Learning How to Learn

My daughter is studying for her SAT—her college admissions test. I never took the SAT because I got a D in Algebra in high school, twice. I took the class again, to advance to geometry, but got the same grade, forced to take it from the same teacher that didn’t explain anything the first time. No, it isn’t “just the way it is,” Mr. Mulvaney. Even algebra has a reason for why it works the way it does.

I didn’t take the SAT because I was afraid I’d fail it with no math background. In fact, every time I even thought of math, I felt anxious. I was a failure, stupid if I didn’t get it, as most of my classmates seemed to. I couldn’t apply to a California university, or any four year college worth attending without taking the SAT. Instead, I attended Jr College for two years before transferring over to CSUN. I studiously avoided math classes, as they were not required after high school.

Fast forward 5 years, and I want to apply to graduate school to study Education. Not only will I have to take GRE, which will have math, but before that, to apply to the best colleges, I have to have teaching experience, in a real classroom, which will require I pass the CBEST, which has math. Panic. How was I supposed to pass any standardized test when I never passed algebra, and never advanced to higher levels of math that was sure to be on these tests?

Enter my friend, Bert. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you algebra, and geometry, and any other basic math you need. You’ll pass the tests.”

He had to be kidding. “I failed algebra twice! I’ll never be able to learn all the math I need to pass these tests.”

“Don’t be absurd. You are one of the smartest people I know. Of course you can learn math.”

The familiar terror was choking. Did he not hear me. I FAILED IT TWICE, and never advanced. I’m just not a math person. “I suck at math!”

“Not likely,” he said with confidence. “More likely, you got turned off of it by some careless teacher, and the gates in your brain shut down. All you need to do is get out of your own way. Open your brain back up, so you can learn what you need to know.”

“I’m an artist, a qualitative person, not quantitative. I hate math.” I was trying not to kill his delusion that I was smart.

“But you need to know it to pass these tests, to do what you want with your life. You have some worthy goals. Make them happen. I’ll help you.”

I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want to learn math, or, more likely not learn math, prove to him, and myself, how stupid I really was. He was being so kind it was impossible to keep defending myself. But I still did not believe him. I knew I wasn’t smart enough for advanced math.

“Here’s the deal,” he said, when I didn’t jump at his offer. “Remember the show Get Smart?”

Ok…“Yeah.”

“Remember the opening? Max enters that hallway with the thick metal doors that slide open one by one as he approaches them. And each slams shut behind him as he walks down the hall?

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s what your brain is doing when you think of math. The doors, or gates to learning are shutting down in your head. You are so freaked out because some lazy teacher made you feel stupid, and you bought it, hook, line and sinker. Stop it! You’ll make a great teacher, or professor, or whatever you want to do with education. Learn math, and move forward.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“But it is. You just have to open the gates in your brain that make it possible to learn, well, anything.” He smiled. I did too, couldn’t help it. With his words, he’d just introduced hope.

We were sitting at Jerry’s Deli, in L.A., at the time. Bert takes the pen the waiter left to sign for our bill, and an unused napkin, and writes out a quadratic equation. I frowned, felt anxious. Here we go. Now he’ll see how stupid I really am.

“I can see by your face, you’re already freaking out.” He laughed. I scoffed. “This is good!” He was clearly excited. I felt pissed off, embarrassed. “Let’s explore that feeling. Talk to me about it, what does it feel like?”

“I feel scared, and stupid.”

“That’s your first two gates. Big, thick, metal doors shutting you out of learning. So, let’s start with feeling stupid, because that’s likely why you’re feeling scared, that I’ll see you, or you’ll see yourself, as stupid.”

“OK…”

“Do you think you’re stupid?”

“With math!”

“Our brains don’t work that way. You can’t just be stupid in one area. Either you have a functioning brain, or you don’t. Most of us have functioning brains. Are you telling me you don’t believe you do?”

I thought about that. Of course I have a functioning brain. I graduated college. I got good grades, even in high school, except for math. “I have an OK brain, I guess.”

He laughed. “So, there goes your first gate. Poof! It’s gone. It was bullshit anyway. Good riddance. Every time you think of math, or we work on equations, notice how you feel. Pay attention to how your brain is operating. Examine the messaging it’s feeding you, and the bullshit it’s telling you. Qualitatively break it down to check if it’s right. Every time your brain says, “I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough,” call BULLSHIT. YES, I AM SMART ENOUGH! Then go back to the problem, and work at figuring it out.” He took a sip of his tea, and smiled at me. “Work at it long enough, and hard enough, and you will.”

