Friday, August 26, 2016

Maybe we were too excited

I was surprised when I realized that both Karen Armstrong and I had strong disturbances on the way to our occupations.  She entered the convent at 17 and stayed there for 7 years.  The way she tells it, she was often at odds with the regimen and the procedure expected of her.  I entered a teachers college at the same age but didn't have courses aimed at teaching as such until a couple of years later.  Armstrong explains that she asked what exactly she was supposed to do since some days the beginners were told that very strict obedience was the key to advancing successfully but other days, they were berated for not using their own intelligence and common sense.  

I had courses on the subject of teaching in preparation for teaching elementary school and asked edged and probably impertinent questions about the logic and coherence of what was being taught.  An exasperated professor gave me a library call number and told me to take a look at the book.  When I saw the book was The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno and others, I felt a jolt.  I think the professor was telling me that I was being too strict and cross-examining the curriculum and activities too minutely.

There seem to have been similarities between my desire to walk on water as a heavenly teacher and Armstrong's desire to be united with God.  Both of us were probably overly excited and elated and too determined to be and do two or three times what was called for to reach our goals and then some.  Lynn knew me through all of this and tried to tell me to relax. My mother told me the same sort of thing.  But an older professor of geography calmly asked how long I had been student teaching when I was ready to quit and go to some other school where I would find a more suitable major.  I told her I had been student teaching for six weeks.  She asked how long I thought she had been teaching.  At the time, I thought she looked as though she was a couple of centuries old but I had the manners and respect to say I didn't know but that I thought she had been teaching a long time.  

She advised me to finish my degree and teach for at least two years.  That seemed sensible and I went on to become a professor of education and teaching.  I would have been astounded to know that was in my future as Armstrong would have been astounded to know that she would go on to become the foremost writer about religion in the modern world, translated into 45 languages.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


I am always fascinated by intelligence breaking out.  A class is going along calmly when a student asks a question or makes a comment that stays with you.  That evening, you are still thinking about it.  Often the words hit the teacher very differently from the way they do the student or the others there. It is probably because the teacher has gone over the material many times and knows there are multiple avenues that some students have in the past explored that this group hasn't been drawn into.  I often taught statistics to a class of 80 to 100 students.  The lessons were tapes and so were exactly replayed for each class.  Just when I thought I had seen it all and that no twist, turn or misunderstanding was yet to be invented, I would be shown some new idea or question or puzzle or angle.

No subject can really be explored to all possible limits, to all the edges that might be reached in all possible discussions and considerations.  When the ancients say that the world is one, they aren't kidding.  You can indeed get from a gumdrop to nuclear physics, the history of diplomacy and to all aspects of the diseases of honeybees.  It's just that you will tire or expire or divert to the tv or the dinner table before you manage to get to all the edges of the subject.

I just finished re-reading "The Spiral Staircase" by the famous scholar of religion, Karen Armstrong.  It surprises the heck out of me that I was so thunderstruck by the book, given that I had read the whole thing before.  I remembered that she entered a convent, was rejected as unsuitable for the life required there, worked on her doctorate, failed to obtain the degree and became the author of many books on religions, including "A History of God".  But I was completely surprised by the effect on me of sentence after sentence.  The writing seems so very accurate and piercing, the author's concentration and openness and awareness of herself and others seems so complete, original and clear.

Being that you are you and I am me, you may not get quite so taken by the book as I was.  Still, if you are looking for a short, clear history of a human life, full of awareness of what youth, early maturity, and empathy for all the many ways people live and feel and fear are about, "The Spiral Staircase" might fill your needs.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Not to mention the Greeks

Innocence, insularity, inflexibility, habit and rhetorical devices

I get purpose and fun writing my blog.  So, I urge my friends to do the same thing.  However, if they do, I will certainly try to read what they write and respond to it, at least some of the time.  The situation would be similar to having a group of student papers that need to be read and graded.  Much of the time, a simple grade is not very helpful or interesting.  It is usually better for the student if there is also a comment or clarification that helps the student know why that grade was given.

