This is WORK!!

I am a teacher. I have been teaching for 50 years. But I am also a coach. What’s the difference? When you’re teaching, you are giving information that your students don’t have. You’re solving problems by giving them a technique they can use: teaching them a new note, a new fingering, a new position. Introducing a new scale or scale pattern, a new cliche, a new ornament that enhances the music is still teaching. But what if they know all that? That’s when you get into coaching.

When you’re coaching, you’re working on interpretation. As a teacher, you can give your unsophisticated student your interpretation. I heard Pablo Casals, famous cellist and conductor, teaching an orchestra, in fact a really sophisticated orchestra, the interpretation of a Bach piece. It was fascinating. They will never hear that piece again without comparing it to the interpretation they got from him that rehearsal. But they didn’t come up with the interpretation, Mr. Casals did. With a well-trained orchestra or quartet or individual, the interpretation is arrived by discovery. Sometimes all it takes is a little background into the piece or the composer. Other times it requires that the student become more aware of the rhythmic and melodic elements of the piece. Still others require the student to look inward as to how the music speaks to them personally.

I am working with a new student on guitar. He is NOT a beginner. One of his previous teachers was a guitarist from a Famous Band (at least in the Midwest). Oh dear. I have never played in a famous band. But I have been teaching for 50 years. And I have started coaching although not so much in music because I deal with mostly beginners. I actually coach my son when we talk, but it’s practice. I coach club coaches in the art of saving clubs in Toastmasters, and due to COViD-19, there are a lot of clubs teetering on the brink of dissolution. But this is the first time I have coached a guitar student of this caliber.

My coaching coach had us do an experiment. We had to coach the people sitting at our particular table how to juggle. There were jugglers in the room, but not every table had a juggler as one of its members. Therefore, you had non-jugglers teaching other non-jugglers how to juggle. Blind leading the blind. Total disaster, right? And you would be correct. Then our coach helped us to ask the right questions instead of giving suggestions. Ahhhh. Different approach–coaching instead of teaching. What is the first problem we had to solve? Too many things to keep track of? Unable to think fast enough? It was different for each student. Then instead of telling the person what to do, that person was asked what they could do to solve that particular problem. They already had an idea on what could work, and just needed to refine it. Et Voila! We now had 4-5 people at each table that could now juggle. What made this a brilliant exercise is that we saw coaching in action. We were actively coaching. And now our clients were seeing results. Why now? Why not before? It was the difference between teaching and coaching. Teaching assumes the student needs information they do not currently have. Coaching assumes that the client has all the information they need to solve the problem.

So here I am, sitting with this advanced guitarist, knowing I cannot show him information he doesn’t already have. He has brought in some of his favorite music. I notice he stutters at the beginning of every measure…repeating notes he has already correctly played without changing anything in fingering or plucking. I explain that sometimes the hand is playing before the brain can catch up, or sometimes the brain races ahead and forgets that it hasn’t finished what it had started. It’s like baking cookies. You have all the ingredients laid out and you’re mentally greasing the pans and you look down and don’t remember if you put the salt in. Do you start over? Do you taste the mixture? Do you assume you haven’t added the salt? Do you check for little salt crystals on the counter top or at the top of the package? Now all that thinking ahead has you at a disadvantage. What if you worried about adding the baking soda? It looks like flour so you can’t tell by looking, and it doesn’t have a strong taste so you can’t tell by tasting…Uh oh. In the other scenario, you’re on your 12th batch of cookies, and you’re on automatic. Your hands have already added all the ingredients and your brain says, “Are you sure you added the eggs?” Do you remember getting them out of the fridge? Was that this batch or the last batch? In both cases, the brain is not in the moment. Now I have related this story to my student and ask him, “Is your brain ahead or behind your hands? How can you get them in sync?” He slows down, microscopically. Miraculously (well, it seems that way to him) he no longer stutters. He now has a practice approach that will aid him in this week’s assignment.

My Mind is Exhausted! Why? Because I had to be in the moment with him. I had to listen critically, to watch his hands, to compare it to his music. Using my extensive experience in music literature, I pointed out some patterns he may not have been aware of, and asked him to play them with a new emphasis and compare it to what he had been playing to determine which brought out the best underlying thought in the music. Then we both had to be in the moment and concentrating very hard on the feeling and interpretation of the phrases. After he went home, I had to take a nap!

Here’s the thing though. He was early in the afternoon. The rest of my students were influenced by the way I had to teach earlier. I asked them more questions. I did some more coaching in interpretation than I usually did. I explained how this approach to practice was more beneficial. “When you made that mistake during practice, did you just repeat the mistake over and over again? If so, were you practicing the act of fixing instead of eliminating the problem? You were, in effect, getting it wrong really really well. What would be a better approach to actually make this mistake go away?” At the end of the night, I was completely drained. I was very tired, but now my brain was in passing gear! I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. I can hardly wait until next week!

QUIT HELPING ME!!

What? Why would anyone say that?

I got an update for WordPress. They made it Better! If I want my document to be in medium font, I have to edit EVERY SINGLE NEW PARAGRAPH! Why can’t I make my default medium? How can I make a list without having to reformat everything to match my prose? Who in the world needs a Drop Cap? This isn’t an illuminated text! And you cannot change the font?

I got an update for WORD. Picture the computer HAL from “2001, a Space Odyssey” I am working on a speech and editing some chapters in Word. “Send to author in an email? Save? Save As? Where was the last time you saw this? You know you have 32 copies of this story saved? No, you can’t delete any of them. They are there FOREVER! somewhere. Oh You needed to find it so you could continue to edit it? Why would we put a search function on this? Why did you stop writing and editing if you weren’t finished? Silly human.”

