Thoughts for the kids II

Don’t be afraid to be eclectic in your tastes. Sample widely, consider the structure of the things, of the gestalt as well as the parts. Then decide if you like it- in food, music, art, and opinions of all sorts. Know how to listen, then how to express yourself with grace, authenticity, and directness.
Try not to put things into your head that will only make that space darker. Feasting on violence, horror, (in films, books, etc. even if “just” fiction) or the often overwhelmingly bad world news, is an indulgence that decays your heart and mind. Know what to not watch or read- what will only add to a sense of powerlessness, distress, or imaginary possibilities of destruction. Think about what will truly make you bigger in spirit as a human being, and more capable of empathy and what is just destructive mental trash. It’s not always obvious either.
Know the difference between being bold, taking a calculated risk, and being risky or reckless.
Dance with abandon regularly, and sing open throated.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene. Brush those teeth well, floss, and gently scrub all your nooks and crannies every day with a mild soap and water. Keep your hair and beards trimmed, even if to appear shaggy- make it a plan, not an accident. Know your body so if you get a truly odd mole, or something hurts, you know where, for how long, and can describe it to a good doctor. Never settle for a mediocre general physician, and make sure they have all your information.
Clean your messes.  Know how to use tools, often and correctly.  Drills as well as spell check.  Know the difference between tools and toys.
Be careful what you consume. While you may have access to many different ingestibles, many of them are not worth consuming. Read labels. Drink lots of water. Stay physically active in body and mind.
Moderation is usually a good idea in all things. An old adage that is still useful.
Learn to do a couple of things that make you feel flow. That focused intensity of purpose, and the subsequent satisfaction it can bring.
Always appreciate the people who are crafts persons about what they do- the cooks, the wait staff, the post people, the plumbers, electricians, teachers, mentors, accountants, etc. Your life will suffer from the bad ones, and be considerably better for the really good ones. Even if you don’t always notice. Learn how to tell the difference, and appreciate explicitly.
Don’t be afraid to give people compliments. But know when personal boundaries are appropriate.
Make a few good friends, and know when a friendship is no longer tenable. Be direct about it too. Know how to trust and love, and have fair self protective strategies as well.
It is never out of style to be generous of spirit, or to look out for those weaker or more in need than you. You choose your character every day from the small to the large in thought and actions. Save civil disobedience for really important moments. You should not be breaking the law but for an accident, or intent. Intentional reasons should be really, really good and be prepared for what consequences may exist. Authority should be earned (not conferred, or handed over by privilege) and not all rules are good. Question, and calculate your actions.
Cut yourself some slack- everyone makes mistakes. Perfection is impossible and sometimes the best surprises come from our mistakes. As Bill Watterson said, “Art is knowing what mistakes to keep and what to throw away.” Don’t let mistakes not worth keeping in your head rot there.
You will get hurt. It will make me miserable to not know how to help you sometimes. Learning how to bounce back, how to think about what happened without ignoring it, is a big part of living. Be good to yourself, and don’t forget that you matter.

Curse you tooth fairy!

I knew Primo would need braces at some point.  His teeth were coming in at such strange angles, behind other teeth; it seemed like the tooth fairy had visited him drunk every time.  But really- top level of severity on three dimensions?  Three?  Bottom jaw juts out in an under bite like a bulldog, side to side is way off, and the top and bottom are tilted off one another in some strange axis.  Oy.   Our kind, gentle dentist told us as sweetly as possible Primo needed a consult with an orthodontist soon, that at this age they can plan and begin a process to help him.  She handed me the referral, saying at some point they may even need to pull some teeth if his jaw does not grow significantly in the next several years.  But, she added, on the bright side, Segundo just has a slight under bite, and they both seem to have strong, healthy teeth and gums!  Thanks Doc.

Growing up, braces were like saying you wanted a pony; so far outside the margin of possibility that they were not even worth thinking about.  They were simply too expensive.   While prices have come down and the technology involved has become more sophisticated, it is still a sting to the pocket when considering the years and degree of difficulty involved with Primo.  But I have seen the problems Husband has had with chewing, sleeping, all sorts of functions I take for granted and if we can alleviate those issues for our kids, then I would like to try.

