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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

an ode to a nerd’s magazine, and chewing on silver bracelets

image

via Google

If you’re one of the sad Americans who think the New Yorker is a liberal rag, or that it’s too highbrow for you, bear with me. The real answer to both of these ersatz questions is c) neither of the above.

Case in point, this week’s issue, which features an amazing article about a physicist. Yup, a physicist, folks. One of those guys who pretty much thinks for a LIVING.

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Well, this physicist heard that old musics — musics from long-dead cultures around the world — was deteriorating so rapidly we were losing it. As we’ve lost soooo many Native American languages here in the US (which I still mourn). And he got to thinking… (remember? he thinks for a living.)

engineering tools

via Google

You need to read the article to see what he did, but basically, he engineered a solution. Because the best of engineers and physicists are hybrids — a little of each, a lot of both. My husband’s like that — an ace problem solver.

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This is the kind of story I don’t find elsewhere. At least not in more or less easily accessible, popular media. You’d have to know where to look. But every issue, there’s something similar in the New Yorker: a piece on some cool person who did something fascinating. And yes, you do need to know how to read to enjoy it. :) But you don’t have to have an advanced degree, or any degree at all. You just have to be curious about the world, and willing to spend 1/2 an hour or more learning something kind of useless (hence the nerd label) but verrrry cool.

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Trinidad w bracelet 1We don’t do nearly enough of that, I’m afraid. Just learn for the fun of it. And yet children are sooo good at it! My grandson — not quite a year old yet — will spend 1/2 an hour learning my silver bracelet. He will examine it closely, turning it in his little hand as he does. He will then lick it, suck on it, chew on it vigourously, and pull it out of his mouth between nibbles, re-examining it to see if it crumbled (like bread), melted (like ice chips), or otherwise changed.

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Then, since my bracelet is in the form of a Moebius strip, he will trace the curve with his tiny finger and thumb. And follow this w/ a happy banging of  the bracelet on whatever is near (the floor, the end table, me). All this over and over. And then, just in case it’s different, he will ask for the bracelet that’s (to a non-reader!) identical. Only the engraved mantra differs.trin with bracelet 2

But Trin is mesmerised: he really wants to ‘get’ the bracelet, know it all the way through, every sense satisfied. And THAT’S the kind of curiousity the New Yorker reminds me I still need. That literal hunger for knowledge — inhaling it, tasting it, banging it uppasida something to hear it sing.

That’s what learning should be. And that’s what happens (often!) when I read the New Yorker. I learn. About engineering, medicine, food, books. About the humanities, which always make us more human. Even if sometimes that means chewing on a silver bracelet.

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contemporary Pharisees

pharisaical: (adjective) characterized by hypocritical self-righteousness;

putting emphasis on strict observance of rituals unrelated to the spirit or meaning of the ceremony.

neanderthal skull

via Wikipedia

Somehow this word feels appropriate in today’s  political arena. I’m always so horrified when a religious leader finds it okay to drive  children to suicide. Or invade funerals with so-called religion. Or kill unbelievers. Or persecute people of different faiths. I don’t see that in any of the original wisdom texts. But we all know it happens. Witness Nigeria’s bloody war on gays, sanctioned by many American Christians.

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Where did it start, this hatred of others, those who are ‘different’? Is it ‘just part of being human’? Maybe it’s what killed out Neanderthals ~ maybe it’s that old. Perhaps the Cro-Magnons all ganged up on the Neanderthals, driven mad by their prominent supraorbital ridges, and killed them. Just because they looked different.

We know very little about Neanderthals now. So it’s ignorant (literally) to say Cro-Magnons killed them off. But it certainly isn’t impossible, and it may be likely. Neanderthals were bigger, possibly smarter. And the current evidence is that there was interbreeding between the two until fairly late in the genetic game. So why did they die out?

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cro magnon and neanderthal

via PBS

The hatred of the ‘other’ is as prominent today as that Neanderthal brow bone. But lately it feels like that fear/ hatred of others is on steroids ~ a fitting analogy, given steroidal rage syndrome. If you believe in a divine order, and most folks do, wouldn’t you believe that everything shares that divinity?From the smallest living being to any other human? Then why is it necessary to claim superiority, ‘chosen’ status?

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When I see this hatred masquerading as religion, especially those predicated on love (Christianity, the one I’m most familiar with, for instance), I feel sick. It’s such a violent rejection of everything that the Jesus part of the Bible ~ what my sister loves, what my old ladies taught me, my cousins’ faith & lives as ministers ~ offers. Nowhere in the Christian part of the Bible does Jesus preach hate. You have to go to the Old Testament, or Paul or crazy John, for that. Jesus wasn’t a hater.

