Letter to Dad

February 26, 2016

I was talking yesterday to someone who turns out to be quite a Harry Truman fan.  He has also helped me deal with things having to do with my father, without ever having met him.  So I told him about my father’s letter from Harry Truman, which was a reply to a letter my father had sent him.  My dad was a fan of Truman’s, too.  I told the person I would dig out the letter and send them a scan of it later in the day.  Which I did.  (I included the envelope, since the letter does not include a greeting.)  I think they liked it.

I thought I’d post it here, too.

KM Truman letter

I also sent this person an image of a work photo of my dad, from probably the 1960s, for which credit goes to Flight Control, The Bendix Corporation, Eclipse-Pioneer Division, Teterboro, New Jersey.  I thought I’d post that here, as well:

 

Kurt Moses

When this person expressed their delight with the letter, I told them how glad I was to have found a truly interested audience for the letter.  And it’s true, I got a big charge out of connecting this person who really appreciated the item with this thing that was so important to my father.  I also hoped it would sort of flesh out their understanding of my dad.  Perhaps in that vein, their reaction to the photo was to note the family resemblance between my dad and me.  I am aware of it myself, of course, but it was interesting to be reminded that it is noticeable to others.  That resemblance is something to reflect on in maybe a different way now that my dad is gone — maybe from this vantage point, I can see the connection in a fresh light.

 

 

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Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again

February 21, 2016

My New York Times redelivery guy tells me that it’s his understanding that the delivery services in my area for The Boston Globe and The New York Times will be put back together again (see previous post), starting in about a week or so.  He anticipates another couple of weeks beyond that for the system to get up to speed.  He says The Globe has capitulated and is abandoning the new delivery scheme it tried to implement at the very end of last year and then tried to adjust later when that initial implementation failed.

Maybe this will have been like the New Coke?

I hope the news is correct and that the delivery system for both newspapers becomes reliable again.  And soon.

The redelivery guy told me a sad story about how the lack of Globe deliveries meant that friends of an elderly woman who had died were unable to read her obituary and did not know of her passing or her funeral service and therefore did not attend.

The problems for me from this delivery fiasco pale in comparison to that.

And indeed it’s nice to get to know my New York Times redelivery guy.  Reminds me of the blind men and the elephant story:  even a difficult situation can become an occasion for communication with others and yield positive results through that.


No delivery

February 20, 2016

We are back to no delivery of either print newspaper, The Boston Globe or The New York Times.

Requests for “redelivery” of the papers are sometimes filled, sometimes not.

Central customer service seems to concede that they still have a problem that is not going to get fixed anytime soon, as yesterday both offered me a week’s worth of credit going forward.

What they may not realize is that they are undermining their credibility about doing what they can to fix the problem.

What seems to be the problem is that their model for hiring drivers no longer makes economic sense for potential recruits.  Splitting off delivery of the Globe from delivery of other papers apparently broke the structure that allowed the regional delivery system to work.  Apparently the new routes are too long and inefficient for drivers to get finished in time to meet delivery deadlines or get to their other employment.  Delivering only one paper per house is also less lucrative for the driver.  One driver indicated that the pool of drivers is largely immigrant and vulnerable to exploitation, so I am wondering whether part of the reason that the feedback that the split needs to be undone is not being accepted is that the companies have assumed that they have enough leverage to make the new model work.

Since the driver I had in 2015 for the Times quit after losing the Globe part of his delivery work, no permanent replacement has been found by the service managing delivery of the Times.  I learn from central customer service for subscriptions for the Times when I call to report yet another missed delivery that my account is not assigned to a permanent driver.  A new Globe driver who came on board after a lengthy period of no delivery after the December 28th implementation of new system lasted only a few weeks.  Apparently there are not enough drivers to deliver the “redelivery” papers (those requested when the original copy was not delivered) reliably either.

So what are the delivery companies and the newspaper companies that hire them going to do?  Will they reunite the delivery systems for the different papers and go back to the status quo ante?  A redelivery driver for the Times some weeks ago told me that that he thought they would eventually do that but that it would take time.  He also claimed the problem was the result of a personal feud.  He said this accounted for the split itself and the abruptness of how the change was implemented.

Consumers seem to be the tail on the dog in all this.

