My Sister the Queen

“One, two, three-step, four, five, six-step” I whispered to myself as my tender legs bent, stretched and hopped across the floor of sister’s room, dancing to Bach’s “Minuet in G Major”. I looked up and saw my sister in a corner of the room, sitting on her Rococo-style gilded chair, crossing her legs elegantly while sipping tea. She looked down at me with a smug smile like a condescending British aristocrat; wearing a refined Regency-style dress decked out with puffy sleeves, a reasonable amount of lace, and a tasteful amount of décolletage. She was only one pair of white gloves away from looking like the Queen of England.

I got nervous whenever I danced for sister, she looked down at me with such a sense of superiority — as though she owned me. But I did enjoy getting a chance to wear her dresses, she had such a refined sense of taste. I was always mesmerized as I watch the pleats of my skirt twirl as I danced in circles in sister’s room, and enjoy the sensuous feeling of the soft cotton petticoat and underpants rubbing across my legs. I did not have a dancing partner, so I danced with a broomstick attached to a Roomba that had been specially programmed to dance.

Suddenly, sister clapped her hands and said, “Halt! And turn off the music.” My feet quickly stopped at her command, although the Roomba continued to circumambulate for a few seconds. I walked over to her iPod and stopped the music, then looked up at her. She was wearing a wry smile on her face as she signaled for me to come closer. Then, speaking with the most perfect Received Pronunciation, she sternly commanded, “I believe it’s time for some more tea.”

“Yes, m’lady,” I responded, using the closest approximation of the Queen’s English I can imitate, then curtsied.

She looked displeased, then said, “Thou wretched plebeian! Did I not tell thee to address me by my proper title?”

I felt nervous and bit my lips, then curtsied again and said, “I’m sorry, your majesty, your royal highness, Queen Terri Majoria, Duchess of Scotland and Bavaria, Countess of Saxony, Protector of Aquitaine, Countess of the Isle of Man and the Right Hand of God.”

She looked satisfied, then said, holding out her tea cup, “Now, some tea.”

I poured her a cup of tea, then spent a minute staring at her while awaiting for further instructions. After a while she seemed to have forgotten that I was standing next to her, and when she looked up she seemed surprised. Reverting back to her usual California accent, she said, “Well, nobody told you to stop dancing. ”

I bowed, walked over to her iPod to turn on the music, then resumed dancing. A few minutes later mom walked into the room with a scarf on a coat hanger in her hand. A bemused look appeared on her face when she saw me dancing in sister’s room in a dress, she never saw me do this before and asked, “Why are you dancing with a Roomba?”

Sister glanced up at my mother with a mischievous smile and said, “We’re playing a game called ‘queen and slave’.”

Mom wrinkled her forehead and said, “Excuse me, I asked Robbie, not you.”

“Ah, but in this game Robbie is not allowed to speak unless spoken to.”

“I see,” mom said, opening the closet to put the scarf in, then closing the closet. “How does this game work?”

“Well, I tell Robbie what to do, and he does it. That’s basically it.”

Mom shook her head with disapproval, then said, “And what does Robbie get out of it?”

“Well, he gets to wear all kinds of pretty dresses and play with my toys.”

“That seems like a pretty exploitative relationship.”

“Yeah, but he wouldn’t have to do this if you bought him some girly clothes.”

Mom rolled her eyes and said, “I’m not buying a boy a dress.”

She began walking out of the room, but had to duck to avoid walking into a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Sister decorated her room to look like a ballroom, and used me as a living prop to pretend that she’s living inside a Jane Austen novel.

After mom left the room, sister raised her tea cup, then said in RP, “Ah, my personal slave, it feels like I’m living in Regency England.”

“You know, there weren’t any slaves in Regency England,” I said.

She glared at me and shouted, “Shut up, slave!”

I stopped dancing, curtsied, then said, “Sorry, your majesty, your royal highness, queen of…”

“Yeah, yeah,” she said in her normal accent, waving her left hand, “I don’t need to hear all that, just get back to dancing.”

I bowed, then continued to minuet with the Roomba. I usually did not break sister’s rules, but I can’t stand a factual error go unchallenged. 10 minutes later my dad walked in the room; there was a special glow on his face as he saw me. He enjoyed seeing me dance as much as Terri, so he opened his arms and said, “Hey, how’s my special little girl doing?”

A smile immediately appeared on my face, because so far he has been the only person willing to call me a girl. I wanted to jump into his arms, but I still had to deal with sister. I stopped dancing, bowed down to Terri and said, “May I be dismissed, your majesty?”

“Thou shan’t be dismissed at thy pleasure!” sister said.

But dad knew exactly how to handle the situation, he grabbed a roll of wrapping paper as a pretend sword, then said in the most melodramatic Shakespearean actor voice, “I am Prince Ivan, Lord of Prussia, Duke of Zurich, Regent of Hanover, Mayor of Moscow, Bishop of Milan, Gourmand of Capon, and I have come to free this fair noble maiden from thou tyrant!”

