Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advice. Show all posts

17.12.20

Quote: Isaac Watts Admonishes How Idle Hands Are the Devil's Work (And a Reflection on How I Got Into the Habit of Collecting Quotes)

"In works of labour, or of skill, I would be busy, too;

For Satan finds some mischief still 

For idle hands to do."

— Isaac Watts, 1674 - 1748
Nacer Eddine

Photo by nacer eddine on Unsplash

I do this thing where I look at my old journals. 

It's the greatest accomplishment of my youth. That I wrote a lot of entries. It's an activity that I tell my students to do often (as I am a high school English teacher), and I wonder if it must be a thing of adolescence — to inscribe one's thoughts down on paper. As an adult, I am not as prone to journal writing. I've lost interest in my own subjectivity!

That's sort of a joke, but I have done one activity consistently — collecting quotes. I found the above quote about idleness in one of those old journals from my youth.

It's easy to scoff at Isaac Watt's suggestion that one ought to stay busy. It's a sentiment ingrained in the Puritan notion of "work ethic" that has so often infused every aspect of American culture and history. In the current dispensation, productivity is rewarded, and idleness is looked down upon as indicative of a rotten soul.

I guess that is why the devil is co-opted in this dialectic between work and inactivity — since the devil is the symbol of perversion. Therefore, the lack of work, the absence of productivity is an abomination in this worldview.

There is a lot to be said for idleness, though. Even when the devil is idle, I suspect, they are having a good time! 

18.3.20

Video Repost: Cute Kid Gives Sage Criticism on Consumer Culture

In this video repost, listen to a cute kid give sage advice on how to avoid consumerism.
Girbaud Brand Jeans — Remember Them?
When I was a teenager, in the 1990s, the French jeans clothier Marithé et François Girbaud was in style. I remember I bought these jeans because I thought I needed them. They were cool! Everyone was wearing them. Now. They were cool. But, in retrospect — looking back on it — jeans are jeans. Girbaud jeans had a privileged quality attached to them. Wearing the Girbaud brand was like being christened with a superpower. Jeans with the Girbaud logo were easily noticeable, so everyone in your school could identify who had the right pair of jeans. If your jeans were Wal-mart storebought, you were doomed.

The Kid in the Video is Non-Plussed about Consumerism
What I like about the kid in this video is that not only is he non-plussed by consumerism, he also can make his own aesthetic judgments. He says he knows what he likes and Filas fit him well and he likes the color.

What shoes do the other kids in the park expect kids to wear to avoid being ostracized? I'd like to know.

What's Your Take on This Video?
Let me know if you have ever been made less because you did not conform to consumer culture.
stonesoferasmus.com

2.2.20

On What College-Bound Kids Should Do In High School

After a student asked me one day what he should be doing to "get into a good college," I gave him a few suggestions.
Getting Into a Good College  My Students Are Worried
     Let’s first say that getting into a good college, paying for it, and ending up as a successful individual is equal parts chance and merit, with a dash of injustice and absurdity to throw the entire process off-kilter. I use the word "injustice" on purpose. Not everyone who gets into a good school deserves it  a few high-powered celebrities have tried to secure a spot for their children by paying third parties to do the work for them. And I use the word absurdity on purpose as well. It's absurd to think one's future can be set by a standardized test score or to become frazzled by one's prospect of getting into school because one made a B+ in AP Calculus.
French Class in High School
I took this photograph in Madame Dietrich's French class on the last day of high school.
     But let’s say, for the sake of argument, you’re a kid in a high school in the United States, and you want to get into a good school. For the sake of argument, let's say you’re in a relatively good school  namely, you’re learning something, and your parents and teachers are more or less good role models. You were read to as a child, and you’ve frequented a library, a museum, an after-school program, or something. You’re already two or more steps in the door. Parents who introduce their children to reading at an early age typically have kids likelier to do well in school. 

How Much Does Environment Play Into Future Success
     Environment plays a defining role in determining your chances of becoming a successful, let’s say, happy, adult. Sans being an athlete — that’s one way into college - or acquiring some kind of skill as leverage - getting into the school of your choice is a crapshoot. Just the other day (I’m a high school English teacher), one of my students asked me if he took an online course on Coursera or Edx - would that improve his chances of getting into a good school. I said, “yes, of course.” But then I thought about it. Yes  taking a course on computer programming from Harvard is not a bad idea - but you must be a person who is committed to learning programming. Adding extras solely for the sake of extras can have the opposite effect. Schools want candidates excited about learning and have shown proof that they have put themselves out there and taken on challenges. Make your passions come through in your college application, and anything you do outside of school can complement the person you are (and the person you want to be).

