Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Long-Awaited Update

Or Rather, Long-Procrastinated Update...


I. My House

Barbara, who owns the house and lives here with her tenants, is just a fascinating woman- sharp as a tack, honest and caring. I've had many a great late-night talk with her about ideas of science and faith and experience. I'm the sort of person who always needs to have Ideas on the brain, or else I start getting really self-centered about my own worries, so it's wonderful to have that opportunity for honest sharing. It's like my late-night conversations with Erik and Nick in the Shoreland.

Three of the five tenants are German, and three of the five (not the same three) are physicists of some sort, so it's an interesting house.

Christoph is a visiting grad student in physics. He and I arrived here at the same time, and quickly bonded together (a beer-sharing policy is quite effective in that regard). Christoph's strangely obsessed with Nintendo: I recently knocked on his door to see if we could grab dinner together, and he said, "Oh yeah, food. I've just been reading through 770 comments on the Nintendo Revolution controller; I guess I should eat." Of course, I'm strangely obsessed with football, so when he saw Barbara and I watching Rams vs. 49ers and ascertained who was rooting for whom, he started cheering "Oh yeah! The Rams suck, the 49ers are clearly so much better!" It wouldn't have been quite so frustrating if the 49ers hadn't somehow won the game.

Falk is a postdoctoral candidate in microbiology with a bright research future. Recently, he came in with a stack of free East Bay Express newspapers and showed off the impressive cover story on finding bacteria in termite stomachs that could produce hydrogen for fuel cells. He has a quote on Page 1 and a picture (he's the guy on the left) on Page 2. (Of course, there's a downside to even a quality free newspaper: Falk was getting ready to send the article to his parents in Germany but lamented, "I've really got to cut out some of these ads so my parents don't see them!")

I don't know Yayu quite as well. He's a postdoc in physics, who lives in the unenviable situation of being 3000 miles from his wife, a postdoc in Connecticut. So, many weekends, he's simply gone. One weekend he was home, he did clean out Christoph and me at poker ("No, really, I've never played Hold 'Em before!"), but in general I haven't seen him that much.

And Thomas, the last student to arrive (also a visiting grad student in physics), is perhaps the most socially adjusted one of us. We mostly forgive him for that. Thomas learned a bit of Bay Area geography the hard way when he tried to bike to Marin County last weekend; we saw him again at nearly midnight, following several wrong turns, two flat tires, a ferry ride and a trip back on BART.

All in all, a pretty neat house, a good place for a math nerd to hang out.

II. My Classes

After the horrific attempt to take Symplectic Geometry (I found I lacked the background to even understand the lecture; I spent the last 45 minutes sitting in the first row staring blankly at a very frantic man writing incomprehensible arcana on the blackboard), I've settled on three classes.

Banach Algebras, with Dr. Rieffel, is both my favorite and my most intense course. I spent all day today trying to grasp exactly why it was that I hadn't proved both sides of a contradiction (don't worry, kids: I figured it out, so Mathematics is safe from collapse this time) in the spectrum of these shift operators. But dang, it's cool. And Rieffel is a good, helpful lecturer, very Mr. Rogers-esque in some intangible way (other than the obvious solid-color V-neck sweater, dress shirt and khakis correlation).

Partial Differential Equations, with Dr. Zworski, is also really interesting, although too often the manipulations still seem like magic (I mean, come on: is there really such a thing as the divergence theorem? Then why didn't Chicago ever tell me about it?). Zworski occasionally brings his dog to class with him: a huge, panting silver Husky named Kopi, who doesn't really see why his master has to keep messing with that little white rock on the big board instead of going for a walk.

Algebraic Topology, with Dr. Hutchings, is my second time around with Hatcher's textbook. It's going marginally better than the first time. I think I need this course, rather than want it.

Then, I'm also trying to sit in on math seminars. The professors encourage me by saying, "Don't worry- by the time you graduate, you'll be able to understand the first 15 minutes of one of these!" But nevertheless, they are cool to behold.

III. My Love

Ah, Alice is leaving for Chicago on Thursday, and I miss her already. It won't be easy being separated for months at a time, but then, we do have the Chicago relationship statistic on our side. Anyway, this looks like an exciting Quarter for her (she made me guess how she color-coded her notebooks to correspond to her classes), especially as she's staying at the Germanys'.

It's been a great time together this summer (we're always better to each other when we're not under simultaneous academic strain); we've seen my first Giants game, had our favorite dim sum thrice, caught another modern classical concert in Santa Cruz, tested a succulent Ox-Tail Soup recipe, taught me a bit about gardening, and more.

I'll get to see her tomorrow one more time, here in Berkeley. After that, I really will have license to miss her, won't I?

IV. Idea Blogs

I wrote something on pacifism and the Just War tradition, but on further review I overturned the original call. Maybe I'll get back around to that.

Also, all summer I've been burning up inside to write about different attitudes to religious experience, but I've never finished the post on it. I really ought to.

V. Disclaimer 3

I am not a representative of Catholicism at its best. I am a Bad Catholic. And I don't mean that in any hazy philosophical sense of "yes, we all fall short somewhat", but in its most direct sense. I have great faults, I keep injuring myself and others by them, I go and confess the same things each time, but to change my nature would be an act of God that He has not yet seen fit to perform.

I'm deathly afraid of what each of you really thinks of me. I want you all to believe that I have my life together, that I'm brilliant and unselfish and wise and humble and full of integrity. But really I'm a mess, and I worry all the time about whether I'm saying the right things and whether I've remembered all I ought to do to keep my life together.

I come across- or I try to come across- as completely certain of myself and of my conclusions, but I'm not. I fear uncertainty as much as anyone of my temperament, which is to say, I fear it more than I fear suffering. My faith isn't about giving me certainty; I would be just as dogmatic about my convictions no matter what those convictions were. It's a great temptation of mine.

What the Church does do is keep me in arm's reach of the Lord who made me. I know Him, even if He does not let me know for sure all the things I want to know for sure. And I know that in the Church, in the Sacraments, I can find Him where I empty myself. My sins never satisfy me, and my theologizing never satisfies me; Christ in the Eucharist does satisfy me.

I care for you all, all the people whom I know read this blog. I'm sorry I can be so full of myself; I'm probably a better writer when I'm not.

But God is good.

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