I wonder at the genetics involved.  How did both my kids get my Husbands mouth?  Did they get his whole head?  Did they get his propensity (and his mother, and his grandfather) for a bad back?  Segundo certainly got his hair.  We joke that if he had been a girl she would have been a hair model, it is so thick and straight and beautiful.  Segundo hates for us to wash his hair though, it is so thick it makes it difficult to get to the scalp- yet he will not get a buzz cut again, he says it makes him look dumb.  Primo cares little about his hair and clothes most of the time, and is the easier going of the two.  He seems to have hair more like Husband, but not the carbon copy straight shot Segundo got. 

Did they get anything from me?  I worry that they may have only gotten deficits; did they get any of the scary cancer genes we suspect run in my mother’s family?  Or did they get the extreme longevity of my father’s side?  They have eyes similar to mine in color, but it is also the color of my mother-in-laws eyes.  Both boys got the wonky toenails of their father (who has had to have nail surgery for extreme in-grown nails- are they related to the teeth problem somehow?).  I hope they got his nose, not mine.  I hope they got his even-keel personality, his wit, and his creativity (whether by genes, modeling, or a combination of both).  We both have big squishy hearts, which is evident in the boys.  Whatever neuroscience and genetics has said lately about attributes of altruism, empathy and the like I would like to read.  The boys have these qualities in spades and would probably make good research participants.

I know kids grow and change.  I know Primo’s jawbones and head (which already takes an adult size M-L hat!) will grow more in the coming years.  I know they will expand their already barrel chests, wide shoulders, and long legs and the proportions will shift and exaggerate like a fun house mirror over the years.  But it would be good to see them at some point and know visibly they have something of me in those cells, something written in the DNA that is not a deficit.  Time will tell.  In the mean time I have to put a slit in an empty coffee can lid and start saving money for braces and what ever else the dental magicians have come up with for Primos mouth.  I trust the words, songs, jokes, and ideas that come of it- now I need to learn about and trust the hands and appliances that will go in.

Of the difficult and stupid

Opening nuts can be a challenge.  The nut cracker either bursts the tough ones into tiny inedible pieces, or not at all.  We try our teeth, but chipped teeth are not a best case option.  Inordinate amounts of time are spent trying to crack just one nut.  But when we eat shell fish the tough unopened clam or muscle causes an uproar of “No no!  Don’t open it!”.  Some things are not meant to be opened, especially bad shellfish. At this point, I wish I were Paul Harvey (if you do not know who he was, look it up) and could make some strange, spurious, homespun connection to a deeper level of meaning.  Global warming is causing more bad shell fish?  The EPA is not using enough oversight to check our food for contaminants?  People are too stupid to eat easier or less risky things?  Nah.

Contemporary humans also rock climb with their bare hands and no ropes; hike altitudes that cause them bodily harm to the vascular system, try to make friends with large and dangerous wild animals, sit in the sun until their skin withers and changes color, use all manner of pesticides and poisons to make their food and hair look “good”,   dance wildly to all sorts of sounds, try to control and punish other humans for everything from recreational weed smoking to looking at other naked humans in magazines and liking anything as banal as art they do not agree with, pluck/shave/and depilitate random body hair, and wear the strangest fibers in various shapes and colors on their bodies.  Truly, an alien would observe us and think us unendingly funny and tragic I think, for all the expressions of our daily lives.

There is so little profundity associated with all our activities, to the point of willful ignorance.  The consequences of our stupid random choices seem to be beyond us most of the time, and like the hamster on the wheel, we just keep jumping on without thought.  No matter how many anthropologists and sociologists you can get to stand on the head of a pin and argue about the orderly meaningfulness of any human actions, it is all rather strange and meaningless I think.  Just a way to stay part of the pack.  Some call what we do “desire”  (Oh those French theorists!), and claim it drives everything from core human instincts to complex capitalist machinations.  It is THE reductive force against which everything else can be measured.  That seems rather pat, and leaves out the just plain bored and stupid elements of life.  Watch any group of college students on a Friday night and you’ll have a good sampling.

