fallingI’m reading a lot of books at the moment. I’m reading Flowers for Algernon and The Great Gastby (again) as part of my summer school ELA teaching experience. I’m also reading Flip Your Classroom in preparation for the next school year. Most importantly, I’m re-reading When You’re Falling, Dive which was given to me by a dear friend a few years ago and has been quite influential on me.

When You’re Falling is basically about acceptance of life as it really is, and about counteracting the conditioning that we’ve learned over the years. Here are a few quotes for the first section followed by my current thoughts on each:

“It’s not that we gain the power to change circumstances; we develop the skill to determine our experience of those circumstances.” (page 4)

This is one I really picked up on the first time I read it. Now, when I’m feeling blue (for a reason or just because I’m having an “off” day) I let myself experience it. I don’t try to fight it; I accept that being sad at times is part of life.

“I’ve stopped trying to make myself better, and I’m happier.” (page 43)

This one is particularly interesting. When you think about it, self-help books in general are feeding the conditioning that says “I am not good enough as I am” under the guise of helping you.

“…dissatisfaction is at the root of our addiction to distraction.” (page 52)

How much of life is about distraction?  Entertainment or work or even love can be a way to distract ourselves from the reality of life. What are we afraid to face?


Don’t worry, be happy

January 26, 2013

happy-facesThis week I watched a documentary on Netflix that is in line with my thinking of late. Happy, directed by Roko Belic, illustrates the nature of happiness across the globe.

A few highlights:

People in general think that good or bad major events (getting married, losing a job) are far more important than they really are when it comes to overall happiness. In reality, the highs from these don’t last very long and neither do the lows.

Flow, or being “in the zone” is an important part of happiness. This can be achieved through exercise, sports, or even everyday tasks like gardening or cooking.

Acts of kindness and compassion, even if minor, make us happy.

The part of happiness that is determined by the circumstance of life (job, money, house, relationship) is a mere 10%. The rest is genetic (50%) and habit based (40%).

Before Midlife (and beyond)

November 8, 2012

Recently I’ve watched the movie Crazy Stupid Love a few times. It’s a very good movie with an excellent cast, and it’s a romantic comedy that isn’t formulaic (there are a few). All of the characters have flaws and seem like real people, and the story has a clever twist. And it has a (not too sappy) happy ending that leaves you in a positive state when it’s over. The only real problem I have with the movie is the perpetuation of the ridiculous “soul mate” concept that is already too widespread. It’s a silly notion, especially from a mathematical perspective.

As much as I enjoy CSL, other movies do a better job of examining the concept of love in a more thoughtful way. Arranged was very interesting in that the main characters were female teachers who were both going through the arranged marriage process (one was Muslim and one was Jewish). It was almost the opposite of the soul mate idea. They each had a limited amount of control over choosing their future spouse, and both were just looking for someone they could like and then figured that love would come with time.

More relevant for most of us is Before Sunrise, which was released in 1995. In this film a couple meets on a train and are together for less than a day before parting, and don’t know if they will ever see each other again. This idea of a relationship with a time limit is intriguing because their connection and shared experience will never be sullied by a breakup. They just have this wonderful memory to cherish.

Of course, such a well-writted and acted movie prompted a sequel, Before Sunset, which didn’t come out until 2004. In that film the characters have aged that nine years and we discover the impact of that one day on their lives. It’s an excellent follow-up that also ends in a cliffhanger. Well, in 2013 nine more years will have passed and we’re going to find out what our now-middle aged couple (the actors are just slightly younger than I am) has been up since that movie ended. Like the first sequel, the same director (Richard Linklater) has written the movie with the two lead actors. It’s titled Before Midnight and will be released early next year. Here’s to hoping that the snappy dialogue and on-screen chemistry has survived the years.


June 11, 2012

Okay, that headline is making fun of my lack of posting lately – the end of the school year is a busy time and combined with my app work this site has been neglected. But I’m back and this is my 100th post! The subject is time, brought about by watching the movie “In Time” starring Justin Timberlake (he’s not a bad actor, really) and Amanda Seyfried (who is most notable here for continuing the much-appreciated-by-me trend of short hair on beautiful women in Hollywood these days). The concept of the movie is interesting – in the future people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. After a person reaches that age, however, the must continue earning time in order to go on living. If done well, a person can live indefinitely barring being hit by a bus or killed in some other fashion. Most people in the movie, however, live day to day.

The film wastes that concept a bit by using the old “greedy rich vs. noble poor” theme that seems to resonate with people that can’t get over the “unfairness” of life. The two protagonists even go the Robin Hood route and steal and distribute time to the oppressed population. This distracts from what should be the focus of the movie – that every day is precious and should not be wasted. The big flaw those preoccupied with income disparities tend to overlook is that above a certain financial threshold (and it’s not that high) happiness is not a function of income.

