Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winter Ends at Sunset

Boston Common as the ice melts

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scientific Life Lessons

Yesterday I returned from Chicago and the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. There was a lot to learn from the over 10,000 scientists, students, press, and interested observers, including Al Gore and other Nobel Prize winners. Here are a few lessons I took from my attendance of some of the scientific symposia, as well as from general observation.

  • Kissing may help the immune system as well as provide a whole host of other benefits for people wanting to be closer to each other, not just romantically, but among family members and friends.
  • As a pick-up line, offering to boost the immune system of someone is less-than effective.
  • Al Gore is charismatic, passionate, and exciting to listen to. If only it had been obvious eight years ago.
  • Reporting science is complex and can be difficult to convey to the public. Scientists are often their own worst advocates, with an unfortunate habit of making even stories like The Creation of Artificial Life seem boring and dull.
  • Scientific understanding grows both more quickly and more slowly than might be expected, with some huge leaps rapidly proven and accepted while other, superficially small changes in paradigm facing enormous opposition.
  • The most important lesson is also the most basic: Science is interesting, science is important, and scientific meetings provide stunning glimpses into a universe as compelling as any political race, sports contest or economic issue.
Now if you'll excuse me, my immune system needs a boost.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Six Words to Describe Your Love

"Engagement ring paid for grad school." "My mom had beer flavored nipples." These were some of the stories of the crowd sitting in the warm, paper-smelling basement of Brookline Booksmith Tuesday evening when they were asked to tell about love and heartache in their lives in only six words. The exercise in brevity was part of a talk given by Smith magazine editors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser as they travel around the country promoting their new book "Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak."
The history of the six-word story is distinguished. After being challenged to tell a six-word story, Ernest Hemingway replied, "For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.." Smith and Fershleiser collected memoirs of that length for their first book, “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure," and after noticing the commonality of love in the submissions, decided to create the new book with just that theme.
After braving a frosty Boston winter to reach the bookstore, it was fun to hear both the love stories themselves, and the stories behind the stories. Smith told the group about how people usually assumed his story "Our prison visits were surprisingly romantic," was about a conjugal visit while he was in jail. Quite the opposite, as there is no such thing as conjugal visits. "These are little facts you pick up when your fiancée is in federal prison," he commented.
When it was my turn and Fershleiser held the microphone to my lips, I was still unprepared, but my subconcious crystallized what suddenly seemed a perfect comment on my entire romantic past. "She only loved me from afar," I said. There was a sympathetic murmur from the rest of the crowd but I was too busy wondering how on Earth I had come up with that to take much notice. Regaining my composure, I noted that others seemed to find satisfaction with their own six-word stories. There is something viscerally pleasing about condensing what might be months or years of emotional turmoil into barely enough verbiage to fill three seconds.
Smith and Fershleiserhave taken their ideas on six-word memoirs to many locales, including a lot of classrooms. In a second-grade classroom is actually where some of the best stories were created Smith said. One or two were the kind that just arrest the brain with their power. He told of one young student coming up to tell him and the rest of the class her story and how she looked in his eyes and said," Nine years stacked within my soul."