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Thursday, January 12, 2023

Family story

I read journals written by my father 25 years ago and I get to know a little more about someone I never really knew. Someone who was never available to me.

I continue to try to piece together a complex story and my self that would need to be the glue, just isn't strong enough. The pieces clank together, unwieldy and not fitting. A failed marriage. A death. And perhaps my father as well was not up to the task to put the pieces together and so left it to me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Tools for physics and art

 Trying to get back to being able to calculate stuff in physics, I remember how important discipline and organization are. Where do you write things? Where do you put the paper when completed? If you write on a white board, how do you record it or collect the results going ahead?

 And there's similar discipline associated with digital work. How to store Mathematica notebooks? At what stage to write up an argument in LaTeX? How to make a good bibliography in bibtex that you can reuse? How to store and access pdfs of reference material?

 How to store and access books? Does one have a home library where one knows easily where to find Griffiths and Jackson and books on physical chemistry and non-linear dynamics? Does one have a pattern of going to the nearby library and knowing how to find books on the shelf there? 

And back to digital, how to organize Jupyter notebooks? And what github repositories does one depend on? What regular habits of computer maintenance and upgrade must one have to ensure access and consistency of one's digital tools?

I feel like I moved forward haphazardly regarding all these tools and I've been left without consistent practice. On all fronts, it's more difficult to use these tools. Discipline is about making choices and following through on them.

But one needs a clear goal in order for that discipline to not be arbitrary. This vacation time is a good chance to consider both the goals and associated practice of working well with ideas and calculations.

I've also been focusing on art and painting recently. And there's also an associated set of disciplines there, that I've been slipping on. Cleaning brushes. Organizing space. Caring for materials. Yet, again, discipline without goals is sterile. A fruitful mess can be better.    

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Changing Context (August 5, 2013)

 

My trip from Grenoble to San Francisco approaches, and as usual, I find conflicting feelings about planning for such a trip.  On the one hand I want to make sure I plan enough so that I have a place to stay, and don't get stranded somewhere.  On the other, I want to keep open possibilities and allow things to unfold organically and give me some freedom to act on possibilities.


This captures part of the dynamic that freezes me in my planning, but not all of it.  There is a part of me that refuses to plan, refuses to imagine myself in another place, refuses to believe that this other place exists, and refuses to believe that I have much understanding of how things will work in this other place.  I try to understand whether it is truly a refusal, or more a lack of ability.  Why does my otherwise creative, highly visual, often quite organized mind fail me in this basic act of imagination?

I know that this dynamic has at least some basis in the way I grew up in Santa Cruz, California.  My parents were divorced when I was three, and they had joint custody over me and my brothers.  Until the age of 18, I never spent more than one week at a time at one house.  I went between my mom's and dad's houses either once or twice a week.  The difference between the two houses was substantial enough that I would have the sense that the rules I know at one house do not apply at the other.  The day of transition became a kind of event horizon.  Not that I so much dreaded it, but that I just couldn't think past it in certain ways.

Sometimes I've likened the experience of going back and forth between houses to diving into a swimming pool.  One stands above the swimming pool looking down into the shimmering depths.  Its a hot day, and so one imagines it might be nice to cool down a bit.  However, one knows that the transition will involve a shock.  What one thinks now will be changed.  One's concerns, ideas, feelings in this moment will be interrupted.  There is a shock during that period while the water covers your skin.  Its as if you fall asleep for a moment and wake up in a new watery world.  There may be a brief moment of discomfort, but you quickly adjust, and get used to the new viscoscity of your environment.  You move your body in new ways.  The water supports you in new ways and impedes you in new ways.

At my dad's house, we were cooked and cleaned for.  My step-mother Judy was a never resting house-keeper, always offering, always doing, always giving.  We were always to be aware of her constant motion and constant doing.  Lying on the couch in the living room, one could be interrupted with the vacuum cleaner, or mopping, or sweeping,  perhaps a suggestion to go outside and play. One would return home from school to find beds made, closet rearranged, toys moved.  Dinner was regular, an enthusiastic call to join around the table.  Always cooked by Judy.  Always comments about how much work it was and how fast it was gone.  Not enough to call it bitterness, but enough to induce a steady undertoe of guilty conscience and awareness of the sacrafice and toils of another.  What have I done to deserve this steady flow of hard work and meals directed towards me?

This sense of induced guilt was supported by a foundation of the story of Judy's family history.  She grew up in Fresno, the child of Armenian immigrants who had come to the US following escape from the Turkish government and military intent on wiping out the entire Armenian population.  Her parents had walked across a desert in Syria and Lebanon.  Her father had lived in an orphanage, her mother with a Turkish family.  The story of the Armenian genocide was often present at my Dad's house, and provided a cultural background, but also a sense of unimpeachability to the value of Judy's hard work.  Both her and my father were working hard.  They ran a medical clinic together, doctor and nurse practitioner.  Judy came home and did double time keeping up a large house for five kids.

