Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: I. Asimov

To Be Known And Understood

I finished I. Asimov – A Memoir this morning in tears. I didn’t realize that he wrote this in the last couple of years before his death. I felt like I gained a friend while I read chapter after chapter. I saw him, I knew him well, we connected, and then he was gone. His wife edited the manuscript, added an epilogue, and had it published after he had passed on. The words his wife used to start her epilogue were what finally broke me up.

“One of the deepest desires of a human being is to be known and understood.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

Each and every one of us has this desire and manifests it in our own special way. Through art, service, business, science, religion, or simply though living a life, we all seek to be known and understood.

I believe that is exactly why the internet, through blogs and social media, is so alluring to us. It expands the ability to express ourselves and be seen.

But are we ever understood?

I’m not sure.

If I don’t thoroughly understand myself, how can I be understood by others?

Every book or article I read brings new information. Every journal entry or mediation session sheds new light. Every blog post I write and share organizes my thoughts and gets me closer to what I’m really trying to say.

Do we seek to know and understand others?

I’m not sure we do.

I know that I do see people. I see what my family and friends are posting on their social media accounts. I read what others post on their blogs. But do I really engage with them? Do I try to understand why they are sharing, what they really want to say? Honestly? No.

I don’t think we have that capability on such a large scale as the internet.

To know and understand takes intimate and intentional contact. And we simply don’t have the capacity, the energy, or the time it would take to support that contact with more than a few people.

Instead of focusing on our immediate surroundings and the few people we are in contact with on a regular basis, we spread our attention all over the world and we lose something important. Connection with the people we really should be loving.

As much as we think we know and understand the people we see through their art forms, the people we interact with online, we don’t really. We know what they show us.

But that’s not a bad thing.

My personal philosophy is that there are different levels of understanding, as there are different levels of love and relationship. We simply need to be aware of them and react to them accordingly.

Like I said, I felt like I got to know Asimov and we became good friends while I read about his life through his eyes. And then he died, and I felt so sad, like maybe I should do something to mourn the loss of a friend.

That’s crazy talk. Awareness of what emotion was triggered, what I was relating to, reminded me of the level of understanding and connection I was at and brought me back to reality. It’s the same with social media friends, bloggers, tv personalities, and artists. Yes, I interacted with what they shared with the world, what they wanted to be know for, but I wonder… if I met them, hung out with them, were a part of their lives somehow, would they be the same person I know them as?

I often wonder what people think of me; those that stumble across what I’ve written, old co-workers or acquaintances that see what I’ve shared to my social media accounts. What I’ve found fascinating over the years is the few honest, aware, or reflective friends and family members that will tell me what they think they see in me. And as I get older and more reflective myself, I tend to listen to those accounts more openly instead of vehemently insisting that they “apparently don’t really know anything about me.”

That instinct to be known and understood is why I created this blog. Social media photos, quotes, and selfies just weren’t cutting it for me. I wanted to use more words, think more about what I was trying to say, open up just a little bit more. For some reason, blogging to strangers is much easier for me than talking with people that know me.

Even if you’re not a fan of Asimov’s work, or a science fiction fan in general, I think you might enjoy reading I. Asimov – A Memoir. He was a brilliant and fascinating person, honest and open hearted, and very funny. His memoir sheds light on another kind of human being, a life well lived, a thread in the tapestry of humanity.

The Secret of the Universe

“I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

I read that and I paused to take it in, then read it again. I’ve mentioned something similar before, that when we look out into space there seems to be more and more to see. The same happens when we look inside, breaking everything down into smaller and smaller parts.

Years ago, I was organizing weekly group activities for our homeschool group out here in the desert. We had cooking, art, and a book club. I led a drama club that ended in a performance for friends and family. I never thought I’d be using those skills again, but I loved it.

The craziest activity I led was a math group. I wouldn’t call it a class, more like an exploration of math ideas for younger kids. Yes, if you know me, you’re thinking, “Math, Michelle? You? Seriously?” Sounds crazy but it’s true.

I grew up believing I wasn’t much of a math person, but when I first started homeschooling, I heard a representative from RightStart Math speak at a conference and was floored. Hearing her explanation of basic math (seriously), it all suddenly made sense. I wasn’t bad at math. I hadn’t been taught well when I was first exploring and then made to feel like a failure over the years of schooling and gave up.

We used a simplified and voluntary version of their system with our sons. Today, they are both brilliant at math and are both in college as engineering majors. Either the system worked, or they inherited math genes from their dad. I say both.

That’s why I wanted to lead a math exploration group for the local homeschool kids. I wanted to present the fun and exciting aspects of math that are all around us, without getting them bogged down with numbers, formulas, and tests. It was a fun-filled couple of weeks for me!

