Extremes, Restraint, and Mae West

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March 30, 2016 by libroshombre


Extreme language constantly assaults us these days, and last week an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) colleague and I bemoaned the prevalent overuse of strong terms. The birthday party wasn’t just nice; it was “awesome.” The cake wasn’t large, it was “ginormous.” “The speaking in perpetual hyperbole,” as the English philosopher Francis Bacon noticed 400 years ago, “is comely in nothing but love.” And a little goes a long ways even then. Never ignore the inherent power of understatement, as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown, exemplified in his most popular recording, 1965’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)”. “I feel (pause) good,” an obviously worked up Brown sang to good effect. “I feel,” he sang, “nice.”

There’s certainly power in reticence, particularly in these hyperbolic times. Yet I eschew it regularly to urge friends to witness Brown’s incredible act for themselves. The best place for that is the “T.A.M.I. Show,” a 1964 movie featuring a bevy of musical stars performing live: the Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Leslie Gore, and many more, with the legendary Wrecking Crew studio musicians playing backup. The DVD’s at your public library and is certainly worth a gander, just to see James Brown at his best. He’s fantabulous!

Sometimes restraint can be taken to extreme degrees. Vladimir Aniskin, a Russian microminiaturist, has crafted a book he believes will break the existing Guinness Record for smallest book, currently held by Malcolm Chaplin’s “Teeny Ted From Turnip Town,” which measures 70 micrometers by 100 micrometers. A micrometer, or “micron,” is, according to http://www.wisegeek.org, “one millionth of a meter ... The limits of visual acuity for the human eye is often cited as objects 50 micrometers in diameter, about the size of a dust speck. The average width of a human hair is 80 micrometers.” So Chaplin’s “Turnip Town” is indeed quite teeny.

Aniskin nonetheless blew him away with his tiny tome: “Levsha,” which is only 70 by 90 micrometers. An article on “Levsha” from TheGuardian.com said “The text is printed using the lithographic process onto sheets of film just three or four microns thick. Aniskin said that the most difficult part of the process was binding the pages … He used tungsten wires with a diameter of five microns as the ‘springs’ for the pages.” Even Aniskin’s heartbeat affected his work, which went on only between beats. The pages have text on each side, verso and recto, and are turned using a sharpened needle. The finished book, a perfect example of extreme restraint, is nestled on golden plates resting in half a poppy seed shell.

Perhaps the world-wide plague of extremism is due to what the Germans call “zeitkrankheit,” or “illness of the times,” according to a MentalFloss.com article titled “15 Unique Illnesses You Can Only Come Down With in German.” Zeitkrankheit is “a general term for whatever damaging mindset or preoccupations of a certain era are.” “Kevinismus,” currently afflicting some German parents, is “a strange propensity to give their kids wholly un-German, American-sounding names, like Justin, Mandy … and Kevin.”

I know Alaskans who suffer from “fernweh,” “the opposite of homesickness. It is the longing for travel … awaysickness.” Springtime also seems to bring a local onslaught of “kreislaufzusammenbruch,” or “circulatory collapse.” Although it “sounds deathly serious … it’s used quite commonly in Germany to mean something like ‘feeling woozy’ or ‘I don’t think I can come into work today.’”

Retirees needn’t worry about working, but should join a book club or OLLI class soon after retiring. Recent research out of Australia’s University of Queensland found that being socially active soon after retiring dramatically lowers the risk of death. “They found that every social group membership people lost after retirement resulted in a 10 percent drop in their quality of life … six years later.” Stopping physical exercise has the same effect.

Moreover, regular readers are often less affected by the onset of Alzheimer’s. So enrolling in some of OLLI’s excellent literary classes and the public library’s incredible array of book clubs seems a prudent course to follow. Don’t hold back. As Mae West said, “I like restraint, if it doesn’t go too far.”



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