Terry Trueblood Outing Today or How to Find Hearts Needing a Home

We had enough of bad news on the web, so we went out to Terry Trueblood Recreation Area today. Good things are happening around here, including what we found at Trueblood. Sena ordered some items last week. One is a clock, which we’ll hang somewhere and then not look at. Another is a chair that I will put together, and which will probably give me a reason to use up at least some of the oversupply of band aids.

The best deliveries, in my humble opinion, will be a couple of brand-new sets of juggling balls. One reason for buying them is that my other juggling balls are already starting to leak their millet fillings.

Millet is bird seed. I first noticed it on my hands, and then saw it on book shelves and my chair. I practice juggling every day, and see to it that they get banged up as much as possible, even if that happens to involve impacts with my head. Many juggling balls are stuffed with something: plastic pellets, sand, dandruff from extraterrestrials—no reason to avoid millet.

The new juggling balls will be bigger and heavier: a little over 2.5 inches in diameter and around 130 grams. I’ll probably knock myself unconscious dropping them on my head. One set of 3 will be as close to Iowa Hawkeye colors as I can get: black and yellow (which is what black and gold usually look like to me). The other set will be multicolored and have 12 panels. Balls covered with leather or other material have to be sewn shut and some say that the more panels, the more the impact will be spread, possibly reducing the risk for breakage. On the other hand, I can’t help wondering if there are more seams, wouldn’t it be more likely they’d be split when (not if) I drop them?

I’ll think about that later. We had the best time today at Trueblood. In fact, a lot of people were having a great time out there. The weather was fantastic; the temperature was in the fifties. One trail walker claimed she saw 16 bald eagles! I took this with a grain of salt, but then we saw at least a half dozen, though they were flying too high to get good photos. There were plenty of shore birds.

The best sightings were the quilted hearts hung on several trees. They are from an organization called “I Found A Quilted Heart” and you can learn more about the people who got this started at their web site www.ifoundaquiltedheart.com. Volunteers place the small quilted hearts in various places, often local parks. The sole purpose is to brighten your day. That beats the daily news any time.

What we didn’t know was that we could keep the quilted hearts we found. We saw 4 of them. We’re going to let others find them and share the joy.

On the Other Hand Thoughts on HBCUs

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are in the news lately. It reminds me of the short time I spent at Huston-Tillotson College. It was renamed Huston-Tillotson University (H-TU) in 2005. I was there in the mid-1970s.

A new President and CEO was just named this month, Dr. Melva K. Williams. And H-TU was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places last month. It has been renovated and modernized. Pictures show a well-kept campus pretty much as I remember it over 40 years ago. I didn’t graduate from H-TU, but instead transferred credits to Iowa State University where I graduated in 1985.

My favorite teacher was Dr. Jenny Lind Porter-Scott, who was white, taught English Literature. Another very influential teacher was Reverend Hector Grant who was black. He taught philosophy and religion. He was instrumental in recruiting me to matriculate at H-TU. He helped me to process my loss on the debating team when the question was whether or not the death penalty played any role in the reduction of crime.

My opponent won the debate mainly because he talked so much, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I can’t remember which side of the question I argued, but I thought I could have done better if he had just shut up for a few minutes and let me speak. Reverend Grant used the word “bombastic” in describing the approach my opponent used. On the other hand, he also gently pointed out that sometimes this can be how debates are won.

There’s this “On the other hand” tactic in debating and in reflective thought that my debating opponent managed to repeatedly deflect.

I don’t know what ever happened to Reverend Grant. We spoke on the telephone years ago. He sounded much older and a hint of frailty was in his voice.

I could find only a photo on eBay of a man who closely resembles the teacher I knew and the name on the picture is Reverend Hector Grant. The only other artifact is a funeral program for someone I never knew, which lists Reverend Hector Grant as being the pastor and some of the pallbearers were members of one of the Huston-Tillotson College fraternities.

I think it’s unusual for people to disappear like that, especially nowadays when we have the world wide web. Reverend Hector Grant was an important influence for me. He was one of the few black men of professional stature I encountered in my early life.

