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Sunday, December 31, 2023

My dad's life


Peter Nash was born in Astoria, New York in 1938. His parents Dorothy and Akos (both of Jewish heritage though not particularly religious) and his brother Larry moved to LA around 1942, (4 years old) living in Los Feliz on Myra Avenue. His father, a medical doctor from Hungary (born in a town called Poklostelek, near what is today Oradea, Romania), met his mom, Dorothy in 1929 in Tours, France.
In 1957, (age 19) he went to Reed College for 2 years, (along with two good friends from LA, Jon Appleton and Tommy Rosin) planning to be a doctor, but he ended up really enjoying and thriving in his humanities courses and having a harder time in his science and math classes. He went to Europe for a year to figure out what he wanted, trying to be a writer in Marseille and traveling around other parts of France, and taking a trip from London to Israel by bus with his then girlfriend, Gail Rosin Wread. 
Back in the US, he went to San Francisco State U. and got better grades in science classes so that he could attend medical school at USC. He did an internship in San Francisco and lived in Berkeley and Oakland at the time, meeting my mom at folk dancing in Berkeley.
He participated in the civil rights movement in 1965, (age 27) attending rallies in Selma, Alabama and Bogalusa, Louisiana, and had a gun pulled on him. 
He was a conscientious objector for the Vietnam war and went to jail for 3 days for this.
He married my mom around 1968 and Andrew (River) was born in 1971. They traveled to Yap in 1972 and then returned to Santa Cruz to live in Bonny Doon. I was born in 1976 and Rocky (Elijah) was born in 1977. They divorced in 1979 and my Dad married Judy, a nurse practitioner of Armenian heritage that same year. He and Judy ran Cedar Medical Clinic together for 25 years or so before leaving Santa Cruz to move to Petrolia. He continued some work as a doctor in Garberville, but transitioned to retirement and to writing of poetry. Peter and Judy lived in Petrolia until around 2017 when they moved to Mendocino and Aptos, where they have lived since.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Liminal time


I was feeling pretty out of it this morning. Getting back to Colorado in the midst of saying goodbye to my dad and after 2+ weeks off work and recovering from Covid, I just felt like nothing fit.

Yesterday I had a talk with a neighbor at Nyland, Bob, who often has insightful things to say about the community. He said that Nyland was designed to exist in a kind of liminal realm between disconnection and total unified following of an ideology. Some find it frustrating because they want to convince the others to follow the same approach.
Whether or not that is an accurate description of Nyland, the word "liminal" stuck with me, and after spending the morning sleeping longer than usual, watching "The Iron Giant" and generally feeling frustrated with my life, I let that word sink in. I'm in a kind of liminal time. And perhaps this is where the world is as well. I feel like we've entered the anthropocene era where we need to be responsible in a larger sense for the world. We can no longer have the luxury of imagining an "out there" where we can throw garbage to, where can leave people(s) behind to, etc. We need to have more comprehensive approaches to both nature and culture.
One of the last things my Dad said to me was an encouragement to find an entirely different kind of work. It's understandable, since I've often complained to him and others. I've often found the world of particle accelerators to be too small, too disconnected from the real problems of the world. And it can be too big at the same time: so many facilities, so many research problems to work on. And my company spreads itself thin at times and I can get put on projects I'm not so interested in and feel little sense of coherence. So this morning, I was again feeling the need to leave it all behind.
I'm sitting in my art studio again and feeling better about everything. I'm not going to leave it all behind. I like applying relativity theory to charged particles. I like understanding partial coherence of x-rays. I like finding humanistic approaches to integrate new methods of neural networks and Bayesian optimization to improve beamline functioning. And I like learning about x-ray and neutron scattering experiments that map out the tiny structures of our world. I can read about philosophy and climate in my spare time and perhaps at some point these will become bigger parts of my life.
I've gotten to where I am today by not leaving things behind. I've sat in liminal spaces and worked with them until they became more concrete. I can help build my community at Nyland as well as connect with Fairfield, Iowa and the TM movement. I can keep a good relationship with my younger brother even if he needs to separate himself from some of the family and I can keep trying to find an authentic relationship with my step-mom even if I expect to never fully succeed. And I can love my Dad while also not taking his advice.
I'm not sure this all hangs together except that accepting that one is in an in-between time does feel helpful. I've tried to not throw people or parts of myself away and to develop artistic and analytical tools to work with what I've been given. It sometimes feels like an impossible place to live, but it's also the place that a lot of the world finds itself in now. Trying to adjust our systems to prevent climate change, species loss and pollution. Israel and Palestine working off of completely different assumptions with poor leaders trying to impose overly simplistic solutions through violence. So we need to keep finding ways to work with what we actually have and find a peaceful attitude towards ourselves and the world from which to move forward.

