Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Queen: Play It the Way You Like It

Last night I needed to clear my head of weighty moral issues so I spent the evening soaking up energy from Freddie Mercury on youTube.

Someone put together a nice slideshow of him, through his life:

Song: "Don't Stop Me Now," by Queen (of course)

It's hard for me to imagine that I will ever love any music the way I love rock 'n' roll. Besides its sheer life force, no other music has wrapped itself around my life the way rock did way back when.
As a teenager in the 1970s, I fell asleep to rock radio every night.
Queen was never my favorite, but they laid tracks in my brain, and when I hear them now I can smell again the blue plastic transistor radio I kept next to my pillow.

[1] Since they weren't my favorite, I never thought much about Queen until I wrote the geography book on Tanzania.
I was amazed to learn that frontman Freddie Mercury (left) was born Farookh Bulsara in Zanzibar, a British Indian of Parsi (Persian Zoroastrians) ancestry.

[Image of Freddie Mercury as a child from B Side: "Before They Were Famous".]

I wrote Freddie up for the Famous People section, noting he'd used the Swahili/Arabic term "bismallah"--calling on "the name of God"--in his magnum opus "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975).

Reading up on him this morning, I see that because of this one sacred phrase in 2004 Iran--where Western music is strictly censored and homosexulaity is a crime--OK'd a release of Queen's greatest hits.
The BBC reports:

"The cassette, costing less than $1 (55 pence), comes complete with translated lyrics and an explanatory leaflet.

"It tells Queen fans that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil.
On the night before his execution he calls God in Arabic, Bismillah, and so regains his soul from Satan."

Music scholar Judith Peraino, on the other hand, calls the song a "charming subversion of macho rock and roll" achieved through the "bohemian stance toward identity, which involves a necessarily changeable self-definition ('Any way the wind blows')."

That's a funny thing about art: it mirrors who you are.
Mercury himself basically said it didn't mean anything, but nothing means nothing...

"Let your heart decide."

On youTube, "Bohemian Rhapsody" has 38,873,174 views, (with eight comments in the last 24 hours alone); but it's still not my favorite Queen song.

Simple-minded, I prefer rockabilly/surf song "Fat-Bottomed Girls" (1978) with pre-mustache Freddie at his full glorious force (and looking like Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror, or the other way round?).
Written by guitarist Brian May, who gave up his astrophysics studies when Queen hit fame, but who--I love this--finally finished his PhD in 2007.

A couple more images of Freddie as a baby:
Via "Rockabye Baby"
Calligraphic "Basmala" (or bismallah) from Wikimedia *
Summary: Naskh-Basmala as normally seen in Qur'an manuscripts
Creator: Baba66 21:32, 24. Mai 2004 (CEST) handwritten and vectorised.

"I want to ride my bicycle..."

Only recently has it been ice-free and warm enough to bike to Bob's Java Hut, my local coffee shop, where when people talk about bikes, they mean motorcycles. (But anything on two wheels is better than four.)
This morning Amy, the manager, is playing all 80s music because the temps are supposed to head that way today.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle (46 sec.)
Song: "Bicycle Race," by Queen

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ama, Reading

One of my "people reading" tribe:
Rosaria De Nicola, my Sicilian grandmother, sometime in the 1950s, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Here she is as a young woman in Milwaukee, with the first three of her ten children.

And here are her two biscotti recipes (SOS = almond & butter, and tu tus = chocolate & spice).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passionate Healing

[Written after going to hear State Senator John Marty * and his father, Lutheran minister and theologian Dr. Martin E. Marty, talk together on Faith, Politics, and Social Justice. Senator Marty is the co-author of Minnesota Health Plan.]

I love stories about kindnesses.

I love stories, for instance, about how kind people are to their pets.
I have a friend who has a three-legged, half-blind cat with an anxiety disorder--I'm not making this up--and he and his wife care so lovingly for that cat, I'm jealous of it. Of her, I mean. Her name is Daisy.

RIGHT: Mand danser for hund (1989), by Sys Hindsbo

I can't read the Danish site about the artist, where the picture's from, so I don't know, but I believe this man is dancing for the amusement of his dog. People I know who have dogs do that sort of thing.

