Tag Archives: learning technology

It Matters HOW We Talk About The Issues

tweetybirdFeels worse to me than fingernails on a chalkboard, the way the current public discourse is being conducted. As a parent and family therapist I’ve long known the power of healthy communication and how central it is to the health of a family. Now I’m learning how healthy communication is central to the health of a nation as well.

In healthy families there are ground rules and people get called out when they don’t follow them. Speaking for oneself is critical, along with listening carefully to others to be sure you understand what they’re trying to say. It’s off limits to repeat something that someone else said in confidence (that’s gossip), and name-calling and telling a lie are definite fouls. They destroy the trust that all healthy relationships are based on. 

Since these errors and others have been running rampant in our country, we all seem to be learning the power of unhealthy communication, especially when it’s repeated via the megaphone of blogs and media outlets. This is why I was delighted to linger in my driveway the other day to hear Brooke Gladstone interview

cognitive linguist, George Layoff during the NPR show “On The Media.” He analyzed Trump’s use of language in his Tweets, labeling 5 types of miscommunication or what I would call “fouls” or “distortions.” http://will.illinois.edu/news/story/a-taxonomy-of-trump-tweets

  • Pre-emptive Framing – Putting the idea out there first so that people will more likely accept your take on a subject. His example – “the Democratic National Committee were embarrassed because they lost big.” Fact checking, the truth is – the election was the closest in modern times.
  • Diversion – Get people talking about something else rather than the issue. This happened the day the lawsuit involving Trump University was settled.
  • Trial Balloon – Put an idea out there and see how people react. This has been around a long time but usually someone on the team does it so it’s easier to walk back if the reaction to the idea is not a good one.
  • Deflection – Attack the messenger instead of responding to the message. “Meryl Streep is overrated.”
  • Bad news – Even in 140 characters it’s possible to have all four errors in the same tweet.

My three children introduced me to some of these “slight of mind games,” Mostly good kids, there were occasions when they attempted to manipulate the truth, and their parents, for their own gains. We of course would call them on it, and the maturation process helped them develop healthier ways of getting what they wanted.

Dr. Lakoff recommended that the media call out the errors and not just repeat them, thus aiding and abetting the misinformation Trump is hoping to spread. He advised members of the media to do what good parents do in families, tell the truth, report the errors in the tweets, and call out what kind of errors they are.

ImprovJam2My recommendation – Trust the structure of Improv’s “Yes And.”    Last Sunday afternoon, my improv troupe Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and guests artists played with the tough stuff inherent in these tough times. In the presence of respectful witnesses we used the tools and techniques of InterPlay to express our reactions and concerns though movement, voice, and story. The outcome – fun, and a strengthened resolve to move forward through community collaboration and connection.  

Discovering the Elusive Obvious

The quality of your life is the quality of your movement.” Moshe Feldenkrais moshe

I awoke the other morning to the above quotation, and it felt like one of my most respected teachers had come to give me a message of encouragement. Now deep in the daily discomfort and pain of rehabbing my shoulder, I’m longing for a return to the broad range of easeful movement I’ve experienced most of my life. I met Moshe in Dallas in the spring of 1981 when I drove from Fort Worth where I lived, to take part in a daylong workshop he was presenting. I’d heard of him through the Alexander Technique, http://alexandertechnique.com/ another system of somatic education I was involved with, and I knew this was a rare opportunity. Looking at his bio, my meeting with him came just before he stopped teaching in the fall of 1981. He died at age 80 in 1984. In spite of the short time I spent with him, the experience changed my life. http://www.feldenkrais.com/whatis

Moshé Feldenkrais was an Israeli physicist with a black belt in Judo who hurt his knee in a soccor match as a young man. He became an engineer and eventually founded a method of somatic education that uses gentle movements and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. One of the books he wrote around that time was titled, ”The Elusive Obvious.” wikipedia.org

Something happened just prior to my driving the thirty miles to Feldenkrais’s workshop that set the experience up as a life changing one for me. The night before I had gotten a call from one of my students who told me that the job I had held for two years as a social work professor at TCU, the one that had been listed nationally simply to fulfill the university’s affirmative action requirements, the same job that had been promised to me when I moved my family from Nebraska to Texas two years earlier, had been offered to a white male without a PhD. That morning I had decided to put this entire trauma drama out of my mind and attend the workshop as planned. But as I was driving I noticed my body going into a familiar response to extreme stress, so I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped my car.

