Friday, December 31, 2010

Women and worry

I have been listening to Lawrence Cahoone's history of Western philosophy from the Teaching Company.  There are quite a few thinkers that he discusses that I have never studied.  Some of the early 20th century philosophers were being reviewed when Cahoone mentioned that one of them, Martin Heidegger, considered care and caring fundamental to human existence in his early work.

I carry two references to "care" in my head, one is Robert May's characterization that caring is THE essence of women's experience, while pride is the essence of men's experience.  The other reference is the careful analysis of care and caring done by Nel Noddings in Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education.  But a third source entitled Why Women Worry also came to mind when I heard Cahoone mention caring and anxiety together.

I have had some occasions when working with very intelligent, capable, educated women that puzzled me when they showed signs of high levels of anxiety that I didn't understand.  These times related to some individual that was deeply cared for and the possibility of future harm or pain for the cared-for individual.  I didn't want harm or pain to come to the person either, but at the time, it had not.  Yet, the anxious women seemed to feel certain those nasties were just about to arrive.  There did not seem to be anything that I or the anxious women could do about the possible problems but their level of anxiety seemed to be on an energy level that I would experience if I thought I could avert a serious disaster if I really hurried and allowed nothing to slow me down.

The seeming disconnect between possible future status and our power to affect it gave them no pause that I could detect.  I guess, though, if caring is the natural state for most women and it is easily leads to anxiety, I suppose that explains why women worry.  Not that men don't, but at times, it hasn't seemed the same.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What do you know?

For quite a number of years, I used a little text with my tests and measurements class that I wrote myself.  I had a number of issues and topics that I felt were helpful for a teacher to know or use when facing the testing and grading of students.  They were unknown in the well-known texts so I wrote my own.  Thus, it turned out that I would be guiding thinking about testing students on their knowledge of a book while we were all using a book I had written.

Teachers are often interested in diagnosing how well content from a book, a movie or a lecture has been grasped and retained by their students.  Deciding what are the important concepts to be remembered and devising ways to test for such retention is a major part of student evaluation.  But right while we were discussing the business of deciding what to test and how to test it, I could refer to my own knowledge of the text we were using, the one I wrote myself.  Could I finish the sentence begun on the page we were using?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  

Well, testing for the exact wording is just what the cloze procedure usually does.  Ok, forget that procedure.  Do I, the author, know the general idea of what the chapter says?  Yes, but not in that other chapter.  You see, I have decided since I wrote that material that I am better off taking a different stance.  I have changed my mind.  As W.E. Deming said, aren't I allowed to learn too?

A little more of such examination, discussion and rumination and my mental grasp of the chapter, the whole book, begins to look a bit like extra-holey Swiss cheese.  And that is just what my grasp, and if truth be told, your grasp and anybody's grasp of a book, or a movie or even what happened yesterday looks like.

Last night, I finished "Supreme Courtship" by Christopher Buckley.  I thought I would enjoy it and I did.  Funny!  Cleverly written!  Just as with his other books, "No Way to Treat a First Lady" and "Thank You for Smoking" So what are they about?  In a nut shell, but MY nutshell, they are about respectively,
    • quite surprising political events on the national level in Washington,D.C. and
    • a trial of the First Lady for murdering the President and
    • the gun, tobacco and alcoholic beverage lobbyists in D.C.
All are quite funny if you like word play and outlandish thinking.

I could tell you a little more about the stories but my memory of them is a little Swiss-cheesy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Salute to Byron Katie

This is the woman who said on a set of CD's done with the well-known Dr. Wayne Dyer that she, at age 63, "is having the time of my life watching my body fall apart."  She is the author of several books about what she calls "The Work".  Here is a link to instructions on her web site on how to do the work of examining a belief or a statement about something that bugs you.
Somewhat along the lines of Karen Maezen Miller, the author of "Hand Wash Cold", Katie had a string of difficulties but found a way to turn herself around.  Basically, she adopted the philosophical approach of asking herself some tough questions, such as "Is what I am saying or thinking really true?"  By not only seriously, deeply and honestly asking herself what is the real truth but also asking how she could turn beliefs and statements around to examine them better, she found that much of what she and others say to themselves is not actually true.  Sometimes, an alternative slant or plan or belief is far more accurate and helpful.  

Every time I run into this woman's work, I marvel at how straightforwardly and simply she examines life and issues that present themselves.  I recommend visiting the link above, making a copy and keeping her approach at the ready for problems that come up.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Guessing and watching

I guess there is good evidence that when we have strong emotions, we are not always directly able to be sure of which events and which thoughts, which convictions or memories were used by our minds to launch the strong emotions.  So, we look around for the "cause" of the strong feelings.  If my gaze happens to land on you while I am sad or elated, I might decide you must be the "reason" for my feelings.  Richard Wiseman in 59 Seconds and Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards are just two of the psychologists and business theoreticians who study the effect of external rewards, such as a bonus or a gold star, on motivation.  Even as long as 15 or 20 years ago, I read in the magazine "Psychology Today" about a scene in the Song of Roland or the story of El Cid where a knight wanted a woman to fall in love with him and therefore killed her flock of pet doves.  What the devil sort of wooing is that?  I personally wouldn't advise that as a strategy for making a heart beat faster in one's favor.  The author said that arousal can be felt but its trigger has to be guessed at, somewhat along the lines of the James-Lange theory of emotion, that we are happy BECAUSE we smile and are sad BECAUSE we frown.  

