Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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.



Poor choices, damage, and choosers

January 27, 2016

I have been trying to decide how to explain, including to myself, what I meant in what I posted yesterday about characterizing behavior not meeting a moral standard as a poor choice.

What I realized is that for me, the action, the damage, and the actor are three separate strands that come together in the problematic situation.  Rather than dismissing the whole package and moralizing against it, I prefer to think separately about what to do about the damage, how to respond to the behavior, and how to relate to the person engaged in the behavior.

I wanted to jot that down because it’s not the case that I don’t see the damage that some behaviors cause others, or that a response may be required to address the behavior and a response may be required to address the damage.  I think I just am in favor of a more emotionally neutral way of dealing with the situation than the moralizing approach uses, and one that does not counterproductively create new damage in the person who has chosen the behavior.

I probably gleaned this approach from observing how special education handles behavior that does not meet a required standard and has also caused damage.

Moralizing and contempt

January 26, 2016

I was reading the new iteration of the feature in the NYTimes called “The Conversation.”  It used to be between Gail Collins and David Brooks, now it’s come back with Gail Collins and Arthur Brooks.

Part of the dialogue discussed the role of contempt in shaping current politics and what’s going on in the presidential race.  In a comment I wrote, I voiced my agreement that contempt is divisive and widespread.  I also mentioned that my hope that David Brooks was interested in bringing people together by bridging the gap opened up by contempt between, say, liberals and conservatives, had been disappointed.  I think I thought he was interested in seeing how conservatives have strengths in political and social relations that may not be present among liberals, and vice versa.  I had this idea that he was going to observe what each group can bring to the table that’s positive and how the members of each group might learn to relate to the positives and put aside the contempt.  Something like that.

Then later I read an article about David Brooks by Danny Funt in Columbia Journalism Review from last October that discussed Brooks’s moralizing.  I have often had a problem reading this moralizing, for my own reasons, but in light of the point raised by Arthur Brooks about the divisiveness of contempt, I started thinking about what separates moralizing from the expression of contempt.  And I decided that often, not much.

I think that doing what some people happen to deem to be morally correct is enjoyable to do because doing the thing in that way makes it go better — more easily — and less detritus is formed from doing it in that way than would be formed from engaging in behavior that tried to accomplish the same thing through things like deceit, fraud, coercion, etc.  I don’t generally think about it as being what one does because it’s a superior thing to do, I think of it more in terms of friction and fallout and how it makes one feel in the long run.  It’s kind of like picking the comfortable shoes for the hike instead of the fashionable ones.

So behaving morally doesn’t have to involve moralizing, I don’t think.  I don’t think it has to involve the part of moralizing where a person might feel contempt for people or their behavior that doesn’t measure up to a particular moral standard.  Instead such people and their behavior can seem more like something involving making a poor choice.

So why do people go in for promoting moral behavior in a way that involves moralizing and something that borders on contempt?

I don’t know if I know the answer to that, but I am aware that some people feel a need to feel special, but don’t admit that to themselves, much less consider if that’s a good idea or what its impact on others might be.  I have no idea if that’s what goes on with moralizing in general or with David Brooks’s moralizing in particular, but that’s probably the avenue I would explore first — once I was able to put aside my reaction from feeling held in contempt.


January 11, 2016

The Boston Globe attempted to change its delivery service vendor at the end on December, and managed to throw a monkey wrench into not only the delivery of its newspaper but the delivery of other newspapers to homes in the region.

I think many of us thought that the disruption to The Globe delivery would be something like a couple of days of non-delivery (we were given 2 coupons to obtain a paper for free at a store) and then some late deliveries.  But the new company hadn’t hired enough drivers and their software for planning routes was unable to handle the idiosyncratic layout of New England roads, and so the disruption was more like no papers for days stretching beyond a week.

And at the beginning of January, my delivery of The New York Times was also disrupted.

Now delivery has been restored, not quite to the level it was before the disruptions (papers have been arriving later in the day and not where they’re supposed to be left), but they seem to be coming again regularly.

