The Bank of Jeff: Where Lifelong Savers are Forged

Savings is the absence of spending. That simple fact can dictate the future success of almost every individual’s financial life. As important as knowing how to spend money wisely is to one’s financial security, it is even more fundamental to good economics to understand the value of saving.

With that in mind, I combined some ideas I learned in the insurance industry and designed a program to shape my daughter’s financial acumen to be directed toward saving.

To that end, I created the “Bank of Jeff.”

The Bank of Jeff is unique in that it is home-based, doesn’t insure deposits, accepts deposits twenty-four/seven, and pays a very attractive rate to only one client: my daughter.

The features of this bank were designed for only one function: to turn my daughter into an inverterate saver.

A typical bank, or credit union, was paying about one percent per anum when she was learning about money. As an example, one hundred dollars is a lot of money to a seven-year-old kid. Given a one percent return, said seven-year-old would get back one dollar for hiding her one hundred dollars away from the pleasures of what that money could buy during the year. I can’t think of too many kids (or adults, for that matter) who would find that rate of return motivational. In fact, even Sam, at seven, found it laughable.

What to do? Easy. Pay a better rate: pay a meaningful return of the dollar. I chose a rate that even Sam could appreciate: five percent per month. If that sounds good, think about the per anum return: about seventy percent. Now we are talking about a rate that will get any seven-year-old’s attention. Heck, it would get my attention, and I hate saving.

So how did it work? The account balance was evaluated at the end of each month. Starting with a balance of one hundred dollars, the one hundred dollars must remain in the account for an entire month, then the value of the account at the end of the month would be one hundred five dollars.

If the money was deposited in any time after the first of the month, say January, the five percent would be paid at the end of the next month, February. The money had to remain in the bank for a full month to earn interest.

On the other hand, at any time money was taken out of the account, said money would earn no interest.

The incentive shifts from spending to saving because there is a rich economic interest to save as opposed to spend.

Certain controls had to be placed on the account in order to not bankrupt the banker. The maximum amount that could remain in the account was one thousand dollars; one month’s interest on one thousand dollars is fifty dollars.

When the one thousand dollar limit was reached, by mutual agreement, nine hundred dollars was withdrawn from the account and placed in an aggressive mutual fund opened in my daughter’s name.

The point of having an account with between one hundred and one thousand dollars is to have money available for spending on really important wants, say a RC car (Sam actually withdrew money to buy one). At the same time, Sam thought long and hard about withdrawing her money that was drawing five dollars to fifty dollars each month in order to by whatever it is that kids what to buy with their pocket money.

The Bank of Jeff created a deliberate saver and an even more deliberate spender: Sam. She remains a deliberate saver to this day. She could probably cash out her own house if she wanted to. She cashed out a new Volvo with her savings and picked it up in Sweden to boot.

The Bank of Jeff was retired after high school graduation, but the benefits of the bank accrue daily: Sam’s financial attitudes toward money are simple: she’s a saver, through and through.

Ask anyone who has watched her deliberate about spending her cash.

Advertisements

Rereading The Liar’s Club for the First Time

Last December 2015, I was walking with a friend for the first time in five years. We were walking and talking about writing: writing memoirs in particular. My friend thought she might have a few books in her waiting to get into publication. She was thinking of writing a memoir and was sounding me to find out if I could tell her anything valuable from a literature teacher’s point of view. I’m sure I didn’t.

She asked me if I had ever read Mary Karr’s book The Liar’s Club. I said I had read it. I remembered that I had listened to Mary Karr talk on NPR about her book in 2010, when she re-issued it. I bought the book, didn’t find the immediate enthusiasm to start it and shelved it for a while. One day, again on NPR, I listened to Stephen King profess has admiration for Mary Karr and for her book The Liar’s Club. I dusted off my copy and started to read it due to King’s enthusiasm for Karr and the book. I remember not being too fond of the idea of a Liar’s Club, and I must have dismissed it after a few pages because there is no way I could have read that book then, or now, without simply falling in love with the language, Mary Karr’s style, and her voice. The book is all about voice and that voice speaks to a broad audience.

I could not have read more than three pages. If I didn’t like the book, and didn’t think much of Mary Karr, then I could not have read it. Maybe my problem was that it  was set in Texas…who knows?  Bald fact: I didn’t read the book. Mea culpa.

My response to my friend was that I had indeed read the book a long time ago and that I didn’t think much of it, or much of Mary Karr as a writer. A dark shadow crossed this woman’s face. She was thinking deeply to herself, “This guy’s an idiot.” Her formally good opinion of my literary opinion stock dropped through the floor. I can’t be sure what her exact thought was coursing through her mind, but if I had to guess, it probably went something like this: “You are a pompous, arrogant dumbass, who doesn’t know good writing when you read it.” Or something to that effect. People don’t think highly of ridiculous criticism of obvious good writing, especially writing they personally enjoy. Fact. Been there.

Last week, after I had to cancel what would have been a third walk in five years, and first in three months, I decided to reread The Liar’s Club in order to find out why this book is adored by so many readers, and by my friend.