On the other hand, contrast that with Reverend Glen Bandel, another clergyman who was a white man and another important influence starting in my early childhood. Reverend Bandel persuaded me to be baptized at Christ’s Church in Mason City, Iowa. He radiated mercy, generosity, and kindness. He died in June of this year. I can find out more about him on the web just from his obituary than I can ever find on Reverend Grant, who apparently disappeared from the face of the earth.

Both of these men were leaders for whom skin color didn’t matter when it came to treating others with respect and civility.

My path in life was largely paved by these two clergymen. Reverend Bandel sat up with our family one night when my mother was very sick. His family took me and my little brother into their home when she was in the hospital.

On the other hand, Reverend Grant was instrumental in guiding me to an HBCU where I saw more black people in a couple of years than I ever saw in my entire life. The First Congregational Church in Mason City was instrumental in making that possible because they helped fund the drive to support H-TU (one of six small HBCUs) by the national 17/76 Achievement Fund of the United Church of Christ.

The news is replete with stories, some of them tragic, about how Greek fraternities haze their pledges. On the other hand, H-TU was pretty rough on pledges too. Upper classmen would make the pledges roll down the steep hills around the campus. They looked exhausted, wearing towels around their necks, running in place when they weren’t running somewhere in the Texas heat.

One H-TU professor said that H-TU was “small enough to know you, but big enough to grow you.” Although I can’t remember ever seeing him on campus because he was traveling most of the time, I at least knew the name of the President was John Q. Taylor (1965-1988). On the other hand, when I transferred credit to Iowa State University, I never knew the name of the President of the university.

Habari Gani is Swahili for “What’s the news?” or as it translated in the context I’m about to set, “What’s going on?” Habari Gani was the name for the annually published book of poetry by the H-TU students. Dr. Porter supported the project. I submitted a poem for the 1975 edition, which didn’t make the cut. When I transferred to Iowa State University, I left without getting a copy.

On the other hand, years later, I got a digital copy of that edition. I tracked it down to the H-TU library in 2016. The librarian was gracious.

Habari Gani has always been a reminder of the reason why I went to H-TU in the first place. I grew up in Iowa and was always the only black student in school. I grew up in mostly white neighborhoods.

On the other hand, when I finally got to H-TU, one of the students asked me, “Why do you talk so hard?” That referred to my Northern accent, which was not the only cultural factor that made social life challenging.

Once I tried to play a pickup game of basketball in the gymnasium. I’m the clumsiest person for any sport you’ll ever see. I was terrible. But the other players didn’t give me a bad time about it. They softly encouraged me. This was in stark contrast to the time I played a pickup game with all white men years before in Iowa. When I heard one of them yell, “Don’t worry about the nigger!” I just sat down on the bleachers.

On the other hand, when I was a kid and our family was hit by hardship, Reverend Bandel was the kindest person on earth to us—it didn’t matter that he was white. And my 2nd grade teacher, who was black (the only black teacher I ever had before going to H-TU), slapped me in the face so hard it made my ears ring—because I was rambunctious and accidentally bumped into her. It’s far too easy to polarize people as good or bad based on the color of their skin, especially when you’re young and impressionable.

It takes practice and experience to learn how to say and think, “On the other hand….”

Holes in Our Heads

I remember getting a trephination of my fingernail a long time ago when I was working as a surveyor’s assistant. We were out taking elevation shots with a level and a rod measuring the depth of sewer pipes.

This required us to remove the manhole covers, which are very heavy. I got one of my fingers pinched and man that hurt. My crew drove me to the emergency room where an ER doctor drilled a tiny hole in my fingernail. The immediate pain relief resulting from the release of the subungual hematoma pressure felt miraculous.

That was trephination of the fingernail. I’ll bet some of you thought of my skull when you read the word in my first sentence, though.

Trephination is just the word for the medical procedure of making a hole in the body for some reason. In order to relieve pressure and severe pain from getting your finger mashed, a doctor can make a hole in your fingernail.

