Legacy

There is life, even Life.  And there is living, even Living.  But neither of these – life and living in either capital form or not – are necessarily related to each other.  To have Life does not mean you are living, unless you are also truly Living.  I have been coming to this conclusion over and over again this past year.  I am 41, and  I have been living, but I am pretty sure I have forgotten what it means to be Living.  Or to put in the modern vernacular, then consider Daredevil on Netflix:

Matt Murdoch: I’m not afraid of dying.

Priest: A lot of people aren’t when it comes right down to it. It’s living that scares the holy crap out of them.

Trust me, I have not been afraid to checkbox off a lot of living.  5 earned degrees, 4 of these conferred and 3 of those Masters of Science in engineering-physics, technical japanese, and applied computational mathematics.  I’ve lived abroad multiple times, and traveled abroad even more times.  I’ve ate and drank my way through cities, countries and even cultures.  But I am not sure I’ve ever known Home even if I was home. I’ve been involved in large, well-known projects including Boeing’s 787 program,  Microsoft’s Xbox One, and Amazon e-commerce.  Throw in a handful of shared patents, too.  Heck, as an overachiever I have been divorced twice, and now happily married for a third time.  Yeah, that is a life, but is it Life?  Sure, I’ve been living and even making a living, but is it Living?  What am I truly afraid of?  Because it is sure as hell not dying – not anymore, not really ever.  What am I afraid of? Isn’t it obvious?  I have been checkbox-living because I have been afraid of Living.  And now I fear living another 30 or 40 years only to end up still not having Lived.  You following?

But how do you stop living and begin Living?  By answering the essential existential question.  It’s the only existential question, really.  The question, of course, being: What is Life?  Hmm.  Yes, I agree with you.  It is a child’s question that we leave behind in adulthood, having learned it to be too immense a wall to scale.  So we stumble away from it, instead picking up our latest handheld device to read a wall of posts.  And those posts, this post even, don’t answer much of anything at best, and at worst a whole lot of nothing.  Still, we post about a myriad of life’s doings in the hopes we are heard.  So that question – The Question – comes to us without any seeming answer, and we yield in mute response.

I cannot speak for you, so please forgive me any generalities.  Let me step back into my own living, my own life and tell you how I got here:  I have spent four decades hanging my coat and hat on someone else’s pegs.  I looked for recognition in my father, my mother, my family, my friends and even my managers and colleagues at work.  I counted the number of reads and likes of posts, and I amassed my degrees and my accolades like Smaug hoarding treasure.  I got rid of all the mirrors inside of me, and instead hung you all up on my walls to tell me how pretty I am.  I am pretty, right?  I put down my pencil.  Then my pen.  Then my brush.  Then finally my words.  I burned them or else tucked them away, up on bookcases and in boxes.  Then finally I went to sleep in this den of my own making, unwittingly having cut myself off from the rest of the world to await the footfall of my own doom.  I had no idea what I had done, since living and Living seemed to be the same thing until now, when I see ahead to another four decades spent cowering under the weight and banality of that kind of living.  What remains around me is all baubles now, having no hold nor charm over me.  What was once an immeasurable treasure is now worth very little other than to be melted down and hammered into a key to open a door, a door to Living.

So yes, I’ve been a coward. I never realized that I already had all the wealth I ever needed.  But it was not the kind of wealth I knew to look for.  I looked outward, and so became blinded to who I am.  A beautifully imperfect human.  More so, I’m a beautifully imperfect brother, son, friend, colleague and spouse.  I only ever really needed what I was born with.  This soul given a Life so that I might pluck, feather by feather, the quills to write my own story for myself to read.  It is just a story; it may or not be worth reading.  But it was my story, and I forgot to read it, let alone write it.  That was the first misstep from Life to life.  And the second was not sharing it with the people I love, with the world around me.  And so I lost Living to living, left Life behind for a life.  Truly, the cake is a lie.  So then, what is not a lie?

