Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Tuolumne June

June 26, 2014

I am not a climber. I am weak and soft and incapable– perhaps I am fatter than usual or else just feel that way. My feet are sore and my arms ache, but we can go higher. I am crouched on an outcrop on the withers of Unicorn peak. One low, hesitant step and my peripheral vision catches the drop off. I’m unsure if I have ever such before caught the scent eminent death at great height, but now I feel the legs quake. It’s what they call exposure. I step up to a wider rock, crab-walk to safety, and firmly planted, dare to look off the other side.

The people I went to school with are, I assume, off having adult lives. But I am here, on top of a mountain named for a mythical creature with which it shares a silhouette– swimming in childlike wonder, counting my years and trying to forget them. The hostile granite expanse stokes an anti-Edenic bliss; I populate the vacuum with my shortness of breath. I am trying to imagine John Muir in hiking boots, confronted with Cathedral Peak, blossoming in plain view. The unseen and unheard marmots are, I suppose, nonplussed. Somehow, we’ll have to make it down.

Along the Tioga road home there are the thousands of scorched trees, Rim Fire casualties. Decades– it will take decades at least, perhaps centuries, for this forest to be back to what it was when I saw it a year ago. A spark, and decades are erased.

I return to whatever it is I am working on, return to treading water. I see a photo of myself on top of that rock and am dashed, my gut reaction of intense self-loathing nearly ruins the experience of memory. All I see are white walls and the dank unhappiness I’ve wrapped my own head in. All is nearly forgotten.

Lost for words, I check my mail and find them: I turn luminous in an immensity of spaces. M’illumino d’immenso. Out of context, whatever that may be, I begin to think, this could be everything– my eyesight could encompass an entire mountain range and a thousand seedling trees if I only find out how to allow it.



äntligen regn

February 9, 2014

I dream about places with water. When I biked around San Pablo reservoir a few weeks ago, I found it terrifyingly less than it was before. I hadn’t seen it ages; the water sat low and still. The former shores were rimmed in white, like the salt that perspiration leaves on clothing. I wanted to take a picture of San Pablo reservoir and force every Californian to look at it. We are so used to having everything–from the redness of the year-round tomatoes to the intuitive ease of turning on the faucet and watching clean water run out of it. We are blind to disaster because we don’t know what it is.

We are also blind to familiarity. Or at least, I am. I explain LC circuits to students, over and over. It’s kind-of fun. I wake up early and get excited by how smart my professor sounds when he talks so quickly and so intelligently and so Britishly (quantum dynamics explores all possible trajectories!) but later, I struggle with my motivation and my homework. I read the title of a paper, but beyond the first few sentences I lose interest. I’m sure I’m missing things that I should be seeing, but everything just passes by. I’m trying to find something to do; I have at least ten tabs open on my browser, most of the time.

Social media permits you the illusion that you are not losing touch with the people you loved. This winter, I went very far away, to places with water, to see people in person. I went from somewhat-familiar company in a very familiar place to very familiar company in an only somewhat-familiar place. I laughed with my friends. I remembered I have friends! I used the small toilets. I ate the cheese and the bread. I rode a tire swing like a eight-year-old. I tasted that strange and frustrating high I feel when surrounded by a language I do not understand. I saw wonderful things, like famous art, like mountains, like teeth I recognize. I saw gruesome things, like famous history, like dog shit on the sidewalk, like the preserved bones of saints. Being photographed by a hundred iphones.

Today, in Northern California, it rained. For a while it was the even real rain, the kind in my dreams. I had felt like writing for a while, but doing something not-physics would pang me with guilt. Doing physics is a bizarre privilege. I have no material problems– the problems I spend time thinking about are all on scale tinier than I can really even imagine. It is dangerous to trick oneself into thinking that while death and drought can distract, it all comes down to the movement of charge. To be better at physics, I have to do not-physics, too. I have to remember how I used to think.  

The meteorologists say it’s not enough. They are right. Nonetheless, the world looks new in the rain.

When in Ramadan

July 19, 2013

Across the street from my house is an Islamic community center. These days, after dark, I see people moving, seated at a long table, through the wide illuminated window on the second floor. Presumably breaking fast, I can only imagine how good the food must taste, and how animated and joyous their speech must be, being nourished and in familiar company.

In Lund, in 2010, I remember buying a falafel from a shop just after the sun had set at around ten in the evening. Northern summer days are long, the sun hardly setting at all. Upon leaving, falafel in hand, I catch sight of two Middle-Eastern looking men sitting around a table outside the shop. They sit leaning back in their chairs with hands resting above heads in the glowing twilight;  falafel wrappers lay empty before them. Their two visages could have been the same face, their looks of supreme satisfaction matched perfectly. Aha, I thought. Ramadan.


