Category Archives: brain research

Do I Want To Live Forever?

Do you want to live forever?

*Author’s Note: After 800+ essays and poems, WordPress asks this old girl the question – to prompt her reply, we assume. As if, after 800……but, you know the tune.

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Last Sunday, in the second row of the Unitarian congregation of Girard, Blossom McBrier announced her latest impending venture: she, having just turned 99, would celebrate her 100th year by traveling to the North Pole. Seems there had always been thousands of tiny lights in her firmament, and Blossom would seek their source in the Aurora Borealis – even if, as she declared, she froze to death en route.

When I was a kid we, in our family, were raised to face eternity. The sectarian fundamentalists, Christian variety, were into that. Still are, in fact. Life everlasting, after all.

Not to sound glib, the reality was: from birth, the dogma were clear; know that your soul was infinite, and the direction of its path open to the power of free will.

The Bible taught us that God the Father had provided, for lost mankind – gripped by original sin and enmity from its Creator – a way, toward redemption. The source was Jesus the Son, Christ, whose sacrifice on Calvary’s cross paved the way for total forgiveness. Just by confession and acceptance: personal absolution.

And, beyond mere verdict, the reward: eternal life – with God, and the Saviour Jesus, in the Heaven of holy provision. The body would return to the dust whence it had arisen but the soul would continue, forever. World, without end. Amen.

I remember trying to wrap my head around this inaccessible phenomenon, as a toddler. The concept, and my attempt at grasping it, actually made me nauseous. Physically discomfited, I became acutely disturbed by the idea. Comprehending endlessness left me frightened by something even more foreboding: utter powerlessness. Things which had a beginning, a middle, and an end were familiar and comforting and, to a degree, subject to control. Beyond end was a chasm, a black void. I was averted.

Yes. At that particular stage of, for lack of a better word, growth…from that which had no end, I recoiled.

Perhaps growth, mental/emotional let alone physical, would account for a shift in the affect of that perspective. Now, in the “twilight years” or, if the psychics are both real and accurate, the final third of my presence on this planet I can say that my sense and view of eternity has definitely evolved. Everlasting life? Yeah. I can dig it.

Why?

Always driven by creative curiosity, this spirit derives joy from seeking out and finding the new and different. New ideas. New flavors. New places. New experiences. If left to the familiar, I quickly stagnate, even regress. Decompensation, swiftly enacted by the body, even attacks the mind; soon, I am but a slug, repeating tasks like a robot with an excretory system just because it’s handy. Being alive becomes redundant.

But, moving forward allows me reach. Searching yields a banquet of possibility; and, possibilities, they say, are endless. So, why not? Like Blossom McBrier, driven by her teeming need to know, turning in the direction of the North Pole and thermally clad I press on. If life is the absence of decay, or decay just a phase on the brink of rebirth, then being born again – and, again – sounds like a plan.

Yeah. Live forever. Ever, something new, right around the next corner.

Can you dig it? Then, everybody sing!

Hallelujah!

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Copyright 1/10/23 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose thoughts appear and whose name likewise, above this line. No copying, in part or whole including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively, and not by RSS. Thank you for accepting and respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Surveyor.

Bill hadn’t played his cello, for years.

We’d both studied with the same first teacher, Dimitri, but several years apart, never crossing paths coming up. However, about a year ago, in that roundabout random way, somebody hooked us up and Bill became yet another adult member of the studio of multi-aged students I’d established back in 1989 after my first trip into the world of Suzuki-based musical instruction at Stephens’ Point, WI.

The two of us, Bill and I, were now nearly 65 years old.

We private teachers of musical instruments run the gamut. Some are self taught, promoters of their own unique styles and approaches; others are conventionally and soundly trained by conservatories; still others come by their skills employing a mixture of acquired pedagogies and “shoot from the hip” instinct.

But, we all take on students, and that for reasons both selfish and noble. Some do because it’s easy money, no accounting for quality; others want to produce the next Perlman, Botti, or Ma; but among us authentic, Suzuki-registered devotees is a collective desire to help each, young or old, grow to enjoy the ability to make good, solid, beautiful music.

Bill was immediately likeable. He had the twinkly eyes, a clean cut presence, and a gentle demeanor. And, he said, his daughter (with whom I’d collaborated while she’d been a college student) wanted him to get some help with intonation. Sure thing, I told him; he’d come to the right place.

We set about some serious ear training. Dimitri had always been about tone, the bow trajectory, himself tall and lean, striding back and forth before us with puffing pipe, declaring with sweeping, long armed gestures: “Seeeng mit de chellow! SEEEEENG!” And, seeeeeng we did. We sang with our bows, drawing full resonance, sound albeit perhaps sourly out of tune, but big and glorious for Dimitri.

Bill already knew how to produce full, Dimitri style tone. So, the two of us worked on his ear, via his muscle memory, with keen aural attention. Pitch by pitch, Bill mastered the G major scale, pocket by pocket, until he could get through a whole Book I tune without losing its tonal center.

We moved on, into pieces which had more complex structure. He’d played some pretty advanced works of music by master composers, in the years between our lessons with Dimitri and the day we’d finally met. They’d been out of tune then, and they were now as well. We addressed all that, phrase by phrase, and there was no denying how much he cared, how earnestly he applied himself, and how each week he’d demonstrate noticeable improvement.

But, once we were all forced to go virtual, and Zoom et al afforded us zero opportunity to play together, I began to pick up on another curious feature about Bill. When playing alone, he seemed completely devoid of any internal rhythm. Even when counting, he’d start out fine but lose it midway, either accelerating or dragging until the steady beat was a vapor.

Bill understood note values. He realized that they each had specific duration. He just couldn’t express duration, when he played. Relative recognition, but complete imprecision, there was no steady beat in his consciousness.

Before anyone reading this thinks that I am in the habit of denigrating or throwing shade on any of my students, stay with me; there’s a point, here, and it’s probably not what you might be thinking.

Teachers are supposed to care about their students, hands down. But, I believe we should also strive to know them. Know them, fully. Get into their heads. And, with adults, this necessitates getting into their histories.

What was Bill about? How had he spent the bulk of his adult life?

Not as a cellist. Nope. Bill was a Security guard.

In fact, he’d begun his career as a policeman, in one of our outlying counties. From there, he’d moved to Baltimore MD, joining a force of about four thousand. Then, he became a Federal Marshall, spending decades in this field and, now, in retirement, Bill was the lone Security Guard for a major, local medical center.

As I sat listening to Bill play, I tried to get deeply into his brain. I wanted to become familiar with how his lifelong habits informed everything about him. Why was he unable to stay focused on the steady beat, even with the metronome pounding into his left ear?

I followed him from the beginning of the song to the end, and then it hit me. Bill had been trained to employ a global view. He was all about the entire scope of the environment, not the details. Any officer caught fixating on one aspect, one person’s behavior, is a cop waiting to be overtaken by a crafty criminal specializing in slight of hand. No wonder he couldn’t stay with the pulse; about a minute in, his brain would go panoramic. To the observer, his mind may have appeared to “wander”, to have “lost concentration”; but, in Bill’s world, he was merely returning to his job — as grand surveyor.

Bill being more than just pleasant, but gallant, he took to my confronting this with grace and deference. In fact, he concurred completely. I posited that he might, at work, entertain the occasional interchange of small talk with the proverbial smile and nod, but that absorbing conversational content was all an act. Again, he concurred. He didn’t like big parties, he said. He couldn’t concentrate on anything anybody ever said to him. At this point, surprise; I told him I was exactly the same. Relatability, the essence of common ground.

So, now Bill had a plan. He could harness his widely scanning, revolving, weather vane of a brain to the task of actual focus for 3 solid minutes during the passage of time required to produce a musical tune. He knew now when during the piece he’d likely veer off, and would set his intent with resolve to stay with that pulse through to the end.

Many teachers might question this conclusion. Excessive over think. Unnecessary analysis of basic inability. I stand in challenge, to all that. To my seasoned experience, there is no such thing, inability. There is only absence of informed understanding. The brain, and the mind which governs it, continues to produce – new cells, new blood vessel pathways; the mind, who is kidding whom, here? is as infinite as the God Who created it.

As we age, let’s remember that our successes are never either defined or limited by years.

Bill, the cellist, will tell you.

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© 1/11/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo/littlebarefeetblog.com. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting rights of authorship, and for being the better person.

“I Believe In Science.”

Hardly anything in this life is more worthy of celebration than news of human healing. Who could possibly argue?

Hearing that a beloved young woman – beleaguered by protracted physical symptoms – has finally received both a diagnosis and effective treatment, I am moved to speak.

What will I say? That I’m grateful she has found a qualified diagnostician? That the prescription she’s taking is working? That her symptoms are finally receding?

ALL of the above.

Yes. I believe in science. Science – the discipline involving the harnessing of nature’s evidence and applying critical methods to what it can tell us about the physical world and the sustenance of life within it.

What are the roots of the scientific inquiry? Humans want to know about that which occurs over which we creatures seem to have no dominion. Hence, the study of physics, astronomy, geology, biology, physiology, ecology, and the first of humankind’s actions upon the latter, chemistry.

What I do know, to which historical documentation will attest, is that the advent of human healing practices dates back to early homo sapiens and their counterparts, Neanderthals. Things which arise from the earth itself, plant and mineral material, were among the first of what came to be known as human medicines.

Investigate the culture of Native Americans, and others across the globe; the evidence is virtually everywhere. Plant salves, poultices, oils, and powders. These were the first medicines. In some tribes, such formulations were the domain of shamans or gurus or other healers by name, those who made it their life purpose to prepare and provide the healing treatments.

“Modern” medicine, with its study of bio-chemistry and use of man-made technologies (leading to bio-chemical engineering), has reached a broad capacity to diagnose multiple human ills. But, the medicines formulated still contain fundamental features always present since time immemorial: plant and mineral derived material. The stuff of the earth, itself.

Controversies rage over the comparative value between pharmacologically prepared vs. naturally formulated offerings. Yet, whether one chooses to ingest a solid caplet or capsule, or a powder, or a solution; whether one injects, or swallows, or topically applies; the source of any one of such choices is the root of all science: earth’s basic elements, and the manner in which they interact molecularly.

Science is the study of that which occurs, naturally, and how humankind gathers all the evidence thereof toward practical use. As such, I believe in science – wholeheartedly, in all its manifestations, because I, as a creature, cannot deny it.

Yes. As a study, science is pure – the examination of the expressions of life itself. But, when the scientist ceases to be in service of health, wellness, and all forms of life sustenance and becomes a tool in the hands of the experimental, great and fearful caution need be taken. The manipulations which can occur within the scientific experiment can reveal nefarious motives. Moral compromise. Falsified data. Misleading conclusion. The list grows.

Ask any chemist. Harnessing molecules and creating new ways to bind them has birthed a man made world. Enter humankind, and its propensity toward greed, covetousness, and corruption. To what end will intellectual curiosity bend minds otherwise committed to the service of the quality of life?

I will never deny science. What I will challenge is human motive in its service. To that end, if I must, and in the interests of both self preservation and community protection, I will defy the scientist.

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© 6/15/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No copying in part or whole, including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for being the good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com