Trephination can also mean making a hole in your skull to treat brain injuries or to let the evil spirits out. That was done thousands of years ago, but making burr holes in the skull for other medical reasons is still being performed, including to relieve pressure.

It’s the origin of the old saying, “Well, I’ll be bored for the simples,” where the term “simples” means feeble-mindedness and “bored” refers to the obvious treatment.

Anyway, boring holes in either your mashed finger or your head can relieve certain kinds of pressure and pain.

Figuratively speaking, we can feel under pressure in our heads for all kinds of reasons. In fact, we’re born with several kinds of holes in our heads that can lead to the pressures of anger, anxiety, sorrow and fear.

Our eyes can fool us, even to the point of making us believe we see Bigfoot when all we’re really seeing are pictures or videos that are very blurred and pixelated. I didn’t say nobody ever sees Bigfoot. I’m saying that there’s a term for some forms of visual misperception, one of them being pareidolia—the tendency to perceive meaningful images in random or ambiguous visual patterns.

Our ears can also fool us. Mondegreens are misperceived song lyrics. One of the most common mondegreens is a line I was very embarrassed by for years, “Wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night” from the song Blinded by the Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. It’s actually “Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night.” A deuce is a kind of automobile that was often converted into a hotrod in the 1930s, usually a Ford.

Those are just a couple of examples of how holes in our heads can sometimes lead to trouble getting along with each other. All you have to do to prove this is to look at news headlines. Everybody’s slamming each other.

There’s no magic cure for interpersonal conflict, although there have been plenty of efforts to help us understand how it may arise from misperceptions and misunderstandings, often arising from missteps in communication. I doubt making more holes in our heads would be helpful.

For example, I could have chosen to show you a picture of which one of my fingers got pinched in a manhole cover. How I might have done that could have been unnecessarily provocative and even offensive—even if I only meant it as a joke. A prominent scientist recently published a picture on social media of what he called a new star he said was taken by the Webb telescope. It later came out it was actually a picture of a slice of chorizo, which is a sausage. Many people didn’t think it was funny, but that was his explanation for the post.

I don’t have to say anything more to convey the message that being mindful of what and how we are communicating is vital to making ourselves understood while remaining respectful and kind.

Practicing mindfulness is one way to facilitate clear communication that can help solve problems without hurting the feelings of others and triggering vengeful counterattacks. We’ve all been there.

Not everybody gets the idea about mindfulness. I think the blogger thegoodenoughpsychiatrist does a great job discussing it in the post “Reflecting on DBT and Mindfulness.”

As the blogger says, “Sometimes, you just need to be brought back down to earth.”

And if that doesn’t work, we can always try trephination.

TV with Heart

The other night I watched a show I’ve seen 3 times and it still makes me want to cry. It’s the Heavy Rescue 401 episode with Bear the heavy wrecker operator with the Ross company who lets an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with cancer hold the steering wheel and pull the horn as they take a drive around the farm where the family lives.

They hug and it’s tough to tell whether Bear is comforting the boy or the other way around. I guess it’s both.

I saw a Facebook page about the boy, who succumbed to cancer a few years ago. People are still leaving warm messages.

I watch a fair amount of TV and I make fun of most of it, including the paranormals. They’re pretty formulaic, re-investigating decades old cases that never get solved about alien visitors in spaceships, leaving behind evidence that goes missing from government storage warehouses. Because it gets lost, nobody has to explain why there is a notable lack of any convincing evidence for what most UFOs are and who might be flying them.

I can’t generate much emotion for the paranormals. I mostly laugh at them. How can you lose or throw out physical evidence of UFOs and aliens so many times?

“We need to make more room in here; can we toss something in the trash compactor?”

“Sure, get rid of those photos of military personnel taking selfies with aliens driving UFOs and drinking beer. That’ll make room for the 400-page binders of the syllabus for the graduate school course ‘Effect of Chimpanzee Eyebrow Dandruff on Prime Interest Rates During the 20th Century.’”

