Friday, January 31, 2014

Getting in touch with time

America is often described as a young nation.  Compared to many countries, it certainly is.  That description is sometimes used to explain the characteristic impatience, urgency and hectic pace of Americans.  But it doesn’t hold up since an American in his 50’s is the same age and had had the same amount of cultural influence on him as an Italian who is 50 or a Chinaman.  A 1970’s book, “The Harried Leisure Class”, posits more and more stress even among those wealthy enough not to work, since there are more and more goods and services of higher and higher quality that it is only rational to want to have and enjoy but one’s time and energy for enjoyment is limited.

So, watch it.  Try to learn to just let time pass sometimes, even when you SHOULD be exercising or reading or catching up on your sleep.

You may have heard of the slow-food movement, a deliberate attempt to avoid speed and rush, while cooking and dining.  If you haven’t seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy lately, you might want to take a refresher look at the Kalahari bushman and his life of very few goods and possessions.

As you age, you may remember wondering what reaching a certain goal would be like: a new car, a long vacation, the publication of your book or poem or the purchase of your screen play, being elected to public office, getting a promotion.  By the time you are 50 or 60, you will have achieved some of those goals, maybe several times over.

At the same time, you may have recently been surprised at what the passage of time manages to do all by itself.  The town is much bigger.  The town folk are more varied. The roads leading to town are bigger and faster.  Maybe you can remember your grandparents talking about getting through high school with pride while your kids are working on their master’s degrees.  You might know that your parents didn’t travel outside the US while your grandkid has married a citizen of a foreign country and now lives there with them.

When you were a child, you had never seen a woman physician or law enforcement officer.  Now you now only see them all the time but you are not surprised to see them.  You are not surprised to meet a house husband or a woman pastor or rabbi or a same-sex couple.


One way people sometimes get a time and change jolt is by visiting a neighborhood they lived in as a child.  Maybe not even that far back.  My undergrad college is nearly unrecognizable if I use the old landmarks to orient myself.  I haven’t even mentioned new and different technology, which is so full change as to be bewildering.

Noting the changes, many of which I would not have thought likely, I realize that I live in a sea of change, with rapid adjustments and modifications and as well as slow, underlying ones that are harder to see.  The minute hand on my clock, like the sun in the sky, clearly changes position all the time but I can’t really see the changes happening.  But memory or markers do show me that whether I can feel or see time’s effects or not, they are always present, always shifting, creating and destroying.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What I don't get

I don’t get why people don’t meditate.  It is restful and healthy.  It can be done quite satisfactorily in 10 quiet, relaxed minutes a day.  It is supergood for a person and can be done at any age from about 5 to 105.  I have explored all sorts of reasons not to, from “I can’t meditate because I do it wrong” to “I can’t meditate because it is against my religion”.  I haven’t found any reason that holds up.  I haven’t found any part of life that isn’t improved with meditation.

Here is a web page of some of my blog posts that relate to meditation

Many Americans find the idea of meditation to achieve relaxation as the best reason to do so.  If they are leading stressful lives, that may indeed be the best reason.  The first class I ever took in the subject included students who fell asleep as soon as they relaxed.  The teacher advised them to find a way to get more sleep, something that most people can do if they try cleverly enough.

The best thing about meditation for me is that it eliminates fear or at least strongly lessens it.  I am going to die.  I am aging.  I will eventually be forgotten.  All of that and much more is OK.  It is the way of the world and the way of me.  The world sometimes seems as though it is falling apart, going downhill, becoming worse.  It is quite difficult to be sure that any of that or the exact reverse or combinations are happening.  Regardless, it is better to live happily. Meditating and facing myself and my world helps me to like this planet and my existence instead of fearing them.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Meditation and children

The book “Sitting Still Like a Frog” is an example of the logical move to introduce children to meditation and help them develop a steady and regular practice.  Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote the introduction.  He is well-known worldwide as a fundamental voice in getting the American medical world interested in introducing patients to meditation practice, especially those in constant pain and for whom little can be done.  He developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which is used in many hospitals and other medical facilities.  One of those who learned his approach is a woman in the Netherlands, Eline Snel.  She wrote the book itself.

