Sleepy stories

All kids have ticks, weirdnesses, and their own idiosyncrasies.  In essence, there is no perfect kid- and sometimes those very strange things turn out to be advantages under the right conditions.  I think as parents we just hope they don’t turn out to be factors in anything like becoming sociopaths.  Anything above that baseline, and I think we learn it’s all good.  

Sometimes those things turn out to be learning disorders of one kind or another, and Number One Son (or Primo, as opposed to Segundo, or number two- no less important, just older and younger) has been dealing with his share since he was born.  For such a bright kid to try to understand why some things take so much longer, or feel impossible to accomplish, or seem easy for his little brother- has been hard for him to assimilate into his identity.  He’s the bright, funny, always cheerful kid who wakes up singing, has a big squishy heart, and kicks himself way too hard when he fails.  In honor of this wonderful, complex child I am posting his new short story (without the five illustrations on black construction paper he drew with it), and he was limited to 150-350 words:

The Sleepy Ghost 

Tick is his name and he lives in a grandfather clock.   He is a sleepy ghost who is always dozing off, and forgets his job to set the clock.  His brother Tock has to polish the clock so everyone can see it.

 The other ghosts in the old mansion get frustrated when the clock does not remind them to get up at night.  They can’t get their chores done on time without the clock running well!

 So Tick asked his mom to make him some cobweb and dust bunny ear muffs to block out the sound of the clock and maybe he could sleep.

 She zoomed around the mansion collecting her supplies.  She adjusted them so they fit just right and soon Tick fell fast asleep in his spot in the clock.

 He wakes up regularly now and grabs his tools.  He keeps the clock on schedule and makes sure it always says tick-tock!

 This was all Primo’s work.  He loves to write stories.  I wondered if the one above was influenced by the knowledge of his father’s narcolepsy, but he said no.  He has been purposefully making up stories since he could speak, and I guess I am partly to blame for that.  Instead of reading, I still tell them Primo and Segundo stories at bedtime with the lights out.  The quality can vary, depending on how tired I am, but they usually seem appreciated and I try to make the stories novel and exciting, and they always have the same five sentence introduction, which seems to be something they like to count upon hearing.

The only time I crashed and burned was a story I’ll never forget when I tried to use the nightly story as a teachable moment.   We were all over tired and irritated, which I should have paid attention to.  Before bed, I tried to get them to pick up something- anything- and put it away.  I felt like I had been nagging about it for days.  So I told a story about alternate universe boys, with different names, who did not pick up their things and how they disappeared.  Well, you would have thought I had threatened to burn down the house or something.  Crying and yelling ensued, much like I imagine bad plays went over in the Theater of Ephesus.  “Boo!Boo!”  “Stop it!”  “I hate this story!”  “Change it!”  rang out and there was much jumping up to grab as many stuffed animals and toys and cram them into their beds, under the covers.  Then wails of despair followed, such sadness and despair as I have ever heard.  I grabbed my two terrific kids and hugged them, promising to never tell a story like that again.  It took half an hour of hugging and promises to calm them down, and the next morning Primo told me he knew what I was trying to say with the story, and that I did not need to do that.  They still didn’t pick up their toys (or shoes, or books. . .), but we have since worked out better means of motivating and rewarding for when they do.

It’s funny how many things narrative can accomplish (intentional or not) such as reveal, instruct, and even cause fear.   There is a reason humans love the call of stories, as Robert Coles has put it.  Even in the most blighted places, they still have stories.  They still have voices.  I only hope using narrative helps Primo better find his with time.

Que?

I was listening to Kate Bush today and thumbing through my approximately 30 gig of music (and for the record, I wish I had more).  I remember when ITunes first came out with the data analyzer that attempts to make recommendations based on your library.  It was doomed to fail in so many ways (one because I have enough items that ITunes does not carry that it would be hard to adequately analyze if the case- my collection- has so much data that has to be ignored as unknown), but the errors are an interesting problem.   I have felt like much of my life I have been dismissed as an outlier.  In statistics, it is a convenient way to discard data by saying, in essence, “it does not fit anything we can use and is so far out of our margins of experience we can just throw it out”.

