Spock, My Childhood Hero and Introduction to Philosophy

Leonard Nimoy as Spock

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor Frankl

I don’t really have the time to write a blog post today, but I feel a need to try to understand the formative role of Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy’s character of Spock in my childhood, so I am giving myself an hour to finish this and hoping I can come close to something not illogical.

Where I Had Not Gone Before

Star Trek, James Blish Star Trek adaptationsStar Trek entered my life when I was twelve. A new teacher came to our two-room rural South Dakota country (and only the second teacher I’d ever had), bringing with her books for our tiny back-room library. Some of those books were James Blish’s adaptations of the original Star Trek episodes and Alan Dean Foster’s adaptations of Star Trek: The Animated Series (I realize now that those books were fairly new at the time). I had never heard of Star Trek, but I was quickly hooked and then ecstatic to learn that syndicated episodes would be shown every day—every day!—after school.

Star Trek was perhaps my first bona fide obsession. I simply could not get enough. I watched. I read. I wrote fan fiction. I pondered episodes and made up new ones. No one else in my family or the school shared my obsession, but I didn’t care. I loved the idealism. I loved the science. I loved the characters. And, through it all, I was most obsessed with Spock.

Stranger in a Strange Land

What twelve year old doesn’t feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land? An alien trying to figure out her place in a world where everyone else seems to glide effortlessly and knowingly from day to day? My emotions at that time would get the better of me to the point where I felt helpless in their wake, and, finally, here was a character who experienced the same struggles and tensions, who felt as though he fit in nowhere, straddling worlds he didn’t understand.

Star Trek, Animated Series novelizations, Alan Dean FosterI did not know it at the time, maybe not even until today, but Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was my first introduction to philosophy, to the age-old questions of mind versus body, reason versus emotion, pain versus pleasure, what it means to be human (or, in his case, half-human). Most important, I internalized through his character the precepts of Stoicism, and there were many difficult days in my adolescence when I would pretend to be not quite a Vulcan, for they do not need to wrestle with understanding their emotions, but a half-Vulcan.

As Lary Wallace writes in Aeon, Stoicism is much misunderstood. He reminds us that the tranquility of the Stoics is due not to apathy but to gratitude, “a gratitude, moreover, rugged enough to endure anything.” Stoicism is also about freedom of mind, freedom of choice, and the inherent value of suffering. While Spock perhaps went too far in his attempts to control his own emotions and often suffered needlessly, I learned from him that the emotional currents of life need not control our every waking moment and that the struggle for self-understanding can be noble, even and maybe especially when no one else sees or notices. In those ideas, I found great freedom and strength, while pretending to be a fictional character.

No wonder as an adult I am drawn to existentialism. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “It can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being.”

And, with that, my hour is up. Thank you, Leonard Nimoy (and Gene Roddenberry). You will live long in our hearts, and your legacy will prosper.

Note: After I wrote this post, my daughter-in-law, also a Star Trek fan, sent me the link to “Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy — What Spock Meant to One Geeky 12-Year-Old Girl,” by Emily Asher-Perin, which tells her own story better than I.

Bruno Mars, “The Lazy Song” (video featuring Leonard Nimoy, directed by Nez)

Spock Quotes

Header photo by NBC Television (ebay item front release) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Index Spotlight: For the Love of Orcas

Orca and child

Every once in awhile I get an indexing project that is so captivating I find myself reading for pages and pages without indexing a single term (and then I must go back to the chapters again with the eyes of an indexer rather than a reader). John Hargrove’s Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish (Palgrave Macmillan) was one of those books.

Shamu

Photo credit: “Shamu,” Terabyte at the German language Wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Beneath the Surface delivers on the promise of its title. Those who have seen the documentary Blackfish will remember the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was dragged into the water at SeaWorld Orlando by Tilikum, a male orca who had previously been involved in two other human deaths. Hargrove not only offers background and insight into Brancheau’s death, the consequences of which eventually led to a federal ban on trainers doing waterwork with orcas, he also takes us deep into the underwater of both the career of an orca trainer—the desire to work with these magnificent mammals, the long path to being assigned to the coveted Shamu Stadium, the many facets of behavioral training, such as hand-slaps on the water—and aspects of orca captivity of which the general public is probably unaware, such as SeaWorld’s artificial insemination (AI) program.

Shamu show

“2009-Seaworld-Shamu” by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What will pull you into the book and keep you reading, however, are the complex relationships that trainers have with the killer whales in their care and the lives and stories of over two dozen captive orcas. One female orca in particular who underwent the AI process, Takara (“Tiki”), born in captivity (the same year my son was born) and called by Hargrove an “accidental princess,” leaps off the page and into the reader’s heart.

“Her name means ‘treasure’ in Japanese,” Hargove writes. “I love her so much.” But this is no cheap, sentimental love: “Sweetness has nothing to do with why I adore Tiki. I love her because she’s strong, she’s smart and she’s tough—and she’s a spoiled brat who knows when it’s time to behave.”

Beneath the Surface, scheduled for release on March 24, 2015, is available for pre-order. Learn more about the book and the author from the resources below.

See Also

Real Time with Bill Maher: Backstage Pass with John Hargrove (in which Hargrove discusses the artificial insemination process):

Blackfish Official Trailer:

Header photo by Robert Pittman [Public domain], “Two mammal-eating “transient” killer whales photographed off the south side of Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska,” via Wikimedia Commons

What Is Found Poetry?