My friend offered me her old set of Arabic books when she moved away. Curious, I accepted them with, as it turns out, naive glee. So far, I’ve opened one of them and discovered that not only does the book read from right to left, but that Arabic appears to be by no means an easy  or even moderately-difficult language. There is an entire book dedicated to solely the sounds of the letters.  It’s not necessarily high on the list of “languages I’m supposed to be learning,” but I sense an adventure between those covers. Indeed, it’s high time to de-Euro-centrize linguistic interests!


Unrelated to Ramadan, but on the topic of satisfied facial expressions:

Is it OK if I love Christophe Roblin, if only for the Alpe D’Huez win and this look of pure and utter Praise-be, Holy-shit, exhaustion, disbelief-joy?

What did I do?

July 12, 2013

I’m rounding a turn on a road in a residential neighborhood in the Oakland hills, alone on my bike, when suddenly, I spy a Mini-Cooper pulling out in front of me. I’m not going too fast, so it’s easy to stop right before the Mini. The Mini stops moving… and a few awkward seconds pass in which I don’t know what to do… I guess she’s going to wait for me? Well, she isn’t going to finish backing out at any rate. So, I ride around her.

Her male accompaniment (whom I in fact couldn’t see from behind the Mini) is apparently sitting by his van in their (multi-million dollar home) driveway.

“It’s not like ya didn’t see her there, ya red-headed FREAK!” he hollers at me as I ride by.

“Hey, it was OK, I stopped!” I yell back over my shoulder, but he probably didn’t hear me.

Now, as a woman who spends a good deal of time in spandex on a bike in very public places (roads), occasional harassment is nothing new (A cheerful greeting from a bro in the passenger seat of a sedan just outside of Danville a few weeks ago: “F*** you, you slut!!!” ). Nor am I unfamiliar with being publicly harassed by complete strangers for being a ginger (A cheerful greeting from a bro in the passenger seat of a suburban in Berkeley: “Hey red, you’re a fox!”). But there’s something particularly upsetting about this one. First of all, I really try to be a good cyclist. It’s mostly because I don’t want to die, but I actually stop at stop signs and stop lights and try to play nicely with cars. I really try, you guys. And second: Red-headed freak? That insult felt far more personal than any number of meaningless obscenities that could’ve been flung in that moment. It landed me back in sixth-ish grade, at the time in all of our lives when the other girls are the most vicious about how fat and how ugly and how much of a FREAK they think you are. God I hate that time in all of our lives.

Uncharacteristically, I can’t stop pouting about it for the rest of the ride. Hmph. Dis never ‘appened to moi en SwitzaFrance or Sveeeeden. Jamais.

Every day I feel…

July 10, 2013


“I see you have a nice new addition to your office,” a visiting researcher says to my boss, as I continue installing software on a newly acquired computer. I know he’s not talking about the computer. However because I do not like being *practically* referred to in the third person when I am present, I cannot help but I ask, in a veiled-as-humor protest:

“Oh, do you mean the new computer?”

“No!” Laughter. “It’s you!”

They don’t get it, ah well. C’est la frickin’ vie. You’ve got to pick your battles. This is not one of them.


And so, every day I feel less and less like Berkeley and Physics is where I want to be for the next N years of my life. Just grad school nerves? Perhaps. But truth be told I have been feeling this way for quite some time. This is not something I am good at. This is the running theme of this blog. This is something that for the most part, I honestly barely enjoy at this point. I could’ve been lots of things, but for some reason I’ve chosen fluorescent-lit rooms and no-effect-on-the-real-world (whatever that means). Maybe I have yet to find my place?  Let’s hope so, because I’ve already signed the papers.


Or maybe I am just beginning to feel tied down. And feel somewhat emotionally spread across a couple countries. And have very bad Sweden-envy. I want sommar. Now.

Two Days

July 8, 2013

July 4th

For the past three years, I’ve been only peripherally of aware of the fourth of July passing; marking the date but not really feeling a sense of lacking. It is similar to the way that now I always think of midsommar and buy strawberries around the 25th week of the year. Last year I started the fourth on nightshift and subsequently dozed off in the Higgs announcement talks.  But that’s not what it should be…right? The Fourth should be about decorating your bike or jumping in the ocean or river or lighting off Roman candles or racing old mares through alfalfa fields. I had nearly forgotten!

Today is July 4th, and in fact I had forgotten that in the US, this is actually kind of a big deal. On College Avenue people are wandering idly about looking for open coffee shops, appearing at the entrance of Safeway with beer and watermelons in tow, and pulling small children about in wagons. On Frat row, girls are running around in sequined American-flag bikinis as shirtless, blindingly white frat boys belch complements from overlooking balconies. Later, at the Marina, what seems like the entire population of Berkeley is migrating by foot en masse over a temporarily closed-to-cars overpass to view fireworks on the Bay. While the fireworks themselves pale in comparison to the simply unbelievable spectacle put on by the city of Geneva each August (I think most normal fireworks will simply always seem boring to me now), the people-watching at the Berkeley show is non pareil.