In data mining, eclectic cases could be interesting- but because they do not neatly provide predictive lines of analysis, they are more often than not dismissed as noise in the data.  Think of smoke coming out of your toaster (which is how I thought of ITunes when it tried to send me recommendations.  It was frying itself a little trying to make matches.  And yes, this is a vague reference to flying toasters.  And no, not from BSG).   “Noise” or errors in the data can also be used to refine pre-existing category systems (think when Photoshop tries to delete an object then insert surrounding inferential data to fill in where the object was removed), so that the greater the possibilities of realization of a concept is explored in real experience, it adds to the complexity of how that idea is understood and manifested, or reflected back.

On Facebook, I tried to limit the amount of information that could be freely collected by the site and its “partners”.  One of the things I did was put in a wildly inaccurate birth date.  I like messing with data mining.  I purposely have a small friends group too, so anyone who knows me well already knows my birthday and knows my penchant for messing with freeloading data systems.

When one knows oneself, we know the parts that are ridiculously stereotypical and the parts that are eclectic.  The mash up and resulting paradoxes are, I think, just part of being human.  Go figure that one out cognitive science- ok, I know people are trying but really- so many current models are so inadequate or just rehashing problems philosophers and early psychologists have better articulated.

There is something to the notions of innovation, eclecticism, and creativity that is compelling.  I formally studied these ideas long and hard for many years, for altruistic reasons as well as knowing I was a thorny case for the subject.   I found satisfying models and metaphors in work from people like R. Sternberg (the concept of Practical Intelligence), from the bulk of expertise research, the personal musings of many artists, musicians, and writers, aesthetics, and many other sources.   At the same time, there is an element of the wisp of smoke coming from a toaster about the idea of creativity; to try to understand open ended, eclectic thinking is to sometimes burn out the very tools of analysis you are bringing to the subject.

On a practical level, I have enjoyed the research that quite definitely shows if we do not use our brain in challenging and novel ways it will atrophy, and contribute to dementia.  As often as I feel like a complete alien in every culture and subculture I have been in, it is comforting to know my “sideways” way of viewing things may be helping me age better.  But does that also mean we are doomed to always be incomplete, constant learning beings if we are to survive, and survive well- thereby possibly both limiting our usefulness (incomplete, exploratory) as well as making us adaptable?  Ah, to be or not to be (apologies to WS).

We romanticize creativity, but in practice most folks are terrified of things that are different, and skeptical of the new.  I am not an early adopter of technology (one because I can’t afford to be), but I am deeply interested in what objects and processes new technology is applied to. I have been called blissfully naive in my life, and I took it as a put down.  But looking back, it was a habit of not making rash judgments, extending the time to understand someone or something (and yes, therefore putting myself in harms way from time to time) that garnered me that label, combined with a seemingly insatiable thirst for new experiences and stimuli.  I also know that withholding indexing or categorizing, being flexible in how one views an experience, is a core component of creativity.  It is the open-ended question without any one absolutely right answer that fascinates.  Wisdom for folks like me is learning what situations require immediate categorization and what situations can be allowed the extra time and thoughtfulness necessary for satisfactory input.

I don’t think data mining systems have reached the wisdom stage yet, and therefore will continue to emit wisps of smoke when confronted with the eclectic cases; or take so much of what I am and toss it out as outlier that what is left is a pale imitation, a grossly inadequate summary.  I think data mining (and life in general) does this to an extent to all of us, regardless of how predictable we may seem.  Some assumptions that result may be useful and help improve the tools that operate in our lives, both foregrounded and backgrounded.  Others lead to horrible policy and situations like those at airports when checking in for a flight.  In essence, everyone and no one are terrorists.  A complete paradox of institutionalized applications resulting from awful data analysis systems.

