Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Random Scientific Musings

In any given day I have quite a few questions go through my head... much like a big toddler.  I always catch myself looking at something outside and suddenly going "now wait a minute WHY is it like that?!".  Or I'll be at school and have to jot down all my big questions during lessons so I can look them up later.  Lately my questions have been profound enough that google doesn't have the answers for me.  Here's a few that have been trapped in my brain, looking for hints to their big answers while I live my life.  Trying to figure out how much further and deeper I can take a question and apply it to something practical.

- Why do sycamore trees shed their bark in winter?  What is the evolutionary reason?  Does it provide a benefit?  Is it just a random mutation?  There are 3 main hypotheses as to why, but none have been tested.

- Both plants and animals evolved the ability to live independently of water at the same time... plants started making seeds, amphibians left the water and became reptiles who laid eggs.  Was there some chemical component to this that maybe caused a mutation in the DNA of all living things at the time?  What would it have been... sulfur from volcanoes?  iridium from meteors?  Or was it really just unequal reproductive success and gradual evolution from natural selection.

- What causes a smell?  What chemicals are there that we register as that smell?  What are we actually tasting when we are registering that smell/taste combination?  Why does a smell "stick" to us?  Why does what an animal eats effect what its meat tastes like?  Is it the proteins we are "tasting"?  Do smells decay like carbon or are they just replaced by other smells?  It's all so very Matrix-y.

- What signals a tree to grow more branches?  Do they grow from the innermost layer?  Why do they grow in the locations they do?  Once the branch begins growing do they provide more energy to it to help it grow faster than everything else?  Why is it every type of tree grows "one ring" every year, but every tree's rings are so hugely different in size... how do they display such different growth rates, but still have those yearly lines in them to tell us their age... are we SURE about this?  Maybe a tree year isn't the same as a human year.  Maybe an oak year isn't equal to a poplar year.  Has this annual ring thing really been measured and observed to be true?

Are humans really becoming more allergic to foods or is it that we're developing an aversion to the genetically modified foods we're being sold?  Or are we so obsessed with cleaning everything that we're no longer ingesting important digestive bacteria that used to help us break down these foods?  It's mostly in children, or adults will randomly develop them later on in life.  What suddenly happened?  Is it really a change in human body chemistry or is it something completely separate from us?  Lack of necessary bacteria and GMO foods are my front-runners.  Bacteria would be easiest to study/test.  Find people without allergies and compare the bacteria in their guts to the bacteria of someone with an allergy.    

OK so that's enough for now... that's what I'm doing when I'm not analyzing myself... analyzing everything else hahaha.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Big Ten

Last week I suddenly sprang awake at 4am and HAD to write.  I began writing a list of 10 self-limiting behaviors I have faced and changed over the past few years.  I scoffed that I felt like Moses receiving the 10 commandments or something, how immediate and necessary it felt... so much so that god woke me up at 4am!  Then I kept it all to myself.  I knew I was supposed to share it, but whatever.  I chickened out.  Then I had a very obvious dream last night that I put on 10 nicotine patches all over my torso and hid them under a shirt.  As I sat there I got ill because the drug was overflowing my system.  I knew it was about those realizations.  So, here are the ten lessons I've learned (among so many) and am still fighting to detox from my mind.  Hopefully, if you're guilty of any of these you will be able to face them and change too.  Or, if you aren't guilty, you will know me better.  I would like everyone who knew me then to know me now.

1. When people disagree with you it's because they do... and they're not wrong.  It's not always because they are ill-informed.  Your point of view isn't the "right" one just because you did a lot of research.  People can perform the same arduous research and form a completely different opinion.  People just have different opinions.  Not everyone will agree with you.  YOU WILL NEVER BE ALWAYS RIGHT!  Usually people just want to talk, not debate or get berated.

