I've been on lj over 12 years now, and I've had lots of thoughts on education [also, I was posting stuff on marypat.org in longer form from 1996 - 2002; I've also written a lot at the Actuarial Outpost on this subject]
So this post is simply to amass posts as I find them, and categorize them. I am defining "education" very broadly here. I may be linking to some friends-locked posts, and will note that when I link. Some of these posts may need to be moved around for better organization.
Recently, I got last school year's standardized test results back for Siobhan and Diarmuid, and neither result was all that surprising. I have no objection to having D do the regular state tests, but I'm not quite sure what the point is.
For those not in the know, D is autistic, and no, he's not "high functioning". He's got an IEP, and he has been in special education since he was 3. The state test results for D were single-digit percentile. I mean — somebody has to be at first percentile, and it may as well be him. But it doesn't tell anybody much, because a lot of this is mediated by D's limited communication skills. It's difficult to know what he does and does not understand, when he can barely tell people basic things. He does seem to have a lot of receptive language, but his productive language is limited.
That said, D has been remarking more on the world and conversations.
Most of D's communication is scripted — that is, most is of the variety "May I have X, please?", "Press play", "Thank you", "Where is X?", "Yes/no/I don't know", and sometimes, if he answers, it really isn't a "true" answer (especially the "I don't know" response).
Then he produces a lot of words that are really scripted in that he's reciting lines from movies or TV shows. Sometimes it's a game to try to figure out what show he is quoting.
But every so often, he says something that is relevant to what's going on and isn't from a show.
....I believe I mentioned this earlier this year, but I decided to try once more to get my pain situation on a more bearable basis. I've been going to a chiropractor for years, as well as getting massage & acupuncture, but these have all been temporary respites (or, to be more precise, they help for a few hours, but it still is nice to get -some- relief when you feel pain all the time.)
So this year, I've added a pain medicine doc & neurologist to the mix. The pain medicine doc confirmed that yes, I have problems with a cervical disc (C5/6) that has herniated worse than the last time it was imaged. Woo.
On Thursday, I am trying an epidural steroid injection (as per recommendation of the pain doc), and I hope this will give me relief... for months? I really really hope so. I know it has worked for some, and not others in the past, and yeah, inject whatever into my spine, I want relief. Temporary relief as in months would be FABULOUS.
We will see how it goes.
If you're the praying kind, please pray for me. If another kind, please keep me in your thoughts.
The last 3 days or so, I think the various medication mix has been helping re: my chronic pain situation. I'm taking all sorts of things, and one thing in particular, gabapentin/neurontin can be taken at a variety of dosage. The pain doc gave me a taper schedule to gradually increase the dosage, so I can figure out the effective dose without making me useless brain-wise. Within the past few days, I've actually felt my pain dulled, and I could tell it was different from previous.
However, I'm currently splayed on Stu's couch/bed (he has to sleep downstairs because of the trouble with stairs given his cancer treatment), as about 1pm the pain kicked in big time today. But it's better than it had been!
While feeling semi-good, I took advantage of the situation the past couple days by taking Bon with me to Lasdon Park & Arboretum. If you're in Northern Westchester, I highly recommend this park. This morning, Bon & I visited the veterans' memorials and the "famous people" arboretum. On Sunday, we checked out the dinosaur walk (that one is kinda silly, but it's shaded) and the Chinese Friendship Pavilion. All the walks are free, and the only thing charged for is the Conservatory. It's open almost every day of the year (excepting: Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving).
I also washed some dishes. And made the following video:
The whole "memento mori" concept was originally applied to tippy-top leaders, not the people in general (or, to switch up languages, hoi polloi).
The general populace generally didn't need to be reminded back in the day, given the high state of mortality in general. Also, medical treatment was not effective for even the richest folks.
But the problem is that many current people forget their mortality, when most deaths occur to people in their 80s now. For people under age 60, mortality is not quite the constant companion of the older folks. And even there, mortality rates aren't too high until age 80 or so.
I'm not going to talk about mortality trends (right now... and that's for my blog at stump.marypat.org), but I am here to remind you: you will die. As will all other people.
No matter what you think of what happens after we die, we are all going to die.
Be mindful of that.
Don't think of others' mortality as different from yours. That is my sole piece of advice with respect to this fact. I have no other advice, but that one should be mindful of other people's common vulnerabilities in our mortality.
Let me get Stu's news out of the way — he recently had a PET scan (gets one every 6 months). The good news is there's no cancer cells in his spine. Mind you, he's got plenty of cancer cells in other bone (in particular, some of his ribs, and his hips), but at least the cancer isn't spreading. And the chemo has its own repercussions. Again, as it goes now — either the cancer or the chemo will kill him. Eventually. No, we don't have a timeline.