Simply using “that” word in this blog selects me out for further analysis in the gross internet search and filter systems of some intelligence programs.  Try and mash up all the topics I have crossed here and see if I am a no-fly—wisps of smoke, then throwing out most of what is written and determine I am not a threat due to inconsequential outliers.  See?  It is useful, right?

If only rejection were always so useful.

Husband recently said with a laugh, “I know WHO you are (and he trusts what he knows), but I don’t know WHAT you are.”   He struggled to explain- and remember, this man is an accomplished artist- that he meant he does not know where I fit in.  Funny, I don’t either most of the time.  But I’ll keep taking those wisps of smoke and the subsequent collapse into absurdity and laughter as the only way other than despair and insanity to synthesize the issue.  In laymans terms, come to a temporary peace.  But as many of us know, it is a peace that will soon be disturbed by the enjoyment of the knotty problem, the hurtful surprise, or the macro-level existential paradox that never ceases to exist in the back of every conscious mind.

So good night all you toasters, running your programs.  Maybe someday that AI will learn how to integrate the errors that lead to melt down or burnt toast; or maybe there will just not seem to be a good reason to mirror us and you’ll leave us alone.

Happiness as narcissism?

Happiness is. . .Curiosity.  Being driven to explore.  Creating something out of a mash up of materials.  Being occasionally surprised by science and art. Finding the impulse to think about and do things other than focusing energy on social manipulation.

Although, I suppose being a social manipulator could be a form of happiness, and driven by a curiosity to see what happens “when I do X”.  But that’s a bit sociopathic and clinical.  Most social manipulators do so because they are insecure, and are driven by a need for power.  Or because it is the only way some people know how to be in the world.  Sometimes this is defined as narcissism- being self-centered with little regard for the feelings or well being of others.

But what about people who are not interested in what is often the soap opera of life, necessary for a complex dart board of human relations (various levels of intimacy from the center out)?

What spurred this line of thought, you ask?  I enjoy the show House.  Husband claims (sometimes to insult me, sometimes to praise) that if I were male I would be like House.  At first I laughed.  I am not nearly that smart  Also, the show can be silly.  But I still like the character and Hugh Laurie acts the heck out of the role. I also realize that the constant sociopathic manipulation that the character participates in is something I just can’t find time to do; there are way too many things I’d rather be doing.  For example, I am driven by a curiosity that I call “itchy feet”, the need to travel.  Even if it is only to get to know every dirt road, fire road, black top and driveway in a 30-mile radius (or more when I did not live in a geographic fish bowl).  I also read arcane, esoteric things (to my destruction- I ended up with a dissertation no one could understand much less help me with.  Four advisors might have been part of the problem.  But what is a student to do when the first one dies, the second goes mad and leaves, the third retires, and the fourth just does not know what I was doing?).  I am rarely more interested in the people of my own environment than I am people I don’t have to interact with.  I can read people extremely quickly and usually am not interested in participating in what I find.  I can be blunt, abrasive, insensitive, and unaware (or just don’t care); but I am not intentionally mean or cruel (that takes way too much energy).  If I want to bash someone about the head, they know it.  I despise having to make small talk, and complex formalities.  On the flip side, I am unusually loyal to the oddball handful of people I love.  I have been told lots of things in the past several years by my friends, the most common theme being that I am “not your usual type of person”, “you are a strange duck but I love you”, that sort of slightly annoyed but committed interest.

So, ok, maybe a little like House.

I started this blog with a slant, an in-construction voice appropriate for the title.  This one breaks out a bit.  I only know three people who read it, so I don’t worry about morphing into something different from time to time.

If being driven by a curiosity about the world with little interest in manipulating the people around me makes me happy, I can be called many things.  I think the idea of narcissism has been given a bad rap- we think of people who were off-normal, passionate, and self-centered and had disastrous results (I listed some of the classic historical folks used as examples, but didn’t want to taint the idea so I erased them).  But aren’t the delusions necessary to be happy (read the happiness project stuff ad infinitum to see what I mean) a form of narcissism?  Don’t we disregard the feelings and experiences of others in order to maintain our world view?  Don’t we have to be slightly unrealistic about ourselves to just get up and eat breakfast in a first world country?  If my self-involvement in my arcane interests and my rejection of social norms is a form of happiness, is it also narcissism?  Is it, within a certain range, any different from the desperate, insecure and often boring machinations of many people?  Can we all be called narcissistic?  Or is it just those extreme risk takers, those megalomaniacs, those Wall Street bankers and people on the fringes who are labeled with the term?