July 5th

One of the coolest people I know (and one of this blog’s long-time biggest fans) is getting married today.

As I sit in the audience, I realize that this is effectively the first wedding I’ve been to at which I will not have to sit at the “Kids’ Table.” Possibly this is yet another indicator of the startling fact that I’m technically an adult now, but really, I’ve only ever been to a wedding as either a child myself–oblivious–or as a semi-hired babysitter. Back then it hardly mattered: When you’re young, you don’t really understand what a wedding is for. All you know is that you are wearing a dress and will have to sit still for a long, long time before the cake.

I’m still not sure I understand what a wedding is for, but as I’m no longer at the kid’s table I fear I have no excuse. When the officient (ordained by no fewer than six internet churches!)  announces my friend’s name, she appears behind the quietly awaiting guests. She walks confidently, briskly down the aisle–a picture of calm–so beautiful and so joyful I can’t help but break into a smile and choke up at once. Aha, I think. This is what a wedding is for.

And for the record, the cake was phenomenal.

Congratulations yet again, if you’re reading!

kind of normal

June 17, 2013

“Whoa, you are really comfortable with this kind of environment,” says my new boss as we rummage through a thicket of various cables on top of the cyclotron.

“You mean a huge mess in an accelerator hall? It’s kind of normal, right?” I reply with intentional nonchalance.

“Most fresh grad students are not used to this,” he clarifies. I guess spending several integrated days of your life digging through boxes of cables does have some perks, after all.


Despite what it may seem, I am still alive. And, yes, I’m in Berkeley having the summer of learning ROOT/C++ I  had always longed for/ escaped at CERN. I’m working for the time being in a group using the good ol’ (and I mean, actually old) Berkeley Cyclotron at LBNL. So far my job involves less coffee, less linguistic hilarity, more safety regulations, and significantly fewer copper gaskets than the previous one. Berkeley to me is new and still the same; I can sense the impending challenge but I feel so much at home. Just to walk down the street and recognize faces, to be able to call up a friend and spend time together, or to simply speak the same language as everyone around me is still somewhat surreal.

I haven’t kept up with my one-post-a-week pledge, largely due to the fact that I contracted (developed? acquired?) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Seriously: It’s horrible. Fortunately, when my hands felt the worst I was in a position in which I could take two weeks off from typing and doing other repetitive tasks with my hands. Now, I’m back in action… but am constantly wary.

This will be my first summer in California since a while; I forgot how dry everything is. People (supposedly my future classmates) are already googling my name and “Berkeley physics 2013” and landing on this blog. Oh how the internet makes things so awkward sometimes. Hi, guys. Let the fun begin!

Oh, SoCal: Ferrari, Ferrari

May 6, 2013

Update: My finger has returned to normal size after a few days of on and off icing and antihistamine. I believe it is time for me to accept the fact that I may be slightly allergic to bees. ANYWAY… a tale from the Southland, as the weathercasters say. 


I’m in the bike lane at a stoplight on Pacific Coast Highway (not the part that is on fire) when in what seems like a freak accident of probability, two Ferrari convertibles, identical models but different colors (one white, one off-white…I know, diversity) pull up to the same stoplight. You’d think they’d just rolled out of the same dealership, but  they don’t appear to caravaning, if such a word can be used to describe Ferraris. While this is nonetheless a coincidence, it is no probabilistic anomaly: I’m riding by an affluent neighborhood and Kobe Bryant’s address would prove it. One stoplight, two Ferraris. It’s not Monaco, but it is Newport Coast.

In the white car is a likewise white-haired gentleman and his visored and sunglassed little wife. Behind the wheel of the off-white car, a few lanes over, I can just make out a polo shirt, big, expensive shades, and a luminous spray tan. Every other driver must be staring at them (I sure am) as they acknowledge each other with sauve, rich guy nods. Spray Tan breaks the silence with an inevitable rev of his engine/manhood.

“Can you take off?” Spray Tan hollers devilishly across several lanes of poor blokes in regular cars between engine revs.

“What?” yells White Hair, either because he is hard of hearing or because Spray Tan cannot restrain his fervent revving.

“CAN YOU TAKE OFF?” He yells again, this time like he means it. White Hair, I’m sure, gets the message, but he’s smarter than that and as such, he plays dumb.

“Oh, take off? I’m not sure…” he waves one hand in the air to demonstrate his uncertainty. “I’m not sure what that means, take off,” says the man behind the wheel of a sports car that costs more than the average house. Riiiiiight.

