books read in 2010

  1. The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman
  2. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  3. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
  4. The Mapmaker’s Wife by Robert Whitaker
  5. Marathon Training for Dummies by Tere Stouffer Drenth
  6. Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris
  7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  8. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  9. Travels by Michael Crichton
  10. Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
  11. Grass for his Pillow by Lian Hearn
  12. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
  13. Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn
  14. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  15. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
  16. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
  17. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  18. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
  19. The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan
  20. The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn
  21. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick riordan
  22. Heaven’s Net is Wide by Lian Hearn
  23. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
  24. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  25. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
  26. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
  27. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  28. Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
  29. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris
  30. Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende
  31. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  32. Grounded by Seth Stevenson
  33. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
  34. First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria by Eve Brown-Waite
  35. Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
  36. Leaving Before it’s Over by Jean Reynolds Page
  37. Baby Proof by Emily Giffin
  38. Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
  39. Strong Medicine by Arthur Hailey
  40. Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr.
  41. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
  42. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  43. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

books read in 2009

  1. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  2. Diary of a Radical Mermaid by Deborah Smith
  3. Killer Germs by Barry and David Zimmerman
  4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  6. ‘Tis by Frank McCourt
  7. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  8. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  9. Brida by Paulo Coelho
  10. Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
  11. Abandon by Pico Iyer
  12. The  Good German by Joseph Karon
  13. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
  14. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel
  15. The Double Helix by James D. Watson
  16. Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  17. Invisible Prey by John Sandford
  18. I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris
  19. Surviving the Extremes by Kenneth Kamler
  20. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks
  21. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
  22. I am Legend by Richard Matheson
  23. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
  24. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
  25. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
  26. Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
  27. Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris
  28. The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman
  29. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
  30. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
  31. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
  32. Girls’ Night In edited by Lauren Henderson, Chris Manby and Sarah Mylnowski
  33. Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris
  34. Definietly Dead by Charlaine Harris
  35. Altogether Dead by Charlaine Harris
  36. Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities by Alexandra Robbins
  37. From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris
  38. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  39. A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren
  40. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
  41. Matchless by Gregory Maguire
  42. Postsecret by Frank Warren

books read in 2008

  1. As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  2. Exodus by Leon Uris
  3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  4. The Man by Irving Wallace
  5. Armageddon by Leon Uris
  6. The Drifters by James Michener
  7. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  8. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  9. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  10. Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
  11. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  12. Mozart and the Whale: An Aspberger’s Love Story by Jerry Newport
  13. Infection: The Uninvited Universe by Gerald N. Callahan
  14. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  15. The Woman with a Worm in her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease by Pamela Nagami
  16. The Host: A Novel by Stephenie Meyer
  17. The Gryphon: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Is Rediscovered by Nick Bantock
  18. Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
  19. Harmful Intent by Robin Cook
  20. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely
  21. Contagion by Robin Cook
  22. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  23. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
  24. Adam by Ted Dekker
  25. Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson
  26. The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
  27. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  28. Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker
  29. Sabine’s Notebook: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Continues by Nick Bantock
  30. The Golden Mean: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Concludes by Nick Bantock
  31. Marker by Robin Cook
  32. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  33. Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds by Nick Bantock
  34. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
  35. The Chocolate Lovers’ Club by Carole Matthews
  36. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
  37. Remind Me Again Why I Need A Man by Claudia Carroll
  38. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  39. Neanderthal by John Darnton
  40. The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho

thoughts on: Enough by Bill McKibben

In the first few pages of his book, McKibben talks about how athletes have used EPO, a synthetic hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, to gain an unfair advantage over their competitors. These attempts to gain by artificial increase of blood oxygen capacity as opposed to natural abilities threaten to devalue sports hard-won by diligent training and conditioning. In McKibben’s words, “it’s not the personal challenge that [is affected]. It’s the personal (7).” I couldn’t agree more, and yet although I am against the use of EPO in sports, I cannot bring myself to be against the technology of EPO itself. You see, I am not an athlete, but I am a student of science, and I too have used EPO…on stem cells.

In stem cell cultures, EPO is a necessary ingredient for survival and perhaps a key player in the differentiation cascade that follows the first few days of stem cell pluripotentiality. The ultimate goal of my doctor-mentors and mine is to induce in vitro stem cell differentiation into tissue-specific aggregates that could serve as potential organ replacements – natural prostheses, and nothing more. It is obvious that I am pro-stem cell research. I am, however, anti-cloning (therapeutic or otherwise) and anti-germ line genetic manipulation. It is in these two procedures that I say “Enough.”

