In Which Ryan Looks At The Background

May 2022 | 3:5

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Goomba does not know where the time went either, but can confirm it did not go down the drain.

What's Been Happening

I was recently reminded of the role that background radiation plays in our lives. I know you’re used to meandering stories from me, but bear with me on this one.

Back when I took a hockey stick in the face (recommended by 0 out of 10 dentists), I ended up having to get a whole lot of x-rays in a fairly short period of time. This was about the least exciting thing that happened as a part of that incident, but I vaguely remember wondering how much more radiation I was taking than normal which introduced me to the idea of background radiation. For anyone who’s not familiar, as a part of our daily lives we get exposed to radiation that occurs naturally in our environment from sources like cosmic radiation, the earth, and internal radiation from all living things (about 300 millirems per year according to the NRC). There are two main things that seem worthwhile to take from this:

1. This radiation is ubiquitous and there’s not a meaningful way to avoid it, so it’s not really worth worrying about.

2. Given that your actual risk of problems from radiation is based on the total amount of radiation you’re exposed to over time, point number 1 does not mean you can exclude this amount when you think about the total amount of radiation you are exposed to.

Far more relevant to our current daily lives (unless you’ve recently chosen to invade the site of a nuclear accident, but who would be stupid enough to do that), is stress and anxiety. Over the last couple years it seems most people have become more aware of the role stress and anxiety play in our health, which is good. That said, I for one am finding I forget about the existence of background stress and anxiety in my life, and offer the following thoughts:

Like the background radiation we can’t really do anything about it, so it’s not a bad thing to take the approach of “don’t worry about things outside your control.”

Also like the background radiation we can’t just ignore its effect, and our bodies and minds require time to process it whether overtly or through the passage of time.

The usual sources of background stress (the cosmos, the earth, and other living things that aren’t my cats) have been producing at a rate well above the average for the last couple years.

For the record, I do understand the irony of trying to relieve someone’s anxiety by telling them they’ve been doing the mental health equivalent of eating uranium 235 for breakfast <citation needed>. That said, if you’re finding you get drained by things quicker than you normally would or that little things can trigger you; you’re not weak and it doesn’t mean things won’t get better. It means you’re human and have been alive for the last several years.

And hey; if the universe keeps it up, maybe we’ll all end up with weird X-men style mental health powers. Movie pitch; this, as the origin story for the Care Bears but as more traditional superheroes. I call being the one that plays hockey.

May your masks smell pleasant and your packages arrive without incident,

Ryan

Chart O' The Month

Goodbye Porkpie HatMedium Ensemble
00:00 / 05:38

You’ve probably caught on that I’m a big fan of Charles Mingus’ music, and this year is his centennial so it’s as good an excuse as any to share some arrangements I’ve done. You’ll note I say I’m specifically a fan of his music, and while that’s a distinct and intentional wording even that is a little simplistic.

As a man, he was complex to the point of being impossible to summarize, and while that leads to having some of the best pure stories about him within the rich tapestry of personalities that make up jazz history, it would be tough to argue that he was a “good” person. Like Michael Jackson, or Richard Wagner, or Kanye West, there’s a separation of the art and the life that needs to take place for me to reap any enjoyment from the music, but there’s also something undeniably “there” about it as well. Call it inherent truth, call it a singular voice, or call it a flame that draws moths, but it draws me in nonetheless.

With Mingus in particular, I definitely prefer modern interpretations of his music as opposed to his original recordings which is interesting. You could say he was ahead of his time or that he got in his own way a lot of the time and be equally correct, but the music is still very clearly his even through a proxy. This chart in particular, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”, is one that I think distills much of his compositional nature into a single package. You can vary it endlessly, but I also think there’s a “right” way to play it down to specific voicings. It’s just a blues, but it also supersedes the form and has elements that make it not a blues at all. He purportedly improvised it on the bandstand along with his small group when they heard that Lester Young had passed away, but there’s a unity of creation within the chart that speaks to genius, intent, and probably at least some unconscious or subconscious lies about the story. My specific chart is probably one of the least original charts I’ve done in that it’s really an orchestration rather than any kind of arrangement, but I’m also really proud of it in that I think I got it right.

Epidendrum 'Pacific Sunset' x 'Pink Rabbit'.JPG

Look, Nature!

We saw this little guy burrowing in the trail while hiking at Point Reyes in California!

My theory is that he is a mountain beaver, which is a very rare and nocturnal rodent that was mentioned on the signage at the welcome center. Johanna's theory is that since we saw him in the middle of a well-traveled trail at noon, he's a gopher. It should be noted that I apologized at length to the mountain beaver on Johanna's behalf.

Education Notes

No big pronouncements to my brethren this month. Just remember to enjoy the warming weather and to plant the seeds you want to reap this fall!