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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Colbert’

A couple of things have happened over the last year that have made me re-examine my life and goals. Besides the Trumpocalypse, that is. That’s a whole ‘nother bag o’ worms I don’t want to get into right now. Plus there are people out there who do a much better job at explaining and poking the bear than I could possibly hope. (Some favorites: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Jim Wright. Humor is definitely the best medicine in this case.)

First, my middle niece has been to Europe and Asia in just the last few months. She and her best friend spent New Years in London, after a quick side trip to the Eiffel Tower in France. Then several weeks ago they both went to Japan via the Great Wall of China for the friend’s sister’s wedding. Barely legal-to-drink Millennials, they scrimped and saved and planned, and are doing things I’ve always wanted to, but could never afford. You go, ladies. Do it all now, while you’re still young and able.

Second, I had a bit of a health scare. Over the summer I was having problems with my joints – especially my knees – swelling. It turned out to be a side affect of some new medication (which I have since stopped), but in the process of making that discovery we had to weed out a few other things. Since I have artificial knees, I was worried that carrying so much weight might have damaged them, so we did x-rays to check. The knees are fine, but just above the left knee, in the marrow channel of my femur, we discovered an anomaly. The radiologist defined it as a “sclerotic lesion” approximately the size and shape of a small egg. My primary care doctor immediately ordered a bone scan and referred me to an oncologist. I proceeded to freak out.

 

Version 2

 

The next few months consisted of long waits between appointments as I dealt with referrals for tests, referral from the oncologist at my primary care facility to an orthopedic oncologist at Cedars- Sinai, my insurance, retrieval of old x-rays from before my knee replacements, and indeterminate answers. I’ve been questioned, examined, x-rayed, MRI’d, and, finally, biopsied. (Yes, that entailed drilling through my leg into the bone while under CT scan. And sedation – Yay!) Thankfully, the biopsy determined the thing in my leg was a benign growth called an enchondroma. While there is a remote chance it can become cancerous, the odds are highly in my favor. And given that I have no noticeable symptoms, the doctor recommended we just keep an eye on it. That will mean periodic x-rays, but at my age I probably glow in the dark already, so that’s not an issue. Sure beats the hell out of the alternatives.

Between being reminded of all the things that could go wrong in life (and how short it can be), and all the things I haven’t accomplished, my bucket list came roaring back to the forefront of my attention. We all have one, whether we actually call it that or not. Things we want to do before we die (aka: “kick the bucket”). Some items might be kind of mundane, such as getting married, or graduating college. Others might be more adventurous, like climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. And the list often changes as we ourselves change. When I was a kid my list included making All State Band (done), graduating college (done), and riding in a helicopter (done). Now… well, now it tends to lean more toward the adventurous than not. Being on the wrong side of middle-aged and middle-class means a lot of them probably aren’t going to happen. But who knows? Maybe the gods will grant me a favor.

 

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What’s in your bucket?

 

So here, in no particular order, are some of the things on my bucket list:

  • Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Yeah, that’s a lot of hiking, especially for someone who’s longest walk most days is to the kitchen and back. But it’s still within the realm of feasibility. And the new treadmill has been installed. I’ve even used it. Hubby thinks it would be cool to do, too. Once I can do a couple miles in one shot on the treadmill, we’re going to start looking for short local hikes we can do, and work our way up. Even if we never make the PCT, getting up and being more active will only help.
  • Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to all the fat I carry, my buoyancy is pretty extraordinary. Plus I lettered in swimming in high school. All I need is a burkini to keep my lily-white skin from broiling off in the Australian sun, and I could spend days with my face in the water looking at all the cool stuff. Probably should do that soon, given the damage pollution and climate change are causing the reef.
  • Visit Machu Picchu. An Incan city in Peru known for its finely crafted stone walls and the grueling trail to get there that tops out at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. Stunning views and archeological finds make it a must-visit-in-person, while being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site helps justify the very limited visitor roster.
  • Canoe the rivers of Alaska. Our 49th state is the last bastion of true wilderness we have. I want to smell that air, feel that chill, and witness the herds of caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before our government sells the last of it off for drilling rights.
  • Bicycle through Europe. I did a ton of riding in high school and college. It was my primary form of transportation and at one point I was racking up over 100 miles a week, between school, jobs, and student teaching. And there’s so much I want to see, especially in the Germanic and Scandinavian countries. Bicycling through it all would allow a more leisurely pace from which to witness the world of my ancestors.
  • Horseback ride across the US. Probably the least practical of my fantasies. But, like bicycling Europe, a great way to see the states. Plus I love horses. What could possibly go wrong?

 

in-soviet-russia-horse-rides-you_o_992093

 

  • Attend both Summer and Winter Olympics. TV coverage can be great. You get interesting back-stories, jump straight to the finals, and don’t have to deal with the crowds. But sometimes you just need to experience some things first hand. And maybe this way I’ll see some of the events I like that don’t often get covered that well.
  • Attend all three Triple Crown races. More horsey stuff. When I was a teenager, one entire wall of my bedroom was covered with horse pictures. And my scrapbook has a ton of articles about my favorite, Secretariat. I watched his races live at the time, and remember being overwhelmed by his power. To this day I tear up a little when I see those races again. I’ve always wanted a horse, but between constantly moving and finances, it just never happened.
  • Learn to fly both fixed wing and rotary aircraft. Especially helicopters. Something I’ve wanted to do since childhood. Even toyed with the idea of joining the Air Force so I could get flight school paid for. Later I did all my ground school courses at the local junior college, getting instrumental and commercial ratings. Finances ruled against me getting actual flight time, though. And being that ground school was over 30 years ago, I’ll have to start from scratch again, anyway. Hey, Harrison Ford was my age when he got his license, so I’m not out of time yet.
  • Go to space. And I mean more than a ride on the Vomit Comet. Spend some time on the ISS, or a moon base. Or Mars. Don’t let the grey hair and cellulite fool you; inside there is a starship captain waiting to escape Earth’s gravity. Why do you think I’m a science fiction writer, for fuck’s sake?
  • Publish a novel. Ideally, more than one. It would be especially cool if I could actually make some money with them, too. Don’t need to be huge, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Just would like a sort-of regular income. Right now I’m making zero off my writing, so anything is an improvement. Yes, I still have queries out. Need to do more of that writing, thing, though…
  • Own a castle. With radio-controlled alligators in the moat, and an automated dragon belching fire on a turret. Just kidding! (maybe…)

