如果没有如果

倒时差睡不着,上论坛看到别人推荐一本书叫做《最好的女子》。名字都是听过几十年的,都只记得那张漂亮的脸或是那首断肠的歌,谁知道背后有这样让人唏嘘的故事。

有些人我是知名不识面,好奇找来照片看了,哪一个年轻的时候不是个如花似玉的美人儿。故事,自然是被人添加了许多笔墨,又是过了这么多年,不少都是时间沉淀出的悲凉或感慨。应果有的是际遇,有的是性格。结局有的是解脱,有的是蹉跎。而说到底这就是人生,看到最后心里头一堆话,出来成了浅浅一声叹息。

自己这一生,最好的三分之一也就这样过了。故事说少不少,到最后记得的也不过那几段怅惘。而如今放不下的,等到十年后,又不知道是怎么样的回忆。其实还是怕的。不是怕自己不幸福,是怕他没有了我太幸福。但这世界从来就没有公平过,做坏事的人通常快乐的很。而做一个好人,跟幸福也没有什么确切的关系。

人的进化过程中,不知道什么时候出现了能够思考”如果”这个问题的功能。如果没有这样的功能,我们便不会去想失去了什么,因为我们不会理解那件事物存在的可能性。没有如果的世界,有会是什么样子的呢?

看见

在浦东机场待机的时候顺手买了两本书。一本是张小娴的散文集,另一本是柴静的看见。这本看见,网上听说过,朋友提起过,我一直没有太大的兴趣。看过以后却特别喜欢。不为别的,就觉得它真。有些人看了说,哎呀,把自己写得如何如何,真做作。我看着却觉得,那些年代久远的小细节,是真难编出来。而她偶尔自嘲偶尔自贬,一字一句也都真诚。她写的是自己这些年的成长,而她因为这成长而自豪,没有什么不好的。难道要她一整本书都把自己踩到脚下才是对的吗?

这世界上有些人对所有的事情都抱着怀疑态度冷嘲热讽,但却从不说自己做过什么。这个世界的确是很不完美,我们每一个人也都有各自的不完美。但一个努力学习,成长,并坦诚的展示自己的人是值得去了解的。我希望做一个这样的人,也相信这世界上有许多人在跟我一起努力中。

以上。

1911

朋友迟到,我坐在有微风的餐厅阳台上,还带着我的电脑,却很是不耐烦。

Netflix上突然多出了许多外国电影。我看了有许多还没看过的中文大片,便一一存了慢慢看。这一天看的是《1911》。这部戏评价一般般,所以一直懒得去找来看。因为是给洋人看的,封面上是一张硕大的成龙照,上面写着Jackie Chan’s 1911,我心里头还想着怎么辛亥革命怎么成了成龙的了,仔细看才发现漏看了中间一小行字,原来是Jackie Chan’s 100th Movie, 1911。

我是很庸俗的喜爱成龙大哥的,虽然也有不少乱七八糟的片子,但每次看片尾的花絮,都觉得他那样认真那样辛苦,摔出一身伤痛,就为了让大家多笑笑,实在是很敬业。而这份认真让他在剧情戏里也不觉得怪异,不想有些演员,当久了谐星,偶尔转型演正经角色,观众却总是在期待笑点。

我不觉得这是部惊天动地的好电影。但是对我这种历史似知非懂,又有些憧憬的人来说,这部电影还算是恰好。我生长在长沙,从小在岳麓山爬上爬下,黄兴墓也路过许多次。年头远久,记忆中也不过是树林里一块不大不小的墓碑,很是朴素。学校里肯定也是学过这些,但说实话早就丢去不知道哪里,对中国近代史的熟悉还不如射雕三部曲。电影应该还算是准确,我一边看一边读wiki,也算是非常迟到的补课。当然对真的懂历史的人一定会找出许多毛病来,但如果真要当历史片来看,那还不如看纪录片的好。

电影人物太多,基本上记不住,但是觉得几个人是刻画得十分有神的。黄兴的英雄气概或许过了些,孙中山又太正经太爱说教。太后哭得有些让人厌烦,袁世凯又实在是小人得很。但这样的大片,能体现出这样的角色,已经是难得了。

大家似乎都爱拿《建国大业》来比《1911》。前者注重故事,后者注重历史。以电影来说自然是两边都要兼顾,或许是作为观众我不够挑剔,看这样的电影消遣之外还学了些历史,也算满足了。

We can’t have it all

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/1/

I must say, The Atlantic has had some wonderful articles, or more accurately, essays. This one was being shared all around on FB a few days back, and it took me a while to read the whole thing. There was a sense of relief, that I was not the only one who felt this way. There was also a sense of doubt, that I was using this article as an excuse, for my lack of ambition, and/or achievement.

