Friday, January 30, 2015

Post 60: To Infinity and Beyond

Those of you who didn't know me in my younger days may be surprised to learn that I loved math. And I was good at it. I went all the way through Calculus at Center Senior High School.

I know it's different at theoretical levels, but the math I was studying seemed wonderfully black-and-white. After arguing with my English teachers ("How do you know what Faulkner meant? You weren't there when he wrote it!), I really enjoyed going to a math class where the answer was right or wrong. No ifs, ands or buts.

I even liked my math teachers -- Mr. Propp, Mr. Dial and Mr. Wills. All very different, but I learned a lot from them. And then I met Mr. Knopps.

Mr. Knopps taught Calculus. Looking back, I think he was probably a wonderful teacher with a wry, dry sense of humor. Looking then, I thought he was terrifying.

It became clear early on -- to me, Mr. Knopps and the rest of the class -- that I was out of my league. Calculus wasn't Algebra. It wasn't Geometry. It didn't add up. But, I was stuck with Mr. K and he was stuck with me. After all, I was one of the "smart" kids. We didn't drop classes and teachers didn't kick us out.

Although, if he'd had the opportunity, I believe Mr. K would have shown me the door.

"Janet," Mr. Knopps would say, when I failed -- yet again -- to answer a question. "My five-year-old can solve this equation. Certainly you can."

I wasn't the only one Mr. K teased, and I saw how others responded. They worked harder, they came back with the right answers, they trounced that little five-year-old. Unfortunately, the motivation didn't work for me. I gave up and shut up, "counting" on his good grace and my limited talents to eventually pass the class.

Fortunately, a passing grade in Calculus satisfied the University of Missouri's mathematics requirements for a journalism student. I never looked back and I never took a math class again. Mr. K was my differential swan song.

That said, he did teach me one invaluable lesson. Different strokes for different folks. We're not all inspired by the same topic, the same people, the same approach. There's a reason for all those different college majors -- and all those different religions. Different strokes and different folks demand and create an "infinite series" of possibilities.

Infinite series. Infinite series. Does that remind you of high school math? It reminds me of Buzz Lightyear.

By the by, I met the damn five-year-old years later. Nice kid, studying journalism. Go figure ...

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is Post 4 of the 60. Party on!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Creativity Exercise: Tell Me Your Favorite Poem


Hi! I'm back! And, as you may have noticed, I'm posting more these days. What can I say? It's a possible temporary return of the Energizer Bunny.

Whatever the reason, I'm enjoying the blog again and I hope you are. Thanks for being part of the fun!

I'm looking ahead to Poetry Month in April, and thinking I might publish a favorite poem every day. So if you have a favorite you'd like included, send it my way! After all, it's your blog too.

P.S. If you click on the Energizer Bunny link, I'm happy to report that I now exercise regularly and remember my vitamins. Almost always. Well, usually. Sometimes. Hell, I'm better than I was in 2010, people. That's progress. And good lord I've been writing this blog for a long time. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Creativity Tips: Love What You Do

This wonderful photo was taken on April 18, 1955 -- the day Albert Einstein died. It's a shot of his office at Princeton at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Einstein was 76 years old. Clearly, he hadn't retired. He was still exploring equations and mysteries. He was still stretching his mind and our view of the universe.

It's a simple matter of A+B=C. Work You Love + Continual Stretching = Your Most Creative Self.

I'm no Einstein, but I've tested the equation and it works. And here's another theorem for you: My office will look a lot like this when I'm 76. Minus, of course, the pipe and tobacco and the blackboard brilliance.

That reminds me ... I promised a calculus story in my Post 60 debut. Maybe I'll write that this week!




Thursday, January 22, 2015

Post 60: The Amazing Grace of OK

I don't usually remember dates, but I remember this one: On Dec. 23, 2014, I got the flu. We're talking nasty bug. I don't know what my temperature was -- I'm guessing 102 or 103. We didn't have a working thermometer in the house. (Yes. You're right. One more reason I won't be named Mom of the Year.)