Has Applying to College Changed A lot Since the 1990s?
     A lot has changed since I applied to college. I went to a public high school in South Louisiana where most of my classmates graduated and went to the State University - or the military - or they stayed in my hometown. I applied to Saint Joseph Seminary College and Centenary College - both small schools in Louisiana - one Methodist and the other a Catholic seminary. My mother wanted me to go to the Methodist school 
 and we drove up there to speak to the head of the philosophy department. That's what I wanted to study. I ended up going to the seminary college.
     I took the ACT (and I made a mediocre score). I also took the ASVAB. It’s the military job placement exam. Both my brothers joined the army after high school (I’m the only one who didn’t). Taking the ASVAB is how I learned the difference between a Phillips and a standard screwdriver. Our high school had college counselors - but no one ever visited their office  it was on the edge of campus next to the shop building. Their main job was to organize random statewide testing administered during the year. In Louisiana, one had to pass the LEAP test to graduate from high school. Rumors spread about the few who didn't pass and had to repeat the twelfth grade. 
     Something was alien to me about taking a  standardized test  as if my answers were being sent into a ceaseless void every time I bubbled in a response. I still don't trust tests even more than twenty years after graduating high school. I like tests as a procedure  an activity for the general assessment but not for understanding a kid through and through.
Shifting Focus From Where I Want to Go to What Skills I Want to Master
Will you need to know this? Probably.
Most high school students don’t really know what they want to do anyway. At least it’s not quite solidified yet. The most effective task any high school student should accomplish is progressively improving their ability to get things done. Show up to class. Learn new skills. Perhaps you’ll never use the quadratic equation ever again in your life. But if you shrug it off as unimportant, you’re missing out on a skill - how to solve a problem given limited information. I was a humanities geek in school (and truth be told, I took very few hard science and math classes in college), but I learned to follow through on a problem. Solving a quadratic equation requires following directions, staying on task, and not making tiny mistakes 
 and you can use it to chart the trajectory of a moving object (and check out how a mathematician rediscovered an ancient Babylonian method used for solving quadratics).
     I still have a papier-mâché vase I made in art class. I’ve never made a vase like that since  but my mom has the vase in her living room. Did making this vase help me get into college? No. But it was something I did that pulled me out of what I was used to. We don’t know what skills we’ll need to know in the future. Technology is rapidly changing, but we need people who can adapt and apply themselves in novel ways.
One More Question:
     What are some things high school students can do to improve their chances of getting into a good college? Let us know in the comments (see below this post).

6.11.19

You Talk Too Much: On the Pleasures of Logorrhea

Wherein I expound on the pleasures and gains of excessive talking.

Is Silence Golden?
Common wisdom says silence is golden. I respect the virtue of a silent tongue. For example - silent meditation is divine. In the morning, I like to think in the quiet nil of the morning. However, there is also a perverse virtue in talking a lot. Talking relieves pressure and it helps the mind sort out ideas. Talking is enjoyable and it’s a salient way to test out new ideas and words (and stuff). I’m often told I talk too much (if you know me well, reading that last part will make you grin). I don’t think loose lips 👄 sink ships. I think talk should be loose. Otherwise how can you get closer to the truth? 

Let Talking Dance!
Talking lets you dance between binaries. Find value in common sense. I’d wither in a world of oppressive silence. Now. Don’t get me wrong. Quiet spaces are wonderful. Today all my kiddos were each reading books they’d chosen. Silently. But. Afterward, we were laughing and crying - sharing what we read! I’d be cheeky to say everything in moderation (because I think moderation is overrated). Go be loquacious. Don’t think about what you want to say. Free associate. But dip into the silence if you want to. But when there’s talking join the fray. It’ll boost societal health. Try it.
Random Fun Facts I Learned Today
1. Satan is an anagram for Santa.
2. Afghanistan is a land-locked country.
3. "-stan" means country in Persian.
4. The word "typewriter" can be written using only the top row keys of a QWERTY typewriter. 
5. China has city populations of millions-of-people-and-more than any other modern country.
6. The English word "goodbye" originally comes from "Go with God".
7. French fries are called "pomme frites" in France. Not French fries.
8. The Belgians are the first people to actually innovate on the fried potato.
9. The word "philosophy" derives from ancient Greek and it literally means "love of wisdom".
10. Braille can be found on the support columns of most New York City subway stations to help blind people read the names of stations.
11. People once thought that maggots spontaneously generated from rotten meat.
12. Quasars are the brightest and most distant objects in the known universe.
13. Dorothy in the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz books wears silver slippers (not ruby ones).
14. The capital of China is Beijing. If you translate the name of the city it literally means "North Capital".
15. Contrary to popular belief, an astronaut living inside the International Space Station won't be able to see the Great Wall of China from space. 
PDF Copy for Printing

13.6.15

On Being Right in the World

An E train waits in the station at the terminal World Trade Center station
An R160B rolling stock working the E line waits in the terminal World Trade Center station in Lower Manhattan.
I do not think it is hokey to think about what kind of energy we project into the world.
No matter how smart you are, what clever ideas you bring to the table, or what accomplishments you've mastered — it's all about how you are in the world that counts.

