A Long, Long Time Ago Very Soon

 

New_Planet

Two weeks ago, astronomers made a huge discovery: for the first time in human history, we are able to witness the birth of a planet. The new planet, named PDS 70 b, is about 370 light years from earth. That means it is so far away, that what we’re seeing today actually happened 370 years ago, long before the foundation of the United States, before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Centuries of human history transpired in that time. And yet, it will be billions of years before that planet is fully formed.

Scientists have discovered more than 1,000 of planets outside our solar system. Most of them orbit bizarrely close to their star. Others are super gas giants, many times the size of Jupiter. The methods used to discover these planets might explain why we have almost no found worlds that are potentially hospitable to human life. Eventually, we may have the ability to locate more planets outside our solar system, ones that are more like earth, with similar gravity. Perhaps someday we can determine whether a planet has a breathable atmosphere and similar diurnal cycle. Getting there is another issue altogether.

Assuming we could travel to the stars, as Carl Sagan hoped, we might decide to plant colonists on those worlds. Humans are fairly adaptable, so we could adjust to a different planetary rotation, where a day is 30 hours or 15 hours. The gravity could be weaker, like on Mars, or stronger. There might not be seasons. For the most part, those varying conditions occur on earth (except for the gravity bit). Residents north of the Arctic Circle experience long periods of daylight and darkness, depending on the season. People in tropical regions experience summer all year. People living in Nepal and Bolivia breathe thinner air than most of us.

With the turmoil of our current world, it’s easy to feel like we can’t possibly survive long enough to find our way out there. Some might question why we should even bother, with all the problems we’re facing here. We can’t seem to resolve our own conflicts without killing each other, not to mention that there are people literally dying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Refugees are turned away. Families are separated. Humanity isn’t looking like it’s worth saving.

But we could start over. Travel across the galaxy to a new world. Do it right this time, we’ll tell ourselves. This world will possess none of the negative things we left behind on earth. How will we overcome our human nature? Will we have rid ourselves of our greed, our need for revenge, our taste for violence? How will we end bigotry and xenophobia? How will we rid ourselves of the worst parts of our nature?

It seems that the only way we can make it to this bright future is that we evolve. Traveling outside our solar system will require collaboration on a global scale. We will have to overcome many obstacles that currently plague humanity. Until we conquer these negative aspects, we are grounded. Our best chance is to work together. Human development has a long way to go. It might be thousands of years before we are capable of achieving this.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with each other. We will see changes in our world that would stupefy our ancestors, and our grandchildren will come to accept things that would leave us speechless. Our world will change dramatically in that time, a thousand generations from now. Languages will shift (modern English is less than 1000 years old), attitudes will change, cultural norms will be unrecognizable. A thousand generations ago, humans had just migrated to North America. The Great Pyramid would not be built for millennia. So much can change in that time. Everything will change.

Really, the thing I am concerned about is not whether we blow ourselves up. I am more concerned about a stray asteroid or a mutated virus. If we can survive these things, I’m sure we can travel to the stars. When we get there, I’m not sure we will still be human.

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Now You See Me

I like my privacy. I do have a Facebook presence, and I use my real name there, but lately, I have drawn back from that existence in the name of privacy. It all started a few months ago when someone I work with was perusing Facebook (while at work), and I asked him to look me up. He and I have no connection outside work, so I was confident what he was going to see was what any stranger would also be able to pull up on me. So there I was, toothy grin of a man who recently had braces removed in his forties.

Surprisingly, my public profile was oddly, well, public. I had things out there that I wasn’t comfortable with strangers knowing about. Furthermore, if I went looking for a job, prospective employers can and do look at our social media posts to collect as much information about us as they can before spending precious time in interviews. I was fully aware of this prior to my experiment, but I wasn’t prepared to realize how politically vocal I was in 2012.

That was the year of the general election, where Mitt Romney was challenging Barack Obama for the White House. Things got really heated, and the political landscape was being marred by a deepening divide between two opposing camps. Misinformation was the weapon of choice, and it separated families and friends. In many cases, healing has yet to commence, some 6 years later.