There was a time I thought of myself as ambitious and overachieving. Then I grew up. I met a lot more people, and found that most have achievements far greater than mine. At first I thought, man I need to catch up somehow. I would secretly find a competition, and try to measure up to them. Then I realized no matter how much I do, there are always going to be people who’ve done more, seen more, accomplished more.

It was a bit discouraging, of course. But I was also relieved. The thought of always having to work to catch up to someone else is daunting, and frankly not an appealing lifestyle. So this past year, I settled into a much simpler lifestyle — of not trying too hard. There were some setbacks. A promotion I probably would have gotten had I worked as hard as before. A year without any new certifications and letters after my name. The feeling of inferiority when comparing myself to my peers.

Good thing I was happy. Well, happy in the sense of contentment. There were ups and downs, but when I think back on the year, I can’t think of any moments I would want to take back.

So now it’s time for another decision. To go to school, experience something unique, exciting and exotic at a very high price tag, or to stay here, find a stable career and start a family, a life with fewer uncertainties. Each has its own appeal, and at a different time and place the decision would be easy.

And for this I am grateful. The chance to choose, between two mysterious paths, knowing that many adventures await no matter what my choice is. She’s absolutely right — we can’t have it all. Yet the fact that we do have a choice is already something to be thankful for.

Happiness

Read an old but wonderful essay today on happiness which made me think about a few things.

  1. My ability to concentrate on a single task of thinking (such as reading a 4 page essay) has been blown to bits!
  2. I have many introspective friends who think about deep stuffs :)
  3. Happiness is an ephemeral state. It’s difficult to generalize what happiness is both at the individual level and at the total lifespan level.
  4. Happiness is not a science. Studying and even understanding other people’s happiness does not mean you’ll know how to find it yourself.
  5. If your life had more happy moments than not, but in your last moment, you were full of regrets, did you lead a happy life?
  6. Everyone has a movie worthy story.
  7. A quote to ponder on: “Positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.”
  8. I need to read more.

the world

We live in a very selfish world. I often think that if everyone can be just a little bit less selfish everyday, we would be on track to solving all of the world’s problems from poverty to energy crisis. But I guess I can’t ask of the world what I can’t even do myself. I guess all creatures are made to be selfish, first to ensure our own survival, then to provide our own comfort, then finally, to satisfy our own greed.

I read an article this morning that supports this argument, and I was a bit sadder for the world. Then during lunch, I had a great conversation with my coworkers that began with planning for an Indian wedding, and ended with discussions on the aging population problem in China and the story of stuff. And it was wonderful because I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by people who actually care about stuff. People who care about the future, and think often about how things came to be and how we can perhaps make it a little better. And I was a bit more hopeful for the world.

It is often sad to think of the state we are in, and feel so helpless because we can’t fix the world’s problems in 1 day or even 1 lifetime. I guess that’s how the world became this way, because so many of us gave up while only a very few still believed they can make a difference. Don’t try to change the world, but don’t let the world change you either. Be better than what’s in the news and be better than what you see around you. Be better, but don’t judge those who aren’t quite there yet. Maybe they are just one step behind you.

life and death

One of my colleagues has been expecting his first child and I had wondered whether it was about time. I finally got the email today, and in his excitement he forgot to even let us know the cute baby’s name. Only a few hours after I hit the send button to the congrats email, I heard the news – Steve Jobs died.

It came so unexpectedly – I was walking back from the microkitchen with a tea in my hand wondering how much longer this day is going to last, when my coworker suddenly raised her head and just said it like that: “Steve Jobs just died.” I took a few seconds to process the information and exclaimed something unintelligible, then hurried back to my desk to read the news, as if hoping that it was a really bad joke.