Kindnesses to pets are lovely. Even better are the kindnesses of friends.
Here's one of my favorite stories about that kind of kindness. **

I. The Power of Kindness

Long ago and far away, a healer came to a town where a paralyzed man lived.
This guy must have been a total sweetheart because when his friends heard about the healer's arrival, they lugged their friend on a mat to see him.

A lot of us in the industrialized world think, "yeah, yeah," when we hear this sort of detail,
but I know from working in a nursing home that if you don't have an electric hoist and a wheelchair or something, you don't want to be lifting a paralyzed human, much less carrying them across town.

LEFT: Carrying a Person, by Sys Hindsbo (from Art Stamps)

But these friends carried the guy so I figure he inspired that kind of love.
Or, I don't know---maybe he was a total crank and his friends were desperate to get him healed so they wouldn't have to feel guilty anymore about making excuses not to visit him.
The story doesn't say.
It's not key, but I imagine the paralyzed guy was one of those types of people who are easy to love, because the hard truth is, people are kinder to those lucky types.

(I've noticed that the people who need love the most are often the hardest to love.)

Anyway, when the friends and the guy got to the house where the healer was, they couldn't get in because naturally everybody else who needed healing was there too.

So the friends decide to climb up on the roof, take the roofing off, and lower their friend down to the healer.

I forget exactly what happens next. It's been a while since I heard the story, and I'm one of those people who's hopeless at relating anecdotes.
I know the paralyzed guy gets healed, yeah, but I think there's some other point to the story?
Something about faith?

What sticks, though, is the picture in my mind of the friends scrabbling up on a roof.
I wonder if the healer laughed when he saw the guy on the mat coming down from the hole in the roof, like, "Now I've seen everything"--though the owners of the house were probably not that thrilled.

I imagine the healer stored up moments like these to remember later, whenever he had doubts about the worthiness of humans.

Our ability to be kind is one of our most worthy qualities.

II. The Limitations of Kindness

I got remembering this story tonight, after hearing the Martys discuss faith and politics.
Senator Marty talked about the desire of good people to care for the most vulnerable among us--and the political duty to make that care work systematically.

I agree. For while the above story is a great illustration of kindness, relying on the kindness of individuals is a pretty rickety health care policy. What happened to all the wounded and sick people in the story who didn't have such devoted and resourceful friends?

In a world that relies on individual kindnesses:

1) If you're lucky, when you're sick, people will move heaven and earth and rooftops to get you to a doctor, either for love or money.

2) If you're not lucky, when you're sick you will be poor and alone.

We in the United States have been running on luck.
I know a woman who lost her job a couple years ago when the economy tanked. She and I are in the same demographic: white, college-educated, middle-class, middle-age, single, childless women.
She ended up selling her house and eventually cashing in her IRA to live.
When her appendix threatened to burst, she had no health insurance. The hospital bill for taking it out was $25,000.

Unlike me when I had emergency surgery last Easter, this woman wasn't actually poor enough yet to qualify for medical assistance.
But she's lucky in another way: she's a very likable person who's friends with a lot of musicians. They threw a fundraiser for her and raised a lot of the money.
Basically, they took her in through the roof.

I want to live in a society where health care doesn't depend on luck, where it isn't a matter of money or lovability or worthiness but is a given for all humans, no matter what.

Kindness is strong, but it bends with the winds of emotion. Further, we don't often extend it very far beyond our own circle.
We also need justice, which is firm in logic and doesn't spread thin when we extend it to strangers.

My sense of kindness says that if you're sick and I love you, I want you to get good health care because I love you.

My sense of justice says if you're sick and I don't love you--maybe even dislike you--I still want you to get good health care, because I love justice, even if I don't love you.

(There's a third motive for taking care of people: Profit. I dismiss it since it ceases to exist the moment someone falls into poverty.)

From what I've seen of human nature, I'd say it's a good idea to put justice in the hands of some neutral party.
I think that neutral party should be a government with lots of checks and balances.

RIGHT: "Jesus Healing a Leper," sketch by Rembrandt

Our government is not perfect, being an institution whose members are us.
But I don't see Jesus or any other divine healer around, so we've got to muddle through with what's on hand,
and the government, lumpy and bumpy as it is, seems to me the best bet we've got to dispense justice in a systematic way.

