What you don’t know …. has the power to amaze you

What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Or can hurt you. What you don’t know could fill volumes. You don’t know what you don’t know ….. and “what you don’t know” is the start of many bits of wisdom, not all of which are wise.

I recently had a wonderful trip to Peru, and came home realizing something new about what I don’t know. It’s the only thing that has the power to amaze me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of knowledge. It’s essential for smart behavior in everyday life, and it makes traveling easier and less stressful. I research my trips ahead of time and I have fun looking forward to experiencing sights, sounds and tastes recommended to me by other travelers. But if that is all I do on the road, I’ll never be surprised. My trip to Peru made me more aware of how it is the unexpected discovery that holds the power to astonish.

Take Machu Picchu. It was wonderful, in spite of the rain and the crowds and many cordoned off areas designed to help preserve this wonder of the past. I’m glad I went. But how could I be amazed? It looked just like the pictures. Just like I expected. Very cool.

The day at Machu Picchu was also long and tiring, starting at dawn and ending with a bus, train and van combo back to Cusco. My travel companion was less exhausted than I, and spontaneously agreed to go on a second venture the next day leaving at three in the morning and involving a lot of walking and donkeys. She was off to Rainbow Mountain, a place she had never heard of and wasn’t sure she even wanted to see.

I’m willing to bet it was the most amazing part of her trip. She walked to over 17,000 feet and found herself here.

My day was more restful, but I had time to wander around the streets of Cusco, to sit in a park, find a small coffee shop, and be surprised be at what could be discovered on a self-guided walking tour of this city. I found things to amaze me, as well.

This epiphany about the unknown has prompted me to ask others who enjoy traveling to describe their favorite “I had no idea” moment. One man spoke of a wonderful trip to Nicaragua. He was hoping to go to this ocean on his last day, but his traveling companion insisted on taking him on a jeep ride well into the jungle. He got out at their destination frustrated, only to find they were at a beautiful, clear fresh water lake known to very few people

A well-traveled couple from South Africa, , also part of our Peru Venture, didn’t hesitate when asked for their most amazing surprise while traveling. It was the city of Assisi in the Province of Perugia, Italy. Unexpectedly beautiful. I certainly would never have guessed that.

I have my own such story. My husband and I stumbled on Slieve League in County Donegal, Ireland years ago after visiting the lovely Cliffs of Moher. Slieve League’s sheer drop of over 1500 feet down to the ocean is three times that of Ireland’s more famous cliffs, and I remember clearly how the two of us stood at the top of it in astonishment, wondering how we could possibly not have heard of this.

I now think every trip needs room for surprises like this. We spent our last night in Peru in Lima, and signed up at the last minute for some tour of a park with fountains. It turns out that the Magic Water Circuit, as it is called, is fairly famous, but we didn’t know about it, and the dancing light shows in 13 giant fountains left us, you guessed it, amazed.

Aren’t we lucky it’s a big world, and none of us have the time or inclination to learn everything about it all before we travel?

(For more on my trip to Peru see woman traveling alone and History at its most exciting.)

 

 

 

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I received this book as a gift from someone who knows me well and shares my tastes in science fiction. He kept eagerly asking if I’d started it yet, but something about the book held me back. It’s big, it’s translated from Chinese, and has physics and geometry all over the cover. “I’ll read it next,” I kept saying.

Next finally came, and I loved this book. I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

What I liked best (besides all of the above):

  1. I’m not so big on historical fiction, but the window into China’s cultural revolution of the 60’s was fascinating, and it shows some chilling parallels to the wave of populism currently sweeping the west.
  2. The author allows this tale to develop at it’s own pace. He tells it in a non-linear fashion, going back and forth in time more than once, letting the reader learn more with each visit. This worked well for me and I appreciated the lack of gimmicks often used by other authors to grab and hold the attention of a reader. Cixin Liu has a tale worth telling and he knows it.
  3. The science is amazing, and to the best of my limited knowledge, accurate.
  4. The number of women scientists in this story is unusual and refreshing. I wonder: does this reflect reality in China, or the needs of the story, or the  desire of the author? Why-ever, it was a pleasant plus for me.
  5. I had little appreciation for the challenges of translating such a story, bridging not only the gulf between vastly different languages, but between different perspectives, backgrounds and knowledge of history. The translator, Ken Liu, does an excellent job with subtle, short footnotes intended to provide just enough context to the western reader.
  6. Most significantly, just when I thought there could not possibly be a significantly new variation on a first contact story, this came along. I feel like blurbs on this book already give away too much of the story, so I will only say I’m impressed with the originality of Liu’s approach. It will leave you thinking.

