Don't Veg, Write Something

Recently, the Making Things Happen blog reviewed my daughter's book Don't Make Art, Just Make Something. It ends off with:

The trick is to understand what makes the Miranda Asilings of the world tick—and how best we can foster such maker empowered dispositions in others.

As Miranda's dad, I would like to think that I had something to do with how Miranda ticks and I've been pondering that comment since I read it.

Today, I stumbled across a couple things that might provide a little insight.

First, I saw the video This is Water based on a 2005 commencement speech by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College. It captures ennui of the daily grind, and why people may feel they need to veg after they get home from a long day at work.

I can understand that feeling, but instead of vegging, I prefer to write something. Last month as National Novel Writing Month. I completed the first draft of my second novel. It doesn't matter if it ever gets published. Writing it was fun and there was a great sense of accomplishment when I finished.

Today, I saw another video, Learn what most schools don't teach. It is about programming. This is Computer Science Education Week. For me, writing computer programs is another form of relaxation similar to writing fiction. It helps get around the ennui of daily life.

Most importantly, by writing, whether it be fiction or computer programs, we become empowered creators and not just bored workers vegging in front of the television at the end of a long day.

Trumbull for Rent and World AIDS Day

Over the past week, there have been several stories that I’ve been following that all fit together in an unexpected larger theme. The first was the release of John Jorge’s Music Video, Lovin’. For those who don’t recognized the name yet, I think the first time I was him perform was in the Amity High School’s production of Rent.

I believe this was the day before Thanksgiving, which is the second story to pay some attention. Every year, we stop to give thanks for all that has been given us. As a New Englander who can trace his genealogy back to the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, this is an important day for me. Part of what I’m thankful for is the freedoms my ancestors came to this country in search of.

Another big story for me of the past few days is my completion of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I finished the first 50,000 word draft of my second novel on Saturday. There is something very empowering to set out to create something challenging and complete it. I will see if I will go through the editing and revisions necessary to get it to be presentable for publication, either through traditional channels or through self publication.

Then, there was the story in the Washington Post of a teacher resigning because of what is happening in education.

All of this leads up to World AIDS Day and an incredible article in the New Yorker, What Young Gay Men Don’t Know About Aids. I work at a Federally Qualified Health Center that treats people with AIDS. I am a Health Leadership Fellow of the Connecticut Health Foundation working with others to address health disparities in our state.

AIDS is a very important topic we need to have open and honest discussions about, which leads me to the final story I want to focus on.

An article in the Hartford Courant put it this way.

Student representatives from Trumbull High's theater department were told last Monday that the show they planned to perform next spring covered topics too "sensitive" or "controversial" for a high school.

Originally, I was planning to write an open letter to the Trumbull High School administration, pointing out how not allowing the production of Rent was incredibly short sighted. I would talk about depriving students of opportunities for prepare for their careers, as the Amity production of Rent helped John Jorge on his career. How not allowing the production went against the freedoms that our forefathers came to this country for. How not allowing the production was an affront to all people seeking to improve the lot of mankind through creativity. How not allowing the production would damage the school district by showing a heavy handed administration that doesn’t allow educators to challenge their students. How not allowing the production was an insult to the people of Trumbull by saying that students at Amity and in Greenwich where Rent has been produced are more capable of handling “sensitive” or “controversial” subjects.

But the most important topic to me was the health topic. According to The Connecticut Department of Health there were nearly 700 case of HIV infection reported in Bridgeport, the city next to Trumbull during the years 2002-2011. Yes, the rate of new infections has been going down, but every new infection with HIV is one infection too many.

HIV/AIDS is not too “sensitive” or “controversial”. HIV/AIDS is an infection which we can stop the spread of. We can do this by talking openly and honestly about the infection, about the stigma. If we care about the children in our schools, we need to have these discussions.

I am tempted to wax polemic adopting the voice of preachers I know that would point out that by preventing these discussions, there is blood on our hands. Yet I’m not sure that is effective. It isn’t really my style.

But, this evening, I went to a World AIDS Day event where another section of the quilt was unveiled. It commemorated people in Connecticut how had died as a result of AIDS. It was attended by people who were living successful lives knowing that they were HIV positive. These were people who have confronted the stigma, found out their status and were getting the treatment so that an HIV infection for them was a chronic disease, not a death sentence. These were people who knew their status and because of their knowledge, were not spreading the infection.

I wept with them as we mourned the death of loved ones.

In my heart, I prayed for those who indirectly contribute to the ongoing spread of HIV by thwarting opportunities for discussion. I wished they could have stood with me at the unveiling of this latest section of the quilt and I pray that these words might cause some to stop and think about what their decisions mean for freedom, for education, and most importantly, for health.

Don't Buy Crap, Just Make Memories

It’s been a little over a year since my mother died. Last year, I was mostly in shock and hadn’t really processed all that went on, but this year, I’m finding more opportunities to reflect on what I learned.

