Social Sciences

Prompts for the Promptless – What’s A Litmus?

Does anyone remember for what litmus paper actually tests?

From the ubiquitous source of all knowledge and frequent misinformation — Wikipedia — comes this enlightening but incomplete (please feel free to conduct your own research) definition:

Litmus is a water-soluble mixture of different dyes extracted from lichens, especially Roccella tinctoria. It is often absorbed onto filter paper to produce one of the oldest forms of pH indicator, used to test materials for acidity. Blue litmus paper turns red under acidic conditions and red litmus paper turns blue under basic (alkaline) conditions, with the color change occurring over the pH range 4.5-8.3 at 25 °C. Neutral litmus paper is purple. Litmus can also be prepared as an aqueous solution that functions similarly. Under acidic conditions the solution is red, and under basic conditions the solution is blue.

I’ve yet to determine the “litmus test” for Freshly Pressed. Whatever it is, I have flunked. I don’t measure up. Not clever enough? More clever than socially acceptable? Overly sarcastic? Insufficiently witty? Excessively eclectic? Irrelevant? Too topical? Too vague? Too pointed? Unable to follow simple directions? Failure to be a team player?

“Marilyn does not play well with others. She runs with scissors.”

I hade my face because I cannot bear the shame. Oh the horror!

I hide my face because I cannot bear the shame. Oh the horror!

Too many typos? Ouch.

“I plead guilty, your honor,” she said sadly, baring her soul for punishment. “I just don’t see them. I am a pathetic failure, dishonored, disgraced. Tear off my buttons. Break my sword. Rip the epaulettes from my shoulders. I deserve no less. Pass the yellow feather of shame.”

Despite the deep anxiety engendered by my un-freshly pressableness, I keep writing. Doggedly and with determination. Sometimes I’m so dogged I write about dogs.

As for litmus testing, I’m pretty sure I have a pH. If an actual litmus test were applied, I would definitely pass. Everything and everyone passes a litmus test because … (drumroll, trumpets) … you can’t fail a litmus test. There’s no correct answer and no passing grade. (Throw that bum out! His pH is way too low!) If my mother was any kind of judge, I’m too acidic, though there are days when I feel distinctly alkaline. I think this is one of those days.

Since I have recovered from my brief fling at being young, I have many opinions, but I don’t test. I have standards. Does that count? I don’t hang with racists. I don’t argue with stupid people by which I mean those delightful, heartwarming folks who combine blissful ignorance with strong opinions. I suppose there are a few other points, political, intellectual and social (don’t chew with your mouth open), but there’s no test. I like’em or I don’t. As with books and movies, I like what I like and don’t know why. Shameful. 

I don’t necessarily believe anything or anybody except my husband. He is an epic truth-sayer. If you ask him if that dress looks good on you, I hope you really want the answer. Because he is going to tell you. He will tell you with grace, charm and tact, but tell you he will.

I’m not litmus-test friendly. Worse, I’m completely out of touch with whatever is au courant. I wouldn’t know what to test for, much less whether or not someone passed, failed or whatever.

Does that make me a loser? Or, to put it in Facebook-ese, a LOOSER? I’ll bet my problem is I do not allow having nothing to say stop me from saying it anyhow. That’s gotta be it!

Tighten up, bitch. Get your act together! No looseness! Stand up straight! Button that uniform! Yes SIR!! Maybe if I get really tight, I’ll be Fresh enough to be Pressable!

The End of the World as We Know it?

Marilyn Armstrong:

Don’t give up your day job just yet.

The Maya peoples never disappeared, neither at the time of the Classic period decline nor with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and the subsequent Spanish colonization of the Americas. Today, the Maya and their descendants form sizable populations throughout the Maya area and maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs that are the result of the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. Millions of people speak Mayan languages today; the Rabinal Achí, a play written in the Achi language, was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.

Their empire is gone, but the people are alive and well. I believe that the human sacrifice thing was primarily an Aztec custom, rather than Mayan.