Time magazine has a cover story on meditation, which does not mention much about schools and education applications of meditation but does cover the recent American history of the subject and the basics of doing meditation.  It does mention police, soldiers, medical personnel, busy moms and stressed executives and politicians are doing it and seeing the benefits at home as well as at work.

The practice is an ancient one and was, of course, developed before there was an America, human application of electricity, computer or the internet.  The basic practice is so simple to describe, basically sit still and quiet

  • Sit comfortably but still and alert

  • Relax tense muscles

  • Stay that way for 10 minutes

  • Keep your eyes on a single spot

  • Put thoughts gently out of mind repeatedly

  • They will keep returning

  • Keep gently putting them aside

  • Keep attending to your breath

  • You may try putting your attention on your breath

  • You may wish to mentally  repeat “In” and “Out” with your breath

But it can be hard to do.  It can be difficult to see why one should do it.  It is better to set a timer for one or 2 minutes, stay quite still and try hard to focus just on the sensation of breathing the whole time. The deepest  benefits are not that one can relax but that one learns to be aware of what thoughts are getting attention.  You can see what comes up as a subject.  You can ask yourself why that has emerged and what you think of the topic.  Much greater self-acceptance and compassion for self and others emerges from the practice.  Excellent, lovely things to equip a child with.  Or an adult.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not there

I got interested in the topic when I think about food or auto races.  I realize that if I take parsnips, cook them in a good oil and load them up with spices and salt, they may taste good.  The parsnip would be overcome by the other ingredients.

I attended several auto races as a young teen and I quickly found them boring.  40, 50 or more laps of the track with lots of engine roaring and eventually somebody wins.  However, as with the oil and seasonings, if we add pretty, peppy cheerleaders in skimpy, tight uniforms, plenty of beer and hot dogs (bratwurst or “brats”, pronounced ‘brots’), cheering, excitement and loud music, we may be caught up in excitement.

I wonder if we substitute sawdust for the parsnips and endless tire changes and preparation for the actual races, if we can approximate eating or sport without actual food or cars.  I think it is like reports by many of coming upon a traffic back-up that extends for several miles.  We creep along and creep some more and eventually come to the end, only to find there is nothing there to explain the delay.  I have read that a deer running across the road can cause an accordion-type of squeezing in the traffic flow that rises in intensity and seriousness and then slowly dissipates.

Gertrude Stein said that when you get there, there is no there there.  There are some phenomena that seem to work around a missing center.  Since the 1600’s at least, maybe further back, it has been known that a human can lose a limb in a fight or an accident and afterwards be bothered by a terrible itching and pain in the leg or arm that isn’t there.  The great neurological scientist Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran finally solved this puzzle by showing that the area of the brain related to the limb is not happy with getting no input from the limb and needs to be occupied or informed there has been a change.

I read that the Japanese army had a mysterious difficulty communicating with its men in Hiroshima and sent a young pilot to fly to the city and scout out what was happening over there.  You can imagine the response when he radioed back that the city of a third of a million was no longer there.  (It had been destroyed by the first atomic bomb.)

There are times when the essence just seems to be missing.  Some element isn’t there.  Reminds me of Sherlock Holmes thinking about the fact that the dog did not bark during the night.  Should have, always did, but not that night.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Monday, January 27, 2014

Good Finders

There are certain sources that I check periodically for good books, authors and subjects.  One is "To The Best of Our Knowledge" (TTBOOK), a series on Wisconsin Public Radio, one of the oldest public radio institutions.  They find authors or thinkers on important or novel subjects and interview them.  The recorded interviews are available from their web site.

