In Which The Ocean Provides Her Infinite Wisdom

I love the beach.

I can sit on the sand for hours if left alone.  I run my hands through the grains, feel the ocean break.  I watch the gulls and sea eagles drift by.  

Silence comes and goes in rhythm with the waves.  The silence in my mind sometimes matches it.  Thoughts swim by, in and then out of my field of view.  At other times they will stick around while I turn them over and over like a seashell in my hands, running my fingers on every curlicue and ridge upon it.

I jump in the cool ocean.  No matter the weather, save for a scary stormy sea, I’m in there in the morning.  Sometimes I stand only knee deep after a quick soak.  Sometimes I drift with the current in a clear turquoise sea, looking towards the headlands and the secrets they enclose, then seawards towards the rising sun.  I squint from the salt and brightness, feeling the soothing bath of the elements relaxing and yet somehow energising me.

I look towards the house where my family is staying.  We come here a couple of times a year in various seasons.  My family is asleep still, rocked by the sound of the crashing surf.

We live the mountains a couple of hours away, but the beach is where I feel refreshed and reawakened.  I bring problems to the ocean for solutions.  The ocean brings perspective.  In some primal amniotic way the ocean either integrates or flushes the problem, leaving it for the scavengers in the deep.

I want to buy a beach house.  I want to have a place to bring my family whenever I want.  I spend some time each day looking in the real estate windows, dreaming.  My wife and I sit at the table with the ocean outside, and discuss the potential for buying, re-mortgaging, borrowing, finding an investor, buying and renting through Airbnb.  We lounge on the deck with champagne and measure the costs, imagining how we can pay the rates, the electricity, the water.  We muddle in the sand and dream our little dream of being at the beach with our family and each other, warm in each other’s embrace, cuddles on the couch and adventures by the sea.  We imagine our boys catching puffer fish in the rock pools and fishing off the headland, cooking their prizes in butter and lemon, flour and salt. 

I wake up and head to the beach.  I feel the sand between my toes, grainy and cool.  I walk straight into the water and she welcomes me, swirling between my legs, drawing me gently in to her cool enclosure while I take long breaths in and out, feeling the joy of my aliveness.

I look towards our house, where we stay each year.  It’s a beautiful mansion to us.  Our friends own it and we stay here for free, a week at a time.  We pay no rates, no bills, no maintenance fees.  We spend no time checking Airbnb to see if anyone is staying this week, if we can afford the mortgage.  We have no stress over having two properties miles apart.

And in the oceans embrace, I finally see.

We have our perfect beach house.

We just don’t own it.

The Screen-Free-Week, or, How To Grow Your Childs Brain in One Easy Step

Minecraft, you will find if it happens to you, swallows kid’s brains.  Since Minecraft entered our household ten days ago, we’ve heard about little else from our six year old.  Withers, Creepers, Spiders and the Netherworld are all conversational topics in our house at the moment.

We are strict about screen time in our house.   We have a Screen-Free-Week for the kids every second week, which means no shows, no games, no YouTube, no laptop, no iPad, no phones.

We’ve done it this way for two or three years now.   We noticed early on with our first child that screens seem to supercharge frustration.  We strongly limited the amount of screen time our kids had from the first moments they watched them, but as any parent will know, scope creep happens easily.  We noticed that play was becoming less imaginative and more structured around shows.  That was ok with us, because kids will get inspiration from the whole world around them.  Then “I’m bored!” became a common catch-cry while they waited for their screen time.  Arguments became more commonplace, and team work became almost non-existent.

So after the usual banning of screens as punishment we tried regular Screen-Free-Days.  That didn’t give the kids enough time to get used to having no screens, and they would ask repeatedly all of that day.  We then tried whole weeks occasionally, and immediately noticed the behavioural difference.

After a year or so of doing a week off screens every month or more, we committed to every second week.  The boys now know it’s coming, and they emotionally prepare themselves.

The hardest part of Screen-Free-Week is the lack of babysitting.  It’s harder for me and my wife than the kids.  We have to be much more available to coach and provide options if they need it.  This is absolutely a good thing, but its harder than plopping the two of them down with an iPad.

We find that the boys play much better together during these weeks off, however they need more coaching around learning to relax after a big day or understanding when they are tired.  Screens provide much needed chill-out time, and finding alternatives has been challenging.  Getting an eight-year-old and a six-year-old to just sit around when they are exhausted is surprisingly difficult!  Drawing and colouring has been an effective replacement, but it depends on the level of fatigue.

Screen-Free-Weeks make an effective consequence.  As much as I dislike consequences and punishments in general (I would prefer my kids to behave themselves because its the right thing to do rather than being coerced through bribes or threats), when one is required, the SFW cuts to the quick.  Bad behaviour is sorted out rapidly.

What has been remarkable is the behavioural change we’ve seen in our boys.  They are almost like different people in the SFW.  The change was most noticeable when they were younger and more emotionally charged.