My father was born in New York, and grew up in Los Angeles.  He was the son of a Hungarian father and American mother who met in France.  He spent his life continuing the travelling momentum that had carried his father across the globe.  He sought out far away places, particularly liking the islands in the South Pacific, living with my mother on the island of Yap for a year while my older brother was a small child.  He was in college in the 60’s and was animated by the spirit of that time, going to the south to fight for civil rights (
1954 to 1968), and spending a few nights in jail for being a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war (1955 to 1975).  He was married to my mom for ten or so years and after three kids, and a feeling of inadequacy in the marriage, divorced my mom and married Judy, the nurse practitioner working in his medical office with two children of her own.

Like my dad, my mom was also a child of the 60's.  She also grew up in Los Angeles, with Jewish immigrant parents, and later spent time at UC Berkeley studying literature and dance before her father pushed her into the more practical career of teaching.  She had her wild years as a younger woman, but was shy and delicate in some ways, suffering from asthma and lacking self confidence.  I don't know whether she was introduced to Transcendental Meditation before or after marrying my dad, but it became a fixture and a point of stability in her life.  She says that it cured her asthma and gave her a confidence and a calm that she had lacked before.

My mom's meditations were a steady element of our life at her house many years later, as well.  For one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, she would stay in her room meditating.  Besides an occasional reminder to be a little quieter during these times, my mom's meditation was not much of an imposition on our life.  Although we learned the technique of Transcendental Meditation and did occasionally meditate separately or together, there was never any pressure to practice this technique or to get involved in the heavier side of this Hindu derived new religious movement (which, during less generous moments, I might classify as a cult).  I did struggle to understand some of the philosophy and basis for the wilder claims such as the yogic flying and the Maharishi effect, but this was mainly out of an interest in finding common ground and to be able to be enthusiastic about some of what my mother believed and what grounded her.

At my mom's house, we usually all helped out with the cooking, and usually went grocery shopping together.  Having some digestive problems, my mother ate very bland foods.  Although she would offer her own food to us (rice and lentils or a soup of ground green vegetables she called "green soup") she knew that we enjoyed a broader set of foods and so would encourage us to cook these ourselves.  So we would shop together at a few local Organic markets in preparation for our meals.  I remember particularly enjoying cooking burritos and lasagna.

Thinking back on these years, the odd thing is that life at each house feels so self contained.  I feel like I had two separate childhoods.  I don't feel particularly negative about either house, but I just can't seem to visualize the whole thing as one piece.  I was either at mom's house, or I was at dad's house.  I adjusted myself after the transition.  But the sense of the worlds not mixing remained, and still remains today.

Today I find myself living in a different culture from the US, in a different country from the US, on the other side of a large ocean.  I adjust.  I find myself pretty easilly fitting into new surroundings.  I slowly but surely learn a new language.  But these questions about separation vs. integration remain.

I am brought to these contemplations as my trip to the US approaches.  I try to understand why I plan so little.  Why do I leave things so open?  Why am I so slow in responding to emails that ask me to articulate my plans?  My feeling is that its like diving into the swimming pool.  New rules will apply on the other side.  Once I'm there, I will find my way. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Artist Statement

I had to create an artist's statement along with a portfolio on https://www.callforentry.org/
So here it is:

I have been doing abstract painting for over 30 years. I am largely self taught, although I have attended several courses throughout my life. I am a physicist by training and profession and the painting has complemented this work throughout my education and career.

 

To me, painting is a playground where conflicts and disparate elements may be resolved visually. I draw a lot from the natural world, having grown up spending a lot of time in redwood forests of California, and since then in the Alps and now the Rocky Mountains.

 

My painting process is interactive. I start with certain shapes or colors and then I seek to integrate them into a coherent whole, iterating periodically, reevaluating as the work develops. Growing up in a divorced family, going between two different homes, painting provided a way to play with integration of elements that seemed to come from completely different worlds. Painting became a practice for me to find a vision of integration, or to at least practice with dissonance. I have mainly worked with acrylic paints which dry quickly and allow for multiple layers as well as blending.

 

My profession as a particle accelerator physicist leads me down long and narrow paths in my mind to understand subtle dynamics of relativistic particle motion and creation and evolution of radiation resulting from these high energy particles. I have recently been experimenting with integrating some of the equations from my work into the abstract forms in my paintings, attempting to find peace between the technical mind and the mind engaged in the human or natural world. I hope that my artistic work may have a broad resonance in the world today where humanity depends on highly technical systems that for many are inscrutable. Bringing some of the concepts and artifacts underlying our technical infrastructure into the human and natural world feels integrating for myself, and I hope could have a similar effect on others.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Across the Ocean

    Hungary, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania,  These modern day countries during the 1800's up until 1917 were part of the Pale of Settlement. There were Jewish communities in each of them, still surviving from the original Exodus, not so much from Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula as from Judah and Israel to Babylon. A common thread held these communities together that slid back into time through the Talmud to the Mishnah to the Torah. 

    And there was another thread would connect the Jewish communities in these four cities. This thread would wind its way around the leaves, branches and trunk that would become my own family tree, leading to my being born in Santa Cruz, California, America in 1976.

