Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reading Journal

A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation, by Paramanda

This is an excellent introduction to the art of Buddhist meditation-- Paramanda, a (British) Buddhist monk, clearly and lovingly explains the whys and hows of meditation, explaining how meditation is a process of changing your mind to promote an inner state of energized peace and compassion and love for yourself and others.  

Reading this book feels like taking a leisurely nature walk with a friend who knows every type of tree, every bird, every wildflower.  The author takes you by the hand and kindly points things out to you, gentle and patient and encouraging as he shares his life's wisdom.  

It even motivated me to take up meditation, which I did faithfully for about six weeks, and then dropped, which is what I do with every spiritual practice.   

However, it's a book I'll read again and again, just for the wisdom and insight.  And I just might return to meditating sometime too.  
1-2-3 Magic, by Thomas Phelan

I went on about this at length in a series of blog posts that begin here.  This  book continues to have a positive impact on my life with the kiddos.  I wasn't as excited about the second half-- it was stuff I was already doing and/or familiar with-- but if your kids have some tough behavior problems you'd like to root out, I can't recommend the first half enough.

Life After Life, by Raymond Moody, Jr.

My co-worker friend Eric picked this book up at the Methodist Garage Sale for 50 cents and loaned it to me when he had finished reading it.  "If you ever get real mad and want to kill me," he said, "Go ahead.  I'm ready."  

This is the modern "near-death experiences" classic, written in the '70s, if you couldn't tell from the awesome cover font.  Raymond Moody, a philosopher and psychologist, interviewed one hundred and fifty people who had either come very near to dying or who had been declared clinically dead and been resuscitated.    From these stories, he describes nine common elements that individuals independently described regarding their own near-death experiences. (My favorite element is the love-filled encounter with a being of light.)   

After describing the elements, Moody reviews possible explanations for these experiences, arguing that, while he personally finds them persuasive, the experiences do not provide incontrovertible evidence for life after death.    

The whole thing made me feel a whole lot better about dying.  Sounds downright pleasant, in fact. 

This is a fascinating read and I very much would like to read more about near-death experiences.  I would be particularly interested in reading a cross-cultural study on this topic.  Any recommendations?    

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Family Vacation 2012: Days 2 & 3

These are actually pictures from the car ride on Day 1.  Shhh.  Don't tell. 

Day 2:
Our hotel room was a suite, which meant that Abe and I had a separate room and the kids got to camp out on the couch bed in the front room.  This would have been fabulous-- had the kids stayed in their own bed all night.  Let's just say we ended up doing a lot of bed hopping throughout the late and wee hours both nights.  On the first morning, the boys woke me up at five-thirty, so I found some Spongebob Squarepants on TV for them and snuggled back in with Abe, hoping to sleep for another hour or so.  The children, however, got bored after about fifteen minutes and decided to climb into bed with us.  This would have been all well and good had they not decided to start hitting each other over my head.  At first I was all, mumble-style, "Boys.  Knock it off."  Then, whinily, "Boys! Stop it!"  But after someone missed and hit ME on the head, I lurched up and screeched, "DO YOU WANT ME TO BEAT YOU?", then huffed off to take a shower.  Thus began Day Two of our family vacation.  

This is Soren feeling sorry for himself after I yelled at him.   

After making peace, we got ready and headed down to the Hogle Zoo.  

The day, in a list:  

1. The zoo was hot.  Very, very hot.  
2. And crowded.  
3. Soren would latch onto the idea of seeing one animal and refuse to look at anything else until he had seen it.  
4. It went like this:  "Soren, look!  An alligator!"  "Where are the elephants?"  "We'll get to those in a little while, but look!  A tiger!"  "Where are the elephants?"  "Soren, you've never seen an ape before!  Look! A grown-up ape!"  "Where are the elephants?"    
5. I saw a man with an argyle sock tattooed on his right leg.  
6. I saw a lot of tattoos, period.  Tattoos are The Things these days, apparently. 
7. Soren refused to hold his own damn carousel ticket while we were standing in line.
8. I may or may not have crunched the ticket into his hand and clasped my hand around his, forcing him to hold it.  
9. Then, on the carousel, he was too scared to ride on an actual animal.
10. Instead he sat on a the bench and clung fearfully to the side of the seat, as though the centrifugal force created by the carousel's breakneck speeds might fling him out across the crowds and into the bison cage.  
11. I was mired in shame because our children were the only children in the whole zoo over the age of 2 riding around in strollers.  
12. The children loved the animal-themed playground area.  
13. Liam was mesmerized by the snakes.
14. Soren could have spent all day in the prairie dog tunnels.  
15. The children were terrified of the giant elephant sculpture that made noise and spontaneously blew water out of its trunk. 

Soren is plugging his ears because those electronic elephant noises are just too darn loud. 

Liam hated even getting near the thing. 

This is what my sister-in-law Amanda calls Liam's "Gus Gus" belly.  

