Waxing Pre-Nostalgic

This subject may be about as well-worn and beaten as the books lining my shelves, yet it’s fresh in my mind thanks to the recent report by the New York Times. When the printed page does at last go extinct, I’m going to have to lock myself in my room for a day and mourn the passing of a beloved friend.

And it has surprisingly little to do with the comforting old-book smell or the satisfying weight of a leather tome balanced precariously between two outstretched hands, as the Times interviewee asserts in the article (he makes book lovers sound like fans of Axe Body Spray).

Rather, I find particular appeal in the “used” part of a used book. There’s nothing I love more than discovering  a bookmark left behind by a previous owner – or the ultimate find – marginal notes! It’s an irrevocable personal stamp, demonstrating the common bond between readers across generations. I inevitably find myself musing on whether or not my book’s co-owner is still alive, and compiling inventive stories about what life must have been like for him/her during the time he held the same book in his hands. Finding that scrawling script on a yellowed and crumbling page resounds in my soul with such force that I seem to hear the rattling ghost of Walt Whitman whispering in my ear: “Oh me! O life!”

I recognize that ‘progress’ is inevitable. Still, I will miss those musty, old Time Machines in the days when the iPad replaces the “I Am.”

At least now I know how Tom Bombadil felt.

Tom Bombadil: the precursor to that nutty guy on your corner.

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“He chose for himself from the pile a brooch set with blue stones, many-shaded like flax-flowers or the wings of blue butterflies. He looked long at it, as if stirred by some memory , shaking his head, and saying at last:

‘Here is a pretty toy for Tom and for his lady! Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder . Goldberry shall wear it now, and we will not forget her !'”

The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien

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Idealism’s Still Alive and Kicking

Three names to watch out for in Philadelphia: Matthew C. Tucker, Gordon Stuart Rhoads, and Christopher Belles.  While they may sound like the lineup for the latest break-out folk rock band, what these guys are working on has nothing to do with music – and everything to do with harmony.

The Pennsylvania college grads have taken it upon themselves to clean up, grassroots-style, that recent sticky mess created by BP execs in the Gulf.  Today marks their arrival in New Orleans, where they hope they can bring a bit of Brotherly Love to the Big Easy.  Stocked with plenty of heart and determination, they still need the help of anyone not willing to stand by and watch an ecosystem collapse.  To show your support, visit Restoring the Gulf.

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Slang Terms for String Theorists

If modern physics is ever truly going to become cool, it’s going to have to enter into the parlance of everyday slang.  So I’ve decided to give it a tiny boost by compiling my very own database of terms — which I will be dropping into conversation.

Look out, ladies. Brian Cox is also British. And a rockstar (sort of).

brian: (n.) an attractive male.  Derives from the concept that all sexy physicists will inevitably be named Brian (i.e. Brian Cox, Brian Greene).

e.g. “Check out that brian over by the bar.”

hadron: (interj.) Expressing disbelief, similar to the exclamation, “Yeah right!”  Derives from the unlikely chance that the LHC will result in the end of the world.

e.g. Bill: “I just saw Stephen Hawking talking to an alien on the subway.”

Ted: “Hadron!  Like he’d be caught communicating with ETIs.”

heisenberg: (n.) Swinger, someone who plays the field.  A person of whom you can never be sure at any given moment of his/her position and the velocity at which he/she is likely to run away.

e.g. “Stay away from that Jim Kirk.  He’s a heisenberg.”

off the brane: (phr.) Refers to something that is bizarre, random, without preconceptions.  Similar to the saying, “coming from left field.”

e.g. “Your decision to move to West Virginia is a bit off the brane.”

one Yau short of a manifold: (phr.) As in the saying, “one card short of a full deck,” refers to a person who’s, well, not all there.

