Sunday, March 28, 2010

All Your Ducks in a Row

Yesterday, my wife and I ventured out to one of our favorite local garden centers, Scottsdale Farms in Alpharetta. Scottsdale was busy, so much so that for a moment, it was easy to forget about the recession and its deleterious effects on our humble gardening efforts. We have watched this business grow from a semi-rural startup to what now appears to be a full-service green entertainment center, complete with a chic little cafe, a perpetual Christmas mini-shop, and tons of unique specimens that are hard to find elsewhere. In short, Scottsdale is a success story, and I think I'm beginning to understand why.

As I wandered through the store and around the property, I could not help but notice the pervasive symmetry of the place. Everywhere, pots were lined up in measured rows. Even the buildings themselves adhered to a balanced structure. And it dawned on me that one of the primary factors which gives this place so much appeal is that very symmetry, which is consciously or unconsciously displayed everywhere. The eye is drawn to the straight lines of trees, the grid-like groupings of plants of the same type, and even the roofs of the greenhouses. The whole effect is very calming in a way.

Of course, our attraction to symmetry is not limited to garden center displays -- symmetry in human faces and bodies has a similar effect. Researchers have postulated that the degree of symmetry possessed by a person provides subconscious clues to that person's genetic health. We are programmed in the womb to be perfectly (externally) symmetrical, to develop two sides with the spine as the center. Nevertheless, various factors such as genetic abnormalities, poor nutrition, or mild infection can morph our initial symmetry into the features with which we are eventually born. Perhaps that is why a wink or a sly, crooked smile catches our attention. Is it that one-off introduction of asymmetry that makes us take a second look?

Architecture is, obviously, full of examples of symmetry dating back as least as far as the Roman Empire. The traditional Federal-style architecture so prevalent in the late 1700's and 1800's continues to influence design of both commercial and residential structures, even today. Federal architecture was employed to a great extent in Eastern cities such as Charleston, Savannah, and Boston, cities where we typically regard the homes as "grand" or "stately". There is no getting around the fact that the careful symmetry of these buildings is a large part of what makes them so appealing to us.

And of course, symmetry is found everywhere in the natural world, from the shape of a maple leaf to the antlers of an elk. There's no escaping it, and that is probably a good thing, for without it, the world would be dangerously out of balance. Would you eat a lopsided cheeseburger or find yourself attracted to a person with a third eye on the side of his or her head?  Well, okay, maybe you would, but that's fodder for another blog entry altogether. For now, just relax, enjoy the balance of nature, and try to sit up straight. Someone may be watching.

Monday, March 15, 2010

For Lack of a Better Word

I recently heard a friend say that language evolves and adapts to fit society, implying that it is not a static entity.  I suppose that there is some truth to this, despite the desires of linguistic purists.  I find the polymorphism of English intriguing, but often, I am dismayed that certain words appear to aggrandize their time in the limelight to the total exclusion of their peers.  Let me provide a few examples.

Relevant - This word appeared to gain significant momentum in the 1970's, when many people were emerging from the hippie haze into a time of increased accountability.  People suddenly began referring to anything they wished to advocate as "relevant".  The word appeared to connote a sense of validation, as in, "What we discussed in the staff meeting today was not a waste of was relevant."  I don't think anyone was sure what relevant meant until sometime around 1992, when it became irrelevant.

Awesome - People have forgotten this, but prior to the 1980's, this word was used almost exclusively with the word "spectacle".  A typical sentence of that period might sound something like this: "We saw Lake Mead, and it was an awesome spectacle!"  The word was always used as a proper modifier, never left to fend for itself at the end of a sentence as it often is today: "We saw Avatar, and it was awesome."  This is perhaps the most overused word in the English language.

Diaspora - Although this word in its strictest sense refers to the movement of human populations, it was for a brief period in the late 1990's and early 2000's used to refer to almost any kind of scattering of items, be they people or M&M's.  Thankfully, usage of this word appears to be on the decline.

Vet - This interesting word, having come out of the blue only a few years ago, once was generally used to refer to a veterinarian, but its secondary definition, to review something in detail for approval, now appears to have emerged from the shadows to mask the traditional meaning.  Nevertheless, when I hear that someone has "vetted" something, I cannot help but think that spaying or neutering, perhaps both, are involved.

Disingenuous - Come on, people...let's just say "insincere".  Why do we insist on using these words that in and of themselves appear to conjure up a double negative?  This word is a favorite of in-depth cable TV news analysis programming, and I often hear it used by people as their longest word.  Maybe that is its true calling.

This whole idea of wearing out certain words has indeed given me pause for thought.  In the future, I will be careful to vet everything I say, so that I do not appear disingenuous.  After all, what I am communicating is relevant and is not to be lost in the diaspora of the blogosphere, which is, after all, awesome.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Last Thursday evening, I tuned in to Tom Brokaw's two-hour special titled "Boomer$!".  A fellow Baby Boomer had told me about the program several days before, so I made sure that it was scheduled on my DVR (in case I fell asleep), and then I settled in to watch.

It's odd to realize at some point that there are so many people younger than you, but eventually, it happens to all of us.  I am very fortunate to have many close friends who are still in their twenties and thirties, and they energize me without even knowing it.  Yet, after this program was finished, I felt as if I had added at least five years to my elapsed time on Earth, regardless of the median age of my friends.  The upside of this was that I actually stayed awake for the entire program.

What Brokaw was trying to say was that this particular generation had withstood, and in some cases, acted as a catalyst for, significant social and economic change, while at the same time refusing to admit that it was indeed aging as a group.  Perhaps that is true; after all, there has historically existed a certain optimism among Boomers, due in large part to the ups and downs we have experienced in relation to the world in which we now live.  Regardless of what people say, as a generation, we recall that the Sixties, often glorified in historical perspective, were often quite scary times.  By comparison, we currently have no Cold War, no Berlin Wall, and no 20% home mortgages.  Overall, many good things have happened, and we never had to experience the Great Depression, as did our parents and grandparents.

However, the world has indeed turned upside down in recent years.  Despite the plethora of communication alternatives, people are often out of touch with one another.  Sound bites have taken the place of meaningful dialogue on TV, and for all intents and purposes, FM radio has gone to hell in a handbasket.  The economy...who knows?  But it's not all doom and gloom.  Many of us in the Boomer generation do seem to dwell on the past or get stuck in the Seventies, but just as many of us are actually much more connected with modern times that you might imagine.  Sure, I'll listen to Neil Young and Grand Funk Railroad, but I'll also download Crystal Method and Midival Punditz.  I don't know how many Apple products I've purchased, but Steve Jobs owes me some kind of kickback, of that I'm certain.  And I no longer wear polyester shirts, unless they're easy care Calvin Klein with a tailored look and a natural fiber feel.

There are some days when I think I'm going to go nuts if I hear the phrase "aging Baby Boomers" one more time.  For heaven's sake, we're all aging. Yes, there are a lot of Boomers out there, but just remember:
  • We didn't all go to Woodstock.
  • We weren't all hippies.
  • We are typically very social.
  • We miss the space program.
  • We are striving to live life as well as our parents did. 
That about sums it up.  No, you don't typically see posts like this from me, but Tom Brokaw made me realize that I'm actually rather proud to be a Boomer.