Saturday, January 19, 2013

We are Stardust, We are Golden

I love science. I love the study of how things work. My studies have mostly been of the liberal arts, the humanities, the human experience on this planet. But I am also deeply fascinated by the study of our place in the ecosystem, and our place in the universe.

I just read an essay The Cosmic Perspective by Neil deGrasse Tyson. In it, he talks about how understanding our place in the universe can affect the way we think about everything else, and temper our humano-centrism. (I don't know if that's a word, but it's definitely a thing.)  Even though Mr. deGrasse Tyson is not a religious man and I am a religious woman, I don't think we would disagree that Time, and Existence, and the Universe have no beginning and no end. And because having "an eternal perspective" is a more familiar phrase for me, I've inserted it instead of "cosmic" to helps me understand him even better. He says:

The [eternal] perspective is humble.

The [eternal] perspective enables us to grasp, in the same thought, the large and the small.

The [eternal] perspective opens our minds to extraordinary ideas but does not leave them so open that our brains spill out, making us susceptible to believing anything we're told. (I love this one.)

The [eternal] perspective shows Earth to be a mote, but a precious mote and, for the moment, the only home we have.

The [eternal] perspective finds beauty in the images of planets, moons, stars, and nebulae but also celebrates the laws of physics that shape them.

The [eternal] perspective enables us to see beyond our circumstances, allowing us to transcend the primal search for food, shelter, and sex. 

The [eternal] perspective reminds us that in space, where there is no air, a flag will not wave—an indication that perhaps flag waving and space exploration do not mix.

The [eternal] perspective not only embraces our genetic kinship with all life on Earth but also values our chemical kinship with any yet-to-be discovered life in the universe, as well as our atomic kinship with the universe itself.

Whether you use the word "cosmic" or "eternal," it doesn't really matter. The point is, we are part of something so much bigger than us, and remembering that fact can help put everything else into perspective.

As Joni Mitchell said, "We are stardust." We are the same substance as stars,* and that makes me feel both so small--and so great.

* Analogously, my belief is that we are the same substance as God. He is a man with greater understanding and physical ability than us. But we are of him. I believe we have part of him in us. And remembering that fact can help us transcend the grosser aspects of human nature.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I Want Future Me to Remember about Moving to a New Place

The other day I was driving up to work and I had this sudden, quiet feeling. Maybe it was a combination of the music playing in my car ("Pyramid Song" by Radiohead) and the way the sky looked: a partly cloudy sky with fast-moving clouds and dynamic light. It was, if I may say, a very "Utah" sky. A temperamental sky. Whatever it was, I had a subtle awareness that this unfamiliar town was starting to feel like my home.

For someone whose home has largely been one place until six months ago...what a nice thing.

Six months ago, we moved to Vegas and I was almost immediately thrown headlong into a new job. It was a little overwhelming to have to learn to work at a totally different library, how to be me in a culture that is nothing like me, how to meet people in my church congregation, etc. It was a time rife with insecurity. I had a hard time cutting through fear of rejection and failure. That being said, I can look back over the months and readily recognize all the ways in which things have fallen almost perfectly in to place. So, with this 20/20 hindsight vision, I would like to jot down a few things that I would like to remember for the next time I move to a new place:

1. It's okay to feel unsure about a new job. Accept it. Don't be afraid of it. In time, you will make friends with the people you work with. You always do.

2.  Just because people do not go out of their way to get to know you your first Sunday in a new ward*, does not mean they are unfriendly. Be patient. Put yourself forward when appropriate. In time, people will begin to recognize a friend in you.

3. In order to make friends, be a friend. Get out of your comfort zone. Go to that function where you don't know anyone. Some of the others there don't know anyone either. Act confident until you feel confident.

4. Explore. (T and I were always good at this.) Explore! If this is where you are going to live, make it your own. Part of being comfortable somewhere is being able to get effortlessly from point A to B, and also knowing what things there are to do for fun.

5. Do not decide about a place until you have lived there at least half a year. It still isn't a long time, but it's enough to get a sense of the place. Reserve judgment until you have seen and done enough.

So here is my judgment of Vegas as a place to live: Maybe it's just Stockholm Syndrome, but I'm starting to like it, in spite of--and in part because of--its eccentricities. Is it kind of weird? Absolutely! But it is a lively city. And I like that. Oddly enough, I also like the feeling of being halfway to nowhere. Barring Henderson, which is really just an extension of Vegas, there aren't suburbs. There's city, and then there's nothing. It is real, honest-to-goodness desert out here, and I like that.

Anyway, I hope by writing this down that I can remember in the future, when we have probably moved somewhere else--even if it's just somewhere else in town--that it is normal to kind of resent feeling so unmoored. It just takes time to get one's bearings, drop anchor, and make a Home out of a New Place.

*LDS congregation

A Conversation Prompted by Green Beans

As T and I were seated at the table preparing to partake of our humble Sunday evening repast of chicken and green beans, he let a large pat of butter melt on top of his pile of beans.

"Hey," he says after one bite. "Green beans are really good with just butter and salt!" I reply: "A year ago, you wouldn't have touched green beans." (T is notoriously against eating any cooked vegetable.)

This simple, rather boring exchange prompted a small conversation in which we discussed other things that hadn't happened a year ago.

A year ago, T was fifteen pounds heavier and I, myself, had never set foot in a gym. Now, we both exercise regularly (at home or at the gym) and feel a thousand times better.

A year ago, we were still in Utah, hoping, waiting for a school--any school--to call Travis in for an interview.

A year ago, T hadn't finished his undergraduate degree, and I was still working on my Masters. Now, T is closer to being a pharmacist than he was to having his Bachelor's when we started dating three years ago. And I am in the process of applying for my first professional position as a librarian.

A year ago, I had never touched, let alone shot a gun. Now, I have gone shooting once, and it was actually a lot of fun.

A year ago, T would have never dreamed of sitting down with me to watch Downton Abbey. Curiously (along with Dexter) it is now his programming of choice. We are partway through series two. :) :) :)

These are little things, but it is fun to track the ways we change and grow and develop individually and as a couple. It's nice to know that we're not in the same place we were a year ago.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Read Much, Read Well

I read at least 30 books during this past year. That's pretty good! But I can do better. It helps that one of the classes I took had an extensive reading list. I'm going to make a goal to read more books this year and to read better books. I typically read for escape. That is all fine and well, but that gets tiring after a while, like too much candy. So I'm going to throw in a few literary vegetables every once in a while: something non-fiction, a classic or two. I'm also going to occasionally try out something I wouldn't typically read; maybe I'll try some urban fiction. (Probably not.) Or some murder mysteries, which I never read. I don't know why. Lots of people love them. Anyway, here's a list of my 2012 reads. Not very extensive, and there's a lot of "candy" in there. Still it wasn't a bad year for reading:

  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (actually haven't quite finished this one. So maybe this shouldn't count.)
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Ramos Brothers Trust Castro and Kennedy by Roger DeBlanck
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • Follow the River by James Alexander Thom
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
  • The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Herbert's Wormhole: The Rise and Fall of El Solo Libre by Peter Nelson and Rhoitash Rao
  • Island of Thieves by Josh Lacey
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
  • Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Jane by April Lindner
  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner

So. What was your favorite book you read last year?