The first hour I led was on fractals. I searched out examples, went down rabbit holes, followed mysterious trails all week. When it came time for the class, I simply gathered up what I had found and showed it to the kids. We watched a video, read some of a book, and made our own gigantic fractal with paper, pens, and a boat load of creativity.

The lesson was exactly what Asimov described. When we zoom in, we find more and more details. When we zoom out, we see the bigger and bigger picture. How far does it go? Is there an ultimate picture that only some supernatural being outside of our universe can see? That is the secret of the Universe. The science is never settled.

And it’s not simply science, but a metaphysical thing as well. The more we look into ourselves, the more we find. The more we look out, the more connected everything seems to be.

What part is it, that when we break everything down into pieces, is essentially me? And where is the line between us? What makes us different, yet the same?

A Few Asimov Quotes for Today

Just yesterday I mentioned that, while this book is immeasurably enjoyable, I didn’t think I. Asimov was very quotable. And then today I find three quotes in one hour’s reading. Such is life. Several passages over the last few days have made me smile, laugh out loud, or relate to him, but I hadn’t found anything that really stood out strong enough to invite more of my own thoughts.

Today they came flooding in and I had to whittle them down to the few most remarkable. It may be the book, or it may be my mood and focus that has changed, but I’ll take it either way.

I generally don’t partake in the “books are better than tv or movies” argument. I believe they all have their place, their own strong points and drawbacks. It’s all a matter of taste, need, and personality anyway. I love some books, and I love the movies or series based on them. Sometimes I love the movie and hate the book. Sometimes I’m in the mood to watch. Sometimes I want quiet to read. One thing I know is that I can’t read and knit at the same time, so I’m happy tv exists.

I thought this was funny though, and typical Asimov. Filling in for a speaker at a conference in 1972, he brought this up:

“In my talk, I took up the subject of tv cassettes and pointed out how bulky and inconvenient the equipment was but insisted (quite correctly) that it would be rapidly simplified. I then speculated how far it would be simplified – made small and portable, self-contained, with no energy source, and with controls that could start and stop it or move it back and forth with little more than a mental effort, and so on. And, behold, I pointed out, this was a book.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

Cassettes! Remember those? You can’t take those in the car, plane, or train. Camping? Probably not. But a book? Yes! One book can be hours of entertainment. Bring a classic and you’ll be reading for weeks.

Today, we have our phones with internet access, so things are different. I can have just about any visual entertainment I want at the touch of a finger, as long as I have a little power to charge it and a wifi connection. AND I could also use my e-reader to have any book I like downloaded to read even if I don’t have a connection. Pretty darn nice.

I still prefer a physical book though and typically bring the one I’m reading, along with my journal, wherever I go. If I’ll be spending the night, I’ll bring a back up book just in case!

“I keep anticipating derailments with who knows what dreadful consequences. My fears also reflect a hyperactive imagination. Dreadful consequences are forever presenting themselves to my eyes in solid and realistic three-dimensional form, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

When I read this, I scribbled, “yeah, me too” in the margin. This has always happened to me, and sometimes the vision is so real, I physically react to it. Just recently, I was sitting at a train crossing in the middle of the desert, my youngest son at the wheel. We were commenting on the train and the delay. We were on the last leg of a very long journey and ready to be home.

As I lazily gazed in the direction the train was going, the whole scene played out in front of me. A horrific sound from behind me, I turn my head and see the freight cars buckling and tumbling towards us. My son frantically trying to put the truck in gear and back away from the burning wreckage as it tears through the cars ahead of us.

I jerked to attention, gasping out loud. My son turns to look at me, “You ok?” I’d turned white, my heart racing. An active imagination can be a real psycho to live with.

Here’s my question though. Why does an active imagination always lean toward fear and horror? Why can’t I actively imagine the train coming to a stop directly in front of us, and a handsome game show host stepping down to award us a million dollars?

“I have indeed lectured to all my nearest and dearest on the necessity of doing what you have agreed to do with good grace and a smile. The trouble is that I am one of that common breed of human being who finds it very easy to strew noble little homilies for and wide but considerably less easy to follow those homilies himself.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir

This is why I love reading him. He feels so human that I can’t help but connect with him. He’s brilliant, imaginative, and a great man, but he knows his flaws.

I’m guilty of this very thing. It’s advice we could all take to heart. If you don’t think you can do something someone wants you to do with grace, then simply say no to the request. And, for those asking, please take that no for an answer. If you don’t, and I end up acquiescing, you’ll probably get the attitude from me.