What’s interesting, in this day and age of concern about carbon footprints, is that the two newspapers I subscribe to are now delivered by two separate drivers.  This is clear from when and where the respective papers arrive.

The Globe is apparently going to save some money from the new arrangements.

While cap-and-trade has always struck me as some kind of a kluge, this newspaper delivery situation makes it clear that the good of the environment is not always lined up with corporate profits.  One would think that it should be more profitable for everyone involved to have one driver deliver two papers to the same house, but apparently it isn’t.  That arrangement would also reduce the amount of gasoline consumed and exhaust vented.  But since profits lie elsewhere, two delivery services we have.

To paraphrase Tacitus, they make a less environmentally-friendly arrangement and call it progress.

Changing words

December 25, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Eva Cassidy until fairly recently, and I’ve been listening to the singing she left behind ever since.  Many of the recordings are covers, and sometimes I prefer her rendition, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes it seems she has changed the lyrics or left some out, and I liked the original version better.  Other times I am waiting for a particular vocal flourish that doesn’t come, or I find I am just too used to the original recording I heard.

While I’ve bought a couple of CDs of Eva Cassidy’s music, and tried to buy another (as yet without success), I’ve been listening to some of her work on YouTube, and there, the people posting a song aren’t always clear about who actually wrote it.

So eventually I looked into who wrote “I Know You By Heart.”  Diane Scanlon wrote the lyrics, Eve Nelson the music.

And I also learned that Eva Cassidy changed the lyric in the first verse from “I see your profile” to “I see your sweet smile.”  I learned that from the interviews on :

I love Eva Cassidy’s singing of the song “I Know You By Part.”  As Diane Scanlon says in those interview answers, Eva Cassidy “understood what I [Diane Scanlon] was trying to say.”  That comes through.  But the “profile” version of the lyrics resonates even better for me.

It’s clear to me that our guidance for others is limited because of our inability to see things exactly from where that other person actually is.  We look up, or down, from where we are and try to discern what they should do, but that’s not the same as actually being in their skin and hearing the guidance for them.

I guess I see the substitution of “sweet smile” for “profile” as a revelation of this Achilles’ heel from even such a consummate singer of songs.

It strikes me because I struggle with the issue of collaboration, of putting together the development of material with its dissemination.  I think there are trade-offs in terms of the skill sets needed for each, so a collaboration would seem to be optimal in a sense.  But maybe it’s the case that something is too often lost in the process, whatever the gains.  Maybe that’s okay, maybe the creator’s version and the covers all have their place.  But my sense stubbornly persists that changes in transmission of the original, as in the children’s game of Telephone, can make a difference and that we may end up “on a frolic and a detour” if we are unaware of the original.  I relate this hazard to the need for communication between human beings (I will forego yet another reference to the story of the blind men and the elephant), and that the resolution of the issue of collaboration lies somewhere in improving communication between creator and disseminator.

Getting the crowd to sing

June 28, 2015

I wanted to say one more thing about President Obama’s eulogy of Rev. Pinckney, something I said in a news comment online a few days ago, in response to someone else’s comment about it:  I liked the way President Obama’s singing worked as a sort of invitation or prompt that got the audience to sing too — we’re not going anywhere good without those of us in the cheap seats singing too.  President Obama wasn’t there to give a concert or to present a solo performance for us to admire but to lead and to guide us into getting up and taking action ourselves, it seems to me.

Possible reactions

April 7, 2015

The snow cover has receded sufficiently in my neighborhood that I can walk in hilly woods without either sinking into deep heaps of it or sliding around on icy, packed-down trails.  So I ventured into some very local woods yesterday and enjoyed being able to see far and wide through the leafless grove.  Was sad to see so many trees broken and uprooted.  Took some time to sit against a large rock and contemplate.

On my way out of the woods, right near the sidewalk where I come out about a block up the hill from my house, I saw what I thought was an interesting-looking rock obtruding from the dirt near the path I was on.  So I bent down to move dirt from around it so I could see more of it.  I thought it was going to be one of those rocks with a lot of orange in it.

