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(c) 2008 Christiana Lambert (part of larger drawing)

(c) 2008 Christiana Lambert (part of larger drawing)

My husband Sherman has taken to reading dense fiction books written by authors who are certifiably (I’ll write the certificate, of course!) smarter than we are by a long shot. It’s his new obsession to dig into the references and search for the hidden meaning. I thought I was the English literature major here—perhaps there’s something about entering your fifth decade that means hidden meanings start to become more important to you.

Then again, Sherman always was the one whose ideas blew away our fellow Great Books club members who were mostly CPA auditors who longed to think less in black and white than they did. Give a programmer a lot of philosophy/logic classes and who knows what deep thoughts he’ll think.

And all of a sudden this liberal arts graduate/MBA is back to thinking about the big focus today on taking college classes that will help a person make a living, especially due to the excessive (oops—am I editorializing already?) costs of higher education today and the reduced funding sources available for those who cannot borrow from their parents. (And what about we parents who cannot borrow from our parents either?)

While it is a gift to borrow money at somewhat reduced rates for educational loans, having to borrow money is no gift. Of course, the logical thing for such a person is to pursue studies and professions that will pay off enough to pay back the money itself. Right?

As if the pursuits of education and/or knowledge were only about the pursuit of money. As if only certain disciplines were necessary in order to create a well-rounded society. As if all people would be successful in pursuing those “approved” disciplines that will supposedly pay off quickly. As if our fast-changing world doesn’t have a habit of making certain professions obsolete while bringing professions never before imagined to the forefront.

Education is more about creating lifelong learners who are able to apply their skills and knowledge to seemingly disparate situations than it is about teaching someone how to do a certain thing—unless of course we are talking about trade education. Graduates of those programs will still need to be people who are able to change as their professions change in the face of new technology and the fluctuations in society’s need for their services.

Not only can the student of life find a way to apply his/her so-called limited education to a variety of situations—work and otherwise—but also can that student find underlying meanings in everything from pop culture trends to political climates to how we perceive sporting competitions.

The real dangerous education is one that does not teach anything of life beyond a certain discipline or work situation. If I am only asked to parrot my professors’ words or choose the correct dates on tests versus having to explain why certain dates matter, then the applicability of my knowledge is limited to certain classes or sets of knowledge. If a philosophy graduate is only qualified to work as a barista, then that means that person has not figured out how to apply the skills learned in the discipline studied to skills needed in the world at large.

I, lowly English major that I am, learned my analytical skills while studying my discipline. They were good enough to ace an aptitude test at a financial services firm because I have been taught to read with care and to look for the hidden meaning; those skills were also good enough for me to perform my duties with accuracy at that financial services firm, before I ever embarked on my own business studies. In fact, my outsider background allowed me to see other subtleties missed by those who had already studied business.

At the same time, no one taught me how to do online research—my college research involved finding potential sources from card catalogues and from thick books that listed topics and related articles. However, because I learned how to discern the reliability of sources, I can transfer that information to the digital world that is now ours.

All disciplines have applications, all of them. But it’s up to the person to apply that knowledge, whether to the focused area studied in one’s college education or to any of the situations that person may encounter later in life.

Perhaps my philosopher programmer sees subtleties in the work he does because some of his studies fell outside his discipline. And conversely, when he feels limited by the workaday world that defines so much of his days, he knows that he can apply the thinking skills he learned in his college major to the larger world.

Much of programming is about creating meaning from chaos—and isn’t that really similar to the larger search for meaning?

So glad he never fell for the myth that his education mattered only as a way to earn.


(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Last year at this time I was just beginning physical therapy and not feeling so confident that I would get better. I’d been injured for over half a year and had gone through a lot of exercises that only helped so much. I’d moved from burning to do my fitness activities to just wanting the pain to reduce so I could start to move around my house. When an injury drastically reduces the parameters of your world, it’s hard to feel optimistic.

Well, today I did my yoga with no more than the usual pain anyone in my (diabolical) teacher’s class might experience and then I went for another short (Chi) run—and noticed that since I’m getting faster, I must be ready to add a little more distance. What a difference finding the right treatment makes.

Anyone who has been injured knows that finding the “right” treatment is often no easy task. So many providers, so many programs, and so much conflicting advice—bleh.

My therapist kept pestering me to see this physical therapist who she swore had fixed several people who had spent years believing they were permanently wounded. Quite frankly I was getting very annoyed with her for bringing up his name each session when I limped in to see her. She—who had never before really understood how much exercise mattered to me—was starting to understand that if my body didn’t heal, her work with me was just beginning.

So finally I said, “No más!” I called him and began the two-tier odyssey that first got me out of chronic pain and then got me back doing my workouts at a level much closer to my past levels. Quite frankly it was only my own fear that caused me to delay my return to running for several months after he taught me how to start again.

My daughter’s injury journey is much longer than mine. She definitely has learned to live with the pain and her changed lifestyle. However, she is only twenty! A track injury that only healed so much—despite a lot of painful physical therapy—followed by another one that—despite more painful physical therapy with two different providers and several inconclusive tests—has limited her choices. She walks to classes because she has to and she skis because she wants to do so, but otherwise this formerly active young woman doesn’t move much.

Though she has stopped letting herself believe in living an active lifestyle, she still would like some way to stop the pain that comes even without moving.

After my healing, I’m more likely to feel hopeful than she is. In fact, I just signed her up for physical therapy—again. This time she gets to see the person who got me believing again. Trust me, just as Train sings, “I stopped believin’ although Journey told me ‘don’t’ . . .” (“This’ll Be My Year,” California 37) Let’s just say before we call it forever (and a day), we’re going to try one more time. And if I have to do the exercises with her, I will.

You never know, maybe 2013 will be her year—and my year too—to get back on (the) track—or anywhere else we want to go.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right?

Yet sometimes it seems so wrong when the apple falls from the tree in a way that is so hard—that is even harsher than the way I fell from the tree.

Ironic that I am a writer when the thing that seems most likely to stand between my son and succeeding in education is his writing.

Oh, not his knowledge of conventions or formatting—all that can be taught or guided somewhat in a writers’ workshop. No, his writing problems are more about forcing big concepts into what he considers inadequate forms of expression.

I only worked briefly in my college’s writers’ workshop before my bout with mono brought my neophyte tutoring days to an end. For a few weeks I worked with a student from Puerto Rico. The workshop director matched me with him because, in addition to my studying English literature, I was also majoring in Spanish. In my few sessions with the student, I quickly realized his difficulties had little to do with his knowledge of English and its foibles.

You see, he was a highly analytical thinker who excelled in statistics and mathematics. The bigger problem for him was his thinking style. Here was a black and white mind faced with writing the gray in his philosophy papers. I am guessing he had the ability to write papers for his areas of study with little difficulty. To this day, I wonder if his liberal arts experience taught him how to become more flexible across the disciplines or if he instead had to find a different school that did not require him to open his mind quite so much. How frustrating for such an intelligent person to be doing remedial work because of how far his brain leaned in one direction.

My son at least can see the gray—oh how much gray he can see—but the black and white parts of his mind do not seem to allow that gray to fit into the parameters spelled out in syllabus descriptions.

And so it’s been for him since elementary school. How many hours has he spent amassing knowledge and thinking about his topics only to find he can’t make what he knows into a writing piece that is good enough to say what he means? Keep in mind that “good enough” is a standard of his own invention, not something found in the rubric provided first by teachers and later by professors. How many of them would be surprised to know just how much he cared about those papers he did not turn in—those for which he preferred to receive zero points versus discover that he had submitted what he considered to be a sub-standard product?

Students with ADD or AD/HD have many possible reasons for why their academic success may not match their intelligence level. However, for my son, this inability to call a paper or a lab report or an assignment good enough for him to consider it completed is the biggest challenge he faces for getting ahead in his education—whether in 4th grade, middle school, high school, or during his current college philosophy course.

Unlike the student I tutored, he can consider possibilities—too many, in fact. He approaches even short papers as if he were preparing for a dissertation—without the benefit of years studying the dissertation topic. In his mind he does not have enough knowledge to make the definitive statements necessary to produce what he considers the Truth.

It breaks my heart to watch such a gifted mind stall out so often in writing a paper—something that is necessary to complete his formal education. At the same time, I know he also watches other less brilliant thinkers move through their college courses quicker not only because they can follow the directions on a syllabus but also because they can either tune out the infinite shades of gray or because they don’t even see them in the first place.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Not so funny how his difficulties remind me of my own. Though I could follow a syllabus in school, I still have a hard time completing longer projects when I am in charge of all the details—so many options, so many possibilities, and yet so little completed production for all my ideas. But at least I can blend enough of that gray so that piece by piece I come up with something that shows up in black and white . . . letters, anyway.

Oh, to find some way to feed this tree and that apple so that we grow out of our limited focus on black, white, and grays in order to expose the Technicolor shades that truly reflect the brilliance of our minds.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

I’m back—not from outer space, but from vacation with my husband Sherman. I think we’re both a little bit more tan, relaxed, and ready for our daily lives—and that’s what vacation is supposed to do for us, right?

Right—although first I have to do my run-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut—off preparations and packing, which so far consists of keeping myself up too late and then leaving on vacation exhausted. This does not seem to work so well now that I am a woman of a certain age—OK, it never worked well but I used to recover quicker.

Ah well, at least I could relax once I got on the plane, unlike the woman sitting next to me. During our less than three-hour flight, she watched the news on the TV in front of her, read from the Wall Street Journal and various other papers and magazines, as well as from a book, and she never looked out the window to watch the changing terrain with its mountains, canyons, and seas—although she did often block the view with her reading materials.

As Sherman said, “I think she needed a little Mexico.”

Because the truth is you can only rush Mexico so much—and aren’t too many of us tired from all our rushing anyway?

Sherman’s family—his brothers, father, and he—bought a time-share in Cabo San Lucas several years ago from a family friend on the premise that it would force them all to take vacation—every three years anyway since we rotate the week amongst our own families.

This was the third time we had gone, but the first time without our kids. We love them, but it is so much easier to coordinate a vacation with fewer people and their wishes and desires. Sherman and I vacation well together—we have similar expectations for sleeping, eating, sightseeing, and entertainment—and it turns out, we still like being together alone!

Although we stay in a really nice resort, we continue to be ourselves—you know, those people who don’t like to be boxed in to a schedule or someone else’s expectations. No all-inclusive for us—we’re there to see Mexico, not one hotel. You can bet we’re among the rare people bringing in our own luggage and some groceries—the Clampetts Do Cabo San Lucas (only without the oil money and the firearms!)—to our five-star lodgings.

No jockeying for lounge chairs at the pool—we preferred to hit the pool after a day out seeing the sights in Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, or La Paz.

And two of our favorite outside activities were absolutely free—we finally made it to see the incredible (and peaceful) San Jose Estuary, where for hours we walked and took bad pictures of beautiful birds, and we also went to the public beach at Chileno Bay, where we floated in warm water under the sun while watching yachts and other large boats, as well as the snorkelers, kayakers, and locals enjoying the surf and sand.

Then there were the nights spent either watching the sun set quietly, going out dancing—or doing both! While I may be a fan of loud, pulsating rhythms, Sherman is a fan of dancing with his wife—even if the music is bad, bad, bad—and some of it was bad, bad, bad, even for a person like me who will dance to almost anything. Our energy level (and willingness to appear foolish) seemed to shock the younger people on the pub crawl and at the hotel—I think they were all expecting us to sit quietly in our rocking chairs or go to bed early. But not when we could sleep in the next morning . . . We definitely needed a little Mexico ourselves, but who said we had to stuff it all in the daylight hours, especially when the sun dropped from the skies too early, just as it does here at home these November days.

Is it any wonder I want to hold onto the sounds of the surf and the pounding beats just a little longer? I don’t care to listen to political discord or be reminded of how many shopping days there are until Christmas or anything like that just yet—I’m still in a Mexico state of mind and can’t hear that sort of noise over the music blaring from my computer.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

This long, divisive election season is over. Now what? And what have we learned?