For my part, I decided to rid my Facebook feed of all political detritus. I began purging my profile and news feed, but it took a long time to clean it to my satisfaction. Now, my Facebook presence to an outsider will appear spartan and unadorned, all in the name of privacy and security.

facebook

When I think about keeping my information safe, I imagine it being locked away in a fireproof lockbox I keep in my house; my insurance policies, passport, and other difficult-to-replace documents and items I dare not lose. On the contrary, our information is quite public. Anyone can look you up, based on your license plate number or facial recognition, or any other data you and I might not be able to conceal from strangers. On the other hand, the Maryland newspaper shooting investigation was partially aided by facial recognition software which, though controversial, was very helpful in identifying the suspect, who was not cooperating with police.

So where is the balance between privacy and security? When I flew recently from Las Vegas to DFW, I was subjected to an uncomfortable array of security measures; I performed the requisite shedding of hat, shoes, belt – anything that might pose a threat, I suppose. Then I removed all items from my pockets and allowed myself to be bathed in radiation while a giant all-seeing robot looked into my soul. Now the TSA knows one of my testicles is larger than the other. I hope it was good for them, too.

These things I have come to expect, actually with some acceptance because I know that there are people who do want to harm innocent people. In order to assure the public of a sense of security, we put ourselves through this, even though there have been some pretty alarming mistakes. Still, I think we’re safer than we were before 9/11.

We allow authorities to have a look into our private lives. We accept it as citizens, but we rarely speak up when the gradual intrusion becomes too much, probably because by the time we notice it, it’s too late, like that proverbial frog in the boiling bath.

Do yourself a favor from time to time, and take a look at what the public can see of your social media presence. In Facebook, from your own profile page, click on the ellipsis next to the “Activity Log” button. Select “View As…” to see what strangers can see. Over the last few months I have been systematically removing old posts. It might be a bit obsessive, but I feel a little safer knowing some things are not out there for anyone to see. Do I worry about slipping into the oblivion of anonymity? Perhaps, but not enough for me to blast my opinions recklessly around the internet. I just hope no one mistakes my desire for privacy for a defiant stance against authority.

Resting, Period

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I Googled “are Americans sleep-deprived?” and there were so many results, that I couldn’t decide which one to link, so I’ll just let the reader do the work. Many articles confirmed my suspicion – something I’ve known about myself for years – that about 35% of Americans are not getting enough sleep. Many doctors, including mine, as well as researchers at the CDC, recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep regularly. The thing is, sleeping through the night is not that easy, and, when you look at human history, it may not have been possible, at least for some groups. People who followed herds across vast plains may have needed to pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Also, the threat of lurking predators might have required sleeping with one eye open. A modern study was conducted on present-day hunter-gatherer groups, all in the equatorial area or in the southern hemisphere. It found that those groups’ sleep patterns were very much like those of industrialized cultures. These modern hunter-gatherers live somewhat cut off from other societies, with no electricity. The thought was that they would closely resemble our ancestors going back about 10,000 years (granted, they couldn’t reproduce every facet of the environment). So, if we are to accept the findings, all our electric lights, smartphones, monitors and screens of every kind, they are not necessarily to blame for the general sleep-deprived state of about a third of us. So why are we so exhausted all the time?

Everyone is different. I have a friend who really only needs about 5.5 hours of sleep every night. As for me, I am useless with less than 8. Lately I have found myself getting very sleepy, in spite of sitting in front of my computer, around 10:30. What I discovered is that since I have been working out more, especially training on hills, I’ve found I need more sleep. Apparently there is some science to this, but I was only getting results from body building sites when I Googled it. But I can say that after an intense workout (intense for me, a middle-aged office worker) I get sleepy earlier than usual, and I sleep “harder”. What I mean by this is my sleep is more resilient, more sound. My dreams tend to be more vivid, and I wake up with no soreness now. It seems that healing is among the benefits of sleep. The morning after a workout, if I’ve had enough sleep, I do not feel any pain I might have experienced while exercising, not that I’m pushing myself that hard, I’m just clawing my way back to a semblance of fitness, and I have a way to go.

