Juste un Peu de Réconfort

About two semesters ago, I nearly failed an English class. It wasn’t an absence of adequate skill; I can and still do write papers that turn heads in those circles of mediocrity. For starters, no one writes another paper ever again after finishing school, no they write articles, letters, dissertations, and eulogies; I dislike English classes for that reason, but that was not the cause of my misstep. It was something closer to a personality disagreement between the professor and I, specifically a single statement, seemingly innocuous and helpful. In an attempt to purge and cleanse our writing, he said that sentimentality has no purpose in English, or our lives. I disagreed and feel the same way now, and I earned my A to boot, but I still feel wronged by what he had to say. I found this to explain how I felt before deciding to write this. I felt sorry for the people who listened to what he had to say, but also guilty that I’d never corrected him.

If I had known what trouble you were bearing;
What griefs were in the silence of your face;
I would have been more gentle and more caring,
And tried to give you gladness for a space.
I would have brought more warmth into the place,
If I had known.

If I had known what thoughts despairing drew you;
(Why do we never try to understand?)
I would have lent a little friendship to you,
And slipped my hand within your hand,
And made your stay more pleasant in the land,
If I had known.

There are certain things that surround us, things which normally go unseen while hazarding our lives. Their numbers are many, randomly dispersed, and each is molded uniquely. An old website frequented or writing on a notebook long discarded, as an example, perhaps. Others waft from the an apple pie cooking in the oven, or linger at locales important to our past, the back of a coffee shop for instance or and old tree stump near the trash. Maybe it’s that song you never learned the words to, but like to hum when it’s quiet. They exist as a sort of personal haunting, but not unwelcomely so. I aim to recognize that these objects are ubiquitous, numerous, but above all, comforting. This is not to say that they necessarily make us warm and happy; some will and do, but others are as painful as when they were made. Yes, I mean to say that these objects are pieces of ourselves we have left behind. They are things we know well, because they compose who we were, and they make our experience whole.

Therein lies the comfort. Sometimes the misadventures of our lives leave us stranded, and at a certain point, when we feel the most like quitting or sitting out, it becomes easier and more inviting to allow someone else to control the wheel, or at least lend helpful advice. Friends like these are far and few between, so some turn to God, others to drugs and alcohol, and yet others to sex. Some turn to all three, in a sick play on the uniquely human experience of piety and absolution. I offer that we do not need other people or ideas to provide a shoulder-more often than not, that comfortable recess has been cleaved from life-not because we do not need comforting or affection, but rather that we have it already at our disposal. We have, in fact, deposited sign posts ourselves to point the way all around; people call it sentimentality. Some of these are soft and huggable, others sharper than the sting of a belt, but all of them are uniquely familiar and close. This feeling is critically important to survival, not a gimmick to earn sales at book stores and theatres. We leave ourselves behind, sentimentally, to save ourselves.

Just stop and think about it. What has made you, you? What messages have you left yourself, what feelings have you stowed away? Speak to that character from your favorite television show, clean the toop of your closet, remember what you wanted to be when you grew up, search! I’m not sure where or what it is for everyone, but I know it exists and it’s more important that your English teacher might have made it out to be. Everyone deserves just a little bit of comfort. It’s possible.

On Getting By

I got in my car quite happily today, thinking about how it wasn’t really that hot today. It wasn’t until I glanced at the thermometer reading 104 degrees that I realized how incredibly numb I must be to not register a day like today as hot. It’s not that I didn’t feel warm walking out my chilly office, no, I certainly felt my nicely pressed shirt sticking to my back as I readjusted by sunglasses, and I think everyone heard me swearing after I burned my hand on the shit-interlock trying to back out of my space. No, it’s just that it’s been worse, and that numbs today’s pain, and that’s a nice sort of feeling. Despite the fact that it’s still bleeding hot outside, it doesn’t much bother me.