Terri looked at dad with contempt, then said, “Robbie is no noble maiden, she is a commoner who I have taught how to be prim and proper.”

“Bloody tabernacle!” dad yelled, pointing his pretend sword at sister, “I challenge you to a duel for the freedom of Maiden Robin!”

Looking incredulous, Terri said, “‘Tis improper tusk for a nobleman to challenge a lady to a duel, knowest not thou the etiquette of the Regency period?”

Dad put down the wrapping paper, then said in his normal voice, “Look, people during the Regency period have already stopped using ‘thou’ so you’re already stretching the rules of your game.”

Terri switched back to her normal voice as well, and said, “Fine, you can have her, or him, or whatever…”

I bowed one last time to Terri, then ran into dad’s arms, squealing in joy. He picked me up off the ground carried me to my room; I looked into his eyes, so shiny and full of joy. After putting me on my bed, he said with unmatched excitement on his face, “Robin, I have a surprise for you!” He reached into a bag, at first I thought it was jewelry but instead he took out a plush toy panda. I would have preferred the jewelry, but I still squealed as I caressed the panda in my arms because I knew it was a gift from the heart.

“I noticed that you like to play with your sister’s panda, so I made you one so you wouldn’t have to share.”

I was surprised, and said, “You made it? But how?”

“Well, I took a regular stuffed panda and put some robotics and artificial intelligence into it. Here, watch,” he said, setting the panda on the bed, he said into the panda’s ear, “Sing ‘I’m a Little Tea Pot’.”

The panda moved its lips and sang “I’m a little tea pot short and stout…”

“Now dance as well,” he said, and the panda immediately got up on its hind legs and did the dance that accompanied the song. I sat there, my mouth agape in amazement, looked into dad’s bewitching eyes and wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. He felt a bit embarrassed by my action, but was okay with it. He continued, “I have programmed it to do more than just sing and dance.”

“Like what?”

“Stop panda,” he said, and the panda stopped dancing. “Panda, who built the pyramids?”

The panda lowered its head as though to think, then raised his head to look at dad and said, “The pyramids were built by the ancient Egyptians from about 2700 BC to 1700 BC. The first pyramid was built by the pharaoh Djoser. The Mesoamericans also built structures that looked like pyramids.”

I was far less impressed with Panda’s ability to answer questions, because I already had Wikipedia for that. I was far more interested by his ability to sing and dance. But dad seemed to be far more interested in Panda’s ability to answer trivia questions. Dad’s face lighted up as he said, “Just imagine how much more intelligent Panda will be after a few more years of learning.”

“Can he learn how to love?” I asked.

Dad suddenly looked as though he had a revelation, then said, “It would be hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible.” For a few more minutes he watched me play with the panda, making him do all sorts of dance and song routines, then he rubbed the back of my head, walked up from the bed and said, “Well, I have to get back to work, see you later.”

I was surprised, I thought he had time to play with me. As he left I grabbed his arm and whimpered, “Please, don’t go.”

Dad smiled at me and said, “Aww, don’t worry, see you at dinner.”

“But daddy, when will we have time to be together?”

“I’ll make it up to you, we’ll go fishing over the weekend, okay?” I was satisfied, but I hate the fact that he chooses his work over me. I understand it, but I still hate it. After he left I laid on the bed with Panda in my arms. I got bored after a while, so I lifted Panda in front of my face and asked, “Can you really learn how to love?” Panda rotated its head, then said, “Yes, someday, someday.” I was very pleased, and held him close to any chest as I drifted off into sleep, taking my afternoon nap.

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Mid-air Dreams

Mid-air is where dreams dwell
dreams that dare not see the sun
for they fear oblivion

The dark conjure air to whirl through the void
Moaning through the night in their endless melancholy
Whisking dreams through the air like a blind albatross

Crossing the channel between twilight and moon-glow
Riding a dreamy pillow of clouds
Adrift in the aether going nowhere

Cynical fools roam the dark
Preying on homeless dreams of argonauts
Sailing a Netherworld of paper trinkets and perfume wine

A single dove and an olive branch behold the tragedy

Eclipse of the Spirit

I am a wandering saint roaming the universe
in search of a home made of pure obsidian
ready to reach the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Rain of pain constantly beat me down,
but the vast fields of indifference stare at me with lackluster faces,
lackadaisical arms flapping limply in the breeze.
What before, a clockwork universe, is now a swirl of chaos
buffeting me in every direction,
unaware of how to rejoin a with the festival of joy in men’s hearts.
The sun hides behind the moon in an ethereal ring of light,
casting night where it should be day.
What waters from beyond do wash the sins from our mind,
my head still remain untouched
with visions of sparrows singing their reverie
before their attacks on worms for the day.
Walking a lonely walk,
towards a rainbow where there is now none,
only guided by the stars twinkling in sun’s occluded light.

