Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The tapestry of our lives

Hi, I'm back. As some of you have probably noticed, I suffer alternately from insomnia and narcolepsy. Lucky for you, tonight I am apparently afflicted with the former.

Lying in bed this evening, and having given up counting sheep some time before, I was thinking about friends and family and how various individuals have helped shape who I've become and who I am. From this thought, it occurred to me that we are all connected in various ways through the impact we have on each others' lives. This prompted my brilliant life-tapestry allegory/analogy/simile which I'm about to delve into which I'm currently quite happy with. I've never heard of such a thing before and certainly haven't thought of it, so if it's old stuff, please forgive and move on.

Anyway, in France, there's this huge ribbon called the Bayeux Tapestry made by some very bored and very long-winded individuals in about the eleventh century Anno Domini. Though it's less than two feet tall, the tapestry is more than 230 feet long and tells of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. The center panels in this massive comic strip deal with the story itself, and above and below various (probably boring) details are hashed out. 230 feet. That's a lot of jeans.

A tapestry, like any other cloth, is woven of very small threads that come together to make a complete whole. While it's painfully simple to draw analogies from this, I think there's some worth in reexamination every once in a while, and given that I currently have nothing better to do, I'll delve into where my thoughts were going earlier that prompted my rising and enduring the burning torture caused by this computer screen to my dark-adapted retinae.

A common phrase in this day and age is that we are what we eat. Modified slightly, we are who we associate with, esp. those with whom we have significant interactions. I'm sure you can think of odd phrases or sayings from friends that you use, frequently or not, in your own life. Going further, we share experiences and ideas with those we cherish - our friends and family. Just as there are people who are a part of my everyday life that obviously effect how I act and feel, there are friends who I may never see again that shall forever be completely inseparable from who I am because of their impact in my life. It's an odd thing that we should promote so much of ourselves in others, with little thought toward that end. As we continue growing towards our own ends and happiness there will always be these people and these threads that will shape who we are and how we become ourselves.

In a way, this idea somewhat diminishes our individuality, in that it is easy to see ourselves as products of our situations. But in another way, it strengthens the concept of self, because, though we ARE molded by our position in various realms of existence, we can choose our part, what people and events we will and will not accept, and become accordingly. At least in my mind, it's a rather nice thought.

So the moral of the story, I guess, is to be as good a person as you can. When I hear that I always think selfishly - that I should be my best for my own ends. But when you think off all the hundreds or thousands of other wanderers to whom you reach out in this small bit of time, it makes sense that you would only want to be the cause of good. Particularly because, as time progresses, those little bits of yourself that you have shared will be passed on innumerably and imperturbably to countless others that you touch only remotely. By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. Maybe it's true.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

To have a heart

Well, it's time at the moment for an anatomy lesson, because I was thinking about it and because one of these days I'm going to relate this to a more in-depth discussion on cycling. Basically, I'm going to skip almost everything but the heart for now, because that's what I've been thinking about lately (And, oddly enough, the organ that has been partly responsible for allowing me to do the thinking).

To sum up: the heart is amazing. There is no other muscle in the body like it, in that it is capable of contracting endlessly without tiring - it does so about 2.6 billion times before deciding to stop, and has the resilliency to pump about 85 bathtubs worth of blood through 60,000 miles of veins and arteries (Along with smaller, lesser things like capillaries) every day while it's at it. It has it's own electrical impulse system, which sends impulses to the different muscle components in such an order that, when everything goes according to plan, pumps blood through your body after rejuvenating it with an efficiency and grace that is simply astonishing.

The heart is basically a fueling station for all the little vehicles of air and fuel (henceforth known as "red blood cells") that travel around your body all day and keep you alive. They come to the heart through veins - vein basically means "to the heart" - through the Superior Vena Cava when the blood is coming from above the heart, and through the Inferior Vena Cava when it's from below. The blood passes into the Right Atrium, where it's sort of queued up waiting behind a valve (The Tricuspid Vavle, to be specific) before getting to rush into the Right Ventricle. From the Right Ventricle, something very exciting and unique happens, that is so strange and intrinsically amazing that I'm going to insert a paragraph break and tell you about if following.

< breathe >

Okay, so remember how vein basically means "towards the heart?" Well, arteries are exactly the opposite - they only pump blood away from the heart. Now, it would make sense that veins are ALWAYS bringing the tired and empty blood back to the heart for R&R, and that arteries are full of cheery little workers ready to help out the rest of your body. True? Not quite! You see, after blood has been sitting around in your Right Ventricle for a moment, it gets pumped - through an artery, because it's away from your heart - to your lungs to get filled up with oxygen and stuff. This artery, the Pulmonary Artery, is the only location in your entire body in which dead-tired blood gets pumped away from the heart!

