Friday, November 28, 2008

The Mother Letter Project

It's not often that I come across something that I'm impressed with enough that I want to immediately share it with everyone I know, but this has done it.

The Mother Letter Project.

It was started by a guy who is compiling these letters as a gift for his wife, as part of an effort to put more meaning into Christmas by spending more on relationships, and less on material gifts.

That, in and of itself, is worthwhile. And a creative way to do it, I might add.

But he's also offering to send the compilation to everyone who participates.

A "Mother Letter" is a letter from a mother, to a mother, about whatever motherly thoughts or advice or concerns that the writer wants to express. In a culture where we often lack that mother-to-mother support, the possibility of this compilation becoming something truly valuable is quite high, I believe.

Maybe this touches me so because I can't ask my own mother for advice, can't share with her any concerns I have, and since she died, it is that conversation that I have missed the most.

Anyway. Go check out their blog. Write a letter.

And click on the "Are you a conspirator?" link.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

That's what she said...

Had a call the other day where there were multiple lacerations, and a lot of blood.
Scrubbed the entire rescue with bleach, a lot of blood, I mean.
Blood is like smoke- it gets everywhere. Places you didn't even know existed until you see that red ooze coming out from under them.

A few days later, back at the station after another call, one of the firefighters asked if anyone had been at the call "where the guy cut his finger."

I had to laugh.
Not at any of the people involved, mind you, but at the discrepancy between how he had interpreted what dispatch said, what dispatch actually said, and what actually happened.

Some of you reading this are likely familiar with how often what dispatch says is happening, and what is actually happening, are two different things. Sometimes, it's because of a misunderstanding. Sometimes, it's the similarity of road or street names that are confusing. Sometimes, the caller doesn't KNOW what is going on, or where they are. And sometimes, the situation has changed by the time you get there.

In the limited time I've been doing this, I've learned to keep an open mind. "Elderly female, fell from standing" might mean that there's no real problem, she just needs help getting back up- or it might mean a cardiac event. "One car MVA, unknown injuries" might mean someone slid into the ditch and is uninjured, or it might mean calling the helicopter- or it might be a car that has been sitting off the road for a week, and someone driving by called it in but "couldn't stop." "Abdominal pain" could be a big lunch, or appendicitis, or trauma that the patient didn't want to tell anyone about. An "alarm activation" might be just that, burned toast... or a working structure fire.

My point here... if I have one... is that everything is like that. Whatever you hear, you don't really know what is going on until/unless you are there. And sometimes, not even then. Whether it's an emergency call, or office gossip, or anything in between. People see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, and jump to conclusions. All the time. It's not a vindictive thing, necessarily. It's a human thing.

The human brain excels at making connections.
Sometimes, it makes the wrong ones.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Getting older

Somehow, I've gotten old.

Although my kids constantly tell me I'm ancient, it didn't really hit me until a couple of days ago.

I didn't have a particularly difficult day, wasn't pulling out gray hair (I like gray hair!), didn't have a geritol moment.

What happened?

My little sister turned 40.

Somehow, that made me a whole lot older than my turning 50 will.
Go figure.

During that day, I saw or heard numerous references to aging, and nearly all of them were negative.

One was a suggestion that a man would no longer be interested in a woman as she got older. And vice versa.
There were several ads portraying elderly people as sick or with limited mobility. Or with dementia. As if these things are inevitable.
A lament about losing hair.
And on and on.

Here's the thing.

If you don't die young, you get old.

Why does this culture have such an anti-age bias?
Whatever happened to cultures who honor their elders, and appreciate the years of experience, and perhaps wisdom, accumulated by those people?

I sure as hell know more now than I did when I was in my twenties.
I'm a better person, too. More committed, more focused. More able to navigate interpersonal difficulties. Kinder. More patient. Better able to discern what is important from what is not.

But yes, I have some gray hair, some aches and pains, and I am reaching the point of being all too aware of my mortality.

One of the interesting things about being an EMT is that I meet a lot of older people. They are often the ones who call for medical assistance, partly because they have more medical issues, but also, often, because they have no one to drive them to the hospital.

So far, in this little town, all of those people have been wonderful folks. I wish I could meet them in a less stressful way, and spend time talking- or mostly, spend time listening. Some of them have lived here forever, I think, and have a wide variety of interesting stories.

This is a largely unappreciated resource.

I'm certain that they have no idea how positively they have affected me, giving me living proof that contrary to popular belief, cultural bias, and common fears, "old age" just might be an okay place to get to some day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I've been thinking again.

About choices.
About decisions.
About mistakes.

We live in a culture that doesn't like mistakes. Most of the time, they are either ignored completely (no, really, it's fine), denied, (who, me?)(it was like that when I got here) or they are seen as a terrible thing (failure! idiot!).

None of these views is particularly useful.

It's not that I think mistakes, in and of themselves, are good. If they were, they wouldn't be mistakes, right? But they certainly are useful.

My kids are becoming adults. Not the easiest transition in the world, if I recall correctly. The thing is, when you are a child, your parents fix your mistakes. When you are an adult... nobody fixes them.


When my kids were little, they were, shall we say... stubborn. Hardheaded. Annoying. And they had very strong opinions about things. A whole lot like their parents, in other words. :-)

I used to tell people that I want my kids to grow into adults who can stand up for what is right, who can resist peer pressure, who can make good choices and good decisions. The trouble is, in order for them to be able to do that, they have to LEARN to do that, which means they need to practice it from an early age. And having children who stand up for what they believe, instead of always caving to pressure, from YOU, can be a pain in the butt.

In other words, in order to have strong adults, you must allow them to be strong children. In order for them to make good decisions as adults, they must be allowed to make decisions as a child.

It's a whole lot easier to learn to make good decisions by making bad SMALL decisions, than by making bad BIG decisions. Easier on them and easier on me. So it's important to let them make choices, even if you wouldn't make the same one.

Piled those blocks too high and they fell over? Try again.
Picked something you didn't like for lunch? No big deal.
Didn't wear a warm enough jacket, and got cold? Add a layer next time.
Left food on the counter and the cat ate it? Put it away.
Left a toy on the floor, then stepped on it and hurt your foot? Owie.

Or even: said something that got your friend really mad at you, and now they don't want to be your friend? Learn how to treat people respectfully, and/or learn how to move on.

I'd much prefer those sorts of mistakes than not coming all the way to a stop at a stop sign and causing an "accident," or an unplanned pregnancy, or going out alone in the wrong part of town and getting mugged (or worse), or any number of more serious mistakes.

Little mistakes can usually be fixed, or avoided in the future.
Big mistakes can mess you up for life.

So my theory is this: fail early, and fail often. Let your mistakes guide you to making better choices, better decisions. Help those in your life to be better decision makers by allowing them to make errors when the results won't be dangerous and then help them learn how to deal with those mistakes.

It may be the biggest favor you ever do them, and yourself.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let me ask you a question

I need to ask you something...
Why do you...?

It almost doesn't matter what the rest of the question is.

People in this culture (and maybe in others, but I'm not IN others, so I don't know) frequently do not like being asked questions, at all. For some reason, they tend to interpret questions as an attack.

I did not always know this.

I am a very curious person, as a rule, and often ask a lot of questions.
When I ask a question, I am most often looking for information.
The trouble is, people get very defensive, and I don't end up getting the information I was hoping for.
Amusingly, the very same people will often, later, say "You could have asked."

Clearly, there is an issue here.

I first became aware of the defensiveness when I had a partner who could not deal with questions at all. He responded to "Why did you...?" as if I had said "How on earth could you do such a stupid thing, you moron?" The problem was that I really wanted to know why he made the choice he made, so I could think about it, address the issue, and/or explain my side. Then, perhaps, with both of us having more information, we could make a better plan, or come to a better agreement. Instead he would just get pissed off, and accuse me of nagging him. He could not listen long enough to even find out whether I agreed with him, or not. "Why?" to him, ALWAYS meant I thought he was wrong.

I am absolutely sure I am not alone in this.
For a while, I thought it was men who interpreted questions from women as nagging, but that's not the entire story.

Sometimes, it's when someone is asked about something they don't really have an answer for.
Sometimes, it's being questioned about something for which they feel guilty.
Those situations, as annoying as they might be, at least make some sort of sense. People get defensive and evasive when they perceive themselves to be at a disadvantage, or somehow in the wrong.

But it isn't only that, either.

Take this example:

I once knew a student who could not deal with questions of any kind. She clammed up. Got upset. Got emotional. Couldn't answer. And it didn't matter what the question was about, at all. ANY question would do that. Even something as simple as "Did you eat breakfast this morning?"

She would overinterpret.
Why are you asking about breakfast? Are you saying I'm fat? Are you going to criticize what I ate? Is there some particular reason I was supposed to eat... or not eat...or...?
And then, she would overanalyze her answers.