I have come to reject much of what contemporary psychology uses as a basis for existing and functioning, so I use the term narcissism loosely.  Getting a label only by degrees of clinical saturation (how much narcissism did you pee out today? Oh then you are ok; or not) does not seek to understand terms.

Anyway.  My attention is drifting.  It is late and I need to either get back to sleep or pick up one of the many books by my bed and read.  Who cares what you think.

Narcissism shmarcisissm.

 

Informing the hand

 People who work with their hands have, I have found, an interesting relationship to work.   Cognitive and neuro scientists have determined a function called kinesthetic memory, or muscle memory, which is a result of just using our bodies, especially our hands.  It helps us orient our bodies in space, and do actions in ways that are back-grounded (think about typing-  if you have done it often enough over many years, your fingers seem to just “know” where to go).  This is not without mistakes, but in general if we use our hands in specific, functional ways for a long time our brains learn too, and it creates a sort of action feed-back loop.  It’s really quite amazing.  Some educators are using this information to focus more on small and large motor development in early childhood, and some even into elementary school.  The idea is that physical passivity not only makes us lethargic and overweight, but actually deters learning- core functional learning in our brains.  This does not mean more tortuous gym classes, but finding ways to expand what is done in classrooms to encourage active, physical behaviors as part of learning.  Some aging specialists even think this focus can help people with dementia.

If I could talk to my great-grandfather again I am sure he would say the equivalent of “duh”.  So much about everyday life required using one’s body, one’s hands, a hundred years ago.  If we agree with this line of thought, then we run smack into what develops from using our hands:  the issue of quality, or competence in these actions, dare I say craftsmanship? 

Husband has a secret language with people who are expert users of hands.  I have always admired men’s hands.  The strong wrist, the slight bit of hair that escapes from a dress shirt, contradicting the starched formality of the suit.  The blunted finger tips, the calloused and worn skin.  Women use their hands too, but I have always preferred to let a stare linger over men’s.  Husband’s fascination is more of a sort of secret handshake, an understanding that can be difficult to express. 

We met a master baker over the weekend (http://www.europeanpastry.com).  He is “retired” in the way many experts are.  As he explained, “If you don’t use your hands (he holds them up) then you forget.”  Husband nodded.  Husband later expanded on the idea telling me it is more than the sheer loss of large and small muscle strength, which is annoying, but also the loss of a sort of magic, the forgetting how, the feeling rusty-ness that sets in and gets worse with time (He is struggling to avoid all that right now, as he has taken on more administrative duties and has had less time in the studio).  Our baker friend even taught himself pastry and chocolate making (which would have been separate businesses from bread in Europe he told us, in his Italian accent) to keep his hands, head, and bank account busy.  He shrugged and said “But we are in America.  It is all the same here.  I mostly make bread because I can’t find it like I like it.”  His shop is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and those in the know order cakes from him.  It isn’t easy to find, he and his wife run it out of the back of their small post-war house in a tight residential district.  You have to take the alley to get to it; there is no parking, and only one small sign.  But inside is an expert space of machines, materials and the products of many years of using hands correctly, with skill.