This spring, my daughter Miranda published her book, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something.

Now, we are being bombarded by Black Friday ads, or even worse, Black Friday Eve. It all made me think, here I am in my mid fifties. My mother is dead, and I’m pouring over my childhood memories in my heart. What do I remember?

I remember getting those knitted socks that she didn’t have time to finish. They were in a shoebox with the knitting needles still in them. They were a couple different shades of red which almost matched. She had run out of yarn, and bought some more in a color as close as she could get to the original.

I remember the days leading up to the holidays, helping my mother bake. I remember one year, getting a broken alarm clock and a set of screwdrivers. I often talk about that is one of the best gifts I ever received. I remember the construction paper silhouette of my face pasted to a larger piece of white paper cut in the shape of a heart which I scrawled my name on. I must have given that to here as a gift when I was six or seven, and nearly half a century later, I took it down from my mother’s linen closet and brought it to my house.

It was a different time back then. We didn’t have a lot of money, there was probably a lot less plastic crap on the market and we certainly didn’t go to any Black Friday Eve sales. Yet the commercialization of the holidays had already started long before my childhood and I’m sure I got my share of plastic crap that made me happy for a day and a half before it broke.

So as you sit down at the Thanksgiving Day table, think about how you want to be remembered. Do you want to make a brief impression with the latest gadget bought on sale on Thursday evening, or do you want to be remembered for what you made, an incomplete set of socks or some other lasting memory made by warm hands held during grace over the dinner table.

Don’t let fears of your own inadequacies at making stuff stop you. That’s the message of Miranda’s book. By making something, anything, you are making important memories.

Don’t Buy Crap, Just Make Memories.

A Positive Digital Footprint

This evening I went to a digital safety presentation by a youth resource police officer sponsored by our local PTO. Most of what he said was fairly valid, but the way he said it was questionable in my mind.

First, it was very much of a digital immigrant telling other digital immigrants how their digital native children should act online. He admitted that he just didn't get why people talk about food or share their location online. In my mind, this made him less credible.

More importantly, his talk sounded like he was asking the parents to limit or curtail their children's online activity. To a certain extent this makes sense. We don't want kids to do things online that could end up hurting them. He spoke about making sure that kids didn't grow up with negative digital footprint.

I suggested that he might want to look at things from the other side. How do we encourage our digital native kids to have a positive digital footprint? How do we help these digital natives develop a good digital portfolio and a strong personal digital brand?

These are the questions we should be grappling with.

The Supermoon cannot be stolen

I continue to be overly busy so I am not getting as much writing done as I would like, but I've got a few moments, so I thought I'd reflect on the 'supermoon'.

What does it mean when the moon reaches perigee in Capricorn, the tenth house of the Zodiac, shortly after the summer solstice? There are many different ways to look at this, so I'll try a few different angles.

Larry Sessions, a writer for EarthSky, asks the question, Does a supermoon have a super effect on us?

He finds:

A supermoon’s effects are imperceptible, far smaller than those encountered in other everyday situations, such as being near a mountain or even a large building.

He talks about this in terms of gravitational force, and finds the effect to be "about 110 milligrams, roughly equivalent to about 1/9th the mass of a paperclip." That's not much of an effect.

He did acknowledge that "the full moon can appear as much as 14% larger in the sky and 30% brighter to our eyes than at minimum size and brightness." This change of brightness to the moon is likely to be unnoticeable from one night to the next, but when someone mentions it, it can lead to observational bias. Mention to people things that happen during full moons, especially during supermoons, and people will look for the occurrence and when they observe it, generalize about it.

If enough people mention something, it can start trending on social media. It can become a fad, a meme, or a topic of the day. Enough people are talking about the 'supermoon' that it has become a top news story showing up in my Google Feed, including a link to Larry Sessions' article.

So, while the effect of a full moon at perigee may be minimal gravitationally, it can be profound psychologically. Some may think about this in terms of vampires, werewolves, and the zodiac. Yet I'm interested in other aspects. I find the moon beautiful. Anything that gets people to stop and think about beauty, to gaze on something beautiful, is, in my book, a good thing.

Tying this to science, anything that gets people to stop and consider the motions of the earth, the moon, planets, and stars, perhaps even ideas like gravity and inertia, is also a good thing.

What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to reflect on something beautiful and to share it? What would it be like if everyone took a moment every day to think about the wonders of how the universe is created and how humans have used science to broaden their understanding of the universe?

Unfortunately, too many people have too much on their minds in terms of making money and gaining power. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the fabulous creatures, the zodiac, or even beauty and science, another reflection is called for.

There is an old Zen story entitled, The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift." The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

So, I give to you this different way of thinking about the supermoon. It cannot be stolen.

Syndicate content