But as I have said before it is the curiosity of the human that has made us a very populous and mobile species.  Desire may have had nothing to do with it, even environmental pressures can’t explain all of human migration and experimentation.  Watch small children on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  Curiosity drives a lot of action, and the challenge of opening a tough nut, digging a hole to China in your back yard you know will never reach there but you like to imagine it can,  curiosity and imagination can alleviate a lot of boredom, even with the ensuing stupidity that can often occur.

Funny and tragic, 2017 looms very near.  The uber wealthy have no interest in any aspect of continuing the species.  They are hell bent on partying until they can’t ingest or compete or exert their power any more.  To hell with the rest of us, we are an over populated planet anyway and all the island sized ships being built now for them (with the understanding that theoretically they can stay on an ocean for ever- with their own power sources, gardens, and water desalinization machines, etc.) will allow them to just hop off and get away from the impending strife that will occur.  Or go to space.  See, the rich can be curious and stupid too.  2017 is a year that most scientists agree is the tipping point for all sorts of climate abuse.  At this point, no one seems too terribly concerned.  Heads in sand, fingers in ears singing “lalala”, big-eyed porcelain figures with heads upturned to heaven expecting the giant sky pixies to live up to religious fantasies of apocalypse,  what ever image you want to call up, that all seems to be so much more engaging that actually trying to avert the destruction of the earth for most mammals.  The few who try may be using cups to bail a ship mostly underwater.  What the heck.  Maybe it is more diverting that watching reality television for them.   Someone had to be the first person to try the bad shellfish that taught the rest of us not to eat it. Right?

of an age

When we speak of our children, we sometimes say, “They are of an age. . .” indicating that a level has been achieved in which they can be trusted to do something themselves, or when we expect booger and poo jokes to be in full bloom.  I have been thinking about the former this week.

It seems I have griped for so many years about feeling put upon, and when I said it immediately felt guilty, for the constant attention from my children.  The neediness, the must-keep-an-eye on, the do they need food-liquid-medicine-exercise and moment to moment care required for small children.  Now as if by magic, I have had several months of both my children in full time elementary school.  I had such grand ambitions at first.  All the lists of things I would get done, and try to do.  Much of that evaporated for one reason or another.  My fault entirely.

But there was also the unexpected loneliness.  There was no one to dance or giggle with when I played They Might Be Giants, no one to eat lunch with.  It was strange. 

This past week has been Christmas vacation.  One child has been sick (inevitable) and the other off working with Daddy.  I do not know what I expected, but it has been a let down.  This morning, for the first time in about eight years, I took a magazine into the bathroom for a sit.  I could hear the boys outside watching PBS kids and playing on the floor, being good brothers.  I knew I could trust them to answer the phone if needed, not kill each other, or destroy body level objects.  I got through much of the thin magazine.  I was both surprised and pleased, because I realize the experience would have been dramatically different if I had not had the accompanying sound on the other side of the door.  I miss the boys, and having them around is a pleasure- even if the occasional glass of juice still gets upended, toys litter the floor, and a whine for something to eat will arise.

Being a parent is a constant revelation no one ever is instructed on how to appreciate, and the experiences are so personal I am not sure adages and tips ever fully apply.  I did not want anything for Christmas that required cash, and told Husband as much.  I wanted him to help me figure out the video camera and download mechanisms, I wanted the kitchen ceiling finished, I wanted everyone healthy.  What has surprised me is the gift of time and everyday happiness I have.  The world can swirl in chaos outside, but for now, I am grateful for just this: my family and our simple stability.   They boys may be of many ages at many times, and I don’t want to miss any of it.   I think it will be all I ever really want.

Merry Christmas.

Give me that pill!

What is your drug of choice?  There is a reason I never really got into drugs- illegal or prescription.  Somewhat like Woody Allen’s attitude in Annie Hall:

Alvy Singer: (As Annie is trying to get him to smoke weed) Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday.