For all of the sources I mention here, I recommend visits at least once or twice a month. The interviews on TTBOOK usually run about 15 minutes and the staff is expert at assisting a visitor with their messages.  A good interviewer knows how to draw out the speaker and talk less.  They also know how to "actively listen", that is, paraphrase what seems to be what the speaker is saying, to check for good understanding.

I hadn't looked at the web site for probably a month so I checked today.  Yep, there's a goodie, all right.  Parker Palmer on retirement.  Palmer is a good source all by himself.  He is one of those scholarly, lanky, smooth Quakers with a great voice and an agile mind.  He is famous for "The Courage to Teach", especially the first chapter.  My favorite of his is "Let Your Life Speak".

Another good source is TED.  There is a movie called "TED" but it has nothing to do with what I am talking about.  If you look up "TED" in Google, one of the first suggestions is "TED talks".  That is roughly what I am talking about.  I write "roughly" because there are local and regional TED events that are sometimes available on YouTube but not on the official TED sites.  Often the TED presenters have books or other materials that explain or extend their ideas further.  Sometimes, not.  I just watched Shereen El-Feki, born and raised in Canada, who researches Arab sexuality and mores.  I recommend it.  It is clear that sex is a major part of everyone's life.

You can look at the TED web site, you can stream TED talks to your tv via your computer or a streamer like Roku, and there is a TED app for iPads.

Finally, to exit from the desert of searching for good things to read and view and think about, I find the suggestions Amazon makes very helpful.  For my taste, the actual recommendations to me personally are not usually as interesting as the sort of inserts that say people who looked at this item also looked at these.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How can I get rid of this obstacle?

There is a surprisingly large number of applications where the difference between male and female impulses and preferred approach shows up.  The other day I heard a woman explain how her son behaved in preparation for a test he had to take on Romeo and Juliet.  She said that the son strongly disliked reading fiction of any kind, even though it was required in some English classes.  When it became time to prepare for a test on the play, he went to his computer and dug up lesson plans for teachers on the subject of the play.  He looked through them and quickly learned the usual themes teachers focused on when "teaching" the play.  When he took the test, he did well.

All the while, the woman relating his approach used a somewhat furtive voice and slipped in some apologetic terms and body language.  It was clear that she thought her son had prepared for his test in an unusual, non-standard way.  She felt in her bones that such a method of preparation was not what most teachers envisioned and would most likely have hoped for something a little "deeper" and "more emotional".

Again, the feminine impulse to please, to super-please, showed up.  I don't doubt that the additional aspect, the strong pleasure that many students, readers and play-attenders get from the play: its sadness, its reflections on the joys and pain of youth, etc. is something of great value.  It is something any adult would wish any young person of either gender might experience strictly for the fun and warmth of the experience.

I have lead many classes in distance-education format.  All that means is that the students and the teacher were not in the same room at the same time.  Sometimes, we use "live" tv where they can see me and I can see them.  Over time, we used more and more web pages and email.  Today there are classroom simulations that modify the web and create discussion boards or wiki boards where comments and questions can be posted.  Whatever method is used, it more or less boils down to

  • instruction in what the student is expected to know and

  • testing in some way or other to show that the required learning has taken place

These same two steps are involved in traditional classrooms, too.  Usually the teacher talks to the students and eventually asks them to write answers or reactions showing they understand the information and themes involved.

Often, male students are not highly motivated to please the teacher, as such.  They are not looking for a warm relation with the teacher, only a passing or higher grade.  They typically have many other things on their minds, including Charlie Brown's Little Red-headed Girl.  That means they are interested in removing the obstacle of the teacher's requirements as quickly and efficiently as possible.  For me, a good test is one that specifies what one must do to get me and my requirements out of the way, and a good performance does just that.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gender, tone, sport and talk

It is actually true that half of my ancestors were women.  Yes, I am half woman.  It is surprising, even to me, but I see now that explains why I like to laugh, to talk but am not able to watch much football.  When there is a really big game on, I watch, attentively and with admiration.  Even as a teen-ager, with a sister and no brothers, I wondered about the female approach to life.  I read the other day that about 80% of American women have read a book in the last year while about 60% of American men have.  I read a lot.  It is cheaper, faster and easier to read about a botanist in the early 1800's than to visit one or be one.