So the blood gets oxygen, and then the reverse happens, as happy, livened blood comes back through the Pulmonary Vein to the Left Atrium (detecting a trend?). It sits there, all raring to go, then gets to pass through the Mitral Valve into the Right Ventricle (I really hope you're noticing that there's a pattern here) before shooting out through your body. It should be noted here that the Left Ventricle is a tough stud because it has to power the blood going to the rest of your body. From that Ventricle, it's a simple shot through the Aortic Valve, into the Aortic artery, and it's back to circulating around the body and recharging the rest of you. Simple.

So how cool is that? The buh-bump sound you hear from your heart is various valves opening and closing in perfect harmony, getting the blood to you where you need it, when you need it (Much like Fedex, except better). In incredibly trained and gifted athletes, it can be large and strong and efficient enough that it only has to pump 30 times per minute while resting (Average for adults is around 75), but on demand it can speed things up to over 200BPM in some individuals to send your blood hurtling around your system so quickly that a red blood cell can get all the way around your body in only 20 seconds! It does this all automatically, with no thought from us. Really, our lives would be pretty boring if we did have to think about it all the time, because there's so much to it.

The ancient Egyptians believed that the heart was the key and vital organ in a person's body, and was responsible for containing the soul and intelligence of the person. While we now know that the brain is alot responsible for that, maybe they were on the right track. For now, just have a heart.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Pen and the Sword, or: Death and Taxes

I enoy writing. I feel like it's a medium through which I can communicate and be understood, or at least understand myself. I'm starting to find a voice, and as I go through my day I hear this voice in snippets that beg to be put on paper (Whether digital- or cellulose-based). I don't expect that I'm especially good at it, but it at least puts in a singular stream some of my thoughts that would otherwise flow as a confused and multitudinous river. Music stirs me emotionally and intellectually, though I can't pen a note or a chord and expect any greatness of it; writing, on the other hand, is something tangible to me that I can share with others as they choose to partake.

I'm not sure what to make of myself. Sometimes I feel as though the birds are chirping and the sun is shining and all is right in the world, but there are other times that I feel miserable and downcast and wish that I was more. There are too many things for me to improve upon for me to even count or comprehend - I could be smarter, I could be better spoken, I could brush my teeth with more vigor and vim - and sometimes, when confronted with all of it, I'd rather just shut down and ask "why me." I could no sooner cease to be, though, than could any matter or energy, or for that matter any intelligence whatsoever. It seems then that the only path I can choose is to continue and progress in my chosen course.

Some people seem to choose a sort of apathetic doomsday approach to life. For them, the rain is always falling and the IRS is always on their tail to steal their money. It is better to passively complain than to seek any change, or it is better to be silent than to seek good. So many choose to walk with their eyes at their feet, looking only to where they're going and not toward what's around. But really, what's the fun in that? There's so much around to see if we just pull our heads up and decide to see it! People get trapped in filling their expensive Mercedes with expensive fuel on the way to their expensive job, and they seem to forget that they have souls. They forget to yearn and hope and chase and desire and love the good and great things in life - they forget to wonder at how magnificent everything really is and decide to peer at everything through nuclear-waste colored glasses.

I should hardly be speaking, though. So often I forget that the grim and the bleak is transitory, that though death and taxes may be certain they are hardly the be-all end-all of our existence, and there is so much happiness to be attained through other means. The simple things can often be so fulfilling; pedalling away on my (overpriced, underused) bicycle through glade and glen as I search for new places in my mind and on the road leaves me feeling elated about myself and others in a way that I rarely otherwise experience. I think everyone has a sort of special place to go, in which they can experience the flow - the quiet, content, and intent focus - that makes things meaningful and special where before they were simply the mundane. I know people that love to rock climb. There are others that like to paint, or sing, or dance, or run, or any number of other things that make them, for that brief moment in time, free.

It seems, as I think about it, that we desire entirely to be free but sometimes don't know how to accomplish it. War is wonderful and swords are stupendous, but the things that really make us happy and that drive us internally are our own personal arts. I find an artistic beauty in the whirring of my wheels and chain as I drive myself along, being an engine and deciding my speed and my path as my faculties combine to propel me down the black tarmac. Similarly, those with greater fine motor control than your average whale probably find great joy in taking what is in their mind and filling a canvas with it. Art can come in so many different forms, and it seems that we need it to live and survive.

I don't know what direction my life is going to take, but I'm very much excited to find out and get there. Anticipation can be a wonderful and evil thing, and it's with great joy (and sometimes greater duress) that I look toward that bright and glorious future (by which I'm NOT referring to socialism). Hopefully I'll remember to continue as I ought, and though my feet may be on the road less traveled by, I can keep my chin up and be alert, and that will make all the difference.