About 15 years ago I decided to perform an experiment. I went without the use of any kind of alarm clock. I started this while I was on vacation, as it were, so I didn’t have to risk being super late for work if it went awry. The first morning was interesting. I woke up a little earlier than usual. I spent my day doing stay-cation kinds of things. That night, as I had pledged to do, I went to bed when I was sleepy. The next morning, I woke up, completely alert, at 5:25 am. That night, I was in bed around 9:45. I mean, I was out. That’s the thing about me: I have never had trouble falling to sleep. I just like to find things to do to keep my mind occupied. I continued living without an alarm clock for several months. That lasted until my job changed and I needed to work nights from time to time.

Sleep is kind of a waste of time. If we are to get 8 hours of sleep each night, that’s a significant portion of our time. Sure, we have artificially divided the day up into blocks of 60 minutes, regardless of how much daylight there is. 24 hours is non-negotiable in our society. So if I need more sleep than someone else, I feel cheated. Given the difference, I might waste the extra time. Maybe not. I’m guessing that the researchers who compiled the sleep data on those hunter-gatherers probably lost some sleep, working overtime. I hope they got paid well.

Go for the Bronze

What have I done?

Last week, just as the 2018 Winter Olympics were winding down, I was thinking about how much work is involved in reaching the medal podium for a given event. The hours of training each day, the sacrifices, the failures, and the successes. For every athlete who paraded into the Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang (camel case was insisted on by the organizers to differentiate the Game’s host city from the capital of North Korea), there must be dozens, possibly hundreds, of athletes who might be as good, but did not make the cut.

Anyone who makes the team may be considered an elite athlete, with possibly one exception. Hungarian-ish freestyle skiers notwithstanding, I am always amazed to see the spectacle of human endurance and fortitude, played out so all the world can witness these achievements. Perhaps the most amazing story came when Simen Hegstad KRUEGER of Norway was knocked down and fell back to last place for men’s cross-country skiing. He would eventually win the race in what they’re calling the “Miracle on Snow” (actually there were a couple events that got this moniker).

While history loves gold medal winners, 3rd place doesn’t feel as nice. But any medal is better than nothing at all. Silver medalists, forgive me for this list, but I have decided to honor the Bronze medal winners in each event. The original list was supplied by Leah Rocketto and Skye Gould, which I hope to be comprehensive. I did find a couple of typos or errors in places, but overall I found it useful. The events were originally listed in descending order of the day of the medal round or final results. All the names of athletes receiving a medal have links to their profile on the Olympic website.

If I have omitted anyone, please forgive me. As a reminder, I have included only Bronze medal winners. Some sports were surprisingly unusual so I provided links to the event in those cases (like doubles luge, which, it turns out, is a thing). Also, it is worth noting that on the English language version of the PyeongChang website, women’s events are sometimes referred to as “ladies'”, for no particular reason. (Incidentally, the French language version routinely uses “femmes”).

 