I crawled into bed wearing long underwear, a sweatshirt, flannel pants, and wool socks and buried myself under three blankets and a comforter. I was still cold. It wasn't good. The next day was worse. It wasn't a stomach flu. I coughed. I ached. I froze. There were many days during the next few weeks where showering was an accomplishment. First of all, I had to get out of bed or off the couch. I had to take off five layers of clothes. And then I had to stand in the shower, and standing for more than a minute really took a lot of energy.

I'm not making this up. Ask my family.

After a week, I was having serious trouble breathing, so I finally went to the doctor. The flu had morphed into bronchitis; she prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler. Not long after that, I started feeling human.

Then, one wonderful day, I woke up with enough energy to be me again. The living dead had rejoined the living. I was grateful for everything. The ease of climbing the stairs. My appetite. A good deep breath. If you've never had asthma, let me assure you: There is nothing better than breathing.

A funny thing happened a few days later, though. I wasn't consumed with gratitude for the amazing grace of simply feeling OK. Apparently it's pretty easy to take breathing for granted when you're fully oxygenated.

We are people of short memories. Most of us have faced illnesses or accidents that limit our day-to-day activities. We fall, we break, we need help to take a shower or make lunch or pull up our pants. Then, if we're lucky, we heal.

And two seconds later, we forget. We forget how awful it was to be ill or broken. We forget how it felt to be needy.

We forget how fabulous it is to be whole.

The flu has flown, thank G-d. Or chicken soup. Or amoxicillin. I'm trying to keep the feeling of gratitude with me, just a bit longer. To relish hopping out of bed feeling happy and strong, eager to drink my morning coffee and tackle the day ahead.

Fortunately, no one else in the family caught my flu. On the other hand, I hope the appreciation of feeling OK is contagious. Consider yourself kissed. Now, pass it on.

Sidenote for those of you just joining the fun: Post 60 is a digression on the Creative Instigation blog, part of my 60th year celebration. This is Post 3 of the 60. Party on!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Post 60: 22 Across

Since I'm a writer, you might think I would be great at crosswords You'd be wrong. I don't know what the capital of Cameroon is, and telling me it's a seven-letter word won't help.

That said, when my daughter Kate recently started doing crosswords, I happily joined in. And, with some clues, my vocabulary and age have proven useful. For example, Kate wasn't familiar with Hee Haw, but I knew the characters might well be called rubes.

As we worked our way through one puzzle, I had to ask her to repeat the clues. Frequently. While she graciously repeated and repeated and repeated, I wondered why I was having so much trouble. And I finally realized, I need context to understand what's being said. "What's a three-letter word with cap and pack?" sounds to me like "What's a three-letter word with ???? and ????." I can tell the vowel involved is an "a" but that's as much as I get.

Cat? Hat? Rat? Where's Dr. Seuss when you need him?

Now, there's a perfectly good reason for this difficulty. I'm half deaf and have been all my life. Typically, I consider it an advantage: Because I'm half deaf, I pay attention to what people say. I listen very carefully to make sure I'm not missing anything. I lip read. I focus.

All these compensation methods are automatic. What I didn't realize -- until we started doing the crosswords -- is how much I "hear" by context.

For example,"Mom, do you want me to start the dishwasher?" makes perfect sense when Kate says it while she's in the kitchen, after just loading the dishwasher. I may actually hear, "Mom, do you ??? me to ??? the dishwasher?" but I know what she means. The context is clear.

There's absolutely no context for 22 across or 60 down.

It matters to me, it matters to Kate and it matters to you. Context changes everything. I love you can mean I want to go to bed with you, you're the best friend anyone ever had, I adore you, or I really need you to load the dishwasher.

That's fine can mean Okey dokey. That's fine. Or, it can mean, I'm exhausted. Please don't ask me to make a decision.

And, as we all know, I don't care can mean about two thousand things, ranging from Thanks for asking, but it really doesn't matter to me to If you ask one more time, I'm going to fucking scream.

Not that I know that from personal experience or anything.

I don't want to end this post on a cross word, so let me gently remind you: We are all puzzles. We all have context, history, secrets, that no one else knows. The joy comes in filling out the blanks, together.

P.S. The three-letter word  we needed was "ice." I have no freakin' idea what the capital of Cameroon is ... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Post 60: Look at me! Look at me!