Sitting in the drivers’ seat I began doing body awareness exercises to interrupt a movement pattern I had recognized in other situations of extreme stress. Ten years earlier two teenage boys had jumped me after I came out of my neighborhood bank and was attempting to get into my car in the parking lot. As I was sitting at the steering wheel and before I could get the door closed, one boy grabbed me to pull me out of the car. With the boy still attached to me, I slid across the front seat to the passenger side, unlocked the door and exited the car, all the while screaming at the top of my lungs. Shortly after I got home, the police called to say they had caught the boys. An off duty police officer happened to be at the bank observing the scene. He gave chase and captured them. The aftermath for me was the worst headache I’d every experienced and a toothache that resulted in my losing one of my front teeth.

It was that familiar sensation of tension above my front teeth that caused me to stop the car. “I may lose my job, but I’m not going to lose any more teeth,” I pledged to myself. I went into a meditative state to release the tension in my mouth and continued doing this even after I resumed driving. I arrived at the workshop just as it was beginning.

awarenessthroughmovementI joined the roomful of people lying on the hotel ballroom floor doing the slow relaxing and releasing exercises directed by the master. I noted the pleasure of moving without tension, of having my awareness completely in the moment. Whenever my mind wandered away from the awareness of my movements, the trauma drama of losing my job triggered painful tension in my gut and my upper jaw. I got the image of myself as an animal opening its mouth to bare its teeth to an aggressor.

It was at Moshe’s workshop that I noted not only how my body reacts to painful events in the external world, but also how to pattern interrupt these reactions, preventing them from continuing to harm me long after the event has ended. I discovered that choice point of the “Elusive Obvious” where, though it takes practice – when life gets tough, I can choose the pleasure of staying present to my body, and continuing aware of ways to move with ease and grace.


How Did I Get So Lucky?

Health Care 2When people ask how I’m doing my husband says, with a lot of enthusiasm in his voice, “She’s doing great!” I try not to contradict him in front of our friends but the truth is, from the inside of this body it doesn’t feel like I’m doing that well. During my daily physical therapy exercises I come close to tears and when I’m finished I’m completely exhausted. If I can manage the time, I take what can turn out to be a two- hour nap, lying as still as if somebody hit me over the head with a mallet.

I often teased that Zumba was my anti-depressant. Now that it seems such a struggle to maintain my emotional equilibrium without it, I have to admit there’s more than a bit of truth in that statement. When I look around the physical therapy clinic at the other people doing exercises, it doesn’t seem anyone else is having the emotion tenderness that I’m experiencing. When I told my husband that a tear ran down my cheeks during my session one day he said, “That’s the disadvantage of being in your body. A lot of people aren’t in theirs.“

His comment reminded me of when I used to do dance workshops in California with Anna Halprin. I would often be brought to tears as I did her morning movement rituals. She would say encouraging words like, “That’s wonderful. Tears often accompany the body when it releases.” After a couple of days I asked her, “How come nobody else is having this tearful releasing?” She said, “They will. And sure enough, in a few more days many of the other students began experiencing tears as their bodies released.

When one of the physical therapists heard that I had been a professional dancer he made the comment – “Your feet don’t look too bad for a dancer.” I told him it was somewhat surprising that this was my first broken bone and first dance injury since opening night of a show in San Francisco in 1960. He’d worked with many dancers and athletes and found it unusual that I’d never had an injury requiring physical therapy throughout all these years.

Our conversation got me thinking about how have I been so lucky? One thing that might have helped is that the types of dancing I’ve done have varied greatly. Rather than just specializing in just one type, which sets the body up for repetitive overuse injuries. The second thing that has contributed to my good luck in my dedication to many forms of bodywork and psychophysical education – Alexander, www.alexandertechnique.com Feldenkrais, www.feldenkrais.com Tai Chi, www.medicinenet.com Rubenfeld Synergy Method www.rubenfeldsynergy.com Pilates, www.pilatesmethodalliance.org These systems of physical self-care have reeducated and strengthened my body and rescued me from the bad habits that tend to develop, as people age. I’m grateful for these gifts from my younger self to the person I am now.

Trouble in Paradise

It’s raining in paradise. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise since the paradise I’ve been living in for the past week is a tropical rainforest in Jamaica.  Palm tree leaves blow sideways in the wind, and water splashes upward from the pool into the air as the grey clouds forcefully empty their load of moisture onto the ground.  Members of my husband’s family and I, who have gathered from various points around the U.S. for a family reunion, have been spoiled, – not only by the villa staff who have seen to our every need, but by the weather. Except for a couple of short flurries, like some that happened last night to interrupt our group’s stargazing on the beach, it has been continuously sunny and mild.