I'm not talking about broadcasting a veneer of positivity. Even when you don't feel so great, you can still be mindful enough to not let your own feelings seep out and be destructive. I know from experience that never works.


That's why we have art. And stuff. And tragic movies. Or hitting a baseball. Or running until your chest hurts (I know. I don't do that too much.)


Frankly, for me, I'm just beginning to come up to the surface of the water to breathe. And the air does feel good. On my face. The taste of pepper on my scrambled eggs.


Can you tell I am trying to make a breakthrough? 

8.8.14

"Back to School": When You’ve Been Out Of School (For Awhile)

Talking to an adult learner on the N train today, she told me she likes to see the young kids squirm in their seats when she gets to interpret Shakespearean sonnets. "I have a whole different outlook on love than them. It's not the same." My N train companion is not alone being older than her colleagues. One out of three students in this year’s Freshman class will most likely be over twenty-five years of age.
Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 5.31.27 PM.png

1. Diving in 

More adult learners are going back to school. What’s the number one motivation? Desire to learn. As the baby boomers retire, more are fueled with renewed cognitive interest or are tired of doing the same thing time again. It's like Camus imagining Sisyphus pushing that damn rock: you got to think of something new for the descent. 

2. Fitting in

Part of going back to school is a brain thing. Older students report feeling out of place among younger students and find it hard to adjust to new educational attitudes that may differ from what they remember from previous schools. It’ll be different for sure, but fitting in is part of the cognitive process of starting something new.


Rodney Dangerfield in his first economics class.
Video Courtesy: ZaTbone

There are challenges to returning to the classroom, but if Rodney Dangerfield could do it, so can you. 

3. Finding your way
Anyone can go to university if they have a passion. In fact, having a passion makes more sense for those who have already straddled careers and family, because they have had more time to think about what they want. One indicator of success is just that: focus and knowing what you want, having goals, joined with life experience.


4. Revitalizing options

Who says you can have only one career? Billie Letts, of Where The Heart Is fame, wrote her first novel when she was in her 50s. Older and older, it doesn’t mean sapping innovation and creativity. Older people are seeking a second, third, and even fourth career choices. It’s a glimpse into the future. It’s where we’re going, so don’t let ageism creep into the hallowed halls. The younger set now vie for the honor roll with a silver-haired genius. 

5. Being an outlier
We’re living longer. The adult brain is still spry. Voices from across the age spectrum offer different takes on life. You might be older than your professor, and your age has made you an outlier. But outlier status means you give a fresh perspective in the classroom. You’re changing the bell curve. Like Shakespeare meditating on love (or the lady on the N train), learning something new at the apex of life is not letting go of that “ever-fixed mark” that "looks on tempests and is never shaken."

8.4.13

That's Boring! - A Propaedeutic

First off, I have done fuck all. It's very Zen. To do is not to do. My inner Zen boredom master says, "Overcome the urge to be productive, Greig." It looks good on a resumé. Don't leave the house. Lie in bed and don't think. This induces boredom.
Clearly inspired by boredom
Mourning
There is a mourning though that occurs first. After resisting the urge to do stuff, to be productive, the brain clicks into mourning, a low grade melancholia - it’s like the experience of loneliness - because ideally boredom like the kind I am talking about also requires solitude. I want to connect with another person and I have this insistent urge to be with someone, or someone to be with me. Kurt Vonnegut said it this way: “When I am alone I want to be with others and when I am with others I want to be alone”. Resist! It’s not that hard. Really. Tell your friends you have something really important to do and unfortunately you can’t do that really fun thing. They’ll insist. The creative spark comes with being with others. I am with my friend and I have a creative idea and I wish I were in solitude to pursue it but I am with my friend so I put it aside. The creative nugget that surfaced is there waiting for solitude to bring it out afresh. For me it is a nasty business to be creative.

Boredom  
Boredom was anathema in my mother’s vocabulary. She would punish us with laps around the house if we said the word - “You’re bored? OK. Run two laps. I want to see you pass by that window every few minutes.” The punishment didn’t work well for me because after three quarters of a lap I was distracted, a tit mouse in the garden, a glint of light from a water puddle, or a red fire engine charging down the street to the station, or my friend Clay walking his dog on our friendly suburban street, and I would say distractedly, “Hey, Clay!” By the way "red fire engine" is for me the quintessential metaphor for childhood. I'm sure the phrase is laden with hidden unconscious meaning that I have yet to plumb. Red. Fire. Engine. Figure it out.