The gates in my brain…I could literally feel them all of a sudden. Bert was right. Every time I even thought of math the gates in my brain shut down. And not only with math. Every single time I found it hard to learn something, anything, I now could see it was me, getting in my own way, allowing my brain to convince me of bullshit. All I had to do was examine my own feeling more carefully, embrace the ones that supported my success, and reject those that didn’t.

I learned algebra and geometry in a three week refresher course offered through the CBEST testing program. I passed the test, and subsequently my GRE, and though I never followed through with my graduate degree in education, as my career, and having kids became my priority, I now teach at some of the top universities on the planet.

I now know, with enough hard work, I can learn, well, anything.

Thanks, B, for giving me the gift of learning how to learn!

PAY ATTENTION!

Regardless that these are babies, child or adults feel connected, safe, when the people in our lives SHOW they care about us, what we want, how we feel, and why. Shutting down, shutting those we ostensibly care about out, to self-protect, is destructive in the extreme.

From the clip:

“When she’s grounded, is comfortable in her world, she can explore, meet other people, try new things, as she’s got that safe base she can rely on.”

In other words, communication builds trust, and trust is the foundation of love.

What is EVIL?

What is EVIL?

It is not murder. It is not lying, cheating, stealing, or breaking any of the 10 Commandments, or Hitler, or Donald Trump. It is NOT a state of being. EVIL is an ACTION, or lack thereof.

True EVIL is indifference.

We are ALL indifferent at times. Every time you pick up your cellphone behind the wheel, you are demonstrating you don’t care about anyone else but yourself. You are 26 times more likely to injure or murder others looking at your mobile while driving. You are actively participating in EVIL, as you are indifferent to anyone but your own desires.

Hitler was indifferent to the horror, the suffering, the murder of 6 million Jews that he initiated. So was every commander who followed his orders, and every German who turned a blind eye to protect themselves, and let it happen.

We are on par with Hitler every time we text while driving.

Church, even Christ won’t save us from our sins of indifference.

The effects of indifference reverberate. You cause an accident while texting, and hurt my kid, and I no longer care about you, your kids, your life. In fact, I hate you. I want to see you harmed!

Every time indifference is demonstrated it generates more EVIL.

Indifference lets corporations like PG&E murder 8 people in San Bruno when the utility diverted the money needed to fix the pipes into bonuses for top paid execs. When COMCAST demands full payment for delivering half the service, they are practicing EVIL. So are the customer service representatives working for them, who claim they’re ‘just doing their job, as they are told to,’ like Nazi Germany, where neighbors became indifferent—didn’t really care what happened to the Jewish kid that their kid used to play soccer with.

Every time we don’t stand up to indifference, we are participating in EVIL.

Indifference is like a genetic disease, handed down through the generations.

Parents who don’t give a shit about their kids, raise kids who don’t give a shit about anyone (even themselves).

Educators who care more about their pensions, putting in 2/3rds of a workday, and working only half the year, teaches indifference to everyone but themselves.

Students (without wealth) who are indifferent to learning, don’t study, don’t do the work, choose YouTube or gaming over doing academics, become front line canon fodder in the military as the only paying job they can get, or end up criminals, or homeless.

Drivers, indifferent to everyone else while they fulfill their desire to upload a Snap, murder close to 4,000, and injure up to 500,000, one half a MILLION people, kids, dogs…etc., a YEAR. Think you know how to drive and text at the same time? Your indifference is supporting your ignorance, which is only surpassed by your arrogance.

EVERY DAY, half or more drivers I see are chatting or texting away, and I fight the urge to ram my car into them. If they stop where I do, like the store, and I pass them in the aisle, I want to spit in their face, for no other reason than to get them to PAY ATTENTION TO SOMEONE OTHER THAN THEMSELVES.

When a COMCAST customer service rep tells me to get another modem, knowing it won’t make my internet connection any better because they know, and COMCAST knows, they don’t have the bandwidth to support the neighborhood’s wireless devices, I become irate, rude, indifferent to their plight, as they are to mine.

Every time we encounter indifference, we become more indifferent.

Stand at the Pearly Gates, and the first question St Peter is likely to ask is were you GOOD or EVIL in your lifetime. Lie, and go to hell. Say you’re GOOD, and believe it? If you spent more of your life addressing and responding to your own needs and desires than anyone else, count on going to hell.

Assuming, like me, you are a non-believer, why worry about anyone else if the only reward is in this life? Take as much as you can get, seems to be the attitude of so many these days, religious or not.