On the one hand, I often read or hear that advertising in the print edition of a newspaper is an important source of revenue for journalism.  On the other hand, I would not be surprised to be informed at some point that subscriptions for home delivery of print papers will no longer be available in my area, if these companies cannot see their way to rebuilding a system that works, including cooperating with one another and being more realistic about driver needs.  I mean, how long can they go on saying they offer print subscriptions but not fulfill them?


Lunar time tables

February 15, 2016

This happened to me before, but it still took me by enough surprise that I found myself trying to plumb it more thoroughly this time around.

I could not figure out why today I was feeling, shall we say, down.  I went off for a walk, and fairly early on in it, it came to me that I should check, when I returned home, an online yahrzeit calculator.  So when I got home, I found one and plugged into it the date of birth and death for the premature infant I delivered over thirty years ago, and sure enough, the yahrzeit is tomorrow (as well as in a month from now, because it’s a leap year and so the month of Adar occurs twice), according to the Jewish calendar.  On the solar calendar we use in secular American life, the anniversary is not until near the end of this month.

As I said, this has happened to me before, I could even probably figure out which year.

When it happened last time, I remember having some thoughts about why I was in sync with the Jewish calendar on this schedule of commemoration — I remember thinking, for instance, that it might have to do with picking up on other people’s practices.  I think with this year’s repetition of the experience of grief arising on the yahrzeit according to a lunar year, I am thinking more about whether my internal rhythm for marking a year might be on its own more in tune with a lunar calendar than with a solar one.

In any event, being able to name a point of reference for my mood has helped.  I found a candle and lit it, although, as I recall, the rules of Judaism don’t include mourning in this way for someone who lived less than 28 days.

My mourning on this occasion is fairly vague at this point in my life, but it’s certainly there, deep in my heart.  Like the original grief, it has a certain independence of existence, it exists and calls my attention to itself regardless of whether I am consciously thinking about it or wish to deal with it.  Something wants to rise up within me, such as I sometimes experience when I meditate.  It comes out, I let it express itself through me while I pull myself to the side, and then the moment passes.  I won’t say it’s cathartic, but something is released and a more peaceful state returns.  If one religious practice doesn’t want to support that need, I am not above finding others that do, just as I will go along with using the particular calendar that seems to suit my rhythm of mourning, even if it’s not the calendar I use every day.

 


Life and pictures

February 12, 2016

I walked around the Reservoir this morning, despite the ice and packed snow.  It was pretty, if a little slippery — and very cold.

When I got to the part of the Res where water enters it from a brook, the water rushing over rocks while half covered by ice and snow looked so picture postcard perfect.  Or maybe it reminded me of a picture on a Christmas card.

And that was the problem for me:  when I initially encountered the scene, I was drawn into it, and engaged with it.  But when my monkey mind suggested parallels from pictures, the moment was gone and I was left with a much more superficial appreciation of what I was looking at.

It’s one thing to see pictures of places and things we will never see in person, but having seen a picture I think can be a distraction if and when we encounter the real thing.  Not sure what more to say than that.


In all fairness …

February 12, 2016

A few days ago I received an email addressed to “Home Delivery Subscriber” from The New York Times offering me a Starbucks gift card for $20 as a token of appreciation for our patience while they resolve the home delivery disruptions.  Since I’ve written about those disruptions on this blog, I thought it was only fair to write about this gift card.  I can also report that while neither paper was delivered by 6:30 a.m. this morning, they were both there by 8:30 a.m.  Both used to come well before 6:30, back before all this turmoil began.  So we’ve regained some ground, but overall, the service has been diminished.

With regard to the gift card, I had to remind myself not to look a gift horse in the mouth, because not only don’t I drink coffee, but I have a difficult time with patronizing Starbucks for anything.  I kind of gave up on using them after many unpleasant experiences.  Jordan says it’s mainly that the Starbucks nearest where we live is notably poor in service.  He likes the one in the center of town, and so when I received the email with the gift card, not only did I ask for Jordan’s help in accessing it, but I suggested he take it.  He put it on his Starbucks card.

Like most parents, I like it when somebody does something nice for my children, so from that angle, the gift card token was nice even if it was more in line with my child’s tastes.  And given our financial relationship, I do benefit in some way when Jordan receives Starbucks money on a gift card.  And, to be fair, it was only meant to be a token, not compensation, so there’s no saying it wasn’t helpful enough.

