Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Stop Wasting Time

In Learning on June 21, 2017 at 6:47 am

That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. At my age that means something.
It was the mansplainer (I have a few other names for him, too) in the audience who pissed me off. A woman asked a question, and before the speaker could respond, this middle-aged white guy said, “Before you answer that—-blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” He went on for 3-4 minutes yammering about several different topics and never did ask a question.
When he finally (!) took a breath, I spoke up and told the speaker, “I’d like to hear you answer her question first.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to the viewing of a film about the crisis in Syria to educate myself because like most Americans I am woefully ignorant about the Middle East. The film was okay, focusing mostly on the desperate lack of medical care for refugees.

The speaker, who chairs the local chapter of a Syrian American organization was knowledgeable, passionate and completely disorganized. His rambling, stream of consciousness style of speaking lost me about a minute in—and he went on for well over an hour. He described feeling overwhelmed by the “fire hose” of information coming from his parents’ native country and then proceeded to turn the fire hose on us.

To be fair, I did learn something about Syria, so mission accomplished, I guess. When you have that much thrown at you, something’s bound to stick.

The one question I wanted answered, which the woman in the audience asked and I suspect we all wanted to know, was “What can we do to help?”

He had a hard time answering that. First, he said the US military had to get involved and then rambled on for 10-15 minutes veering off into several tangents. Another audience member tried again to focus the speaker on what the 15 or so of us there last night could do, and he finally, FINALLY answered the question. We can educate ourselves (the Syrian American Council is a good resource) and post about it on Facebook. He pointed out that among us we had thousands of Facebook friends, so our little group had more reach and influence than we probably realized.

So there you have it. My first effort to help is simply to implore the speaker to learn how to focus his message into a coherent presentation. People are not as “heartless” as he seems to believe, but he has to do his part, too.

For Father’s Day/The Carpenter’s Tale

In Learning on June 16, 2017 at 7:00 am

My father was a casual racist, using the n-word almost gleefully, because he knew he shouldn’t, until the end of his days. I never understood his attitude. I let him know my displeasure and tried to reason with him long after I realized he would never change if only because he was a stubborn, stubborn man. Still, people are never one dimensional and he had other frequently contradictory qualities that I loved.

Among his not-so-lovable qualities was that he believed girls didn’t need college and refused to help me pursue a degree. Thirty years later he still maintained that my going to college was ridiculous and unnecessary even though by then it was clear I wouldn’t be getting married and having babies, which was my proper role in life.

We were never a hugging family, and I don’t remember either of my parents ever saying, “I love you,”but he found other ways to show me he loved me. Before I started high school he told me I could always call him to come pick me up after games or other nighttime activities, and he never complained when I also expected him to give my friends a ride home.

He taught me how to change a flat tire and change my oil, although his efforts to teach me to drive ended with my signing up for driver’s ed in summer school.

A talented carpenter and woodworker, he made several pieces I treasure today, including my work table, Grandma Darr’s sewing desk, a spice rack, a pine suitcase/tool chest, a mirrored vanity, a dry sink cupboard, and a step stool and applauded when I took an adult education woodworking class because my school wouldn’t allow girls to take shop. True to his Depression-era roots, he tried to use up every scrap piece of wood in his garage shop. He loved to give me tools as birthday and Christmas gifts.

More than anything, he taught me self-reliance, how to figure things out and use what you have.

My favorite dad-ism was his response whenever I said I didn’t know how to do something. “You can’t learn any younger.” This became my lifelong motto.

He read both the Rocky Mountain News (which shut down a year after his death) and the Denver Post every day of his life and for years subscribed to Popular Mechanics magazine. I never saw him read a book, so I have no idea where my love of books, a passion I share with my brother, came from.

My biggest sorrow is that, after my mom died, his hurt feelings caused him to reject my brother and both his granddaughters, and he never met his great-grandson.

I am proudest that he never lost his sense of humor, joking with his caregivers to the very end.