In April, I will turn 60. (I'm going to assume there's a collective gasp of shock and surprise at this point.) In honor of what feels like a big day, I'm going to do something a bit different on the blog -- I'm going to post 60 essays on random topics, everything from love to chocolate.

OK, you're right. That's not much of a gap. How about everything from love to calculus?

Along with the Post 60 essays, I'll probably toss in a few regular creativity tips and recipes. You never know. I'm almost 60. I can do what I want.

For now, let's launch Post 60 with one of my favorite things in the world. Eye contact. Mmmmmmmmm. You know that feeling, when you're talking with someone who is looking directly at you -- not at his phone. Not at her nails. Not glancing around for the waiter.

Eye contact lets us know the other person is really seeing us -- or at least trying to really see us, hear us, understand. Eye contact connects us. And that, my friends, is huge. We all want to feel connected. Truly, it's more than a want -- it's a need. Connections are essential to our humanity.

Not surprisingly, sustained eye contact can also lead to love. There was a terrific article in The New York Times this week that talked about psychologist Arthur Aron's study -- an experiment that succeeded in making two strangers fall in love. Part of the study involved answering these 36 questions. The other part? Four minutes of eye contact.

Children get it. If you've ever had a child, babysat for a friend, or gone to a public pool, you know kids aren't shy about yelling, "Look at me! Look at me!"

Of course, kids have more sense than adults. We clearly lose brain cells along the path to 60. Children understand, on an intuitive level, the importance of eye contact -- of being seen for who they are and what they do.

In honor of my special year, I'm taking a tip from the research and the kids. This year, this week, today, I want you to look at me! Look at me! And don't stop there. Look at all the fascinating people around you. The cashier at the grocery store. The colleague two cubes over. Your significant other.

This year, this week, today, make everyone feel significant. Make eye contact.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Creativity Tips: Five Ideas for Happier Holidays

As part of our Thanksgiving decorations, Kate cut out those turkey handprint forms kids use in elementary school -- you know, you trace your hand, cut it out, color it like a turkey. Then, on the big feast day, we decorated our hands and wrote what we are grateful for on the palm.

Being the brilliant writer that I am, I wrote something terrifically original ... family and friends. And the first thing I thought when I woke up Friday morning was: I should have written Joy. Fun. Laughter. Because, for me, that's what makes life worthwhile. And that's what made this Thanksgiving so special -- the house was filled with laughter.

For example, there was this moment. Tom went to pick up his brother, and I was afraid there wouldn't be time for him to carve the turkey. So I tried. Mary looked up instructions online. I became a vegetarian the moment I tried to amputate the leg. Mary and Kate then stepped up. And there was this moment:
Poor bird. 
And then this:

They did a fabulous job and Tom finished up when he got home. My guess is, we'll laugh at turkey carving for years to come. And that brings us to the five ideas for happier holidays:
  1. Carve out time for fun. Remember what really brings you joy during this crazy busy season, whether that's time with friends and family or quiet time with a good book. Enjoy yourself. 
  2. Consider the gift of time. I've stopped the gift exchange with many friends. Instead of buying presents, we spend the money at dinner out or doing something together. (Most of us have enough "stuff" and it's time with people we love that is most precious.)
  3. Remember that it's not a competition. I can turn anything into a competition. (When I tried to knit, I had to remind myself that "knit one, purl two" was not a score.) However, baking, decorating and wrapping should be fun. Just fun. If it's not fun, stop the insanity. The world will still revolve. Santa will still arrive. 
  4. Go back. Think about what you enjoyed most about the holidays before the responsibility of the holidays was on your shoulders. Playing with the dreidel? Decorating sugar cookies? Setting up a model train under the tree? Whatever it was, do it again. 
  5. Sit down. Relax. Have a hot chocolate or a hot toddy. Watch a movie -- there are so many classics to choose from -- It's a Wonderful Life. White Christmas. The Polar Express. Choose your flick and sit your tuchas down. That's right. You can sit during the holidays. I promise, it will be OK. 
Now's the time to wrap yourself in the joy of the season. Here's to the happiest of holidays for all of us!