Do Not Go Gently…

Leaving the East Coast for California this week was rare good luck. Phil had planned for months to attend a conference in San Francisco, and I tagged along to spend time up in the hills with the granddaughters. The overlap with their mother’s trip to Australia was serendipitous, and I looked forward to hiking the trails with the girls and alone, when they were in school. We even jetted out of JFK a few short hours before New York’s fourth, or was it fifth or sixth major storm of this season.

California is in bloom, and smells of eucalyptus. Just to be able to smell the air instead of freeze my nose hairs was a treat. I woke early on Thursday, eager to run outdoors without a coat and take some pictures. As I stepped out on the expensive and expansive new deck, the sun topped the hill and blinded me, and I didn’t see the step down, and did a face-plant. My right knee took the hit, with collateral damage to my left elbow. There was not too much swelling, and I convinced myself that it was better to move the leg than let it stiffen up, and so walked the mile down to the school to help out at the Valentine’s Party, then inched the mile back up the hill afterwards. And then it all went “pear-shaped”, as my friends in Oz would say.

In that hour I aged thirty years, and stayed there for the next two days. Walking was bad and painful, as I wrenched half the other muscles in my body, accommodating for the knee. I stumped around using a Louisville Slugger as a cane, desperately afraid of slipping and falling again. Sitting was an experiment in free fall, and standing back up, as much a mental exercise (“You can do it, just concentrate”) as a physical one, hauling myself up on one leg, the bad one dangling, unable to bear any weight.

And I thought of my mother. She is 94 now, and after breaking a thigh bone, walks very tentatively, often using a cane for stability. When necessary, she uses a walker. As I planned my movements around the house; heading to my room, what can I carry there, what can I bring back? When cooking, gather everything in one area of the counter, close to the stove, to minimize movement. Using the toilet-don’t ask! Exiting the pool-call for help!

The misery lasted two full days, and today, Saturday, I am merely walking with a limp. I am anticipating a Keyser Söze-like transition (“The Usual Suspects”) over the course of the next day or so, and plan to hit the trails tomorrow or Monday.

This taste of aging was a wakeup call. Instead of the six plus miles my Fitbit records every day, I traversed (ha!) only half a mile yesterday. And of course the less I walk, the worse shape I am in-a vicious feedback loop.

When I was younger, I was known to crash into light poles, as I walked down the street reading a book. Now I realize that I have to be eternally vigilant, so that I don’t go cascading prematurely into the evening before that good night.

But I did snap one shot after the fall…



As Carson Shared With Lady Mary…

There is something very meta going on here, as we say in Brooklyn. My daughter Yael and her office husband Matthew sat me down one day(in a figurative sense) and said I should be writing a blog. Matthew thought it should be titled “WWGDGD?”. Guess everyone knows “J” by his first name, but you need all three initials to identify me.

Their idea came from the constant stream of tech, film and book recommendations I make to all and sundry. Obviously, I took the first suggestion, though not the latter, and “I Spy” resulted.

By chance, I had been following a similar, though much more erudite blogger, Jesse Kornbluth, who writes under the title of “Head Butler”. He curates, in the truest sense, books, films, music and various products to improve your life. Thanks to him, I now use Anthelios 50+ Fluide Extreme Moisturizer (love it!), my espresso is beautifully ground by my Capresso Burr Coffee Grinder and my whole family is equipped with the amazing Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Mugs. They keep your coffee warm for six hours, and have a lip for easy sipping!

I now listen to Arvö Part’s music, and my ringtone for Phil is a Bach cello concerto. I’ve read “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” and “Defending Jacob”. And “The Battle of Algiers” and “Dodsworth”, as well as “A Face in the Crowd” are on my “to see” list. Come on, Netflix, get with the program!
And now my Head Butler has published “ The 100 Essentials: Books, music and movies for people with more taste than time”, and I am furiously taking notes on new and old books, films music and great stuff.

By the way, despite my obvious fondness for (I consider myself the Amazon Queen), I am not on their payroll.

Now just as Carson and Lady Mary don’t always see eye to eye, Jesse and I have our moments. This week he commented on the allegations against Woody Allen, then recommended a Norwegian film about a teacher wrongly accused of sexual impropriety. Hmmmm. And then the next day he recommended a biography of Frank Sinatra that slams Mia Farrow (and does a number on old a Frank as well). Double hmmmm. So I am suspecting that he might be Team Woody while I am Team Dylan-both in the absence of any data.

He is also a jazz aficionado, while I lean toward classical, country and rock. But differences just add spice to a relationship.

So may I recommend my Head Butler to you?

And if what I Spy might be interesting to friends of yours, please share anytime.

Science: Fact or Fiction?

I was shocked this week to read that a Pew survey  showed that only 60% of Americans believe in evolution! And that belief among Republicans has fallen from 54% in 2009 to only 43% today. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

I taught science for many years, from Grades Seven and Eight, through Biology, Chemistry and Physics in high school, and then Biochemistry and AIDS 101 at university. A mixed grouping, at best.

For my first assignment, I was hired on a Friday, given five textbooks, and began the next Monday teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology to high school students, as well as pre-biology and pre-chemistry to grades Seven and Eight. I hope my enthusiasm made up for the fact that I was usually only one lesson ahead in my preparations.

A few years later, teaching just high school was a breeze, and I was glad that Biology was not on my roster, as the Bio teacher was often gifted with road kill by her colleagues, and was too polite to explain that she really had no interest in dead animals. The venomous Palestinian viper that someone killed in their garden was coiled, frozen, in the Teacher’s Lounge, and almost brought on cardiac arrest in a hungry English teacher.

But in all these postings, I found my colleagues to be excited by their subject matter and eager to convey it to their students, though there were stories of teachers who drew the short straw (literally and figuratively) being forced to teach the math or science they detested, with predictable results.

But once I completed a Ph.D. and began to teach in college, I noticed that there was a shift. One began as an Assistant Professor, and after five or six years came the opportunity to seek tenure. On paper this was based on Research, Teaching and Community Service. In fact, the true basis was Research, meaning Acquisition of Grant Money. No grants, no tenure. There was even the “joke” that receiving a Teaching Award was the kiss of death for receiving tenure.

Classes were often enormous, and the students there under some duress. To go to Med School you had to take Biochemistry, or Organic Chemistry, or Embryology. And year after year of students whining over their grades or threatening lawsuits if they didn’t get an “A” could get old pretty fast. The privilege of teaching small classes and seminars went to the tenured. Science was seen as a proving ground, and elimination of the “unworthy” was expected.

I am trying to fit these observations into the fact of the regrettable ignorance of science amongst the general public. Where is the breakdown? Of course the observation has been made that we feed bright, enthusiastic students into our educational system at one end, and turn out grade-grubbing, semi-literate incurious products at the other end. Why should it be different for science?

It should be different because science and the knowledge of how science works is essential in an informed democracy (though of course literacy is too). More and more we are called upon to make decisions based on an understanding of science. Should Grandma have a feeding tube inserted, now that her brain waves are flat? Should I allow a pipeline (or fracking) on my property? Is my water safe to drink? How much treatment is too much (or too little) treatment for a disease? What is a scientific theory, and how does that relate to facts? And does the cold, cold winter many of us are having refute or bolster claims of climate change?

The “debate” or rout this week, between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham, head of the Creation Museum, on the subject of evolution gave a stark picture of the current state in the U.S. Watch it and weep!