Which is all just a long way of saying I support universal health care. It is a matter of justice.
We should not be like pets, dependent on the whims of kindness and luck.
Not everyone dances for their dogs.
* I wrote last summer about meeting Senator Marty at a MN Single-Payer Health Care event.

In the name of full disclosure, here I repeat that the senator won me over--like Dug-the-dog (left, from the movie Up)-- not with his admirable health care plan but by giving me his last skewer of chicken satay when I came to the buffet late (because I'd been working the door).

Now, however, I am confident it is his politics I admire, as there was no chicken or any other food at the talk tonight, and I can support his campaign for governor knowing I am unswayed by gastrointestinal considerations.

** I looked up the story about the paralyzed man. It's from Luke 5:17-26.
The reason I didn't remember how it ends is because it turns into a squabble with the Pharisees about whether or not Jesus had the right to forgive sins...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

3 Saints à Go-Go

There's something about an empty box... Especially in a church.

My latest micromovie: 3 Saints à Go-Go (47 sec.). Very silly.

"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" -- J. S. Bach
"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" -- Wham!

A Fly Off the Wall Production, starring bink

Wham! - "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" (1984)

The hair! The make-up! The shorts!

Btw, per Wikipedia:
The Wham! "CHOOSE LIFE" slogan was directed at drug abuse and suicide prevention. This was before it had been adopted by the anti-abortion movement. *

Here's the Scottish suicide prevention site: Choose Life.
And while I'm on the subject (of go-go):

The Go-Go's - "We Got the Beat" (1980)

* I love the "Choose life" quote in its original context, Deuteronomy 30:19:
"I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:
therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rules for Writing

LEFT: Marina Warner's writing room, from the Guardian's series "Writers Rooms"

I'm off to film bink hanging banners in church (for this upcoming Passion Sunday)--I'm hoping I can catch the fall of red cloth... Seems I didn't get my fill of it in "Orestes & the Fly."

I keep thinking I'm done with moviemaking because it calls for so much boring physical labor (as opposed to the boring mental labor of writing), but I guess I'm wrong.

For your amusement, I leave these links from two Guardian articles I found on Neil Gaiman's Journal.
(I don't write fiction, but these apply to all sorts of creative work.)

1.Ten rules for writing fiction

2.Ten rules for writing fiction (part two)

Here are a few I especially liked.

Colm Tóibín
7 If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

RIGHT: My writing space. (The laptop sits on those paint-stirring sticks, so it doesn't get diaper rash on its bottom.)

Will Self:
8 The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.

9 Oh, and not forgetting the occasional beating administered by the sadistic guards of the imagination.

Rose Tremain:
5 When an idea comes, spend silent time with it. Remember... Kipling's advice to "drift, wait and obey".

Philip Pullman:
My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.

Helen Simpson:
The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying "Faire et se taire" (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as "Shut up and get on with it."

My very favorite, from Margaret Atwood:
Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Theme Thursday: Signs

I have just stumbled upon Theme Thursday:
"Preventing Blogger Burnout SInce 2008." This week's prompt is SIGNS.

This is from an alley a block from my house. (I took it last year when the trees were green.)

There's always something.

Some days, like today, I think I'll give my blog a rest and give my full attention to work (write that sidebar about scalping, say).

But almost always the blog itself casts its nets upon the waters and hauls in some must-post material.

Today it hauled in two shiny tuna e-mails.
Art Sparker sent me the link to the 1:40 min. opera version of Star Trek II: Le Wrath di Khan.
Since I'd last seen it and now, my sister (a non-Trekkie) has fallen deeply into opera, so I forwarded it to her.

Just now, Sister wrote back pointing out how much Khan in the opera looks like Dmitri Hvorostovsky--"a sexy Russian baritone."
Perhaps the Robot Chicken crew who made Le Wrath did this on purpose? Or did Ricardo Montalban?

TOP LEFT: Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna sings, Per me ora fatale / "Fatal hour of my life"...
From the Royal Opera House's 2002 production of Giuseppe Verdi's tragic opera Il trovatore.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Women in Science: Tell Me About It

Today is Blog About Women in Science and Technology Day!
Of course, I must start with the movies.

I. Pet Onscreen-Sexism Peeve #138:

Two humans, an adult female and male, encounter some horrific thing from another planet, which no human has ever seen before.

