The Science of You…and Me.

I’ve been trying to get acclimated to the new semester, and I think it’s okay to take a break from constantly ranting and raving. Today, I want to speak honestly about life. But the stuff that weighs on my heart is the issue of self-identification.

In one of my classes this semester, we’re discussing classifications of organisms (as a prequel to the rest of the material) and the question was asked: Why do we classify things? The answer was: to order a chaotic world. I think that for the most part, that’s pretty true. But I think we, as human beings, also want to belong. We have a sense of longing to be part of something greater than just our own individuality. And maybe that seems a little naive, but maybe it isn’t.

  

I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times throughout the life of my blog, about where do I as an individual fit in to life’s big puzzle. But I invite you all to also think about it. How do you identify yourself? Is it just through your name? Your preferences? Your associations? What about who you are as a single individual, without regard to someone or something else? How would your identification change? It’s no difficult task to put yourself in a category. It’s an entirely other matter to design the category that you alone fit in.

Allow me to demonstrate. I am a pretty much run-of-the-mill midwestern woman. I tie my hair up in ponytails, I drink coffee, I know how to shovel snow, care for sick animals and even how to field dress carcasses (I really don’t enjoy it though, but if the great earth mother gives unto us, it is disrespectful to waste that gift. And I try not to partake either.). I am a wife, a cat-loving-dog-owner (he’s my little cat-dog), a sister, a daughter, a student, an employee and a coworker, a friend, a dreamer, and I’d say most definitely an extroverted introvert (yea, I know. It gives me problems too.). But take away anything that has to do with someone else (so-daughter, wife, sister, worker, etc) and take away the references to religion, geography, capabilities and preferences. What is left?

I call that “left” stuff the essence of me. But I don’t really know what it is. Is it emotion? Because I have quite a bit of that. Is it personality? I think I have a decent amount of that too. Is it what I am made of? Atoms, cells, blood, skin, organs, memories? I mean, I suppose that would have to be included. So what am I that no one else is? I am me and you are you. And I couldn’t be you if I tried, but I wouldn’t want you to be me either.

I know, you were all expecting for the meaning of life. And I shan’t disappoint! Because each and everything that I have said is both true and false. And I hope you’ve stuck around long enough to see why.

In the very beginning of time, before history, before science, before everything we know, there were stars. And these stars grew until they could grow no more, exploding when they reached their peak. When these stars explode, they create a bunch of atoms, in the order of the periodic table. First Hydrogen, then Helium, then Lithium, Beryllium, and so on and so forth until at least Iron (which is the 26th element). Each atom mixes with the others, out in space, combining and pulling apart. Now why am I telling you this?

  

There is a law in science called the Conservation of Energy. Now, in science, a law means that hundreds, if not thousands of test have been done and for all intents and purposes, the law is a scientific fact. This is why no one disputes gravity-even though you can’t see it directly. Anyway, the Conservation of Energy can be simplified down to the following: no energy can be created or destroyed in a system. There is also the law of the Conservation of Mass. This also is simplified down to: no mass (the stuff everything is made of) can be created or destroyed in a system. So what does that have to do with anything?

Well, we know that a human is made up of a lot of water, but what else? If you look at the most common elements that a body is made up of you get: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Sulfur, Sodium, Chlorine and Magnesium. Now if you look at a Periodic Table of Elements, you’ll see that those elements are numbered: 8, 6, 1, 7, 20, 15, 19, 16, 11, 17 and 12. Iron, as I said is 26, which means that all of the elements that make up most of us come before Iron. That further means that the stars that exploded made the elements I have listed here.

  

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m very glad! Because the laws I mentioned, they come into play here. Since absolutely nothing can be made or destroyed, the atoms (which make up the mass of everything) which make up you and I came from the explosions of the stars. So here’s the deal. We are all made up of the little tiny particles which first originated in stars. So when you hear people say “We are stardust”, believe them. Because although this information is all paraphrased from other sources, it remains true. And just incase you wanted to know more about the meaning of life, let me explain death.

