Archives for February 2016

Squirrels, Science and Space-Time Non Sequiturs

The squirrels are out, clearing the snow from the branches of the trees and I am pondering the relative sizes of protons and black holes, waiting for inspiration from the cosmos.pond ripples 

Time is like a river – Einstein’s theory of relativity

September 14, 2015 was a great day for Albert Einstein, although it took the general public until February 11 this year to learn just how great a day it was, with the announcement of the first ever detection, last September, of gravitational waves, originating 1.3 billion light years away/ago.

Once again the great patent clerk was proven right – but also wrong.   He predicted the existence of gravitational waves – but said we would never see them because they would be too small to measure.  Jason Davis, Planetarium Manager for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, gave a lecture on the discovery of gravity waves/gravitational waves and noted that Einstein could not imagine the technology that would be able to measure a wave, traveling millions of light years across space-time, whose impact on the earth would measure less than the diameter of a proton.

But we did. And in doing so proved Einstein’s genius once again.  Plus, we opened up a whole new way to ‘see’ and develop new knowledge about the universe.  Actually, we both saw the waves as captured by technology, and heard them in a tiny sonic ‘chirp’ from that long-ago and far away collision of two huge black holes which generated the wave.  Learn more about it here,  and from Evalyn Gates, the Director of the Cleveland Natural History Museum, whose own scientific work relates directly to this discovery.

I leave it to you to explore this mind-boggling event further. I am no scientist and would probably get so much wrong if I tried to share more of what little I learned (or think I understand). I have probably already mis-characterized some things.

But as a poet, I am amazed and stunned by trying to grapple creatively with the concepts. I don’t know if any poems will come from pondering this new and fascinating mystery.  Things have to cook in their own poetic space-time continuum before the waves of inspiration start to ripple. But one of the things I like to do when fascinated with a word or concept and the Muse is out to lunch (as she has been lately), is an exercise my mentor Jeanne Marie Beaumont taught me.  It’s called The 100 Words and it is a form of creative play.  It goes like this.

Start with a word and, without thinking and as rapidly as possible, never lifting your pencil from the page, follow it with the next word that suggests itself from the sound of the first, then one that flows automatically from the sound of the second and on and on for as long as you can. Don’t manipulate. Don’t try to make sense.  The objective is simply to generate a rich list of words, related only by your unique senses of sight and sound – not meaning.  It’s fun – and often surprising in what flows from your unconscious as a result of letting go. I don’t recommend trying this on the computer.  There is something magical about the hand/brain connection to the page that is very different than typing on a keyboard.

Given my current fascination with the concept of gravity, I began there.  Here’s my 117 words.

Gravity, gravis, gravure, grave, brave, deprave, wave, wan, wane, plane, insane, remain, pain, pan, stand, land, brand, bread, said, led, red, redress, guess, bless, bliss, kiss, swish, wish, wash, loss, cost, coast, boast, boost, roost, rest, caressed, caroused, aroused, blouse, house, hose, host, roast, most, moss, toss, toast, toes, close, clues, rues, runes, ruin, bruin, bruise, cruise, peruse, perspective, prospect, speculate, spatulate, splat, spat, spit, sit, situate, citizen, denizen, denigrate, designate, demarcate, market, harken, bargain, bark, arc, art, fart, farthest, farmer, calmer, palmer, psalmist, solemn, column, balm, boom, bloom, broom, brood, hood, hoop, loop, poop, prop, prosper, ouster, outer, otter, bother, brother, cover, covert, overt, over, mover, mother, hover, however, never, weather, weaver, seeker, seer, reaper, river.

Try it. Pick a word. See where your mind takes you.  Try it as a family game some rainy day.

I leave you with these words of wisdom.

You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity. Let out a little more string on your kite.”   Alan Cohen

Einstein's tongueYou can’t blame gravity for falling in love. Albert Einstein

Unseen Forces

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19841018

A few weeks ago the sudden rise in temperature brought March-like weather to the neighborhood. One evening the wind kicked up and grabbed the house and yard by the throat and shook it all night like a dog with a rag toy. My backyard neighbor’s security light shone through my bedroom window, throwing images of thrashing trees across the ceiling — an animated shadow puppet show. And somewhere in the house a piece of old metal weather stripping buzzed intermittently like a hive of angry bees. Not much sleep that night.