About the laps:
I would forget about the laps but then, maybe Mom was right, because the boredom was gone. Until it came around again. I would spend many hours in my room as a child listening to books on record players. I loved reading Hans Christian Andersen's “The Tinderbox”. Even as a little kid I knew there was something seriously transgressive about transporting a sleeping maiden to your bedroom. The color of the storybook with the words that matched the narrator’s strong masculine voice accentuated the sexual power of the tale. I think this is when I realized I like men. Something about summoning, maybe? Fairy tales are friggin' powerful vehicles for raw desire. No wonder Plato in the Republic forbade the telling of certain tales to be told in the city. Something as simple as a narrator’s voice can shift attraction, help form identity - the power of the tale, the desire to wake a sleeping princess, to bring her to your chambers, the fallout and punishment, and lastly, the reconciliation with hero and lover. All that in the idle wiling of one day. Boredom is awesome and filled with potential for unbridled creativity. Human beings have formed their identities through idleness - it's the stuff of tales.

Boredom is an emptying out.
To be creative it is necessary to carve out a creative space to create what the Classical Greek philosophers called leisure time. By boredom what is meant is leisure -  when nothing that is done has immediate value. The highest form of boredom is leisure.  It’s a special time because everything else has to be accomplished first. I can’t be bored if I am worrying about a package due to arrive by FedEx or if I have a class to teach in an hour. Boredom requires true relinquishment of responsibility. To get to that leisure time - the true elixir of creativity that boredom promises - is to get past the urge to fill up time with useless crap. Like check email or check the post or check text messages. I know. It’s nearly impossible.

Bartleby the Scrivener
In literature I most identify with Bartleby the Scrivener, Melville’s famous office clerk who says, “I prefer not to” - until the very end of the story where he is put in the loony bin for saying, “I prefer not to”. This is why I have trouble with cover letters. 

I’ve accepted my mediocrity. My averageness.
Life Lesson: Just because it don't look like "work" don't mean it ain't work, bro.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

31.12.11

Christmas Letter from New Orleans

For Christmas season 2011, I went back home to New Orleans to visit my family and friends. Here is what I did and saw. Read it!
An Ignatius Reilly Mardi Gras float
rolls through town / 
Image credit: Flickr



“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”  
― Ignatius J. Reilly 
Anthony sits at a wooden table at the Balcony Bar, a place that looks regal during the daytime but becomes the center of considerable brouhaha at night. Having had a few cocktails, we sit together eating bar food. Anthony feeds me a French Fry. Carrying a tray with hamburgers, Andrew almost runs into a cadre of revelers who are talking so loudly the entire building seems to close in on itself with the noise. We sit and attempt conversation. This is our city every night. It has been a year and a half since leaving New Orleans. Having returned home for eight days I leave again with renewed something for the Crescent City. Martin says Nola (as locals call it) is the best city. He's right.

11.12.11

Why I Don't Write 500 Words A Day

500 Words a Day?
I read once that a writer should write at least 500 words a day before any real writing occurs. To encourage writing one must write. Even if the words evoke nothing. Write. The idea is if you coax the axles of your tired mind, give it a little shake, deeper thoughts will issue forth. To me, it is an innate theory of mind that touts the philosophy that the writer must write. I say only write when you feel compelled to write. Even if it is a short thought write it down. Type it out. I refuse to submit to the notion that there is a wellspring of creativity deep inside of us and the only way to unleash it is to write a bucket load of crap first. To write is to continue upon a notion. Upon a trigger. Upon an idea. To write means to follow up on a nagging thought that doesn't go away with a nap or a dream. To say I write 500 words a day would be to lie to you. But I am not a writer who believes I must write into exhaustion. Once you get the idea. Write. Until then, do other things. Observe. Read. The best advice I can give to writers is to read. A lot. I don't just mean blogs and newspaper articles. To be a good writer read the best of what you wish to write. Not so as to emulate. It is a fable to think that to read others will rub off on you in a bad way. The anxiety of influence is there, of course. But one reads because one realizes that it has already been said, written, done before. The only hope we have as writers is to say something about what has already been said. The most freeing experience is to read a writer who puts into words a thought you've already had at some point. This revelation conjoins you with the world of ideas. The best writers enter into the history of thought by reading the history of thought. And read with a pencil. Underline. Strikethrough. Spit on. Spill coffee on it. The book. If it is an ebook or a library book buy yourself a reading notebook. If you are a young person you will never write anything that amounts to "good" for a long time. I have not written anything good yet. But I feel that I am close to writing something good. It has taken at least thirty-one years to even begin to think I could write something pitch-perfect. I have yet to stumble upon my topic. What compels me to write. Which is why I repudiate the inner writer thesis. It is not so much that what I must write is within me but more that what I want to write about has not been found yet. So, here ends my five hundred words for today. I did it for spite.