When you meditate or stay aware of what is going on in yourself, you may be able to detect a feeling state inside yourself and actually realize that you can choose whether to let it stay or not.  The process is akin to choosing whether to enter a room or not.  If you choose not to enter that state, you may find that your subconscious suggests entering the same room just a short time later.  If that keeps coming to mind, it can be interesting to try to consciously be in the suggested emotional state but just the state, without harboring any concomitant mental images.  If you are really down on yourself for being such a klutz that misplaces a wallet, try feeling purely down on yourself while looking at a flower or a cloud and really studying the sight, without even thinking of the wallet.

You can become far more aware of the workings of your mind.  It is sort of pretty in there.

Monday, December 27, 2010

trying to be enough

Here is a nice quote from "Hand Wash Cold", the Zen book by Karen Miller. has just enabled it and other ebooks to be given as gifts, whether or not the recipient has a Kindle.

I thought if I grew up, did my best, and made everyone proud of me, it would be enough. I thought if I got a good job, got a better job, made money, and then made even more money, it would be enough. I thought if I could lose ten pounds, get a better haircut, get the right jeans, then lose the same ten pounds, it would be enough. I thought if I could understand, explain, and express my feelings well enough, it would be enough. I thought if I wished, hoped, dared, or dreamed enough, then it would finally be enough. Then I thought: enough. I practice being enough. When I do that, everything is already enough, and this is the day I've been saving for.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A simple side-effect

We are reading and enjoying "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress", a memoir of 43 year old PhD in literature who reflects on her upbringing, her family, her thoughts and her failed marriage.  It is very well done.  Takes off a bit slowly.  I write that to advise sticking with it.  I am enjoying the rather silly "Supreme Courtship" by Christopher Buckley.  He is also the author of "Thank You for Smoking" and "No Way to Treat a First Lady".  Between books, I return to "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error" by Kathryn Schultz.  I have many highlighted passages that strike me as wonderfully important and accurate.

Here is one such passage:

The certainty of those with whom we disagree—whether the disagreement concerns who should run the country or who should run the dishwasher—never looks justified to us, and frequently looks odious. As often as not, we regard it as a sign of excessive emotional attachment to an idea, or an indicator of a narrow, fearful, or stubborn frame of mind. By contrast, we experience our own certainty as simply a side-effect of our rightness, justifiable because our cause is just. And, remarkably, despite our generally supple, imaginative, extrapolation-happy minds, we cannot transpose this scene. We cannot imagine, or do not care, that our own certainty, when seen from the outside, must look just as unbecoming and ill-grounded as the certainty we abhor in others.

That's us, all right.  We are simply right.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Great day to you and yours!

Wishing every person in every household a wonderful Christmas and a great 2011!

There are often some quiet moments during the holidays.  During one of them, take a look at the little boy coming home from the dentist:
You may be among the 76 million viewers who have already watched this You Tube video.

If you haven't looked at the collection of cards and clicked on the more interesting ones on Google's home page, give it a try.

Finally, you might be interested in looking at some presentations on how to do things with your computer on the main Gmail page:


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Good movies at home

Our first television had a 10 inch screen.  That is measured diagonally so neither the height nor the width was that big.  One of these days, we are going to buy some new tv that has wiring or something that allows us to see the internet on the tv.  We don't want it too big and we don't want people distorted into being wider than they really are.  I am interested in this because I thought that transmission of movies via the internet would be quicker and cheaper than getting DVD's in the mail.  I imagine Netflix notes that comparison, too, since they have recently started offering a membership that is half the price we pay for up to two discs borrowed at a time.  

Recently, I wanted to show my friends one of my two favorite movies.  "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" is one and that is widely available in multiple formats.  But the other one, "In the Spirit" is much less widely known.  I couldn't even find it in the Netflix collection.  I did find it in the movie collection.  I downloaded the movie and have it on this computer.  

So, I can watch it (for maybe the 12th time) on this monitor if I want.  This monitor is considerably larger than that first tv and has a good picture.  Lynn's is even bigger but a good tv might be even nicer, especially placed in the living room instead of the office.  We recently watched "Arranged" on a Netflix DVD.  It is about two young Brooklyn teachers, one a devout Muslim and the other an Orhodox Jew, both of whom are about to have their marriages arranged for them by their parents, just as their parents did when they were young.  

