Onward:How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul-Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon

“As a business leader, my quests has never been just about winning making money; it has also been about building a great, enduring company, which has always meant trying to strike a balance between profit and social conscience.”-loc 103

“At the same time, a seismic shift in consumer behavior was under away, and people became not just more cost conscious, but also more environmentally aware, health minded, and ethically driven.” -loc 119

“That, as I’ve said, is what merchants do. We take something ordinary and infuse it with emotion and meaning, and then we tell its story over and over and over again, often without saying a word.”-loc 289

“The next time you walk by a coffee shop, peer inside. take in the variety of people in line or seated. Men and women in business attire. Parents with strollers. College students studying. High school kids joking. couples deep in conversation. Retired folks reading newspapers and talking politics. And, of course, scores of people sitting in front of laptops searching, downloading, listening, reading and writing books, blogs, business plans, resumes, letters, e-mails, instant messages, texts…whatever their hearts desire. Consider how many of those people furiously clicking away on keyboards and scribbling ideas on napkins might be working to create the next Google , Alibaba, or Facebook, or composing a novel or a piece of music. Maybe they are falling in love with someone sitting next to them. Or making friend.”-loc 296

“But beginning in the late 1990s, social responsibility also became a marketplace imperative.”-loc 392

“In 2001 Starbucks committed to purchasing one million pounds of Fairtrade certified coffee; no long after, our Faritrade purchases reached 10 million pounds, making us North America’s largest purchaser, roaster, and retailer of Fairtrade green coffee beans.”-loc 415

“A well-built brand is the culmination of intangibles that do not directly flow to the revenue or profitability of a company, but contribute to its texture. Forsaking them can take a subtle, collective toll.”-loc 483

When we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theater that was in play…”-loc 491

“In my life I place enormous value on loyalty and trust. It is intrinsic to my personal relationships and to the integrity of our company’s culture, essential to how we conduct business with one another and with our customers. And while Starbucks is not perfect, nor am I, and people may disagree with some of our choices, we make it our business to uphold that trust, and we make amends if we fail.”-loc 532



Winter- Ali Smith

“Landscape directs its own images.- Barbara Hepworth”

(The last Christmas at UP, the lake, and the sea.)

“But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. – Theresa May.”

(We have to pick, or let it form, let it emerge, instead of letting go.)

“Darkness is cheap.”

(So, brightness is priceless.)

“She gets to her car soaked through. She sits in it in the car park under the noise of rain on the roof, in the not unpleasant smell of wet coat and car seat. Drips run down her from her hair. It is liberating. She watches the rain change the windscreen to a moving blur. The streetlights come on and the blur fills with the misshapen shifting spots of many colours, like someone’s thrown little paint-filled missiles at the windscreen; this is because of the municipal strings of coloured Christmas bulbs suspended round the edge of the car park.”

(I remember a rainy morning like this, the morning at Belmont. The smell of the rain, my heavy coat, the blurred windscreen. By then, we’ve just apart; by then, I still believed that we are together.)

“for instance, I could tell you a very verifiable fact or two-
(very very fiable, ha ha!)
-about a man called Mr. Kepler, who studied time and harmony and believed that truth and time were kindred-”

(Truth and time are kindred only because we learn how to excuse ourselves and to find persuasive explanations to things. Truth is relative in this context. It is WE who finalize it makes it absolute.)

“It was meant as a warning. Take a look at what your saints are truly made of. It was the demonstration that everything symbolic will be revealed as a lie, everything you revere nothing but burnt matter, broken stone, as soon as it meets whatever shape time’s contemporary cudgel takes.
But it worked the other way round too. They looked, those vandalized saints and statues, more like statements of survival than of destruction. They were proof of a new state of endurance, mysterious, headless, faceless, anonymous.”

“We all mine and undermine and landmine ourselves, in our own ways, in our own time, Sophia thinks.”

“Cymbeline, Lux says.
A play about a kingdom subsumed in chaos, lies, powermongering, division and a great deal of poisoning and self-poisoning, his mother says.
Where everybody is pretending to be someone or something else, Lux says. And you can’t see for the life of you how any of it will resolve in the end, because it’s such a tangled-up messed-up farce of a mess. It’s the first of his plays I read. It also happens to be why I ever wanted to come to this country to study. I read it and I thought, if this writer from this place can make this mad and bitter mess into his graceful thing it is at the end, where the balance comes back and all the lies are revealed and all the losses are compensated, and that’s the place on earth he comes from, that’s the place that made him, then that’s the place I’m going, I’ll go there, I’ll live there.”

