Thursday, September 28

Bye!

Tomorrow morning I will be heading for Belgium, on an excursion that will take until next Friday. Hard work, no internet connection. But you can expect my next post in about a week. In the mean time, you are - of course - welcome to read some of my older posts which you can find in the archives. My posts rarely have anything to do with current affairs, so I guess you could say the posts are timeless. See you next week!

Wednesday, September 27

The unnoticed lack of euphoria

Sometimes it is just so hard to get out of bed in the morning - even when I have slept for eight or even nine hours. The cause of this well-known phenomenon seems to be tiredness, but on reflection, the real cause turns out to be a lack of motivation. That bothers me; considering the reality of my life I should be burning with enthousiasm. I should be waking up with the glorious feeling of not having a secondary braintumour in an advanced stage. My last thought before falling to sleep in the evening should be drenched in gratitude, for not being run over by a truck. But these are not my thoughts. The truth is, one becomes used to prosperity. Mankind does not strive for happiness. The only purposes of life, for us animals, are survival and reproduction. And the daily struggle for survival brings nothing but stress. It's hard to be happy 24/7.

I don't know the full worth of what I have got until I've lost it. And if something does happen, I will probably blame myself for not having realized how lucky I really was. But not realizing - that's what I'll really miss.

Monday, September 25

Sleepyhead

"Oh sleep! It is a gentle thing, Beloved from pole to pole."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 - 1834)

Good news for sleepy students and workers! Scholars at The City University of New York have shown that taking a nap helps you perform certain tasks, such as memorizing. "Traditionally, time devoted to daytime napping has been considered counterproductive," the researchers say. But now it seems we have an excuse to nap in the middle of the day. Of course, a good night of sleep is not to be underestimated - especially the REM sleep, when most dreaming occurs, is thought to be particularly important. Personally, I love sleeping, but I cannot take a daytime snooze, not even when I am tired or ill, lying on the couch with a blanket and the curtains closed. It just doesn't work with me. However well-spend napping time may be, I'll stick with sleeping at night - as long as possible. Oh, sweet oblivion of dreams...

About the image: A detail of Brendan Monroe's "Blush from side to side."

Sunday, September 24

Soothing sound


All’s well at the base of the hill
You might need to fill
A prescription to kill
Off the silence.

I found this photograph in Michael Muller's online portfolio. Out of all those photographs, I wondered who this guy was. Josh Radin. It turns out he's a musician, and a good one too. His songs are soft and thoughtful, somewhat sad. Music to listen on a cloudy day in the bus. He doesn't sing; he wispers the lyrics in your ear. I especially like Star Mile - the quotation above is taken from the lyrics. See what you think. By the way, I almost forgot to mention: Radin keeps is own personal weblog here. How sweet.

Friday, September 22

Looking up

"When I grow up, I am going to be..." According to a friend of mine, she uses this phrase regularly, but not many people understand why she does. She's not a little girl anymore. Neither am I. But I reckon it's a good thing to be able to think like that - dreaming about a future that is as distant as it is sure. In some way, it keeps you forever young. We are only truly old when we feel there is nothing to look forward to anymore, when we think our life is going to continue at the same pace until death separates us from it. When our past has shaped our future, and it appears unchangeable. It must be hard not to age like that, because your past only grows while your future time decreases by the minute. Inevitably. But if there is even the smallest chance of succeeding, than resisting an elderly mind is certainly worth trying. Every day, I study to be a geologist, and being a geologist is probably something I will do for the rest of my life. But when I grow up, I am going to be a photographer. And a scriptwriter. An interior designer. An architect. A writer of popular science. I'm going to think of brilliant commercials. I'll design gardens, furniture, clothing, note cards. I'm going to be an astronaut... When I grow up.

Wednesday, September 20

Magnus

I just finished Paul Cartledge's book Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past, a most wonderful book for anyone interested in reading an elaborate introduction to Alexander and his world. Cartledge manages to give a seemingly unabbreviated image of an enigmatic figure - without concealing or ignoring the fact that historians do not know particularly much about Alexander. A praiseworthy accomplishment, indeed.