Annie Hall: Well, have you ever made love high?

Alvy Singer: Me? No. I – I, you know, If I have grass or alcohol or anything, I get unbearably wonderful. I get too, too wonderful for words. I don’t know why you have to get high every time we make love.

Annie Hall: It relaxes me.

Alvy Singer: You have to be artificially relaxed before we can go to bed?

Annie Hall: Well, what’s the difference anyway?

Alvy Singer: Well, I’ll give you a shot of sodium pentothal. You can sleep through it.

Annie Hall: Oh come on. Look who’s talking. You’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years. You should smoke some of this. You’d be off the couch in no time.

 [Later in the film Alvy is asked to try cocaine]

Alvy Singer: I don’t want to put a wad of white powder in my nose. There’s the nasal membrane…

Annie Hall: You never want to try anything new, Alvy.

Alvy Singer: How can you say that? Whose idea was it? I said that you, I and that girl from your acting class should sleep together in a threesome.

Alvy’s sex fantasies aside, drugs just seemed like more trouble than they were worth.  What little experimentation I did in my Mesozoic era taught me one important thing- drugs are never as fun as they are a complete, mostly negative distortion of perception; something I was not too keen to repeat (although the fuzzy, laugh enabling feeling from a glass of wine can be cathartic).  Coming down from various drugs after surgeries and caesarians just made me headachy and afflicted with nausea.  Why people want to take those drugs is beyond me.


Right now I am on a strong dose of prednisone for a truly horrifying case of hives.  Hives that prove no vacation is a real one unless someone gets sick (at least it wasn’t one of the kids vomiting in a hotel bed this time).

Husband confirmed tonight (he found the bite holes) what I suspected at 35,000 ft in a crowded airplane.  A spider had found its way to my hairline on the back of my neck and bitten me during the last night in our B&B.  My immune system went into over-drive, and I started feeling hard lumps on my scalp that were forming down my body as the plane ride went on. Of COURSE when asked, flight attendants had no Benadryl handy for such a common problem (what?  No official form I could quickly sign saying I was aware, no liability, etc. then give me the damned Benadryl!).  So I looked like a poorly stitched, scratching Bride of Frankenstein when we landed, and had to wait in the heat while someone brought the wheel chair for my father that had been requested five hours earlier.  A mob of people were waiting for a flight to L.A., and thankfully, by the sheer grace of one observant woman (who was pushing a small child in a stroller while waiting) I got some Benadryl.  She reached into the emergency zipper on her mom bag (mine is still woefully under packed, and Benadryl will become a staple now) and drew out two small pills and gave them to Husband, who was standing near her.  He passed them on to me and in a panic I ran down the hall for a bottle of water and took them while in line to pay.  At that point I could not move my neck from the swelling and hoped the fabulous B would at least stop the mutation (over the next hour, it stopped the swelling in my neck.  It did not stop the formation of hives down to my toes).  When I got back to the family, the LA plane had boarded and I did not get a chance to thank the mysterious wonder woman.  If anyone knows her, thank her for me.  This all happened on Memorial Day, and she was flying out of D.C. (and always carry Benadryl- you never know when someone might need it!).  I passed out on our connection (I mumbled to Husband, “is this what Beany-drill does?” and he laughed, saying yes), and I fell into bed once we got home.

Upon waking, it was all so much worse.

My doctor (the office is over an hour away) fit me in, and chuckled that I had a classic case of hives.  She told me it could be caused by anything- even though I had never had such hives before (my virulent reactions to poison sumac and ivy were not quite the same thing).  So I got a small dose of doxycycline (in case it was a bite from a tick or spider), and the magic drug Prednisone.  My father says it is the only drug he was ever tempted to be addicted to, but for the liver damage and other side effects.  He says I’ll feel like a teenager by Friday.  I hope not, I did not enjoy feeling like a teenager.  My favorite years were my early 30’s. Where is the drug that will make me feel like that again?.