When I got up in the still dark morning, I saw that the burlap I’d so carefully wrapped and sewed around the flame-shaped fingers of the young Arborvitae planted last fall (so the deer wouldn’t get at them over the winter) had been pulled off and flung across the yard like Gypsy Rose Lee removing her elbow-length satin gloves. A heavy, tarped, wicker armchair had been slapped off the porch as well.  It now lay upside down on my neighbor’s front walk, tarp flapping like a luffed sail. I must have made quite a comic sight in my rubber boots and coat pulled over my ‘jammies’ and robe, wrestling with the chair and tarp — or rather, wrestling with the wind still wrestling with the chair and tarp. I was grateful for the semi-darkness.

Mostly, weather descends on us; rain, snow, even the sun shining down or the pressing weight of a heavy clouded sky.  But there’s something distinctly different about a wind storm. When there’s precipitation, the wind is just one part of the action and the effects we feel are more from those other elements than from the wind alone. Wind though, be it a soft breeze or a lashing gale, moves more horizontally through the world — and us — pushed by forces science has explained and our brain can comprehend, but which our senses still feel as mysterious.

windThere are lots of unseen forces blowing through our lives, pushing us one way and another almost without our noticing. It’s hard to pay attention to them all; even harder to try to master some of those we may be aware of. Like the expectations of others. Or, more challenging, what we think or feel are the expectations we have for ourselves. (The morning I wrote this, LinkedIn sent me a query; “Kathleen: what are your career resolutions?”)

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations (and resolutions, truth be told) now that I am retired and do not have to respond to the expectations of a job. I have found it quite daunting to imagine the next 10 or 20 years with no one to answer to for how I invest my time and energy but me. What are my expectations?

Perhaps the bigger question though, is; do I have that mysterious, unseen force within — of will or commitment or fortitude — that will push me toward meeting whatever expectations I set for myself over the time remaining? Or will I end up buffeted toward an indeterminate end by indulgence, capricious fancies, or other external forces?

Like the weather, life descends on us regardless of our awareness. Finding the balance, the equilibrium between moving flexibly with what the winds of circumstance present, and still feeding the force of personal convictions and commitments within, is the challenge of mastering the dance ahead. The invisibility of the force that made my yard and house come alive last week is a reminder that there is power in what is unseen and what can blow us off course if left un-considered, un-wrestled-with. pat attentionA reminder to Pay Attention!

 

Having Enough

Hokusai printAfter a day and night of heavy snow I woke to a beautiful, Hokusai-like view outside my window: a rich layer of soft cream frosted all the wet, dark branches of the trees in a graceful web of winter lace. I was struck by how a snowstorm filters out all color and turns the landscape completely black and white.  Staring into my back yard in the early gray daylight, I could see no color – no subtle shades of green or brown, even though I knew they must be there.  I rushed to take some photos and they look like old Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film was in the camera rather than digital pixels. DSC00539

There was such beauty—and simplicity—in this high-contrast world that I thought about how rare it is that other aspects of our life are this simply black or white – especially the choices we are required to make each day.

Take cereal, for example.

CerealYesterday in the grocery I stopped to try and count the different choices available on the five long shelves in the cereal aisle. The top shelf alone held 41 different cereals.  Multiplied by five that meant there were probably 205 separate choices of cold cereal displayed for me, each brightly colored box a jeweled tessera in the mosaic wall of packaged sugar-and-grain breakfast options.  (This was not counting the granola, muesli and hot cereals clustered in their own section of the aisle.)

Isn’t that just crazy?

When I started today’s blog entry, what followed the above paragraphs quickly turned into a long rant on the devolution of quality and standards generated by American culture’s obsession with more and more choice and endless societal rewards for incrementally different versions of products in the name of status and capitalistic gains. Thanks to my passion for editing, I will spare you that rant.

But staying briefly with the concept that infinite choice is good, and having more ‘stuff’ is a symbol of success, I must say I long for a less cluttered life and a shorter menu of choices.  Yes, I do want the freedom to choose between options that affect the big picture, and I want room in my life for personal preferences.  But I also feel that more and more, the ‘stuff’ in my life and the increasing complexity of choosing among a host of marginally different products and services uses up way too much time and brain space.

Over the past half-decade I have been actively working to simplify my life – my lifestyle and my ‘stuff.’  DSC00557I made a sign for my refrigerator as a reminder that, barring something I can’t imagine needing right now, I have more than enough for a very high quality of life.

I’ve had the opportunity to downsize twice in recent years and it has done me much good. There is room, now, to think, to write a little, to visit with friends.  I can start ticking off the books on my reading list. And, quite often now, I can just sit and appreciate how the day breaks through the clouds on the horizon, observe the palimpsest pattern of footprints 20141219_081726left by the wild things that walk through my yard, watch the snow lather the trees like cream.DSC00540

 

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