Monday, November 20, 2023

thoughts on Israel/Palestine


I still don't really know what's going on in Israel/Palestine, but I do take these concerns that there is genocidal intent against the Palestinians seriously.
In this thorny situation with a long history of conflict there is bound to be anger and frustration on both sides. 
It's obviously a very incendiary charge against the Israeli government and some of the Israelis, who were formed out of a long history of attempted genocide against the Jewish people. And indeed, there is now growing anti-semitism which raises the specter of that genocidal intent against the Jewish people that has resurfaced so many times through history generally based on prejudices and false stories about a people that often have had to live in diaspora on the boundaries of other societies.
But growing up with the daughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide and having some of my father's family killed in the holocaust in Hungary, I have some idea of what inter-generational trauma looks like. And my mom's family also were formed out of pogroms and anti-semitism in Bessarabia and then Canada.
So I feel an obligation to prevent this from happening again, wherever and to whomever it happens. My obligation is to look for truth and not look through the lens of prejudice and call out misinformation when I see it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023



Today started out (8am) with the second installment of the Week ( discussion about the state of the world. We saw the video which talked about the capitalistic attitude (More is Always Better) that got us to these disasters: massive species loss, out of control pollution and global warming.
Then I went to karate, learning how to get out of grabs and holds of all sorts. In the middle of the afternoon, I joined my mom on a Zoom call with some Jewish prayers. Finally, this evening was a birthday party at Nyland. Puzzles, costumes, karaoke (I sang a Pogues song) and the start of a conversation with one of the global climate model software engineers at NCAR. 
A little bit of a hodgepodge of a day, but still I suppose it's nice to start filling out my life a bit more. Karate and yoga...climate science and particle accelerators, Jewish prayer and the Pogues. Sometimes life feels like a bunch of balloons all going in different directions, and I need to hold onto them all and I don't feel like there's enough of me to inhabit this center.
Work also feels a bit disconnected. Not much progress on the neutron scattering data analysis. A little progress on getting a Genesis model for the TESSA undulator at the FAST accelerator. This should also help for modeling LCLS and European XFEL. I do need to learn some more about free electron lasers...

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Life's complexity

 I've been waking up at 4am recently, feeling stressed out. So many different threads in life and the world and it's hard to see how they will turn out. Getting to know people at Nyland and to understand the complex organization. The difficulties in the world- war and climate change and people not getting along with each other. And my complex job, working with a lot of different organizations, trying to do something meaningful, to help with the technology of particle accelerators at the same time as to understand the kinds of experiments done with x-rays and neutrons to understand the atomic structure of materials and elementary excitations of matter. Sometimes I feel like I'm pretty good at managing complexity and pulling different pieces together into something that makes sense, and sometimes I feel like it's all too much for me. I suppose painting has always been a kind of practice for this aspect of life. How do we pull together the pieces of this world that seem much more fragmented than any one person can manage?

During these times, I often find myself watching the first few episodes of Season 7 of Deep Space 9, where the Bajoran prophets have been attacked by the Pah Wraiths, Ducat has killed Jadzia and captain Sisko is visiting his father, trying to figure out what to do next. I love these two episodes, because they follow three completely different plot lines, that all end up resolving and weaving together in a beautiful way. Sisko meets Ezri Dax and tries to find the orb of the emissary with his father and son, Worf goes on a mission to fight a battle to get Jadzia into Stovokor, and Kira faces off against the Romulans to protest a military build up on the Bajoran moon of Durna. It gives me inspiration during these complicated times to keep trying to follow what I'm doing with integrity, with the hope that the threads of my life (and other world developments larger than me) may come together in some integrative form.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Being Mortal