I have seen figures and comments that arranged marriages still take place for a very large part of the current human population and that such marriages have a lower divorce rate than Western ones created by those getting married.

I just began watching Arranged on this monitor.  It was easy and quick.  I think I will reserve the Google browser Chrome for movie watching and leave my no-trace-left-behind settings on Firefox for everyday browsing.

We also watched and enjoyed "Departures" on a Netflix DVD.  It is the story of a young Japanese cellist whose orchestra is dissolved for financial reasons.  Out of work, he takes a job with a special sort of Japanese carer of the dead.  It is moving, inspiring and respectful of death.  A good movie.

In case you are not one of the 24 million people who have already seen this YouTube video, here is a 5 minute movie you can watch now for free of an exciting moment in the food court of a mall.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One thing leads to another, in life and thought

I wrote about a couple of books and a Teaching Company course yesterday.  There is another book that has gotten a good grip on me and that is "Hand Wash Cold" by Karen Maezen Miller.  This same woman has a blog that I follow on my own blog.  Her latest post is here:  This is a woman in her late 30's or early 40's who is married and has children but who had a rough time getting there.  After a somewhat lost and confused late adolescence and early adulthood, with one failed marriage, she found among her beloved grandfather's books, a small volume on Zen and Buddhist practice.  One thing again lead to another and now she has much experience as a practitioner and a teacher of meditation and personal awareness and serenity.

"Hand Wash Cold" is actually her 2nd book but is the only one currently available on Kindle.  Her message and style remind me of that other excellent American woman Zen writer, Charlotte Beck. As I explained to my interested friend, D., both women take a tough but knowing attitude toward our widespread tendency to focus on how lovely, wonderful and ok some soon-to-realized future state will be.  That is, when I get a haircut, when I lose weight, when I get my bills paid, when I grow up, etc., etc. They like to advise taking a clear-eyed stance that sees the lovely coming benefits, yes, but also notes some of the blessing now in hand and an honest view of how little and temporary the effect of that coming state of bliss.

Kindle users can easily highlight passages in books that interest them.  I have many highlighted in Hand Wash Cold.  Here is one:

Psychological reflection can help for some. It's a start on self-inquiry, but too much of it further conceals, not reveals, who we are. It conceals us by giving us yet more erroneous self-concepts: new labels for phony notions of what we are and what we aren't, and from these concepts we construct what is laughably called a comfort zone. The walls of this zone are the limitations we set for ourselves, the beliefs we hold inviolable, the ground we will not bridge, the no-ways and the no-hows. We pad the inside of this cell with familiar habits and preferences. That's just the way I am, we say, to end the conversation. Get used to it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some good ones

Off and on, I have been reading Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Shultz.  The woman can write and the breadth and insight she shows is terrific.  The most amazing thing she has mentioned in my latest readings is the case of Hannah, who is blind but DOESN’T KNOW IT!!!  How is that possible?  The woman gets nerve messages to a part of her brain that get interpreted as sight.  She has “memories” of sights that she has never seen!  The very possibility would give Decartes pause.  He is the philosopher/mathematician who tried to find an absolute and undeniable basis on which to base philosophy.  He decided that his sense data (eyes, ears, etc.) could be mistaken but I bet he didn’t know about the possibility of being blind and not knowing it.  He took as the most sure thing he could find in his life and mind, his awareness of his own thoughts and famously said, “I think, therefore I am.”  Because he and many other thinkers since the time of Galileo and other scientists were trying to reconcile the Christian church’s doctrine with the discoveries of science, he wanted to try to keep ideas of the mind/soul separate from the body.  

That and many other insights were delivered by Prof. Lawrence Cahoone in his Teaching Company course on the modern intellectual tradition. I was especially attracted to his course by the fact that he discusses the history of western philosophy from Aristotle to postmodernism, which is a heck of a span.  I will say that all in all, I personally find few officially recognized philosophers worth much study and time.

Recently, we finished Bill Bryson’s lastest book, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life”.  It is another excellent book by the author of “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” and “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”  This latter is easily the best history of science I have read, or rather, listened to.  Bryson is an American, lived in Britain for about 20 years, moved back to the States and then back to Britain.  He lives in a rectory built in the 1850’s and got interested in its history, especially the history of the rooms of our houses: history of the living room, the kitchen, the dining room, etc. Of course, that is close to being the history of us and the book is light but covers many aspects of our lives and living in a easy to read but interesting way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

a You-Tube link re statistics

This was sent by a thoughtful friend.  I reminds me of some of the opening pages in Peter Drucker's "Post Capitalist Society" where he says that over the past four centuries, humans worldwide have been getting better off in health and wealth.  This is related to the idea of the rise of the rest, as China and India and other nations such as Brazil and Indonesia flex their muscle and their brains, developing a taste for richer, more resource-intensive lives.
I watched it and it is definitely worth seeing.  It is only 4:40 minutes long.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I wonder what I missed

Ice bashing is a great sport.  To ice bash, one carries a basher (a heavy stick will do) to the edge of a frozen lake or pond.  One approaches the edge cautiously since sliding down and out onto the ice can be hazardous.  At -5°, getting wet in the water by breaking through the ice is definitely unpleasant and can result in loss of limb or life.  One gets down on the belly and reaches down to give the ice a vigorous blow, hoping for a satisfying crack and appearance of liquid water.