Poetry

I admit that I was enjoying found poetry long before I knew it had a name. The following definition is from the Academy of American Poets:

“Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.”

The Guardian article “Poster Poems: Found Poetry” provides a good overview of the history and range of found poetry, including William Carlos Williams’ famous “This is just to say,” which began as a refrigerator note.

Early in my reading of my great aunt Hattie’s Great Plains diaries I was struck by the poetry of many of her entries. Hers is neither a rhyming nor an abstract poetry, but an earthy poetry of candor, concrete words, and lived experience, as this example (a “golden shovel” poem) shows:

April 5, 1934

Another dust storm dark and thick. You
couldn’t see the sun, no weather fit
for even necessary work, continued into
evening after supper. Sophie helped me

dye my faded brown-red dress like
new to black, but it was not a
pretty black so replaced bent hook
at collar, hemmed, and made into

an everyday dress, also used an
old overall for nail apron and extra eye
for clasp. After I lay down for a
nap, Ben brought us sixteen club fish

he caught with just a pole and hook
so fried them up for supper. Will put an
egg in bottle for magic work to cut open
the fistula festering near Mike’s eye.

You can read more found poetry from Hattie’s diaries here, and explore these found poetry resources:

Photo credit: takomabibelot, Poetry, Mosaic Ceiling (Washington, DC), CC BY 2.0


Photo credit: takomabibelot, Poetry, Mosaic Ceiling (Washington, DC), CC BY 2.0

Gamify Your Blog Cleanup

Legos

Header “Pile of Lego” photo credit: musicmoon@rogers.com, (CC BY 2.0)

Blog Cleanup

Blogs are our online homes. We try to keep them neat and attractive enough for visitors, but we hope that no one is curious enough to open cluttered drawers or see the dust balls under the bed or, worst of all, wander into the “junk room.”

I wrote my first blog post five years ago this month. Since then, I have published 635 posts both here. If I include that first blog (Everyday Intensity), much of which I’ve folded into this one, the total is over 900 posts, and over 1200 images are in my blog media library.

The problem is that, along the way, I was not very good about internal blog organization. At the beginning, I didn’t understand the difference between categories and tags. I did not always name image files in ways that make them easy to find. Sometimes I used featured images; sometimes I didn’t (depending on what blog theme I was using at the time).

The result is a bit like a room-size pile of Legos that need to be sorted by size and color. It is a mess I love, because I really do love blogging (as much as I love Legos), but a mess nonetheless.

Where To Start When You Don’t Know Where To Start

For my five-year blogging anniversary, I am unveiling a new magazine-style website design (it’s live now—take a look!). However, to make the new theme and design truly effective, I have a lot of cleanup ahead of me. If I think too much about all that work—checking each post for broken links, proper image citations, feature images, teaser text, useful categories and tags, not to mention theme-specific features and SEO—I despair of ever finishing and become too paralyzed even to begin.

The answer? Gamification, or at least the idea inherent in many video games of starting in the middle, at whatever point looks interesting and seeing where that takes me, rather than following a pre-determined, linear list of step

Here’s how it works: 

Each day I check my WordPress.org dashboard to see what posts and pages people have visited, and I start with one that I know I haven’t cleaned up. For example, today someone visited the post “Lakota Culture, Part 2: Winter Counts” (thank you, dear reader, whoever you are!).

1. I go to the post and check that all of the links and videos still work (in this case, they do).

2. Then I make sure that I have properly cited any images. The image for this particular post is in the public domain, and clicking on the link takes me to the source page. Just to be extra diligent, I decided to add a caption indicating that the photograph is a public domain image.

3. This post didn’t have a feature image, so I need to add one. Why? Because  my new website design features more attractive and easier to navigate category pages that use feature images. Here is what the Winter Counts posts looked like on its category page (Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide) originally:

Category Page

Notice that there was no photo, there was no color background for the description, and the teaser text was simply the first lines of the post itself (which sometimes works and other times is better to change). Also notice that the next post, “One-Room Country Schools,” does have a photo but no color background.

Often for feature images, I can use an image already in the post, but in this case, the image isn’t big enough for a crisp header image. I head over to Flickr to see if there are any Creative Commons images of Winter Counts, and I am in luck! I insert the image as a feature image, credit it in the text of the post, and code a blue background color for the description. I add a hand-crafted excerpt to take the place of the automatic teaser, because the first lines of the post repeat information already available in the title information.

Here is what the post link looks like now on the category page:

Category Page, new

Much better!

4. I also check the categories and tags. This post’s category is fine, but I decide to add a tag for Lakota to make it easier for readers to find similar posts later, once I add the same tag elsewhere.

5. At this point, I can choose another post visited today or click through to others marked “Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide” with the goal of cleaning up the entire category (maybe “One-Room Country Schools”) or maybe do a search among my published posts for “Lakota” to tag and clean up all of those. One relatively small category I have finished cleaning up is AWP Conferences, in case you want to see what that looks like.

It is not a fast process by any means, and I expect that I won’t be finished for a month or so, but the end result will be a site that is much more reader-friendly. I write here about my progress and any tips I discover along the way.

What blog cleanup techniques work for you? What questions do you have about blog cleanup? Share them in the comments!