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay – Germany

Erik LESSER

Benedikt DOLL

Arnd PEIFFER

Simon SCHEMPP

Curling, men’s – Switzerland

Peter DE CRUZ

Dominik MAERKI

Benoit SCHWARZ

Claudio PAETZ

Martin RIOS

Valentin TANNER

Figure skating, women’s single skate – Canada

Kaetlyn OSMOND

Freestyle skiing, women’s ski cross big – Switzerland

Fanny SMITH

Speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom – Austria

Alpine skiing, women’s alpine combined – Switzerland

Wendy HOLDENER

Biathlon, women’s 4x6km relay – France

Anais CHEVALIER

Marie DORIN HABERT

Justine BRAISAZ

Anais BESCOND

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski halfpipe – New Zealand

Nico PORTEOUS

Ice Hockey, women’s – Finland

Eveliina SUONPAA

Isa RAHUNEN

Rosa LINDSTEDT

Jenni HIIRIKOSKI

Mira JALOSUO

Ella VIITASUO

Venla HOVI

Linda VALIMAKI

Annina RAJAHUHTA

Riikka VALILA

Minnamari TUOMINEN

Meeri RAISANEN

Petra NIEMINEN

Emma NUUTINEN

Sanni HAKALA

Noora TULUS

Sara SAKKINEN

Saila SAARI

Michelle KARVINEN

Noora RATY

Tanja NISKANEN

Susanna TAPANI

Ronja SAVOLAINEN

Nordic combined, Team Gunderson LH / 4x5km cross-country – Austria

Wilhelm DENIFL

Lukas KLAPFER

Bernhard GRUBER

Mario SEIDL

Short track speed-skating, men’s 500m – Korea

LIM Hyojun

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,000m – Italy

Arianna FONTANA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 5,000m relay – Canada

Samuel GIRARD

Charles HAMELIN

Charle COURNOYER

Pascal DION

Snowboard, women’s big air – New Zealand

Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT

Alpine skiing, women’s downhill – USA

Lindsey VONN

Bobsleigh, women’s bobsleigh – Canada

Kaillie HUMPHRIES

Phylicia GEORGE

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Maiken Caspersen FALLA

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski cross – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Sergey RIDZIK

Speed-skating, women’s team pursuit – USA

Heather BERGSMA

Brittany BOWE

Mia MANGANELLO

Speed-skating, men’s team pursuit – Netherlands

Patrick ROEST

Sven KRAMER

Jan BLOKHUIJSEN

Biathlon, 2x6km women + 2×7.5km men mixed relay – Italy

Lisa VITTOZZI

Dorothea WIERER

Lukas HOFER

Dominik WINDISCH

Figure skating, ice dance – USA

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe – USA

Brita SIGOURNEY

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen NH/10km – Austria

Lukas KLAPFER

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen LH/10km – Germany

Eric FRENZEL

Short track speed-skating, women’s 3,000m relay – Netherlands

Jorien TER MORS

Lara VAN RUIJVEN

Rianne DE VRIES

Suzanne SCHULTING

Yara VAN KERKHOF

Bobsleigh, 2-man – Latvia

Ski jumping, men’s team – Poland

Maciej KOT

Stefan HULA

Dawid KUBACKI

Kamil STOCH

Speed-skating, men’s 500m – China

GAO Tingyu

Alpine skiing, men’s giant slalom – France

Alexis PINTURAULT

Biathlon, men’s 15km Mass Start – Norway

Emil Hegle SVENDSEN

Cross-country skiing, men’s 4x10km relay – France

Jean Marc GAILLARD

Maurice MANIFICAT

Clement PARISSE

Adrien BACKSCHEIDER

Freestyle skiing, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Alex BEAULIEU-MARCHAND

Freestyle skiing, men’s aerials – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Ilia BUROV

Speed-skating, women’s 500m – Czech Republic

Karolina ERBANOVA

Alpine skiing, women’s super giant slalom – Liechtenstein

Tina WEIRATHER

Biathlon, women’s 12.5km Mass Start – Norway

Tiril ECKHOFF

Cross-country skiing, women’s 4x5km relay – Olympic Athletes from Russia

Figure skating, men’s single skate – Spain

Javier FERNANDEZ

Freestyle skiing, women’s slopestyle – Great Britain

Isabel ATKIN

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

KIM Tae-Yun

Skeleton, women’s – Great Britain

Laura DEAS

Ski jumping, men’s large hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Alpine skiing, men’s super giant slalom – Norway

Kjetil JANSRUD

Alpine skiing, women’s slalom – Austria

Katharina GALLHUBER

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Denis SPITSOV

Freestyle skiing, women’s Aerials – China

Skeleton, men’s – Great Britain

Dom PARSONS

Snowboard, women’s cross race – Czech Republic

Eva SAMKOVA

Speed-skating, women’s 5,000m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Alpine skiing, men’s downhill – Switzerland