I can only hope I do the same.

What does LGBTQIA spell?

In Learning, spirituality, writing on June 14, 2017 at 6:12 am






Sunday, June 26, 1988, I was in San Francisco on business with the woman who owned the small consulting company I worked for. We went sightseeing with me driving the rental convertible. As we drove down Castro street, I focused on navigating through the unfamiliar city, and she suddenly started yelling obscene things at people on the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” I asked, shocked and horrified, as I made our turn.
She told me, still laughing and shouting, that men in costumes wearing state banners as if from a beauty contest were walking down the street.
I hadn’t seen a thing. In my defense, I’m not a people watcher, and I was driving. I found out later that we had happened upon the Lesbian and Gay Pride parade, but at that moment on Castro Street, I learned that I worked for a bigot.
That was 29 years ago, 19 years after the Stonewall Rebellion that sparked the gay rights movement, almost ten years after the assassination of Harvey Milk, and at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I guess you could say we’ve come a long way, Baby, but we still have plenty of work to do. I’ve met more than my share of bigots in the past 30 years, and I bet you have, too.
As with many marginalized groups, the preferred term keeps changing. Someone once told me she’d grown up Mexican, become Chicana, then Hispanic, and was now Latina.
I’d just gotten used to LGBT (or GLBT) when someone added a Q. For the record, I’ve also seen it with up to three Ts (transsexual, transgender, and two-spirit), two Qs (questioning and queer), and two As (asexual and ally).
A friend heard that it’s now LGBTQIA and asked in exasperation what the IA stood for.
“The rest of us,” she was told.
I think maybe that’s the point.
“We all have a gender identity and a sexual orientation and these things all fall along a vast and complicated continuum,” according to progressive minister and blogger John Pavlovitz. (http://johnpavlovitz.com/) That works for me. We all fit somewhere along that continuum although probably not in the neat little boxes we recognize.
I detest that LGBTQ people continue to face derision and danger. It makes me want to weep and scream and throw things. Instead, I write, and I yearn for a time when that no longer happens.
Then we can label the continuum A-Z, and once we have the whole alphabet accounted for, we’ll discover that it spells unity, equality, and love.
It spells one.

How the Rainbow Came to Signify Gay Pride

In creativity, Learning, spirituality on June 8, 2017 at 10:19 am

Remember when a rainbow was just an arc of pretty colors in the sky? In Genesis after the flood, God sent a rainbow as a sign that He would never send another flood to destroy all life on the earth.

The cynic in me notes that He didn’t promise not to destroy the earth by other means, but I digress.

In 1978 San Francisco’s gay community searched for a symbol that represented their fight for equal rights. Gilbert Baker, a 27-year-old artist and drag queen, began brainstorming for an icon that would communicate beauty, diversity, and power and be easy to replicate. A rainbow fit the bill and soon became the most prominent symbol of the international gay rights movement.

Today we see it everywhere, especially now in the middle of LGBTQ Pride month. It has even entered the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection as an example of effective social design.

I love the irony of seeing the religious right distancing themselves from God’s most beautiful symbol because it has been so thoroughly embraced as representing the cause of human rights for LGBTQ people.

I’ve always loved rainbows. They’re fun, lighthearted, and carefree, which coincidentally also happens to be what the word gay originally meant.

Kindness of Strangers

In Learning, spirituality on June 2, 2017 at 6:17 am

Nobody knew when she woke up, got dressed, and decided to take a walk, but at 7 a.m. they’d already been looking for her for a couple of hours.

She looked a little forlorn, though nicely dressed in slacks, a flowered blouse, and sweater, sitting in a booth at Denny’s with her walker parked beside her. The manager, a big burly young man with his blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, sat across from her and calmly talked to her.

Her name was Marcelle, and although she didn’t know her address, she said she could show him where she lived. She tried to remember, pounding her leg in frustration.

He called the police and heard they were already looking for her and would be at the restaurant soon to take her home. The manager went back to the booth to sit and talk with her until the police arrived. The police officers, two more young blond men said her daughter was waiting for her. They asked her a few questions while everybody waited for the EMTs to come and check her out.

When she couldn’t answer the EMT’s questions and seemed confused, they took her to the hospital, asking her permission first.

Five young men, probably not a single one over thirty, each treated her gently and with dignity.

Of course, the police and EMTs are trained to deal with emergency situations. I doubt, however, that is included in the Denny’s management training.

When I went to the counter to pay, the manager was there. “You were very good with that woman,” I told him. He blushed a little and said thanks. “I’m really glad you were here for her.”

Sometimes you find kindness and compassion in unlikely places.

Perpetual Student

In Degree programs, Learning, work on June 1, 2017 at 6:36 am

It took me three colleges, six majors, and twelve years to earn my bachelor’s degree.

During my senior year of high school I discovered that my dad opposed my going to college because “Girls don’t need college.” My mom wouldn’t fight my dad. I would get no help from them.

I went anyway.

My grades earned me a full scholarship to Colorado State University, which wasn’t really that big a deal back then. Tuition was cheap. I had enough money from a summer job and an insurance settlement from a car accident to pay for the first year.

I picked CSU because it wasn’t Playboy’s #1 party school in the country as CU was. I didn’t like parties. I was going to college to learn. What a concept, huh?

Almost everything about it I hated—living in a dorm with a roommate, oh, my God. That was the worst. Girls had strict hours, but boys could come and go as they pleased. My one fond memory of that long-ago year was demonstrating against that policy (and getting demerits for staying out past 10 p.m. for the demonstration).

After the first year, I quit, out of money and out of spirit.

I worked in clerical jobs I hated and that kept me on the brink of poverty. Got married. Got divorced.

Then my mom got a job at what is now Front Range Community College, but then was the Community College of Denver, North Campus. Housed in temporary buildings in a field in south Adams County, this college suited me. I fit into the small adult student population of outcasts and misfits and studied sign language.

After graduation, I learned that there were no jobs in interpreting for the deaf and ended up back in a clerical job, this time at the college.

Flash forward a few years and I was sick to death of clerical work and of beating my head against a wall that required a bachelor’s degree for any job that interested me. I pored over the CU Denver catalog and determined that I could finish a degree in sociology—barely—in a year. I figured I could hang in there for one year. Along the way I had majored in art, philosophy, sign language, anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

I quit my job and enrolled at the newly completed Auraria Campus. Once again, my fellow students were oddballs like me. These days they call us nontraditional students. And this time, I finished with both a BA and a Phi Beta Kappa key. I was thirty years old. Having a degree profoundly changed my life, my prospects, and my self image, although it took years to whittle away the chip on my shoulder.

Three years later I went back to CSU for a master’s in adult education.

My mom called me a perpetual student, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. She was right, though. Although I was through with education, I never stopped learning. That’s why I call my blog the Constant Learner.

You won’t catch me in a classroom these days. My learning is outside the box.

Lasso of Truth

In Learning, work on May 29, 2017 at 3:29 am

It wasn’t a big deal. The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced a single showing of the new movie Wonder Woman for women only, and the trolls swarmed all over the internet, probably creeping out of their mothers’ basements. Oh, sorry, was that offensive?

“Have you ever hosted a men’s only showing of any film?” they asked, and “Imagine the sh–storm if there was any male only showing of anything…or a private showing for a specific race or sexual orientation.” Other people said they would pay for men to come and say they identify as women.

The theater responded with, “We’ve never done showings where you had to be a man to get in, but we *did* show the Entourage movie a few years ago.”

It takes me back to when I was the director of the Women’s Center at Front Range Community College. I couldn’t walk down the long main hallway without some man thinking he was terribly clever and original asking why there wasn’t a men’s center. “The world is a men’s center,” was my stock answer.

Straight, white men, I said, shaking my head, rolling my eyes, and sighing simultaneously. I swear. They just can’t handle not being the center of everything. If they’re not in charge, they think they’re being discriminated against.

Not all of them, of course. I know some perfectly lovable straight white men, but I’ve run across my share of stinkers, too. More than my fair share.

Back then, the college was a well-known boy’s club, with men heading every single department. Probably the best thing I did during my miserable tenure there was in 1984 when I asked a friend to make (pink) buttons proclaiming, “Big SISTER is watching you” for many of the female staffers to wear.

One straight white male colleague pulled me aside to whine that the buttons made him uncomfortable, even intimidated. I suppose he thought appealing to my feminine sympathies would make me back off.

He didn’t know me very well. I laughed in his face and said, “Good.” Mission accomplished.

Not nice? I was sick of being nice.

The Alamo Drafthouse isn’t playing “nice” either. Their swift and brilliant response was to open ladies only screenings in several other cities, with some donating proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

They also encouraged the bellyaching men to continue supporting gender equality by protesting the casting of movie leads (71% male) and higher pay for male actors.

Yeah, that’ll happen.

A Good Listener

In Learning on May 23, 2017 at 10:23 am

I love listening to podcasts and audio books so much that I think I might be an auditory learner, someone who learns best by hearing and speaking. We all know I love to talk, to hear as it were, the sound of my own voice. Maya Angelou said “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” I’m pretty sure my chattiness wasn’t what she had in mind.

One of the things I like best about listening to podcasts and audio books is that I can do something else while I listen, especially mindless tasks like housework, walking, driving (Oops. How’d that get in here?) I can’t, however, read and listen to podcasts or books at the same time, and believe me I’ve tried. Because in reading I hear my voice saying the words inside my head, I think reading and listening to words are the same activity. I can and do read while listening to music or watching TV as background noise, the only thing TV is really good for these days.

Listening to people in real life is not one of my top talents, so it was with some trepidation that I attended a recent night of community discussion. We sat at tables of 6-7 people and answered questions one at a time without replying to one another. Our task was simply to listen.

It was wonderful and powerful hearing everybody’s story, but it was VERY hard not to respond – with empathy, information, advice. Whatever. Luckily we had a moderator to keep everyone on track.

Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.” I need to learn to listen better, to clear away distractions, focus on the speaker, listen generously. If you catch me being quiet sometime, I might be practicing. Talk to me.

At Leisure

In Books, Learning, work on May 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I didn’t want to retire. I even wrote a book about it, although it never got published – Don’t Die Wondering: A Guide to a Non-retiring Life. I suppose I could publish it now on Kindle, but I’d have to update it first, and I’m not interested in doing that, especially since I’m no longer working myself.

When I lost my last job, it wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t my choice either. I worked at home on my own schedule editing student papers and doing as much or as little as I wanted. Editing let me be hypercritical (a superpower of mine) without ever having to deal with actual people. I’m not what you’d call a people person.

The university decided that editors had to teach as well, and I was through with teaching. So that was that.

I was retired.

I don’t like the word because it makes me feel useless and irrelevant. Apparently plenty of other people my age agree. AARP uses only initials now to avoid calling its members “retired people.” Dozens of books have been written (and published!) to redefine our so-called Golden Years. They use words such as rewired, retread (there’s a lovely image) refired, reinvented, renewed, recycled, second act, and second wind.

It’s just a word, people tell me, but words matter. I just tell people to say I’m no longer working or better, I’m “at leisure.”

At first I was mostly bored. I went to museums, concerts, and plays, but at best, I was just filling time. At worst, I was killing time. I’m reminded of the saying, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.”

It took four years for me to start feeling comfortable not working. I’ve found that Parkinson’s Law works just as well now as when I had a job. Leisure expands to fit the time available.

I suppose I could find a part-time job or volunteer, but all I really want to do is read and write and see my friends at church or the gym or for occasional lunches. This isn’t what I envisioned as a non-retiring life, but it suits me fine. For now.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.