Friday, July 29, 2011

Your Personal Click Track

As children, we tend not to notice things like feelings. Not only feelings in others, but also, feelings in ourselves. Not only emotions, but also physical sensations. To be sure, how we feel affects us, but less significantly than it does as adults. Event when our feelings do affect us, we seem to be unaware of them. We focus on what we want and what we do more than how we feel. We certainly don't sit around contemplating our feelings.

You see a child with a cold, snot running down his face, happily playing with his toys except for the occasional interruption of his mom wiping his nose. You see a child running in a game of tag. She stumbles and falls, and then without hesitation, bounces up and rejoins the game, until her parents teach her that falling might hurt her by asking if she's OK.

Sure, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but it seems to me that as we grow older, we become more sensitive to and more subject to how we feel. So much so that our everyday actions are dictated by how we feel at that moment and our perception of how the action will "make" us feel.

I Can't Trust My Brain
Last night after writer's group, Iris and I sit talking over Sushi. Iris says, "You know what. I realize that I can't trust my brain!"

As we talk, it becomes clear that by "my brain", Iris means her feelings in the moment. Oftentimes she sets an intention at the beginning of the day only to find that she doesn't fulfill it by the end of the day. Days turn to weeks, weeks to months, and before she knows it, a longterm intention has gone unfulfilled. Iris' challenge isn't intention or desire, it's method. Iris often puts too much credence into how she feels in the moment.

Although, when compared to action, feelings are ephemeral and transient, they can seem to be cast in stone. In those moments, your mind suggests:
perhaps it would be better to write tonight, when you have more time


you know, it's not good to exercise every day;
perhaps you should take a break


you've really been slipping up lately, forgetting things, losing things;
there may be something wrong with you
In those moments, your feelings win out.

We all experience this. We all succumb to it from time to time. The question is: What do you do about it?

How do you stop your feelings and emotions from overriding your best intentions? How do you end the cycle?

Cutting Tracks
As I consider these questions, the phrase that pops into my head is: click track. Back in the days when music studios used tape recorders, the first thing to be recorded was a click track. The tempo for the song would be established and then a metronome or drum machine would be used to record a tick-tock sound on one of the tape tracks. The tick-tock sound would be played into the headphones of anyone recording to ensure that they stayed in time.

Not only did the click track ensure perfect time, but it also made doing other things much easier. If you were recording a song with three choruses, you only needed to get the background vocals right one time; afterwards they could be sampled and then played back over the other choruses. If the instruments dropped out for an a capella section, the singers wouldn't lose tempo. If one musician was in LA and the other in New York, each could record locally using completely different systems; their independent contributions were combined later. The click track provided everyone a common frame of reference, a grounding.

Many musicians resist click tracks. They'll tell you that it's too restrictive and that it makes music feel unnatural, too regimented. Usually what they really mean is that it makes them feel uncomfortable. A click track is unforgiving. If your time is off, it shows up immediately. No matter how long you've played, no matter how good you feel about your sense of time, the first time you play with a click track can be daunting; it reveals a little too much.

However, once you let go of those feelings and trust the click, things get better. The click goes from impediment to enabler, from restrictive to freeing.

For me, the click track is freeing. For example, I love to play with complex rhythms, layers of patterns that repeat on different frequencies. Patterns of seven overlaying patterns of four overlaying patterns of three. Sometimes when I take a solo, I'll throw in a seven note phrase where one would normally play eight notes. This can throw off a band that's not grounded rhythmically. However, when the band has a click track, a rhythmic anchor, I can do completely crazy rhythms that tie perfectly.

Keeping Time
So, what's a click track got to do with adults being emotion-junkies? How can a click track help you fulfill your intentions? I think the analog is a schedule. Not only do you set intentions, but you schedule their fulfillment and then, whether you feel like it or not, when the time comes to fulfill the intention, you do it. You don't even entertain the question; you give your feelings no consideration. The schedule becomes your click track.

At first, it may feel uncomfortable or restrictive. However, if you give it time, it can become freeing.

"My life's too unpredictable to be scheduled!", you say? Well, then schedule some time to handle the unanticipated stuff. You'd be amazed at how many urgencies take care of themselves when you schedule time to address them later.

Perhaps it's time for you to lay down a click track for your life?

Happy Friday,

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Sree responded to yesterday's post, Whom Did You Thank?, with the following observation/question:
Ooh, great questions, Tef. Especially the inspire one. I wonder - how does one inspire? I think I do encourage, but inspire? Hmmm...
I found several definitions of the word, inspire
  1. Fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
  2. Create (a feeling, esp. a positive one) in a person, e.g., their past record does not inspire confidence
  3. Animate someone with (such a feeling), e.g., he inspired his students with a vision of freedom
The definitions I found for encourage were similar, so similar that one might consider the words synonyms.

So, I thought about my experiences of being inspired and being encouraged, and I came up with these distinctions:
  1. To encourage is to deliberately offer someone support, confidence or hope.

    To inspire is a side-effect of something you're already doing; there isn't necessarily an intention to inspire.

  2. Encouragement supports existing endeavors.

    Inspiration results in new endeavors.

  3. To encourage is an activity that is focused on the one being encouraged.

    Inspiration is an activity focused on the one inspring.

  4. You can't own the outcome of your encouraging; people will take it or leave it.

    You rarely think about the outcome of your inspiring; people often take it without you even knowing about it.

I don't know how these distinctions would line up with formal linguistic analysis, but they work for me. We encourage people when we see them doing something we'd like to see more of. We inspire people when they see us doing something, they'd like to do themselves.

Most of us are more encouraging than inspiring. It's not for lack of material. We don't share; we hide our lights beneath bushel baskets.
We don't share because of context, e.g., I don't tell people at work about my home life or my hobbies.

We don't share because we take it for granted, e.g., Sure I work out every day, doesn't everyone?

We don't share because we consider ourselves not to be inspirational, e.g., Last thing I want is for people at work to come and hear me sing at church.

We don't share because it will put us on the hook, e.g., If I tell someone I'm writing a novel, then she's gonna ask me about it every day.
Yet much of what we do, others would find inspiring.

One of the most inspirational people I know is Iris. My metric for inspiration is the number of people who tell me how she's inspired them. Iris is not what you would call an encouraging person; she rarely if ever voices encouragement and she often gets annoyed when others try to encourage her (it's as though they were telling her what to do.) However, Iris routinely takes on activities that inspire others. Her running has inspired others to new ideas about exercise and self-care. Her drumming has inspired others to play. Her writing has inspired others to write.

Surely others run, and others drum and others write. So why is Iris so inspirational? I think it comes down to three factors:
  1. Iris takes on new endeavors matter-of-factly. She doesn't indulge in the ritual of "Oh, I wonder if I can really do it?" She doesn't seek encouragement. She just decides and starts.
  2. Iris shares her new endeavors openly and doesn't worry about ridicule or appropriateness or success
  3. Iris concludes before starting that she'll be successful, even if she has no idea as to how.
  4. Iris follows through on her intentions, but not always.
  5. Iris doesn't let the times that she doesn't follow through mean anything.
  6. Iris shares her successes and failures openly.

OK, that's my thought process. So Sree, perhaps the only requirement to inspire is to share what you aree already doing or have done?

Happy Thursday,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Whom Did You Thank?

Whom did you thank yesterday? Not the casual, "Thanks for holding the door," but the heart-felt and specific outpouring of gratitude for someone in your life who's become such a constant that you may have started taking her or him for granted.

Whom did you help yesterday? Not the matter-of-course kind of help, or the grudging kind of help, but the stop-what-you're-doing, redirect-your-priorities and take-the-time required kind of help.

