Academia, Compassion, Existence, Faith, Missions, Pain, Philosophy, Thinking, Time

Please, don’t jump

Life is hard: this understatement comes to my mind whenever I hear news from a friend about a tragedy in an individual’s life. There are some situations in which there appears no escape, like being trapped on the roof of a burning building. I guess you could jump off the side and end it quickly.

What would I do in an impossible situation?

I hear of a friend who has lost her job, she’s 58, single and has to stay home to care for her sick mother (who has dementia). She’s depressed and lonely, as many of us would be in such a situation.

I also learn of a colleague who has a broken family because of a husband’s mental disorder, and she is trying to keep it together. She doesn’t have control over the situation and can only grasp what she can, her kids and finances (maybe not the finances so much anymore).

So much, craziness in this life. I wish I could wave a wand and say it would all be better if they would “wait a bit longer”, but that isn’t a genuine answer. The truth is, I don’t know if a person’s situation gets better in this life. Suffering is the norm, not the exception for people.

I listen to them, more than speak, because it’s the best I can do. In general, I know my mouth can’t speak too much lest I give them something they can’t handle right away.

And that is the Truth. It comes back to the burning building. You’re trapped on the roof, the smoke is rising, darkness filling up all around. I would say, if I could, that the escape route is up.

Academia, Career, Thinking, Writing

Out Loud, Mindless

Quick lunch break. Time to blog! 

Today is data analysis day in the lab, which means that I get to sit at my computer for long periods of time, walking the fine line with carpal tunnel syndrome as I push numbers around a spreadsheet.

As it turns out, however, this is a great time to think. You turn your mind off for a while as the numbers move about the spreadsheet (and there are thousands). Then, you have iTunes running, and you can ponder the important things in life.

Things like what you’ll do this weekend when the weather gets better, maybe. Or, perhaps, topics of a deeper nature: why am I alive, and what am I supposed to do with this fleshly vessel I’m made of–though it rot away over time?

I suppose I’m doing the things I’m meant to do because I can’t envision myself doing anything else. Moving forward steadily as it were. Loving the freedom that I can question the problems I see around me; go out, spend a bit of time reading, then designing a way to test what I think is happening. I get to write, think, produce new knowledge (i.e., de novo, from nothing).

My attitude may change, as it often does with any individual. In the future, I know I will bounce around a bit in my own head with the things I want or enjoy to do. But in all seriousness, there’s something so unique about being a professional scholar.

Anyway, just thinking out loud….

Compassion, Existence, Philosophy, Spinal Cord Injury, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Writing Prose-y

Of late, I’ve been writing a lot. These have been of the erudite sort, research papers and such. Hence, my predisposition to thinking about the process and how my toolbox of writing “utensils” has grown over the years.

A few years ago I read a book about writing that changed my approach to putting words on a page. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White, opened my eyes to how BAD my writing skills were (not hitting greatness yet either).

To keep my ego in check, I’ll just say that I’m a lot better at seeing the errors I make. I can see where I make mistakes and know how to improve poorly written sentences, etc. As important, I know how to help other people with their writing, because of the tips and tricks that Strunk & White in their awesome wisdom have imparted on me.

Of course, as an academic, the things I write are (for the most part) very technical and, to the layman, boring. That is because we write to convey information in its purest form. I can be creative only in that I don’t sacrifice objective communication. No fancy prose. For example, I can’t say this:

“After spinal cord injury, neurons met a spectacular end, never to regrow again–that is, until we came along.”

I’d lose my job if I wrote stuff like that. Instead, I have to resort to mediocre stuff like: “We observed neuronal death following spinal cord injury.”

Yes, science is predicated upon good, wholesome facts from-me-to-you writing styles. I guess this is where this blog post comes into play. I have the freedom to write whatever about my work (or my life and opinions) without the editorial axe murderer chopping my head off for prose-y things.

Anyway, writing should be fun, refreshing, a place of security and vulnerability at the same time; and for many of us who like to do it a lot; somewhat painful in a very, very good way.

Writing sounds a bit like love. 

Philosophy, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Adverb Power

Today is one of those days when the weather is good and there’s not much work to do (even if you wanted to do it). So, I took a walk outside and drove out to get lunch instead of staying indoors. The weather is beautiful.