But it’s too late: the light changes and White Hair accelerates evenly forward like a regular car. Spray Tan, not to be outdone by safety and good sense, is hot on the gas. His Ferrari roars forward with a great acceleration (Aha! “take off!”), weaving between regular cars to the front of the pack until nothing but the blue sky and open road lie before him.

Until of course, the next stoplight, half a mile down the road.

Sorry for being political: Gun Violence

March 14, 2013


NonViolence, by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd. In Malmö. Photo from here.

It really is somewhat impossible to go a day without hearing news of at least one fatal shooting in the US. It seems this is something I notice more, now after having been mostly outside of the US for the past three years. Or maybe it’s just that here in California, a lot of these shootings seem to happen not too far outside my front door. I read the news with morbid fascination and a bit of fear in my throat as the number of faceless dead seems to climb higher and higher. A couple killed in Irvine, CA, a man shot in Las Vegas, NV, in Lakewood, CO, in Fort Pierce, FL… in Everywhere, Your City, Your State, USA. As I watch or read or click on the news I wonder what the number is, how it stacks against other numbers, the ones they actually report on tv, the ones we remember.

So, I found some numbers:

Death toll of People in Sweden killed by gun violence in just 2010: 138 (

Death toll of People in the UK killed by gun violence in just 2010: 155 (

Death toll of People in Canada killed by gun violence in just 2009: 173 (

Death toll of American troops in Afghanistan, in the year 2012: 301 (USA today)

Death toll from 9/11 attacks on the World trade Center (including airplane passengers and hijackers): 2,996 (wikipedia)

Death toll of American troops in Iraq, since March 19, 2003*: 4,488 (

Death toll of People in Mexico killed by gun violence in just 2010: 11,309 (

Death toll of People in the US killed by gun violence in just 2010: 31,076 (Law Center to Prenvent Gun Violence)

Death toll of People in Brazil killed by gun violence in just 2008: 34,678 (

Death toll, including non-Americans and Civilians for Iraq War: 109,032 (wikipedia/ wikileaks war logs)

World War II total death toll: Over 60 million (wikipedia)

Finally: Number of people killed by guns in the US since the Newton Massacre on December 14, 2012:


As of this publication. Daily updates on the death toll can be found here:

 So, while the ‘gun debate’ has been happening since the Newtown Massacre, nearly as many people have died as did in the 9/11/2001 attacks. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama urged congress to “Give [stricker gun laws] a vote.” Such violence continues, and this is the strongest statement you can make? In more than one way, centrism perhaps has squeezed the morals out of your gut. Maybe have we simply become so numb to our reality, in which shootings are so commonplace that it takes the horrendous murder of multiple school children in the northeast to even get our attention.


All things considered: Gun deaths obviously don’t scale linearly with population, or even number of civilian owned firearms. So how can we normalize?

If you look up information on a few of the countries I mentioned above, you find:

Population: UK (68 million people), Sweden (9 million people), US (315.5 million people), Brazil (198.04 million), Canada (33,476,688)

Civiling owned Guns in: US (270,000,000), UK (4,060,000), Sweden (2,800,000), Bazil (Between 14,800,000 and 17,600,000), Canada (9,950,000)

I’m no expert, but this interests me.  How can we possibly compare? More on this later, with graphs.


*My God, has been ten years?

there’s your sign

February 21, 2013

Awkward advertisements spotted in the Southland.

1. On the card in the baby seat of of shopping cart, a woman with straight blond hair and blinding teeth tosses carrots into a brown paper shopping bag. In boldfaced black letters, just below her chin, she proclaims: What’s in your shopping cart? Nothing tastes as good as thin feels!

Ha, I think. Except for peanut butter, lady. Except for peanut butter.

2. When they first put up the new illuminated megacreen signs for the Citadel Outlet mall in Commerce on highway 5, the good people of the 5 must have complained. Driving by them at night one noticed that not only were they offensively ugly but blinding; the powers that be must have realized the hazard, as the signs have since dimmed. But yes, the Citadel building indeed looks, from the freeway, like what I would imagine the great Mesopotamian ziggurwats to look like, had they been constructed in the early 1920s and subsequently starred in Ben Hur. But those signs, those signs are still an eyesore, day or night. To drivers they flash five second pitches:  Shop here! Sale! One Weekend only! Look, a SHOE!  Today, I notice they flash one I haven’t seen before, one that I find more tempting than all the others combined: WORLD CLASS BATHROOMS!

Next time, Citadel. Next time.

3. I’m at the gas pump, cringing as most Californians are these days. From the warm, homey glow of the screen were I entered my debit card information just moments ago, the gas pump begins to speak to me. HEY, says the gas pump screen, in scrolling all caps. THAT CUP HOLDER LOOKS LONELY. HOW ABOUT A REFRESHMENT?

Cheeky bastard gas pump, I reply in my head. Are you hitting on me?