Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pouring Rain, Fierce Winds

This past Sunday I had my swim lesson at Mission Bay. Mission Bay is the newer part of UCSF and it's quite the campus here in SF. It's not far from the Giants' ballpark. On Sundays the indoor pool is reserved for family swim classes so I have to swim in the outdoor pool on the roof. It's a beautiful view to be sure, but also freezing on certain days in the morning.

I sat in my car in the parking garage because I'd gotten there a little early. I heard the sound of the wind and looked out the window. I could see the wind blowing the rain at a diagonal. It seems both natural and counter-intuitive to be swimming in the rain. On one hand, you're already wet so what does it matter? On the other, you have to get out of the pool and walk the freezing few steps to the stairway leading down to the (warmer) locker room. Those few steps can be hard.

I told my swim instructor, who arrived wearing jeans, a baseball cap, black fleece jacket and large umbrella, that I never imagined I would be here swimming in the cold rain. He laughed and told me only hardcore people swim in the rain and I was one of them.

The majority of the lesson consisted of my instructor running back and forth in the pouring rain yelling "faster, FASTER!" as he put me through my paces with many drills. The lifeguard on duty was kind enough to lend him a huge waterproof lifeguard jacket, but he still got soaking wet. I asked him if he had to swim later, he nodded. He's taking a course or renewal of some kind so he had to swim about an hour after our lesson in the same pool.

As I swam as fast as I could back and forth I could feel the rain thumping me on the back. It was an odd feeling. It felt alien, but not wrong. I kept telling myself I was already wet. The wind started blowing the rain almost horizontal. It was affecting my ability to breathe as I turned my head because of the surface waves. I wasn't cold, my instructor made sure I kept my heart rate up. In fact he was kicking my ass. I was so winded after the last drill it was hard to take a breath as I slowly made my way down the stairway to the comfort of the women's locker room.

During the second to the last drill where I had to swim three laps without stopping I kept turning my head to breath and was sucking down water instead because of the waves. It scared me, as usual, but I had a different thought. Whenever something like that happens I always think something like "the pool is shallow enough so I can put my feet down if I need to" or "my swim instructor would never let me drown, neither would the lifeguard for that matter." This time I thought something different for the first time "This isn't that scary at all because I can swim and I'm going to keep swimming even when I'm swallowing water."

It's a new, marvelous place to be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Lost Stories: Sleven Goes Home

I keep writing stories about myself. They are short and meant to answer a particular question. The idea is you write down questions and put them in an envelope. Later (perhaps weeks later), you sit down, look up for a moment and write a very short story. After the story is done you pick an envelope to see how your story answered the question.

So far, all my stories are about people being lost (namely me). I like them a lot even if they are odd so I'm going to share one of them here.

Sleven Goes Home

Sleven was a strange girl who didn’t know her way home. When she was leaving school, the teachers had to point her in the right direction and tell her which street to turn left on. She always recognized the street and the house once she got there and she had no problems with directions to other places. The house was friendly on the outside, but forgetful on the inside. Forgetfulness reigned in that place. It was all she could do to get her homework done properly. Her parents were merely images in her mind of kind, happy people. In real life they were just vapors hanging in space. Sleven had made good use of this trying scenario. She kept the house clean and tidy and managed herself well. She was afraid of getting sick and having no one to help her so she worked hard at staying healthy and taking plenty of vitamin supplements.

Sleven was a favorite of her teachers, but not of her fellow students. No matter, she was used to managing on her own.

One day all this enforced isolation finally paid off when Sleven was mysteriously picked up by a group of rangers misplaced on her street. They told her they were from the “place far away, so far” and that they were there to take her home. She would have to endure isolation and be self-reliant, but after five years she would get her reward. Nervously she asked what that reward would be. The head ranger, Smith, told her it would the richest reward, especially for her loving heart.

“You will find everything will fall into place. I’m not saying it will become easier, far from it, but you will find your place in this world.”

Sleven was afraid and not sure if she trusted Smith or any of the other rangers, but she didn’t know what else to do.

“It will be difficult,” said a ranger named Tomorrow, “ and you will be lonely.”

“No matter,” said Sleven, “I’m ready for it. I’m ready for the coldest isolation and the most fiery trial by fire.”

The head ranger smiled. “I promise, you will come out the other side after five years of hardship, and you will come out smiling.”

Sleven accepted the small knapsack of supplies they gave her and then turned one last time to wave at the group of gruff but kind men. They waved back and she walked into the dark forest. She never saw the rangers again.


The question this story was meant to answer was whether I could have a good relationship with this guy I was enamored with at the time. The short answer, based on this story, is no. I won't do any further analysis here, but I've done a fair amount on my own. In a way the story is more important than the question. I just love some of the details here such as the forgetfulness inside the house and there are more than one of my own personal anxieties on display here.

I've written a total of three stories so far and I may share story number two. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

DVD Classes/Zero and Infinity

I bought a few courses from the Teaching Company. I know for many of you sitting on your couch and watching a professor talk at the podium on your DVD for 24 lectures (at 30 minutes a pop) is enough to set you running for the remote, but I think it sounds like great fun. I bought them as a Valentine's Day present for myself since I don't have a sweetheart for this most Hallmark of holidays.

Here's what I bought:
  • The History of European Art
  • Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution (I looove quantum physics!)
  • Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers
  • Foundations of Western Civilization (from earliest civilizations to 1600)
  • Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre
  • Museum Masterpieces: The Met
Keep in mind 24 lectures is a short course. Foundations of Western Civilization is 48 lectures long. I can't wait for them to arrive at my doorstep. The Teaching Company folks also sent a web link to "Course Starter Materials" for your class. These course materials have an overview of the class, book recommendations and links to websites. Since I'm chomping at the bit, I've already done some reading and surfing around for my first class: Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers.