Whom did you teach yesterday? Not the let-me-tell-you-what-I-know kind of teaching, but the observant touch-of-guidance kind of teaching.

Whom did you inspire yesterday? To what did you inspire them? How?

Whom will you thank, today?

Whom will you help, today?

Whom will you teach, today?

Whom will you inspire, today?

Who will you love, today?

Happy Wednesday,

Monday, July 25, 2011


Why'd you say that? Couldn't you see that he was already pissed off?

Sure, I guess so. But what's that got to do with saying or not saying something?

Oooooh myyyyyyy god... Don't you know anything? You never tell someone something they don't want to hear when they're mad at you.

Why not?

Well, because... because... umm... well, it'll just make'em madder.

How do you know that? And besides, if they're gonna get mad at you anyway, why not get it over all at once?

Because... because you just don't do that kind of stuff, ever.

Let's just agree to disagree. At least now he knows.

Knows? Knows what? That you think he's clueless? How did you describe his actions? Oh yeah, you accused him of criminally negligent teaching. What the hell is that supposed to mean?

I think the phrase is succinct, clear and, in my opinion, accurate--if not a little generous.

So, you're saying that how he's teaching us is criminal and that he's negligent because he knows it.

I'm not sure that he knows it's criminal, but I'm sure he's aware that he's not teaching well. I mean, the guy used to be a star. He's got a list of patents a mile long. People raved about all they learned from him. He was a great teacher. Now, he's just phoning it in. His information is all dated. He doesn't keep up with what's going on and he dismisses anyone who does. Shit, he bores himself.

Well, you don't need to tell him that.

Why not? Someone ought to tell him. Since it seemed no one else was, I decided to. What's wrong with that?

Well, for one, you're in his class. He's still the one grading you.


So, he could fail you for something like that.

Why would he do that? It's not like I don't know the material or understand how to apply it.

Ooooohhh myyyyyy god, are you completely clueless? You're so caught up in that logical, rational world that exists only in your mind, that you've completely lost touch with how things work in the real world!

Could be, but maybe not. Maybe he got mad, because he knows that what I said was true. Maybe he's taking it to heart even now. Maybe he'll go home tonight and think about it.

For sure he'll go home tonight and think about it. He'll think about how he's gonna roast your butt.

No, really. Maybe he'll come into class tomorrow, pull me aside and say, "You know, I've been thinking about what you said yesterday and you're right. I haven't been teaching well. But starting today, I'm going to change all that."

Yeah, right. Like that's gonna happen...


Happy Monday, Teflon

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Try this One

Try this out.

Take your right or left hand and make an OK sign, i.e., touch the tips of your thumb and index finger forming an O; fully extend your other three fingers.

Now, while maintaining the O with your thumb and index finger, slap the other three fingers against your palm bending them from the lowest knuckles. Repeatedly slap your fingers against your palm until you can no longer do so.

Start slowly and watch your form. Make sure that your O stays in tact. Make sure that you're folding your fingers together. Speed up slowly.

If you doing it right, you'll feel your muscles working from your fingers through your wrist up your forearm round your elbow up the back of your arm and over your shoulder to your back. It's an amazing exercise.

If you do it for long, you'll start to feel warmth in all those places.

Try it.

What can you learn from this little exercise?

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, July 23, 2011


For years, I've struggled with a condition known as Formaphobia. For those of you unfamiliar with more advanced topics in psychology, Formaphobia is the hyper-rational fear and loathing of all activities that require the completion of forms.

My first incident occurred in primary school...

I'm in third grade at Atlantic Elementary School in Colts Neck, NJ.

It's early spring. The air is cool and crisp.

The morning starts off normally enough. I ride the bus to school with my friend Jackie Jacoby. We debate the merits of our favorite television shows: Lost in Space and Batman. The bus drops us off ten-minutes early and I scan the playground to find the lone open seesaw. We assert ownership of it and continue our debate as we ride up and down.

The sun casts barely a shadow on the playground as we race to line up at the door in response to the school bell clanging. It's going to be a great day, or so I think...

Mrs Jarret calls the class to attention and announce that the next three days are going to be special. We'll all be participating in something called the California Achievement Tests. I have no idea what that means, but she did say "special", so I'm excited.

She then holds up a booklet and a computer card. She explains that the booklet contains questions that already have the answers written down. In fact, each question has five answers. All we have to do is pick the right one and then mark it on the card.

She shows us the card which contains rows numbers and little circles. Each row has a number corresponding to the question number in the book. Each of the circles contains a letter that corresponds to one of the answers.

Although this may sound quite simple now, I can still hear my heart pounding in my ears as my blood pressure rises, my mouthing moving as I silently repeat the instructions over and over.

By the time she explains that we MUST use a number-two pencil and that we MUST completely fill in the circle but not go outside the circle, my head is ready to explode. I don't even know what a number-two pencil is. How can I be sure if I have one. What if I go on the line? Is that in the circle or outside the circle? I thought this was gonna be such a great day. I thought this was supposed to be special.

I sit dazed and confused as Mrs. Jarret distributes booklets and cards, and then asks whether or not anyone needs a number-two pencil. I raise my hand. She walks back, looks at my desk and says, "Mark, you have a number-two pencil already. See, it's here on your desk."

Now I feel dazed, confused and stupid.

She looks up at the wall clock and says, "OK class, you have one hour to complete this first section. When I say begin, I want you to open your booklets and start filling in the circles. When I say 'Stop', I want you to immediately put down your pencils."

Immediately? Immediately sounds really serious. Immediately is the word my mom uses just before making the transition from verbal to physical. What have I got myself into.

"Alright class, begin."

I look down at the booklet and the card. OK, what did she say to do? I look around and see Jackie who's opened his booklet and is marking his card. He's smiling. He's happy. What the heck? Well, if Jackie (who believes that Lost in Space is better than Batman) can do this, I can.

I open my booklet and read the first question. I breathe a sigh of relief. I know this one.

I look at the list of answers and my relief vanishes. None of the answers is right! I mean, a couple are close, but they're inaccurate. I don't know how to pick.

As my classmates get the hang of filling the circles, their speed intensifies. Meanwhile, I'm still stuck on the first problem. I finally fill in a circle and move on.

Time passes. Jackie puts down his pencil and stretches, then Susan Cagle, then Judy Tsiang. I look the clock. Five minutes left. I've only completed four questions. I start racing through the booklet and finally opt for a pattern-based approach, i.e., I fill in the circles in a way that creates a nice cross diagonal pattern without reading the questions or answers.

I suddenly recall something Mrs. Jarret said about being penalized for wrong answers. I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds bad, so I desperately begin erasing.


I drop my pencil. It's the worst day of my life.

Over the years, I've learned coping mechanisms. I've come to realize that just because someone has created a test doesn't mean that they actually know what they're talking about and that the likelihood of form-answers being accurate can be low. I've also learned that the answers often have nothing to do with accuracy but instead are drawn from phrases presented in class. So, I've forgone trying to get the right answer and have opted for either the closest answer or the one that was taught.

I still have challenges with the multiple-selection answers, e.g., check all that apply. The other day I completed an online training for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); it's required training for all personnel in companies participating in overseas medical trials. I did fine until I got to the question: Which of the following would be considered a violation of the policy? Although the correct answer was fewer than all of them, I could see how any one of them would have been a violation. I squeaked through by only checking the answers I could recall having actually been stated in the training and not checking the ones that could be inferred from the training.

Oh well, you do the best you can. For me, that typically involves delegation. I delegate tax forms to my accountant, legal forms to my lawyer and, god bless her, other forms to Iris.

Do you have formaphobia? I was thinking of creating a support group. If not, are there any everyday tasks that others take in stride but you find particularly challenging?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kuriosity Killed the Kat

They say that curiosity killed the cat. However, my question of late is: What killed curiosity?

