucalyptus has begun to shed a needly carpet, luring Emily to gather its long leaves and contemplate crumbling them into soups). The temperature dropped perceptibly -- perhaps that's all that's really needed (a certain percent change in the relative climate) for two Midwesterners to perk up our noses and start to look in vain for drifting orange foliage.

But it's August. A busy August, yes; one that is speeding by with shouts and parties and food and wine and work and reading and newspapers carefully folded on the train crammed into the morning commute, yes. But not speeding by so fast that I've failed to notice the seasonal displacement -- in no reasonable place should it be this chilly before my birthday (which has, ye careful readers, one month exactly to go before I no longer have to pay an underage-driver fee on rental cars driven to Napa). This is the way the seasons should work: warm-to-hot in summer; iced-tea weather in August; a Labor Day picnic; uncomfortable and summer-camp-y for the beginning of the school year; a present of cold for my birthday.

I prescribe in vain. California will do what California wants, and exceed my expectations in unknown ways in so doing. This climate, however unsettling to someone emotionally dependent on seasonal change as she has known it (and even DC was a pale shadow of the archetypal (for me) Wisconsin weather), produces the stunning grapes and eager vintners that dot the Saint Helena Highway and Silverado Trail up and down the Napa valley, where Emily, a last-hurrah-before-grad-school visiting Olivia, and I malingered Friday, letting the golden sun (and it is out here! somehow this word, which I have always perceived as a metaphor, or an exaggeration at best, is the only accurate color for the light on the hills) and the breezes through the vines wash us with a pleasant warm buzz. It remains otherworldly to me, and the phrase "we live here," echoed as the sun streaks across the San Pablo Bay and silhouettes the topography in surreal monochromes, has no effect on my awe.

Students dotted the campus this morning as Olivia and I walked past UC-Berkeley's belltower whose Bartůk seduced me West, through the bookstore, down Telegraph. So young. Eighteen and academically rapacious seems not that long ago on the one hand; ages on the other. At home, practicing spinning the combination to my new gym lock for the yoga classes at work I appear to have signed up for, the manual memory jogs an image of me in middle school, high school, learning which numbers to dial on the black face of the dial. A new school year; a new lock. Combinations (if remembered) masking-taped to their undersides for the summer.

And, with the turn in the weather, with the students (concealing their trepidations with bluster), with the new lock, it's suddenly so really fall. (Even opening my mother's style manual to check the capitalization of the seasons, and reflexively smelling the binding, the book so strongly connotes a language text, and new classes thereof, that it cannot but be a new school year!) Olivia beginning a PhD program in a few weeks; Emilie recently returned to law school; even Julie & Andrew's recent engagement (!) seems on par for the season.

And yet, I could not be farther from the safety of academia. I have seen the real world, and I've liked it. And, despite the draw of fresh paper (so tangible I almost bought a spiral-bound, college-ruled, Cal notebook today at the eponymous bookstore, and not just because it was orange!), the allure of fresh books, and the promised comfort of problem sets, papers, and sheer, indulgent learning, I cannot fathom going back right now. Or soon.

Has Swarthmore then scarred me that much? Andrew and several others jumped back in right after graduation; a good cohort is now trickling back to the harsh womb of academia. A PhD is only appealing in the comfort of libraries, and in social street cred. Its main siren call is the signalling factor for advanced critical thinking, and the peer group it confers. But what have I at Google? A design patters reading group; intelligent coworkers; a playground for high-functioning geeks and the people who wrote our textbooks. A playground that pays and feeds me. Why, given this, would I reŽnter academia any time soon?

Answer: I wouldn't. But the trope of fall is strong enough to make me want a PhD, if only for the sake of new kinds of paper to associate with leaves that will hopefully turn.

Fri Aug 26 10:19:01 PDT 2005

I considered wearing glasses today, and not only because I like their chic black trapezoidal frames -- bold without being Buddy Holly; red inside highlights the most color I could find in my search for hip eyewear in the staid District last December, the last time I had my eyes reŽxamined. The reading glasses (purple-and-orangeish; meant for wearing over contacts), matronly as I felt to have had to have gotten them, appear to be doing their job, and, for the first time since sixth grade, my prescription has not worsened in the year between visits to the ophthalmologist. (I should go again, given the amazing optical care plan of my current employer!)

With computer-induced eye strain so much lowered in the past year, I've noticed it all the more when it does come upon me. It's ten-thirty, almost, and this beginning on the shuttle of a day's coding should nowhere near approximate what can be its bleary-eyed end. My eyes will happily jump around braceless, semicolonless Python for hours, if and only if I've gotten anywhere near eight hours' sleep the previous night.