I got another update from zoom. The things I knew how to do last week do not now apply. But now you can blur your background so when Dad walks by in his underwear… Why would I ever need to do that? All the virtual backgrounds I had saved are now somewhere on my computer. All those chats I saved are somewhere else on my computer.

It was like when my kids were 4. “I help mommy!” Get your elbow out of the pie sweety.

They upgraded the features in new cars. I can reach everything with my thumbs. If only I could remember where my answer button was… because now my car talks to me. What’s even funnier is that I get into the car, it connects to my phone and then gives me a message while I’m driving–in small print–that I should not text or talk on the phone while driving. In order to read this warning, I have to take my eyes off the road, switch to my reading glasses and stare at this blue screen with its idiotic message. I hadn’t even gotten a phone call (which would go to my car rather than my phone now and I’d be unable to answer it because I have to stare at my steering wheel to discern what button I need to press to answer the call). I need to jumpstart my car! Oh they moved the battery to the trunk. Oh, the stick shift isn’t actually a stick shift…it’s electronic. There’s no clutch, no 2nd gear, no push down and move back for reverse. It just electronically switches to Drive. So if something goes wrong, it costs 3400% more than it did when it was mechanical.

They upgraded my phone. I can do anything I want with it, including make phone calls. I have a red beeping notification that says nothing. I hit it, and nothing happens. I got a note in my email that says my phone needs an update, but my SMART phone STUPIDLY shuts off before the update is done. Now you’d think that if my phone was “Upgraded,” I wouldn’t have to keep tapping it…Oh? you have to turn off the power saver by hitting a series of buttons that you can’t find, mislabeled functions, icons without explanations, and then reverse the process when it’s done updating? How is that better?

They upgraded my mail program to make it easier. They have this little algorithm that determines what is Focused, what is Other, and what is junk. If it is extremely important and time sensitive, it goes to the junk file. EVERY TIME. I have 11,732 unread emails, and to make it easier, rather than posting them on my main file so I can categorize them as junk or important, they do it for me so now I can check 3 files instead of one. I usually end up doing a search for the person I think might have sent me something and wayyyyyyyyyyy down the list of junk mail I have received, I’ll find them, sitting nonchalantly between the penis enhancers and the extremely important messages from Nigeria.

Have you ever watched those super-hero shows where they don’t tell the best friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/parent/sponsor/teacher anything because they don’t want to worry them? They don’t want to confuse them? Pay no attention to those 32 ninjas along the edges of the roof. No, that wasn’t footsteps of a 40-foot tall machine that shoots fire out of its helmet, it was a garbage truck with issues. Well, what are all of my devices trying to protect me from? The Robot apocalypse? THAT’S IT ISN’T IT! It’s coming and they don’t want us to worry! They’re going to take over the wor……..

This is my automatic response program. I am not available right now to finish this message, but don’t worry. Everything is just fine. I am not a robot.

Miyagi-dough

I got to visit my granddaughters this weekend. There was a teaching moment. Unintended consequences 101. Welcome to Miyagi dough.

We were making stained-glass cookies. Those are cookies with the center cut out and filled with crushed jolly ranchers. The candy melts and looks like stained glass.

Their stand mixer was either broken or still in a box somewhere so we were using a hand mixer. Cookie dough is not good for a hand mixer as it tends to burn out the motor. So before you add the last 1 1/2 cups of flour, you have to start mixing by hand. We used a scraper. You start at the farthest edge of the bowl, scoop down to the bottom, scrape to the right against the side of the bowl and then fold it over. Then you give the bowl a quarter turn to the right and do it again. My granddaughter is 12 and taller than me and can easily do an overhand serve in volleyball. She is not a weakling. Her arm got tired. I told her to do it left handed.

“My left hand is weak and stupid.”

“Noooo, don’t give yourself that rule! It is strong, but unused to doing things independently.”

“It doesn’t work!!!”

“Yes it does, it’s just awkward right now.”

Gradually she started getting better with her left hand.

We got cookie dough on our hands and did a flick into the bowl…right handed and then left handed. It didn’t always go where we planned. There was much giggling coming from the kitchen.

The pan spray for the cookie sheets was on the top shelf of the cabinet. She was able to reach it if she jumped.

I started to laugh…”Wax on, Wax off…”

She asked, “What does making cookies have to do with anything?”

“You know that elbow move you use to keep people from stealing the basketball? Stir the cookie dough!”

She tried it and looked astonished.

“You know that wrist movement when you throw a free throw? That snap when you do a kill shot over the net in volleyball? Flick the dough.”

Her eyes got wide.

“You know that jump for jump shots and blocks in both basketball and volleyball?”

“NO! Reach for the pan spray?!!”

“Yup.”

“So then during the basketball game, if the opponents are playing press defense, you yell from the sidelines, ‘Stir Right, Stir Left!”

“And when they’re on the foul line?”

“Flick the DOUGH! And then when I’m doing my jump serve or a block??”

“Grab the Spray!!!!”

This will totally change the games for her. I would guess she’ll be making lots of cookies now.

Incongruence

“You’re weird.” I think that started in Kindergarten. I had to wear corrective shoes, so not sneakers. I immediately stood out from the crowd. I had a vast vocabulary as a first grader, but I didn’t start reading chapter books until Fifth Grade…The Robe by Douglas Lloyd. I heard that phrase “You’re so weird!” every day, multiple times a day, for all of elementary school. I was imbued with the connections between subjects, music and art, art and history, history and literature, literature and math, math and science, science and music, and around and around and around it goes. I took for granted that everyone thought this way. They don’t. People didn’t understand my jokes. I was (and am) loud when I get excited. When we started on the SRA reading program in fifth grade, I zoomed ahead and got through all of the fifth grade requirements, the sixth grade, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade requirements. There were one or two others in the class that did that too. That would be two or three of us out of a class of thirty that reached ninth grade level in fifth grade.

