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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back Again From Southern France

No jet lag this time around, as my travels were done from my own front porch. There were no photographs or other illustrations in Tony Judt’s scholarly study of Socialism in Provence 1877-1914, and yet, at the same time my brain was working overtime to take in his arguments and evidence, it was also picturing scenes from southern France – along with, I must admit, my grandparents’ modest little “farmette” (they called it that) in Ohio in the 1950s and today’s Leelanau orchards and vineyards and CSAs.

One of Judt’s quarrels with research previous to his in French social and political history was a tendency of researchers to lump regions and classes into large homogenous groups and make sweeping generalizations based on a composite portrait thus drawn of the populace. An area might be called agricultural, and a certain percentage of the population identified as peasants, and from that the researcher would assume conservatism and little active interest in politics.

Yet the difference between an isolated mountain hamlet (we ventured up a terrifying road to explore one in the Auvergne in 2000) and a bustling country village connected to other villages and towns by good roads was enormous in the time period Judt was studying. Moreover – as was true with my grandfather and as is true of many Leelanau farmers today – those working the land were not always themselves landless. They could be and often were owners of small property, working others’ land, as well as their own, or working in a small manufactory by day and on their land in the evenings (this was my grandfather’s pattern), or migrating from place to place with the seasons, following available work, or working part-time in the fields and part-time at other jobs. Artisanal workers and farm workers, laborers for others and property owners – these were not mutually exclusive categories. Judt found that while conservatism did reign in poor, remote areas, peasants on better land in the Var region, particularly farmers who actually owned property, were more likely to support socialist politics and programs. They saw collectivism as their best hope for being able to continue living on and working the land, despite bad crop years and market challenges from the larger world.

What impressed me most was the difficulty of categorizing the ways in which people earned their livelihoods. There was my grandfather, working in the casket factory by day and tending his raspberry patch and vegetable gardens and fruit trees in the evenings. There are farmers here in Leelanau who also work office jobs or hold political posts or teach school in the winter. I own a small business, and yet one fall I was among the county’s orchard workers, picking apples for a local grower. This has been the truth of country living for a long time, all over the world.

Another nonfiction book I mentioned here recently, Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, excited me greatly, and yet when I showed it to a very well-educated friend, with interests far beyond his own field, he laughed and said he would never have picked up a book with that title and cover, never imagined that it could be interesting, much less (as I found it) compelling, thrilling and inspiring. Here is what I sent him and another friend, by e-mail, under the subject heading “This book just keeps getting better and better,” when I was only halfway through the book:
It was published in 2000 by Psychology Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, as part of a series called ESSAYS IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, so I'm talking about a book that is already 16 years old. One of the author's findings is that "we can influence students' theories [about themselves and their intelligence]. Although students came to our study with their own theories, what we told them had a clear impact. This means that people's theories of intelligence are malleable." So students who initially believe their intelligence is fixed can come to believe they can increase it, and this means they will be willing to take on challenges they would otherwise avoid. They can learn to learn! The author carefully says that the studies do not show such changes in belief to be permanent, but the initial belief wasn't permanent, either. Human beings can learn, not simply through trial and error, but by coming to believe they have the capacity to grow.   
She calls the two theories "entity" and "incremental." Entity theories think of intelligence as a fixed trait; incremental theorists (these "theorists" are all of us, at every age of life!) think of intelligence as knowledge and skill, something that can be cultivated and improved. The entity theorists are performance-oriented, and when they "fail," they fall into despair and helplessness, because to them failure is a sign that they are not smart, after all. Incremental theorists have a very different view of failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn, to employ new strategies, to try harder or focus differently, etc.   
She doesn't stop there. She goes on to see if success and failure in relationships, and responses to perceived setbacks in relationships, follow the same pattern. She finds that they do. And then (I'm as yet only halfway through the book, and there are many, many studies conducted and cited), she finds that entity and incremental theorists not only judge themselves differently but judge others very differently, also. Entity theorists are quick to judge a person's character on the basis of a single action, but the author stresses that these quick judgments are not "impulsive," but "seem to grow out of a belief in character as a unitary thing that permeates virtually all actions and displays itself with great consistency."   
The really great thing is that students in a classroom can, with appropriate readings, change from entity to incremental theorists. The author does not know if the change in belief would be long-lasting [results of research do not preclude but do not establish such a conclusion], but imagine retraining the thinking of people who work in prisons to believe that prisoners can learn and become better, more self-aware people!
My excitement continued through to the last page of the book.

