Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Truth ...In the Eyes of the Beholder?

New giant dove discovered during eclipse of the moon.

"people remember through photographs but that they remember only the photographs ... that the photographic image eclipses other forms of understanding – and remembering. ... To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture"  Susan Sontag

For readers who do not know Sontag, she was a fiction and non-fiction writer who became interested in photography and its affect on society and its implications as it evolved into what we have today with the ease of digital documentation.  She was a very demanding, smart, and exotic woman.  I have not read any of her fiction, but may tackle that someday.  Her interest in war grew with several trips to Sarajevo during the war there.  I have been reading a Susan Sontag book about the brutal photography taken during war.  Oh, yes, a nice after dinner theme to sink my teeth into after watching the photos and videos on TV covering all the devastating news.

Decades ago in the old Russia, people were removed from dignitary photos without guilt as certain leaders lost favor with the regime over time.  There were usually a few other non-doctored photos that revealed the editing to the world.

Most people remember the famous photo taken by AP photographer Nick Ut of the naked 9-year-old Vietnamese girl running from the rain of chemical napalm from a South Vietnamese Air Force attack that incorrectly thought the village was an enemy group. The photo won a Pulitzer prize and yet history tells us that President Nixon doubted its authenticity.  Was it too awful to be real?

Recently a photo of a Syrian toddler lying face down in the surf on a beach near a Turkish resort was published around the world.  This very moving photo touched many people much more strongly than all the boats of refugees crowded in rafts or trudging along railroad lines in search of a new life.  An investigation later revealed that the boy had been moved from a small cove to the beach area for a better photo opportunity.  So now this becomes a bit of a staged photograph!  Would it have had the same tragic punch if the original site of death was the one shared around the world?

Also this year some videos of Syrian refugees refusing water and food and in another case carrying some flags in protest were sent out with the information that these were examples of how Islamic zealots were willing to protest for their religion with the sub-text of how dangerous these people could be if let into "Christian" countries.  Not given enough attention was that these photos had nothing to do with Islam.  One was not even part of the current refugee crises but another protest entirely at a different place and time.  The other videos reflected frustration at being stuck behind a fence for days with no where to go, rather than rejection of "Red-Cross" meals.  If someone had not followed with accurate context, could this have mushroomed into a larger rejection of Muslim refugees?

There was also a photo this week from Peru that Kay Davis lawyers insisted was a mass meeting of Christians in Peru (of all places?) supporting her stand against gay marriage.  It took less than 48 hours for photographic detectives to reveal the photo was taken more than a year ago and had nothing to do with her protest.

We are going to have to question photographs we see as photo-shopping a digital photo can be even more confusing and less able to detect as we move into the future.  What we once relied on as photographic truth is not necessarily so.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Used Books

While perusing the local used book store in a college town in the mountains of Virginia last week, I just had to take a photo of this top book shelf in the store.  Someone has a dark sense of not ignore the careful placement of the book in the middle.  (You may get a closer look by clicking on the photo.)  I did not get out of this place without buying three books of course, but none of the above were in my bag.

If you read my blog, you will understand why I selected all of the titles above.  I will always buy books even though I can read electronically on at least three devices.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Happens Backstage---13 Revelations for Thursday 13

  1. Having so many delicious bell peppers from the garden I just had to brag and post a photo of a stuffed pepper casserole on Facebook.  After taking it out of the oven it slipped from my hand and the casserole broke neatly into two pieces as it slid across the kitchen floor.  No shards, so we ate it anyway.  Did not post that on FB!
  2. One Sunday afternoon in fall enjoying the beautiful weather and being thankful we had nothing on the calendar as we sat in bliss.  Then an old friend of hubby calls reminding him we are supposed to be at their house for dinner.  Got out my most expensive bottle of Barolo and sheep-faced made the hour-long drive to their house!
  3. I have already posted about my new tutoring experience and how I am handling my fear of math.  But did not post that my student canceled (once again) our third scheduled meeting due to a bad back.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemy!
  4. I got a rather large bill from the electric company, and after some research, realized I had failed to pay last month's bill.  Getting old is not for sissies.
  5. This past week we had a house guest who rides a Harley, once belonged to the same golf club as The Donald and wears an earring in one ear.  If you knew us, you would realize this was not someone you would expect we would entertain.  I found I liked him in spite of my prejudices.  (He also has had children by three different women, lives on his own in the coal country of Pennsylvania, and knew hubby way back when they were both much more naive.)
  6. Trying to (once again) run 3 miles a day 3 times a week even though it does NOTHING for my shape or weight loss.  I rarely write about it because people might expect I would be thinner.
  7. I purchased some doughnut holes for the gardening seminar that I was helping set up last Saturday and forgot to take them, and proceeded to eat a bunch over the next two days.  I have no self-control.
  8. My addiction to British murder mystery shows seems to show no abatement even when I have seen them three times and know exactly what is going to happen.
  9.  Flat-earth society types give me an ulcer and I may not find it easy to be polite much longer.
  10.  I get disappointed when I think I know so much and find out I know so little.  Learning will always be a passion with me and I wish this was so with everyone.
  11. I do not listen to enough music in my life and should be better organized for that.
  12. I have no idea who I am going to vote for in this next election, but that in reality, is not something I have not told anyone.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Failure Is Not an Option

I'm a little nervous so I arrive about 20 minutes early to check out the study room in the public library.  The room is small with a built-in table against one wall and clearly designed for no more than two people.  It is cold!  I should have brought a sweater.  I spread out my notebook, two pencils, the first lesson, and tuck my purse into the corner.  I look around, and satisfied, head out to the main part of the library.

This library used to be about 25% of its current size.  There was a plan to build a new library for the community in the budget, before the deficits raised issues a few years ago.  In the old building the librarians had a workroom/storage area about the size of a large broom closet and there were two tiny offices.  I had done some volunteer work years ago in the old library building and was cramped into a corner trying to enter subscription data with two other librarians within touching distance of their tiny desks.  The two children's librarians had only plastic bins on the floor to store their tools.  The circulation desk was slap up against a wall.  When the local gourmet food market on the main road could not get a buyer, the county bought the building and using less money converted the space into a new library.  The new space is lighter, roomer and closer to the main traffic.  This library was used a lot when it was smaller and off the road near a school and some woods and within walking distance of the Senior Center, but it gets even more use now that there is room and it is closer to town.

I look at the shelves to pass the time and find Harper Lee's book "Go Set a Watchman" which I had been wanting to read and take it to a comfortable chair to peruse.  After about ten minutes I hear a conversation regarding the location of a study room and I hear my name.  I stand and walk over to where the librarian is pointing and I see an attractive, casually dressed (in clean jeans and a wine colored T-shirt), stocky, black woman.  She looks like she might be in her 40's-50's.  Her stance is energetic and I am sure she is my student.  I approach her and indicate who I am. 

She waves her arm in my direction and begs  "I just have to get something to eat!  Just a few minutes."

I respond, "No problem." as she is fifteen minutes early.

I go back to the study room as my student disappears outside somewhere.  There are a few restaurants on the strip mall and the gas station has food.  I sort the lesson and wait.

Five minutes after our start time, my student comes back energetically into the room.  She does not smell of food, so maybe all she had was a granola bar and a drink in the car.  She is a talker like me, so our greetings topple over each other.  I formally introduce myself and offer my hand.  She introduces herself and we shake hands, talk some more, and she offers her hand again and we shake ... again.

I do like her and we settle down into learning about her study issues, etc.

She is so eager to get through this training in order to graduate in October of 2016, that I am worried about how she is setting her short term goals.  She explains how she had to drop out of school at 17 because she was pregnant.  She has at least one child now in college.  She wants so much to get her degree in front of her children and grandchildren and then as tears come to her eyes, she apologizes and gets a tissue.  She does not once mention that the diploma is for a job opportunity.  It seems this is a personal goal for her.

Yes, I can feel the pressure on me to make this training successful.  She talks about teachers she has liked and the class that she has to go to that very evening for math.

I start with a few charts and vocabulary sheets that were given to me to help with approaching word problems.

We start with the basics of trying to decode a word problem.   I read her the first exercise which involves determining how much a waiter made in tips when we know his hourly wage, number of hours worked, and total money he gets at the end of the day.  She is slow to figure this out and I am wondering if I am helping her too much as we multiply, add and then subtract.  I have her read the next problem and this takes me back to fourth grade when some fellow classmates would nervously struggle with reading a paragraph out loud.    Now I see that some of her problem is reading and not just math.

She is bravely not too self-conscious although she apologizes too much.  I am totally positive and full of encouragement reminding her these are steps of the journey, reminding her to take her time, and then giving clues when I need to.  We struggle though the problems for an hour and then I give her an exercise sheet and ask her to do a few of the problems for the next class.  We do the first one together and when we both come up with the same answer, which according to my "Key" is wrong, it takes a few minutes for us to realize that the exercise has a major typo!  This is going to be more work than I thought!

We talk about learning styles and then I suggest a later time for our next Tuesday class because it will give her some free time before she has to drive further up the road for her other class.  Both my class and the other class are about 20 minutes from where she lives.

I think she is feeling good about the session and she insists on giving me a hug when we leave.  I am a big hugger, so feel good about that. 

Now I have to do some serious research on learning styles, learning strategies, and real teaching...not just training which I do with my grandkids.  This is making me reach just like her, so I think this may work out for us both.  I do not want to fail her!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Too Old to Learn New Tricks?