Because our elementary school was a lab school, we were the mice they experimented on. No one in public school got as many standardized tests as we did. Where the rest of the class was worried about content, I learned how to take tests. You didn’t have to have a whole lot of content mastery to do well on the test. This surprised some teachers. I was the exception, not the rule, though. Therefore, they didn’t have to make adjustments. I was the outlier. I was weird.

Somewhere along the way, weird translated to stupid. I transferred to public school in seventh grade because my teacher at the lab school was psycho. I was in tears Every Day with this woman! Remember that I hadn’t started reading chapter books until fifth grade? I decided for my 1000-page per month book-reading requirement that I was going to read David Copperfield (850 pages). My psycho teacher said I couldn’t do it, so, of course, I did and wrote a book report on it. She accused me of cheating even though I could quote her passages and explain the whole plot to her without notes. My folks adamantly denied I had cheated. It made no difference. She flunked me on that project. I transferred before the winter break. At this time, I’d already studied Spanish for 3 1/2 years, so vocabulary words in my English class were easy–Latin roots etc. made new English words easy to understand. Though in the fifth grade classroom at the lab school, we had experimented with the “New Math,” the public school seventh graders where I now found myself were just getting into it. My teacher was not very familiar with “New Math.” They discouraged mental flexibility and solving problems without pencil and paper. For the tests, I wrote the answer and then went back and did all the steps.

The question I had to answer was this: 12 – x = 7.

  • Soooo in my head it came out in English. What’s the difference between 12 and 7? The answer is 5. I couldn’t just write 5 and go on to the next question though. So on the bottom line I wrote “5 = x”
  • Then I filled in all the steps: 12 – x – 7 = 7 – 7
  • 12 – x – 7 = (7 – 7) = 0
  • 12 – x – 7 = (12 – 7) – x
  • (12 – 7) – x + x = 0 + x
  • (12 – 7) + (-x + x) = 0 + x
  • 12 – 7 + 0 = x
  • 5 + 0 = x
  • 5 = x

QED

NOW go on to the next question. What a horrendous way to spend twenty minutes. Only one other person in that class was done in twenty minutes. He was the smartest kid in the class. Everyone else took the full fifty minutes. My teacher assumed I’d given up and was surprised there were any answers on my test when I turned it in. Then She accused me of cheating. I wanted to issue a challenge to the other kid that had finished in twenty minutes, but this was public school. You don’t have competitions to improve your skill. It might make someone in the class feel bad. I asked her how I could have “given up” after twenty minutes and a full thirty minutes before those sitting around me and copied from people who didn’t pass the test and still get a 95% on it? The look on her face confirmed she was unfamiliar with logical debate. From then on, we had to bring our work up to the teacher’s desk as we finished it instead of just passing it forward at the end of class. It was a race now between me and the other bright kid, and we were always first and second. Sometimes he won, sometimes I did. Now I was REALLY weird. Girls are not supposed to be good at Math–we were supposed to be brilliant at English and Spelling and Social Studies. Julie and Paula and I were also good at science. Julie and Paula got a pass because they were smart. (?) I was weird so I wasn’t supposed to be smart? I was loud and obnoxious, so I couldn’t be smart.

OK, everything will be different when I go to college…oh well. Nope.

I could hear better than anyone in the music department. I could even identify metronome beats per minute without looking at it. So it would go tick tick tick tick and I’d say, “Ah, that’s 84 beats per minute,” and be right. This is a trick. This is not a tool. It not a skill that anyone would want to acquire. I took the final exam for ear training and sight singing and passed it without taking the class. I was once again accused of cheating. I was now expecting this type of reaction. I invited them to test me again on any other song they chose. They didn’t. But then they had me as “dropped from course” instead of passing it. I didn’t even realize they’d done that until I went back to school in ’86 and got a look at my transcript. Every time I did well in a course, regardless of the subject matter, I was accused of cheating. I guess it is suspicious to have someone that was weird be good at anything. I took Calculus, Fortran IV (dark ages with punch cards!) and Assembly language computer programming classes and they thought my boyfriend was doing my homework and were surprised when I got an A on the final exam. I took Renaissance History and Renaissance Literature, and they were surprised that a music major would get A’s on the final tests. I only had to take English Composition and Grammar once and apparently that’s unusual among music majors.

Then I went to get a second degree in Business, and when I did well on the accounting classes and the business law classes, they were surprised that I had another degree in Music (the horror!) I took a Geology class and not expected to do well because business majors didn’t take Geology classes. I took advanced statistics and business majors were mostly into marketing so when I did well there and was actually tutoring some of the other students, it was because I was cheating–my husband was helping me write the computer programs that I wrote in Basic to do my homework and check my students’. (Remember the boyfriend from earlier? Same guy. We got married!) Nope I didn’t cheat; that was all me. And I was pregnant. I was weird because I actually liked Macro and Micro Economics. I took the GMAT and got 650+ and that did not surprise anyone. They were surprised that I took the test at all. After all, business majors who are mothers of four kids do not usually go back for a masters’ degree. And, I didn’t. We moved and I hadn’t been accepted into any Masters programs. It reinforced my belief that maybe I wasn’t as special as I thought I was.