It was a shell.  A whelk.  Filled with dirt but beautiful pinkish-orange inside.

My reaction was joy and gratitude:  I thanked the universe for yielding such a treat.

When I entered the woods for this walk, elsewhere in the surrounding streets, there was a handwritten sign on a wood pole saying not to dump yard waste.  People obviously do dump yard waste in these woods, especially along its periphery near the streets that border it.

I know plenty of people decorate and nourish their gardens and landscaping with sea shells, I see them all the time when I walk in residential areas.

So I am going to guess that the mundane explanation for this mostly-buried shell is that it arrived in the woods with a load of yard waste.

But thinking about it that way does not seem to me to lead to anything helpful.  I’m going to go with joy and gratitude to the universe.

Another Gulliver photo

February 28, 2015

Gulliver Cabins0001

Bunks 8 & 9 at Camp Gulliver

False equivalencies and inaccurate models

October 21, 2014

I was thinking about how some groups get tired of misrepresentations propounded in the name of giving both sides of the story.  The criticism is that in trying to redress a problem of bias, a new problem is interjected, namely a problem of misleading readers of a piece of journalism, for example, into thinking both sides have an equally fair point.  Sometimes, of course, the points are not equally fair, valid, or accurate.

I think if we got away from thinking about it in terms of “false equivalencies,” we could also get away from what seems to be a preferred response to “false equivalencies,” namely to side with one point of view or the other on the terms used by the participants themselves.  Sometimes, I think, the situation is far more complicated;  both sides may have a contribution to make, but they may not be expressing their contribution well, for example.

So I would prefer thinking about how accurate or not a model of presenting a conflict is.  Most conflicts have multiple contributing factors.  Even if voter ID laws really are an effort to suppress minority voting and not a legitimate response to real voter fraud, the legislative campaign arises out of something that needs to be addressed, even if it’s more about unhelpful habits of thought by people engaged in maladaptive self-protective coping devices.  So we could

[this is not finished, but I have no idea when I’ll have a chance to get back to it, so I decided I’d put it up now]

Revealing the absence or presence of willingness

March 22, 2014

I was thinking through what purpose a behavioral pattern of mine could possibly serve, and this is what I came up with.

I interact with someone.  Yesterday it was someone making something for me.  We go back and forth on materials and price and design, and then they do something I am not okay with, I protest, I am not heard, we repeat this sequence, I go silent, and then eventually I make my dissatisfaction known more unmistakably.

And then I don’t get compromising even then, I get a speech about the person’s integrity, how they know themselves to be this, that, and the other thing, so their behavior can’t possibly be a contributing factor to my dissatisfaction.

Which explains to me why I went silent during that interval between, on the one hand, protesting, while still trying to work it out, and on the other hand, letting the person know it’s not okay with me, while giving them what they want in the moment and then leaving:  there was nothing I could do that would make the situation work out for both of us.

They turned out, as I think I was surmising, not have willingness to compromise, to work together without friction or excessive self-interest.

Seeing this makes it easier for me to choose whether I want to, as they say, throw good money after bad.

I usually get, in addition to the “It can’t be anything I did, I know myself to be more wonderful than that,” some version of, “It’s your job to rein me in.”

No, it’s not.  It is written nowhere that I know that I have to substitute my energy through feedback for their energy in policing themselves.  It may well be that my unwillingness to take up this cost means the relationship won’t work out, but that’s a separate issue.  It may well be that my expectations are unrealistic, but, again, that goes to whether there will be a relationship, whether there will be subsequent interactions, not whether I am required by some objective standard to behave with them the way they want.  They are free to say and do on their end as they wish, I am free to walk away, instead of pushing back, especially after attempts to gain traction to work things out bilaterally have had no effect.

Yesterday’s episode brought home to me that my sense that the other person is not open to adjustment at their end is not inaccurate, and how the story they tell themselves about themselves makes it so unlikely that that will change.