Games of August V: Geography

vitruvian_man-001When researching my master’s thesis, Architecture that Affords Play, back in 1980, I learned that children and adults play for different reasons. Actually, they play for diametrically opposed reasons. Children play in order to gain mastery. Adults play to reinforce what we have already mastered. Therefore, it comes as not surprise that when I decided to end the Games of August series by exploring a new an online game through the search, “Top Internet Games” I bypassed all the games that required shooting, dexterity, or speed; attributes at which I never excelled and that continue to decline as middle-age deepens. Instead I selected a geography game. It was labeled as one of the 13 hardest games on the Internet, but that reflects our society’s ignorance of geography more than the actual difficulty of the game.

The premise of 50 States is simple. A green outline of the United States floats in a sea of blue. Sorry, Canada and Mexico, rising seas have eliminated you. The shape of a state appears above the map. You place your cursor on it and drag it to the correct place. Florida is first. Then Montana, followed by California and Vermont. The initial states all border the blue, which makes them easy to place. South Dakota touches part of Montana, and so it goes. Each state that pops up has some registration with what precedes.   The program tells me how accurate I am in my placement. After locating six states, I am accurate within eight miles. This seems preposterous, considering I am working on a 6”x8” map of a country that is 3,000 miles long. New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oregon. Then I get Missouri. I misplace its connection to Nebraska by a squiggle of the Missouri River, less than 100 miles, but enough to register as an error.

From then on I place every state correctly, and eventually wind up with a 2-mile rate of error.

I feel good about myself, so I play again. This time the computer knows I’m a U.S. geography whiz, so what state do I get first? Kansas. I am 71 miles off. The distance I pedal on a good day’s bike ride. I recover from my snafu and place the rest within five minutes so accurately I wind up with only a 1-mile error deviation.

The third time is the charm. I place all states correctly, and even though I have to aim Wyoming and Missouri without any adjacencies, I have 0-mile placement error. Which proves I am an adult, since when I play, I like to do what I already know.

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Second Sleep

awkward_pose_3-001My sleep habits have evolved to match the pre-electricity patterns of first and second sleep. I go to bed about ten p.m., read for a few minutes, turn off the light, take a few regular breaths, and drop into four or five hours of deep sleep. I rouse to the pressure of my middle-aged bladder with no recollection of dreams or time passing. When I return to bed my sleep, if it comes at all, is quite different. I lie still, but my mind soars. My breath iterates dozens of cycles before I doze. A kaleidoscope of images pulse through my third eye center, lacey shapes sweep toward me and then blur out into the distance.

I have vivid dreams during my second sleep. So vivid I swear I’m awake. They unfold in elaborate spaces with columned porticos, open windows and sweeping stairs. Sometimes they’re light and airy, but most often they descend into shadow. My dreams are busy. Close friends, old acquaintances, fabulous movie stars and complete strangers cross my path. The soundtrack is an incoherent din until a sharp phrase rings through the fog and I wake with a start.

Last night I settled into my second sleep but my mind would not release me to sleep. I lay quiet on my back and breathed firm. I placed one hand on my belly and one on my heart. I bent one knee as if in tree pose. I often sleep with one crooked leg. I was calm but not asleep. I began ruminating. My troubles are meager compared to many, but real enough to me. I worried about getting my book edited on time, fretted over painting my housemate’s room, and speculated about my new yoga teaching gig.

imagesMy ruminations turned nasty. People began to shout, then some got sick. People died. Friends died. I died. Maybe Freud was right; you can’t die in your dream. But you can conjure death when you’re convinced that you’re not asleep. Things got worse. Life turned dreary, pointless. In my early morning existential crisis I found no reason to continue on. The hiss of the sprinklers triggered in the city park across the street ratcheted into my ears. Oh, would I never fall asleep?

