When Death Knocks, And Knocks, And Knocks

When you reach your 50s, as Kish and I have, part of life is dealing with death.  Whether it is more senior members of your family succumbing to age-related conditions, or colleagues who die in inexplicable, tragic accidents, or friends who finally are taken down after long battles with cancer, at some point death becomes a significant, unfortunately recurring part of the reality of your life.

IMG_1087The question is how to deal with the losses, particularly when the deaths come in bunches — as so often seems to be the case.  People find themselves grappling with complex combinations of emotions that they don’t typically experience at the same time — such as grief, and guilt, and also anger — and everyone needs to deal with them in their own way.  When multiple deaths hit in a short period of time, and strike down people who are about your age, you can’t help but think of your own mortality, and wonder. 

Kish and I try to go to calling hours or memorial services, as a kind of tangible sign to the surviving family members of the significance and impact of the departed; I’m not sure whether the family members appreciate it or not, but it makes us feel better.  Collecting your thoughts about the person, mentally composing your own personal tribute, and focusing on the good, also seems to help.  And as we’ve gotten older, and seen how people respond to such losses in different ways, I find that I’ve become a lot less judgmental and a lot more accepting about how people respond.  

Ultimately, though, you just hope that the period of bad news finally ends, and a period of good news begins.  We’ve got a family wedding coming up, and we’re looking forward to it.

Just Desserts

Have you ever been driving, noticed one of your fellow motorists driving like a jerk, and wished there was a police officer there at that instant to catch them?

I witnessed that very scenario this morning, and I felt a sense of deep satisfaction.

I was humping along on I-670, heading into downtown during rush hour.  Ahead of me and one lane over an Ohio highway patrol car was part of the normal traffic flow.  Suddenly in the rear-view mirror I saw a guy in an overcharged pick-up truck weaving from lane to lane and speeding.  I figured he would see the patrol car and slow down — but he was so intent on reveling in his testosterone fix that he kept on, stupidly passed the patrol car on the right, and even sped up as he did so.

I think it’s safe to say that, at that point, every other car on the road was hoping that the patrolman would do his duty and catch the jerk.  Many fists undoubtedly were pumped when the officer turned on his lights, lit out after the reckless driver, and pulled him over.  I gave him a wave as I passed by.

Anybody who is so inattentive to their surroundings that they don’t notice a police car as they go speeding by deserves what they get.

The Modern Approach To Supporting Artists

Richard has written a lot of really good stories for the Chicago Tribune this summer, and this recent piece is no exception:  it’s a story about how artists, writers, and musicians are using social media sites, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, that allow them to raise money to complete and publish their works — and also how such sites impose certain burdens on the exercise of the creative spirit that didn’t exist before.

Of course, being parents of an artist, this kind of story is of particular interest to us.

There are many talented artists, authors, and musicians out there, and as a result being noticed, and then appreciated, can be a real challenge.  In the old days, wealthy patrons would “discover” and support artists by funding their creations; many of the masterpieces of days gone by were commissioned by Popes, or nobility, or wealthy guilds.  Alas, there aren’t enough such benefactors to go around these days.  Social media sites allow artists to reach beyond the galleries or record labels to reach popular audiences that may enjoy their pieces and be willing to commit funds to allow artistic projects to be completed.

It may not be as easy as being supported by one of the Medicis, and the websites may take a cut of the proceeds — but if they allow art to be produced that wouldn’t be produced otherwise, they seem like a good thing to me.

A Germophobe’s Analysis Of The Relative Health Advantages Of Fist Bumps Over Handshakes

It seems as though scientists are always trying to get us to change our time-honored habits.  Now they want us to reject handshake greetings in favor of “fist bumps,” because a study has shown that a firm handshake transmits far more germs than a quick knuckle clash.

In the study, a scientist stuck his gloved hand into a vat of bacteria, let it dry, and then shook hands, fist-bumped, or high-fived other participants and measured how many germs ended up on their gloves.  (Apparently the scientists didn’t think the “bro shake” or the “down low” were sufficiently common to warrant testing.)  The results showed handshakes transmitted 10 times more bacteria than fist bumps and two times more germs than a palm-smacking high five.

Am I the only person who is relieved at the fact that scientists who developed this particular study didn’t decide to also examine the germ transmission of hugs and kisses, and thereby avoided sticking their faces, lips and entire bodies into vats of bacteria?

No one will be surprised that physical contact with humans involves potential germ transmission.  Of course, contact with just about anything outside of a sealed white-room environment involves potential germ transmission.  Do these scientists ever use a public restroom or take a crowded subway train and have to hang onto a pole?  Unless you want to be a recluse, germ transmission is just something we accept in modern life.

And, in the professional world — at least for a 50-something guy like me — there really aren’t any viable alternatives to a handshake.  I’m not going to be high-fiving opposing counsel when they arrive for a deposition, and in many situations advancing toward someone with your hand clenched into a fist could be misconstrued and provoke more immediate and painful health consequences than a little germ transmission.

