Auld Lang Syne, Paul

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

Adapated from a traditional song
by Rabbie Burns -1759-96

I bet you've (tried to) sing those lyrics for years wondering what the hell they really meant. In looking for my lyrics/quote to start the Sally Report with, I decided that this one would be apropos. When I found the words, I just thought "HUH??" I had no idea what they meant until I looked them up - and I've actually included the glossary of the words:

Auld lang syne: literally means "old long ago". A more appropriate translation is, "times gone by.”
Be: pay for
Braes: hills
Braid: broad
Burn: stream
Dine dinner/evening time
Fiere: friend
Fit: foot
Gowans: daisies
Guid-willie waught: goodwill drink
Monie: many
Morning sun: noon
Paidl't: paddled
Pint-stowp: pint tankard
Pou'd: pulled
Twa: two

Funny thing.... A Sine (spelled this way) is also a mathematical function equal to the vertical coordinate of a circumference point divided by the radius of a circle with its center at the origin of a Cartesian coordinate system. For all intents and purposes, the last definition is probably the most relevant for the core of this blog.

So there it is - everything you could possibly ever want to know about that song. All I know is every time I hear it, it nearly brings me to tears. Kind of like Amazing Grace. I really have no attachment to either of these songs, but they just touch a chord that is normally left untouched by music.

I had a very surrealistic New Year's Eve last night. My friend Jim Hurd was in town and my husband and I (Yes, I said husband - we did tie the knot!) went out to hook up with he and a friend of his out at Coronado. We dressed up for fine dining and rushed out the door. I was busily dialing my cell phone on the drive out to wish close friends a Happy New Year! So, I dialed (I guess you can't dial a cell, but you get the gist) my friend Paul Hoffman's number and his sister answered. In all the years of calling Paul a woman (well with the except of one time) answered the phone. She asked who I was, I said, This is Sally. She said, "Sally the writer?" I was touched that he would have given me this title. I said, Yes. Then I asked if Paul was okay. There was silence. My heart caught in my throat and I felt my husband's hand that I had been holding grip tightly around mine. He had been listening in to the phone calls and joining in saying, Happy New Year! when appropriate on the previous calls. I then asked the question I had been dreading to ask, Is Paul dead? She said, Yes. It felt like a cry that sounded like a wounded animal escaped my lips, but I'm sure it was just the wail inside of my head. I focused on getting through the call and not causing her any further pain than she had already been through. I said I was so sorry for her loss, she told me she was also sad for mine. She was so gracious. I told her how much he loved her. She told me he had loved me too and mentioned that he had said how much he enjoyed my sense of humor. I found myself laughing between stifled sobs. Paul and I both have a cynical sense of humor. I always enjoyed his feedback on my more obscure writing – he had quite an ear to the ground about people and their core selves.

I thought about how far my own sister and I had grown apart living in different states. I really don't know about her life, nor she mine to any great extent. But Paul's sisters were a constant light in his life - he went vacationing with them, and spent really enjoyable hours talking with them on the phone on a regular basis. I have to say that I always envied that relationship - he was a pea in the pod with them. And his mom, too. He really felt that family was important, and now, talking with his sister Sig, I knew why.

Paul had been ill for more than a year. I've known Paul for about 14 years - we had met in a class about the Beatniks taught by Aram Soroyan (William's son) at UCLA. I also maintained a relationship with two other people from that class. Good lit brings good people together. The other two: Toni, a real cool gal who is always working on some reality show or another and Nancy who was a sound studio guru (I remember visiting her on the Disney lot when she was working on George of the Jungle and we went to the cafeteria and saw Tim Allen eating something strange), professional surfer, but left to join a professional football league in Miami. Paul used to write these amazing stories in class about women he’d loved, or was taken with. They were completely funny and witty and sappy. Like a New Yorker story, they always kept you thinking about them long afterward. He was fascinated by interesting women and all of the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies they brought to the table. I loved those stories. If anyone has any of them, I'd love to post them.

Paul headed up the supercomputing division over at UCLA, and had helped found (it takes a village to create a program in academia) the Technology Sandbox

a program that was the perfect balance of commercial product and dollars and university research together. He had also recently put together the Visualization Portal
Science Edition Link

connection that brought Len Kleinrock and I virtually together for our talk regarding privacy at DefCon 2003. I had been trying to get Kleinrock and Paul together for a while, but both of their busy schedules hardly allowed time for it. I finally found a project we could work together on. Both are physicists and have a great sense of humor. I'm glad they finally met.

I was pretty green about the hard core, true application of physics regarding the Internet when Paul and I first met - we both have a love for physics. He helped me solidify my foundation regarding the Net and all of its abilities. I will always be grateful for that knowledge and the patience he took giving it to me. Another touchstone for us were all of the books, movies and plays we loved to read, see and discuss. It was difficult moving to NorCal away from Paul and my community of Hollywood people for drab NorCal where the sun doesn't shine nearly as bright. We talked often on the phone and we saw each other at conferences and holidays.