The alarm went off. 5:30 a.m. Time to go to yoga. I fumbled to turn it off. Should I roll over and try, once again, to get to sleep, or should I drag myself to the studio? I lifted myself out of bed. Since I hadn’t been asleep there was no reason not to get up. I walked toward the bathroom. Dawn broke through the stained glass irises that hang before the window. The morning was clear and crisp; fall is already in the air. I felt terrific.

I stared at the mirror while I brushed my teeth. How could I feel so fresh after lying awake for hours? Then I realized the magic of second sleep. I had not been awake. I had not died. My friends had not died. Life was strong, the world vibrant.

imgresSecond sleep is like a sappy movie or cheesy play: Les Miserables or Candide. While it’s playing its playing out through the interminable night everything is a horrid disaster. But at its end, the lights come up, the orchestra sounds a major chord, and all of my trials, real and imagined, disappear. Perhaps we must persevere the terrors of the night so that the new day can appear so sweet.

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The Games of August IV: Seeking The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

vitruvian_man-001Yesterday I let Goodreads take me on a journey of odd literary connections that began with The Great Gatsby and left me with Harry the Dirty Dog. Today I took another tact. I decided to see how I could rank the books Goodreads offered me to entice the web site to suggest one of my favorites, Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. First thing I needed to do was get away from Harry the Dirty Dog and out of the children’s section. This proved difficult. Children’s books are big sellers and Goodreads has good reason to keep me there.

I scrolled through a few screens without ranking any more children’s books until Goodreads returned to a previous favorite, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which led to My Antonia, The Chosen, and The Good Earth, three books that have little in common beyond fertile soil and longish hair. When The Lord of the Flies turned up next to Little Women, I realized the Goodread’s algorithm was not going to be easy to manipulate.

I meandered through many near misses. Surely Carson McCullers was a near cousin to The Grapes of Wrath, Death Comes to the Archbishop, and The Jungle.

images-1I tried to become strategic. If I liked Babbitt and O Pioneers the Lonely Hunter could not be far away, while ranking Heart of Darkness high would steer me away from my objective. Still, I rated every book I had read, and none less than three because, well, they were all good. Except for Confederacy of Dunces. I’m the sole person who hated that book. Couldn’t care less about a fat galoot romping through New Orleans.

I started to slip away from anything close to my objective. I got mired in Dickens, Melville, Tolstoy. I despaired that Goodreads would ever suggest the favorite I was seeking. I scrolled through screen after screen headed in the wrong direction. Some pairings were humorous. Why was Diary of a Young Girl offered up next to Crime and Punishment?

By now Goodreads was getting fed up with me as well, offering titles a second time. No, I have never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin or East of Eden and I despised the implication I was illiterate as a result. Why was I offered Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence over and over but never The House of Mirth? Why Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame but never Les Miserables?

I scrolled through all of the automatic pop-ups, and then hit continue for another round. When I reached the end of the second series without any opportunity to rate Carson McCullers, I stopped.

The takeaway? It’s more fun to let the computer take you where it wants to go than try to maneuver its ramblings. The impulse to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has to come from within.

 

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Games of August III: My Path of Favorites

vitruvian_man-001I registered on Goodreads (www.goodreads.com). My intention was to set up an author page for my upcoming book, Architecture by Moonlight, but before I could do that I needed to have an account on the site. Inputting the usual data. Checking off my preferred genres. I like Classics, Contemporary, and Memoir more than Paranormal, Thrillers, or Romance.

The next screen showed five book covers: Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, Star Wars, The Great Gatsby, and Jane Eyre. Four out of five seemed good match, and Star Wars is a Classic, though not as a book. Goodreads asked me to rate them. Really? Who am I to pass judgment on Jane Austen, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Charlotte Bronte? I posted five stars for the first three and a reluctant four for Jane Eyre. Giving everything five stars felt like grade inflation, and let’s face it, Jane Eyre is so depressing.

imagesAnother five book covers popped up – more like Pride and Prejudice. What did I think of Middlemarch? Violette? Then five more like The Great Gatsby. I got to rate Lolita, Franny and Zooey, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How those books were related to Gatsby was beyond me, but then the entire enterprise was foolish.