Beat FEUZ

Alpine skiing, women’s giant slalom – Italy

Federica BRIGNONE

Biathlon, women’s 15km – Germany

Laura DAHLMEIER

Biathlon, men’s 20km – Austria

Dominik LANDERTINGER

Cross-country skiing, women’s 10km – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Figure skating, pairs free skate – Canada

DUHAMEL Meagan

RADFORD Eric

Luge, mixed team relay – Austria

Madeleine EGLE

Snowboard, men’s cross race – Spain

Regino HERNANDEZ

Speed Skating, men’s 10,000m – Italy

Nicola TUMOLERO

Luge, doubles – Germany

Toni EGGERT

Sascha BENECKEN

Nordic combined, men’s – Team Gundersen LH/4x5km – Austria

Snowboarding, men’s halfpipe – Australia

Scotty JAMES

Speed skating, women’s 1,000m – Japan

Miho TAKAGI

Alpine skiing, men’s combined – France

Victor MUFFAT-JEANDET

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Maurice MANIFICAT

Richard JOUVE

Curling, mixed doubles – Norway

Kristin SKASLIEN

Magnus NEDREGOTTEN

Luge, women’s singles – Canada

Alex GOUGH

Speed Skating Short-track, women’s 500m – Canada

Kim BOUTIN

Snowboarding, women’s halfpipe – USA

Arielle GOLD

Speed skating, men’s 1,500m – Korea

KIM Min Seok

Biathlon, women’s 10km pursuit – France

Anais BESCOND

Biathlon, men’s 12.5km pursuit – Germany

Benedikt DOLL

Figure skating, team – USA

Nathan CHEN

Adam RIPPON

Mirai NAGASU

Bradie TENNELL

Alexa SCIMECA KNIERIM

Chris KNIERIM

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, men’s mogul – Japan

Daichi HARA

Ski jumping, women’s normal hill – Japan

Sara TAKANASHI

Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle – Finland

Enni RUKAJARVI

Speed Skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Biathlon, men’s 10km sprint – Italy

Dominik WINDISCH

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon – Norway

Hans Christer HOLUND

Freestyle skiing, women’s mogul – Kazakhstan

Yulia GALYSHEVA

Luge, men’s singles – Germany

Johannes LUDWIG

Snowboarding, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Mark MCMORRIS

Speed Skating, men’s 5,000m – Norway

Sverre Lunde PEDERSEN

Biathlon, women’s 7.5km sprint – Czech Republic

Veronika VITKOVA

Cross-country skiing, women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon – Finland

Krista PARMAKOSKI

Short-track, men’s 1,500m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Semen ELISTRATOV

Ski jumping, men’s normal hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Speed Skating, women’s 3,000m – Netherlands

Antoinette DE JONG

 

 

 

Spent

At the beginning of this century, I picked up a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Pay it Forward (1999, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books). They also published a young readers edition. In 2000, Warner Brothers released a film of the same name, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. Regardless of how well (or poorly) the movie was received, or that Spacey’s career is currently in a tailspin, the movement behind the book and movie has inspired me for nearly two decades.

In the story, a middle-school boy is given an assignment to make a difference in the world around him. What he does would set off a chain of “random acts of kindness.” The idea of “paying it forward” is embodied by the concept that there is greater merit in continuing the

Many of us, I being no exception, would normally go through life expecting that our acts of charity and compassion would come back to us in the form of some reward, karma, whatever you like to call it. Very often we feel compelled to reciprocate when someone is generous with us. The need to pay it back is our natural impulse, knowing that the person who was so kind surely deserves to be repaid. It is difficult to argue against this notion, what with our consumer culture.

However, the foundation, by way of the original story by Hyde and conveyed through their mission, promotes the idea that when someone performs a kindness for you, you should, instead of paying that person back, pay it forward to the next stranger, and keep it going. I get the impression that the original intent was for these acts of kindness to be toward strangers. But it could certainly apply to someone you know. When someone is generous with us, we should in turn do something kind for the next person, continuing a chain of unselfishness.