2. Just because you do something differently doesn't mean it's the only way or the "right" way.  2+5=7, but so does 4+3 and 6+1 and 7+0 and 4.6+2.4 etc... there are as many ways to get to the right answer as there are people on the planet.  We are all different so we each have different perspectives.  Keep an open mind!!  If your beliefs aren't flexible they may need to change.  Everything we believe should be able to withstand scrutiny and critical thinking.  Fear of scrutiny could mean you're afraid of having to change.  You should be able to at least hear other sides.  Are you afraid of hearing other perspectives?  Do you get angry just thinking about giving the other side respect and listening?  (ref #10).

3. If you find yourself constantly trying to keep up with new information so you always know about everything, you might be doing it because you're terrified of criticism... of being wrong.  Everyone is always wrong in the eyes of another person.  Once you stop being such a critic, you won't be so afraid of your possible critics.

4. Needing to be right all the time is not healthy.  It's exhausting and pointless.  No one can ever be perfect.  Stop trying.  Be your true self, what's "right for you" is what's perfect for you.  Some people will not accept you or they'll disagree.  Some will be mean.  If you're living your truth it's not going to bother you.  You can only really be "right" about yourself.

5. Sarcasm is always negative and passive aggressive.  Do you want to be those things to people?

6. Cynicism is the language spoken by those with little self-love.  It's far easier to find fault in everything around you than to take responsibility for your own happiness or to take action to change something.

7. You are the only thing you can really control and even that is difficult.  How you feel is your responsibility.  Your emotions are yours.  You weren't the one who started the war, or raped yourself, or beat yourself, or cheated, or betrayed you... but, your emotions are yours, not theirs.  You are choosing to let those people or events keep the control and the power they took from you.  You have to allow yourself to forgive and move on or they will keep that power over you forever.  It's your choice to stay miserable and angry or to heal.  Be patient with yourself, but know that it's your responsibility to address this issue (not the wrong-doer).

8.  If you find yourself being negative, always thinking of something bad on the horizon or fearing for your safety that is your problem.  People who are positive aren't naive or wrong.  They're just choosing a perspective that makes them happy.  It's not their fault you are angry or unhappy, it's your problem.

9. Jealousy is poison to everyone, but especially you.  If you cannot be happy for people you love... or even ones you don't, you should probably figure out why.  What are you so afraid of?  What are you jealous or resentful of that you aren't doing?  A lot of times jealousy is caused by our own fears.  We are jealous of people who face those fears and are successful, while we are stuck trapped in fear.  Holding back your true self = no success = jealousy.

10. Anger is like pain in your body, it's telling you where to look to find your problem.  God, god, the universe, the mother, your inner voice, fate... is trying to teach you something.  Pay attention to the anger and find out where it's pointing so you can fix the problem.  Relationships are mirrors.  They show us what we need to learn.

For those of you who knew me back when I was this person I'm sorry for the discomfort.  I've been face to face with people now who are these things and I see how hard it is to be around someone who's always on edge like that.  It's hard being confronted with my old self.  I watch them rant and rave and argue about everything, debate constantly... always right, always negative and cynical.  Constantly criticizing themselves so no one else can.  Just so trapped and fearful and out of control, overflowing with self-loathing and self-hatred.  One of the hardest things in life is to face your old self.  But, it's also one of the most inspiring gifts.  You get to see just how far you've come and renews your faith in others being able to heal.

Thanks to everyone for reading and thanks to everyone who helped teach me these lessons.

"It takes care.  It takes patience and fear and despair to change.  Though you swear to change you can tell if you do". (Into the Woods)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Climbing Mountains

The past couple months have been difficult for me on a very personal level.  Apparently all my studies and personal growth over the last couple years were preparing me for this huge task of confronting my inadequacies, accepting them, and learning how to live with the knowledge that I may never truly change certain aspects of myself.  In keeping with my desire for truth I'm not going to share with anyone my real fears.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is that they exist and I'm working on them.  No matter what it is the process is the same.  The struggle is the same.  Not knowing will keep everyone unbiased and hopefully introspective.  That old serenity prayer that everyone knows... I finally get it.  It's about external influence, but it's also about self discovery.

