Quote of the Afternoon

We have to free ourselves of childish expectations; we must not pray like children whining to our parents. We must also reject any latent feudalism in our hearts: we still call our gods “lords” and act like serfs begging for consideration. Neither infantile wailing nor medieval supplication is the prayer we need.

— Deng Ming-Dao, The Lunar Tao

The Lunar Tao (and Quote of the Morning)

On Monday, I came across a copy of a book that I didn’t know about by a favorite author of mine, Deng Ming-Dao. The book, The Lunar Tao, is a couple of years old, but this last two or three years has been very rough for us and I haven’t been keeping up with new books much.

Some years back, Mr. Deng wrote a terrific book called 365 Tao, which is a series of daily meditations on living in harmony with the Tao. Each of the short essays is connected with a day of the year, and many of them are tied in some way to the seasons in various ways. (A nice touch is that the essays are not dated but are numbered 1 to 365, with a table in the back where you look up which number corresponds to a particular date; different sets of correspondences are given for the northern and southern hemispheres.)

This book, The Lunar Tao, is also a series of daily meditations, but tied to the days of the lunar calendar. Appropriately enough, Monday was the first day of the year by the Chinese lunar calendar, so I’ve been able to start right from the beginning. Each page also contains a sidebar about the significance of the day in the Chinese calendar or some other aspect of Chinese culture or writings that is relevant to the day’s meditation, and the meditations are interspersed with information about festivals, short poems, historical information, and traditional physical exercises. I’m looking forward to getting deeper into it.

Anyway, today’s meditation, on the parable of the Kitchen God and the virtue of humility, contains a line that I like a lot:

Those who are truly lucky suffer mildly from their mistakes and learn early.

Oh, yeah, ain’t that the truth. The meditation ends with a line worth jotting down, too:

We claim the center by being humble.

Frustrating Weekend

Dave and I moved to a new place a few weeks ago — a long and frustrating process in itself — and there’s still much to do. We were going to be in San Francisco much of Sunday, so I wanted to get as much done on Saturday as I could. One of the bigger tasks remaining is getting our many dozens of boxes of books up from the basement and onto the bookcases that are on the second floor.

I decided the first thing I was going to do on Saturday was get the last bookcase bolted to the wall. The problem was that there was a TV wall mount solidly bolted to the wall that the previous tenant had left behind, and I didn’t have the right tool to unbolt it. Not that it was going to be a big deal, but I figured I was going to need a socket wrench, and I didn’t own any, and a set of decent socket wrenches was probably going to cost me at least twenty, twenty-five bucks. Money is kind of tight, though, since we just spent a lot on moving expenses last month, and Dave pointed out that we’d gotten a gift card from Home Depot for Christmas. Also, though Home Depot was a bit of a bus ride away, it was likely to sell individual socket wrenches, not just sets, and we could combine the trip with some other errands in the same area. So Home Depot it would be.

Indeed, Home Depot turned out to have individual socket wrenches at just $2.50 each. I had measured the bolt and gotten 7/16″ — I figured it was unlikely to be a metric size — and as the wrenches were inexpensive I picked up not just the 7/16″ but also the next standard sizes above and below, 1/2″ and 3/8″, just to be safe.

Unfortunately, both the bus ride and the errands took quite a bit longer than expected, and it was late afternoon by the time we got back. Even after getting the bookcase mounted, there wouldn’t be much Saturday left for carrying boxes up and unpacking them onto shelves. So I was eager to get at it, and I took the wrenches upstairs and tried them on the bolt.

Tried the 7/16″ — too big. Damn. Well, it was a good thing I’d bought the extras, then.

Tried the 3/8″. Seemed for a moment that it was going to work, but it was just a bit too small to fit around the bolt.

What the —? This is impossible. There is no other standard size between 3/8″ and — and of course that’s when I finally realized that these must be metric bolts.

Argh. It was kind of late to get to Home Depot and back and still have any day left for unpacking. We decided we would hit Home Depot on the way into San Francisco on Sunday, and I resigned myself to just carrying some more boxes of books up two flights and stacking them next where the bookcase would go.

At least now I could pinpoint the size I needed. In between 3/8″ and 7/16″ are 10 mm and 11 mm. I wasn’t sure off the top of my head whether or not 11 mm was a standard size of metric bolt, but in any case the 3/8″ wrench was very close to the right size, and the 7/16″ wasn’t, so what I needed had to be 10 mm.

I returned all three socket wrenches and picked up a 10 mm wrench the next day on our way into San Francisco. We got home after 11 pm, and I went straight upstairs and tried the new wrench on the bolts. I had the television mount removed from the wall in under ten minutes. And then I had to get to bed, since I was getting up early for work the next morning. So much for getting any books unpacked. (We did have a good time in SF on Sunday afternoon, though. More about that later.)

Hearne, Barber, and Tchaikovsky at SF Symphony

Last Friday Dave and I went to Davies Symphony Hall to hear the San Francisco Symphony play a new work by Ted Hearne called Dispatches, Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 6, Pathétique. A young composer named Christian Reif conducted the Hearne piece, and Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the other two.

Dispatches is scored for a large orchestra including lots of unusual percussion (including various kinds of drums and cymbals, glockenspiel, ratchet, Thai gongs, marimba, xylophone, wood blocks, and — according to the program — a “set of kitchen knives”) as well as electric guitar and electric bass. The music was full of interesting and unexpected sound combinations, but I found it hard to detect much structure running through it. I’m sure it was there, but it seemed to me to be obscured rather than made clearer by the controlled chaos of the orchestration. It was rather like listening to a kid with a brand new box of 64 musical crayons who was determined to use all of them in one picture.

Knoxville was beautifully played and sung. The soprano, Susanna Phillips, has a beautiful, rich voice, but she could have been singing in Hawaiian for all the consonants I could make out, and while the text (words by James Agee) was printed in the program, the house lights were brought down nearly all the way so that it wasn’t possible to follow along. You could appreciate the wonderful music during the performance, and then appreciate the wonderful text afterward during intermission, but you couldn’t appreciate both together at the same time. So that was a shame. Still, beautifully played and sung.

The program ended with a terrific performance of the Pathétique. It’s a very familiar work, but MTT nevertheless found some ear-opening new aspects to bring out. He played down the romantic side of it; I don’t think I’ve ever heard the first movement played so bleakly, so that even the Big Theme sounded like something out of Sibelius. I have heard the big march in the third movement played as sincerely triumphant, as ironic, as desperate, but I think this was the first time I’ve heard it sound angry and rigidly defiant.