My Educational Career

I learned to tie my shoes shortly before I entered kindergarten.  It wasn’t an admissions requirement.  More a matter of pride.  No one wanted to be the boy who had to ask the teacher to tie his shoes.  Girls, for the most part, didn’t have to worry about it.  They wore funny little slipper type shoes with a buckle strap to hold them on.  The thing is, it was about then that my education began the bumpy ride it was to be for the rest of my life.  Apparently I did not learn how to tie my shoes so that they would not become untied.  Now, as I complete my seventieth year, my tie up shoes remain, as they have for much of the last sixty-five years, in the constant process of becoming untied. 
I only solved the problem once, and that was with a pair of Topsiders.  Once they were neatly tied in just the right way, I superglued the bows.  I might do that again with the pair I now have.  A more successful strategy has been to avoid tie up shoes altogether.  Thus my life long preference since kindergarten has been loafers, not counting the years in which engineer or cowboy boots were in.  Loafers come in every style to suit every time and event, and I’ve owned them all.  My favorite is the traditional preppy penny loafer, my trademark footwear.  I still have a few pairs of tie up shoes, but they are the bane of my life.  Thankfully, they are relegated now to sneakers and hiking boots, both of which have it in for me. 
What I’ve noticed the last few years is that more of the men my age, who did learn how to tie their shoes so that they wouldn’t become untied, have converted to something less demanding than digital bow tying dexterity while bending over to reach the floor.  They’ve opted for ridiculous looking old man shoes bound to their feet with Velcro.  Some of them still have trouble because it does require a degree of bending over and reaching down, but that’s another problem.  I will not go down that path, the path of Velcro bindings on old man shoes.  It’s loafers to the end.
But I digress, what this started out as was a brief essay on my bumpy educational career.  It’s true, it all began with shoe tying in kindergarten and the pattern seems to have followed me all the way.  I’ve entered each phase enthusiastically prepared to learn, but what I’ve learned tends to become untied and must be done over again and again.  Life long learning has been my discipline, partly to expand intellectual horizons, but partly to retie the lessons that once appeared securely laced up.  I wonder if my grandchildren, who appear confident that their very fine education is being laced up and securely tied, will have the same problem.  Probably not.  They’re girls, and got away with funny little slipper type shoes with a buckle strap to hold them on.

Magpies, Squirrels and Crows

Keeping squirrels away from the bird feed is almost impossible.  Keeping magpies away from squirrel food is harder, and they are more voracious.  I’ve got an old bird feeder filled with peanuts, and the squirrels have to work for their food by climbing the feeder pole, balancing on top the feeder, hanging over the edge by their hind legs, and digging out a peanut or two.  It’s part of my squirrel aerobics program to help keep them in shape. 
Magpies, on the other hand, swoop in early in the morning, or any time they feel like it, chase away all other critters, fly at the feeder to rock it back and forth spilling peanuts onto the ground.  With a half dozen magpies making repeated strikes, a feeder full of peanuts can be emptied in an hour or less.  I finally put a tarp over it this morning, hoping that the squirrels would be smart enough to go under it.  The magpies held a convention to discuss the matter and make their complaints known.  Then they flew off.  The squirrels didn’t like the tarp idea so I took it off.  Maybe I’ll do it all over again tomorrow morning.  Retirement gives one the time to experiment like that.  New horizons they call it. 
This all started a couple of years ago with bird feeding, and then squirrel feeding to give the birds a chance at their own food.  I wonder if the next step is magpie feeding.  I hope not.  Just for the record, the neighborhood crows, who do not care for magpies either, are content to pick up crumbs off the ground and use the bird bath to soften up whatever food they have scrounged off the street. 
In other back yard news, the bird houses appear to have been leased up for the winter by new tenants, sparrows as usual.  There seem to be one or two minor property disputes about who the real lessee is.

Squirrels and Crows

I finally decided that feeding the squirrels was easier than keeping them away from the bird feeders, which is something I was never able to do anyway.  So now we have a couple of bird feeders and a squirrel feeder in the back yard.  
Prepared I was not for the amount of entertainment they provide.  Their feeder is an old covered bird feeder hanging from a slender pole. They have to climb it, perch on top, make a leap for the roof of the feeder, and hang upside down to get at the food.  The general rule is one on top and two or three on the ground, all keeping watch for the dreaded Westy, who may come darting out in squirrel ambush mode at any moment.  
I’m never sure if they are playing or mating when the ‘ring-around-the-tree-trunk’ games begin, but they are fun to watch either way.  Squirrels mate young and quickly produce offspring, so you would think we would be overrun with them, but not so.  The two, or maybe three, resident nests, have stayed the same for years, and the resident population remains stable at four to six.  That has to mean a squirrel diaspora of some kind, as well as, of course, the usual road kill solution to over population.
The birds don’t seem to mind.  In fact, some of them prefer the squirrel food and happily partake along side the furry critters.   A crow, not known to be an avid seed eater, has become a full time member of the back yard gang with a particular affection for corn.  All of them, song birds, squirrels and crows, share the bird bath in apparent harmony.  Some drink, some bathe, some drink and bathe, and the crow dips food in it to soften things up a bit (probably left his dentures in the nest). 
Is there a lesson to be learned from this?  Yes there is.  Sitting quietly on the patio just watching brings peace and a smile, and that’s a lot these days.

The Illusion of Control

I was pondering the illusion of control while playing solitaire on the computer.  Solitaire is a game that can easily give one the illusion of at least some control because there is a pinch of strategy and a dash of skill involved.  It’s just enough to give the player the illusion of control over the outcome.  Moreover, failure to complete the game, losing, is easily explained away with an ‘if only I’d played that instead of this’.  It can be further ameliorated by claiming partial victory based on how far toward completion one has got.  
For all of that, the game is ruled by the random order of the deal over which the player has no control.  The player’s sense of control is an illusion.  
Life is a lot that way.  Having control over one’s own life, one’s own destiny seems to be a human obsession.  Controlling the lives of others, controlling one’s environment, controlling the variables leading to success or failure, having control, being in control is all symbolic of both mental health and mental illness, maturity and immaturity.  
The facts are that, however responsible we are for the consequences of our own decisions, the outcomes of those decisions can only be partially predicted, and the very popular law of unintended consequences is always in operation.  Someone once said that good luck favors the well prepared, and that is no doubt true, but luck, good or bad, is just shorthand for randomness that lies outside the realm of human control.
That, if nothing else, should be an antidote for inappropriate pride, hubris, haughtiness and the like, but it’s not.  Some of us treasure the illusion of control so much that we actually believe we are in control of our lives, able to exercise control over others, and are completely responsible for the good fortune that is ours by rights through our hard work, skill and cleverness.
On the other hand, some of us are so overcome by the randomness of events that we give up all sense of control, losing the greater part of our own self-worth, and taking up residence as permanent victims.  There is a certain perverse kind of hubris in that also.  
It seems to me that a spiritually and emotionally healthy person is one who can comfortably live in the in between of a world in which randomness and control struggle in creative tension, and where control, as exercised by each person, accumulates in the aggregate to create conditions of justice, injustice, increased randomness and marginally coordinated movement away from randomness.
OK, enough of that.  Time for lunch.