Musings on Evolution and Sex

I cannot tell you why I started thinking about evolution and sex this morning while I was doing my morning meditation. I don’t recall reading any news stories about evolution lately, and I don’t often think about science subjects on my own. My interests lie more along the personal growth, creativity, and spiritual lines.

I don’t know if anyone else uses this method of learning, but sometimes I accept that something will work a certain way so so that I can understand a larger concept. In this case, I accepted the mechanism of how genetic variations interplay with an environment to determine which species survive to pass along their genes.

I accepted that we humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. But the differences now between us and chimpanzees are great, even though we share 99% or so of genetic material. That last 1% is the crucial difference that set us apart and set us on a different path millions of years ago.

So how does that happen? I began thinking about sex and reproduction as the mechanism by which mammals continue their family lines. The process had to be excruciatingly slow for things to diverge so widely in this present day. A quick change makes no sense to my mind.

I’m guessing that, over millions and millions of years, we began to be selected for traits that we had. These traits some of our chimpanzees did not have. Somehow, some proto-people began not having sex with some of their similar, but not the same, cohorts.

The lines that eventually became modern-day chimpanzees and humans cohabited some of the same land, but went their own ways sexually and genetically. Were they separated for a time and then, when they shared the same space again, were so different from each other that there was no chance of the two mixing?

I don’t know. I doubt if scientists know, but I don’t keep up with what scientists do or do not know. I get my evolution education in drips and drabs, and I’m just fine with that. I’m waiting for the day when we have the links – if that’s even possible – so that scientists can weave an actual story of how humans and chimpanzees, once part of the same genetic line, somehow went their own separate ways.

 

What is News?

Tonight at the gym, I put on my headphones and listened to a mix I had made. I couldn’t help but look at the closed captioning on a couple of the screens. Time for the news. I got sucked into reading a few stories, but then I decided it was better to stare at the equipment in front of me instead of the gloop that was being discussed.

I do not say ‘gloop’ out of disrespect to anyone’s trauma’s that are being discussed. However, news tends to be only trauma – who killed whom, what the terrorists are doing, and what the weather is going to be. The news stations rely heavily on traumatic events to fill their news hour programming.

But does it have to be this way? I wonder what good it does us to find out that another murder-suicide was committed. Surely, the families must be notified. It might be a good way to get the word out about funerals, I guess. But, for the rest of us who do not know these people, I wonder why we need to know at all.

Does knowing who killed whom in a murder-suicide serve as an appropriate news story? I’m not sure. As I said, beyond the logistics of notifying the family and maybe getting word out, I feel that the rest of us really do not need to know this happened. I almost feel like it’s none of our business to know.

We can’t do anything about these tragedies except to tut-tut from afar and then continue to feel both insulated from the problems and at risk for them. I’m not sure how a news story can make someone feel both vulnerable and protected at the same time, but I often find myself having these feelings.

Maybe it would be worthwhile to have a summary story of different kinds, as long as they were also accompanied by information that told the rest of us things like the warning signs to look for, how we can help ourselves and our friends, and other valuable resources. News stations could use the news in order to educate, assist, and inform.

In this way, we could get our news along with information on how we can take action. I think that would go a long way towards making viewers feel like the news they were being fed were part of a balanced news diet, instead of the negative, unhealthy portions we keep being served and eating.

For The Love of Ice Cream

I was telling my massage therapist that I had heard that New Englanders eat more ice cream year round than any other part of the United States. As a New England ex-pat, I consider it my duty to continue certain traditions. After getting my massage, I wandered over to Red Mango to get my winter’s ice cream requirement.

Red Mango Yogurt

I got the mix of peanut butter and hazelnut yogurt, topped with vanilla yogurt, strawberries, chocolate chips, and one rainbow cookie (missing from the picture because it was quickly eaten). Yum! I do love Red Mango’s frozen yogurt. It’s not ultra sweet.

However, it’s not quite the saaaaame as ice cream. It’s what I can get around here year round. I do have a Hershey’s ice cream store that is part of a local car wash (no, seriously – get your car washed and eat ice cream while you wait. Brilliant!).

To me, the best ice cream in the world comes from Toscanini’s Ice Cream Shop in Cambridge, MA. How I miss it!! Don’t bother visiting Harvard University – go get ice cream from Toscanini’s. I’m telling you. You won’t regret it.

How do I know? Well, let me tell you about Toscanini’s. Did I mention it was the best ice cream store in the world? First, they make all their own ice cream from scratch using fresh ingredients. That to me is key. However, the staff often experiment with flavors. The kitchen is viewable from the street, so you can see what’s going on. I rather like being able to see the food as its prepared. It makes me feel like the establishment is helping ensure purity through transparency.

I would not be doing my bloggerly job if I did not tell you that one huge delight is the extensive menu. It’s not unusual to see 25 different kinds of ice cream on the list. Best of all, the flavor varieties change week to week, all year round. I was on a sweet cream kick for a while. My two all-time favorites, in order, were the strawberry ice cream and, one of many ingenious concoctions, bourbon vienna finger cookie ice cream. I’ve also tried lemon espresso, honey lavender, cherry, coffee heathbar, and many, many others. I dare you to get bored eating their ice cream. Not possible.

If you’re anything like me and you like to shop at locally-owned establishments, then going to Toscanini’s for a pint of ice cream instead of buying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or one of the other containers in a supermarket is for you! I like that the owner of Tosci’s, Gus, often works in his own store, serving customers, helping with supplying the front, or working in the back with the ice cream. Whatever he needs to do, he does. Gus is an active and beloved member of the Cambridge, MA community, and he makes the best ice cream in the whole world.

When I moved back to New York, I moved over 200 miles away from this little place of heaven. I dream about it, talk about it, and yearn to get my next ice cream from Gus. In the meantime, Red Mango or the Hershey’s at the car wash will get my business.

Til next we eat, Tosci’s!

Orderliness is Next to Happiness

Sometime in the last two weeks, I asked my husband if we could rearrange the living room section of our living room/library/office. Since we had a three day weekend, I asked if we could work on that task on Sunday. While he cleaned, I started moving books out of bookcases.

From the inner wall, we removed one glass fronted bookcase and put it into the smaller second bedroom. Our tall, handpainted bookcase was moved from that inner wall to the adjacent wall on the other side of the closet door. Now, two tall bookcases are on the wall with the closet. I put back all the books into the painted bookcase and put all the chotchkes I let sit on the shelves onto my project desk for sorting/donating/trashing.

On the wall where the two bookcases used to be, we put the apartment style couch. Above it, we hung the family portrait of Mark’s great grandmama. Opposite the couch, we put the matching chair and ottomon next to the back of my desk. We moved a rocking chair from the bedroom next to the chair with ottomon, leaving the kitty cube between the chairs for a mock table. Now, when you walk into the living room from the hallway, the room looks and feel airer and bigger. Even with my project table now just a table of Stuff, the room looks more organized.

Today, I cleaned out the space in the bedroom where the rocking chair used to be, vacuumed, tidied up my meditating cushions, and organized my yoga supplies. Mark helped me put up a shelf unit that has been sitting on the floor since we moved in around October 2013. I cleaned a few items from my dresser and put them on the shelf. I cleaned up the corner of my dresser and cleaned a new brush I bought recently. I’m trying to refrain myself from spending too much time in the bedroom cleaning things up so I can focus on my project desk. The combination of moving things around freed up space in two rooms and, in the third room, the addition fit in nicely with the existing furniture. I felt proud, energized, and organized. (Now if only I can keep it this way!)

About ten days ago, I borrowed The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin from my town library. It has been languishing on the low trunk next to my desk, which makes me feel guilty. Today I cracked it open and read through the first chapter.

I’m already liking the book. I like that Rubin, who was mostly happy with their life, decided that she could be happier and then set about to do that. It gives me hope that I can do the same, which is quite unlike psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky who says that you have a happiness set point. I’m the type of person who believes that you can make the change if you perform the actions you desire on a regular basis. My experience with getting into a gym routine has shown me that, with the right changes, you can push your into a new, higher happiness set point and stay there. I refuse to admit defeat, Ms. Lyubomirsky! (and this probably has more affect on my happiness level than your deterministic theory).

On a related note, I think the vitamins I have been taking to address some deficiencies are helping. I decided to start thinking about how delicious my meals are and how much nutrients I am getting when I eat. Because I have a tendency to worry, I decided that thinking that the food I eat is nutritious is probably a better way to think about food than worrying about depleted soil conditions and low nutrient vegetables. I can make the decision to buy organic or from local farmers, when available, or I can grow my own. But I simply cannot do anything about the soil conditions in which most food is grown. I don’t know if thinking about the nutrients will help me or not. I am, however, enjoying my food more when I eat it. That’s important, too.

A Pursuit of Happiness

February is six months that I have been working with a trainer. I had hoped that working out would decrease the pain and increase the ability of my muscles to handle exertion, but it has not done so. I have gained muscle, lost fat, and seen my body reshape itself into a somewhat leaner one. My health and diet seem to be improving.

Because the pain medications I take do not address the underlying cause of my problem and because vitamin deficiencies I have are associated with these medications, I am in a slow, long-term process of testing whether I can reduce and eventually eliminate my pain medications.

Despite all this, I have been feeling blah and apathetic. I have made few attempts at writing in the last few months. I have been wasting a lot of time reading online news that depresses me; I seem to be addicted to certain Internet sites.

I am struggling with my online habits. I need to stop the time wasting and get back to the activities that made me happy last year: writing every or most days. I have been happiest when I have pursued activities that interest me, and I need to get back to that. I want the kind of happiness that is acquired via the pursuit of fulfilling activities. That’s writing. Exercising. Eating well.

And training my brain to be more upbeat and positive. Not working towards goals only keeps me feeling ‘depressed’ where ‘depressed’ is code for ‘bored’ and ‘not doing anything fun or useful to oneself.’ A dear friend posted a link to Shawn Achor, Harvard positive psychology professor and author of several books, including The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. First, I watched a 12-minute TED talk called The Happy Secret to Better Work followed by an hour-long talk he gave at Google. The Google talk includes the same content and wording that is included in the longer Google talk. I also bookmarked a few other talks on the subject of positive psychology.

In Shawn’s TED talk, he put up a slide called Creating Lasting Positive Change. Achor suggests that, for a 21 day period, you do the following:

  • Write 3 things for which you are grateful every day. Each day, write about 3 new things (Emmons & McCullough, 2003);
  • Once a day, journal about one good thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Our brains get to relive a happy memory twice, enhancing its effect (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006);
  • Exercise so that you train your body to know what feeling good feels like (Babyak et al., 2000);
  • Meditate to help your mind dampen down the negative states (Dweck, 2007); and
  • Perform random acts of kindness to share your positivity and goodness with others (Lyubomirsky, 2005). Goodness knows that the world needs it – desperately!

The effect of doing this is that it helps rewire your brain to start looking for the positive. We know how much negative news is out there. In fact, it’s almost like the understanding is that it’s not really news if it isn’t awful. I feel it happening to me when I read my news sites, when I scroll through my Facebook feed. Rants about politics, stories about people performing acts of hatred, mutilation, and murder on one another.

And then what? I’ve just spent hours reading negative material that drains my energy and doesn’t do anything for me because I’m not doing anything. How does something like that enhance me, my relationships, and the rest of the world? The short answer is that it does not. Something must change.

And the only thing that I can really count on to change is myself. I am the one who has to take the next positive steps – to stop reading news for hours, to put my writing first, to defer time wasters to the evening in timed segments so avoid the endless negative news absorption, and to change my outlook.

And begin writing every day again.

I can do this.

You can, too (whether writing or otherwise).

