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Amy Shearn (558 posts)
A musician and teacher, Bert Dince was an ordinary man, like most of our fathers, and like most of our fathers, also the most important person in the world. After his death, his son found himself calling all of his father's students to tell them the news, and "throughout each call, I heard stories about how my dad had influenced so many lives. About how he helped his students uncover their natural musical abilities. I learned that my dad was not only a teacher to his students, but also a mentor, a father figure, and an extraordinary example of unconditional love. I know there’s an old adage that says, 'You can’t be all things to all people,' but Bert Dince was." (Read the rest of the blog post for the moving story of what happened at the memorial service.)
"Each man's life touches so many other lives." So said everyone's favorite angel, Clarence Oddbody. (You know, from the Frank Capra movie "It's a Wonderful Life." ) He was talking about George Bailey, but he was also talking about Bert Dince, and he was talking about my dad, and yours, and everyone's.
Remembering a Crazy-in-a-Good-Way Father
A Digital Fatherhood
Last year, Lisa Bloom's book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World came out, and started a nationwide (and Internet-wide) conversation about how we talk to our little girls, and how simply saying different things to them (and encouraging reading and thinking) can help them grow up to be smart women. Boys, presumably, were doing okay. After all, men have it easy in today's world, right? I mean, they never have to wait in line for a public bathroom. How hard can their lives be?
Well, guess what. Bloom's new book -- Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture (can this lady rock a subtitle or what?) -- is out, and now she is telling us that our boys are in trouble too. (I know. Bummer.) Apparently, we are not expecting enough of our boys, and in this way, undermine their early development. Bloom writes for The Huffington Post, "The new cultural trope is that girls naturally mature faster, that they have better innate verbal skills, and so pushing young boys to read is unrealistic and vaguely unfair to their boyness...Boys today do worse on national reading tests compared to their own gender a generation ago." And what's more, "Poor readers -- mostly boys -- struggle to read textbooks and tests in all subjects. They get suspended, expelled, flunk out and drop out at alarming rates - the majority of our African-American and Latino boys (who have the lowest reading proficiency of all) drop out of high school, with white boys faring only slightly better."
I admit to a sinking feeling of guilt upon reading this. My son is only 14 months old, but I already hear myself saying things all the time like, "Oh no, he doesn't really have any words yet. His sister did by now, but you know - boys!" As if I accept -- even expect -- that this smart kid is nothing more than a hammer-, truck-, ball-obsessed little caveman. How can our low expectations begin so early? Knowing that kids rise to the expectations (or lack thereof) we set out for them?
Thankfully, one of Bloom's solutions is, you guessed it, reading to our sons. "Make your home a reading mecca," she writes. "Kids with parents who read for pleasure are six times more likely to do so themselves -- and their grades shoot up." This I can handle. As soon as my little caveman stops hitting his sister over the head with that board book.
Lisa Bloom on How to Talk to Little Girls
The Bond Between a Mother and a Son
It's a strange thing to be so unaccustomed to silence. To associate the sounds of leaves rustling and one's own heartbeat with ominous moments in horror movies. And that's just external quiet -- how many of us can imagine taking a vow of silence ourselves? We so often go through our days in a din, our ears plugged with music, our mouths talking talking talking. Wouldn't silence keep us from communicating, prevent us from connecting with our thoughts, and, you know, scare the crap out of us?
Writer Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston posed this question (sort of) to the Trappist Monks of Oka Abbey, in Quebec. Trappist Monks are known for being the only Western order that practices silence (it's not technically a "vow of silence," as he explains). Mesiano-Crookston explains that it was "their dedication to the enshrinement of silence" that compelled him to reach out to them. He wanted to know how the silence works, and what it does for them. So he interviewed them -- via email, of course.
Their answers are illuminating: "The silence does make me aware of my inner workings, however, what we call in the monastery, 'self-knowledge.'...Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself...I've become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps—just paying attention to my surroundings."
Identifying unseen monks? Wait, does a vow of silence come with superpowers? As much as the idea of so much silence makes me feel, I have to admit, immediately claustrophobic -- the way the monk describe it makes it sound like it might just be the key to something, to way to some mindful way of living and connecting to the world itself, not to mention developing your own inner resources. Another wrote: "On yet another level, silence means listening."