“But what will the world do, though, Mrs Cleves, Lux says, if we can’t solve the problem of the millions and millions of people with no home to go to or whose homes aren’t good enough, except by saying go away and building fences and wall? It isn’t a good enough answer, that one group of people can be in charge of the destinies of another group of people and choose whether to exclude them or include them. Human beings have to be more ingenious than this, and more generous. We’ve got come up with a better answer.”

“He thought is was because he was too old. He was older, and compared to the age I was I did think he was ancient. He was in his sixties then. Well, now I know that your sixties feels the same as all the other ages, and your seventies. You never stop being yourself on the inside, whatever age people think you are by looking at you from the outside.”

“He’s got into the habit of thinking up something conceptual and metaphysical to ask them both every week or so. He copies them both into everything he sends them. This infuriates them. Good. They’re of the generation to enjoy infuriation, and the fury keeps them in touch with one another as well as him.”

Greenbay, early March, the end of winter, and then back to Spring. But there was no Spring at both homes. Ali always brought me back, to the specific period of my life, but I’ve never thanked her for being the lighthouse lighting up the darkness of the night sea. Charles Dickens and Shakespeare, a small town almost nowhere on the island, always connected me back to the lake, four seasons, all those people. 

It was quiet in the nursery kitchen. I don’t want him to be there. He’s still alive, but I feel death there, peace and forever and death, no big difference.

We’ve packed up many of his books, I took all of his Ali Smith with me. I introduced her to him, but I never knew he had gotten so many of hers during the two years we’ve apart.  I remember his favorite drink at the coffee shop, blonde brew and three pumps of vanilla syrup in a tall cup, a vanilla blonde. I went to the bookstore we used to go together, lingered at the board game section for a while. We’ve never been there before, neither him nor I used to interested in board games, neither of us technically has a squad to play a big game with. 

We went to see him, all of us, at different times. That’s one of the moment of my life, when it strikes me so hard that the nausea felt surreal, that I uncovered a part of the essence of life, the truth of living a life. What could it mean when all mean so little to someone.

I see too many in him, like I see so many in both men I loved, he’s my Mr.Gluck stuck in the Autumn, my parent, my friend, my tutor, my memories and my understandings. When summer comes, I secretly wish that the garden outside his room coming into full blossom that could light up the nothingness of his life in the simplest way.


Orphan Train-Christina Baker Kline

“Everyone knew the value of traveling light and understood that it required leaving some things behind. Nothing encumbered movement more than fear, which was often the most difficult burden to surrender.”-loc7 Preface quoted Bunny Mcbride

“I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost.
Sometimes these spirits have been more real to me than people, more real than God. They fill silence with their weight, dense and warm, like bread dough rising under cloth. My gram, with her kind eyes and talcum-dusted skin. My da, sober, laughing. My mam, singing a tune. The bitterness and alcohol and depression are stripped away from these phantom incarnations, and they console and protect me in death as they never did in life.
I’ve come to think that’s what heaven is-a place in the memory of others where our best selves live on.”-loc 52

“My parents left Ireland in hopes of a brighter future, all of us believing we were on our way to a land of plenty. As it happened, they failed in this new land, failed in just about every way possible. It may have been that they were weak people, ill suited for the rigors of emigration, its humiliations and compromises, its competing demands of self-discipline and adventurousness. But I wonder how things might have been different if my father was part of a family business that gave him structure and a steady place for a man like him-or if my mother had been surrounded by women, sisters and nieces, perhaps, who could have provided relief from destitution and loneliness, a refuge from strangers.”-loc 495

“‘Be careful, dear,’ she says, running a light finger over my stitches. ‘Take the time to make them small and even. Remember, somebody will wear this, probably over and over until it’s worn through. A lady wants to feel pretty, no matter how much money she has.'”-loc 1531

“I listen to Mr. Sorenson and nod politely as he talks, but it’s hard to concentrate. I feel myself retreating to someplace deep inside. It is a pitiful kind of childhood, to know that no one loves you or is taking care of you, to always be on the outside looking in. I feel a decade older than my years. I know too much; I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.”-loc 1625