One of paranormal shows did an extensive review of the Kecksburg, Pennsylvania UFO, the one shaped like a macadamia. No wait, it was shaped like an acorn. It was dark and brooding, full of intrigue, veiled threats, and an alien pilot. As usual, evidence was lost.

Did you know Kecksburg throws an annual UFO-themed party? They just had the 17th Kecksburg UFO Festival just last month, replete with something called a burnout contest, fireworks, and crafts. The people of Kecksburg aren’t letting the government conspiracy get them down. They’re more than happy to let the paranormal producers visit because it gives the town leaders a chance to draw more tourists to the area.

I get a kick out of Men in Black (MIB) too, and I won’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the first one and the first two sequels. In Men in Black, Agent K shows the new recruit, Agent J, a special universal translator and says MIB is not even supposed to have it and says, “I’ll tell you why. Human thought is so primitive it’s looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies.”

That’s why it helps to watch some other TV shows, the ones with heart where real people who are not acting but living do the mundane things which are seldom the most treasured of miracles. They remind you of the better human qualities like humor, kindness, love, generosity, gratitude, and the experience of sorrow that can sometimes humble a species which often suffers from overweening pride.

It can sometimes make you cry.

Paying Attention to What Matters

This is just a quick shout-out to the Iowa City Fire Department (Iowa City Fire Engine 4 and Engine 1) and the Johnson County ambulance service for their outstanding rescue of a person who suffered a cardiac arrest recently. It was reported in the news and the city of Iowa City wrote a great story about it as well.

We visited with a firefighter at Fire Engine 4 when we were out for a walk a while back.

Every day I see news stories about people acting up just to get attention. I pay attention to the stories about people who exemplify courage and kindness.

Be Kind

We went for a walk on the Terry Trueblood Trail yesterday. It was a nice break from reading the news.

Sena wore her shirt which has printed on it, “be kind, be nice, be love.” She got a compliment about it.

We saw a lot of birds, including Tree Swallow nestlings in the nest boxes along the trail.

There were three in one of the boxes. They seemed to be doing well. I thought we saw a Gray Catbird, although it was singing a complex song at the top of its lungs—from a treetop. I guess I’m not sure what it was because Catbirds are usually secretive and makes sounds like a house cat’s mewing.

I guess all I know is that the bird looked gray.

Anyway, friendly people were out and we said hello to each other. Kindness was in the air.

Take a Cup of Kindness and Say Goodbye to 2021

It’s been a quiet day around here. It’s New Year’s Eve. I got a great message from a former resident who has started his own Psychiatry Consultation Fellowship training program in Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Paul Thisayakorn and his wife are welcoming 2022 with their 2 lovely children and hoping 2022 will be a better year, as we are. The Covid pandemic has been hard around the world.

Paul also looks forward to establishing a C-L Psychiatry academic society in Thailand in the coming year. Paul did his psychiatry residency at University of Iowa and his C-L Psychiatry fellowship in Cleveland. Sena and I wish him and his family all the best in the new year.

Today was quiet, but tomorrow the big snowstorm will come. We’ll be digging out all day because the forecast is for 5-8 inches, high wind gusts, and ice. It’s Iowa, after all.

But for tonight we’ll take a cup of kindness and say goodbye to 2021.

And if you like MacLean’s version of Auld Lang Syne above, you might have a listen to another with the Scottish lyrics translated.

Walk the James Alan McPherson Park

Yesterday, Sena and I visited the James Alan McPherson Park. The Iowa City Council renamed it in his honor last month; it was formerly called Creekside Park. There were compelling reasons for the name change. He was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his collection of short stories, Elbow Room in 1978, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995, and was a permanent faculty member for thirty years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, among other notable career achievements. He was 72 when he died in 2016 of complications of pneumonia.

McPherson was a longtime resident of Iowa City and was revered by his students. Colleagues described him as the “moral center of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” and even the “moral center of the world.” Despite his stunning achievements, he was shy and often barely spoke above a whisper in the classroom. He lived in the general neighborhood where the park is located. We never got a chance to meet him.

We are reading his books, though.