While self-interest is the foundation of our nature, indifference is not. It is taught, shown, modeled by all of us, at times. We begin life as solipsists, then grow to narcissists through our teens and early 20s. Maturity means we’ve expanded our awareness beyond just ourselves, and often put our own desires aside to actively care for others.

Indifference, to justify doing whatever you want (from lying for COMCAST, to driving a fuel-guzzling SUV, to texting behind the wheel of it) chips away at our humanity with every slight. This toxicity of EVIL ultimately endangers every living thing on this planet. Demonstrate you don’t care about me, and I won’t care about you. We self-protect, which ultimately serves no one, not even ourselves.

CARE BEYOND YOURSELF, and SHOW IT, and we not only insure our survival, we give our childrens’ children, and way beyond them, a chance to experience living, and the opportunity to thrive.

4 Simple Steps to Better Relationships

romancegifThe first year of my marriage didn’t go according to plan. The creative, smart, strong man I thought I married appeared as the jobless brat who refused to take on consulting while he toyed with his latest algorithm instead of engaging with me.

I’d waited 36 years to marry, ten years behind most everyone I knew. I’d waited to find a best friend to share life with. I had this idea of the man I wanted to be with since childhood. He’d be smart. Very smart. Massively creative, anything less would bore me. Financially stable, able to support a family with his skill set. And fun, of course, loved exploring new places. Cute was a must. I had to be physically attracted.

My husband had all these things and more, even after we married. And similar goals of having a family remained intact, but something changed between us. The best friend I wanted became the burden I carried the poorer we got. I couldn’t support us both on my salary alone. Ten months into our marriage we’d gone through most of my life savings. He had none, used the last of his for our honeymoon.

Working tirelessly at developing technology for profit, my dear husband’s response to going broke was making his already complex software even more complex. Marketing was a mystery and easily avoided by immerging himself in his muse. He seemed more intimate with his computer than with me. Many a night I had to please myself while he was downstairs making it with his 64-bit Alpha, coding.

There were many good days, long drives and hikes along the Pacific coastline, filled with conversation that flowed from one topic to another in a smooth, endless dialog. Those days bonded us, reminded me why we married, how much I enjoyed his mind, his perspectives, his passion. But things got harsher and more contentious. Eleven and a half months into marital bliss I lost our first baby in utero eight weeks into the pregnancy. And my husband engaged with his muse while I morned alone.

Time and again that first year of our marriage, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that considered divorce. Yet, he arranged to celebrate our first anniversary with a second wedding ceremony, in an empty courtroom in front of a judge who reiterated the vows which we repeated. Our first wedding was with a large crowd of family and friends and I’d always wanted an intimate affair.

The commitment was between me and my husband after all, not extended family. I was really that naive.

A chasm was growing between us. I’m sure he felt it too. He was just better at ignoring it, and me, which personally, I found infuriating. And I was so very lonely, and when prodded, my husband admitted he was too. We were stuck in a downward spiral which I couldn’t live with, in a relationship I didn’t want to abandon, but ultimately fear of missing my childbearing years starting from square one dating again compelled me to stick with my marriage.

I narrowed the root of our discord down to three possible scenarios:

  • He feed off other people’s pain, which would make him a psychopath.
  • He was indifferent to anyone’s needs but his own, which would make him worse than a psychopath.
  • He didn’t know any better.

It was improbable I’d married a psychopath. My husband was guilty of distance, but never violence. Indifference was impossible to work with. Trying to motivate people to care—that don’t, was a fool’s play. So I went with the third possibility. He didn’t know what was wrong between us, or how to fix it, so he froze, paralyzed by uncertainty.

My husband is a mathematician. Like the metal doors and iron bars that slammed shut behind Maxwell Smart as he walked down the hall to Control, my dear husband’s brain shut out chaos. He craved order, created it in tidy mathematical models with strict parameters. Feelings were messy, but exploring them was downright unnerving for him.

My dad once told me the difference between men and women lies in our nature. Men are self-oriented, internal. Women are maternal. Producing life grounds us outside ourselves. Therefore it is the woman’s role to coax the man outside himself, bring him to her—even their children.

It was my job to figure out a method, a series of clearly defined, linear steps we were both beholden to take that would make our marriage work. I felt certain once a path was apparent my husband would gladly take it with me, if for no other reason then to end the perpetual arguing. And though it took me several months, I eventually came up with an equation, and presented it on our vacation, because timing is everything.

