edge-pixa

An important realization for me on my path to retirement was recognizing that I had much less interest in being on the cutting edge of my work areas. I have spent forty years in education and all of those years not only teaching (grades 7 through graduate school), but also teaching and being involved with technology. That latter area has included film, video, computers, instructional technologies, web design and social media. These are the areas that required staying on the cutting or leading or bleeding edge of what was new and relevant.

I always tried to stay current with literature and writing (where I did most of my teaching) and pedagogy. But technology is harder to keep up with as it changes every day. It’s even harder in the education world because in education it is harder to cause change than in industry – and education has far less money for tools and technology.

If you look at the origin of those terms – cutting, leading and bleeding edges – they are closely tied to technology. They are also rather dangerous-sounding. Cutting and bleeding certainly call to mind their knife and sword blade origins. The leading edge may be aeronautical in origin, but seems to me a bit like wing-walking or standing at the edge of a cliff – both things I have no desire to do.

And that’s where I am now – backing away from the edge. I still have an eye to topics about literature (especially poetry) and writing. I pay more attention to articles about education than the average person, but far less than I did in the past.  With technology, my interest in knowing what is the latest tool or trend has very little appeal to me.

I think this must be true of anyone considering retirement from a career. No longer having an interest in staying at the forefront of that field is definitely an indicator that it is time to leave. Of course, it doesn’t always mean retirement. It could happen to you mid-career and mean it’s time to find a new way of making a living.

The view is still very interesting when you step back from the edge. Actually, we tend to view “stepping back” to view something as a good thing to do. It’s certainly a less stressful and dangerous viewing position.

 

autumnleaf-pixa

Another equinox is upon us, one of two times each year when the Sun crosses the equator and it appears, if only for a moment, that day and night are of equal length. For me, that autumn equinox moment just happened at 10:21 AM EDT (September 22).

You can be scientific and astronomical about the equinoxes, as I have usually been in writing past posts, but autumn is my favorite season and that has little to do with celestial events.

My October birthday (the 20th) always feels very autumnal. I have always thought that people may be more comfortable in the season and climate they were born into.

This is the first September since I was 4 years old that it doesn’t feel like a “new year” starting this month because for the all the years after that I was either a student or teacher. The new school year starting was much more of an event that the January hoopla of the calendar new year.

People in earlier times certainly paid more attention to the equinox than we do today. They knew this was a significant and regular event. Temples and structures, most famously Stonehenge, followed the Sun and Moon and it was associated with the changing seasons. They may not have marked the four seasons in the same way that we do, but they noted the two equinoxes.

For their lives, the fact that the nights began to be longer than the days was more significant than the later electric age. They eventually calculated that the next turning point would be the Winter Solstice in December when days would start to get longer again.

Today, we don’t have much ceremony associated with the equinox. Summer ended for most Americans with Labor Day. School started again. Plants and gardens have started to die back for many of us. Halloween and even Christmas items and advertisements started appearing already. We are terribly out of sync with the celestial clockwork.

As an autumn baby, this cooler weather, blazes of foliage, fireplaces and sweaters all feel very comfortable. Of course, I will miss summer when things turn cold in winter (my least favorite season), but for now I am quite happy with the seasonal climate.

The interaction of Earth and Moon ignores our human attempts to mark the seasons by fixed calendar dates. The Sun seems to move southward (of course, its Earth moving) so that it is cooler here in the Northern Hemisphere and warmer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The equinoxes mark spring and autumn, but when the Sun is at its farthest north or south and the length of time between sunrise and sunset is the shortest of the year, we have the solstices of summer and winter. The two equinoxes mark the equal points in between.

This day of balance is always a reminder to me of things I need to do in this season to prepare for the coming winter. There are always summer projects I didn’t complete that I rush to finish. As the weather cools even more, I need to bring in plants, clean up the garden, take in garden hoses and winterize the lawn mowers as I get the snowblower ready.

But for now, all things being equal, I will just enjoy my cup of tea and look at the early autumn blooms on the chrysanthemums and other plants, and watch the birds and squirrels do their equinox dance.

island-pixa

This past week I saw on the local TV news the story of a 29-year-old New Jersey woman, Tirri, who is getting rid of all her high-tech gadgets for a year. She says it is so that she gets to spend more time with her children. Her Aha! moment came when she missed one of her 18-month-old twins’ first steps while she was checking on her phone.

Oddly, she says that she feels that she is part of “the last generation to have a childhood without technology.” I have two sons about her age and they hardly grew up without technology. It is probably more accurate to say that her parents in the mid-1980s did not have as many tech distractions while parenting her.

So, what do you mean by technology when you take a holiday from it?

Tirri is leaving behind her smartphone and computer and the email, Facebook, Instagram, videos and all that comes with the Net. But she will still use a touchtone landline phone, a record player, maybe the television too. Isn’t that technology? What about her microwave and her car, the home heating and cooling systems, her banking and bill paying and… Well, you get the point.

Plus, her husband will still have his smartphone. Did he miss those first steps too? Possibly, but he might have been in another room or at work or talking outside to a neighbor or…  We are distracted by more than just technology.

She grew up with technology. She even grew up in her teen years with the Internet. My grandfather had technology – a different kind, but technology nonetheless.

People have been fascinated with and frightened by technology since probably Socrates feared that the written word would destroy our ability to think and remember. Movies, radio, comic books, television, video games and plenty of other technologies old and new were seen as dangerous distractions. “Go outside and get some fresh air and just play” has been in the parenting script for centuries.

I could go tech-free, if you put me on a deserted island without any devices.  I’m all for “tech holidays.” Take a night, a day, a weekend, an actual vacation week away from your devices. See if you feel happier, or feel punished.

More importantly, take notice of how all this digital technology changes us.

There are pro and cons to many of the changes that have been documented concerning media and new technology. Devices encourage us to multi-task. Being able to do more than one thing at a time (the classic walk and chew gum joke) is essential. Tech makes it easy to switch between tasks. But research also shows that when we do two things at once, like listen to a podcast and read a book, both suffer in understanding and retention. On a single task, the new information goes into the hippocampus, home of long-term knowledge. When multitasking, the information can go to the striatum. That is the area that stores new procedures and skills, but not facts and ideas. This means a kind of shallow storage that is less likely to be easily found in the future.

You might have read or heard of Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain.  The book’s title foreshadows Carr’s general feelings about the Net.

“It becomes much harder to sustain attention, to think about one thing for a long period of time, and to think deeply when new stimuli are pouring at you all day long. I argue that the price we pay for being constantly inundated with information is a loss of our ability to be contemplative and to engage in the kind of deep thinking that requires you to concentrate on one thing.”

Can you filter the important from the unimportant?

Carr included a study showing that the more distracted you are, the less able you are to experience empathy. Those kinds of deep emotions and thoughts are connected to the attentiveness that also forms deep connections with other people.

We also know that the digital world affects memory in good and bad ways. I am very happy to not memorize phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, shopping lists and other minutiae. But researchers tell me that cognitive offloading, that tendency to rely on digital memory rather than brain cells actually increases each time we use the digital alternative.

Does tech support and extend our memory, or does it decrease it?  We are deep into, and probably beyond, the Information Age, and information overload is a given.

It is still not clear that all this tech “hurts” our brains, even if it changes them.

Like older technologies, the general feeling is that the tech is also changing us in bigger and broader ways, like the way we think and our social and emotional cues.

One study I saw looked at reading on digital platforms and concluded that it seems to make us “more inclined to focus on concrete details rather than interpreting information more abstractly.” Not a conclusive finding.

The idea that heavy digital media use leads to a loss of cognitive control (our ability to control our mind and what we think about) is much more frightening. Are our brains becoming more attracted to what’s new rather than what’s important?

Do you get a nice rush of reward chemicals in your brain when you empty your inbox?  That is the “dumb, novelty-seeking portion of your brain feeling pleased, according to Daniel J. Levitin, author of The Organised Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. So, keep clicking the Like button on Facebook and favoriting tweets and Instagram photos to give your online “friends” some happy juice.

I have read that too much time in front of screens (a nice way to encapsulate net, social and media time) increases depression, anxiety and aggression and a distancing from reality. This past summer, I was amused by the delight people found in people actually going outside to use Pokémon Go.

 

But I could also cite a Pew study that found that Facebook users have more  “close friends, more trust in people, feel more supported, and are more politically involved compared to non-social media users” or one that found that social media helps them to deepen their relationships with others.

 

I wish Tirri luck with her tech-free experiment, and I hope she has lots of good times with her kids. She says she will chronicle her days in a paper journal rather than online, and if she makes it for a year, she’ll write a book. Put me on that deserted island for a few months and I might get a book done too.

Maps like these in classrooms inspired the urge to wander in me as a 1960s kid.

I won’t be hiking the “Wonder Trail,” as Steve Hely did, but I did read about it.

I once upon a time made elaborate plans to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did the research, bought maps, joined a hiking club and started doing sections of it near my home for practice. On one of those hikes, I blew out a knee and blew up my plans.

But I still love to walk, though I wouldn’t classify the walks as hikes. And I like to armchair hike through books. Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is one I read and watched in its film version recently and wrote about here. Bryson planned on doing the Appalachian Trail too.  When I read Into the Wild, I identified with Chris’ wanderlust, but it didn’t make me want to reach for my backpack and hiking boots and head off to Alaska.

The Wonder Trail is the story of a trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America. It is travel writing, history, and comic memoir. The comic element is the least surprising since Hely was a writer for 30 Rock, the Late Show with David Letterman and the animated comedy American Dad.

The book is in 102 easily-digested short chapters. He makes his way to Oaxaca, Mayan ruins, Inca ruins like Machu Picchu, jungles, and beaches of Central America, the Panama Canal, the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, all the way to Patagonia.

Hely presents lots of places to get lost.

“If someday I am forced to become a fugitive, hide out someplace where no one knows my name, no one will ask too many questions, and no one will think to look for me, a little house up on the hilly shore of Lake Ati- tlán might be the spot. Although of course now I’ve given that away. And while I know I can trust you, Reader, I can’t trust everybody, so maybe I’ve just blown it. Or maybe this is part of my game. I’m just trying to throw you off my trail. Lake Atitlán is exactly where I’ll be. Except I won’t be. Don’t look for me there.”

This is not a book to read if you are planning to walk the path that Steve walked. Is he a real travel writer? Well, this is his second travel book. The first was The Ridiculous Race, another comic travel tale that started when Steve and her Harvard Lampoon buddy Vali Chandrasekaran challenged each other to a race around the globe in opposite directions.

It reminds me of the old Around the World in 80 Days. – the Jules Verne novel or one of the movie version. (I saw the 1956 film as a kid and it was more comic than the book and also not a handbook for world travelers.)

I suppose a reader or reviewer might find The Wonder Traildisappointing” if they are looking for a travel guide. As an armchair traveler, I was looking for escape.

 

Hely’s website is, unsurprisingly, stevehely.com

elkmoon-flickr

Traditionally, today’s Full Moon is the Harvest Moon, but I like to look at other names given to this month’s Full Moon.

I say today’s Full Moon rather than tonight’s Full Moon because depending on the month and where you are reading this, the Moon might have reached its fullness while you were sleeping, eating breakfast, lunch or dinner in sunshine. Where I am typing this post, the Moon will be full at 03:05 pm (EDT), but in Perth, Hong Kong and Beijing it won’t happen until the calendar and clock say September 17 03:05 am (WST).

The Full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox is traditionally called the Harvest Moon. It is usually in September, but sometimes occurs in October. The autumn equinox this year for Paradelle is
September 22, 2016 at 10:21 AM EDT.

I do like that the Harvest Moon seems to be one of the rare names that both the English and many Indian tribes of eastern and northern North America agreed on. Other Native American names included the also harvest-themed Corn Moon and Barley Moon.

You will often see the Harvest Moon and Hunter Moon portrayed in photos and artwork as being very red or orange, which gives it an autumnal look. But any red effect is more of the seasonal tilt of the earth and the atmospheric conditions of nightfall. That reddish color of the moon as it rises low in the sky is from viewing it through a greater amount of atmospheric particles, including pollution and smoke. It looks whiter when it is higher overhead. All those particles scatter the blue part of the light spectrum, allowing the red end of the spectrum a straighter path to your eyes and the chance to dominate. Itis why the sunrise and sunset look so much more red.  That’s less Romantic than thinking the Moon changed colors along with the tree leaves.

This month’s Full Moon is also called the Elk Call Moon. Although this is partially a reference to hunting, the Hunter’s Moon is a more modern name for the Full Moon that follows the Harvest Moon. That would be our October Full Moon.

Still today, most elk hunting begins around early September in a time known as pre-rut. During the summer, elk bulls’ grow their antlers grow and that ends late August, when testosterone levels rise and they begin the process of gathering as many cows as possible in harems jealously guarded by the herd bull for the duration of the rut. This is also when their vocalization increases and peaks the last two weeks of September.

Keep in mind that our friends in the southern hemisphere view the Full Moons of September, October and November as the Full Moons of spring.

 

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