    The Nasch family lived in the Hungarian city of Nagyv├írad, which later became the Romanian city of Oradea following the treaty of Trianon in 1920. Akos Nasch was born in a smaller town of Poklostelek (later known as Poclusa de Barcau), 40 km northwest of Oradea. The Bernsteins came from Lithuania, my great grandfather Herman from Vladislavov, then on the border of Russia and Germany. At the turn of the century, the Finegoods and Silberts lived in Bessarabian Shtetls in Ananyev, Kherson, and Odessa. They would soon be driven out by the anti-Semitism fueled blood libel leading to the Khishinev massacre.

    Nasch, Bernstein, Finegood, Silbert, these surnames for my grandparents form the trunk and primary branches of my family tree, leading eventually to my parents Patricia and Peter who would grow up in Los Angeles, California, America.

    The Silberts and Finegoods leave the hatred of Bessarabia in the early 1900's and resettle in only somewhat more hospitable lands of central Canada, arriving in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where my grandma Mary would be born in the city of Winnipeg.

    Akos grew up and became a medical student, the first in his town to leave, having earned a scholarship at the university of Tours in the Loire region of western France. There he met Dorothy Bernstein at a Purim party a cold February afternoon. A spark was lit that day as they wrote each other letters, from initial furtive visits to growing love. The letter continued as Dorothy and Violet left Tours to Grenoble, and eventually traveled through Europe and then back to America with their famous father, the journalist and patriarch, Herman Bernstein.

    Meanwhile, the Finegoods and Silberts have started a store they manage during the cold Canadian winters. Mary Finegood meets Joe Silbert. She admires his piano playing and soon they are married. The families together encompassed close to 30 siblings. The Jewish thread now having crossed the Atlantic and spinning out new threads pushing forward into time through their three children, John, Andy and Patty.

    In New York, 1929, Herman's connections to Herbert Hoover have earned him the position of the US ambassador to Albania and the family sets sail back across the Atlantic to take up the post in Tirana, meanwhile leading Dorothy and Akos back together again having continued their courtship by letter in secret. Dorothy had come to call Akos by the name Nicky, and these letters, primarily in French became known later by Dorothy, as the Dorothy-Nicky  correspondence, a joke echoing the Willy-Nicky correspondence, uncovered and published by Herman a decade earlier, encompassing secret letters between the Czar of Russia and the Kaiser of Germany. Whereas the Willy-Nicky correspondence led to war, the Dorothy-Nicky correspondence led to marriage.

    

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Finding the big picture

 

Regarding conflicts, often times the problem is that there's just not enough space and resources for all involved. When I think of old conflicts, such as the messy divorce and trajectory of my parents and step-parents, I try to imagine a larger space in which they exist.

I try to create enough space in my mind that each person can have their own cohesive existence. Each one of them has a story and is part of a family. I trace those families back to Los Angeles, Canada, Hungary, Armenia, Bessarabia and more.

There is immigration that is a new start, but there is also continuity in religions: Judaism and Christianity, artistic continuity of architecture, cultural traditions of cooking and languages.

There are tragedies both personal and on larger scales. The Jews and the Armenians. Pogroms and genocide. But drawing out even further, there are empires and nations collapsing and forming. 

Judea and Israel, Canaan. The Assyrian empire and the Seleucid empire. Biblical narratives of judges, then kings: first temple, then second temple, then collapse and diaspora.  Resistance to Christianity and tenacious survival via consistency of literature and practice.

Likewise, the Ottoman empire, growing then collapsing and forming Turkey. Armenians caught in between.

Drawing back this far, one sees a bigger picture, and perhaps some actions, while locally selfish and inscrutable at times, sit within a larger context that holds them and provides a certain kind of explanation.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Resolutions 1922, Herman Bernstein

 

This is the day of new resolutions. I promise myself to jot down a few lines in this book daily. Impressions, incidents, thoughts.

 

I have just returned from Europe to Sheffield. Europe- the madhouse of slaughter a few years ago- is now a madhouse of speculation and profiteering. Everybody is speculating there- old and young, rich and poor – from abject minister to cook – irrespective of race or creed.

 

The visa for America is the most coveted thing in Europe. People struggle and starve for it – people fight and lie – and sometimes die for it. “Self determination of nations” has created the need for a multitude of visas to the traveler in Europe.  People stand in line for days – paying high prices, maintaining large staffs of visa officials – people are happy when they get the stamp upon their passports – and then they are searched and scrutinized at the frontiers – they are roused at night, examined and cross-examined. But the experienced traveller quickly discovers that the whole affair is but a new source of graft for the underpaid petty officials, for conductor and frontier guards. Children often are heard crying that they and their parents can’t get visas. All Europe is visa-ridden. To return home- to Sheffield- to the peaceful, beautiful Berkshires now covered with snow- the golden sunbeams playing upon the bluish white mountains- what a joy! What a relief! Away from the turmoil of the profiteers from the plunders of the statesmen – from the artificial glamor of the “antics” and eruption of the conference, “movements” or reforms, and the clap-trap of world saviors.