happiness is finding the place where being yourself is exactly what's needed

Friday, June 17, 2011

how do you remember?

Part 1:

I recently read a post called 7 Surprising Facts About Remembering, and I saw something that was, in fact, surprising:

Whether we see ourselves from a first-person or third-person (outsider) perspective in our memories may depend on whether we are male or female, Asian or Causasian. Women more often see themselves as though from the outside.

Wait. What?

That blew my mind. I kept thinking about it as I went for my walk that day. How on earth is it even possible to remember something in the third person? Does anyone who's reading this do that? I really really really want to know.

I don't know if these are dumb questions or not, but here goes. What does it look like? Is it like an out of body experience? Are you watching yourself from somewhere else in the scene, watching things play out from somewhere other than behind your eyes? Like through a window? And, then, does your brain fill in the rest of the scene, since you can't really "remember" what you weren't actually seeing, right (though we all know our brain takes liberties with that sort of thing)?

Or, am I getting it all wrong? Does it mean you're actually picturing the scene in the third person or are you only relating things in the third person, using words like "she" instead of "I" because you don't really associate with your past self?

But, if you see things in your memory in the third person, do you also dream in the third person?What about daydreams? Memories and dreams and daydreams are all pretty closely related. At least, they're made up of pictures, feelings, and other sensations in our minds. So, when you dream, are you actually watching yourself walking through these dream scenes, as if your spirit is watching/guiding your body through it?

Part 2:

Pat Tillet's recent post at Extremely Overdue shows his granddaughter making what looks like a "Oh really? So that's what we're doing?" face, with a posture to match. And I was thinking about how much character, how much personality, people can exhibit at even such a young age.

I remember seeing a video of a 3 year old me pretending to be a rabbit. I smiled, because I could see my personality in my eyes. I could almost tell what I'd been thinking. It surprised me because, before seeing the video, I hadn't realized I'd had a bit of my personality already at 3 years old.

But, I shouldn't have been surprised. We all know that children have personality. If we can remember some of the thoughts we had in gradeschool, then it makes sense that we would have been thinking similarly earlier than that, during those years we can't remember.

For me, it's knowing my own conscious thoughts that give me a sense of identity. (I would've thought it was the same for everyone, but statements like the one above sometimes jar me into realizing that our minds don't necessarily do all the same things.)

If we didn't remember ourselves as our own personalities, we'd be looking back into our own memories and pointing not at "me" but "a child." And we'd remember those around us as "other children." But in our memory, our classmates aren't "other children." They're "the people we know." We have thoughts about them. We recognize them. We recognize not only how they look, but how they act. Personality.

But, does this differ for those who remember things in the third person? Most importantly, does remembering things in the third person mean that you remember more of what's going on around you than what you're thinking?

If so, it stands to reason that you wouldn't recognize those around you as individual people, based on what you may have been thinking about them. You'd only be recognizing them by appearance.

Or am I way off?

Or is it strange that I remember my thoughts better than anything else?

I admit, I don't seem to have as many memories as most of the people I talk to. For instance, if you ask me to remember something from first grade, this is the only thing that comes up:

It's the first day of class. I'm looking around from my seat at all my classmates, identifying all the kids I met in kindergarten last year. A boy sitting near me looks different. He must be Tony, because everyone else is accounted for. I say "Hi, Tony." He tells me his name is actually Scott. I get embarrassed, so I turn and say hi to Billy, instead. I know Billy for sure. He's one of the boys that's always nice.

Later, of course, I learned that the kid I was looking for, Tony, had needed to retake kindergarten. Scott was a new student. I prize memories like this, where I can actually point out having learned something. In this case, I was beginning to realize I shouldn't just assume I knew things until I had the facts.

What I'd like to point out now is that, in my memory, I know Billy is nice. If I were remembering this scene from the third person, instead of from my own eyes and thoughts, would I know "Billy is nice"? Would the memory itself just show me a scene of some children sitting together and me greeting the ones nearest me? Would some other part of my brain relay the information that Billy is nice, as a fact stored in some other place, since I'm not inside my own mind to hear it?

Or would I know I thought Billy was nice at all? Would I only see children sitting together and not identify anything about their personalities, aside from stuff I may have learned about them later?