Yet addictive.

More like Lolita led me to Portnoy’s Complaint, then Appointment in Samarra, then The Berlin Stories. Goodreads had tapped right into my literary underbelly. I ranked Camus’ The Fall and thought the next screen might offer Marat/Sade when my favorites took off in a new direction.

More like To Kill a Mockingbird offered The Giving Tree, Holes, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I loved them all. Particularly Holes. Any story where salvation turns on an affection for onions is a winner with me. Goodreads logic then inquired if I liked Goodnight Moon and Harold and the Purple Crayon. Of course, I adore Harold and the Purple Crayon. How many times did my toddler shelf wish that escaping my existence could be accomplished in a snug onesie with a single crayon. I like The Story of Ferdinand and Make Way for Ducklings as well.

imgresHow about Harry the Dirty Dog? I love Harry the Dirty Dog. My children and I read it again and again. But wait a minute. This game began by contemplating the value of The Great Gatsby and it’s degenerated into assigning stars to a dirty dog. The comparison is beyond apples and oranges; even beyond onions. I gave Harry four stars. I don’t hold him in as high esteem as Jay Gatsby, but I put him on par with Jane Eyre.

Internet connections make some sense, and a whole lot of nonsense. In less than five minutes I confronted over a hundred book cover images, ranked what I’d read, wondered about the rest, and ultimately spent as much time considering Harry the Dirty Dog as I did The Great Gatsby. In the process I elevated Harry and certainly diminished Mr. Gatsby.

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Games of August II: Authentic Happiness

vitruvian_man-001I love taking surveys, personality tests and opinion polls. So when I discovered the website for authentic happiness, www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, I felt happy even before I dove into the site’s multiple questionnaires. There are nineteen in all, divided into categories that measure my emotions, engagement, life satisfaction, flourishing and meaning. The questionnaires measure how happy I am, and my results become part of the growing data base that informs University of Pennsylvania’s emerging work in Positive Psychology. So while I am measuring my own happiness, I am doing good, which made me happier. I anticipated scores rocketing off the charts.

Completing nineteen questionnaires in one sitting would be like gorging an entire chocolate cake or spooning a half gallon of ice cream straight from the carton – too much of a good thing. So I limited myself to the first category: Emotions. I inventoried my authentic happiness, determined my general happiness scale, and delved into academic sounding stuff like PANAS (positive and negative affect), CES-D (depression symptoms), and Fordyce Emotions (current happiness). My emotions verged on giddy at the prospect of such fun questionnaires.

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So, how did I do? Is my happiness euphoric?

The results of the questionnaires landed me in a more realistic place: happy enough but hardly dizzy. I am overall 3.5 out of 5 happy, 7 out of 10 happy in the moment, 5 out of 7 over the long haul, with a 76% positive affect and 22% disposition toward depression. Turning happiness into hard data deflated me, but outlined a fair presentation of a generally happy person who grapples with depression for statically significant, though not overwhelming, periods of time.

What’s interesting is how I stack up against other people. Isn’t that the dirt we all want to know? Authentic Happiness reported my results in comparison to others my age, gender, and profession. Although I may be happy enough, I’m not so happy when compared with my peers. I tip the 50th percentile happy compared to other men and middle-aged people, but am less happy than the average retired person. It’s nice to know that people get happier when they retire. Since I am new at it, maybe the longer I’m retired the happier I will become. One must always strive.

The website also compared me with other computer users. Perhaps this is because I took the tests online. I scored much happier than most computer users. I don’t know how the correlation works. Does being on the computer makes people less happy or do less happy people spend more time on the computer? Either way, the takeaway of this game for me is: the key to happiness lies in being retired without spending too much time online.

Take the test yourself and see if you are as happy as you seem.

