A Momentary Ramble in the Present

I recently got around to reading a McGill alum magazine featuring Leonard Cohen. The article expressed how he lived in the moment, thanks to Zen Buddhist practices. Too often we plan for the future or linger in the past, our minds time machines I once read. Within the last year or so I also became familiar with Jonathan Larson’s story. He died at the age of 35 on the morning before the preview of what became the phenomenon Rent that he composed. The musical even has a song, you know the one, where he writes about how there is no future nor past, only the present. He writes about missing out on life if you live with regret or not in the moment.

I spent last week with my dad, and we watched one of my favorite childhood films, White Nights, in his Florida home. It is a dance thriller starring the sensational Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. While I was watching this classic (at least for my family), I was living in the moment. It stimulated my mind to touch on subjects such as artistic freedom, home, and passion. In one line the Baryshnikov character states that he is born to dance.

What were you born to do?

The white nights of the then U.S.S.R. in the movie precipitated in me a sense of longing for our Winnipeg sunsets between nine and ten at night. The Baryshnikov character had built a new life in New York City after leaving his homeland, just as I have created a home in Winnipeg, though his transition was of course more culturally dramatic. We retain bits of our origins while assimilating to our new homes.

The soundtrack to the movie features artists such as Phil Collins, Lou Reed, and Chaka Khan. The themes of the songs range from people living lives apart and even on the other side of the world to how you feel when you are alone (which might be that everyone else lives on the other side of the world). There is a theme about walls between people. Even with the fall of the Berlin wall, we still live lives separated from the other citizens of the world, from our friends, from our brothers and sisters. There are even walls within ourselves, parts of us we repress or feel ashamed of. All those inner parts of ourselves we mask from the outside world. That’s the part of us that incites us to say we are fine when we’re not when asked how we’re doing. Look around you and think of all the walls that exist in your life, even in the presence of a world virtually connected by the web.

What walls exist in your life?

Passion, living in the moment, artistic and academic freedom, our origins, our homes, our past that we bring with us to our present selves, these are such important currencies in life. Right now I take a moment to feel gratitude for the good stuff in my life. I can forget the existential dilemmas and live in the moment. I feel ready to embark on a new perspective, one of the moment. And in this moment, right here, right now, as I write this, listening to Chopin back home in Winnipeg, and drinking tea, I feel appreciation for the present.

This is the good stuff.


A Girl Not on Fire

I fell in love with the concept of a girl on fire from The Hunger Games and the Alicia Keys song, especially sung by Naya Rivera in an episode from Glee. I’m not sure why this idea is so compelling, but it evokes the image of a strong, commanding, and alluring woman.

I am not a girl on fire. Not even close. In fact, I’m probably too old to be considered a girl, though I suppose that is somewhat at my discretion and others have recently called me a girl. At Wellesley we were inculcated that we were not girls at a school without men, but women at a college without boys. Regardless, I realized in the last few days I don’t even want to be a girl on fire after inhaling the air suffused with smoke. To be honest, in the three to four hours I spent outside in the smoky artifacts of fire one day this week, I felt vaguely ill.

In a lot of ways, I am often in denial of who I am, so apt am I to chase after images and ideals. As a child I was obsessed with ballet. When I couldn’t take lessons, I practiced for years by myself and even choreographed and timed a full two hour length ballet one forgotten summer in elementary school, devising my own notation to record the steps. Ballet is a discipline that prompts its disciples to aim for an ideal perfection. At some point, my mother offered to send me to a ballet school that would prepare me for a career as a dancer. The ballet school accepted me and thought this would be a viable future, but my mother informed me if I made this choice I would be forced to sacrifice my commitment to academics and any hope of a possible career in science. I chose science and relinquished my ballet classes within a few months out of frustration with the less intensive option for a ballet school. I later realized studying ballet intensively and being committed to academics are not mutually exclusive, and perhaps the discipline from the ballet would have been helpful in addition to providing balance and joy. It certainly would have helped me with my college applications, since my academics were unmarred but my extra-curriculars were lacking.

Decisions are tricky. How do you make decisions? Do you even realize how many choices you encounter every day? More than the number of monsters you encounter in a role playing game and perhaps just as threatening. I would probably do better making decisions by rolling a twenty sided die than by my current method which includes a batter of polling my friends, pros and cons lists (or if you want to be fancy, Benthamian Utilitarian charts; I chose Wellesley this way over an Ivy League alternative for college), and intuition.

Let’s consider some choices that face you every day. Should you go out or stay in? Think The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” If you go out, will you order coffee or tea? If you order coffee, espresso or a cappuccino? When my aunt asked me at age 12 or so if I am indecisive, my response was, “I don’t know.” When Andrew picks options of birthday gifts from which I should choose some subset, I can’t decide and buy all of them for him. That stopped being a surprise a long time ago. Anyone who knows me knows I spend months trying to make up my mind only to change it hundreds of times before settling down, like a harmonic oscillator or a scalar field oscillating around in a potential well.

On Tuesday Andrew and I were on one of our jogs and midway through I decided to drop in on a Winnipeg ballet class a few hours later. In that first ballet class I’ve had in English for the last eleven years, I was among other twenty-something to forty-something year old adult women who were a bit panicked. The teacher reminded us this wasn’t brain surgery. I knew the steps and how to execute them but couldn’t retain the combinations in my mind. Even when I did, there was a disconnect between my brain and my legs, which were obviously confused. I can vary an action to obtain the equations of motion that express all the physics of a system but tell my legs to glissade, changement, glissade, changement, assemblé, assemblé, assemblé, and befuddlement befalls. I was more successful when I looked at my feet, but that wasn’t encouraged either. It was confusing to look up because so many of us were making up our own combination.

