Push!

boulder

I’m an old dog who continues to learn new tricks. I’m truly thankful every single day for having a mind that is still working relatively well. My knees hurt all day and all night and my bladder is weak, but so far I can still make those little grey cells in my head do their thing. it’s a blessing to maintain my ability to think clearly that I tend to believe I inherited from my paternal grandfather and seemingly from my mother’s side of the family as well.

My Grandpa was still reading massive biographies and quoting them when he was one hundred eight. When he ultimately lost the clarity of his mind it was painful to watch because he had indeed been so wise and brilliant for all of the time I had known him. His clouded thinking came on rather suddenly after an unexpected illness. For the last few months of his life he no longer seemed to understand where he was or why certain things were happening to him. He became like a confused and frightened child. Luckily his pain did not last too long. He was spared the horror of living in a dazed condition for years.

The old adage is that the mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it is also a terrible thing to lose. The confusion that results from diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia steal the joy from both those who are afflicted and those who care for them. The journey into loss of memory or understanding can be terrifying for everyone concerned. Whereas my grandfather had the good sense to stop driving his car when he was in his nineties, those whose minds become confused often insist on being allowed to do things that are dangerous for them and those around them. It becomes a battle of wills to reason with them.

There is still a great deal to learn about the brain and how it works or fails to work. We don’t yet have the understanding that we need to reverse the effects of aging or diseases of the brain other than rudimentary ideas. One of those is to keep the mind active. Just as with exercise for the body, continuing to challenge the mind is essential for good health. Reading, writing and even “ciphering” as my Grandpa called it keeps things working as long as they have not been affected by disease. It’s important to challenge ourselves by continuing to learn just as we might push to tone our bodies.

I was a mathematics teacher by profession but I never taught anything past Algebra II. As a result I recall little or nothing about the more advanced courses that I took when I was still in my teens. Back in the day we had Trigonometry courses but Pre Calculus was not a thing. Even our Calculus offerings were rather sparse compared with what students learn in today’s classrooms. The acceleration of learning for modern day students is awesome but also somewhat unimaginable for those of us who learned “back in the day.”

I do a great deal of mathematics tutoring. I feel quite comfortable working with students in Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, but I begin to lose my confidence with Pre Calculus and Calculus because it has been more than fifty years since I mastered the material in those subjects and in some cases the information in those courses goes far beyond what I learned in the long ago. For that reason I have shied away from working with students who struggle in those areas, preferring to stick with what I really know and understand.

Recently I’ve been called upon to help one of my grandsons with his Pre AP Pre Calculus class. I have literally been studying mathematics every single day for weeks now, learning the concepts in tandem with him. Fortunately there are instructional videos on virtually every topic known to mankind that I can watch on my laptop. I’ve managed to rebuild the structures in my brain that had gone to rot from neglect and to stretch my knowledge to places that my brain had never before ventured. It’s been both a challenge and a pleasure to realize that I am still quite capable of pushing my mind beyond what I already know. In many ways I feel younger and more excited about life than I have in quite some time.

I’ve always found comfort in the process of learning. Often it has not come easily to me but it has been a most enjoyable pursuit. I am passionate about reading and writing and a bit proud that I also have a fairly good understanding of mathematics, or at least an ability to learn what I do not yet know. It’s been fun to work alongside my grandson and to accomplish something of which I was initially afraid.

We humans are truly remarkable creatures. We have the ability to remold ourselves in both mind and body, but doing those things takes effort. We can’t just sit back and hope that the fat in our bellies will miraculously go away or the dust in our brains will disappear. All good things associated with improvement take hard work and that is a fact. The successful folks among us were rarely just born that way. They have had to consciously strive to better themselves. That’s why the person who loses fifty pounds is so proud, or the individual who masters a knew concept literally glows with a sense of accomplishment.

Life is filled with one challenge after another. Our need to push ourselves never really ends. We can make our bodies and our minds stronger but we have to work at it. There is no rest for the weary, but we can make our efforts fun with the right attitudes. Carving the pounds from our bodies or filling our minds with knowledge can be enjoyable pursuits. Pushing ourselves just a wee bit more is not just amazing. It is truly good for us.

Respecting the Young

greta-thunberg-crop-1564052286-1600x1067

I recall once reading quotes from ancient Greeks in which they expressed derision toward the teenagers of the time. Adults all too often have expectations for youth that are unrealistic and hardly in line with adolescent development. While it is true that seventeen and eighteen year olds often took on great responsibilities in earlier times, it is also undoubtedly as fact that those same adolescents also made mistakes from which they had to learn valuable lessons. The time between sweet sixteen and about age twenty five is wrought with both wonderful opportunities and major struggles. Becoming a happy and healthy adult is no small feat, especially in today’s world. Sadly those of us who are well beyond those young years often forget how fraught with anxiety and challenges they can be.