Originally posted on MikesFilmTalk:

So according to certain “scholars” the world is going to end tomorrow. Or, I guess more accurately, in about 6 ½ hours (give or take a few micro-seconds). But the six some odd hour’s thing is just a guess since the Mayans did not actually say when on the 21st the world was actually going to end.

Now don’t get wrong here, I am not thumbing my nose at the Mayans or the scholars who “deciphered” the calendar that suddenly stops on the 21st of the 12th 2012. I will have to admit that I don’t care enough to spend too much time searching the net for additional references to the day the world ends. I probably should though just to be on the safe side.

I don’t want to wake tomorrow morning and waste my time being superior and doing the “See! I told you…

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Life does not make sense. It never did.

Last night I had a series of Technicolor dreams that finally got me out of bed much earlier I intended. I have dreams that don’t quite reach the threshold of nightmares, but are nonetheless disturbing and vivid. They are also persistent, refusing to go away even after I wake up, get up, get something to drink, and go back to bed. The dream is still there, demanding attention.

Sometimes I have dreams which don’t seem to have anything to do with me, as if I’m having someone else’s dreams.

In this one, I was a small homosexual man being attacked by two large, powerful men. I watched this dream as a third person. I wasn’t in it, exactly. More like I was witnessing it, but I could still feel the terror of the young man. When I finally gave up and got out of bed for the day, I was begging them not to hurt me and as far as it went, was succeeding.

I am not a man nor a homosexual. How could it be my dream? The main character didn’t look like me or anyone else I know. The two men who were threatening the me-not-me were unfamiliar too. As far as I can tell, I have never met either of them. One was very tall, maybe a football or basketball size semi giant, the other normal height, but brawny. Both relatively young, maybe in their thirties. Both white. It was scary. And vaguely depressing. For whatever reason, when I got up, I knew my dream had been telling me that life doesn’t make sense.

I thought, briefly, that life used to make sense … and then I rethought my thought. “No, it didn’t. Life has never made any sense.”

When I was young, I was busy. Raising kids, Working. Taking care of a house.  I had goals and plans. But the goals and plans were inventions, so any meaning they had was whatever I put there.

The family

Get a better job, plan a vacation. Fix the kitchen. Plant bulbs in the garden. Get a bigger house. I moved from goal to goal, and when I accomplished one thing, I made a new plan.

What this did was give me a direction so I didn’t run in circles.

It turns out that life is its own meaning. Run fast, run slow, or don’t run … you end up where you were supposed to be. We make our passage from birth to death. We do good along the way … or not. It’s fortunate that goodness is its own reward since it pays so poorly.

We can enjoy the journey, find it fulfilling, frustrating, frightening or enlightening. If, when we are done with the busy years of work and family, we look back and know we followed our conscience and mostly were the best selves we could be, that’s meaning and probably, as good as it gets.

Younger people think retired folks must be bored or depressed because we don’t have jobs and lack ambition. From their vantage point, how can our lives have meaning? But that stuff was baggage. It didn’t make life meaningful, just busy. It gave our time shape and form, provided a sense of purpose, even if it was artificial. We did what we had to do to survive and, for those of us who were parents, to give our kids the best shot at life we could.

Having done all that, after we are no longer looking for a better job or yearning for a bigger house, when the kids are grown and we’ve done all we can for them … what we have left is ourselves. If our life had meaning, we know it. If it didn’t, we know that too. Retirement and senior citizenship neither add nor subtract meaning. It  just gives us more leisure to notice what we didn’t notice before. Hopefully, we like what we see.

Life is no more or less meaningful when you are old than when you were young. You just spend more time seeing doctors and the drugs are not nearly as much fun.

Gifts and Lies

The lie has become so ingrained in our culture that we accept it without question. Today, I question it, its validity and its basis. Just because it has become our national motto doesn’t make it right.