Time constricts and flattens, you know. It’s not evenly weighted. Certain moments linger in the mind and others disappear. The first twenty-three years of my life are the ones that shaped me, and the fact that I’ve lived almost seven decades since then is irrelevant. Those years have nothing to do with the questions you ask.….
What did you choose to take with you? What did you leave behind? What insights did you gain?“-loc 2514

“She has never tried to find out what happened to her family-her mother or her relatives in Ireland. But over and over, Molly begins to understand as she listens to the tapes, Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting out most ordinary moments. They’re with us in the grocery store, as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.”-loc 2522

“I like the assumption that everyone is trying his best, and we should all just be kind to each other. I like the coffee hour with almond cake and snickerdoodles in the vestry. And I like being associated with the Nielsens, who seem to be generally regarded as fine, upstanding citizens. For the first time in my life, the glow of other people’s approval extends to, and envelops, me.”-loc 2732

“Just after midnight, the street outside the hotel is lit up but empty, like a stage set before the actors appear.”-loc 3281

Autumn-Ali Smith

“It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. Again. That’s the thing about things. they fall apart, always have, always will, it’s in their nature.”-loc 59

“He’d imagined death would distil a person, strip the rotting rot away till everything was light as a cloud. Seems the self you get left with on the shore, in the end, is the self that you were when you went.”-loc 67

“But the sea? Silent, like sea in a dream.”-loc 157. The sea had never been quiet. But in my memory, it is. It is always quiet in my memories like it comes out of a dream.

“Daniel lies there very still in the bed, and the cave of his mouth, its unsaying of these things, is the threshold to the end of the world as she knows it.”-loc 379

“It’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tried of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.”-loc 571

“The word gymkhana, Daniel said, is a wonderful word, a word grown from several languages.
Words don’t get grown, Elisabeth said.
They do, Daniel said.
Words aren’t plants, Elisabeth said.
Words are themselves organisms, Daniel said.
Oregano-isms, Elisabeth said.
Herbal and verbal, Daniel said. Language is like poppies. It just takes something to churn the earth round them up, and when it does up come the sleeeping words, bright red, fresh, blowing about. Then the seedheads rattle, the seeds fall out. Then there’s even more language waiting to come up.”-loc 673

“Collage is an institute of education where all the rules can be thrown into the air, and size and space and time and foreground and background all become relative, and because of these skills everything you think you know gets made into something new and strange.”-loc 702

“Elisabeth opened her eyes. She saw Daniel open his eyes a moment later.
Later that night, when she was home and falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV, Elisabeth would remember seeing his eyes open, and how it was like that moment when you just happen to see the streetlights come on and it feels like you’re being given a gift, or a chance, or that you yourself’ve been singled our and chosen by the moment.”- loc 726

“Time flies, Elisabeth said.
Well, yes. It can do, Daniel said. Literally.
Watch this.
Elisabeth doesn’t remember much of the above.
She does remember, though, the day they were walking along the canal bank when she was small and Daniel took his watch off his wrist and threw it into the water.
She remembers the thrill, the absolute not-doneness of it.”-loc 750

“A minute ago it was June. Now the weather is September.”-loc 833

“He is thin and small, sixteen summers old but he thinks he’s a man.”-loc 952

“Boy on a train.
Blink of an eye.
Old man in a bed.
The old man in the bed is confined.
Wooden overcoat.”-loc 977

“Which would you choose? Daniel said once. Should I please her and tell her she’s guessed right, and that I’m a recently retired Rambert? Or should I tell her the more mundane truth?
Definitely tell her the lie, Elisabeth said.
But think what will happen if I do, Daniel said.
It’ll be brilliant, Elisabeth said. It’ll be really funny.
I’ll tell you what will happen, Daniel said. This. You and I will know I’ve lied, but your mother won’t. You and I will know something that your mother doesn’t. That will make us feel different towards not just your mother, but each other. A wedge will come between us all. You will stop trusting me, and quite right, because I’d be a liar. We’ll all be lessened by the lie. So. Do you still choose the ballet? Or will I tell the sorrier truth?
I want the lie, Elisabeth said. She knows loads of things I don’t. I want to know some things she doesn’t.
The power of the lie, Daniel said. Always seductive to the powerless. But how is my being a retired dancer going to help in any real way with your feelings of powerlessness?
Were you a dancer? Elisabeth said.
That’s my secret, Daniel said. I’ll never divulge. Not to any human being. Not for any money.”-loc 1097

