The last Port Townsend entry, and this one with nothing of substance. Except for pictures!
PS - I love you, California weather.
Different cafe, different wireless, better coffee. Fewer underage girls.
As you might have guessed, boredom/isolation has pressed some sort of big red writing button in my head. I even started another short story. No, you can't read it.
Tonight's forecast calls for rain, freezing around midnight. Hopefully I can make it to the airport tomorrow. The roads seem clear once one hits the freeways, so we should be OK if we leave 6-7 hours before my flight. To clear up any possible confusion (though you guys have probably clued into this already), I've been backdating the entries to reflect the date of composition, not the date of posting.
See you all soon!
Casino Royale is not to be, as it doesnât play at the local one-screen until 4pm. Since the temperature is only 24 degrees at the height of the day, we decide to head back to the condo rather than braving the re-iced roads later in the afternoon.
As the sun dips below the horizon, I walk down a thin trail to the beach. Snow crisps and crackles beneath me. A trickling sheet of ice, where the snow has melted and refrozen, encases a steep road paralleling the path. Itâs so cold that Iâm having trouble breathing. Having braved fifty below winters, my friends from Alaska would laugh at that last sentence.
Reaching the strand, I tramp across a formerly verdant park towards the water. Tall, wiry grasses struggle through the ice in clumps. I sway atop a snowy dune, buffeted by weather off the ocean. A copse of windblasted pines is to my right, but whitecaps off the Sound are to all other sides. In the failing cobalt light I can see a bridge in the far distance, linking an island with the dark peninsula. The sun goes down and I turn to leave. My hands are so cold that my thighs burn like kilns through the thin material of my pockets. A news report later shrills that the windchill-adjusted temperature hovers around zero. My parents cue up an uplifting movie about an abused child killer in South Africa to watch in the freezing gloom. The weather has clearly driven them masochistically mad.
Itâs time for some past tense and a departure from Port Townsend, as I air some thoughts on my future.
Exactly a week ago I had a meeting with my thesis committee and was told that I should leave Berkeley within a calendar year. Between now and that ominous date I must submit two manuscripts, help author a third, and write a thesis. I must also decide on a lab for a postdoc, which is where this entry comes in.
In the comments of a Port Townsend entry, Michele suggested that I look to Portland for employment. Unfortunately, my scientific interests and long term plans rather limit my options. Only a few labs do the kind of work Iâm interested in. One is at UCSF, another at Duke, and the last at University of Washington.
The lab at Duke is doing amazing things, but is headed by someone described to me as âweird and intense.â This depiction came from the weirdest, most intense professor I have ever met. Not a good sign. To make matters worse, Iâd like to stay on the West Coast. So much so that, even though precautionary strong ropes tie me to the mast, my deaf ears can not even hear North Carolinaâs siren song. Then again, Iâve never even visited the South, so who am I to say that Iâll dislike it?
The lab at UCSF seems a fun place and is filled with experts who could teach me just what I want to learn. However, the boss has just started her own group. Generally, this means that Iâll be the only âwetâ biologist in the entire lab and that Iâll have to reinvent the wheel every time I want to do something on the bench. Specifically, the professor does not yet have tenure, and if she fails to receive it Iâll be suddenly cast adrift after only a few years. On the other hand, it would be nice to stay in the Bay Area, as well as to finally explore San Francisco more thoroughly. But part of me feels that staying here would be treading water. This geographical question is where Iâm most conflicted. I have a great group of friends here in the Bay Area, and would hate to leave you all behind. But a perversely masochistic piece of me thinks that it would somehow build character for me to be jostled by an area Iâve never lived and where I know no one. Realistically, this may not be a good plan. But every time I think about staying in the Bay Area for another 3-5 years, I feel a little guilty.
The UW group is kicking ass and taking names. Despite his young age, the boss is internationally known as a genius, and the lab âwinsâ what are essentially interlab method competitions by a large margin every year. However, fame has its price, and the group has ballooned to forty members, all of whom are complete bad asses. New postdocs are essentially required to bring their own money with them, in the form of fellowships. Thatâs a lot of people and a lot of pressure. The boss has a good track record of helping alumni find research positions, both in academia and biotech. But I worry that I could slip beneath the anonymizing waves of such a large group. And my recent experiences with northwest weather have made me realize just how much I like California. Could I re-acclimate to nine months of rain? Several people I know from high school and college are in Seattle: would that be a nice safety net, or would I feel guiltily stifled, as I worry I would in San Francisco?