As thunder rolls across the hills, there’s still plenty to do at the villa. We’ve teased about needing to get the scissors, sparkle glue, and craft paper out to keep us fellow “campers” occupied, but between books, I pads, smart phones, cards and Monopoly games, we’ll never run out of rainy day things to do.

Truth is, I haven’t done much since arriving except relax. I’ve taken a walk most mornings, a yoga class the last two, lounged by the pool reading a book, intermittently jumping in to cool off, taking breaks for afternoon naps or a chance to chat with a particular relative. We’ve focused a lot on pictures, both taking them and reviewing past videos and stills. We’ve shared significant handwritten letters from a time when that was the preferred mode of long distance communication.  Someone in the younger generation instituted a system for sharing photos on our smart phones, though mine isn’t smart enough, apparently to get in on that system. It’s definitely time for an upgrade.

Eating is a major vacation activity, and the chef and his staff has prepared delicious meals, but my diet isn’t quite like everyone else’s, and the timing isn’t what my tummy is used to. This of course, is what Rich would call, “a first world problem,” and hardly something to complain about. I was able to bring greens from home and replenish them from the resort commissary because I had the determination and the money to do that. Not sure the staff always appreciated my interruptions of their usual routine, but then, I’m not used to having servants wait on me, so the discomfort is probably mostly mine.

And there is discomfort that outside the resort I know the streets are filled with people experiencing poverty and its effects, people who are in a state of want for basic needs like food, shelter, and education. I hope that the money my family brings in and spends here helps the economy and the people who do the work to make our vacation the luxurious, delightful experience it has been.

Staying Healthy

Mother was a nurse who fully subscribed to the principles of the medical model that surrounded her. Like many health professionals of her day, since she worked nights at a hospital helping to deliver babies, she took pills to get to sleep and other pills to help her wake up. In between her interrupted daytime sleep, she nursed her own six children and made house calls to neighbors dealing with sick children or needing her help in understanding what their doctor meant by what he told them. HEALTH-IMAGE-1

Dad didn’t believe in sick. Beginning the day with breakfast and ending it with a good night’s sleep were his ideas of the best medicine. He didn’t get sick often and the two or three times I remember him getting the flu, most likely from one of us kids, he’d pile the bed thick with covers, drink lots of fluids, and cocoon himself there till “he’d sweated it out.”

Our refrigerator was filled with medicines my mother bought at the local pharmacy, or got as samples from the physicians at the hospital. There might be a special baby formula for my sister who couldn’t digest cows’ milk, vials of vitamin B-12 for the shots mother gave herself, or other prescription medicines that would last longer if refrigerated. Dad complained that we were growing our own penicillin and he’d tease Mother in front of guests that when the pharmacy runs out of anything, they call our house before reordering.

I’ve tried to come down somewhere in the middle of my parents’ diverse views on health and illness. Like my father, I’ve felt it’s better to prevent an illness than to try and recover from one, and food and lifestyle are critical elements I have some control of. But like my mother, if I get ill, I want the best doctors and nurses on my team.healthy-living-web

I think both my parents would welcome the direction our culture is moving to help us care for our own health. Instruments like the Fitbit https://www.fitbit.com/cart?productId=114 and Apple’s new Watch  http://www.apple.com/watch/ can provide ongoing information on how our body’s actually doing while we go about our daily lives, and even feedback about how we’re sleeping.

A couple of weeks ago, while visiting my son in the high desert I experienced some lightheadedness, which seemed a bit odd and scary.  He suggested a late night trip to Walmart where we used a monitoring system to check my blood pressure, pulse, and weight. This, and the information on Google saved me a trip to an ER because I became reassured that my lightheadedness was due to dehydration, not uncommon in that part of the world in late summer.

Feedback Part Two

Feedback is the return of a portion of the output of a process or system to the input, especially when used to maintain performance or to control a system or process.

My friend Pam got an electronic activity tracker for Christmas, and like I’ve done with other good ideas Pam has, I decided to copy her and get one too. My husband got a different brand and we’ve been testing and comparing our models. Both offer feedback on how many steps we take each day, the number of stairs we climb, the number of miles we walk, and the number of hours we sleep. Mine even calculates how long it takes me to get to sleep. Using the numbers that are calculated, our trackers estimate the number of calories we’ve likely expended, based on our age, weight, and height, information you put into the system when you set it up. I’m sure motivations to use these systems vary but here are some of mine.

