Friday, April 11, 2008

Octavia in Google Hat

Happy 6-Month Birthday, Octavia. :)

Homesick for Earth -- Invitation to Write #33

For Writers:

I can understand wanting to meet and reunite with family members in Heaven, but why would anyone care to meet those that once were famous on Earth? First, Joe Blow, why would Gandhi want to meet you? But second, what value does Einstein, Lincoln, Gandhi, or anyone else have outside the context of an Earthly existence?

Other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t know of any group that believes Heaven will be located on Earth. In other words, the context we know (Earth and mortal life) ends when we move on to the next stage (Heaven). And it’s my thesis that anything of value that we learn on Earth loses much, if not all, of its value once we leave Earth. Will you really care about literature, history, geography, etc., in Heaven? Why would you?

Ray Bradbury’s story “Dark They Were and Golden Eyed” does a pretty good job illustrating my point. In that story, the last survivors of Earth escape to Mars to begin a new life. In the beginning, they do their best to recreate the life they knew, naming Martian landmarks after locations on Earth, etc. Soon enough, however, the Earthlings literally evolve into Martians, and the relevence of what they knew about Earth quickly evaporates. Mars doesn’t become a new Earth, and likewise, Heaven will not be Earth. Whatever value people and their experiences have in Earthly life ends with death. In Heaven, what came before will have no meaning, just as the context of Earth soon had no meaning to Bradbury’s Martians.

Have you ever felt like the only Martian on the block? Describe a time when you decided that it was okay not to follow the crowd, even if that meant you would face scorn and ridicule from friends and family.

"I never wanted to go away, and the hard part now is the leaving you all. I'm not afraid, but it seems as if I should be homesick for you even in heaven." – Louisa May Alcott

Missing Billy Ripken -- Invitation to Write #32

For Writers:

When I was 16, I toyed with the idea of making a killing by collecting baseball cards. The local store had just received the complete 1989 Fleer sets, and I raced down town to invest my $31.80, secure in the knowledge that at least one card would be worth something. This was the year that Billy Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles’ second baseman, had written something obscene on the end of his baseball bat.

Arriving home, I tore through the box looking for the Billy Ripken card. To my surprise, the offending card was missing! What were the chances, I wondered, that this specific card was the one missing? All the other cards were there – I counted each one to make sure, and I carefully double-checked each card to verify that Billy’s wasn’t somehow out of order. But it simply wasn’t there.

For whatever reason, I never went back to the store to complain. I figured that some dishonest person in the store had removed the card as soon as the news broke about its collectability, and if they would do that, then surely they would feign complete ignorance about the matter if I brought news of the missing card to their attention. In fact now that I think back on the purchase some twenty years later, I distinctly recall the salesperson opening my box and looking through the contents before selling it to me. Why would he be looking for something that he had already removed? The only reason that makes any sense to me is that he wanted to make sure that Billy’s card was indeed removed.

In any event, I still have a complete 1989 Fleer set, minus one Billy Ripkin card. And, while the complete set has gone up in value, I won’t be retiring off my profits anytime soon. Last time I checked, the set was worth a whopping $35.95, and my missing Billy is available on eBay for ninety-nine cents. So if anyone wants to buy a set of baseball cards, let me know. I'll be happy to cut you a deal.

What do you collect? Is your collection merely for fun, or is there an underlying motive behind your collection?

“When we played softball, I'd steal second base, feel guilty and go back.” -- Woody Allen

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Baby with No Kneecaps -- Invitation to Write #31

For Writers:

When Octavia was born, we were quite relieved. She had ten fingers, ten toes, and in all respects was normal and healthy. But where were her knees?

I didn't immediately notice that she lacked knees, but one day it just dawned on me: this baby has no kneecaps! On the bright side, I thought, she'll be safe from Tonya Harding and the Italian mafia.

But when I pointed out this incredible finding to my wife, a nurse, she merely laughed and said that all babies, including Tavi, have knees. They just don't ossify for a few years.

So here's a case where observation failed. What I could see with my own eyes was one thing, whereas the truth was another -- there all along, but hidden in time under a layer of smooth skin.

If observations can be deceiving, what precautions should we take to see what cannot be seen with the eyes?

"I drive with my knees. Otherwise, how can I put on my lipstick and talk on my phone?" --Sharon Stone

The Hypocritic Oath -- Invitation to Write #30

For Writers:

Human, thy name is hypocrite.

Not that any of us can really help it. Most of us have this embedded ideal image of who we would like to be, but the real self can never match the imagined ideal. We are born under the curse of always falling short of the mark; at least that's how many of us in the Christian tradition have been trained.

Recently, my wife observed that even I am human. I gave a piece of advice to my dad, and my wife was quick to point out that it's advice that I don't follow myself. In my mind, when I picture my ideal self, I follow my own advice; but in the real world, I don't always.

Perhaps the only people that aren't hypocrites are those that have managed to remove the quest for the ideal self from their lives. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to completely purge this urge.

I may be a hypocrite, but at least I'm honest about it.

Probably the most famous oath is the Hippocratic Oath for physicians, but what might the Hypocritic Oath look like? Spend some time today developing an oath for hypocrites.

"The only thing worse than a liar is a liar that's also a hypocrite!" -- Tennessee Williams

A Frog in My Throat -- Invitation to Write #29

For Writers:

"In restaurants where they serve frog's legs, what do they do with the rest of the frog? Do they just throw it away? You never see "frog torsos" on the menu. Is there actually a garbage can full of frog bodies in the alley? I wouldn't want to be the homeless guy looking for an unfinished cheeseburger and open the lid on that." --George Carlin

I'll eat food on a cruise ship that I'd have no interest eating on land. Chilled soups, escargot, frog legs, bring it on. So on the last cruise, a table mate and I ate frog legs while our wives looked on in disgust. And David asked a question that apparently a lot of people ask: "What do they do with the rest of the frog?" Once I got home, I thought I'd try to find out.

The answer is rather sad; France is the country that places the highest demand on the frog leg trade, and Southeast Asia is the main supplier. Apparently, however, frogs don't receive very humane treatment in Southeast Asia, and it's not uncommon for suppliers to rip their legs right off, discarding the still living, now legless body on large frog torso heaps. These frogs slowly die, and if you believe that a frog feels pain, then there's a whole heap of pain rotting in the Asian sun. All for a pair of legs.

Not only is the practice of how the frogs are killed upsetting, but also disturbing is the ecological consequences of eliminating all of these frogs. Frogs eat bugs, and bugs spread disease -- including malaria. So, eliminate the frog from its place in the ecosystem, and you reek all sorts of havoc.

I don't plan to look any deeper into the ethical and ecological problems that exist in the mass killing of cows, pigs, and chickens, because I'm not quite ready to convert to a vegan diet. I do plan, however, to be a bit more careful about what kinds of food I'll eat on a cruise ship in the future. There's no doubt that frog legs are tasty, but now that I know about the underlying problems associated with the frog trade, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth.

Have you ever felt guilty eating certain foods? Maybe you're not contributing to something like the frog trade problem, but your life does come at a cost. How do you reconcile the fact that you sustain your life through the death of countless thousands? From the death of plants and animals is your life sustained, but how much killing and death is your life worth?

The Answer Is the Question -- Invitation to Write #28

For Writers:

When Malcolm X was in prison, he read the dictionary from cover to cover. More than that, he actually took the time to write out the dictionary, definition by definition. There's a man that had some time on his hands! But this is also an example of a man that had an insatiable appetite for knowledge.

In 2004, A.J. Jacobs wrote The Know-It-All, which describes his own personal quest for knowledge, detailing his experiences reading the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. Again, I'm impressed he found the time to do that, because as far as I know, Jacobs didn't spend any time in jail -- making his accomplishment all the more noteworthy.

And just follow any political campaign. I betcha the candidates have never taken the time and effort to do what X and Jacobs have accomplished, and yet, just ask them a question, any question. They might not have the answer to your question, but they will have an answer. And isn't that what's really important: having an answer no matter what the question?

Me, I don't claim to have the Answer. In college, I was trained to ask questions, and to me the most important answer is what question to ask next.

What Question has been on your mind lately? Take some time to explore the Question. Remember that your goal today is to explore, not to answer.

"Computers are worthless. All they give you is answers." -- Pablo Picasso

"If we would have new knowledge, we must get a whole world of new questions." -- Susanne K. Langer

Where Did All the Bubble Yum Go? -- Invitation to Write #27

For Writers:

Back in junior high, I was a dealer.

1986 was a simpler time. I dealt in gum and candy, not drugs. Want Nerds? I got 'em for ya. Want some Bubble Yum? Hubba Bubba? Bubblicious? Step right up.

At my school, there were no vending machines, and if you wanted candy, you came to me -- or one of my few competitors. I'd by a 25 cent pack of gum at the gas station in the morning and sell it for 50 cents at school in the afternoon. Don't have 50 cents? That's cool. I'd sell it to you by the piece, too.

