I thought of you and it was like a day dream,
One that you choose to get lost in,
There you were in the distance,
It’s a long bench,
But I can tell you’re getting closer,
There are sparks, oh yes,
But they’re far away,
So they don’t look like individual sparks,
Kind of a blur,
But it’s nice because there’s still a light,
Just about to burst into bright,
I’ll be honest, I can’t tell, it’s far away,
And just like that I pop out into the street,
Just another person out walking,
Ambling over to my favorite coffee shop
Tapping my fingers to an unknown tune,
And sometimes you’d appear,
In a glance, out of the corner of my eye.
Like a memory in a different lifetime.
On October 14th, 2014 I was fortunate enough to see Fleetwood Mac in concert. They were amazing and I would like to talk about how amazing they are. Or rather why I think they are amazing. I know some purists will say that Fleetwood Mac was a band before Lindsey and Stevie. I like that older stuff, some of it is pretty good. However, it is clear their popularity and musical ability greatly increased with the joining of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. On stage Christie McVie called them her musical family and as I listened I started to get a vision of that family. They are a family who stays together despite the fact that they are all very different people. Their strength lies in both the tensions in personality but also that musical family combination. It is perfection for a band and few bands can claim to have such a perfect combination of personalities and talent. I would like to speak to this perfection by talking about their musical personalities and why they fit so well together. I’ve even given these musical personalities a name they are as follows: The Aura, The Violet, The Craftsman, The Silence, and The House. Perhaps you can already guess which is which.
Both leading ladies in the bands might be described as romantics, but in very different ways. For Stevie Nicks love and
magic go hand-in-hand. She is as mysterious as the moon and she is the feelings of romance that you can’t quite put into words. You will love her and not exactly know why. She dances, she moves, she floats, and she spins. She is the girl you want to get close to, but not necessarily the one you should bring home to mother. She lives in dreams and want you to live there with her. Who doesn’t love to dream? She is the theater, and who doesn’t love a good show? You recognize that loving her might also bring peril and yet you are still drawn in. This is why she is the aura of the band. She envelops you and you can get lost in her. She makes you dance to her tune, helpless, enraptured. Her voice is as hypnotic as her beauty. She might make you cry, make you break down, and shatter your illusions of love, but you’ll always think loving her is worth it. And it is.
Beautiful like a flower and modest as a violet; this is Christie McVie. She is the sweet girl next door. Pretty, honest, with a heart of gold. She is the one that grows up into that mother that knows how to take care of everyone, both physically and emotionally. She’s never wild in public, and she doesn’t dance all that well, but when she does dance you know she’s happy and you can’t help but smile when you watch her. She is the girl you fall in love with and feel safe. When she sings you know, she knows the score. Her love is nurturing, solid and tangible. You want to be with her everywhere. You listen to her and sigh, and smile, each note on her keyboard vibrates your heart a little bit. Listening to her songs it is the same feeling you get when you taste sweet confection or a fresh baked cookie. She is the treat you deserve after a hard day and will always make you feel right with the world.
Where Stevie draws you in, Lindsey goes out and grabs you. Where Stevie wants you to believe in magic, Lindsey tells
you that you need no other plane of existence than this one. He puts you in the here, and now and says “Listen…to…me”. His voice and guitar will make you pay attention. He is the hammer and chisel. He is the designer. He is a mastermind with background vocals, providing substance and melody to each song. Through his genius all members of the band, as amazing as they already are, are even better because of him. He constructs and he builds, then he sands it and varnishes it, and he works harder than everyone else, even though his genius might just qualify him to sit back and tell other people what to do. His musical brilliance comes from the deepest heart of him, and yet he has no trouble digging to that depth to reveal it all to the listener. You love to watch him, because you never know what he’s going to make, but you know you are going to like it in the end. He has an intensity that is unmistakable and his greatness towers over you. He is both humbling, but at the same time you know that his music makes you better than you are too.
Who hears John McVie? Everyone does, they just don’t know it. When the others aren’t making noise, what is left? Silence. Like silence, John McVie is always there. He stands in the same spot on stage, playing his bass with a stolid dedication that makes him a fixture, a landmark, an unchanging stone that all can depend on. When there is anger and bitterness, he is playing his bass. When there is joy and celebration, he is playing his bass. When there is tenderness and sorrow, he is playing his bass. When things are unfamiliar, he stands there, playing his bass. He is that musician who will play as the Titanic goes down. In his bass are the silent things like honor, dignity, and respect. The silence provides solitude, peacefulness, and reflection. There at the beginning, he will be there until the end…silently playing his bass.