I worry constantly about our young. Our world does not always treat them kindly and they are still working to perfect the life skills that will enable them to survive in the on their own. The process of growing up is a grand adventure on many levels and one of the most uncomfortable moments in life on others. Teens and young adults will make many mistakes before they finally figure things out, and it is up to those of us who are older to support them in their efforts, even when they appear to go astray. Many a young person’s life has been unduly scuttled because the adults around him/her lacked compassion and understanding.

I watch grown people who should know better deriding young folk who are earnestly expressing their points of view. Instead of congratulating them for caring enough to form opinions and speak out on certain issues there are those who insult them and even suggest that they should be ignored. A more reasonable reaction would be to have an honest and respectful conversation with them about their concerns rather than insulting them or simply writing them off as too immature to know have a meaningful opinion.

While I think that Greta Thunberg from Sweden has taken the wrong approach in scolding entire generations with a broad brush of disdain, I applaud her interest in bringing attention to the problems of climate change. She is quite sincere in her worries and she deserves to be heard even if we find her ideas hyperbolic and even a bit insulting. In fact, when a teen expresses the most anger and frustration that is the very time when they must be heard. In those moments they are thinking out loud and letting us know that they are attempting to make sense of the world as they know it. Simply writing them off only confounds their anger and does little to help them learn how to channel their anxieties into constructive ideas.

In the past I’ve written about the boy with the MAGA cap who was raked over the coals by adults who should have known better. They made assumptions about him based on a single image that could not possibly have told his full story. It was very wrong of the press and the world of social media to publicly scold him without really knowing him. As it turned out he was unfairly taunted and then judged by standards that most adults would have a difficult time achieving.

Then there is the young man from Parkland High School in Florida who has spoken about against guns. He has been ridiculed and insulted in grossly inappropriate ways simply because he espouses a point of view with which many disagree. Instead of complimenting him for taking the time to attempt to solve a problem that personally affected him and his classmates, he has been continually maligned.

As an educator I watched young teens do very stupid things that got them into much trouble. They were the ones who got caught and often the punishments given to them far outweighed the nature of the crimes they committed. In the most extreme cases too much emphasis was placed on retribution toward them rather than using the instance as a teachable moment. The adults in charge did indeed change the course of the youngsters’ lives, but not in the intended way. They took good kids who had done something wrong and turned them into hardened criminals. Without compassion and counseling they broke and felt as though their lives were so ruined that there was little reason to continue along a path of righteousness.

My grandfather was a storyteller. I loved sitting with him and hearing his tales that always held a kernel of wisdom. Hearing him speak was a calming and learning experience. You might say that he had been around.

  Once he told of a time when he was working in a general store as a young boy. Times were hard then and there were families that were unable to afford even the basic necessities. Many of them ran up tabs with the owner of the store with promises of repayment once things got better. One man in particular owed so much that the proprietor of the store had to deny the man anymore credit. The poor soul ended up stealing a bag of flour in desperation and my grandfather witnessed the crime.

Grandpa felt compelled to tell the owner of the store what had happened and soon enough the sheriff arrived. The lawman and my grandfather went together to confront the man who had purloined the flour. When they got to his house they found a chaotic scene in which the woman of the house was attempting to make bread. Her children were so hungry that they were eating balls of raw dough. When the sheriff saw what was happening he looked at my grandfather, winked, and suggested that my grandfather must have been mistaken in thinking that the unfortunate father had stolen anything. My grandfather understood the sheriff’s reasoning instantly and nodded in assent that he had been wrong.

We would all do well to follow the sheriff’s lead and demonstrate more compassion, particularly with teens and young adults. Our first thought should always be to help them to become better versions of themselves. Stern insults and harsh punishments are not the answer. It’s up to us to be better than that.

Life Is Good

contentment

The aroma of banana bread is baking in the oven. Songs from Sting are playing in the great room. The washer and dryer are working to clean today’s laundry while Mike irons his dress shirts. We’ve just returned from Sprouts where we purchased a week’s worth of fresh vegetables and I am boiling eggs for future breakfasts. My niece will be coming soon for afternoon tea and my level of contentment is soaring.  It would be difficult to feel any better than I do right now.