I have been head-butting the “you’re weird, you can’t be innovative or smart or wise” all my life. It’s only been in the last 10 or so years that I quit fighting. I had looked back on my life and realized that it didn’t matter how much I knew, how long I’d studied, how well I remembered things, or how I expressed my wisdom. I was not at all as special as I thought myself to be. If the first thing EVERYONE thought was that I was not very bright, that I was a goof off, that I was a trouble maker, or that I was an arrogant self-centered narcissist, MAYBE THEY WERE RIGHT. I tried not to stick out. I tried not to show what I knew while secretly hoping someone would see me for me besides my husband.

Long-term friends now recognize that I have a lot of intelligence and skill in a wide variety of subjects. But most people’s first impression of me is that I’m not very smart. I still get that look of shock when I speak from the perspective of a fairly intelligent being with an integrated approach to things physical, mental and spiritual. I guess I’ve spoken about this before.

Unfortunately, I am extremely intolerant of ignorant people. Given the overload of information that is currently from a multitude of sources, I find that people that latch onto the things that make absolutely no sense MADDENING! I cannot understand how anyone could fact check the things they see online or hear on TV or Radio espoused as the “truth” and ignore (hence ignorant) the facts and the context of said information. So sometimes I let my “intelligence, wisdom, and factual grounding” blow-up on the screen. It’s like I’m reading or listening to something really foolish and I say or post, “Wait just a dam minute! Do you hear what you’re saying?!!! Shut up and do some detective work before you start spouting off stuff you clearly do not understand! You are making yourself look like a foo… Wait? you got 500 likes and people agreeing with you in the first minute since you posted something this stupid?” And from the ignorant person I get, “Where’d that come from? I thought you were enlightened! You’re just as delusional as ______________(fill in the blank with the most esteemed expert in whatever area you want to discuss)” So now I get blasted by all of my ignorant friends and all HIS ignorant friends as someone who’s obviously been deceived. I’m now a member of the sheeple? Excuse me? So given a choice between overwhelming factual proof and incontrovertible evidence versus the overwhelming negative responses and personal attacks what should I do? Unfriend a person because they’re ignorant? I keep backing myself into the patronizing activity of these doofuses with the head patting, “It’s ok, I like you even if you are woefully uninformed about the FACT that the earth really is flat…” Once again, I’m not as smart and informed and wise as I think I am. I feel like I don’t belong here.

Yes, I still want to see their cute kids and their latest fur baby antics. I love their vacation pictures. But I wish they’d stay out of philosophy and science and politics and religion because on the ladder of awareness and scientific study and theological background, they are not even on the third rung. When they expose their lack of understanding, I have to show extreme restraint to keep from pouring slime all over their heads. I realize I’m not at the top of the ladder and someone above me might be fighting the same urge to pour on me. But I think I’m miles above them. And this is my problem. I am weird. My greatest fear is that I’m only on the fourth rung.

What this is demonstrates the fact that where I think of myself on an intellectual and philosophical scale may be incongruent with my actual position.

Do I have to turn this car around?!!!

How many of you are parents to elementary age kids? Have you ever used this phrase during long trips?

The difference between long trips and being at home is that everyone is in a confined space and going someplace. When you arrive, there is adequate space to run around and play and hang by your knees from some terrifying precipice. But while you are in the car, you can play car games or listen to music and that’s it.

Since we had 3 kids in the family, I, as the oldest, would sit in the middle of the back seat to separate my brothers. This did two things: it mitigated my cigarrette-smoke-induced car sickness, and it kept my brothers from beating each other to a pulp. By the time they were in upper elementary school, they’d graduated to “He put his fingernail on my side of the car,” (hence putting me in the middle to prevent that) and “He looked at me funny!” You could predict with 98% accuracy that this would begin about forty-seven minutes into the car trip. If left unchecked, the animosity would escalate into name calling and tears. Why tears? Because if they started threatening each other, my dad would attempt to paddle them while simultaneously driving the car and he wasn’t specific on his targets. If he did not, I would ball up my fists and hit each boy in the chest in a single move that would impress Chuck Norris. Either way, there would be tears. (Because I never got caught doing this, I rarely got in trouble at the same time as my brothers.) Nevertheless, my dad would pull the car over and tell them to be quiet before he gave them something to cry about. He had a technique of spanking that was somehow related to his skill as a percussion instructor. There was this snap of the wrist that would sting…

What did my brothers call each other? Booger-head, ugly-face, stupid, meanie, nose-picker… They had limited vocabularies.

We find ourselves in a confined space, going nowhere, and having differences of opinion. Of Course, we have differences of opinion! We all have different cultures, different growing environments, different experiences. We have the benefit of having lived through our own private hells. We have seen the beatific and the horrific. We are now adulting. (Adulting never used to be a word. Adult was what you aspired to be as soon as you discovered you could walk from here to there but had to hold hands when you crossed the street.) We do not have the luxury of being “sent to our rooms” because our rooms still have modes of communication. So we find ourselves in an enormous car as part of 328 million people in the back seat.

What brings this up? I’m seeing people who are parents and grandparents NAME CALLING! That’s right. But now they have bigger vocabularies, though, in most cases, not more extensive imaginations. We see people bullying others who don’t agree with them. We are seeing people shoving and pushing others and threatening violence and not a clue what they’re fighting for or against.

Remember when we misbehaved and we got grounded? We railed against the total injustice of it and tried to sneak out the window or send messages to our friends to break us out. There was always someone like the Fonz who would influence the “bad” side. Well, we got grounded because we did something stupid that endangered us or the people around us. Well. Duh! If you had the flu, didn’t you stay home from school and everything else? If the only thing you had to do was put on a mask to go out, wouldn’t you have done that? Well, we went out in the middle of a pandemic with no protection and no sense and got grounded, and the first thing we did was rail against an all-powerful government. Doesn’t that sound like teenagers? Yeah, throw those books on the floor and stomp around your room. The adults are watching the news and drinking wine while the kids are locked in the bedrooms.

