Saturday, April 20, 2013

Salisbury Synchronicity

This winter I wrote a short story about one of my personal heroines, "Ela of Salisbury" for the HerStory Anthology published in March.  It was synchronized by Pagan Writers Press and editor Tara Chevresett to coincide with Women's History Month.  I am delighted to be a part of their project.  We have been submitting blog posts for the HerStory blog each month to expand our thinking as women about our many and varied stories.  I am working on one for them about my neighbor's mother who escaped Russia in a wagon during WWII and ended up in Belgium after serving on a Polish farm and even experiencing a German "camp". My neighbor was born in a wagon on the road. 
I also wrote about my Ela, and how I came to write the story after a tour of Salisbury Cathedral in 2010.  I was so impressed by our tour guide that I did more research and began Ela's story when the call for submissions came in the last winter.  I may write more about her.  She deserves a novel.
Imagine how thrilled I was this week when I discovered the noted children's author Cornelia Funke had written a YA novel that included Ela and her husband William Longspee as spirits in Ghost Knight. (You should follow the link to Funke's website.  Very cool!) I quickly bought it for my Kindle and read it practically over night.  It is fun and well written.  Her research parallels mine.  I was reading about people and places I knew.
When I finished the book, I read her account of going to Salisbury Cathedral and learning about Ela and William from the German guide there.  Funke is German.  Well I know that guide!  It is Roger, the man who practically adopted Eric and I for a 3 hour private tour of Salisbury Cathedral.  He told us all about Ela and William and that he usually gives the German tours..  No wonder Funke's work and mine run along the same train track!  What a coincidence!
Of course I do not really believe in coincidence.  I was an investigator for too many years for that.  And spiritually speaking, the word is synchronicity. The disparate things come together for a reason, even if it is just a good laugh.  On the other hand, right now I seem to have many writing projects all coming together at once.  I feel challenged to balance all of them and juggle the PR. At a recent moon circle with my pagan community, I received a message from my grandfather.  I wrote about it a few days ago in my pagan blog Anemone's Assays. It seems my Grandfather Russell was the Earl of  Salisbury in a past life.  He said he would help my promote my books.  I know that probably makes me sound alike a daft old bat, but past life regression is one of the skills my partner Eric and I have.  We conducted a workshop in it last weekend.  Oh!  Another coincidence! (I am starting to laugh here.)
Overall, I have a couple three months of head shaking to figure out.  Of all the heroic women I picked Ela to write about, mostly because of the tour we took in Salisbury.  I signed up for Goodreads by accident really, and found The Ghost Knight there.  I read it immediately and saw the author knew all the same things I knew (and a few more) about Ela.  I checked her out and realized she had been inspired by the same tour guide.  I had hinted Roger the tour guide might have been William reincarnated, but then received a message from my own grandfather that it was he, and there would be help forthcoming for my writing career. Then I had another short story accepted and a nibble on my novel.  And all this happened as I prepared another workshop on past life recall and Earth School, how we travel in soul groups and help each other through our lessons.  Yes, I got that.  Sort of . I think.
Me on the streets of Salisbury 2010. photo by Eric Reynolds

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"What so ever things are true, think on these things"