Masterpiece

The universe is a masterpiece
Drawn by the hand of fate
Filled with spirals of light
Flowing with rivers of silver

What beauty lies on
The ripples of ponds
The chiseled faces of mountains
The rugged wrinkled bark of trees
The flamboyant colors of caterpillars

A gallery filled with dancing forms
performing with virtuosic skill
Filling minds with wild visions
Inflaming senses with reckless imagination

A Piece of Nature

My spirit belongs to the birds
My flesh to the trees and grass
My breath to the air
My blood to the streams
And my bones to the mountains

Which part of me is not from the earth?
Which atom in my body is not from the stars?

I do not commune with nature
I am a piece of nature
A wandering piece of dust drifting through the cosmos

Career

The way the modern world expects us to live is kind of absurd. Around our early twenties, we are expected to choose the thing we are going to do for the rest of our lives, then we are expected to do the same job year after year until we drop dead, and be happy with it. The thing is, I’ve never really found this way of living appealing, because there are many things that interests me and I want to do all of them at the same time, but because of the way society expects humans to function it’s just not possible. It’s not possible to be a farmer in the morning, a chemist at noon, a computer programmer in the afternoon, a philosopher in the evening and a novelist at night. (Technically it is possible, but I don’t think there is an employer who will pay to do all those different things.)

I think this way of living developed due to two different ideas that somehow collided together through the course of history. First is the idea of the “calling.” Back when Christianity was still influential, it was believed that some people are “called” by God to serve him. This service took many forms, sometimes it was going into the desert and pray, but other times it was to do some important work such as caring for the poor, making beautiful artworks to glorify God or even doing practical work such as making furniture. However, it wasn’t expected that everyone has a calling, it was believed that only a few people are selected by God and the rest will do mundane things such as farming or cleaning dishes.

The second idea comes from the Industrial Revolution, and it was the discovery that division of labor and specialization increases economic output. The key notion here is “specialization.” If you make a person do the same thing over and over, that person will perform that task much more efficiently due to experience. This is a good thing for the productivity of the economy, but not necessary good for the individual. In such a system, an individual might get stuck in a job he or she may not like, but finds it difficult to change career because that person has only one or two skills they are very good at.

But if this idea of “specialization” causes so many problems, why do we all accept it? I think this idea of “specialization” merged with the older romantic version of the “calling.” Many of us do not believe in God, nonetheless we believe that what we should choose to do with our lives should come from something deep inside our soul, not something demanded by society. The idea of choosing a “career” is a very romantic one. When we choose a career, we are expected to first find “who we really are” and then find an occupation that fits the truth of our being.

The thing is that the search for a career first starts out as romantic, but it doesn’t (always) stay romantic. For some people, they choose a career became at first they find that career exciting, but as time goes on they discover the less enjoyable parts of the career, and eventually become jaded. It’s the equivalent of falling deeply in love with someone and getting eloped, but later discovering that the person you married is kind of a jerk and now you’re stuck with living with him or her for the rest of your life. I don’t think this always happens, but people do get stuck in a career they initially thought was good.

There’s another problem, when I look into myself I find that I am a lot of many different things. I am a scientist, a poet, a programmer and even gardener. Each of these identities is completely authentic, and choosing one means denying another. I don’t think this is a personal idiosyncrasy, I think many people would prefer to do more than just one thing throughout their lives.

I also have doubt as to whether the idea of “career” makes sense in the 21st century. During the Industrial Revolution “specialization” was one of the things that increased economic productivity, but that’s less of a case nowadays. The professions have become so specialized that people are often unaware of anything outside their narrow realm. Specialization have built walls between professions that shouldn’t be there. For example, the “science” of bioinformatics was developed because computer scientists and biologists are so unaware of what each other are doing. Bioinformatics shouldn’t exist if the two communities took more notice of one another.

With the Internet, it makes less sense to over-specialize. Knowledge is no longer scarce, it’s easier to find high-quality information on any subject, which reduces the need for formal education. But in order to actually make the 21st century possible, we need to rethink this particular notion, as well as a lot of other notions. We also need different institutions, both private and public, but this is outside the scope of this essay (and is probably far more controversial to discuss).

 

Free as a Bird

The birds are never lonely
Their companion is the air
Lifting them with its gentle hand
Under friendly gaze of the sun and stars
Guided by their unwavering light

What a world they live in!
Every branch is a home
Every worm is a meal
Every puddle a frolicking pool

What a feeling to be truly free!
Escaping to the air in a fearless leap
Riding across the big blue sky
Looking on earth like a small god

What immense joys we humans miss
Glued to the ground by gravity
Feeling the freedom of wandering through the sky
Only when we dive into our imaginations