Quote of the Day

Thursday, April 22, 2010

in honor of earth day & national poetry month...

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. It's fascinating to learn how something works, to see the driving force of science in nature, broken down into little pieces that fit perfectly together in the solid, irrefutable truth of an equation or formula. And it is important, too, to gain knowledge of ourselves and our world; how it works and how we can work together.

But sometimes... sometimes I think we can become too wrapped up in the dry facts and mechanics of things to see the beauty of them, plain and simple, letting textbooks and manuals rule our world. Or always needing answers, preoccupying ourselves with definitions and explanations, trying to make everything in our lives fit into perfectly ordered boxes and categories.

I think that sometimes in our lives we need the divine mystery, the childlike sense of wonder. Sometimes we need to forget about the
how and the why and the where, and merely celebrate the is. To throw away the map and revel in being lost, knowing that eventually we'll reach the destination, in our own way, with only our heart and the stars to guide.

I think Whitman understood this.

When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer
-Walt Whitman (1819-1892)-

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

when more is not enough...

For years I've heard the complaints about Starbucks and their confusingly pretentious, culturally ambiguous drink sizes. Venti, Grande... Tall? Well what the hell is this, Englitalian? Are these cups Spanish? Italian? Second-generation Mexican-American growing up in Little Italy? Just who the fuck do they think they are, anyway??

But never fear, my darlings! Now to continue on in the fine tradition of caffeinated conundrum emerges the
"Trenta", a 31-ounce iced drink size currently being offered at Starbucks locations in Phoenix and Tampa. The very thought makes my bladder cower in fear. And yet I have this unshakable feeling that the monstrous beverage option will be embraced by a disturbingly large section of the American public.

I would like to think, as a fairly reasonable person generally believing in moderation, that 31 ounces of coffee or tea (or 30 if you count out the ice, I guess), would be an appallingly ridiculous excess; the size an epic failure. But then again, this is America, the Land of More, where Bigger is always Better. After all, according to reports, Starbucks came up with the mammoth Trenta in an attempt to compete with the popular demand for much larger (also usually much cheaper!) drink sizes provided by places such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven.

The really unsettling thing as far as I'm concerned is this: even discounting the disturbing levels of caffeine unleashed into the consumer's bloodstream, just imagine the massive amount of sugar that must go into a sweetened version! I would think that would be a job for about half a bottle of classic syrup each.

But even worse--and come on, you know it's only a matter of time--just think of when 31 ounces becomes so popular that the next logical step is to offer Trenta mochas, Trenta hazelnut-vanilla-extra-vanilla lattes, Trenta java-choco-loco frappuccinos. In fact, I'd be willing to bet they've fielded customer requests already. Try as I might I cannot shake the ominous image of hordes of mall-rat tweengirls, tourists and middle-aged businessmen alike shuffling out of Starbucks stores nation-wide, holding an entire week's worth of empty, whipped cream-topped calories in their hot little hands. And we wonder why obesity is such a rapidly growing health crisis in our country.

It's times like this that make me want to grab the entire United States of America by the shoulders, give 'er a good shake, and say "What are you doing to yourself, dude? Have you no shame?" Seriously, put down the giant cup of slow liquid death, and back away slowly . Your nerves and cholesterol levels with thank you. As will your bladder.

And hey, whaddaya know... it looks like Ellen agrees with me! You tell 'em, sister.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

it's all in your mind

Last evening the sky was like an impressionist painting. A painting in motion, turquoise swatches peeking out from between big jaunty puffs of cloud, slowly turning color as I walked from Market Street to Divisadero; darkening cumulonimbus encroaching upon the last strains of sunset and reminding me somehow of early summer nights and gently tumultuous seas... and something else, a persistent feeling I could not pin down, floating just out of reach on the late evening breeze and lingering on my mind.

I have these moments when I encounter an inexplicable sense of abstract nostalgia, triggered by something so subtle, so obscure that I can't quite seem to put my finger on it. It may be the color or cloud pattern of the sky, the route taken home, a faint whiff of incense or wood smoke, even just a certain intangible energy in the air. I don't know what it was the other night that evoked in me this feeling, just as I can't account for why a year ago, wandering alone down strange streets on my first trip to Chicago, I found myself overcome with an odd sense of familiarity almost akin to deja vu. And it wasn't the first time it had happened.

I can't explain how a place I've never been before can awaken nostalgia in me, or how I can suddenly be transported to a completely different time and place while walking down the same streets I see every day. And I'm not sure whether this is a common phenomenon or not. It's a very curious and slightly spooky sensation, this feeling somewhere between nostalgia and deja vu and yet not quite either. But it's also actually quite pleasant, if at times in a bittersweet way. I can only describe it as feeling very alive, very aware and present, and yet at the same time with a slight shift in consciousness, caught up in a vague ephemeral ghost of memory or mood.

It's the kind of experience that makes me believe that there could be such a thing as reincarnation, and leaves me marveling at the complexity and mystery of the human brain, that tiny subtle cues of sight or smell or sound can somehow trigger connections that we didn't even know were there, or that seem impossible, that we can't even explain in words.

Perhaps serendipitously, this morning on NPR I happened to hear a story about a recent study published in the scientific journal PNAS. The research in this particular study found that "the emotion tied to a memory lingers in the mind even after the memory is gone." So maybe this is what I've been experiencing all along. Perhaps even after long forgotten events and days have faded into the distant depths of mind and heart, their ghosts linger on to haunt us at an unexpected time or place, leaving us slightly shaken or strangely comforted. I wonder if some of us are more prone to this than others, and if so why. Either way, I find it fascinating to ponder the possibilities.