The park is located at 1878 Seventh Ave Ct and sits on a little over 2 acres. It was empty except for the occasional walker on the trail. People were friendly. It seems hardly distinguishable from the neighborhood surrounding it and blends into the homes, hugs the meandering creek and adjoining trail, and seems held in a protective embrace by the homes bordering it. A new park sign and a memorial plaque will be installed later this summer.

We saw a rich variety of birds, in fact more than we’ve seen in a while.

We get a sense that everyone is welcome there. There are 6 parking spaces. You can imagine that limited parking makes the place a treasured possession of the immediate neighborhood. But people we encounter there make us feel that it belongs to all of us. Even a sign leaning against a house alongside the trail made that clear. We’ll be back.

Kindness Alert: Snowblower People and Shovel People Unite

We got walloped by that blizzard I mentioned yesterday. It left about 5-8 inches at least with a gift mountain about waist high on one side of our driveway left by one of the city plows. Later in the day another plow gifted us another driveway plug, not as tall but wetter and heavier.

This morning we shoveled hard and it must have showed. Three of our neighbors came over with their snow blowers to help dig us out. We were very grateful for their kindness. One of them must have been up before 5 AM to get started. Another powered her way through a good chunk of our driveway. Yet a third neighbor helped clear the gift mountain and more.

I think I may have got in the way a few times because I felt a little guilty about them doing so much work with their machines. I felt compelled to sneak in and scoop something because I felt terrible just standing there watching them.

In the afternoon we had to get back outside to clear the second driveway plug left by the second city plow. Our driveway had drifted in about to my hips. It took us a while to dig out.

Some have speculated about whether shovel people take unfair advantage of the generosity of snow blower people. After all, we tend to look kind of pathetic, so they probably take pity on us.

There might be an expectation in some neighborhoods for snow blower people to contribute to the community by being willing to go the extra mile and clear driveways for shovel people. I could find only one serious article on the internet about this, “Is There a Social Code for Snow Removal?” on the Scientific American web site.

I’ve not heard of shovel people coming to help snow blower people, but it happened this afternoon. After Sena and I cleared our snowdrifts, we visited the three neighbors who helped us this morning and scooped out their driveway snow plugs and a little more when we could.

Thank You!

Loving-Kindness Meditation in the Real World

Today is the first day of Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Week and I’m giving a shout-out for acts of kindness as well as the Loving-Kindness meditation. A neighbor with a snowblower helped clear our driveway a couple of weeks ago. A couple of days ago he did the same for his next-door neighbor. I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate the city snowplow driver was kind enough to avoid plugging the driveways on our street. No kidding, we watched the snowplow use what was obviously a different plowing technique which left our driveways relatively clear of snow.

The Loving-Kindness meditation is a mindfulness practice that Dr. King would probably have supported. It’s a way to send love to yourself and others, including those with whom you might be in conflict—even your enemies. King might say, “Now is the time” for something like that.

I’m reestablishing my mindfulness and exercise practice after a several month lapse. I first took the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course several years ago through The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. It made a difference in how I approached problem-solving and conflict. I was on autopilot most of the time and wrote a blog post about my experience before and after my mindfulness training experience, “How I left the walking dead for the walking dead meditation.”

Part of that program included instruction on the Loving-Kindness meditation. I’m still a beginner at mindfulness, although my approach to life is still ironically more like the expert’s in Shunryu Suzuki’s quote:

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”–Shunryu Suzuki

I need to keep working on being more open to different ideas, interpretations, and ways of getting things done—approaching challenges with a beginner’s mind.

One recent challenge is hanging pictures. Sena and I hung a picture yesterday. I wanted to measure everything and she wanted to estimate. She had misgivings about my measurements but went along with it. After the picture was hung, even I had to admit it was not in the right spot. Funny thing, after a short while, she admitted that the misplacement was not that far off and that she was getting used to it. If you’ve ever hung pictures, you know I’m leaving out a lot of the back-and-forth negotiation about how we finally arrived at that middle ground. It involved loving kindness on both sides.

We’ll see how the next picture hanging goes.

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