Saturday, April 4, 2015

Alumni magazine notes

I have been reading the Winter 2015 Haverford alumni magazine.  Mostly it makes me feel like these are not my people.  It's about a bunch of rich, prestigious people.  In spite of that, a few things caught my interest:
  1. Emma Copley Wisenberg's article at  This article, "Why I Helped Search for Missing UVA Student Hannah Graham" was published in The New Republic November 18, 2014.  She writes that people are moved by missing white women more by missing men or people of color.  I would add that people are particularly moved by missing young white women, and by missing children.  
  2. Norman Bramall, tennis coach for 41 years, quit in June 1968 because he objected to a change of rules.  The old rule was, "An athlete must be shorn and shaved to suit the needs of the coach."  College president John Coleman removed this rule.  He said that, "Neat beards, or neat but long hair, could not automatically be used to exclude men from teams."  Many journalists praised Bramall, such as one who hailed him for "refusing to be stampeded into submission by this weird new breed of hippies which infest many of our campuses today." 

    What interests me is how people respond to change.  Once people were appalled by beards.  Now they are appalled by same sex marriage.  What will attitudes be like 50 years from now?

    What I find interesting is that people believe that they are against a particular thing, but their arguments sound just like arguments that have always been used against change.  They don't even realize  how they echo the arguments of people who were against other things in the past.

    It seems that sometimes people are against things not because these things are inherently bad, but because change is unsettling.  But that is not to say that change is always good.  How do we evaluate changes based on their merits, when we are so affected just by the fact that it is change?
  3. There was an article about the research of John Kounios and Mark Beeman, who just wrote a book called The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments,  Creative Insight, and the Brain.  Answers can be found either analytically or by a flash of insight.  Everyone does both, and it's not that people should do one but not the other, but this research focused specifically on the flash of insight. 

    The insights come in the moments when our brain is free of outside distractions.  What I am thinking about is how people tend to fill their empty moments by looking at their smart phone.  To me, it seems like they are limiting their brains when they do that. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

What ifs

Human nature: we all see that others have advantages we lack.  We don't see the advantages that we hold over others.

I don't think it's right for me to dwell much on my disadvantages.  I should just make the most of what I have.  I have many advantages that others don't.

And yet, with that disclaimer, there are some things I'm dwelling on.
  1. Growing up, I got good grades and did not get into trouble, so they figured I was doing well and left me alone.  I don't think I really understood at the time what I was missing, because it was the life I knew.  But summer vacations with my aunt, her husband, and her stepsons, it was different.  I had more room to expand.  Physically, there was a lot of hiking.  Mentally, I was around more intellectual people.  That's where I thrived.  What if that was my life growing up, and not just something that happened for a small part of the time? Maybe it would have helped if I had gone to a different school, maybe a Waldorf school, and if I had gone more to summer camps.  As I  look back at my youth, it wasn't bad, but it feels lack there was a lack of opportunity to grow and thrive.
  2. My aunt advised me to go to the best college I could get into.  That was before the web.  It was more difficult to get information on colleges.  I looked up the top colleges, but I didn't look up the ones that weren't quite so highly ranked.  Marlboro College and College of the Atlantic did not come up on my list.  Would I have thrived at one of those colleges?  When I was in college, I loved it, and felt I had made the right choice, but when I look back on it, I feel like it was a place for rich people, and I might have been better off at an earthier place.  I seem to have some attitudes ingrained in me, partly from college, but also perhaps from my great grandfather.  Ideas about how I should achieve a certain kind of success.  There's this mix in me.  My parents are earthy people, who avoid big cities, banks, lawyers, and big corporations.  But then I went to college with people who came from the world my parents avoid.  My college told me that I am supposed to succeed in that world, while my upbringing ensured that I will never be able to fit in in that world.  And yet, with my snooty education, I don't fit in in an earthier world either.
But you can't change the past.  The path my life has taken so far is set in stone.  But the path before me is full of possibility. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Yesterday I took my first vacation day of 2015.  I had been wearing thin for a long time, wanting to take time off, but there was too much to do at work.  Finally I managed to get away.  I had in mind chores to do, but I did not do any.  I did read two novels, Poison by Bridget Zinn and Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve.  Both were engaging.  I did not want to put them down, and I wanted to go on to read sequels.  Fever Crumb was not quite my kind of book.  It was dystopian and steampunk, which is what people like nowadays, but that's a younger generation that likes them.  They aren't my thing.  Poison was more like my kind of book.  I do think it's a little too pat, the way everything works out the way it should. 