Every day I encounter situations involving kindness and cruelty. I work with people who will not help you unless there’s something in it for them. Today I talked with someone who felt like there should be some compensation within our volunteer organization. I understand there are limits to what one can give. We can give our time, offer our skills, donate money, cook meals, tutor, anything that may be needed. But we also need time for ourselves. We must achieve a balance, and that in itself is work for which there is no compensation.

I think it’s a good idea to set aside a little for the purpose of giving to those in need. Traditionally, churches have encouraged their congregations to give 10 percent of their income to finance everything from communion wafers to new suits for the TV preacher. It doesn’t have to be money, in my opinion, but if you can do it, there are many organizations (beyond church) that truly need help. You can also “give” talent, for instance if you are very good with finances, you might donate some of your time helping an organization with their books. (You might actually need to be licensed or something, so maybe look into that.) I have computer skills, and it would be “meet and right” for me to give my time repairing and maintaining systems for a non-profit entity. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

I’ve been mindful of Pay it Forward for so long now that I probably don’t think about it consciously anymore. Could I do more? Sure. It is difficult at times. Not everyone who needs assistance is receptive. I run into it occasionally:

“Would you like some help with that?”

“No! I can do it!”

Yes. It happens. Oftentimes, we are confronted with resistance and bitterness when all we want to do is help. If you run into this, move on. There is no reward for you helping; so, there is no punishment either. Just be careful.

As someone who has accepted payment for doing something nice, I can tell you that it feels much better to know – or assume – that that person will pay it forward. And it doesn’t matter if they don’t. You made the difference. And you will continue to do it, because it makes the world a better place. There will be discouragement, and you may shake your fists at whomever created those wretches. But just keep it going as long as you are able. For as much suffering as you will encounter, there will be comforting and joy by your actions. No one will remember where it came from, and that shouldn’t matter. Perhaps it will come back around, but that’s not why I do it. And even if it did, I’d just pay it forward again.

 

God, the Devil, and a Literary Agent Walk Into a Bar

After watching a Darren Aronofsky movie I often feel the need to scrub with a loofah, sit in the corner of the room holding my knees to my chest, weeping and rocking back and forth. Requiem for a Dream was one of those, and I came away from it feeling grateful for my ordinary, uneventful existence. (I mean, I’m not a hermit, but, you know.) My suburban drudgery notwithstanding, I find some guilty pleasure in the dark and the bleak. I like the show “Black Mirror” on Netflix, although some of the episodes are not so dark.

Recently, I saw Mother!, starring Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence. I have to say I was prepared going in, having read about the symbolism and allegory. I approached it as a moral play, of sorts. The movie takes place all within the confines of the large, solitary house in the middle of nowhere. Bardem is the husband, with Lawrence as his young wife. A series of misadventures and tragedies befall the couple, and the house, all corollaries of creation, life, sin and much more. At times the imagery was pretty heavy-handed, like the blatant disregard the guests have for the couple’s home. Lawrence’s character is constantly being forced to retreat into her inner sanctum, which is nevertheless violated as well. Over and over again, the mistress is intruded upon, succumbing to bouts unidentified illness only to be remedied by drinking some mysterious sunshine-in-a-glass concoction.

Bardem’s character is not very attentive to his wife, instead turning his attention to his adoring public. His “writings” are cherished by passionate sycophants, who begin to “interpret” them and quickly break off into factions. Allegorical figures with names like “Philanderer” and “Bumbler” enter and leave, returning and reappearing as the scene spirals out of control into madness and chaos. Lawrence’s character is continually mistreated, all the while Bardem and his worshipful yet disturbingly misguided agent (played by Kristen Wiig) float in and out of view. Eventually, Lawrence’s mother earth figure will get her revenge. And it’s not pretty.

Many people hated this film. I think they might have been better prepared if they had read a few works beforehand: Genesis through Deuteronomy and Luke, Paradise Lost, Cosmos, The Divine Comedy, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. To be perfectly honest, I did fine only having read part of the Divine Comedy, and only part of Milton’s magnum opus. You should be okay.

