Category Archives: thinking out loud

Facts, Perspectives and Narratives

The story I want to tell may be offensive to some; even knowing that what I am going to describe still exists in our country can be upsetting. But I think we need to know how others think, how their facts blur into perspectives and then become narratives.

I wrote this in the short previous blog post about what keeps people from blogging. The question that was my challenge was “Should I Post This?” I decided to go ahead and tell the story.

I want to tell the story about alternative perspectives and where we find them. The story begins in a  bookstore in Virginia. The content in the store related to the American Civil War but from the perspective of the Southern confederacy, the Lost Cause. While many of the books have an historical perspective, celebrating Southern leaders and examining battles through a Confederate lens, others espouse political views around states’ rights and, more upsetting, segregationist racial attitudes. I went looking for the book store website, and it is connected to an unapologetic Confederate who quotes Benjamin Franklin on the homepage:

“Man will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants.” – Ben Franklin

Even if they can’t agree what to call the war or specific battles, I believe these writers would agree with a set of facts about the American Civil War shared by historical and pro-Northern writers. There was a war from 1861 to 1865 fought by two groups of states of the confederation of states known as the United States of America. Some of the states interpreted the Constitution to say that they could leave; the other states interpreted it to say that they could not leave. That, along with ideas about states’ rights in general and slavery specifically led to a war.

From there, it starts to get blurry between facts and perspectives. Fact: As part of the war, General William Tecumseh Sherman invaded the South and wreaked destruction on the civilian population as part of his total war. Was he simply doing his job and practicing total war in order to help the North win? Or was he committing war crimes? Your answer to that question is going to determine your lens in examining other facts that might arise around the events of Sherman’s March to Atlanta and the Sea. They seem like facts because they confirm your world view.

I did buy a book in the store. It seemed to be a more unbiased story of one Virginia county before, during and after the war, focusing more on the lives of the civilian population, living in a county that saw four significant battles.

I feel like I took the coward’s way out. I should have purchased one of the more stridently Confederate books that condemned Lincoln as a tyrant and his troops as terrorists. It is, indeed, a point of view that is not taught in schools except perhaps when someone discusses the Southern perspectives. But I have a sense that these authors are not simply describing their point of view. They are using facts to create a narrative different from the one crafted by others. Facts and perspectives become one thing and trying to separate them with either logic or brute force is impossible.

Maybe I’m making too much of this experience but as I passed through the entryway of the book store and realized where I was, I had a sense of being part of a secret club. It was the same feeling I had when I visited the Jubal Early home place. A table there offered brochures for pro-Southern societies celebrating the Antebellum South and mourning the Lost Cause. Like Jubal Early, there are many who are unreconstructed Confederates, living in the modern world with a shared secret connection to the past.

Beyond Work: Finding Your Own Space in the Day

My “of interest” post this week focuses on a Washington Post reporter even though it’s really supposed to focus on poet Donald Hall. The reporter exposed Hall to ridicule and was criticized.

I’m thinking about Donald Hall because I’m reading Essays After Eighty and The Selected Poems of Donald Hall, a collection published in 2015. I have come to love this grizzled, rumpled old man who isn’t afraid to dive into the vagaries of old age who, after a lifetime of poetry, can no longer write poems:

New poems no longer come to me, with their prodigies of metaphor and assonance. Prose endures. I feel the circles grow smaller, and old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It’s better to sit at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns, and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do.

Both his prose and the insights he communicates make it a pleasure to read about what he does.

In the essay “Physical Malfitness” he describes his physical failing as he ages, but also his lifetime failure as an athlete. However, even though he doesn’t play, he loves baseball. He watches every night during the season, cheering on the Boston Red Sox. He watches without doing anything else, and he compares this single minded focus on baseball with other writers like Yeats and Eliot who read westerns and mysteries in the evenings.

Our brains need to rest, to reach in different directions, to focus on something that brings us pleasure without any concern for a test.  It may be baseball, or a particular genre, or…I like to crochet and stream PBS shows. I’m counting and creating with the crochet hook but also letting my mind follow a compelling story or engaging educational experience. The latter is a fancy way of saying “Great British Baking Show.” I’m watching the Master Series now so it is educational as I’m learning how to bake classic breads and desserts and more.

Our students also need their chance to get beyond their school work. A chance to pursue passions without accountability, just learn or be or do as they find their way. These moments of freedom, minds ebbing and flowing around some activity or event, can be percolators of innovation.

Economic Lesson: Playing the Rewards Point Game

I was informed by my cell phone provider that I have a ridiculous number of reward points in my account. I don’t mean to brag, but let’s just say it’s in the six digits. I earn points for my bill, for data and even for logging into their website. If earning lots of points is the goal of this game, I’m a winner.