20.8.11

List Writing: Must I Have Something to Say?

Goals — What Goes Up Must Come Down
Writing a list of questions and providing a concise answer helps to solidify confidence in goal-making.
A List of Goal-Related Questions with Concise Answers
1. Must one have a plan?
Yes. But be open to abort and plan again.

2. Must I have something to say?
No. It makes you more mysterious. Or more stupid. Go figure.

3. Must one write every day?
Yes. Blogs and grocery lists don't count. Only sterling prose. (bullshit).

4. Must one be self-effacing?
Yes. Because otherwise, you're just a non-self-effacing twat. I was going to say, "dick" but I didn't.

5. Must I read into everything?
Yes. Because most people under-read everything.

6. Must I write in lists?
No. But some bloggers insist it promotes readability.

7. Must I use words to express meaning?
Yes, dammit. I hate it when people ask such questions.

8. Must I rant? Or must I rave?
Both.

9. Must words more often fail than succeed (in meaning)?
This could be a paper topic. Or a dissertation.

10. Must beauty be truth?
Yes. And truth, beauty.

16.9.10

Photograph + Caption: "Mr. Savory and Ms. Sweet"

If a guy says, "Life's too short. Keep your drama at the door," what he really means is, "I don't want to marry you, and I could care less about your problems."

14.5.10

Quote of the Day

You may be a precious snowflake, but if you can't express your individuality in sterling prose, I don't want to read about it.


Subscribe to stones of erasmus by Email

27.4.10

Passive Aggressive Email from Parent about how Kid is not Going to do Homework because of a Funeral

 Parent to me

date: Apr 14 8:08 PM
        subject: re: online quiz (to be done at home tonight)

When is this due? We are at a funeral and cannot do this right now. Last nights assignment came in after Koumba was already in bed so she didn't even know about it.  I won't be happy if she recieves "F's" for these. Let me know if she can do these tomorrow night. Thanks, 

C. Parent

(504-272-7134)  
Director of Consulting
Anysuch Company
Hey, LA

18.4.10

How to open multiple webpages in tabs on startup in Firefox (3.6.3) on a Mac

If you want more than one homepage to load when you start Firefox, say your favorite news sites, for example, then this little tip may be useful so you don't have to manually load the pages every single time.
  1. Go to Preferences on Mozilla Firefox

2. Select the “General” pane in the taskbar.  In the location (s) field you probably already have your default home page.


 3.  In the homepage field type in your desired web pages separated by the | key.
4. Voila. You're done. Now when you open Firefox all your favorite web pages will open in tabs.

* Caveat: If you are not sure you want tabs to open with the same web pages EVERY time you start up Firefox, and you want more control over your morning routine, then click here to learn how to create a bookmark to open in tabs.

14.4.10

Why I Listen to Rilke and Don't Write Love Poems

Rilke in "Letters to a Young Poet" 
Reading again the injunction Rilke gave to his younger protege not to write love poems because they are too “facile and ordinary,” I am reminded why I do not write love poems.
It’s an overwrought genre.
Look. Love poems are preferably saturated in the oeuvre: Shakespeare’s doting sonnets alone give us all we need:
The Nike of Samothrace

6.3.10

I Have No Idea What To Call This Rant

“I ate it, knowing the rabbit had sacrificed itself for me.  It had made me a gift of meat.” Maxine Hong Kingston.
In this post I rant about education and I don't know what else.
    In an ironic turn of events in the film Iris – about the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (who has, consequently has had a few things to say about education) – stares at a television screen of Tony Blair repeating, “education, education, education,” unable, in her final stage of dementia, to put coherent thoughts together (not that Blair was coherent in this scene, but that is another matter). Murdoch's life long career of dazzling prose diminished, in the end, to a babbling baby. I recently saw the film, and read excerpts from her husband John Bayley's memoir. Murdoch was a philosopher and a poet. She eloquently wrote about education, as not making a person happy, but allowing a person to see how they are happy. I liked the film because it depicted the life of a person dedicated to learning, who tragically loses her deposit of learning due to Alzheimer's. Iris lived in her mind; She lost her treasure. John Bayley believed even though the disease had ravaged his wife of her memory, there was still something "clear" and "pure" insider of her mind. He supplies her with a pen and notebook paper, in case she gets an inspiration to write.


