Thursday, November 27, 2008

Value in Tough Times

Some - if not most - of us are thinking of tightening our belts.  A bit of voluntary simplicity never hurt anyone.  (It is more painful if it's involuntary!)  Looking at my own discretionary spend got me thinking.

How I spend my money in tough times is - or should be - a reflection of what I value.  While I want to cut the unnecessary, it is easy to cut important things in the interest of reducing expenses.  If you're looking to reduce your household spend by x dollars, it is simpler to look for a single item of the same amount, rather than reflect on what is important to you.  It seems less painful in that moment to cut one thing, rather than reduce several.

It's easy to class anything that doesn't keep a roof over our head as an "extra".  It is easy to class anything we do for ourself - rather than for our kids, parents or partner - as expendable.

I know parents who deprive themselves of realising their dreams, to keep their children in the teen trend rat race.  

I know people who cut the big ticket items, but indulge - maybe overindulge - in little 'treats' to keep themselves going: treats that probably add up to more than a couple of big treats taken over the course of a year.  "It's only $20," is an easy lie we tell ourselves.  Ten or twenty onlys later, we can find ourselves with a case of financial indigestion.

I know people who panic (or indulge their inner skinflint) using the current downturn as an excuse to squeeze the last drop out of the family budget.

This isn't to minimise those who are feeling real pain.  If someone in the family has been let go, then drastic action is called for, and some essentials may have to go, as well as any extras.  The mortgage will, of course, come first.  For most of us, that isn't the situation - yet.

It isn't the right social climate to brag about one's latest frivolous purchase, that is for sure. There isn't one right or a wrong answer to "what gets cut".  There is only what feels right to each of us.  I did find it useful to ask myself, "who do I want to be?  what do I want more of in my life? what do I want less of? what gives me real and lasting satisfaction?".

I've realised that learning new things - which includes music - keeps me happy and healthy.  So education expenses are the last things to be cut at my house.

I can do without so many little treats:  cake at caf├ęs, icecreams, eyeshadows, dvds, etc.  I can eat more salad at home this summer.  (I can't possibly reduce my coffee intake, some things are just necessities.)

So before you, or someone you know, decides that music lessons are an "extra", ask yourself where music sits in your life.  It's about the value of what we are paying for, not just the price.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Article about surrogacy in India

Here's a link to an interesting - and challenging - article in Marie Claire magazine, about a clinic in India that finds local woman to be surrogates.

While it raises some questions, I found it ultimately hopeful.  At bottom, it's people helping other people.

I also think - hey, I am officially opinionated - that it's important to have these debates (I prefer "discussions" myself) rather than playing ostrich.

I don't have children, and I'm fine with that, but I have enough empathy to understand the excruciating pain that many infertile couples feel.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Few Thoughts about Trying Hard

I've been to two amazing sessions here, one led by Jarrod Haning, and another by Skip Ewing. Both men are professional musicians, of some excellence. Both have a strong but not dominating presence.  They are real, all the way down!  Integrity is a beautiful thing to see.

Jarrod invited us to consider "what might I not be seeing?", and Skip suggested that "to be creative you have to get out of your own way".  Which started me on a train of thought.  Toot Toot...all aboard?

At bottom, I don't trust the idea of having what I want without doing penance for it.  I guess my experience to this point has been somewhere between 'eat your brussel sprouts or you won't get any desert', and 'enjoy now, pay later (with interest)'. 

Then I thought, I also believe you reap what you sow.  It's a good analogy, but only if there is a causative relationship between the two things.  Yep, sowing does lead to reaping, one thing causes the other.  Where we go wrong, is we apply that analogy to things that are only correlated to each other, that happen at the same time, like "hard work" and "success". What you work hard at, you succeed at.  Um, no, not always.  They are correlated, not causative.

When you have succeeded at doing (or being) something in your life, do you know what caused that success?  I'm no longer sure I do.  Was it because I worked really, really, hard and tried my very best? Or was it something else both complex and wonderfully simple?

I'm coming up with fairly radical idea that when I "really try", I'm already blocked about something.  There's something I'm missing and I need to get out of my own way and be a bit more creative.

Diligence and application are rewarded, but they're most rewarded where there isn't too much pain, or only external motivation.  There has to be a vision, an internal motivation.

Take Edison and the light bulb.  Sure, there was a strong external motivation:  not to go broke (again) and to get very, very rich.  That motivation alone was not what invented the lightglobe. A genuine vision, an intellectual curiosity drove him.  He could see the answer, tantalizingly out of reach.  If someone had said right at the start, "this will take months and  you'll go through hundreds of failures" maybe he wouldn't have started?  He didn't commit to pain, he was just willing to endure it when it happened.  He took a step, he tried something.  Maybe this will work, he thought.  Nope.  No, wait, how about this?  Nope.  I know, I know, it's that.  His intellectual and (I'm willing to bet) emotional conviction that the light globe filiament was possible, that it was there to be found and he could find it, made each step seemingly impossible NOT to take.  Each step was small in itself, but it led to success.  He kept moving, he didn't sit down and say, "Boy, if only the circumstances were right, I could make me a mighty fine lightbulb."

Do you have a vision that you believe in that much?  Do you believe your own happiness and success is possible (let alone probable)?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Genetic Link to Language Disorders Found

The New England Journal of Medicine today published an article about their research into a genetic link to certain types of language disorder.  They found that a particular gene was linked to a specific quite severe speech impairment, and suspected that other milder speech problems could be linked to problems with the same gene, even though the problems look very different initially.  They found this genetic marker often correlates with speech delays in autism.

The article is quite technical, but worth perservering with if you are interested in this area.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Southern Gothic

This is Duke Chapel, at Duke University in North Carolina.  It was our field trip today - yes we had some time off for good behaviour.  Left is the vault a the centre of the nave, and below is a shot of the windows in the main aisle. (All snapped with my iPhone)
While we were there, the organist came in to rehearse.  The chapel has four organs, and he played the big one.  So a group of internationals stood in the middle of the church and sang "Star Spangled Banner" - it seemed fitting somehow, today of all days.  That's what happens when music teachers get together - they make music!

For dinner I had 'pulled pork'.  You barbecue pork until the meat is so tender you can pull it off the bones.  Then you douse it in a special sauce.  Eat with collard greens, and hush puppies, and you have something truly special.  I had cornbread for lunch, so I'm catching up on the local delicacies.  Mmmmm.  Now I just need some pumpkin pie!

As I type, I hear occasional roars of approval and honking of horns.  Downstairs is the party of the Democratic Party in North Carolina.

Already the media are saying Mr Obama will be the next President, unless some anti-miracle happens and he loses California.  I guess we'll know in the morning.  It does seem a positive sign that more citizens turned out to vote than have in a long time.  I think a democracy whose leaders are elected by a majority of the populace is a good thing.