I remember when I was getting married the first time - and had just avoided marriage to another guy whom I rebounded to husband #1 from. Paul tried to keep my head on straight and really put me through the thinking ringer about both guys. But, love is blind. After those two disasters, I heeded Paul's advice (most of the time). Then again, I always had some kind of advice for him, too. We would both laugh and say, Who the hell knows? Neither one of us are experts on this subject. The thing about Paul was he had a way of analyzing things with a sense of humor and care - and it was always about you. It was objective advice - and Yes, he even brought some of my past words to the table to bring things home a bit clearer. He always had great advice, and although I may not have listened to all of it, he never said, I told you so. He was the big brother I never had been lucky enough to be given by nature. And we never got mad at each other - we both come from the school of, why be mad? We are both rational people and we were even thinking about writing a book on love and physics. He always used to tease me about how I tangle up love and physics, but then would admit that I had a point - and then make an even better one. We'd pull apart theories and put them back together again with new kinks. We were working on string theory more recently.

I remember this one time when I was living in LA and working on a noir novel where the protagonist is this female reporter-turned-PI.... One of the victims in the story had been killed and hauled up to the Hollywood sign. Well, Paul said in his inevitable fashion, What - are you crazzzzy!? Have you ever been to the Hollywood sign? Well, I had to admit that I hadn't. We went out hiking that next weekend to the Hollywood sign. We parked over at Griffith Park, and hiked over across this huge expanse of shrub and thorns and chaparral. Jeez, not a day to wear shorts. We didn't bring anything to drink, and we had been detoured by an officious ranger who kept busting us - apparently it's illegal to go to the Hollywood sign because of the swan dives broken down actors were taking from the letters. So, we took the long way - and I mean the friggin' long way. I felt like my heart was going to explode - it was hardcore hiking (something Paul was used to, but not I). When we finally got lose enough to see the graffiti that covers the letters (that look flat white through the tint of smog), we came upon this humongous cyclone fence with barbedwire lining the top. Well, he let out a big, triumphant, See?! And he did prove his point and I made the dead character's drop off point in the canyons instead. That's where most of the bodies in LA are dumped anyways.

Paul was Cornell stock, and we used to poke fun at each other about our background (me coming from a private NorCal university). But Paul was no East Coaster (really), he was formal, but had adapted to the California ways. He was always off on some meditation retreat - I couldn't stand the thought of being on holiday without so much as a word between strangers. I told him it was probably a bad place to meet women. I know I would have imploded had I tried to even attempt one of these retreats. I think the meditation was how he remained calm in the chaos and how he could clearly see a point and pull it out and show it to you – a point that had completely evaded your thoughts. My experience with meditation is in short doses, Paul's doses were on marathon level. Because he was so tall, it was a bit difficult for him to meditate comfortably for too long. Still, it was in stints that make my concentration look like an over-due junkie with ADD and the need to pee. You get the gist.

So there I was in the car last night, my husband (I LOVE THAT WORD - I finally found the right one!), and I heading to Coronado having just hung up with Paul's lovely sister who had made me feel very centered given the news she had to give me. Jeff asked me if I wanted to go home, I shook my head and said, Paul would definitely not wanted that. Jeff was driving, so I just held his hand and wiped away the tears from my face for about 10 miles. We got to the Coronado bridge and I rolled down my window (it's been absolutely freezing here) and deeply breathed in the ocean air trying to focus on pulling myself together, which I did in short order. Paul had loved the ocean – his favorite place being Zuma Beach and zipping there in his sports cars. When we finally found parking, Jeff held me and I recounted a funny story about Paul - although I can't really recall which one (there are so many I've thought about in the last day). I wished Jeff had gotten a chance to meet Paul; they really would have hit it off. I just recently moved into our geodesic dome and have been frantically trying to put it together before hosting both of our families over the holidays, and hadn't yet had time to coordinate plans to hook up Jeff with Paul.

Two weeks ago I went to the opening of Nano at LACMA in LA, it was a collaboration between UCLA and the museum to make art from nano tech. It was cool, and Paul had been too sick to go. When I saw him he was hooked up to an IV at home - he had been bravely saying that he was okay, but I had clandestinely been keeping tabs on his trips to UCLA Hospital where he had been going for regular blood transfusions that were taking a toll on his organs. He always seemed optimistic that he would pull through - you see, Paul never did feel sorry for himself. He always believed where there was a will there was a way. And I believed it because he believed it. I went to see him before the show - getting caught up in that Santa Monica traffic. I was running late, but I had told Jeff I had this weird feeling that if I didn't see Paul that night I would never see him again. When I saw him all hooked up to this portable drip I thought, He looks good - I'm being paranoid. Paul was logical; I always thought he would tell me if he thought he was going to die. I guess I won't know if I'll tell anyone if I know until that time comes. I imagine it was tough. He loved life so much. I thought, He'll still pull through, he'll probably out live me.