I used to think that as people got older, they lost creativity. I didn't believe it to be the side-effect of a physical condition, just an exchange: I'll trade you my creativity for routine.

However, the lack of creativity in older people (say, anyone over the age of sixteen) is a red herring: the essential characteristic that goes missing is curiosity. From the moment we begin breathing air we start trying to figure out what's going. It's not long before we get to why and how. These two questions are later joined by what if?: what would happen if? Why would that happen? Hmmm... then what about this? How would that work?

These questions are the essence of curiosity. We observe some thing or some process. We ask why it does what it does. We as how it works. We make suppositions or guess about what might happen if we were to... We try it out. It doesn't work. We try it again or we try something else.

The "it doesn't work" part is never a bad thing; it's just part of the process perhaps more accurately expressed as "it doesn't work as expected."

As grow older, why, how and what-if are displaced by who, what, where and when. Curiosity in the world around us is replaced by fascination with gossip or sports or the news. I guess you could still call it curiosity, but it's different. It's non-participatory curiosity.

Why is that?

Perhaps it has to do with being taught that getting it right is more important than getting it. Scientific method is based on making your best guess, trying it out, seeing where it takes you, and then making another guess based on what you learn. A good scientist makes increasingly better guesses, but she expects all guesses but the last one to be at least slightly wrong.

On the other hand, engineers have to guess right the first time. Usually its done by repeating all the required calculations many times, and then doubling what you think you need. Whether you're constructing a bridge or a electronic device, better to equip it with more than enough capacity than too little capacity.

In school, when we pretend to teach science, we actually teach engineering. Experiments have expected outcomes. We're graded on whether or not our results match the expected outcomes. While this approach may teach experimental procedure, it does nothing to teach science. Anyone can learn how to piece together an experiment: nothing to it. To really teach scientific method, you must teach someone how to derive the next question.

We observe a phenomenon. I ask you, "Why did that happen?"

What now?

The true scientist is simultaneous master of both discipline and creativity. She asserts, "Well, I guess it could be... or perhaps it's..." The assertions lead to more questions which lead to more assertions which lead to experiments.

When science is taught in this manner, there is a delight in the process. Ah hah! moments lurk behind every corner. The delight in discovery fuels greater curiosity which intensifies the delight. A curiosity developed in this way can never be quenched. We become Ah hah! junkies.

But most of us are not taught that way. We learn to squelch our curiosity and get with the program, get the results that are expected of us. Some rarely experience the delight of discovery and without that, curiosity dies.

Doesn't that make you curious?

Happy Friday,

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Solving Problems

You have to think about this thing.  We can't keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  I cringed as Isaiah's voice attacked my ears through my cell phone.  Several images flashed through my mind tempting me with emotional regression.  I chose to be my better self.  I couldn't think of anything loving and kind to say, though, so I remained quiet.  Do you want to talk back to Simonne? he asked. Does she want to talk to me? was my reply.

Let me fill you in quickly.  Zach's birthday present was an aquarium.  We spent 2 weeks trying to find a spot in our home where the tank would be safe from Jaedon.  Jay found the whole idea quite fascinating and thought that he should help with the continuous filling of the tank by pouring liquids into the tank.  Well, he started out by pouring water, which we discouraged forcefully, but the real panic started when someone's coffee went into the fish tank and everything went downhill from there.  The entire bottle of 'Off' (insect repellent) went into the tank.  20 ounces of coconut oil killed most of the aquatic plants.  Thankfully, the fish had not yet arrived.  We conditioned and reconditioned the water many times. Visiting friends accused me of setting up the fish for death.  All I knew was that Zach wanted fish and in lieu of the dog that both kids wanted, fish seemed like a good idea.

Many Clarke family activities in and out of the home are somewhat shaped by Jaedon, what he will tolerate, what we can tolerate having him interact with, and what will survive his interaction.  Fish in a tank seemed like a great safe idea.  The pouring was an unforeseen challenge, but I was not daunted.  Perhaps Jaedon could learn to leave the fish alone.  Perhaps we could find a secure location for the tank.  Perhaps we could find a secure cover for the tank.  I decided to work on all three options.

With a new hood, cover and location in place, I decided to get the fish and officially start our aquarium.   The first couple days went uneventfully, then I notice some sand in the aquarium one morning.  That's really strange, I thought.  I poll everyone to see who was so generous as to have purchased aquarium sand and applied stealth to putting it into the tank overnight.  No takers.  After several more minutes of thought, I spy the empty bottle of calcium/magnesium tablets on the dining table, a soggy tablet in the vicinity of the tank and quickly figure out the crime.  I re-secure the tank and begin to think about solutions to the safety breach around the tank filter.  Some hours later, I fish playdoh out of the tank.  I put Simonne and Zach on high alert.  Jaedon is not allowed in that part of the room.

I had just gotten into the car and was turning onto the main road that intersects with our street.  My phone rings.  Mommy, Jaedon poured all the fish food into the fish tank.  What should we do? 
I thought quickly.  Ask Daddy to scoop the fish out into the little tank.  I'll sort it out when I get home. 
S: I did ask Daddy and he said he wouldn't do it.  Isaiah then comes on the phone and gives the speech.  Some things just don't work.  Doing the same things over and over is insanity... It's a tough lesson for the kids to learn, but this is how it is...I have to think about it and have a solution before getting the fish,...

I did a lot of self talk to help me regulate myself so I could be .... even.... before I got back home.  Fortunately, Simonne got on the phone and asked me a question I could process: What do you think we can do to save the fish?  She followed my instructions to scoup the fish from the soupy water and the fish were in the small tank by the time I got home.

The incident stimulated my thinking about my problem solving strategy.  I tend to think about the problem big picture, look at what others have done to solve the problem in similar situations to mine.  I think about the hardest part of the problem in detail, but if I believe the smaller problems can be handled as they come up, I save my thinking for that time.

I thought back to my days of writing software.  As a student, I was told by the professors to write an algorithm ( a plain English solution to the problem) then to encode my algorithm in a language the computer understood.  I always had good intentions, but invariably, I sat in front of the computer, started thinking and writing at the same time, then rewrote as I tested and debugged.  I would then write my algorithm after the fact, based on the solution I had already written into software.

That is pretty much how I solve problems now.  I research generally, and trust that my brain is filing the useful bits of info, then I get into action mode.  I start to write the code, or the curriculum, or the letter.  I buy the fish paraphernalia and see how they work together.  Sometimes, I can explain how it will all work out, but sometimes I'm not sure.  I just know that there's a solution out there, and incrementally, as I see my system respond to its environment, I figure out what else I should add or subtract, refine or tweak to make things work the way I want. 

The changes are so minuscule sometimes, that it might seem like I didn't change much, especially if the change didn't produce the result I wanted.   But even slight changes, with no apparent outcome, change the entire system, teach me new things about the problem I'm solving and enhance the process in my own mind.  

Isaiah's problem solving strategy is different.  He tends to fully formulate a strategy that he feels really sure about before getting into action mode.   I can become very impatient with his approach, and I know he is often frustrated with mine.  This is what I've noticed when he's home.  Interestingly, his strategy at work is very similar to mine. I am recognising this as just a difference in approach, and like the choice between chicken or fish, it depends on what you like to do and what works for your situation.   So, I'm working on remembering not to judge Isaiah for what I have judged to be his judgement of me.

Now, the fish have a fully submerged filter and a reptile lid with 2 reptile clips on the tank.  Jaedon still knows how to open it, but it takes him more time, and he is less enthusiastic about that.  I'm going to get 2 more reptile clips and a cupboard lock to clamp the hood to the tank. 

Now the new problem is that Zachary can't feed his own fish.... Let me get to that one.

