Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book Review: Illusions: The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah

Powell's Books/Barnes & Noble
Richard Bach - © 1977

Richard is a barnstormer pilot of a Fleet airplane who flies out of the cornfields of the American Midwest selling ten minute rides for three dollars. His is a free existence, sleeping under the stars with a belly full of pan bread that only he can love. His unburdened mind flies with the idea that reality isn't. That men could fly if they could only forget that it was impossible. One sunny day he lands his Fleet next to a better-than-mint Travel Air 4000 and finds the teacher for whom he has been searching.

Richard rediscovers a bond of friendship with Don Shimoda that extends beyond this life. Don teaches Richard what he has yet to remember; that he can walk on water and swim through dirt; that this life is a story of our own creation from which we are meant to simply learn and enjoy.

This book tears down the fabric of reality and alters perceptions, yet it is light, entertaining and engrossing. It is a story as unlikely as an auto mechanic turned messiah, turned barnstormer from the holy lands of Indiana; a glass of spring water in a literary world polluted with the lead and chlorine of writing for the mass market.

The Impact:
Illusions is a mere 93 pages. Never before have I read 93 pages that have had so much to say or affected me so deeply. The full plot can be outlined in a handful of sentences yet there are enough original ideas to keep my mind busy for years, maybe for the rest of my life.

It has altered my perception of life. Sometimes I feel that I'm not be doing what I want to do, but I am, because I am doing it. Whatever “it” is, is a result of hundreds of conscious decisions I make every day. If I didn’t want to be doing it, I would be doing something else. Somehow I feel less trapped by my days of mommy-hood and realize that this stay-at-home life is what I really want; I am free to choose and I am choosing each day to be my kids’ caregiver. Realizing that I am the only one that has control over my life is liberating. For example, I don’t have to feed my kids, but I want to, because I want them to be healthy and happy. This fantastically simple idea changes my view of making dinner from a chore imposed on me by my family to a choice I make. (Don’t worry, I don’t see myself choosing not to feed my family one day.) It is a simple, yet a mind boggling perception shift.

This book is filled with the simplest of ideas that have never once occurred to me. It must be how 17th century scientists felt upon reading Newton’s laws of motion. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? It is so simple.”

Favorite Quotes:
Don, regarding quitting the messiah gig:
“A good messiah hates nothing and is free to walk any path he wants to walk. Well, that’s true for everybody, of course. We’re all the sons of God, or children of the Is, or ideas of the Mind, or however else you want to say it.”

Messiah’s Handbook quotes:
“Learning is finding out what you already know.”
“Doing is demonstrating that you know it.”
“Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you.”
“You are all learners, doers, teachers.
“You teach best what you most need to learn.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

To Smoke or Not to Smoke. Is There a Question?

A rare photo of my mom, dad and baby me.
Love this picture.
I was on a run through the park today and passed a smoker taking in the creek flowing gently beneath the bridge. A pleasant moment for her, but for the thousandth time I was somewhat taken aback by the burn in my lungs and reflexive cough as my body rejected the smoke. “Why should this be a surprise?” you ask. Good question. For the whole of my childhood I lived with, and was to a second hand degree, a smoker. At least one smoker, sometimes two (girlfriend), and sometimes Dad would lend a helping hand to a troubled soul who needed help to get back on his feet, to make three adults who smoked cigarettes in our house.

I never minded much that I lived with smokers. When a freshly lit cigarette filled the cab of my father's pickup, I thought it smelled good. At home I liked watching the smoke rise and curl in the air and thought it looked cool the way smokers could blow the smoke out of their nostrils, or let it out of their mouths and inhale the same smoke through their nostrils. I knew it was “bad” for you though and resolved to myself that I would never be a smoker. I didn't realize I already was one.

I loved sports and could never figure out why I would wheeze when running for distance or if I pushed myself a bit harder than normal. If I was anxious it compounded the problem. I thought it happened to everyone if they pushed their limits. I also thought that I just wasn't built to be a good runner. I never connected the two.

Also, being the child of a smoker automatically adds you to the WT side of the scholastic social circle. Why? Because I smelled. Bad. I didn't realize how bad it was until I visited home after moving out. Once back from the trip my newly enhanced olfactory senses demanded showers and laundry; even for the clothes that weren't worn. I remember realizing, I must have smelled like this every day at school. Admittedly, there are other attributes of my persona that compounded the problem. Such as my unkeen fashion sense, my propensity for wearing Camel Joe tee-shirts, (in WT land they were cool, I liked the colors, and well they were free) and my lack of a hair style. However, as a teenager I got a job and could afford to buy my own clothes and hair cuts; but unfortunately I could never shake the unseen fog that hung about me.

Once, while holding a pack of cigarettes for an unnamed friend of mine, (No, really! She lifted it from her mom and expected a room raid.) I decided that I should try it. Not to become a smoker, but just to gain a little understanding as to why everyone I cared for did it. There had to be something that compelled people to spend a fortune over their truncated lifetime for the privileged of smelling bad and aging prematurely.