The email had enticing pictures of rewards so I clicked the link, logged in (ca-ching, more points) and started surfing. I *could* use a new fitness tracker. They offered one but it came with a backpack I didn’t need and the amount of cash I still had to pay even with my points refund was more than Amazon was charging for the just the tracker, which is all I wanted.

And it turns out there wasn’t much else that was on my wish list. They do have gift cards. You get a 10% discount on the sticker price and give up 1,000 points. But that’s chump change, considering my point total. Gift cards for life!

My favorite hotel chain isn’t included in the travel rewards. I’m settled in for a lovely homebound winter so shoes, handbags and clothes don’t hold much interest although I did spend time checking out slippers and “lounging” clothes.

So, did I fail at this game, missing out on deals I earned just for using this particular carrier? Or, is this really what it seems to me: a kind of bait and switch commercialism that uses game elements as part of the incentive? Buy things you really don’t want or need at marginally discounted prices to make you feel like a winner for earning points for probably paying too much for cell service in the first place? So, did I win because I wasn’t sucked in?

I think it’s a stale mate. Let’s be honest: I’m not really playing the game. I have this carrier because it’s the best one in my area and I didn’t choose them based on their rewards program. And the carrier doesn’t seem to really care if I play. I can’t opt out of earning points but I can opt out of the enticing emails.

I can’t help but wonder how many people paid too much for trinkets, thinking what a great deal they got just for being a member of this particular tribe? Is this part of our economics education for students? The gamification of commerce?



An Abomination?

A couple days ago, a well known figure in the digital world posted a tweet calling it an “abomination” that it took so long to open Google contacts.

I chose not to reply probably because of the celebrity of the poster, but the comment stuck with me. An abomination? I actually tried to open Google contacts. It seemed to go pretty quickly over my 7 mbps DSL connection, but I probably have low expectations. But, honestly, an abomination? Live in the first world much? And even in the first world, where the last 48 hours saw two seemingly senseless police shootings, it’s a ridiculous word to use to describe a slow website.

Maybe I’m also overly sensitive as I just finished reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson’s indictment of a flawed justice system where poverty and race have more to do with criminal investigations and trials than actual guilt or innocence.

We really need to get our priorities in order, my friends, when a slow website is considered an abomination. Annoying? Frustrating? Sure, but save a word like abomination for things that really are.


Finding the Flow

Inspired by Donna Donner’s post 12 Month Human at Four O’Clock Faculty which I found on Twitter via Tamara Letter:

I write a fair amount about living a life outside the traditional workforce. One lesson I continue to learn about living this life is that it flows and living in rather than fighting the flow is the way to move smoothly and calmly even through the rapids.

I was the road warrior in June: just take a look at my reading log. I hit a high of 13 books because I discovered The 39 Clues series on Audible. Each book takes about 4-1/2 hours of listening, which just happened to be the average length of each of my car trips. Every day was planned to the minute as each task had to be completed on time if events and trips were going to be successful. There was no time for procrastination. Within that strict regimen there was “work” and “life” as even my garden was part of the to do list. Weeding had to be done before I was gone for ten days. That meant a daylong marathon with shovel and cart. My husband shepherded me inside at dusk, handing me two ibuprofen as I walked up the steps.

And now…it’s July, and for the first time in many years, I am home. No traveling, no training, even very little “work.” My mother was worried that I was going to be bored and suggested I could use the free time to house clean. I’m thinking more Scratch programming and Raspberry Pi exploration along with early morning hours in the garden and long afternoons floating in the pool with a book.

Donna Donna got to the heart of my life when she wrote that her teaching life is “entwined with all the other cycles of my life.” She goes on:

As my summer rolls on I will honor my love of learning, my love for my family, my love for my profession and my curiosity of the world. My life cycle flows with this balance all year long. You see, I am a 12-month mother. I am a 12-month wife. I am a 12-month friend.  I am a 12-month teacher. I am a 12-month human. I never take a vacation from any of those parts of me. Some parts just come out a little stronger at times but all contribute to balancing me as a whole.

I think the struggle is figuring out which part is stronger at any time as I tend to want to always focus on the work I do for others first. I resonated with Donna sitting on the porch with her hummingbirds–mine are at their height right now, buzzing me as I head out to fill the feeders–reviewing her notes from a summer workshop. For me, it would be planning ahead for my fall courses and events.

Then, I sat down at the laptop this morning prepared to put in a full morning of work and realized I didn’t have to…I could browse Twitter and that led to Tamara’s tweet and Donna’s post and some writing. It’s a different kind of work this personal reflection and community connection, and who knows where it might lead. The emails will wait; the preparation for an October workshop will wait; it’s time for the focus to be on my own learning and growing and flowing.