Now, I never bought a car with my earnings by any means, and by the time I entered ninth grade, my days as an candy store entrepreneur were over. One thing I fondly remember about those days, though, is sugar-filled bubble gum. These days, all you can find is sugarless.

And a sugarless world is no world for me.

Is there a product you used to love that you can no longer find? How do you add the "sugar" to your life when the Man decides to take it away from you?

"The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems." -- Billy Joel

The Knowledge of Cute -- Invitation to Write #26

For Writers:

Two days before our vacation, she started throwing up. Did she know we were leaving? Probably not. Did she know that we had gone as far as to call the vet to schedule an appointment for euthanasia? Probably not. Did she know what it meant when I got the luggage from the garage? Maybe so. Maybe that's why cats sit on luggage. They either want to go, too, or they don't want you to go at all.

Cats tend to know things more with their ears and their noses. They know the sound of a scoop of dry cat food, and they know the sound of a can opener. Our cats also know the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and it scares the nine lives out of them for some reason. Even the sight of a quiet vacuum is enough to start Flem hissing.

And one thing Camilla knows is how to hide. She is a master at disappearing. Think she can't get under the lazy-boy? Wrong. Think there's no way she can fit under the hot water heater? Wrong again. If she were human, she would win every limbo competition, and she'd give David Copperfield a run for his money.

What do cats know? As Mark Twain said, more than we think. They sure know how to be cute, which lets some of them live lives of luxury. And, in Flem's case, the knowlegde of cute saved her from lethal injection as we never kept that vet appointment.

Humans are suckers for a cute face -- even one that pukes multiple times on the carpet.

Do you have a pet? What does it do that impresses you or surprises you? What does your pet teach you about life?

"Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them." -- Jim Davis

"A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime." -- Mark Twain

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Caught in Public Isolation -- Invitation to Write #25

For Writers:

Personally, I like the Food Court at the Mall. Where else are you within walking distance to popcorn, pretzels, stirfry, sub sandwiches, tacos, and Starbucks?

More than the food, I like sitting among a crowd of people, watching the mall-walkers, the stroller moms, the teenagers, and the fat middle-aged men. The people that like the mall linger, and the people that hate the mall speed-walk from entrance to store to exit.

And, of course everyone is talking on their cell phones, hiding behind their own imaginary bubble of protected personal space.

Meanwhile, I eat my lunch, observe the people I don't have to talk to, and relax -- surrounded by my own thoughts, caught in public isolation.

When you want to hide, where do you go? Describe that place in all its glorious detail, and explain how that place, be it public or private, re-centers you.

"The sculpture stands here beneath the tall beech trees. It’ll be gone the day after tomorrow or in ten days’ time when they take it all down. It’ll disappear from here, like the leaves, and it will be winter. Everything about this place will be changed completely. Now is an eternal moment." -- Thomas Boberg

Getting Lucky -- Invitation to Write #24

For Writers:

If a girl ever brags about "getting lucky," I've yet to hear it. Only guys will talk about having sex with basic strangers in this way.

And yet, where's the luck in having sex with someone you have no emotional attachment to? Isn't it more "lucky" to find someone that you care about deeply, that you want to know intimately, that you'd actually like to spend time with outside the state of lust or conquest?

Euphemisms are examples of language failing. They never accurately depict truth, and they always attempt to hide reality -- not only from the person listening, but also from the person speaking.

"Got lucky" lately? Indeed.

Pay attention to the use of euphemisms today, and point them out when your now sensitive ears take notice. Is there a euphemism that you or others use on a regular basis? What drives people to cloak reality in phony language?

"Sleeping together is a euphemism for people, but tantamount to marriage with cats." -- Marge Piercy

Sunday, April 6, 2008

17 Mile Drive -- Just $9.25

South of Monterey, California, is the famous 17 Mile Drive. If you want to take it, the locals will make you pay $9.25. Is it worth it? Yeah, I think so. In fact, after a fairly disappointing cruise, I think this drive was the highlight of our trip.

What you'll experience in these 17 miles: breathtaking views of the Pacific, some pretty cool multi-million dollar houses, trees, and deer.

I didn't realize that this is where the Pebble Beach golf course is, but from the little we could see of it, it looked amazing. And, I couldn't imagine playing golf in this location. It was so windy there today that I'm sure even Tiger would have to fight hard for par.