There are things I have always known about myself that I accept because they're easy and they're nice.  The truly difficult part is confronting the things I don't accept, which are the mean and fearful parts.  I have been confronting my huge fears (fear is what makes people mean).  At first I found a few that had a beginning and an end.  I started being fearful after **event** and those I can change.  They don't change immediately, mind you.  It's a constant struggle.  I have to remind myself of everything I've learned and try to act on truth rather than fear.  It's exhausting.  It's emotionally draining and it's very difficult to stay motivated and non-judgmental of myself as I constantly slip into old patterns.  I had to invent cleansing rituals that would solidify a sense of completion... a little bit at a time.  Every time I take a meditative bath I let go of a little more of my old thoughts and patterns, inching closer to truth.  I have mantras and quotes and exercises.  I take classes and write.  All this work and support and it's still some of the most difficult tasks I've undertaken.  That's the courage.  Courage isn't about doing what scares other people or what gives you adrenaline.  Real courage is confronting an old demon that no one may even know about and deciding to fight it until it goes away.  It's silencing an old voice in your head that has been telling you that you can't do something so you shouldn't even try.  It's pulling yourself out of depression or keeping yourself from slipping into it.  It would be easy for me to bungee jump.  But, confronting my old gremlins who tell me I'm not **whatever**... is so... damn... hard.  It's doable though and I'm making progress every day.  Even the smallest steps will eventually get you up the mountain. 

Then there are other fears.  The ones that have no beginning to pinpoint.  The ones that will keep me from realizing my dreams or living a fulfilling life because they're part of my personality.  What I have learned is that the serenity to accept the things I cannot change doesn't mean giving up.  It means accepting the fact that no matter what I do, some things will terrify me.  They may terrify me less, but I will always be afraid of **this**.  It will make me anxious and may even make me cry every time.  However, I still do it.  That's the thing... I stopped trying to fix it.  I let myself cry and be anxious, but I still do it.  If my initial thought is "I want to do this thing" immediately followed by a million excuses why I can't, then I should do it.  God was talking the first time, the rest was all me and I need to just sit down and be quiet.  I accept these fears the same way I accept my nose, my hair color, my eye color, my age.  This is what I have to work with.  This is what I am, and I can do **this**.  I have to confront them and deal with the fear as I would deal with any other emotion.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  

So that's what I have been up to... a lot of self-realization and change.  A lot of challenging myself.  A lot of successes and failures.  A whole lot of crying and anxiety.  I thought as I conquered fear there would be this sense of accomplishment and pride.  Maybe a little, but mostly I felt drained and discouraged... mad that certain things are so difficult for me in the first place.  Encouraged that I'm taking steps to be better, but extremely exhausted as I climb my mountain of fear.

If you find yourself in a similar situation I have some advice.  Be kind to yourself, change takes time and every tiny step is significant in moving you towards a better you.  Don't worry if you aren't successful the first time.  When you're truly ready, you will be able to do it.  It took me years of confronting some of the same issues and fears before I was even able to see they weren't true.  I was sure I was right!  Be patient with yourself.  Don't rush change.  If you rush it, it won't stick.  I told myself I had conquered a certain fear and... no... but, I kept telling myself anyway and it only made it much worse.  Commune with whatever higher power you believe in: your inner voice, God, Allah, the Universe, Mother Earth, energy... it will help you find the answers you need.

Now, I'm going to get ready for painting class :)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Beaches in Winter

Growing up in a landlocked state like Ohio means that I am fascinated with beaches.  A beach in winter to me is like some kind of bizarre unnatural spectacle that must be seen.  So, I went to check out my local beach in winter.

There are waves crashing into ice-covered driftwood, you guys.  For me it was like watching a ferocious lion play with a baby hamster or something.  The juxtaposition of winter in a "summer place" made me giddy.  It was cool.

I saw seagulls sliding around on a frozen lagoon.  They would glide overhead, land and slide around a bit, and then they slammed their beaks into the ice to break through and grab what little morsels they had spotted from the air.  I saw ice sheets covering the sand with ripples in them.