By the way, how do you solve problems?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Listening and not hearing

No, that's wrong, I say. "He sang it like this..."

Isaiah is asking for my help working out the harmonies for a particular song, and I'm practicing a new communication strategy.

I tend to speak carefully, guardedly, thinking about other people's feelings, not wanting them to misinterpret what I say. Isaiah is very plain speaking. If he decides to tell you what he thinks, he just tells you. So, in our history together, I've gone through many bouts of 'you aren't considering my feelings' when he talks about something. His response has been to talk less. We have worked through much of that in the past 20 years.

Recently I had another breakthrough. I often feel like Isaiah isn't hearing me.  When this happens, I say things over and over, until, in frustration, I say it quite plainly, though perhaps with some angst mixed in.  It occurred to me recently that he actually may not be hearing me. Not that he's not listening. He's just not tuned in to the way I say things.  So instead of 'honey, are you sure he sang that there?', to which he responds, 'I'm very sure', I now say 'He didn't sing that there' and he responds by reviewing that part of the song.

So sometimes the blank look on his face like I'm speaking in a foreign language is really just that I'm not speaking his language. He's not thinking 'What the hell is wrong with this dumb broad?' He's thinking 'Huh?' or 'Did she say something?' in all innocence. Since I want to be heard, I'm learning his language.

I have great news for you. We all have the ability to learn as many languages as we want. It takes patience and curiosity and active-listening . Whose language do you need to learn?

Sunday, July 17, 2011


After Iris first arrived in the US, we spent many hours practicing American pronunciation. Our method involved Iris reading to me, and me interrupting to correct her each time she mispronounced a word. It worked so well that Iris insisted I interrupt her anytime she mispronounced or misused a word in conversation, even at parties where we didn't know the people to whom she was speaking. Although the practice resulted in me drawing the evil-eye from many an emancipated party-goer, one could not argue its effectiveness. And so we continue...

Iris reads aloud from Faith's post, Delicious Morsel or Building Block? She says, "dis" and I say, "this." Something strikes one of us as interesting. We stop and consider it, what it means, what it inspires, insights, answers, and so on.

There are times when the key to finding an answer is simply articulating the question. When Faith (in regard to her kids) asks, "So what do I want them to learn quickly?", I blurt out, "The things for which they'll be most thankful later."

It's not something I've thought about before. Yet I know it absolutely once Iris reads the question:
The most important things to teach our children are the things for which they'll be most thankful when they're adults.

Simple, right?

Of course the next question is, "How do you know what that is?"

You don't! All you can do is guess. Still, it's probably easier to guess what they'll most be thankful for as adults than what's generically the best thing to teach them.

How do you go about guessing? Hmmm... You could just ask them, but I doubt they know yet. I know there are educational philosophies that propose child-directed curricula and I believe they have a place within context. However, children simply lack the experience and breadth of knowledge to know what they'll consider most important when they become adults. For the most part, adults lack them too. As the parent, it comes to you.

Approach I
The trick is to blend your understanding of what you're glad you learned and what you wish you'd learned with an understanding of your kids' interests and skills. So it's inventory time. Put pen to paper and draw five columns.
  1. Glad I Learned
  2. Wish I'd Learned
  3. Strongest Interests
  4. Strongest Skills
  5. Greatest Weaknesses
I believe that all five are necessary to balance the weight of your own experience, successes and failures with that of your child's interests, strengths and weaknesses. It's easy to project onto your child. It's also easy to undervalue your own experience and bias.

Once you have your five lists, it's time to do a little gap analysis. What are the educational gaps between where you are and where you would be? What are they for your child? How are you going to close them? Note that recognizing weaknesses is just as important as recognizing strengths (and vice versa).

Approach II
As I read what I just wrote, I'm thinking, "Wrong! Most of us don't know what we want because we limit ourselves to what we know!"

You don't know you love sushi because you've never eaten good sushi. You don't know you love playing piano because you believe you can't or because you were tormented by bad teachers. You don't know that transcribing the music you hear and doing math in your head are fundamentally the same process because you've never even thought to make the connection. Or as Faith pointed out, you don't know that arithmetic relationships are beautiful: For the first time in my life, I became aware of number patterns and so much of the beauty in arithmetic that I had never seen before.

So, what do you do? There's got to be an approach that doesn't require you to know exactly what will be important to your child as an adult. And the answer is: rudiments.



It's Rudimentary, My Dear
The evasive connections that bind disparate disciplines are not theoretical or complex, their rudimentary. Music and math are not tied together theoretically or in some super-sophisticated, esoteric manner, they're tied elementally. The beauty in numbers does not lie in complex mathematical formulae, but in the basics of arithmetic. The beauty in language lies in phonemes, pitch and rhythm.
If you know the rudiments of any discipline,
you can derive the rest.
If you don't, the rest is a waste of time.
If a child understands phonetics, she can read anything. If not, she must memorize each word she learns. If he learns to visualize the relationships among numbers, he can understand any math concept. If not, he'll learn how to use formulae without ever comprehending them. If she learns to visualize rhythms before playing them and numbers before calculating them, she'll see an unmistakable connection between math and music. Once she sees this, each time she plays music, she'll better understand math. Each time she works a math problem, she'll become a better musician.

Equipped with the basics, a child has a foundation on which she can build any career. Without them, the educational process resembles home construction using implements for poker and bridge.

OK, so my answer to: How do you know the things for your children will be most grateful when they're adults? is Rudiments. If you teach your child the elemental building blocks of many disciplines in a way where she truly knows them (sees them, hears them, feels them), she'll be able to do anything she wants.

Of course, accomplishing the above may require a bit of time in adult-re-education.

Happy Sunday,

PS Speaking of rudiments: If a Dutch woman learns to play basic drum beats with a click-track (a metronome), she can become a rock-solid performer in just four weeks. Without the click-track, she could play for years and never have solid rhythm.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

There are Moments

There are times when everything you thought was true is wrong. Actually, most of the time that you believe things are true, you're wrong. However, there are moments when it becomes unavoidably clear that you're wrong: defining moments in which either the moment defines you or your define the moment.

In those moments, the gateway to a new reality blinks open. You see more clearly than you've seen before. You know that you must decide: jump through the opening or watch it snap shut.

Sometimes it's a no-brainer; more often it's not. You hesitate wanting more time to decide. You second-guess what you see and deny it--it can't be; it's implausible, impossible. Or you do believe, but the cost of acceptance is too great. So you try to ignore it, forget about it.

I've met doctors and therapists who would never use the methods they employ every day with members of their families. They don't believe that what they offer is indeed the best solution, but it's what they know, what they've trained all their lives to do. And so they carry on trying not to think too much about it. The moments have defined them.

I know salespeople who are clear that they offer an inferior product for a higher price. They brag about it, how despite the product's shortcomings, they can sell it. If it were the best product at the lowest price, anyone could sell it. Selling the lesser product requires true salesmanship.

On the other hand, I know people who upon seeing the truth (as it may be), will walk into it without hesitation or doubt. I know researchers who see the goal of an experiment to be discovery, not proof. Doctors and therapists who go on record to make it clear that what they first believed and taught is wrong. Business people who give up substantial incomes and sure things to pursue what they believe is best for their customers, even if it means uncertainty and financial loss.

The moment comes and they define it.

Of course, it's easy to point out in others the inconsistency between belief and action. We all have it.

There's nothing wrong it. We each walk around with thousands of unreconciled inconstancies bouncing around in our heads.

The only challenge is the side-effects.

For example, kids seem to be hyper-aware of inconsistencies in their parents. They seem to learn more from beliefs observed than beliefs taught.