Similar to the way Tony Judt, in Part III of his study, extrapolated his findings to say something about socialism in France in general, Dweck takes her findings (about how people’s self-theories affect the way they view success and failure and influence responses to failure and challenges) and carries those into a larger theory of motivation and personality. In Chapter 18 she surveys other theories of personality and motivation. “Trait theories,” she tells us, are all about description but offer little in the way of explanation. They are particularly weak when it comes to explaining change. Not surprising, as Dweck notes: “In fact, many trait theorists don’t really believe much in personal change....” (This was my objection to the popular Please Understand Me and the Meyer-Briggs personality type test.)

“Motive theories” (she cites various in the group, but I am omitting the lists) leave out anything to do with goals, beliefs, or cognitions. Both biological theories and Freudian theories come in for criticism. Of course we inherit certain temperaments, she acknowledges, but “temperament is not destiny,” and biological theories “don’t look at adaptive functioning.” As for Freud, his theory left no room for impetus toward growth, ignored goals specific to a particular self, and posited all achievement as the result of defenses.

Growth, goals, beliefs – in Dweck’s theory, these are central, with the meaning given by the individual the most important factor in motivation, regardless of words used in explanations. Some “entity theorist” learners may believe luck is a factor but see luck not as unpredictable but as a feature of personality they either have or lack, just as they see ability.

In her final chapter, Dweck addresses questions and objections to her picture of human personality and motivation. One question is posed as follows: “Isn’t It Naive to Believe that Everyone Has the Potential to Change?” Excellent question! Here, in part, is Carol Dweck’s response:
...I have not tried to argue that anyone can become Albert Einstein or Mother Theresa, but I have tried to argue that we do not know what anyone’s future potential is from their current behavior. We never know exactly what someone is capable of with the right support from the environment and with the right degree of personal motivation or commitment. ... The danger of the entity theory is not so much that it argues for human limitation, but that it suggests we can know people’s limitations so quickly and then grants them so little potential for growth. I believe that people and society gain a great deal when we search for ways to help people realize their potential instead of labeling or punishing them when they do not.
Children can become “smarter” and more successful, Dweck has shown, when they incorporate into their belief system the idea that “failure” is an opportunity for learning and growth, not a sign of stupidity or badness. People who take on this new belief about themselves can also improve their personal relationships, no longer seeing setbacks as signals to give up. And everyone can see others differently, too – as capable of change and improvement.

Imagine! Imagine an electorate and a justice system, not only schools, believing in the possibility of personal growth. Imagine not writing off others (or allowing oneself to be written off) with “He can’t help it. It’s the way he is.” Being shy does not mean one must be paralyzed by shyness. That’s just one example.

And it is true at any age. I’ll let the author have the last word:
Some years ago, as I reached one of the landmark ages, I asked myself what I would like to be able to say at the end of my life, and it was this: I want to be able to say that I kept my eyes open, faced my issues, and made wholehearted commitments to things I valued. I did not want to be haunted by a litany of regrets or left with a bundle of potentialities that were never realized. As adults in this society our mission is to equip the next generations with the tools they need to live a life of growth and contribution. Can we make the commitment to help them become smarter than we were?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Facts and Stories

Hardly green cheese, eh?