I saw shells filled with slush.  I can't wait to go back when there's snow... snow on the sand.  That's just crazy talk!  It was a lot of fun for me (if you couldn't tell).  Hopefully my editing conveys the sense of contrast and awe that I was experiencing.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Shame and Self Control

I had to read a book for my Latin American Lit class that got me thinking about how shame and guilt shapes society.  My first reaction is to be completely against the guilt and shame forced on women.  It's ridiculous how we were treated as weaker and dumber for so long.  Then I realized something else.  Men taught us how to have self control by oppressing us.

:: DISCLAIMER - don't bother with "not all men" or "not all women" statements because duh ::

Men are awful at self control.  They're never told to deny themselves any impulse.  The culture tells them to drink in excess, have sex with whomever they can, eat whatever they want, dress how they want, watch porn and go to strip clubs, pleasure themselves at any moment or any place.  Men get to be celebrated for taking naps on the couch with their hands down their pants.  If a man stays at home with the kids it's some huge event!  They know nothing about the kids' schooling or doctor's appointments... all Daddy needs to do is discipline.  Everything seems to be their "right" as men.  They're defended constantly like they are somehow less evolved.  The poor things can't help themselves.

Women are taught to be modest and demure.  We're told to keep our legs together and be picky about who we let into our beds.  We're bombarded with body images that require self denial and dieting.  We're told not to draw attention to ourselves, lest we invite rape.  The expectations of motherhood demand we sacrifice all our time and energy into teaching, cooking, cleaning, nurturing.  Our entire social structure was based on self denial, which is a constant practice in self control.  We're masters of our impulses.

So what do I see happening now?  Women aren't demure and silent anymore.  Men aren't slaves to the whims of testosterone anymore.  We are partners and we're teaching each other valuable lessons.  Men teach women how to be confident and give ourselves breaks and how to say yes to our impulses sometimes.  Women are teaching men self control and self sacrifice and how to let themselves feel emotion.  We're rewriting the social norms to fit our new lifestyles and parenting styles.  We are evolving together, which is the only real way feminism can be successful.  You can't remove women from traditional and vital roles in our culture without someone filling that gap.  Now we all are stepping up.  It's cool to see.

Society is in a constant state of evolution.  At any time YOU are part of amazing changes taking place.  Everyone is always a part of history.  We're all important :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Law of Superposition and Context

It wasn't until yesterday as I was speaking with a college rep that I realized my passion for geology and storytelling have endless parallels.  No wonder I love them both.  Let's see if I can put it into words.

In Geology sediments stack up and are compressed to form sedimentary rocks.  The Law of Superposition states that older sediments will be beneath younger sediments.  Simple.  Common sense.  Now, using knowledge of various natural processes we can determine how the rocks formed, what they were before, what the weather and the atmosphere was like.  The general ages of the layers give a timeline to those processes.  The processes shape the rocks and they can tell a story about the past.  So can we.  So can everything else in nature.  If we understand what we are looking at and what rules made it happen.  What are our rules?

Storytelling for me is no different.  The environment of a story is made up of the other characters, the mood, the events... these are the processes that shape the timeline and the characters.  They provide the context to how our characters came to be who they are.  If you think about metamorphosis with either rocks or people the general idea is the same.   You can have 3 siblings who start off as different "elements" but are placed in the same environment and shaped by the same processes.  However, because they started off different to begin with, the end product is also different.  I was watching Cosmos the other night and I saw a side-view of the projected universe since the big bang.  Layers. Everything effects everything else.  One product yields another and time, pressure & heat shape what happens next.  I see this applying to everything, living or non-living.