Maintenance of inconsistency is costly. Some of us stress over them. Others block them out with alcohol and drugs. A few lose touch with reality altogether, a side-effect of strong powers of denial.

Sometimes we seek justification and we become self-righteous--I do it for a greater good. Other times, we seek explanation and we become victims--I do it because I have no other choice.

One of the challenges I face with my dogged-persistence is that I often blind myself to my inconsistencies. For example, I don't see that I've gone above and beyond what I said I would do and yet have not accepted my own work. I work harder and longer. I make others the benchmarks of my success. Bit by bit, I become externally defined. Kind of creeps up on me.

And then there are moments when I see it. Moments like now. And I have a choice to make.

Happy Saturday,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Who Are You?

Who are you?

What makes you, you?

Perhaps it easier to start with what makes you not someone else? Not your mom or dad? Not your brother or sister? Not your friend or colleague?

Strike that. It's probably more effective to start with whom you're like. When marketing a product, a common rookie mistake is to start with how different the product is before establishing what the product is. Newbie marketeers will begin with, "Our product's not like anything you've ever seen before..."

This is problematic on two fronts:
First, it lacks credibility. Everything is at least a little bit like something else. Even if a new automobile has features never imagined, it's still an automobile and not a pillow or a bag of potato chips.

Second, without establishing a baseline for comparison, it's difficult for someone to understand why your touted differences are different. You say for example, "My new Wizard 3000 does thus and such!" and your audience (not knowing your basis for differentiation) responds, "Oh, umm, doesn't everything do that?"
So, the rule of thumb is: first establish parity and then differentiation.

Who are you like?
So, what five people are you most like? We're not talking about replication here; we're talking about shared characteristics. Not only that, but the characteristics you have in common might not be those you most appreciate. To make the question easier, let's drop "most".
Name five people whom you're like.
Let's see, for me that would include:
  1. my mom,
  2. my dad,
  3. Jonathan,
  4. Will, and
  5. Pete.
OK, that's my don't-think-about-it, just-say-it list. I'm chuckling as I look at it because these are five completely different people.

So, what's a characteristic I share with each of these folks.
  1. I'm a lot like my mom in that I have more artistic and creative ideas than I could ever possibly implement.
  2. I'm like my dad in my ability to easily transform large, complex problems into simple, structured solutions.
  3. I'm like Jonathan in that my level of inspiration increases with the size and complexity of the challenge and I don't need to "know" the answer to feel comfortable that I'll have it when I need it.
  4. I'm like Will in that I don't hesitate when opportunities emerge.
  5. I'm like Pete in that I'm endlessly curious about how things work.
So, how am I different? I think the short answer would be that none of these people share all the characteristics I've outlined above. My mom had ideas, but more often than not lacked the capacity to implement them. My dad can implement pretty much anything, but can't come up with the what, and so on.
So, how does each characteristic tell me who I am?
Good question.
I think it comes down to: how much would it change me not have that characteristic? For example, I believe that it's my creativity that results in my needing little sleep and having boundless energy. I have so many things I want to do that I'm never bored and endlessly excited. I'd say that being creative is definitely a cornerstone of who I am, and that to remove it would completely topple the building. Similarly, having inspiration that grows proportionally to the size of the challenge would be another cornerstone. Without that, I'd probably be a nervous wreck given all that I have going on.

So perhaps that's a good process in becoming clear on who you are.
  1. Quickly identify five people whom you're like
  2. For each person, call out a shared characteristic
  3. For each characteristic, determine how different you'd be were that characteristic to change or disappear.
  4. If it would make a big difference, keep it; if not, toss it.
  5. Repeat
That was fun. So, who are you?

Happy Friday,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What I Know...

What I know is: it doesn't matter how much technique and method you acquire, if you don't understand the basics of attitude and belief. Technique and method won't make you a great parent… runner… engineer… musician… mathematician… artist… driver… or actor.

It takes more than technique and oftentimes, less.

What I know is: the people with the credentials more often than not don't understand what they're talking about. In some cases, they make great encyclopedias, but even then they can be dated like the World Book set that sat on your shelf since you were a kid.

What I know is: to be great at something begins with loving it. Love the doing of it and not the side-effects of doing. This is a point of confusion for many. To love being a Rock Star is different than loving to play music. To love making money is different than loving to be rich. To love being with your partner is different than loving having a great partner. To be great, love the being and doing part.

What I know is: the amount of effort has little to do with results. Sometimes, the amount of effort is inversely proportional to results.

As Iris and I passed an early morning cyclist pedaling his way along the beach towards Sandy Hook, I guessed that he must ride a lot and that he must ride quite fast. His muscle structure was that of a cyclist: thighs and hamstrings that were disproportionally large; calves that flexed like the cables of a suspension bridge; lean upper body with a chest that expanded and contracted in a way that belied extreme lung capacity.

I also noticed from his technique that he doesn't pay attention (or perhaps ever think about) riding well. As he hammered the pedals, his weight shifted from side to side. Tracing his path from above, you would not have seen a clean straight line, but instead, something that looked more like a sine-wave. His shoulders bobbed up and down. His motion was awkward and inefficient. He was a strong rider, but not a great rider.

What I know is: there's always another way. The question is never one of "if", it's always one of "how". This belief goes hand-in-hand with Jonathan's, "How hard could it be?"

Why? Because adopting the "How hard could it be?" belief works only until you hit the first dead-end. At that point, you can register an answer, "too hard", or you can determine that there must be another way. We tend not to see the possibilities because we get wrapped up in the approaches we've chosen and forget our intended goals. When we run into roadblocks or dead ends, rather than seeking alternate routes, we lament our chosen route being closed.

What I know is: disappointment is a waste of time.

What I know is: if you decide anything is doable and you're open to alternatives, you can accomplish miracles.

Iris began playing drums about four weeks ago. On Sunday, she played her first public gig. Not just a couple of songs, but an entire evening as the drummer for our band, No Room for Jello. Not as an amateur, but with the rock-solid time and energy of a seasoned professional. Not only did she drum, but she also sang. Not only did she sing and drum, but she sang better drumming than she did not drumming.

How'd she do that? I'm sure Iris has her own list, but here's what I observed.
  1. Iris focused on what she needed to know to play the gig, not on all the things she didn't know.
  2. She didn't waste time by learning things the wrong way and then unlearning them. For example, from the first day, she began practicing with a metronome. Everything she learned to play, she learned to play in perfect time.
  3. She played for hours on end.
  4. She loved playing and took delight in every little advancement.
  5. She didn't entertain the question of whether or not she could do it. Whenever something didn't come easily, she'd stop and ask herself "why?" She'd regroup and try again.
  6. She unabashedly presumed to rock the joint.
Some might say that it worked because Iris is different, special. She is. But that has nothing to do with whether or not her approach would work for anyone else.

What I know is: There are many more things that you can accomplish than you believe possible. That you are stronger and smarter than you think. That there's no one but you to unlock your potential. That the best way to help others unlock their's is to start with your own.

Happy Thursday,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Values in Conflict

The beauty of value-systems is that there are so many of them. So many in fact that each of us subscribes to at least a few (if not many) that are in conflict with one another. We don't always recognize these conflicts and when we do we're often slow to acknowledge them, but when we look honestly and diligently, the conflicts emerge.

The first challenge lies in the way we adopt value systems. There are the values we espouse openly, the values that we keep to ourselves, and the values that we act upon, but fail to recognize as values. Any of these values (espoused, hidden or unseen) can guide our actions. Some do consistently. Some do from time to time.

Knowing what your core values are and understanding the core values of others is paramount to working together over the long haul. Even people who seem completely compatible can find themselves in conflict from time to time, and when you dig into it, it always comes down to a conflict in values. In fact, conflict between people who normally seem completely compatible can be the most challenging to reconcile simply because it never occurs to either party that source of the conflict is incompatible values.