She was, as people often are, trying to find the "right" answer. Trying desperately to give the answer she believed the asker to be trying to get. Not the TRUE answer mind you, but the RIGHT answer. There is a world of difference.

This difficulty with questions, I believe, comes from faults in the public education system. Lots of questions there, many of which don't matter, and most of which are used to "grade" someone, to decide their value, their importance, how popular they are. People are HIGHLY motivated to figure out what they are supposed to say, what they are supposed to think, what they are supposed to do. Again, it isn't about what is RIGHT to say, or think, or do, it isn't about what they actually think or believe, it's about trying to play this match game with the person in authority who is asking the questions.

This is a dangerous precedent to create for nearly all of our adult citizens.
People who grow up in an environment that is hostile to asking questions, and surrounded by questions they are supposed to already know the answers to and regurgitate on command, don't learn to really question things, and don't learn how to give AND SUPPORT their own answers rather than whatever has been fed to them.

Back to my experience with this student I knew.

When I was first learning to teach, one of the master's primary tools for teaching was questions. Lots of questions. Some leading questions, some not. Some genuine requests for information, some to see what I knew. Some- probably most- to get me to think, to evaluate, to understand, and then be able to explain my position well enough to teach it to another person, who would ALSO be able to understand and explain it.

Fortunately for me, I love questions.

Not so much, this other student.

I can recall many instances where, after much discussion and such, I would be asked a question. After I gave my answer, the master would ask "Are you sure?" or some variation thereof, like "Do you want to think about that further?"

Here is where my unusual education has been a great help to me.
I could answer the question. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes with more questions.

But what happened to this other student was instant paralysis. She invariably interpreted "Are you sure?" as MOST people with highly schooled backgrounds interpret it- the teacher's attempt to let you know that your answer was WRONG, and you need to change it. So change it, she would. And then, when asked to defend that answer... she had no idea what to do. She had backed herself into a corner. She behaved as if she felt guilty, when she had done nothing wrong, because the QUESTION ITSELF, but its very nature of being a question, made her ASSUME she must be guilty, of something.

It was... uncomfortable.

I remember being asked this many, many times. Sometimes, the answer was "yes, I'm sure." Sometimes, it was "...uh... no, not really," and that would lead to more discussion and clarification, which was the purpose of the question in the first place. And a few times, it was "yes, I'm absolutely sure," and upon further discussion, I would come across information that changed my perspective, and then, I would realize that I was BOTH absolutely sure, and WRONG.

Being sure, and being right, are not the same thing.
Being sure, and refusing to question, to constantly re-evaluate and clarify and think it through more, means that you might miss that bit of information that lets you find out that you were wrong, and you'll go on believing you were right. Not a good thing.

The other thing that becomes clear with being comfortable with being asked questions, is the distinction between fact and opinion. Some things are opinions, what I think. Some things are facts, what I know. And some things- this might be the largest category- are things I think I know.

Those things are always up for re-evaluation.

I'm big on "as far as I can tell with the information I have right now..." I have no problem with differentiating between what I really know, and what I think, and what I'm not even sure what I think about. If I'm asked a question I don't know the answer to, that's okay. If I'm asked a question that is critical of my position, that's okay, too. I can state my position, and defend it- and if I can't, then I need to get more information so that I can. That's not being wrong, it's simply not knowing. I know I don't know everything, so it doesn't embarrass me. I can say "I don't know." Or I'm not sure, or I hadn't thought about it, or I need more information, and be comfortable with that.

So let me ask you something...

Why are you afraid of questions?

Friday, November 7, 2008

obstacles, or, whatever it takes

Okay, I probably shouldn't post this.

It requires much explanation, which will not be forthcoming. :-)

My father would say "there is more than one way to skin a cat" but that's a horrible image.

Posted to honor the hard work and joi de vivre of those involved.

Sometimes, indeed, play's the thing.

My place in the world

I'm going to do something I haven't done much of... post some pictures.

I added sitemeter a while ago, so I could see if anyone is reading this. Didn't realize I would also find out how many different places people come from to get here.

Since I started keeping a list, there have been visitors from 62 distinct US cities, 29 different states, and 14 foreign countries. And these are only the ones that sitemeter can identify the location for- which isn't even half.

It's very interesting.
I wish I could go to all the places people come here from.
Sadly, I can't.

But I can show you a little of what it looks like here where I am. I happen to live, I think, in one of the most beautiful places there is.