An organization mostly for senior citizens around here, L.I.F.E., is something like a local Chautauqua, an organization that offers talks by locals, often retired professors, and trips to nearby points of interest.  More women join than men, 60-65% female.  During discussions, I often hear opinions expressed by both genders.  Very often, the women are insightful and logical but they seem notably more peaceful than the men.

It seems clear to me that women are more often attracted to an approach that tries to please, to befriend, to avoid ruffling feathers, while men are more likely to disagree for the sake of disagreeing, to object, to list shortcomings and limitations of a proposal. It is no news that men are more assertive than women or that women can be turned off by assertiveness, argument and attack. They seem to reject such qualities as being childish, irritating, a waste of time.

I can see that we can play a party game, where the men say negative or assertive things and the women make quiet and soothing statements, both in accord with the general picture of male energy and female care and condolence.

Men often actually enjoy bumping, body checking and generally crashing into each other.  Of course, with enough force, with a concussion or deep bruises or torn tendons, it is not fun.   But some fairly rough contact feels good.  Now if there is one thing I have learned from Margaret Mead's "Male and Female" and Masters and Johnson's "Human Sexual Response", it is that the human sexes are not all that different.  I have met a mother of a woman hockey player and also a woman roller derby skater who did lots of body checking and blocking, seemingly with pleasure. Maybe a verbal disagreement or challenge is the senior's equivalent to knocking someone into the boards on the rink or throwing the opponent to the mat.  I have heard of men taking a very severe blow from another and feeling in awe of the amount of power and precision that went into the effort. 

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our brains: three books and a web site

We read "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge, MD and learned about neuroplasticity.  That is the discovery that our brains work in ways that were thought to be impossible just a few years back.  Back then, it was thought that the adult human brain is more or less static, somewhat like a modern laptop with a good operating system.  It works and it calculates and it ages. But Michael Merzenich, author of "Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life", carried out experiments that showed two new facts about adult human brains.

  1. They change themselves, depending on how they are used, all the while strengthening their ability to do the activities their owners perform

  2. When their owners deliberately perform actions using their attention, the rewiring and strengthening of brains is stronger and faster.  In other words, paying attention matters

Both of these facts were counter to what neurologists had been taught for decades.  So much so, that Merzenich was accused of falsifying his data if it showed them to be true.

In the early days of computers, removable boards were inserted into a slot on the machine.  The board had connections temporary inserted by hand in the right places so that it made given things happen.  That was before the "program" was changed by changing the "words" in the computer "language", which was faster and easier.  The connections to make things happen or inhibit them from happening work in a similar way in our brains.

The programs in our brains are aggressive and tend to take over a neighbor's area if if isn't being used.  But areas can be reclaimed if the original use is increased.

Quite a bit of effort has gone into the creation of computer software that can increase one's attention span, recall, sound and visual perception and related skills.  The book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age is a good one for an overview of training efforts, research and products.

The web site Brain HQ is associated with Michael Merzenich and his efforts and colleagues and is an inexpensive ($10/month) way to try out some scientifically validated software for improving brain performance. Brain HQ is also available as an app.

You can see how all this relates to folk ideas that trying matters, that persistence pays and that believing you can affects whether you actually can.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Saying Good-bye when you have the chance(s)

Two friends of ours died recently.  I wasn't around at either death. Neither was a close friend and I doubt that either had any reason to think of me during the last few hours before dying.  I haven't seen what I thought was the last moment of life in anyone but I was near my mother and my daughter in the last hours.  Neither seemed in any condition to do much thinking or communicating at that time. It was very clear that parts of them had already left or become inoperable a bit before a physician would have pronounced them gone.