I have a rather eclectic mix of values. Some I picked up from folks. Some from church. Some from work. And so on. I say "picked up", because I want to be clear that they weren't foisted upon me, nor do I continue to subscribe to them because they were given to me as a kid. My values are my values here and now. I choose to keep them. I can choose to let them go.

In many ways, my dad is the archetypal American immigrant. He came to the US after World War II with next to nothing and pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He worked in a steel mill at night, went to school during the day and ended up graduating top of his class in Electrical Engineering. He landed a great job, married a prom queen, climbed the corporate ladder and raised a family. I picked up a lot of values from him:
  1. Work hard
  2. Reasons are not excuses
  3. Expect perfection but accept excellence
  4. Don't take any shit
  5. Deliver on what you say you'll do no matter how unreasonable the terms may be
  6. Don't pay attention to credentials, but listen to what each person says for what its worth
  7. Don't expect others to "get it"
  8. Even if everyone else gives up, what's that got to do with you?
Even though I don't frequently articulate them as I just have, I must say that these values are a strong part of my mix.

I also picked up values from my dad that he never espoused to me, or at least not in the normal way. For example, my dad taught me: creativity is more important than discipline or intelligence. He never said it quite like that. He's not a particularly creative person. However, there were times as a kid where after my dad heard me play music or heard his friends talking about the school concert where the orchestra performed my compositions, he'd say something like: You have a gift that I'll never have, one that I'd give anything for; you are creative.

Although my dad never taught creativity as a value per se, his value of creativity made a deeper impact on me than the others he taught me.

In many ways my mom was the archetypal move-to-the-big-city-and-find-your-fortune woman. She grew up in a little mill-town in South Carolina dreaming of escaping to New York City. She would to marry a tall, dark and handsome European man who would provide for her and show her the world. She would become a great singer and perform for thousands of people. She did all these things and then she had kids.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure that we (the kids) weren't part of her original plan. We were one of those concessions made when you're bartering for the tall, dark European. Over time that changed as did her values. Early on my mom taught me:
  1. Be independent,
  2. Take care of those around you
  3. Know how things work
  4. If you don't know how to do it, don't ask how; figure it out.
  5. Don't wait for or expect help
  6. Decide and act
  7. In the end, you're on you own
You'll note that the first two (being independent and caring) are bit contradictory, but nonetheless I must say that these values are still at my core.

As my mom came to accept that kids were part of her life, her values changed.
  1. Love is a verb. Love actively and expressively.
  2. Do what people mean, not what they say
  3. The greatest gift you can give someone is to listen fully and understand
  4. Find your reward in doing
  5. When you no longer find the doing rewarding, do something else
  6. Only you can make you happy.
  7. Always bring enough for yourself and for others.
  8. If you see someone in need, and you have the capacity to help them, do.
  9. There'll be plenty of time for sleeping in heaven.
The above are values that my mom never verbalized, but ones that she lived. They are anchored pretty deeply in me.

In fact, all the above values are anchored pretty deeply in me and as you can see, I don't need anyone other than myself to experience a conflict of deeply held values, e.g., Don't take any shit and Love actively and expressively. So here I am, a walking talking jumble of conflicting core-values, now articulated.

Thanks for listening. This has been quite helpful for me. What do you value?

Happy Monday,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

So I Write

Each morning, I write. Some mornings I write to you. Some, I write to people long gone. Some, I respond to Jenny's prompts and some, I just let my thoughts take me wherever they will. On the rare morning, all the above are served in a single exercise.

Each morning I write. As I write, I relax into myself.

That sounds a bit funny ("relax into myself"), but that's what it feels like to me. When I first wake up, I often feel as though the inner me is racing up and down my body, searching for an exit, trying push its way out. My body stiffens and contracts trying to keep me in. New thoughts and ideas assault my mind like rush-hour commuters passing a slow moving vehicle seeking an exit but trapped in the center lane on the Garden State Parkway. From the moment I first open my eyes to the moment my eyelids have have fully retracted, everything inside me accelerates from a dead stop to full motion. It can be, well, a bit overwhelming.

So, I write.

As I write, a calm ensues. The thoughts slow down and behave as though a state trooper just pulled into the lane behind them. The inner pulsing and pressing against potential exit points ceases. I breathe and suddenly everything inside me quiesces.

I relax into myself.

Why is that? My first thought is, expression. All discord, internal or external, stems from an inability to express: opinions, beliefs, needs, wants, ideas, what's going on inside. The inability may stem from skill and capacity (e.g., "I don't know how to say this, but..."), or it may be externally imposed (e.g., "You better not say..."). Nonetheless, whenever we can't express ourselves, we feel a sense of frustration. It's not because we haven't been heard (though that can be frustrating), it's because we haven't expressed.

What's the difference. Well, to express is to give form to something that has none. It's the articulation of abstract thought in a concrete medium, e.g., words, music, paint, sculpture or woodcraft. Whether or not anyone ever reads our words or listens to our music or admires our sculpture is of a second order. The first order is to give a form to something that is evasive, unclear, scattered or ephemeral. In that translation, we find peace.

In that way, I believe writing is much like prayer, the only difference being attribution of authorship. When we pray (not the grace at dinner kind of prayer, but the soul-searching type of prayer), we find clarity and a sense of purpose. We find answers. However, we attribute these not to the process of praying, but to the one to whom we pray.

I used to get up every morning and pray. Seek god. Gain understanding. Find meaning.

Now, I write.

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Elementary, My Dear

Living in the Berkshires, I have a new a appreciation for ruts.

We live on a mountain. Well, really it's a large hill. Our house sits about three-quarters of the way up. When it rains, water rushes down the mountain from behind the house, is diverted to the left and right by culverts and then continues on down towards the road 150-feet below.

Just before we moved in, the road and driveway were redone by a local excavator who apparently knew less about water management than your average second-grader in Holland. Each time it rained, the tiny crevices that ran down and crisscrossed driveway grew bigger. From one storm to the next, it was difficult to see the growth, but grow they did.

After about a month, you could see significant change. After two months, you could feel the change as you drove the car. After three months, you needed to navigate the ruts so as to avoid jostling passengers or spilling coffee. After four months, you needed an SUV or truck to make it from the road to the house. After five months, we found another excavator.

From rain to rain, the changes were imperceptible. Yet, over a period of a few months, the driveway was transformed from a smooth plain to a series of canyons.

Of course it wasn't the water's fault. The water was simply doing what water does, seeking the path of least resistance.

It wasn't the driveway's fault. The driveway was doing was doing what driveways do, becoming weaker where it is weakest, resisting less and less.

When we finally had the driveway repaired, it was quite expensive. The first few months we lived in the house, we rented. It was only after we purchased the house that we could do something and by then there was more rut than driveway. The man who replaced the driveway knew about water management: since then, no ruts.

Our minds are quite like our driveway. Thoughts run through them seeking the paths of least resistance and finding them. Each time a path is followed, it becomes a bit deeper and wider, a bit less resistant. It becomes easier and easier for the thoughts to find and follow those paths. The changes are imperceptible from thought to thought, but over time the neural paths become large ruts that are almost unavoidable, that is, until you excavate and redefine your mind.

The beauty is that it takes very little to create a new neural pathway. You don't have to excavate; you just need to create a tiny non-resistant path. Once the thought-flow finds it, the flow will take care of the rest.

In someways, learning is a process of deliberately creating ruts, new pathways for thought. Once the ruts are established they continue to grow each time thought flows through them. Over time, you end up with a brand new mind.

Happy Saturday,

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Delicious morsel or building block?