Last weekend, I was reading Exile's Honor, Exile's Valour, and Take A Thief by Mercedes Lackey.  I'd say they are less pat.  They do end with the solving of the main conflict of each book, but it's not like everything gets wrapped up.  Alberich is suspicious of Lord Orthallen over all three books, but does not find grounds for his suspicion over the three books.  Alberich develops a romantic interest, but it's not like a stereotypical book, where they proclaim their love and live happily ever after.  Instead, their slow getting to know each other and growing closer is just part of the fabric of life, one of many things going on. 

Anyway, even though Poison was a little too pat, I wanted to read more by the same author.  Unfortunately, this was her only book.  She died before it was published. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The past week

Monday I felt so not tired that I did not even have caffeine.

I had a 4pm doctor's appointment.  Afterwards, I turned in my bells. As I walked back to my car after doing that, I found I was crying.  Was I that sad about giving up Morris dance?  Was it because I was tired?  Was it because I hadn't known I was supposed to turn in my baldricks too, so I felt bad for being told I did something wrong?

I went home and got in bed with a fiction book.  Nice and short, so it didn't keep me up too late.

Am I really sad about quitting Morris dance?  Shall I try looking inwards? I tried for a few minutes, then went to sleep instead.

Wednesday in tai chi class we learned something new.  In the fall, we got to the end of part 1 about a month before the semester ended.  The teacher thought that one month was not enough time to start part 2, so we just did nothing.  I  mean, I wouldn't have minded going back over part 1 in ways that helped us improve it, but I felt like we weren't doing that, we were just stagnating.

Then this semester, we have some old people and some new people.  For the first 3 or 4 weeks, we just did drills.  That was fine with me.  It was going back to basics, but I felt like I was learning something.  I felt surprisingly clumsy doing what was supposedly basic stuff that I already know.

But this week, we moved on from the drills and started learning the form.  We split the group in two, with the new people learning part 1 and the old people learning part 2.  So finally I was learning something new.  

Also, at the beginning, before everyone got there, the teacher asked a student if he still remembered the bagua zhang form. The student said yes, so the teacher told him to do it.  I had never heard of bagua zhang. I liked it.  I want to learn that too.

I like tai chi and bagua zhang because they are like dance.  I've always loved dance.

Thursday evening, I lay in bed reading a nonfiction book.  So warm in my bed.  Nowhere else is warm enough this cold winter.  At 8pm, I turned out the light to go to sleep.  Usually I got to bed more like 9:30-10:00, but I just felt like going to sleep.  I was tired.  I'm always tired. 

It did not work.  Still awake, I got up around 9:30pm.  Had something to eat, wasted time on the computer.

I expected to feel extra tired Friday as a result of the interrupted sleep, but I didn't.  Friday I was working hard at my job.  There were several tasks I wanted to get done before the end of the week.

I worked until 8:04pm.  I got a lot done.  I didn't get everything done.

I thought again about how every person, group, or activity has its positives and negatives, and there are some you can live with and some you can't.  In this case, I was thinking of the man I was working with on one of the projects.  He is not really competent to do everything that he should do, but he is kind, and he is responsive.  He works hard to get it done, and he does his best.  I can work with him.  I kind of like working with him, even though I wish he could do more, because it would take some burden off me.

The thing I spent the most time on was making up malarkey.  I had to write all these justifications.  They are so fake.  I mean, we want to do X for reason Y, but the only way we can get approval for X is if we write a justification for reason Z.

That's one reason I hate my job.  Because it violates my integrity.

On the other hand, the days I work late are the days I like the my job better.   I like to rise to a challenge.

It's like the way I was glad to learn something new in tai chi.  I like to be growing, not stagnant.  The problem that I have with my Morris dance group is that we are stagnant.  That's just the way the leadership of my group is, both the squire and the women's fore.  But I love the women's fore, I just don't want her to be my teacher.