And, if I had this type of memory, would I remember more about the setting? If I remembered things in this way, would I remember more in general? But how much of that would be actual memory, as opposed to my brain just filling things in?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

thoughts on religion with a cup of coffee

I believe in multiple lives. I believe in kindred souls who find their way to each other one life after the next. We find each other as best friends, siblings, lovers, or strangers who pass each other on the street with a knowing look.

I realize that when I say I consider myself a spiritual person, I'm opening myself up for attack from people who are religious as well as atheists. The minds most drawn to spiritual thinking may tend toward specific relgions, and those whose minds are strongest in scientific areas are known to dismiss all the spiritual beliefs as silliness. There are probably just as many people like me, somewhere in the middle of belief and trying to tie things together as best we can. We just don't talk as much.

I don't talk very much about my spiritual beliefs by themselves, because I don't feel I have anything to prove to anyone. (Though I realize that our spiritual beliefs are a part of who we are and, therefore, they're naturally tied into other things we say and do.) I believe every person has the right to discover their own spiritual beliefs/religion/lack thereof in their own time. I feel that at times when I'm somehow a part of someone else's spiritual journey (or someone else is a part of mine), are souls will naturally be drawn together so we might learn from one another.

Others who try to view the world holistically do feel they have something important to say. Scholarly-drawn minds, no matter their studies, have an the instinct to learn and teach, seek and share, seemingly much more so than the majority of non-scholars. For instance, my current favorite blogger on Psychology Today, Nathan A. Heflick of The Big Questions, uses scientific studies to research human behaviors such as our tendency toward religion and uses his blog to share his speculations on this research. For example, one post is called Could God Be Science?

The tendency toward religion is something I've been wondering about since the beginnings of my own meager studies of psychology, especially as I think more and more over the years about my own beliefs.

I at least have to acknowledge that there may not be "something else out there," as terrifying as such a belief is to me.

Which leads into my speculation that if human beings have had such a tendency for so long throughout history, there must be an evolutionary significance to spiritual belief.

Therefore, even if there are no other lives or afterlives, I might as well stick with what I believe is true, as I'm only one small part of a species, composed of traits somehow valuable to my species.

If animal populations have natural ways of controlling their numbers (such as the occurrence of same-sex attraction), doesn't it make sense that the tendency toward religion could also be one of those things controlled by our biology to evolve the human? The atheists I've heard argue seem to skip right over the point that every way humans can act is a part of human nature and, therefore, at least minimally relevant to science. (We're not just a bunch of stupid silly-heads; we're animals acting according to our instincts.)

My point is the different directions we're prone to head toward in our minds are all perfectly natural. Each one is relevant to our evolution, though it may not be possible, given our ever-limited right-now-focused scope to explain the whys of spirituality or lack thereof in the human.

And, from a more personal (more spiritual) point of view, I feel that every one of these methods of thinking is also important in the development of the soul collecting knowledge of the universe over all its lifetimes.

[image from the LOLCat Bible]

Sunday, June 12, 2011

what i got out of reading fiction as a teenager

I'm not sure if I read a complete novel anytime in 5th through 9th grade. As I mentioned in the previous post, I did not generally read for pleasure. Also, I was very good at faking my way through book reports. I enjoyed writing stories and poems just as much back then, but, without reading, I wasn't growing as a writer.

Luckily for me, I had an amazing young 10th grade English teacher who focused the study of literature around relating to it personally and chose novels with teenage main characters, like Catcher in the Rye.

I remember her introducing that one as a book she didn't really like as a teenager but found an appreciation for later in her education. Whether she was being perfectly honest or not, this introduction let students know it was okay to not really like or "get" the book, that she didn't expect us to pretend we understood things we didn't. It also lit a spark in a certain type of student (the type of student I was) that said, "So, if we get it now, that means we're already smart like college kids." I ended up loving it.

But before we started with the novels, a new interest in reading had already started to grow in me. Partly it was that "new school year" feeling of "this year I'm going to do everything just right and prove how smart/interesting/likable I am." And partly it was that, on the first day of class, I was curiously opening to random pages in our literature text book, hoping something I could relate to would jump out at me, and something did.

It was this poem:

The Crazy Woman by Gwendolyn Brooks

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I'll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I'll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I'll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
"That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May."

We didn't end up covering much poetry in that class, but there were a lot of great reading and writing activities that I still remember fondly. For instance, she had us keep daily journals while reading Go Ask Alice, because the book was written in journal format.

