Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Red Line: a ride into my own personal history

I love the Red Line. Let's be serious, most people agree with me. It's one of the smoothest, usually one of the fastest rides in the whole of the Subway system in Boston. But, my affinity for the Red Line goes beyond mere agreement with the majority of Bostonians on the subject of T travel...

Everyone, at some point or another, is intrigued with the idea of figuring out what their very first memory is. (It's true, you know it!) Mine, I found, after many years of "searching" (if you can call it searching...), is like a flash of video; mere seconds of animation. It is a memory of looking out of a window and seeing the rounded-off rectangle go from light to dark, light to dark, light to dark very rapidly.

When I first came to Boston (a year and a half ago already!), I lived on Harvard's campus while attending a 6-week course at the Harvard GSD. So, my experience with Boston's Subway that summer began with the Red Line. And my first ride on the Red Line that summer transported me into one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I was mindlessly watching out of the window of the car I rode in with my friends from my program, and suddenly, I saw in reality what had been flashes of played-back video in my memory for so long: the window, a rounded-off rectangle, was going light to dark in rapid succession due to the lights in the tunnel carved for the train's travel! I admit I let out a little shriek of glee and jumped to my feet, alarming the friends riding in the car with me as I ran to the window to watch it more closely.

It was like I suddenly put the last puzzle piece into a vast jigsaw puzzle in my mind. It was like a huge lightbulb flicked on, illuminating a corner of my brain that had been hiding in shadows for years and years and years. Let me bring you up to speed so you can better appreciate why this sudden illumination happened. I am Minnesotan through and through, I was born in Minnesota and lived most of my life in Minnesota. But I do say most. When I was 2, my family moved out east for a short 6-year stint. The first 2 of those 6 years was spent in Boston, well, Framingham technically. So, when I was 3 and 4 years old, I rode the T quite often with my mom and dad as we went different places around the city.

Now, I know what you're thinking, maybe it wasn't actually the Red Line I was remembering, but another line. How can I be so sure that it's the Red Line?

Ah, but I'm way ahead of you. I thought of that myself. So, I made a point to ride each color of the Subway system during that 6 weeks of my program at Harvard (at that time, I didn't know I'd be staying in Boston, and thought I wouldn't get a chance to figure this out anytime soon once I had left). On all of the other lines, I definitely was reminded of this flash of memory, but I never experienced the intensity of surreality on the Green, Orange, or Blue Lines like I did (and still do) on the Red Line.

And therefore, I conclude that my first memory was indeed formed from a ride on the Red Line some 2 decades prior to now. (Wouldn't it be cool if one could figure out the exact moment in time in which their first memory occured? I'm sure I rode the Red Line quite a lot in my 2 years as a child in the Boston Metro area, so it's impossible for me to know, but that would be pretty cool...)

And thus, my special affinity for the Red Line. Every time I ride it, I feel a sense of personal history. And when the car is mostly empty, and I can look out of the window across from my seat, I still get that surreal feeling of jumping back into the vaults of my memory. For the briefest of moments, I feel almost timeless.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

What the phlebotomy?

My roommate and I were on our way home from the Garment District (after buying stuff for our respective Halloween costumes!), and we passed a sign advertising "Cardio-Phlebotomy."

And suddenly I'm filled with a million and one questions:

What is "Cardio-Phlebotomy?"
What is a "phlebotomy"?
Can "phlebotomy" stand alone as its own entity, or does it always have to be preceded by "cardio?"
If "phlebotomy" can stand alone, then what's the difference between simple "phlebotomy" and "cardio-phlebotomy?"
Who came up with this word?

Okay, so that's really only 6 questions...but let's just say that I only wrote the highlights of the questions racing through my head at that moment. We move on...

So, after coming home, trying on our costumes, making adjustments to them, etc., I finally sat down to do a little research to answer some of these questions (let's be serious, I don't know that I'll ever be able to answer why someone would decide to make "phlebotomy" and actual word used in the English language...we turn our heads from a lot of strange words, right?).

My dictionary (my beloved Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary) defines "phlebotomy" as follows:
the act or practice of opening a vein for letting blood as a therapeutic measure; venesection; bleeding.

Hmm, is anyone else suddenly reminded of the olden days "cure" for disease and sickness calling for the doctor to cut the patient and let them bleed the disease out? Rather archaic, yes? I saw this sign for "Cardio-Phlebotomy" on the window of a health and fitness place. So...you know where I'm going with this, right? WEIRD! It's got to be something a little...not like that...

