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30 November 2005

The small picture.

Let's zero in on the cosmos-streak that is my life.

It's November and we are going out to a movie. We walk up to the window and note "Seniors over 55, $7.50". That saves a couple dollars but hmm, I'm not "over 55" for 13 days, guess I could just tell them I'm a senior and see if they go for it. But do I really want to declare that I'm a senior? If I take this step then I will be a senior, there will be no going back. I hesitate. The line presses behind us and I have to make a quick decision.


20 November 2005

The big picture.

This last year or so I've felt kind of like I have completed a huge part of my life, or maybe I feel that all I have to give to this world has already been given, and my work is done. Guess it's largely because the kids are grown (hi kids!) and my childbearing years have ended and retirement from my job could come at any time if I so wished.

The whole physical changing part makes me feel like I live in a different body, not like I've shed a skin, not like I've gone through a metamorphosis into something beautiful like a butterfly, but more like all the supple parts of me have crumpled, the colorful parts turned grey. I'm not complaining, I'm just trying to learn how to deal with my body not working the way it used to, to my self being housed in a different case.

Age does have its rewards. At different places in your life you pause and look around. At each stage you are able to see a little more, you have a better view because you are farther along; to use a metaphor, you are "further up a mountain" and can see a lot more of the landscape below. Each person has to make their own journey to the different levels, so even though I try, I can't really explain to you to what I can see now, today.

But something floated on my consciousness today, an epiphany if you will.

Try to picture this. I'm driving along the two lane highway to work, streaking across the landscape in my warm car. The road skirts the foothills, coursing straight for a while, a gentle decline, it curves, climbs; the vista sweeps out for miles in several directions; my way stretches out in the distance, traces behind me, I am feeling the speed of the car, half-listening to my particle physics course, aware of a pounding "55" in the back of my brain, not the speed of my car but the number of years I have lived, my mind everywhere but nowhere at the same time. I was zoned out (or in) and had a mini-vision:

My life is a streak across space and time. And so is the life of every human. Each streak is a tiny brushstroke on a large canvas. Trillions of self-aware brushstrokes across space and time.

16 November 2005

Moon shadows.

I love moon shadows. It was bitter cold out this morning, but the moon was huge and hovering over a luminescent mountain-wave cloud so it didn't matter much. I waved my arms all around and saw my moon shadow waving its arms all around. Lucy (the big dog) had a moon shadow, and Fox (the little dog) had one too. We were quite a group today, 6 instead of 3.

Lyrics thought for the day, from Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series (2005 release) alternative take of Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues:

"It's either fortune or fame
You must pick up one or the other
Though neither of them are to be what they claim"

I have no desire for riches and I'd hate to be famous. Can you imagine people recognizing you wherever you go, and thinking they know you, and wanting to talk to or yell at you? Heck, I hate it when I go to the supermarket and someone that knows me through work sees me. Quick, the paparazzi are onto me, put on the dark glasses, duck behind the potatoes.

I'm about done with my Particle Physics course. All I want to say is: String Theory. That's the future. Nature is made of strings. It started as crazy, complicated math, but now it's proving to be true. Buy into it, invest in the future.

15 November 2005

Nature thought and another old vinyl.

My Particle Physics teacher casually used the word "nature" to encompass the laws of the small particles that physicists study. That caught my ear. I usually think of nature as the trees and the birds and the streams and all, not what goes on in small particle interactions. But when you think about it, yes, that is nature too. Dear small particles: I am not going to discriminate against you any more in my thoughts of nature.

On a much different note, let's talk about The Who. I don't consider myself a fan of The Who, but yesterday I sure enjoyed their vinyl from 1971, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. A few of the tracks: Happy Jack, The Kids are Alright (sounds like the Beatles), Substitute, Pictures of Lily, Boris the Spider:

. . . creepy crawly creepy crawly creepy creepy crawly crawly creepy creepy crawly crawly . . .

What can be more fun than singing that loudly? And of course the track My Generation. Such a pop song, still so much fun now, in retrospect, over 3 decades later. Hope I die before I get old, and "old" was 30! Glad I didn't buy into that idea.

Image for today's student check-out of lab drawers:


13 November 2005

Vinyl and midnight riders.

I am nearing the end of a three and a half year project of digitizing our vinyl records, about 300 in all. John and I have been together since 1971, so that's when our record collection began. We didn't have much money, and one treat was to go to the Wherehouse and buy three albums for ten dollars. Since you listened by putting the record on a turntable, you usually listened to an entire album side straight through, as intended by the artists. We learned those albums, and even today I often start singing the next track before it begins.

No, not all of the music was grand, but listening to these songs today brings up the emotions, causes, flavor of our life back in the 70s. My song for the day is Midnight Rider by Gregg Allman. It's not the lyrics I like so much but more the feel of the entire song, it's haunting.

"No, I'm not gonna let `em catch me, no.
Not gonna let `em catch the midnight rider"

I may not be a midnight person but I tend to be a rebel. I like to think for myself. No one's going to catch me and make me do what I think is stupid. I follow most of the rules, but only if they make sense to me and to society.

gregg allman

12 November 2005

The problem with being an atheist . . . or, sometimes you have to follow the lead of your dogs.

It's not easy to have as the core of your personal philosophy: "I do not believe in God". It takes a lot of courage. Unlike a religious person, I do not have pat answers as to why I am here on this earth. Instead I am constantly reinventing my raison d'etre. I can't accept a static answer: a set of beliefs, rules, and dogma. Most of the time I fly along fine but sometimes I fail completely. One thing I know for sure - I cannot take the leap of faith and believe in god. I can see some sort of spirit of mankind, or there might be some sort of force that created all this, but it doesn't make any sense to me that there is a god who would answer prayers and help you accomplish what you want on a daily basis. I want to take credit for my own accomplishments and I can accept my shortcomings and the consequences if I make a mistake. No excuses. I am not going to be good because of fear of hell, I am going to do the right thing because I would not be myself if I didn't.

