Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Everyone we've ever known

Do you see it? The pale blue dot. That's Earth, as seen from 6.1 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) in an image taken by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990. This excerpt, as cited in Wikipedia, is from Carl Sagan's 1994 non-fiction book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It's a beautiful piece.

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Though your heart is breaking

Everything I've learned about customer service I learned from my first job (at a fast-food restaurant).
  • Greet the customer with a smile and a welcome
  • Answer a "thank you" with a "thank you" instead of a "you're welcome" (I still do this, and I think people think that it's weird. For some reason, "you're welcome" sounds too harsh to me.)
  • Annunciate when you speak
  • Repeat the order before you ring it up to make sure it's right
  • Count out the customer's change in front of them
  • The customer IS always right (you can have doubts, but treat them like they're right, except in extreme circumstance where you know they're just trying to work the system)
This combination of things rarely happens at any restaurants/businesses that I frequent in my city.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Qué dijiste?

My earliest memory about Spanish was that I pretended to strangers that I was a lot more proficient than I actually was. I was in a bookstore, and I was probably around 8. I was browsing the Spanish book section (I don’t know why, maybe because even then I thought Spanish was cool?), and a stranger saw me and said “Oh, you speak Spanish?” And I said “yes” and I grinned and started paging through the book (It was a kindergarten book with a few words per page) and pretending I knew what I was doing (I didn’t, really).

Growing up in San Diego I had a lot of exposure to Spanish but I didn’t actually start speaking it or learning it until my freshman year in high school. From the very first moment in that class, I was in love. My Spanish teacher was Mexican, and although she was a little tough on us freshmen (wise on her part), she was fair and she was kind. I still remember the Spanish songs I learned in that class, and even some of the lines of the dialogues we memorized. “Beto, Beto Chavez.” “Ay, ay, ay! No hay carpetas?” “Dulce de chocolate, chocolate candy, chocolate candy. Uno para mi y uno para ti. One for you and one for me!” This was the actual song, by the way. I’m not translating. This was in the days before Dora the Explorer, I might add. We didn’t need it back then.

By the time I was a senior, Spanish wasn’t so much a pleasure as a chore and a series of increasingly daunting tasks. That’s because from one year to the next, I skipped a good two years’ worth of Spanish classes. I was planning on only skipping one year to take an AP class, but that class didn’t fit with my schedule so I took the next available AP class, which was the even more advanced Spanish literature. So I went from just barely starting to study the subjunctive tense to reading classic Spanish and Latin American tomes and writing essays about them. I didn’t know what was going on half the time, when I spoke in class it was just in the simple present or the simple past (no subjunctive, ever), and my mom and I split the task of looking up all the words I didn’t know from my assigned reading because it would have taken me all night to do it by myself. Sometimes I would read an entire short story thinking the narrator was a man and then get to class and discover it was actually a woman. That’s how much I was groping in the dark. But somehow, almost inexplicably, I took the AP exam and I got the highest score. From then on, I was absolutely committed to Spanish.

Then later:

Spanish is how I picked my major in college

Spanish is how I picked my concentration in grad school.

Spanish is why I travel.

Spanish is how I met my husband.

Spanish is how I got my current job, which is challenging, but good.

Spanish has opened doors for me.

My dream job when I was 15 was to be a high school Spanish teacher. Maybe I’ll do that someday, and help make Spanish open doors for others.