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October 13, 2004 - 10:17 am

LOOK CLOSER

More years ago than I want to admit, I heard this speech given by the oh-so-young-and-idealistic president of the Sierra Club. Regardless of your environmental views, he makes a good point about not forgetting what we are practically born knowing how to do – dance, draw, and sing.

Then I saw a show a year or so ago on how people learn. Some guy asked graduating seniors from Yale and Harvard, where people are supposed to know stuff, if they knew what trees and plants were made of and how they grow. You should have heard these people:

Uh, dirt?

Minerals and stuff?

Um. I think it’s photosynthesis or something. Right?

A few of them knew plants are mostly carbon but couldn’t say where the carbon comes from. It was embarrassing. These college graduates – supposedly the cream of the crop, too – had no idea that when a plant converts carbon dioxide into oxygen it leaves just carbon, that’d be the carbon that makes up the plant.

CO2 – O2 = C

Remember high school chemistry? Anyone?

So, that got me thinking. Whether it’s just information or basic life appreciation that’s lost, what happens to us between childhood and adulthood? Are we simply exposed to more information than our brains can hold? I doubt it. Is our selective memory so efficient that it dumps what we don’t use over and over? Maybe so; and if this is the case, then the brain is most definitely a “use it or lose it” type contraption, which begs the question: What do you do over and over? What words do you use? Who do you hang out with? What do you see on your way to work every single day? What beautiful things have you experienced and then forgotten? How many commercials do you watch in a day? Do you dry off with a smelly towel after your shower?

Does it even matter?

More than likely, however, what has happened is that we’ve been conditioned to choose responsibility over other, often more enjoyable impulses – the cubicle over the playground, so to speak. This is just part of life and is, for the most part, as it should be. But what if those other impulses (the good ones: creativity, curiosity, enthusiasm, audacity) are permanently squashed by these responsibilities? And if there is a conflict between our commitments and the joie de vivre inherent in these restricted impulses, is there a point where we decide on the latter over the former?

I don’t know the answer, but I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately, probably due to the fact that I have yet another birthday approaching rapidly, and I’m realizing how short life could be. It seems around this time every year the need to carve my life out of the marble block of my available choices rather than just accept that solid, grayish rock as it is becomes more pressing and more urgent. Marble is hard, but it can be chipped in some pretty creative ways if you really do your best. Just look at this.

Sure it might take a while, but I’m still pretty young. I mean, at least I know where trees come from…and I can even draw one and sing about it while dancing around its trunk. And I could even do it naked if I feel like it.

So long as I don’t catch cold – that would just be irresponsible.

~Samantha

recommended:
reading -Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
viewing - American Beauty
listening -"Dirt" by the Stooges

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