As a reader and as a thinker, I am absolutely not an anti-fact person. Facts are important because truth is important. Living in the real world, as opposed to dreamy, wishful fantasy, demands recognition of reality, in all its complexity and all its myriad forms. And so, while we may have wanted nothing but fairy tales as children, as adult readers most of us mix the leaven of nonfiction into our reading.

If facts are going to appear in sentences, however, rather than in graphs or tables, I want something more than a mind-numbing recital of dates and numbers. I do not want an avalanche of nothing but facts. In fact (ahem!), when I suspect an author of trying to overwhelm rather than appeal to my critical faculties, I get downright annoyed.

Because under the avalanche, lost in the blizzard – what is the writer trying to hide? That’s what I ask myself when the fact storm gets too wild and woolly.

I’ve read a few books where a single unstated premise, when I plugged it in, was sufficient to undermine an argument otherwise well buttressed -- even overly so -- by a snowstorm of facts. (As a philosopher, I have learned to be very careful when reading historians, who are often tempted to tread lightly on argument and depend overmuch on fact storms.) Other authors, as becomes dismayingly apparent after several tedious chapters, try to cover so many bases that they are obviously trying to say everything that can be said on their subject (so as not to be wrong?), which boils down to saying nothing, once the snowdrifts are cleared away. Don’t waste my time!

Instead of a meaningless fact storm, I want at least one of the following: either a clear line of argument, leading to convincing conclusions or a compelling narrative. The nonfiction book that delivers both has knocked it out of the park.

My nonfiction reading these days is taking me far from home – up to Lake Superior, out to Arizona, and over to southern France -- and I've been reading some very good books. The most demanding in terms of argument and evidence is Tony Judt’s Socialism in Provence 1871-1914: A Study in the Origins of the Modern French Left, but the book is demanding not because the author resorts to blizzard tactics but because, on the contrary, he is very, very careful and clear about the claims he is making, the arguments he opposes, and the evidence for both sides. Painstakingly rigorous. It is exciting to be challenged by such a rigorous thinker, a writer so careful to avoid unsubstantiated generalization!

The temptation is great for me. No, not to leap into generalization but to pick up yet another book when I already have three or four others going. And so I could not resist looking into Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, by Carol S. Dweck. 

Wow! Again, a writer perfectly clear about what has been said before on her subject and what she has discovered, experimentally, that contradicts and disproves long-held beliefs still, unfortunately, quite prevalent. Not to give away the whole show here, but Dweck’s studies show that learners’ self-concepts influence their motivation more than initial success and more than praise. Does the learner hold what Dweck calls an “entity” theory of intelligence or an “incremental” theory? The former is a belief that intelligence is a fixed trait, a belief shoring up "a system that requires a diet of easy successes.” On the other hand are learners who believe that intelligence can be cultivated and increased. These are more eager to learn, not simply to take an easy path where they can succeed and reaffirm to themselves that they are smart. Dweck calls the patterns that emerge in the face of setbacks “the helpless pattern” and “the mastery-oriented pattern.” You can probably guess which pattern connects to which theory of self, can’t you?

Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan, by Karen Brzys, does not strain my brain as much as the Tony Judt book, but like Judt’s and Dweck’s it is clearly written and presents its facts in accessible form, not in a blizzard. U.P. blizzards are best kept in meteorological form, as the author well knows! Very good stories emerge from well-chosen facts in this book.

Then there is A Beautiful, Cruel Country, Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce’s memoir of her life in southern Arizona, near la frontera, when she was a little cowgirl of three to five or six years old. In her book, the facts are not only very local (as are the facts presented by Judt and Brzys) but also quite personal. They are also recollected many years after the events described. Some could no doubt be verified; for others, we must either take the author’s word for her account or remain skeptics.