We were climbing on the gigantic slabs of granite rocks and exploring the spectacular rugged shoreline of Acadia National Park in Maine. Humbled by the grandeur all around us, we connected in the shared moment. That’s when I unveiled my latest plan to improve our interaction.

  1. We are a team.
  2. What does my partner need/want?
  3. What do I need/want?
  4. Compromise.

Four simple steps, in that exact order.

First define the goal, I explained. The proceeding steps are the methodology to achieve it. To effectively manage discord we first must acknowledge we were not competing, we’re on the same side trying to work together to solve the issue at hand. Next, if I knew he considered my needs and desires before his own, and he knew I was looking out for him before myself, we could build a foundation of trust knowing we’d be there for each other. Finally, meeting close to the middle was mandatory. At least, understanding must be achieved before archiving an issue. At best, both parties get most of what they want. And as a sidebar—giving in didn’t mean losing. Concessions were more easily accessed by referring to step one.

My husband paced me across the granite slabs but with much more grace as we climbed the rocky shoreline. His slender form moved easily across the rock. He scrambled ahead to help me with a vertical climb, then reached down to give me a hand up. A moment later we stood on cliff’s edge overlooking the Atlantic. “Other than I think you’re hot, I married you because I knew you were smart. Anything less would have bored me.” He smiled at me then stared out at the ocean, big waves striking the shoreline sending plumes of mist around us.

We walked and talked and climbed for the next five hours, breaking down each of the four steps with specific case scenarios. After analyzing and massaging the data the rest of the weekend, and each step passing QA of course, it was agreed upon to give them a go.

For our summer vacation this year we took the kids to Acadia in Maine to share with them the park’s pristine beauty. My husband spoke of our earlier adventures there, and told the kids about our long talk. He quoted the four steps in order and explained why each was important, then pointed out how applying them to most interactions strengthened communication and improved relations. A big wave sprayed us all, and as we laughed with the mist twinkling around us I spied my husband staring out at the sea and flashed on our moment there so long ago, what he’d said, and smiled.

We will be celebrating our 15th anniversary this coming spring. And though it isn’t always bliss, our marriage has been a lot less rocky since we adopted the four steps on that Maine shoreline all those years ago.

Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.

My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even wanted to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments, her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give, but she realized, laying helpless in bed and gasping for every breath, her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.

Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

Gift Yourself a “GREAT READ!”

Literary Romantic Suspense REVERB is now on #iTUNES! , like none you’ve read. “GLUED! HOOKED! CAPTIVATED! RIVETED!” yourself a “GREAT READ!” this #holiday season: 

What is SEXISM?

My father raised me to believe my mother was ignorant. “Your mother, (implying like most women) is irrational. Fickle. Full of love and lightness, but not really a [deep] thinker.”

All women were (are) not as…capable as men, as the woman’s primary job—her role in society of mom, caretaker, homemaker—doesn’t take much real work, or brain power, according to my father. (His ignorance is only surpassed by his arrogance, as he left the raising his children to what he’d deemed his nescient wife.) He actually said to me, “Isn’t it odd that women can’t walk and talk at the same time,” and stopped to tell me this, in all seriousness, while we were walking.

My father thought he was inherently smarter than my mother, or any woman. He was a MAN, after all. He was well read, had to be for business in the real world, unlike silly homemakers. (My mother read the newspaper daily, news magazines monthly, new non-fiction and fiction monthly. My father read only Scientific American and Popular Mechanics, and watched TV. Cop shows, like Magnum PI mostly, where the main, white male character was rescuing ditsy, busty women.)

My mother graduated high school at 16, and attended Florida State University two years before most of the classmates she left behind in New Jersey. My father has no degree beyond high school.

My father went through five or more businesses, several of which failed, none of which ended up in substantial wins. My mother started a pilot magnet program at Cabrillo Marine Museum for underprivileged East L.A . kids, to teach them marine science. For almost 20 yrs she touched thousands of lives, many of whom I met personally, in the store or gas station, when they stopped my mom to gush that they were now oceanographers and scientist because of her program. As a woman, she made 1/3 of the men whom she worked beside, offering comparable programs.

What is SEXISM?

Sure, most of us will agree equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender is an important step in ending sexual inequality. According to Forbes, the top paid actress of 2016 is Emma Stone, at $26M. Actor Mark Wahlberg, made $68 million. Women had only 28% of the speaking roles in major movies, and Emma is the first women, at #15, of highest paid Hollywood stars. (Women are half of the human population, yet no actress is even close to #2, 3, 4….)

In 2017, 54 years after the United States passed the Equal Pay Act, on average, a woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

So, why, even today, are women fighting so hard for equal pay, which most of us agree is one obvious step to ending SEXISM?

BELIEF.

My father was born in 1929, when MEN WERE MEN, and everyone ‘knew their role.’ His mother, my grandmother, was a homemaker. His father, my grandfather, was a pianist for the New York Philharmonic, and the breadwinner for his family. To make it through the depression years, and the harsh realities of being a Jew through WW2, each family member had a role, a function to fulfill to assure the family unit was maintained—literally stayed alive, however modest an existence.

Back then, many jobs required physical labor suited to a man’s physiology, as technology wasn’t here yet. There were no robotics building our cars or manufacturing our appliances. Go back further in time, all the way back to our caveman days, and you’ll find a distinct division of labor. It took the strength of many men to kill a mastodon, and they had to work as a group to do this. There is an adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and women naturally took on this role as the childbearing sex. But make no mistake about it, it took a community for both sexes to fulfill the often integrated tasks of their respective roles.

Fast forward to present day. Last Sunday my husband is reading me an article on the feminist #MeToo movement, in the New York Times, while I cook pancakes for him and our two teens. At the end of the article he sighs heavily, his ‘this is absurd’ sigh, and says, “It gets so tiresome hearing women complain how hard they have it. It’s equally hard on men, and always has been.”

I looked at him incredulously, and said, “How many times have you been sexually assaulted on the job?”

He didn’t respond to my rhetorical question. I already knew his answer. Zero. He didn’t turn my question around. He knew an investor in my very first startup tried to rape me in my office at our Christmas party, then fired me that night for not letting him assault me. He knew my second job out of college, as an Art Director for 1928 Jewelry Company, the CEO came into the empty conference room moments after me, introduced himself, and instead of taking my outstretched hand, squeezed my breast, as if checking the firmness of an orange. I’ll never forget, he said, “Mmm, Nice!” before I pulled away, shamed as others I’d yet to meet walked in.

My husband wasn’t at my housewarming party, when a relative accompanying an invited guest tried to assault me when I found him at my work-space on my Mac. I could go on, but you get my point. And even knowing all this, my husband is “sick of hearing women whine about how hard we have it.”

Can’t blame him, really. My father-in-law talked down to my mother-in-law, probably all their lives together, but clearly in the 20 years I’d been on the scene of their married life. He was cruel and cutting with a continual barrage of snide ‘jokes,’ if he listened to her at all. My husband tells tales of his mom going ballistic on his dad every few months, probably when she’d had enough of trying to communicate with him while he verbally slammed her, or, by and large, ignored her.

To this day, most men do not BELIEVE a woman is as ‘equal’ to them, as other men.

The problem is, most women BELIEVE this too. We do not feel ‘equal.’ Why would we? We get paid less for the same job. Our bodies are more valued then our minds (as most men can’t seem to get their brain out of their little head). Women are rarely taken seriously by the overwhelmingly male controlled business world, nor in our home environments.

How many women reading this post did most of the cooking and serving of your last holiday meal, even with a career/job? How many of you do most of the cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring of the kids, even working full time? The fact is, according to the 50 news articles I just read, women still do 80 – 90% of all domestic chores, including kid care, regardless of her job status. Equal pay for equal work, of course, but also equal WORK must be invested by both genders to reach sexual equality.

How do we get there from here? I honestly have no idea, other than to stand up, and say “NO! Not OK,” whenever you are a victim, or see the action of SEXISM.

Since the mastodons are all gone, and we can now buy packaged meat at Safeway, we no longer require the muscular physique of the male physiology to survive as a race. While most women have always brought to the table of any union equal intellectual, logistical and financial support, men are rapidly losing their position of strength, literally and figuratively. Our bodies and minds are adapting to the changing needs of our time. In fact, we are getting fat! Obesity is at an all time high, close to 40% of the population in some states now, and rising fast! (Think Pixar’s Wally.)

Men have dominated the business world from the beginning, and this too must change. They have created an ugly, psychologically and sociologically corrosive environment with their continual attacks against women, to keep us ‘in our place.’ It isn’t “locker room talk.” It is degrading, and women buy into it, thinking our value really is just in our breasts and vagina. At the very least, women are made to feel we must acquiesce to this humiliating behavior men dish out to be heard at all, at work or home.

This BELIEF, that women are lesser than men, by both genders must end, before SEXISM is a non-issue.

Humans, all of us, ACT as we BELIEVE. Change the BELIEF, and change the ACTIONS of SEXISM.