The monks' thoughts on silence make me wonder whether my own country-weekend aversion to silence might have been standing in for some larger noisiness in our lives. As one monk put it, "Silence is an aid and not an end in itself. It aids prayer, communal and private, and seeks to reduce distractions." We are so unused to really contemplating our own thoughts, the world around us, or really anything -- could it be the enormity of this that made a country weekend of quietude feel like a daunting prospect? According to the monks: "When there is lot of noise or movement around you, it’s tough to take notice of what you’re going through." So that's every waking moment of my life. No wonder I feel so scattered and, you know, un-monk-ish.
How might some moments of silence help you to focus on what you're going through?
For more on how silence works, and for the surprising connection the monks make between the noisy life and loneliness, read the entire essay here at The Awl.
How Silence Can Make You More Creative
The Quest for Quiet in a Noisy World
An unforeseen consequence of becoming an adult (it occurred to me the other day while rocking out at the library sing-along) is that you must regularly act a fool. You HAVE to. And I'm not just talking about parents who find themselves running around as if lobotomized, belting out nursery rhymes into the faces of their fussy children in public. I'm talking about anyone who's ever had to present a possibly-genius-possibly-ludicrous idea in a meeting, give a toast at a wedding, or try out the colorful-skinny-jeans trend. Don't tell those preteens nervously giggling in a self-conscious huddle, but in adulthood, as it happens, you just have to give in and not worry about looking silly sometimes.
Which leads me to this video of Jimmy Fallon, Carly Rae Jepsen, and The Roots performing the song "Call Me Maybe," while playing classroom instruments. (It adds to my enjoyment of this that I have no idea of the context. To me, this appeared in my twitter feed as just some grownups stuffed into a room and rocking out.) No offense to third graders everywhere, but who knew kazoos, bongos, recorders, tamborines, triangles, and rainbow xylophones could sound so catchy? I can't stop watching this jangly, poppy, moment of pure fun. Who needs self-consciousness? We don't have time to try to play it cool. We're grownups. So grab a piano whistle...
The "Call Me Maybe" Cover That Started a Meme
Kwela Dance Video > Coffee
Mr. Rogers Remix
Passionate Gotye Lip Dub
The Most Fun Family Band
What do you do when people ask you what to do when visiting your town? Do you provide an itinerary of favorite views? A list of the best places to eat? Suggestions based on smell? ("Here's where the chocolate factory is, but stay away from the fish market!") Does it ever occur to you to send them to the places that sound the best? I admit, I'd never thought of this until I saw Nicola Hume's great concept Listen Here. Check it out:
a concept like Nicola Hume's to get people to think this way about their hometowns at all.
(via Laughing Squid)
Time-Capsule Vacation in Your Own Hometown
The Allure of Traveling Solo
My husband once told me that he pictured my mind as a frazzled guy with a butterfly net, constantly running around and trying to swoop things up into it. It's true. Sadly these are not butterflies of Profound Big Thoughts. It's more like -- fwoosh -- there goes a Thing I've Got To Do butterfly. Flit flit -- that's a Thing I Forgot To Do butterfly. Oh, and look -- the rare Thing I Read Somewhere Once or Heard on NPR and Partially Remember butterfly. And look who's back! Email I Meant to Send butterfly!
But Mr. Rogers, eternal font of tender wisdom, has ambitions for the crowded butterfly pavilion between my ears. See also: this sweet "Garden of Your Mind" video, remixing everyone's favorite neighbor. "You can grow anything in the garden of your mind," Mr. Rogers says. I mean, auto-tune-sings. A garden is good. A garden is ordered, cared-for, a safe and productive place for growth. Here you can still have the butterflies, but they serve an actual purpose. After all, we're always telling our children to be creative, to think big thoughts, to be kind to themselves and others -- but how many of us grown-ups remember to follow that same advice? As always, Mr. Rogers recalls all that is innocent and good. And now, you can dance to him.