Some more research on Google tells me that "phelobotomists" (those who are trained in "phlebotomy" of course) are "essential members of the health care delivery team who are primarily responsible for collecting blood specimens from patients for laboratory testing." Phlebotomists are also employed with blood donor organizations.

Okay. So. Perhaps this "cardio-phlebotomy" thing is just simply taking blood to test someone's cardio fitness? Somehow, it seems a little bit of an anti-climactic answer to my question about what it is... "Cardio-Phlebotomy" It just sounds like some sort of therapy...and my dictionary defines it as such. So...I'm still in the dark on this one.

What is "cardio-phlebotomy?"
How does it work in the realm of fitness?
If it's a form of therapy, how does said therapy work and why is it so therapeutic?

I'll let you know if I run across any further enlightenment regarding these questions. In the meantime, I've now learned a whole new set of words related to "phlebotomy"! Some of my favorites:

phlebotomize: bleed
(though technically it means to "subject to phlebotomy")
phlebology: the study of the anatomy, physiology, and diseases of veins
phlebotome: a cutting instrument used for phlebotomy
(of insects) bloodsucking

There are, of course, more words related...I only gave you the highlights (i.e. the one's I felt would be particularly amusing to throw into a conversation randomly).

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mmm, Mmm, good...for illness only...

I am sick. I will prove it to you: I had Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. Now, I don't know about other people, but I grew up with that soup being the stuff you get when you're sick. I actually can't stand the thought of eating Chicken Noodle Soup if I'm not sick. Huge aversion to it when I'm up and healthy. It's a total conditioned reaction, I know. But when I'm sick, there's something so soothing about the warmth and taste of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup that just doesn't exist when I'm healthy.

I'm not very good at being sick. I get really bored really quickly. I mean, sure, we all like the thought of being able to sit around all day and do essentially nothing, but being sick forces this "luxury" on you...it's no longer a choice you can make. And that's what I don't like...because now, all I would like to choose to do is get up and walk outside in the crisp and cold fall weather. Instead I'm cooped up with my sick self. (And wallowing in a vat of self-pity, it seems, as well.)

Haha...I was just reading over what I wrote above...I like how I felt I had to prove to you that I'm sick...and what's more, I like how the way I proved this to you was by saying that I'd eaten Chicken Noodle Soup. Of course, the whole idea was to tell the story of why that is proof of my being sick, but still, it all seems just a little absurd to me. :)

Well, my temperature is now still over 2 degrees above my norm (I'm usually 97.1, and I'm at 99.6 right now), and it's getting on toward 10:00 pm. I should end this and go to bed. Here's hopin' that I won't crave Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup when I wake up tomorrow. That's the sure indicator that I'm healthy once again!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Oh the randomness...

...of little exchanges you have with strangers in a Trader Joe's parking lot.

My roommate and I went to Trader Joe's today to stock up for our big party tonight, and of course it was pouring when we finished and suddenly needed a way to get home...

We tried to call a taxi, but they wouldn't send one without an address [Who's ever heard of that???]

And suddenly, a taxi appeared in the lot, a soon-to-be-Trader Joe's-shopper stepping out into the rain. I ran over to catch the cab before it drove off and met the guy just as he was walking away from the cab.

As he walked by, I said, with my bags of groceries hanging at my sides, "You're my hero."

He paused, took in the wet, grocery-laden sight of me, and said, very simply, "I do what I can."

Hilarious. My roommate and I laughed all the way home about that one...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Where is "somewhere over the rainbow"?

A chance for a glimpse at my amazingly random thought processes...

So, as I traveled home from work this evening (a lovely trip, by the way), the weather was trying to decide whether to sprinkle a few raindrops or save them for later, and I got to thinking...where there's rain, there's a rainbow, right? So, how come I've never seen a rainbow in Boston? And that got me thinking about all sorts of things involving rainbows...pots of gold and leprechauns, the colors on the color palette, and going over the rainbow, finding where it ends, ya know? We all grew up with that stuff. We also grew up with an insane fascination with that place "somewhere over the rainbow." C'mon, you know you're even now still fascinated with that somewhere deep inside, right? Where is that place? Somewhere over the rainbow...way up high...the place you've heard of in lullabies...where skies are blue...and the dreams you dare to dream really do come true.