As many of you know I'm terrible at math. I can barely figure out the tip for the restaurant meal. When I was much younger I read a book about mathematics which I didn't understand very well, BUT there was a half a chapter on the history of counting. This half chapter was so riveting and interesting to me I never wanted it to end, but rather than explore further I told myself I couldn't do math and left it alone. I can't WAIT to learn more about the history of counting in my DVD course.

As a seventh grader with an overactive imagination and an inability to do fractions, I figured out one morning in math class that the number line, that is negative numbers, zero, positive numbers both extending into infinity in both the negative and positive directions, is really not a line at all. Instead it's a massive oval because the numbers bend back on themselves. Everything always comes back to zero.

For the first time my very good math teacher had no idea what to say, and I couldn't readily explain why I thought this was so. She asked me for specifics. I couldn't give her any. I just knew everything comes back to zero. Then, somehow, I was able to explain why. My explanation was simple and made complete sense. Or so I thought, but my friends thought I was completely out of my mind and spent a good deal of time telling me so.

When I became an adult I completely forgot about this incident. Every once in a great while I would recall it, but I completely forgot why everything comes back to zero.

While reviewing the course starter materials for my DVD course, due on my doorstep any day now, I read a line about how when it comes down to it zero and infinity are very similar numbers.

A light went on (this happened about 30 minutes ago). It sputtered for a moment and then burned brightly. The reason why everything comes back to zero is because zero and infinity are mirror images of each other. Since negative and positive numbers are mirror images of each other so is zero and infinity. This is why the numbers bend back on each other.

Now I know you're thinking this is all well and good, but you're probably wondering if it's true. Can it be proven with an equation or series of equations? The answer is I have no idea. I don't know if it's true and I have no way of finding out. I'm hoping to get a clue on my DVD class, but if the professor doesn't mention this idea I'll send him an inquiring email when the class is over.

Huh. Too bad I can't do math. I have a feeling I would have really enjoyed playing with numbers and theories and things.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I hear the clang of bronze and steel before he slips quickly into view. He is tall and thin, carrying ancient weapons. He regards me with suspicion and cold calculation. He raises the old sword to my throat. I do not move.

I feel a swoosh of feathers behind me, but still I don't move. The man looks up in shock as the seven foot Gryphon suddenly appears behind me and then plants his huge claws around the guy's neck. Mr. Gryphon crushes the man's armor like it's made of eggshells. The man falls to the ground, clutching his neck. Crimson is everywhere.

The old sword is on the ground and I reach down to pick it up. It's super heavy and sickle shaped, more ceremonial than practical even if the metal still has the marks from the ancient hammer that created it. I have to hold it with both hands even if it's not that large. The handle is made of bronze. I look at Mr. Gryphon.

"Where did he get this sword? It must be over 2,500 years old."

"He probably found it somewhere. It appears completely intact, but geographically it's traveled a long way." I hand the sword to Mr. Gryphon so he can carry it for me. We have only just arrived here and I took a wrong turn and had the misfortune of running into that now dead knight.
Mr. Gryphon and I are in Compiegne in Northern France the night before the state tournament starts. The year is 1272. For some reason I've wanted to come here just to see, or maybe it's because I've been thinking of Heath Ledger and that silly movie "A Knight's Tale" which I like very much, by the way. I am dressed in a nun's outfit having bought one from a kind sister just before we arrived in town. Mr. Gryphon is visible only when he needs to be which is lucky because that means when he's carrying the sword it will be invisible too.

The place is overrun with knights getting drunk and disorderly the night before the tournament. All around the perimeter of this town are hundreds of tents and camps. Wealthy knights hold forth in lavish tents and with their own entourages. Less wealthy country knights have set up simple camps. The smell of food, of overcooked meat, of ale, to sweaty bodies, of horses, burning wood fires and horse manure seeps into my bones. The sound of metal and weapons, horses neighing and men laughing fill the air. I hold a basket and no one pays me any attention. Men usually don't look at nun's faces.

Mr. Gryphon follows, walking regally and slowly. I am ambling to get a feel for the place. I pass a particularly lavish tent set up and run my hands over the fine, brightly colored silks. The edges are a little ratty, but otherwise the silk has held up well. We walk for quite some time then I head toward the square in the middle of town.

"Miss Turtle, this is not a very safe place," Mr. Gryphon says unnecessarily.

"I just want to look around a bit more." I adjust my wimple. The fabric is roughly dyed a dark color, but it's also scratchy and uncomfortable. I'm thankful it's a cool night.

"You got what you came for and we can come back tomorrow when the tournament starts," he says.

"Why are you in such a hurry, Mr. Gryphon?"

"We have to finish this post now so we can go get something to eat, in the real world," he says. He rarely mentions "the real world" to me. I stop and look at him and I realize he's right. I've had fun writing this post, but I did find what I was looking for. Time to stop.

As we prepare to exit a lone faded blue door appears hanging in space. Mr. Gryphon hands me the sword and opens the door for me. We pass through and manage to bring the sword and the nun's habit with us.

A Penguin Short

I'm back, finally. My phone works, my internet connection works. Thank goodness. I'm going to start with a couple short, but fun posts. I took this footage on my phone camcorder. Enjoy!

Another Penguin Short

I say in this video that Pierre is 24 years old, but he's going to be 25 this month.