Greig types on his old MacBook Pro.
Education – you might not know – literally means “to lead out,” like guiding a child by the hand as she learns to walk. “To lead out,” then, is a fair starting off point to explore education.  For isn’t this what education really is – in both the formal sense of the word – the institution of education – and also in the less formal, the organic sense, the leading that comes from within, not necessarily from without.  Just as learning to walk is an education in the literal sense of the word – from guiding your legs across the coffee table for support or swimming out into the deep end without a warm adult body at your side is education – so is the formal discipline of reading, writing and arithmetic a leading out as well – the problem (if you want to call it that) is to think these two concepts together.  Education as both something lived and something learned. The art is to put them together. To live and to learn.
    Thinking of two spheres of education – the education, as someone once put it – of life – and the education from books, “book learnin'” are convenient ways to think about education.    Education is for the elite?  Or can you learn everything you need to know from “life”.  I work with a man who claims he doesn’t need an education.  He told me, “I wouldn’t tell a kid this, but I wouldn’t go back and get an education.  I have no regrets about having no education.  Books – I don’t remember books – but life, I remember life.”  He was resentful that he didn’t pass the CDL exam to drive a truck.  He had been grandfathered in – as he put it – forty years ago when he first drove a truck for Camel Express (“Humpin’ to please” was their motto).  Now for him to get a job he’d have to pass that test.  “Now you tellin’ me that I can drive a truck better than anybody’s business but because I can’t pass the paper test I can’t do it?  Put a man with degrees in that truck and let me see him do it.  That don’t make no sense.”   The things we do to prove that we are competent.  That we fit in and can be considered productive members of society are tightly constructed by power and the roles we have been assigned.
    I am surrounded by this language.  This is the language of people who do not see real value in education.  People I know and live with put value in what you can do, not what you can say.  “I want to see what you can do,” a boss may say.  Words are good for human development and public relations – but work – that don’t got nothing to do with work.  The most popular question after what is your name is what do you do?  What goes in the inner life of the mind is considered not so important.  Down here in the south we are interested in the trajectories of hurricanes, the date of deer hunting season and mardi gras.  Which is interesting considering the South has produced some of the best writers the world has ever known.
    I have been described by people as a “dreamer,” “having an eidetic imagination,” “space cadet”, “lost in the clouds,” “self-absorbed,” “head in the clouds,” and “not in touch with the obvious,”  People – when they catch me thinking have remarked, “What are you doing?” or mimicking a space alien spacecraft have sing-songed, “Do Do Do Do Do – Earth to Greig”.  The one about having an eidetic imagination was said by my shrink.  The education of the mind – at least in my provincial experience – is not encouraged – instead, we much rather people who can do stuff.  Sure – we love a writer – just not when he’s writing.  We don’t mind philosophy.  We just don’t want to hear it.  Give it to me straight.  Not complicated.  I don’t want to hurt my head.
    But what is so terribly wrong about being lost in one’s head? I mean, what bad stuff can possibly happen from thinking too much? Reading too much? Don’t read into it. But why not? What is reading into it going to do? Make you think? God forbid. Just enjoy the movie. Well, I am enjoying it. I do think too much, as my mother pointed out once - and mothers always know.
    My mother gave me a beautiful paperweight for Christmas one year.  It is in the shape of a bird with a long glass tapered tail and heavy opaque body with a pocket of air trapped inside like bubbles.  Without counting the cost I immediately began to wonder out loud what this present could possibly mean.  I had the suspicion that this gift had to be symbolic of something and as I began to theorize to my mother a possible interpretation of the gift. I looked up and saw the expression on my mom’s face.  I had hurt her feelings.  I immediately stopped talking and changed the subject; thanked her for the gift.  But, I knew her feelings were still hurt.  I don’t blame her.  It was just a gift.  That was her only rejoinder after my long analysis, “Greig, it’s only a gift.  I thought it would look good in your room”.
    Now I realize that I was not wrong in analyzing the gift.  I had no intention of hurting her feelings or undermining the generosity she bestowed on me in the object of the glass bird paperweight.  But my mind could not put down the image of the bird suggesting that I impose meaning on it. For isn’t this what we do? Impose meaning? We are really good at it.  We itch to find meaning in everything we see and do.  We are not satisfied that a cup is just a cup.  It has to be something, an implication of something else. But, alas, I guess a cup is sometimes a cup.  (In the back of my mind I am resisting that notion)
    Later on, I called Mom on the phone to apologize about the bird paperweight incident.  Once I asked for forgiveness it freed her up to voice her feelings about the subject in a way that was beneficial for the both of us.  She realized that I had some sensitivity and was not really trying to hurt her feelings.  I realized that sometimes it is just best to say you’re sorry and move on.  Just the other day I was visiting her at her house.  She has twelve oak trees in her yard that she is very proud of as if she planted them herself.  When we came back to her house after Hurricane Katrina to survey the damage, the one thing she was worried about were her trees.  Her trees were safe.  Actually she sustained minimal damage on her property and recently installed an above ground swimming pool on her property – mainly for my niece to paddle around when my brother and his wife come to visit.  She was cleaning the pool when I saw her and I brought up the paperweight again.  This time in the sense of shared interests.  As Mom waded in the pool, removing a bottom layer of collected grime, I opened myself up to her.  I brought up the paperweight because I wanted her to know that this is how I think.  This is how I perceive the world and I resented – even though I did not verbalize it – this lack of understanding from her because she is very similar.  The only difference is education.  I am more educated.  I’ve got more sheepskins.  Mom is a surgical technician; she works for a neurosurgeon.  She preps patients for surgery, makes sure everything is copasetic before the surgeon comes in to perform.  She hands him the surgical tools necessary to cut into the skull and makes sure the folds of skin stay where they are, ready with a suction tube in case too much blood gushes.
    I can’t do any of that.  I can barely change the tire on a bicycle.  If you would put me in that operating room I would most certainly cause death – or even worse, cause a malpractice suit that would have me to the neck in legal fees.   I admire my mom and her ability to perform professionally in the operating room.  She has been working for the same neurosurgeon for twenty years, as well as on and off with other doctors through the years, but she has proved herself to be reliable and focused and very good at what she does.  She prides herself in how well she has done – although she is modest – I know for a fact she makes more money than my father did in the electrical engineering business. In fact, I don’t know much about what my father did growing up.  I do know that it was a small source of bitterness between the two of them because I remember my father saying once – after my parents had split – that he should get to claim me as a dependent because mom made more money.  Maybe he felt a little bit less successful than her.  My parents split up and my father retired.  But mom still works.
    I realized talking to mom at the pool that mom is analytical just like me.  She loves to interpret what’s going on and has a very shrewd mind.  She’s just been insecure for most of her life, so that part of her personality does not come out at first.  It surprises me that she got involved in fundamentalism when she was younger but I think the movement fueled into her need to be accepted. Richard Rodriguez talks about not being accepted by family once you are “educated.” But then again, Henry Adams wrote about being educated at Harvard but not learning anything. I am okay with being like Iris Murdoch. I can learn all kinds of stuff, and in the end, act like a baby.