For me... so. I had an MRI last week. I'm getting the memory reminders from facebook, etc — it's basically 9 years ago that this all started. I'm trying to see a pain medicine doc & a neurologist and trying to get to the bottom of this. Yes, I'm trying meds again, and the only thing that seems to have any real effect is the muscle relaxer (baclofen, I think), which I take only every so often. It doesn't really make the pain go away, but it makes me realllly relaxed about the condition.
So here's hoping I figure it out. I have been having a lot of bad pain days recently, and one I basically I had to lie prone all day. I've not been able to get done a lot of things I want to do.
Okay, maybe not. I generally don't ask him to pray for me and my car keys. (Mainly because my keys generally are where they're supposed to me — in my pocket, my purse, or the key drawer).
But I was looking for some paperwork I lost a couple weeks ago, and I was about to make a call to get the papers replaced and... I saw this little piece of paper poking out underneath a stack of books.
Anybody who has seen an area where I've lived or worked know that I have multiple stacks of papers & books all over the place. Even in this age of "going digital", I still have my stacks.
I've been trying to clear away stuff, but even so I've always got paper accumulating and sticky notes all over my desk, and I have found that at the last moment, whatever-it-is pops out at my face.
So, thanks St. Anthony, though I haven't asked for help recently. I figure he's always got my back.
The reason for invoking St. Anthony’s help in finding lost or stolen things is traced back to an incident in his own life. As the story goes, Anthony had a book of psalms that was very important to him. Besides the value of any book before the invention of printing, the psalter had the notes and comments he had made to use in teaching students in his Franciscan Order.
(putting space so more respectable sentences don't need to be near that one)
But what defines a "weirdo"? It's contextual, obviously, because what people consider "normal" differs by environment.
Two items spurred this: Bon's "Moving Up" ceremony marking the end of 8th grade. And walking up 9th Ave (going to BarBacon, which I highly recommend.) Both happened last Wednesday — one in the morning, one in the late afternoon.
I do not want to remark on how the kids looked at the end-of-8th grade ceremony, but you know how most kids will look a certain way... and then a few will definitely look & move differently from others. I would rather want to talk about the parents — which again devolves to me. I was wearing one of my dresses, and I can't remember which shoes I was wearing. Probably some slip-ons that I often wear to work. And then I have my hairy legs. And no hair dye, and no makeup. This did not really fit in with the suburban look. I like living out here in "the country", but there aren't really "my folks" near me.
Back to frequency of lying — something many children do not understand, though it seems many catch on by adulthood — if you lie a lot, no one will believe anything that comes out of your mouth (if you're really slick, you'll use this to your advantage by telling the truth, which you know no one will believe). If you lie too much, the power of your lies diminishes. However, if you never lie, you never get some of the benefits of lying (such as avoidance of punishment, or impressing strangers). How to balance this?
In real life, this is a sticky problem, because the payoffs don't necessarily have a numerical value, and some people are more likely to believe or disbelieve a lie, depending on what it costs them to be skeptical (so a tired parent may believe a lie about cleaning your room, but one who has got a neat streak may check the room right away).
[Dammit, livejournal. Don't do this to me. I'm just quoting myself.]
I've been writing online for a long time. First, I had my Meep in Manhattan journal on my own website, starting in 1996. I added my Japan Journal later — it was written in 1994, by hand, in a book I took with me... I plan on editing it together with my photos at some point, for me if nobody else.
In April 2000, I joined livejournal. I'm still here.
In 2003, I joined the actuarial profession, and started writing for it in 2003. I've kept some record of what I've written, but I don't update it as often as I should. Thank goodness I learned to make my own backup of my articles, as the Society of Actuaries keep doing "refreshes" of their website and "losing" old content.
What spurred this is this article, from 2014, which I remember writing... but I didn't remember the content. I mean, I'm reading it and thinking "where did that come from?" I do not remember reading Sir Philip Sydney's Defense of Poesy, but I must have. Hey, it's been five years. I read a lot, too. I don't remember it all.
So it's nice to go back to things I have forgotten, and the words remind me. Sometimes photos do that for people, too, but so many people take so many pictures now (it's so easy), that it is difficult to go back. And without the words, one can forget what it meant.
But for serious personal stuff, I still use livejournal.
So, I've had a few conversations lately, and I think some people don't understand.
Stu has terminal cancer. As in, he will have it til he dies. Maybe the cancer will kill him, maybe his treatment will kill him, or perhaps a meteorite will hit him.