I could rhapsodize over the lingonberry and lemon tart.  I could drool while telling about the crunch of the batard, the perfectly balanced oil, herb and fluff of the bread in the focaccia,  or the flakiness and rightness of the cinnamon to apple ratio of the apple dumpling, or many of the other things we bought and shared as a family that day.  It should be enough to say that the “it all tastes the same” feeling of most commercial bakeries is due to the use of industrial materials and techniques that MAKE the products all the same (regardless of shape, color, texture, or label).  The contrast are real bakers and pastry makers, who try new flavors, know how to manipulate delicate materials and, as our baker said, “. . .use only real things- butter, farm eggs, sugar.  None of that other stuff.  No.”  He also lamented the lack of time-taking in many bakery efforts, saying that good bread needs time, directing us to what he considered was a good U-Tube video showing how to make real bread (using pre-heated cast iron pans), saying “even a six year old can make it”.  I would say a six year old can start to understand it, the real meaning of bread.

Experts of the hand have a respect for their tools, which they come to feel are extensions of their hands.  They know their materials well, and can literally “feel” when something is not right, and in Husband’s case, even “hear” when a tool is not being used correctly (students who are not using a hammer or torch correctly for example, he can hear from across the room, even in a messy din).  We also know people who work with cloth (also known as fibers artists), iron (blacksmiths), wood, and glass.  I know gardeners who have these traits as well.  The issue of craftsmanship is, I believe, so deep in the nature of who we are as human beings that it has been both derided and made exclusive, and every level in between, yet the use and informing of the hand does not go away.

Last fall we sat in on a lecture by a man who is called an expert in the theory of craft in art.   I found him neither an expert (his philosophical ideas were circuitous, unarguable, and uninformed by current theory), nor a person who understands the hand in any fashion (or a do-er, as Husband says).  We spent most of the evening after the lecture ranting to one another about what was and was not said, and finally decided we should write the book that has not been written about the topic.  Husband also began designing a class to “inform the hand”: A summer course of four weeks in which students would have two days of intensive, active learning with master hand users.  Two sets a week of blacksmithing, wood working, baking, sewing, glass blowing, etc.   Students would be required to turn in a paper in the end reflecting on these experiences, comparing and contrasting the use of hands through materials, tools and techniques, and what they have learned about craftsmanship.  Struggling to transform into words that which can seem to difficult to express- and thereby better practicing both the understanding of hands in craftsmanship, and written expression as well.

This morning I will make pancakes.  My kids say I make the “best in the world”, and I love that they say that- even with their limited experience and direct motivation.  But it is husband’s grudging respect for something he can’t do well (yet) that I love the most.  Materials, experience, practice, experimenting, and the hand I say.  Even if it has only been used in making pancakes, we can all understand and pursue informing our hands.

He who works with his hands is a laborer

He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman

He who works with his hands, head, and heart is an artist

(Attributed to Francis of Assisi)

Spheres of Influence

While aimlessly perusing the messy discount-discount get-rid-of-it-or-we-will aisle at a local store, my four year old and I came across six-inch Star Trek figures.  They had the Doctor (always a classic) , Mr. Sulu (smarty pants with surprise martial arts), and Mr. Checkov (the tech geek), good role models.  He asked politely if they could be his treat for being so good- adding, “One can be for my brother, and one for daddy too!”.  I had to laugh.  They had been marked down to two dollars each.  

Time out I thought.  I don’t want my kids to be random consumers, getting treats for no reason.  We have special days every once and a while when we do something fun, or get a treat (eating out, etc).  But what made this day special?  Husband recalls his mother making cakes for strange (Australia’s nationalization day) or made up days (national camping day).  My wonderful Aunt used to make baked Alaska for no particular reason than to make a day special.  Couldn’t we have a special treat day this day?  If it is spaced out by weeks from another?  January and February are good for that, weeks of cold with little celebration in them.  I dithered within myself.

The thing that got me was how well designed the toys were.  They were basically Barbies for boys.  Finely articulated, with accessories and expressive faces.  I have been greatly annoyed at the lack of male play figures in boy toys.  Ken is a joke, and GI Joe has come to resemble Rambo.  Not my idea of fun.  Even my eldest has remarked on the row upon row of neon pink isles in the Wal-Tar-K’s, stuffed with every variety of dolls imaginable; in contrast to the rag tag shelves for boys.  Finding these figures filled a niche.  I caved.