That is what I was thinking about when I wrote Monday's blog post entitled "Why I would appreciate it if you didn't read this".  A friend thought I might be using some of the rhetorical devices used by one of the current presidential candidates.  I sent her comments to another friend who studied and taught rhetoric and persuasion.  Since that exchange, those two have helped me become aware of this article and of this list of rhetorical 'devices' or speaking strategies

The next time I say to a person that I simply can't allow myself to pick on someone of very low intelligence, the next time I tell you about an incident and simply stop in the middle, leaving the impression that I am overwhelmed and just can't continue, think of the ancient orators.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Optimism and the history of formal risk

A friend wonders if it is possible or rational or logical to be optimistic about the future.  I say it is and that being optimistic can be an evidence-based stance.  Another friend has spent his career in finance and assures me that the actuaries and mathematicians and statisticians and bankers who designed social security got each and every assumption wrong.  

When you are planning, you have to make assumptions.  It is all very well to say you won't make any assumptions but you have to.  If you are planning financial payments in the future, you are assuming that the customer or subject of the plan or somebody will be around and in a position to make use of the funds.  You have to make some assumption about prices and needs.  Basically, you have to guess what portion of current earnings should be set aside for the future.  Saying nothing needs to be set aside or that all income must be saved are both unacceptable.  So, some portion between 0 % and 100 % will be proposed.  

Nutty as it may seem, one of the first things some planners do is ask how long you will live.  How do you know?  You don't but depending on your age, your health, your parents and grandparents and siblings, you can make an estimate.  These days

Calculators: Life Expectancy - Social Security

Social Security Administration

A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3. ... About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of …

So, more people are living to greater ages than ever before.  The above link says that 10% of people reaching 65 will live to 95 and you can bet (betting is the only way to plan!) that a good portion of that group will live to be 100 years old.

Ok, the next question is What sort of life quality will I have in old age?  Vegetable or marathoner?  Will I do yoga or will I have a feeding tube?  The wiley planners had experience with people so they added another question: What portion of people will simply get tired of working and paying into the system?  They estimated 20% and you can bet they had to justify that guess based on data and experience.  

My finance friend said that the real portion turned out to be 4%, one fifth the estimate.  

So, this means that humans are living longer, living better and healthier and happier lives and continuing to pay their bills.  So, don't bet against them.  Go with the odds.  They are going to face big challenges but they are used to that.  They are going to be around, nevertheless.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why I would appreciate it if you didn't read this

It would be easier on me if you don't read this.  And if you do read it, don't tell anybody, ok?  You see, just as a speaker can burden many listeners, a writer can write once and be read by many people.  Each of them can feel that they did the writer a favor by spending a little of their life time decoding and digesting his assembly of marks and that therefore he owes them a return favor.  One of these days, all the readers are going to write, too, and I will have a mountain of reading I am obliged to consume.  I am getting older and I may not have the time or energy to read through all those posts and emails and letters and web pages and texts.  

It gets even worse with modern equipment.  These days, any iPad can very quickly create a video that takes more time to watch than a few pages take to be read.  So if people create sound files or video files, it may take more of my days to listen or watch them all.  

If you are a sensitive person, you may run into the Emily Dickinson problem.  She created sensitive, insightful poems in a new form that influences poetry to this day but between shyness, modesty and lack of publishing success, she decided that the creation of purpose and the structure of a poem and the selection of the exact words she would use was helpful and satisfying enough that she didn't want the bother of publishing or reactions and criticism of others.  So, she created poem after poem to be put in a drawer, where her sister and later scholars found them.  

I take this blog first and foremost to be a place where I explain what has been happening in my mind and my life.  In that sense, the writing is for me.  Doing it enriches my life and decorates what happens.  Writing more or less rather changes a 2 dimensional picture into a 3 dimensional one, giving experiences in and out of me some depth, some perspective, some appreciation.  I thought at first I might like to take the Emily Dickinson approach but my ego wanted to show off a bit, my social self thought I would like comments once in a while and I really did want to spread the news that daily meditation is cheap, fast and very helpful.  Google Drive and Google Blogger are good places to store my writing and give me a chance to look at what I wrote a month or a year ago.

