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San Antonio, Texas

Last week, I accompanied my daughter Emily along with an FBLA group from her high school to the National FBLA conference in San Antonio. We did several activities while we were there, but the one thing I thought was strange was we were not allowed to see the project presentation that her group made for competition. Evidently there were so many of these that they couldn’t accommodate audiences for every presentation so only certain events were open to guests and visitors.

But we saw Sea World and on a separate day we saw the Alamo, and we also spent a day at Aquatica, the water park associated with Sea World.

One thing from the trip I thought was worth recording is shown in the photo above in which the importance of play in dolphin development is emphasized. I think we also need signs like this around the schools of our human children. It isn’t just dolphins, it is most creatures having brains that use play to learn and develop. Play seems to have taken a backseat to academic rigor, but it is playfulness that stimulates the mind towards the deep learning that lasts a lifetime. So I wanted to share that thought here.

 

 

Trip to Tampa – Art Museum & stuff

This week I took a trip to Tampa for the ASEE conference. It was an excellent conference this year. I will write more about the work part of this trip in a later post. Here I am just going to talk about going to a state I’ve never been to before… The state of Florida.

I’ve been to many states in the United States. About 35 or so. But Florida is one I haven’t been to before this trip. I still need to see New England, several states in the Deep South, and Alaska, and I will have visited all of them at that point.

I didn’t really see much, even in Tampa. I stayed in a hotel in the downtown area somewhat near the convention center. My first day, Monday, I flew out of KC at 5 am, so that made for a very early start. The shuttle from the KC hotel shut down between midnight and 4 am. I went to bed early but woke up around 11:30. I had woken up several times already so I decided to catch the last shuttle at midnight and just sit in the airport for a few hours for my plane. I would have continued waking up, been worried about getting there in time, so it was easier just to go to the airport and wait there.

As a result, I arrived really early in Tampa at about 8:30 am, but I was tired all day. I hit the conference center then went back to the hotel in the afternoon. I was getting hungry because there wasn’t much to eat at the conference center. It was raining outside, and I didn’t feel like going out so all I ate that evening was some sausage hors d’ourves they put out at the hotel. I was pretty hungry going to bed on Monday. (There was microwave popcorn in the room but I didn’t find that until just before checkout time – bummer!)

The next morning I ate the free breakfast at the hotel. It was good but pretty standard hotel fare, sausage and eggs. I determined to not be hungry again during my stay. After all there was a small kitchen with a fridge. So I checked out the area and found some places I wanted to explore.

I started off with a visit to the Tampa Museum of Art. They had some Greek and Roman sculptures from antiquity. I enjoyed those, even took a few photos and made a couple of sketches.

Here are some examples.

white marble nude statue of Poseiden

This is King Neptune. This statue was carved about 4,000 years ago. I took this photo because I met King Neptune when I crossed the Equator in 1988. Now that I’m a shellback, I’m officially a member of his royal domain.

This is a female figurine, also from antiquity. I made a sketch of this one.

Here are another ancient piece and a sketch I made:

One of the few artists I was familiar with at the Tampa Museum of Art was Mark Rothko.

I have a happy memory of Mark Rothko. I enjoy his paintings whenever I can find them because of a trip my son and I made to Houston to visit my mom while she was there for treatments.

Back in Houston, my family didn’t think the Rothko chapel was all that great. Inside was typically minimalist Rothko, and my family was like, “why did we have to see this again?” My son and I still laugh about it, but I’m really happy he is familiar with the artist now. I sent him pictures of the two Rothko paintings I saw in Tampa, and he knew who painted them right away! Here’s what I saw:

I don’t always see museums when I travel to new cities, but when I do see museums, they are art museums!

While in Tampa, I finally found some food that was good. I had a couple of slices of pizza at Eddie & Sam’s NY Pizza. I had the BBQ chicken, which was delicious, and the lasagne pizza, which was just ok. I would have enjoyed something else better, I think.

I also had the fish and chips at Yeoman’s Cask and Lion. It was the biggest hunk of fish I’ve ever had in one sitting. I ate every bite and it was incredibly delicious. Note the beverage in the lower left. I ordered a draught of Guinness which was also delicious.

I was only in Tampa for three days. I flew in early Monday morning and by Wednesday afternoon, I was heading for home. We had a weather delay at the airport in Tampa, but I still made it home before midnight. For a quick trip, it was still interesting and enjoyable.

 

Summer 2019 Book Reading Update

When school was ending, I set a goal for myself to read 40 books this summer. That is obviously a huge stretch goal. Twenty is probably a more realistic figure.

So far this summer I have read:

I am also working through Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice although it has been pretty slow going. Click on my cartooning category link to see my work on this.

There might be some other books I have forgotten about already, but these are the one’s I remember reading this summer thus far.

Edit: I just finished another one this weekend. American Guerilla in the Philippines 

Grapes of Wrath

Cover of The Grapes of Wrath novel showing family with their automobile sinking into the river.

 

Good morning class! I have some exciting news… today we are going to begin reading a great American novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

Awwwwwwe, yuck. The class groaned.

Now don’t be like that. This book is good stuff. It is about the westward migration during the Great Depression. Thousands of out-of-work farmers packed up their families and moved to California to escape the drought and seek new opportunities.

Big whoop. Thought the class. Who cares about that stuff. That was so long ago and we don’t care. What does that have to do with us?

Do we hafta? they asked.

Yes, it is a major reading assignment this term. We’re going to read it and you’ re going to like it.

I guarantee, if my tenth grade English teacher Mr. Crow had assigned the Grapes of Wrath novel as a reading assignment in his class, it would have gone unread by me and many of my classmates as did most every other reading assignment he gave us. Oh, I would have given it a cursory glance. I would have gotten enough information from it so as to not appear to have even looked at it, but I certainly wouldn’t have read it for enjoyment.

There is something about being assigned something to read that immediately takes all of the potential joy out of reading it.

But what if that assignment had gone something more like this…

Good morning class. Today we are going to begin exploring a new topic, The Great Depression.

The class groans.

Hey, this isn’t history class! one kid exclaims.

I know, I know. But this is relevant. In the Great Depression, many folks could not find work. They were stuck in a situation where there were no easy solutions.

How many of your families have farms as the main source of income? Your parents are farmers? (This is a rural Kansas high school, so its a relevant question.)

A small percentage of hands.

And how many of you come from families that used to farm, years ago? How many of your grandfathers, great-grandfathers and so forth once farmed?

Many more hands, a majority.

What happened? Why aren’t there as many farming families as there once were? Did you know, before the 1930s, nearly every square mile, every section of ground had multiple farms and families living on it? Farm neighbors were truly neighbors.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find someone who remembers the Great Depression, or to find someone who was raised by people who lived it. Find out where the family homestead/farm was. Find out about the living conditions were. When did they get electricity? Indoor plumbing? What did they do for entertainment? What technology was used on the farm? What was the relationship with the neighbors? How many neighbors were there? Who were they? How far away did they live?

Compare this to how farms are set up today. How many empty farmhouses are there? Or homesteads? Look at this plat map from the 1800s. Every box represents an improvement (building) built on the land.

Here is the one-mile section that my father grew up on. John Kennedy was the owner in 1884. Nine homesteads in just over a square mile. By the time I was born in 1967, there was only one farmhouse with a family in it on this same section of land, but there were two other abandoned farms I remember on the plots marked here as owned by Francis Manna and R.H. Gill.  Nowadays, you can go for miles without finding even one farmhouse. It is a rare thing to have a neighbor within a mile of your place.

plat map with five farms on a section

I wish that I had read this book last summer. It would have been an ideal read when my kids and I rode the Amtrak Southwest Chief train to California. They explained that part of that journey follows the famous old “Route 66” road, although I had little concept of the implications of that statement. Actually, I’m kind of embarrassed about my ignorance on the subject. I knew Route 66 as the best way to get to California. I knew there was a TV show in the 60s about it, and about getting your kicks on Route 66 as the song goes. I saw the Pixar movie “Cars” that dealt with the plight of Route 66 towns that struggled as the Interstate system bypassed them. But only after

Of course I knew about the “Dirty Thirties,” the “Dust Bowl” days and I was even familiar with the work of Dorothea Lang and her famous photographic work with migrant workers.

worried mother with her hungry children during the great depression

But I never put all of those things together in my mind until reading the Grapes of Wrath.

The “truck” in the 1960s tv show The Beverly Hillbillies is similar to the truck described in The Grapes of Wrath. It isn’t even really a truck, it is actually a car with the top cut off and a platform added on the back.

I’m sure there is a connection between the classic Grapes of Wrath novel and the television show. Even some of the themes are similar. When you watch Beverly Hillbillies there is often hidden commentary about the plight of the poor and downtrodden. It is actually quite an intelligent show if you watch carefully.

This week, I took a quick trip to Tampa, Florida for the 2019 ASEE National Conference. I was looking for something to read on the airplane so I grabbed a paperback novel I found in my home office library, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I don’t remember purchasing the book, although I’m notorious for picking up books at thrift stores intending to read them but leaving them to sit on the shelf, never to be looked at again. It might also be from one of the several boxfuls of books I inherited from my grandfather when he moved into assisted living. (Unfortunately, I left the book in the taxi I took to the airport in Tampa on my return trip home, and I had to buy the Kindle edition so I could finish the novel.)

As I was reading all of the trials and tribulations of the family heading west in the book, I thought about the segment of my own family on my father’s mother’s side that headed west to California in the late 30s and early 40s. First, my grandmother’s older sister went then she was soon followed by her parents and two of the younger sisters. According to the novel, anyone who moved from the midwest during that period was considered “Okies” whether they actually came from Oklahoma or not, so I guess that makes my California cousins the offspring of “Okies” too since their parents and grandparents moved there from Kansas.

I think this kind of fiction is always more enjoyable when you can find these personal connections. I wonder how many kids growing up in the midwest even read The Grapes of Wrath anymore? I wonder if they are ever invited to explore whether or not they have relatives who moved west to California during the depression?

Another book I enjoy reading because of a similar familial connection is My Antonia by Willa Cather. It is set in Red Cloud, NE, which is only a few miles from Campbell, NE where the original Genereux family (my grandpa’s grandpa) settled in this region. According to family history, they had similar experiences as described in that book, including making their first home on the homestead in an earthen dugout. Again, I wonder how many young people in this region are asked to read a book like that and dig into their family histories to see if they had a similar experience? If they did, it might make the book a lot more relevant than just simply reading a tale from the old days.

 

Bill Traylor

I first learned about Bill Traylor on CBS Sunday Morning in April of 2019

There is something wonderful about this self-trained artist. He was born a slave and was emancipated as a young teen by the Union cavalry. His work was never recognized by the art world when he was alive.

I like the simplicity of the geometric forms along with the stories they convey. It reminds me a bit of Matisse’s paper cutout forms. Traylor’s art was created on the backs of discarded cardboard packages or any other stray paper he could find.

Read more about Bill Traylor in the New Yorker about Folk Artist Bill Traylor.

You can also watch this video of Matisse making a paper cutout:

Imposter Syndrome in College

Imposter syndrome or the imposter phenomenon is a situation in which an individual feels that their current level of achievement and status is a mistake or accident that is unrelated to their actual knowledge, skills, and abilities. It is fairly common among Ph.D. students because that level of education requires blazing a trail into new territory that has not been fully explored before. However, I also think that some college undergraduate students, particularly non-traditional aged students, also have similar feelings of being found out that they are an unworthy imposter who does not belong in college.

I started college ten years after I graduated high school. I can remember sitting in certain classrooms, my math class was one of them, when I was looking around at my classmates and thinking to myself that they seemed so comfortable with the environment and the topic of study that I must not really belong there. Certainly, age played a factor in that kind of thinking since college seemed to be arranged more for the benefit of an 18-year-old than a 28-year-old student. But there was also the fact that my classmates had likely been studying math the previous year and were far better prepared for it than I was.

Or so it seemed.

I don’t really know how well prepared my classmates were. I didn’t have access to the grade book to see how others were faring. All I really know was that outwardly, no one besides me seemed to be struggling. What I didn’t realize then that I know now is the fact that we all wear masks, we all put our very best foot forward and we mostly strive to outwardly appear to be doing fine, to have everything under control, and to by all means show no weakness.

In our online social media environments, this is especially the case. People online rarely share the struggles they are going through and mostly keep things light, upbeat and positive. This tendency can make us feel as though everyone else has a perfect life compared to what we are experiencing. Because of the mediated format and the social distance between individuals, violators of the unwritten rule of not sharing personal problems or concerns are often met with shame or ridicule.

In most cases, I think it is the fear of being found out, shamed and ridiculed that sufferers of the imposter syndrome stay quiet. To students of all levels who feel like they might not belong, that they might not be up to the task I would like to offer some thoughts.

I have been there. I have struggled in isolation and felt like no one else could quite understand what I was going through. But I was wrong because at some point most people have similar feelings. In fact, I think that students who have the “education game” all figured out–that is to say that they know all of the ropes, all of the tricks and shortcuts, including the shortcut of not thinking deeply but simply giving the teacher or professor what they want–these students are the real phonies. Such students are not challenging themselves and their own thinking. They are not trying to grow and to change. They see school as a game in which if they figure out all of the rules and shortcuts to success they never really have to expend a lot of energy discovering themselves and growing from the experience.

All of this comes from comparing ourselves to others around us. It is better to run our own race and to be our own best competitor. Compare yourself now to where you were when you started. If you see changes and improvements, you are on the right track. If you are basically the same person you were, perhaps it is time to re-examine why you are in school in the first place.

I want to encourage students everywhere to be open to constructive suggestions for improvement. Find mentors who are older or more experienced than you. Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors after class. That is why we are here–to help you. I sometimes even see students having conversations with custodians and maintenance workers around campus. I think this is a good thing because those folks are part of your educational experience as well. They have a perspective on things that no one else at the school can possibly have.

In any case, don’t keep these concerns you have bottled up. Find someone who cares, and share your concerns. Even if there are no easy answers, and sometimes it is the case there isn’t an easy answer, you will be better off in sharing what is on your mind with someone once in a while. In fact, you might even be doing that other person a favor too, because it is good for their soul to do kindness for others like simply listening to a person who is struggling.

Finally, I would say this, if you are there in that class, in that school, you do belong. There used to be popular sayings like he’s not college material. What does that even mean? This person or that person doesn’t have a right to further their education? To expand their knowledge? To get ahead in life? Don’t be silly. Everyone is running their own race. Find someone who recognizes this fact and will do their best to help you. The people who fail at college usually are those who give up. Yes, life can present some difficult circumstances, but honestly I have seen students give up over things that are far less cumbersome than what some other students plow right through right up to graduation day. Persistence is your biggest ally. Don’t try to do it alone and don’t give up. If you do these things, I think you can make it.