The great thing is they are still playing with these figures, long after we got them.  Like girls with their Barbies (except no hair to cut), the boys carry out scenarios with the figures.  These scenarios don’t always require guns, beating each other up, or other violence like we have come to expect from boys.  Science fiction can be good that way- lots of monsters, menacing entities, good and bad robots, and problem solving that does not necessarily involve killing something (they have become big fans of the most recent Dr. Who episodes as well, the main character of which refuses to carry a weapon- thank you Netflix).

Husband and I have been fans of the Sci-Fi genre as long as we can remember (not without discretion though).  We appreciate the late night humor of mid-century B films, the abysmal script dialogue of George Lucas, as well as the startling special effects of Avatar.  We also read the genre, and there are many well-written and prescient works from the last fifty years.  When it comes down to it, we enjoy the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to illuminate the condition of the human species, while often putting them in settings that are utterly surreal. 

I would much rather my boys explore the endless planets of Sci-Fi in their imaginations, play out their anxieties and issues using the tools of this genre than some pink hued and shopping bag dominated version of Mean Girls.   On the other hand, maybe that is just one of the worlds they choose to fly by, recognizing that they could stop and chat, but just don’t have time to do so.  Thereby making room for the Barbies (or Barberellas) in their reality, when the Barbies can’t seem to make room for them.

Play on little guys, and let me fly the space ship sometimes too, ok?

I am too lazy for that

Ok. I admit it.  I watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one) on the net after it posts every week.  With my husband.  After the kids are in bed.  It is a delicious, silly treat.  Somewhat akin to reading fiction in bed as a child, with the flashlight (dad did not encourage me to read fiction, he said it was junk).  But like the Star Trek fans of old, there are people who make costumes, go to conferences to meet actors and discuss plots, and in general show a high degree of focus and energy on these things that it makes me shake my head.  Live and let live, but I am just too lazy to do that.

I also read about how pro-anorexia and bulimia sites have ballooned on the net, in all languages thinkable.  I looked at some of these sites, trying to understand what goes on in these peoples (not just female anymore) heads, hearts, and bodies.  Aside from feeling very sad, because there is a grain of truth in the sentiments that each site echoes about how women (and men, particularly young men) are valued, I also thought:  I am too lazy to do that.  The discipline and obsession required to pursue those sorts of eating disorders is just not something I could pull off.  In addition, I like cheese too much.  And bread.  Really good bread.  And fruit, fresh fruit. . .and garden vegetables. . .and grilled meat. . .and pasta, tossed with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, or clam sauce. . .mmmmmm. 

Ok, I digress.

Digressing is not focusing, I tell myself. I realized with many tears last week that as creative as I can be in problem solving, I am just too lazy to really get crazy about anything.  Even when I was dating, I couldn’t get too worked up about anyone who wasn’t more obsessed with me than I was with them.  I usually became friends with the people I dated, because I was just too lazy to do anything else.  Being angry takes way too much energy, and there seems to always be something more interesting to think about.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I can be stubborn when it comes to gross levels of injustice, and inconsolable when it comes to issues of profound evil.  Yet going over the edge about anything, especially daily habits, seems like a lot of work.  It takes enough effort to keep a level of structure in my life that keeps the recyclables going out every week, the floor picked up, laundry done, family fed, my mind and the garden reasonably cultivated, and so forth.  To simply stave off chaos requires a lot of work.

I tried being a vegetarian for a while when I was younger (and single) because good meat was expensive, and I wasn’t very good at cooking it.  It didn’t last long.  My mother used to tell me with a high degree of irritation in her voice that I “always fell into things”.  I think what she meant was that I wasn’t disciplined enough to choose and chase any particular activity, and that all the mistakes I made were not particularly by choice, but due to ignorance and laziness.  You can imagine, it frustrated her greatly.  It frustrates me now, to think about all the opportunities blown, the paths not taken. 