I attended the class on Thursday as well. During a grande plié my body obeyed, my arms were graceful, and I felt in tune with the music. I felt like I was doing something right and saw the instructor watching me. I finally felt good.

Until afterwards the instructor made the correction that some of our arms were like those of a diva. I knew I was guilty of this. Later she asked us if any of us knew what tendu meant. Always the eager student, I responded quickly “to stretch.”

There is a dress code at the school: black leotard, pink tights, and optionally a skirt. Our teacher said we were allowed to wear black tights. I showed up in a black leotard, black tights, and my black boy shorts to my second class.

The ones with The American Ballet Theatre logo.

Okay, so maybe I am not a girl on fire. I am not a ballerina nor did I even develop the ideal ballet body type, much to my chagrin. I can accept that now and embrace my path and maybe even a little of who I am. I can still enjoy taking ballet classes at a world class school, as some of the schools in Winnipeg are, making yet another dream come true. I might not be a girl on fire, but there is still a little spirit in me that no one can subdue. And a little diva. And a little Hermione. And maybe a little fire.

A Weak and Idle Theme

The forecast today is “smoke.” I’ve been hoarse and ever so slightly nauseated and dizzy from the smoke prevailing our Winnipeg air from the Saskatchewan fires for the last two weeks. I’m not sure if this has adversely affected my ability to think because the forecast for this blog is that it will be unusually vacuous (unless I am deluding myself that I occasionally have something vaguely substantive on which to expound). My goal of my first blog entry was to test myself by writing a test blog. I seemed to find I could extemporize about pretty much anything. One of my favorite scenes in the iconic film, Before Sunrise, is where a street poet composes a poem which includes a random word administered by the protagonists. I have on occasion asked my friends to do this for me too and quite enjoy the creative endeavor. I actually won a part in a UCLA play by being able to create language around a few cue words.

Okay, so we all know I can BS, and occasionally use (utilize?) big words in the process (thanks to years of English classes designed for us to ace standardized tests in high school). When I become senile, my vocabulary will likely improve, as your youthful memories are supposed to dominate. My vocabulary at age 17 definitely surpasses that of it today; I cannot even understand the novella I wrote at that age; it is so rife with words whose meanings elude me now.

It is shortly after 9AM, and Andrew has left for the office. I awoke about two hours ago. What is a typical morning like for a couple of typical theoretical physicists? I actually don’t think it’s much different from the portrayal in the sit-com, The Big Bang Theory. Usually the first thing I do when I awake (even before coffee) is relay my dreams to Andrew. These are often action packed adventures whose plots I cannot recall except moments after I awake. Last night my dream was pretty pedestrian; I was playing Emma and trying to set up my male friends with models, which seems rather shallow of me, as I would hope my friends would prefer the company of archaeologists or surgeons. Not that there is anything wrong with models (most of the ones I have known were physicists or scientists as well), but I believe the subtext of the dream dealt with superficiality. But then, I don’t know any archaeologists or surgeons, and the model I know in Winnipeg (who is, indeed, a scientist) is married. Freud wrote more than one book about dreams. I’m not sure what that indicates, but I believe they do represent the machinery of our subconscious.

I once awoke from a dream that I was Sheldon, Andrew was Leonard, and my mathematician buddy was Penny from The Big Bang Theory. I told my friend that I believed the subtext was that he tolerated my idiosyncrasies as Penny tolerates Sheldon’s, and it was meant as a compliment, but I’m not sure the logic I saw in the dream translated well.  I am not sure what Freud would say about that dream either.  My friend said he identified a lot more with another character rather than Penny, and his choice does make a lot more sense now that I know him better.  Andrew has often commented, on the other hand, that he feels a lot like Leonard to my Sheldon.

What else happened this morning? Andrew and I had a discussion about how illogical the calendar is. This was not when he was singing Let It Go in Spanish (we recently watched the song performed in Spanish and Italian music videos for amusement. I could decipher more of the Spanish than the Italian, which is odd, since I sing in Italian and never studied Spanish. For some reason my French training helps me more in understanding Spanish than Italian.). Andrew proposed thirteen twenty-eight-day months or twelve thirty-day months with five days leftover. I found the latter proposal disturbing. How could you have a day not embedded in a month? Although, the calendar is a bit illogical anyway. But it is nice getting a weekend every five days.

Then I asked Andrew to tell me a ballet combination with every ballet step he knew. His combination was jeté, pas de bourré, pas de bourré, assemblé, plié. There also was a balancé somewhere in the middle. The point of this exercise was to demonstrate that it is easier for me to remember combinations as words rather than to assimilate them visually. I don’t understand this as I am a visual thinker. Maybe it’s because it is easier to remember a rapid succession of words than a slow demonstration. My brain likes things to move fast (except cars on an LA free way), and when I am presented with information in a slow fashion, my mind wanders too much. Andrew proceeded to question whether I actually am a visual thinker, so I said the word, doughnut. Instantly in my mind I conjured visions of chocolate, sugar, and Boston cream doughnuts. I asked Andrew what went through his mind. He said his thoughts were less visual and more abstract. He heard the word doughnut and had an abstract image. But I actually saw the succession of doughnuts. Now that I am writing this, I am getting hungry for doughnuts. Better change subjects.

Finally, we discussed pet peeves. Mine is the common usage, “alright,” which never used to be considered proper English but has become acceptable. Andrew’s pet peeve is interchanging “loose” and “lose”.

And then there is the issue of generations. The years delineating Gen X and Gen Y (or now the Millennials) keep changing and are inconsistent in different sources. I conclude that generations should be circumscribed by technology usage. How old were you when you had a computer at home or used one at school? How old were you when the Internet boomed? This is obviously a first world pet peeve.

And yes, today the forecast is, indeed, smoke.