Curious to learn more about the author, I searched online and found this piece from a Tucson newspaper. Holy cow! “La Pistolera” – what a nickname! It seems the grown woman was every bit as feisty as the little three-year-old self-described in the memoir. Follow the link, read the article, and maybe you’ll want to read the book, too. (I found A Beautiful, Cruel Country still in print and have ordered a couple copies for the bookstore.) But a word of warning: There are some terrible, terrible events reported in the book and in the newspaper article. The book ends with the sad removal of the Indians from Arivaca, leaving the land silent in its sudden isolation, and even in the story of young Eva’s very early years there are many painful episodes – indigenous Indians, then called Papago and now identified as Tohono O'odham near starvation; the little girl whipped by her father, and such. The ensuing feud described in the newspaper, not part of the book, is also nightmare stuff.

What do you know? Whose story do you believe? What do you see as the facts of your world?

Beliefs, although not material objects independent of believers, are as real as microbes, the operation in the world of beliefs and microbes both dependent on so many other factors that we human beings are continually surprising one another. “X had such a healthy lifestyle, I thought she would live forever!” we say, or, “I thought I knew Y,” or, “Z had that election in the bag – how could he have lost?” The beliefs we hold about the economy influence the direction of the economy, as beliefs about the past influence the course the future will take.

Draw your own conclusions. But think carefully. And don't stop thinking when you've reached a conclusion, either.

Can you doubt that fall is coming in?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Careening Down a Steep Mountain Road!

(We both took off our glasses!)

Everyone asks me questions I never get used to and never know how to answer: “How’s your summer been?” I usually reply that it’s been a blur, but most of the time questioners push harder, asking, “How’s business been? Have sales been good? Have you sold a lot of books?” A man we know in a nearby town answers such questions the same way, season after season: “Best year ever!” He says that regardless of his sales, whereas I often say, truthfully, that I don't take my business's temperature on a daily basis and only compare one year's figures to another's in January. Until then, I'm working as hard as I can, doing everything I know how to do, and I can't do more than that.

But now -- The end of August is almost upon us! September is coming fast!

This morning I told a friend that by late August I feel like I’m careening down a steep mountain road without brakes. There are welcome peaceful stretches when I can slow down and breathe and even look around to take in the view, like our Monday evening dinner at the home of a friend -- 

Our dinner trays ready to be carried to the deck

Lake Michigan from deck

South Fox, courtesy of the miracle of ZOOM!


North Manitou and sun on water

varnished Petoskey stone surface

South Manitou growing dark
diners at dusk

South Fox grows dark

Manitou afterglow

-- but more often reunions with friends tend to be brief and rushed. My friend Linda, up at the head of today’s post, popped up out of nowhere on Monday. Surprise! She had her wits about her and had her husband take pictures of the two of us together, and it’s wonderful when a familiar face appears out of the past! But then – because I am, after all, at work -- on the heels of the hugs comes a box of business (i.e., books), necessitating a quick change of gears, quickly followed by a long-distance phone call (I wonder -- do young people ever think to describe phone calls as “long-distance” any more?) and another sudden shift, then a UPS delivery, questions about the dog, requests for specific books, and maybe a crying baby or people needing directions or wanting a restaurant recommendation, etc., etc. One hairpin turn after another! No, it is not – ever! -- boring!

Even quiet stretches of stolen reading time are hardly soporific. As fictional bookseller Roger Mifflin put it,
“Printer's ink has been running a race against gunpowder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries.”
 Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop
As book after book comes to hand (much switching of gears and hairpin turns here, too), I find novels and history alike filled with tales of human desires and greed and work and effort and love and failure and success, so much that reading is sometimes almost too stimulating to bear for too long, and it’s been a while since I came to the last page of any given book. (Well, it’s been maybe three days.) Instead lately I’ve been book-hopping, going from Tony Judt’s Socialism in Provence to Karen Brzys’s Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan to A Beautiful, Cruel Country, Eva Antonia Wilbur-Cruce’s memoirs of an Arizona childhood, all rife with personal and political controversy and occasional violence, human nature being what it perennially is.

Goldfinch lure
Yet there are, too, moments of calm beauty – in the natural world, as well as in the pages of books. Along the driveway goldfinches flit in the sunlight, and sandhill cranes fly overhead, announcing their presence with a quiet, purring rattle, stroking through the air as if the sky were a placid sea.

September is coming, almost here.... Important to make time for a morning mini-vacation now and again.

Sittin' on the dock, feet in cool water -- ahhhh!

As September comes ever nearer, it’s getting to be apple time. There are wild apples –

apples on my small homestead trees –

and apples in the book we will be launching a week from Saturday in Northport. I’ve never done a bookstore event on Labor Day weekend, but we won’t have the book sooner, and after Labor Day the apple growers will be busy in their orchards and farmstand (and David and I will need a little break after our nonstop summer). So please be with us, if at all possible, on Saturday evening, September 3, beginning at 7 p.m. If you aren’t a local, you can come and mix with the locals, for sure, at the evening event!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dawn and Katie Inspired Us

My blogger friend Dawn and her sheltie princess were on a camping adventure when they stopped by the bookstore on Tuesday. How does Katie manage to look perfectly groomed on a camping trip? My little tomboy Sarah doesn’t stay groomed for as long as an hour! But the adventure part of their visit rang bells for me as I launched into a welcome day off on Wednesday. My goal for the day was – not to have any goals and not to set myself anything to accomplish.

I love a quiet, rainy morning, wherever I am and whatever the day holds, the sounds and smells of rain, peaceful drizzle or dramatic downpour, taking me back to dreamy days of childhood. And so, not bothering about raindrops, Sarah and I began our outdoor adventure on familiar ground, near home, where lovely long views over orchards to dunes and lake competed for my attention with roadside weeds.

There is always something to see on our neighborhood roads. But we did not stop there for long.

Stop! Then GO!

Did I have a book with me on our expedition? Yes, of course! Superior Land and the Story of Grand Marais, Michigan, by Karen A. Brzys, went very well with an apple bratwurst sandwich from Bunting’s Market in Cedar. What a great job Karen has done with this book! I love the way she begins the history of the Upper Peninsula with the glaciers – not surprising, I suppose, coming from the Agate Lady.

And the rain cleared away -- .

After picnic lunch in the middle of the county, I was able to gratify a long-held wish to photograph old St. Joseph’s on Bohemian Road, bright white against clouds and blue sky.

School Lake warranted a brief stop, but without a boat there wasn’t a lot of exploring we could do around its shoreline, so it was on west on Bohemian Road and across M-22, headed toward Lake Michigan. We did not go to the beach – another time -- but family will recognize these near-Lake scenes, and everyone should be able to recognize the absence of crowds. I love my quiet places!

Inviting two-track

Miniature landscape with hint of fall at center

Horsemint in knapweed with bracken background

Horsemint closeup
Ghosts of raindrops

Bracken shadow

Orienting Shot #1

Orienting Shot #2

Days of adventure can be tiring, but they are well worth the energy, as are busy summer bookstore days. My only complaint is that all the days go much too fast....

Water flowing toward the Big Lake, where all will merge

Sunday, August 14, 2016

We Talk to the Artists – Then Go to the Dogs

Kaye, Ken, Kaye's painting, their book

Not knowing until the day of the event whether Ken Scott and Kay Krapohl planned to give a formal presentation or sign books, I advertised their appearance as “Conversation with the Artists,” and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Ken’s message on Thursday was that they would do a Q&A if anyone who came to buy a book had questions, so I set up a few chairs in the front of the bookstore, with a signing table for the photographer and the painter. People came. They had questions. They had really good questions. The answers were fascinating. I didn’t write down everything that was said but did take a few notes.

What gave rise to the idea of two people trekking the Leelanau shoreline together. Ken cited the safety factor first and stressed that safety was particularly an issue in winter cold and on winter ice. Two people also meant two cars, one that could be left at the take-out point while the other (to be retrieved later) could be driven with both trekkers to their put-in location. Ken was also interested in what it would be like to work alongside another artist, especially one working in a different medium.