22.1.10

Mental Health Resource: Stress Fact Sheet

Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com
What is stress? Stress is the body’s response to its environment when it feels threatened or challenged. All higher order mammals (with a functioning pre-frontal cortex) respond to stressors in its environment with either a “fight or flight” response. If I unsuspectingly walk into a house and stumble upon a snake slithering across the floor, my body’s pituitary glands will secrete adrenaline into the cardiovascular system and I will jump back, startled. The body’s stress response can be triggered by any number of external factors, “real or imaginary.” For example, when a student feels a professor is too demanding, the same scenario can enact the same adrenaline rush.
Stress is also highly subjective. People respond to job demands, friendships and expectations differently. In helping someone cope with stress, it can be helpful to help the person say out loud how they perceive stress in their life. Never be afraid to ask. Improperly managed stress can cause serious medical or psychological problems, high blood pressure, or even stomach ulcers. We got get out what we feel. Coping strategies are only as good as a person’s own storehouse of internal resources and a healthy ability to self-reflect. Once a person can learn what is causing the stressful situation, they can then marshall their own resources to cope.
Unnecessary expectations and requirements: Sometimes, stuff piles on and we can feel the world is pushing down on us like a thumb on a tack. Does our boss make unreasonable demands by giving unclear or impossible requirements? Are daily plans frequently disrupted? Internal homeostasis — that is, their level of equilibrium — has been unduly disturbed if demands are impossible to meet. If you hold your fist closed and held it closed for a month, after a certain period of time you would being to feel pain. When your body is that “tight”, the stress will manifest itself physically. Studies have shown that the bigger the consequence for failure the more stress one can expect.
Chronic stress. In some cases, a healthy amount of stress can encourage people to perform better than if they had an open window for completion of a project. The problem to keep in mind is chronic stress. Chronic stress pervasively and consistently inhibits our ability to succeed. Chronic stress is dangerous and can cause serious human and spiritual formation problems.
Need for Validation: Lack of recognition of achievement can cause even the most hardy of us to feel stressed out. People require healthy doses of positive reinforcement, especially when it comes from others who mean the most to us. Students, for example, perform better when they know and are told they are doing a good job by their teacher. Also, having good friends to share your life and stories with is vital for healthy psycho-social development. A good sense of how we “play” (how we enjoy our relationship with others), especially with our mentors, peers, buddies and whomever, is beneficial and essential to our human development and is a sign of our capacity for friendship and love. Lack of such dynamic support can diminish a person’s belief that they are doing well. This can lead to depression and even suicidal tendencies. More commonly, chronic stress is perhaps the largest cause of burn-out. Those who work for the church, social workers, teacher, or the “helping professions” can often take on too heavy of a workload in order to feel validated. When the body is chronically stressed, the need to isolate oneself and to limit empathic response is increased. Consider your own capacities. How easily do you get burned out? How easy is it to fall into a pattern of stressful situations because of loneliness or lack of support?