But how would these 4 different, but amazing musical personalities ever choose to be in the same place if they didn’t
have a house to play in? This is Mick Fleetwood. He is the rhythm which brings them all together. While John is reliable like a rock, Mick is reliable like a faithful valet or butler. You might be dying on the inside, but he is going to make sure you look presentable and that the show must go on. He is that kind of servant where you are never quite sure if you’re in charge though, or whether he is. He is the soul of Fleetwood Mac. He is both the history and the one who has made history. He is also not afraid to play the buffoon, making everyone smile and laugh, breaking the tension when it’s high. When you walk into the house you immediately know that your stay will be a memorable one. Despite the genius of Lindsey, somewhere in the back of your mind you’ll wonder if Mick isn’t the real genius by finding a way for all these extremely talented musicians to stay in his house. After all, every musician knows that it’s the drums that set the pace that everyone must march to. And they all do it willingly because they know they are better together in that house than anywhere else. He is the reason you get to say, “I love Fleetwood Mac”.
First you waited, then I waited I might be waiting a long time, I hate long waits But there is something worse That’s having expectations Expecting is like having fun, Without even doing anything, But what else can you expect with love? Just be happy in the moment? It sounds good on paper, I’m not going to lie to you, In fact I tried it and it’s true, Love is so much better, When you’re focusing on the moment, You can really…get to know love that way, In fact it’s so good you want it to stay, And to never ever go away, Somewhere deep inside though, We know. Nothing. Is. Permanent. But sticky problems have solutions, Every good heist needs an inside man, “Our designs are top notch, You won’t find them anywhere else, They almost seem made for you” Says my fortune teller inside me, Maybe that’s what psychics are, People who enjoy building dreams so much, That they want to do it for others, The drama queen in all of us, The irony of it all is, I don’t believe in psychics, The moment is all that matters, If you care about the future, But the right way is so hard, And the wrong path has better scenery, There are so many things to look at, You won’t notice falling off the cliff, Well at least until you land. That’s not a good moment, But then again…what else did you expect?
One facet of human nature that fascinates me is the idea of destiny. Now when I say destiny here I don’t mean like some blockbuster movie in which I am destined to save the princess, fulfill the prophecy and become the most benevolent leader of mankind. I am talking about something more fundamental than that. What some people might refer to as “a calling”. And maybe not even in the sense of a career only, but rather one’s passions, one’s nature. It is not too surprising that I am reflecting on that, because as I watch my son, I wonder what he’s going to be like. What will his interests be? How will he want to live his life and how different will that be from me or his mother?
The nurturing influence of parents cannot be overlooked, but we’ve all known people who were vastly different from their parents in some very fundamental ways. Two parents might be very messy and their child is neat. Two parents might be teachers, and their child wants to run his own business. Of course trying to determine why somebody ends up the way they do is a fool’s errand in a lot of ways, because nurture is not just a function of parents, but of teachers, friends, relatives, society, etc. It could be that one day a kid sees a fancy car that he just loves and says to himself, alright how do I get a job that allows me to drive around with that. Perhaps not the most noble of callings, but he we like shiny things that enhance our status and so these kinds of things certainly happen.
For most of my life I thought I had a calling to be a meteorologist. I’ve loved storms since I was a small child. I would get up in the middle of the night to watch the lightning. In grade 6 we learned about different clouds and how they could tell us about the weather that was coming our way. I was fascinated by this and remember feeling hooked by it. I wanted to learn more about clouds and forecasting. In grade 8 our science class was a full year and broken up into 3 parts:
astronomy, meteorology, and geology. I loved all 3 of those and at the time they had us thinking about careers, but I was already hooked on meteorology and I decided then that I was going to be a meteorologist. During my undergraduate I decided that being a forecaster wasn’t for me and wanted to teach it so I went to grad school and I loved it and don’t regret a second of it. At the end of my undergraduate I took a linguistics course and I loved it. At that time I questioned my career decision a little, but it was my last year of undergrad and it seemed too late to do anything else, and what did it matter, I still loved the weather. I do think that I would be just as happy if I had chosen linguistics as a career had I been introduced to it earlier in life. Now my interests lie in cognitive science and neuroscience. I could definitely see myself being a researcher, or even a clinical psychologist because I am deeply interested in understanding others and our nature, and feel I have some aptitude in understanding the motivations of others.
Despite these ponderings on alternative careers, I still don’t have any regrets. I enjoy my job, and perhaps being a professor is the reason I have had time to pursue these other passions. But it has led me to some questions about this idea that I was somehow “destined” to be in the atmospheric sciences. Would I still have become what I became had I not lived in a climate that did not have thunderstorms? What if our curriculum in grade 6 did not include learning about clouds? What if the grade 8 science curriculum didn’t have meteorology which helped me appreciate the subject at a greater depth and attract me to it even more? What if I had a mother who was afraid of storms and that made me afraid of storms? Yet my choice to go into meteorology seems beyond these things. We had lots of subjects in school and with some good teachers. Why didn’t any of those subjects arouse a passion in me? My parents were not scientists, teachers, historians, writers, etc. and it seems that they didn’t influence me in any particular academic field so I could have chosen anything. In terms of time, we spent more time learning about many other subjects than meteorology. There are rocks everywhere and I had been to the Rockies, so why didn’t I go into geology? I loved watching nature shows so why didn’t I become a biologist? Why did I feel I had a “calling” when I meet so many students who aren’t even sure what they want to do? Is this a rare feeling? Or do other people feel it and just ignore it?