My great-grandson is an energetic 10 yr. old and has been a fan of ice bashing for several years.  I like wading through 3 or 4 feet of snow with him.  He approaches the precarious slope of the edge cautiously, having witnessed my falling through the ice up to my chest a couple of years ago.  Yesterday, he dressed in his high boots, heavy snow pants and jacket and wore a hat and gloves.  In that sort of cold, you have to dress appropriately to be at all comfortable and safe.  

I had just picked him up from school and I had no idea as I left the house to get him that his enthusiasm for taking up again one of his favorite winter activities would appear.  He is a sweetie but as a male, he gets all hepped up to do whatever it is NOW!  As we entered the warm garage in the warm car on the way into the comfortable house, he asked if by any lucky chance I would be interested in going to bash ice NOW.  I didn't want to disappoint him or put him off even a little so I said OK.  

It wasn't all that bad until we reached the deep snow and simply had to wade through it to get to the ice.  However, in that snow, it became quickly apparent that the total cold  that was  freezing my ankles with only a thin dress sock between the snow and the skin I have learned to like, was serious and not to be taken lightly.  He reached the edge and bashed.  The ice was much too thick for a nice break and just showed little dents.  Meanwhile, my ankles are screaming," Alarm!  Alarm!"  I knew I dare not wait too long to go back to the car.  I explained my problem and he took the shortening of our trip calmly.  A little too calmly.  He kept bashing and looking for a better site.  I knew it was way too dangerous to leave him and I wouldn't and couldn't.  Thankfully, his energy faded and we both fought our way back to the car.

I am pretty sure he did not really grasp how afraid I actually was.  As I think about his concentration on his desires and goals, his interests and excitements, I wonder what transpired between my parents or between my grandparents or in other situations during my life when I was oblivious to fear, greed, rousing cheer or deep sadness without grasping what was going on inside others around me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Microsoft's Browser ??!?

I have been a fan of the free, open source browser Firefox for several years.  The thing I like most about it is its option to delete all cookies when I close it.  But, as with all things human and even more so, with all things modern tech, computer and internet, things change.  I saw several articles by that sharp reporter for the Wall Street Journal on how cookies are changing to similar things that are harder to detect.  So, a single pixel in this file might be some sort of code that tracks your activities and tells me that I can possibly sell you shoes or books or insurance.  Since cookies and the marketing of possible customers is changing, maybe the setting on Firefox that I like isn't as important anymore.  

Google's browser "Chrome"
also seems to be a good one.  The Microsoft browser "Internet Explorer", the well-known blue 'e', comes as part of the Windows operating system and is or was an important part of keeping the system updated and secure.  

I was quite surprised when
several items in this morning's Google news reported an independent test of browsers which resulted in showing that Internet Explorer was far better at detecting and warning the user of "socially engineered" threats.  That term seems to mean attempts at wording a page or other communication in such a way as to tempt the user to click here when doing so is not in the user's best interest.  Each time we "visit" a web site, we are actually permitting a file to enter the browser on our machine and show the layout, wording, pictures, sounds, etc. that are built into the coding for that "page".  So, characteristics of the browser are quite important in getting us around  the internet safely and without irritating or costly complications.  The current version is IE8 but the beta form of IE9 was even better, much better than the main competitors.

IE 9 is only in beta form but it detected 99% of the test threats while IE 8 detected 90%.  Compare that to 19% for Firefox, 6% for Chrome and even worse for some other major browsers.  

Of course, these things don't come out of the sky and Microsoft, Google and Apple are engaged in a mighty struggle for the internet accessed through computers and cellphones.  I haven't looked into the test results or the characteristics I think I most want in a browser but I may give the IE9 a try. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Father, Male Self-Revelation, and Me

When I was growing up, I was very conscious of liking women and girls more than men.  Boys were in a separate category, where some were friendly and interesting and some were on another wave length or were natural competition.  There were men I enjoyed but men generally seemed noticeably more impersonal.  When I read about famous men or stories of heroes, I was definitely interested and intrigued.  But in my family where I was with the actual people, the women seemed to be more open to genuine exchange of friendliness by talk than my male relatives.

My father seemed gentle and approachable but after the approach, I never seemed to get very far in understanding him or feeling that he was interested in or understood me. When my parents divorced at about my age of 10, my mother told me one day that my father wouldn't be living with us any more.  My father did not tell me himself nor speak to me about his feelings.  It seems to me now that he just disappeared. I was not offended nor hurt, but thinking back at what I remember of the splitting of my parents, I wonder at leaving in such a smoke-blown-away manner.