Again, I do not know what all of this means to you.  Why title this post Legacy?  Well, now we get to the meat of the matter!  I used to think legacy a four-letter word, a thing that amassed estates and children alike to act as billboards posted along the road-side of history to proclaim to others: “I was here.  I will not be forgotten!”  And that was exactly what so much of my own living was about, even if I did not realize it at the time.  I wanted to be heard.  I wanted to be acknowledged.  I wanted to be remembered after death.  I wanted to be seen while living.  But how can anyone see me, if I am blind and mute to myself first?  I now know that was neither living, nor a legacy worth working toward.

I will admit that I began to recently think then that Legacy was having children, and that Living was raising a family.  In a way, it is, but not as ends, but only a means.  Bear with me here for a moment.  The greatest gift we give ourselves is ourselves.  The answer to Life is a simple refrain: Here I am.  In that refrain we give ourselves the permission and strength to have a voice for everything worth saying, “Here I am.  I love myself for who I am.  I love you for who you are.”  And then is not this the greatest gift to give our children?  It’s not estates or wealth or even ourselves, but instead we give them our compassion and love so that they might join the fray to say “Here I am, too!”  Yes, our legacy lies in our children and our families, but our true Legacy is that we might Live and Love so that they might join us in really the only refrain the Universe, Life, Living and Love will ever utter: here I am.

Here I am.

From The Vault

I thought I would dust off the blog, and in the process of the house-cleaning I came across these two drafts of posts that I never published (till now).  While inarguably from a different period in my life, I found in re-reading them something, something latent worth sharing – or, if I am to be honest to say they are worth exposing – for what they are: purpled and incomplete.  Like any draft, they are forever dying from a lack of words and lucidity.  Nevertheless, when has a parent ever not loved their own children over all others?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

DRAFT February, 2011

Calm thyself, little pollen.  The great river flows and we are just here as spectacle and spectator.   Oh, how we languish amongst the many eddies and tide pools believing it is our own gravitas that so conjoins the river’s waters into these turbulent times when instead it is the river in its buoyant, orotund song that carries the melody that is our life.  I am often reminded how spectacularly fortunate, lucky, even spoiled much and most of my life has been.  Even amongst the innumerable hallmark moments that capture my own picture-perfect postcard moments of auto-perfidy still I find a humored malaise that belies my contentment in sordid slices that sluice over me.

I As Coward

DRAFT May, 2011

I as coward? Yes. Coward. I am a coward. I wish it were different. I wish I might be truer to the many multitudes of words in my mind and in my mouth, spewing out the very shadows of lies that stand resolute to the image of my self that I wish I were. But I am the Napoleon on fears and the Caesar of defeats, I stand here resolute to say I am coward.

I remember myself as child in front of the globe, as well as standing in front of the many maps that can be found at Metsker Maps on First Avenue in Seattle, wherein in the five-year-old child in me screams to me over and over again “I want to see that and That and THAT!”. But I go deafly, even mutely, from the store knowing that I live here in Seattle, a displaced central New Yorker amongst the dander and down layers of PNW life. Here I am. Coward. Do you remember when I did not climb Kilimanjaro, starting out on the plains of Africa trekking my way to the summit where, even in this remote land, the steel cans puncture the azure skies? Do you remember when I did nothing on the treadmill while the planes slammed into the towers, the debris that fell in rag-doll time from heights meant for angels? There is was not much for me that I knew how to do when my grandmother died; just breath and hope there was nothing my absence would suspend. I remember fondly the road-trip I did not take to New Zealand in a beat up VW van, a sojourn to revere the sites that disciple Peter Jackson has, with 35mm cellular uncture, wrought now most holy. How many times I have not stopped to introduce myself to the smile wrapped in sunshine and water falling hair? Were there not nights I would have been better home with friends than trying to cram one more line of code into a source code that will never be there to help me when I am sick? How many times have I dared to not deviate from the marks on the door that everyone is trying to match? And when she asked for my hand for life, did I not willing give her mine because I believed any hand, even a cold dead hand, was better than no hand at all? I am a coward. But then so aren’t we all? Are we not all the compromisers and usurpers to our needs? We step to the beat drummed by The Others, and follow with musket resting on shoulder to do our duty and die. Cannon fodder us all. We cowards.