I suppose that my satisfaction is a sign of my age. It doesn’t take much these days to feel blessed. I’ve learned over time what is most important in life and it certainly isn’t things. It’s a sense of security, enough healthy food to feed my energy, and great moments with family and friends. I enjoy good music and the opportunity of another day whether it be sunny with blues skies or cold, wet and grey.

I spent the morning planning for a Pre Calculus study session with my grandsons. It’s nice to know that my brain is still working, probably better than my knees. I also created lessons for some young men who are learning Algebra I, a couple of youngsters who are mastering middle school math, and two little tikes who are learning how to tell time, read a calendar, and add numbers. Having a purpose each day is priceless and does much to boost my optimism. I see young people working very hard to learn and to move toward their own futures. They give me faith that the world will ultimately be just fine.

We humans are rather amazing. We don’t just hunt and grow food. We turn it into delicacies. We don’t just talk to communicate. We turn our voices into musical instruments with our singing. We use our words to paint lovely pictures. There is something quite miraculous about the things that we do. Our creativity and curiosity have led us to great heights throughout history and I can’t help but believe that we will continue to use our magnificent intellects to solve the world’s problems. We have always ultimately risen to every occasion and I don’t see why we won’t continue to do that.

A young man who was once my student is looking for a job. He earned a degree in petroleum engineering, a rather incredible accomplishment, but he is not from a world filled with contacts. The great thing is that with only a few strokes of the keyboard of my computer I was able to put him in touch with generous people who work in the world of oil and gas. They are eager to help, just as people usually are.

It would be easy to only see the really bad aspects of the world, but I choose not to do so. Dwelling on evil only invites depression. Instead I have always found that the key is to find the good people who are so much in the majority. I was happy to hear one of my grandsons following that same path. He recently boasted with great joy that he feels confident about the future. I suspect that he will be very much part of the new generation that tackles difficulties and I can’t think of any way better to do that than with a sense that all will be well with just a bit of work.

Of course it is important to share what I have with those who are less fortunate. Not everyone lives in the kind of luxury that I enjoy. They may have dangerous living conditions and worry about where they will find food for the next meal. They have serious problems that threaten to overwhelm them. It’s up to those of us who “have” to help those who “have not” both with tangible offerings and educational opportunities. The old saw about teaching someone how to fish rather than just giving them a fish is only half right. Sometimes they also need that initial fish just to have enough energy and ambition to learn.

At my age one never knows how much time is left. That can be a depressing thought or it can be an impetus to make the most of every single day. We just don’t know when we will hear our last song or eat our last meal, so why not savor every second to the utmost? Taking joy out of even the smallest of experience is good for the soul and helps to make the heart healthy.

It’s also important to have a willingness to learn and change. It’s never too late to take that class in geology or to tackle a new language. Keeping the mind alive and alert seems to gush lots of happy serotonin through the brain. It makes each moment feel a bit more adventurous.

The school bus will soon bring the children from the neighborhood back home. Hearing those lovely little voices never fails to bring a smile to may face. On this day of contentment it will be the cherry on top of my glorious mood. Life is good.

A Kind Revolution

solar panels

I think about things all of the time. Some people might call my mental gymnastics worry or anxiety. I simply see myself as having a very active mind. Some people have difficulty standing still. They are always moving about. I find it hard to shut down the thoughts inside my brain. I am always observing, asking questions and considering solutions for problems. Sometimes my mental processes are so active that I have to calm myself just to relax enough to sleep.

Lately I’ve really been considering the effects of climate change and ways in which we might address the issues associated with the storms and droughts and other weather events that are plaguing our earth more and more often. When I look for guidance from experts and I ask probing questions I generally find myself feeling as though nobody is actually prepared to consider all of the consequences, unintended or certain, that may occur from choosing one plan of action over another. It’s frustrating because it sometimes feels as though the issue being presented as a zero sum game regardless of which of the extreme sides one decides to choose. Instead I think that there is surely some alternative that is more viable.

On the one hand we are being told that our time for hesitation is long gone. We must begin to accept draconian measures if we are to avoid economic collapse and social/political chaos. The warnings are dire and not totally unfounded based on scientific research but they also seem to ignore some very basic questions that seem to have no real answers. The very scenario of economic doom might also come to pass if the most exacting sacrifices are indeed enforced. Little thought has been given to how to radically change the ways in which we do almost everything so that people do not lose their livelihoods. It’s difficult to get a major road built in under ten years so why should we believe that we can totally redesign how we live in a short time without leaving large sectors of the world’s population in economic danger?