Tycho Brahe: the anti-brian.

e.g. “Tycho Brahe was one Yau short of a manifold.”

quantum: (interj.) Like the term, “duh,” refers to something that is obvious or requires no explanation.

e.g. “Quantum, my dear Watson.”

quarky: (adj.) Something stylish or appealing.

e.g. “Those are some quarky shoes you chose to go with that lab coat.”

to come up infinities: (phr.) Refers to a person who speaks nonsense; a more refined version of the expletive “bullshit.”

e.g. “I quickly lost interest in that girl when she started coming up infinities.  She said she was god’s answer to the T.O.E.”

to pull an eleven-dimensional supergravity: (phr.) Refers to an individual or group of individuals who have managed to pull off an elaborate hoax or prank; may also refer to a well-conceived and executed revenge scheme; to get one’s comeuppance.

e.g. “She really tried to pull an eleven-dimensional supergravity with her proposal for the Turing Test.  Luckily, they found out in time that she’d secretly trapped Mathew Broderick inside the hard-drive.”

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Mythbusting on the Small Scale

I’ve been reading rock critic Robert Hilburn’s book Corn Flakes with John Lennon, his nostalgic account of some poignant moments spent with

One of very few real-life examples that shows, every now and then, true love really does conquer all.

rock n’ roll’s greatest legends.

Whenever I read about the old musicians, the one story that revolves itself most often in my head – like a catchy refrain you can’t get rid of even after endless bathtub recitals – has to do with the Beatles. From the time I was a kid, right about when I started to recognize Ringo Starr as more than just “the Conductor” on that PBS kids’ show, but as the drummer of one of the most significant bands in music history, I became fascinated with John Lennon. I would look through my parents’ Beatles memorabilia, just after listening to one of their records, and stare at the mysterious figure behind the round glasses. I convinced myself that there was something about this man that was profoundly weird. (I don’t mean to use the term derogatorily, but in its original sense: an outcast in tune with the ‘magic’ hidden under the surface of everyday life.) I felt that, if only we could talk, he would have understood all the turmoil that childhood brings to those who stand out. I wanted more than anything to meet him.

Of course, then followed conversations with my parents, when I first heard about Ed Sullivan and Beatlemania. Trips to the library came shortly afterwards. I still remember the day, while reading my first Lennon biography, when I learned that this man – the first person I could truly refer to as my hero – was dead. Had been dead, in fact, for several years before I’d been born. Only nine years old at the time, I shut myself up in my room and cried as if I’d lost my dearest friend.

Flash forward seven years later, to my junior year of high school: I remember sitting with a friend at someone’s sixteenth birthday party, discussing our newly-discovered mutual love for the Beatles. When I told her my favorite was John, she immediately wanted to know if we had the same opinion of Yoko Ono.

“She broke up the Beatles,” I said excitedly.

“And…?” my friend waited expectantly for the follow-up.

“Killed John Lennon,” I answered. I was repeating the formula I had learned from parents and peers over the years. My friend nodded her head emphatically. Apparently, she’d heard the same stories I had.

During my senior year, I had the option of writing a final paper on the impact of John Lennon’s murder. It was the first time I’d enjoyed doing a homework assignment. Of course, the research involved had the added effect of entirely changing my opinion of the central person in John’s life: Yoko Ono.

The more I read, the more I found myself confronted with a woman both strong and fragile, intelligent and artistic, spiritual and practical. She did not seem to be the domineering manipulator I had come to expect, but rather the primary source of personal growth for a troubled man spiraling out of control under the influence of drugs and the pressures of fame.

I learned that the Beatles, like so many other bands before them, had in fact split up in part because of the build-up of personal resentment among the members. Thanks to the death of manager Brian Epstein, along with Paul’s rather inept attempts at handling the business end of things, disagreements over creative control became too great to keep the group together.

As John points out in Hilburn’s book, the Beatles left at the perfect moment, right when they were on top. By doing so, they avoided the fate of burn-out groups who perform long after talent (and dignity) have forsaken them. (Dare I say it’s kind of like the Obi-Wan Kenobi philosophy: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”)

It seems that the only change Yoko brought about in John’s life was for the better. In her own quiet way, she chipped away at the layers of cynicism covering his heart to give new life to the sensitive poet within. Even further, she managed to awake within John a profound sense of respect for the equality of women. Without having to champion the cause of feminism, just by uncompromisingly living life the way she chose to, she achieved what few women today seem able to accomplish: being seen as an equal partner instead of just a good wife.

