Calm and Unplugged

What a treat — I’m at the airport, and it’s just like the old days: I’m alone, and unreachable. Things are calm. I think I may not be able to charge my devices well in the country where I’m headed, so I’ve turned everything off. Powered it down. Nothing can beep me, buzz me, or otherwise interrupt my thoughts.

Things are calm.

How peaceful!

We’ve become slaves, willingly. Like the earth to the Ashén (accent on the second syllable, from “Stargate”), who slowly sterilized them into oblivion and took their planet, we’re cheerfully allowing the gleam and glow and chords and chirps to lull us into forgetting how to be human.

I remember a time when we tried hard not to be at anyone’s beck and call all the time. If you were, that was considered servitude. People aspired to jobs that would elevate them above the beck-&-call masses.

Now we are all at the beck and call — of machines.

Even parents often seem to prefer the cold chirp of technology to the babbling, happy conversation of the children they created. How many times have you seen a mother or father pushing a stroller or just walking together with their child – with a cell phone held to their ear?

What does a child learn from such non-interaction? That they’re on their own? They don’t matter as much as that little gizmo that has their parent’s rapt attention? That’s a lesson that can ruin our planet.

Focusing on many things at once – checking e-mail while surfing a FB page while sitting in class, for example – impairs our ability to focus clearly on only one thing. I see this in my classes all the time. Students seem to require constant stimulation, constant entertainment; it’s rare when they can all focus on one task for any length of time. Our attention spans are suffering from the constant battering of our daily electronic lives.

As I sit at the airport waiting for my flight, the effects of this phenomenon are obvious. No one talks anymore. In a waiting-room filled with people, the only ones I see talking are talking to a machine.

I tried chatting with my neighbor in several different places as I wandered the airport. Each time I smiled at someone and said something innocuous, a conversation-starter, an ice-breaker, it fell on deaf ears. Or rather, ears that were attuned only to the earbuds that connected them to an electronic device of some sort. Of the several times I tried, I got no reply. Not one.

In a vast room filled with people, I had no one to talk to.

How sad is that?

Looking someone in the eyes, seeing how they stand, how they smell, how tall they are, how they fluff back their hair while they talk – these are ways that we connect with other people. Ways we make friends (real, flesh-and-blood friends). They convey so much more than just a FB name or a thumbs-up or an e-mail message!

I choose to opt out of servitude. I like my interactions real, not virtual. Connecting with people, face to face, is one of my greatest pleasures while traveling. I love hearing and seeing how my kids process the world! I refuse to be a slave to technology.

How about you?

“Know thyself”…and thy Goals

No, this isn’t about climbing.

In the book “Maximum Climbing”, the author, Eric Hörst, talks about meta-cognition as the basis of every correct, informed decision. Without it, you can’t make good choices. Some may turn out okay, but that’s entirely due to chance.

Cognition (from Latin) is another word for learning (from German). Meta-cognition means learning about learning. Examining how we learn about ourselves and the world. If you understand how you do something, you’ll do it better, because you’ll know what to do, what to avoid, how to proceed.

It’s about process. Learning about learning. Knowing how to know. Plato (of ancient Greece) said it; Socrates quoted it often. It was carved on a tomb in ancient Egypt. Basically, it’s the oldest human advice, and still worth heeding. The more you know about yourself and how you process learning, the better things will turn out for you.

In NYC, after WWII, the city was filled with Displaced Persons (people who had fled the war). Languages abounded, everywhere! When I was two years old, I started using meta-cognition as I figured out the languages around me (at that age, of course, I didn’t know the term, I just did it instinctively). I honed my understanding of the process I was using to grasp one language, and then tested that process as I learned another. And another. Over the years, language learning became easy for me – because I understood what I was doing and how I was doing it.

You can apply this to any aspect of your life. Whatever you want to accomplish, you need to know how best to go about it. You need to know how you process things. You need to understand which process has been successful in the past for you, and which has not. Without that knowledge, you might wander around, trying this or that, never quite understanding why things aren’t going the way you’d like.

If you learn best, for example, by moving and doing, then anything you try to master by just sitting and reading directions is never going to be a satisfying experience.

If you’ve never been able to remember names, that won’t change unless you understand why, and find a process that gets around that.

When it comes to getting things done, I can multi-task with the best! I can juggle lots of jobs at a time, go from one to the other as I move from room to room, get multiple jobs done in the house all day long. But to write, one must be focused. So when I sit down to work on writing, I turn everything off but the soft, inspiring classical music. Everything – internet. E-mail. Phone. Even unnecessary lights. And the job gets done. Meta-cognition means not only knowing what to do, but also seeing that it gets done.

Whatever your goals, in life, sports, work, any endeavor, meta-cognition can help you achieve them more effectively. Meta-cognition, the ability to think about your thoughts – which improves your learning – puts you in charge of your brain.

Go tell it what to do!


Food for Thought

What do hearts and beets (yes, beets, the vegetable) have in common? Or love and potatoes? Give up? Well, here’s a Valentine’s Day gift from me to you that will clear up the mystery!

My original short story, “Food for Thought,” won 1st prize in the National Writer’s Association’s Short Story Competition. I can’t publish it here, because it’s for sale elsewhere.

But if you’d like to read a short story that will leave you smiling and feeling good, go down to the Comments section and leave me this comment (just copy & paste it):

Please email me my free copy of the award-winning short story, “Food for Thought.


If you don’t think I have your e-mail address, send it to me at my last name, at gmail. I guarantee it will not go anywhere else.

And don’t forget to sign up below to receive a notification when there’s a new blog at my site. Wouldn’t want to miss some more good food for thought!…

for a

Happy Valentine’s day!

Thoughts for a New Year

Did you make a resolution for the new year? Are you sticking to it?

Here’s a question that’s always puzzled me: Why wait for January? Every day is the start of a new year!

None of us is guaranteed another year on this planet. Or even another day. I make resolutions all year long. I call them goals. If you want to accomplish something, plan it into your life. Now! Make it a concrete goal, today, with tiny baby-steps that will get you closer and closer.

Take writing, for example. Writing a book – doesn’t that sound atrocious?! A whole book?! Never! But…do you think you could write one paragraph? Okay, then, do you think you could write one page? No? Then just write one paragraph a day. That’ll get you there, too. Eventually, those paragraphs will become a book.

If you can write one paragraph, you can write two. As my son said before my jogging with our dog became real running, “If you can run a mile, Mom, you can run a mile and a half.”

Four marathons later, I can state without any doubt that he’s absolutely right. Baby steps will get you wherever you want to go. As the French say,

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Little by little, one twig at a time, the bird makes its nest. Don’t set out to conquer the whole world – just your little corner of it.

I hope your new year – whenever you started it (or plan to) – gets you where you want to go!

Did you recognize my Christmas cactus at the top?

And here’s a little winter beauty to inspire your winter goals. This is Multnomah Falls, in Oregon.

(Photo credit: Stasia Honnold.)