What Lens Do You Use To View The World?

Today I was engaging in one of my favorite pastimes, listening to a podcast while doing some mindless data entry work.  I have mention before my love of podcasts; they are akin to old time radio but for the modern age.  This morning I got an extra treat, as I was listening to an interview of Dr. Neil de Grass Tyson by none other than one of my favorite podcasters John Hodgeman; oh be still my nerdy heart!

One of the reasons I enjoy listening to podcasts at work is because they drown out the noise my coworkers constantly make; coughing, sniffing, eating, gum snapping (my least favorite noise) and engaging in loud bitch fests.  Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate with all that noise going on, it’s like working in a human zoo.  Having my headphones and listening to a monotone conversation cuts everything else out. Hell, listening to a dentist drill would be preferable to office noise.

In his introduction Hodgeman was describing Dr. Tyson’s work and his many hats, from Director of the Haydon Planetarium, to host of PBS’s Nova Science Now. He ended his intro noting that above all else, Dr Tyson is an astrophysicist.  He then asked Dr. Tyson if that was correct, did he see himself primarily as an astrophysicist?  Dr. Tyson replied that “astrophysics was the lens in which he viewed the world”, in other words this is how he primarily sees himself.  This statement struck me as very profound, so much so that I stopped what I was doing and wrote the quote down.

It struck me as profound because for the last year or so, ever since my son moved out to attend college, I’ve wondered who I am, how I should view myself now that I am no longer a mom. Okay, yes I am still technically a mom, but when you child moves out, it no longer feels like it. So, if not a mom, what?

Starting in my late twenties I saw myself first and foremost as a mom and viewed the world from this lens.  Every decision was based on a parental point of view, from what kind of car to buy to where and how we lived.  Even my decision to go back to college was based on a parental desire to see my son succeed. How could I ask him to tackle higher education when I had not?

Now that my son is gone I am at a loss as to how to describe myself. Not that I need a label, but as a person  who is now free to do and be whoever I want,  my prospects are scary without some type of guidepost. Something to use as I navigate the world around me.

I thought about what Dr. Tyson said all day as I felt this quote about a lens made more sense than trying to place a label on myself.  The question now became “how do I view the world”?

If I had to give a one word answer it would be critically. Not as a cynic, but as a person who does not take anything at face value.  When I see an ad I wonder what it is they are really trying to say, and how are they saying it? The same goes for everything I read and hear on T.V. I question motivation and content. Is what they are saying true, or are they merely trying to push their ideology?  As a critic it is important to me to uncover the truth.  In other words, I have become a smart consumer.

This does not make me popular with my co-works, who love nothing more than to forward e-mails that either have really bad photoshopped pictures or the latest law passed by the dreaded Obama Administration.  Just the other day I was sent a picture of “Chinese” women with painted dogs.  The caption talked about the stupid things the Chinese do now that they have our jobs. The office was buzzing about this until I said “anyone notice the women in the photos are white”? Only one was Asian and for all I know, was born in the US. A quick Google search confirmed my suspicion; the photos were colored in and sent out because apparently we now are bashing China.

Now this story does not illustrate how I view myself, rather it shows you what I go through every day, and because of this, the question I ask about myself becomes, what the hell am I doing here and how do I get out?

So dear Readers, how do you see yourself? What lens do you use to view the world around you?

What would you miss if you were to travel back in time?

First I was enamored with my iPod. I was thrilled with the idea of being able to listen to podcasts or music at work. When I was a receptionist listening to history podcasts kept me sane. Next, I fell in love with my iPhone; oh how I loved the apps the touch screen keyboard, which was so easy on my middle age eyes, and having books on the go. I was awed by all the things this small handheld device could do. As a child of the original Star Trek era, the future seemed to be in my hand. Now it is the iPad that blows my mind.  I have reading choices without having to carry multiple books in my already overflowing purse.  Being able to look at exhibits from the British Museum and science videos from several sites is something I am not sure I will ever get over.  I can take Facebook and Twitter with me, and can be entertained by Angry Birds when I find myself waiting at the doctor’s or DMV. No, this is not a commercial for Apple, I just happen to have Apple products. I am just as amazed at a co-worker’s Koby. She is the one that turned me on to a radio app that allows me to finally listen to radio without static interference (which may say more about my house, than my radios).  I am amazed by our current technology for two reasons. I grew up in the pre-DVD and cell phone era. I can remember not that long ago we did not have anything close to this technology. Hell, I remember when we got our first answering machine.  My mother was so excited to know she would never miss another phone call, now we take our phones with us. The other reason I am amazed is because having lived in the country where the power went out every winter, I know how to live with the basics. I understand what we really need in order to live comfortably. Everything else is pure magic!

I love reading a good time traveling book in which the main character(s) find themselves thrust into the past. I want to know how they will react to being without the comforts of modern living.  I am disappointed when an author ignores this obvious plot point. This I think would be the most interesting part of the book.

Take the popular novel Outlander for example, for a book that is about a million pages long, Gabaldon, hardly mentions anything that Claire may miss. She easily adapts to her environment without even a glance back to her former life. Being a nurse, you would think she would be obsessed with personal hygiene.   The first thing I would miss and try to re-create? A toothbrush would be number one on my list of must haves, nope, can’t do without.

During the middle ages teeth were cleaned with a rough cloth dipped in an herbal mixture.  The wealthy chewed on cloves, cinnamon and mint.  As nice as this may be, I would quickly develop Mac Gyver like skills to come up with some type of toothbrush.

A change of clothing would be next. When I was doing research on medieval garments I was shocked to learn that even royalty wore the same chemise ( or tunic, depending on what scholar’s work  you are reading) to bed that that they wore under their mantle during the day. For many women, this undergarment was worn days on end, for the poor this may have gone on for years. Could you imagine wearing the same thing day in and day out? I can’t, which is why one of the first things I would want learn is how to sew.  The idea of wearing the same sweaty cloths day after day makes me want to go take a shower right now.

I could go on, but you get the point, there are some basic things that we take for granted, that I cannot live without.  Yes, I love my toys but they are not things I need. These are not things that are necessary for survival (though admittedly I would miss being able to do a Google search on “how to”). Maybe this is why I am still awed by them; I understand they are designed to make our comfortable life fun.

So dear Reader, what is that you could not live without? What would be on your list of must haves for all time travelers?