Jim Henson's Surreal Meditation on Time
Bill Simmons, possibly the most thoughtful sports fan there is, wrote an essay on crying about sports for the site Grantland called "The Consequences of Caring." He writes about the first time his daughter, a Kings fan, cried over sports: "I remained sympathetic while being secretly delighted, like she had passed some sort of 'Fledgling Sports Fan' hurdle or something." This is an essay about caring really an extra lot about sports. (Simmons writes, "Of the 75 greatest moments of my life, sports were involved in at least 20 of them") But it's also an essay about a father and a daughter, and about really caring about something, and about caring about what the people you care for care about. (Got that?)
Simmons wants to share his love of sports with his daughter because it's such a big part of his life. He doesn't even care if she latches onto a rival team, because after all, "Sports is a metaphor for life. Everything is black and white on the surface. You win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo, and most of all, you care." He just wants her to care, like he does. And when he realizes that she cares deeply enough to cry, he knows that on this level they understand each other.
Whether you and your father root for the same team or for mortal rivals, how nice, how lucky, if you can share an interest, whether it's sports or politics or rococo frescos. Everyone should have something they care about enough to cry over. And having someone who understands that beloved something can be one of the greatest gifts there is.
The Best Father's Day Gift Idea
Women Remembering Their Dads
And I extra-love any efforts to prove this unprovable thing, such as the Victorian precursor to shows like "Ghost Hunters," AKA, spirit photography. These deeply strange, obviously (to our modern, Photoshop-weary eyes) faked photographs of wispy spectres were the spiritualism-obsessed Victorians' proof that ghosts loitered around the living, trying to chat with us. What an appealing, if spooky, idea! How, like the Fox Mulder of yore, I want to believe!
Whether you believe in spirits or not, the Vintage Spirit Photography pool on Flickr is an engaging way to fill your eyeballs for a time. One thing is certain: these images -- a shadowy child posing pertly on a woman's shoulder; a translucent ex-girlfriend frowning over a proposal -- are 100% verifiable proof that we have always wanted to connect to another realm, to believe that there is, in fact, some there out there.
A Must-Read Novel About Spiritualism
How to be Attuned to Spiritual Information
The Difference Between a Psychic and a Medium
To be honest, I still find it unsettling to learn that landmarks and places that seem as permanent as California have the ability to up and leave us. And, like that wise fifth-grader I once knew, I like to take into account impending disappearances when planning my travel. Like so many aspiring adventurers, I've had trips to the Alps, the Galapagos Islands, and the Great Barrier Reef planned since I first cracked open a National Geographic Magazine. I just always figured, you know, later. When I'm old. Really old.
Then I saw this somewhat chilling infographic from Earth Xplorer: 10 Places to go Before They're Gone. Some of the most exciting travel destinations in the world are disappearing, some of them shockingly quickly. We might only have 25 years to visit the Congo Basin, 5 years for that bucket-list-worthy trip to the Taj Mahal. So check out this infographic, and map out some life travels accordingly. Here's a hint: visiting the cousins in California can wait.
Pick the Perfect Vacation Destination
10 Marvels of the World
Catherine Shefski was one such perfectionist-procrastinator. An accomplished pianist, she realized that amidst teaching piano and living her life, she was overlooking her own piano playing. So she decided to start recording one piece of music every week, calling her project Go Play. The results are lovely bits of music (what is it about solo piano that always sounds so haunting, so perfectly happy-sad?) -- and to this (admittedly very untrained) ear, they sound, well, perfect. Shefski chronicles the process on her blog, where she's noted how nervous it makes her to post these songs, which are sometimes, surprise, just not as perfect as she wants. As she writes in one post, "It took a lot of will power this morning not to do 'just one more' recording of this Scarlatti Sonata... My goal was to finally learn this piece, since I’ve loved it for years. It’s not difficult by any means, but I’m never totally satisfied with the opening ornaments ...But there it is. I did it. It’s the best it is right now. And I’m putting it out there. I’m letting it go." The way Shefksi writes about playing piano makes me believe I love playing piano too, even though I've never mastered much beyond Chopsticks on a toy keyboard. But she loves what she does. And now, with this project, she is actually doing it.
You hear that, procrastinator-perfectionists? Put it out there. Let it go. And play.
Face Your Perfectionist
How to Reach Your Dreams