“They walked past the shops, then over to the field where the inter-school summer sports were held, where the fair went and the circus. Elisabeth had last come to the field just after the circus had left, especially to look at the flat dry place where the circus had had its tent. She liked doing melancholy things like that. But now you couldn’t tell that any of these summer things had ever happened. There was just empty field. The sports tracks had faded and gone. the flattened grass, the places that had turned to mud where the crowds had wandered round between the rides and the open-sided trailers full of the driving and shooting games, the ghost circus ring: nothing but grass.
Somehow this wasn’t the same as melancholy. It was something else, about how melancholy and nostalgia weren’t relevant in the slightest. Things just happened. Then they were over. Time just passed. Partly it felt unpleasant, to think like that, rude even. Partly it felt good. It was kind of a relief.”-loc 1103

“There is no point in making up a world, Elisabeth said, when there’s already a real world. There’s just the world, and there’s the truth about the world.
You mean, there’s the truth, and there’s the made-up version of it that we get told about the world, Daniel said.
no, The world exists. Stories are made up, Elisabeth said.
But no less true for that, Daniel said.
That’s ultra-crazy talk, Elisabeth said.
And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That’s my suggestion.”-loc 1150

“I don’t like it when the summer goes and the autumn comes, she said.
Daniel took her by the shoulders and turned her round. He didn’t say anything. But all across the landscape down behind them it was still sunlight blue and green.
She looked up at him showing her how the summer was still there.
Nobody spoke like Daniel.
nobody didn’t speak like Daniel.”-loc 1425

“It is possible, he said, to be in love not with someone but with their eyes. I mean, with how eyes that aren’t yours let you see where you are, who you are.
We have to hope, Daniel was saying, that the people who love us and who know us a little bit will in the end have seen us truly. In the end, not much else matters.
It’s the only responsibility memory has, he said. But, of course, memory and responsibility are strangers. They’re foreign to each other. memory always goes its own way quite regardless.”-loc 1553

“It is a privilege, to watch someone sleep, Elisabeth tells herself. It is a privilege to be able to witness someone both here and not here. To be included in someone’s absence, it is an honour, and it asks quiet. It asks respect.
No. It is awful.
It is fucking awful.
It is always awful to be on the literal other side of his eyes.”-loc 1620

“Would you actually like to time-travel? She said. If you could, I mean, and time travel was a real thing?
Very much indeed, Daniel said.
Why? Elisabeth said.
Time travel is real, Daniel said. We do it all the time. Moment to moment, minute to minute.
He opened his eyes wide at Elisabeth. Then he put his hand in his pocket, took out a twenty pence piece, held it in front of Barbra the cat. He did something with his other hand and the coin disappeared! He made it disappear!
The song about love being an easy chair filled the room. Barbra the cat was still looking in disbelief at Daniel’s empty hand. She put both paws up, held the hand, put her nose into it to look for the missing coin. Her cat face as full of amazement.
See how it’s deep in our animal nature, Daniel said. Not to see what’s happening right in front of our eyes.”-loc 1676

“It’s a question of how we regard our situations, dearest Dani, how we look and see where we are, and how we choose, if we can, when we are seeing undeceivedly, not to despair and, at the same time, how best to act. Hope is exactly that, that’s all it is, a matter of how we deal with the negative acts towards human beings by other human beings in the world, remembering that they and we are all human, that nothing human is alien to us, the foul and the fair, and that most important of all we’re here for a mere blink of the eyes, that’s all. But in that Augenblick there’s either a benign wink or a willing blindness, and we have to know we’re equally capable of both, and to be ready to be above and beyond the foul even when we’re up to our eyes in it. So it’s important- and here I acknowledge directly the kind and charming and mournful soul of my dear brother whom I know so well-not to waste the time, our time, when we have it.”-loc 1791


But his brother decided to sell his home, his home and his sister’s paintings, his library, his mom’s jewelry, and his clothes would all be gone.

