Friday, December 31, 2010

I'm doing the post-a-week challenge!

Hey everyone!  I'm doing the post-a-week challenge!  I would do the post-a-day challenge but I don't think I'd be able to keep it during the semester, so I'm at least going to try for weekly.  So help me out; I look forward to your comments, opinions, and ideas!

Someone Who Deserves More Credit

Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was a contemporary of Darwin and a collecter of exotic specimens. A few years after Darwin's famous voyage Wallace made an expedition to Malaysia and spent several years there. Unlike Darwin who'd had a top notch education, was from a successful family, and was employed as the Beagle's naturalist and so was paid, roomed, and fed, and well off after he returned to England, Wallace was a self-made man who was funding his own adventures in Malaysia from the sale of the specimens he sent back. Before that Wallace had been in South America for several years, collecting live specimens and preserving others, but on the voyage back to England his ship had caught fire and everyone had been forced to abandon ship, leaving the ship and most of the specimens (Wallace had possessed the presence of mind to save a few sketches) to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic. However his agent had sold the specimens he had managed to ship back to England and with this money and despite this misfortune he had determined to travel to Malaysia. In Malaysia he had lived a tough life, sleeping in a hut on stilts in the humid heat of the jungle, listening to the rumblings of distant tigers in the night. He went out every day collecting insects, and became fascinated with the many flashy butterflies of the area. In the process he developed the theory of evolution /independently of Darwin./ He sent many letters back to England, publishing in minor journals, hoping to gain opinions on his radical ideas. And they were radical, so radical that Darwin had not yet published the ideas he'd been sitting on for some time. Wallace also sent a paper he wrote on evolution to his friend Darwin for academic criticism. Darwin finally published, and though Wallace had independently come to the same ideas and published earlier Darwin was showered with praise and immortalized as the father of the theory of evolution. Still, Wallace never begrudged his friend the fame. For starting over when his ride home from South America went down in flames, for braving the jungles of Malaysia, for publishing without thinking of social consequences, and for his willingness to take a back seat to his friend Darwin I think Alfred Russel Wallace deserves more credit.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

To Dream, Perchance To Sleep

Ever feel tired but not sleepy?  How about--immeasurably more vexing--sleepy but not tired?  This is what makes me an insomniac, because I'm pretty certain that I fall into that [vast and ill-defined] category.  Hmmm, categories...  I am led to believe (from sources such as Stephen King novels) that most insomnia is actually just the sufferer's inability to get to sleep and sleep well.  The Mayo Clinic says that insomnia is that and waking in the night and not feeling rested in the morning.  Um, bingo.  I think it's some sort of disconnect between my brain and my body (perhaps my autosomal and somatic nervous circuits) that leads to my autosomal systems gearing down (heart rate, breathing, smooth muscle...) while my brain is a barely contained maelstrom of discordant thoughts, tumbling over each other to escape my head into the tangible world.  I try to write stuff down, get it out, and hope it will be gone, but it is summarily replaced with a new stream of consciousness.  That miscommunication seems the most likely culprit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Songs in the Key of Dreams

Sorry I haven't been writing lately, but I have been having a rough time of it.  School is wicked and it's Yule season and everything's crazy and such.  Hopefully I will be writing more, as that usually is cathartic for me anyway.

So I've been listening to a lot of Christmas carols and seasonal music.  Yes, I listen to Christmas music, even the sacred stuff.  Well, I grew up with it, and since it's harder to unlearn something than to learn it I listen to a lot of Christmas music.  Besides, music can have different meaning for me; my whole family is all about the music.  I was thinking about this yesterday, about how I grew up with music all around me and as such an important part of every day, whether it be singing, listening, or playing.  I was at my dad's house the other day and though I've noticed the radio in every room before it really occurred to me the reason for a radio (sometimes multiple, and often portable so you'll never be without sound wherever you go in the apartment) in every room.  Yesterday my housemates and I were singing Christmas music in the car and I knew more of the words than anyone else.

What I'm trying to get at is music is just that to me: music.  Yeah, I take issue with the words sometimes (I almost erased all my music with a reference to "God," "Lord," or "Jesus" yesterday because I was so fed up with it), but music is about the music to me, not the lyrics.  And going back to the whole "I grew up with it" thing, a lot of the melodies really resonate with me.  Many Christmas carols are quite beautiful, and if you actually listen to the lyrics they often sound like a hasty translation (which they probably are) and they sound very hurried and artificial, like someone needed to fill space.  Short story: the lyrics suck.  Not all the time (I love "Angels We Have Heard on High) but often they feel forced (first line of "Three Kings");  in the end it's really all about the melody.  And the best melodies (in my opinion) are in a minor key.

As young as 3 I felt the magic of minor (bc I told my mom I liked "Carol of the Bells" because it sounds "sad").  Are you ever listening to something and you get a chill down your spine as all the hair on your arms stand up?  Does music ever make your heart ache and sing along, like you're pining for a perfect home you knew once but not for many years?  It feels like being in love but far away, like seeing your little cottage on the shore while in the surf in a little skiff and the tide is hurrying you out to sea.  I can only compare it to how I feel, and my dreams usually have a faery-tale theme, full of castles and queens and knights and ladies and chivalry and honor and adventures.  And princesses, obviously.  "Gawain and the Green Knight" kind of stuff.

It's not just Christmas music that feels like magic.  It's mostly stuff in minor keys, but pretty much anything Celtic does it for me.  I can see the trees, dappled with emerald sunlight, the colors dark under the canopy, the surety of faeries in the sparkling air.  I listen to music for the chance to hear magic from songs in the key of dreams.