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Noticing the trees among the forest

Its been two months now that I’ve lived in Seattle. This is strange to me because my body still feels like it stepped off the plane yesterday. During this time, I’ve been mocked by a robot giving driving directions to a climbing gym, run a half marathon alone in temperatures below 0 and won (and cooked) a turkey.

So far so good.

Today, a big chunk of my waking life is spent at Amazon. I’m on the elastic load balancing (ELB) team and meine arbeit involves working with asynchronous backend monitoring systems. This is a job that requires much attention to detail as one bad configuration could cause a big chunk of the interwebs to go dark.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of details.

They say that the devil is in the details and this credo I have lived by practically all my life. In my mind, details are hundred page legalese that chip away at the soul with all the frenzy of a woodpecker from hell. Details are all the reasons why something can’t be done. They are decoys to a meaningful life.

But I’m starting to change my mind.

Details are also other things. They are the reason why not everything is the same. The specific details within each person give us that thing we call individuality. And it really is just a detail. If we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, just imagine how similar we must be with everyone else. What distinguishes the greatest among us are details.

I think what bothers me about details are the sheer number of them. There are infinite things in the universe that have infinite details with infinite details about those details etc (for infinite). It’s infinitely infinities to many.

It seems too easy to lose myself among the details. Committing to any one truth seems to close the doors on countless more. Quoting Nemo in “Mr. Nobody” (great film, highly recommended, may or may not be available on youtube):

“You have to make the right choice. As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.”

But there comes a time when you have to make a choice. Details don’t just go away (but you will one day).

But maybe choosing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Like walking out from a dark room into a sunny day, you first need to squint and focus on specifics before you can start making out the world. Details turn the fuzzy into a reality, create oneness out of multitudes.

In the end, it’s not just the devil that’s in the details. Its everything.

I have a plan

Sitting awake at 5:00 am due to jet lag, figure I make use of the time and write. Today is my first day back in the states. My lease and my job start in a week and I’m currently unemployed and homeless, squatting at a friend’s house in Bellevue.

My life wasn’t always like this. Two weeks ago I was in Europe, sipping beer and crashing museums. Two months ago, in Asia, fishing for squid east of the coast of Malaysia. Two years ago, in Houston, pursuing too many majors and doing away with sleep. Two decades ago (last one, I promise), a babe in China, being read Confucius before being put to bed.

Today when I look back at these things, its interesting to note how most of my life seems to be dictated by chance.

Take the last two weeks in Europe. The original plan (and that’s being generous with the term) was to go from India to Nepal and do the Appalachian trek. But my friend who I would be traveling with was hospitalized for internal bleeding before the trip.

He was okay but it sent the plans into purgatory. Should I just do it alone? Spent more time in India? Go somewhere else in Asia? I hadn’t bought a plane ticket home yet and decided to wait and see what happens given more time.

And then something happened. According to the original “plan”, I would be back in the states by late August, just in time to go to the burning man with my best friend. She backed out of it in the middle of the summer claiming her orientation at Columbia crashed with the burn schedule. She then suggested I come to Slovakia over the summer where she was visiting and had family.

Consequently, there was a cheap flight from Delhi to Vienna (a one hour bus ride away from Bratislava).

After arriving at Vienna (7 hours later than promised), I boarded an air conditioned wifi enabled bus to Bratislava. Being in Europe again was a kind of reverse culture shock. Having spent almost three months in Asia, with over one third in India, I came to expect things like large herds of cattle loitering on the road and masses of people everywhere. Vienna seemed deserted in comparison. Then there were little things like the existence of safety rails in highways (or highways for that matter), toilet paper and being able to walk on sidewalk without having to watch out for motorcycles. Everything seemed so … tame.

Comprehensive infrastructure and an odd adhesion to traffic regulation aside, Europe was awesome!

I was able to spent a week with my best friend and her family in Slovakia. I saw my little cousin in Germany who transformed from a shy youngling (since I saw her three years ago) to a spirited eight year old filled with sass. I visited the Netherlands and I bought German chocolate. I had no regrets.

Some of the most significant things in my life seem to happen by chance – like flying to Seattle for an interview and discovering a new lease on life or getting the times for German table horribly wrong but making a life long friend in the process.

Not to get me wrong, I believe plans are important. Living without a plan is like sailing without a rudder – you just end up drifting. But be too narrow sighted and you end up missing out on everything else (you know what they say happens when you’re busy making plans…)

As for me, having just come to Seattle, I have a rough plan of where I want to be. I’ve spent much of my life drifting but I’m finally starting to see land.

That being said, Columbus was dead set on getting to India and ended up stumbling across America. Mischieveous butterflies in Japan wreck trailer cars in Kansas. It’s hard to know the consequences of your actions. Everything might happen for a reason but those reasons don’t always make sense.

This is why I’ll wait and see before buying that last plane ticket.

– Sophie, my amazing little cousin who I owe over 20 million monopoly bucks