Iâll be interviewing at all of these labs in approximately half a year. At that time, Iâll be able to make more concrete decisions, since labs that look great on paper could be disasters in person. But at the moment I canât seem to get my mind off these choices. Iâd love to hear comments and suggestions from you guys.
Back in The Boiler Room to grab a quick tea and make a post. It's a sunny 24 degrees outside. Several inches of ice encase everything. Wrecked tractor trailers closed a portion of I-5 yesterday evening. It's supposed to snow early tomorrow morning, turning into mixed rain and snow. If the roads are clear, my parents and I plan to see "Casino Royale" tonight. Hopefully my brother doesn't die on his way back down to Portland.
I posted something brief earlier today from a cafe in Port Townsend with wireless, but what follows is the actual entry for 11-27-06. Writing in present tense about the past is still fun, so Iâll switch back to that.
DISCLAIMER: From the following and previous entries, you may have the impression that Iâm miserably trapped in a family hell. This isnât actually true; Iâm doing fine. All events described are true, but describing them in such dire/dreary tones both matches the weather and is tons of fun. That being said, anyone who wants to call my cell phone and help alleviate boredom is more than welcome to.
After morning coffee and toast I hump on sweater and coat and slip my way outside. It is still snowing, and has clearly been doing so all night. At least three inches of smother the ground. With a vague desire to show you, my dear readers, the intersection of cafe and cow field, I start the long walk down to the highway in order to take a picture. Along the way I pass a girl, no more than ten, waiting for the school bus. Neither she nor I can believe that school isnât canceled. I will later see her leaping off a log into a snow drift, so I suppose allâs well that ends well.
On my way to the coffee shop, the sun begins to peek out. I order a large drip coffee ($1 and delicious) and sit down to read the local paper. Front page news: public outcry surrounds proposed shooting restrictions around residential property. The inner pages offer bizarre contradictions of importance. An entire article is written about a womanâs DUI sentencing. Three sentence blurbs of the police blotter describe a would-be thief discovered in the process of taking apart a hotelâs electronic safe, and a suicidal man with an AK-47 talked out of the woods after firing two rounds. Among the full-length stories I find the description of a co-op cafe, The Boiler Room, staffed by volunteers. I was planning on heading into town anyway, so I make note of the address.
Approximately two hours later I find myself in a car with my mother and brother. My brotherâs itch for internet access is almost uncomfortable to behold. My mother has a vague plan to wander around the downtown shops. Halfway to Port Townsend, it begins to snow again.
When we arrive in town, my brother and I head towards the cafe I read about, while my mother ducks into a storefront. When we arrive at the coffee shop, we find a sign proclaiming, âCLOSED: We Canât Find Anyone Who Wants to Work.â But the door is open and a few people are inside, so I head in anyway. Iâm immediately struck by their age: no one appears over 20 years old. My brother makes a beeline for the counter and discovers that the internet access is broken. âYouâre welcome to hang out,â offers the girl. âBut weâre not really selling anything.â My brother ejects himself from the shop as if slung from a twanging slingshot. I decide to take them up on the offer and park myself on a couch with Jonathan Lethemâs Fortress of Solitude.