So there we are, enough of us apparently complained enough to get heard by the Senior Vice President for Consumer Marketing at The New York Times and receive something for all the missing and late newspapers.  But it doesn’t make me break out into a smile the way seeing the flock of robins alight in the rosebush in front of the Buddha statue in my backyard.  I think they are eating the rose hips.  There are certainly a lot of these robins.  Some of them also stand in the snow and stretch upwards to reach the food, kind of like the rabbits reaching up to eat the leaves on the bush during the summer.  That sort of treat makes me smile without thinking about it.


Scheherazade

February 5, 2016

This post picks up where the last one left off, with the issue of the willingness of students.

I suspect I’ve written about the following idea before, because I vaguely remember writing about my experience, as a babysitter decades ago, of a variation on this idea of endless storytelling — one of the children would ask me endless questions, apparently just to keep me seated at the end of her bed.  She actually fell asleep long before her parents got home and I left to go home to sleep myself, so it didn’t really matter too much.  But in other situations it does.  In those situations it’s not a matter of the storyteller averting her demise by storytelling, but the storyteller becoming drained of her life force through the incessant telling.

An unwilling student can be draining on the teacher.  It doesn’t have to be intentional for the demand for continued attention to be a problem.  The student may be unaware that they really aren’t open to following where the learning leads.

Sometimes the teacher sees the student in an unguarded moment and discovers that the student likes the idea of learning, and likes the idea of learning from particular teachers, but doesn’t actually like what the learning requires or has a negative reaction to the actual teacher who appeared when the student indicated they were ready (as in, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”).  For the type of learning the student indicated they wanted, this kind of reaction contradicts the superficial presentation of readiness.  For example, there are some kinds of spiritual learning in which any resistance, whether in the form of fear or anger or judgmentalness or anything else, will turn the enterprise into a catastrophe.

It is no high crime or misdemeanor not to be ready.  But even the most patient of teachers will be harmed by sticking around in a situation involving an unready student that is basically a dressed-up version of giving a servant a pointless and endless task.  Of course, the teacher could perform the otherwise pointless task as work being done for God, not for the student, and through that approach to the task not be consumed by it.  But part and parcel of situations involving unready students, in my experience, is that the student is claiming that they need more of the teacher’s personal involvement than the teacher’s detached approach offers.

It’s part of teacher’s challenge to maintain their own perspective and not become co-opted into the student’s perspective.  It’s also part of the teacher’s challenge to maintain compassionate detachment.  (It may not always be so obvious that the teacher is doing this second thing if the teacher is also mirroring back difficult behavior the student has engaged in.)  What the student’s challenge is is for the student to figure out — I suspect that doing so is a step towards the student’s actually becoming ready for the learning later on.

 

 


Undergraduate papers

February 5, 2016

I spent some time grading undergraduate papers years ago, and the ones that took the longest and were the hardest to assess were those that were, in the way I thought about it at the time, ingeniously wrong.

Sometimes it was not that difficult to see why the student ended up saying something wrong:  they took some fact or idea covered in the course and interpreted it without knowing some other information not covered in the course or their research.  There were other ways in which the arguments in papers went awry, but that’s the one I remember most easily.

What took so much time was trying to retrace the student’s thinking.  I would be following along and then the student would write something that was just at odds with either facts or concepts.  I took it as part of my task to explain to the student what hadn’t been taken into account or where the logic of the argument had broken down or how apples were being taken for oranges, etc.  I redid what the student had done, and while doing so, I identified where wrong turns had been made.

We don’t know what we don’t know, and we often don’t know when we’ve made a mistake.  I am always tickled by the fact that it’s easier to proofread somebody else’s work than one’s own.  Willy was apparently quite good at work at helping colleagues get unstuck when they reached an impasse in their work — he had an eye for seeing where things had gone wrong.  On the other hand, he preferred applying what he knew to real world problems to doing what academics do.  He did some teaching, including in the Peace Corps., but he liked “doing.”  With younger colleagues, he would often find himself pointing out that real life problems don’t have answers in the same way in which problem sets do.  He was unhappy at universities — that was clearly a theme for him when I met him.  In the context of a place like Lincoln Lab, where theory met application and real problems were addressed and solutions tested and there was accountability, he thrived.

It certainly helps to have teachers and coaches who have been there, done that in whatever the relevant activity is.  They can correct us.  It doesn’t mean they can do the learning for us.  They can let us know when, rather than seeing only a little piece of the puzzle but seeing it well, we are misunderstanding something for lack of understanding its context.  If we lack a feel for the discipline, they can’t lend us their own, but they can point out particular mistakes that have resulted from our piecemeal knowledge.