Primary Coping Strategies: behavioral approach

turn off the tv | organize your files | take notes in class | relaxation | call a supportive friend | write in a journal | team problem solving | yoga | remove distractions |
negative: harming others, harming self, destructive behavior, alcohol or drugs to self-medicate
Secondary Coping Strategies: cognitive approach
prayer | spirituality | think positive | reframing perceptions| learn from mistakes | humor | acceptance of stressor’s reality |
negative: denial of stressor, negative self-image, suicidal thoughts, mental escapism

Practical Scenario
A client comes to a shrink's office expressing concern that the architectural plans he has prepared for his immediate supervisor consistently gets sent back for a redo. The client claims that he has worked many hours to get his plans just right, including requesting outside help from colleagues and from his books. With all of his extra work, the client states that he is not achieving what the boss expects to be quality work. Because of his difficulty in giving a “good” finished product, his self-image has been tarnished and he has been questioning his ability to do well; his sexual libido has diminished and he begs off meeting with friends after work.
Questions
1. Coping mechanisms can either be primary or secondary. Primary coping strategies are direct ways we can can control our environment. Secondary coping strategies are ways we change our perceptions. How can this guy cope with his problem? Are there better coping strategies the client could employ?
2. What are the expectations of the client in this scenario? How can he reconceive the problem?
3. Can it be assumed the problem lies with the supervisor?


works cited:Johnson, John J. "STRESS IN CHILDREN." Journal of Pastoral Counseling 39 (2004): 68-87; Park, Crystal L. "Religion as a Meaning-Making Framework in Coping with Life Stress" Journal of Social Issues 61.4 (Dec. 2005): 707-729;Pector, Elizabeth A. “Professional Burnout Detection, Prevention, and Coping” Clergy Journal; Sep2005, Vol. 81 Issue 9, p19-20, 2p;Wagner, Cynthia G. "Stress and the Brain" Futurist 40.2 (Mar. 2006): 12-13. web sites: stress.about.com, helpguide.org.



14.11.09

A Journal & Rant: "On the Uses and Misuses of Age"

"Age doesn't matter, but dammit I look old" is what my friend Suzy Q. said to me last night.
Evelyn Couch : I can't even look at my own vagina!
Evelyn Couch said it best: "I can't even look at my own vagina!" 

My grandmother looked in the mirror one morning on her 92nd birthday and shrieked, "Who is that woman? It's not me."

On the playground of life it is like Freaky Friday: Young kids want to be adults; adults prefer to act like kids. The age divide splits us from baby, to toddler, child, school kid, pre-adolescent, tween, teen, young adult, young person, 20-something, 30-something, "Over the Hill," old, octogenarian, centenarian, dead. In the middle ages you were rudely a child, a man or geriatric. 3 stages of life. Now, the stages grew to 9 thanks to Erikson, now up to 30 thanks to Super Mario Brothers.

By increasing the stages of age, the strictures are enforced. The subtlety in development is painstakingly tracked. By 30 you must have acquired maturity. If not, you lie.

Middle age women are smart: they don't reveal their age.

Gay men lie.

Straight men don't care. Unless were talking about controlled substances.

Kids lie to get alcohol or cigs. But they expect adults to uphold integrity.

An online buddy asked me if it was ethical to lie about age on a personal ad.

It is apparently a controversial topic.

If you're 25 on a personal ad, in real life your true age is probably anywhere in the range from 21 - 29.

But if you are 30 on an ad you are actually more likely to be 40. If you're really 17 you are most likely going to say you're 18. If you are telling the truth, you're either desperate, or taking what you can get.

A bouncer asked for my ID and after looking at it said, "Hey, you look 23 and still in college, but when you opened your mouth and started talking, I knew you were 30 and working"

The face (or body) says one thing while our words says another. Our age belies our wisdom while our wisdom never depends on age.

The youth Benjamin Button dies forgetting what he learned as an old man. Rip Van Winkle wakes up and literally times has flown by. If it is true that "every day a little death" then all of us should feel a lot more humble.
image credit: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) © Universal Pictures