And this novel was an excellent choice, dealing with the timeless struggles of teens searching for independence while also trying to be cool and have friends. It centered around drug use and anorexia, and showed these things in a refreshingly realistic light, as things on the average teen girl's mind more often than not.

At least that's how I remember it. I remember being slightly jealous of Alice's social life, but she lived in a different time period. I told myself that was the main difference between us and, therefore, I could relate to her as a character.

Of course, Alice's drug use leads to an unknown, and likely tragic end, as the book ends with her diary unfinished. So, we could acknowledge the dangers of reckless decisions. And we could speculate on what might have happened to her and were asked to do so in our journals and discussions. For our class, the book wasn't just a warning against using drugs, it was a exercise in thinking. And most of what we were thinking about was what we needed to be thinking about at the time: what it's like to be a teenager and why.

The next book I remember having that kind of impact on me was The Color Purple. We read this book in my 12th grade English class. I don't remember a lot of what actually happened in the books I read in high school, but I do remember what this book did for me:

I began learning real empathy. That people are people and that we can make mistakes and still care for one another. That even if we have different viewpoints on things (like the scarring rituals mentioned in the book) that doesn't necessarily make one person wrong or right.

That sometimes people who might not like each other will find ways to stick together in difficult times. That the real point and beauty of life is in understanding and caring about each other, in loving people for being people.

The characters in this book taught me those things. And they awakened some part of me that set me searching for a place in my time where I could feel that kind of belonging among people, that kind of acceptance and ability to accept.

And the more I explore new places and meet new people, the more I find it, that amazing "it" I started looking for long before I really understood what "it" was, in my early teen years watching music videos like Blind Melon's "No Rain" with the little dancing bee girl. These days I find it everywhere, in music, in places, in the stories people tell, and the genuine kindnesses of fellow people that never fail to surprise me.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention a book I read for pleasure somewhere around my senior year of high school. When I say it was "read for pleasure" I mean "forced on me by my best friend."

I looked at this cover (which I now adore) and thought, "Ah, s&*t, another book about girls and horses. I thought I was done in gradeschool with hearing about how much girls love horses."

Reading the title and description, I thought, "Well, f*#&, it's a story about magic. Are there gonna be wizards with pointy hats and s&*t, casting spells with magic words to do their chores for them?"

But this girl (referred to as DandelionGirl in my blogging) was my best friend. And this quartet - Eep, not just one book, but four! - apparently reminded her of me, and I figured she'd be hurt if I didn't at least give it a try.

If you want to know whether or not reading this book began a lifelong love of reading in me, click here.

The impact "The Immortals Quartet" had on me was profound. Here is why:

1. Even to a closed-minded little jerk skeptic like me, the magic in the story was believable. Daine's strong and complicated magical gift starts as a simple "knack" with animals, as she takes care of them and learns ways to communicate with them. Throughout her story, her power grows steadily and logically. Tamora Pierce creates tales of young people coming into their own unique powers, using coming of age themes relevant to all teens and preteens, such as acceptance, romance, and that budding sense of self.

2. Since the story is set entirely in a fantasy realm, it's pretty much equally easy to relate to for any readers. That's how my love of fantasy novels began. When I first started reading the book, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to connect with it because I was so much older than the main character (at 17, the difference of 5 years was "so much older"). But I found it was easier to relate to a coming of age story set in a fantasy place and time, where the expectations brought by age were different anyway.
I feared that I would eventually lose my ability to enjoy stories like this. It wasn't until years after college that I realized the coming of age stories never get old, as the entire process of being human seems to revolve around continuously "coming of age."

3. Daine was the easiest character for me to relate to personally, ever, in the history of my reading. It wasn't just because she liked to help animals, or that the lead male character reminded me a bit of the guy I was head-over-heals for back then. It was that she had always been different from all the other kids - something many teenagers feel they struggle with, a disorder commonly known as "being a teenager."
Daine was different. And she knew she was different. In more ways than one. But she eventually met people who accepted her for exactly who she was. She wasn't just different, she was weird. Her upbringing was not the type conventional for her time (she's the girl with the unknown father). She didn't have the skills her family had hoped she would have. She didn't have friends. She couldn't really relate to the other kids at all (they made fun of her for being a bastard). She grew up away from the city, and, tended to be more introverted than most, having sensible ideas about things and people that were accurate and inaccurate in a healthy balance. And she has questions regarding her own sanity.
She was the first character I ever thought was as weird as me. My adoration of Daine allowed me to start accepting myself as a person. Made me stop trying to hide things about me from myself. I started to see what friends like DandelionGirl saw in me. I started to like myself.

