Thursday, March 31, 2005

Saving for the Future

When I was ten, my class did a personal time capsule project. Each of us collected pictures from magazines, things we'd written and drawn, photos, and other memorabilia. We placed our items in big manila envelopes and wrote our names on the outside, along with the instructions "Do Not Open" and the date of our 21st birthdays. Our teacher then sealed the envelopes with red wax.

I remember that envelope laying at the bottom of my dresser drawer for years. I'd pull the drawer out, push the clothes aside, and peek at the envelope, double-checking the date and ensuring the wax was still intact. Eventually I completely forgot every single thing I'd put inside, but I never forgot about the time capsule itself. I can't recall now whether I actually opened it on my 21st birthday, or some time shortly afterward, but I still have the envelope and its contents somewhere.

They were, for the most part, unremarkable: a couple of magazine ads for cars, in which the only stated selling point was how 'groovy' or impressive you would be if you bought them; a bad essay about the Wright Brothers written in looping pencil on lined paper; a photo of me and my brother in all our 70s glory, with long straggly hair and clothes bearing the most frightening combination of stripes, paisley, and polka dots.

The most interesting thing in that envelope was a single sheet of paper. On it was a list of questions we had been given, questions about where we thought we'd be 10 years in the future, along with my answers. I predicted I'd be living in Arizona, in a big house with many dogs. That I'd be unmarried and have contact lenses. And that I'd be an archaeologist. At 21, the only one that was true was the contacts, but I did eventually live in Arizona (for ten years), and I did become an archaeologist as I'd always known I would. I also surprised myself by falling in love and getting married, something I predicted would be impossible given my sense of independence and an incurable case of morning grumpiness.

The things I chose to preserve for the future at the age of 10 are probably not too different from the things I'd choose now, or that I suspect most of us would choose: snippets of the world around us, pieces of our personality and family, hopes and dreams.

You can find pieces of the American past in the Printed Ephemera Collection of the Library of Congress. They include broadsides, catalogs, forms, menus, and many other pieces of printed material dating from the 17th century to the present, providing a window into both everyday life and important historical events.

Another interesting piece of the American past is the Colorado Springs Century Chest. Opened on January 1, 2001, the chest was a gift from the residents of one century to those of the 21st century.

What would you choose, if you were making a time capsule to be opened in 10 years? In 50? In 100?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Of sleepless nights and sweet dismay

My preschool age daughter was up most of the night, intermittently crying, stubbornly refusing to admit anything was wrong, and making endless potty trips in which she huddled on the edge of the seat sobbing while I tried desperately (and fruitlessly) to comfort her. She finally fell truly asleep this morning and I let her sleep until almost noon.

A trip to the doctor this afternoon confirmed what I suspected - despite my daughter's protests to the contrary, she actually is sick, with both an ear infection and a viral throat infection. I had the bright idea to have my other daughter, a toddler with a confirmed phobia of doctors, examined during the same visit because she has discharge from her eye, congestion, and a history of bad ear infections that sneak up out of nowhere. Aside from her goopy eye, she's fine. I, however, feel as if I've been trampled by a herd of elephants. The doctor-phobia has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as my daughter struggles and rails and shrieks when approached by anyone resembling a medical professional. It falls on me to pin this child in a wrestling hold which will enable the doctor to gain the most brief glimpses into her ears, nose, throat. I feel like a betrayor.

Despite these traumas: of a long, weepy night; of face to face confrontation with fear in a lab coat, both children are now happily watching a Pooh video, playing, and laughing. The moment has come and gone for them; now they are in another. For me, the moments are still here, and I find myself holding onto them. It is a time of intense emotion, anxiety, and exhaustion as they turn to me, needy but unwilling or unable to express what it is they need. But I also know it is a time that will not last, this time when I am the universe and my hug is all the comfort it takes to bring a smile. I want to savor it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Where did we come from?: A convergence of science and tradition

(2005) An Evolutionary Road Less Traveled: From Farming to Hunting and Gathering. PLoS Biol 3(3): e116

"Invested with the arguably unique capacity for self-reflection, humans may well have asked the question, “Where did we come from?” ever since the dawn of self-awareness. From this universal question come origin stories as diverse as the cultures who tell them. In some cases, little is known about a population's evolutionary history aside from these stories—such is the case for the Mlabri people of Southeast Asia.

Until expanding agricultural development and modernization encroached on their forest homelands, the Mlabri lived mostly as nomadic hunter–gatherers in the forests of northeastern Thailand and western Laos. This lifestyle is unique among the other so-called hill tribes of Thailand—who all farm—raising the possibility that the Mlabri descended from the ancient Hoabinhian hunting–gathering culture of Southeast Asia and practice a way of life that predates agriculture.

Scant historical information exists on Mlabri language, culture, and origin, but Mlabri traditions speak to a long history as hunter–gatherers. The oral traditions of a neighboring hill tribe, the Tin Prai, paint a slightly different picture: several hundred years ago, legend has it, Tin Prai villagers sent two banished children downriver on a raft; the children, who survived by foraging in the forest, became the first Mlabri. In a new study, Mark Stoneking and colleagues use the tools of molecular anthropology to investigate the agricultural versus hunting–gathering origin of the Mlabri and reveal a scenario remarkably similar to the traditional origin stories."

The rest of this article synopsis can be read here.

What I find interesting about this report is the fact that molecular anthropology supports the Tin Prai oral tradition of how the Mlabri came into being. To me this points out the importance of relying not just on scientific research for understanding the past, but of also paying attention to what specific groups have to say about their own history.

Monday, March 28, 2005


Bob Thurber is putting together an amazing anthology of very short fiction. If the pieces he has posted on are any indication, it's going to be a breathtaking collection. Eye of Newt is spellbinding, visceral, and gorgeous.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter!

Welcome to my blog. This seemed like a good time to begin, since it's a day about rebirth and revelation, not to mention a healthy emphasis on chocolate.

Right now I'm finding my way around and trying to add links to some of my favorite places and people, including online literary magazines, resources for physical anthropology, yummy candy stores, and other blogs of interest.

Thanks for dropping by!