We are using that terminology now, because many are misinterpreting what we say when we say Stu has metastatic cancer.
Given the current state of treatment, this cancer is not curable. There are all sorts of incurable conditions out there, with varying survival curves.
While Stu is doing better than at his hardest hit of infusion chemo, he still has cancer, he still is dying (to be fair, we all are dying), and no, he is nowhere near what he used to be only 5 years ago. I know too much about how this sort of progression can go, looking at actuarial stats from other sources. Stu is now on tablet chemo until either the chemo or the cancer kills him (or, the aforementioned meteorite). Perhaps at some point, the tablet chemo hasn't knocked back the cancer enough, and it will take over, and he can go quickly.
People are...confused, annoying, self-involved, and more.
What propelled me into saying this is thinking of my years living in NYC. To love NYC, you really need to love people. And I mean, people in the ways they actually behave. Many people can't stand this sort of thing.
But I do love it. People are very entertaining. And, if they're not actively trying to kill you, it can be quite enjoyable.
Even in the nasty city, most people are self-involved and are not trying to kill you. On purpose.
There are little communities in the big city, and I found some of these little bubbles. They're not what you expect. I had bubbles at NYU, in my co-op, and, strangely, in the people at GCT at rush hour. That came after I left NYC as my abode, but many people in GCT recognized me. I made it so that I was recognizable. I was the crazy young-ish lady with the big hats and the walking stick. I collapsed a few times in GCT, once going to a hospital, and I was always treated well. It's not merely white chick privilege, but "oh, we know her" privilege. Because I was not young (merely young-ish), and I certainly wasn't hot.
I'm going to be quite oblique here... and if you think you were related to what I'm posting now........ YOU ARE.
I know I have written about this before, but not all y'all may have seen this before. We did one of those exercises that is imposed on kids in school back when I was in 5th grade. We were to develop a coat of arms (I seriously don't remember what I incorporated into that), and also a motto to go over that emblem. My motto was "ENJOY LIFE".
There have been multiple impediments to that motto for me, since I was 11, some of which I caused. But I have done pretty well in enjoying life, as best I can.
I have been involved in various projects of late, which portend to be very successful in our goals and I am doing a personal jig.
Every one of us does our little bit, and it makes me glow when I see we are getting close to our shared goal.
Most of us will be anonymous to history, but who really cares. There are a few people who require their personal stamps & recognition on results; but I think many of us just want to see our desired result achieved.
Anyway, this is about stories, but it's about the middle of stories. I could take or leave good beginnings. I am extremely particular about endings.
I can wallow in the middle of stories so much, which is why I like so many long books: Brothers Karamazov, Crime & Punishment, any of the Dickens oeuvre... love them all.
I especially love Dickens, who gives me such large middles to loll about in. The books of his I like the least are the ones with almost no middle to speak of, like A Tale of Two Cities. The world isn't large enough in those books. I like the big rambling ones, like Our Mutual Friend or Martin Chuzzlewit (and I skip over most of the American bits, because it's bitter crap because Dickens was pissed at copyright piracy... but it still leaves loads of middle).
Mind you, middles of stories is not merely hanging out and looking around. Stuff happens, things move, you learn stuff about characters, you get all sort of character interactions (sometimes, though, I think Dickens was being self-indulgent in having a couple of characters who really have no business interacting "fortuitously" collide... he didn't do it too often, but it's pretty clear when it isn't well-motivated, such as Flora Finching looking in to Mr. Dorrit, going on about something or other... she had no business looking him up.) Interesting things are going on, and mysteries deepen (or lighten somewhat).
Now, to be sure, one can have too much middle, in that you aren't getting enough plot/character payoffs along the way to keep interested... or, even worse, you stop caring about characters that you used to care about (GRRM, I'm looking at you. I would be fine if they ALL die at this point. (I'm referring to the book series, and it's not just about it taking him forever to finish the damn books... it's that last couple of books really exasperated me that I stopped caring about everybody.)) Or not giving you any characters you really care about to begin with. Hell, I will never read War and Peace again... for all I love middles, it was very difficult to like any of the characters other than Pierre, and even he was a tough slog at times. I was shouting "Napoleon, invade Russia already!!!" at several points (and also wanted a few characters to die more rapidly.)