Soren holding on for dear life in the peacock seat on the carousel. 

Soren and Daddy on the zoo train. 

Soren the turtle. 

  Liam the bird embryo. 

 Cutest darn bird embryo I ever did see.

Better than the zoo were our lower-key activities for the day: returning to the hotel and swimming in the hotel pool, then eating dinner at Carl's Jr, where the kids were able to climb around in the play area.  We bought the boys an Oreo ice cream sandwich to split and Soren was in seventh heaven.  Sugar is like crack for him.  Afterward he talked manically about making a cake using ice-cream filled Oreos.

On Day 3 we were even more tired. Soren woke up at 4:00 AM and never did go back to sleep.  And those of you who know Soren will also know that if Soren ain't sleeping, ain't Mommy sleeping.  When Abe and Liam awoke at a reasonable hour, we drove back into the city and dragged the kids through the Utah Museum of Natural History.  The museum is fabulous but we were all too worn down to truly savor the experience.  Plus, of course, Soren latched on to the idea of seeing dinosaurs and wouldn't look at anything until we got to the dinosaur section.  Then as soon as we'd seen the dinosaurs he was all, "I'm hungry" and preceded to focus on getting food, rather than interacting at the museum.  

The best part was the kid's room, where Mommy and Daddy could sit very still while the boys were able to scoop plastic fish out of a pond with a net, dress up like a housefly (Soren) and a butterfly (Liam), and climb through a cave.  We took pictures but the camera didn't save them. 

All in all, however, despite some fatigue and some frustration, it was a good vacation.  We'll definitely take another one next year.     

Right, honey?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Family Vacation 2012: Day 1

I have a lot of good memories of family vacations growing up so I've been anxious to begin going on trips with my own little family.  This year the boys seemed big enough to handle a short trip without too much drama, so we decided to try something fairly close to test the family vacation waters: Salt Lake City  

On the first day of our vacation, we also found ourselves testing the waters of the Great Salt Lake.  

My big bro Seth (highest above), and his beautiful wife Karen (directly above), and their gorgeous newborn baby Sylvia (with Mama) were lovely enough to take us on a trip to Antelope Island, which is just a short drive from their home in Layton.  

The water was surprisingly warm and you could walk out into it for quite a distance without it getting much deeper than two feet, making it a perfect water play place for little boys. The Salt Lake also lived up to its reputation of super buoyancy.  Abe, a natural sinker, was excited to be able to actually float around without any effort at all.  The water was a wee bit on the gross side, particularly with little salt fly pupate shells floating around on the water, but that's just one of those things you don't think about too hard.  There were lots of other people playing in the water too, so we figured it couldn't be too bad.   (And the people were surprisingly diverse-- I heard two or three other languages being spoken.)

Then we came ashore. 

Doesn't Soren look like he's on the catwalk?  You strut that stuff, boyfriend.

Both the children felt compelled to wear my sunglasses.  Liam does look pretty hip wearing them.

We spent a few minutes on our beach blanket eating goldfish and granola bars and then, due to Liam's casual sand-walking pace, made the longest-ever recorded trek from the beach.  It was so very, very hot.  Liam looked every bit the part of the desert-stranded wanderer.  He even started smacking the side of his head like he was having some sort of hallucination (but no-- he wasn't-- he just does stuff like that). By the time we reached the top of the hill at the end of the beach, we were sweaty and crusted with salt and quite grateful for the free showers provided by the park.

Doesn't this picture just look classically American?   

We drove around briefly in the 90 degree weather looking for wildlife but the bison and deer and antelope are all apparently much smarter than people and had holed up until evening. 

Then we went back to Seth and Karen's house.  Seth grilled us some DELICIOUS corn-on-the-cob, burgers, and hot dogs.  Karen made her prize-winning fruit salad.  We sat on their porch and talked while the kids wasted their food and played in the back yard.  I cuddled that tiny little Sylvie as much as I could.  It was a perfect evening.  

Then we checked into our motel in Bountiful (which was fabulous!) and began the first of two horrible nights'  sleep. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reading Journal: The Sociopath Next Door

The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout

Abe brought this home for me from the library (one of the joys of having a librarian for a spouse) because he was certain I would find it fascinating.  He was right.  The basic premise of the book is that a sociopath (aka psychopath, aka someone with anti-social personality disorder) is not always the deranged serial killer we might imagine.  A sociopath is defined as someone who doesn't have a conscience, conscience being a sense of responsibility to and love for other(s).  So a sociopath is a person who is incapable of building meaningful human connection.  Someone who, as the author often reminds us, is someone who can do anything they feel like doing-- "anything at all"-- without feeling remorse or guilt.   She posits that a sociopath's primary objective in life is to "win"-- exerting control over whatever facets of their lives and the lives of others they can.