It seems to me that just as we might try to put our affairs in order to be ready to die, we might try to put our relationships in order, too.  I have been interested in doing so for quite a while.  There were times when my mother and I were together and we knew we might not see each other again.  We tried telling each other anything we could think of that we wanted to be sure the other had heard, such as our love, gratitude and pleasure in their company.

Just as our money accounts have to be updated regularly, so with our relationship accounts. They change, new issues arise, new interpretations and insights get a place in the queue and need to be shaped and delivered. It can seem odd if you have said "Good-bye" because you might feel that you have said all there is to say and that no further talk or writing will fit.  But that feeling soon passes and you find that you have some further things you want to talk about.

Even saying Good-bye more than once can work out just fine.  After a while, there are certain things one keeps realizing about another, things that bear emphasizing and repeating. Knowing that you have said Good-bye and that you want to stay current in expressing your love, and feelings and appreciation, you can repeatedly check to see if you have expressed the important things recently.  Seems like a good practice in any relation with someone you care about.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Took a two week break but am ready to write again.  I don't have anything all that momentous to say.

Just read somewhere that about 50% of adults (?) seniors (?) - some group - now have Kindles.  We are reading "The Signature of All Things" aloud.  It's the third book by Elizabeth Gilbert we have read, "Eat, Pray, Love" and "Committed" being the other two.  She has others but I haven't read them.  I highly recommend the three we have read.

Just today learned about "A Dead Man's Tale" by James Doss.  It was highly recommended and I may get around to reading it sometime.

Kindles are good for trips.  It is easy to carry 10 to 100 or even 1000 books in a single 10 oz. device.  The Paperwhite version can keep a charge for weeks.  The Kindle Fire can approximate the performance of an iPad for much less money.  Kindle ebooks can be read on an computer or smart phone.  I don't have a smart phone but my experience is that getting a Kindle ($69 for the least costly model) is worth doing for the reading.  I did get the low cost model but rather quickly decided that I was accustomed to a touch screen, which surprised me and I bought the Paperwhite, which I like very much.  I do recommend a good but reasonably simple cover for the device.

You probably realize that the ebooks are usually quite a bit cheaper than paper ones.  Besides, many authors you may get interested in as you get older, not the latest, hottest ones, may be free.  The Kindles and their ilk come with dictionaries that pop up quickly and easily when called so my vocabulary is slowly expanding.  Nietzsche, William Blake, William James, all mentioned by Jacques Barzun as inspirational, have multiple Kindle works for free.

I want to mention that has been purchased by Amazon and there is now a feature related to Whispernet, the Amazon cellphone network that delivers ebooks to your device. The feature coordinates listening and reading the same book in audio and print forms.  That means Whispernet opens an audio book to the spot in the work where you left off reading.  Personally, that is not a feature I make much use of.  However, an effect of the project is that many books can be purchased in audio form read by a professional and excellent narrator for amazing prices. Audio books used to cost $20 or $30 or more but coupled with the purchase of a print book, the same book in audio may be offered at $2 or $3.

Graeme Simsion is a New Zealander, living in Australia.  He is the author of "The Rosie Project", an excellent funny novel about a strict and cerebral professor of genetics who at age 39 is still working hard to find a wife.  Dan O'Grady reads the audiobook with an Australian accent that I enjoy very much.  The ebook is $1.99 and the accompanying audiobook is $3.95.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Miracles of explanation

People often refer to a child who can answer questions about facts of, say, history or science as "smart".  That makes sense.  Even Wechsler who designed one of the leading individual "IQ" tests thought along similar lines.  I learned that he reasoned an intelligent child would accumulate knowledge through living and schooling and personal reading.  He thought, for instance, that a child in the middle grades of elementary school should be able to tell the distance from New York to Paris.