On the other hand there are the climate change deniers who seem stubbornly unwilling to accept the facts about how we humans have literally changed the workings of the earth. They are gambling with our futures by insisting that the whole idea of climate change is little more than a hoax being propagated on the world as a means of upending political systems. If they have their way we may in fact one day find ourselves having to relocate the people of entire cities and the hardships of the Great Depression will seem like a cakewalk compared to the human upheavals that may transpire.

Somehow I find myself thinking that the most invested groups are running the show while the rest of us sit back ignoring the possibilities. My innate logic tells me that there must be a better way. If we all agree to work hard to do things to lessen the impact of climate change then perhaps we can forestall scenarios of doom and gloom while continuing to search for more intelligent solutions.

The truth is that we have too many cars rolling down the road at any given hour. Back when I was young most families owned a single vehicle. The drivers had to take turns using the family car. I remember going on the bus with my mom to do our shopping because my dad had to take the auto to work. When we had appointments in places not serviced by buses we would drop my father off at the bus stop and he would ride to work that way. We lived by the school so we were able to walk everyday. In fact, we walked and rode our bicycles to a number of places. We managed to get everywhere we needed to go by being flexible and inventive.

With a bit of sacrifice and a willingness to consider other alternatives to having multiple cars much of the carbon footprint from driving might be mitigated. Even better would be to make more and more autos that are hybrids or reliably electric at affordable prices. Neighborhoods should consider allowing residents to move about in electric golf carts or community trolleys. Bike lanes should automatically become standard on side streets. Businesses should encourage employees to ride share by providing bonuses or parking for those who do.  Governments might provide tax incentives for those willing to take such steps as well. Cities need to invest in more viable and environmentally friendly mass transportation systems and be rewarded for doing so. The modern world should begin to look like the imaginary one of futuristic thought. 

There is a home in my neighborhood that is fitted with Tesla solar panels. Our climate is particularly well suited for such innovation but the cost of installing such systems is prohibitive for most people. If lawmakers are truly serious about taking bold steps to reduce the carbon footprint then they need to help make it financially feasible for the average homeowner to invest in solar energy or other alternatives. Just as the government built the nation’s highways after World War II this can be a national campaign to redesign the way we get energy for our homes but it has to be affordable for it to work.

We must also encourage all forms of energy innovation. I know of a man who has been attempting to sell the idea of having personal windmills in every backyard but he has encountered far too much opposition. While his inventiveness may need a bit of tweaking I wonder why nobody has encouraged his designs by investing in research to make it better. Think of how Thomas Edison changed the world as it was known in a very short time because the movers and shakers of Wall Street saw merit in his ideas. Capitalism does not need to be a foe of climate change believers but rather a source for encouraging new ways of doing things that will make the world a better place for everyone.

There has been much criticism of older and past generations of late but we might also take some pages from their stories. They built houses that have lasted for centuries. The designs took advantage of cross breezes so that air conditioning was not required to be cool. They built foundations on pillars that raised homes from the water of floods. They installed clotheslines in every backyard to use the sun for drying laundry. They recycled virtually everything including packaging for purchases. I wore many a dress handmade by my grandmother from the cloth of flour sacks. Old clothes were turned into warm quilts that were used in piles to eradicate the need for heat. Most people kept vegetable gardens in their yards.

We have to educate the populace to be flexible and willing to think outside of the box. This means taking the brilliance of mankind and using it not just to create an uproar but to formulate more efficient and evironmentally friendly ways of living. We can incentivize good habits and create a movement that works for everyone in an ever changing world. We need to begin to think ahead planning our moves with a willingness to quickly adapt them to whatever situation arises.

Most people despise lectures about what they have done wrong but they enjoy the idea of  being part of progress through innovation. Surely the same people who were able to put a man on the moon in only a decade can move the environment to a better place without robbing the rich or leaving the poor in a state of desperation. We can do this as surely as we went from a sleepy and isolated nation to the heroes of World War II. It may take a few sacrifices and changes in the way we live but it will also include exciting new ways of doing things that will be better than anything we have ever seen. We should join together in a spirit of optimism to design a kind revolution for saving our planet that respects everyone. We can do it!

A Masterpiece

Game of Thrones

It’s been months since the finale of Game of Thrones. We’ve heard all of the opinions about the ending and how it should or should not have been written. The Emmys for the previous season have been presented with amazingly little publicity or fanfare and lo and behold Game of Thrones won a few here and there. The new season of televised programming has premiered and we are moving on to new horizons, new experiments in viewing pleasures. We are a fickle lot. One day a series is in and another day it’s out. It takes little for us to turn on favorites or to join the horde in praising something heretofore uninteresting to us simply because it feels woke to do so. So often like lemmings we hark to the general hue and cry.