I think maintaining a spot between pursuing original research and teaching can be a precarious one.  I am not sure if I agree with “Those who can’t do, teach,” but I do agree that the dynamics of the activities are different from each other.  Correcting undergraduate papers is an interesting opportunity to try to track how other people are trying to “do,” and it merges doing into teaching, in a similar way to the way that for empaths, the having of the experience merges into the identifying of the problem.  Teachers can be grateful for the challenge of coming to grips with the mysteriously off-track college paper as it allows them to unify the two often disparate activities of doing and teaching.

It also takes a willing student for the teaching to produce results — that willingness is also something the teacher can’t supply.


Happy as a human in mud

February 2, 2016

It’s muddy around here, what with warm temps and some snow melt.  I put aside my winter boots for my rubber ones and went walking at the Res.

I didn’t need more than a jean jacket and woolen shawl (I doubt the embroidery adds much to the warmth, but between the embroidery and the colors, I find this particular shawl energizing).

With the rubber boots on, I felt I could walk through anything I might encounter on my circuit around the Reservoir — puddles, mud, the sand on the beach.  And as I was walking through a muddy section of the path, I realized how much I liked what I was doing — no particular “reason” I liked it, I just was aware, when I bothered to reflect on it, that I was having a blast.

There was no idea in my head that I ought to like what I was doing, there was just the liking of it.  There was no detailed understanding of what might be the components that made it likable, there was just the liking of it.  There was no sense that this was a valuable thing to be experiencing, there was just the experience of it.  These things that weren’t part of it occurred to me afterwards, when I pulled myself out of the moment and reflected back on the enjoyment I had experienced and how it was only the enjoyment itself, without gloss.

Inarticulate enjoyment I realized is what I find absent in some people’s descriptions of what they find helpful or relevant for spiritual development.  I myself need to get to something beyond the words.  I don’t say that’s the only path, but I truly don’t understand how people get from words to conceptual understanding, or from words to those basic feelings that admit of no further analysis — those states that just are.

I guess I am suspicious of the words and the descriptions, that they become the focus instead of the actual experience.  But I really can’t know if people who are talking about this stuff are doing something necessary for themselves and their own development — who’s to say everybody should be focused on the same things?  But here’s what nags at me:  people who focus on the words, who are not able to focus at the level of inarticulate experience, I worry don’t have a full enough perspective to be telling people what they should be focused on;  I worry they have not been to the top of the mountain yet and so are describing the foothills from the beach as if they were high mountain peaks.

But, you know, part of me has become less concerned with whether others are interested in what I’m interested in.  I’d rather just walk through the mud.

 


News access

January 31, 2016

I haven’t really changed how I access news, but the ground has been shifting, with the result that what used to work for me doesn’t, at least reliably, anymore.

For example, I was able to watch the first minutes of the Democrats’ town hall meeting last week, and then the website insisted I input a password from my cable subscription to continue.  Since I don’t have a cable subscription, and the other watching options I read about online required at least some sort of paid subscription to some company, I forwent the rest of the event.

On the other hand, I do pay for two print newspaper subscriptions, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and their delivery became unreliable about a month ago.  We are still sorting through that.  My Times delivery has not yet been assigned to a new permanent driver, so sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.  The new Globe delivery person has already inserted one of those envelopes for remunerative consideration.

Then there’s streaming news broadcasts online.  The one I try to watch can be missing in action altogether or begin somewhat late into the program.  When I try to find it on a TV broadcast, I am not always successful, either.

Whatever the contributing factors are to these various situations, the net result is that things ain’t what they used to be.  I assume that for people using different means of access, ways of getting the news have improved, that I’m just not in the right segment, using the means being catered to now.

With the primary races for the presidential nominations going on right now, analysts sometimes try to figure out how people become disaffected.  I would say that these sorts of impersonal business decisions by multiple organizations simultaneously can produce a sense in the consumer of being left by the side of the road.  I don’t know, maybe there are other things to do along the road’s shoulder, like watching some birds or observing cows grazing, listening to water running over rocks in a stream, imagining what the clouds in the sky might resemble.  Lord knows, I always have plenty of chores and paperwork to do, I could cut back on how much time I spend taking in the news and put that time to other use.  It’s a thought.