Friday, November 29, 2013

Gratitude ~ a post mortem


Here goes: Yes yes yes, I’m thankful.  I’m so very thankful.  La la la la la la la.  Neener neener.  Yadda yadda yadda.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am extremely grateful for the many marvels in my life every flippin’ day.

Wait.  OK.  I seem to have a tone.  Let me start again.

How about this weather!?  On Thanksgiving!  We are so lucky! 

We really are very lucky not to be sitting in the airport in Paducah, Kentucky, staring at the string of cancelations on the departure board. 

Just like Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” when she discovered that she and her cat Jonesy were trapped in the escape pod WITH the alien and nothing to wear but cotton bikinis and a space suit.  You remember her famous line:  “Lucky, lucky, lucky!”

All right, the context is different, but that was my mantra yesterday on Interstate 80 Eastbound to Sacramento.  While at a standstill.  For no evident reason.  For hours!

OK.  It was just a momentary pause.  Lucky.  I know! 

It just seemed like hours.  Not that difficult to deal with except that I had my husband in the car with me.  And an appetizer and a side dish. 

But in spite of our preparation and the anticipation of the yummy meal forthcoming, my husband, a lovely person in his own right, was not so thankful at that momentary pause in the action.  “Lucky, lucky, lucky” was not what I heard him say.

See, my husband has that shark DNA.  He has to keep moving.  He will take a 20 minute detour to avoid a 5 minute delay.  That makes sense to him and his Great White brain. 

But the thing is, I drive.  Since my delicate constitution won’t allow me to be a well passenger on any road other than a straight line through the Nevada desert, he has graciously surrendered the driver’s seat for lo these 23 years. 

In exchange for the steering wheel, I grant him the right to direct me in traffic, even though, along with his shark brain, he has that left/right affliction whereby he says “left” when he means “right” and then gets mad at me when I follow directions and turn left.

But I have a high tolerance for bulging veins and wild gesticulations and a pretty long fuse in traffic.  Oh, eventually gridlock will get to me; but he’s got a hair trigger on his frustration meter.

So that was the crux of the situation.  At the tiniest hint of a slowdown, we took the first available exit.  A side road.  The back way.  An “alternate route.” 

You can’t pin this boondoggle on me.  Or my GPS, which first displayed a jumpy screen, twitched out multiple multi-colored attempts to redirect us, then sighed and gave up. I just followed Jaws’s orders. 

We wound up somewhere south of Sac on a wash-boardy dirt road dodging potholes big enough to swallow us and our green beans in one gulp.  

“It goes through!” he claimed.  “I’ve taken this road before.” 

We began to pass heavy equipment and soon very tall chain-link fences rose up around us.  A warning sign not unlike the one posted down the way from Area 51 shouted, “Warning!  Restricted area!  Authorized vehicles only!  You’ll be really, really sorry if you keep going this way Dummy!  It’s a dead end anyway!” 

Or something like that.

So we hair pinned, found the levy road, and noodled our way through rural America.  Speed limit 45mph, but constant motion.  Bucolic beauty in every direction.  La la la la la!

We were only an hour late, nobody was mad and the turkey was delicious.

In situations like that, you have to ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?

And the answer is, “Yes, I do.” 

Lucky, lucky and thankful too.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wisdom or bliss? That is the question!

I have just been reading about wisdom:  The acquisition of wisdom, its attributes and the benefits of its application.

Not sure if that a was wise thing to do – I feel stupider than ever.  Probably should have been grocery shopping, or dusting or something with more tangible rewards.

A word to the wise:  Don’t bother with all that “evolving” rigmarole.  Read a good Sherlock Holmes story instead.  Then you can go around deducing and annoying your friends.  From what I’ve learned, that’ll work just as well as so-called “wisdom.”

Of course there are studies of wisdom.  Research on the concept.  Somebody thought it would be fun and somebody else funded it.

White-coated lab geeks have furrowed their brows and made notes on their clipboards over who is the most sage, how s/he got that way and if there’s a convincing method of faking it.  (No, not really.  I was just hoping, that’s all.)

They came to some noteworthy conclusions:

First and perhaps most irritating of all, there is no correlation between age and wisdom. 

If that doesn’t make an old person feel foolish, well…

I mean, having paced myself all these years, waiting for wisdom to catch up with me, I’m more than a little miffed to learn that instead of settling around me, bestowing an aura of ascendency, wisdom apparently zoomed past me quite a while ago, most likely during my tie-dye stage.

And what?  We’re supposed to listen to young people now?! 

It’s OK though.  Really.  It’s perfect.  I’ll just plod along in my humdrum way with all the other Slowskis, oblivious, but full of opinions and ready to share.

No worries, right? 

Which brings us to a second conclusion reached by our intrepid researchers:  Wisdom does not necessarily lead to happiness.

So I say why bother?  It must be depressing for a preeminently learned person to confront all the witlessness s/he encounters each day!  I mean, what’re you going to do?  If you keep setting people straight, imparting your knowledge all over town, it won’t be long before you have no one to play with.

I mean, to paraphrase my grandpa, nobody likes a “smart donkey,” right?