Okay, so now I'm just quoting the song...[but I did say you'd get a glimpse of one of my randomly strung together thought processes--and now you have that song stuck in your head just like I do!]

But, getting back to that place "somewhere over the rainbow" (or, let's shorten it since I foresee me using that phrase as the name of this place quite often in this post: SWOTR). You've heard the song, so many times that the words feel like a part of you. You could sing it in your sleep! But have you ever stopped to think of where SWOTR actually is? Me neither...and that's where my thoughts led me today on my way home from work...

We learn from Dorothy, of Kansas, that SWOTR is a land called Oz. Okay. Let's run with that. Her version of Oz is a land filled with Munchkins, Witches, talking Scarecrows and Tinmen and Lions, an Emerald City, and a mysterious Wizard. A world alive with color (a drastic contrast with her drab, black & white Kansas farm) and totally different from the world she knows. A world she's always dreamed could exist, and one she was probably searching for when she tried to run away from home in the beginning of the story.

But what if that's not necessarily what Oz really is? Say I had gotten caught in that house in the tornado...where would I land after I'd traveled over the rainbow? I'm not convinced that I'd land in Dorothy's Oz. [You think I'm reading way too far into the story of the Wizard of Oz, don't you? Well, just run with me for a bit, humor me a little. You don't have to agree...]

SWOTR. The place of our dreams. A place so drastically different from what we're used to. Kind of like how Boston feels to me some days compared to my childhood home in a small suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Now, I'm not claiming that Boston is Oz. Well, not totally. But think about what "Oz" (aka SWOTR) represents. A place we long to see when home seems too dull, too commonplace, too 'been-there-done-that'. I left Minnesota because I needed a change of pace. I seeked out a place that was very different from what I'm used to. I wanted a different part of the country, a different style of life, a different type of people. I went in search of a city because I figured that would be very different from small-town/suburban life. And it is. Boston is sort of like my own SWOTR. It is a different color, a different place, a new group of people, a whole different world than the one I'm used to in Minnesota. I said that I'm not claiming Boston is Oz, but I do claim that Boston is my Oz. My SWOTR.

So, this got me to thinking: everyone has an SWOTR, right? They have to. Everyone dreams of a place different (and that tends to be paired with "better") than the place they are used to. The place they're from. Is a Bostonian's SWOTR necessarily Minnesota since my SWOTR is Boston? Certainly not. Other Minnesotans' SWOTRs may not necessarily be Boston, and there's really no sense of a reciprocal. I guess it doesn't even really matter what a given Bostonian's SWOTR is. What does matter is that said Bostonian (or Georgian, or Texan, or Minnesotan, or Canadian, or Mongolian, or whoever) has their own version of SWOTR.

My next question: is everyone's SWOTR a real place? Now, that's a tough one. One could argue, and have most of the world believe them, that Dorothy's Oz is not a real place. Hers was a fantasy, a fairy tale. I don't know that I can answer that for every single person out there, but generally speaking, I think that SWOTR, the abstract idea, is a real place. Perhaps when we find it, it isn't 100% the way we've imagined it to be, but it is real. And it seems to me that people, all people, are on a quest to find their own SWOTR. I'm not saying this is a world-wide obsession. No, no. I am saying that deep down inside, we are all looking for SWOTR. Perhaps it changes over time. Perhaps the SWOTR of my youth is different from my SWOTR today. I'm not sure (haven't thought that far yet). But it's that quest that drives us to seek out new places and new experiences. Something deep inside screams at us to explore and find new places, in hope of someday coming across SWOTR. And once you find it, it changes. Because wherever you are, there is always a place that is drastically different from your current location. Multiple places, in fact.

All of this pontificating about SWOTR and my Oz being different from Dorothy's Oz and so on...has reminded me of the lesson we learn from Dorothy and her adventure over the rainbow to her Oz: that place over the rainbow is the stuff of dreams, an amazing rush of new experiences and new sights, sounds, smells. But in the end, there's no place like home. In the end, after all of the searching for SWOTR, there will never be anywhere quite like home.

So, how does that tidbit fit into my string of ideas on the existence of SWOTR? Simple. Our whole life has this underlying quest to find SWOTR, the place of our dreams, the place so drastically different from where we are now. But what keeps us sane, what keeps us from wasting our lives away on an obsession with finding that place just beyond our reach, is that there is no place like home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat. Home is wherever you wipe your shoes at night. My definition of home is not a solitary place, but a place familiar enough to allow you ultimate comfort without need to worry about appearances or wrong ways of thinking, a place where you can just be yourself. And after all of that searching, deep inside of myself, day after day, for SWOTR, it's nice to remember that there really is no place like home.