  • Monitoring the progress of one of my most important goals, to move more. I’ve read about the health risk of inactivity as we age and no longer do work that requires physical activity and effort. As a writer, spending long hours everyday at my computer, I don’t want my obituary to read, poor dear, she died from sitting too often and for too long.
  • A reality check – I wanted an objective measure of what I actually do, because my own perception is not always reliable. Some days a mile walk in my neighborhood feels easy, but on other days it can feel like a hike up a steep hill.
  • Rewards – The five year old inside me still likes some version of the gold stars and “good job” my teachers wrote on my school papers. Knowing that my tracker is noting the steps I climb encourages me to climb more of them. It feels like I’m getting credit for my efforts.
  • Learning something I didn’t know – When I saw the estimation of calories I used during my eight hours of sleep, (420 or so), I thought the instrument must be broken. But checking on line, turns out we do use calories while we sleep. And maybe I use more than some other people because I get up often to go to the bathroom, and I turn from side to side fairly often during the night.
  • Accuracy – Sometimes my instrument doesn’t recalibrate correctly, when it switches over from daytime to nighttime analysis. Waking in the morning with the report that I have walked 400 steps in the night (which has happened) gets me to wondering if I walked in my sleep. I know how many steps it is from my bed to the bathroom and back, so that information is not likely to be accurate. Starting off the day with 400 steps gives me a head start on the number I hope to do each day. But I don’t need help in cheating; I can do that all on my own, without any help from a technological accomplice.



Learning to Take Turns

The holidays take us away from our daily rituals and that’s both the good and bad part of it, so this is the first chance I’ve had to get back on the horse of my writing practice. As I write, the image of one of the highlights of my holidays comes to me, my four-month old granddaughter, Kyra Joy jumping on her daddy’s knee.  She pulls against his arms that surround her trunk, seemingly poised to jump off of a high diving board into the open space in front of her. Adult relatives gathered around are having their first meeting with her and her charms; her dimples and smiles, and the sound of her laughter, she captivates everyone.

She seems to know that all eyes are upon her, and she relishes this assignment as the star of the show. Rather quickly, she recognizes our conversation as a game that involves taking turns making sounds. Someone says something, and then another person contributes his or her sounds. Uncle Bill makes sounds, so Kyra Joy contributes hers. Cousin Ethan speaks and Krya Joy answers him. Her utterances are not words yet, but she makes every attempt to improvise sounds with her voice and by changing the shape of her tongue.

As the grandmother I remember her Aunt Corinne at this age, always the center of attention in any family gathering. As the first grandchild on either side everyone saw her as the miracle gift that each child truly is. I remember when Krya’s dad, Kevin, came along two years later he didn’t speak or even much try to talk till he was 3 years old. When he finally did speak, it came in long full sentences, not pronounced very well. I always thought he hadn’t taken the time to practice. But his daughter is starting her practice early and catching on already to the notion that the main idea is not just to create one’s own sounds but to also listen carefully when someone else is making theirs.

The Mileau Makes the Difference

After the national InterPlay Leaders Conference I’m racing around, I am because you are- african proverbtrying to gather my belongings while the woman providing a ride to the airport waits outside. A couple of friends observing my movements begin teasing me about my quirky habits, like the way I gird myself with my purse so my hands are free as I move across the retreat center campus. As I am packing my carryon bag a song begins running through my head, “They’re gonna miss me when I’m gone. They’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” This makes me laugh and causes my mind to move forward in time, to when I’m no longer able to be with this loving community in body.

I reconnect with my friends on the way to the parking lot and sing them my song, changing it a bit to include them, “They’re gonna miss us when we’re gone. They’re gonna miss us when we’re gone.”  I tell them that members of the community will tell stories about us after we die. “And since we’re not finding a cure for cancer, we won’t make the history books. These stories will be our legacy in the world.” My friend Phil laughs and suggests, “Maybe we should have them (the community members) start practicing the stories now!”

This song, this recognition of being in a community that cares for one another, that brings out the best in one another, seems an answer to a deep desire of my youth. I remember reading about writers and artists and scientists who ended up  individually making huge and lasting contributions to the world. It turns out they  knew each other, associating with one another in Paris cafes or Sunday afternoon salons, during formative periods in their lives. They provided mutual support, inspiration, and challenge for one another, as people and as creative art and science makers. Even as a teenager with little experience of my own I knew that they were each made better by these associations. A friend taught me an African saying that seems to fit this group-as-incabator-of-the-self model.”  “I am because you are.”

Mina Bissell-Context Shapes Content

Another friend turned me on to a TED talk that seems relivant here. http://blog.ted.com/2012/06/29/cancer-in-context-mina-bissell-at-tedglobal-2012/

Mina Bissell’s insight is that cancer development might be caused by context and architecture. When they injected a cancer cell into chickens it caused cancer but when they injected it into chicken embryos it didn’t. This suggested that, “the micro-environment in which the cancer cell resides dominates the cancer gene itself.” In the lab, growing cancer cells on a healthy scaffolding enabled them to become normal again.

Like at a well-run boys and girls club, scout troupe, or sports team, individuals meet in an environment that provides the scaffolding for healthy behavior. As the older, more experienced members interact with the newbees, they each become more than they were, growing and developing strengths and skills. Hanging out with my InterPlay friends has helped me to sing. “I am because you are.”

Higgs Boson and Me

As a senior person committed to life long learning, I’ve always been fascinated by physics. And though I usually feel my images of the subject are fuzzy figures a bit farther than my vision can decipher, the struggle seems worth it. Who doesn’t want to better understand the nature of our universe?

In trawling through the vast amounts of data in my own body/mind/spirit, I remember that adult’s learn something new by connecting it to something we already know. And through the years I’ve noted that new insights often emerge when someone from one academic discipline crosses fields to become a neophyte in another. So allow this dancing social worker to venture forth.

Higgs Boson Graphic
A Little God In each Part of Us

On July 4th, the physics world launched their own particular fireworks. The ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider announced that after a long search for the Higgs Boson particle, it has been found.  The particle only exists for a septillionth of a second, which gives new meaning to the expresson, “in the blink of an eye.” No wonder they had to trawl through enormous amounts of data to find it. (15 million gigabytes per year x many years)

Since the Higgs Boson process starts as a movement, it seems to me to be a kind of dance. A dance in which energy is only transferred, never created or destroyed. When the movement begins interacting with the Higgs field, the kinetic energy slows down and is converted to mass. (Remember Einstein’s E=MC2)                                                          Sonification Of Higgs BosonHiggs_Boson_Atlas

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I loved hearing that researchers in GEANT, a European Academic Communications Network turned the data points of Higgs Boson into a melody. And staying true to the intervals in the data, they created a piece of music.  The results of this “sonafication” process resemble a Habanera, like the well-known aria from Carmen. Makes me want to shout Ole!


Becoming a savvy user of 21st century technology

It’s said that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” That’s either hog-wash or it’s sure taken me a long time to get ready to learn the “ins and outs” of  21st century technology. Andrea was my teacher yesterday and it felt so good to have a guide, someone to take me systematically from one place to the other on my developing website. I’ve just heard from a friend who is offering a class on working with spreadsheets to organize data. Wow. My time has finally come.

Prior learning experiences with computers, and software, and websites, and social networking, and smart phones, have usually involved what is called in typing, “the hunt and peck” method. People told me, “Just click around and you’ll figure it out.” But by now, I have figured out that that method only works for someone whose first experience with a computer or video game came before their 4th birthday.

I remember sending my 3 year old grandson an interactive game that was suppose to be played through the television set. Since he just graduated from high school last month, you can know that this was back in the days, now regarded in the world of technology as prehistoric. My daughter told me the story of the difficulty she was having connecting the game and getting it to work. She read the directions, (something my son always warned me against doing) and then called the 800 number for assistance. While she was on hold, the three year old in the other room begun pushing buttons in a random fashion, and got the game to work.

So I’m not saying the hunt and peck system doesn’t work – just not for me. I prefer the step by step, inch by inch approach, with lots of support and encouragement, like we had when we first started to walk or ride a bicycle. My technology skill quotient needs a lot of confidence building. I’m just learned to not immediately blame myself if a piece of technology or an operation doesn’t work. Since my goal in life is to dance with everything I found writing about my experiences helps me to ease the transitions. Here’s a 100 word poem I wrote after an experience with a computer security system.

I flunked the security check on Facebook this morning.

I’d been half proud of myself, gaining skills to enable

a giant leap over generational boundaries, not of the

“have and have-nots” but of the know-it-alls and the

klutzy clueless. Typing scrambled letters several times,

just as I saw them with difference configurations,

diligently hoping for approval from whatever robot of

the airwaves guards this gateway to inclusion.

Every time I receive confirmation of my failure to

measure up, each time I’m believing its condemnation.

I fail to achieve one of my heart’s strongest desires;

recognition as a real, regular person.