I recently had an episode like this over my husband’s company Christmas party. Come hell or high water, we must attend every year. His employer insists on it. To be totally honest though, HE has to go every year, but in my mind that means I have to go as well. And I have gone. I say that I want to go to support him. It would be mean to make him go alone. And besides, we usually have a good time.

But every year, when the invite comes out, I spend the next several weeks grumbling about it. It’s a pain to go. I have to spend money on clothes I don’t want, leave the desert, socialize with people I don’t know.

I know that Asimov understands this complaint perfectly.

This year my husband insisted, after a rather involved argument, that I not go with him. He’d rather go alone, get it over with, and return that same night than deal with me and my bad attitude. Yeah, that hurt, but I earned it. I stayed home and I think I learned something.

Next year, I’ll do my best to be nicer about going. There are reasons I do enjoy it. It’s a night out together, we usually have a great dinner, free booze, and we spend the night in a hotel. It’s almost always scheduled for the week of my birthday, so I like to pretend it’s a party just for me…even though if were my party it would be at a place that I can wear jeans and tennis shoes. Then again…maybe next year that’s exactly what I’ll wear!

I realized this morning that Asimov died in 1992 and this book was published in 1994. I’m curious to know how it ends and I’m sure to find out in the next few days as I’m about 120 pages away. I’ll also be looking up how he died, and who published this book after his death.

I. Asimov: New Read

I. Asimov: A Memoir was an impulse buy! I think I was searching Amazon for something else and saw the memoir recommended…wait…I remember! I had bought Will Smith’s autobiography the day before and when I opened my browser, Amazon was kind enough to recommend Asimov’s. Since I’m a huge fan of that man as well, and I’m totally in the mood for more memoir, I clicked BUY NOW and walked away.

I. Asimov

A couple days later, there it was in my mailbox. That’s the glory of buying one book at a time on Amazon, they usually fit in my mailbox and I don’t have to drive to the post office and pick it up. This time, I was allowed to experience that beautiful feeling when I open the box and there it is, in a bag, all scrunched up with my mail from the last few days!

As soon as I got back in the car, I threw all the junk mail and bills to the passenger seat and held my precious in my lap. It was heavy but small. I pulled open the bag just to get a moment with it before I drove off to the grocery store. It’s a fat one! I took a picture of it immediately and sent it a friend I knew would appreciate my joy.

I’m not sure how he does it, but he’s so proud of himself and you’d think he’d come off as an ass, but he doesn’t. After every chapter, I only wish I could have hung out and had a cup of coffee with the guy.

Here are a few quotes from my reading this morning. Yeah…I can’t put it down. Damn these responsibilities getting in the way of my reading!

“At last I met people who burned with the same fire I did; who loved science fiction as I did; who wanted to write science fiction as I did; who had the same kind of erratic brilliance as I did.
I did not have to recognize a soul mate consciously. I felt it at once without the necessity of intellectualizing it.”

This one reminded me of my dad describing how much he loved his theatre people in high school. Meeting people that share your passion for something, or (in my case) at least share your enthusiasm for life in general…there’s nothing like it. I think it’s what the Founding Father’s meant by “the pursuit of happiness,” but that could also mean all the books you ever want.

“Writing was exciting because I never planned ahead. I made up my stories as I went along and it was a great deal like reading a book I hadn’t written.

When asked for advice by beginners, I always stress that. Know your ending, I say, or the river of your story may finally sink into the desert sands and never reach the sea.”

This! I read this in A Roving Mind last year and it confirmed, once again, that I was doing nothing wrong. 99% of my posts, fiction and non-fiction are cleaned up first drafts. Even in high school and college, once I wrote it down, it was done, other than cleaning up errors and fixing a few things. That doesn’t mean they are all winners, perfect right out of the box. It just means that it’s exactly what I wanted to say.

I’ve always been overly honest. I’m not one to hide behind my words. I say what I mean, I mean what I say. And it all comes tumbling out of my head and onto the page, the same way I speak. It’s me. The more I do it, the better, more organized, it gets. So…you, my dear reader, get the brunt of it thanks to the glory of the internet.

“It always seems to me that it’s not hard to be nice to people in small ways, and surely that must make them more willing to be nice in small ways in return.”

How’s that for an idea to start your day with? If you’re wondering what you can do to make a difference in the world, try a small kindness. Give a couple bucks to that guy. Smile and say thank you, make eye contact with the cashier. Compliment your waiter on how well he’s doing, even if he’s not THAT great. Those small things ripple outward like waves that create bigger waves. Weave some bright threads into the tapestry of our lives. Be nice today. Make someone smile, laugh, or feel a little bit better about themselves.

I’ve read quite a few Asimov books in my life, but I’ve only posted about him a few times recently. Check out A Roving Mind and The Gods Themselves.

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