Thursday, January 17, 2013

Loss, Redemption and Growth

I have been thinking about my observation that my posts about ADD and loss and redemption are the ones that people read when they visit this blog.  Many visitors come here after searching for "poem(s) about losing things".  ADD is the subject of my most read post and it can be looked at as a form of loss.  A loss of a life lived in the mainstream.  Alice Sebold's book The Lovely Bones is about loss and redemption on several levels.  In some ways my return to university was prompted by my sense of loss from not having finished the first time.  I would redeem myself by returning to university.  To be human is to suffer loss and to seek redemption.  In fact, some would argue that their lives are better after a loss.

In Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst argues that we all go through losses from the moment of our birth when we are ejected from the safety our mother's womb to the day when we face the ultimate human loss, our own death.  In fact, she argues that these losses are necessary for our growth.  Loss, redemption and growth.  The triad that defines our humanity,

I don't know that I agree with Viorst in that loss is necessary, but I will agree that it is inevitable.  To be human is to engage with others, to take risks.  We don't always succeed.  We fail.  Others fail us.  Some people are out to get us.  Random events can make the world seem to be a dangerous place.  Nature is capricious.  Humans look for meaning.  It can be hard to find meaning in some events.  It is how we deal with our losses that defines us as humans.  Do we step up to each challenge?  Do we hold back?  Do we give up?  Do we look for the good?  Do we look for redemption and opportunities for growth?

Redemption can come in strange ways and at times that we are not expecting it.  An opportunity for growth is not always obvious.  Sometimes we just ignore it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Pareto Principle or the 80 - 20 Rule

The 80 - 20 rule is a simple one stating that 20% of your efforts usually produces 80% of your results.  This holds true in many areas of human activity.  Businesses know that about 20% of their products are responsible for 80% of their profits.  About 20% of the work in my garden produces 80% of the vegetables that we enjoy.  That would be the tomatoes and potatoes.

When I look at the posts that people view, I find a similar pattern.  The most viewed post, ADD, is responsible for almost one half of of this blog's page views.  The top 10 posts have gotten almost 71% of the traffic.  Most of these posts were the object of readers' attention without being featured in this blog.  People just found them and read them on their own merits.  I would expect the traffic patterns to become more skewed now that I have a section that shows my most popular posts.

So what are the practical implications of this observation?   I did not know in advance which posts were going to be popular.  Organizations with thousands of products can do market research and determine which of their products merit the most effort.  I cannot do that.  However, I can look at the posts that engage readers and ask myself what they are looking for when they read a particular post.  Obviously I cannot know for sure but I can make educated guesses.

ADD, loss and redemption seem to be the top three subjects that engage the great majority of my readers.  None of these three would have been on a list of topics that I would have thought would make people search out and read this blog. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Where Do I Go From Here?

Soon after my last post in 2008 I left university.  It has taken me this long to write about it for several reasons but I will not get into them all of them now; perhaps some other time.

I could not go on.  I had to leave to maintain my health.  The stress of being at university after the events of 2007 was too much for me to take and remain healthy so I withdrew.  I cried when I walked down the hall from the Student Services Office towards the bus stop and my last bus home.   I felt like I was abandoning a dream, my dream of finishing my degree.  I felt like a failure.

More than four years has gone by since that day and I no longer feel the same.  I am not a failure.  I made a decision to put my health first.  That was the right decision then and it is the right one now.  I doubt that I will ever return to university.  The time has passed.  Events have made my life different and changed who I am.  I am content now with my decision to withdraw and I am satisfied with my life.

So, where do I go from here?  My blog was to be my chronicle of my return to university.  It is gratifying to see that people still read this blog and I would like to return to writing here but I would have to find something else to write about.  I am open to suggestions. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Between Classes

I like my schedule this year. I have enough time between classes to get a good start on completing assignements after each class. When I am at home I concentrate on reading and studying. The reading we have to do this year is substantialy more than last year. Some of my courses are half courses and we cover the whole text or texts. I have several assignements due most weeks. In some classes and labs there is an assignment or test every week. I prefer that kind of schedule. I do better when I have regular tests and assignments.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Serious Bunch

I've been back at university for a bit more than two weeks. In some ways it feels like we just got out for the summer. In some ways it is the same place as it was last year but I am in with a different group of students; more studious ones. Last year, I was one of the more serious students in all of my classes. This year most of us are there to learn. A nice change.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today I finished selecting my classes and bought some textbooks. I have a decent schedule again. Classes begin at 9:30 or later and finish by 4:30. I enrolled in two full and three half courses in psych, one French and a half course in linguistics. I had wanted to take a psycholinguistics course but had a conflict and could not take it unless I took a three hour evening class. Overall I am quite pleased with my schedule and I got to enroll in almost all of the courses that I had picked.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where Has The Time Gone?