Curiously Enough

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the “internets” some weeks ago.  I, on some great fluke of luck, stumbled upon a lottery to participate in a cross-site NASA event sponsored by NASA Social to celebrate 50 years of NASA and the upcoming landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, also known more affectionately as Curiosity.  I have never bought a lottery ticket as I always know the odds are stacked; but, on this one I thought the worst thing was regretting not putting my name in the proverbial hat.  Lo and behold, some weeks later I received an email letting me know I was selected.  Flabbergasted is the best word to describe my reaction.  And so yesterday I spent today (August 3, 2012) on-site at Johnson Space Center down in Houston, Texas to get some behind-the-scenes access along with participate in a news briefing televised on NASA TV.

On my flight down to Houston two nights prior I relaxed to read the history of Queen’s Brian May in one of my favorite publications: Astronomy.com.  Many know that Queen holds a special place in me, but few know it has been a staple of my music since I simultaneously discovered David Bowie on “Life on Mars” and Queen on “Fat-bottomed Girl” on a dubbed cassette; this all way back just as puberty struck.  And of course, as a bona fide astro-geek since even before this I was (and still am) naturally enamored with songs like May’s “’39” about space travel, and Queen’s soundtrack to the 80’s version of Flash Gordon.  What many people may not know is that Brian May has become a hero to me (again) for his return to Imperial College to finish his PhD in astronomy, a body of research on Zodiac light that he left incomplete for some 30 years while he globe-trotted with Freddie Mercury et al. as one of the world’s recognized masters of rock guitar.

In reading the article about Brian May, the world-recognized-guitarist-(re)turned-astronomer, I remember when it all first began with my love of astronomy.  I was barely past my fifth birthday when Voyager II arrived at Jupiter.  It was then when images starting coming back that I got a taste of the infinite, and I have been hooked ever since. Before the internet and the now seemingly boundless ocean of rich media and richer information I would write letters to NASA to share with them my love of astronomy and space exploration, and in return they would return to me and my then ten-year-old mind unbelievably beautiful glossy images of spacecraft and even more priceless brochures filled to the brim with intoxicating details of their many programs.  And so concomitant to Voyager II helping frame in pictures a bit more of humanity’s place in the universe, my own universe expanded to something greater than myself.

As early as middle school I would, unbeknownst to my parents, grab a ride on a Greyhound to ride into Syracuse University to clandestinely visit their libraries to read up on astronomy and physics.  So deep was my convictions that I went as far as declaring since the age of ten that I would one day work Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California after I got a PhD in orbital mechanics.  I was on-track with this life-plan till I arrived at Purdue University where a combination of the previous year in Japan along with a recalcitrant aerospace engineering department steered me to University at Buffalo where I was free to pursue Japanese alongside my aerospace engineering studies.  The rest is history, as it is oft writ.  I entered Boeing as an aerospace engineer, flirted with Japanese interpretation for a year before eventually settling on software engineering and now program management.  As time flowed forward my steps seemed logical and congruent, but there is a part of me that wonders “what if”.  What if I had stayed the path and completed by PhD at University of Washington?  Where might I be now?

It is a thought that has more merit than merely an idle exercise in speculative reminiscing.  To place this in a bit of recently acquired perspective let me first comment that the common advice proffered to aspiring university applicants—Do something you are good at—is patently horrible advise. This tends to manifest itself to those students good at math (or Math, even) who are told they should join the ranks of engineering.  But even more subtle and more sublimely misleading to a person of my ilk as a (too?) deeply introspective person may be to also tell a person to do what they are passionate about as this may lead to an (overly) self-engrossed person.  This is inarguably nearly as wrong-headed, and pursuing my passions has not helped me garner a level of satisfaction that I once esteemed it would.  Something to the equation has been missing, but what?  Recently while waiting for my morning commuter bus to arrive another bus came to the bus stop.  On its side was a simple slogan for  local university: Do something you value.1 It may have been the choice of word value over what I had expected, passion, that reverberated and then resonated with me, but hidden in this simplest change of words is something that best frames my most recent rumination on the course and direction of my life.