One of the reasons it hurts me to leave Morris dance is because it severs me from her, and from the community.  Even though she's the only individual in the group that I really  have any bond to, I have a bond to the group as a whole.

When I woke up this morning, I lay in bed a long time, maybe an  hour and a half.  Usually I lie  in bed for about an hour when I wake up if I don't have to get up, but I think it was a little longer than normal this time.  It was delicious.  I was wallowing in contentment.  In the daytime, when I'm walking or meditating or doing anything that leaves my brain free to think, I think practical things.  I think about what to do, both immediate plans and long term goals.  But in my dreamy sleepiness, I indulged in fantasy.  It was mostly erotic in nature.  There was a lot about the guy I've been thinking of a lot in the past few weeks, someone I knew in college.  There was also my tai chi teacher.  Of course I always thought he was attractive since I set eyes on him, but I don't have a particular sense of connection with him.  But in class last time, he demonstrated push hands with one of the other students, and I thought about doing that with him.  And there were all sorts of other people and situations I imagined too.  Most involved me being in various situations with various men, but there was also the thought of myself being beautiful.  It was like one of those classic paintings, from a time when fleshier women were considered attractive.  I had some sort of flowing, colorful dress or robe.

It was all to a Peter, Paul, and Mary soundtrack.  That's what I've been listening to the past few weeks, and that's the music that  continued playing in my head through my imaginings.  I think it involved  the song Sometime Lovin'.

There were all different things in my imaginings, but what it boiled down to was feeling loved.  Whatever may be missing from my life, I have my internal resources, so I can build what I need in my imagination.

This morning, I went downtown for errands.  The sun was shining brightly.  It was warm.  These days, "warm" means over 20 degrees.  I did more errands than I had planned, and then I wanted to enjoy the sun, so I walked around downtown for 50 minutes.  Wow, going for a walk! When was the last time I did that?  I did go snowshoeing for 25 minutes about 3 weeks ago.  Otherwise, I don't remember going for any walks all winter.  I've been sick most of the winter.  I've been coughing most of the winter.  I do walk when I go to and from work, and for the past few weeks, that has just been constant coughing.  I guess that's both because it has been so cold, and also because the doctor had me go off Flovent for a test.  But I walked, and I wasn't having coughing fits.  Sure I was coughing, but they were just coughs, not big fits that sounded like I was going to vomit, and sometimes I could go for 15 minutes straight without coughing.

I looked around and it was beautiful.  It was beautiful because it was sunny and I was outside and there were trees.  I stood up straighter.  With the lifting of the inhumanly cold weather, the weight of fatigue and coughing lifted.

I got home and it wasn't perfect because I was tired and I didn't do the things I was supposed to do, but it was okay.  I listened to Peter, Paul and Mary.  Their music is stunning.  I'm talking about songs like Sometime Lovin', The Coming of the Road, The Magi, Of This World, Take the Chance, It's Magic, River of Jordan, and Sweet Survivor. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thinking of people I used to know

Thinking back on people from the past.

I think I turn to people of the past when something is missing in the present.  Usually it's when an important present relationship is causing me hurt.  That's not really what's happening now, but the present is not all that I want right now.

People in the past are in the past for a reason.  Sometimes I want nothing more to do with them.  I remember last year seeing one of them.  I did not want to see her.  But when I saw her, it was fun taking to her.  For a bit.  But then before the evening was over, the things I don't like about her came out.

Others in the past I still think of fondly.  I think of reaching out to them now, but I hesitate.  They belong in the past.  If I bring them to the present, I'll be reminded of why they belong in the past, and I'll no longer think of them so fondly.

Thinking of people more or less in the present.  Most people I don't really  have much interest in being around.  So when I recognize in someone something that I like, that's something to take notice of.  Yet, our lives don't always fit together.  I'm not sure that there's anything else that can be done sometimes besides sitting up and taking notice. 

And some of those people in the present who don't really interest me have been kind to me, and sometimes I appreciate such kindness.  Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss these people.

No, I know what's important to me, and these are people who bug me if I'm around them much.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


The dream I had been having when I woke up this morning:

We were in a car.  The driver was Sonny.  I think there was another person with us.  It was like when we were growing up -- I grew up with my brother, so he was always there, there was always that additional person along, but not like someone who was intrusively strange.