So much of what we do can be driven by our own past experiences and firm resolutions as a result of those experiences.  We take those resolutionss into the world and create new experiences for ourselves and for those around us.  They get to have these experiences, decide how they will experience them, make whatever resolutions they choose, and the circle goes on.  I'm creating my piece of such a circle with my parenting and homeschooling.

I've been thrilled with Tef's recent posts A Way of Thinking and The Third Choice.  They have inspired my thinking about the continuous human laboratory that is my home.  It's the place we live and learn and live out our learnings, every day.  For me, there is no more natural place for 'school' than home.  So we homeschool.  I get to test out my theories, waffle often, flip-flop several times, figure out my own way forward, and, with some grace, allow the children room to figure out their own way to live and learn.

It's 1976 and I'm learning the 2 times tables.  Why?  Dunno, but it was easy, so no reason to ask why.  Plus, Jamaican 6 year olds knew better than to ask why in 1976!  The ruler or switch was right there in the teacher's hand.  So happily, I recited the 2 times tables to the pleasure of my teachers.  Then they told me to learn the 3 times tables, and the confusion began.  I couldn't find the pattern!  It took a little while, but I finally learned it, and the 4's, 6's, and all the rest.  Thank God for the 5's, 10's and 11's and 12's.  They had some rules I could see clearly.

I remember the practice drills. "Faith, tell the class 6 times 8."  I had no idea! I started in my mind: "6 times one is 6.  6 times 2 is 12. 6 times 3 is ...." as fast as I could until  "6 times 8 is 48".  To this day, I have to do that, except now I know 6x6 is 36, so I start there.  I could never do calculations in my head.  I figured everything out on paper.  Isaiah marvelled for a long time "You have a double major in math and computer science".  "Mathematics is more than numbers" was my ready retort.

So fastforward to 2004 and I'm looking for some extra money for Jaedon's biomedical program.  I've spent most of my working life teaching, so I decide to teach for the Sylvan Learning Center.  This was my first expereince teaching elementary level mathamatics.  For the first time in my life, I became aware of number patterns and so much of the beauty in arithmatic that I had never seen before.  Actually, I saw the algebra in arithmetic.  Actually, I saw that they were both the same.  A couple years later, I was introduced to Caleb Gattegno and his methods of teaching math.  I was blown away.  Arithmetic and algebra became visual and I could see that 4/3 of 6 is 8.  I didn't have to employ some strange algorithm that I confused depending on whether I was going across an equal sign or ....

I felt cheated!  This was there all along?  Here I was slaving away memorizing stuff that could just be seen? Be understood intuitively?  It wasn't right!  I had been busy acquiring building blocks with no idea of their individual craftsmanhip. Now, looking at them, these blocks were beautiful! Delicious! I resolved to build this search for the beauty, the why, the meaning, into all the stuff we explore at home in 'school'.

With that system reasonably well implemented, I'm now thinking about The Third Choice.  How can I build in meaning AND improve speed of learning and retention?  I have to admit that the previous question for me is unanswered: Do I even want to improve the speed of learning and retention?  Though I think 'yes' is an obvious answer, I'm not so sure.  I'm concerned about the missed steps when speed is my focus, the missed important crawling stage when walking is the priority.  Deep down, I do believe that the children will learn anything they set their minds to, and their lives and choices will stir their motivation to learn some things really quickly and others at a more moderate pace.

So given that they can learn quickly whatever they want to learn, I'm really trying to build motivation for what I want them to learn, hoping that they will agree to its usefulness, or at least learn something about the process of knowledge and skill aquisition that they can apply to whatever they want to learn.  So what do I want them to learn quickly?

It just depends... somethings are to be savord slowly, some things are like a stepping stone, a building block, a means to an end.  I think at 2 years old, there is a delicious savoring of the learning to walk process.  What wonder and excitement!  A delicious morsel.  I think that the 30 year old accident victim who uses his legs for both work and recreation may not savor the learning to walk process.  He may have a 'let's be done with it' mindset.  So today's morsel can be tomorrow's stepping stone, or even today's stepping stone.  As I said, it depends...

I did the bunny hop while counting by 3's and 4's and sang songs counting by all manner of numbers and I loved it!  A delicious morsel. I'm delighted at the thought of doing it with Zachary (though who Zach is ... he knows his own mind).  Not knowing the times tables was not a hinderance.  We savored the process of discover and exploration.  We observed the patterns in the numbers.  I saw new patterns every day.  Who knows what the 6 and 9 year old saw.  I was having fun!

I'm now ready to build on that fun in some new ways, and times tables would be a great building block to stand on.   A stepping stone.  Something firm and established.

In my own process, I developed building blocks and saw beauty later.  I'm trying to orchestrate my children's process so they can see the beauty first, then step on the functional, sturdy building block.  What about doing them both?  The idea had never occured.  A clear intention in both directions!  My mind is spinning.  The idea that we can have wonderful leisurly fun slowly exploring some idea, then in a second, step on it, and several other ideas, straight through to some distantly related concept that we slowly, deliciously explore, then hop back to firm up our building blocks as we need to, why that is fantastic!  That is so, ... natural.  That is the way we live our lives now.  Some things are just utility.  I have no idea of the beauty of a car's transmission.  I just drive the car.  Yet, at any time, I can get into transmission and devour it as a delicious morsel.  I have to think about all this some more. 

By the way, are there any processes that you have created because they really are the best way of doing the things you need done?  Are you locked into those?  Please apply Teflon's Axiom of Choice  (mentioned here).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Way of Thinking

I often find myself standing at the kitchen sink thinking about a post from one of our Belief Makers authors, days after having read it. A statement or question will stick with me, calling into question a basic belief or tennet, inspiring a new line of thought, or simply offering a puzzle to be worked. The thread I tug is often not part of the post's main fabric. Yet, there I stand, the water running, a plate in one hand, a scrubber in the other, my eyes fixed on a tree in the back yard and my mind nowhere to be found.

This morning, I found myself thinking about Faith's post, Much Ado About Nothing. In describing her experience preparing her home-schooled kids for the standardized tests imposed by the local board of education, Faith wrote:
Plus, we haven't done traditional times tables. I decided on a combination of counting by whatever number, and having to do the repeated addition to figure out multiplication. My thought was that the more she had to do it the long way, the more the idea of a short way would make sense.
Faith's decision to not teach Simonne the multiplication-table is just a small example in her story, and aside, and yet, I've been thinking about it on-and-off for days.

I'm an antagonist of systems that rely on memorization as the primary means of education. Victims off such systems often appear to know what they're talking about without actually understanding anything. They can execute tasks that they've completed before, but get stumped when the task presented doesn't match one of the templates they've memorized. If a perfect match can't be found, they'll try to force-fit the problem at hand into one of the solutions they "know". They can't derive new solutions and don't understand that process is a way of thinking, not a substitute for thinking. (BTW, if you're training for a government or bureaucratic job, read no further.)

Generally speaking I agree with Faith's thought process; it would be better if Simonne were to derive the multiplication-table from experience counting rather than memorizing information that was spoon-fed to her.

So why am I stuck on Faith's not teaching Simonne the multiplication-table?

It came to me this morning as the sound of the juicer grinding away at nothing woke me from my revery: Oh, I get it; it's tools versus data!

"Tools versus data?", you ask.

I realized that there are some things that are worth memorizing, so much so that you want them to be available to you without anything thought whatsoever. The thing that distinguishes these items from others is the degree to which they are essential. The more basic and fundamental, the greater the motivation to memorize them.

For example, when I was a four, my mom noticed that I really liked the association of sounds with letters, i.e., phonetics. I would constantly ask her what sounds were made by letters and letter combinations. I didn't care about words or reading, I just like the idea that letters had sounds. Later my mom would talk about passing a billboard while driving to the store and hearing me sound out words which I'd never heard, let alone understood. She never taught me words, just letters and sounds. I got the reading part on my own.