And here’s the clincher, research says that the wise person seeks to understand other people and their behavior rather than judging them.

Well where’s the fun in that?  The way I see it, God wouldn’t have given us Toronto Mayor Rob Ford if He didn’t want us to feel superior to SOMEONE. 

For Pete’s sake!  If we can’t look down on Lindsay Lohan from a lofty position of self-righteousness, then…then…

Or Miley Cyrus or Charlie Sheen!  Come on!

What are we normal schmos supposed to do when our egos need a little boost?  Analyze?  Show compassion?  Empathize?  Intone, “There but for fortune go I?” 

Well I refuse!  I always hated that uppity grammar anyway.

Nope.  If I can’t have wisdom I’m going to make the most of my lack.  I’m going to work my obtuse angle.  I’ll be the best ignoramus you can find! 

Oh.  Wait a minute.  That didn’t come out like I thought it would.

What I meant to say is, I don’t want to live on the mountain top or in the ivory tower or wherever all those wise guys hang out anyway.  I’ve heard it’s lonely up there.  And all that serenity!  It’s not my style.

I’ll just be here at home, watching TMZ.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Six Degrees of Sweden

I don’t know where the Swedes get off with their movie rating system.  That wheel was invented a long while ago right here in the US of A. 

That’s right, Sven, we have the Motion Picture Association of America to protect and advise us.  So what if they’re a trade organization that works for the studios in Hollywood?

They let us know if our movies contain sex or bad words, or bad words about sex.  Or of course, violins.  Sex and violins.  That’s it, mostly.

What??  Oh!  Violence.  Got it!  The MPAA is on the lookout for sex and violence.

Pretty sure that covers any legitimate concern an insightful film goer might have prior to shelling out the $37.50 per person required to sit in the multi-plex and be safely entertained. 

Relax.  Thanks to the MPAA you run no risk of being blind-sided by an untoward bit of slang, errant body part, or stray bullet.

Thank God. 

And, like you, I of course have my own system for evaluating movies after I have seen them.

OK.  Maybe proximity of cast members to Kevin Bacon is not the strongest movie rating system.

But hey – that’s not the only reason I like “Mars Attacks!” (Rated PG-13 for sci-fi fantasy violence and brief sexuality).

Come on!  You’ve gotta love a Tim Burton concoction chock full of camp. 

“Mars Attacks!” also just happens to have a cast of dozens.  This gives the astute Six Degrees aficionado links to a cross-section of the playlists of notable actors including, among others, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Bronsan, Lucas Haas, Paul Winfield, Rod Steiger, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and – this is key – Jack Nicholson.

If you can get to Jack Nicholson, you can get to Kevin Bacon. 

So “Mars Attacks!” is not only a fun movie.  It also delivers the critical bonus of easy access for the Six Degrees.

That’s an important way to rate a movie.

It has given me a great appreciation for ensemble casts.  And an ensemble that includes Kevin Bacon, e.g.  “Mystic River” or “JFK.”  Jackpot!

I like a good love story too.  Not a sappy one, though I did watch “The Notebook” and cry like an idiot.  But I don’t think I’ll watch it again.  It lacked key elements.

I prefer a funny love story with a supernatural edge to it, like “Ghost.”  Well worth a second and third viewing since 1990. 

“Ghost” is funny with Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance as a phony psychic who unwittingly becomes a real one; it has drama and tension based on betrayal and murder; and it has that incredibly sexy yet sexless Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” fully-clothed potter’s wheel love scene between Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. 

All that and a poignant, bitter-sweet ending when Swayze makes his final choice. 

You really can’t get a love story much better than that! 

All the elements of my love story rating system are in place.  AND, you can get to Kevin Bacon in one step – via Demi Moore in “A Few Good Men.”  KB is the defense attorney for Jack Nicholson.  You’re welcome.

That’s a pretty good list of movies to see and/or see again; but none of them would pass the Swedish Bechdel Test.

Yes, brand new from Sweden…well, actually developed in 1985 by United States author Alison Bechdel, and put to use by Swedish theater operators, the Bechdel system is simple:  To pass the test with an A rating a movie must have three elements:  At least two women – who talk to each other – about something other than a man.

None of the movies already mentioned would pass.

In addition I’ve just seen some pretty great 2013 releases that won’t pass the Bechdel test either:  “Gravity,” “Captain Phillips” and “The Butler” for example.  So there is more than one way to rate a movie.

Conversely, if you’re looking for a movie with at least two men who talk to each other about something other than a woman, well, see all of the above.  In fact, see just about any movie produced in Hollywood.  Many of which are excellent. 

But Bechdel is interesting, isn’t it?  Gives you a new slant on things. 

Just sayin’.

Monday, November 11, 2013

To each his own muse

 I need a cow.

Gertrude Stein had one.  It worked for her.

Actually, now that I’ve said it, Gertrude had a herd of cows. 

I imagine they were the black and white ones and that they grazed in a brilliantly green French pasture enclosed with a split rail fence.  Chewing their cud.  Peacefully.  Reminiscing, as it were.