The trembling woman clings to the man and asks,
"What IS is, Biff?"

And then--this kills me--he answers in a manly tone:
"Why, Poopsey, it's some horrific alien thing no human has ever seen before!"

[Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), here. * Still, I've got to hand it to this excellent movie: by the end, the man is just as powerless and freaked out as the woman. Bubbling, slimy pods that take over your body can strip even the most broad-shouldered men of their pomposity.]

Maybe having seen too many movies in which self-assured men explain the obvious to jelly-brained women explains my special fondness for and gratitude toward women who explain science to me.

'Cause, OK, I am an idiot when it comes to the hard sciences, but not all of us are, and thankgod we don't have to stuff our brains into high heels anymore. (Usually.)

II. Physics in a Potato Sack

So, here's a little tip o' the keyboard to Dr. Prisca Cushman--the professor of a college class I took fifteen years ago:
Physics for Otherwise Perfectly Intelligent People Who Can't Remember How to Multiply Fractions No Matter How Many Times We Explain It To Them (We Mean You, Fresca), 101.

Here is Prica's youTube, Dark Matter Music: "Model of the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search which translates actual data into sound and light. We have not yet had a dark matter interaction, but we have lots of particles hitting the detectors and that is what you are watching."

(Speaking of movies, it plays the doorbell tune from Close Encounters. She explains on in the comments that was a joke.)

Early on in class, Cushman explained that math is the language of physics, and that trying to talk about physics without reference to math is like running in a potato sack.

Obvious to many, no doubt, but it goes to show how much of a nonstarter in science I am that this had never occurred to me.
I felt so much better!
I already knew that while I can see the shimmering outlines of math, like Oz in the distance, it does not lie in my brain's power to take me into that city. But I can enjoy frolicking in the ideas that grow in the fields around the city, and that's what Dr Cushman, bless her, offered us.

Further, I could see that the ideas of science are not unrelated to other things humans think about.
I was studying Theology at the time and the way Prisca talked about Physics made me see that it partakes in a related effort:
trying to work with the ineffable by describing its effects, which requires a specialized vocabulary. With a good enough language, even without a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, you can still build a bridge.

Take gravity--or love--for instance. Nobody knows what it "is," but we can work with it well enough to get to the moon.**

Science and religion are not the same, of course, but they're like cousins. Trying to understand Infinity is like trying to understand God--both will grab handfuls of your consciousness and splatter it in nano-pieces across the universe.

So we back off and try to limn the mystery in numbers or words or images so we can work with it. So we can build higher and love deeper and mix a better blue.
Cushman's physics class helped me see that some of us are better at one area, some at another. And if we try, we--boys and girls (and aliens?)--can meet at the edge of our fields talk across the fence.

III. Cocktail Party Physics

Some amazing people, like Jennifer Ouellette (links to TypePad Books podcast) can even explain to us the science of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

I would like to quickly sing the praises of Ouellette, author of The Physics of the Buffyverse, and the other women who blog in the most amusing and informative way possible about science at Cocktail Party Physics.
Their one-line bio reads: "Serving up science and culture with a splash of wit."

Their sidebar even includes recipes for cocktails, including "Quantum Theory: Guaranteed to collapse your wave function."
Hm. No Romulan Ale though.

I singled out Ouellette because when I first started reading, it was her blog alone, but now it includes all these women who exclaim in chorus:
"It's some horrific alien no one has ever seen before...
Let's go look at it!"

Here's the rest of the cast and some of their published work:
*M. G. Lord: Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll and Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science
*Diandra Leslie-Pelecky: The Physics of NASCAR: How to Make Steel + Gas + Rubber = Speed
*Allyson Beatrice: Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby? (True Adventures in Cult Fandom)
*Lee Kottner: Maelstrom House Books

Thank you, all!
Now, how do you multiply fractions again?
* Screencap of Invasion of the Body Snatchers from here.

** Love taking you to the moon?
I'm thinking of Cyrano de Bergerac, left.

And here is the lovely 1925 silent film clip of Cyrano To the Moon, illustrating 6 ways of going there.
Cyrano spins them out to distract the count from stopping the wedding of Roxanne, the woman Cyrano loves, to another man.