Cloning and germ line genetic manipulation fall under the G part of the technological trio worthy of restraint according to McKibben, GNR: Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics – technologies that have the capability to Grow Numerous Rapidly. Specifically, it is not just the landslide momentum generated by these technologies, but also their “destructive self-replication…that should give us pause (90).” That, and the loss of meaning that the three entail.

Take cloning for example. The moment the first successful human clone arrives is the moment wherein it would be near impossible to curtail any and all subsequent cloning, for it is unfeasible to assume that scientists would readily relinquish their cloning knowledge just because they achieved one success. Oh no, for why just make one, when they can make multiple? Because it’s just another step forward, and where else can we go if not further onward? It is here that McKibben would likely say, “Whoa, now hold on just a minute; stop and smell the roses; ponder just what all this rush is for; and perhaps, decide whether another path is worth pursuing.” After all, it’s only too easy to get caught up in the forward motion of progress, whether it’s towards a set end, or motion just for its own sake. We humans are a restless lot. For the most part, stagnation, or the semblance of it, makes us antsy, and we’d rather fidget than sit still. After all, we are only human. But for how much longer?

There are few, like Stock, who would love to fidget with the human genome. Designer babies, anyone? And would you like fries with that as well? Reducing future children to a checklist of genes to be added, deleted or amplified means reducing them to things, commodities, manufacturable, but not exactly expendable – defective copies can’t just be returned, exchanged, discarded or destroyed, for that would be synonymous with neglect or murder. Furthermore, that which is tampered with is artificial, non-authentic, abnormal, fake. Fake-human, what does that mean? To be fake-human means to be unoriginal. Instead of being a collage of inherited traits that assemble together in a once-in-a-lifetime combination, made possible only by the natural shuffling process of parental genes called meiosis, an artificially engineered baby X would for example be blonde, blue-eyed, 6-feet-6 inches tall, with Air Jordan capabilities (Michael Jordan stock#C808) and a knack for diplomacy (Winston Churchill stock#415) as specified by couple X, avid basketball fans who would like their son to be a skilled basketball player, who, upon retirement, becomes a UN ambassador. Exaggeration? Perhaps, but you get the picture, and I hope you’ll agree with me in saying that there is something fundamentally wrong with that. Especially when baby X grows up wanting to be an archaeologist instead, whose favorite pastime is spelunking; his height then becomes a liability when crawling through tight caverns. Once started, where would the genetic manipulation stop? In physical appearance, abilities and aptitudes? Or do the dispositions and mental processes have to be tinkered with as well to ensure that your child lives the life you choose for him, happily and contentedly. I use the word “live” loosely because every moment of living involves making conscious choices, not pre-conditioned responses according to protein expression by fabricated gene sequences. Can an engineered baby truly know happiness, when instead of developing its own unique threshold for happiness and experiencing joy firsthand, it is encoded with a set amount of “happy” proteins chosen by its parents?

Establishing identity is hard enough for us non-engineered humans. Every now and then we might go through identity crises; maybe there are some personal traits we’d rather have or not have; maybe we’d just like to ensure that our children will have a better life, with less difficulties than we’ve lived through. But before we let our seemingly innocent, seemingly benign intentions steer us towards considering genetically engineering our offspring, let’s try and put ourselves in their shoes, far into the future. Or if that may be hard to imagine, try asking our own parents what they would’ve done, what they would’ve given us had the option been available to them. Which of our traits would they have altered? I’m sure that as much as some of us wish we were smarter, or thinner, or more outgoing, all of us would be hoping that our parents would say, “We wouldn’t change a thing” or “Who you are is enough. We love you just the way you are.” Luckily and thankfully, my parents said just that.

Maybe when I have kids, they’ll inherit my “short” genes, maybe not. There’s no way to see the future, nor would I want to control it or them. The only thing within my control is my own life, my own choices. If later in life they decide they’d like to be taller, or they’d like to have auburn hair, they can wear high heels or dye their hair. Maybe in the future they’ll have a form of plastic surgery to make people shorter or taller, according to their specification. My point is that since it’s their life, it should be their choice. Regardless of how good our intentions are, it is they who have to live through the consequences of those intentions, so it’s better to have them live life learning as they go, learning as we have been, and still are.

One of the things I learned about being human is the need to be productive. We like to know that who we are and what we do matters in the grand scheme of things, whether we make a difference to only one, or to a multitude. That somehow we produce something; that somehow we contribute to the world in some way other than exhaling carbon dioxide. Working on something and reaping its rewards is a major factor of happiness. Thanks to technology, we don’t have to suffer through backbreaking work to make a living, and we have more leisure time as more and more things are accomplished by the push of a button. However, if technology progresses in this fashion, what started out as sweeping with a broom and dustpan, to pushing a vacuum cleaner across the floor, to autonomous vacuum robots with built-in dirt sensors, will soon become self-cleaning floors via nanotechnology. Some may not find anything wrong with that. Perhaps that’s one less chore to worry about. But if everything became instant and self-(insert process here), what else would be left for us to do? Even our fingertips wouldn’t get exercise from pushing a button.