But it was true, and I was sad. Steve Jobs was one of those people born with charisma and energy and brilliance that you can’t help but admire. He didn’t say much about himself to the world. We only got a sense of who he is through the products and the companies he built. He wanted to make a dent in the universe, set out to do just that, and left a pretty big dent all right.

One life perishes and another begins. At times like this, we are reminded of how similar we all are. We are born, we grow to see the world, then we leave. Yet we each have our unique journeys, and I hope that dear baby L will have a very special one. Because as some other wise person once said, everyone dies, but not everyone lives.

The Death Star Experience

It took me longer than I thought. It was more fun than I thought. It’s garnered more attention than I thought. After a month of hard work, the Death Star has been built.

I impulsively bought a $400 Death Star Lego set for my birthday last month. Many were shocked: $400 for a Lego set?! Others were impressed: you are the coolest geek girl ever! Ok, so the only people who were really impressed were my die hard Star Wars guy friends. Most people are in the you-could-have-bought-an-ipad-for-400-dollars camp. But as this article I read today once again confirmed, buying experiences brings you much more happiness than things. And the Death Star building experience has been a great one that’s totally worth the price.

To give you a bit of background, I don’t love Star Wars, and I’ve never owned any other Lego sets. I love building things, but growing up in China, the toys I had were poor imitations to actual Legos. And as much as I love sci-fi, I didn’t really see what the big deal is with Star Wars. So, here’s the story that I’d been hesitant to share with my enthusiastic fans who thought I was the coolest geek girl. I had been looking at this Lego set for the past 3 years for the right time to buy it for a boy. I thought it would be the perfect present, and it would be a super fun experience to build it together. Just one small problem: there’s never a right time to buy such an expensive present for someone who keeps breaking up with me -__- But I had looked at it for so long that I have grown to love it myself, and finally, I came up with the craziest idea: why don’t I just buy it for myself instead! So yes, it was an impulse buy, but still a well thought out one.

The building process itself as been documented somewhat sporadically in pictures. The pictures don’t show what an awesome creation this is. Whoever designed it was ingenious and probably watched Star Wars way too many times for his own good (yes, I’m being totally gender-biased here, I’m going to make the assumption it’s a dude). You just have to come over and play with it to see how cool it is. What I want to talk about today is (cue Star Wars main theme) — Lessons from Death Star!

I actually started thinking about these lessons this weekend. I had almost completed the final level, and realized that I had way too many left over pieces than I should at this stage (Lesson #1: Follow directions carefully when you don’t know what you are doing). I discovered a few missed steps, and the perfectionist in me made the regretful decision to take off the top two layers of the model to replace two tiny pieces that no one else probably would have noticed missing. It was then I discovered Lesson #2: Don’t always try to be a perfectionist. Those two tiny pieces found their destined home. Unfortunately I couldn’t put the rest of the model back together properly and things started falling apart, BIG TIME. At the end of the night, my almost-done Death Star had broken into 7 or 8 big chunks with random small pieces falling all over the place. I was determined to finish it that day, and the harder I tried, the more of the disaster it seemed to become. Here comes Lesson #3: Set realistic goals, and be flexible when circumstances change.

At some ungodly hour, I finally gave up and decided to go to sleep. I left everything as is on my floor, and didn’t even touch them the next day because of my frustration. And when I returned to my project, I was much calmer and had a plan. Lesson #4: Take a break when things get too rough. I saw that my problem was trying to take shortcuts by putting whole levels together, and the pieces just wouldn’t fit snugly. As tedious as it was going to be, I would just have to break them into reasonable pieces and redo a lot of work. Lesson #5: Lazy shortcuts sometimes end up costing you more time. So I took my time, followed instructions and slowly put my Death Star back together. I told myself that there is no deadline and I don’t need to rush to finish. Lesson #6: Enjoy the experience, not just the end result. It took me another 2 days, but the Death Star is finally in good shape.

I didn’t want to say complete, because I still had some “extra” pieces. Unfortunately I don’t think I can find their rightful places without starting from scratch, and it’s probably not worth my while to do so. Lesson #7: Not everything has to be perfect, make sure you remember the lessons from the mistakes. It still looks great and I had a lot of fun in the process. My experience was a success.