Way back in January of this year when gray snow and blistering winds were all that greeted me as I left the house, I decided I needed some activity that was more inspiring for me and more useful to others, before I turned into a winter hermit.  I perused the listing of volunteer activities in the county newspaper and the Adult Basic Education program caught my eye.  I used to teach many decades ago, and figured my skills were not that rusty.  Some one on one time with someone who needed my help could be pretty rewarding for me as well.

After placing a call to the ABE office I was told that they would place my name on their list...there would be training...there were others also on this list.  January came and went and February was almost over before I received a call that there would be a meeting/training session in March and did I have a date or two that suited me?  There was much juggling as there were four of us who led complicated lives and finally the ABE office admitted they would have to have two sessions to accommodate us.

I drove up to the old concrete block building across from the fire station.  It was uninviting and sparse in decor.  It reminded me of an old school room in the the 1950's with walls filled with workbooks and reading materials and some old fashioned desks in the middle of the room.  Budget constraints were clearly visible everywhere.  There were two women of pre-retirement age and gentle personalities to explain the program as we two potential tutors sat at a small round table.  Lots of paperwork.  The training consisted of some simple rules, ideas and paperwork forms and took a few afternoon hours.  I was asked to complete a form on how many students I was willing to tutor, whether it was English and/or math, etc.  I said one student to start, and although I do hate math I was afraid I would never get a student if I didn't check that box also...everyone wants to teach reading comprehension or grammar, etc.  They said it would take some time as they had to run background checks on us among other things.

I went home to wait for an assignment.  Spring came and my volunteer garden work and travel filled the months.  Summer came and my grandchildren visits filled my time.  I had almost forgotten about this teaching project.  Then the last week of August I get a call to tutor a math student.  My heart sank because I really had forgotten all my math and in the back of my mind I had been hoping for English.  Who does math anymore with computers and calculators everywhere?  But having a Puritan work ethic I said I would be happy to tutor this adult woman in math.

I was given the name and phone number of the student but told to wait two weeks while the office put together a packet of lessons for me.  Oddly, I was beginning to panic more!  What made me think I could teach basic math?  I researched some exercises on the Internet and tried hard to remember how to reduce fractions, figure perimeters, calculate percentages, etc.  Gosh, I was going to have to re-learn everything.

I drove up to the local high school and picked up the lengthy study packet and reviewed the lessons inside and then called the student.  She was thrilled to hear from me, desperate to get her high school diploma, and willing to meet on any day, any place, and any time for tutoring.  Yes, having an eager student is golden, but I was still very nervous as I set a date to meet at the public library the following week.  During our phone conversation she was interrupted by noises of children in the back ground.  Excusing herself, but not bothering to put her hand across the receiver, I heard her yelling at them and scolding them to behave.  When she got back to me she apologized and explained they were her grandchildren!  Shoot, if she could do this, why not I?

While I sorted materials and made a flexible plan, the day of the lesson arrived and she called to cancel because her niece had been taken to the hospital.  I am well aware that adult students have all kinds of reasons for not moving forward with their goals and that they have real lives to interfere and that sometimes they use excuses to avoid doing the work.  Yet, I heaved a sigh of relief to be given a short reprieve.

I called a few days later to re-schedule.  Yesterday we did finally meet for our first lesson and I will tell you how that went in my next post.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Rest of the Story

Hooper Straight Lighthouse prism, Maryland -- Let there be light!
I neglected to add the postscript to the story of the young woman who has entered my life. When I went to her wedding in early summer I had the opportunity to meet her parents who came in from out-of-state. Her father is ex-military and I honestly forget what he did in between before his retirement. He was a short, stocky, healthy looking man with gray hair and a well-trimmed professorial beard. Her mother was attractive but did look a little timid at times as if she wondered how she ended up at this wedding with a deer in the headlights look. The older sister was a very different type of person from my young friend. I cannot explain, but she was the exact opposite in looks, style and personality that one would have expected. In retrospect both the sister and mother looked very intimidated by the whole evening rather than the joy one would have expected. I did talk to the mother briefly and she expressed surprise that her determined daughter had decided to marry. (As an aside, the groom is a very Westernized Chinese American man from Hong Kong.)

The ceremony was performed by a Chinese-American pastor. It was a small wedding with about 60-70 guests. There was the traditional father-daughter dance which looked lovely.

Then a few months later I learned the following:

She had asked her parents to stay with her at the new home over the wedding weekend. They instead brought up a trailer and stayed in a campground outside the city. When I asked why they did this, she explained she did not actually know, but she was pretty sure it had to do with the fact that her father carries a concealed weapon and that is not allowed in the city. I guess he felt safe enough to stow it during the ceremony, but not staying with your daughter and/or supporting her because you needed to have your weapon is something I cannot get my mind around.