People read books for a number of good reasons. Some people like the action in a book, others are happy to read a simple narrative; still others like to read a particular genre, or read about an interesting topic; I am happy to read books others find interesting. I will always find a book engrossing, if the language talks to me with interesting metaphors, images, rhythm, tone and sentencing (variation of sentence lengths); I am a hopelessly attracted to novels that read more like poetry, and novels where I can’t distinguish between whether, or not the language has been deliberately chosen and polished, or if the author is just that damn amazing of an artist, and writes beautiful language effortlessly and naturally.

Mary Karr’s particular genius is that she understands that the sense of smell is intimately related to memory. If you are writing a memoir, it makes great sense to use the smells that evoke memories liberally. She is a master of placing an evocative image of a particular smell to introduce her recollection of a place, or event. The entire novel derives its sense of place through her numerous appeals to our sense of smell.

Mary Karr had me from her first image when she connects the sense of smell to her memory of the nutty smell of coffee and the background smell of her hometown: “Somebody had made a pot of coffee that laid a nutty smell over the faint chemical stink from the gasoline fire in the back yard. Every one tries to conjure up the sense of smell to fill out their narrative by using the smell of bacon, or coffee, and then abandons the sense of smell as a tool to evoke a minor image. Karr uses coffee, cigar smoke, Salem cigarette smoke, and then moves on to much more masterful smell images throughout the book. She repeats the coffee image: She remembers picking up her dad at work: “He brought into the cab the odors of stale coffee and of the cleaning solvent he used to get the oil off his hands.” Later in the book, when Pokey reunites with her dad, she uses “He’d been drinking black coffee during his shift, the coffee that pored like tar from the foreman’s beat-up percolator. That coffee brought my whole former Daddy back. I knew the solvent he used to strip grease from his hands and the Lava soap applied with a fingernail brush. (She moves to a tactile image: “His chin bristles scraped my neck.”) then she shifts back to smell to complete the child and father reunion: “And he must have been sweating from damp or work or worry, for the Tennessee whiskey he’d stood on the tarmac sipping was like the fresh-cut oak coming off him.” It bears repeating: Karr’s genius is her use of smell images to build her memoir because memories are richly remembered around specific smells. Karr makes fun of frozen fart smell which appear as her Dad, Pete, tells a story of “about a dozen of these round fuzzy things rolled our his pant leg. Big as your thumb, and white.” Pete continues the story: “And you ain’t going to guess what happens when they thaw. They pop like firecrackers and let off the biggest stink you ever smelled…” “They was farts?” Daddy slaps the laughs at sucking in his audience. And thus, we are introduced to the humor of the Liar’s Club and Pete’s storytelling through the sense of smell.

Another favorite of mine that takes me right in the car with Karr: “The too-sweet smell of Grandma’s hyacinth perfume hung in the car till Mother lit a Salem.” I know that perfume and I know the smell of Salem (menthol) cigarettes and that sentence takes me back to my mother’s smoking when I rode in the car with her as a youngster, about the same age as Karr is at this point in her narrative.

Karr gains memory-evoking strength just a few sentences later on the page when she remembers: “The sheer stink of my hometown woke me before dawn. The oil refineries and chemical plants gave the whole place a rotten-egg smell.” A positive memory: “The right wind could bring you a whiff of the Gulf, but that was rare.”

That smell leads, a couple of pages later, to this revelation about her hometown: “I later learned that Leechfield at that time was the manufacturing site for Agent Orange, Which surprised me not one bit.” She is remembering arriving in her hometown after an all-night car ride: “That morning, when I woke up lying under the back slant of the windshield, the world smelled not unlike a wicked fart in a close room.”

Another example of Karr’s narrative genius is how she parallels the novel To Kill a Mockingbird without even reaching from her own life to do so. Karr is the Scout Finch of Leechfield, Texas. Both Mary Karr and Jean Louise Finch have nicknames: Pokey and Scout. Both tell the backstory of their hometown while writing about how much they adore their fathers. Scout is no slouch at setting people straight, and neither is Pokey. They both speak in the vernacular, both write in a highly literate narrative form that somehow reaches out and includes the speech sounds and rhythmic cadences of the South. Karr doesn’t appear to deliberately make the connections between the two novels, but there are clear connections in her story. Harper Lee has a unique voice that draws the reader in by telling the story with a child persona: Scout. Karr steps back into her childhood and tells her story as her younger self, modeling her seven year old voice when she asks questions of her sister and parents and then shifting subtly to an adult voice to carry the narration.

Karr lends credibility to her memoir by questioning her remembrance of certain events as though she might not be remembering them as accurately as she lived the events as a child. Both Karr and Lee echo the idea that we don’t remember events as they were, but as we were.

Another comparison to TKM I noticed was Pokey’s comment about running away from home: “What I didn’t know until I finally did leave home at fifteen was that, if I had lit our, nobody would organize any posse to sniff me down.”

Dill observes to Scout that maybe Boo didn’t run away because he had no place to run to. Dill was also the product of a mother who remarried and chose to focus more on herself and her new husband than on her child. You can see that parallel in Pokey’s mom when she divorces Pokey’s dad and remarries destroying the family bond. The children are allowed to choose which parent the wish to live with. To me, this shows the indifference of Pokey’s mom to her children. To her credit, Pokey’s mom later reunites the family.