To bring this to a close, I mentioned earlier in this post that I consider Boston to be my SWOTR. (So now am I again searching for a new SWOTR? Dunno, haven't been in Boston long enough...) So, in that scenario, where is "home?" Home will always be Minnesota. This scenario, of my SWOTR = Boston, is a different scale...in years and decades of life as opposed to the day-to-day. Over the next few years of my life, I know I will travel and try new places to live, but someday, I see myself returning to MN. I love my life in Boston right now, but it's a comfort to know that Minnesota is there, waiting to welcome me everytime I return.

Somewhere over the rainbow, where the excitement of a new world lies, that's where you'll find me. And when the dream fades, the journey beyond this rainbow is through, [oh, it's corny, you know it's coming] there really is...no place...like...home.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Providence at 1:30 am

I went down to Providence last night for a swing dance. It was so fun! I love dancing down there...the people are great, the atmosphere is very chill, and the floor is to die for. [If any of you Providence people are reading this: beware...if you someday find yourselves sans dance floor...you'll know who took it!!!]

After the dance, I hooked up with some Boston people and we went out to downtown Providence for a late-night bite to eat (always necessary after an evening of dancing that goes late). The rain, by this point was coming down pretty steadily, so we huddled under rain jackets and umbrellas and walked quickly to the first place we found that was open: a Johnny Rockets. That looks like the funnest job in the world late-night Saturday night/early Sunday morning! The servers were dancing and singing to the oldies they play there, the customers were getting into the energy-charged atmosphere of the place. It was totally cool. Sippin' my hot chocolate, eating fries with way too much ketchup...a great way to end my evening of dancing in Providence.

But wait...it's not over yet! Oh no. People started making crazy comments about the weather and peering out the windows. From our booth, we couldn't see the streets, but could see the rain coming down as hard as ever through our window. So we didn't really think much of the exclamations about the weather. Hell, we'd walked through it, we didn't need to stare at it anymore. When we had paid and finally got up to go, we did catch a glimpse of the street through the window.

Oh dear God.

I'm sorry, did I say street? Heh. I meant RIVER!!! The street had flooded and the water was pouring down the hill of the street...water halfway up to our knees in some places, other places merely up to our ankles. People were huddled on sidewalk corners holding umbrellas looking like flimsy excuses for shelter from the rain still beating down, their faces screwed in disbelief at the sudden transformation of downtown Providence into a mockery of downtown Venice.

And we had to cross that giant river of too much rainwater to get to our car...

We set out trying to find a way across. To no avail. Since we were on a hill, everywhere we turned to try and head off the river, it turned with us on its way down the hill. We were already soaked just from walking out into the rain, shivering because the temperature had dropped and the rain was cold. We finally just sort of sucked it up and started jumping "over" the puddles to get across. Heh. I say it like that because "jumping over" consistsed of a vain attempt to miss the 1/2-way to knee-deep water puddles that landed us in the puddle, getting us to the other side of the street-river with shoes not merely 'wet', not 'soaked', not even 'squishy', but the sloshing feeling of water trapped in our shoes, our socks drowning in the small sea that were once our nice, dry shoes.

We had to do that 3 times.

Making it to the car, turning on the heat, stripping our feet out of the drenched socks, pouring out the excess water from our shoes...that was the best moment of our lives that evening. I got home still damp (after a 1/5 hour drive to Boston from Providence since the highway was drenched and the rain was still coming down as hard as ever) and felt akin to those marooned at sea. I walked through my door, locked it behind me, and literally shouted "LAND!!!" Good thing my roommate wasn't home or I would have woken her up with my exclamations of joy at being in a dry place once again. I immediately donned my bathrobe (after putting it in the dryer for a couple minutes to make it warm). And sat, it now being about 3:30 am, relishing the feeling of being warm and dry before heading to bed and drifting off to sleep to the sound of rain pouring down outside my window.