When I tell a story about an area I love to dig deep to provide context.  I think it's important to provide a sense of the environment at the time when the character was being created.  When I researched my family tree I didn't just look at the people, I looked at where they lived and the current events at the time.  My great grandparents weren't just living in Chicago, they were living in Little Hell, the Sicilian area named for the black smoke that poured out of the factories into the air.  They were there when Al Capone made his debut around the corner.  I looked at old maps and saw where my great grandpa worked.  I even researched the church that baptized my grandmother.  I saw Death Corner, the favorite hangout spot for Sicilian mafiosos on the same street as that church and school, one street over from where my family was eeking out a living.  I saw the bars a block away that were bootlegging for Capone.  I could see why they moved when they did.  Their story is so much more interesting when you have all that context.  This wasn't just a tale of some Italian immigrants that had a census, and then another census, and then moved and showed up in a different census.  Every change has a reason and consequences.  Every action has a reaction.

When we dig deep and look at the environment of our ancestors we're seeing our base.  What they did lead to what we did and their environment at the time is what shaped their decisions to act.  Our history... all of it (biological, political, social)... is in layers.  Concentric circles that spiral outward and grow more and more as time goes by.  Change is not only inevitable, it's vital to the next layer.  You can't continue to build a future if there is no past as a base.

I am interested in absolutely every single layer of time and how it all relates to everything else.  I love learning about the formation of the universe, evolution, geology, fossils, archaeology, ancient mythology, civil wars, the dust bowl, global warming, ice ages, literature, politics, social experiments, primitive medicine... everything.  Because it all shaped us and it's the base for the next part of the story.

This is how my brain functions.  I see all the connections and how they relate to each other.  I see it clearly and it makes me feel insignificant but incredibly important all at the same time.  When I think about everything that exists I see infinite bigness and infinite smallness: every tiny thing is made of tinier things and those tiny things are part of big things which are parts of bigger things.  I apply this to  matter.  I apply this to time.  When you think of these things in infinite terms it means exploration and discovery will never cease.  One day we'll be able to see further out into the universe.  One day we'll be able to see the smaller bits that make atoms.  It all just keeps going and going... I love thinking about it.  I love researching it.

So, that's what I've been doing over the blog break... a whole lot of thinking and research.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six Year Old Tristan

It's taking me a lot longer than I had originally planned to do these updates.  But hey... better late than never, right?  So... Tristan turned 6 back in mid-September and we had a nice little party for him with our friends and neighbors.  He wanted a rainbow cake and we found a mix that was just right.  It turned out really cool!

He started Kindergarten and is doing very well.  He gets on blue (which stands for role model) almost every day!  Tristan loves school and is learning so much.  He loves to carry books around and "read" although it's still pretty difficult to convince him to try and actually read, I love that he is interested in books in any way whatsoever.

He wears ties and vests to school all the time so we had to go get him some more fancy clothes.  He looks adorable!  Apparently some of his friends are starting to copy his fashion and wear their dress clothes to school as well.  Our little trend-setter :)

He gets chased on the playground by girls all the time and loves it.  They love him too... I saw it in action on parent-teacher conference day.  Tristan is still our "sports" kid.  He is constantly in motion no matter where he is (except for school I guess).  He is always jumping around, riding his skateboard or his bike, racing, throwing, kicking, jumping on the trampoline, sledding.  We are going to put him into soccer or gymnastics or something.  One day Noah took his training wheels off for him and taught him how to ride his bike in about 5 minutes.  Tristan was SO DANG PROUD! and so were we :)

Tristan got a guinea pig for his birthday and he takes amazing care of her.  Since then we got him another one so they could keep each other company (they're used to living in groups).  He does a fantastic job making sure they always have food and water and attention.  We never have to remind him.  He named them Carly and Sam (from iCarly) :)

It used to be really difficult to get Tristan to do anything artistic, but lately he has been painting and crafting with the rest of us.  He gets a little insecure because his brothers are so much faster than he is at creating art.  I think being in school, surrounded by different levels of artistic ability and varying speeds of creativity has really helped him overcome a lot of his insecurities.  His handprint Christmas tree hung proudly on our front door this year.

So, our Tristan is growing-up quite wonderfully.  We're very proud of him and of his great strides towards becoming a self-confident, accomplished little kid.  He started school at the perfect time!