As you can see, I have pretty expansive (and exPENsive!) fantasies. Plus most of them require me to be in a whole lot better condition than I am. And while there are always possibilities, it’s the probabilities that work against you. But as one of our favorite space rogues once said:

 

Never Tell Me the Odds

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Humans are arrogant sons-of-bitches – as individuals, in our teams, our tribes, our cultures, our countries, as an entire planet. We think we know everything and we are the end all and be all of the whole universe. We, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. But that doesn’t stop some of us from shouting our arrogance from the mountaintops. And usually it’s the stupidest among us shouting the loudest.

I recently read an article shared on Facebook by two friends I consider polar opposites in most of their political views. That fact alone was enough for me to hit the link and see for myself what had spurred these two into such action. The article is entitled “The Death of Expertise,” written by Tom Nichols for the Federalist. You can check it out for yourself here. It really struck me. It hit on a point that I have witnessed and worried about for some time. Mr. Nichols expresses the concept much more eloquently than I, but the gist is that our society has rejected giving weight to the educated opinions of experts (read: scientists and the like) and declared all opinions equal, regardless of actual facts. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, all opinions are not created equal. And freedom to have your opinion doesn’t equate to freedom from consequences as a result of your opinion.

I have directly experienced this problem. I have a degree in music education from one of the best music universities in the nation. I was trained to be an instrumental music teacher, and, as such, can play any standard band or orchestra instrument at least at the basic level. I also know music history, theory, composition and conducting. I started noodling on the piano at two, playing tunes by ear, and later spent a good many years actually making money as a performer. So, it could be considered that I am an “expert” in music.

A friend of mine, who has exactly none of my experience or education, declared one day during a conversation on music that the violin and the fiddle were two different instruments. When I informed him that they were indeed the same instrument, just played differently, he proceeded to argue the point with me for the next hour. He insisted that I was wrong in my opinion. He would not accept my expertise in the field of music as being valid because he had heard the differences, and there just wasn’t any way possible they could be the same instrument. He had made up his mind and that trumped all my years of experience (three of which were actually solely on violin)[1].

This is, sadly, a common problem with humans. As Mr. Nichols states in his article:

“…it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.”

Sound familiar? Political pundits seem to fall into this more than most, but any one of us can probably point to several people within our circles of relationships that fit the definition to a tee. If they take Stephen Colbert seriously, instead of recognizing his entire act is sarcasm, then they might have a problem. Opinion and fact are two entirely different animals, but our polarized political environment here in the US has blurred the lines beyond recognition.

As a writer, – and, more specifically, a science fiction writer – I do my best to support my wacky future ideas on actual science. That means I do a lot of research. That research depends not on opinion but on fact. Let’s look at that word – fact – for a minute. Dictionary.com defines fact thusly:

1.  something that actually exists; reality; truth

2.  something known to exist or to have happened

3.  a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true

4.  something said to be true or supposed to have happened

Facts are determined by observation, experience, empirical testing and supported by evidence. It is a fact that my hair is now mostly silver instead of brunette. It is opinion that the silver is prettier than the brunette. You can support the former statement by direct observation of my hair, while the latter can vary from person to person.

But facts long accepted by the majority are now suddenly under attack by right wing extremists. Science has been declared so much hokum developed only to attack the truth as determined by a book of allegories written thousands of years ago. And yes, there are those in the scientific fields that are as equally convinced science is the only true path. The mentality is “there can be only one,” a declaration I find interesting because I don’t believe the two have to be mutually exclusive. Science answers questions of the real world, while theology serves to answer the questions of spirituality and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. Science hasn’t answered everything yet, so we must depend on faith for the rest.

This is where that human arrogance comes in. Each of us is convinced, in our own little worlds, that we are absolutely right, we know everything, and everyone else is an idiot. Sorry, folks, but that’s not the case. We are barely motes in the grand scheme of the universe. Yes, we’ve mapped the human genome, but we still have no idea what most of it does or how which part relates/affects/negates others. We’ve traveled to the moon and by remote to Mars, and yet we still haven’t figured out how to get off oil and not pollute the only place we have to live.

For us to progress as individuals and as a species we must be open to possibilities. Steadfastly holding on to opinions that have no support in facts stifles growth. Declaring an opinion and then refusing to accept the consequences such opinion might bring, is an ignorant close-minded approach to the world.  Real democracy requires real dialogue, and real dialogue requires open minds. We can’t be afraid to have our ideas challenged. We must encourage debate, and we must have that debate supported by facts, not ideological fantasies.

Most importantly, we need to get over ourselves and accept the fact we might be wrong.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.


[1] For the record, violin and fiddle are physically one and the same, and Diffen.com has a nice explanation for you.

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