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.

Wonder

The other day, I was on my way out to the car for work when I noticed that the azalea bush at the bottom of my front steps had little pink buds on it.

Let me backtrack for a moment. When I say “azalea bush,” I am exaggerating just a bit. When I first moved here in 2004, there was an azalea bush there. Over the years, it was overtaken by some unexplained rot/mold/disease, and each spring, it appeared to be closer and closer to the doom of nonexistence. One year, when the condo association landscapers came to prune the bushes, I asked them if there was anything they could do to save it. The manager surveyed the sad little bush, shook his head, and told me that he would cut off the dead parts, but the bush would probably need to be removed. He worked away at it for a bit and when he was done, there was little left. “I don’t think that’ll help, but we’ll see,” he told me.

And for the past several years, my struggling azalea bush has been little more than a bundle of sawed off stumps with some dried twigs sticking up. Every now and then, a leaf appears, but nothing more.

So imagine my surprise when I walked out the door on a beautiful spring morning, and the beginnings of an azalea bush were growing from one side of the bundle of old rotten bush-parts. Tiny shoots flaunted bright pink buds that caught my eye. It wasn’t just one twig with a bud or two. It was a forest of shoots, each with multiple leaves and buds.

That afternoon when I returned from work, I gave the little bush some TLC. I carefully removed all of the rotten pieces, one by one. I pulled them out and created a pile of refuse next to my walkway. Now, there is more room for the shoots to grow and flourish.

I had almost given up hope on this little bush, but somehow I knew the life would return and the azalea would see spring again. And I was right—there was just enough life left in the roots connected to those old, dry twigs to send up shoots that will someday be a whole new bush.

“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”     – E. B. White

Random Acts of Interference

There are days—too many, if you’re asking my opinion—when I have run out of some food item or other, and I have to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work. Grapes come to mind, for instance. Or milk.

So the other day, I was on my way into the store in somewhat of a rush. Someone had planted one of those “Gotcha!” displays right as you’re walking from the door to the food aisles, and you have to walk right by it because the cash registers prevent you from walking a different way. The “Gotcha!” displays are there to grab your attention and convince you to buy something you absolutely don’t need and didn’t intend to buy when you walked in the door.

On this particular day, I discovered that M&Ms had three new flavors, and the display urged customers to buy all three and vote on their favorite. But what caught my attention was the bright pink bag. New M&Ms? In a bright pink bag? What flavor could they be…?

And like a magnet, the colorful display pulled me off my very focused task of buying Oreos (because those are healthy), grapes, and strawberries. I stood examining the bag, the flavor (raspberry crunch), and anticipating how that flavor might taste for just a split second too long.

“Ma’am, you don’t need any of those,” I heard from behind me. I turned to see a man, a complete stranger, leaning on his cart, waiting to get by my distracted self. I considered this interruption, and I smiled.

“Thank you,” I said. “You are absolutely right. I do not need those. I was trying to figure out what flavor they were.

“Those crunch things? My wife eats those all the time.”

And for a split second, I wanted to say, Oh, your wife needs them, but I don’t? But I didn’t because this man had just saved me from hundreds of unnecessary calories.

“Have a nice day!” I said instead. “And thanks again. Because I really didn’t need those!” I took my basket and walked away smiling.

Someday, I thought, I am going to master the art of interference so I, too, can thwart someone’s encounter with the “Gotcha!” display.

 

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}

Courage

I am at that point in my family life when my children are starting to wander farther, stretch their wings, and take on more responsibilities and adventures of their own. As I send them out into the world, I often think about advice I would like to give them. What I wish for them is the same thing I wish for everyone: the courage to take on the challenges they will face. And so, as you head out into the world, this week and in the weeks to come…

I wish you the courage to pursue your passions with persistence. Now, pursing one’s passion doesn’t mean being irresponsible. It’s important to go after what you want in life, especially if it matters to you. If your passion doesn’t [yet] allow for financial stability, you can still pursue it around the work that does bring the paycheck. Or better yet, you might work to figure out a way to weave your passion into your gainful employment.

I wish you the courage to be true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself, you need to know who you are. That knowledge requires connecting with your very core. If you can connect to who you are on the core level, you will be able to connect with others in the most authentic way. And if you connect with people who know who you are on the deepest level and are okay with your core identity, the rest will fall into place.

I wish you the courage to stand up for the causes you believe in. I wish you the courage to step in when needed and step up when challenged. The causes you truly believe in will connect with your core identity and help to strengthen it. And hopefully, they will promote justice and freedom and peace—maybe on a personal level, but maybe on a global level. Either way, if you stand up for the causes you believe in, you will promote your authenticity and make way for a better, brighter world.

And finally, I wish you the courage to stay in the present. In this day and age, it is so difficult not to focus on the future at the expense of the present. And it is also difficult not to get caught up in electronics and devices and social media, so much so that you don’t enjoy the here and now and the experiences that are right in front of you. But if you don’t focus on the present, you may miss out on a valuable moment with those who mean the most.

As you head out to start a new week, don’t forget your courage!