My roommate’s boyfriend was visiting last night as I put together the last pieces, and the three of us constructed some hilarious scenes with the mini-figures before putting them onto the final model. Here’s one final lesson: Lesson #8: Experience is more fun when shared with others. As much fun as this journey has been, it would have been more fun if we got to do it together. I look forward to my next project, and I hope I’ll have someone to share the experience with :)

ding.

“I want to put a ding in the universe.”

That’s my gchat status for the day. It seems that the departure of Steve Jobs has caused quite a stir in the market, the tech world, the business world, the world in general. He had once said he wanted to put a ding in the universe. It would seem that he did.

I’m not a fervent fan of Steve Jobs like many others. (personally I like Bill Gates better for his philanthropic work, not that either of them would care). I was, however, very touched by his commencement address at Stanford in 2005. He spoke of his triumphs and his failures, both of which people found inspirational. Well, that is really a lie, because if he had just failed, he would not have been invited to speak that day, we would not be here wallowing about “the end of an era,” and we certainly would not be talking about how inspirational he is. As much as people like to talk about their failures and how “it’s ok to fail,” it’s really only ok to fail if you can get up and succeed afterwards.

Ah, but for you to succeed, you have to first figure out what success is. I read this great article today and found this quote by Liz Strauss: “It’s not possible for the world to hold a meeting to decide your value. That decision is all yours.” Much easier said than done. For many, we’ve let others define success for us for most of our lives, achieving one goal after another, and one day we stop to look ahead, and realize that we really haven’t made a ding in the universe. The scary thing is, we may never will.

We are not all geniuses. We can’t all build a revoluntionary product or company like the Macintosh or Facebook. We are not all saints. We may not want to live in the jungle protecting endangered species or brave the war zone to save the children. Most of us are going live completely ordinary lives, without wiki pages dedicated to us. So it’s ok to define your success as just making it to a manager level, or find value in making the perfect home for your family. You just have to make sure that decision was all yours, and not what you figure would make the world think better of you. You just have to have tried your best, not only enough to not fail in other people’s eyes.

Of the graduation ceremonies I’ve attended as a participant, it’s sad to say the only commencement speech I remember was from high school, and the only thing I remember from it was our class president’s opening joke about standing in line for Star Wars. But thanks to Youtube I’ve been able to listen to a few that were truly inspiring. J.K. Rowling gave a speech at Harvard in 2008, where she said something about failure that was very similar to the quote I shared earlier about success. “Ultimately,” she said, “we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.” She classified her failure as epic, and the world has now crowned her one of the most successful people it’s ever seen. For every J.K. Rowling in the world, there are hundreds of aspiring writers whose names we will never know. Who failed epically and did not manage to get up. For every college drop out that started a multi-billion dollar company, thousands more struggle just to survive. So yes, it’s ok to fail, and it’s ok to be afraid to fail. As long as that fear makes you try harder and dig deeper and in the end, motivates you to succeed.

J.K. Rowling’s 2008 speech at Harvard (transcript)
Steve Jobs’ 2005 speech at Stanford (transcript)
David Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech at Kenyon College (transcript)

Lessons from Dumbledore

I live in a Christian household. That is to say, I have three wonderful roommates who are all devout Christians and had wanted another Christian roommate.

They got me instead. Having spent most of my college weekends going to church, retreats, worship practice and Bible study, I have stepped into a church perhaps twice in the past year or two. While humbly respecting their faith, I openly profess my doubt in a benevolent God, though I do not question the existence of a superior force that set life into motion. I do wonder sometimes, whether there had been prayers made to determine whether a heathen such as I would be a good fit for the house prior to my moving in, but it’s been a fun journey so far.

As most of my friends know, I’ve spent much time pondering about God, reading books, listening to sermons, having sometimes heated discussions. I do feel that life is rather empty for those who do not believe in anything, those with no principles that they hold dear and live by. I had, at one point, turned to the Bible for these principles, and at another point, Buddhist scriptures. What I found were valuable teachings, however, I had trouble with the idea I have to take every word to be the absolute truth. I will not fall into silly arguments about specific commandments God made in Leviticus, Deuteronomy or Exodus (actually I’m personally not a fan of the Old Testament in general), as I’m sure most people will agree that killing people who work on Sundays is ill-advised. I won’t even put into question whether Jesus really rose from the dead. I have long lost interest in historical facts and figures, and the only question that remains for me is: why do you believe God to be personal and benevolent?