You know, I've had a lot of close friends die and I now have a deal with my close ones - I will have the luxury of dying before they do because it just breaks my heart to bury another one. Paul never had that deal with me - he was in a decade of remission from leukemia, Paul always knew he was living on borrowed time. He and I had something in common. When I was eight I died in a surfing accident and although it was the most pleasant experience I've ever felt (I once heard it expressed by Einstein that death is like all of your atoms exploding outward and becoming one with everything - he came to that opinion after his wife died and he was lonely and asking himself about god - god and physics. Physics and love. I feel very tied to this philosophy. Well, I've had many, many close calls since that time and they've never shaken me up because I also feel like I'm living on borrowed time and tend to put less pressure on the future as I do about living in the present. So did Paul. There will be people who will live to be 100, but because they never lived in the moment it will have been a wasted life. I hope never to be one of those people.

Anyhow, hit reverse to last evening around 10:30PM. Jim and his friend showed and I was well-composed and smiling (it's amazing what makeup can do). It was good to be among friends, and I considered myself lucky that they had made the trip out to SoCal for the weekend. They didn't know Paul, so I kept it all to myself. Jeff held my hand during dinner and I felt stronger for having known Paul at all, and even luckier to have known Paul so well. At midnight we walked out onto the pier from the restaurant and watched the fireworks shoot off from a barge and then Jeff held me close and kissed me passionately. It's actually the first time on New Year's Eve I've been with someone and known I was with the right man. Forever.

And, as is my annual ritual (my friend Pat's tradition, too), I took something that has brought me sadness and thrown it into the ocean. This time it was my cell phone that went flying into the deep blue drink that feeds into the Pacific Ocean. I knew that I never wanted to hear bad news from that phone again - and those of you who know me know how little I care for my cell phone anyway. I felt a bit lighter with my load that night for having done that. Paul would have appreciated it – he too rejected cell phone use because of the choking leash quality about them and the technology is not the safest. He was shocked when I finally broke down and got one.

Jeff and I drove home in the fog and rain that has become the season, undressed and fell into bed. Jeff held me close and I dreamt about this guy in a NASCAR (and please believe me when I say I have NO need for any sports in my life) suit with all of the logos and tight white leather. I had seen a Coke machine at Home Depot with a NASCAR guy on it earlier in the day – Jeff and I had both poked fun at it because we were so thirsty but really didn’t feel like supporting whatever cut he got out of the sales. I pointed out (in the dream) that the NASCAR driver had pink socks with Hello Kitty on them (this month’s New Yorker fiction issue has a story that is quite haunting regarding the subject of children’s socks that must have still been working its way through my consciousness). We had fallen asleep while watching a bunch of Law & Order episodes in a row, so it had this detective theme about it (Paul and I would always watch Law & Order episodes and talk about them over the phone. Both of our favorite shows? Perry Mason. He also loved reading good noir. He and I didn’t have TVs for the longest time – we are readers. His sisters brought TV back into his life and although he rejected it for a while, he sweetened up to the idea. I got a TV with his influence so we could talk about episodes. We found some great programming and remembered the good stuff we had left behind (like Perry Mason). Anyhow, it (the dream) left me with an odd feeling of just searching for Paul all night and not finding him.

Today I fell apart. I cried and I watched a Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi Channel. And I thought about Paul. I miss him terribly, and as you can see I really haven't been able to keep him in past or present tense all the way through this blog. It still hasn’t quite sunk in. I keep thinking that there will be a delayed email from him, or that he’ll have become part of the Network he embraced so much – and one day he’ll have managed to pull together enough packets from the PKD parallel universe in which I like to think of him now residing and send me a message. For now, I just cannot bear the thought of absolutely no more Paul.

I hope I will always be able to remember Paul's infectious laughter, and his wisdom. Time has a way of wearing down the sharpness of memories and making them just a bit too frayed to pull them out from the gray matter and hold on tightly whenever you need to. For now, the hardest part will be keeping myself from picking up the phone when I've seen a good movie, read a great book or heard some cool or absurd piece of scientific news. I want to call and listen to his voice mail again, and I’ll call UCLA late tonight to do so just in case they haven't transferred his voice mail to one of his colleagues for logistics. I will record his voice so I can listen to it – even his business like voice mail had an attitude like, yeah, yeah, I know your call is important to you, and I’ll get back to you when I can. It always made me smile. Hey - I just remembered I have a tape of him talking about the Technology Sandbox in one of the hundreds of boxes I haven't yet unpacked from the move. Thank goodness for magnetic data. I will miss our long phone calls about math and quantum theory. I will miss the person who was Paul Hoffman.
I know, I know. It sounds so damn sappy, I know.

You know, when someone so close dies I feel like the most important gifts they could have given to me were not only share their friendship, but also become a part of my memory. They have made me a better person and my life richer for having known them at all. I was incredibly lucky in this world of happenstance to have run into Paul Hoffman at all. Come on, I know this. And I was even luckier for having had embraced that opportunity and become his friend, and he mine. Life is funny that way. He has a favorite place up at Zuma Beach his sister was telling me about - they left complex physics theory reading for him there. I've never seen this spot that she called, Paul's Place. So, I will go for the service being held there and afterward I'll look out from his place and look at the ocean and its infinite possibilities. Wherever he is, I'm torn between PKD theory and Einstein on this one, but wherever he is, I'd like to think of him tracking down the illusive Higgs Boson and talking with Einstein about that one last theory he was trying to work out. Wherever he is, he is.