I spent most of my youth with an inferiority complex. My inability to understand the ways of those around me, find acceptance, and earn people's trust had me believing I was critically flawed. Reading this book started to make me think of myself as a "real person."

So, thank you, DandelionGirl. And thank you, Tamora Pierce.

I hope all readers can be as lucky as me and find their Daine.

why reading fiction isn't stupid

The other day, I was reading this post on the Psychology Today website, which mentions the correlation between reading and empathy. This is another one of those subjects that flits around in my brain like a tripping butterfly, lured to my conscious thoughts from time to time by such readings.

I mentioned in my last post that I believe there is a value in studying literature, but that most schools seem to go about it the wrong way, not giving students the proper opportunity to get anything out of what they're reading.

Students walk out of literature classes thinking, "We read it because it was a classic. We needed to know what happened in it for the test. I didn't really get it, but the teacher seemed to like it."

Teachers go into those lessons thinking, "I really wish the school would spare just a little bit of money for more modern books. Oh well, I guess we make do with what we have."

There's nothing wrong with teaching classic literature, of course. Some of the books I remember liking the most in high school fell onto the list of classic literature (and also onto the list of commonly banned books).

There IS something wrong with teaching a book just because it's a classic, expecting students to read books that barely connect with any modern issues. The novels we think of as classics became classics because, at the time they were written, they made a statement of some type. These books made statements about the times they were written, providing readers with a fresh viewpoint on a CURRENT issue of their society.

So, doesn't this mean that the curriculum should be updated more frequently than once every ten years or so, in order to provide students with easily accessible thinking material and characters they can relate to?

That brings me to the point I was getting at here, what all them smart folk from the above websites have been studying, the link between reading and empathy.

In my younger years, I only very rarely read for pleasure. I did not like most books that I picked up and tried to read, especially the types of sit-com-family children's and teen books that dominated the shelves when I was a child and a teen. I didn't want to read about kids living in the same time as me who had more successes - I already had enough of an inferiority complex from just looking around at the other real kids. I didn't want to read about kids struggling to be popular - I learned very quickly in adolescence that I was too far away from that world (and that there was no logic I could see to determine what "fitting in" actually was).

When I was lucky enough to read a poem, novel, or short story in class that I really connected to, it not only expanded my empathy, it helped to shape who I was.

I once heard - a long way down the grape vine from the source, mind you - that one of the higher ups at my college declared she didn't see what possible value there could be in studying literature.

Having already earned a BA in English Language and Literature at that point, this is an idea I've been shaking around in my brain since. Could there be no point to studying literature?

At certain times I've thought, "Yes, there is no point in studying literature. It should not be taught in schools. Especially novels. Students gain nothing from it. I certainly didn't gain anything from half the crap I had to read in high school and college."

But then I remember the other half. The stuff that wasn't crap. The stories that gave me new philosophies or helped me to discover myself.

Which brings my view to this: There is no point in studying literature for the sake of studying literature. The purpose of this study, as well as any study, is to bring the learner to new understandings. Therefore, the books chosen for students to read (at least in K-12) should be chosen ENTIRELY on their potential to encourage the reader to learn more about the self, the current society, and other people inhabiting the current society.

There are a lot of dusty old boring books out there that aren't as accessible to student readers today as in times past. And there are a lot of shallow teen smut books written by adults who want to make money and have long ago forgotten that teens are perfectly capable of understanding complex ideas and important social issues. It seems like people try to avoid one of these categories by choosing the other.

But there's a whole world of excellent literature out there, new and classic alike, which can help build a bridge from the self to a new understanding. Many of these can be found on lists of frequently banned books.