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300 Breaths

awkward_pose_3-001Hot Power Fusion (HPF) is the CorePower Yoga version of the Bikram series. The class contains the same 26 postures, though holds most only once whereas Bikram repeats. Instead, HPF adds a few sun salutations, flows, a balance inversion, and core work. It maintains 104-degree heat and 40% humidity, though it never feels as hot to me as Bikram does. Still, it is potent yoga.

Bikram begins with a long series of pranyama breathing, which HPF omits. Pranyama is a great warm-up that stills and controls my breath, so I do it before class begins. The objective is to create even six-second inhales and even six-second exhales that establish a regular breathing pattern to continue throughout class.

imagesFor me, the entire HPF sequence is one long flow with measured breath. A complete class of pranyama-paced breath includes 300 cycles of six-second inhale and exhales. I never achieve that. At some point in every class I lose my focus and my breath quickens, or I breathe faster to support my exertion. Oftentimes moments pass before I realize that my breath has strayed and I have to refocus my energy to align breath and movement again.

The HPF teachers can facilitate this seamless breath, but not all of them tech the class as one continuous flow. Some consider each pose or series distinct and take too-long breaks between them to maintain the balance of breath and movement. I am learning to simply continue at my own pace, sometimes moving ahead of their direction, other times lagging. Since I don’t want to disrupt students who follow the teacher more literally, I have taken to practicing in a corner of the hot room, which also helps my focus.

Perhaps the day will come when I complete a class in 300 even breath cycles. When that time comes, new ways of focusing my yoga will emerge to spur my practice. The journey of breath will not end with 300 perfectly executed cycles. It continues until all breath stops.

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Games of August – Measure Your Brow

vitruvian_man-001August is hot and humid and not conducive to deep thought. Any thought, really. So, I’ve decided to find some simple games to play and share. Maybe they will shed some light on our place in the world. Probably not.

The first game, Measure Your Brow, is inspired by the August 3, 2014 NY Times Article, “The Squeeze on the Middlebrow”. The article features Russell Lyons famous chart of 1949 that defines four intellectual classifications of Americans (high-brow, upper middle-brow, lower middle-brow, and low-brow) and describes them in terms of their creature comforts.

imgresAs a person born to the lower middle class who’s enjoyed many advantages and been tagged an intellectual by people who make me squirm, I wondered how Mr. Russell’s classifications applied to me. Here is how I fared:

 

ClothesHigh-brow. Eggheads don’t care about clothes and I only buy new when friends pick at my tatters in public.

FurnitureLow-brow. Half of the furnishings in my house came from the curb.

Useful Objects – Lower Middle-brow. My housemate and I don’t have his and her towels, but we are strict about having a matching set on designated racks.

EntertainmentUpper Middle-Brow. My love of theater transcends classification. I try to keep drama at proscenium distance.

SaladsLow-brow. Cole Slaw is my ultimate salad. But is it still low-brow if I replace the mayo with vinaigrette and enliven the cabbage with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, and sliced cherries?

DrinksLow-brow. Beer. No other alcohol passes my lips.

ReadingUpper Middle-Brow. This is a no brainer. My main source of information is the NY Times. You can’t get any more Upper Middle-Brow than that.

SculptureN/A. I fall off the chart here. I have no sculpture. I want no sculpture. I am happy to relegate sculpture to public parks and museums.

RecordsLower Middle-Brow. I’ve been painting my bedroom this week and listened to Ragtime, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, and Les Miserables in rotation.

GamesLower- Middle-Brow. Bridge is my nearest match. But my real passion is Risk. Where is the category for Angry-Brow?

CausesUpper-Middle-Brow. Pleas for social justice flap open my wallet.

UntitledMy results? Three each for Low-Brow, Lower Middle-brow and Upper Middle-brow. Only one High-brow, and for a slacker reason. Proof positive that a person can go to fancy colleges and claim a prize corner in scholarly Cambridge but never escape his roots. I simply like eating slaw and drinking beer at the table I hauled off the curb too much to raise my cultural classification.

How prominent is your forehead in this game?

 

 

 

 

 

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