This next paragraph is an aside about Fortress of Solitude, so skip ahead if youâre not interested. This book has taken me ages to work through. Iâm most familiar with Lethem through his science fiction, but lately Iâve heard friends interested in real literature extolling the inventiveness and style of his latest work. Intrigued, I borrowed F of S from a friend. I became bogged down almost immediately for reasons I couldnât really translate at the time, but I now think are technical. Lethem has a very particular style, which he applies with a broad brush. Making comparisons to F of S, Lethem tends to write in a very Robert Woolfolk way: jangly and spastic, with reservoirs of energy venting themselves in unexpected violence. Frankly, I love it. The problem comes when Lethem tries to apply this style to a protagonist who is a cowering wreck. The match works when Dylan eventually comes into his own, but mainly because of the contrast to Dylanâs past. Unfortunately, Lethem wades up to eighth grade for about half the novel, and then skitters through high school for a few chapters before flipping years ahead and into first person. One of the first events after this bump is an argument skewering Dylanâs preoccupation with his own childhood. âOh,â I realized. âSo thatâs why Lethem went on and on about it.â I found myself with similar thoughts on several occasions. Lethem builds up steam by using either the narrative or phrasing put you in a particular mood that a character is feelingâ And then either hammers it to death or takes too long to follow up. When he finally does spring it on you, the event is so far past or the reader so numbed that uncomfortable sentences or paragraphs are necessary to explicitly remind you about the connection and why you should care. The idea is great, unarguably very difficult, and it works in several cases. In others, the timing is just off. As for claims of imagination, F of Sâs Macguffins (such as Aaron X. Doilyâs ring) feel somewhat out of place. For inventiveness, you should read Gun, With Occasional Music.
Anyway, back into my own narrative -- reading on a couch in The Boiler Room. About fifteen minutes after my arrival, the cafe begins to come alive. Every once in a while someone over 40 will enter, swoop down on a coffee, and just as quickly exit. But the vast majority of visitors are between 15 and 25. They all clearly know each other, and greetings are loud and exuberant. One guy sets up a chess board and abandons it. Two different people sit down and play a fast game ten minutes later. The music is good and no one seems to begrudge me the space, so I stay comfortable and plow through Fortress of Solitude. At one point someone cheers that the internet is back up, so I haul out my laptop and get to posting what Iâve been writing in Notepad the last few days. A girl sitting next to me leans over and asks what Iâm writing, so we start talking about blogging and such. After about five minutes I suddenly realize that 1) sheâs flirting with me, and 2) sheâs got to be around 17. Unsure of how to politely extract myself, I am profoundly relieved when my mother and brother phone 30 seconds later, asking if Iâm ready to leave yet. I pack up, make some hurried goodbyes, and blow on out into the snow.
Thatâs right, itâs snowing again; great big clumped piles drifting down over the water. We crawl back home behind a train of trembling Washington drivers. On the way, my mother announces that my brother has decided to drive back to Beaverton tomorrow, and that theyâll be ending their vacation a day early to drive me to the airport. Having expected plenty of opportunities to explore the area, she is not happy about the snow. Cabin fever appears to be affecting everyone equally
Posting from a co-op cafe in Port Townsend. My brother is hovering impatiently near the car, so this will be a brief entry. I just posted several entries from the past week that I've been keeping in Notepad (so excuse any typos or misspellings). Pictures will follow when I return to Berkeley, since I forgot to bring the USB cable for my camera.
Still snowing, by the way.
Up at 7:30 to catch a ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle. I plan to meet D_____, a friend from high school who lives in Everett. But as we get in the car, snow starts falling. And continues falling the entire hour to the dock. As the ferry embarks, D_____ calls to say that she's not comfortable driving on the snowy roads. Oh well.
I decide to explore Seattle (or at least part of it) on my own. I spend the first few hours wandering downtown, tracing a random orbit around the singularity of Pike's Place Market. It begins to rain in earnest, so I hop on a bus to avoid being soaked. I am wearing a short sleeved shirt, two sweaters, a windbreaker, and a scarf. I am still cold.
After about 15 minutes on the bus, I suddenly realize that I am riding the same route that took me to and from work the summer I was a NOC tech at WolfeNet. I decide to play along with this unexpected turn of events.
I get off the bus at the bottom of University Ave, near 40th, and find that the rain has abated somewhat. Since I'm already so close to campus, I walk over to admire the Suzzallo library. While inside the library, I muse that I have never actually touched my two articles in print; I have only seen their online forms. I walk several blocks down to the Health Sciences library and finally see the articles in bound form. They look exactly the same as the online versions, but feel very different. In an attempt to see how UW treats its biologists, I attempt to gain access to the nearby research labs. They are, of course, locked. Several people suspiciously watch as I try door after door. I decide to leave quickly before the campus police show up. The rain has resumed, and I fear that tasering could be dangerous in such weather.