For several years afterward, my father took my sister and me out to dinner and a movie weekly and I enjoyed those occasions very much.  But again, in retrospect, it is the event of eating out and getting to select a theater from the dozens listed in the paper that I remember enjoying.

Thinking about being told that my father wouldn't be living with us reminds me of being driven by my father in our car for the 100 mile trip to my mother's only sibling's house.  At that time, such a trip would have taken at least 2 hours.  I recall getting out of the car at night and stepping into the bright light of the farm yard while my mother (in a male-like way, I hadn't seemed to notice she wasn't with us until that moment) ran up to us.  She said clearly and calmly," Billy, your cousin Tommy has died."  That was shocking news and I still remember it.  

But beyond the immediate questions of how and why my only male relative of my age had died, I wonder now about driving a little boy all that time and not discussing with me the purpose of the trip.  I imagine that it was another occasion of the dad leaving the talking to the mom.  My mom was very good at it and she talked to me helpfully all my life but I wish I had had a few more heart to heart talks with my father.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to write

How to write - it is like teaching a lesson, giving a presentation, being a marriage partner, being a parent.  Do the work, as honestly and thoroughly as needed plus a little extra.  Have faith in yourself and your audience.  Be patient.  Don't expect or require yourself to you hit a home run each time you try.  You won't and you can't and neither can anybody else.  Want to know why you can't?  The basic reason is not some special talent you don't have.  The basic reason is the individuality of all minds.  What you have to say is just not what most people are looking for at the time they notice your writing.  You are interested in why writing is difficult, why you don't want to write, why taking a walk is so much more attractive than another 1,000 words.  But today, I am interested in finding a good book to read, finding a good price for a Christmas gift Today, you just don't interest me.  But you hit my nail on the head yesterday and I will return to see what you have to say tomorrow.

Take my wife.  I just read her a blog post from Mind Hacks about how the brain MAY respond to anger-making experience differently if the person is sitting up or lying down.  After I read her the gist of the post, she said one word," May", emphasizing the post mentioned something that is only a possibility and is not very certain.  I was delighted with her emphasis, seeing it as quite apt, quite on the very most important point.  But I remember other times when the very same word from her hurt and upset me.  Say, I had just told her that I spent $50 to enter a contest because I received an email that I may be a winner.  If I hoped she would be supportive and impressed and she said the very same word, "May", I might be upset and depressed.  Writing goes into readers and the writer cannot control what they will make of the symbols and meanings.

I was charmed and enthused about Natalie Goldberg's comparison of good writing and other good art to the leftovers of a meal.  That is why her wonderful and inspiring book is titled "Writing Down the Bones".  Whether it is a note to the milkman (what is a milkman?!) or a letter to posterity, the writer has a message, an inclination to go to the effort of assembling some scribbles that seem to express the message.  It is the inclination and assembling that count, the scribble are just the leftover bones after a good meal.  It is the activity of the artist that relieves the pressure in his soul, that temporarily satisfies the drive in her, that count.  Once down, the art itself is on its own, as it sails through the world and into others.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 2010 Blogisattvas

A bodhisattva is a Buddhist saint, advanced practitioner or enlightened being.  A BLOGisattva is a blog noted as an especially well-written and inspiring one that relates to some aspect of Buddhist thinking, living or activity.  The latest estimate I have seen is that there are currently 100 million blogs.  They are more or less like newspaper or magazine columns with a given focus, often authored by a single writer, as this "Fear, Fun and Filoz" blog.  This column or writing space is fun for me to use to make comments or observations.

The blogspot area of Google's computers enables me to post my blog for free on the world wide web.  Their Blogger service includes all the tools for creating and posting to a blog. 

I have long thought that daily practice of meditation and deep relaxation makes life easier and richer.  It is quick, very inexpensive and valuable both for better self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-compassion and also for body awareness and health.  The practice of sitting quietly and still, in the lotus position or just sitting in a chair with minimum or no movement, keeping the mind as empty as possible, ceasing thoughts as they emerge is an old one and is practiced in one form or another in virtually all spiritual traditions in the world.  Probably no group has made such a simple, valuable but somewhat demanding practice more central to regular practice than the Buddhists. 

I respect and enjoy writing and talks by those interested in applying the practice of clear thinking about the realities of human life and thought.  I have gained a great deal of insight and peace from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, Herbert Benson, Sylvia Boorstein, Eckhart Tolle and many others.  The Blogisattva blogs are selected for excellence in writing.  I only discovered they exist today and I have not read them.  However, I admire the writers and the selectors and the work that attempts to discover and make known such resources.  I plan to get familiar with the blogs over the coming months.

Here are the 2010 Blogisattva "winners".

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pros and Cons of Being Female

I am a male and have been all my life.  So, what am I doing commenting on being female?