He was reading an old old The Miserable with a worn out black dust cover, across the table in pancake house. I never expect he would start talking to me.

“I used to drink coffee with milk and cream too. But I don’t do that any more because I travel a lot. Milk and sugar quality and availability vary from one country to another. But black coffee is always the same everywhere. You know, how bad could a cup of black coffee be? So I trained myself drinking black coffee.”

His apartment smells ancient. Tiny dust particles floating in the air, in the sun light shining through the big window. Or winter snow dancing in the air, sucking in the ripples of the sound wave in the big city. I used to sleep over on his couch in his library room, in which he still have a picture of his old girlfriend in her 20s on the small wardrobe top. That room reminds me of my grandma, and it reminds me of the Museum of Innocence. Whenever I woke up earlier than the time we set to get up and have breakfast, I read those huge illustration books. Dali, Van Gogh, Monet, and others we could find in the Art Institute.

“Do you think I could get the job?” I asked when he drove me to my first job interview.

“I don’t know. But I do know that you just need to be you and let them see whether you really fit that position or not.”

It was summer time. I get confused about years and I don’t care neither.

“Let’s assume that I would live till my 90s, I would have another 20 years ahead. But the time I could use for travel would be less than that since my physical condition may not allow me to travel to another continent 10 years from now.” I was sitting on his couch, amazed by his estimation about his own life, and naively believed every single word he had told.

There is no reason, you see, why anyone who has firmly grasped the fact that there’s nothing frightening in the absence of life should find anything frightening in life. 

My last semester at school, I started to read The Night Circus. I had seen it in his library, and he told me it’s about magic and a circus. You know, kid’s story. Do you like it? Yes I do. Would I like it? Yes, I think so. It is really like you said about magic and a circus. I thought it must be a love story. It is simply about magic and a circus. You told me I would like it too. Do you like it? Yes I do.

Sometimes I ask myself, how come we went to so many book stores together, and we keep going back to the same one. Sometimes he buys a book or two, sometimes I buy one, but mostly, he told me books he knew, books he has been reading, books he had read. I get nothing to do, so I just wandering around, and read. Did I ever told him or not, this is how I wish myself to get old.

It is about the right time that I’m reading Ali again. I mentioned her to him before, when it took me a whole year to finish Artful. Now she is writing, about us. There is no plot, no drama, no story line. Only two people, one is young, another is old. It is about the enlightenment, the accompany, the conversations, the tiny fragments of time. The fence Daniel and Elisabeth shared is no different from the brick building; the depiction of paintings is no different from those real sculptures, paintings, collages we’ve seen together.

I order a Vanilla Blonde every time I went back to the campus bookstore Starbucks. He told me it is what he orders every time on State St. I haven’t been to that store for three years already, while I could still calculate, before using the too general a word “years”.

This could goes very very long, maybe not forever now. I’ll just stop here and let Ali say the words for us if that’s okay.

Memories of you

Dear Vincent,
People say you are good. We do now.
It is right about the time for us, but too late for you.
I still remember the New Year’s Eve, how I standing in the middle of the hall that full of your paintings, knowing for sure that this would be the place I’d be back again and again for a home.
Do you know that snowy winter, I’ve visited MoMA only for the real Starry Night, the one appears not only as my footprint, but also as my sloppy faith towards life; and the huge puzzle hanging on my bedroom wall, it kept me accompany through my loneliest days and nights? I was standing in front of the genuine work of yours, the one I’ve been looking at for so many times from so many places, feeling it worth all.
When I moved away, one of the biggest concerns is I’m gonna be far away from you. But I already knew that I’d make it for your Bedroom exhibition no matter what. It was around Valentine’s Day, and I thought people in the museum are really considerate and romantic to make it happen at that time. They made a Night Cafe for guests sitting and chatting, and they copied your Bedroom so that people may book it for a night to stay in your “truth”.
So many texts and works, movies and music are made for you; those texts are connected with each other, they talk to each other, they show us, they sing. I’ve never found the missing piece in my puzzle, and it is so beautiful because of that imperfection. That’s when I started to know I could fall for an imperfection just for what it is.
Do you know the show Dr. Who? They made an episode that the Dr. goes back in time and brings you to the modern world where you see all those who admire and respect and fervently love your work studying there with great appreciation. And you in that fiction? You cried. Is it a fiction, or it is the truth in another universe?
The day I went back for the Bedroom exhibition, I was sitting in the Night Cafe when an old guy sitting across the table started talking to me. He said “Please sit down, now, what would you like for a drink?” I remember it cuz I wrote it down that day. I also wrote at the end of my journal:
“How can I not fall deeply and tenderly in love with you?”
You see? We feel what you felt through your work, and to your work.
Loving Liz

The Brain That Changes Itself-Norman Doidge

1. A Woman Perpetually Falling

Vestibular apparatus: the sensory organ for the balance system.