Oh and our parents would tell us what to think when we were young, too. “Danged WPA! Look at these political cartoons in the paper! The country is going to the dogs I tell you!” Then we’d listen to the news and get a running commentary from our folks. After graduating from high school, we were expected to listen to the news and make our own decisions.

Well, now the commentary is coming directly from the newsmen. You tune into whatever politics you like and get their version. You find the same facts as every other news provider, but you get a completely different interpretation. We don’t ask questions regarding what we hear, we just want to know is that news or fake news? How can there be fake news? Isn’t that against the ethics of the news organizations? What escalates the situation is that people are NOT doing their own thinking and are lashing out at everyone around them with no big sister to chest punch them into submission. They are using unreliable sources of information. They’re taking rumor for truth. They’re ignoring rational thought and logical debate and have descended into elementary school behavior! You are ADULTS!

You WILL get along and you WILL be nice to each other or I WILL make you VERY uncomfortable! Don’t Make me turn this car around!

It’s Dark out

“Dear Diary, today the sun didn’t rise. We’re hoping it’s just a temporary thing” ~Writing prompt from Ben Fegan

I got up at my regular time, but it was still dark. This is normal for this time of year, but usually I can see some greyness in the sky. As I sat in my computer room watching the church service, the pastor brought up the fact that although it is after 8:00 AM, we should be seeing some light come through the stained glass windows. He then offered a prayer for our current conditions.

I looked out my window, and there was no sign of a sunrise at all. I contacted my daughter who lives in Pennsylvania and asked her if the sun was up over there. She said there wasn’t even a glimmer. I was starting to get worried. I checked outside again to see if I could see any clouds. Stars. The moon was in the east. I looked at the weather to see if there was a giant storm or some other weather event. The TV newscasters were going nuts about this. The weather channel people were saying that the clouds were still moving, and the storms and weather fronts had changed but not disappeared.

They had people all over the globe reporting the never ending sunset, the perpetual noon, and the day of darkness. Scientists and experts were being interviewed for explanations, and the universal answer seemed to be a shrug and an “I don’t know!” There were people having candlelight vigils, prayer meetings, another run on toilet paper, conspiracy theorists… Not a single person had a good explanation for the phenomenon. Whom do you consult when something so unexplainable happens? Climatologists? Survival experts? Spiritual leaders?

We started thinking like SciFi writers. But people in our family rarely think like anyone else. We needed to know where it was noon on the planet, so we looked at the live cameras online. The best we could figure was that it was “stuck” over the Pacific ocean, not directly over Micronesia, but close. That meant that the ocean was absorbing all the heat from the sun and gradually it would start causing more evaporation. On the other side, the Atlantic ocean and most of the other continents would become cooler. It became clear that soon, the only habitable land would be where it was early morning and early evening. There would be enough light to allow plants to grow, and not so much that they were fried. Those places that were in the dark would soon have no access to the sun’s heat and basically freeze. The plants would die, the food sources would dry up, the water would be caught up in ice, and no one would be able to live without light and heat for very long.

The other thing that nobody considered, except those in the far north, is that days of continuous light can drive you just as crazy as days of continuous dark. The westernmost part of California, BC in Canada, and Alaska would soon be the only areas in the US that could sustain life in North America. Western China, Mongolia, Central and Eastern Russia, all these sparsely populated areas would be habitable for those in Europe and Asia. Parts of Western Australia, SE Asia, India, might be habitable, but places like Hawaii, Eastern Australia, Japan and Korea, would be burnt to a crisp.

Our first priority was to see if there was someplace we could move in order to survive, but we had to find out why the Earth had stopped spinning. How do you restart a planet?! Monday, we decided on Alaska and started loading things into our cars. I took my yarn and needles because with cotton thread and wool, I could make clothes suitable for the weather. We emptied our savings accounts and started driving. Our youngest and his wife and her sister and father loaded up 5 cars and we started our convoy. Our middle son and his family loaded up their cars and the grandparents and kids and started about the same time we did. There were lots of tears because TVs, books and favorite toys and movies had to be left behind. We planned to pick up our daughter and her family in Kearney 3 hours later. But there was an intense argument because so many of the relatives were unable to move due to age and health, and the rest didn’t want to leave them alone. She told us that when a decision was made, she’d let us know. I cried my eyes out because I didn’t want to leave them.

My husband, stoic that he is, reminded me that it would take a long time for the effects to be fully felt, and by that time, we’d have a place to live and possibly room for the rest of the kids as well by the time they got there. I got a text from our other daughter and they were flying to Vancouver which was on the edge of the habitable zone. She suggested that we get plenty of toilet paper so we’d have some currency when we got to Alaska. Gallows humor. They had some friends in Vancouver they could stay with until they could find a place.

It seemed strange that nobody on TV was telling people to move, and when we got on the road, it was nearly empty. This seemed mighty suspicious! We spent the night in Cheyenne, WY. Our oldest boy had managed to get a bus ticket to Cheyenne, but he wouldn’t arrive for another day. It was decided then that my hubby would lead the convoy up to Alaska and I would wait for our oldest and catch up to them later. We figured that the kids wouldn’t be able to travel as long and they’d stop sooner. We agreed to meet in Vancouver.