The Particle Physics course that I am currently listening to on my commute to work touches on the relationship between philosophy and physics. Heck, it does more than that, the whole goal of physics is to figure out this world, and what is that but philosophy? The scientists do not speculate whether or not a higher power might have created the world [at least not in their scientific journals, they might in the social hour], they only want to figure out everything about it down to the most minute particles. When something is discovered that does not follow the current laws of physics, at first it's like their whole world is shaken, because these laws are their metaphor for god. But then they adjust their models, their theories, and are all excited about the new information because now they know a little more. Curiousity, learning something new, boy, those are a couple of the perks in life.

I like this thought from a recent Science News article: "Scientists question, test, evaluate and retest various hypotheses . . . they're not expecting 'truth' because they know that 'uncertainty flows through science like water'".

I can do this, I can live with this uncertainty flowing through my life. At least on a good day I can.

And a good day can begin with stepping out the door in the early dawn, a small red sliver of neutrino-emitting sun in the east above the cliffs, the dogs rushing excitedly ahead of me. Then they both stop and listen. So I follow their lead and stop too, and listen. There it is: the elk squeals from a ways down the valley, and the cry of a mountain lion far in the distance. I draw in a deep breath of this world.

Let's go puppies.


07 November 2005

Beauty in a swirl

I ran across a recipe for sweet potato swirl bread. Since it takes two kinds of dough and you need them (knead them, ha!) at the same time, I hefted my old Zorushi from the basement to help out with the task. After the loaves baked, I made myself wait until morning to slice one.

What a treat for a Monday morning. See the photo.

Stairmaster thought for the day, courtesy of Oleander, February Son, Never Again:

Some of us never see the light
Until it's out of sight
Give up with out a fight

02 November 2005

Pearls of wisdom, dots for flavor

Rock and roll and blues music threads throughout my life so it will thread within this blog. Some of my all time favorite lines are from Janis Joplin's Cry Baby on Pearl, released in 1971. I was only 21 then but they still speak to me with the same profundity. I guess I'll call this my Great Lyrics series, just as my Teaching Company teacher talked of great books. (A great book has three qualities: it is concerned with themes of enduring importance, it has noble language that elevates the soul and ennobles the mind, and it shows universality in that it speaks across the ages.)

"You can go all around the world
Trying to find something to do with your life, baby,
When you only gotta do one thing well,
You only gotta do one thing well to make it in this world, babe.
You got a woman waiting for you there,
All you ever gotta do is be a good man one time to one woman
And that'll be the end of the road, babe"

"All you ever gotta do is be a good man one time to one woman" is the line that keeps coming to me throughout the years, although I change it to a 'good woman to one man'. Sometimes years go by and I forget the song and have to dig through Janis' lyrics and find the exact phrasing again. But the concept feels like a knowledge I was born with, innate to my human-ness.

Another human characteristic is curiousity. I am still wondering about the health of the bugs in my office if they eat only candy. Would they reel away from the candy bowl in a sugar stupor? Should they instead go down and find the apple I left in the bottom drawer? Would they, could they?

Or better yet, maybe they should wait until I get to work and go for my healthy fruits and veggies and calcium chews.

Just what is the nutritive value of the candy? Well - here is a picture of the label

Seems that 40 grams has 140 calories. But it doesn't state how many grams are in each little packet, so I'll have to weigh some. Here we go, some Dots on the scale. You can see, six Dots in a package weigh 20.372 grams. So that's about 70 calories. That's not a lot if you just eat a few (and if you are bigger than an insect). And Dots pack a lot of flavor.

01 November 2005

If you had just a minute to breathe

Yesterday, Halloween morning began with a disembodied feeling as my faithful car's battery was dead and then I had to make the trip to work sans radio because I couldn't find the code to unlock it. I was ready, so ready for my music with my morning workout. Luckily the iPod was charged and ready to go, loaded with my newly-digitized Traffic, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys vinyl. I remembered this tune from 1971:

"If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance"

No. (Long pause for thoughts.) No I wouldn't.

And the lyrics continue:

"If I gave you everything that I owned
And asked for nothing in return
Would you do the same for me as I would for you
Or take me for a ride
And strip me of everything, including my pride
But spirit is something that no one destroys"

I have been lucky in that the people I have trusted the most have given me the same in return. For people not so fortunate, at least "spirit is something that no one destroys."

I have been thinking about the meanings of spirit for months now, and this is one reason I wanted to keep a blog. Spirit, spiritual, soul. How can I define each of these?

One way that I think of spirit is the thoughts in my own mind. A constant factor in my life this year is that I listen to courses from the Teaching Company on my drive to work, and ideas from these courses will float in and out of my blog. In the Great Books course, our teacher discussed several books with the theme that no matter what is done to a person, they still are free in their own mind.

Traffic: Rock and roll philosophers.

I saw a blazing tree on the way back from the rec center this morning and wished that I had my camera. Spent a normal day at work. Leaving work, my mind drifted to the bowl of Halloween candy that I had left uncovered in my office. Would the bugs get to it overnight? Would those bugs worry that they were eating sugar, when they should have been eating something healthy? Should bugs worry about things like that, or do they get to eat whatever they want?

If I had just a minute to breathe. . . . I'd go for the candy.

The candy.

And when I got home, I grabbed my camera for the sunset.

The sunset.