Nothing to do with women in science.
Everything to do with the meeting of science and art. With panache.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Geometry in Motion

Below: Nancy Kovak as Medea in Jason and the Argonauts (1963).
When I saw her dance, all painted in gold and glitter, I realized I've been looking in the wrong direction for Star Trek design influences. Yes, the show incorporates elements of classy design, like Russell Wright's cheese server;
but even more it loves the cheese.

When I checked, sure enough, here's Nancy Kovak four years later in Star Trek, wearing one of my favorite of William Theiss's cheese-o-rama costumes.
From the episode with the Mugato, an entire monster made out of white fun fur: "A Private Little War." (It seems to prefer ham to cheese: it attacks Kirk.)

Speaking of dancing figures, check out the way the animator makes these classical images leap about:
"All Creative Work Is Derivative" (Thanks, Jen!)
Photographed and animated by Nina Paley; music by Todd Michaelsen.

Very fun! Though I don't agree that all creative work builds on what came before, as stated, unless by "what came before" one means the human body.

Cultures separate from other cultures come up with similar designs because they are working from the same model:
us, in space.
It'd be fun to animate my Star Trek and design posts, or Kirk's body language.

I just found another Enterprise-shaped blueprint: the old British Library, when it was in the British Museum.
Here's my little collection, all together:

1. H-bomb; 2. Enterprise; 3. male reproductive system; 4. British Library

The significance I draw from these is that humans and nature are messing around with same geometry, so things start to look like other things.

Leonardo da Vinci's Virtuvian Man

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wednesday: Blog about Women in Science & Technology

This Wednesday, March 24, is the second annual International Ada Lovelace Day for "blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.!) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science."
Sign up or read more here: Finding Ada.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) "is often regarded as the world's first computer programmer," for her work on Charles Babbage's "analytical engine."
She was also the daughter of Lord Byron.

I'm extra motivated because, much as I'm loving the Ray Harryhausen FX retrospective, I'm really tired of seeing women clinging to men.

How did anyone get any science done, when their arms were never free?

Happy Birthday, Boys!

Happy Birthday, William Shatner and Captain Kirk!

Two photomanips in tribute by bink.

Kirk in a Cake

And don't forget the whipped cream.
(Yeah, I've posted this one before, but any excuse to do it again...)
Ooh, and by golly, it got posted over at More Shatner!

Previous post on The Aries Nature of Captain Kirk.

Sunday, March 21, 2010



I. Navel Gazing

Lots of juicy comments lately: thank you!
Annika, for instance, wrote a most wonderful comment on the subject of trying to find comonality (on the post Contact).
Since it gives me an excuse to post a photo of the topless Captain Kirk, which I know Annika would approve, I'm cut-and-pasting part of her comment here:

"The [Orwell] episode with the prisoner and the puddle reminded me of something else: belly buttons.

"This anatomical detail makes me feel instantly connected to another being,
reminds me that we're basically the same kind.
I've noticed the feeling when a stranger, or a person I don't like,
stretches so that his shirt reveals his navel - I suddenly feel a kind of tenderness.

"I've noticed it when seeing a dolphin turning onto its back,
showing not only the hint of a belly button, but also a human-looking six-pack around it.
I've even noticed it when looking at a little tin figurine of a minotaur.

[end of Annika's comment]

II. Tribes

This also applies to the question in the post below: What's your tribe?
How far out can we go before we lose the awareness, "This being is like me?"
How much might/could this awareness--or the cultivation of it--foster compassion toward other beings?

And, speaking of good commenters, Margaret sent me a picture relating to the Tribe of Readers. I added it to the post below, but it's so good--and iillustrates a similarity I had noticed too--I'm pulling it out and posting it here again:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What's Your Tribe?

Art Sparker asks: 1.What's your tribe? (Read the many comments on her post for some interesting answers.)
2. How do you recognize members?
3. Does your tribal identity shift or fray?
4. How much is culturally based and how much is values based?

My tribe (one of them) is people when they're reading.
Whether I like the person or not, I usually feel a tender identification with someone reading, something like I feel toward someone sleeping.

How 'bout you?

ABOVE: Zak Smith at the Planet Coffee Shop (2006), by Sarolta Gyoker, via Martin Amis Web

ABOVE: Unidentified woman on a Western Addition porch, c. 1960s, by Kurt Bank; from found sf

ABOVE: Hunter Gaudet, 16, by Nicole Bengiveno, from the NYT: "The Future of Reading" *

ABOVE: Whoops--now I can't find the attribution. It's one of the 1, 569 images of "girl reading" at Getty Images.