I do believe in free speech so I figure I can comment on most things.  Besides I am the son of a female, the brother of a female, the husband of a female, the father of females, the grandfather of females and the great-grandfather of females.  Half of all my ancestors were female.  I am a companion to women, a student of women, an admirer of women.  I have lusted after women at times in ways that might make you blush.  I did go to an all-male high school but I went out of my way to join the drum and bugle corps, in part because of the attractive girl flag-twirlers from the all-girls school across the street who were also in the corps.

When I was 18, I spent the summer working at an all-girls camp in New England.  During that time, I read Margaret Mead's Sex and Society.  I realize that Mead has come in for some sharp criticism but I have also read Jessie Barnard, Judith Bardwick, Germaine Greer and other feminists.

Ok, ok, so what about being female?  To me, the first fact is that women live longer than men.  A biologist told me that female deer, bear, wolves, etc. all also live longer when they are female. 

Second fact, the respected scholar Walter Ong relates in "Fighting for Life", various sayings and understandings of the male and the female life.  One of his collection of cultural proverbs is the Chinese one: "The female always wins because of her greater quiet."

I can hear intelligent women all over the place snickering and protesting.  As one feminist I knew had on her office door, woman to black man, "Sorry, but your 400 years of oppression just doesn't come up to tens of millennia of women's problems." "What 'winning'?", my sharp women friends say.  Women lose and lose.  Granted, they are often shunted aside, ignored, their accomplishments denigrated and their ideas appropriated by members of that other gender.  But I put it to you that much of their accomplishments don't even translate into men's language or awareness.  

If you view life from the long-term perspective, you see the value of emphasizing love and care, not winning and conquering.  In the long run, women stay connected while biologists are emphasizing the grumpiness and social isolation of the older male.  Women's ability to love and care is astounding.  I realize that this does not hold true for every woman all the time but in general, it holds.  Further, as Julia Sweeney puts it, "women have a superior ability to cooperate."  I think I might add that many seem to have a superior ability to THINK OF cooperating and to WANT TO cooperate.  I refer the interested reader to the many works by Anita Roddick of The Body Shop

Warning to human males: respect the power, value and insight of women!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Julia Sweeney is a sweetie

Julia Sweeney is a sweetie.  Beyond that, she is also clever and skilled.  She is a comedienne, with a good eye for topics, a good ear for language, and an excellent tongue and voice for delivery.  She has been part of the well-known Second City comedy factory that has spawn so many of our better comics.

I very much like, now a part of  I find their prices very good and the audiobooks they sell (their only product) are very good. They combine with iPods and iTunes conveniently and I can listen in the house through a Bose player, through earphones and through the car speaker.  But, I was paying a monthly fee to Audible and many months went by when I didn't buy anything but still had the monthly charge.  So, I dropped the membership and on the way out, received some enticers to stay.  They were offered at good prices with no strings so I bought three of those offered.  One was Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God".

Until I was 6 years old, my family attended a Baptist church.  Then, we attended the Unitarians until I was 21.  When I got married, I attended my wife's Lutheran church with occasional returns to the Unitarians.  Eventually, my wife found herself more in tune with the Society of Friends, the Quakers, and I often accompany her to their service.  Sweeney was raised in the Northwest of our country in an active, engaged Irish Catholic family.  Her monologue describes her religious journey from childhood to about age 40.  It is poignant, respectful, lively and clever.  I think it is terrific and so is she. 

Since then, I have listened to her two other products, a DVD/Audio, called "God Said,"Ha!" and a CD/audiobook called "In a Family Way".  I have learned that she had cancer and had to have a hysterectomy.  She has adopted a Chinese girl, Mulan.  She is married now and spends her time between California and Illinois.  Just as I discovered her blog "Julia Sweeney", I found that she had developed a sensitivity to her public revelations and jokes about her life and her family.  She announced in the blog that she was halting her work on monologues.  What a disappointment!  Thankfully, she has recently reconsidered and is resuming.  The main impetus to examination of the meaning of her activities and their implications was presented to the increasingly respected T.E.D. conference.  She received a standing ovation for her description of her conversation with her daughter, now aged 8, in a restaurant.  It was a discussion that moved from how frogs reproduce to how humans do.  As in her "Letting Go of God", she describes a touchy and important subject respectfully, honestly and with good humor

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wonderful physical therapist

I have been having back pain.  It is localized in a single sore spot, just at the top of kidney pocket.  When it is bothering me, it hurts to raise the arm on that side, to turn or twist my body, even to breath deeply.  I had been to my chiropractor and was beginning to go to him more and more often.  The source or cause of the pain is quite mysterious.  Every now and then, when I have a body problem, I like to touch base with my main physician.  I found out that he was tied up for the next month but he offered an alternative doctor who had some appointment slots.  That man saw me and I told him right at the beginning that I didn't expect he would be able to do anything about this bothersome pain since other doctors had not been able to.  He checked me over and agreed that he did not know of anything I could do that I wasn't already doing.  At the end of the appointment, he asked me if I wanted to visit a physical therapist.  Again, I expressed doubt that such a visit would help since similar visits had not.  But, sure, I would like to just check.  OK, see E. at this time on this day. 