This is my last week here at Intel as an engineering intern, at least for this summer, and there’s a similar feeling. I still have sit all day long in gray cubicle running on 7-8 hours of sleep, fighting boredom first, and challenging technical problems second. I still make pretty penny, and I still won’t see half of it having been moved tax brackets. I still eat lunch here, alone, waiting for someone to be able to go out with me. I’m still leaving an hour late, and charging an hour less. I don’t mean to be unappreciative; this has been a phenomenal opportunity. I could be working at some deli now, shoving around large boxes of furniture and televisions I couldn’t afford, or working at Kid’s Club, but having been granted access to the adult version of elementary school, I’m thankfully critical. In many ways, I’m struck by how cyclic life is: it was only last summer I was getting trays of food for five year-olds in their cafeteria, and now I’m carrying my own yellow tray. It’s not what I want to do, but I want to do it so that I can be who I want to be. It’s been worse. I think I can manage just another week.

Or few decades. I suppose I’ll have to see how my college carrier pans out, but I’ve got a feeling that my backup of computer science will play a considerable role in providing for my future happiness. Beside that, I have wants that aren’t necessarily included in my future, like the BMW M3 that I so like to day-dream over. I think it was Mondrian who, when frustrated by having to paint trees, berated his teacher, demanding to create something else, something unique. In response, his teacher provided only more hoops, through which his student jumped, leaving a better artist his wake. At least, I think that’s how it went. It might have been the other way around, but it’s certainly more interesting to think that he might have been perturbed painting a tree, instead yearning to paint squares, and other rectangles to match.

Friday is my last day, but it was also supposed to be the day I would finally go on my very first road trip. Needless to say, I’m not going. For about two months, all I thought about at work was the tremendously amazing trip I had planned, how happy we would be, and how much more completed I would feel after this seemingly trivial adolescent fantasy. I’m not going, and I’m still upset, but there’s also been worse: the expectation that I simply allow this to happen, get over it quickly and quietly, and delude myself into thinking it will be different next time, on your honor. You see, you’re full of shit, and that is worse, so today, the fact that I’m not going on my trip doesn’t bother me as much. Maybe I should pretend it never happened, and everything would be that much happier. The trouble is, I can’t forget that doing something like this was permissible to you; do I want to do anything with anyone who thinks that’s an okay thing to do? The real trouble is that I’m drowning in assholes.

Let’s shift gears. For the first part of my internship, I worked with C to produce hand-built XML parsers. While not the most invigorating work, I learned enough to make it worth it. XML parsing, I think, belongs in somewhere much higher up, like Java, for example. Unfortunately, I’m stuck here in the land of where low-level X86 machine-code is paramount, and where we have compilers to make that actually feasible. These people I work with like bare-metal, whereas me, I’m somewhere stuck between the instant-results oriented scripter and the Big-Iron loving Java and .Net. I look to human history for my lead for this moral dilemma (it really is that crucially important to some people): we achieve my building on others work, using what exists to fashion something new or improve something that exists. It’s why we have C compilers, for example. As a result, I chose the JVM, specifically Sun’s Hotspot JVM. I spent a lot of time researching various paradigms of development, different technique and all different tools, and I’ve settled here. You should understand that this JVM is one of the most heavily optimized pieces of software in the world, and it’s huge. It has at least two interpreters and three different pipelines for JIT compiling “hotspot” code blocks, and after warm-up, can easily compete with C++ and often outperform it. I inherit the design of the JVM in Java as object orientation, but also strong typing, and powerful reflection features. My applications are sandboxed and are largely safe from and toward the host OS. Where Hotspot doesn’t exist, I am still pampered by the existence of JVMs for any device I’d ever hope for, from cell phones around the world to the world’s smallest microcontrollers (in fact, I am starting a new hardware project with the JVM on a 180 MHz ARM- stay tuned). By far the biggest advantage, though, is the standard library written for Java and the mountain of code and libraries that exist, freely available. It makes no sense to rewrite my own GUI presentation foundation, or my own XML streaming parser when quality products already exist cooperatively together-brilliant! If you can’t tell, I’m quite sold on the JVM as a platform, meaning execution environment as well as supporting tools. Generally, I’m just as happy with Java as a language, even with its quirks. When I find Java too verbose, though, I switch to something else running on the JVM, say Groovy or JRuby. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Nope, I’m not quite done geeking out. I’ve done quite a bit of research on personal time of the JVM, its implementations and architecture, but also compiler design and emitting usable JVM bytecode from those compilers. It’s been a real blast, so much so, that I’ve created my own functional language, which I’ve named Casper. There are plenty of real languages out there, that I doubt I’ll ever release it, but I’ve learned too much from Casper not to mention it. Thinking about the compiler has naturally made me curious about the runtime. While I can never hope to rival the performance of Hotspot on my own in this decade, I am still fascinated by its design. And since Java and its supporting technologies are open source, I’m free to pursue my passions. Yes, I’m done.