This is something I like about Dickens - not only that he gives you these large middles, but that he is fairly good at pacing -- sending away some characters for a while (so you can wonder about them) and moving the focus around. Most of this came from the serial form of publication -- Dickens knew that he had to bring certain characters back with certain frequency if he wanted readers to buy the next issue, but he couldn't make the characters too cheap. I have read some huge more recent novels (such as Neal Stephenson's tomes), and the pacing doesn't quite work, I think, because the structure is often chronological, and does not necessarily lead to pacing character appearances as well. Dickens would have some chapters non-consecutive in time, if you were following different characters -- often because specific groups of characters were physically separated, so it didn't quite matter to have their storylines line up on the page.
But another thing Dickens kept in mind was that he had to keep reminding people of the characters, the action, etc. "Last week in The Old Curiosity Shop...."
Some writers of large novels may not have as good a feel for that (esp. if they don't have good editors) - if you want the middle to be sustained, you need to realize people can hold only so much memory of the story for so long, even if they're blasting through the book (like binge-reading JK Rowling).
But I tend to pick the good authors, and the ones who can really write gargantuan novels are my favorite authors currently. Yes, I still love Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie, and other shorter-novel folks.
But give me a big middle to live in. I could stay there forever.
I am listening through the audiobook version of Neil Gaiman's collection of essays, speeches, etc., and one really stuck out to me - a speech he gave on genre (titled: "The Pornography of Genre, or the Genre of Pornography"... there's not much porn in it, but he mentions an academic work that explained how the porn genre worked... and he saw that was how genre worked in general.)
NG I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel; or a novel with cowboys in it and a cowboy novel. I have a mad theory that I started evolving when I read a book called Hard Core by Linda Williams, a film professor in California. It was one of the first books analysing hardcore pornography as a film genre.
She said that in order to make sense of it, you need to think of musicals, because the plot in a musical exists to stop all of the songs from happening at once, and to get you from song to song. You need the song where the heroine pines for what she does not have, you need the songs where the whole chorus is doing something rousing and upbeat, and you need the song when the lovers get together and, after all the vicissitudes, triumph.
I thought, “That’s actually a way to view all literary genres,” because there are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy. If it was a cowboy novel, we’d need the fight in the saloon; we’d need the bad guy to come riding into town and the good guy to be waiting for him. A novel that happens to be set in the Old West doesn’t actually need to deliver any of those things – though it would leave readers of genre cowboy fiction feeling peculiarly disappointed, because they have not got the moments of specific satisfaction.
The point is that if you don't have particular things in it, the reader feels cheated. For genre, it's specific elements particular to that genre. For example, if it's a mystery genre piece, you better damn well have the solution at the end. And that the solution might be a little surprising to be really satisfying.
Mind you, Agatha Christie fooled me a few times about what genre I was reading. When I read the ABC Murders, I thought she was writing suspense/thriller, and that the point wasn't figuring out who did it, but how Poirot would finally catch up with him. (She tricked me. Yes, this as spoilery as I will get for Christie, because as old as her books are, not everybody is like me in re-reading mysteries that I damn well know the solution to. That's for another time. Christie frickin built the canonical Mystery genre, so be told.)
I do read a lot of genre fiction - mystery, scifi, fantasy, historical fiction, fanfic, and any combo of these, along with "comic" slapped on the front. I've read comic scifi mysteries, historical fiction mysteries, comic fantasy, comic fanfic fantasy, etc. But the point is that one has particular expectations for the shape of the story once you determine its genre.
This is why I hate Death Comes to Pemberley so much. I had never read PD James before, but my understanding is that she is solid as a mystery writer. Okay. But what she sucks at is being a historical fiction mystery writer...or, rather, a historical fiction fanfic writer, which is what she was doing. (I call "fanfic" when you're using another author's fictional world... it's not the quality of the writing I mean, but that you're taking a fictional world that a specific author created (not you) and putting new stories into it.) It was awful. I was so disgusted with it, if I had bought a hardcover of it, I would have thrown it across the room. But alas, I had borrowed a CD of it from the library.
[There really needs to be a physically satisfying way to deride books that one does not own, akin to throwing it against the wall. Merely returning it to the library is not satisfying enough.]
I also read non-genre fiction, though that tends to be more "classics" than recent fiction.
Anyway, one needs to not insult the reader. If you are writing in a genre, or people are expecting a particular genre conventions... you can twist them a bit, but if you take the story in a direction the genre doesn't go, either make it clear to start with you're not working in that genre or you finesse it in a way that will delight the reader (like Christie & the ABC Murders).
Similarly for movie/TV adaptations of those stories. I don't mind if screenwriters change details of the stories... but dammit, you have got to keep to the feel of the work at the very least. If you want to change the genre of the story, make it clear -- Jane Austen as a teen comedy (Clueless) is great. It's not really the exact same story as Emma, but it has taken major elements and adapted it to the genre it was put into.
