Is it all Greek to you?

Is it all Greek to you? When I think of this phrase, the first thing that bubbles into my consciousness is my first day of graduate level quantum mechanics. You could probably make an argument that Greek is the lexicon, which is itself a word derived from Greek, on which physics is constructed. My memorable first day of this course was a blackboard sheathed in an alphabet soup of Greek and Latin letters, whose meaning at the time eluded me. With careful study, I learned to see the poetic physical meaning behind the symbols and letters, and the Greek symbols became dear friends.

But I digress. The subject of today’s discourse is “everything in moderation” and “discipline.” The Greek side of my family habitually makes references to these modes of living. The first derives apparently from an Oscar Wilde quote. The proclivity to discipline is, however, surely a reference to the Spartan mentality. Evidently Sparta was a militaristic state instilling its people with a sense of discipline. My dad once sent me an image of the shield of Sparta which displays the Greek letter Lambda. This excited me, since this is also the symbol for the elusive cosmological constant – the vacuum energy responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe. I asked my dad if the Greeks got it right thousands of years ago. He made the very rational argument, paraphrased here, that if an army of 10,000 shields sporting Lambdas were approaching you, you would not be so concerned about the expansion of the universe. I guess this speaks to the issues of urgency and priority. What a luxury it is for me to have the opportunity to spend time advancing knowledge in physics research rather than to be negotiating 10,000 ferocious warriors!

Again, I digress. If I were a role-playing character, my alignment would be chaotic. This wasn’t always the case. Until leaving for college, I was so disciplined my eleventh grade physics teacher called me a machine, although my propensity to spend all nighters completing homework beginning as early as junior high probably set the chaotic gears in motion. My friends say I have an artistic temperament because I become passionate about one activity (be it research, music, or writing, though rarely exercise since I moved to a climate ill-suited for running most of the time), and I commit my being to this sole activity until its completion before moving on to the next passion. This is a very undisciplined and immoderate way of living. I tend to binge on activities, cramming rather than having a routine. My piano teacher at the McGill Conservatory urged me to make piano practice part of a routine, like brushing my teeth. The only real constituent to my routine is my coffee consumption (I should really buy stock in a coffee company).

My new year’s resolution was essentially the second part of a Maya Angelou quote expressed to me on a card by my mother. The essence of this part of the quote was to dare to dare. The first part of the quote emphasizes the importance of discipline and creativity. I don’t really know if I can change my personality to be more moderate and disciplined to having a daily adult routine rather than the chaotic plunge in which I usually indulge. It is true, I have the luxury not to be on the wrong side of the Spartan army. But part of my DNA does derive from Spartan heritage (though apparently Spartan hill billies). Now that I no longer feel the pressure to be on the wrong side of the shields, perhaps I can get behind my own Lambda and live with some discipline to prepare for these music exams. My practice at present has been sporadic, though intense when I do commit those ten minutes here and there. Between my Grade 8 piano exam and me lie four to five months. I have two out of six pieces mostly completed but have made little progress in the technique or the other pieces.

Is discipline all Greek to me? Maybe, but since I am half-Greek and since everyone has inherited the legacy and heritage of the Greeks, maybe we can adopt some of their gems with a little Oscar Wilde mixed in. It is time to stand behind my letters and commit to a daily practice of piano and voice. A disciplined routine may not sound that seductive, but, frankly, if it is as good as my daily coffee, then I am in.

Are routine and discipline all Greek to you? Is there some other part of your life you resolve to change? How will you do it?

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