Elucidate, Elucidate!

Despite our lip service to valuing diversity, I find that one group continues to be held up to ridicule.  People with a higher education often can be identified through their speech and writing.  For some reason, responses to them are not infrequently derogatory, negative.  Even the names by which they’re labeled are belittling: egghead, four-eyes (based on the stereotype appearance with glasses), effete intellectuals according to one American vice president, bookworm, geek, know-it-all.  

Why is that?  We don’t call down talented athletes.  Outstanding actors, musicians, artists are praised and mentioned as good role models. Business leaders are quoted, courted and rewarded.  Can you imagine the reaction if you called a basketball star “spider legs” or a top model “mask face?”  

Yet folks feel perfectly free to scoff at an individual who makes use of an unusual word.  Do I sound overly sensitive?  Well, I am.  During a recent meeting, I said another member of the group could elucidate* the content of a paper we were reading. Whoops of laughter greeted my word choice.  

I’m old enough now to shake off that reaction, but I remember times growing up when I’d hide not only my vocabulary but also my obsession with reading and the positive reactions of teachers to my academic efforts.  I never thought of myself as particularly bright or skilled, but I slowly and painfully learned to do nothing to draw attention to my brain. 

Was it because I was a girl?  Maybe in those far-away days.  Things have changed somewhat.  Now little boys know without being told that reading and academics are more a girl’s province than theirs.  They are much more likely to be reluctant readers, and by the time they hit high school, then college, they’re opting out of education.  (See http://www.readingrockets.org/blog/55245/ for one point of view on the issue.)  

But regardless of sex, brainiacs shouldn’t have to struggle to be proud of themselves and their talents.  Hide their lights under a bushel.  Disguise their true selves.  

Sages of the world, would one of you elucidate?  Elucidate!  Just how did this state of affairs come to be and how can we change it?  

*Elucidate:  clarify, explain, to make clear especially through explanation


How You Can Have an Extraordinary Life—Read!

Shay CU3

Remember all those tiresome lectures from teachers and parents telling you to read, read, read?  Turns out they were right. 

One of the necessities for an extraordinary life is to be able to think well into your declining years.  And research in the journal Neurology confirms—and helps explain why—people who habitually read, write, and process heaps of information are less likely to decline mentally late in life.  

As reported in Pacific Standard, an opinion and think journal, a lifetime of reading slows decline in cognition, even providing protection against the impacts of common old-age neurological disorders.  (See http://tinyurl.com/lwcxd7r)  

As a writer, I value any snippet of information that encourages people to read, no matter how protean* the subjects of the reading material may be.  Right now, I’m concentrating on romances in my work, although I write in many areas.  So, hey, if you read romances, sports, mysteries, zombies and vampires, instruction manuals for computers, limericks, or the backs of cereal boxes, all to your own good.  Just do a heck of a lot of it. 

Maybe eventually you’ll pick up some of my publications.  Even better, you’ll be able to understand what’s written there.  

*Protean: Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity

Getting old is hell

immigrants small B “Getting old is hell.”  Advice from my grandfather years ago.  As time builds up on me, I’m starting to realize the truth of his statement.  Backs get creakier, joints wear out, muscles weaken, teeth break. 

Do minds age, too?  Shed memories and facts and knowledge like a tree lose leaves in the fall?  I like to deny it, but I fear it may be so.  Everyone I know over a certain age labels absentmindedness a “senior moment.”  If she walks to a room to find a sweater and upon arrival has forgotten what she’s looking for, she blames aging. 

One of the worst results of aging is that we lose the stories of our elders.  I saw an old friend yesterday.  As we chatted, he seemed disoriented; and I worried about his state of mind.  I knew I’d miss the anecdotes of his recent travels, his sharp insights into politics.   

I think about my grandfather and his tales about WW I.  He was gassed in the trenches, survived the Depression.  My mother, whose group of girlfriends daringly took nude photos of one another as teens.  My father’s chronicles of a rough childhood in blue-collar Boston.  (For more on this topic, see my “The Significance of Stories, http://sasee.com/2008/11/01/the-significance-of-stories/)  

How do we capture and remember these extraordinary incidents in our senescence*?  Usually we don’t.  Sometimes writers will through their stories.  Do you have family stories you recall or ones of your own you’d like to pass down?  

*   Senescence: the state or process of being old.

My family of heroes


What makes a hero?  My daughter’s one.  Yesterday, driving through downtown Denver, she spotted a woman bent over, clutching her chest.  Since my family is made up of heroes, she leaped out of her car, and went into action.  While she asked the stranger if she needed help, my daughter called 911 and stayed on the line and with the victim (by that time turning blue) until the medics arrived.

   The thing strange to her was that although hundreds of people passed on the crowded sidewalk, not one stopped to offer assistance.  Not a surprise to me.  Years ago I learned of a concept called “diffusion of responsibility” or “bystander effect.”  This social psychology theory was developed after the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York, during which many in the crowded neighborhood heard her cries for help but didn’t take action. 

   The idea—the more people around an emergency, the less likely anyone will help.  “Let someone else do it.” 

   When I learned of this concept, I vowed never to fall victim to it.  And my entire family subscribes to the approach.  My husband, two children, two grandchildren, and myself have all stepped in to offer emergency assistance.  By my count, we’ve saved about eight lives as well as rescuing numerous others from lesser crises.  That’s why we’re a family of heroes.

   We don’t have superpowers.  We’re not outstanding athletes or geniuses.  We’re ordinary, not extraordinary.  But extraordinary things happen to us, and they can happen to you.  

   The first and most essential quality of a hero is simply for a person to be willing to step forward and take charge and responsibility.  Sure, other things are important: ability to stay calm, rational thinking, empathy.  But none of those matter unless you realize you have to act. 

   Check it out.  Next time you hear about a person who was heroic, see if he just acted, rather than waiting for someone else to be a leader.

Who can be extraordinary?

I have a cool dentist. Not only is Dr. Steve a skilled and caring practitioner, he’s also a musician and composer of the folk-rock variety. His group, the Steve Law Band, performs in the metro Denver area, and I last heard them at the Capitol Hill People’s Fair.

So what? Writers are interested in all sorts of individuals. Each person has his own story. Dr. Steve is a multi-dimensional person and a great example of using your creativity and smarts throughout your life. Ordinary people can have extraordinary lives. Sample Steve’s work at http://www.stevelawmusic.com and learn about his dentistry at http://www.metrodentalcare.com/

I know lots of folks who, if you passed them on the street, might be overlooked. Once you get to know them, you learn of their fascinating interests and their exceptional activities. One woman gave me a five-minute overview of the intertwined social lives of common barn swallows, who work together to feed and protect fledglings. Another got the inside view of Alaska’s natural grandeur and shared it with me. Still a third, supposedly retired, just published a book on branding and marketing.

Goes to show that anyone just might have an extraordinary life, if we take the time to find out. Do you have a favorite contact you’ve learned from?