I had driven this route once or twice before more than a year ago, so it was a bit familiar but I didn't know it well.  I told Sonny that we had gotten onto the wrong road, and we needed to turn around.  I pointed out several places where we could turn around, but she was waiting for a better place.  I was anxious, and urging her to turn around now.

The road came to an end at a village main street, where we had to go either left or right.  We went left.  Soon after that, we went right.  The road that we went right onto turned into a highway entrance ramp.  The highway would not have any exits for 30 miles.  That was why I had been anxious to turn around, so as not to get into this situation.

Sonny stopped the car on the entrance ramp and talked with the sheriff.  Even though it seemed like it was too late, she was determined to find a way to go back. It turned out her family was from the area, and the sheriff remembered her brother.

So we got off the ramp and went back.

I was at the house I grew up in, in the room I grew up in.  We had gone in there to have a conference.  I was there with my supervisor, Chuck, and there was also that sense I had earlier of another person being there, like my brother.

It was now my second year of my Master's degree program, and we were talking about how it was going.  I said that the first year did not go well, because it was all classes, all passive, so I didn't really learn much.  I said this year was better because there was more opportunity to be proactive and engaged.

We talked about how recently at Christmas, everyone in the class was supposed to donate to a cause, and then we went around the circle, each telling what we chose to donate to and why.  I said that donating money wasn't very active, and it would be nice if we had the option to do something more engaging, like volunteer work.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The education I want everyone to have

A few decades ago, I went to school in social work because I wanted to do research on how to solve social problems.  I noticed that there was a gap between what is implemented and what works. My idea was to find out what works.  Now it seems to me that the problem is not that no one knows what works, but that that knowledge is not put to use. 

It was maybe a month ago that I heard on the radio, on the Canadian show As It Happens, about a deputy sheriff in Florida who said that kids should spank their kids more often, because then kids would learn not to do bad things, and would therefore not grow up to be criminals. 

The research I've read all points the other way -- that spanking would increase rather than decrease criminality.  Now I haven't read a lot about it, and I haven't read about it recently, so I'm not an expert.  I could be wrong.  But if I'm right, then there is a law enforcement leader who is not knowledgeable about the causes of criminal behavior.  He of all people should have been educated in this stuff.

I think that everyone should learn certain things before they graduate high school.  Critical thinking would be a part of it.  When people hear something that leads them to come to a conclusion, I want them to be able to think about whether the evidence is really sound.  Are they generalizing from one anecdote? If a study was done, at face value, that might seem like good evidence.  But people need to know how to evaluate studies.  They need to think about who funded the study, and how was the sample chosen.  I recently read that a study found that wearing bright clothing does not protect bicyclists from being hit by cars.  Now, I don't know how that particular study was done, but what comes to mind is that if you were to do a study that found that 60% of bicyclists who got hit by cars were wearing bright clothing, that alone tells you nothing.  People need to educated enough to realize that they would also need to know what percentage of bicyclists who did not get hit by cars were wearing bright clothing.

People need to be aware of why certain things grab our attention.  You can see in the stories that go viral that they have certain elements which tap into people's emotions.  We need to educate people about what those elements are, so that they can see how they are being affected.

People tend to latch onto stories that validate their beliefs.  People who are upset about police brutality latch onto stories about police brutality.  They say, "See, I told you there's something wrong with the police."  People who feel that Christianity is under attack latch onto stories that fit with that view. 

We need to education people so that they can recognize when they are latching onto a story that way, and then take a moment to step back and look at the larger picture, to consider whether in addition to this evidence that supports their views, there also exists evidence which counters their views. 

It's not only logic and statistics that should be taught.  Students need to hear the stories of a wide range of people.  It's so easy to assume that what we experience is what others experience, and that what's easy for us must be easy for other people.  A person who has always been treated fairly by police thinks that if police are hassling someone, that person must have done something wrong.  Students need stories to help them understand how the world looks from other points of view.

Voters have their ideas about poverty, crime, health care, education, child-rearing, etc.   Elected officials have to do what will make the voters happy.  And so the programs we have to address social problems are the programs that are consistent with the simplistic beliefs of the voters.  That's why we don't have programs that actually solve problems.  That's why we need to educate people.  So that they can come to evaluate research about social problems, and support effective solutions.