So I learned that, sometimes, it’s better to look into the “established facts” before forming judgements. I can’t help but think that, if only everyone could learn to look at love with a little less cynicism, and a little more understanding, we might find ourselves one step closer to a better tomorrow.

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Feeling Lucky

We’ve all heard it referred to as “Amateur Night.” And while I’m usually the type that despises tradition, there’s something about hearing this

Anyone else remember that Disney Channel original movie - The Luck of the Irish? It doesn't get much better than basketball-playing leprechauns.

epithet attached to St. Patrick’s Day that just boils my blood green.

Yes, maybe it’s an excuse for the average American goody-two-shoes to get drunk on a weeknight and come out feeling like a rebel with a hangover. But for this (partly) Irish-American, it’s about reveling in a culture and history that may make up only a tenth of my blood, but holds sway over at least half of my heart.

The next time you run into one of those shamrock-bespattered lads and lasses, try to remember the reasons Ireland’s worth celebrating: because it’s contributed a hell of a lot more than leprechauns and Guinness.

Some of my favorite reasons to wear Green with pride:

1. Irish Gaelic: It may be dying out, but it’s still one of the loveliest, lilting languages to grace the Earth. Just ask J. R. R. Tolkien, who partially based his Elvish language of Quenya on the Gaeilge verb system.

2. Oscar Wilde: Next time you’re about to use a quote while writing a speech/updating your Facebook status/conversing with friends/everything else under the sun, remember that the world’s premiere social butterfly was born in Dublin.

3. Celtic Mythology: Everyone from King Arthur to modern fantasy nerds owes some credit to the Irish gods that inspired them. Where would Morgan le Fay be without Morrigan, or a video game without the occasional appearance of Cu Chulainn?

4. Music: Two out of four Beatles were of Irish descent. Van Morrison gave every brown-eyed girl her go-to song. And The Pogues…well, they gave us Shane MacGowan.

So try to lighten up and wish those vernal drunks a Happy St. Patty’s Day. I’ll probably be in the midst of them, wearing my cheesy “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin.

When’s the last time you raised a glass to the orange, white, and green?

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Neverland Blues

Living with no fear - there's a reason why Peter Pan is my role model.

I’ve been thinking lately about that saying from the Bible, ya know, the one that everyone feels is necessary to quote at weddings and other transitionary periods in a person’s life:

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:110).”

It’s supposed to signify the importance of continued maturity as we reach the necessary hurdles in life.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if, in fact, it represents something inherently backwards in Western thought.

I remember how I spoke/understood/thought as a child.  And yes, it was significantly different from the way I process information in my adult life.  Back then, I spoke without fear.  I understood the world I was confronted with from eyes that were relatively unspoiled by prejudices and the politically correct.  I thought about things from the midst of infinite promise, untainted by the adult notions of “cynicism” and “despair.”  I was irrepressibly strong.

Maybe I just suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome, but sometimes I think the modern obsession with “growing up” in fact prevents our society from making significant progress.  I’m not saying you should run home and pull out your TMNT action figures.  But just maybe, if we all took a second now and then to remember how we felt back when “snow” was a synonym for “fun” instead of “stress,” we might find an unexpected inner strength, childlike in size, but Herculean in possibilities.

After all, who wants to be branded a codfish?

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When Manga Attacks

In the epic battle between peanuts and pistachios that has spread across the ages, pistachios win out every time.  Except, of course, when the Peanuts are made by Charles Schulz.

Yet, the question I’m sure all of us have had hovering in the back of our minds is: What would happen if the Peanuts grew up and made the sudden move to….JAPAN?

Thankfully, artist gNAW has answered the question for us:

I’m not much for doujinshi, but if this work ever turned into a comic, I’d shell out my hard-earned cash to read it.

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