I don’t know that I have an answer to any of these questions, but what I do know is that I was very fortunate. I’ve seen many students with a passion for meteorology but very weak quantitative skills, having weaknesses in math and physics that forced them to take a different career path even if their interest remains. I do not have that problem. I am fortunate by circumstances having parents who worked hard for me to give me a chance to pursue my passions. I wonder how many people feel this “calling” towards science, the arts, humanities, history, education, etc., but simply must take a job as soon as possible to support a family. Maybe they can’t afford to go to school and don’t want to take out student loans. Some people might argue that their “calling” is perhaps not that strong to drive them, but there are practical realities that must be adhered to and when basic needs must be met they simply must be taken care of first. Somewhere there are people who could have been brilliant athletes with enough training and leisure time, but instead had to work in a factory to support their family. How many geniuses have simply died of starvation? How many talented artists have died of curable diseases simply because they couldn’t afford a doctor or the vaccine that would have save their life, or a doctor or vaccine simply wasn’t available?
In the end I don’t think I subscribe to this idea of destiny, because whatever natural passions we have, they must be cultivated, and even those passions may fade slightly as new ones take their place. In the end I can only be thankful for the natural gifts I seem to possess and the family, friends, and society that has allowed me to develop them.
A concept that has fascinated me for some time is that of perfection. People will say something is perfect, but what does that really mean? If we look at the dictionary definition we see that perfect means having no mistakes and flaws or completely correct and accurate. But all of these words have some subjectivity to them. Few people agree on what a mistake or flaw is. And is anything completely correct and accurate? If something can be, we often find that there is disagreement here also.
It seems to me that perfection is ultimately an ideal that everybody holds, but that nobody really agrees on. In this way I find it very similar to the concept of God. And many people say God is perfect and so the analogy is even stronger in that respect. Nobody can really agree on the nature of God and everybody holds a slightly different view of what God wants and how He/She behaves. In addition to the fact that I believe it is not up to the atheist to disprove the existence of God (but up to the theist to prove the existence of God), it seems also a fruitless task to disprove something which is not clearly defined. Perfection seems to me exactly like this. If perfection is an ideal and what is ideal is subjective to the person holding the ideal then perfection as a concept maybe limited in value to all but the individual. Which means just like you shouldn’t be trying to enforce your vision of God on anybody else, perhaps we should also not be so adamant that others share our view of perfection.
Can we truly experience a shared value of perfection? Many have tried to define a perfect system of government, a perfect society or
civilization, a perfect self, but it is unclear that everybody agrees with those ideals, and many times they seem so implausible to reach that it seems that they will simply be rejected because some feel they are not rooted in reality. But I think those that try to come up with these “universal” ideas of perfection do believe they are obtainable, at least in some distant future. I hold similar ideals as I am sure all you do as well. It seems to me though that we define this conceptual perfection beyond the present, but feel that the goal of perfection is not so far away that we can eventually reach it. Science might give us some better clues as to what some perfect state might be, but to do so we would have to be sure we knew absolutely all the variables. And we are far, far away from that and it seems likely we will never be at a state in which we know everything about the universe.
The next question then is, well what if we really do reach some state of perfection? I wonder if we can simply be content and happy in the long term, before we are really start thinking about how things could be even better. This seems true at an individual level or even if we do have some shared value of what perfection is. Unless we knew everything (highly unlikely) it seems like we would always be searching for more and that perfection is not possible.
Finally I think then it is worth asking the question, are such ideals like perfection a good thing? If it is a goal we can never reach does it prevent us from being content and happy in life? The answer is maybe. I think if you accept that perfection is some point on the horizon that you can move towards but never reach (or at least not reach easily or quickly) then you might instead to learn to appreciate the journey you take to get there. If on the other hand you believe the perfect state is actually reachable in a tangible way and you don’t get there, then this can leave one frustrated, disappointed and unhappy.
While I ponder about perfection frequently, the most recent inspiration was looking at my son. He seems perfect. He has no mistakes or flaws. He will make mistakes and he will have flaws however. Thus I began to wonder if maybe, even as a concept, perfection doesn’t exist. It’s just something we believe in but have no evidence of. Because he is who he is, and while we will try to nurture him positively into the world, everything about his life will be different than mine and who he ends up as will be who he is supposed to be. He is supposed to make mistakes and have flaws. Thus he is in accordance with his nature. As we all are. Our nature is to change, to grow, and be imperfect. In the end perhaps we are all according to our nature, and maybe that is what perfection really is. The good news is, nobody is saying you have to like it.
I think it is very important, however, that we have these lofty concepts, and that we continue to dream of better ways to live life, because it could be that in our imaginings we do end up moving towards some better future. I think as long as we remain humble about our dreams of perfection and be willing to modify and change our ideals when life presents us with new information then the concept of perfection can have meaningful purpose.