Before I really go on, let me tell you a story (you know that’s my thing!). I once went to a funeral of a family member and sat in the back, just observing. I watched the widow sit in the front row, the handkerchief crumpled in her hands, her eyes puffy and red from crying. But what I had not expected to happen, was the moment I caught her eye. I looked away immediately, not out of shame, but out of the understanding that I could not bear the weight of her pain. It would have been far easier if her eyes had been dead, the windows to a soul lost to the oblivion. But they weren’t. They were the windows to summer basketball sessions between her late husband and her kids, the early mornings when snow would lightly fall and she would watch him sleep. They were the windows to a thousand more “I love you’s” which would fall on deaf ears and the echoes of petty fights that would haunt her recollection for years to come. And at the funeral of a childhood friend, I remember looking at his body, thinking about how many times that might have been me, how even in death, he didn’t seem so happy, but maybe that’s because his body was pumped full of gallons worth of chemicals and the makeup could not hide the way his neck curved ever so violently, the ghost of a rope ever so snug around the collar of his dress jacket.

  

If no matter and no energy can be lost or created, what happens at death? Quite obviously, there is still mass. You have a body almost always, a quiet shell of a person lying still. But a person while living maintains the energy of thought, of breath, of circulation. And once ceased, that energy cannot be destroyed. The body heat rises into the atmosphere, reuniting with the clouds, the rain and the air. The breath that once ran through them now runs though the atmosphere. The memories which gave fuel to their every move, their every sense of self, they belong now to the people who need them most, to those with whom they were shared before. And I think that is a lovely thing. We are both part of the universe and made up of it. We cannot be created from nothing and we cannot disappear to nothing. The life of each and every one of us was determined by the star explosion, the energy and life of others, the ability to continue on. And that’s why it’s entirely okay if you could not define yourself as just yourself before. Because in all honesty, you really can’t be you without others. But it’s okay. Because the others couldn’t be themselves without you either.

  

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Role Models and Hope For A Messed Up World

I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say right away, so this post is coming almost a week after the incident, but the concept has been stuck in my head for quite some time. As an individual, I love being a singular version of myself. But I look often for someone else who is also a trailblazer. I wanted to write about why I look for and who I select as a role model for my life. I think it’s important for people, women especially, to have someone who is an upstanding, respectable example of the lives we want to lead. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people from older stories who could be role models (I frequently look to Joan of Arc, personally). The problem with using people from the past is that things were different. The world was not the same then as it is now, and we need people who are more like us than sword bearing warriors or queens from afar. 
  There is the social media factor, I suppose, which lends itself to a certain realm of role models, some good, some not. But it seems that the news represents best those who are not good role models for the young (and young-ish) people of today. I am of course talking about the celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lindsey Lohan and to some extent even Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They all represent the pandemonium of fame and the pit falls thereof. We could also examine outlets like Disney or Matel, who have presented the world with prestigious Barbie, Cinderella, and Ariel (just to name a few). It is these three which are both a great help and a hindrance to young women of today. I want to explore them and then propose my list of four individuals who are better role models for our generation. 

  Barbie: In almost every household you might find her, or a cousin or a friend. She is blonde, brunette, red headed, light skinned, dark skinned. She has had a plethora of jobs, donned an impressive collection of costumes and even manages quite a large variety of accessories. Over the years, people have yelled at her for being too skinny, too unrealistically proportioned and too shallow. I mean, there was even a brief moment in Toy Story 3 where she was introduced to public audiences as a complete and utter bimbo, followed by a weak attempt to reclaim her dignity. But the thing is, she’s too uniform. She has no individualized flaws. No scars, stretch marks, beauty marks, wrinkles, pimples, or really flaws of any kind. Her makeup is always done, she’s always smiling and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

  Cinderella: She’s Disney’s star princess. I mean, who didn’t want to be a princess because of her? She came from rags to riches, found a guy, married Royal and viola. She even had a set of killer shoes. But what does she have as far as personality? She’s got wishes, desire. But she lacks motivation and drive. She “asked for a dress, shoes and a night off”. I get it. But that’s not real life at all. And why do you need a man to provide you with everything? I mean, independence goes a long way. I know in the original story she was a teenager, but isn’t that kind of the point? In her time period, that made her basically an adult, and I know she would have been in need of a man, but this is the 21st century and we don’t need that anymore. Say it with me: I am a strong, independent woman who needs no man, but can have one if I so desire.

  Ariel: With a golden voice and perfect hair, who cares about anything else, right? Wrong. Again, you don’t need a man to be the best woman you can be. The thing is, Sebastian was right. Giving up everything, your soul and life included, just to get a man (or attempt to) is not the way to go. And by this point, wouldn’t you also need to make exceptions for finding the right partner-be it woman or man or just a good friend? As with Cindy, sorry Ariel, but there’s nothing that warrants me looking up to you if you’re going to change everything about yourself for someone else.

