May 15th, 2009


Poem: "Where No One Has Gone"

This poem originated with the May 5, 2009 Poetry Fishbowl and was selected in the generally sponsored poetry poll. It was inspired by prompts from arielstarshadow and jenny_evergreen.

Where No One Has Gone

There lies within us
a hidden instinct
that pushes us upwards.

This is what compels us
to press our baby hands against the ground
and wobble upright, toddling erect
in defiance of gravity.

This is what drives us
up the steep sides of mountains,
so far that not even the air
can follow.

This is what seduces us
away from the safety of the plains,
up to the perilous peaks –
and onward, upward yet
to the black savagery of space.

There is something in us that rises
and lifts our eyes to follow,
striving to bring our bodies along
even beyond their endurance,
a drive as deep and sure
as that which causes trees to grow
away from the pull of gravity.

The urge to be first is not easily satisfied,
nor the undiscovered country easily found.
The ground has been touched by feet,
covered by them for millennia;
even the sky grows tired
with our constant comings and goings.
But look up – up –
above the uttermost mountains
and beyond the last gasp of atmosphere.

Here the frontier is not final
but infinite.

Daydreaming and the Mundane Mind

Sometimes I am amazed at what other people don't know, like this:

Surprise! Daydreaming Really Works the Brain
Got a tough problem to solve? Try daydreaming.</p>

Contrary to the notion that daydreaming is a sign of laziness, letting the mind wander can actually let the parts of the brain associated with problem-solving become active, a new study finds.

For me, daydreaming is one of my heavy-lifting mental processes, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. It's one of the most powerful things I do. There's a certain part of my mind that I disengage for this, but otherwise, almost everything that I am comes on line at full steam. The impression of speed and weight and flight is tremendous. Imagine a locomotive ... with wings. That's what I was doing the other day when I knocked out 5000+ words of story, and then more or less collapsed because my body couldn't keep up with my brain. It's exhilirating.

That version really only works when I'm writing. I can do a lesser but still very useful version for problem-solving or brainstorming. And I can warn people that the more you use your imagination and your daydreaming, the stronger they get -- and there are drawbacks to that. Worrying is essentially an extrapolative function, and the stronger your imagination, the worse the tendency to worry and the harder it is to stop. Also, the stronger your imagination and the more powerful the lateral connections, the harder it is to choose the focus of your creativity or attention and the harder it is to keep focused on a particular thing. Like a huge free-spinning engine, it wants to whiz around like crazy. Most of the time I can exert a reasonable amount of control, but sometimes it just zooms off in a direction of its own and all I can do is hold on for dear life. And sometimes the power steering goes out and I am left trying to manhandle the monster engine by brute force, which is exhausting.

Now, I'm okay with this arrangement. I realized early on what was happening and a fair bit of why, and decided that I was willing to pay the price. That sort of awareness seems to come naturally to a certain flavor of writer. But I could well imagine more mundane folks being caught wholly off-guard after some well-meaning attempts to teach them brainstorming techniques caused their worrying to increase or their focus to waver.

So if you're working to develop things inside your own head, pay close attention to them, not just the intended effects, but the side effects. Sometimes there are ways to ameliorate the side effects, but if they're innate to the objective -- caused by the same force you desire for some other reason -- then you will either have to cope with them or give up on your goal. You'll be better equipped to make the right decision if you know what's going on in your head.

White African-American?

I found this post on another blog, and it raised some interesting questions:

Paulo Serodio Suing N.J. Medical School for Discrimination, Says he is a White African-American
Can a white guy call himself an African American? Well, Paulo Serodio says he is. He was born and raised in Mozambique and is now a naturalized American citizen. He has filed a lawsuit against Newark-based University of Medicine and Dentistry, claiming that he was harassed and suspended for identifying himself during a class cultural exercise as a "white African-American." He said that this has destroyed his life and his career. The lawsuit asks for Serodio's reinstatement at the school and monetary damages. It has named the university and several doctors and university employees as defendants. So, besides some people being unable to keep a straight face during this discussion, the guy is right in a sense. Doesn't Teresa Heinz Kerry come to mind? She was born in Mozambique and does consider herself an African American. So, is the term African American only reserved for blacks? Africa is so diverse, there are people of all races that can call themselves Africans, so why not African Americans if they are naturalized?

I think, if you ask someone to define themselves culturally, then you have no right to complain if their definition displeases you. You asked for it. It is the right of each person to define who they are. Only if you have enough power to design official forms can you obscure -- at least on paper -- someone else's identity by forcing them to choose among limited options which you have provided, none of which may fit.

I think that "white African-American" is a relatively clear ethnic description, inasmuch as anything can be clear in the muddy terrain of race issues. People sometimes get so fixated on outward appearance, they forget that culture is usually stronger than appearance in shaping someone's personality and beliefs.

I wish that the world was less focused on appearance and on labels. Those fixations carry forward old problems and cause new ones. We can't simply make the past disappear. In this instance, other students probably were upset by the use of "white African-American." They may have felt threatened by it. I don't think that gives them a right to erase someone else's identity, because people have tried to do the same to African-Americans and they don't like it; nobody would. At the same time, skin color does influence how people treat each other; that generally means, if you have fair skin and you upset darker people on a race issue, you have a responsibility to consider whether what you just said or did is just a misunderstanding or touches on a real threat that you didn't notice from your perspective. It not fair to assume they're "just overreacting."

The whole situation could have been handled much better, by opening a discussion about self-identity in general. If we want a world where skin color and ethnic background are accepted variations and not something to fight over, then we need to take steps in that direction. That means carefully working through issues like this, not just trying to hush them up or resort to a court case that declares one side the Winner.

What can we do about it from here? Not much, except use this as an example of how not to handle a delicate issue. If something similar comes up in your field, try for a saner response. Words have power; we all have a responsibility to use them carefully. Fighting over them is like wrestling over a running chainsaw.