Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Words

Was it you who spoke the words that things would happen, but not to me?
Oh, things are going to happen naturally
And I’m taking your advice, and looking on the bright side
And balancing the whole thing
But often times those words get tangled up in lines
And the bright light turns to night
Until the dawn it brings
Another day to sing about the magic that was you and me
‘Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of
Others only dream of the love—the love that I love

--Jason Mraz

This is another current favorite song. I don’t know much about Jason Mraz (except that he seems to be another Sexy Modern Artist that scads of teenage girls enjoy swooning over), but I love every song of his that I’ve heard on the radio. He’s got a great voice and he’s obviously extremely talented, and his works are exceedingly creative and simultaneously meaningful, intellectual, and humorous. Great stuff to sing along with—albeit badly and at the top of my lungs—on a long drive.

See I’m all about them words
Over numbers, unencumbered, numbered words
Hundreds of pages, pages, pages for words
More words than I had ever heard and I feel so alive

It’s funny how the individual listener can interpret a song (or a work of art or a dance or anything, really) into something personally meaningful that may have nothing to do with the intent of its creator. This is the basis of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And in my hearing the refrain of this song, I was of course at once reminded of the title of this blog, my personal, globally public journal. I did not, as might be suspected, name it after the lyrics, which I had never heard until a few weeks ago. Still, the small coincidence was not insignificant to me.

You and I, you and I
Not so little, you and I, anymore
And with this silence brings a moral story
More importantly evolving is the glory of a boy
‘Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just dream of
And if you could see me now
Well I’m almost finally, finally
Well I’m free

I’m also a bit obsessive compulsive in that I like things a very certain, specific, consistent way. I like symbolism and such, too. And this in the one-hundredth blog post, and today is the one-year anniversary of the first. Yes, I planned it that way.

And it’s okay if you have to go away
Just remember the telephone, well it works in both ways
But if I never ever hear them ring
If nothing else I think the bells inside
Have finally found you someone else and that’s okay
‘Cause I’ll remember everything you sang

A lot has changed for me in the past year, some for the better, and some for the worse. For one thing, I’m not longer a pathetic, skeered, antisocial freshman yearning for the long-lost glories of high school. Rather, I’ve developed into a confident, well-adjusted Biology major with a good job and a strong support network. I can’t complain a bit about work or school (excepting that blasted Orgo class). My equine life, on the other hand, has changed drastically. Of the five healthy, rideable, nice horses I had last year, one is dead of cancer, another is permanently crippled despite multiple treatments by multiple vets, and another is lame and unusable with a “fair” chance of recovery—but requiring very costly, involved procedures that leave her ill, swollen from allergies, and confined to a tiny pen, maddened by inactivity. With all of these setbacks, I’ve decided to call it quits on the barrel racing I once loved. A new chapter in my riding life is opening, and for the moment I don’t know where it will take me. Bring it on, whatever it is. And so last week I decided to buy another horse—a foolish choice that will leave me in debt for over a year—but I couldn’t let the guy go to an unknown fate. He deserved a good retirement, and I deserved the companionship of another equine friend. So.

Oh, you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of
And if you could see me now,
Well, I’m almost finally out of
Finally out of
Well, I’m almost finally, finally out of words.

Well, I’m not exactly out of words, but I am almost finally out of Almost, Finally. Given the circumstances, I think the blog is due its second incarnation. And so, voila! I give you Carbon Dating.

As I said before, I wanted to do something “special” for the 100th post, 1-year landmark. So I looked about for a way to update the layout—skin, it’s called, apparently—and I went on a search around the Internet for a suitable background to download. Whenever possible, I like to use my own images and be as original as possibly so I’m not stealing others’ creativity. I tried to commission a new skin from some bored anime-obsessed Australian kids, but they seemed to think my specifications were too restricting and ignored me. So I scoured the Web for a substitute and, to make a long story short, eventually figured out how to program my own. Not the best, by any means, but considering that I have exactly 0 knowledge of HTML and the only image programs I have to work with are Windows Photo Gallery and MS Paint, well, I’m a little proud. But I do ask for any help with suggestions or in modifying it. I think the background works best on computers with larger monitors, and there’s not much I can do the change the size there. How do the colors of the font work? Is it legible? Too hard on the eyes? I’ll take any feedback or criticism, and if you subscribe in a reader, I’d appreciate it if you’d trot on over to the actual page and look it over to let me know if it works or not. You’ll be missing out on awesomeness if you don’t. ;)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Song of Praise

On a trail ride the other day I spooked up a few deer. They retreated into the woods, and I followed, mounted. The few does that reside in that pasture are accustomed to seeing horses, so while they remained wary and alert, they allowed me to approach them slightly so long as I didn’t make any fast moves and kept a reasonable distance. I pulled out my camera and tried to focus it on the doe closest to me, then snapped away several times before she disappeared in the undergrowth. But truly she had vanished long before she turned and trotted off, for her coloration was so perfectly matched to that of the mud and decaying leaves and dull gray bark of trees that, had I not kept my eye focused on her movements from the start, I would have never known she was there. I attempted to find the deer in the pictures later when I loaded them on my computer. I knew they were there, since I had taken the photographs, yet I honestly could not find them in several of the images. I wish I had the ability to evaporate into thin air like that—poof, you’re gone; now you see it, now you don’t.