In all seriousness, the film is entirely metaphorical. None of the scenes should be perceived as literal depictions of anything. What starts out as a seemingly innocent visit of passers-by quickly turns into a hideous bacchanal, then a catastrophic breakdown of civilization. The allegorical figures of the Zealot and the Defiler make their appearance. Many, many others soon follow. Chaos ensues, and it gets ugly soon after.

I like dark things. Dark chocolate. Dark beer. Dark roast coffee. And I like the darkness in Aronofsky’s works. I probably won’t watch this one again, however. Not that I didn’t like it. I have only seen Avatar once. Meanwhile, I’ll watch Die Hard anytime. Go figure.

Now to finish reading Frankenstein.

 

You Only Need to Ask

Help.

help

This is one of the most powerful words in the English language. The mere utterance moves people to respond. Shouting it will draw attention, and strangers will spring into action. It inspires us to give. It motivates us to self-sacrifice. The thought that someone needs our help might override our own instincts, for self-preservation, or at least the fear of being hurt or humiliated. And yet, we are often afraid to ask for help, even when we desperately need it. Why, then, are we so willing to offer help and yet not able to request it?

I was shopping for dinner at my favorite market, and I asked the butcher for two things: coarse-ground beef for chili and a cut-up fryer. The young guy had to get his manager because he wasn’t authorized to operate the saw to cut the chicken. I asked him to go ahead and do that for me, if he didn’t mind. He was more than happy to ask, and the manager took care of me without hesitation. All I had to do was ask.

I find myself asking people more and more when I genuinely need help, mainly because I know how helping people brings me joy and makes me feel fulfilled. So I don’t have a problem asking. I don’t take advantage of people. But I know there are things that I would do for someone if it is an inconvenience for that person and especially if it’s a task I enjoy doing or that distracts me from drudgery. On the other hand, I have found great value in saying ‘no’.

‘No’ doesn’t have to be a forceful rejection of someone’s request. I am often asked to do something by a coworker that that person should know how to do, and that is their responsibility in the first place. One of my flaws is that I tend to bend over backward to help people, even when it is an imposition and I should be doing something else. On a rare occasion that I have flat-out denied to do something (I could have been fired), that person has just now started talking to me again after 3 years. I try not to let these things bother me, but averting disappointment is a major motivator for me. I think I am not alone, here.

I hate letting people down, even when I am not at fault and there was no avenue for me to come to the rescue. It is fortunate that my job doesn’t require me to save lives, and that is something I remind co-workers of, that the worst case scenario is that someone will be disappointed, provided no one violates policy or law. At that point, all bets are off.

Asking for help, however, is not as risky as we might imagine it to be. A person can refuse to help, and that is their right. Some people are assholes. But that should not stop us from seeking help when we need it. I learned recently that sometimes you cannot do everything yourself, and you don’t have to be a martyr, trying to take it on all by yourself. But you won’t get help from people by declaring to the crowd, “I need a volunteer!” That moment when everyone steps up simultaneously makes for great cinema, but I’ve never seen it happen in real life. Don’t wait for it to happen magically. Leave that to Disney.

As much as we might think we don’t like being told what to do, most of us will respond to that, at least when it’s a gentle, persuasive appeal. I like the “congratulations! You’ve been chosen to help me…” line. I also used, “good news! We’re going to work together on a project.” You’d be surprised how well a little sarcastic humor is received. Don’t be afraid to be turned down. It’s okay to refuse sometimes. Just don’t be that guy. You know who I’m talking about.

Don’t be surprised when someone offers to help you. Most of us are looking for opportunities to be of some assistance. There’s something ingrained in us that makes us crave it, that satisfaction we get from helping another person. Actually, other creatures don’t seem to share our values. (I think polar bears kill their young or something like that. That’s probably something to do with food supplies and the wilderness, which we don’t run into much in the US.) all that being said, I’m still not sure what most of us are afraid of. I think I’ll make it a new year’s resolution to ask for help more often.