When I had the young woman down for the weekend a few months after the wedding, I asked how her parents were doing. She said she thought they were OK, but her father had unfriended her on Facebook because of her liberal ideas and so she wasn't sure what was going on with them. I read her posts and they are hardly radical or in-your-face. She was very calm about this statement, but I cannot imagine how painful this is for her. Being rejected by your parents publicly is harsh.

My step-nephew unfriended me (most likely because of my liberal posts) but I am fine with that, as he is not an essential part of my life. I still like him, but it seems we cannot agree to disagree.  I would only unfriend someone if they were nasty in their posts to me. Their political agenda is their own.

"I was fond of Pop, in a way.  He had been terribly generous financially, but we did not connect spiritually and had become quite detached.  He never said much about my years of cookery-work, our book, or my appearances on radio and television.  He felt that I had rejected his way of life, and him, and he was hurt by that.  He was bitterly disappointed that I didn't marry a decent, red-blooded Republican businessman, and felt my life choices were downright villainous.  From my perspective, I did not reject him until the point when I could no longer be honest about my opinions and innermost thoughts with him, especially when it came to politics.  As I looked back on it, I think that break---my "divorce" from my father---began with our move to Paris."  Julia Child, My Life in France.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Being Relevant

Two years ago a new young person came into my life.  She is in her 30's and works for one of the security agencies in the government.  I met her through a young relative.  She is smart, hardworking (promoted five levels in six years), pretty in that old-fashioned way, and very strong in what she sees as her life's goals.  While she and I are very similar in philosophy and outlook on life, I was never as strong and brave as her when I was her age...and am still not that brave.  She was also the one that firmed up this relationship between us as I would never assume someone of that generation would find me interesting.

I learned after meeting her that she had told her college roommates that marriage was not an institution to which she ever considered entering.  I was happy two years later to be invited to her wedding.  Her husband is a mellow, smart fellow and fully supportive of  her independent streak.  They met at a Tango club and they CAN tango.  She also said she would  never have children, but that view seems to have changed as well from jokes I heard the last time we were together.

I am so enjoying them as a couple.  Since the young woman has a secure well paying job with the Federal government, the young man has quit a solid job to join a start-up company, run completely by women, hoping for an even better future!  They asked our advice on this and being the person that I am, I told them to go for it as they currently have no children.  They have also purchased a small starter home in the city and I am having fun giving advice on how to create an interior decorating plan.  They both have great taste, so my advice will have little sway.  But since my own children rarely ask me for much advice, except about plants, it  is nice to be a wise old one once again.

While they were here visiting last weekend, I saw the young woman steal a glance into my bedroom as they went down the hall toward the garage.  It surprised me to realize that everything I do in my home decor is now up for scrutiny.  Suddenly I was wondering if I needed to simplify a corner here or there or was it time to change a seasonal color?  Yes, I realize this is a first world middle class concern, but after all the troubles in this world, I am glad to enter the 30-professional-somethings world of finding one's style and way in the world.

I am also glad to be relevant again...even if I am not!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

No Rhyme or Reason

I have had trouble finding something that I wanted to blog about.  Most of what I could share was gray and foggy.  For some time I have been at the place Wordsworth was when he wrote this...

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

I live with someone who starts the day with at least an hour of news.  As the news goes on I can actually feel my energy draining from my body as the bobble heads try to solve the country's and the world's problems.

So when I find the world too much and too close and too smothering there are a few options.  I could have crawled into my bedroom into a fetal position until the mood passed.  I could have finished that half bottle of Malbec in the cooler that the company left behind and wait for the weather to mellow.  I could have posted another political rant on FB (I save rants for "friends" instead of blog readers).  Instead I gave in to the American and now global consumer disease and went shopping.  I had to trade out an old table for one that fit in my small eating area, which also meant I had to get new (unstained and unfaded) tablecloths.  There was nothing I liked in several stores, nothing in colors or patterns that met my taste.  Facing exhaustion, I bought the three that were the only ones that fit, and lo and behold, after cutting some fresh flowers, everything slowly came into focus and rhyme once again!

Now where is that Malbec?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Before Breakfast

While there is a craziness to having house guests, there is also a serendipity to a visit.  One of the young ladies requested the night before at dinner if we could possibly take an early morning canoe trip on the river.  A very easy request to fulfill for early risers such as we because we just slide the canoe into the edge of the water and paddle down one of the fingers on our side of the river.

Sunrises are just as lovely as sunsets.  The weekend water was very quiet as all the tourists and guests were still in bed.

The young lady was in the front of our old Gruman, hubby at the stern and me on a comfortable middle seat with camera in hand.

This finger of the river deadends at the highway, but we had not reached the narrowing of the marsh before the blazing sun blasted through the trees  It turned the mist on the water golden.

By the time we turned to head back home the mist had evaporated and the light from the sun was turning bright and flat.  It was a wonderful pre-breakfast thing to do!