Monthly Archives: April 2009

dinosaur

you're also CRAZY sexy, so that's something too

Dinosaur Comics pretty much sums up every interesting thing I ever learned in college.  Fact: I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology, and I cannot label all the parts of a cell.  Yet I do remember that I spent a hell of a lot of time having the exact conversation that T-rex and Utahraptor are having above.  And let me tell you, those conversations were much more useful than the Golgi apparatus.  (Though I can’t say for sure, because I can’t remember anything about the Golgi apparatus except that it is fun to say.)

Speaking of dinosaurs, I know this first-grade boy who is obsessed with them.  He’s homeschooled and I give him lessons in science occasionally; one day we finished our lesson early so he drew some pictures of dinosaurs and told me about them.  As you would expect for a little boy, his favorite dinosaur is T-rex, but he also knows an incredible amount not just about different types of dinosaurs but about their evolution and the evolution of now-extinct prehistoric plants.  So I asked him if he knew anything about early humans.  He said: “Well, there was one, that was before humans, it was an ape that walked upright.  It was called Australopithecus.”  That knocked my socks off!  True, he didn’t exactly say “Australopithecus”– his enunciation isn’t the best, and he still says “aminals” instead of “animals” half the time– but I knew what he meant.

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two favorite dreams

I hate it when people talk about their dreams.  Other people’s dreams are so rarely interesting, while your own dreams are endlessly fascinating.  Nevertheless, I have been thinking about dreams a lot because my dreaming life has been rich lately, and whenever I think about the richness of dreams I recall these two:

One night five years ago, I dreamed that I was watching a bunch of people who were taking turns climbing to the top of a 30-ft. platform and diving into a tiny blow-up kiddie pool.  One guy climbed the platform, jumped, landed face-down on the ground, and busted his knee open– only it was my knee.  He had borrowed my body for the jump, and when he gave it back to me, my knee was a torn-up, bloody mess.  I was furious.  I yelled at him for messing up my knee and said: “If you get your own body, you can do whatever you want with it!”

The meaning is crystal clear because I was a Christian then, and it was just a few months before I transferred to Wheaton, and I was really dreading it.  I didn’t want to leave my first college which I loved, but I believed with all my heart that God wanted me to go to Wheaton.  The dream reminded me of why I was going, my belief that I was bound to obey God because my life was not my own.  I wrote it down because it was such a poignant reminder, and I still think it’s a very beautiful dream.

When I was 16 I was a serious violin student, and one week my teacher assigned me a new piece which required a flabbergasting technique that I had never learned before.  She showed it to me once, and then told me that I was to work on it and be able to play it at my next lesson.  When I went home and tried it, I didn’t know how to even begin.  I had no idea how to replicate what she had shown me, and after trying for several days, I was no closer to figuring it out.  One morning at school, I was taking a short, 15-minute nap in the library before class, as I often did when I drove to school early.  I had a dream that my violin teacher was teaching me how to play the new piece.  When I was woken by the school bell, I opened my eyes and my immediate thought was: I know how to play that piece now.  All I could remember about the dream was that I was standing in front of a window playing violin, and my teacher was there.  I didn’t remember what she had done or said; I couldn’t explain it at all.  But I was absolutely certain that when I picked up my violin, my fingers would be able to perform that technique.  And when I went home after school that day, that’s exactly what I did.

These two dreams are my favorite because they are the epitome of what dreams are and what they can do.  In both cases, my mind took important elements from my waking life, a problem or conflict that I was trying to solve, and wove its elements in a way that helped me make better sense of it.  Neither dream gave me any new information, but they successfully reminded me of just the things I needed to hear from the cobwebby recesses of my mind.  In the case of the violin dream, perhaps it refreshed my waking memory of what my teacher’s technique looked like, and how to translate what she’d shown me into my own body and my own instrument.  So much of violin playing is like that: a personal, muscle-based kind of knowing that bypasses the speech part of the brain.  That dream is one of my favorite violin-playing memories.  I relish that feeling I had upon waking: my fingers and hands had something new and live inside them that was just waiting to be applied to an instrument.

social categorization and small-group community

I recently got to travel to a remote Native Alaskan village (population ~70). I spent a few days teaching in the school, which consisted of two classes: 5 primary students, and 6 secondary students.  With one teacher for five grades, the older kids helped the younger kids and everyone worked together.   I was surprised at how well the students got along; conflicts were usually resolved quickly without the teacher needing to interfere.  The school in general seemed very close-knit, more like a family.

Seeing that extreme example of small-town community shed light on my own small town, and community dynamics in general.  The town where I live is just small enough that there are no cliques.  One woman I know describes it thus: there are two types of people in the world, shiny people and hairy people; this is a place where shiny people and hairy people mix.  It’s true; in a small, isolated group, everyone gets along because they have to.

My favorite feature of small-group community is the lack of social stereotyping and categorizing.  It’s not just that shiny people and hairy people mix; there’s no need to be one or the other, to associate yourself with any such identifying paradigm.   The prevalence of social categorization in the world is something that has always bothered me.  There’s a general pressure to find where you fit in, to identify yourself with a social/personality group; and once you find your social group, to conform even more to its norms.  It just drives me crazy that even if your social group is “people who don’t care about their appearance”, there are still norms of dress and material accessories.

I suppose that categorization is an inevitable result of having a large population or a large number of anything.  Things like categorizing music and literature into genres are helpful when you’re shopping, but I don’t think it’s necessary to use those genres to categorize social groups and then reinforce their categorization.  I absolutely loathe the question “what kind of music do you listen to?” as a social identifier.

All of the best experiences of my life have been within small, single-group communities.  Within those groups, the lack of social categorization makes me feel free and more genuinely myself.  In a small place, you get along with people who you wouldn’t normally be friends with, given a wider selection.   Categories don’t disappear entirely, but you get to know more types of people, and there is often only one person in each category, giving everyone a chance to be unique and to define their own social role.

Of course, a significant disadvantage of such a circumstance is the lack of opportunities to specialize and explore interests that don’t interest anybody else.  And small towns have their own problems.  Native villages, including the one I visited, have huge problems with drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence.   Those problems also exist in my town, and they also lack social categorization, not being confined to certain parts of town or certain groups of people, or even behind closed doors like it might be elsewhere.  They can’t be avoided.  Everyone knows everyone else’s business, and everything is conserved: your actions, your mistakes, your relationships, your embarrassments, and others’.  All that really pisses me off sometimes, and sometimes I long for anonymity, for myself and for the kid whose father shows up drunk to yell at her in public.  Still, for selfish reasons, I think I prefer this type of community.  The blurring of stereotypes and social lines, both positive and negative, gives me the freedom to be myself and to know more surely who that is.