I see some of this in my eldest son.  He is very easy going; some call him “happy go lucky” (not to be confused with Holly Go Lightly, at least I hope not).  He did not cry for the first year of his life, but would do this strange grunty thing when he was upset.  We used to call him the growly bear with chicken hair (he had very blonde, wispy, unruly hair that stuck out everywhere).  He is usually a very sunny child, and many people remark upon it.  He has developed an impish, rebellious side though and for that I am grateful (even if it sets me off from time to time).  But usually, he is an easy to please, happy, go-with-the-flow sort of little guy.  The down side is that he too can be manipulated, and coerced into things he would rather not do, and sometimes be the butt of a cruel child’s joke.  He does not understand it when this happens, and neither do I.  As I said, it takes way too much energy to be mean, and there are so many better things to do.  

Husband disagrees with me as I read this to him.  He lists all the times I stay up until three to finish a book, or “go like a terrier down a rabbit hole” when doing research and trying to find out about a subject.  I tell him this is not obsession.  I say this is not the same thing at all as the comi-con fans, the eating-disorder women, the muscle heads, the political wonks, the bunny boilers, the rebel flag wearing gun-nuts, or any assortment of folks that do not fill the role of “hobbyist”, or even earnest endeavor, but rather something quite a bit more, something bordering on the crazy, something that requires a large amount of energy, time, and not a drop of laziness. 

I think one of the core trusts we have in this country, the comfort, is knowing that no matter how crazy anyone seems to be, how different, how engaged in things utterly alien to some, that these things usually are not truly harmful and usually are not really obsessive.  Even differences that are core to our identity do not usually cause harm, and do not fit the term obsessive, but rather descriptive. 

In general, I think we have all come to trust that one of the things about living in the U.S. is that we are our own worst enemies.  If our government at all levels manages to keep infrastructure going, and stays out of our personal lives above that line of actual harm (not theoretical, an important distinction when dealing with religious nuts who want fascist reforms), if the economics of this country allow for most to work for livable wages under conditions that are both fair and encourage good work, creates considerations for those who can’t contribute in traditional ways, and the greater good is achieved not by excluding others, but by trying to work that complex space of “liberty and justice for all” (the under god part was tacked on very recently by the way, and nothing the Heritage Foundation says or does actually encourages any part of the liberty and justice part, no matter how much they wish to copy-right the verses)— well, then we do as we can and as we like.  This lays the foundation for the best R&D imaginable (with good education and funding) because it opens up the realm of the imagination, and experience.   We trust that people can make costumes for themselves, role play; collect rocks, books, cooking utensils, baby shoes or nail clippers; that people can have organizations that are specially formed for the discussion of these interests, and can lose themselves in these activities.  We trust the utter craziness of this social experiment we live within, and shrug when we see the array of parades and web sites for every damned thing imaginable.  It is when we forget that this is an important part of our lives, when we try to suppress or actively harm people who are different, that we lose.  Because as we do this to others, so can it be done to us. 

I should not have to repeat but I will: this is not to say there should be no baselines of law established.  But those baselines should restrict those who do actual harm, and do more encouraging of actual liberty.  Economic coercion of individuals and groups is not acceptable either, because in practice (as we currently see) it does the same thing as suppressive laws, and not nearly enough economic support for liberty and fraternity, or general social good (I will not even go into the financial support of corporations as individuals, one of the most insane definitions ever made in financial law).

It takes an enormous amount of front-end energy to set systems to do good, and an even larger amount of energy to suppress, harm, and manipulate after the fact.  Some say not being engaged in this process at all is the position of apathy, or laziness; and that this leads inevitably to chaos.  Also, most will angrily add, this requires that others become obsessed, “do all the work”.   That Hen making the bread story meant to teach children sort of thing.   Oh, in all things entertainment related, being lazy is fine- encouraged even.  But when it comes to being a citizen participation is essential.  I do not disagree.  But participation and obsession are two different things.  I’ll participate to establish those golden means all at once necessary as well as unattainable.  I know this requires a constant level of knowledge and action.  But I can’t get obsessed. Eternal vigilance may be the price of liberty as Milton Friedman posited.  But can one be vigilant and jubilant as well?  Can we take care of our daily lives with some degree of finesse, attend to the greater good, and still have time for Battlestar Galactica?  I hope so.  Because if not, be afraid.  Be afraid for us all.  Because most of us, most of us are just too lazy for that.