The cows weren’t exactly hers.  She just lived near enough to them that she could drive by daily and stop at different cows until she found the one that most inspired her. 
Then she’d write for her routine 30 minutes a day. 

She produced an impressive body of work just like that, staring at large bovine creatures.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a different approach:  Don’t go the bathroom. 

"I always try to be the first one in in the morning … take the fewest vacations and the least time away from the desk to go to the bathroom…"  Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.  

But as it turns out, you can argue with success, or at least with Bloomberg’s methods.

According to the author of “Your Creative Brain," Harvard psychologist Shelley H. Carson, little distractions like going to the bathroom can actually be a good thing when it comes to creativity.  She explains that interruptions and diversions can lead to a creative "incubation period."

That’s precisely what I say to my husband when he’s banging on the bathroom door asking how much longer I’m going to be in there:  “Hey!  I’m incubating here!”

I tell him that a number of incredibly successful people have had their most brilliant ideas in the bathroom, but I’m not sure he stays outside the door to listen.  We have another bathroom downstairs.  He can incubate down there.

And I found some research that supports my belief that being in the shower boosts my creativity and innovative thinking.

That and a big dose of dopamine.

According to neuroscientist and brain/creativity researcher, Alice Flaherty, the more dopamine in the noodle, the more creative we can be.

As she put it, “People vary in terms of their level of creative drive according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”

Gosh, thanks.  I’ll get right on that.

Is there a black market for high grade dopamine?  I wouldn’t mind skipping all these esoteric side trips and just taking a pill.

But wait.  Flaherty goes on to say that typical triggers of increased dopamine flow are things that take us to our happy place, including taking a warm shower!  No pills necessary!

That’s my kind of multi-tasking! 

And as an example, Carolyn Gregoire, syndicated columnist from the says Woody Allen, the writer, actor and director regularly takes showers for inspiration, sometimes standing in the water for close to an hour to get his creative juices flowing.

Uh, OK.

"In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you've left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you," Allen said in a recent interview with Esquire, inexplicably referring to himself in the second person.  "It's the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that's crippling you when you're trying to write."

But Woody, an hour?  There is that pruning thing. 

Have you seen him lately?  I know he’s getting old, but he appears to be manifesting some serious sag.  I guess it’s all a tradeoff.

So I’m working on the bovine solution.  Watching the cows. 

My neighbors brought in a bunch of goats for weed abatement.  That oughta work.

Women's Breasts - Out in front again

“Some parts of the anatomy, like a woman’s breast tissue, age faster than the rest of the body.”

Well that’s just great.

Thank you so much, Steven Horvath, Professor of Human Genetics and Biostatistics at UCLA. 

Professor Horvath has applied for a patent for his revelation, which he has ever-so-humbly named the “Horvath Clock.” 

He explains his discovery as an internal timepiece able to accurately calculate the age of diverse human organs, tissues and cell types.  Call it a biological clock used for comparison with our chronological clocks.

It’s a years-on-the-road versus mileage kind of thing.  And following that analogy, breasts equate to tires, I suppose.  Might as well go ahead and spring for the Michelins.

“It’s surprising that one could develop a clock that reliably keeps time across the human anatomy,” Horvath admitted. 

Most of his samples’ biological ages matched their chronological ages, but others diverged significantly. 

“My approach compared apples and oranges, or in this case, very different parts of the body: the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, cartilage...” 

And breasts.

Of all things.    

I can’t help feeling betrayed.  Why should any body part charge out ahead of the others?  What’s the rush girls?  You’re acting like those puffed up people who just have to fly first class.  We’re all going to get there at the same time, you know.

But there is something pretty amazing from the professor’s work: “If a woman has breast cancer, the healthy tissue next to the tumor is an average of 12 years older than the rest of her body.”

Horvath says these results may explain why breast cancer is the most common cancer in women.  Given that the Horvath Clock ranked tumor tissue at an average of 36 years older than healthy tissue, it could explain why age is a major risk factor for many cancers in both genders.

So all right.  The Horvath Clock could be a very good thing.

And besides, there’s a buck to be made here!  I’m glad to know women’s breasts age faster than the rest of our bodies because…

I can buy my support bras in advance, avoiding the inevitable surge in price as Baby Boomer women crest the curve and flood the market, their breasts leading the way.

Better still, I’ll buy stock in Playtex, Soma and Victoria’s Secret, ha!  Ha!

OK.  I hate those ideas, but less than I hate the fact that my breasts are aging faster than the rest of me. 

I want men to experience some of this disparate degeneration too.  Fair’s fair.  Did Professor Horvath even look into that possibility? 

In my thoroughly superficial survey of his work, I found no reference men’s body parts.  And of course I can’t mention them here!

He talks about saliva and hormones.  Whooptifrickindo! 

He plans to test rats for similar biological clocks, which seems like ten steps backwards to me.  A total boondoggle. 

I hope he’s not preoccupied with male pattern baldness or erectile dysfunction. 

But did he even notice that old men’s ears are huge?  They’re leading some kind of race.

What about it Doc?  We want equal rights to unequal body-part aging!  Get on it wouldja?!

Thank you so much Professor Horvath.