The older I get, the more I realize how insignificant I am to this universe. How little I know of this world, of what came before I came into existence and what happens after my life on earth ceases. What is the meaning of life then? To glorify God and be reborn into Heaven, the Bible says. Why? Because our dear ancestors chose evil over good and were banished from Eden, so here’s our second chance, to be given free will and to choose once again, so that we may find everlasting life. Everlasting life. Some might say why would you want to live forever? Life’s preciousness lies in the fact that its only certainty is death. Life is cruel, bitter, happiness is fleeting and the only thing that never fails to disappoint is disappointment itself. But that is the life that we know, and not the life that we’ve been promised. A better life, He said, reunited with God, who is all things good. Will God have more mercy for those who believe in him yet did not follow his ways, or those who doubted his existence but walked in his footsteps without being taught? I wonder about this often, especially in an age where those who call themselves devout commit the most heinous of crimes and do so with impunity because they believe it is God’s will. It is his will when it happens to serve a purpose which benefits them, or if it justifies something they want to happen. They are hypocrites and extremists, I am told. Yet are we not all trespassers in the same manner? We pray for God’s guidance in our daily lives, sometimes in desperation, for we know that we have no control. When we receive something good, we say glory to God, and when things don’t turn out exactly the way we want, we are humbled by his test and try to persevere through it. But funny, everyone’s life sometimes goes up, and sometimes goes down, whether they have faith or not.

I can still clearly remember the last time I really prayed to God to ask for something. My friend’s mom was dying of cancer. The family never lost faith, and there were hundreds of people praying for her to get better. I remember mustering all the faith that a skeptic like me had in my heart, and asking God, if it’s true that you care, then please make her well, and I will truly believe that you care. At the funeral, as I listened to one heartfelt testimony after another, I once again thought how unfair and unreasonable this world is. Some time later I had a discussion with my friend, and she told me, it would have been too easy, if God gave her back to us. It would have been such a clear example of God’s work, and that’s not what he wants. The point of free will, is to choose to believe based on faith and not miracles.

Faith to the believers often sound like rationalization to the skeptic. It does make the hard days easier, when you believe that it’s only a test, and there’s something waiting for you at the end of this life that makes everything perfect as you’ve never experienced. It does make the guilt fly away, knowing someone else died for the sins that we should be punished for. It does make the world seem a bit more fair, for although we know good and evil, we see the good suffer and the evil escape justice with their spoils. We are powerless to right the wrongs, but we still believe that good will triumph over evil. That’s why the superhero always wins in the end, and that’s why the ultimate judgment comes at the moment of death, as we pass into the great unknown. We believe in goodness, and fairness, and we attribute these as qualities of God.

Which is why I refuse to believe in a God who chooses a small group of people to love, to guide, and forsake others merely because they have not heard the message, or have trouble believing in miracles. I’d rather believe God loves us all, and gave us a set of guidance called conscience, and left us to our own journey. When I come to a crossroad in life, I will not ask God which road I shall take, but I will use the intellect he’s given me to make the best decision. When I face pain and despair, I will not pray for him to take it away, but I will trust in the fairness of time, which takes away both the pain and the joy. When I love God, it is not because he will love me more for it, but because he’s given life to this universe, this earth, and as insignificant as it may have been as part of his work, to me.

I just finished watching the Battlestar Gallactica series. I found the Cylons quite lovable creatures despite their killing off (almost) the whole human race. They were simply struggling to survive and find meaning in their lives, just like the rest of us. Life is the sum of all our choices, and no one can claim they’ve made all the right ones. No one can say they’ve never sinned, never judged, never doubted. As I choose to continue my doubt, I also choose to be good. To follow the lessons taught by Jesus, Buddha, and Professor Dumbledore: to serve others, to judge not, to forgive, and most importantly, love conquers all.

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