I hate being manipulated.  I am resistant to most advertising.  I absolutely refuse telephone solicitations.  I have a rule never to give money to people who call for donations.  If they follow up by mail so I can check them out, then I will consider it.  Twice in the last month I have been contacted for donations to children with cancer by an organization I have never heard of.  I asked for written material so I could check them out with the State and also to see how much of every dollar goes to the professional fund raiser.  They ended the call.  Yep. Thought so.
Now we are confronted with the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings.  A friend of my warned people on Facebook about false postings of children injured while running.  There were no children running in the marathon.  It is a bogus meme that people fail to authenticate before passing on the horror.  If we stopped to think for a moment, we would know children don't run marathons. Such postings are crass bids for attention.
My friend Wendy went on to explain a psychologist had given this phenomena perspective, not that either of us like it any better.  We both hide such memes from our newsfeed. The psychologist indicates that these viral messages intend to upset people and manipulate them into passing them around.  Sharing the horror apparently reduces the individual angst with an empty gesture which brings us all down. Meanwhile everyone passing on the horror gets to appear compassionate and, I might add ,powerful.  "Look how many shares are attached to my message of horror!"
This is an emotional level manipulation aimed at people who have poor shielding skills.  Then we wonder why so many are depressed, angry and critical of this world.  They are shills for people who want to think the worst, who believe the only direction we are all headed is to hell in a hand basket.
There is another insidious trend by gullible people, who knows who started it, that claim these violent events are bogus, the pictures are photo shopped and the government is using us by playing on our heart strings. That is equally crass.  I have family who were there.  Who even thinks these things?
Overall, however, I am encouraged. This time, in this terrible event, the images are increasingly of compassion, bravery and stubborn insistence on the goodness of people. The manipulators are losing the spotlight. I particularly like the number of people reminding each other to "look for the helpers." I am cheered by the people who ran to give blood, who opened their homes to shelter tired runners, who keep sending positive images.  MIT lit up the side of its green building in red white and blue.  The President said this is who we are: unafraid and brave. We are not a people to be manipulated.  We are not ones to be fooled. And neither are those of you reading this message. Next time you see something stupid on Facebook, block it.  Wipe it out.  We won't stand for that.  Not anymore.

File:Marathon Runners.jpgI heard Johnny Lee Miller in an interview this morning.  He was on The View to promote Elementary, his Sherlock Homes TV show. He is a marathon runner so Barbara Walters asked him for his thoughts.  He spoke about the incredible love among people in the running community, that as shocking as this recent violence is, it will not discourage that love and interdependence.  I liked that.  The picture I added here just to brighten the page is of a European marathon from 2008, Swiss I think.  Running is a world community.  They again bring out the best in human kind. And the best will always win. It doesn't matter who comes in first.  My cousin's daughter ran for charity in the Boston Marathon, to provide PT services for people whose insurance doesn't cover that.  She is okay, though I imagine shock sets in a bit.  I am immensely proud of her and her friends who joined the event for charity.  People like her steer the world in the right direction. We need to follow their lead, tell their stories and pass the good words around every day.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Teaching and Learning

Photo: Revolutionary Images

I saw this quotation on Facebook today and it made me think about all the educational reform that is bandied about these days.  Frankly, too much of it focuses on students of any age sitting still and listening.  What they learn that way will soon be dismissed as irrelevant. 
Students will learn more and retain it when they can see information in action, preferably their own actions.  I think one of the attraction of the electronic age students live in is that visual and inter active connection. Students can see and do on Facebook, in games, on their phones, with their e-readers.  I am just like them.  I want pretty pictures and I want to be able to do something with the information,
A state test will not measure that method of teaching.  Tests are set up to be a feedback of memorized facts, at least in so far as they are short answer questions.  Assessing our schools that way means we get exactly what we don't want.  Students learn for the test and then go about their business. 
If we want students engaged in learning data, how to think, how to evaluate and how to create something new, then we need to set different goals--goals that have nothing to do with percentiles and rankings against the national average.
Here is what a day in the life of a student should be.
1.  Arrive at school and check in to yoga class.  Spend 30 minutes in peaceful meditation, breathing and challenging asanas. Alternatively, every other day could be set for cardio vascular training through aerobic dance, Zumba or something like that.
2. Math class.  Students are in age appropriate levels, working with objects that represent numbers, equations, geometric shapes and so on.  They work on paper and figure out how to use physical objects to illustrate the mathematic principle.  Children learning fractions, for example, have shapes that break apart in 4ths, 5th, and 8ths.  They learn how to perform the mathematical functions with fractions and how to move the shapes about to check their work. They experiment with pennies as fractions of a dollar and apply their concepts of fractions to money.
Older students learning triangles set up towers and a light source to figure the hypotenuse instead of relying on a picture in the book. Sure, it is quicker to read it than to apply it, but which way will stick in their memories?
3. English class.  Students read novels, see the related movie and then write or re-write their own versions with different endings.  They act out their own scripts.  The good ones make it to the school assembly. They write reviews of each others work.  Spelling, grammar and punctuation always count.
4. Science class.  Every class has an equal amount of instruction and lab experience. When they write up the lab reports, spelling and grammar count.
5. Music class is performance as a group and as individuals. Students learn new music, practice and perform.  The best ones again are showcased at an assembly.
6. History class.  Students learn about ideas that drive history, events that hide behind battles.  The significances of history is something other than battles and dates.  How do the arts and sciences fit in to the events we call history?  Students create and re-create significant moments in the history of ideas.  They try the experiments, make timelines that show how ideas interrelate, and set up models of the geography that underlies the history. Resource people speak with the classes about their collections or personal experience. Students interview them and write news articles about them. They do dramatic readings of great speeches and important documents. 
7. Foreign language. Students have total immersion in the language using a combination of Rosetta stone type discs and conversation in the class room.  This is combined with culture sampling, films, food and fashion.  They study history from the view point of the other country. They learn about noble prize winners from that nation. They find artists, musicians and actors from that place who may be unknown here.  They read key newspapers from other countries or visit news websites. 
8. Art Class. Students learn how to represent what they see and feel with visual art.  They look at art and create art.   The talking about art grows spontaneously out of the observations and creative work.