As a photographer and a painter, it was a given that the two of them would work differently. Ken Scott composes his frames onsite and does not manipulate images later, so his premise is “You get what you get,” in the moment. Very different, of necessity, was Kaye Krapohl’s way of working. She could not afford to stand in one place long enough to complete a painting and keep up with her trekking partner, too, so she made many studies (“scribbles,” she calls them) and photographs and notes for later use in her studio. There were also days when her usual “big picture” vision did not fit the weather, and then she learned to focus on small details she would not otherwise looked down to see.

I have a bit in my notes about an event Kaye and Ken did, sponsored by Inland Seas. It involved an exhibit, mostly of Ken’s photographs, and people with science backgrounds were invited to this free forum that gave the artists an opportunity to point to aspects of what they saw and ask the science people, “What’s going on here?” Sometimes it was sand structures, other times zebra mussels or something very different. Kaye was intrigued to find that environmentalists are not always opposed to docks, in that docks can provide habitat.

Live wire painter and Zen photographer
There were many more questions and answers and discussion, and altogether the conversation was fascinating. Somehow I prevailed upon both artists to stay long enough to sign most of the rest of my books, too, although Ken Scott was in a hurry to get outdoors with his camera, not wanting to miss “the light” as skies cleared after the rain and rainbows appeared. I’m sure he will have gotten some fantastic shots. [Have seen one of them since! Beyond belief gorgeous!] Mine from the front door of the bookstore leave a lot to be desired, but you may get a little feel for the evening.

I’d had our reading circle over for a picnic on Wednesday, but although a camera was mentioned early on, somehow we all forgot about it later, so – no pictures! We had not all read a book to discuss together, but each of us reported on what we have been reading, and there were several recommendations for a group read. I’m not sure which books fall into which category (reports/recommendations/group recommendations), but some titles mentioned were: Independent People, the Icelandic classic by Laxness; something by Hemingway; Huckleberry Finn; Madame Bovary; McTeague; John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy; The Way Things Are, by Lucretius (translation by Humphries); The Way of All Flesh; and All the Light We Cannot See, which two people reported they had tried to read and couldn’t get into, though everyone else who has told me (in the bookstore) that they read it loved the book. One group member has decided she will read one short story a day for 365 days. A noble goal! I want to introduce her to the stories of Valerie Trueblood.

So, Wednesday was the picnic; Thursday, conversation with artists; Friday, farm market; and then Saturday – dog parade and presentation by veterinarian Mike Petty, author of Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs! You have to understand that “going to the dogs,” in Northport, is a good thing. Maybe you already know this, having read in the Leelanau Enterprise that the Northport Dog Parade began 20 years ago. (Yes, once again, time flies.) David Chrobak, then-owner of the Old Millpond Inn, was the instigator and force behind the parade, which quickly won the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Ready and waiting -- early!

Hi, Chris!

The gap -- as we wait for the second half of the parade to catch up
Rudy #1
Rudy @2

Rudy #3

There he is! Dr. Mike Petty!

Like Thanksgiving dinner, the dog parade is long anticipated, planned for all year, and over in a trice. 

One major dog parade sponsor this year was Dr. Michael Petty, my guest author for Saturday afternoon following the parade. Mike’s book is Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs, which I read and reviewed and highly recommend. As David Chrobak noted in last Thursday’s Enterprise, our pets grow old just as we do and, sadly, actually overtake us in their aging. As long as their quality of life can be maintained, however, Dr. Petty’s dog parade banner, on the trailer carrying his old dog (and other dogs with age and mobility issues), was “You’re never too old!” 

Dr. Petty's dog was pretty tired when they showed up at the bookstore for the signing, but one thing is sure: no one is too young or too old to enjoy the Northport dog parade! A limited number signed copies of Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs available now at Dog Ears Books -- a reference book for your dog’s aging future and for all the dogs of your life! 

Sunday morning calm after storms