We all have thousands of choices each minute as to what to think about, what to look at and listen to.  So, despite the title of this post, it is fine with me if you read down to here but I am confident that you will enjoy it if you write your own posts.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Arranging your thinking the way you want it

Sometimes, you just get taken over by events.  A loved one is sick or worse, an unexpected bill looms up, a trusted machine or arrangement breaks down.  Of course at such times, you are going to be upset.  I have a theory that women are more likely, and maybe more able, to accept upset into themselves and be quite upset, for a while.  Maybe ten minutes, maybe three hours, three days or three years.  But, after that, they can often put the upset aside and decide if something should be done or rather, the issue be shelved, tossed or recycled somehow. Men often simply swallow any emotional reaction and immediately attack the problem.  Both methods have their advantages and costs.

But if things are going reasonably smoothly and no personal issue needs urgent attention, it may be a good time to arrange your thinking.  A good first step is conscious and attentive quiet.  This is the first step for many religious people and for those who simply attend to their minds, watching to see what comes up in maybe a five or ten minute period.  After a few minutes of open thinking, I like to go get a pencil and paper.  I often find a pencil is conducive to natural jotting down key words and phrases.  I have enough experience eliciting and nourishing ideas to know that it is disgustingly easy to get a good idea and forget what it is in the next minute.  A few notes can really help. And don't tell me it happens because I am old.  I was just as quick at forgetting good ideas when I was 15.  

A piano keyboard offers a wide range of possible notes.  In the same way, you can arrange a thinking background with any emotional tone you want.  Having some music of the right tone can help.  Making the right stretches for a few minutes helps very much.  Some people do a few dance steps to a good beat.  You can select the atmosphere and perspective you want.  You don't have to be pointed in the direction that the major news organizations set.  

It is not wise to stick with a steady diet of smiley faces and puppy videos, just as it is unhealthy to limit yourself to a diet of codfish oil and cow's liver.  Thus, many of world's wisdom and mind experts advocate facing what you have.  Not just in your mind but all around you, behind you, above you.  What's up with your part of world?  If it looks like nothing much, try to look deeper since there is always a lot happening that the CBS and Fox News reporters and editors have passed over or not heard about or simply didn't have space for.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A good group

In about a week, we will resume activities with our local "learning in retirement" group.  It uses the name L.I.F.E. from the phrase "Learning Is ForEver".  Personally, I prefer using some other word than "learning" to convey the nature of the activity.  There are three types of activities actually.  We have social and organizational meetings where we just get to know each other and business meetings and curriculum meetings, which are the organizational heart of LIFE.  The most frequent and fundamental activity is a presentation by someone, commonly a local expert, professor or official on a subject of interest.  

These presentations or lectures are arranged by members of the curriculum committee during the university semester prior to the actual dates of presentation.  We usually arrange about 80 of them for various days between late August and mid-December or mid-January to early June.  Given a period of about 120 days, that means we usually have a presentation of some sort two days out of three.

We don't pay the presenters but we often find that people enjoyed giving a talk to our group.  Attendance is scheduled before the series of classes begins in a kind of college registration online or thru the mail.  We have about 25 of 400 members at most presentations.  The audience knows the topic and has read 1 or 2 sentences describing the intent of the talk before registering for it.  Many of the attendees are retired faculty or college administrators but we have many other backgrounds represented, too.

Those attending are a good group and experienced thinkers and questioners.  Most presenters are comfortable taking questions at any time during the talk and this group uses the option.  Although a young person might look at the gray and white heads and assume a somewhat inert selection of minds, it only takes a few minutes before the room is humming with questions.  We have had presenters explain that they are not used to lively and attentive questioning.  When they teach college students, a much younger group, they are not facing an audience with the background and genuine interest and experience of life that our group provides.  

There are groups like L.I.F.E. associated with many colleges and universities throughout the US, Canada and Europe.  They are often referred to as "learning in retirement" or Third Age groups.  No matter what you have studied or how you have spent your life, there are dozens of other paths you might have taken.  It can be fun to see what other jobs and pathways are like.

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