If we’re really that concerned about public germ transmission, why not start a campaign to avoid hand contact altogether and encourage everyone to use the Fonzie thumbs-up sign, the double finger-point, or something equally ludicrous?  I’ll just accept the germ-infested reality of the modern world and stick to handshakes, thank you very much.

Penny’s Accustomed Position

IMG_6292Say what you will about Penny, but she is the epitome of the faithful dog.  When Kish is out of the house, Penny will stare out the window next to the driveway for hours, hoping to see the headlights that mean that Kish has finally returned.  Sometimes she sits there, and sometimes she stands there, but whatever her position she is always there, for hours — waiting, watching, and fervently hoping.

Learning, And Remembering

What is a better way to learn from a presentation, and remember its contents:  writing notes by hand on a piece of paper, or taking notes on a laptop?  Taking notes by hand is more cumbersome, whereas adept typists can use laptops to take notes at close to a word-for-word transcription level — but does that make laptops better for comprehension and retention?

Recent research concludes that taking notes by hand enhances learning.  Why?  Researchers think that because writing is much slower than typing, students hoping to capture content must filter, summarize, and focus on the key points as they take notes, and those additional mental steps in the process have the effect of better engraving the content into their memories.  Students taking notes on a laptop, in contrast, try to take down everything the speaker says, as if they are just another cog in a recording device, and therefore the words don’t have as much impact. 

IMG_2446Interestingly, the study showed that the comprehension advantage is reflected not only on tests given immediately after the learning experience, but also on tests taken weeks later.  The theory is that students who review their own handwritten notes are given more effective memory cues than students who simply review the verbatim transcription.

These results don’t surprise me.  Handwritten notetakers must be active listeners who are engaged in the presentation, and active listeners always capture more content.  But there is more to the notetaking advantage than that.  I think the physical act of writing enhances comprehension and recollection because your brain has to be reading and thinking about meaning as it controls the hand that is writing the note.  Multiple senses are involved:  you hear the words being spoken, you move your hand to write them, you see your writing on the page, and you speak the words in your inner voice.  If you take additional steps — like adding stars or underlines to highlight key points — the cognitive impact of the process is that much greater.   

I’ve always been a notetaker; even now, I like to write myself notes to remind myself of tasks rather than typing them into a notes application on my computer.  For me, at least, the physical actions tie directly into the mental process and help me remember.  Plus, I like the tactile sensation of crumpling up notes after I’ve completed a task and throwing them away.

Shadowbox Live

IMG_2470Part of the concept of Food Truck Summer is to make more of an effort to experience all of the diverse things that Columbus has to offer.  In furtherance of that salutary goal, last night Kish and I joined Mr. and Mrs. JV at Best of Shadowbox Live 2014.

Shadowbox is a local sketch comedy/performance troupe.  Although the group has been performing for 25 years and I’ve lived in Columbus that entire time, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen them before.  Last night, therefore, I was a “virgin” — and the Shadowboxers tend to shout out the presence of virgins to the entire room of patrons.  It’s a small price to pay for getting your first taste of this talented collection of performers.

A few background points about Shadowbox.  It’s in the Brewery District of Columbus, and its got a good performance space.  Parking is cheap (only $3) and readily available.  There’s a bistro section where you can have a drink or order food before or after the performance, and you can also eat in the performance space itself. The food is a cut above what you would expect for a performance venue.  I had a grilled chicken sandwich that was both tasty and reasonably priced.

IMG_2472If you choose to eat in the performance hall, which is what we did, you’ll be waited on by the same folks who will be performing.  So, we ordered our nachos, pastas, and sandwiches from a friendly woman who, a few moments later, was convincingly portraying a teenage skank up on stage.  The performers even wait on you during intermission, and return after the show is over to cash you out.  Needless to say, they really work hard, so if you go, leave a generous tip — they clearly deserve it.

The show itself runs two hours and alternates between sketch comedy and songs performed by a full rock band.  We sat in the section nearest the performers and were so close to the stage that you could feel the bass vibrations through the floor under our feet.  The band occupies one end of the stage and the sketch comedy occurs at the other end, with lighting changes allowing sets to be changed on the darkened part of the stage.  It’s a very quick-moving show, and the amphitheater design of the performance space ensures that there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The comedy parts of the show were quite good.  I particularly liked the Cold Feet, about a long-married couple’s odd reaction to renewing their vows, Coming Out and Going Home, about a gay guy who finds a surprising reception when he confesses his sexual orientation and another preference upon returning to his parents’ home from college, and Good Driver Discount, about designing properly PC TV commercials for an insurance company.

As good as the comedy was, I thought the music was even better.  The house band really puts out the sound, the staging and costumes are great, and the music pieces showed that the performers had talent to burn.  My favorites were the creepy I Put a Spell On You, sung by a female performer with a fabulous voice, a sultry, incense-burning rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, which is seen in the picture at the top of this post, and Prince’s Gett Off, which absolutely kicked ass and closed the show with a bang.

One other great thing about going to Shadowbox — you can buy tickets for upcoming shows for a significant discount and get some other freebies.  We bought tickets to a future show and got free tickets to two other events.  We’ll be back.