So I’ve given you a basic run down of my issues with the above, but I do want to mention that I know these characters are fake, but they are widely distributed and influential. I do not want to come across as impossible to reason with so the last person (it’s actually two people) are fictitious as well. And I also realize that the women I am looking at have flaws. But that’s exactly why I chose them. And I will go over them as well. These are, of course, my own personal opinions and you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments, as always. So,without further adieu.

Michelle’s List of Role Models for Women of 2015.

  Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo: You might not have heard of this woman, but she is the reason I’m doing this post. Seven days ago, she was sworn in as a judge in New York. She wore a headscarf, because she is Muslim and she was sworn in on the Qur’an. Now, none of this even really seems like anything out of the ordinary. But the amount of hate mail she received for being sworn in on the Qur’an is astounding. This woman vowed to uphold the law, as she has done her entire career. She is an upstanding citizen who was voted into office. I came across this story in my FaceBook news feed because of how many ignorant people are accessing social media to tear her down. You are permitted to swear into office on any holy book and even the constitution of the United States. She has done nothing above and beyond the average expectations I have for a law abiding citizen, but she is my candidate for a role model for the simple fact that she stuck by her faith, even when people threatened her and heckled her about it. She stayed true to herself, even though that path offered great resistance.

  Adele: Let me say that I am a huge fan of Adele. Her voice is so beautiful, and she’s gorgeous. She’s not stick thin, and I love her for it. She says what’s on her mind and once again, stays true to herself. She took time from her career to take care of her baby. We’re almost the same age and that means a great deal to me. Why, you ask? Because she’s proving that not all 20 year olds and 20-somethings are wild and crazy and awful. She’s a credit to our age group. She even works at a record shop. Her flaws? She’ so soulful in her music that she really only sings sad songs. Which isn’t like a huge flaw, but I don’t associate anything other than sad love songs and break up songs with her. 

  Angelina Jolie-Pitt: Did this one take you by surprise? I really thought that this spot would be occupied by many other people, and indeed it could have been, but there are lots of women who could have taken this spot who simply aren’t as well known. And while you are all entitled to have your own individual role modes, for the purposes of this blog, I needed someone visible. She adopts underprivileged kids, she works with charities and organizations, speaks on behalf of underprivileged people to the UN. And on top of that, she preventatively had a mastectomy so that she didn’t have to worry about breast cancer. I mean, that sounds like a very personal thing and she’s known for her body. I remember a lot of people were upset at her for taking charge of her own body, and that is why I commend her for doing it. She did what she had to do so that she could live her life to the fullest. Also in this spot, Emma Watson for similar reasons. 

  

  Molly Hooper/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I told you I would bring in some fictitious characters. I chose one from my younger adult life and one from my current adult life. So I will start with Buffy. She was a kick-ass teenager who saved the world a lot. And the thing is, that was badk when TV series were filmed with people who looked like teenagers playing teenagers, and incorporated flaws and diversity of character types. Buffy had an attitude, she was impatient and made mistakes. She needed help and asked for it, she complained about life and then grew up and made sacrifices. She represented real teenage life, apart from vampire hunting. And her friends were just as painfully realistic. But they all had a moral code and they represent a lovely era of beautiful story telling.

   Molly Hooper. I have great aspirations to be Molly Hooper. For those of you who do not know who Molly Hooper is, allow me to tell you. The BBC produces a show called Sherlock, based off of Sherlock Homesfrom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the BBC version, there is a medical examiner by the name of Molly Hooper.  She has an enormous crush on Sherlock, does everything dignified she can to get him to notice her including buy him a present at Christmas. He’s rude about it and she calls him out on his bad behavior. Later in the series, she also tells him he’s throwing away his gifts and that he should apologize for various actions. Sherlock comes to respect her. And she didn’t change herself. She stayed true to her personality and persona, all while being a valuable asset to a team. Honestly, I know that this is all fiction, but really, if I were ever to model myself after someone who never existed in real life, it would be Molly Hooper. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, I HIGHLY recommend it. I can discuss all manner of theories with you. I’m a true and devoted CumberCookie and Sherlockian.

