Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Science koan

Okay, enough maudlin claptrap already. Sheesh.

My best friend in high school and I used to challenge each other with (often semi-idiotic) thought questions - if dinosaurs were resurrected would they be kosher, and that sort of thing. There's one I've been mulling over for a few years now, and I think the time has come for it to see the light of day:

Take earth (please!), as it is now. Remove all people from it. Remove all representations of people from it - no statues, no video, no images. I don't care why everyone is gone, we just are. Maybe there was a disaster, or maybe we heard there were good investment opportunities in the Andromeda Galaxy. Anyway, we're all gone, leaving infrastructure, cars, office buildings, etc. intact. Now imagine that someone from an alien civilization lands on earth. Would he/she/it be able to determine what we looked like just from the things we made and used? Would they be able to tell we had a torso, a head up top, and four appendages? Five fingers on each of two hands? My guess is that in very gross terms (approximate height, size, shape), it would be possible to reconstruct us physically. How many (if any) of the physical details of our existence would be irreproducible, though?

I really don't know how I struck upon this question. I think it came to me as I was driving a few years ago.

Also: happy belated 50th birthday to the Lego brick. I think I still have my Junior Builder's Club card from ~1979 somewhere. I should laminate it and put it in my wallet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More maudlin veneration of the land

Another quote, this time from Mary Morris' Wall to Wall (excerpted in Home Ground):

All my life I had imagined this terrain, a country as much within me as without, a landscape that seemed almost of my own making. I could not look at this land and not think about its history. And I could not think of its history without thinking of my own. We crossed frozen ground, ice-trimmed lakes. Peering through the open shade, I saw a world outside that seemed no different from the one I carried within. Cold, hungry, empty, and vast.

I think she was writing about a railroad trip through Russia, but I can't read that without thinking of Ontario.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"I have a good, and I have an evil"

I spent 95% of last night's yoga class thinking about how sick I am of yoga and how I never want to see another sticky mat as long as I live. Then the thought struck me that it's time for me to pick sides; to keep feeding into my anger and frustration, or stop. Like in those old Looney Tunes cartoons, I have a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil keeps telling me to sit on the couch all day, eat doughnuts, watch TV. The angel tells me to get off my ass, stop bitching, and go to class.

I don't know why my angel swears so much. I feel sorry for her. I think she's ready to throw in the towel some days.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jesus Camp

A few nights ago, I watched the most terrifying horror movie ever made. It's a documentary called Jesus Camp. I felt so bad for the kids in that movie. Their parents, their pastors, their entire culture tells them that the physical world is rife with sin, that physical pleasure is evil. The scene in which the ten year old girl says that dancing for the holy spirit is okay, but dancing for "the flesh" is wrong, is horrifying. How are these kids going to deal with puberty in a few years? Their bodies are going to be giving them signals that their indoctrinated minds refuse to accept, and no one around them is going to have any sympathy. Something's going to have to give. You can't internalize that much hatred and fear without doing some serious damage.

I am a big fan of Philip Pullman's books. Jesus Camp helped me to understand why Evangelical Christians are so afraid of him; his philosophy is completely antithetical to theirs. This is how I summarized Pullman's message in a recent email: "What the books argue in favour of is existence itself - the here and now. The beauty and the wonder of that which is right in front of us, and within us. The books are distinctly against relying on a superhuman power (whether a god or an unaccountable organization) to dictate morality." No wonder there was a call to boycott the Golden Compass movie (which stunk out loud, incidentally, but the books are great). Hell, most of the kids in Jesus Camp weren't even allowed to watch or read Harry Potter, and that's practically a paean to Christian values.

I try not to get too obsessed with other people's beliefs. I don't burden people with my belief system unless they ask, and I expect the same courtesy from them. Worship whatever you want to, just leave me the hell out of it. But when you're fucking up your kids with your idiotic and dangerous beliefs? That's not acceptable.

Totally unrelated: my yoga teacher training program runs through June, and I've been thinking that as a reward to myself for finishing the program (assuming I finish the program), it'd be nice to go to Prince Edward Island for a week or two, rent a bicycle, and ride from one end of the island to the other. I've never been there before, and I'd like to cross it off the list of provinces I have yet to visit. I don't know if I'm in good enough shape to do that much riding, and I've been having knee issues lately, so those are issues I'll have to address before I decide whether to go. I have this vision in my head of PEI the way it must have been a hundred years ago, when L. M. Montgomery was writing. I know it's certainly not the same now, but maybe I could still get a sense of the history of the place.

Finally, a wonderful, wonderful passage from Barry Lopez's new book: "Whatever their styles and emphases, many American poets and novelists have recognized that something emotive abides in the land, and that it can be recognized and evoked even if it cannot be thoroughly plumbed. It is inaccessible to the analytic researcher, invisible to the ironist. To hear the unembodied call of a place, that numinous voice, one has to wait for it to speak through the harmony of its features - the soughing of the wind across it, its upward reach against a clear night sky, its fragrance after a rain. One must wait for the moment when the thing - the hill, the tarn, the lunette, the kiss tank, the caliche flat, the bajada - ceases to be a thing and becomes something that knows we are there." Those last few words especially are haunting to me. I've never read anything else quite so well written about what it feels like and what it means to find oneself merging with a landscape; for the land to become not just something out there, but something to which one is intimately, vitally connected. No longer other. Kindred. Family. I have that sense here, in the Hudson Valley; I have had it in south eastern Ontario as well, where I spent healthy chunks of my youth. I did NOT have it when I lived in Maryland for a few years, and that is a large part of why I never liked it there.

(Note: I pieced together much of this entry from recent emails, which may explain its slightly disjointed character. Guess if I posted more frequently I wouldn't feel as obligated to cram so much in to a single post.)