ABOVE: Clinton & Obama, from the NYT, "Forging an Alliance" (3-18-10).
This photo intrigued me: what are they looking at together? In my mind, they are reading something on a computer screen.
They remind me of another duo:
(Thanks, Margaret!)

ABOVE: "Bush Reads to Muslim Children": "U.S. President George W. Bush listens to 3-year-old Alexandria Hudome before reading from a book of poems to a group of Muslim children during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr December 17, 2001." Photo: Mark Wilson, from Life magazine

ABOVE: St. Jerome Reading with His Lion, Rembrandt, from the Rijkmuseum, Amsterdam
(One of my favorite pieces of art. Talk about tender: Jerome was a right crab-cake, but he's sweet here, alone with his book and his friend--the lion from whose paw he'd removed a thorn.)

ABOVE: Pamela Anderson reading Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity, by Anne Elizabeth Moore; from The Sun (UK).
(I'd posted this photo--along with one of Marilyn Monroe reading--a couple years ago.)

BELOW: Two photos from Google's Workplace, via Obnoxious Queer
The culture of reading is changing, but even Google has a library of books (and what looks like books wallpaper?).
* From The Future of Reading:

"'Young people 'aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,' said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University who is studying reading practices on the Internet.
"'That’s a good thing because the world doesn’t go in a line,
and the world isn’t organized into separate compartments or chapters.'
” [italics mine]

My Sicilian grandmother, reading, 1950s.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Star Trek: Jason and the Argonauts in Space

Star Trek: Jason and the Argonauts in outer space.

BELOW LEFT: Jason (Todd Armstrong) meets Hera (Honor Blackman) (1963).
BELOW RIGHT: Kirk meets Adonais (1967).

Below, top image: Medea (Nancy Kovak), in Jason and the Argonauts
Below, bottom image: Nona (Nancy Kovak), in Star Trek, "A Private Little War"

As always, Star Trek screencaps from


I. Love

"Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real."
––Iris Murdoch

Other humans are aliens to us.
How can we establish contact?

How can I enter into the mindset of the Puritan minister whose greatest fear for his kidnapped children
is that the Catholic Mohawks will convert them to the "popish" religion?

How could you explain sleep to the ocean? *

II. History

Entering into history requires the kind of love Murdoch writes about.
(One reason historical fiction is so difficult to get right--
most of it just dresses us moderns in funny old costumes.)

Reading about the 18th century Anglo-American colonists and Indians, I hardly know what to make of them, their realities are so extremely different from mine.

I know they are sane human beings--like me (but radically not like me)--and not denizens of an alien planet.

But sometimes the only thing I can find in common between us is something extremely simple:
starting, for instance, with the shared reality that
being burned at the stake is something we humans want to avoid.

This was a meeting point between the colonists and their kidnappers:
a threat to burn prisoners was effective in bargaining for ransom money.

Everyone understands that none of us wants to get burned alive...

III. Puddles

... or get our feet wet, either.

LEFT: George Orwell standing third from left at the Mandalay, Burma, police training school, 1923.
(via As It Ought to Be)

There's the most astonishing (famous?) moment of experiencing the common human denominator in George Orwell's short piece, "A Hanging".
The speaker is a British colonial policeman in Burma (like Orwell, though he said this was "a story").
He's watching a man walk to his own execution:
"It was about forty yards to the gallows. I watched the bare brown back of the prisoner marching in front of me. He walked clumsily with his bound arms, ... And once, in spite of the men who gripped him by each shoulder, he stepped slightly aside to avoid a puddle on the path.

"It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man. When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide."
This realization is the slim wedge, the toe dip, into love, into history.

IV. Narcissism

Probably most of the time when we look at other people, we look into a mirror.
The stuff that doesn't look like us we discard without even registering it.
How not? [That's not a rhetorical question.]

We are like Captain Kirk:
when he travels in outer space, he just keeps meeting versions of himself.

You know I'm crazy about Star Trek,
but it's very, very rare that it's anything more than us in fancy dress.

* The idea that the ocean has no conception of sleep is a funny little touch in Sol(y)aris.