Anyway, on my walk I thought about the power of words. I recently had a research paper accepted. The funny point about this is that the acceptance letter had this as a line:

“Your paper is potentially suitable…”. In lawyer speak, this means that we’ve accepted your paper under certain conditions. In my case, these are whether I appropriately make the minor grammatical corrections and that the co-authors of the paper agree to sign off on the final copy (this is a separate contractual document). 

The keyword here is “potentially”, which is an adverb and modifies the verb “is”. That statement has a very different meaning without the word potentially. It would be stated like so: “Your paper IS suitable…”.

I kind of like the utility of the word “potentially”. It gives me the tools to write really provocative sentences; for example:

This work is potentially groundbreaking.

I have a potentially fantastic chance of winning the noble prize.

And, so on…

This blog post has potentially ended–

Existence, Faith, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

One of Many

Immortality. I’ve been watching some documentaries, or kind of listening to them while doing some mundane work, and the idea that humans could potentially live forever, biologically, is so fascinating.

If our bodies are machines, then the parts that comprise our bodies should be replaceable or repairable. Perhaps one day there will be a replacement for a broken spinal cord or a dysfunctional vital organ, like a bad liver or lung. I think this is definitely possible.

Let’s play a thought experiment:

Take all the parts of a human being, lay them out on the floor (a clean one at that!), and then by some incredible procedure put them together in the right place, just as we would with do-it-yourself furniture. We make a human body from its individual parts. Let’s say this is possible.

Now, at least for me, there is the problem.

I cannot envision the “spark” that would trigger the body to awake and live. In the story Frankenstein, the creature awoke from lightning, but seriously, what would this particular life force start? In the brain? Well, really the brain is more than just a single part; which of the brain parts would you start first? The breathing or the heart?

I think the spark, or part of the ‘awake’ issue, comes back to the magical things that happen during development in the mother’s womb. There’s a developmental process here, or a slow incubation, like fermented alcohol in the making of a fine wine that needs to happen for a biological organism as complicated as ours to become alive in every sense of the word “alive”.

I suppose I’m thinking back to the origins of human existence, my existence, in biological speak. I’m a vehicle that carries me, which is…. the soul?

I’m a machine, but I am more because I write. Through words on a piece of paper, I can speak to the future people who have yet to be born. Moreover, I can listen to the thoughts of the dead by reading their words.

Machines cannot put meanings in symbols, words, and record them in a way that conveys personalities and characteristics. Some may argue this; that this is yet to come in the future for machine artificial intelligence.

But, there’s a deeper sense that we are special creatures.

Anyway, I’m just thinking on this peaceful Friday afternoon. And I think that this post would end nicely with a dead guy speaking:

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” ~C.S. Lewis

Coffee, Diet, Existence, Food, Pipe smoking, Vegan

Oops, I’m a Vegan!?

It’s been 13 days at being a vegan and I’m pleased to report that I’ve not had a single nibble of any animal flesh in this time. Though I admit I’ve been tempted on many an occasion by the sight and smell of juicy, sizzling bacon, and the odd-ball chocolate mousse cake. I had the gusto to turn them all away.

It was kind of amazing actually how easy it was to stay faithful to this diet. I used to be the person who made fun of people on these strict dietary regimes. I’m now eating my words as I do feel “better”. I’m lighter on my feet if that makes sense, probably because I’ve got less processing in my gut. Maybe other chemical things are going on that I don’t know about or understand.

(I did lose 6 pounds since I started)

Another weird and unexpected effect is that I don’t crave the meats or cheeses as much as I did before. It’s totally weird because I love that stuff! I still do; I’m sure I’d enjoy the taste of a pizza or a ribeye steak that I’ve slapped on my grill.

Oh my poor grill…. What am I going to do in the Summer? Grilled veggies?! Mushrooms? The abominable veggie burger?

For another 2 weeks I’ll stick with this vegan thing. I’ll get a blood test from the doctor and see if a month of no meats or diary products actually does anything significant for me. I did have somewhat of a high cholesterol issue.

But, thinking about all this goodness in my healthful choices, I did make some boo-boo(s).

1. I put sugar in my coffee.

2. I had a puff out of my tobacco pipe.

But, “I didn’t inhale…”.