The other famous individually administered IQ test, the Stanford-Binet, was based on the idea that intelligence is some ability or several to think quickly, incisively, and imaginatively in a logical and sometimes original way.  So Alfred Binet and the Stanford extenders/modifiers of his test thought that that same child with the distance knowledge should be able to answer questions like "Johnny put his pants on over his head this morning.  Tell me what's funny about that."

You may know that around 1500 years ago, it was not easy to learn to write or to read.  There seemed to be less need to be able to and there was less chance to learn those skills.  People who had those skills were in a similar position as expert "coders" are now: they had a specialized skill and those would wanted something in writing paid a scribe to produce it for them.  Now, we think of a person in North America who cannot write and read in some language as lacking what we take to be an essential skill while something like ⅓ of the earth's population do not have that ability.

The interesting idea put forth by to deliver goods ordered at a distance to the orderer by drones was said somewhere to be technically feasible more or less immediately but that FAA clearances and liability arrangements were the big hang-up to implementation.  I got to imagining the rules, regulations and agreements that will probably be in place eventually being considered a 'Miracle of Explanation', especially if the whole body were produced quickly and met the expectations, demands, objections and needs of all parties concerned.

Many practices and projects in the social, scientific, educational, medical, legal and business spheres that we take for granted today took smart, imaginative and articulate people years to work out.  Once the inventing and explanation and necessary approvals of parties and authorities concerned are in place, the whole package can be taken for granted, considered every day and usual.  Driving those things called "cars" for the distances and at the speeds we do, getting cataract operations, having 4 yr olds using tablet computers, starting a business quickly and successfully are just a few of the modern miracles that required great bodies of explanation.

Friday, January 3, 2014

I don't CARE about your feelings: Fix it!

It is hard to find rules or prescriptions that apply to both sexes at all ages.  The sexes and their roles differ and then society often amplifies that difference on top of what may be nature's base.  Besides, the needs and perceptions and, of course, experience base at 10, 20 and 30 is quite different and different from 60, 70, 80 years of age.  Not that the older years are better or worse, necessarily, just different, with a mixture of different strengths and weaknesses.

Brene Brown is a professor of social work, that occupation invented after the beginning of psychoanalytic work by Freud.  The National Association of Social Workers has some of the history of the profession explained on its web site. She is well-known for her work on vulnerability and her "Men, Women and Worthiness", an audio work by Sounds True gives some excellent insights in the burdens of women, especially young working mothers, and men, especially young men seeking to establish their masculinity in their own eyes and those of others.

I was shocked as Brown explained her research and theory about the training men get to become men.  A very common statement from women is that their men don't listen to them but instead try to fix their problems, when such fixing is both impossible and unwanted.  Carl Rogers said long ago that people grow best when

If I can create a relationship characterized on my part:

by a genuineness and transparency, in which I am my real feelings;

by a warm acceptance of and prizing of the other person as a separate individual;

by a sensitive ability to see his world and himself as he sees them;

Then the other individual in the relationship:

will experience and understand aspects of himself which previously he has repressed;

will find himself becoming better integrated, more able to function effectively;

will become more similar to the person he would like to be;

will be more self-directing and self-confident;

will become more of a person, more unique and more self-expressive;

will be more understanding, more acceptant of others;

will be able to cope with the problems of life more adequately and more comfortably.

I believe that this statement holds whether I am speaking of my relationship with a client, with a group of students or staff members, with my family or children. It seems to me that we have here a general hypothesis which offers exciting possibilities for the development of creative, adaptive, autonomous persons.

Rogers, Carl R. (2011-07-20). On Becoming a Person (pp. 37-38). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

But Brown found that boys and men are frequently told "I don't care about your FEELINGS, fix the problem (or behavior or deviation from orders or requirements."  It is little wonder that nature, men's picture of themselves and masculinity, and statements by parents, teachers, coaches, bosses and drill sergeants can produce a distaste for their own feelings in men, and a strong desire to be invulnerable robots bent on fixing any and all problems.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Popular Posts

Follow @olderkirby