I did visit E.  She gently prodded me and poked me.  She asked me to twist and turn this way and that.  At the end, she went to her computer and printed out her selection of five exercises I should do, along with the number of repetitions to do of each.  I was aware that what she asked me to do did not hurt at the time and that I was not in pain as I left.  I went home and did the exercises.  They are quite simple and direct.  They are 

  1. the seal pose (but keeping the hips in total contact with the floor), 
  2. the child pose
  3. the bridge pose
  4. standing with hands on a counter and gently kicking backward the length of a foot with first one leg and then the other.  

Finally, as needed, run a tennis ball back and forth over the sore spot with my back rolling the ball around on a wall.  As prescribed, they take about 5 minutes total.  Bingo!  No pain.  As in zero, right away, more or less all day.

When I went to see her yesterday, I gave her a single red rose. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The teaching elk and the pack of student hounds

Peter D. showed how to do it.  He listened attentively and politely.  When I asked for questions, comments or criticism, he waited while someone asked a question.  Then, he asked a question.  As soon as it was out of his mouth, the room exploded in laughter.  He had not been trying to make a joke nor poke fun at anyone.  He just remembered a few comments made to the class the day before by a professor and he genuinely wanted to know what my opinion of the subject was.  However, by even inquiring about a slightly controversial topic that had seemed near and dear to the heart of another faculty member, the class realized there was a bit of a challenge to his question.  The other students were delighted at the implied question and the question, knitting two separate occasions of presentation and advice together, showed the continuity of their instructional experiences. 

The firm, polite, pointed question, delivered in a firm, polite way, is the essence of good classroom experiences.  Unhappily, it is rare in too many classrooms.  Even in graduate classes, the bulk of the time is the teacher talking and the students noting.  Graduate school is expensive.  The students have earning potential but are foregoing the chance for monetary gain to learn.  Too many don't seem to realize the individuality of their brains.  They have questions and insights of great value to everyone in the group, including the teacher but they are too tired, too habitually silent to take advantage of the opportunity to fire off their comments or criticism or doubts. 

Pete is older than most students and that is often the key.  Older students know that they want to know, they know what they want to know and they know how to find out.  They do.  A good bunch of questioners and commenters and critics remind me of a pack of wolves or hounds.  I have not actually observed this but I have seem pictures and movies.  Each canine is too small and weak to bring down the game alone but together they get the meat they need and want.  Through fast team work and good thinking, a group of inquiring students move in with their questions and get the information and its limitations they seek.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Expanding into acceptance

In some stories, the detective realizes that there was no barking by the watchdog involved.  That is usually a clue that the culprit lived in the owner's house or otherwise was familiar to the dog.  But it usually not that easy for most of us to notice who or what is NOT there.

Mark Epstein in "Going to Pieces without Falling Apart" discusses the power of "guarding".  In muscle terms, our bodies and minds first collaborate to notice that it hurts each time we do something.  Then, they take a further step of tensing the muscles needed to do that.  Our parts are teaming up to "guard" us against pain.  There are many occasions when Epstein's psychiatric patients do similar things mentally and emotionally. 

I guess avoidance of certain people or types of events can be productive and can lead to diminished pain, upset and suffering.  But it does seem to be helpful to be on the watch enough to notice the avoidance and not let it occur without permission and awareness.  If we can review from time to time what or who we are guarding against, we may be able to relax and reconsider that source.  Often, the more clearly we can face, and understand, and tolerate the irritant or challenge, the better our chance we can change into no longer being bothered.  We may even find some charm or excitement or benefit where before there was none. 

Both my favorite yoga teacher, Jenifer Ebel, and Dr. Epstein sometimes use the word "expanded" to describe the person who is loose, open, aware and able to host various people and events with tolerance and some sympathy.  They describe the opposite state of being guarded, tense, and on the lookout for threats and discomforts as "contracted". 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is ok?

What is proper? 
What is expected?
What are good manners?
What are better-than-usual manners?

I thought it might have been in The World's Religions by the excellent Huston Smith but I can't find it.  Somewhere,  he, or someone I read, was talking about attending various religious services around the world.  In some, it is only polite to remove your shoes.  Entering while shod is not allowed and is very much a violation of the rules.  But in others, it is definitely irregular and frowned upon to attend the service without shoes on.

In some, it is only polite to be bare-headed while in others, you must not be bare-headed. 

With the world intermixing everywhere at greater speed, it is not that easy to know what is polite, what might show an extra measure of good breeding and respect and what might be insulting or crude.  Here is a whole page of works that Amazon offers to try to clue in the visitor to various countries.