A last note:

My trips to Providence, I'm coming to realize, are never boring. They always become some sort of crazy adventure into the realm of the unknown (and completely absurd at times). I have a friend who's a grad student at Brown who claims that Providence sucks and that it's dull and lame and all that, and while I tend to agree when we compare Providence to Boston (I'd much prefer Boston over Providence!), I think back to my experience with Providence and realize that it is anything but dull or boring or lame when I'm there. I always come back from Providence with an almost-too-absurd-to-believe story to tell.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sometimes I just love the Boston Globe...

Blimp my ride
~Boston Globe, 10.5.2005

Blimp my ride? What? This is such a hilarious article...about the only actively employed female blimp pilot. A fun, human-interest story that I happened across while surfing the newspapers for Education News at work. Enjoy!

Friday, October 07, 2005

The only way I can express the feeling from 2:48 this afternoon...

To you: I say Thank You.

You began with skepticism
- what will this experience bring to you?
- is this right as the next step in your life?
But that skepticism slipped away to reveal a raw passion--
that is hard to find in people.
that is contagious, compelling, continuous.

You returned each month with renewed energy to complete the seemingly impossible task before you.
A calm visage,
A clear focus,
A quiet aura,
And a sense of determination apparent in every step you took.
That energy served as a fire to light the inspiration you passed to those working for and with you.
And it is that concentrated flame that will burn anew as you move on to your next endeavor.

Oh yes, you leave prematurely,
The sense of loss is great as we all process this sudden shift in direction.
Oh yes, we will all mourn the suddenly empty chair that stands in your former place.
But the ache fades quickly
Replaced by pride, joy, excitement for the new path you move down.
The impassioned spirit that I came to enjoy in such a short time will serve you well.

I will miss you.
I will miss the silent power that resides in your fierce dedication to help those in need;
however that need shows itself to you.
But again I say: Thank You
For the honor of this brief moment of intersection in our lives.
You leave me with a strong hope for the future
For the places you go,
the things you do,
the people you touch,
All will flourish from the energy, the passion, the intensity that you pour into what you do.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A second helping of my search for a definition of beauty

Today I saw someone on the T turn and look out of the window when we crossed the Charles (on the Red Line) on the Longfellow Bridge. And it made me happy...I never see people noticing the world around them while they're on the T. People tend to stay in their own little bubble of their own little world, trying not to overlap with other peoples' bubbles if they can help it. It also started me thinking again about this whole definition of beauty that I talked about in an earlier post.

Beauty. Beautiful. What do these words mean? And this guy on the T? Was he experiencing the view as something beautiful...akin to what I experience every day I ride the T over that bridge? Or was he looking at it differently? (Of course, I can really only speculate upon how he viewed the skyline view that I love...I didn't ask him or anything.) What about that view is beautiful to me?

[I've taken to thinking about this question in a personal way because I'm pretty much convinced that beauty is a personal thing. They say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," right? It's personal. Everyone sees beauty differently, and in different things. So, I return to my personal definition.]

When I see the skyline from the Longfellow Bridge, especially at around sunset or sunrise, it just seems different than so many other scenes in Boston. As I think about this, I realize that my mind always takes in the space that I see in this particular view. Nothing crowded, room to breathe, and I never feel like I'm on the T when I see it. It's only when we reach the other side of the bridge and start the descent to the underground tunnel that I am pulled back to the reality of the train I'm sitting in. Time also seems to slow down, or stand still even. And I always feel like my head clears out when I'm looking at that view. Clears out and gets caught up in the two words I hear in my head everytime I see this view: How beautiful. So, do these things result from the beauty of this view? Or are they part of the package? Does something need to evoke these kinds of reactions to be considered "beautiful," or do they happen because the thing is beautiful and these reactions are the body's way of experiencing that beauty?

[I need that one more time.]

Does something need to evoke these kinds of reactions to be considered "beautiful," or do they happen because the thing is beautiful and these reactions are the body's way of experiencing that beauty? I think that they're reactions. I think it's the latter of the two. My body's and mind's way of tipping me off: "Nina! Look! We found something beautiful!" So, then, how does my conscious self (or sub-conscious or unconscious self, too, perhaps) know that somethings beautiful and it should therefore tip me off by the reactions that occur when I'm experiencing beauty?

Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (fully revised and updated) defines "beauty" as follows:
n. The quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).

So, the dictionary gives the definition in terms of the reaction one has to beauty. It doesn't need any further definition to justify the reactions. The reaction and the definition are one and the same. So why do I need more? Time to end this and ponder further... do I or do I not need more of a definition than the one my favorite dictionary tells me is sufficient?

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