Wednesday, April 27, 2016

For readers new and old...

So what is Points of Inflection about, anyhow?

It started out with my involvement in the GreenFaith program.  I wanted to think in a numerate and faith-based way about the way the world changes when we human beings are no longer a (physically) small "disturbance" on the surface of nature, but have become the "main event".  This change is the "point of inflection".  If you can spend ten minutes with me on video, this TEDx talk gives an introduction to some of these ideas.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Memories VIII: Twentyfirst Birthday

For his twenty-first birthday, in 2015, we took Eli out for dessert at the Nittany Lion Inn.  Of course, he wanted to order a glass of wine along with his dessert; and, of course, the server wanted to see his ID. No surprise there.

The surprise came later.  The alert server had spotted that the day was his actual birthday and (without saying anything to us) had upgraded the presentation of the chocolate-raspberry torte (already rich and delicious) to something a little more... elaborate


 Eli's expression was a delight to behold

It was a beautiful moment.  Yes, in one way, it is probably good business to act like this (I made sure to write the hotel manager a nice letter).  But I remember it more as aa matter of someone paying attention, looking out for an opportunity to bring a blessing, when they could just have got on with their job.  I believe - and I think Eli believed this too - that opportunities to bring blessing in this way are all around us, if only we will make ourselves open to them.  I truly want to do that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Memories VII: Emily's Adventures

Miriam wrote a book of three short stories when she was in second grade. (The book won a competition and you can find it in Schlow Memorial Library in State College). The stories are about Emily, "a wacky third grader who lives with her mother and father and her baby brother George.  Her cat Kelly is mostly bad-tempered and scratches a lot."    Here's the first one: Emily Goes to the Moon.  I think it shows her love of wordplay and self-deprecating humor from an early age...

One day, Emily’s mother was baking chocolate chip cookies.  Emily was reading a book about outer space.  “Mom, do you think I can go to outer space some day soon?” asked Emily.  “No, I don’t” said her mother.  “Do you think I could build a rocket ship then?” asked Emily.  Mother said “You could build one out of cardboard that wouldn’t . . .”, but she didn’t get to finish.


Emily was already upstairs gluing cardboard together. When her rocket ship was built, Emily cut a hole for a window right about where her eyes would be. She put clear red plastic over the window. Emily brought the finished rocket ship outside. She loaded it with pillows, a blanket, five filled water pistols and her toy rabbit, Lucy. “Get ready for take off!” yelled Emily. 





Just then a red cat appeared in the window.  “Martians!” cried Emily, grabbing her water pistol.  She rushed outside the rocket ship.  Splash!  The water hit Kelly the cat.  Kelly jumped up and scratched Emily, then ran away.  “I’m never going to the moon again!” said Emily as she got out the first aid kit.
 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Memories VI: Sit Up So I Can Slap You

The Prow
Back in 2010, I set off with Aaron McMillan to climb The Prow, a classic 12-pitch aid climb, "spectacularly steep and exposed", on the Washington Column on the north side of Yosemite Valley.  I was leading a bit less than half way up when the piece of gear I was moving up onto pulled out, sending me on a thrilling midair ride that ended with an awkward impact with the wall and a broken ankle. After an operation, a few days in hospital, a few more days with Aaron's wonderfully welcoming family, and a red-eye flight back from the Bay Area, I arrived home on crutches in the mid-morning.  It was a weekday, so Miriam was away at school.

Liane brought me home, helped me get something to eat, and settled me on the couch - my instructions were to keep the leg elevated as much as possible.   I read a book, drank some tea no doubt, and then the expected thing happened after a red-eye; I dozed off.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Memories V: Tree Pose

Tree pose
One morning, Eli taught me the secret of the tree pose.

We were in San Diego over spring break.  The avowed purpose of our trip was to visit renowned psychopharmacologist Dr Stephen Stahl, but was also took in a couple of shows and the San Diego Zoo.  This was in the early stages of Eli's transition, so every time a server in a restaurant called us "Gentlemen" we got to exchange a secret high-five.

Anyhow, in the hotel room one morning we were doing some stretches and exercises together, and Eli demonstrated the tree pose to me.  I told him I had tried it before, but that I fall over every time.

"The problem is where you focus your attention", Eli told me.  "It's natural to focus the attention on your left foot" (that being the one I was unsuccessfully attempting to balance on).  "Instead, focus on your right foot and the way you are pushing it into your left thigh."

It seems counterintuitive advice - take your energy and focus off the critical point, the point of balance, and focus on somewhere else instead.  But I tried it and, rather to my surprise, it worked.  Almost instantly, I could maintain the tree pose!  (Well, not very elegantly. But at least I did not fall over.)

I think of Eli every time this pose comes up as part of my own exercise routine.  And I remember the key idea of mindfully focusing one's attention.  This is, as I understand, a component of DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) practice, and I believe that it is a skill that made it possible for Eli to be present with love and compassion for others, even in the midst of his own pain and distress which clamored for attention. I hope that I am able to follow that path.


Tree pose image by Flickr user Jenni Froedrick, reproduced under Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Memories IV: Parenting and the Bystander Effect

This memory is sparked by some writing I have been doing for a textbook.  So it doesn't start off in the same sort of very personal place that some of my other memories of Eli or Miriam have. (It will get there soon enough.)  Instead, what got me thinking was writing about research on the Bystander Effect.



The Bystander Effect is a well-documented phenomenon in social psychology.  Suppose that someone is the victim of some kind of emergency (like a heart attack or a traffic accident or even an assault).  Then, the more bystanders witness the emergency, the less likely it is that the victim will receive help from any of them.  In 1968, social scientists John Darley and Bibb LatanĂ© conducted a famous experiment in which they showed that the chance of a single bystander intervening in a staged emergency situation was 85 percent, but this dropped to 31 percent when five bystanders were believed to be present. Somehow, the fact that other people are not intervening "licenses" me not to intervene also - even though, were I alone, I would clearly see my duty to help.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Memories III: Renaissance Faire

SCAHS Ren Faire 2011
For many years our house was full of sewing.  Miriam - and later Eli - loved to create clothing: fashionable apparel like Pokemon-inspired prom dresses, zany insect costumes, work for the theater department at Penn State and even for a London staging of The Lion King.  Her greatest joy, though, was to create garb for the high school Renaissance Faire, and to help other participants to create their own garb too.