50 Shades of Hype

I got into a conversation with some of my girlfriends about when we were going to see the movie 50 Shades of Grey and whether any of us had read the book. One friend said she tried to read it, but couldn’t get into it and gave up. Because I’ve heard that the writing is atrocious, I haven’t read the book yet, either. We’re both simply using the movie as a reason to hang out with our friends.

I happened to see a link or a recommended post on Facebook to a blog post by Dave Barry in March of last year on what he learned about being a husband from reading 50 Shades of Grey. Dave Barry, for those who don’t know, has been a long-time humor columnist and blogger for the Miami Herald.

The difference between a man’s idea of a porno and a woman’s idea of a porno, Barry says, is that the men want to have “invested maybe ninety seconds of his time, can put the book down and go back to watching SportsCenter” while women don’t mind if “Many pages go by in this book without any of It getting done, although there is a great deal of thinking and talking about It.” That sounds about right to me!

Barry riffs on the plot, the characters, and the dialogue in a way that only Dave Barry can. In the end, the book teaches him the most important lesson. The book teaches men that women “are interested in sex! We’re just not interested in sex with you unless you’re a superhot billionaire.” (Duh!)

Okay, okay. It’s not true because there are far more women who want sex than there are billionaires in the world, and we’re not gonna just sit around waiting for them to get around to us. Screw that – or us. Oh, screw it – just screw! People like sex and want sex and 50 Shades of Grey is simply another book that lets people get all hot and bothered. We kind of like that kind of stuff.

Another suggested page was a collection of Twitter posts by the user @50ShedsofGrey, who describes the user as “erotica for the not-so-modern male”. I bust out laughing when I saw the user name, not only because of the play on words, but because it reminded me of the Monty Python sketch ‘Arthur ‘Two Sheds’ Jackson’.

The first example in the list highlights the brilliance of this user’s ability to riff on both the 50 Shades of Grey book and erotica in general:

At the touch of her lips, it grew long and swollen. I sighed as she squeezed and pulled expertly. It was the best balloon giraffe I’d seen.

Of course, if I were EL James, I would be laughing all the way to the bank. I mean – seriously – writer of a poorly written book and getting $4 million for a movie based on said book? That’s an example of capitalism in all its enviable, frustrating glory.

Rewatching Babylon 5

From a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, I was reminded of the sci fi series Babylon 5 that aired from 1994 to 1998. I recall Bab5 as being one of the first sci fi series that I watched on TV every week. My husband and I, along with a number of our friends, would watch the show separately and then spend the next week talking about it, trying to figure out what happened as well as what was coming. We decided to rewatch the series and pulled the pilot and the first two seasons out of my DVD graveyard.

Interestingly, I seem to remember a lot about the episodes, maybe not particular details but the gist of the episode. I remember some of the acting being wooden, which it still is, and I remember some of the best lines, which they still are. Even when the delivery feels forced and the words cliche, sometimes the actors make the emotions come alive anyway. The writing helped move the story along, sometimes better than others, and that’s what I remember keeping me engaged way back in the day.

I like that the series starts off right in the middle of the life of the characters. You don’t get a lot of exposition or backstory. You are just dropped right in the middle of an existing world. This is done so well that you quickly get a handle on a cast of alien characters, you get a feel for who the bad guy is (you’ll be wrong later), who you should feel sorry for (and then you don’t and then you do again), and who you should root for (the heros, of course).

The quality of the CGI, however, really pales over the passage of time. As my husband said, the high-definition quality of CGI that we see in movies today far surpasses that which is shown on these DVDs. You see a lot of space shots of ships and the rotating space station, but the movement is highly pixalated that causes much fuzziness. It almost has an old-school Atari video game feel to it. I do not remember it looking that badly when I saw it on TV all those years ago. But it is obvious that the quality has not stood the test of time.

Because we’re starting to rewatch the series, I had to finish what I’d started many years ago: I ordered Season 3, 4, and 5. They have arrived and are waiting, unopened, on my desk. There they shall stay until we have worked through seasons 1 and 2. There are a lot of episodes per season.

And so it begins…