Category Archives: Writings and Readings

Best part of this book was the title.

I like to write reviews about books as a way of filing them away in my brain.  Unfortunately this led me to join Goodreads which linked my facebook account and started friending all of my facebook friends.  I’m maybe too traumatized to use that website again, but here was my review:


I found this book to be an entertaining but emotionally hollow read. There are vividly described characters and a somewhat believable character-driven plot, and I found myself wanting to consume the plot, despite all the things I disliked about the book.

the writing-
neither dazzled nor got out of the way. Often, a cliche description (someone “flushing” for instance), would be elaborated upon by a second, equally cliche description of the same gesture or event, set off by a comma. The prose drew attention to itself in an unflattering way and felt as if the author fell short of what she aimed to accomplish.

the characters-
are highly unlikeable overall, but it’s clear the author intended the shifting points of view to solicit sympathy for each character. The author herself, however, seemed to find some more sympathetic than others and this impression was difficult to escape, especially toward the end. On the other hand, the custody hearing scene, taking place in this interlaced way with sympathy shifting back and forth between the two parties, is an example of this technique succeeding.

I think there is a lot left to be said about repression and choice and the self-medicating effects of conformity. There is loss, cowardice in “dreaming smaller” but there is also selflessness, humility. Too much complexity was left on the table.



The rain lifts
but a wet green clings
to all things. The air
shimmers like a full glass. This
was as much water as the earth could hold.
This was what
it takes to hatch life–
to squeeze new buds
through hide-black bark grown thick
and coarse from wear.

Spring in the city. Here,
where we read
by the light of one
another’s window,

where we live in relative quiet
our ancestors must envy, lulled
by the gentle tilt
and sway of our days,
each as ordinary as cloth,
as dull as dust.

We will meet when
the water recedes. Where
we will meet the traffic sounds
in the distance and white petals fly
and climb
to unexpected heights, taken
by the wind in circles
wider and wider.

(There are many such spots
in the city, to imagine
how it must have been
at the toppling of the towers, at
the setting of the seas…)

Soon enough,
we too will be blown out in the wind.
So, if we are not happy, at least
we are fearless to expire.
Even as the soggy land falls
back into the belly of the sea,
we look for footing.


I wrote a poem about rain.  But I do wish it would stop raining.

Schizophrenia -V. 2

I read an article in the New Yorker about the discovery of the genetic mechanisms behind schizophrenia.  That’s what this poem is a reponse to.  Feels good to work on some poems again however hard it feels to write.


Desiring only square-ness
we raise long shears
in the garden, where
to neaten
is to destroy.

It’s april and
the late frost had cleaned
our yard of the less hardy varieties
like a stiff breeze takes
loose leaves.

You say in your ear
the white mites are
going, small mouths working
smaller teeth…

I tell you
they found the gene for madness.
I tell you I saw my father’s hands
make deep cuts
in our beloved magnolia tree,
and later how he stood, pale
among the wind-scattered buds
like over a grave.

I do miss the flowers, but
I can’t fault you for hollowing yourself
any more than I can ask you
to reconsider
your brown eyes.


To pull the heart in

On Christmas day we drove to Maryland.  Yesterday we came back.  We left an eerie warm Boston day in the high 60s, packing a jacket only in luggage, and a week later we returned to a more familiar January.

Of course, among other things, we missed the first snow of the season.   Patches first appearing on the sides of the road on Rt 209 in the Delaware River Gap.  Of course, it did not snow in Maryland.  The day after Christmas we played tennis in the sun.

Over the rolling hills and expansive farm country beneath clouds that borders Maryland with Virginia, in rain and fog and at dusk I drove.  From one brand new community development to another.  Their ordered streets a barrier against all that wildness.


In Chinese, the expression for what one must do to go back to work after an extended vacation is to “pull the heart in” (收心).  I think this is an accurate description of what self-discipline feels like.  To pull the heart in.  To find smaller joys.

The fossil free movement at Harvard

“Symbols matter, because they signal our intent, and they invite other people to join in our intent.” – Naomi Oreskes, Professor, Harvard University.


Almost 20 years go by since that confident moment in Kyoto when leaders of nearly all the planet’s nations signed on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the rain, that day, on the grounds of JFK airport, a proud President Clinton had declared, “[The agreement] reflects a commitment by our generation to act in the interest of future generations.”

Babies born that year are adults now. They look back on two decades of political gridlock and inaction. In a way, they are the first generation our leadership has failed, on that promise, to protect.

This new generation of young adults, though yet individually politically unpowerful, is the force behind the fossil fuel divestment movement now overtaking college campuses across the country. Their message to the leadership is clear: inaction is action. You’re responsible.

And it’s catching on. In May 2014, Stanford became the largest university to pledge disinvestment from a fossil fuel sector: specifically, coal. It joins a list of 26 colleges and universities that have thusfar made similar commitments.

Harvard faculty answer questions at a Divest Harvard event.

Harvard faculty answer questions at a Divest Harvard event.

Divestment as a political tool has a proven record: the tobacco industry in the 1980’s; South Africa beginning in the 1970’s. Though divestment’s direct financial effects are next to zero, a report published by Oxford University, found “almost every divestment campaign… successful in lobbying for restrictive legislation.”

Reflective perhaps of the digital age and the magnitude of the cause, the fossil fuel divestment movement is now the fastest growing campaign of its kind in history.

Just last week, MIT, responding to campus pressure, held the first public debate on the merits of fossil fuel divestment. The school administration invited three panelists each to argue for and against MIT’s participation. The discussion centered on not whether, but how, MIT, a thought and technology leader, should advocate for change. Does it do this through divestment, send a powerful sociopolitical message, and jeopardize “big oil”-funded research on campus? Or can they work from within the system, persuading the fossil fuel industry to work for the planet’s (and their own) long-term interests?

Meanwhile, it’s Heat Week at Harvard University, a weeklong awareness and activism event organized by the Divest Harvard student organization to get the message out. They are holding rallies with famous alumni speakers; they are carrying signs; they are painting sidewalks.  They’re watching closely what happens at MIT as their own administration has stiffly resisted continuing pressures.

Last year, Ben Franta, PhD student at Harvard and one of the board members of Divest Harvard, publicly collided with Harvard President Drew Faust, in a series of open letters.  Hers, to the Harvard community, shared her “strong presumption against divesting investment assets,” due, largely, to her fear of Harvard becoming a “political actor.”  And his, addressed to Faust, published in The Nation, accused her of being “in denial… of important political realities”, and dismissive of the group’s effort at a serious on campus discussion.

He wrote, “you have shown an eagerness to engage with the fossil fuel industry. I ask that you show the same eagerness to engage with members of your own Harvard community.”

I asked Ben what he wants to accomplish, as a leader of the movement at Harvard, why he believes in it so strongly, and for his thoughts on their current progress and challenges. His responses, long but instructive, are given in full below.

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