Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

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.


In creativity, Learning, work on May 16, 2017 at 10:20 am

I’m old, fat, and a lousy housekeeper. I’m also smart, funny, and compassionate. I know these things because they play on a never-ending loop inside my head. Sometimes they’re more annoying than an ear worm of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” (you’re welcome) although most of the time I don’t even notice them.

The Buddha called this constant mental chatter monkey mind because it’s like a monkey swinging through the trees who grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another.

For at least 60 years, advertisers have tried to manipulate our behavior by infiltrating our monkey mind and inserting subliminal messages into various media. Since then, almost everybody in the self-help field recommends using positive affirmations to reprogram our minds and help us make positive changes.

Seems a little cheesy to me, and although I’ve tried it off and on, I never could stick with telling myself “I believe in myself and my ability to succeed” over and over throughout the day.

And yet, there may be something to it.

Meet Jon Morrow, paralyzed from the neck down after being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and then suffering a horrendous car crash, Jon nevertheless graduated from college, built several wildly successful businesses, made millions of dollars and became something of an internet star.

I can only move my facial muscles,” he said, and he lived with a virtual gun to his head, the idea of living “in a nursing home bed somewhere watching TV for 15 hours a day surrounded by other people waiting to die. To me that is the scariest thing imaginable. Instead, he used his mind, which worked perfectly well.

He credits his success to listening to inspirational audio books and podcasts 4-8 hours a day and creating a new reality for himself.

Think about that.

What’s on your playlist?

Listen to Jon’s remarkable interview with James Altucher, another one of my role models.

Words of Wisdom

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 28, 2017 at 3:32 pm

When I first went to college in 1966, colleges commonly required two years of a foreign language for a bachelor’s degree. By the 80s, however, computer science began to replace that requirement although many competitive colleges require at least two years of a foreign language for admission. Now some colleges are again exploring adding foreign language requirements to the requirements for a bachelor’s degree.

Language learning offers many benefit including a sharper mind, increased career choices, improvement of the first language. I learned more about English from studying American Sign Language than any other class I ever took. Nevertheless, college students are resisting this change, and, in their defense, the classroom is not the best place to learn a language. In fact, it may be the worst.

Google “learn language fast” and you will find many alternative self study methods that promise to give you a working knowledge of virtually any language in just a few months. Brushing up on a language you studied years ago is even faster. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. Some recent studies indicate that it may actually be easier and more rapid for adults than for children. Plus, bilingualism can help stave off dementia.

Learning a language is about learning a culture,” Lisa Frumkes, senior director of content for Rosetta Stone, said. “It can take you in so many directions: literature, travel, learning to understand the news of the day or just being able to be in contact with people in other cultures. Once you think about these things, they change the way you see the world.”

When is an Arapaho not an Arapaho?

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 27, 2017 at 6:53 am

It started when the government established missionary schools, which suppressed the use of Arapaho and spread English.

Television and technology reinforced English as the dominant language, especially in the home, until only a few dozen elderly Arapaho still spoke their native language among 10,000 registered tribal members of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.

If you don’t understand the language it’s very difficult to practice our cultural ways, our values, our world views, our political conscience. All derives from the language,” says William C’Hair, chairman of the Arapaho Language and Cultural Commission.

If you’re Arapaho, you should speak the language,” elders told Marlin Spoonhunter who lost his language after decades working as an educator in Montana.

Now, with the help of Andrew Cowell, a linguist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the the Arapaho Language Project the technology that figured in the decline of the language is helping to sustain it. The Project website directly provides resources audience of all ages, including an online (downloadable) dictionary that includes an English-Arapaho translator as well as links to more than 80,000 lines of Arapaho narratives to illustrate how a given word can be used in a sentence. It also has language lessons, curriculum materials, the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and NFL team names in the Arapaho language.

Sometimes technology giveth what technology taketh away.

A Valiant Effort

In Learning on April 26, 2017 at 2:39 pm

Imagine that you are the last person on earth who speaks English. You understand those around you because you can also speak their language, but what would the loss of your language mean to you? Language influences culture, including the way we think, so the loss of a language also means the loss of a culture.

That’s already happening pretty fast. “of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century,” according to an article in the New York Times. Languages are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.

At least one expert predicts that we will lose 90% of earth’s languages in the next 100 years because of globalization.

One First Nation government in the Northwest Territories of Canada has turned to its children, specifically kindergarteners, for help. “In a bid to save their language, and with it, their culture, the Tlicho government has implemented an immersion kindergarten program taught entirely in their native language,Tlicho Yati,” as reported by Smithsonian Magazine.

Wow. The only thing I remember learning in kindergarten was how to do knee circles on the hand rail outside our classroom door.

In the long run, this effort won’t stop the stampede of English and Chinese, but it preserves one language and one culture for a little while longer. And that’s worth a try.

Universally (Mis)Understood

In Learning, Learning Tools on April 24, 2017 at 3:55 pm

An Italian pilot flying an Italian airline into an Italian airport speaks English. English is the universal language of air control. It’s the language of more than half the world’s newspapers. The prevalent language for communication on the Internet is English, a language without frontiers.

English is without a doubt the actual universal language,” reports Brazilian writer Carlos Carrion Torres. “It is the world’s second largest native language, the official language in 70 countries, and . . . . can be at least understood almost everywhere among scholars and educated people, as it is the world media language, and the language of cinema, TV, pop music and the computer world. All over the planet people know many English words, their pronunciation and meaning.”

The spread of English began during the 16th century with the British Empire and continues today with USA influence.

That makes it easy for us to move around the world without making any effort to learn other languages, and results in our perception by others as arrogant, lazy, or even stupid.

Nevertheless, the ability for everyone to understand everyone else on the planet seems like a good thing. Beyond that, language influences the way we see the world, even the way we see color or gender. See Keith Chen’s TED talk for more information.

Unfortunately, speaking the same language does not guarantee understanding. For example, tonight I will attend a current events discussion group where some of the people there may be Trump supporters. I can almost assure you that we will not communicate.

Sometimes talking to “them” feels like trying to communicate with another species. Can the value progressives place on diversity expand to include right-wing conservatives?

To quote one of my favorite poems by Carl Sandburg,

How can we be pals

when you speak English

and I speak English

and you never understand me

and I never understand you?”

Stay tuned.

I Am Not A Scientist

In Learning on April 21, 2017 at 10:32 am

Throughout college, I avoided all the natural sciences, choosing instead to focus on social sciences and the arts. Luckily, the University of Colorado accepted some psychology courses to fulfill the science requirement for my bachelor’s degree. I ended up having to take a one-hour nuclear physics course for non-science majors and discovered too late that I probably would have liked physics. Maybe in another lifetime.

So, no, I’m not a scientist, but I’m not stupid either.

Why, in 2017, does my church need to hang a banner proclaiming “Science is Real”?

For the record, “science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” What we have now is an administration, a whole political party, that rejects science because they don’t like the conclusions (knowledge) scientists produce. They seem to think that ignoring it or stopping funding or lying about it will make it go away. Censorship and cutting science off at the knees will not make America great again.

Scientists are by definition seekers of truth.

Tomorrow hundreds of thousands of people all over the world will march to celebrate science and the real role that science plays in each of our lives.

The website for the March for Science states,We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

There is no Planet B.

Join the March For Science if you can. If not, send those cards, letters, and emails, or make a phone call. Fly a banner. Buy a t-shirt. Do what you can because you’re not stupid either.

Science not silence.

Another Genesis

In Books, Learning on April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Take a human cell, measured in micrometers. To metrically challenged Americans like me, that’s one millionth of a meter, less than one tenth the width of a human hair. Yet, laid end-to-end, if such a thing were possible, the cells of Henrietta Lacks would circle the globe at least three times.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. Her cells – taken without her knowledge — did what no previous cells had ever done. They continued to live and reproduce outside her body. Nobody knows why, but they became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. They even went up into space, so scientists could see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.

A book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, came out in 2011. I was slow getting to it, because frankly a book about medical research didn’t really appeal to me. It is about medical research, but it is also about a daughter’s search for a mother she never knew and about the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of. A fascinating story.

Now it’s an HBO movie starring the always notable Oprah Winfrey and starting Saturday. You can read about the science in the Smithsonian magazine or listen to a podcast at RadioLab.

It’s a story about the power of microscopic cells but also about the ideas those cells enabled. Here’s the thing about ideas: they’re even smaller than cells, taking up no space at all, and they can conquer the world.

A Work in Progress

In Books, Learning on April 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Since you asked, and even if you didn’t, here’s my list of all-time favorite nonfiction books. Subject to change without notice.
Working by Studs Terkel
A Different Woman by Jane Howard
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
No High Adobe series by Dorothy Pillsbury
Mastery by George Leonard
Home by Witold Rybczynski
Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp