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Dyslexia and Creativity

So You Want to Start Blogging, But You're Shy... has an interesting archived post on dyslexia and creativity.  This part, in particular, struck a chord with me:

I was talking to a friend the other day, when it hit me what it was most like. In grad school, you're around people with something like a highly coherent crystaline structure, so they can build spires straight up into the sky, specializing in a discipline to the -nth degree, like Mount Everest, starting way up high, and poking up even higher, a sharp, jagged snaggle tooth.

But me, my brain is nowhere coherent enough to build those kind of structures. I'm too busy going around the block to get to the house next door, while my classmates were like, "Come on over here, through the gate, we're having a party!" I'm like, "I'm coming! I'll get there pretty soon!"

So I do what I've always done. I try to cram Thomas Jefferson's big-ass generalist polymath brain inside my pathetic head, try to read everything in the world that seems to pertain, and what I'm doing is starting from sea level, see? But I'm building Mount McKinley, Denali, this massively fat, wide marshmallow sitting on the horizon all socked in with clouds, piled with huge snowfields year round. I kept piling it higher and deeper until it is truly piled high and deep (that's what a Ph.D stands for, you know) all the way almost as high as those beautifully pure snaggle tooth Everests.

Now, I can do linear thought, but I don't always generally want to (which is part of why the list of blog categories to the right keeps growing.  Write a blog on only one subject?!).  I love following subjects down side trails and forgotten corridors, and, in graduate school, I felt like I was always pushing at the boundaries.  I didn't see the edges of the disciplines the way others did.  I really didn't see them at all.  I got used to professors rolling their eyes.  My favorites were the ones who didn't.

I also liked the part about how the wrestling with dyslexia encourages, or even creates, creativity:

What I mean to say is that it is the WRESTLING that creates the creativity, not the dyslexic parts of the brain. It's like blind people aren't necessarily born with acute hearing skills. Their blindness forces them to develop sophisticating hearing skills.

So I believe that being forced to repeatedly go around the block to get to the house next door shocks your brain out of all those overworn neural paths everybody else uses ad nauseum. You gotta develop different ways to get to the same spot. You learn to compensate, to visualize, to route around the areas that don't work so well (like remembering your own phone number, with all the numbers in the right order, sometimes it's just better to keep it written down on a piece of paper).

So it is great that people get help and learn to do more than just pump gas, like the guy said above. But the process of learning has to involve the wrestling with the dyslexia, because I think that juices up parts of the brain that sometimes are a tad too dormant in folks who are sometimes too comfortable being good little cogs in the wheels of this world. People who "settle" for less. Dyslexics don't have the luxury of settling, so they're often driven, but god knows where they're driving.

When I was teaching, I had two favorite kinds of students to work with: gifted and talented or honors students, and learning disabled students. I was often the MOST frustrated with the folks in the middle, the ones who were often unmotivated seat-fillers.

Sometimes I even tried to pair up the GT kids with the LD kids, because it ended up being a more rewarding experience for both, compared to the alternative of having to deal with their apathetic and conventional classmates, the ones that grade inflation forces us now to give all A's and B's. Given that, the GT and LD students are outside the limited realm of how grade scales are conceived. They actually think and produce things and question things. They're on their own roads and they're going to town, even if it's all uphill.

And, of course, I had to look into a blog with a title like that!

Another Beautiful Time of Year

Mimosa Even the most "landscaped" and least gardened yards in North Carolina generally have azaleas and dogwoods blooming in the spring, making it one of the most beautiful times of year here.  I always forget that the second half of June is similar.  Now the daylilies and mimosa (tree pictured to the right) are blooming all over - which has made it a beautiful time of year to be driving, or walking, around.  However, I cheated below.  It's not just a regular roadside daylily display - those are the daylilies at Duke Gardens

P6270282 We've had a lot of driving around this week.  My daughter has had dance camp, and we wander around Chapel Hill or the closer parts of Durham while waiting to pick her up.  So far, we've been to the NC Botanical Gardens, Duke Gardens, the Chapel Hill Museum, Forest Hills Park (in Durham, with water play), and the Community Center Park (in Chapel Hill), and we've stopped for snacks at Bob and Aviva's Java Cafe, the Mad Hatter Cafe and Bakeshop, Sipps Coffee House, and the Nantucket Cafe.  Tomorrow we're going to go to the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill, and then back to the dance camp to see their performance. 

The Reptile Weekend

A few weekends ago we had a wonderful reptile weekend.

Turtles_1 It started out when dear husband found an amorous box tortoise trying to persuade his lady-love to open her shell (to the right).  For about two hours, the sweet nothings did not work, but, when we checked back yet again, he had attracted her interest. 

Some children learn the facts of life in a barnyard.  Younger son learned in the garden while he and dear husband watched the pair (with explanations).  It was humorous, especially when the male fell over backwards, and then flipped her over as he tried to right himself.  Un-amorously, he then quickly crawled away into the flowerbed, leaving the mother of his children upside-down, in the middle of the stairs being observed by potential predators.  Maybe she should have just left her shell closed.


While I was gardening, I found a cute little snake, and, of course, went to get everyone.  Dear husband and older son got out the reptile guide, and we found that it was a Northern Brown Snake (or DeKay's Snake).  North Carolina is at the southern edge of their range - which goes up to southern Maine and southern Canada. 


We were wondering if it was a pregnant female since its lower abdomen was rather bulgy.

We also saw a brown skink that afternoon - no picture because it ran under the van by the time I got back with the camera.


And then we had this tree frog on our kitchen window on Sunday evening. 

Bits and Pieces and a Feminist Rant

[Note:  This particular Feminist Rant isn't mine, but it's funny.  Well, if you're not a guy.]

I wasn't going to write at all today because I'm exhausted.  Yesterday, I taught aerobics in the morning.  I've pretty much decided to take next year off from teaching since I've been having troubles with my voice - so I've not bothered to spend the time to come up with a new routine.  I'm not teaching all that often so it didn't seem worth the time.  But, all of a sudden on the way there yesterday morning, I decided that I was tired of teaching the old one.  So, in the three minutes I had before class, I thought back over favorite sets of moves from old routines and wrote them down on a piece of scrap paper which I then used as my guide for class.  Plus, I pulled out a tape that I hadn't used for years. 

New routine (sort of) and music that would be a surprise.  Well, it was a good thing that only one person was there at the beginning of class.  That's fine - the one person likes my class, and I'd rather teach an enthusiastic small group than a bored large one.  But, it did put me in a mood - which remained even after the other eleven people showed up during the first ten minutes of class. An I'm-not-feeling-nurturing-so-you-had-better-keep-up sort of mood.  No checking to see if every single person felt comfortable with the new moves.  If no one was obviously falling over their feet after we'd been through a set of moves four times, I moved on.  No frenetically perky smiles (those aren't easy for me anyway!).

I was amazed when about half the people in the class came up afterwards and said how much they liked it!  I wasn't being nurturing, and I was using a routine I came up with in a few minutes before class (actually, the routine went together pretty well.  I only had to tweak a few things to make it go smoothly.  Part of having taught aerobics for almost 13 years is being able to teach on the fly). 

Then, yesterday evening, I went to a Broadway Dance class at Ninth Street Dance in Durham with my daughter.  She was going to miss ballet over the summer, but her dance studio doesn't do summer classes.  The only ones I found in Chapel Hill that did seemed too professionally oriented.  For some reason, I remembered 9th St. Dance and checked out their website.  It turns out that they focus on adult classes (which teens can join), though they have kids classes also during the school year.  I loved taking dance in college, but thought that dance studios all only had classes for kids. 

The ballet class for her level didn't fit in with our summer schedule, but the Broadway dance did.  And, if you've been reading this blog for awhile, you'll know how much we like musicals!  Dear husband drove daughter to the dance class last week.  She was nervous, but she loved it.  It probably didn't hurt that one of the songs they danced to was a Fosse one - All that Jazz.  Before they got back to the car, both of them agreed that I would love that class.

Now, even though husband and daughter said that there were people my age or in their 30's in the class, and even though they said that they didn't all have "dancers' bodies," I was still nervous.  But, it sounded like fun, and I think it's good to challenge yourself with new things (which, it turns out, was how dear daughter helped deal with her nervousness the previous week).  And she really wanted me to try it.  So I went.  However, they didn't do well at estimating ages.  I was a good ten years older then the next oldest one in the class, and most of them were in their 20's.  I was glad I had taught that morning - nothing like taking a bigger risk in the morning to make this one seem smaller. 

Overall, I think I did pretty well.  A lot of the moves were familiar from aerobics or jazzercize or college dance classes.  I had the hardest time when the teacher, after showing us the moves a few times, would sit and watch while we did them.  From 16 years of aerobics, I'm used to either following someone that I can watch the whole time or teaching myself.  I'm not used to remembering routines that quickly (unless I make them up).  And there were a few really quick moves that I'm going to practice this week.  Overall, it was a lot of fun!  Even when I was messing up.  It was actually wonderful to be challenged that much and not know what I was doing the entire time!

The teacher for the class, who played Mr. Mistoffelees in a touring production of Cats, had more energy than any aerobics instructor I've ever met. 

But I'm so tired today, even after seven hours of sleep. 

And, I wasn't going to write, but then I ran across an interesting link from Inside Higher Ed:  Views which I usually take a look at every day.  And I decided to post a link also - but then I needed to introduce it.  And then mention that I'm too tired to write anything else.  And then mention why I'm so tired....(If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to want some milk to go with it...).

Anyway, here's the link that inspired the whole thing - from Toddled Dredge.  It's an interesting rant about academic conferences - A Little Sullen Sexism from Veronica (but guys might not want to read it.  You were warned). 

The Ant - by Older Son

The ant appeared while I was eating a firecracker on the deck.

Firecrackers, in case any unfortunate people have never heard of them, are the best popsicles in the world. They are made in three sections - red (cherry), white (lemon), and blue (raspberry, I think). Their shape is hard to describe - a bit like a firecracker, an iceberg, or the Empire State Building. That's easy to picture, isn't it? I was deprived of firecrackers for several long, sad years when the previous ice cream truck stopped coming. I am now making up for lost time. I order one (or two) every time the current ice cream truck passes our house. By now, I think the ice cream man asks me what I want more out of politeness than actually not knowing ...

I'm digressing, though. Anyway, I was eating the latest firecracker on the deck that day. It was a hot day, and the blue section of the firecracker had melted even more than usual by the time I reached it. As I was finishing the last few inches, a large drop of melted, neon-blue popsicle - mostly sugar - dripped off and landed on the deck. It ended up right in the path of a wandering red ant. She (for the non-insect-obsessed, all ants are female except the drones, who exist only to mate with the Queens and live only long enough to do so) wandered happily along, feeling around with her antennae - until she came to the drop.

She stopped dead.

Slowly and reverently, she walked up to the drop and touched it with her antennae.

Then she stuck her head into it... and stayed there for at least two or three minutes. The drop got smaller and smaller; the ant got larger and larger, and began turning blue.

She drank half the drop all by herself. It was larger than she was. I don't know where she put it all. Eventually, she withdrew her head and wobbled off across the deck, trying to lift her swollen abdomen off the ground and walk in a straight line. I'd never seen a tipsy ant before, but I think I have now...

Guilt (Not!) and Feminism

There has been a lot of discussion this last week on numerous blogs about Linda Hirshman's book, "Get to Work:  A Manifesto for Women of the World" (excerpt Here). She's basically upset that many elite women (namely, women with profitable, elite university degrees who are on the fast track to a career of status and power) are choosing to stay home with their children.

For the first few blogs-worth of posts, I was only paying half attention.  After all, I'm not interested in power (being basically of a libertarian frame of mind), and never would have been part of the power elite even if I had stayed in the financial department of the insurance company I used to work at.  In other words, she's basically not writing about me.  In fact, the thing that irritated me most about the excerpt I read was her dismissal of the arts:

A Strategic Plan to Get to Work

- Don't study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work.
- Never quit a job until you have another one. Take work seriously.
- Never know when you're out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household.
- Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women's work.

See how "Don't study art" is at the very top of her list?!  Those who do study art obviously are not using their "education to prepare for a lifetime of work" (written with dripping sarcasm!).  Tell that to the hardworking symphony musicians we listened to this weekend (Ben Vereen twice told the audience to support a raise for the symphony!).

My other thought was that this is why I don't identify myself as a feminist, and, instead, say that I have feminist tendencies.  I'm not going to buy into anyone's whole parcel of ideas.  Equal pay for equal work.  Yes.  Women are just as intelligent as men.  Of course.  Women are equal human beings.  Of course.   Women should not be oppressed.  Of course again - no one should. 

It's when some feminists, such as Ms. Hirshman, go on to make dogmatic statements about other peoples lives and how they should live them that I part company.  "Bounding home is not good for women" (quotes from the article).  Really?  All women?  All women are alike and have the same needs and desires?  All are fulfilled by the same things?  "Child care and housekeeping have satisfying moments but are not occupations likely to produce a flourishing life."  Really?  I have no interest in football, but I wouldn't say that it's not an occupation "likely to produce a flourishing life!"  Just because she's not interested in raising children doesn't mean that no one can "flourish" doing so (I'll avoid the housework part since I don't enjoy that - any more than I enjoyed calculating insurance projections at work.  Every job has its drudgery.)(and some women even enjoy housework). 

I have no more patience with women who say that all women should be in the workforce than I have with women who say that all women should be at home.  To my mind, both sides are busybodies who need a hobby - besides telling other women what to do!  I've never had patience with bossy people.  I'm glad none of my three children has that tendency - I would have an extremely difficult time dealing with that.

One blog also reminded me of why this kind of feminism - the "if you don't do things the right way, you're betraying the sisterhood"-type feminism - irritates me.  It operates on guilt. 

Now, I wasn't raised on guilt.  We were raised to do our best - but it wasn't a guilt thing.  Not having been raised with guilt, and not experiencing much of it from my friends' parents either, other people's attempts to impose guilt don't really affect me.  Now, don't get me wrong, I can make myself feel guilty.  But that's my business (and I'm trying to get rid of it).  However, someone else trying to use guilt to motivate me just makes me angry.  And it lessens my respect for them ("You mean, you don't have any reasons better than that!"). 

Which is why I could relate to this part of L's post, "Failure to the Cause I Never Joined" at Homesick Home (emphasis mine):

...My husband and I may be happy, but what I`m doing is bad for me, and bad for society. Thank you, Linda, for caring.

The first day or two after I read her piece, I was righteously angry at Hirschman -- and boy, let me tell you, this palpable anger felt good. I was able to savor it, like a fine gourmet meal. Alas, after a while, this feeling faded, leaving only a vague sense of bemusement, that this woman really sees something sinister in the fact that lots of monied moms choose to stop working.

Are my feelings normal? Shouldn`t I feel at least a little guilty, for trying to kill feminism? I just realized why I make such a rotten Catholic -- I don`t have a well-developed sense of guilt. Never did, probaby never will -- I must have been out sick the day they laid the official guilt mantle on my Catechism class.

That's probably why I don't make a good Catholic either, or a good feminist (at least in some feminist philosophies).  I don't feel guilty for not following someone else's program.  I have my own. 

Other blogs to check out once you've read the article

The Happy Feminist has a series of posts on this book:  Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 1: Summary of Hirshman Article, Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 2:  I Loved the Hirshman Article (which isn't to say that she buys all of it - it's a very balanced post), Hirshman Hullaballoo, Part 3:  Link Roundup (with interesting links)  Was My Mother a Hirshman Feminist?

Tightly Wound weighs in with:  Makes Me Wish for a Scold's Bridle and a Margarita.

And check out Homesick Home.


Ben Vereen and the North Carolina Symphony

Glory_pippin_2 I first saw Ben Vereen on the small, black and white TV with upstate New York antenna-on-top-of-house reception.  In other words, small and fuzzy.  He was in an ad for Pippin:  "These are two minutes of Pippin.  Come to the [theater] to see the other eighty-eight"(It featured the dance scene to the right). That ad started my life-long fascination for the choreography of Bob Fosse, and my life-long appreciation for Ben Vereen. 

I never thought, however, that I would get a chance to see Ben Vereen in person, and, unfortunately, he hasn't been in many movies.  I've seen only some of his many performances: Pippin on DVD, All that Jazz, Sweet Charity, Roots, his appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and even his appearance on the Muppet Show.  We vaguely discussed possibly going to see him in "Wicked" on Broadway, but he finished a few months ago.

So, when I found out that he was going to be doing a concert of the songs of Sammy Davis Jr. with the North Carolina Symphony, I was determined that we were going to go.  We put it on the calendar and arranged other things around it. 

I wasn't disappointed.  He was... dear husband says, "Incredible;" daughter says, "Indescribable;" and the News and Observer called him a "consumate entertainer".  He was fantastic!  He had the audience, and the symphony, in the palm of his hand.

The concert was billed as "two greats" in both the first half and the second half.  The first half had music by Peter Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington - including the original March from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky and the Ellington version, "Peanut Brittle Brigade" (he and Billy Strayhorn wrote a jazz arrangement of the Nutcracker)(which I haven't heard before, but which I'm now going to check out).

Vereen_1 We knew that, since he would be singing Sammy Davis Jr. songs, Ben Vereen would have to sing "Candyman," and that's how he started out.  He came out on stage and slowly sang it, a cappella.  Although I've seen him both dancing and singing in musicals, I've paid more attention to his dancing than his singing.  This concert gave me a chance to focus on his singing - which is also excellent.  He sang, among others, "As Long as She Needs Me," "I've Gotta Be Me," "If I Ruled the World," "Black Magic" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"  He sang and danced "Mr Bojangles" as a tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.

He was all over the stage, dancing, talking to the orchestra, encouraging them to swing more, sitting on the steps, and coming down off the stage to sing "Black Magic" to ladies in a red hat society.  His performance was electrifying - whether he was actively dancing around the stage or wistfully sitting and singing.  If the audience didn't respond, he would call them out on it and try again.  Every move, vocalization and gesture in his performance seemed to be in exactly the right place.  He was very willing to do encores and branched out into Sinatra tunes such as "Chicago" and "The Lady is a Tramp."

Younger son found, to his dismay, that I concentrate on live performances more than just about anything else except maybe driving (Yes, this does mean that I'm more distractable in church than at symphony concerts).  He enjoyed parts of it, got bored for parts, and lay in my lap for parts.  The concert was at Regency Park in Cary so his fidgeting wasn't a problem - and he actually stayed in place more than the group in front of us who kept getting up to refill their wine (and one of them had headphones on while listening to something on and electronic gadget - I assumed the Carolina Hurricanes game).  It was interesting to see the different set-ups people had for their evening picnics.  The group in front of us had a cooler with a separate place for a complete set of silverware.  The group beside us had a tablecloth on the table in front of them and roses in a vase.  We just had a cooler with sandwiches and water.  Next time, maybe we'll get some nice bread, and Boursin cheese, and strawberries...

There were some special guests last night.  Ben Vereen, who was adopted, had been looking for his biological family for decades.  He found and met them this year.  His sister and her family live in Laurinburg, NC, and they were at the concert last night.

The orchestra concluded the first half of the concert with a Fantasy on songs by Duke Ellington.  The conductor turned around at the end and said to the audience, "And you thought we couldn't swing!"  Later, dear husband told me that only the clarinetist and the drummer could.  But, in the second half of the concert, Ben Vereen was able to propel these symphony musicians into swinging a bit more (No insult meant to symphony musicians of course - I majored in music.  But, classical and jazz are different worlds).

He was very willing to do encores, and he branched out into Sinatra tunes such as "Chicago" and "The Lady is a Tramp."

Ben Vereen Notes and Links:

In 1992, he was hit by a car and told that he might never walk again.  While in rehabilitation, he met Chita Rivera and asked her, "Will I ever dance again?"  She replied, "You'll dance again, but you'll dance different, and vive la difference."  He was back onstage again in less than a year in Jelly's Last Jam - and credits Gregory Hines for encouraging him to do so (Someday, I'll write about Gregory Hines too.  I'd also like to see Tap again - starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.).


Casablancarenaultrickthumb Casablanca is one of our favorite movies.  And one of our favorite quotes is from the chief of police:

Rick:  How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault:  I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier:  Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault:  [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
[aloud]  Everybody out at once!

I read a recent blog post saying that it is difficult to use the word "shocked" anymore because someone will just quote Renault and derail the conversation.

Casablanca trivia (from

Conrad Veidt, who played Maj. Strasser, was well known in the theatrical community in Germany for his hatred of the Nazis, and in fact was forced to hurriedly escape the country when he found out that the SS had sent a death squad after him because of his anti-Nazi activities.

Many of the actors who played the Nazis were in fact German Jews who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

The influx into Hollywood of large numbers of European exiles fleeing the war helped the casting enormously. In fact, of all the featured players in the film who get screen credit, only three were born in the United States.

In the famous scene where the "Marseillaise" is sung over the German song "Watch on the Rhine", many of the extras had real tears in their eyes; a large number of them were actual refugees from Nazi persecution in Germany and elsewhere in Europe and were overcome by the emotions the scene brought out.

In the 1980s, this film's script was sent to readers at a number of major studios and production companies under its original title, "Everybody Comes To Rick's". Some readers recognized the script but most did not. Many complained that the script was "not good enough" to make a decent movie. Others gave such complaints as "too dated", "too much dialog" and "not enough sex".

The difference in height between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman changes throughout the film. This is because Bergman was actually a few inches taller than Bogart, though to create the illusion that it was vice versa, Michael Curtiz had Bogart stand on boxes and sit on pillows in some shots, or had Bergman slouch down (as evident when she sits on the couch in the "franc for your thoughts" scene).