I took a walk by myself to The Pit, (our local swimming hole) sat on a rock and lit one up with practiced expertise. (I'm observant by nature.) The cherry glowed and I pulled the first real drag into my lungs. I didn't cough. I exhaled through my nose, waited a moment, and took another. I flicked off the ashes just as if I had done it since time immeasurable and eventually flicked away the cigarette butt. (I know, I totally littered!) I thought to myself, this is stupid.

On the walk home I analyzed the results of my experiment at little more thoroughly.
  • The buzz consisted of a slight dizzy feeling. Like perhaps I spun around once, not much, not terribly pleasurable.
  • My mouth tasted terrible.
  • My cigarette gripping fingers smelled and my hair smelled. (Bad enough that even I could smell it.)
  • I didn't feel cool, at all. I was realistic enough to know all the cigarettes in the world couldn't shroud my awkwardness in smoky tendrils of coolness.  Actually, I felt like a poseur.
Conclusion: It is indeed, stupid.

Curiosity satisfied. Test complete. Understanding imperfect. I still don't get why people do it. Perhaps people get started during their adolescence when, “Can I bum a cigarette?” is a viable pickup line. I was less interested in that particular pickup line than I was in cigarettes themselves. Or maybe overprotective parents make it alluring by trying to shelter their kids. It certainly does makes an effective mode of rebellion against protective parents. Whereas in my environment it was there always every day, and there was a general feeling of disdain for uppity non-smokers. Perhaps I am a rebel of sorts for rejecting smoking and some of the other facets of my upbringing. What is a person who rebels against rebels?

I don't get it, probably never will and I am kind of glad I don't. However, I have no such problem understanding the allure and pleasure of a cold beer on a hot day.   Speaking of which...

I'm not against smokers or cigarettes. As member of a free society I'm glad people have the freedom to make their own choices. I am opposed to banning smoking in private establishments like bars and restaurants. Personally, I prefer eating/drinking/working in non-smoking establishments, so that's what I do. Perhaps some ordinances on ventilation is needed, to preserve the safety of the workers, but otherwise proprietors and customers should be free to make those decision for themselves. That being said, children are not free to choose where they eat/drink/live and deserve consideration. But to their credit, all the parents I know who smoke are very cautious to keep their kids from being exposed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Transit of Gabinus

Tomorrow, June 5th at about 3pm my baby girl Gabi turns 1 year old!  To celebrate this momentous occasion Venus decided to make a transit across the sun!  Awe, thanks Venus, that was very thoughtful of you.

Transits of Venus are a rare astrological event in which the Venus passes between the Sun and the Earth.  During the transit, Venus looks a bit like Cindy Crawford's beauty mark as it glides across the face of the sun.  The event is predictable and comes in pairs that are roughly eight years apart, then not again for more than a hundred years. The next transit will occur December 2117.

This event has been setting scientists atwitter since the 17th century, but it was Edmond Halley (of the so named comet) that recognized that the principle of parallax could be used to calculate the distance of the Earth from the Sun and from that work out the distances to all the other bodies in the solar system.  However, Halley knew that the next transit wouldn't occur during his lifetime, long though it was.  He therefore passed the slide rule to the next generation of scientists.  And boy were they ready.  In 1761 scientists from all over Europe were dispatched to over a hundred locations all over the world.  As Bill Bryson states "It would be history's first cooperative international scientific venture, and almost everywhere it ran into problems."  So much so that what data they did receive from the scientists that were lucky enough to avoid the hostile natives, equipment failure, cloud cover, sicknesses, war, even shipwrecks, was so filled with irreconcilable inconsistencies that the project ultimately failed.  It wasn't until the second transit in 1769 when Captain James Cook took the necessary measurements while in Tahiti, presumably from a folding lawn chair next to a bucket of Corona.  After popping over to Australia to chart it and claim it for the British crown, he returned and delivered his measurements to Joseph Lalande, who was able to calculate Earth's distance from the sun to be 150 million kilometers.  Which turned out to be stunningly accurate for the technology of the time. Using modern methods we now know the precise distance to be 149.597870691 million kilometers.

Scientists always love an excuse to get out their toys and such a rare event is not to be missed.  Today they will be watching hoping to gather data on what a planet transiting a star looks like, in hopes of refining plantet detection techniques.  Since there are over 200 billion stars in the milky way there are possibly hundreds of billions of planets. Sounds like job security there... 

This poor bastard was dispatched to India to observe the transit and his story warrants reading:  Guillaume Le Gentil

Want more info on the transit or save viewing techniques?  Here are some resources:

Much of my information came from Bill Bryson's book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything".  Serendipitously,  I'm currently reading tipped me off to the event happening this year so imagine my surprise when looking it up that it was to occur on Gabi's first birthday.  Kinda cool.