I finished my entire New Yorker, and was chatty tonight with husband who kept falling asleep.  I asked, “Is this what steroids do to you?  Are they a stimulant?  I did not have any coffee today. . .Ohhh! Look!  The redness is subsiding and the welts are going down, it must be working. . .”

Husband grunted a laugh, saying, “Yes.  They are a stimulant.  I am going to sleep.”

That’s usually a variation of MY line.

The histamines are being blocked, and the steroids are doing what ever they do, and instead of lumpy, tired and grumpy, I feel rested and wakeful, and cognitively alert.  Yep- this is a drug I could get used to (but for the liver damage and all that. This is NOT, by the way, how I felt as a teenager.  Closer to how I felt in my 30’s).  We’ll see if it gets me through tomorrow and the unseasonably high heat, a parent teacher conference, and a play date at our house with my sons friend- among the usual work of unpacking and getting back into a routine. 

Oh, yeah, and through a monster case of hives.

Burnt Toast and Black Jellybeans

Happy Zombie day, as a friend of mine puts it.  Or, as husband says, “Happy ovoid ovum spring fertility ritual day”, or “Happy Bunny day”.  I can’t do anything but laugh at what has become the most important Christian holiday, this mash up of powerful, ancient spring symbols with the death of a good man.  Why his death is so celebrated never ceases to amaze me.  This focus on death, torture, and possibly becoming a zombie (er, resurrected) and then trying to pass it off as sacrifice for the abstract evils of humanity does not wash for me.  There ARE some ideas attributed to him in the bible that make a lot of sense (By the way, the old testament ONLY makes sense if you consider food restrictions as ways not to die from food poisoning.  The rest is a crazy, contradictory non-narrative that makes little sense out of context).  But in sum, a good man bucked the system, said a lot of things that were solid common sense, may or may not have been insane, and lived his life to promote kindness, communal well being, and love.  Then he was consumed and destroyed by the very system he resisted, and has since been regurgitated again and again by every huckster and self-delusional promoter that has come around since he died.  Entire systems of social control have been built around the use and abuse of his life story.  I truly don’t think this is what he had in mind.

When I look at real sacrifices being made, I don’t see political, business, or religious leaders.  I see a lot of mothers and fathers working grinding, often bone mashing jobs to feed their families; these mothers and fathers doing their best to keep their families clothed, housed, educated, and fed.  Oh, yeah, and in most cases the process makes those around them aware that they are loved.  Reproducing at all is amazing, the choice to give over bodies, minds and lives to support and love new people, the ultimate spring symbol. 

It is in the everyday little deaths and sacrifices parents make that I see heroic spring.  Today I do not glorify the death of an admittedly good man who has been so misunderstood for so long, I witness the parents who continue to live, as best they can, promoting kindness, communal well being, and love.  Today let’s not forget when mothers choose to eat the piece of toast that was accidentally burned; or when fathers eat the black jelly beans children reject then proffer, chewing without a grimace.  Do not forget long nights, hard work, the moment by moment sacrifices that are made for families, and the sheer luck that for thousands of generations at least two people (and a host of others who took responsibility for children from birth) had to survive wars, famine, plague, and an assortment of horrors that we might exist today.

The darkness has abated for another year, and warmer weather has come.  The flowers bloom, and crops are planted.  Rejoice in the sun, hug your families however they are structured and populated.  Humanity continues, for better or worse.  Happy spring.  

Why we need the fly over

Amidst all the flash and bang, the sturm and drang of what passes for news, entertainment, and the gripping social scene of the U.S., there are vast swaths of what the glitterati like to call “”fly over””.  We won’’t discuss how many of those glitterati actually grew up in the fly over and departed for the flash (usually in their early 20’’s), or the good reasons they had for doing so.  But it is curious that many of them who later became successful got known and labeled for their “Midwestern-ness”.  Some say it disparagingly, as Bret Easton Ellis did of David Foster Wallace (something akin to suggesting “he has a fake Midwestern sincerity”, but really- if he calls DFW fake, then I question if he knows what sincerity is at all).  Some say it with a slightly charmed, slightly condescending expression, as if to say “isn’’t that so cute, so naive”.  Some say it with camaraderie- “They remind me of myself at that age, so earnest and hard working””, and on rare occasions, “”I’’d only hire a former midwestern kid.  They are the only trustworthy ones in the lot””.