Cartledge's book left me with a question, and I believe that's what every good book is supposed to do. How should I look upon this fascinating historic figure, this legend, if not even historians have a clear picture of the man? How do I know if I am envisaging Alexander in a rational way, as opposed being influenced by the so-called Alexander Romance too much? I feel that it might not be such a bad idea to see Alexander the Great as the man he would have liked to be seen as himself; as a God - in the Greek sense of the word. In the last chapter of his book, The Divinity of Alexander, Cartledge writes:

"Though represented anthropomorphically, a god(dess) was not exactly a person in the human sense. He or se was, rather, an embodiment of certain powers and forces."

Thus, Alexander can be seen as an embodiment of ambition, courage and power - as well as a warning against megalomania and paranoia. We do not know what Alexander was like in real life, but his deeds show that he must have been a remarkable man. I admit I would like to believe the image I have formed of him, and I might as well believe it if I choose to envisage him as an embodiment of these characteristics. Whether he was a courtious man with ideals, or a savage who enjoyed above all the killing of men, I believe Alexander had the heart of a lion.

Sunday, September 17

A day for silence

Some days are for expressing your feelings and ideas. Those are days for talking and writing. Painting. Singing. Blogging. Making a move. Today is no such day. Today is one of those days on which we observe. A rainy sunday afternoon, seen from our own comfortable little corner of the world. Or, as Hugh Elliot of the Standing Room Only weblog once put it;

Listen. Do not have an opinion while you listen because frankly, your opinion doesn’t hold much water outside of Your Universe. Just listen. Listen until their brain has been twisted like a dripping towel and what they have to say is all over the floor.

I wish I could write like that. But enough said.

Friday, September 15

Fall

I should have seen it coming; the fall that inevitably follows upon the rise. Yesterday, I found out the hard way that I am not capable of going through life as if I never get used up. I had been on the university campus all day, hauling along my newly purchased notebook. I was starting to wonder why I had bought it in the first place. In the afternoon I noticed how it was draining my energy both physically and mentally. When I was finally ready to begin the most backbreaking part of the day - the trip homeward - I became aware of the fact that I had lost my jacket somewhere. From your own experience you might know how devastating that is when you're all dead beat and worn-out. It can break a person. It is the straw that breaks the camel's back. The misfortune resulted in a vain search for the lost item, still dragging along a heavy box and three bags - but my jacket was nowhere to be found. I suppose that was to be expected, but the fact that I was not succeeding in my desperate quest still hit me hard. Hope can be a cruel thing. There was another event that surprised me, although this too was to be expected. It involved a car in my proximity, moving at considerable speed, its driver yelling at me and - this is important - a traffic light that had turned to red quite some time before my arrival. I wasn't thinking too clearly, obviously. This depressed mood of mine could be dangerous, I thought to myself. Life-threatening even. And so I tried to cheer myself up. Thinking about the poor children in Africa actually helped this time. What was I thinking, getting all upset about a tiring day (week, actually) and a lost jacket? I guess it just took me by surprise - getting used up. The last drop made the cup run over. In the dutch language, the proverb speaks of a bucket. But even empty swimming pools will flood once the rain refuses to stop. Everyone gets used up once in a while, and all we can do is wait for the sun to break through the clouds. Fortunately I live in a country where it never rains for long. And I'm not even talking about the weather.

Tuesday, September 12

Nec plus ultra

January 30 1774 in the Amundsen Sea. The ship Resolution, commanded by explorer James Cook in search of the mythical Terra Australis, reaches its most southern point. It was the first ship that had ever sailed this far towards the South Pole. But which person traveled furthest south? This question was the subject of a - no doubt entertaining - debate between two crew members. When the Resolution was about to change course and turn back to the north, the English explorer George Vancouver climbed to the very end of the bowsprit and declared: "Nec plus ultra!", a Latin phrase which literally means 'nothing more beyond'. Surely the person at the very front of the ship had gone furthest south? But the Swedish botanist Anders Sparman stated that he had been furtest south, because he was in Cook's cabin at the back of the ship when the ship made its turn. And a ship always sails backwards for a short period of time before choosing its new course, Sparman reckoned.