What I didn’t like so much:

  1. Liu doesn’t spend a lot of time inside his character’s heads, showing the reader the emotional motivation for their behavior. This sparseness works, for the most part, but a little more would have been nice.
  2. I said the science is amazing, and it is, but some narrative devices used at the very end pushed my limits of credibility.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes stories that inform while they entertain, and/or books that encourage them to think.

Two personal notes:

  1. Having written d4, a book of my own about the survival of the human race and how our behavior now could impact our fate in a few hundred years, I felt something of a connection with this tale and it probably resulted in my liking this book even more.
  2. I was impressed by both the author and the translator’s postscripts for the American edition at the end of the book. Both were insightful, but this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Yeah. What he said.

After I read the passage above, I would have liked any book the man had written.

Prepare for the worst?

I’ve always been a believer in “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” I suspect that is why my monkey mind is staging a quiet revolt today in my yoga class.

The instructor says “be totally present in the now.” This is a common prompt for anything involving meditation, but the problem starts when he takes it one step further and asks us to reflect on what keeps us from doing so.

dream“I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors.  She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.

“You don’t just worry,” it says. “You prepare. You plan ahead. Those fantasy scenes you love to invent allow you to try on various scenarios and practice problem solving before it is crucial to your survival.”

“You mean I’m not a day dreamer and chronic worrier?”

“You probably are that too,” my monkey mind concedes.  It tends not to sugar coat things for me. “But if you never let yourself live in the future, you wouldn’t make plans. You’d pay a ton more for airfare, and find every Bed and Breakfast you ever want to stay in is sold out. Admit it, you do more if you plan, and you do it better.” Monkey mind is convincing and I’m thinking maybe this yoga instructor has it all wrong and I should be living more in the future, not less.

evolver 1“So you’re going to turn into one of those crazy survivalists who waste their life and resources stockpiling a cellar to live in in case the word falls apart?” I appear to have grown a second monkey mind, and this one is having none of this focus-on-the-future argument.

“You can prepare without paranoia,” the first monkey shoots back.

“You can plan ahead while still being in the here and now,” the second one retorts.

“You can have this discussion later,” my inner self says firmly. Both monkeys disappear, along with the dreams and worries that matter so much to them. I breath slowly. For just this moment, tomorrow will take care of itself.

My character Ariel has a special relationship with the future, having an innate ability to see the most probable outcomes in front of her. It doesn’t stop her from worrying either, as this excerpt from d4 shows.

“I am glad I met you,” he said. With that he turned and left the little conference room quickly, like he needed to use the restroom badly or had just remembered an important call he had to make. Ariel watched him go in silence, as the remaining board members left still talking among themselves, oblivious to the bit of drama that had just occurred.

There was no question that Baldur had just set off the most unusual premories that Ariel had ever experienced. Ariel considered whether it was because the man would somehow play an important role in her life. Was it possible that he too had her curse? On the other hand, she had been so shook that she might have imagined his response to her. Finding another person with precognitions like her own was incredibly unlikely. Ariel had decided long ago that what she could do had to be very rare, or the world would be so different.

So she needed to get a grip, and do her job and stop worrying about this future stuff. She needed to become far more familiar with exactly what Baldur’s professional needs were and do her best to see that her firm met them. She thought that it would also be a good idea to find a way to avoid touching him ever again.

(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about my never ending focus on performing tasks — see my post Frittering life away? on my c3 blog. And find out what my yoga instructor thought the problem was at Are you performing, or performing? on my y1 blog.)