Anyway, this has been my short list about female role models in modern society. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. 

What’s My Age Again?

9 December 1992. It was a cold day in December, flurries and snowflakes abounded and as the sun disappeared, a lunar eclipse kissed the moon. In the chill, the bitter cold of night, there was a silence. A single snowflake fell to the ground, having caught the light of the blood red moon, and the world held its breath. Seconds passed, each one bringing the moon closer to the culmination of the eclipse, the tint caressing the moon with no inclination of saying goodbye. And right as the moon shone brightest, a scream rippled through the stark white hospital. The lights were dim, the sounds of Christmas carols humming through the radio and in a flurried rush, as the snowflakes outside the window, a baby was wrapped in a blanket, the jam-like innards having been sucked from her nose, her bottom having been smacked. That child, covered in goop, being rapidly wiped off and swaddled, was me. I came home in a Mickey Mouse shirt, which my mother graciously lets me keep in my clothes drawer with my socks.
My mother was told she could never have kids. I was both a surprise and a blessing (or so my parents tell me). I’m sure they really had no idea just how many surprises were to come to them on my behalf. I’ve been through every emotion and hair color, I’ve grown fond of coffee (if you couldn’t tell), I fell in love with music. I learned to play almost a dozen instruments, I even thought about being a music major in college, even auditioned. We always put the Christmas tree up after (or on) my birthday). And now, I live with my husband and life has changed so much since my earliest memories.

Last year on my birthday, I anxiously awaited the minute I turned 22 so that I could buy the Taylor Swift song. But as I approached this birthday, I realized that finding a “23” song would be much harder. So I began my search. As the title suggests, I found Blink-182 first and then Jimmy Eats World. But that song just wasn’t enough for me. I’m sure my sister would love for me to claim the R5 song “Wishing I Was 23” but I just can’t connect to it either. Next to reach the chopping block was “23” by Shakira. I’m a huge fan of Shak, and I really thought maybe this song would be it. But I kept looking-just in case. And then I landed on “Waiting” by Jamie Campbell Bower. And I think I have my song. 

Being 23 is already pretty stressful. I have another year just gone. I spent it being sucked down by my cowardice and anxiety, I found myself changing my mind-a lot, and I picked myself up after tons of times being metaphorically beaten down. But it’s gone, for better or worse and I can’t get it back. That’s really something to think about. It’s a scary world out there and I’ve missed another year. Or am I just another year closer to the best me I may ever be?

So my goals for year 23, are personal,more so than they have ever been. I want to break my shell once and for all. I want to get out and meet people, make eye contact and not be afraid of everyone. I want to work out more. Not so I can be skinny, but so I can be healthy. I want to be able to go into the next parts of my life in the best shape I can. I want to do something-like get my book published, or sell a song to a famous person, or even just go somewhere. And more importantly, I want to succeed. Less thana year from now, I’m applying to grad schools and law schools. I want more than anything to get in. I want to smile at the acceptance letter and realize I did it. I want to not be scared to drive. I have a CRAZY story to tell you all sometime about why I have worries driving, but today I shall not get into it. And I want to enjoy life. I don’t need to have “everything”-the perfect body, makeup, hair, and material goods. I just want to spend more mornings looking at the sunrise, more evenings staring up at the heavens and maybe, just maybe, finally learn how to play guitar.

All that I need is to be true to myself. And that is my favorite reason why I’m 23.

So come close, and I’ll scream

Oh just let me be me

And I fail to see

The dark skies aren’t all that dwell inside me

-Jamie Campbell Bower, Waiting

  

But what then?

  For what it’s worth, I have a growth curve, a very noticeable learning curve of sorts. I know that I do not know everything, and that is okay. But I do not see it as a stopping point, as an acceptable place to just stop my curiosity and settle into the routine of all that I do not know. But what I know that I know is that I am but a single drop in a wide ocean. 

I’m reading over lectures, looking at notes for classes I attended and I have a feeling my finals will not be so bad. I like that feeling. I like that there is a little uncomfortablilty, a little stress and then it is all I can do not to check my grades every 30 seconds to see if there’s a possibility that they’ve been updated. I will then embark on a break, being able to do as I please (watch Netflix in my pajamas and drink coffee all day) and then carry on as usual. I live on an eternal clock of semesters and breaks. I sit in classes for 8-9 months of my life, split up with breaks ranging from 3 day weekends to 3 weeks to the entire summer. It’s cyclical and represents the entirety of almost 2 decades of my life.