You can set the same story (Gaiman gave the example of Sleeping Beauty, turned into a medical thriller) in multiple genres... but you need to realize which elements need to be there.
Story is separate from genre, which is the interesting thing from Gaiman's essays. He knows story very, very well. That's why I enjoy him as a writer. But I don't follow him into every genre he has dealt with (not currently, at least). The story is the chain of events, the A -> B -> C. But the flavor, the setting, the set pieces, the elements can be adapted.
Terry Pratchett took a lot of fairy tales and classic stories and put them into a comic(ish) fantasy re-telling, with elements of urban police procedural, mysteries, and more. (RIP - he died 4 years ago today)... but what is even more amusing is he took the stories and changed where they went, which was just fine.
Genre is kind of a particular set of conventions, but the story can go so many ways. That's fun.
This is not about stories... I'm breaking out of my series for a moment. Or, I should say this is almost a complementary take.
First, I want to link to this post about yesterday's opera performance at the Met Opera. You don't have to read the whole thing (or any of it)... I just want you to note how many exclamation points occur in the text. That's it. And I'm not picking on that poster -- she's just the most extreme of the reviews that got posted yesterday and today over yesterday's performance (which I hope I will get access to on my On Demand subscription... more below). It's why I love being part of that group... and why I love opera. When it's perfect... it hits you right in the heart and it's difficult not to gush.
So, supposedly, the story of an opera or a kung fu movie is important to pay attention to.....
What I love about both opera and kung fu is that the "storyline", such as it is, is not really important. Nobody cares. Verdi is one of the most important opera composers out there... and some of his primary operas have plots that make no sense whatsoever. While Mozart is marginally better in plot logic for his main operas, there still are multiple absurdities. In both the case of Mozart and Verdi, the fault lies not in the composers, but that they used others' plays with insane plots to build their operas.
And nobody gives a damn.
Similarly, if you've watched any kung fu movies, so much of the supposed "plot" is almost nonexistent. There is a master or a father, who is humiliated and/or killed, and one must enact vengeance. That does not require a lot of build up. And then there are the weirder ones. To be sure, maybe it made more sense in the original Chinese culture, but given that the plots of operas in European cultures don't make sense to Europeans (even at the time), I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese (no matter which Chinese subculture) also didn't make much sense of the plots. That wasn't the point.
So here's the point of both: most of the people who really love either opera or kung fu movies really just love moments in the productions. For all that people say that you should watch the whole thing... frankly, even those of us who are into it realize that we just want specific moments to watch.
Nobody watches kung fu movies for their stories... and same for operas. We want to see the sublimity.... for kung fu movies, it's the fight scenes. For operas, it's often specific arias... but even some ensemble scenes. (And damn, Mozart is the best of all ensemble opera composers... Verdi did very well in Falstaff, but he did not come close to Marriage of Figaro).
So ... I will admit how I watch these.
When I put on kung fu movies... I would go do stuff, wander out of the room, and ask Stu to call me back in for the substantive bits... that is: the fight scenes.
Luckily, for operas, given I have an actual Met Opera online subscription, the operas are cut up into numbers (no matter the opera). So. I actually go to the scenes I want to watch. Yes, I will watch a full production (Falstaff by Verdi, as mentioned earlier, actually is a coherent whole... but most operas are not). But for each of my favorite operas, there are specific scenes, arias, choruses, whatever, I will check.
As I wrote on a Patreon site recently:
A little confession - for every recorded performance of [Don Giovanni], I go straight to the banquet/dragging the Don to hell scene. Because if they screw that up, I'm going to be so angry, it's going to destroy the whole thing for me.
The reason I do this: I had the misfortune to watch a live-streamed production where that scene was so screwed up that I said: "I'M NOT GOING TO ALLOW MYSELF TO BE SNOOKERED"
Also, the Don being dragged to hell has to be the most satisfying moment in opera for me.
Also.. because that's really the only part of the opera I want to watch. There is beautiful (and funny) music in the rest of the opera, but dear lord, that ending piece....Mozart was the master, and there is no denying. [The person I'm "patronizing" agreed with me on that score. You can join me: Dr. Robert Greenberg]
Here, have one of my favorite versions of that moment in opera:
Oh what the hell, let me not be stingy, here's another:
Anyway, here is my point: while many of us do like a narrative string, sometimes it's really about a perfect moment, whether the rest of the narrative exists. I can watch an awesome kung fu sequence without the paper-thin plot to enjoy it:
Yes, there are stories that one hangs around those moments of sublimity - but really, those perfect moments are what it's all about.