In a screen week we often see arguments during play, and the boys tend to organise play around the times they get screens.  They are often bored and listless while waiting to watch (we usually set hard times around screen consumption).  They are sometimes so emotionally caught up in their shows and games that they can barely play.  The six-year-old often argues with us about screen times and almost everything else that doesn’t go his way.

During a SFW all that changes.  Their play is super-imaginative, dynamic and exciting.  The boundaries they set around games are broader and more inclusive.  They work together as a team and help each other much more.  They tend to be more empathetic.  They are more receptive to their own body signs like hunger, thirst and toileting.

My wife and I enjoy those weeks too, because we interact much more with the boys.  They help us with cooking, or we play card games.  We watch them read or colour or draw, and we listen to their conversations, which are invariably bright and beautiful.

During a Screen-Free-Week we don’t have to fight with media for attention.  With my long-term view towards loving and communicative relationships with my sons, this is a major hurdle that we have overcome.

Violence Is So Damn Easy, or Why The Hard Way Is So Hard

Sometimes, having kids is just the pits.

Particularly when you’ve made the commitment to an upbringing that abhors violence and uses communication instead.

Violence is just so damn easy!

Your kid ain’t doing what you asked? Slap him across the face!

Your daughter is talking back to you? Smack her on the bottom and send her to her room!

Your son is tantruming, screaming and crying over some nonsense? Scream and yell back at him, getting in his face with emotionally violent language about how he’s ridiculous to feel like he does, perhaps calling him a girl for crying!

face slap backhand

See? Just so easy!

Unfortunately, I’ve committed myself and my wife to methods much more difficult. We are living the middle path between a violent or neglectful adult-centric lifestyle, and a permissive, child-centric one.

The Hard Way.

What is the Hard Way?

The Hard Way is taking a step back, assessing the situation from an altitude of 50,000 feet.

The Hard Way is letting go of your ego, which is really a video flashback to how your own mum and dad parented (if it was good enough for me, it’s GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU).

The Hard Way is creating connection with your child at all times, but especially when they are upset, regardless of whether they are sad, angry, tantruming, or any uncomfortable behaviour.

The Hard Way is letting your kids be sad or angry, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

The Hard Way is not letting your kid have everything they want.

The Hard Way is being flexible, sometimes giving your child what she wants.

The Hard Way is ensuring your kid has regular screen-free time, even when you need a babysitter.

The Hard Way is coaching your child through success and disappointment, rather than being a cheerleader.

The Hard Way is finding and spending Quality Time.

The Hard Way is prioritising family over work, and Quality Time over money.

The Hard Way is loving your kids, loving them hard, and loving them always, even when your ego is reaching for a backhand.

The Hard Way is hard work. It’s a damn sight harder than the bullshit “Good-Enough Parenting” style that gives parents a guilt-free out every time it gets tough. But if you want to grow happy, satisfied, loving and unspoiled kids, the Hard Way is the only way.

The Greatest Detective Story Never Told

I’m a man who likes to be solitary.  I love to be alone with my body and my mind, exploring both.  I ran into trouble early with your mum, as she comes from a family where no one is ever alone, ever.  No one from her family does anything solo, or quietly for that matter.

Walk into my family’s house at Christmas time and you’re likely to find everyone with their faces in a book.

I had a realisation last night.  To really learn about myself, I have to truly be alone.  When I say truly alone, I don’t just mean on my own without other people.  I mean alone without distractions.  No devices, no books, no shows, no chores.  They are all colourful and entertaining noise that prevent me from touching that deep place where the boundless lies.

It’s tough to be truly alone.

It’s difficult to not distract myself with all this novel and wonderful noise, these nostalgically photographed cookbooks, those five-star self-development books,  some new and shiny techniques for saving time and achieving… stuff.

However, after years of practice, I’ve observed within myself a personal trend towards entertainment boredom.  I can’t watch shows or movies without a deep sense of boredom.  They all seem so infantile, so shallow.  Not one of them touches on what it means to be a human alone.  No show discusses the pain within and the way to heal it.  No one talks of the ocean of creativity that lies deep beneath the surface where monsters and beauties and the most incredible creations lie.  No one seems to know of the greatest detective story never told – the uncovering of your history, past, present and future.

If more people knew about it, Netflix would be out of business.

Are You Intelligent? Or Just Smart?

I got called “smart” a lot at school.  It was not usually meant as a compliment, nor as an insult.  It was just the way it was.

My father often commented on how much smarter I was at my age than he was.  I liked it when he said that.  Unfortunately it really didn’t mean as much as what you might think.

Being smart is not hard.  Being smart means two things: having a decent memory, and being able to manipulate symbols in a culturally useful way.  Both of these things are relatively easy to practice.

To improve memory one must practice remembering things: facts, trivia, poems, songs, or, as in my childhood experience, bible verses.  To manipulate symbols effectively, one must read, write and speak often enough with appropriate feedback to ingrain the symbols.