Well, I think Facebook and other social media have revealed more about our friends than we knew before. Guess what? Turns out a lot of the people whom we like don’t think as we do. Go figure, right?

But, you see, that’s the beauty of what has been revealed—we live in a world of gray yet we want to put everything and everyone into little boxes. You’re with us or you’re not. You’re on our team or you’re not. The truth is a little closer to you and I are on the same team about certain aspects of life, but we’re not on other aspects.

And, yet, so far we have remained friends.

Seriously it’s too simplistic to believe that our friends will always believe exactly as we do. Beyond that, wouldn’t that be boring? And, would we ever be challenged to see beyond what we already think we know?

I think the real crime is when we treat each others’ causes/teams/beliefs as some sort of (trivial) sports competition. “Face! Our (insert person/ballot issue/party/etc.) won and yours lost!” Or worse, as some sort of winner take all life or death battle.

If we like someone as a person, doesn’t it behoove us to treat his/her different opinions with some respect—or at least treat that person with some respect even as we tell him/her we do not agree.

Maybe if we extrapolate what we learned about our friends this season to what we expect of elected representatives of other parties, we might stop demonizing the other side(s) and see that there might be some merit in getting along and trying to work for the common good. If I don’t start by believing you are inherently evil for what you believe, might I be able to listen to what you have to say and consider your words more carefully?

Because, for as much as I have hated the divisive nature of this election period, I have hated more the divisive nature of our political realities over the past decade or so. In the end, our founders intended to create a nation “by the people and for the people”—which meant the nation would be governed for the greater good, not for those with the loudest voices, the most power, or the most anything.

Which means we the people need to start listening and working with all the people, not just with those with whom we agree.

I pledge allegiance to this great country but not to how we have been treating one another. We are better than this, people, and once we remember that, we’ll get back on track. Indivisible doesn’t mean agreeing with everything, but it does mean we can’t let our differences keep us from providing liberty and justice . . . for all.

Ready to get off the dock and run . . .
(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

Anyone wonder if I followed up my rhapsodic “back to running” post with any more running? That’s a pretty good question. The truth is that most of us have to work through the beginning phases of running before it ever becomes the sort of thing that we love—unless you’re really young—then all you have to do is put up with a couple days of pain and then you’re back to where you started—oh, those were the days!

When you’re missing running like I am, then you know you’re really lucky to encounter the kind of perfect day that is seductive enough to make you want to go through what you have to go through to get back to running. So since that golden October day that provided enough fuel to ignite my desire, I have followed up with four—count them—four short runs.

Still, I am nowhere near back on track. Just call me H. R. HuffandPuff (yes, I know bad 70s TV reference—that’s H. R. Pufnstuf to you youngsters.) I swear I haven’t just been sitting around the house eating bonbons, but when I start running, I soon feel as if I haven’t been doing any aerobic work.

Thank goodness I do ZUMBA, but I only do a high-level class once a week. Plus, ZUMBA classes are supposed to be designed using songs with varying intensity levels so as to make the workout more like interval training than not. You could call it a sort of fartlek (or speed play) workout for dancing.

Despite learning (and giggling about) fartlek in high school track, I’ve never been one to vary my running speeds unless someone else tells me or reminds me to do so.

No, I’m just slogging—at one pace only—on the street and thinking running feels really, really hard so far. Before I step out my front door, I watch and do Chi Running’s recommended exercises (called looseners by the Chi Running folks)—even though by practicing the looseners, I might make the neighbors think I’ve taken up hula dancing. Nonetheless, I think I am doing a reasonable job of following the Chi Running principles. Maybe by waiting a month or so between watching the DVD and running I have created some mental distance between my resistance to changing my form and the ability to make the change.

So while I am not really limber yet, I have moved from the limbo of not running to the limbo of learning to run in a new way.

Change is hard, but then again, so is not being able to do what you want to do.

And with that in mind, I’ve got some looseners to do so I can get out there and do (short) run number five. Gotta’ run . . .

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