With great respect to both those who have watched every episode of Game of Thrones and those who have yet to spend their hours attempting to keep up with the complicated plots and abundance of characters I forthwith offer my humble opinion about the ground breaking series. Be advised that I will not include spoilers lest some potential future viewer might heed my words and decide to risk spending a great deal of time unraveling the story.

I heard of the HBO series Game of Thrones before I had read any of the books by George RR Martin. I saw the previews while I was watching Boardwalk Empire and I felt more than a little curiosity. I tuned in to the first episode and by the end of the first season I was hooked by the grandeur and idea of this imaginary world ruled by grand families against a backdrop of coming doom. For this English major the tale was more than skin deep and I was soon scurrying to the local Barnes and Noble Bookseller to purchase a copies of the novel as well.

I was hooked from the beginning. In fact my interest became a kind of obsession. The story was fascinating and raw, a showcase for our complex human natures. Above all in both the book and on screen it told of power, traditions, family ties, spiritual beliefs, the birth and evolution of personality. It’s creative force was stunning even when it lead my favorite characters to places that were darker and more dangerous than I wished them to be.

Like a study of the English monarchy I almost needed family trees to follow the tangled threads of the tale but over time I felt a kind of familiar kinship with my favorite characters and a loathing of those who were their enemies. As with people in real life I was often surprised by heroes who exhibited weaknesses and stunned by seeming villains who found redemption. In terms of studying the human experience Game of Thrones was a masterpiece even when I disliked the turn of events.

Those of us who have read the books know that much was left out of the televised series. To consider every aspect of George RR Martin’s voluminous texts would take decades and the screenwriters wisely omitted some of the stories that were somewhat strange diversions from the main themes. Nonetheless in the final analysis it is as much a tale of family and adventure as The Odyssey and like that old Greek classic it focuses on the struggles of our very humanity. Sadly Martin has never found a way to actually end his saga, a problem that all writers face. Tying up the thousands of tangled threads in a satisfactory way is often the most difficult aspect of telling any story because if the ending is too harsh readers and viewers will be upset. If it is too maudlin they will believe that it is simply schmaltz.

I think of so many books and movies that I love but would have liked to see end differently. I wanted a happy ending for To Kill A Mockingbird not one that broke my heart. I wanted Duckie to get the girl in Pretty in Pink. I could go on for hours as most of us probably might. We each carry particular opinions and desires in our hearts and those feelings ultimately affect our thoughts about even such mundane topics as how best to end a television series. In defense of Martin and the screenwriters for Game of Thrones there is probably no finale that would have satisfied everyone and still rung true to the essence of the story and its focus on the contradictions of human interactions.

Instead I believe that our judgement of Game of Thrones should be based on the innovation and grandeur of the series. There has never before been anything as breathtaking on television. The scope of each episode was worthy of the big screen. Even the musical score soared to a level heretofore unknown in weekly programming. The acting was exceptional and no doubt has launched the careers of many members of the talented cast. The cinematography and special effects were stunning, and taken as a whole the writing was superb. Game of Thrones will stand for all time as one of the best series in televised history despite any disappointments in how the writers chose to end it.

A week or so ago I attended a concert of Game of Thrones music at the Cynthia Woods Pavilion in the Woodlands. Because the venue is rather far from where I live my husband and I decided to make a day of it in the area rather than fighting Friday night traffic just before the show. We ended up enjoying dinner at a local restaurant where we had a quite friendly waiter who asked us if we had any plans for the rest of our evening. He became more than animated when we told him where we were going and he launched into a discussion of Game of Thrones. We all spoke of our favorite moments and characters but agreed that at times we had felt almost lost in the torturous maze of the story.

The waiter admitted that he needed more understanding after the final episode aired and so he began the process of watching the series once again from beginning to end. He excitedly suggested that it was a more than worthy undertaking because once he no longer worried about what was going to happen next he began to see the deeper meanings of every aspect of the story. It was almost like doing a literary analysis and as he progressed he realized the extraordinary genius and beauty of the show.

I thought about our restaurant conversation as I listened to the score from Game of Thrones that evening and watched clips from the beginning to the end of the series. I understood how fond we fans had all grown of watching those very human characters live out their lives in a make believe world that explained so much about our own. I saw how the totality of the story had enchanted us and I realized why we will miss it. By any measure this is the mark of a classic, even with its flaws and disappointments. Game of Thrones was indeed a masterpiece and worth taking the time to watch again.