Something New

My column for this week’s paper incorporates a couple of blog posts I wrote in the last week or so but in a new way–so thank you for persevering through some repeated “wisdom” slanted a new way:


September (Photo credit: Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi)

   The nostalgia that September and the new school year brings is so palatable, you can almost taste it. It is something that probably 98% of us share. Yet we tend to remember school in idealized terms—the new clothes for the first day, the new books and pencils, the sharpened pencil crayons and shiny new math set all meant that we had a new chance to begin again. And beginnings are exciting. Every September during our school age years was another chance to be the brightest and best. I had a spotty academic career—I lost a few years in teenage angst, but I came back, brought my grades up and spent what I look back on now as wonderful years at university.

            I was perhaps an odd duck when it came to school. In grade school I was always in the top 10, usually the top five in my class. But high school changed that and it took me a few years to adapt, to realize that I had to study. I still got by because I could write a mean essay—but that did not bode well for French class, math, science, or an ill-fated attempt to learn shorthand (I thought that would be easier than Latin—but it wasn’t for me). I still regret not putting a little more effort into those classes—but it was history and English, political science and sociology that caught my interest and by grades 12 and 13, I was back to getting good grades, once I got to leave behind those pesky subjects that did not come “naturally”.

                I am again excited come this September—but this time for my youngest son, who will be taking a “graduate” course at college in communications and public relations. He has a business marketing college diploma under his belt, but he was not all that enamoured with the course. His new program looks exciting in the syllabus and I think it is right up his alley—and I am playing the encouraging parent to the hilt—or at least as much as I think he can put up with. He too, though, is pretty happy about the new courses.

            We all need a challenge. When we went to school, each year was a new challenge, but as adults we have to set our own course, find new things to conquer, new things to learn. The latest challenge I have set for myself is to learn to “Let It Be”—those wonderful words of wisdom from the Beatles. And in doing so I am going to put this little exercise to work. It comes from the book, “One Minute Mindfulness” by Donald Altman. His subtitle: “50 simple ways to find peace, clarity, and new possibilities in a stressed-out world,” caught my attention, because let’s face it, who doesn’t want peace and clarity?

            Anyway, the exercise is this: “For one minute during the day, let go of one belief or behaviour that you typically cling to. If you always eat all the food on your plate, leave some and learn how to let it be. If you normally expect your partner to do something in a certain way, try to take on the task yourself or surrender to the way it is even if you don’t feel it’s as it should be. Let it be. Every day, let one more thing be, just for the fun of it.”I do not always eat everything on my plate so it is the second half of his exercise I have to concentrate on: Let it be. Not as simple as it sounds. At all.

            I have come to the realization that just because something purports to be simple, it does not mean it is easy. Simple and easy are not synonyms even if my thesaurus disagrees with me.  Simple and wise concepts are sometimes the hardest things to apply. They seem straightforward. How much more straightforward could something be than to “Let it be”? But how many of us can actually incorporate this into our lives?

            While I will not be returning to a school of mortar and bricks this September, I will be continuing my education in an ongoing effort to improve myself, my situation in life, and my endeavour to do what Oscar Wilde calls the rarest thing in life: to live. Here he says it in his own inimitable way: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

            I don’t think Wilde was having a good day when he said this, although I do not think he was known for his sunny disposition as he had challenges of his own. So I will take his words and combine it with the Beatles’ sage advice, and learn to: “Live and let it be”, rather than take the James Bond attitude, “Live and let die.”

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm  Comments (14)  
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V ~ is for Vicarious

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, t...

Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, the first Trixie Belden mystery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen.” ~ Roger Ebert

I have a rather positive outlook on vicarious experiences. Though I may not have experienced something firsthand, that does not mean the experience is not worthy.  In fact vicarious experiences can be just as satisfying. Is that not what we do when we get lost in a good movie as Ebert so ably puts it, or better yet, when we read a book?

I remember as a young girl reading the adventures of Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and living them in my imagination. The things that they dealt with did not happen in my “real” life, but I was richer, as was my imagination, for having experienced them vicariously.