- - - I've come to realize over the years just how lucky I was in high school that most of the required reading can be found on the ALA list of the top 100 banned/challenged books of 1990-1999 (when I was in school). I'll probably take the next post or two to mention some of these books and what I got out of them as a teenager. Then I'll move onto another topic, honest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

standardized living (from school to the workforce)

My friend Jenaphur's most recent post at Cake In A Blender (go visit and congratulate her on her B in math and A++ Criminology test) provided me the opportunity to approach a subject I'd been thinking about earlier this week from a slightly different angle of crazy-lady rant.

In the post, she shares the powerpoint she made for her presentation on the Stanford Prison Experiment. She says "The class seemed interested, most couldn't believe that it was just an experiment, and the teacher said that he had never heard of it. I thought that was a little odd."

I can't remember if this experiment is something I learned in high school or college Psychology class, but I do remember learning of it very early on in my Psychology education. So, I found it a little odd that no one there had heard of it before.

Then, I posted a comment that said this: thanks for sharing your powerpoint. i remember discussing this in psychology class. if the other students hadn't heard of it, it's probably because things that could help people understand each other and their society (psychology, sociology, etc.) are not deemed as important in schools as the things that are on standardized tests.

This is true. We can't deny it. When I was doing my student teaching (at a time when I was still considering being a teacher and rode dinosaurs to school), I was asked by the coordinating teacher to create a unit plan for the 9th grade advanced class on "Lord of the Flies". Now, all teachers have slightly different educational backgrounds and will therefore relate reading material to the real world in slightly different ways. My taking 20 minutes of class to give the students a quick barebones explanation of Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego was met with an attitude of "do you really want to waste class time on something like this?"

In my opinion, a teacher skipping a brief discussion of Id while having the class read "Lord of the Flies" is like asking them to do algebra without teaching them how to add. (And maybe soon I'll blog a rant about why teaching literature is important and why I think most people are doing it wrong.)

Of course, there doesn't seem to be anyone in particular to blame for the way our current education system is run. Everyone involved is just doing their job. And, what's the point of trying to teach students holistically, in ways that will make learning more valuable to them, when adult society also seems run by standardized tests?

As you know if you've visited my blog before, I've been unemployed for over half a year now. This means in this past months, I've filled out a lot of job applications. Allow me to get nostalgic for a moment . . .

Remember when applying for some minimum wage retail/grocery store position only required you to give your name, address, work history, and references? Those were the good old days of "If you want to know what kind of person I am, meet me." When people weren't screened out through lengthy questionnaires on the internet.

Now almost all of these positions require not only a thorough background check - a couple places even asked me to remember every job and address I've had for the last ten years - but also a personality inventory of anywhere from 40 to 100 questions.

These questions are multiple choice and aimed to screen out liars, sociopaths, and others of questionable attitudes. I've never taken the MMPI, but I've often wondered if these questions came from there. The testing method certainly did.

So, as you can see, standardized tests are now used not only to determine our knowledge and intelligence, but also what kind of person we are. Employers can rest assured that the answers to multiple choice questions will provide them with the best workers.

I find this method horribly offensive. Back when I was less desperate, I wouldn't even bother applying to places that required me to do one of these tests. I figured it was their loss, because everyone I've ever worked for has found me to be an above average or even excellent worker.

Some of the questions are have pretty obvious answers, like "If a customer seems to want help, do you help them, ignore them, or kick them in the shins?" Other questions are really vague, and I never have any idea how to answer them (a lot like some of the vague questions that would show up on multiple choice tests in school).

An example of one of those questions is "Do you fake being polite?" I answer this question with "No," because that's the correct answer. I do not fake being polite. I am most often genuinely polite. However, I've always suspected that this question could mean "Are you sometimes polite to people even when you don't want to be?" (Because that would be a more logical question to have on a test for potential employment.) In which case, the answer I should select would be "Yes," as I feel that being polite to people is an essential part of acting professional.

So, it's possible I always answer that question wrong. It's possible that many potentially great employees are being weeded out from the wording of certain questions. Hell, I've even found spelling and grammatical errors in these tests. I'm usually not picky about that sort of thing, but the tests used to evaluate human beings should at least be evaluated themselves for traits like comprehensibility.

What I'm wondering, I guess, is why we've chosen to evaluate the worth of other people on scales few of us even understand. Do the companies who choose to use these tests even know what prospective employees are being quizzed on? Do the leaders in our school system have any idea why we've chosen the subjects we have as the most important for students to know, or what those test scores really say - if they say anything - about a student's potential success later in life?