Monday, May 25, 2009

brain chemistry

Have you ever wondered why the job of 'mercenary' exists?  A private soldier?  What would possess someone to travel the world in search of wars to fight?  Should they not prefer to be unemployed?

I'm fairly sure an addiction to danger is biochemically similar to a heroin addiction.  Are you surprised by that?  Excitement causes the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that produce a sweet, sweet chemical 'high' in our simple little brains.  There's nothing you or I can do to stop it. But can we actually become truly 'addicted' to your own brain-chemicals?  I don't see why not. These neurotransmitters are not too structurally different from opiates like heroin.  Incidentally, excercise releases plenty brain-chemicals as well.  Many people become 'addicted' to excercise. What happens when such a person stops?  Do they suffer withdrawal symptons?  Perhaps deep depression.  I think they can.  I've just read a book called 'Warrior Brothers' about an Australian SAS soldier  - turned private-security-contractor - turned civilian-husband-father-writer who understands very well that he should be happy in his current role but just can't seem shake that deep desire to be shot at by someone once again.  

I can not relate to any such ummm... danger-phelia.  I certainly don't have any desire to sky-dive or rock-climb like my younger brothers do.  I don't like heights, I don't watch horror movies, and I have no problem driving slow these days. Certainly, some people are more prone to addiction than others. And naturally these differences are both nurtured and 'natured'.  But I could probably also argue that every one of us is an addict to some degree?  I know that I have latched on to the occasional TV series, musician, or hobby like it's crack.  I wonder what is happening in my brain when an episode of LOST ends and I am powerless against pressing play on the next one?  But these are not real addictions are they?  They are temporary and I don't miss them when they're done.  On the other hand, I have been 'grounded' from the sport of volleyball for three months now after hurting my back, and I think you could question whether I have been acting like the same'ol chipper Jake that plays that silly game regularly.  Maybe this could indeed be called 'withdrawal'.  I don't know.  It certainly feels like there's something missing.  Wouldn't it be nice to be addicted to work? :) I'm sure some people are.  I guess it depends largely on the nature of your job.  And I suppose that brings me right back to... 'mercenary'.

Adrenaline addiction must be why the job of 'mercenary' exists.  I feel bad for this author an anyone else who puts themselves in harms way for the wrong reasons.  He tells some great stories.  He has returned from East-Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq unscathed despite the best efforts of armed rivals; a skilled and wise soldier but also a benefactor of no trivial amount of luck.  He writes about some of his close friends who were equally skilled but not as lucky.  And now the man is in his late thirties, safe at home with wife and three kids, studying and writing, and he can't seem to shake a strong urge to go back to Iraq.  I am sad for him.   He should be able to let it go.   Some of my laboratory chemistry can be a bit hazardous but it is surely nothing compared the potential outcomes of some of our 'brain chemistry'.

Enough ranting.  See ya.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wisdom from Polska

I like little proverbs. Simple pearls of wisdom. Four words will do.  Happy wife, happy life.  Measure twice, cut once.  Better late than never.  Better safe than sorry.  Waste not, want not.  No pain, no gain. Early birds catch worms.  Loose lips sink ships. 

But for some of the real gems you have to allow for a few more words... like Mr. Gump's: life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.  Or a dull pencil beats a sharp memory.  I read a funny one today: If in doubt, go left.  Sometimes, a couple of proverbs can leave a guy a bit confused: does the early bird really catch the worm or do good things come to those who wait?  And do many hands make light work or do too many cooks spoil the broth. I guess it depends on who the hands belong to. Come to think of it, many proverbs seem to be food-issue warnings: don't count your chickens before they hatch, put your eggs in one basket, bite the hand that feeds you, or bite off more than you can chew, cry over spilled milk, or judge a cookbook by its cover ;)

Anyway, the reason I bring all of this up is that the Polish language has some great little proverbs. Strangely enough, I stumbled on some of these online today and now I'd like to share a few with you.  
A couple of them send me right back to my young'in days. 

Here's a standard one from my dad: "Śpiesz się powoli" which translates literally into 'hurry slowly' but more specifically meant 'slow the heck down you crazy child or you'll hurt yourself'.  
And my mother would sometimes toss out "Złej baletnicy przeszkadza rąbek u spódnicy" which translates to 'A poor ballerina is bothered by the hem of her skirt' and essentially means 'quit yer bitchin!'.

Here are some more:

"Gdy pies je, to nie szczeka, bo mu miska ucieka"  An eating dog doesn't bark or his food will run away.  In other words: don't talk with your mouth full.  "Gość w dom - Bóg w dom"  Guest in the house, God in the House.  From my experience, this is a good description of Polish hospitality.  "Kto rano wstaje, temu Pan Bóg daje"  Who wakes up early gets stuff from God.  A Polish early bird, being VERY catholic, would naturally expect a gift form God to be much better than just 'a worm'.  "Jak sobie pościelisz, tak się wyśpisz"  The bed you make is the one you'll sleep in... as in ye reap what ye sow.  "Lepszy wróbel w garści niż gołąb na dachu" I like this one: A sparrow in your hand is better than a pigeon on the roof.  "Myszy harcują, gdy kota nie czują" When the cat's away, the mice will play. "Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońca" Don't praise the day before the sun has set... cuz it might yet suck!  "Paluszek i główka to szkolna wymówka" A sore finger and a headache are standard excuses for not going to school.  Polish people are big on education.  I think it's because the communist culture that my parents grew up in rewarded very few things - but education was one of them.  Here's another: "Ucz się ucz, bo nauka to do potęgi klucz." Learn, learn, because education is the key to greatness.  "Piękna miska jeść nie daje."  A pretty bowl won't feed you :)  "Wolnoć Tomku w swoim domku" Tom is allowed to do whatever he wants in his own house.  "Dobrego nawet karczma nie zepsuje, a zlego nawet kosciol nie uratuje."  A good man won't be spoiled by a tavern, but not even a church can save an evil man. And that's good, because I like a good tavern :)

Here I am with a friend named Andreas having a couple of beers in one of the coolest tavern's that I will ever be in.  It was called 'The Brazen Head'.  Peace.