Last week I received an email to let me know that it is time to select my classes for next term. It is good to get back into thinking about classes and seeing some of my friends again. A few have graduated and one is taking a year off build up her savings. I will miss them. I do know that many of them will be around the , now familiar, haunts. I am a lot more relaxed about heading to class this fall. It is easier with my first year behind me.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dean's List

It is official. I made the Dean's Honour List. I am surprised because I did not think that I was eligible because of my reduced load of four courses. It is gratifying to be recognized for doing well. It also is an incentive to work hard next year.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My First Year

My first year is finished and I just have to wait and see what I will be taking next year. I am happy with the results. My marks range from a low B to an A+ with an A average. Next year I will be taking one French course, two full courses and four half courses in Psychology.

It was a tough year. I am happy it is behind me and the summer months are ahead. They will go by quickly though. I have some projects around the house and yard and I want to enjoy the nice weather. I am also working on my French vocabulary so I will be busy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Lovely Bones: Tragedy Redeemed

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, is a book that you will not want to put down. This thoroughly enjoyable novel tells us a story in an unusual way. It is not just another mystery novel, although there is a mystery: it is not a whodunit either, even though there is a murder. We find out that a neighbour rapes and murders fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon in the second sentence of the novel. We know what happened to Susie; we know who killed her. We have all of the details that we need to solve her disappearance, but that is not the story that Sebold tells. The novel is about how Susie's family and friends live through the tragedy and how they are changed by her disappearance. Sebold could have wallowed in the gory details of the rape and murder, but she presents just enough detail for us to get the sense of tragedy that surrounds the end of Susie's life.

Susie ends up in heaven that most resembles the high school that she was to attend. It is heaven custom designed for her; it is school with fashion magazines and peppermint-stick ice cream, but no teachers. Her guide, Franny, who was a social worker in life, gets her heavenly reward by helping new arrivals adjust. Sebold uses Susie's being in heaven as a way to keep her in the story and to let us know everything that is happening and yet keep us in the dark. Susie matures in heaven as she watches her family and the changes that they go through after her death. Time becomes less important to her as the years go by. She becomes more detached from her old life and gradually accepts her death and her loss. Susie feels her loss of innocence and the loss of her life itself. She also feels a sense of loss at not being able to help her father and the police find her killer. She also realizes that she is not quite in heaven yet and will not get there until she accepts her death and leaves life to the living. Some people may object to Sebold's depiction of heaven. There is no presence of God or anything religious in Susie's heaven. It is not a religious book, and the heaven in it, is what a fourteen year old might imagine it to be.

    The theme of loss is a common thread and is which occurs several times in the book. There is a sub-plot of Susie's mother, Abigail Salmon's loss; she lost her career after an unexpected pregnancy interrupted her work. She stayed home to make cookies and to be a mother, but she lost herself in the process. After Susie's death, she has an affair and loses herself again. This time her family also loses her when she leaves and finds herself a new, albeit, somewhat empty life. The theme of loss continues with Jack Salmon, who is haunted by his daughter's disappearance. He is less effective at work as he becomes obsessed by the task of finding his daughter's killer and forgets about his two living children.

    Katherine Bouton who reviewed The Lovely Bones in the New York Times says that Sebold "takes the stuff of neighborhood tragedy -- the unexplained disappearance of a child, the shattered family alone with its grief -- and turns it into literature." Laura Miller in her review in agrees that "this novel is decidedly literary. But it's also not bleak after the fashion of very "high" literary fiction." The climax of the book may be a bit hard to believe, but if you believe that someone can interact with and follow her family and friends for several years after her death, then it is possible. At some points, Sebold's literature does become fanciful, but it remains literature.

The title comes from a passage near the end of the book. Sebold was raped as a freshman several years before she wrote The Lovely Bones. This passage may reflect her loss of a part of herself after the rape. It may also have come from the rebuilding that she did. There is a parallel rebuilding of lives in The Lovely Bones.

    These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death wrought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life.

The loss of a daughter, sister or friend is profound. We mourn the death of any child; however, we mourn the sexual assault and loss of innocence almost as much. When it is compounded by the sudden disappearance of a child, it is hard to fathom the depth of anguish that family and close friends can experience. Sebold opens a window that casts a ray of light on the shadows and gives us a glimpse of that suffering and of the rebuilding that is possible.