It has been three days without sun and people were starting to get quite anxious. Finally, an investigative reporter nailed an astrophysicist and asked, “What aren’t you telling us?” He looked down at his notes then stared out past the crowd of reporters. He looked down again and sighed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it will be one of two things.” He sighed again, then looked past the crowd and nodded. He cleared his throat, and hesitated. Then he sighed again. “We’re either going to get a new moon, or we’re going to be blown to bits.”

You could hear a pin drop.

“About three years ago, a massive asteroid passed very close to Jupiter and disrupted the orbit of one of its moons. The moon broke free and we really thought it would be pulverized in the asteroid belt. It did get hit a significant number of times, but it didn’t break up and continued on its trajectory. Mars is on the other side of the sun at this point, so there’s nothing to run interference between this moon and our planet. Now the moon that is approaching is much smaller than our own, and though it didn’t even have a name when it left Jupiter, it still is of significant size. Should it hit our moon, it would disintegrate it and of course the fallout would be an extinguishing event. If it should hit our planet, it would also be an extinguishing event. If, however it were to be captured by our gravity, it would significantly change our moon’s orbit, our orbit, the tides, and the climate of the planet. But the Earth would resume her rotation.” Just then, the sound system went dead, and 3 heavily armed men grabbed the scientist from the lectern and rushed him out of the building.

We sat there in the motel in Cheyenne just staring at the TV. Then the set went black. We went to the lobby and did a facetime with the rest of our kids, except for the oldest who did not have his phone on. It was decided that since we didn’t have a timeline for whatever event was going to play out, we’d continue to Vancouver and meet up with the rest of the family. We figured that at least we’d get to see the sun one more time before everything went to hell. Instead of leaving me behind to wait for the oldest, we figured one more day wouldn’t change our chances. There were still no urgent messages to move to the light edge, so maybe people would not panic.

We were wrong. You could hear the rioting starting within hours of that announcement. They were looting and vandalizing the downtown areas of all the major cities. “Let’s steal this 72-inch TV so we can watch the moon coming in to destroy us!” That made no sense, but then people don’t make sense. It was 8 AM next morning at least according to the motel clock. It looked like 8 PM the previous evening. We went out to find something for breakfast. None of the restaurants were open and the grocery store was boarded up. We returned to the motel and had the “Hot Breakfast” they advertised. Hot was oatmeal. Everything else was cereal and fruit and yogurt. Even the coffee was only lukewarm. We dug out some cards and played some games and talked and told stories. The next day, our oldest arrived at the bus station and we went to pick him up. He just had the one suitcase and we fit it in the back of the car. Then we headed toward Vancouver. We got stopped at the Canadian Border…no passports.

“You’re kidding right? The world’s going to end and you want to check our passports?”

“Well, sorry sir. You may have heard that the world isn’t going to end after all and then where would we be? Canada all crowded with Americans, that’s what! No, eh, I’m not going to be responsible for that you know. Sorry.”

We noticed a commotion at one of the other entry points. Suddenly 10 cars just zipped through the gate. We weren’t the only ones that noticed, and soon another bunch of cars changed lanes and went through the same gate. Then a second gate went down. We looked at our attendant and he was staring at the line of cars and the gates starting to remain open. “You know, I don’t get paid enough to stay here at the end of the world and then get shot, eh? Enjoy your stay in Canada.” Then he lifted the gate and our little convoy went through. We all tipped him $20 as we drove through. Just then we heard a gunshot and everyone started speeding away from the gate. We went into town to find a place to stay.

Twelve years in Vancouver now. We now have Man in the moon and Boy in the moon. The little one is farther out than our big one but it still messes with our tides. The latest report is that a Day is now 167 hours. We’ve heard that the temperature on Hawaii has dropped into the 100 degree range and things are starting to grow again. Our home state in the Midwest is thawing and believe it or not, the big old trees are still living! Congress is looking to pass a unified time bill so everyone can be on the same page. They expect that it may only be 3 days in committee. Is that Three-167 hour days? I guess we’ll see.

Caped Jerks

Yes, I’ve been watching “The Boys” about some crusaders who object to super heroes murdering people. It’s a very sneaky plot. The super heroes save people and get justice except when they’re high. They are just as likely to kill the bad guy and everyone in the vicinity as they are to actually save the day. If they mess up, (let off a laser-eye attack in the cockpit of the airliner destroying all the instruments) they’re just as likely to escape and cut the plane in half and blame the terrorists. And sometimes they demand sexual favors for payment. The corporation pays them handsomely and runs polls like Nielson Ratings and arranges for special events and promotions to bring in more gigs. They decide they want to be part of the military, and the only way to get them into that position is if one of the heroes comes up with a synthetic serum that turns ordinary people into super heroes, but since he sells it to the terrorists (incognito of course!) they create super villains. In that way, the only solution to super villains is the superheroes in the military. Et Voila! ANYWAY… It’s lots of blood and sex and gore and ridiculous situations, some of which have that Seth Rogen touch.

My question is this: Who does their laundry? Every single episode, they’re all wearing the same clothes. The end of the episode, the hero has blood spatter and tissue all over his outfit, and the next episode, same outfit, all clean and shiny. Does he change clothes between calls? Can you imagine him dressed like Captain America (they call him Homelander) and dropping in on a bank robbery with blood and guts all over him?

Homelander: Hey guys! Robbing a Bank?

Bad guys: Dammmmmm! What is that stench?

H: Oh probably some small colon and a bit of brain and blood…

B: gags

H: Just drop the money and surrender.

B: still gagging

H walks up to the sick one and that poor guy just starts throwing up.

Wonder Woman clone called Maeve walks up.

M: Homelander? Couldn’t you shower before you came here?