 

Mental space

“Gimme some space damn it!”

This is a thought I have often around my kids and my husband.  I have been thinking about what this means.  On the surface, it means “pick up the toys, clothes, dirty dishes and detritus of daily living that clutter our shared physical space and make for constant random picking up in the effort to make space” (or at least orderly space).   This constant demand to clean is a distraction and irritant, making anything else productive difficult.  Just walking, as anyone who has stepped bare footed upon a lego can tell you, can be interrupted.  If I had several hours alone to crank the tunes and clean, that would be different.  I could organize my time, react to unexpected issues (needing to pretreat a shirt here, address the bill that was found in the Dr. Seuss book), and Get Things Done (capitals intended).  Usually though, it’s a constant barrage in which one small gain here or there gets accomplished, and the macro level of the problem remains a mystery. 

So too with mental space.  In order to be creative, I have learned I not only need to be self-disciplined (that’s where procrastination guilt occurs- when I know I could have been self-disciplined but have not), but also need “head time” to let ideas “cook”.  Head time can even come when I am Getting Things Done- because the mental is uninterrupted.   Then there is the creative need for “doing” time.   This is most pointedly putting down thoughts and ideas into the computer without interruption (writing).  It can also be creating objects, or seeking out and taking in stimuli without interruption (“feeding the head”).  All of which I rarely get, and the consequential outcome is depression and irritation. When I have time in a span of a week to create, I am a much happier and a nicer person to be around.  Husband has noticed this about himself as well.  I also believe there is a long-term additive effect.  We are also more productive people if we can create on a regular basis. These observations are also borne out in creativity research.  

I recently stumbled across Jonah Lehrer’s book “Proust was a Neuroscientist” (2007) and the accompanying book reviews.  I agree that he over-reaches a bit; with many underlying assumptions about the shared positions his readers must have to imagine where he is going with his ideas.  He also blogged about the use of Modafinil, wondering if it’s use and established ability to help concentration and focus was a deterrent to creativity.  I wrote him a response to that blog.  What I found most useful about him is he is a good example of a new breed of thinkers.  Young, smart people who are continually learning, from every experience be it academic or something as plebian as a line cook.  They are taking in what they experience and try to create a framework for understanding that works better than the overly specialized units we currently know.  They want to bridge the macro and the micro, and synthesize areas of philosophy that have been said for hundreds of years to be completely incompatible.  They do not postulate any dogma, and seem to have extremely open, mature minds- and are willing to acknowledge when they are wrong, or need to reframe something they have conjured.  I like the things I read from this new wave of thinkers, even if I don’t always agree (Steven Pinker is not one of them, his framework of reference and definition being clearly and unapologetically hierarchically organized according to scientific principles and the culture of high science). 

To do the things Lehrer and similar writers are doing requires a high degree of creativity. I hear myself shouting “ARRGGHH”, knowing I will never be free of the research subject area I started investigating a long, long time ago. The areas I was synthesizing formally as a graduate student were seen as arcane; when people were being kind, they would say rather esoteric.  But I know them as red-blooded, living ideas.  It is good to know people smarter and younger than me think so too.  When I mentioned all of this to Husband, an accomplished artist in a complex culture, he replied ” A lot of what I do requires creativity.  Not just my art.”  I nodded.  Sometimes the partnering in a marriage is to remind us of what we already know, and even have already discussed in a different time or place.

Note to Lehrer:  mental crowding can also come from too much immersion into a culture and topic.  Me? I gasped for air and got out for a while.  Now I get back in from time to time, and make much better use of the knowledge and information I find.  Virginia Woolf had it right– in order to do that, I have to shout “gimme some space damn it!”; and pick up those sharp little legos.