Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sadness as a Muse

Does happiness chase away the creative ability? This intriguing New York Times article suggests that depression and its attendant emotions might play an evolutionary role that has led to its being preserved in the human species across time, perhaps for the creative advantages that it confers.
Imagine, no Lascaux cave art, if it weren't for a miserable young hunter who missed his great prey on the plains. Instead, he decided to draw his quarry on the walls, trying to recapture the  figure and spirit of the animal that had eluded him in reality.
I exaggerate of course, but there's no proof to the contrary, either. As to the article's premise that heightened pain can result in a heightened attention to detail, I can attest to that from just merely the experience of physical pain (as in a migraine), tiny things jump out with greater clarity, cutting through the pain and embedding themselves in the brain- the angle of the sun,  the smell of cooking oil twenty yards away, the imperceptible sway of a branch, the suddenly deafening rendition of the same phrase for the nth time by the robin outside in the yew tree...
Just imagine how it must be for someone who is under the considerable mental anguish that accompanies a depressive state, and it becomes easier to postulate why this horrendous condition might have persisted over the millenia that it took for homo sapiens to evolve to their current state.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


There have been several articles recently about 'barefoot running' and its advantages over shod running. I was intrigued to see all these scientists highlighting the advantages of running bare foot or with minimal shoes that provide none of the cushioning that we have become accustomed to. The key lies in what they term the reduction of the 'heel strike' where the heel is the first point of contact with the ground in a shod runner. When a human runs without shoes, the tendency is for the foot to land at the mid to the front (ball) of the foot, rather than the heel, which gives rise to less injury from impact.
Per Indian tradition, we still maintain the 'bare feet in home' custom. Venturing outside the house without shoes, however, is not really the done thing anymore, let alone running barefeet anywhere. We lace up our Nikes or Reeboks for any outdoor activities, serene in the confidence that our feet are being properly cushioned and safe against the elements. Or the now-mandatory snow boots.
(I still remember with a faint distaste the time when I accompanied my father on a barefoot expedition to the Sabarimala sanctuary. The path to the temple was well-trodden by thousands of pilgrims, but rather than the discomfort of dirt and gravel, it was the tendency of pilgrims to spit randomly that caused me the most heartburn. Never mind, it was all in the spirit of ' Kallum mullum kaalukku metthai', or 'stones and thorns shall carpet my path', part of the pilgrims' chants as they hiked uphill.)
I also recall running around our village house barefoot, and to a small temple a short distance away, dust and thorns being the main hazards, other than the hot stones of the temple courtyard. Why I didn't wear slippers that day, I have no recollection.
My kids took their first steps barefoot, as I felt it prudent not to buy them shoes till they had finished learning to walk. But I still wonder if the flat-footed gait promoted by shoe-wearing may have had anything to do with a pronounced flattening of arches in my son, and a consequent reason for his having injured an ankle during a basketball game some years ago.
And now, we have shoes being sold as promoting weight loss and body toning.
Why bother to spend more money on such expensive items, when it might be simpler and easier to spend more time barefoot ?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowmageddon- Yes, I know it's a tired cliche by now, but can't think of anything else to describe it.

I'm tired of the white stuff. It looked so pretty as it softly enfolded the landscape on Friday afternoon. I raced home from work at the first signs of a snowflake or two, hoping to beat the traffic jam that would surely ensue once the snow started sticking to the roadways.
The weather forecasters have a lousy track record here in Pittsburgh. '12 inches, fear, fear, terra terra, run for the hills, the bunkers, stock up on bread and toilet paper....' and we would get a piddling 3 inches, barely enough cause to break out our snow shovels.
This storm, as I tracked it on radar, was a bright green, but had started to turn an ominous pink and white as it headed past Chicago.' Maybe this is really going to be a big one,' I mused. We would be well set to deal with this, I was sure, having finished my routine grocery shopping by Thursday evening
Late Friday night, we saw pink lightning in the sky behind our neighbors. Two electrical wires rubbing against each other due to the weight of the snow put on a spectacular show of buzzes and sparks, as  we called 911 to alert them of possible downed lines and electrical fires.
In the morning, it was surreal. Heavy branches bent over with the weight of several inches of snow. We couldn't open the front door, with about 18 inches outside. The snow piled up to 2 ft or more on our deck (See photo). A pine tree had keeled over a neighbor's driveway. Another had lost its main trunk. Our dogwood had a broken off main branch as well.
We opened the garage door and were faced with a huge pile of snow, towering over the snow blower's intake by a clear foot. We would have to skim off a foot before we could even attempt to use the snowblower.
And so we shoveled and shoveled and shoveled. Every few hours or so. The driveway isn't completely clear yet, but at least we have a fighting chance of reaching the road by Monday morning.