“We have senses we don’t know we have-until we lose them;…The balance system gives us our sense of orientation in space. Its sense organ, the vestibular apparatus, consists of three semicircular canals in the inner ear that tell us when we are upright and how gravity is affecting our bodies by detecting motion in three-dimensional space….A healthy vestibular apparatus also has a strong link to our visual system.” [Does this mean any creature that could feel more than three dimensional space-time must have structural difference compared to us?]-p3

Paul Bach-y-Rita rejected these localizationist claim. Our senses have an unexpected plastic nature, he discovered, and if one is damaged, another can sometimes take over for it, a process he calls ‘sensory substitution’…By discovering that the nervous system can adapt to seeing with cameras instead of retinas, Bach-y-Rita laid the groundwork for the greatest hope for the blind: retina implants, which can be surgically inserted into the eyes.”-p13

Broca’s area: was presumed to coordinate the movements of the muscles of the lips and tongue. -p16

Wernicke’s area: the ability to understand language. -p16

“Bach-y-Rita began to conceive of much of the brain as ‘polysensory’-that its sensory areas were able to process signals from more than one sense….This can happen because all our senses receptors translate diffrent kinds of energy from the external world, no matter what the source, into electrical patterns that are sent down our nerves. These electrical patterns are the universal language ‘spoken’ inside the brain.”-p18

“Bach-y-Rita, based on his knowledge of nerve growth, began to argue that these learning plateaus were temporary-part of a plasticity-based learning cycle-in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation. Though there was no apparent pprogress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined.”-p24

“Andy Clark wittly argued that we are ‘natual-born cyborgs,’ meaning that brian plasticity allows us to attach ourselves to machines, such as computers and electronic tools, quite naturally.”-p26

2. Building Herself a Better Brain

“Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probabaly helped strenghten motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960s educators droped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too regid, boring, and ‘not relevant’. But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that mant students had to systematically execise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. For the rest of us, their disapearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brain power unfamiliar to us now.”-p41-42

Acetylcholine: a brain chemical essential for learning.

3. Redesigning The Brain

Michael Merzenich‘s specialty is improving people’s ability to think and perceive by redesigning the brain by training specific processing areas, called brain maps, so that they do more mental work….Of neuroplasticians with solid hard-science credentials, it is Merzenich who has made the most ambitious claims for the field: that brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia; that plasticity exists from the cradle to the grave; and that radical improvements in cognitive functioning-how we learn, think, perceive, and remember-are possible even in the elderly.”-p46

“Normally, when one’s hand is touched, an electrical signal passes to the spinal cord and up to the brain, where it turns on cells in the map that make the hand feel touched.”-p48

Dr.Wilder Penfield, in the 1930s, made sensory and motor brain maps, “like geographical maps, are topographical, meaning that areas adjacent to each other on the body’s surface are generally adjacent to each other on the brain maps…..but Merzenich discovered that these maps are neither immutable within a single brain nor universal but vary in their borders and size from person to person.”-p49

Vernon Mountcastle, a famous neuroscientist at Hopkins in the 1950s, is Merzenich’s advisor by then. Vernon “demonstrated that the subtleties of brain architecture could be discovered by studying the electrical activity of neurons using a new technique: micromapping with pin-shaped microelectrodes.”-p50

Micromapping pro: about a thousand times more precise than the current generation of brain scans, which detect bursts of activity that last one sec in thousands of neurons. A neuron’s electrical signal often lasts a thousandth of a second, so brain scans miss an extraordinary amount of information.

Micromapping con: micromapping hasn’t replace brain scan because it requires an extremely tedious kind of surgery, conducted under a microscope with microsurgical instruments.

