Where Fancy is Bred

Where, oh where, is fancy bred?
In the heart or in the head?
–Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

The heart is a powerful muscle, delivering nourishment and energy throughout the body, second by second and minute by minute. The sound of a heartbeat signifies life, fear, elation, and anxiety – the approach of a leopard and the approach of a beloved. One of the most joyous sounds is of a heartbeat in a mother’s womb; the joyous picture is the sonogram of that beating heart. The heart has been described since ancient times as the seat of emotions, though 20th century scientists in the age of “better” information designated the brain as the true ruler of emotions rather than the heart. How did the ancients get it wrong? Or did they?

Blame it on Aristotle. Blame it on the Catholic and the Lutheran Church. Blame it on the Cro-Magnons.

For Valentine’s Day, I set out to find out where the scalloped heart shape came from and why the heart was identified as the seat of emotion. As with all investigation into historical and scientific evidence, the answer is … complicated. Continue reading “Where Fancy is Bred”

Arthur Ashe: Sports & Social Justice Badass

Start where you are;
Use what you have;
Do what you can—
Arthur Ashe

Since it is Black History Month, I thought Arthur Ashe would be a fitting subject for a profile as he happens to be the author of my Favorite Inspirational Quote of All Time. I heard that yesterday was also National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and Monday was the anniversary of Ashe’s death from AIDS-related complications; it was a sign!  I remember him winning Wimbledon in 1975 in very dramatic fashion. I remember him speaking out about apartheid in South Africa. I remember him as one of the first to publically announce he had AIDS, and his passing in 1993.

Little did I know!

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The dude was a charitable foundation, social justice, human rights badass. His life was full of challenges and struggles, but every time he ran into a personal issue – which he resolved – he would turn around and create an organization to raise awareness and help other people so they wouldn’t face the obstacles that he did.  First black tennis player to play in a tournament under apartheid? He created a tennis center for blacks to play in South Africa. Had quadruple bypass surgery? Became national campaign chairman for the American Heart Association for a year. Contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during surgery? Created the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS.

And all before the age of 50. Honestly, as I read through his biography and the works on the AALS (Arthur Ashe Learning Center) arthurashe.org website, it seemed a little ridiculous. How could one person get all that done?  I remember Arthur Ashe when he was alive, and he displayed such dignity and class, that it’s impossible to imagine any of it was exaggerated. Plus, I remember him doing these things. Continue reading “Arthur Ashe: Sports & Social Justice Badass”

Gradatim Ferociter

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This past Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and it’s hard to resist the urge to still be depressed about it.  73 seconds after liftoff, the ship exploded, killing the seven astronauts including teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian in space. Later analysis revealed the likely cause to be an O ring failure as a sealant due to unusual freezing temperatures before the launch. I’d like to think that the disaster led to new, safer ways to explore space or a determination to solve scientific problems in ways to benefit us all. But thirty years in, I’ve come to realize some of that is probably fantasy, and the reality is a mix of pessimism and pragmatism.

I remember exactly where I was: at the office on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, only six months into a job with a company I would eventually support for decades. In those “yuppy” days, we still wore suits and heels and spoke in hushed tones, as if every discussion were of utmost importance. In the middle of an intense debate over something on a spreadsheet, we noticed that everyone was suddenly going into the big conference room with the television, and on the screen was this odd blotch of smoke flowering outward. Whoever had been in the room first – to watch the launch initially – had to retell the story over and over as more people came out of their offices and cubicles to join the crowd. All you could see for several minutes was smoke blossoming further and NASA Houston mumbling something about “waiting to see,” until finally the news generated some kind of replay. Then, the announcers explained what had happened, and started replaying it over and over. We’re now used to that instant replay on a loop, but that was the first time I remember seeing it put to use. Continue reading “Gradatim Ferociter”

Not the Same Perfect Ten

Forty years ago, Bo Derek modeled a certain standard of beauty in the movie “10.” Svelte and tanned, she sported Caucasian cornrows and a thin, sculpted body below her blonde Northern European features. Sixty-five years ago, it was another blonde, Marilyn Monroe, who was the poster girl, though her figure was much larger and hourglass-shaped rather than willowy. A hundred years ago, it was the Gibson girl, though she was an artistic rendering rather than a real person; also hourglass shaped with a body exaggerated by a corset. These beauty ideals have all shared common features: they represent a look that is unattainable, reflecting either wealth, lucky genetics, or a figment of the imagination.

Consider the French Age of Enlightenment. In the 18th century, before Louis XVI’s head was lopped off, the aristocracy and the arts reigned supreme. French fashion is still splashed across hundreds of portraits in the average museum, displaying on white faces, giant hairstyles, and massive gowns overflowing with fabric. Those faces were painted to make them look unblemished since the average French face had scars and discolorations. Unfortunately, the huge amount of lead in the ceruse paint often created the very scars it was designed to hide. Eyebrows were also supposed to have a certain look – different from however they normally grew —  so they were shaved and mouse hair was glued on instead, in a more ideal place or just different from wherever eyebrows would normally grow. Beauty marks were added, even according to a certain code. Continue reading “Not the Same Perfect Ten”

Dr. King and the Universal Truth

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This is a week to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the history of nonviolent protest, and the impact of the civil rights movement on our national character. It also is a week where we look towards a fairly dramatic change of government; no better time to consider messages of resistance, urgency, and inspiration.

But I am having a little trouble finding the right frame to make my comments meaningful. Saying that Dr. King was a visionary leader whose words compel us to fight injustice is like saying a rose is beautiful or that cool water quenches thirst on a hot day. These things are known and so familiar as to almost be mundane.  Writing what should be an uplifting post has started to feel like telling people they should eat kale. As we all know, kale is not edible unless it’s deep-fried and covered in Cheetos dust. I would not want to have to cover the “I have a dream” speech in Cheetos dust.

If everyone likes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, does that mean I agree with the ideas of everyone who says so? Politicians from all sides of the spectrum have issued positive press releases lauding Dr. King. Does that mean I agree with all of them?  Or, if I say that Dr. King’s ideas are revolutionary because they apply to everyone fighting against injustice, does that mean I am minimizing the work he did to advance the destruction of racist institutions? I am worried about pandering; I am worried about offending.

Continue reading “Dr. King and the Universal Truth”