You get the idea.

Midwesterness is a general category, often used in film and political campaigns to denote the “backbone of America”, the thing that carries everyone along but gets little attention paid, even when it is sending out pain signals.

It is not “southern”; it is not of the “coasts”.  It is not “northwest-like”, and it is definitely not “southwestern”.  It bears a passing resemblance to the crusty, stink eye stare of rural Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine but with a firm, quick handshake and offer of some refreshment.  It goes about its’ business trying not to offend anyone or get in anyone’’s way. 

It is the humor of Garrison Keillor, state fairs, hale cheerleaders, and tractor pulls.  It is high schoolers on dirt roads drinking at 10 p.m. knowing they have to be home soon for family curfews and in time to sleep then get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows.  It is white, but also brown, and sometimes yellow and red- there are more Native American reservations in the Midwest than anyone ever considers, more Latin Americans, more African Americans and more Asians (and not just in the cities). 

It is thrift stores where dust collects on old Ball jars, while cases of new ones sell out of stores every year.  It is Agri-business controlling vast swaths of green seas, and contracting out with cattle, poultry and pork farmers.  It is musty Carnegie libraries with amazing stained glass ceilinged tiny rotundas that kids bike to in the summer to stay cool and read.  It is the wind.  It is quiet broken by the occasional vicious argument over heard from blocks away, usually over money or some subject akin to any country music song on the radio.  It is the twang of the teen learning the electric guitar, and listening to AC/DC in the basement.  It’s churches of brick, stone and wood with interchangeable signs and denominations. 

To have known Midwesterness is to have looked at the sky, to read the clouds, and know the screech of tornado sirens.  It is all the contradictions of passivity and sometimes self-indulgent ignorance, as well as knowing the meaning of loyalty, kindness, and unspoken anxiety always at the corners of life.  It is to know awe; genuine, gob smacking awe at the greens of a dragonfly, the belly of a hummingbird, the taste of a fried tomato, as well as the sight of a Calder or an Oldenburg sculpture occupying the grass.  It is to revel in awe and not be ashamed, and no knee-jerk jump to tying that awe to any sort of god.

It is a built-in patience with many things, and open-faced impatience with that which seems time wasting or superficial, irrational, or especially unjust.  It is also dumbfoundingly strange from time to time; creative, silly, and sometimes pointless.

Belly laughs are considered good things in most venues, and volunteering is a given.

It can be cruel, not doubt.  Punishing as well.  The wheel that grinds souls in midwesterness is not so much about isolation among many, but isolation itself.

It is a quality often recognized, but difficult to describe.

Without it late night comics would have little fodder, and the very groundedness the flash and bang relies upon would be gone. 

Say what you will.  But I know a Midwesterner when I speak to them.  I may come to dislike them later, but for a moment- there is a kindredness of spirit that I appreciate. 

I do not look down on the green, grays and browns when flying from one coast to another and breathe a sign of relief that I do not have to drive.  I wistfully look down, having traversed those roads so many times, and wish I had the time and money to do it again.  Not to discover Kerouac’s dream, not to mourn with Bill Bryson, not to revel with W. Least Heat Moon but because I have already done it and I miss it.  I don’’t know if I could put my muddy shoes behind the door there again, but I miss it and appreciate it for what it is, and what it gives all of us.

Out-of-context parent quotes

(Note:  I’ll keep adding to this blog entry as time passes)

“Boys, the chicken is not a pillow to beat each other with”

“What about don’t-stick-your-finger-in-that do you not understand?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where his head is.  Look under the couch.”

“Why do you need an entire roll of tape to hang that up?”

“Why are there rocks in the bathtub?”

“What is that?”, “How did that get in here?”, “When did you do this?”, “Why did you do this?”

“No.  No.  No.  No. . .No.  I am not discussing Japanese theater, I said NO!”



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.

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?