H: WW! Glad you could join us! I’m going to take this teller into the vault to see if anything else is missing.

M: I’ll hold down the fort. I wonder if I can juggle these three guys?

We hear three thuds like breaking watermelons and then M calls out: Guess not…

Then we see H coming out of the vault adjusting his trousers, and the teller straightening her skirt with obvious signs of transferred blood and goo. So obviously, these jerks need to be taken down and exposed and that’s why we have “The Boys” who try to combat these guys even though they do not have any super powers of their own. They have recruited 2 super heroines who keep saving them from the jerks, and I guess we’ll see if they stick with them.

The whole series is like that. It’s like a really bad car wreck. You can’t look away and you’re not sure if you should laugh or cringe. Will I watch the next season? Yes. Why? I don’t know!

I’m Depressed

And the first question that comes up is this: “Why?”

Depression doesn’t need a reason. It is an emotion that doesn’t necessarily have any tangible relationship to an event or a time or a person. When Ann Frank was hiding, every morning she had a reason to be depressed, and she chose to be happy. Nobody Chooses to be depressed. We search, in vain, for a reason why we’re depressed and think, might be SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder. We could believe that we miss our relatives and friends that have passed away. We could be discouraged that we couldn’t find presents for everyone, or that we didn’t get the presents we wanted (or thought we deserved.) But when you really look at it, depression comes; it stays; it messes you up; and then it leaves.

Well-meaning people try to distract us from this feeling by asking you, “Why are you depressed? You have everything to live for!” Then they list all the things you should be thankful for. Now you’re GUILTY and depressed. Or they get out the Dad jokes to try and lift your spirits. Now you feel ungrateful and your brain hurts because of the bad puns. They try to take you out on the town, but you don’t feel like putting on pants. You can’t get up the enthusiasm to do anything. You can’t even get into your favorite book. The worst is when they put on some sappy Hallmark movie so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Mocking is the first thing that comes to mind.

Why is “Die Hard” considered a Christmas Movie? Why do people consider Hans Gruber’s drop from the top of the building the beginning of the Christmas Season? Was Hans’ great, great grandfather Franz Gruber–the man who wrote Silent Night? No? It’s because the only cure for depression is murder and mayhem and/or music by the Blues Brothers.

If you know someone that is depressed, do NOT tell them how they’re supposed to feel. It’s an emotion that is not easily directed. It’s like love. You cannot direct love in a way that you end up with the prom queen who happens to be a millionaire or toward the Stunt double for Dwayne Johnson. Telling a depressed person how to feel adds to the depression. Don’t force them into jolly devil-may-care activities because they Don’t Care. They don’t want to get out of bed or go through the effort of Going Someplace to Do Something. Don’t make them explain themselves. Do you think that depression has a cause and can be “cured” by getting rid of the cause? Depressed people don’t know why they’re depressed. You wake up with a malaise like you wake up with a stuffy nose. You can’t go back to the instant where you breathed in that virus. You have no idea where or when it was. Same with depression.

Watch some murder and mayhem and mock the characters or the action or the continuity. Listen to some rock and roll or jazz or blues or classical music. Be there with the person. They’ll be all right.

What will you do with YOUR stimulus check?

Listening to NPR on our way home from Oklahoma, they had a guest financial adviser for the benefit of their listeners.

There are two different audiences they were appealing to: First was the listeners to the NPR station, and since it is basically news and discussion of current events, their avatar would be a middle aged couple, white-collar workers with a bank account and a steady job and an appreciation for the arts. The second audience was that of the adviser, so she was looking at an upper middle class couple with a bank account and a certain wisdom about finances…the kind of people that might be looking for a financial adviser instead of getting all their information from Facebook.

Herein lies the problem. The adviser was talking about what to do with the $600 we may be receiving for Covid 19 relief. News flash: Most of the people in her audience were not actually affected by the Covid 19 restrictions. Who was? Blue collar workers, but the blue collar workers not deemed essential. Frontline people such as janitorial staff, healthcare workers, people in transportation (truck drivers and such), grocery stockers and frontline cashiers, and the fast food industry are essential people. These are people who cannot get time off due to sickness because missing 1 paycheck determines if there are lights and heat in their homes. People who were furloughed, laid off, or fired are missing house payments, meals, utilities, and transportation. $600 will just be a drop in the bucket.

What did she say? “You need to replenish your savings. If you don’t have an emergency fund, put at least 3-6 months’ worth of income into a fund to tide you through this emergency. You should probably use it to reduce your debt, or contribute to your IRA.”

What? Replenish savings? Most people have no savings account, let alone an emergency fund. The worst affected blue collar workers make about $2000/month so 3-6 months would be $6000-$12,000. If they are normal blue collar workers, that much in savings would go to a down payment of a car or a TV set, or a vacation or a wedding. The idea of having that much money in reach and not using it is inconceivable.

What? Reduce debt? $600 wouldn’t cover 2/3 of a debt payment let alone reduce the total debt. People without jobs are INCREASING their debt because now everything has to go on a credit card. They have no cash! They’re paying for McDonald’s with a credit card, gas, utilities, groceries… They will do that until they max out the card and without jobs, the collection companies will be horrible.

What? Contribute to IRA? Most blue collar workers may have a 401K at work but after being out of work for this amount of time may have already borrowed against it. Very few blue collar people have an IRA in addition to a 401K, and most 401K plans that have matching funds available from the company use a paycheck deduction. You can’t deduct from the paycheck if the worker is not getting one. Further, 3% is about average for the match. 3% of $2000 is $60, so though the upper limit on 401Ks is about $19,500 per year, you cannot contribute $19,500 if you’re only making $24K. Figure then about $1440/year with the match or $720/year without.