And it's not even as if I've been staying up late partying; it just all adds up. I've been catching the later East Bay shuttle these days, freaked out by my first beta push soon, and staying at work longer to try to achieve the date. At dinner on the patio under primary-and-purple-colored umbrellas, straggler engineers let down their hair a bit, and the code of conduct is less observed. I have a burrito if the vegan options haven't been as eye-popping as they were at that day's cookbook-worthy lunch (as Mark and Seanius observed, we need a machine to pop visitors' eyes back in after they've witnessed the marvels of a dot-com renaissance!). Started reading Javascript: the Definitive Guide on the late shuttle on the way home last night, only to realize that it was published when Netscape had an equal market share with Microsoft, and predictions for the future were those of rosy compatibility. Getting home, Birger and Sara were just beginning from-scratch pizza. Emily and I sat on the floor of the kitchen; I boiled water for tea in my new pot. I had intended to work more, but, needing to maintain the division between work and life, Mountain View and Berkeley, I let my eyelids droop as pizza was brought out of the oven around midnight. The powerbook stayed in my bag.

Work hard, play hard. Sleep is tertiary.

Tue Aug 30 19:44:48 PDT 2005

I probably shouldn't be surprised by it by now, but I still find it funny just how strongly associative memory ties certain objects to certain people and times. Four things that reminded me recently of my much-needed, brief visit to Chicago in May:

(1) Wearing my purple shoes I got while there, which I'd picked up with my mom to wear to the symphony, not having realized it would be so wonderfully cold for a few days, and which I wore out to play pool with Charlie (he wanted to walk around, but I couldn't, as my feet were blistering). I wore them a week and some ago to Chez Panisse; Olivia (whose visit was the excuse for such a fancy outing) and I then walked all over Berkeley on the way back; and now I have little scars near my big toes to show for it. I'm not used to shoes hurting my feet (their purpose is to protect them!), so it's always weird to me when that happens. But they're such cute shoes, that I keep trying.

(2) Playing pool. There are tables in some of the buildings here at work, next to sleek, white, sectional couches and double-portafilter espresso machines. The only thing missing is beer (and we even get that on Fridays (at which time it is, of course, murder to find a table)). But I don't get a chance to play often, as I can't rationalize it first thing in the morning; in the afternoon, it would just be breaking my concentration; and in the evening I either feel compelled to work more or leave early. But I've been leaving later recently, working till 6:45 or so and then grabbing dinner on my way out (I'm now on my way back from an on-site yoga class, which, having run till 7:20, meant I missed the heirloom tomato dish I was excited about on tonight's menu). Yesterday, Shane convinced me to do a quicker dinner than usual, and spend the remaining twenty minutes playing pool. I thought for a minute I was going to clear the table in the first few shots (it's good to have a table around to keep up my game!), but then I flagged, and he rallied, and I had to leave for the shuttle before we could quite finish.

(3) My morning-ritual, reason-I-can-stay-vegan bagel spread has been in high demand recently, what with guests (Molly, who will soon be stealing away Gina/Gracie to more expensive pastures, and with whom I ended up dancing at Beckett's and then drunkenly biking home on a lovely Saturday night) and new, curious housemates (Inger, Abby, Dora) trooping through. Pulling out tahini to add to the mix in my baby Cuisinart the other day, I licked the edge of a measuring cup and remembered that somehow, Mom & I weren't able to track down miso in her Hyde Park coŲp -- thus, no bagel spread for a week; instead, tahini on Bagels Forever bagels, and tea (I hadn't been able to resist bringing a stash of Stash with me) from her mother's china.

(4) Sunday afternoon, having woken up a bit too early for chemical comfort, but just right for a sense of leisure during the day, I let myself attack the Times's crossword for an hour or so. Having stagnated by myself, I again broke it out at the end of a potluck that perhaps tops our gourmet list (Allan arrived, rolled up his sleeves, and supervised the grilling of the peaches for the salad; Inger whipped up a quiche from scratch (and nearly killed us all, not having been told that the oven is sans pilot light); Olivia's thoughtful hostess gift of a tomato knife got initiated on a yellow heirloom Gina had left behind, covered in salt, basil picked off the plants behind the sink, and the aged Balsamic that had come with the house, which we discovered was so good it was sippable). Sarah, Scott (perhaps the verbal proclivity is genetic?) and I worked our way through a good half before resigning for the evening. Mom, Jeanne and I had taken until Tuesday and half a bottle of rum to complete a Sunday crossword in May.

I like feeling as if I have ties to more of the Midwest than just Madison. I've always said that, no matter where I'm coming from in the world, I always feel at home as soon as I get to O'Hare ...

all this ©nori heikkinen, August 2005

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