we speak the way we breathe

oh, not now. not again.
(now. again.)

i thought all hope died a long time ago but i suppose i was wrong.
or this wouldn't feel like this.

the kind of hurt that makes you want to crawl out of your
i mean this has to be the death

how am i going to?

i didn't believe in
until i found
and now he goes home to someone else.

that has to be the death of something.

any sadder words than "i really loved you"?


fourth person

when i was a kid we spent summers at the lake and i remember i would go out into the woods with my friend and we would dig holes that seemed really big at the time but probably weren't that big at all. but we would lay these long flimsy grasses or branches across them in a lattice and then cover the whole thing up with leaves and mosses to look like the forest floor. we always fantasized that someone would walk by and walk over our covered up hole and fall inside. i can't remember whether anyone actually did or not, but in our minds they did and we laughed and laughed.

sometimes i think all of this is just grasses and leaves spread too thinly over a hole. all it takes is a footstep or even a breath of air and i go crashing through. how difficult it is to really fill the damn thing up, once it's dug. maybe impossible. maybe someone out there is laughing.


i wonder: am i the immovable object, or the irresistible force?

today, robin said "the most futile thing a linguist can ever do is to try to create a taxonomy of clearly delimited categories."

i read this in a book on ojibwe grammar:
"...one realizes acutely the truth of Michael Krauss's statement that a hundred linguists working for a hundred years could never get to the bottom of a single language."

and yet, we persist.

oh, also. in this week's installment of how-to-drive-me-crazy:
"Amy, this is a very strong assignment--close to excellent."


changing the world, one moving violation at a time

i had just biked off of campus, heading south on dana street and the light was red at haste. i looked up and down and nobody was coming, so i just rode right through. at the next block i had to stop and i hear this "excuse me." aw crap, a motorcycle cop. "is there some reason you didn't stop at the red light?"

well, that's awfully civilized for a motocop, but is this a trick question? i cast around my brain for some plausible denial of liability, but nothing comes to me. "uhhhh...preservation of momentum, i guess?" delivered with what i hoped to be a winning smile. hard to say if i was winning or not. he gave me a serious but not at all fear-inspiring verbal warning to obey all traffic laws, then zoomed off.

citizens of berkeley, i say to you: take heart! the police force is on the scene to protect you from public enemy 45,001: girl on a bike.


more strange days

tonight i had an unusual experience.

i was at a birthday dinner for my friend, at her friend's house near the grand lake theater in oaktown. i knew many of the people there, but some i hadn't met before, mainly friends of the host (the friend of my friend). anyway i happened to mention in conversation that i just started grad school and a man who was there started asking me questions about it, and we ended up talking for about 1/2 hour.

he seemed to be around 60 years old, lighter-complected black. a compelling, beautiful older man. hawklike nose and high cheekbones but with a strange restraint about him. a little unsettling. a lot of things in the conversation didn't add up...he told me he'd given talks at berkeley and stanford (and the content he told me about was mainly related to current events, but he said in a somewhat cagey way that he gave talks about criminal justice). he spoke a phrase to me in a language i didn't even understand enough to know what it was, and he said it was his language. i asked him where he was born and he said "in another country. mississippi."

he hadn't been introduced to me but near the end of our talk he told me his full name in a rhetorical way that flowed with the conversation: johnny spain.

it was a weird interaction and my spidey sense was tingling a little. so he gave these talks at berkeley and stanford, and yet nothing about this guy said academic. he was articulate and intelligent, but definitely did not have the ph.d vibe about him. i was curious, so after i got home i looked him up online.

mixed race child born illegitimately to a white woman (who was married to a white man) in mississippi in the forties. eventually sent away by the parents to a foster family in california. troubled childhood, fell in with gangs. ended up killing someone in a robbery. sent to san quentin. there he was in a cell next to george jackson, and ended up becoming a member of the black panther party. was involved in the san quentin six uprising, and sentenced to life. after a 14-year appeal, got the conviction overturned, was released on parole in the late eighties, and now lives in the bay area.

i guess you never know who you'll meet at a dinner party.



a week of turing machines, cults of personality, points of connection, dead languages, cognitive constraints on action, and random moments here and there with new friends. i saw famous people lay out their ideas and be challenged by undergraduates.

beautiful chaos: it's the new same-old-same-old.

i had research ideas and reading groups and meetings and meetings. i got a new helmet and rode my bicycle. i went to a potluck and an art opening. i ate a lot of cheese. membrillo party tonight. "get well fidel" cuban-themed party tomorrow night. it's not that i don't enjoy the social stuff, it's just that in a way i wish i could stay home tonight and study. or watch a movie. or sleep. but also it's part of the whole experience and i want the whole experience and anyway, quince paste is delicious.

but first, i think, a short nap.


ten minutes for q&a

the questions are infinite.
the answer is simply, overwhelmingly: be excellent.

stand in front of everyone and write your analysis on the board and defend it. watch them copy it down in their notebooks. but don't be satisfied. ride the bus home and open your books up again and work to stay a step ahead. two steps, if possible. because excellence isn't cheap and it isn't self-perpetuating.

the good news is that it isn't strictly a you-have-it-or-you-don't kind of thing. intelligence and talent are that way, perhaps, but excellence can be (must be) fostered. grown. earned. hamming says: "Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime." he also says "You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this."

this sounds like a justification or a call to action. it is neither. there are drives that come from somewhere inside and they are more powerful than decisions. it isn't that i have decided to pursue. the pursuit chose me. now i pursue because my organs and cells insist that i do so.