I don't know who was right that day, but it is not of great importance. James Cook and his crew had been pushing back colossal borders on the entire journey. In the next half a century, nobody would equal the accomplishment of the Resolution and its men - to sail further to the South Pole than anyone had done before.

Sunday, September 10

Saturday, September 9

Secret

suc‧cess 1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors. 2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Most people want something, and we all want to be able to achieve what we want. Whether in work or education, fishing or cooking, life's little struggles or eternal love - we like to win. Yes, success is a pretty big thing, and it doesn't have to be about money or prestige. To Bob Dylan, "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do." The only problem is that you can't always get what you want.

Is there a secret to success? Abraham Lincoln impresses on us to "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing." Many others agree with him. Dedication. To have one goal and aim for it unswervingly. But that's not a secret, is it? It's just common sense. I personally think the French philosopher Albert Schweitzer hit the mark when he supposed "A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up." Working hard is often a substantial part of the road to success, but how long does the perseverance last? How long until we cry out we've had enough of it? The real secret to success would be to find a way to postpone that moment forever. The real secret is to find a balance in life that allows you to get energy out of work - instead of doing it the other way around. It's the secret of flight; a pair of wings to fly through life.

Wednesday, September 6

Place to go: Siccar Point


In honour of my first week studying Earth and Environmental Sciences, let's take a look at - what some like to call - the birthplace of modern geology, namely Siccar Point. It was at this promontory on the east coast of Scotland that physician and lawyer James Hutton observed what he regarded as conclusive proof of the theory of geological evolution. At Siccar Point, the lower part of the cliff shows layers of grey shale tilted to lie almost vertically, then immediately above this the upper part of the cliff shows near horizontal layers of red sandstone - something which the early theory of Catastrophism could not explain. If the Earth was created by sudden, short-lived, violent events in the beginning of time, and has not changed since those days, than how can one explain the position of the rocks at Siccar Point? Hutton reasoned that the rocks must have been formed by several cycles over an extremely long history. At Siccar Point around 1786 he remarked "that we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end."

Sunday, September 3

Universitatis Liberae

If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain. - Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

Tomorrow is my first day at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The first week will probably be very tiring, so I can't promise to post anything soon - but I'll be back at the end of the week.

Saturday, September 2

Capturing emotion

Some time ago, I stumbled across the photography page of Nationalgeographic.com. The website features many interesting pictures and galleries, as well as photographs to use as wallpapers and printable photo posters of amazing quality. However, I was unable to find one of my favorite NG-photographs. It doesn't show a spectacular scene, but I have never seen a photograph showing more emotion than this one by photographer William Albert Allard. A Peruvian boy cries because a cab driver ran into his flock of sheep.

Friday, September 1

What is your feather?

That is the question interior designer Nate Berkus asked in the Oprah show, the feather being a metaphor for something simple that has an emotional value to you personally. For instance, a widow keeping a white feather she found outside her door because it reminds her of her late husband. It is a question reminding me of a small case I keep on my night table. It is filled with ordinary items that mean something to me, not especially because they are all memorabilia, but because they either have a symbolic meaning or they are objects I somehow feel connected with. An old compass to lead the way. The mechanism of a music box, still playing music softly when you wind it up. Old banknotes and foreign coins. Tickets to the open air pool of Vianden, Luxembourg, from a vacation years ago. Some ribbons. The ashes of my notebooks and hand-outs from six years of school - gone but not forgotten. A small Incan puppet my mother gave me. A pack of old cards from Paris. Even a feather.