As I walk up University, my shoes begin to leak. I am suddenly aware of just how cold, wet, and hungry I am. However, as I mentioned on 11-24-06, this is Washington, and so I walk no more than 25 yards to a couch-filled coffee shop and enjoy the best latte I've had since moving to Berkeley. The chocolate chip banana bread is delicious.
While reading The Stranger, I come across a piece on Joanna Newsom. Bay Area woman makes good. Story at 11.
Mlle. P____ text messages me, and I spend a good half hour or so learning how to use the predictive text function of my phone. I tell her about a Seattle Balkan Brass Band that I just read about. She asks their name. Predictive text messaging does not do well with "Orkestar Zirkonium".
While sitting in the coffee shop, the steady rain becomes a steady snow. At least it's not sticking. Since the weather shows no sign of letting up and I've warmed considerably, I decide to strike out once again. I pass Flowers near 43rd and manage to restrain the urge to go inside and have a beer. I am unable to restrain my urge to go inside a cat-filled used bookstore. While inside, I can hear the upstairs neighbor playing Wolf Parade at high volume. This prompts me to visit Cellophane Square, where I almost buy several Echo and The Bunnymen CDs.
Having successfully curtailed all capitalist impulses, I exit back onto the street. A bus from the line I originally rode in on passes, reminding me that my old house is relatively nearby. It's *really* starting to snow now. I trudge up the hill and back down the other side, almost falling on my ass several times. Eventually, I stand in front of the house where I lived for a summer. It does not seem to have changed at all. Until I notice the "Proud to be Hawaiian" sticker in the window of the room that used to be Ali's. I turn and slip my way back up the hill.
My music box is playing Low's "Things we Lost in the Fire", which matches the weather perfectly, but not my mood. Somehow I expected to be morose upon seeing this old haunt once again, but I'm strangely neutral. I'm not sure if that's because I like Seattle, or because I really hate it and now I live somewhere else. This would be an excellent thing to decode. Ideally before I make a decision about a postdoc.
As I composed this entry, I read through what I wrote yesterday about my brother. I felt ashamed for being too harsh on him. We haven't seen each other for several years, and I wondered if I extrapolated too much from a single day. As I thought this, my brother entered the room, announced that the bedroom we're sharing is too claustrophobic, and manhandled his mattress out of the room. He will spend the night on the small balcony overlooking the main floor.
At breakfast I announce my intentions to strike off into the wilderness of the Olympic National Forest. If I'm going to be in the middle of nowhere, I'd like to face the remoteness head on. I enjoyed driving aimlessly through backwoods Washington for eight years, so why not try it now? My brother shows interest in coming along, and I think it would be good to spend some time alone with him. We start driving. We continue for an hour or two, mostly in silence. Then we turn left where the sign says "Hurricane Ridge". I don't really have any plans, and one place seems as good as any other. I will later find out that this is not what my brother had in mind.
The road to Hurricane Ridge begins to climb. Snow soon appears on the ground, followed by a heavy dusting on the trees. I stop several times to take pictures or admire a view of the bay. My brother sits in the car. As we get higher, the trees begin to thin and the snow becomes several feet thick. I realize that Hurricane Ridge is a skiing location. This is uncomfortable. For some reason I park several hundred feet from the lodge and walk to it. The wind is blowing so hard that ice crystals whipped off the snow pierce my zip-up hoodie and embed themselves in my intestines. I lose all feeling in the windward side of my body within seconds, but somehow I reach the lodge. I spend five minutes inside, gathering the will to go outside again. Halfway back to the car, a snowboarder sails in front of me, blown out to sea by a particularly strong gust. The inside of the car is gloriously warm. My brother is not happy.
Halfway down the mountain I stop to take a picture of an abandoned pickup-plow that is almost completely covered by snow. My brother asks if he can drive. This frees me to take some (I think) nice pictures of the sun struggling against the oppressive clouds. To take these, I open the window and hang out the side of the car. The waves of discontent rolling off my brother, which had diminished, renew in intensity. He announces that he'll be driving back to Port Townsend. Since I'm nowhere near ready to return, I suggest otherwise. It turns out that he thought that I wanted to go somewhere specific in the National Forest and then start hiking. This sounds like an OK plan, so I suggest we go do that. Suddenly he wants me to drive again.
We're now on our way to Deer Park, the nearest location within the national forest that seems reachable by car. As we drive, I am struck by the scenery and stop to take a picture. My brother asks "What's with all the pictures?" I give a typically sarcastic answer. Tension builds. After about 15 minutes of driving, the road begins to climb and snow appears on the ground. It quickly becomes obvious that any hiking at Deer Park would have to be done in conditions that my brother does not look forward to. We turn around and begin the drive back to Port Townsend. Neither of us says anything for 45 miles. I earnestly wish that I stated by intentions to aimlessly drive/wander before embarking.
When we return, my parents have cooked a belated Thanksgiving dinner. The stuffing is absolutely delicious, as are the potatoes. The wine leaves a little to be desired, but beggars can't be choosers. My mother begins the anticipated campaign to fatten me up, and attempts to force several extra servings onto my plate. She relents surprisingly quickly, having only offered me extra cranberries, stuffing, potatoes, and broccoli. Everything seems to be going well, and conversation is rolling along at a decent pace.
My brother, who has been silently pushing the remains of his dinner around with a fork, suddenly announces his intention to leave the vacation early. He would like to drive back down to Portland on Monday. This could be trouble, as he was to be my ride to the airport on Thursday. Again, tension builds. He eventually relents, but the mood has been broken.
Later that night, my brother says that he has changed his mind about applying for at networking job on G___'s team. He claims to hate working in IT. I'm beginning to see what my parents have been going through.
Arrival in Seatac airport. Into the car for a short drive to a nearby town. Stop at Azteca for lunch. No wonder I thought I thought I hated Mexican food for over twenty years. We continue the drive. And drive. And drive. Not only is Port Townsend isolated, the place we're staying is itself located 15 miles from Port Townsend. We turn right seemingly at random along a lonely stretch of highway 19. This being Washington, the nearest landmarks are a cow pasture and coffee shop, both located at the corner.
The unit itself could accurately be described as "cozy", but is still quite nice. My brother arrives. Suddenly the unit seems much smaller. My brother's ennui and my parents' preoccupation with same is palpable. We play Yahtzee. I'm starting to remember why I let two years elapse between visits with my family. Later that night I ask my brother about his experience with network admin and scripting. He seems quite knowledgeable, and expresses great interest when I suggest that he apply for a job with G___'s team. I think that my parents have been drastically overstating the case when they have complained that my brother lacks motivation to find a job and leave the house. He seems quite excited at the prospect of moving to the Bay Area, and several times comments that the position sounds fun and engaging.
I have a dilemma. Within the last month, I've become more and more dissatisfied with my living situation. One roomate is nearly intolerable, and the other is so private that I see her at most ten minutes a week. This makes for a depressing housing situation, since I have no social interactions at home. With that situation as backdrop, I've recently been asked to move in with a former roommate that is a friend, and whose company I greatly enjoy.
The problem is severalfold:
Man with a Movie Camera is a shocking piece of work. Groundbreaking doesn't even begin to describe it. I spent much of the film with my jaw on the floor, marveling at how many techniques and tricks in modern cinema are simply copies of what Dziga Vertov did in 1929, just two years after Metropolis and the first talkie. If you pick up Man with a Movie Camera, try to find a version with The Cinematic Orchestra's excellent soundtrack. Failing that, I'd be glad to lend out the soundtrack on CD for you to synch with the movie (as I did).
As I randomly browsed YouTube, waiting for a timer to go off, I found that I had missed Sufjan Stevens playing at the Zellerbach Auditorium... the day after my birthday. How very sad. I can't wait for Gene's long-promised Absolutely Nothing Special Whatsoever to keep me aware of upcoming events. Perhaps it will be RSS capable... ?
And oh yeah
Two Sentence Review: The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah is a goddamn monster.