When I was a youngster, it was not only impolite to wear a hat in class, it was forbidden and punishable.  Now, it is common in some classes but still forbidden in others.  I have sometimes seen men diners eating with hats on, including western hats with enormous brims.  I see people at the table in a physically animated conversation on their cellphone while their companions fidget and children squirm.

I am often negatively impressed when I am talking to a salesperson at a desk and their phone rings and they answer the call instead of finishing with me first.  I admit that I can't cite a respected manners book or expert that says whoever was the earlier customer should get full attention until their matter is settled.  There are many alternative practices that might be deemed appropriate.  Come to think of it, I can't cite a respected manners book or expert.  I am confident there are none for many of my fellow citizens, especially those raised with different or no rules.  It seems there a widespread conviction today, fostered by action movies and teen flics, that manners and demonstrations of respect are pitiful, overly meek and weak, and totally out-of-date.

I will join untold millions in the previous thousands of years and say it: It's not like when I was a kid!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Sometimes, there are impressive instances of events happening together or near each other.  They can be arresting in their way or merely surprising.

When we were in Hawaii last fall, we visited a restaurant called "The House Without A Key".  That odd name led me to the 1925 book of the same name, which turned out to be the first volume of the Charlie Chan stories by Earl Derr Biggers.  Fast forward to the next fall.  We are in a Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) program in Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the events is a trip to the interesting and romantic "Baldpate Inn", a mountain lodge/restaurant that serves famously delicious meals, and has to celebrities and such, since 1917.  One of the features of the inn is the tradition that as a guest, it is customary to leave a key to your house with them.  Sounds weird, I know, but many people have participated and left them a key.  It is such a big deal there that they have a room dedicated to the collection of keys that have accumulated over close to a century.  The name of the inn and the tradition of collecting keys related to the book "Seven Keys to Baldpate" by guess who?  Yep, coincidence #1: Earl Derr Biggers.  I couldn't get over it: thousands of miles apart and we run into the same novelist from my parents' childhood in both places.

Ok: next: I made a new friend in the neighborhood.  The man seemed erudite and sophisticated.  I stopped walking or jogging a few times and we struck up conversations.  After a while, I invited him to have lunch somewhere sometime.  We did and it was very fun.  In turn, he invited me and a third friend to lunch.  Again, a fine lunch.  At the end, he said he hoped the two of us wouldn't mind if we stopped by a local bakery to pick up a certain type of cookie he liked.  He had just discovered it and thought it was really good.  It happens that Lynn and I have virtually stopped eating any other cookie than a particular type ("Nuts2Chew") from the same bakery.  Nah, it isn't going to be very same cookie.  There are hundreds in there.  What are the chances?  Yep, coincidence #2: same cookie.  They are really good. 

Some happenings of events close in time are more poignant.  Our younger daughter died two years ago.  We held a memorial service for her.  On the following day, our second great-granddaughter was born.  Lose a life, gain a life?

The other day, on the eve of the anniversary of our daughter's death from brain cancer, Lynn got to feeling irritated and bored with her project of the hour.  She cast about for something else to do, something a little different.  How about the stack of journals that our daughter left behind?  Mostly recordings of hallucinations and delusions, there are some touching pages of clarity and grace.  Paging through them, she found two letters, one to me and one to her, that thanked us for our parenting and love.  Wonderful, uplifting finds!  We suspect that some force generated the irritation and boredom to move Lynn into those journals on the anniversary of the death.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"6x7 = 42!"

I read a poignant incident on having social and attentional difficulties.  A young girl of about 7 had just moved into her new house.  She was very pleased and thrilled at everything.  She was outside when the mailman bought the mail to her house.  She was pleased to have a new mailman and to be getting mail at this new address.  She skipped up to him and said in an excited, friendly voice," 6 times 7 is 42!"  We can all imagine the difficulty the busy postman had in understanding that the girl was being social and friendly.

Similarly, Tim Page, Pulitzer prize winning music columnist, relates to his autobiographical gem, "Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's", how his mood took a nose dive during a class discussion of his 2nd grade field trip.  He had been curious about whether his town's main road intersected another important highway or not.  The field trip was his chance to watch carefully.  He had watched carefully, and just as he had suspected, the two road did intersect!  He saw that they passed the very highway on the way to the next town!  But when his classmates eagerly answered the teacher's questions about what they had observed on the trip, he saw that once again, he had paid attention to all the "wrong" things.  He had noticed none of the items they mentioned and none of them mentioned the geometry of the local roads.

Who in the world would express friendliness by stating a multiplication fact?  Why in the world was a little 2nd grader aware of and interested in what roads led where? Another place in our lives where we learn and use habits without even noticing we are (or aren't).  It seems that when we pick up the same things that others us do, and pick them up in the same way and at similar times, we fit in with others better than if our gifts differ and we hear a different drummer.  Yet, how are we to know what is the right thing to attend to?  How are we to know that we are running on different tracks?
  Some of us are just different.  The difference may be painful, or even sometimes confer an advantage, but we are different.

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