Most children without learning difficulties or brain damage are smart.  My boys can rattle off more dinosaur names than David Attenborough.  They can memorise song lyrics after one or two listens.  My five year old can write his name with ease.  They are classically smart for their age, and their grandmother (to my disdain) reminds them to the point of ridiculousness.

 

But would you call them intelligent?

 

I have spent a lot of time trying to define what I mean by intelligence.  The current dictionary definitions do not capture the specificity of it.  They tend to list popular meanings instead.

The Random House definition:

1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths,relationships, facts, meanings, etc. 2. manifestation of a high mental capacity 3.the faculty of understanding.

The Merriam-Webster definition:

(1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations :reasonalso : the skilled use of reason(2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

The closest they come to my definition is “aptitude in grasping relationships”.

My definition:

The ability to correlate at least two previously unconnected points.

 

 

 

Timothy Leary described the growth of a child’s symbol manipulation skills as laryngeal-manual development, referring to the use of the voice and the hands as the primary conductors of symbolism.  Many people use the word intelligence to describe how well a person uses these muscles.

How well a person communicates will certainly limit the quality of the information being transmitted.   However, it’s fairly rare that an adult human encounters a situation where he requires intelligence.

Memory and rote learning are usually enough to get us through the day.  Most workplaces these days are the homes of automatons, with systems inserted to prevent thinking.  Schools reward high levels of smartness, but don’t often seem to know how to improve intelligence.

True intelligence on the other hand describes the ability to take two ideas or actions, and put them together in a way previously unknown to you.  It is an act of creation, and is usually accompanied by a small “aha!” moment.

 

…..

What are some examples of intelligent action?

 

When playing football, you keep putting the ball over the crossbar when taking shots on goal.  You find that your successful shots depend on you placing your left foot next to the ball, and keeping your right foot toe down.  These two bodily movements have now been correlated with successful goal-shooting.  This can be committed to memory to consistently improve your shot.

 

iniesta intelligence
Andres Iniesta: Geekiest football legend ever

 

Einstein drew new correlations between mass and energy, space and time.  He literally imagined himself on a train approaching the speed of light.  This metaphor brought so many previously unconnected points of data together that it changed the future for all of us.

 

intelligent physics
I got so excited!… until I saw Technically Viable

 

C.L. Sholes found a relationship between the arrangement of letters and typing speed on mechanical typewriters, thus creating the QWERTY typewriter.

 

intelligence

Then Shai Coleman decided that QWERTY didn’t make any sense in the modern era, as there were no more mechanical typewriter arms to get mangled.  He created Colemak and made typing

  • Ergonomic and comfortable – Your fingers on QWERTY move 2.2x more than on Colemak. QWERTY has 16x more same hand row jumping than Colemak. There are 35x more words you can type using only the home row on Colemak.
  • Easy to learn – Allows easy transition from QWERTY. Only 2 keys move between hands.
  • Fast – Most of the typing is done on the strongest and fastest fingers. Low same-finger ratio.

He recognised the redundancy of QWERTY and created a new interface to reflect that realisation.

…..

 

Intelligence is a skill.  Like all skills, we can improve our intelligence through improving the quality and increasing the quantity of the experiences we have.

These experiences create patterns from which future choices can be made, known as engrams.

 

Wikipedia definition of engram:

Engrams are a hypothetical means by which memory traces are stored as biophysical or biochemical changes in the brain (and other neural tissue) in response to external stimuli.

In other words, engrams are patterns that have been wired into your biology through consistent use.
Why are old men often so creative when it comes to problem solving?  They have a huge number of engrams to draw upon to derive solutions.  Although a hypothetical idea, I find engrams a useful metaphor for increasing intelligence.

Rock climbing has a number of different styles, one of which is crack climbing, as above.  You may notice she has her hands in a crack. Now, let’s say she has climbed several routes like the one above.  Perhaps this one:

 

 

and this one:

 

off-width crack

 

You can see that all the routes are different, but they all have similarities too; they are all on rock, they all have cracks to climb, they are mostly vertical.  Our climber has built up a decent skill set on cracks; a set of engrams she can call upon whenever she encounters cracks.  The more engrams she has to call upon, the more likely her chance of success on any given crack climb. Our climber then encounters this (horrors!):

 

 

Although she has never done a crack route like this before, her experience and engrams will allow her to make intelligent choices and correlations between her past and present climbs.  This increases her chances of success many times.

So too with intelligence.  The more problems you can solve, the more experience you will gain, and the more engrams you will develop.  All this experience will give you a wider range of options when it comes to your solution. At heart it’s the need for a successful result that drives intelligence.

To improve intelligence you must search out problems that need solutions and goals that need achieving, then find the points to correlate for a solution. Over time you will notice increased correlations and realisations.

Only then will you find an appropriately awesome ending for this post.

 

References:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intelligence

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intelligence

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engram_(neuropsychology)