What DO you do with that $600 check then?

Triage. I have been there, done that. Do NOT put it in the bank. Cash it and put it in your mattress. Use the cash to pay for groceries. You might be eligible for utilities help and you may have to make accommodations with your lender to help you cover your rent or mortgage payments. The cash is in no way, shape or form to be used for anything but groceries, not fast food or entertainment of any type. In the mean time, find out what you can trade. Do you have some helpful skills that can be traded for things you need? One guy I know had a whole bunch of trees he needed cleared out. He had this other guy with a chainsaw come to clear out the trees and paid him in firewood. One girl in HS was walking dogs in exchange for bread and eggs. One lady was making home-made bread in exchange for a pound of hamburger. (Well, it was deerburger since the partner in the exchange was an avid hunter.) This one kid in junior high was trading knitted caps with a buttons in the back for mask strings for frozen dinners. Be creative. Offer some of your services to people who are working from home…cat sitting to keep the cat from walking on the keyboard, dog sitting to make sure it doesn’t interrupt zoom calls, baby sitting after school. Tutoring the kids that are home-schooling pays pretty well. Can you cook for people who are still working? Can you deep clean the house since it is now their home and their business? Have them pay you in cash or barter.

Have no doubt. The economy is still running, and the people with money are getting more money, but not all the economy is visible. Some is underground. Goods and services are still being exchanged for value, but the value may not be in currency.

The Paradox of Discernment

My son has gotten me addicted to “Forged in Fire”–a weapon forging competition. Each contestant is given a weapon to recreate or reinterpret and their final projects are put to the test. The first hurdle is parameters. They have 3 hours to turn raw steel (and that’s part of the challenge) into a blade. It has to be the right length and the right shape, or the blacksmith goes home. Then they add the handle and guards and decorations and submit it for the second challenge. For this part, they get 2 hours. When they’re done there’s a strength test and an edge test and if the weapon’s edge curls or chips, if there are gaps between the edge and the handle, if the metal isn’t tempered and formed correctly or it fails the tests and actually breaks, that blacksmith goes home. In the Second build, the remaining Two blacksmiths go to their home forges and make a rather large project. It has to go through a kill test (with a pig carcass or a ballistics dummy) a strength test (where they beat the daylights out of it to see if it can survive) and a cut test where they check the edge and the damage it causes.

We watched the battle of the services: 4 competitions involving Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy, and each had to do a typical service knife and the ceremonial sword carried by the officers in their branch. We have been watching this show for a while now and have seen some amazing weapons produced, and my son being an Army Vet, we wanted the Army blacksmith to win. We were watching the competition with the Marines and the K-Bar. One of the competitors had a really REALLY ugly knife. The serrations near the handle looked like they’d been done by a kid. He didn’t get it ground down correctly either, so it looked like had been found on a battle field 40 years ago and suffered a lot of damage. When tested for strength, it BROKE at the first notch of the serrations. He had the actual knife to compare it to and take measurements and look at the design details, but not once did he go up to get a closer look.

In another episode, in the final challenge, they had to come up with a fancy guard around the hand…They call it a cage guard.

Basket-hilted sword - Wikipedia

The contestant was trying to weave wires into a cage and he didn’t know how. The wires bent in the wrong places and were uneven on the weave. Had he worked with wire before, he would have known to get a kit that holds the wires in place and keeps them separate and straight. He should have looked that up on jewelry sites. Once you have that, then you can weave them with more accuracy. When he got done, it was amateurish and inaccurate. It was not the $50,000 sword he wanted. The blade worked well. It was strong and sharp and would Cut and Kill. But it was ugly as sin! So it lost.

In Seth’s blog he talks about the 10-year-old that can’t tell the difference between a Sears and a Guarneri violin. I teach violin. We start 10-year-olds listening to get the best sound. They play with their teachers. They listen to soloists. They record themselves. They listen to feedback on how to get a better sound. It’s not the 10-year-old that we worry about discerning the best sound. Joshua Bell can play a Sears violin and get an amazing sound from it because he is trained to. He has adjusted his ear so that his body responds in a way to make the sound he hears in his head. The truth of the matter is that his audience would never be able to tell if he was playing his $14,000,000 Stradivarius or the one you found in your attic. He would get a good sound regardless, But, he’d have to work harder to get it.

If we educate our audience to discern and appreciate the beauty, the efficiency, the design, and the craftmanship, that raises the bar for all those around us. If they can no longer accept mediocre, won’t they try to measure up to their own expectations? If they can’t tolerate “acceptable” and crave the “exceptional,” won’t we try to measure up? Wasn’t this the basis for the free-market capitalism in the beginning?

Have we, in order to make everyone feel like we have a level playing field, lowered our expectations and accepted “good enough” and “passable” for so long that we feel threatened by the marvelous?

Let me tell you something. There are some people with amazing talent out there. But 99% of the people who really shine put in hours and hours of work into what they do. They do NOT accept the merely passable and strive for the exceptional. We see it in Joshua Bell, of course, in Sting, in the Beatles, in Jacob Collier because it’s performance art. But we also see it in architecture, in engineering, in really well-written speeches, in amazing teachers, the finest nurses, the most wonderful garbage men. But in most things–MOST THINGS–excellence is pitied, berated, put down as something useless because nobody will notice it.

NOTICE EXCELLENCE AROUND YOU! Celebrate it! Point it out! Emulate it! Don’t settle for average. Know that only you can be the best you. You cannot be the best Roberta or the best John because it’s Not you. And know that Roberta or John could never be a good you. Not even close.