I stepped off the path of my PhD in computational (plasma) physics because I had found something as equally compelling as uncovering and exploring the mysteries of our physical world.  It was a path I was and still do (in a latent way) value and am passionate about: acting as a Japanese-US liaison.  That path took me first to Boeing as an aerospace engineer, then as Japanese interpreter at Boeing helping Shingijutsu bring lean concepts to our facilities, and next when it seemed Boeing did not need a cowboy-wearing, Japanese speaking aerospace engineer Yank (how surprising, don’t you think?) I then went back to school to retool myself as a software engineering where I thought my Japanese language skills could be better leveraged.  It was then that I moved to Amazon.com and slowly transitioned into technical program management before moving to Microsoft where I now work on Xbox.  Certainly my path has been intellectually stimulating and at times even gratifying, but it does not answer the deeper purpose of engineering to me: engineers do not solve technical problems, but instead solve human problems using technical means.  That is an arguably overly lofty and even hoity-toity definition I have clasped onto the lapel of my profession of choice, engineering; but, I do not think my younger self really missed the mark with it, either.  In my love of the simplest of taxonomies, the dichotomy, I have come to appreciate I inwardly do what I am passionate about and want to outwardly engage in things I value.

So what do I value?  That is the very question I am deeply engaged in trying to uncover an answer to.  In the past year my pilgrimage to Mauna Kea to see the telescopes, my multi-day trip to Lowell Observatory, and now day at Johnson Space Center are all about trying to find clues and even reclaim something I believe I let get eclipsed by the seeming realities of life.  Maybe it is just an adult lavishing attention and extragavance to his inner-child, but I have glimpsed the hazy shape of a response to this query in this past year.  And I believe more firmly my path is starting to find itself meandering back to something deeper than where I find myself presently.  I do not know its exact shape of turns ahead nor where I will find myself in months and years to come, but my feet ever move forward.  And that is maybe enough for now; for now, mind you.

I am curious to see where I will eventually land, till then there is Mars and Curiosity.

Special Post Script : A very special and warm thanks to NASA Social who invited me to participate yesterday.  They are the new, more externally facing connection of NASA, replacing from childhood those mass-produced glossy pictures and jazzy brochures with the more intimate voices of real people of NASA.  People who, like so many of us, get excited at the merest mention of NASA and its grand legacy of 50 years of exploration and discovery.  Thank you.

Man in mirror?

1 Actually, it read “What do you value?  Create a healthier world with Bastyr University” but this is my story so I am redacting it to fit. *sticks tongue out*

Weeble Wobble

Me and my foe foo row ramma.  I dish and you dash and I know I got to go hoe and come on to do all that.  I have no idea.  No clue.  Notta respectability, neither nor all there or even some that.  But still I here while you but there.  And you ever so wanna correct me.  Because you got that standard stick and schtick and a sense that says there must be a sensibility to this sentence, a sentience to this my sentiment.  Might that I entertain?  And might more that you over contextualize this and this and then all more that?  You think you know me, do you?  You think you have the cliff and that ever so brash cleft to find in your own shadow my mingled mo’ matta?  You do not know me. And you sure as hell do not know him, any more than I know that whore of a bastard on 2nd street selling the smell of sunday streets slick with salaried succubus sweaty on her own way to salvaged service.  These are just words.  And still here you are, you who jingle and then jangle like Dylan and his bo’ dangle, a rhymeless tune to a hairless tongue.  I ain’t no nothing and I ain’t more than not these words.  You never will find me here anymore than in there, in your mind and its blind eye that from syntax thinks it snaps shut on semantics and so knows my synapses.  I wanna help you, really I do.  But you ain’t going to understand this, is ya?

 

 

Elastic Plastic

Here under weight of suspended waters in crushing lightness I lay buoyant drowning.  How sublime this that blankets an existence in brine turning bone to gelatin mass and rubbers tallowed skin, deforming into elastic tendrils seeking up to the green green light above.  I would that I might swim in waters warmed but instead relent and sink back into craggy darkness, a sleep enriched coldness seeping into tendons raw and tight from a life long of running out front doors onto streets all doors locked, no light escaping from windows shuttered to wash out shadows made under enfeebled stars roaring possibilities, embers in breasts heaving to suck air, a light touch knocks with plastic consequence one chance at a time waiting for nothing but to move on and on and on ever anon.