I've been really appreciating listening to an audiobook of "Being Mortal", by Atul Gawande, recommended by a childhood friend, responding to my last post about my dad, growing older, and end of life conditions and choices.
For a long time, I've not paid a lot of attention to the (western/scientific) medical perspective, thinking religion and spirituality have more to offer us in terms of staying healthy (while at the same time, as a physicist knowing very well the power and coherence of scientific tools and perspective). Getting older myself, however, I know that I will have to use medicine more often. With my dad a medical doctor and my mom interested in alternative medicine such as Ayurveda and spiritual techniques such as meditation, I've often wondered how to find common ground between these perspectives and technologies. What I see is that some of the alternative medical approaches and spiritual techniques take the whole person into account more than breaking us down into individual parts or separate systems to be healed. But the Western medical tradition based on modern science has a plethora of powerful tools for staving off catastrophic illness and extending our lives.
"Being Mortal" is written from the perspective of a surgeon who has dealt with many end of life scenarios and started to question how we think about meaning of life, particular during these dire times. He's not someone who is giving up his profession, but he is doubting whether the medical profession should be the primary force deciding the options we should have, particularly later in life. He writes about his own father's journey with cancer and how the questions the two of them as doctors asked their patients became a lot less abstract when it was Gawande's own father's life at stake.
This book feels like a bridge for me, encouraging us to take advantage of all the life and health extending technologies medicine has to offer, but also to remember there are deeper aspects of life and meaning than just staying alive for as long as possible. How do we think about the whole arcs of our lives?
I recently spent a fair amount of time watching youtube videos from a cognitive scientist named John Vervaeke, particularly a 50 part series called "Awakening from the Meaning Crisis" that went through all of western history and talks about how we have arrived at what he calls the meaning crisis. It really spoke to me, because he wants to use all the sciences that make up cognitive science to give a more full view of what it is to be human and where religion and spirituality fit in. He also uses the work of a fair number of philosophers, bringing their careful work to bear on the real problems we face as human beings living our complex lives. (Part of his definition of cognitive science involves the use of philsophy to combine the different disciplines by which the mind and human cognition are studied and understood.) Too often when science and humanities are combined, one of them is given a weak, shallow presentation. Vervaeke also uses tools and language of artificial intelligence to talk about intelligence, rationality and wisdom, going back to the Greeks, Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus to ground the discussion using the foundations of the very grammar we use. (Finally my Reed College education where science and humanities were both given equal weights really helps me out.)
Being a physicist, I had a hard time answering such questions about meaning in life, yet at the same time, a lot of new age spirituality centers around physics, (often somewhat fringe/borderline stuff such as the multiverse and extra dimensions as well as the more obscure aspects of quantum mechanics such as the EPR experiment) and I've long struggled to find some kind of perspective that is true to the science but doesn't disregard human meaning and gives a richer account of life and our inner worlds.
I've also been reading "Religion in an age of Science" by Ian Barbour who gives a framework for how science and religion relate to each other. This helps me integrate the thread I've been following about my Jewish heritage, history of Judaism, and how Jewish religion and spirituality can be relevant to us today. On this line, I've really enjoyed a youtube channel called "Seekers of Unity" that try to find commonality in all the traditions while being well grounded in the Jewish tradition.
Overall, these pieces start to fit together: how we can take the medical perspective and technologies and allow them to do what they are good at, but also keep them in their place and not allow them to answer questions about meaning in life and even a lot of aspects of quality of life. The book by Gawande supplies an important piece of this for me. 
I've felt for awhile that I haven't had a very coherent picture of what a complete life is about, and this can lead to existential dread and depression. Bringing some of our different traditions together starts to feel like it forms a more solid base. We also need such a base to work together as a people politically and to think about the future of the planet, confronting climate change, species loss and other hugely difficult issues of the Anthropocene era we are entering.
I still have plenty of questions, but it seems like an important time to rethink some foundations while not throwing away the bulk of our traditions and systems of knowledge. Finding a middle path here will probably be something I continue to engage in for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Growing older


My dad's been in and out of the hospital recently with some issue with his immune system and blood I have a hard time understanding called Thrombocytopenia. This means he has low platelet count.

My step-mom Judy has been managing all of his medical care and I know this is a really big job for her. Being someone's sole caretaker must be a huge amount of work. My mom did this for my step-father, Bill.
I'd like to contribute in some way, but haven't had a very close relationship with my dad and not always the easiest relationship with my step-mom. So I mostly learn about it second hand and talk with my dad when I have a chance.
I've really enjoyed over the years learning about my family history, collecting documents and being a sort of family historian. I've thought of trying to put together some kind of life history document for my dad, since his memory has also been getting worse in recent years. He feels like his memory is worse, but mostly what I notice is that he finds it harder to put sentences together. Words don't come to him very easily. This must be particularly challenging for him, since he is an empathetic person, able to relate to many people, which served him well as a much beloved doctor. And following his retirement from medicine he became a poet, publishing several small books of poetry and winning a number of awards. So losing his language ability must be very frustrating for him.
Getting older isn't easy and our society is not well set up for it. Our families are spread out and so the caretaking often ends up falling on just one person, such as a spouse, or having to put elders into residence homes of varying quality of care. And when it comes to death and dying, we hide it away, pretend it doesn't exist until the tragedy is upon us and small amounts of resources such as hospice are available to help us with this part of life that happens to each and every one of us.
Just thinking this through out loud. I don't know how much time my father has left to live. He's often told me he could die any time, partly due to some men in our family dying young, and also no doubt due to his experience as a family practitioner, where one deals with sickness and death regularly. So I internalized this about my dad, in some ways grieving for him years ago. But now the more imminent possibility is upon me, and I wonder how to work with it while maintaining my sometimes stressful busy life as a physicist and just taking care of myself. I think I will get back to some of my art work and some of my family history projects. It feels like this is the best way I can contribute to the collective process of living and dying and making meaning in our world that sometimes moves so fast and changes so quickly that if we're not careful, everything we care about may have disappeared.