Navigation

Apparently, underneath my smoldering reluctance to use GPS is an amazing truth—not only in who I am, but in the way I have chosen to approach navigation and directions. My reluctance to use GPS and my fascination with maps—even the unwieldy ones that unfold and unfold and unfold into something that is far more than a driving distraction—has been working parts of my brain that are dying off in those who rely on a computerized voice to tell them where to go.

This realization came when I was listening to a story on GPS technology on NPR’s OnPoint. While the program focused on digital mapping technology, the guests also touched on our increasing reliance (in fact, dependence) on this technology. When we need to navigate unfamiliar territory, we simply turn to our phones, as we do for many things these days. Regardless of the convoluted directions we seem to be following, we trust our digital navigation systems to get us where we want to go.

However, humans have a built in ability to navigate the world—to figure out how to get from one place to another using things such as celestial bodies, earthly forces, our own knowledge of our surroundings, the maps that have been created of those surroundings, landmarks, and our own instincts. These things together give us a broad picture of what is around us and where we are heading.

The technology we have now, while convenient, allows us to navigate in a passive manner. Essentially, we have a tool that leads us, and we don’t have to pay attention to anything but the tinny, computerized voice emanating from the small box we hold in our hands. “Turn left in 100 feet,” it tells us, and we do. If we look at the unwieldy map, we might see that straight through the next four intersections we would come to an incredibly cool pink lake that would be awesome to see before we turn left on a different path that will still lead to our destination.

In this same NPR story, one of the guests referenced a study done in London on GPS navigation versus the use of maps and navigational techniques to find our way. The navigational part of the brain was fully lit up in those who were using a map to navigate the streets of London, but it was completely dark in those relying on GPS navigation. Completely dark. As in not being used. Where brains are concerned, that is not good news.

So the next time my children say, “Mom, just turn on your GPS,” I will just say, “No thank you.” There is a time and a place for GPS. If I am lost in a strange place and need to get somewhere by a certain time, I might turn on my GPS.

But getting lost is actually an adventure that can lead to amazing places. Unfolding a map and using my brain is the more active way to get where I am going. And maybe in the wandering, I will do some sightseeing, discover a new path, and make some new friends along the way.

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Classroom Etiquette

As a teacher, I spend some time in the front of a classroom. Because of the nature of my full-time work—one-on-one academic support—I generally teach only one face-to-face class each year, but it is enough for me to track the changes in educational engagement through the years. Or is it?

As I stand in front of the class, with students working away on their computers, I (used to) make the assumption that they are taking notes or otherwise engaging in educational activities that will ultimately enhance their learning. That’s what I want to believe, so I create that reality in my head.

Fast forward to this summer, when I am taking a face-to-face class. This is the first time I have been a student in a physical classroom in many years, though I won’t say how many. I mean, I have attended various trainings (as recently as this past February) which mimic a classroom situation, but in those “classrooms,” it always seems as though people are interested in learning the material so they can bring it back to their own workplaces and put it to use.

This week was my second class in a summer-long Masters-level research class. I am not in a degree program; I am taking the class because I have research I want to conduct, and I don’t really know the best way to start. At this week’s class, one of my work colleagues was seated on my right. She and I were actively taking notes, discussing the topic, and beginning to get excited about our research projects.

On my left sat a fellow classmate, a young woman I have seen before, but I don’t know. She arrived right before the class started, took out her computer, and immediately picked up a message stream that she had left mid-conversation. To her credit, she also opened a document window where she could take notes during the 2+ hour class.

Class began, and she continued to occupy herself with messaging. Somehow this new generation of students hasn’t learned that they can say, “Hey, I’m in class right now. I’ll message you later,” and they don’t find it important to do so.

But this woman wasn’t engaged in class at all. Before 4:30, she removed a glass container from her bag and opened it on the desk. Inside was a nice looking dinner salad. She removed another container from her bag, opened it, and poured dressing onto the salad. Then she spent the next fifteen minutes crunching away on her dinner. (Did I mention this is a two-hour class? Have a snack before class, and you can have dinner at 6:15). When she was done, she dropped her metal fork into the glass container (not even attempting to be quiet), snapped the cover on, and put the container back in her bag. Then, she promptly returned to messaging her friend.

While I was trying to pay attention to the professor and concentrate on the material, I had developed a deep curiosity as to this woman’s non-stop in-class extra-curricular activities. Weren’t these activities just as effective when done from one’s couch in the comfort of one’s living room? Why would someone commit the time and money to a class when she wasn’t going to exert any effort beyond being physically present?

When I looked at her computer screen again, she was browsing the Crate & Barrel website, scrolling through dishes. The woman sitting to her left was commenting on the ones she liked best. In class. While the professor was lecturing. Clearly, taking a class means something different to these women than it does to me.

Perhaps I have an archaic notion of classroom behavior, left over from my student days long before the advent of portable computers. However, I don’t believe that respect for someone teaching a class has completely gone by the wayside. And I know for certain from all the studies I read that the best way to learn is to actively engage with the material.

We are only two classes in, and this experience has been eye opening for me. When I stand in front of my class in September—a class that is designed to help students make connections, discover how to learn, and serve as a foundation and resource for college life—I will tell my students that our classroom will be technology-free. Because sometimes, the best way to learn how to make connections is to disconnect.

Hairpins

Every so often, my house coughs up a hairpin. This is an awkward habit that doesn’t seem to have an end. Every now and then, I will be walking through a room, and suddenly, there is a hairpin on the floor where there wasn’t one previously.

I am not sure where these hairpins are coming from. Years ago, my daughter had long hair. Years ago, she had to put her hair in a bun on a near daily basis for dance practice. But years ago, she cut her hair and donated it. It hasn’t been long since. And she hasn’t used a hairpin since.

Other moms sometimes complain of this same phenomenon, but their daughters still have long hair and use hairpins regularly. The fact that they have hairpins in their house makes sense.

We got rid of the hairpins—all the hairpins, I thought. The bulk of them, she gave to friends who were still dancing. Stray pins were thrown out as we came across them—usually in a logical place like her dance bag or her dresser.

Yesterday, I found one on the floor of my bedroom. [I do not use these devices in my own hair]. The fact that somehow my house is still holding on to hairpins is odd. In fact, it startles me when I come across one because no one in my house has used hairpins in years. Where are they coming from?

This is one of the mysteries of life for moms of girls.

Tough Lessons from the Road

A few months back—probably in the fall when the weather was good and the roads were clear—there was a discussion among some of my Facebook friends about motorcycles and pushing the limits of speed. These people were jovially comparing their top speeds, as if hitting 120 was a great accomplishment.

Recently, my 16 year old has been talking about getting a motorcycle, and I am not thrilled at the prospect. While I hope he will ride responsibly if he ever does get one, there is always that temptation to just test how it might feel to go a bit faster than one should. Meanwhile, I have always lived with the paranoid and constant fear that when a motorcyclist speeds past me on the highway, I will encounter the rider up ahead, splayed out in the road after a momentary misstep.

The other day, we were on our way back from a college visit, because really, shouldn’t we just continue to look at colleges since I am now four years into the process: one kid, then the next, and now the youngest? We had just merged from one highway to the next, and I was finding my place among the several lanes. A motorcycle with a young rider suddenly flew past us at an alarming speed, weaving in and out of the cars as he flew. He was living out the rush of a lifetime. A state trooper pursued him, sirens blaring, but he continued his reckless journey unabated.

As we crested the top of the hill, we had an almost two-mile view into a slight valley and up another hill. The motorcycle was a small dot moving along the road up ahead—easy to spot as it traveled faster than the cars around it. The trooper had backed off, knowing that continued pursuit would increase the possibility of the danger.

We traveled another couple miles and… Chaos. We spotted the motorcycle in a crumpled heap. W let out a fearful, “Oh!” and I gasped, the tears springing almost immediately. This was just too much. This sight—the scene of bike, the rider, and the chaos that comes before  emergency personnel arrive—is one of those scenes that I will never unsee. It is one that will quietly creep alongside me and rear its ugly head each and every time a motorcycle recklessly passes me. My once paranoid fear is now realized, confirmed, and etched in my brain forever.

And while I would not wish this sight on anyone, this lesson is one that only the road can teach—either by example or by experience. This lesson is best learned by example. I believe the message came screaming through to my son without my need to speak a word. This young rider had gathered enough speed to send himself headlong into whatever it is that comes next.

Each and every day, we walk the thin line between this world and the next. Depending on our choices, some days, that line seems much thinner and more vague than others—both as fine as the silk of a caterpillar hanging from a tree, and clearly visible to the naked eye. Without warning, we can slip from one side to the other.

One of the toughest lessons to learn is that each and every day is one of those days.

Driving Snow

I was driving up the highway yesterday. The temperature was hovering somewhere between hint-of-spring and freezing, and it was raining. Or was it snowing? The precipitation seemed to depend upon the temperature. One minute it was raining, and the next, it was snowing.

My daughter was in the passenger seat, talking a Friday streak of words and stories from the week. But she was also paying attention to the snow. The roads, at this point, were mainly just wet, but could have frozen over with a frigid wind. And the snow—taken at highway driving speeds—was getting heavier and obscuring visibility. The further north we traveled, the heavier the snow became.

On my left, a driver passed me at an uncomfortably fast rate of speed. I let out a breath. “I guess he’s in a hurry,” I said out loud to no one in particular. In my mind’s eye, a warning flashed as I envisioned his tires losing traction on a particularly slick patch of ice.

In the second he lost traction, he would realize he had made a mistake by going so fast. He would be unable to correct his mistake because the second you realize what has happened is a second too late.

The truth is, we are all just one misstep away from losing traction—both on the road and in life. Whether we are moving too fast, not paying attention, or we misjudge something around us that triggers the loss of traction, that split second can throw us off course and completely change our trajectory, whether it is in work, in family life, or on the road.

So adjust the pieces of your life accordingly. Slow down and consider your surroundings. Keep all four wheels in contact with the road, and we’ll all be just fine.

{Photo taken on April 6th from the safety of the roadside}

Just once…

I went grocery shopping on the way home from work yesterday. Grocery shopping is probably my least favorite job of the week, so I would definitely consider it a chore.

It was Friday afternoon, and the market was crowded with faceless shoppers on their way home from work. The only thing that would have made it worse was if there had been an impending snowstorm when everyone has to go out for bread and milk. Who knows why….

Anyway, I picked up everything I thought we might need for the majority of the week since I don’t want to go back right away. I got bread and milk and meat and veggies. The grapes looked good—green with a hint of blush (and they were not mushy)—so I picked up a couple pounds them. I might have gotten more, but I’ve learned over the years. If I get grapes and they are a touch too sour or the flavor isn’t just right, no one eats them.

I arrived home to two teens who could help me unload the groceries while I started dinner—it was fairly late by this time. I pulled the grapes out of the bag and tossed them into a colander and washed them. I tried one, and it was the perfect flavor and firmness. I ate a couple more as I made dinner.

When J came into the kitchen to set the table for dinner, they were still in the colander in the sink, so she tried one, as well. Her reaction was nearly identical to mine. “Ooo, those grapes are good!” she commented, stuffing a couple more into her mouth.

“Umm, dinner in two minutes!” I told her.

“They can be dessert!” she informed me, eating a few more.

When dinner was nearly done, J brought the grapes to the table. With two teens digging in, those grapes didn’t stand a chance. By the end of the meal, there were three grapes remaining. The two teens were too stuffed to eat even three grapes more.

Just once, I would like to come home from the market and not have to return in another day or two to pick up something that we have run out of. Apparently, this week is not my week. At least I can take comfort in the fact that they’re eating healthy!

 

Uncompromising…

If there is one very important lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s that there are some things you just can’t compromise. Sure, you can compromise on decisions like what to have for dinner, who will take out the trash, or even where you will live, work, or attend school. But the one thing you cannot compromise is the very essence of who you are. And I mean: The. Very. Essence.

When you compromise that part of yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, things begin to suffer. You begin to suffer. At first, it will be almost imperceptible. There will be a vague feeling of malaise. As it intensifies, things will seem to be… well, “off,” but you won’t be able to grasp exactly what is not right.

At the same time, you won’t be able to move closer to where you are supposed to be—your true purpose in life. You will feel stuck. And that’s because you are. If you compromise your true self, you cannot grow and experience life fully. Everything will seem flat.

Recently, I’ve been working to round myself out and fluff myself back up. Like an over-used pillow, years of tending to the needs of others have taken their toll. Before I started this journey of self-(re)discovery, I had been feeling flat and lifeless.

No doubt this will sound cliché, but the work I am doing is to discover the purpose of life. And I don’t mean the grandiose philosophical idea of “the purpose of life,” but I am particularly working toward the purpose for my life. Perhaps this is something I should have figured out years ago, but then again, I wonder if anyone ever truly figures it out….

This past weekend, I was moving through my day when the uncompromising essence of me smacked up against a tiny shard of the divine purpose of my life. The result was a collision so intense that it knocked me to my knees and brought tears in my eyes. And now I know.

I know if I can quell the noise long enough for regular, daily reflection, I can move toward that space—where essence and purpose are in perfect harmony and lead to a life that is so captivating that I will become fully entrenched in the work and invested in all that comes next.

And I know that in the pursuit of a life of amazing energy and passion and grace, some things just can’t be compromised.