Friday, January 09, 2015

Good Thing #40: Brian May

Let's get this out of the way: Brian May is best known for his work as the guitarist for the band Queen. He's widely considered by people who rank such things as one of the best guitarists of all time. That's certainly impressive, but it's everything else that Brian does that makes him such an inspiration.

Brian May dropped out of college in 1974 to devote to Queen full-time. In 2006 he returned to college in 2006 and successfully defended his thesis, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud in Sept 2007, gaining his PhD 37 years after he started. Colleges often hand out honorary degrees to the rich and famous just because they're rich and famous, but Doctor May really worked for his, and has continued to prove it. He's already co-authored two astronomy textbooks, Bang! and The Cosmic Tourist.

While in Queen he would give free tickets and backstage passes to dealers who would meet him backstage. Not drug dealers but antique dealers who would bring him Victorian stereo views. Over the years he's amassed a collection of unique and rare stereo views. It's not that unusual for the rich and famous to buy expensive things, but Brian May has been doing something great with his collection. He's published three books so far using stereo views from his collection, A Village Lost and Found, Diableries, and The Poor Man's Picture Gallery. These books are gorgeous coffee table books that feature stereo views painstakingly restored to their former glory. They include a stereo viewer of Dr. May's own design. Given the quality and price of these books, I find it hard to believe anyone made any money from them. They are a labor of love that Dr. May made possible. These aren't the first books on stereo views to be published, but over the past 50 years or so, 3D photography has generally been treated like a novelty item. May's books prove that stereo photography is a serious art form, deserving of scholarship and critical attention. He's also making things that are rarely seen by anyone but private collectors and making them available for all to enjoy. 

He really inspires me. He shows that no matter who you are, you can continue to grow and explore, and share what you discover with the world.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Good Thing Continues

I realized this week I need to resume my Good Thing posts. The depression returned this winter with a twist. Depression is nothing new for me, but it's always been mostly feeling nothing, with handfuls of anxiety, paranoia and hopelessness thrown in to add a little challenge to the day and keep things interesting. If you've never lived with depression this sounds pretty bad, and it is, but you learn to deal with it. It helps to have things in your life that are more important than the depression. My wife and daughter, for starters. Some days I feel like I can't face the day for my own sake, but I can do it for them.

This fall/winter it got worse, though. This time I turned toxic.

In spite of the depression, I've always been able to resist the random ambient badnesses of the world and deal with them as just facts that are out there to be engaged with intellectually or not. I'm usually really good at focusing my energies on the things I can change, that actually directly impact me or people I personally know and care about. I'm not sure what made this fall so different. Maybe it was just a bunch of things happening at the same time without anything to balance them:

LePage getting reelected. Not just the fact that we've got four more years of the worst governor in Maine's history, but that he's painfully, obviously bad. that it makes me despair for the state that I love. What hope does it have economically and socially if its own citizens vote against their own interests? It makes me wonder if this is really where I want to raise a family and start a business.

Ferguson, and everywhere else cops have killed unarmed blacks and gotten away with it. I don't really need to explain this one, do I?

Budget shortfalls at the University of Maine. This one should be obvious, but unfortunately people aren't informed enough to be outraged by it. There are a lot of very well paid administrators at the University of Maine, most of whom are making six-figure salaries. They're paid to understand things like the fact that the obvious, well documented decades-long decline in Maine's youth population will result in lower enrollment and subsequent budget shortfalls. UMaine's budget problems are the result of the administration's bad choices, and their solution is to give themselves raises, increase the number of administrators and get rid of faculty, classes and programs. The University of Maine should be playing a vital role in creating a positive future for Maine. Instead we've got an administration that is incompetent at best and self-serving at worst. This hits me at many levels. As an adjunct faculty member it effects my livelihood. As a parent, I want my daughter to have good options no matter what she chooses. I want the University of Maine to be a good choice for her future, not an academically gutted parody of what higher learning should be. As a Maine resident I'm paying taxes for this.

The last straw was Kim Kardashian's butt. It's a little thing. Well, not that little, but in comparison to anything else in the world that could be bumming me out, it's completely irrelevant, right? I don't care about the Kardashians. I know that Kim Kardashian exists, and that she's famous for being famous, and she appears to be a completely uninteresting waste of a human being. I automatically think less of anyone who actually cares about her in any way who isn't related to, or employed by her. I know this, and I choose to avoid anything to do with Kim Kardashian, just like I avoid eating turnip. Kim Kardashian never enters into my thoughts. And suddenly I'm seeing Kim Kardashian's naked ass. Or something Photoshopped to look like it. I want to turn away, but I can't. I literally can't stop thinking about it. Wondering how much of what I'm seeing is natural, how much is medically sculpted, how much is computer generated. Finding it very unattractive and wondering why, when I like big butts (I cannot lie) I find Kim Kardashian's butt revolting. Wondering if I'm shallow or sexist for objectifying that butt and judging it. Feeling angry that Kim Kardashian's butt is news simply for the fact that it is Kim Kardashian's butt, feeling angry that anyone would care when pretty much EVERYTHING THAT ISN'T KIM KARDASHIAN'S BUTT is more important, becoming increasingly angry that I'm Kim Kardashian's butt mindshare. Look! It's happening again!

Something about the combination of things made me toxic. I've become unhappy and cynical. This may sound strange to someone who hasn't dealt with depression, but I'm actually a very optimistic person. When confronted with a bad situation, my first reaction isn't just to wallow in the facts of the badness. It's to try to figure out what I can personally do to make the situation better. I can usually find the positive in even the worst situations, see the best in people even when they're being shitty, and work for a better future. I lost all that. I've spent the past few months feeling hopeless and angry, feeling contempt for people I don't know and generally being someone I don't really recognize or like.

I'm done. This is no way to live. It's time to recalibrate. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr. In Between. Time to start writing about one good thing every day, even if that one good thing seems trivial.