The movie could have also expanded on the idea of alternate currencies. The time as currency model is quite interesting compared to our fiat money, and the movie doesn’t clearly explain the reasoning behind the extreme rationing of time (population control is the most likely and is briefly mentioned). It got me thinking about some of the informal currencies at play in our world. In romantic relationships levels of beauty, physical fitness, youth, status, intelligence, and humor are all currencies which are evaluated by the “buyer” to determine someone’s value as a partner. The weight of each factor (and the addition of others) varies from person to person. Some may find an equal distribution amongst all these as desirable while some (ahem, some men) may value just one attribute (hotness, for instance, a combination of beauty and fitness). Since in love as in business most transactions are voluntary the perceived value of your romantic partner can be assumed to be of equal value to your own. Therefore the higher your partner’s value is the higher yours can be assumed to be, which is why many people derive their self-worth from their romantic relationships.

War and Civil Disobedience

February 19, 2012

Last night I watched Gandhi, the 1982 biographical film about Mohandus Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley and directed by Richard Attenborough (the older brother of nature documentarian David Attenborough). Most people know of Gandhi in general terms as proponent of civil disobedience, likely because of this film. The movie focuses on his role in achieving independence for India from the British. I was aware of his role in that, but I did not know that he had lived in South Africa for nearly 20 years and fought (peacefully) for the rights of fellow Indians there (mostly educated Muslims) during that time with some success. This period was later cited by Nelson Mandela as influential to his work to end apartheid there (though Mandela resorted to armed protest as a last resort after years of non-violence).

This time in South Africa is also when Gandhi began correspondence with one of his major influences, Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who by this time was over 80. Tolstoy was a proponent of civil disobedience and anarchy, both major factors in Gandhi’s own philosophy (though he was willing to work with the state to achieve his aims).

After returning to India in 1915 independence became a focus of his work over the next 30 years, but was not his only cause. He fought for the rights of “untouchables” (the lowest strata of Indian society), women’s rights (women were a major factor in the famed Salt March of 1930), farmers (many of whom were required to grow unprofitable crops by law), and tolerance between Hindus and Muslims. When independence was achieved in 1947 he was displeased by the division of British India into two nations, Pakistan and India. Violent riots killed nearly half a million people as Muslims raced into Pakistan as Hindus abandoned it for the new India. In January of 1948 he was killed by a Hindu extremist who thought him too sympathetic with the Muslims.

Gandhi was also a major influence on Martin Luther King Jr., who traveled to Gandhi’s birthplace in 1959 and said that his trip to India convinced him of the power of non-violent civil disobedience.

The movie did make me think about how this type of activism works. Ultimately, it’s a public relations exercise and relied upon a free press and a government responsive to outrage (either from its own people or from outside powers). The Arab Spring uprising last year demonstrated the power of such tactics. In a world of instantaneous wireless and internet communication it is nearly impossible to suppress protests (and violent suppression only furthers the cause).

Of course, it helps to have an actual cause, unlike the misguided Occupy movement. Protesting Wall Street is a bit odd when the target Gandhi would protest is 227 miles down I-95.


August 25, 2011

Recently I’ve undertaken a Herculean task – organizing ALL of my photos. I had to merge two large iPhoto collections as well as organize and select the best prints from “the old days” for scanning. It’s taken quite a bit of time, but I’ve finally finished. One thing that really stands out to me is the massive increase in the number of “normal” photos taken in the digital era. While I ended up scanning about 200 photos for the entire decade of the 90s, some individual years after 2005 have well over 1,000. And that’s after paring them down to eliminate similar pics. It got me thinking that we’re really not far from the day when every single moment of our lives will be recorded by a micro video cameras for recall.  We’ll be able to “remember” things digitally, and exaggerating events will be a risky endeavor indeed. We will probably even have thought-triggered video available via wireless (I refuse to use the term “cloud”). It would be great to instantly watch the coolest moments of my life, but I bet we’ll find them just a little bit disappointing when they don’t quite match the version we will have saved in our minds.


August 20, 2011

I’ve been learning too much in the past couple of days! Yesterday I read about the Philippines (named after King Philip II of Spain), the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution (these three things tie together somewhat), and the Lymphatic system (did you know lymph is a fluid that moves through your body?). But the more intense learning I’m doing has to do with a project I’m working on, which I’m going to keep shrouded in mystery a bit longer. Suffice it to say that it involves a series of logic problems to solve and a development environment to explore and master. Oh, and it sort of involves the “sport” at which I am terrible.