These pictures were taken in early October, about a week before peak leaf color.

I walked outside after teaching a class on a Sunday afternoon, and after putting gear away in my car, I looked up and this is what I saw on a rare sunny day. This is taken from almost exactly in front of my parked car. A week or two later, that hillside would be even more colorful. In the winter, this part of the lake freezes over, and inevitably people walk out onto it. I've done so, years ago. The year I got my first camera for Christmas, we went to the lake, and I walked out on the ice and took a picture back towards the shore.

This was taken on my way home, from about two miles up the hill to the East. I usually drive a sightly different way home, coming over the hill a bit to the North of this, but I like the view coming this way. It's about a mile or two longer to get home, but worth it.

About a mile closer, coming down the hill. That part you can sort of see, between the hill I'm driving down, and the one on the other side, that altiplano area... that's the town I live in, in all its glory. And this is what the sky usually looks like.

Now, on the way home, a mile away, from the other direction. The previous picture was taken coming down the hill you can see in the distance, on a road almost directly across from this. Almost, but not quite- they are offset a few feet because a creek crosses the main road there, and there is a little bridge between the roads to the East and West.

Almost home! People who live here might be able to tell just how close. Or not- roads that look like this are very common. I kind of like the "artistic" blurriness in this one... I was driving, and took it through the windshield, the view I see.

One more.

This is one of my favorite little spots. It's on the way down the back side of the hill, and ends up at about the city limits, the end of the "miracle mile," heading into town. That would be the nearest city/town, not the town I actually live in. We don't have a miracle mile. We don't have a miracle FOOT. We don't have stores at all. No fast food, no gas station, no nothing.

I like it that way.

There's a guy who wants to change that soon, and put a gas station about a quarter mile from my house. As convenient as it might be in some ways, I hope he doesn't.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

ode to the net

Been thinking a lot lately.

Not writing much, sad to say.

A few nights ago, one of my sons and I went to an open play rehearsal for a work-in-progress. It was... interesting.

One of the characters in the play, a woman in her forties, had apparently never heard of the internet. A male character was trying to explain it to her, and at one point, in a flirtatious voice, she said "Tell me more about this little internet of yours..."

"This little internet" is an amazing thing.

I've been online almost as long as there has been an online. My life has been entirely changed because of people I met online, in ways I never could have predicted.

I thought I might write a little about some of the ways the internet has become an integral part of my life.

1. I have the most incredible source of information at my disposal, nearly instantly. Google has changed the world. And Google Maps makes it visible.

2. I know people in countries I've never visited, and can talk to them, realtime, for free.

3. Facebook. I never thought I would join facebook, never. But I did, and to my great surprise, it has delivered exactly what it claims to do- it has connected me to the people I know. And impressively, to people I used to know. I have reconnected with people I had not seen in thirty years. Old high school friends. And maybe, the one that amazes me most- I found a brother and sister from Iran, who I knew in Peru in 1977, and had not communicated with since then. Maybe the best thing about this is how low key it is- I can see a status message and have some idea of what is going on in people's lives, with no obligation on either side to keep writing back and forth.

4. Communication, communication, communication. Whether it's a note to a friend, or exchanging files for work, maintaining a website for my fire company, or keeping in touch with a group of women I've known online for a dozen years, homeschoolers all over the country. We talk politics and religion, exchange recipes, congratulate new grandmothers, discuss health issues and our kids. I read blogs written by other EMTs, by college professors, and by a number of friends and students or former students. I can post training schedules, and proofread publications. I can send notes to my kids, reply to posts on freecycle and let my students know when a class is canceled.

5. Tying up loose ends, and closing circles. I have been able to find some folks to whom I owe apologies, and apologize. In some cases, many years late, but at least I've been able to do so. Without the internet, I doubt I ever would have been able to do this.

6. The world is my marketplace. Ebay, the world's largest garage sale, where, among other things, I have been able to purchase swords I would never have been able to find locally because they do not exist here. Craigslist. Ticketmaster for tickets to just about anything, anywhere. The Fire Store. Anything I need, and can't find locally, I can find online. And I can pay for it through PayPal.

7. Fun stuff. iTunes. Youtube. xkcd! The potential for entertainment is unlimited.

8. This blog. :-)

Anyone reading this is already well aware of the internet- or you couldn't be here.

My point is that I've been appreciating how much this has become integrated into my life. College students were born after the internet; they have no idea how much life has changed.

But I do. It is nothing short of amazing.