So I guess there are cases where I'd be a staunch advocate of memorization:
  1. where the items being memorized are key building blocks,
  2. where one is motivated to memorize (either internally or externally),
  3. where the process of memorization involves practice, not recitation (applied memorization), and
  4. where the items being memorized are not severely limited to context (i.e., don't memorize methods that only work in one situation.)

OK, those four resonate with me pretty well.

The more I think about it, it comes down to vocabulary. Any discipline has a vocabulary. Language has a vocabulary. Math has one. So does music. For example, I used to play scales and arpeggios with a metronome for hours on end, not so that I could know all the scales in all the keys, but so that I'd be come so intimate with the relationships among the notes that I never have to think about them. I hear a scale and know what it is. I hear a chord and know what it is. I don't have to go to the musical equivalent of a dictionary to look them up. I just know them.

Being intimate with all the scales, arpeggios and relationships among the notes doesn't qualify me as a musician, but it makes being a musician immensely easier. I don't have to learn songs or memorize them. As long as I can hear them in my head, I can play them. If someone wants to play a song in another key, no problem. Although my mind is processing the information, I don't "think" about it. It's second nature.

So, I finished making the juice and then wrote to y'all.

Happy Tuesday,

Sunday, July 3, 2011


July 2, 2004, 6:00 AM
We just closed on our new place in Porter Square, Cambridge. The 900 square-foot condo on Regent Street feels bigger than it is. The south-side of the centuries-old row house is lined with windows and there's no hallway, just a big open space with bedrooms at either end. There's a master bedroom at the back, and two smaller bedrooms at the front (one of which I'm pretty sure used to be a closet).

Iris's dad and his girlfriend are in the master bedroom, Paul (Iris' would-have-been boyfriend from the Netherlands) is in the second one, Joann from Denmark is in the third. Doing the math, that leaves zero bedrooms for Iris and me, so we're sleeping on an air-mattress in old our old penthouse (i.e., on the top floor) apartment overlooking the Charles; the lease isn't up for another month and the air-mattress is in fact the only article of furniture in the apartment.

Tomorrow's the big day! I open my eyes and look at Iris. She opens hers and says, "Time to get up?"

"Yup! Time to get up."

Three minutes later, we're out the door driving to Brueger's to pick up bagels for our guests and grab a few moments together before the day rushes in. The rest of the day is a blur of activity: trips to and from the airport (people are arriving from all over the world), buying sundry party accouterments at BJ's Wholesale Club, touching base with the band (a group of street musicians we ran across one day in Harvard Square), dropping by the VFW hall to make sure that the tent arrived, ordering more chicken and ribs from Red Bones (although we invited fifty, looks like we're gonna get closer to seventy-five), and answering a steady stream of phone calls.

After the rehearsal dinner, we head back to our empty apartment which is now lined with suitcase, backpacks, sleeping bags, matts, and ten additional friends who'll be staying with us.

5:30 AM, July 3, 2004.
Iris and I slip out of the apartment and head down Mike's Pastry on Hanover Street in the North End. We load the car with cannoli, boconnotti, pasticiotti and other Italian delights. I drop Iris off at Regent Street to do all those things brides do before their wedding and head back to apartment to coordinate the crew. John, you're responsible for the PA. Megna, you've got the food and drinks. Nate you've got tables and chairs.

Miraculously, everything comes together.

The guy who marries us is this really sweet Buddhist justice of the peace from Arlington. The music starts, he invites everyone to stand and we all turn to see as Iris and her dad step from around the corner of the VFW hall. Her dad flew from Amsterdam to do two things: 1) walk Iris down the aisle and 2) answer the question "Who gives this woman away?" Although Iris is not exactly someone who could be given away, she's delighted that her dad is so excited to do so.

As I watch Iris and her dad approach, I'm overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude and love. They make it down the aisle and her dad blurts out, "I do!", even before the justice of the peace can complete the question.

Everyone takes their seats and the justice of the peace begins...

We have come to this special place today to celebrate the marriage of Mark and Iris, and to reflect upon their love. Mark and Iris have been given the great opportunity to chose loving each other, and on this day Mark and Iris proclaim their love for each other by freely choosing to spend their lives together and becoming wed.

You'll notice I didn't say, "falling in love". Mark and Iris consider that a "victim's" approach to love. Instead, they see themselves as deliberate lovers who are fully responsible for their actions.

I myself admit that I learned a lot about relationships during the short time I spent with Mark and Iris.

I typically meet with couples that are interested to be married, and in talking to Mark and Iris I learned how powerful love can be when it is tempered and strengthened by recognizing the choices involved in ownership over your own emotions. I sincerely hope that Mark and Iris continue to inspire others who may be in relationships to value the emotional responsibility involved in addition to the sharing of emotions between partners.

In marriage, we find the opportunity to for new choices every day: the opportunity to love or not love, the opportunity to be grateful or not be grateful, the opportunity to be happy or unhappy.

In fact, marriage is something that we can grow or diminish by the choices we make.

Marriages don't become strong on their own and they don't fall apart on their own. They're a result of our choosing daily to love, to be grateful for and to be happy with our partner.

A great benefit of this approach to marriage is that, by daily choosing to grow our love for one person, we increase our capacity for love in general. We become expert lovers. By choosing to grow our gratitude for one person, we become grateful for people in general. By choosing to be increasingly happy with one person, we become happier with everyone. This approach to marriage can transform us into people who are happier, healthier and more fun to be with.

5:30 AM, July 3, 2011
That was seven years ago today. It's still working.

Happy Sunday,

Friday, July 1, 2011

In the Meanwhile...

Did you hear that? They just announced that our flight will be delayed another 90 minutes! If they delay it much more, we're gonna miss our connection in Chicago.

I heard the announcement. It'll be fine.

Fine? How do you know that? For all we know, we could be stuck here all night.


Then how's that gonna be fine? We'll miss the rehearsal. We might even miss the gig. And you call that "fine?"


Are you crazy or something? We've been getting ready for this show for months. We've been spending all-nighters practicing. Lenny bought a special keyboard rig just for this gig and shit, you dropped four-grand on a new PA system. How's it gonna be "fine" if we miss the gig?

How's it gonna help to make it not fine?

Well, it's gonna... it's gonna... huh? What are you talking about?

Look man. We're here in Boston. Our gear is already on the plane. The flight's delayed. We might miss our connection in Chicago. We might miss rehearsal. We might even miss the gig.

Uh huh. So...

So, how's it gonna help things to get upset about it? How's it gonna help to decide that things aren't "fine?"

Well, you can't just sit there and do nothing.

I'm not doing nothing. I'm talking to you. And before that, I was going over the set lists.

I mean, you can't just do nothing about the situation.

What do you propose I do?

Well... uh... you know... something!


Like, you know. Go talk to somebody. Call somebody. Something.

OK, let's say for the moment that there was somebody I could call. How's it gonna help for me to be unhappy about the situation? See that guy talking to the flight agent. Looks pretty pissed off. Do you think that's helping his cause or hurting it?

Ummm... I guess it's hurting it. The flight agent's starting to look pretty pissed off herself.

Right. And if he get's angrier, is that gonna change the weather?

Well, no. Of course not.

And when he finally does get to San Diego, do you think he's gonna be more stressed out or less stressed out as a result of being pissed off now?

More I guess.

So, getting unhappy is helping how?

It's not.

And by the way. We haven't actually missed our connection or the rehearsal or the gig. If we do, we'll have plenty of time to be unhappy about it, but in the meanwhile...

We can be happy?

Yup! In the meanwhile, we can be happy.

Happy Friday,