“David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel were micromapping the visual cortex to learn how vision is processed….They also discovered that there was a ‘critical period’, from the third to the eighth week of life, when the newborn kitten’s brain had to receive vision stimulation in order to develop normally….Clearly the brains of the kittens during the critical period were plastic, their structure were literally shaped by experience.”-p51

“It also seemed that each neural system had a different critical period, or window of time, during which it was especially plastic and sensitive to the environment, and during which it had rapid, formative growth.”-p52

“It is important to understand that the nervous system is divided into two parts. The first part is the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which is the command-and-control center of the system; it was thought to lack plasticity. The second part is the peripheral nervous system, which brings messages from the sense receptors to the spinal cord and brain and carries messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles and glands. The peripheral nervous system was long known to be plastic; if you cut a nerve in your hand, it can ‘regenerate’ or heal itself.”-p53

Each neuron has three parts:

  1. The dendrites: treelike branches that receive input from other neurons.
  2. Dendrites lead to cell body: sustain the life of the cell and contains its DNA.
  3. Axon: a living cable with varying lengths (from microscopic lengths in the brain, to some that can run down to the legs and reach up to six feet long.) Axons are often compared to wires because they carry electrical impulses at very high speeds (from 2-200 miles per hour) toward the dendrites of neighboring neurons.

A neuron can receive two kinds of signals: those that excite it and those that inhibit it.

  1. A neuron receives enough excitatory signals from other neurons, it will fire off its signal.
  2. A neuron receives enough inhibitory signals, it becomes less likely to fire.

“When we say that neurons ‘rewire’ themselves, we mean that alterations occur at the synapse, strengthening and increasing, or weakening and decreasing, the number of connections between the neurons.”

How Best to Avoid Dying-Owen Egerton

“I had thought you were not in this story. None of the characters are based on you. But perhaps you are here. Perhaps the three (Zane, Stella, and David) are you. Zane is action; David is inaction; Stella orbits the two like a comet between stars. Is your genius your contradictions? Is your being the unlikely love affair and hate affair of anonymous elements? The pain and joy of your year has pushed out the edges of your soul. In some ways it can hold more than it ever held. But the seams are torn and your soul pours out on me and all those you see.”-note 11; p82

“The sky is high and far. The cliffs are old. In Utah everything stretches up, out, back, and I find me nowhere but now and alone. It’s a good lonely, still hurts, still hollow, but being lonely in a beautiful place is finer than being lonely on my brother’s couch. It’s kind of a scary lonely. I’m afraid it might get me. Especially when the sun goes down. If you get lonely enough God will meet you there. I’m afraid to try.”-p163

“Anywhere in the world, he’d be young.”-p165

“‘Where you fear there is judgement, where you hope there is nothing, in that place there is actually love.'”-p175

But where there is actually love, there would be no judgement; there will be nothing in a way exact you want it to be, a comfortable emptiness that allows you to be you.


I bought this book [the yellow cover editon] at Quimby’s, Wicker Park. That was the first independent bookstore J had taken me to.
I bought this book, and started reading in the apartment on Church St. That book, and the first several stores kept me accompany for something like two months, before I graduated, before all began.

Then it stayed in my bookshelf then my moving boxes then my bookshelf again for one and a half year. When I picked it up, I thought it would be something entertaining on my daily commute. But it turns out to be a wonderful book that I’ve long forgotten. The way Egerton plays with words and culture, the insightful and acerbic irony in his observation of our society are all like mouths bursting out cold laugh. Well you just start to notice how absurd life could be, in a unrealistic but reasonable way.

Of course quantum mechanics and neuroscience and other science tell laws of the factual world, but it is always literature, those stories fictions tales and legends carrying on the spirit, lashing the wrong and spread the right.

I gradually realize that it is always other people and other minds we turn to whenever we get lost. Our interests in the enormous universe or the microworld as tiny as a neuron or a photon are just ways to open up a new world, that we could hide and explore, assume and learn. But it is the words related to this world, directly dealing with our heart and soul, that reveals us the path of our individual life. That’s something we shouldn’t give up to, for we are human beings not only having distinguished reasoning skills, but also experience highly emotional and sentimental.

The best thing is, I am always amazed to see that science and literature could be entangled in such a harmonious way rather than conflict with each other.