I sometimes live through the tales my friends tell of their adventures, their travels, and their creative acts. And by listening to them, my attention is rapt, and their memories become not my memories, but an open door to things I have not had the chance to do or create.

Some of the synonyms I found for vicarious are not at all how I define it.  The words second-hand, displaced, remote, indirect, removed or distanced do not play a part in my vicariousness.

To me, living vicariously opens up worlds that may not be available to me otherwise. It also provides an impetus to do the things that I find appealing. Sometimes living out something in your imagination translates itself into action.

I have lots of things on my life list (as opposed to my bucket list which sounds a little too final to me) that I want to do: travel, publish a book, learn to golf and play tennis, get involved in more community activities—and as I work on this list, I derive pleasure from those who do travel extensively, write books, play the games I want to play, and join the activities I want to take part in. It is part of the learning process—it is all part of my life research.

I think of  “living vicariously” as a practice run wherein I am identifying what it is I want to accomplish.

1966 cover of the revised version of The Secre...

I Learn Therefore I Am

“A genius! For thirty-seven years I’ve practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!” ~ Pablo Sarasate, Spanish composer and violinist

Picked up a book on the weekend called “Study Smarter, Not Harder” by Kevin Paul.  Now, I was not really looking for a book of this genre—but it sort of made itself known to me while I was looking through a stack of books in the reference section of the bookstore I was “visiting”. (I don’t just go to bookstores or the library, I visit them—I feel at home among books).  

My youngest son is entering second year at college, and he has asked me the same question on numerous occasions: “how do I study?” Now, of course you are thinking, the kid got to second year in college—he must know how to study. And he does, but he does not feel his methods are totally effective. He thinks that there must be a better way—a way where he learns, not painlessly (though true learning should not be painful), but in a better and more effectual way. (Yes, I have told him to turn off his music when he studies). This book kind of “popped out” at me (ever notice things have a habit of doing that—sometimes life just hands you what you need, even if you did not know you needed it) so I sat down and looked through it to see if it was worth buying.

As I was flipping through it, I came to a section called, “You Can Learn Anything”. Well, I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure there are a few doors shut (and locked) to me, such as quantum physics and brain surgery—but I was willing to give this chapter a chance. After all, if it didn’t convince me, would it convince my son? The author made a rather outrageous statement. Unequivocally he stated: “You are a genius”. According to Paul, “Acquiring a language and walking are two of the most complex activities in which humans engage.” (This is good news—I can talk and walk–sometimes at the same time!) He goes on to say that “it is not yet possible to get enough computing power to synthesize these basic human achievements. It takes a very sophisticated learning capability to achieve language and walking”. Research also shows that “even driving a car takes more brain power than piloting the lunar excursion modual that landed on the moon.”

Spanish composer and violinist of note, Pablo Sarasate made an astute observation in his statement that his genius took “practice”, which illustrates that untapped, genius is undiscovered. Paul believes that we need tap into our genius, and he provides some pretty good information about our three brains: the reptilian or most primitive part of our brain and home to our famous “fight or flight” response to danger—which is our safety and survival instinct, to the limbic brain, which is where our emotions live. Then there is the cortical brain—or our “thinking” brain, where we reason, set goals, make plans, develop language and “conceive abstractly”.
Paul is convinced that we all have “the same brain capacity and potential as Einstein or da Vinci” and geniuses can be “made.” I don’t know about you, but I find this all very comforting. And although I picked this book up for my son, I am going to give it a thorough read through (as opposed to my original thought of just perusing it superficially and handing it over with the simple instruction: Read It).
The author says that if spending countless hours in front of the television can lower your IQ, then it just follows that by heeding his advice, your IQ can be “coached into the positive.” He answers the question of “why should I bother” by saying that “being a successful learner is no longer a matter of choice or mere preference. It is a necessity in order to survive and thrive in the ‘information age’.” And he says “it is never too late to increase your intelligence”. That is good news for those of us no longer in school, but still involved in the process of never ending learning.

“Common sense is genius dressed up in working clothes.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson