Monday, 15 July 2013

Two Kinds of People

This past Saturday afternoon I walked through the verdant garden of my friend, John. His thumbs are a deep forest green and it was pure delight to stroll past each happy chlorophyll life form. His wife, Candice pointed me to a lovely white rose and my randomly connecting brain forced me to ask which early British branch of the royal family was associated with the white rose. While we cast about for an answer and before their tech-savvy son, Will, could check it on his incredibly smart phone, we bent to smell a blossom and there was a lovely white globe bodied spider. She (I say “she” because I immediately thought of Charlotte) had a slight pink mark and 8 long white legs, which carried her to the underside of a petal in the time it took me to say, “I wish Anisha was here.” 

Last summer, I read a biography of Frank Oppenheimer, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens, which contained his observation on the rich learning environment he designed.
 The Exploratorium  was conceived as a place to teach and learn, primarily because these are things we all like to do. It is the way we bring up our children, take our friends to the top of a hill to see the view, or call out, when we are walking through the woods ‘Hey, look, there’s a deer’.

Yesterday, I Tweeted something I enjoyed from Joe Hanson (sadly misspelling his last name L): his wonderful answer to the question Why is a rainbow? His own website has many engaging posts and I love the name It’s OK to be Smart. Joe wrote a piece recently about Einstein and his elevator observation, that I can hardly wait feel. The next time I step into an elevator I hope to explore it, rather than take the ride mindlessly. I hope I am that kind of person (and I hope the same for Anisha) – the kind who says “Whooooa, that’s cool!”

I finish with this sweet quote from a letter Einstein wrote to his son that came to me via Brain Pickings.
  “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Free-Range Brain

My brain lined up elements of my universe in an amazing way these last few weeks. My summer reading has taken me through a number of fascinating books and my brain started rolling around the phrase “free-range” to connect the diversity of topics. The bread crumb trail started when I hunted down and pecked at This Explains Everything by John Brockman, thanks to the bookshelf at Brain Pickings. Each short essay in this book is illuminating I am sure, although I did not read them all. That is the nature of hunting and pecking. But there is one I turned back to several times: Benjamin Bergen’s Metaphors are in the Mind. I wandered from it to a Berkley website where I learn, George Lakoff and others are studying language and there are courses to explore how the “human physical brain composed of neurons that function via chemistry, can give rise to human concepts and human language”. Complex, abstract this-is-how-your-brain-functions stuff explained by making connections to what is real and tangible –metaphorically. Which these folks are saying is how we “think”, really metaphorically.

And then, in that way life just takes over and if you have your eyes and ears open, the seemingly abstract becomes, via a great metaphor, the real and day to day. On July 9th, two “free-range” stories converged on my laptop. Early in the day I read one by Sarah Boesveld of the National Post that says “the unforeseen consequences of allowing hipster farmers to raise chickens in their urban backyards” is abandonment of the animals because “People don’t realize how much work they (chickens) actually are.” In my quest to support agriculture of all kinds, I have been saying this over and over. The more people experience what it takes to produce food, the more they will appreciate farmers. Sadly, many people launch down a path of relationship with another living thing (chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, spouses and even children) without having contemplated what it will actually require of them to make that relationship healthy for both parties.

Not long after, I receive an email about the Boesveld story from my friend in agriculture, Dave Fiddler, who suggests a course in chicken-care followed by licencing J This sends my brain scratching to the outstanding learning resource developed by the Community Standards Branch of Edmonton called Make a Better City.

Not to be confused with the Make Something Edmonton movement which is getting wings in ways no one could have predicted. And in spite of the volumes of sarcastic, ironic or lame Tweets that evolved into the absurd side story MacheteSomethingYEG, actual, interesting projects are beginning to fly. In practise free-range fowl are not known for their ability to soar, so here the usefulness of this metaphor may break down.

Hunting and pecking, I take a slight meander because a shiny little Tweet has caught my eye. It is from Paula Simons and is about her column of July 9. I love the way Paula writes and she opens this particular article with the phrase “I am a free-range Edmontonian.” Because I get “free-range” as a metaphor, my brain screams “So am I!” and I fire off a Tweet. I want to know if anyone is working on a T-shirt. As I read on, I see she is encouraging fellow Edmontonians to throw aside nationalistic attitudes to our little corners of the city and discover some new part of Edmonton. She says, “So here’s my challenge to you. Let’s call it Yegquest — #yegquest on Twitter and Facebook.” And in a matter of a day it is trending. I smile to myself as I follow it. I have, to this point in my life, never been part of something “trending”; as a matter of principal I have avoided trendy things. But this makes me feel good.

And now the whole Yegquest thing is “Storify”-ed. Thousands of the free-range Edmonton flock are out there hunting and pecking away at their city.

Free-range brained and Edmontonian. Where to next?