This Friday, I have a party planned at Organ Stop Pizza. I’m hoping for a fun time, but over the 50ish people I invited, I don’t really expect a big showing. I’m amazed at how flaky some people can be. But even that doesn’t bother me that much, because this weekend, I’m driving to Las Vegas for what may very well be the end of my dangerous love affair with dazzling lights, alcohol and buffets, beautiful people, and Star Trek: The Experience. That’s another discussion altogether though, for now, I’m spent.

Snapshot

Sometimes I read what I’ve written, and I have to wonder who was writing here. I don’t recognize myself after the fact, and it doesn’t bother me. I feel a lot like how I imagine a window feels when it’s being dragged around its desktop while Windows struggles to keep redrawing it. I feel stuck in a lot of places, as if in each passing moment, I leave an exact copy of who I was behind. I don’t think I’d recognize myself in mirrors, either, if I looked in them. I don’t like what mirrors do to people.

I’d like to say that I’m being a bit of a psychological projeriac, and that my sad family trait passed down from generation to the next is premature sophistication. It’s not true, and I’m floundering here in a genre that is both well-defined and full to the brim with people who “feel this way”. No, I just felt like saying that I have no idea who I’ve been. And if that’s the case, how will I figure out who I am?

The Smoke in Your Eyes

I have a lot on my mind right now. I’m thinking about work, how much I have left to do, but how little time I have to do it. I’m thinking about school, why I should continue, and what would happen if I didn’t. I’m thinking about cars, gas prices, and being genuinely concerned about money-I never knew gas at only a quarter a gallon. I’m thinking about travel, far away places written about in old books we don’t read anymore. I’m thinking about children and a family. I’m wondering myself how I can want and not want that simultaneously. I’m thinking about thinking, and demanding that that leave me alone. 

Most of all, though, I’m thinking of a place. There’s a smoky railway car there, filled with people on their way the the big city, hoping for fresh start in the morning, or at least the chance for a drink before bed.  Some others are in amber-lit bars and indigo nightclubs, lounging, because they can afford not to be involved. Everyone darts around with defined strut, the kind full of brash confidence that comes with winning a war and owning the world. They walk under soaring skyscrapers in perpetual twilight, and the men thank themselves for being clever enough to blot out the sun. It’s a sardonic place: men harasses their compliant secretaries in the elevator, black waiters strive not to seem too uppity, and jewish men work for jewish agencies. Yet, only the liars are the ones telling the truth.

I don’t know this place first hand, but I wish I did. Life seems to be nothing more but an ad for tomorrow, and in my waiting, I’ve uncovered myself in the past. I have a job and money, and talent and schooling. I have people to talk to, and parties to attend. In this different world, I might have been successful: young, handsome, and a navy hero-a real american winner. I’d have been the guy who let other guys know what kind of guy I was, just so the girls might know what kind of girls they should be. I’d have taken an Old Fashioned in company, but just a bottle in the office. My white shirt would never show wear, because I’d have extras pressed in my desk drawer. I’d always look smart, dark, and successul. I recognize the grandeur in luxuriating in this past, and affirm just how lucky we are to be here.