Sure, it is more complicated than that.  Sure there are more subjects including computer literacy, keyboard instruction, accounting, and more, but if none of it touches the heart or changes the individual, what good is it?

Monday, April 1, 2013

So Have Women Made Progress or Not?

Our local paper is The Finger Lakes Times, an award winning daily in the small market size.  Unlike some papers, it is faithfully there ever afternoon (except Saturday) and every Sunday morning.  None of this downsizing to e-news part of the week.  I am grateful.  I like sitting with the newspaper after dinner like my Grandmother Abrams did.  I feel her reading over my shoulder and helping with the crossword.

Sunday there was an important editorial by Betty M. Bayer, professor and chair of Women's Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva NY. In "Important Anniversaries in March..."she wrote at the end of women's history month about the absence of women in the history books, in Wikipedia, in the Vatican, and amongst the shakers and movers in current events; even though women have places of importance, even though women have positive media role models.  She notes that the ERA never passed, that women still have lesser expectations than their brothers, that women of achievement are the exception not the rule.

I suppose one could argue most men of achievement are also exceptions.  Too many people settle for less, still the choice of the individual and the push from family are still sex based.  Just this week the buzz on The View was about Susan Patton graduate of Princeton urging young women to pick their mates in college where the pool of candidates is greatest rather than pick their careers. Have we returned to an Ivy League MRS program? Evidently our female contributions to the gene pool are still more important than our intellectual contribution to society. 

In fact in her editorial Bayer states that the top job for women is still secretary or administrative assistant.  I'm not certain how she defines "top job", but I am appalled.  If that is the glass ceiling most women bump up against, we have failed to make much of a difference for most women.  I know many women who are professionals and live with power and creativity.  I also know that a notable feminist or two have been on Facebook in their retirement facing financial disaster.  They were our founding foremothers.  This should not be.  I know my encouragement to young girls interested in animals to consider veterinary schools to become a doctor instead of a tech goes over the heads.

So is lowering of one's career sites about mom and dad's expectations?  Is it about academic opportunities available to girls? There seem to be more women in college than men.  Is this about women's invisibility in history class because we teach it as it has always been taught? Are we still compelled by gender to consider happiness tied to marriage? Do we think that sound fiscal planning, health insurance and a retirement plan are somehow up to the men in our lives? I don't know. Some of these very big questions are driven behind the scenes by market forces who do not always see women.  I do know my Grandmother Abrams would shake her head in disbelief.  How could we still be asking these questions in the 21st century? She would have found Bayer's article as alarming as I did.