Proponents of technological maximality can argue that it is precisely due to all these technological advancements that we have more free time to devote to academic, artistic or recreational pursuits. And I concede that a few who can afford it do pursue worthwhile causes, but those particular few are the minority. All too often I hear of and observe a senseless ennui uncharacteristic especially of young people who proverbially hold the world as their oyster. “I’m bored” or “I just don’t know what to do with myself” seems to be the mantra of a majority as they race to chase the latest fad, the newest gizmo or toy. The next distraction then becomes, if it hasn’t already been, the key to instant gratification, a respite from the unease of boredom, or, an escape from the lack of meaning? Has the oyster become too automated, too technologically saturated too soon? Too soon so that we’re kind of just swept away by the momentum without having had a chance to absorb, process, and regulate? Too soon so that we’re too entranced by technology’s siren song to notice that the oyster is slowly but surely growing to the point where it will be holding us in the palm of its genetically engineered hand, while preparing to crush us with its nanobot-assembled fist?

Okay, so maybe we’re not quite at that point yet. But right now, while the oyster is still in the form we recognize, maybe we should take a step back, and as McKibben suggests, decide that we have enough. That if we took our mind off of our laundry list of “I want…I want… I want” and “more…more…more” and stopped to think about it, I mean really think about it, we just might see that our lives are good as they are. That we can just as well do without any further upgrades. Didn’t you ever stop to think that had Mother Nature intended for us to evolve into something beyond humanity as we know it, we would’ve already in the thousands of years that we have inhabited the earth? And if Mother Nature, with all the wisdom of natural selection practiced since the evolution of the first unicellular organism, decided that we were enough and restrained from making us super-human, shouldn’t we do the same?

Techno-zealots like More (201) posit that Mother Nature is imperfect, inefficient. Since we are products of imperfect Mother Nature, we too are imperfect. This is why he believes that by engineering ourselves, we can move closer to perfection. But if we, the engineers, are imperfect to begin with, how can we produce perfection or something close to it? What hubris has he to think that we can one-up Mother Nature, and produce perfection where she failed? Not only are we imperfect, according to Rodney Brooks we are also “not special” (204). Along with a few other jaded molecular biologists, after understanding that we too are made up of the same organic compounds as yeast or cancer cells, pronounced our species predictable, trivial, not special. Maybe they never got enough hugs as children, and perhaps we should give them some. Maybe they’ve become too wrapped up in their research, poring over every grueling detail, that they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. That we are, despite our faults, special; that we are enough. That we are made up of the same basic molecular components as fungus or as our pet dog, and yet, unlike fungus or Snoopy, we have the capacity to feel a range of emotions beyond the mere sensory input of neurons is precisely why we are special. That unlike fungus or Snoopy, we can put off sleeping because we are trying to condense our ideas into a five-page essay is why we are special. “That we can restrain ourselves…decide not to do something that we are able to do…set limits on our desires…say, ‘Enough’”(205).

Maybe because I’m agreeing with McKibben and saying “Enough,” you’ll say that I’m unambitious. Maybe these scientific geniuses who have come before me will encourage me and even commend me for being pro-stem cell research, but because I am against cloning and genetic germline engineering, they will pronounce me unambitious. And maybe I am. If the goal is to reduce our lives into commodities only as good as the latest upgrade, then yes I am unambitious. If the goal is to gain immortality, not by the memories of the good you do, or the love you give, but by the perpetual artificial genetic coding for telomerase production, then yes I am unambitious. And if saying “Enough” makes me unambitious, then I choose to be unambitious. Because I like challenge. Because if saying “Enough” now means that I will never see life at its easiest (I can only imagine what that would be like), I know I’ll still be happy and content. Because eventhough life in all its finitude contains both beauty and ugliness, joy and pain, happiness and sadness, I’d rather have it all, feel it all, than feel nothing. Because, scientifically speaking, I have been dying since I was born, and time makes every moment, every imperfection all the more sweet. Because I too am convinced that the world is “enough, just enough. And us in it.” (227)

oh, oh, the sweetest thing…

…and what could be sweeter than the innocent idealism of a schoolgirl crush?

Sifting through my old file of poetry and prose, I came across this essay written when I was 16 going on 17. Thinking about the events that inspired me to write it still makes me smile wistfully.