Does everyone in the South drink to excess? Wow! There are the big drinkers: Aunt Rachel and Bob Ewell in TKM. In The Liar’s Club, everyone is a drunk. They probably don’t problem drink any more in the South than in the North, but drinking is definitely a favorite past time that has detrimental effects on both communities. The Liar’s Club makes glad I live boring, non-drinking life, that no one would actually write about.

I noticed that in Karr’s alcoholic family, each sister was willing, at any time to walk away from the other. I think this is the mark of an alcohol-affected family. For example Pokey says of her loyalty to her sister: “I wished Lecia no particular harm, but if there was only one banana left in the bowl, I would not hesitate to grab it and leave her to do without.” On the other hand, when Lecia, Pokey, and her dad were together, Pokey said, “We were just like the three curved boards for the hull bottom of some boat that only needed gluing and caulking together.

If you are still with me, you might like to think about Karr’s use of pacing to add texture to the story. Throughout the narrative, she leads us down a narrative trail, story by story, stopping and digressing occasionally to illuminate a important connection to the narrative.

The rape story demands a under current of pacing to reinforce how craftily Pokey was cut out of the herd and raped by an older boy. She mentions him. She describes him as evil. She tells how he grooms her. Then she describes the rape as it happens. It all seems to build up gradually, to demonstrate how this evil boy planned the rape. Pokey is left without any recourse to address her rape. She concludes her story by describing him walking off to the ball game, he never rushes; he is confident that he is in complete control of Pokey and Pokey’s will, and he is confident that he will never be found out. The pacing of the story reflects his confidence: slow and deliberate.

A particularly touching dramatic story Karr relates is how Lecia, Pete, and Mary enjoy a cookout in Colorado. Mary remembers it as a Halcyon moment before the family’s tight bond is obliviated by their mother’s selfishness the next day. Mary experiences the best day of her life the day before she faces her worst day.

If I filmed this book, I would choose Adele’s “Hello” as the theme song for the for The Liar’s Club. The book has an most plaintive vibe to it. One can hardly imagine a little girl growing up in such a dysfunctional family and still turning out as close to normal as most of the rest of us are (if we all were truthful about our families).

I have a special . If I really like a book I have read, I rate it by how many copies I buy on Amazon and then send to my reading buddies, or give to my friends. So far, I have given away fifty copies of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, forty copies of Gilbert’s, Eat Pray Love, twenty-five copies of Caroline Knapp’s, Drinking: A Love Story, twenty-five, or thirty copies of Ted Kerosote’s, Merle’s Door. I was so taken with Elizabeth Smart’s Story, that I bought fifty copies of a very expensive hardback to loan to my students. Each book was read over twenty times over a two-year period. That was money well-spend. If I thought I had fifty friends that would actually read Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, I would order fifty copies just to start. Sadly, I don’t think I am going to find that level of enthusiasm unless a bunch of folks read this blog and tell me how excited they are about the book.

Thank you, my friend for embarrassing me into reading The Liar’s Club. As with everything else in our relationship, you are right and I am wrong. The abyss will never be bridged except with great book recommendations. I’ll miss those in the future.

This interview and video might pique your interest in reading The Liar’s Club:

http://www.raintaxi.com/feeling-making-machine-an-interview-with-mary-karr/

https://www.facebook.com/MaryKarrLit/videos/945703705138/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spanking Nicole Abour

I love Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects. Give her about three minutes of your time, click on this link and her video will load:

Abour reminds me of what my father said to me one time (in reference once to an example of my profound stupidity on a subject): “Nobody is ever totally worthless, if nothing else, they can always serve as a bad example.”

Abour can be is such an example; her thinking process is instructive: it demands that we find a different way to respond to ineffective parenting. Nicole’s problem isn’t really with obstreperous children’s behavior, it is really with the parents of these children, but she can’t think past the noise of these children to clear her mind and think about how one might help these parents and their offspring.

Did anyone besides me catch the sound symbolism in Nicole’s last name? Abour: a bore? Okay, it’s just the literature teacher in me raising my ugly head.

Before I get too carried away with Nicole Abour and her goofiness, I would like to tell a few of my own spanking stories.

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

Story two. I knew (and loved) a friend of my parents, Bill Hileman. He was a big man, a strong man, and a pleasant man to be around. He always welcomed me into a conversation when he was at my parent’s home. When I was a freshman in junior high, Bill Hileman was my ninth-grade physical education teacher and I was thrilled to be in his class. The greatest difficulty I had at the beginning of the year was to remember to call him Mr. Hileman instead of Bill. I settled on the jock approach: I called him coach.

One day, I was exercising my office of “Stud Ninth Grader” in the showers at the end of class. Little seventh graders were scurrying around in the showers trying to get showered and trying to not be late getting dressed and getting to their next class. My self-appointed job was to hurry them along by snapping my rolled-up towel at their naked little fannies (we were all naked). I had learned how to do this office from the ninth graders when I was in seventh and eighth grade.

The floor drain had been deliberately plugged and I was surprised by the sloshing through the water of an adult and then the feel of a powerful, huge hand on my shoulder. Coach Hileman barked, “Step into my office, Parsons.”

His office was the health room where ninth-graders changed. The rowdy gym students fell silent as Coach Hileman followed me into the room and closed the door.

I of course, thought the situation was hilarious. Nobody else was that deluded.

Coach Hileman positioned me at the front of the class and said, “Assume the position,” flatly. I grabbed my ankles. My little privates dangled between my legs.

Coach Hileman and the other coaches had a running joke going for years. They always asked the preparatory question: “Do you want a love tap, or the regular?” Nobody, but nobody ever asked for the latter. I said, “Oh hell Bill, give me the regular!”

Such audacity was rewarded with an arc of the paddle that swung so precipitously  the sound barrier was dented, if not broken. The water droplets, formally on my bare butt, rematerialized themselves as tears and shot out of my eyes. I saw the light. Literally. Excruciating pain flashed bright orange and yellow in my brain. I stood. I took one step. I passed out in front of thirty slack-jawed classmates. When I came to, seconds later, after I landed in a heap on the cold linoleum, I saw Coach Hileman’s face in my face, worried. He said, “Do you want me to tell your dad, or do you want to?” I said, “I’ll take care of it, sir.”

I don’t remember speaking to Bill Hileman ever again. my feeling were hurt, irrevocably. I did not refuse to speak to him out of anger; I wasn’t particularly angry. I would have easily forgiven him. After all, I was the one at fault.  I just never went out of my way to talk to him again. Neither did my family. That spanking damaged everyone. All were punished.

Story three. When I was about seven, I still played with Lincoln Logs. I didn’t always use them to build cool cabins and bridges, and whatever kids build with Lincoln Logs. I did build all of those things, but my first love was designing weapons with the green roof slats combined with the small log pieces.

One day, I was in my bedroom, pilot-testing a new slate/fulcrum/projectile combination. I launched the log-projectile at NASA launch velocity across the room, through the bedroom door, in a perfect trajectory into my father’s temple. I’m not sure how much it hurt, but it did draw blood near his eye.

He entered the room and I knew immediately not to blame the dog for this one. He picked up a green Lincoln Log roof slat and brandished it like a paddle (in retrospect, it was almost a laughable paddle). I reached down and picked up a slat, and for safety’s sake, picked up another in order to have one in each hand. I was ready to fight to the death like they do on television.

My dad offered up the old saw that is often spoken before a parent whales on his child, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.”

My response drove straight to his heart and his mind at the same time, “Why do we want to hurt each other, anyway?”

He stopped, pondered that question for ten seconds, and then put down the slat and left my room. I didn’t win the day, we both did. He never threatened me again. Ever. And Lord knows, I gave him lots of reasons over the next ten years to punish me. He found a undressed girl one afternoon under my bed when she sneezed because of the dust bunnies she was keeping company with, but that’s another story for another blog.

When I first stated teaching, my principal at the time was four square opposed to spanking and all corporal punishment. I challenged him on the subject, being firmly rooted in the pro-spanking camp. He responded very authoritatively. His position was formed as an educator. He said that when we spank children, we teacher them a dangerous and dysfunctional lesson: we teach them “I can hit you because I am bigger than you.”  He continued that corporal punishment seems effective in the moment because it is. But all behavior is built on an inexorable timeline. Eventually, that child will become an adult and use that same behavior on a child.  Additionally, there is the problem of where you begin on the timeline to spank children. Is one too young, is two about right? Months?  Do we spank babies? Why not? They annoy us when they cry, don’t they? On the other end of the timeline when do we stop spanking to change behavior? Ten? Twelve? Eighteen? Do we stop when they are too damned big and might hit us back, or challenge our authority to spank them? Do we resume spanking when our spouse won’t respond any other way?

There is a great (if not painful to read) scene in Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander when Jamie spanks Claire for running away and endangering the entire clan. This is no love tap spanking: he completely blisters her ass with a leather belt. An interesting side observation is that Jamie is whipped numerous times in the novel and it never changes his behavior. Claire has to bring him to his senses with reason.

And in this age of gender equality, do we spank girls until they are ten? Twelve? College? When they become our spouses?

I wonder if Abour ever thought about spanking in the concrete. Would she have herself spanked at fourteen? In college?  As a spouse? Would she spank her child with a horse whip as Mary Karr’s grandmother would have had Mary and her sister spanked by Mary’s mother in her memoir, The Liar’s Club?

I knew the Marquis de Sade when he was a young whipper snapper. I think even he would agree that spanking children is going too far and he was a man of extreme behavior. He would have us wait, Nicole, until children are adults.

Parents still believe that spanking is an effective technique to stop misbehavior because it is…in the short term. Parents reason that the threat of spanking is an effective tool to discipline children because spanking worked so well to stop their obstreperous behavior in the past. Parents mistakingly reason that spanking changes children’s behavior permanently and shapes them to become responsible, well-behaved adults.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

No responsible, thoughtful, well-informed, mother, or father, spanks his or her child in the twenty-first century. Society, as a whole, does not support, or condone spanking.  Spanking a child is not a question of being politically correct, or not politically correct. Spanking is not the answer that most of us have accepted to the question: “What is an effective way to discipline my child without damaging his soul? Or her soul?”

No school boards in the United States support the spanking of children in the schoolhouse. There may still be some schools that allow for the possibility of spanking disruptive children; almost none use that allowance in fear of severe censure from parents and the community at large.

Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem School Project, trains the parents of his future students of the HSP not to yell, threaten, or spank their children in a well-meaning attempt to discipline them; he provides them with effective parenting techniques when he schools the parents in his “Baby College.”

I started teaching in the Fall of 1975. Several years before I started teaching, a junior high principal and a coach took a particularly obnoxious eighth-grade boy across the street from the school to “straighten him our.” They straightened him out all right: They broke his arm. They broke his jaw. Something else got straightened out: the entire school district. The only question settled after this child was “straightened out” was the size of the check the district wrote to the parents. Okay, so he was fourteen. Did that make him an adult? Did the adults in this incident act as adults?

Such as it was, Bill Mitchell, the new superintendent of the school district started the 1974 school year by issuing the following edict: “No staff member will ever touch a student in any manner except to restrain the student for safety. “Unstated was the understanding that if a staff member did touch a student in any other way than for their safety, the staff member would be dismissed from the district.”

After watching Nicole Abour spout her ridiculous diatribe, I just want to smack her. Just kidding. Writing this blog is probably more fulfilling  in the long term. After all, what Nicole Abour really wants is an audience: she just wants to rant and gain followers.

This brings up my question of the day: When are we going to get past this stinkn’ thinkn’? It’s time to call bullshit on people like Abour. I have done it. Many times. I have called bullshit on teaching colleagues who advocated a return to corporal punishment. I have argued with students who were operating under the misconceptions of Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects.

Let me go on the record one last time: All parents who spank their children are ignorant. Spanking children to discipline them is a parenting strategy than needs to be buried once and for all.

Spanking is punishment.Discipline is not punishment.  Therefore, spanking is not discipline.

Just a minor thought bubble for those who don’t know that discipleship (discipline) is all about getting someone to follow you because they want to follow you and not because they can make you follow them. Think Christ. Did he use the rod on his disciples to get them to follow him?

My final thought on spanking is a more proactive approach to obstreperous children. My students always enjoyed watching this video, you will too:

 

 

Using Math and Modeling to Defeat Alcoholism

The words you speak become the house you live in. –Hafiz

Okay, you will quickly notice that this blog has only the slightest tangential connection to this quote. I just like the quote so much that I thought I would put it in a blog and remember it each time I revised this blog.

What I really want to achieve in this text is the retelling of one of my favorite parenting stories. This story actually segues from yesterday’s story: “Alcohol and the Bell Jar.”

Twenty-one years ago, while my daughter Samantha Anne Michael and I were enjoying ourselves on Sandy Beach, at Alcova Lake, Wyoming, on a late Saturday afternoon, we watched from high up on the slope of the beach, fascinated, as two heavily inebriated “lusters” rolled around on the beach below us, trying to pull off each other’s swimsuit. Sam was only seven at the time and didn’t understand the intricacies of the relationship between sex and alcohol.

She had a sense that these individuals were pretty passionate about something, she just wasn’t able to understand their behavior. She asked me, “Dad, what are those two people trying to do, get sandier?” “Well not exactly, Sam. I think they are drunk and expressing their lust publicly.” Okay, so I hadn’t effectively polished my explanation of public display of the sexual response.

I did take these people’s throes of passion as a teachable moment, however. She asked me why they would be drinking and drunk on a sandy beach on a beautiful day when they could be tubing. I refocused Sam’s attention to the fact that these folks were drunk and I wanted to address the time when she could start drinking alcohol.

Did I mention Sam was seven? It’s never to early to talk about responsible alcohol consumption.

I explained to Sam that alcohol abuse led to unhappiness and that I wanted her life to be a happy one. I had a simple plan that we could follow together that would assure that she and I would always be happy in our lives and with each other.

Sam was all ears.

I explained that when she was born, I came up with a plan to defend her against alcoholism. The plan was simple: I quit drinking beer when she was born. I had not had a beer for as long as she had been alive.

This is a fact that is only impressive to seven-year-olds. I continued that I would not drink another beer (or any other alcohol) for the next seven years, or until she was fourteen.

She asked, “So you are going to start drinking again when I am fourteen?”

I said, “No. I am going to point out to you when you are fourteen, and you are thinking about drinking and getting drunk like those folks in front of us, that I will have given up drinking for fourteen years which is equivalent to two of your lifetimes.”

She did the math. I think she was following my argument.

I continued, “When you are fourteen, you can easily make the choice to delay drinking with your friends until you are twenty-one. When you make that decision at fourteen, and delay your drinking successfully for seven years, I will have not had a beer in twenty-one years. You will have only sacrificed seven years of drinking to my twenty-one year sacrifice.”

That is three of your lifetimes. (Is this using ratios?)

“I made this sacrifice for you because it is that important to me that you get off to a good start, an alcohol-free start, and not end up on a beach rolling around in the sand, frustrated. When you are twenty-one, I can drink beer again.”

Sam’s response? “Why would you want to do that?”

“We’ll talk about that when you are twenty-one.”

When Sam returned home to Eagle River, Alaska, she made a video of her seven-year-old self instructing her fourteen-year-old self not to drink for the next seven years.

She kept her promise; I kept mine. I haven’t ever heard of her rolling around in the sand; it must have worked.

I think they call this “modeling the behavior we want to see in others.” Works, most of the time.

I think this comes under the heading of “Building your house with your words.”

 

“Working Together” An Explication of David Whyte’s Poem

Listen to the poem as you read along: sound is sense!

 

Working Together 

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible

working together
in common cause,

to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air

passed at speed
round a shaped wing

easily
holds our weight.

So may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging 
©1996 Many Rivers Press

Written for the presentation of The Collier Trophy to The Boeing Company
marking the introduction of the new 777 passenger jet.

 

“Working Together” Explication

David Whyte

I liked David Whyte’s poem “Working Together” from first glance. Garrison Keillor’s oral interpretation added a dimension to the poem I didn’t hear in my vocal reading. Take a moment and “listen” to the poem by reading it out loud several times to get the first “sound sense” of the poem.

Where to start with this poem? I usually like to decide the subject, or category this poem would fall into. This poem is Whyte’s celebration of “the miraculous.” What is so miraculous? The act of “working together” can be miraculous; the poem is a discussion of the miracle of how we shape our world and in doing so, it shapes us. This miraculous “shaping” happens every day, but Whyte is drawing attention to a specific “shaping” and a particular relationship created by the interaction between what we aren’t aware of and what object, or idea we are creating. There is something of Elizabeth Gilbert’s connection to the “Big Magic” in this poem.

What got my attention in this poem? The title! Look at it. It contains everything the poem discusses in just two simple words. “Together” reveals a relationship; furthermore, the first syllable “To” is sound symbolism for the number “two” which also suggests the simplest of relationships: pairs, dyads, couples. This poem utilizes dyad metaphors to reinforce a special relationship to the miraculous.

Taking this four-sentence poem one sentence at a time, let’s look at “how” the poem builds meaning to show us the “miraculous.” Each sentence uses the repetition of words to shape a visual and an aural dyad. “We shape our self to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” The sentence is built in two clauses subtly reinforcing the dyad. Here we are “shaping” our world and by that act, the world is “shaping” us. In a sentence: we become what we do. The repetition of the words “shaping” and “world” suggest a duality, as does the word “again.” This sentence suggest Gary Snyder’s poem “Ax Handles.”

The second sentence in the poem almost works like a stanza: “The visible and the invisible working together in common cause, to produce the miraculous.” There is my thesis: the poem is about the miraculous! “The visible” is our world, our experience, our reality, which works with the “invisible” (the miraculous) in “common cause” (alliteration is used to suggest the idea of the pairing of ideas) to produce something miraculous. We create something miraculous every day without even noticing our creative acts. Whyte wrote the poem to remind us that we are in partnership with the miraculous and creative world whether we are notice, or not. Whyte uses dyads three times in this sentence: “visible and invisible, “working together,” and “common cause” (alliteration) to reinforce the idea that we are connected to the “miraculous.” The duality in the very structure of the sentence is stated in two clauses separated by a comma. Form is meaning, and the form is pretty obvious. Whyte intended the form of his poem to reinforce the meaning of the poem.

Sentence three helps the reader move from the abstract idea of “working together to shape the intangible with the tangible” and “the visible with the invisible” to the concrete image of a wing and the physical interaction between the wing and the air. “I am thinking of the way the intangible air passed at speed round a shaped wing easily holds our weight.” Whyte’s idea in this sentence is to show how the concrete (a wing) and the seemingly abstract (the air) form a relationship (work together) to create the miracle of flight. The air is miraculous: it is simultaneously tangible and intangible (pretty miraculous in my book) and it works with the tangible (a shaped wing) to produce something called the Bernoulli effect, or lift which in turn makes flight possible. Even the shape of the wing suggests a duality: it only works because the top of the wing is not the same shape as the bottom of the wing. The very shape (rounded on top) “works together” with (the flat underside of the wing) as “air is passed at speed” to create the miracle of flight. Another, less obvious duality in this sentence is the relationship of “weightless air” “easily” holding “our weight.” Think weightless air holding up the weight of a 777 “easily” and it is not too hard to feel connected to the miracle of flight. Abstract thinking (miraculous thinking, creative thinking) works to create a concrete wing, which in turn, creates the miracle of flight. All of this takes place in “invisible and intangible” air with a “visible and tangible” wing.

Whyte makes his case in the final sentence for how we are shaped by our world. The world works together with us to help us find our true shape in the world: “So may we, in this life trust to those elements we have yet to see or imagine and look for the true shape of our own self by forming it well to the great intangibles about us.” Faith, another intangible is suggested by this sentence. Whyte inserts a relationship in the single word “we.” And what do “we” do? We “trust” in this life those elements we have yet to see (the invisible) or imagine (a second invisible)

and look (for the tangible “elements” amongst the intangible that we can only imagine) in order to “see” the true shape of our own self. Thus, when we “create,” we create ourselves as well. The alliteration of “see, shape, and self” addresses “seeing” the relationship between us and the invisible, or the “miraculous.” We are shaping our own self by creating (forming) ourselves to the great intangibles about us! We are shaped by our ideas; our ideas shape the world. Our world is enveloped in the intangible air that is all about us. Our imagination works together with the “intangibles” like air to create the shape of our lives. All of this is based on our “trust” in the invisible, miraculous creative acts that we have yet to see.

This is my take. I’ll own all of it.

David Whyte’s interpretation of his own poem is entirely different. Research will reveal that my understanding of this poem is several imaginings away from Whyte’s purpose for writing the poem.

Google the YouTube video of him reading the poem and you will hear (and see) that “Working Together” was written for a specific purpose: to celebrate the commissioning of the Boeing 777.

This is the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXMWjtsdIiU

This is the source of the purpose of the poem:

http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_working.html

Written for the presentation of The Collier Trophy to The Boeing Company marking the introduction of the new 777 passenger jet.

My dialogue with this poem happened before I even knew who David Whyte was. I glad I didn’t have the “back story” of the poem before I had my own opportunity to let it “happen to me.” To wit, if I can have my own dialogue with the poem and David Whyte has his unique dialogue, what might your dialogue be? I would be delighted to hear your criticism if you understand criticism to mean “to bring out sweetness and light” (beauty and truth). Jump in. You might wonder about my definition of “brief” in the title. This explication is “Jeff-brief.”

 

Alcoholism and the Bell Jar

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I won’t gain too many friends by writing my thoughts today, but this topic has been on my mind for years.

 

I grew up in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming folks, when I lived there, used to measure distances by how many six packs it took to drive from point A to point B. Drinking alcohol was that casual and that socially acceptable.

 

Alcoholism engulfed my family and me as I grew up. Alcoholism pervades every aspect of my life today.

 

Almost all my friends’ parents were alcoholics, or at best, really heavy drinkers. I didn’t know any family that didn’t have a well-stocked wet bar in their home; the majority of my school friend’s parents had a drinking problem. There was a lot of shame associated with our families’ alcoholism; nobody talked about alcoholism openly with their friends.

 

I thought alcoholism was about drinking alcohol; I didn’t understand that alcoholism was a symptom of a deep and powerful substance addiction. Alcoholism was a family affliction to almost every family I grew up with in the fifties and sixties.

 

I was a thirty-something before I even knew that it was possible to communicate effectively about the disease and communicate with an alcoholic; I’d given up trying to talk with my alcoholic mother; I shunned her for years.

 

In my thirties, I discovered a communication skill set to communicate with my alcoholic mother when I discovered a metaphor for alcoholism while watching the 1986 movie The Fly with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

 

I discovered a metaphor for alcoholism and I found the tool to understand and defeat the alcoholism agenda. I used that understanding to learn to accept and love and reconnect with my alcoholic mother.

 

In the movie, The Fly, Jeff Goldblum is a scientist trying to invent teleportation. In the movie, he steps into teleportation booth A and flips a switch to travel to teleportation booth B. What he doesn’t know at the time he flips the switch, is that a housefly has surreptitiously entered booth A just before the teleportation commences. The machine transports the fly and Goldblum at the dismantled molecular level in booth A and reassembles them in booth B, confusing their genes in the process. Goldblum acquires some of the fly’s genes. His body starts to grow at the genetic level of the fly, changing his body in a most grotesque manner. Fast forward a bit to Goldblum’s hospital room as he tries to explain his perception of his body’s morphing into a fly to Geena Davis, his main squeeze. He sees the metamorphosis as a disease.  Goldblum’s character states: “I know what the disease wants: It wants control.”

 

I had never thought of disease as a sentient entity before, but it made perfect sense to me.

 

Somewhere in my reading, I learned that the objective of alcoholism is to degrade, demean, isolate, and humiliate the alcoholic and the people who are known, and loved by the alcoholic. Alcoholism has its own agenda.

 

The lingo of alcoholism defines the alcoholic as the afflicted and everyone else in the alcoholic’s life as the affected.

 

Everyone in the alcoholic’s life is affected by the disease until the key to extricate themselves from alcoholism becomes available to them. No one ever extricates themselves completely from alcoholism.

 

My mother choose alcohol addiction; and the alcoholism enthusiastically embraced her.

 

She lived the first forty years of her life as a brilliant, powerful, and attractive non-drinking woman who mistakenly thought that life owed her a living. My father inadvertently supported her delusion, not realizing his inadvertent role in my mother’s addictive descent.

 

Mother was so intelligent, so self-possessed, she could have run a small country. Columbia would not have been too big for her energy. Being a homemaker didn’t challenge her talents and abilities. She wasn’t up to avoiding an alcoholic lifestyle, however.

 

 

Alcoholism is not about intelligence, or lack thereof; rather, it is a powerfully negative life force that defeats one’s mind and soul.

 

On her fortieth birthday, my mother didn’t get out of bed. She had an epiphany:

 

The rest of her life became a slow slide into a slough of mental and physical decadence. She believed that she would never be as beautiful, or as popular, or as powerful as she had been in her first forty years. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 

When she chose to drink heavily every day; her fate was sealed for the next forty-one years.

Whatever the cause, the effect was that she became a world-class alcoholic. The power of the disease, and the power of her brain, produced a synergy that outpaced the abilities of everyone in her life to understand, or respond to her disease.

 

In my thirties, I came to realize my mother not as a broken-down alcoholic, but rather as the wonderful person she was and always had been. She required what we all require: love, affection, respect, connection to her family, and friends, and the nurturing of her soul with their presence.

 

Alcoholism is a bell jar that completely encapsulates the alcoholic and thwarts any positive, or nurturing relationships with her family and friends.

 

A bell jar is a bell-shaped cover made of glass used for covering delicate objects, or a clear container used in a laboratory, or an environment in which someone is protected, or cut off from the outside world.

 

My dear, kind mother was a hungry ghost: she was desperate; she was starved for affection; she could never fulfill her needs: she was completely in the thrall of a disease whose agenda was to degrade, demean, isolate, and humiliate her and to degrade, demean, and humiliate everyone that she loved, cherished, or cared about.

 

Her alcoholism was a bell jar isolating her from her world: the disease was invisible to everyone including to her; like the wind that cannot be seen except by its affects on the environment, we could only see the affects of the disease, not the disease itself, or its agenda.

 

My family couldn’t separate the disease from our mother: she was a disease to us.

 

We slipped into the role of being complicit, and being participant in her degradation.

 

She contributed to her abasement by drinking, or so it seemed to everyone outside of the jar: we didn’t perceive an agenda in her drinking, we just saw the effects of her drinking.

 

Belatedly, I imagined the disease process for what it was, I seized the responsibility to respond to my mother as a person rather than to respond to her disease.

 

I fought for her instead of against her.

 

I said kind words to her.

 

I expressed affection for her verbally, and by simple acts of kindness.

 

I ignored her anger.

 

I deflected her rage.

 

I refused to respond angrily to her syrupy voice when she called me on the phone.

 

I no longer upbraided her for drinking.

 

I refused to take her phone calls when she was drunk; rather, I made a point of calling her almost daily, and visiting her in person frequently, when I knew she would most likely be sober and rational.

 

Initially, I accepted all of her ridiculous demands as a matter of course; eventually, her demands became reasonable requests as her needs for affection and positive attention were met.

 

I addressed her desires and her needs promptly and without comment. (To her, her wants and needs were the same thing; there was no need for me to quibble over the distinction.)

 

I became hyper-conscientious around her: I addressed her authentic personal needs, not her alcoholic confusion of those needs. Sometimes, they were the same; I didn’t differentiate, I just worked to meet her needs as she expressed them.

 

The disease hated my conscientious efforts to love my mother and support her growth away from helplessness.

 

The disease slowly lost its powerful grip on me:

 

I no longer allowed the disease to drive my life.

 

I gained power over my life as the disease lost its power over me.

 

I felt great.

 

I developed a positive relationship with my mother for the first time in my life.

 

Slowly, the bell jar lost its implacable grip on my mother and its firm grip on me; it released our family to function as a family.

 

The disease is never entirely absent from our lives: it is always in the background. Mother died an alcoholic struggling every day for the rest of her life with the affects of living half a century in the clutches of alcoholism.

 

I celebrate my creative resolution to an alcoholic relationship with my mother. It seemed a success to me.

 

I know and respect alcoholism for its power over me and for its power over many of my friends.

 

Alcoholism still has a unmistakable hold on me.

 

I ruined a friendship one December when I tried to explain my understanding of the disease process to an alcoholic. She (and the disease) did not take the discussion well.

 

My friend’s alcoholism (bell jar) understood my discussion of her alcoholism as criticism. (It was.)

 

No criticism is ever welcome, especially when it is understood by the disease as a threat to the status quo.

 

When I encounter alcoholic friends and alcoholic acquaintances, I invariably choose the wrong approaching their alcoholism. I still cherish the idea that I can challenge and defeat their alcoholism. I should leave well enough alone. I’ve never vanquished alcoholism completely in my lifetime and I’ve had lots of opportunities to do so.

 

My alcoholic bell jar shouts out to an alcoholic’s bell jar:

 

“Watch out for this guy! He really has an ‘ass-holic attitude’ about alcoholism! Avoid him! Straight-arm him! He’s no fun! Ghost him! Don’t let him play in our sandbox!”

 

As soon as I mention my thoughts about alcoholism and the metaphor of the Bell Jar to an alcoholic, that is pretty much the end of any meaningful relationship with that person… forever.

 

This is how I explain to myself why I don’t have 999 friends lined up to socialize with me: There’s a good chance my dormant alcoholism works to isolate me from many potential non-drinking friends and alcoholic friends.

 

I isolated myself from an alcoholic/psychopath person recently. I cared deeply about that person, a former student. I became addicted to the hope of saving her and the need show my love for her by sacrificing everything important to me to save her from her shitstorm life.

 

I realize now that I fueled a codependent relationship trying to rescue her from her alcoholic life; I became a controlling, crazy-person who was addicted to the hope of rescuing, and loving her as a means of saving her; she didn’t want to be saved.

 

I became the very addict that I was trying to rescue and reform.

 

I’ve moved on now; I have great respect for the addiction process. I escaped from that addictive event; I will always have the scars of addiction on my soul, however.

Lesson learned.