This is the lie we tell to ourselves and our children:

“If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you can achieve anything. If you don’t achieve it, it’s because you gave up, didn’t try hard enough. Not achieving your dreams makes you a failure.”

That is not true.

We cannot achieve anything because we want it and trying terribly hard can take you only so far. The rest of the distance requires actual ability in that field of endeavor, talent to make a dream come true.

You can’t be a blind artist. You can’t be a tone-deaf musician. You can’t write when you’ve no gift for words. You can’t be physicist if you find mathematics incomprehensible. You can’t be a carpenter or an engineer if you cannot visualize in three dimensions. You can’t take pictures if you don’t see them in your mind’s eye. That’s not defeatist. That is real.

I don’t know when being a realist became synonymous with defeatist. It infuriates me when someone tells me I shouldn’t give up on a dream because if I keep trying, I will succeed.

No, I won’t. It isn’t going to happen. It was never possible. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do. I even know what I want to do. Being told that I should never give up my dreams makes me want to whack the speaker of this un-wisdom upside the head with a two-by-four.

I’m in favor of dreams as long as you recognize the difference between a dream and a realistic expectation. I’m in favor of knowing who you are, evaluating your talents, recognizing your abilities. Everyone has dreams. Everyone has gifts. Sometimes the two coincide so that you can ride your dreams into a golden future. This outcome is not in everyone’s cards.

I wanted to be a musician. It wasn’t an outlandish dream. I had started piano when I was only four. I continued with it all through my school years and was in college, just one credit shy of completing my B.A. in Music when a professor took me aside for a chat.

He said: “You do well in your courses. You get As in everything, so there’s no problem with grades. Except I see you. Your heart isn’t in it, not the way it needs to be. Music requires total commitment. Maybe you would be happier doing something else. Keep music as a hobby. Do something you’re really good at, really passionate about. Being a second-rate musician won’t make you happy.”

I was mortified. Crushed. I played pretty well. I suffered from terminal stage fright, but I had a good ear and I loved music. I still do. Yet when I gave it serious thought, I knew the truth. I would never fully commit to music. It was not the right path for me.

Sometimes,you are better for not taking that other path. Going the wrong way won’t get you where you need to be.

My real talent lay in words. I could write as soon as I could read. It was as natural to me as breathing and I never even thought of it as a gift because it was so easy. I just figured anyone could do it. I had to do some major rethinking and revise my self-image. It was painful and difficult. I never gave up playing the piano, but it stopped being my professional goal. As a bonus, when I stopped trying to become a professional musician, I began to enjoy music more.

I refocused my energy on writing and immediately, life turned around. I stopped plodding and began to fly. I never took a writing class. I just started working as a professional writer from my first job after college and never did anything else professionally for the next 40 years.

If Dr. Deutsch (thank you Herb, you really gave me a push in the right direction) had not sat me down and told me the truth as he saw it, I’d probably have continued down a road that would have led me nowhere I really wanted to go. He didn’t buy the lie, and refused to let me buy it.

No one can create talent. That’s why talents are called gifts. You get them free of charge along with the breath of life. Gifts come from God, not hard work.

Yet we keep hearing that lie — try hard and you can make it happen. We waste years trying to achieve the impossible while dismissing the achievable. We neglect real gifts in favor of magical thinking. If I were God, I would find that really annoying.

Dreams are not the goal. Creating a good and satisfying career and life should be the goal. We all need to take stock of ourselves, look hard at what we do well, focus on our strengths, hone our talents, and plan a future that works.

The freedom you gain when you stop trying to do the impossible and put your whole heart into using your abilities is inestimable. You stop feeling like a failure. You get to love your work. You can dump the dead weight of childhood dreams as well as the guilt and frustration of not fulfilling them. Just because you can’t be a ballerina doesn’t make you a failure. Being a lousy dancer when you could have been a great something else IS a failure  … a lose-lose for you and society.

Distinguishing dreams from reality is a winning strategy. Like it or not, we live in the real world. Dreams are not real. Don’t buy the lie.

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