I spent the past week studying relentlessly (or, rather, in short sporadic but intense intervals punctuated by various complete wastes of time) for five tests, ranging from incredibly easy to insanely difficult. The class that corresponded to the latter category was Organic Chemistry, a real doozie of a course with an exam nearly every week covering comprehensive, complicated material. I practiced for hours doing and redoing mechanism problems, tracing the paths of electrons from one orbital to another, forming new products by reacting with other reagents, acids and bases and salts and cyclic molecules and conjugated dienes and halohydrins and substituted alkynes all invading my dreams at night, spinning and combining and decomposing and adding and combusting….

It’s a frustrating process, predicting what will happen or completing a challenging multi-step synthesis problem, but hugely rewarding and invigorating when you accomplish it successfully. And, really, as much as I hate to admit it I find myself quoting the claims of the textbook—it’s “beautiful.” But not so much for the reasons given by the authors, though they are certainly valid and improving productivity in industry is undoubtedly important, but more for the paradoxical complex simplicity of it all. For in tracing an electron, a comparison can easily be drawn that extends to one’s own life.

An electron, by itself, is virtually nothing. Infinitesimally small, it carries a negative electric charge arbitrarily given the value of -1. Electrons are in constant rapid orbit around the nucleus of every atom, and they are endlessly being lost and gained and shared in the game of chemical reactions, bonding molecules together, forming new compounds, transmitting electric currents, vibrating furiously as they reach new “excited” states, jumping out of orbitals, free, charged, loose, wild. Individually insignificant, one of countless googolplexes in existence in a concept so massive we could never hope to comprehend, yet, when acting in synchronism, they are the very stuff that makes and moves the world.

And so are we.

If I were to write a memoir today about the first nineteen and a half years of my life, I would call it Carbon Dating: The Secret Love Lives of Molecules. And I would try to express this beautiful concept in words that wouldn’t do the subject justice For these tiny shreds of matter are the driving force for everything we know. Break down everything into some 100+ elements and categorize them on the periodic table, then turn them loose to smash into one another. What happened on that first day—that “let there be light” moment, the Big Bang, the spontaneous generation of the cosmos? Ever since then those elements have been synthesizing and creating and…here we are.

From the simple yet innovative attachment of two hydrogens bonded to an oxygen, to the hydrocarbon methane that then branches into alkanes and from there accumulates nitrogen and such until it folds and pleats into amino acids, proteins, tissues, organs, a leaf, a tree, a deer, and us. You and I are made of the stuff of stars, as they say—we’re all stardust.

And so it is. Unbelievable, inconceivable, all explanations completely implausible and illogical. Whether or not the metaphysical “exists” is no longer the question: it must, it does, eternal, permeating all. Call it a deity or a divine spark or a flash of pure magic energy or an instantaneous combustion and pop! there’s the first proton, something from nothing. A few billion years later, and look what’s happened. Everything.

And what is left?

Everything else.

Lift every voice and sing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh, to be a Work of Art

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine

--Emily Saliers

I listen to the radio all the time these days on my daily commutes to and from school and home and work and rehearsal. And late at night when I was secluded out in Nowheresville during my house-sitting stint, when I had nothing but homework and the Internet to keep me company, I tuned into the local variety station. During those late late hours, stretching sometimes ‘til 2 in the morning, I discovered the radio show Delilah. The title deejay serves as a psychologist/mentor/mother-figure/marriage counselor/role model/friend to her listeners, who call in with requests for love songs and anecdotes about their children and uncles and estranged boyfriends. Across the country, working overtime in cramped cubicles or driving through winding roads with a lover or tucking children into bed after a bath and a story, we all heard these personal stories and empathized. Then Delilah would select a tune and the waves would fill the room and I’d snuggle down deeper into bed. Music is a powerful thing. This tune by the Indigo Girls is a current favorite, both for its melodic qualities and overall catchiness and for its powerfully compelling lyrics.

And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
And I went in seeking clarity

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
Yeah we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
We look to the children, we drink from the fountains
Yeah we go to the Bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine

“Yeah,” I say in my best British accent à la Rupert Grint, “I’ve got to get my priorities straightened.”

And that’s what it comes down to. What we learn from our parents or from professors doesn’t always line up with what we learn in the School of Hard Knocks. The idealism of philosophy and religion doesn’t exactly jive with Real Life. So what do we choose? Do we toss aside our quest for a “definitive” as unattainable foolishness, and go on about our merry ways, forgetting the enthusiasm with which we once embraced our ideals? Do we, instead, live completely impractically, refusing to sacrifice our beliefs, even at the sake of happiness and worldly success?

When we’re young we set our hearts upon some beautiful idea
Maybe something from a holy book or French philosophia
Upon the thoughts of better men than us we swear by and decree a
Perfect way to end the war, a perfect way to be
A work of art. Oh, to be a work of art

But in time a thought comes tugging on the sleeve edge of our minds
Perhaps no perfect way exists at all, just many different kinds
Oh, but if it’s just a thing of taste then everything unwinds
For without an absolute how can the absolute define
A work of art? Oh, to be a work of art

--The Guggenheim Grotto

Or, instead, do we strive for what is Right, doing only the best we can, looking for inspiration wherever we can find it, taking our happiness as opportunities present themselves, but never forgetting our origins and the ideas of our youths, and always searching for excellence, goodness, and the best thing we know how to do?

No matter what, we’ve got to decide for ourselves and come to terms with our decisions. Limbo is no place for the living.