Sociopaths are difficult to discern.  They are typically quite charming and good manipulators.  Stout cites research that estimates that approximately 4% of the human population is sociopathic-- if the estimate is correct, that means 1 out of 25 people does not have a conscience.  And don't go fooling yourself into thinking that all these people are concentrated in prisons or big cities or foreign countries.  Sociopaths are distributed fairly equally among all populations-- both in and out of correctional facilities.

This lack of conscience can manifest itself in a variety of ways, ranging from horrific violence to extreme risk-taking to serial sexual relationships to ruthless business practices to lazy and parasitic behaviors.  It all depends on what the sociopath's main goal in life: stimulation?  relaxation? power?  control?

The Sociopath Next Door provided a stimulating introduction to the concept of sociopathy, but it seems to have been written more as a warning ("don't allow yourself to be hurt by one of these maniacs!") than as an introduction to the personality disorder.  I was left with a lot more questions than I was with answers.  I wanted to know more about the origins of sociopathy. Where does it come from?  It is written into DNA, completely unchangeable, like eye color?  Is it a genetic tendency that can be worked against?  Can people start out life normal and healthy and then become sociopaths, either because of their environment or because they have chosen to completely stifle their consciences?   If this is the case, are they truly sociopaths?  Or do they just look like them?  Is there a reliable way to determine if someone is, indeed, entirely without conscience?   Can one measure conscience?  Is there a certain brain structure or pattern that would enable us to identify a sociopath?  Is sociopathy curable?  Are there degrees of sociopathy?

I have to admit that after reading this book, I have found myself evaluating peoples for signs of sociopathy.  If the statistical estimate is accurate, I've likely got two or three co-workers who are sociopaths.  And surely there are others wandering around in my immediate world.  I'm constantly wondering who they are.  The mailman?  The co-worker who told me a joke this afternoon?  That lady across the aisle in Sunday School?  It could be anyone!

Who is the sociopath in your life?  

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reading, Writing, and.... Marxismitic

I love reading.  My brain loves it.  It just feels good to have words and thoughts and perspectives and ideas and experiences and concepts skipping across my brain...leaping cheerfully from dendrite to axon to dendrite again.  I love writing because it enables me to pin down all the thoughts swirling in my head, to make them concrete, to make them readable-- so I can understand them.  And once the thoughts are out, I enjoy finding ways to make them clear and interesting and fun.

In college I decided to major in English because I loved reading and I loved writing and I figured studying literature would afford a magical way for me to do what I loved while earning a college degree.

Yeah, right.

What the English major turned out to be, actually, was a whole helluva lot of skimming, followed by hours of pretentious classroom discussion and paper writing.  It turns out one does not simply read and experience and respond to a text-- one is expected to analyze the literature into a pulp, drain out its joy, smear it with words like "juxtaposition," "dichotomy," and "phallic," shape it using Marxism or Feminism or Freudianism or Deconstructionism or Someotherism, and serve it with a side of smug symbolism.

I will admit that formal literary analysis can be entertaining in small doses.  It also, however, carries the side effect of robbing a story or a poem or an essay of its spiritual essence.  You break something down into its component parts and it ceases to be what it is--particularly if you then take those component parts and shape them into what you want them to be.  Reading Shelley's Frankenstein and analyzing it from a post-modernistic perspective can certainly be interesting, engaging, and even have a insightful end result-- but it's kind of like taking a cookie into a science lab, reversing the effects of the baking and mixing, and using the raw ingredients to make a cake.  Nothing wrong with it, really, but why not just enjoy the cookie?  And wouldn't it be more efficient to just bake a cake from scratch?

I suspect my inability to fully connect with my own chosen field of study is somewhat related to my refusal to pick favorites.  I dislike questionnaires that ask about my favorite color/movie/book/TV show/vacation spot because I am completely incapable of ranking things in order of goodness.  I think each color can be perfect under the right circumstances.  I believe different books are good for different reasons.  On a vacation, a soul's current needs might best be served by something nearby and simple-- or maybe something far away and exotic would be best.  It all just depends.  There are things I love, and things I don't love, but it's hard to rate such subjective and personal things on a cold hard scale of "best" to "worst."  (This is also the reason I despise beauty pageants, but that's a rant for another day.)

So the question arises: why am I going on about this?  The short answer is that I seem to be incapable of brevity.  The long answer is that this is my way of  explaining why I've decided to change the title of my "Book reviews" posts to "Reading Journal."   In my mind, the purpose of a book review is to analyze a text and describe its worth to others, and that's not really what I'm attempting to do when I write about the books I've been reading.  Mostly I just want to share my reading experiences because they are important to me.  I want to talk about why I read the books, what they meant to me, how I felt, and the questions they made me ask.

So, anyway, you members of my vast and loyal readership, just know that I know that this big change is going to rock your collective world, and that I hope this essay has sufficiently prepared you for this blog-shattering change.  Hopefully sometime this week I will have time to actually post my most recent reading journal entries.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...