Thursday 13: Connections


We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the others, without the tree. ~Pablo Casals

2) The word “inkling,” which we think of as a creative spark as much as a mental hint, is supposed to come from an old word that means “utter in an undertone, hint at, hint.” I, however, prefer to connect it to the word “ingle,” which comes from an old Scottish word meaning “fire.” The hint of an idea, the spark that lights the flame.

3) While my drawing skills are poor, my closure skills are not. Games that involve pattern matching, or connecting literal or figurative dots always make me happy. (This may be why I love Seurat’s pointilistic art.)

4) For years, I’ve loved the music of both Jason Robert Brown and Georgia Stitt, because they write catchy melodies with complex lyrics that tell compelling stories. It’s only in the last year that I learned they’ve been married to each other for more than a decade.

5) Like most North American children, I grew up knowing how to play rock-paper-scissors.(Apparently kids have been playing versions of it since the dawn of time.) Similarly, I was aware of the existence of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock before I ever started watching The Big Bang Theory. What I never really understood (mainly because I never paid attention) until recently was that there is a specific mathematical logic to the game, which requires that there always be an odd number of gestures.

6) I love fairy tales. The classic Grimm kind, you know, before Disney got their hands on them. When I was considering making folklore into a field of study (literary anthropology, anyone) I learned that some fairy tales are universal. Pretty much every culture in the world has some kind of vampire/succubus mythology. Every culture has a shape-changer (werewolves, and others.) Coastal cultures always have some kind of mermaid tale. “Jack and the Beanstalk,” however, is limited to a very small geographical area because climbing beans are not grown in very many places.

7) Fuzzy and I argued (playfully) for two weeks about whether our new puppy, Teddy, was a Theodore or an Edward. Chris, who likes animation, argued for the former, referencing a certain group of Chipmunks. I, who generally do not like animation, lobbied for the latter, because Edward is my grandfather’s name, and I’ve always liked it. We ultimately decided on “Theodore Edward Bear Bartell,” which makes me happy because “Edward Bear” is one of the many aliases for one Winnie-the-Pooh. And it makes his name a pun. Ted E. Bear. Teddy Bear. Which toys, of course, are so named after a former U.S. president of some notoriety. (I refer here to BOOK Pooh, from the classic A. A. Milne series (!) of books. Not the fluffy Disney-ified Pooh.)

8) One of Teddy’s littermates was Maddie. I don’t know if the woman who owned their mother was feeling literary, but I love the idea of Maddie referencing the French orphan Madeline (there were nine in the litter). Of course, if we’d taken home Maddie I would have been compelled to speak to her in a bad French accent.

9) In Russian, the word “chai” means “tea.” In Hebrew, the word “chai” means “life.” Coffee is my higher power, but tea is life.

10) I love science shows, and my all-time favorite is the old James Burke series, Connections, which explores things like why monks raising sheep led to the creation of computers. Here’s a link to the first episode:

11) Despite the fact that their math progressions are NOT the same, Roshambo (rock paper scissors) always reminds me of the Circle of Fifths, which, in turn, reminds me of a discussion I read about the “tempering” of musical instruments (as opposed to merely tuning them).

12) A friend recently posted a quote from A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, that made me remember why I loved that book so much (as I told this friend, this book was my gateway novel into sci-fi and fantasy when I was eight):

Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. ~Mrs. Whatsit

13) Two parables, the first, from the 500 Kindnesses community; the second, one I was reintroduced to at the UU church in Ames, IA a few years ago:

Two mice were sitting watching the snow fall and settle on the branch of a tree.

First Mouse: How much does a snowflake weigh?
Second Mouse: A little less than nothing.

They continued to watch the snow falling, eventually the snowflakes lessened and then they stopped. A final snowflake fell on to the branch of the tree. The branch creaked and snapped, and fell to the ground.

First Mouse: So a little less than nothing can make a big difference!

The lessons are clear:
Many people are doing little things.
Little things are laying the base for a big difference that is very much in the making.

Frogs lived in the ponds around a village in Africa. Frogs lived in the damp fields. Treefrogs lived in the trees. At night, the frogs croaked and peeped their mating songs—the village chief could not sleep.

In the morning, tired and irritable, the chief called all his people together. “These frogs offend me! They must die. All of you: take sticks and nets. Search everywhere. Kill those frogs!”

The villagers hastened to follow his orders, all but one — a very old woman. “Why don’t you do as you’re told?” demanded the chief.

“Everything is connected,” said the old woman. “I have lived long enough to see that you can’t make a big change in one thing, without causing changes in other things.”

“I don’t care,” said the chief. “I need my sleep! Go kill frogs.” But the old woman wouldn’t go. The chief grumbled, “She’s probably too old to be much good at frog hunting.”

That night, the pond and fields and trees were silent. Everybody slept well. But after a few nights, another sound interrupted the villagers’ sleep: ZnnnZnnnnZnnnn. Mosquitoes!

The people had no mosquito nets. They spent their nights slapping, and their days scratching. The chief was miserable. The old woman paid a visit to the chief, who was covered with welts from the mosquito bites. “You see,” she said, “everything is connected.”

~ As told by Fran Stallings

We are all connected.

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