~Untitled~

The azure stretch holds a myriad of secrets often too deep to be understood. Looking across the horizon, a subtle calm envelops me, shrouding me in its mystery, leaving me suspended in the ethereal space. In this moment, I know only of times long gone. Whispers of memories buried in the innermost treasure trove of my heart are ressurected – brought to life – unraveling like a picture movie.

We were playing a game of UNO, singing and chatting incessantly as we passed the time. Being in a jovial mood, we greeted whoever walked past our open door. That’s when I first saw him–a young man dragging his luggage behind him. He smiled a cheerful hello, but declined the invitation to join us for a game.

The spray of the surf breaks my trance and I am once more drawn to the beauty of the ocean. I smile as I look at the vibrant blue, pondering its depths. In my mind’s eye the water swirls, transforming into twin pools of soulful sapphire smiling at me like days not so long ago. I shake my head to will the memories away, but they rush back with a vengeance like a wave crashing into my consciousness.

The bus was crowded, cramming us two to a seat. We talked comfortably amongst ourselves, allowing unfamiliar faces to listen to our rambling trivialities. Gaining a laugh or a smirk, we bantered back and forth, easing the tension of a busy day. There he was, across from me, quiet yet attentive. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, or the thrill of the moment, or maybe it was what really happened, for it seemed as though he had eyes only for me, ears only for me… tuning out everything and everyone else. I remember thinking then, as I have been thinking many times since, that I could and would let myself get lost in those very eyes.

Those eyes spoke to me, as the ocean speaks to me – in ways only my heart could possibly understand. Even when I look away the deep lures me, daring me to reach as far as I would let myself fall. With oppenness born without guile, it somehow managed to break my walls down – opening me, freeing me so that I was more whole than I have ever been.

My mind must’ve wandered again, for I didn’t see the tide come in and catch me off balance. It’s amazing how elemental tides push and pull you into varying degrees of emotion – so easily brought on and so easily taken away.

I said once before that I could get lost in his eyes, but in them, I found myself instead. The simple generosity he offered has lasted and now lives in my memory. It’s been a while since I last heard from him, but his smile and the warmth of his person I still carry, and retrieve from time to time. Though time and space stand between us, I hold the hope that the gossamer threads connecting us remain unsevered.

I brush the sand off, as I get ready to leave memory lane and return to reality. I take one last look at the ocean bathed in the last few rays of a setting sun. A smile steals over my face and spreads to warm my heart as I become aware of the grain of wisdom entrusted to me:

As sure as the sun sets, a dawning of a new day – new love, new life – is sure to follow. It is essential that we live our lives to the fullest even in the absence of inspiration, but with a faith that is sure to yield a piece of heaven that is ours to keep.

~//~

I was such a sucker for blue eyes, hehe, and in some ways, I still am actually. Blue is my favorite color, after all.

And maybe there will come a time when a:

“blue-eyed boy meets brown-eyed girl”

And maybe then it will be:

“oh, oh, the sweetest thing”

Well, hey, a girl can dream, right?

Gros Piton: dreams of scaling it and happily ever after

Rifling through travel magazines on the back pocket of the airplane seat in front of me, I came across an article about Gros Piton. Standing at 2,619 ft. above sea level on the western coast of the island of St. Lucia, with a backdrop of blue sky and even bluer sea, it seems to me like an ideal place for l’amour. I don’t easily admit that I possess elements of the cheesy, ridiculously sentimental, hopeless romantic, but I couldn’t help poring over the pictures and thinking to myself that this would be an amazing destination for a honeymoon.  Actually my first thought was, “This is my mountain!” and I’ve filed this as one of the places I  intend to visit. However, thoughts of gazing at the azure depths from the mountain’s summit were immediately followed by thoughts of taking in all this beauty and sharing it with the man that I love.

(whoever he turns out to be and whether he exists still remains a mystery to me – a mystery I haven’t really allowed myself to dwell on, as the future is uncertain and I believe that what’s meant to be will be…)

I’m not averse to traveling solo, and if I’m alone on the day I take the first step of the 2-mile hike to the summit, I’m positive the experience of scaling “my mountain” will be an awesome one.

 

GrosPiton.JPG

to visit: underground city of Derinkuyu (Cappadocia, Turkey)

The act of walking down enclosed staircases has such a calming effect on me. At my former job, I used to walk down the stairs from the 8th floor to the basement whenever I felt stressed. It’s as if descending can make me feel more grounded – I haven’t delved deeply enough to discover why that is.

I’m currently reading “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman. In one of the chapters, he talks about how underground cities might be all that remain of our human legacy, long after all traces of civilization disappear from the surface. He cited Derinkuyu in Cappadocia, Turkey as an example. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the idea of a subterranean network of passageways, but for some reason the idea has captured my imagination. I’ve added Derinkuyu on the list of places I’d like to see.