Karnak, via Wikipedia

Karnak, via Wikipedia

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Same goes for most other wisdom traditions. The originators? Not haters. Only the organised followers centuries later have that dubious distinction. The ‘fundament’ — the foundation — of almost all wisdom traditions is charity. The doing good to others. Not feeling superior, but careful remembering that we are fortunate, more fortunate than most. That’s the logic — and mercy — behind Lent, behind Ramadan.

Ironically, the Pharisees began as an alternative to an elitist religious aristocracy, the Sadducees. The Pharisees were ‘more democratic,’ at least one source tells us. Now? Their good intentions are obscured by their later capitulations to power, to pressure. As many good faiths are tarnished by their followers. Just look around at how little many ostensibly ‘fundamental’ versions of a faith have in common w/ the original texts.

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A foundation should last — witness Karnak, in Egypt. The earliest stones of that temple complex were first laid no later than 4500 years ago. The actual site — and some of the non-restored areas — are beyond ancient. Still strong, still visible as a pattern of weight and accomplishment. Unlike the original intent of the Pharisees — to be more inclusive, more ‘democratic’ — and the various wisdom traditions corrupted by followers filled with hate.

If you call yourself a true fundamentalist ~ of any religion ~ you are pharisaical if you aren’t following the beauty way, as the Navajo say. Even if your ostensible intent is good? The ends doesn’t justify the means, when hate is involved. If you aren’t trying HARD to be a good Samaritan — loving the stranger, helping the hurt — I’m not very interested in your ostensible faith. Because it obviously isn’t fundamentally about love.

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why good manners matter even online

etiquette

via Google

I’m often apalled by what people say to each other on Facebook.  And the comments to online articles? Wow. My Aunt Bonnie would have washed my mouth out with soap!

So I ask myself: what’s up w/ folks who are sooo hateful? Are they like that in person? And of course, they’re (usually) not. Because according to at least one researcher, folks forget they’re basically thinking out loud.

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It’s what my students and I used to call the ‘underwear’ effect.

good manners 2

via Google

Anyone in his or her underwear can put up a website, or comment online. You don’t have to know zip-all about the topic. You just need a computer and a power source, and you too can be a self-proclaimed expert.

And that’s the problem. We forget (myself included, here!) that we’re NOT experts. Heck, what I know about many many topics could be easily held in an eyedropper! But…that doesn’t mean I won’t have an opinion. :)

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Opinions aren’t facts, although ideally they start w/ facts. But especially if they don’t — should they happen to begin in faith or wisdom traditions — then we really need to be respectful of each other. I try to remain calm when others disagree with me. As long as they don’t make it personal. Because if you try to bolster your opinion by accusing a disagreer of various behaviours (‘vilification’ was the most recent one, because a friend said she didn’t support Paul Ryan’s budget), you are NOT a nice person. And not only will I know that, I”ll probably also decide your position is highly questionable. Unless you’re pretty lucky, and I happen to already know something about it.

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kindness

via Google

So here’s a thought: let’s pretend that all online forums are F2F (face-to-face, for those of us who retain our non-digital passports). Let’s treat each other w/ the respect & courtesy we’d offer a traveler on the bus, or in the airplane seat next to us. Life is hard enough — why not be kind w/ one another? Even if the person YELLING is an utter idiot (and I use the term advisedly), doesn’t s/he deserve kindness? Don’t we all?

Who knows? You might even get your point across… :)

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planting for the future

1913315_10152390345739410_3549786290070138660_oWe began working with this island at least five years ago (time blurs when you’re having a good time). First we had to dig up the sod, then plant the crape myrtles. Then we had to figure out the ground cover.

The first year we tried mulch over ground cloth. That did NOT work. Don’t ask me why, but our yard is where everything you DID NOT plant on purpose comes to live. And it lives large, let me tell you.

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The next year, we tried creeping phlox. They weren’t happy, either. Although a few remained that still bloom in the spring…out of the 20+ we bought.

Next, it was groundcover roses. Folks said, Just buy Knockout roses — they’re great! Except they don’t smell good. What’s a rose w/out fragrance? Gertrude Stein was wrong: a rose is NOT a rose if it doesn’t smell good. It’s just some double flower that’s hard for bees to work.

So I had to find good groundcover roses that were singles, for the bees. AND that smelled good. AND that were a shade of pink that would complement the high-pruned crape myrtles.rose in island

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All this took time, obviously. And then it was the three years of first they sleep, then they creep, then they LEAP! Courtesy of my old lady gardeners, y’all. :)

Now, five years later, I have roses. Beautiful mounds of roses! But it took years of ‘failure,’ from which we learned. And studying, and figuring out. And just TIME.

I’m sure you see the lesson I’m finally ‘getting.’ :) But I confess: I’ll probably forget it when I plant the next tree! At least until next spring, when the roses bloom again…

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