One day I will leave the academic setting (perhaps). But what then? 

All my life I have been a student. In my earliest childhood, I was learning the faces and smells of my parents, of food. I was learning how to sit up, crawl and then walk. I learned how to hold things and get into trouble. I learned how to emote. In preschool, I learned how to get along with all manner of people, whether they were of different ethnicities, or abilities or had medical conditions. In elementary, I learned how to make friends and be polite. In middle schoool, I learned how to do homework and respect my elders. In high school, I learned how to procrastinate and drink coffee, as well as learning how to unlearn things (like procrastinating). In the first half of my college experience, I learned how to change my life. In the second half, I learned how to be comfortable with not knowing. As I look into the future, I have limited vision. I can only see so much and that’s okay.

So maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe I’ll be a student forever. And that’s okay. 

The Part that Slapped Me In The Face

I made my post earlier, about the things that bother me and I’m going to add a little to it,but also record my experience today. I’m going to approach it all as openly as I can. I’m not trying to prove anything, I just want to write today. I admit, the irony is a little astounding, and I will just say that I am human and sometimes I make mistakes.
The Background:I celebrate Christmas because it’s engrained in my head as something I shall always do. I also celebrate Yule, because I enjoy the solstice. I looked at the clock, after trying in earnest to get some homework done. I  switched gears a little to explore housing for next academic year. And I found some potential places which look wonderful. I shared my finds with my husband, we settled on a couple and  began to dig into them a little deeper.

The Emotion:I seldom feel so defeated as when I look at the cost of things. Like, basic necessity, right to life things. It amazes me how much it costs to live, even when you skrimp and save to afford the basics. Not luxury items, just the bare necessities to get by. So I closed my screen and curled up beside my husband and just cried. I cried for myself, for us both, for people out there who also have to make hard decisions each and every day. I felt overwhelmed, broken down and exhausted. He said “at least we have each other.” I couldn’t even make myself smile about that. How sad on my part. I was so overcome by all the things that were hard.

The Reality:I made up my mind that I hated being poor. I hated that we had to choose our level of comfort based on the electric bill. I hated that we had to show up to our parents’ houses without presents for everyone so that we had enough money to buy groceries. I hated that we were given a  1-foot tall tree (by my wonderful parents) that we couldn’t afford to decorate nor could we afford to turn the attached Christmas lights on, because we need every dollar we have. I hated that we are so close to the holiday season and we can’t give our friends anything more than a smile and a text message. I felt so disheartened. So I got on my phone and looked at the Christmas radio station. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas came on and I was offended. How dare music try to force me into a good mood when I had so many complaints? 

 I still have all of those feelings. It makes me sad, and very much so that I cannot afford many of the luxuries that accompany the holiday season. And in the back of my head, there was a little voice that urged me to please, just believe in all the good things, that there are so many who have even less than you. I’m not sure why people use that line. It’s meant to get you to stop whining, but it honestly just makes me feel like a 1. bigger piece of shit and 2. even more upset for them. I just sat, curled into my blankets crying, wondering why it was so painful, why it was so hard to just live.

The Slap:Why couldn’t I have been born without the need to help people live better lives? Then I could work at a meaningless job and make money and have whatever I wanted. Or if I had to help people, why couldn’t I have been born to a wealthy family who could use their resources to further my ability to help, making it possible to first help myself? But you can’t always get what you want. And I know that. It just hurts my feelings that so many people have loads of things that they aren’t thankful for, and I have so little. And it was that thought, that singular thought that halted me.

Why did I feel entitled to anything more than the body I live in? What really are the basic necessities of life? The universal rights of human beings?

The Resolution:And I decided, over a cup of coffee, that it didn’t matter. I cannot let the world bring me down forever with its injustices and unfairness. If I want the world to be a better place, I am exactly where I need to be. Because if I were rich, how could Ipossibly understand the way that “socioeconomically underprivileged” people felt? How could I possibly relate? So in all honesty, yea, I still hate that life isn’t fair. But maybe that’s why I have to experience it. I can’t know how to help if I don’t even understand why the help matters so damn much.

And for the record, I’m making our ornaments out of a cardboard box, with tin foil and markers. Because:

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” 

― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!