What is in a Smile?

They say that three’s a charm. This is my third attempt to make this post.  It helps me prove the point of the post, though.  Read on…

I wanted to make a short entry about the importance of smiling.  Figuring the best place to start was with some facts I decided to get the specifics about smiles.  What I wanted to find out is how many muscles it takes to smile.  You know the old adage about smiling taking fewer muscles than frowning? Well, it turns out that is bunk. I hate to upset all those motivational speakers, but, it just ain’t true.

The human face has 43 muscles.  Don’t ask me why there is an odd number for a symmetrical face. To add to the confusion, there were other numbers referenced, but 43 seems to be the most common so I’m going with it.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

The real issue is defining what a smile or frown really is.  Is it a slight curl at the edge of the mouth? Is it an elegant curve of the lips? Is it a full toothy expression? They all fit the description and when you see one version or another you know if people are smiling or not.

I thought about it a bit and realized that the face is a complex system of muscles. In any complex system you can’t just change one thing. From that view, any smile or frown is going to use all the muscles to some extent or another. A smile will use those muscles differently than a frown, but they all come into play.  I smiled when I had that idea. Then another idea hit me.

I’m a runner.  I know that muscles need to be exercised and when you start working them they get sore.  How often have you heard people say that they had had such a good time the night before that their muscles ached from laughing so much?  If you don’t smile often, then that actually might happen.  Same with frowning, but you don’t hear people talking about muscle aches from too much frowning.  Usually, they are bitching about something else.

So, it’s not about the muscles.  It is about the smile.  In all its varieties. Smiles are powerful.  Smiles are healthy. Smiles make other people feel better.

That’s when I remembered something from my first full time job after college.  I worked for ATT when it was a monopoly and they were the only ones who controlled 800 numbers. There was a job, a Phone Power Specialist, whose focus was on how to use 800 and toll numbers most effectively.  Our rep was Johnny Smith and he used to tell the call center agents he trained to smile when they talked to customers.  He said “They can hear your smile.”  I loved that line.  And it is true.

Even today, when we type to each other instead of talking, if I smile while I type, like I am now, the words that enter the screen are more positive and paced with greater excitement.

So, here’s your assignment.  Sometime during the day today you will be faced with having to deal with angst or anger or frustration (especially you parents). When you feel that well up in your mind, take a breath, stand with good posture and smile.  It just has to be a little bit of a grin. When you do, the issue will seem to take on a different face. You’ll be able to handle it better and the people around you will think you have your shit together even if you don’t. That ‘s what I did after the second attempt to make this posting work ended up with a blank screen!

Smiling is natural to me. I am not a comedian, but I love to twist reality for my own fun and pleasure. People seem to like my company and I think it is because I smile and create smiles. I am an introvert and my smile (facial and vocal) has been my greatest weapon for dealing with some of the side effects of introversion. People like to see you smile when you are their leader. If you do, they feel better.  Maybe that’s why we fear aliens.  They don’t smile much.

Give me this example. Life is hard work. We were evolved to be hard workers. There is joy in a job well done. When I am on a long run and it starts to feel like it is more of a workout, I smile.  When I do my form adjusts to normal, my stride evens out and the road disappears. I remember the pure joy of movement even though I am running long miles.

Life may be hard work, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun.

Keep smiling! Run Free!

NOTE: no emoticons were harmed in the creation of this post.

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Cursive and Dinosaurs

I recently read that cursive writing is no longer a DOE requirement for grade schools.  Instead, they are going to focus on keyboard skills.  Cursive can still be taught, but it is an option to be exercised at the local level. Something seems wrong with this.

I’ve struggled with why I felt that way.  That led me to the five why’s.  I use that method a lot in my writing and in my work.  I ask “why?” multiple times.  By the time I get to about five iterations I have a pretty clear idea of the true cause for my unrest is.

So, here goes…

Why #1 – Why did the change seem bad to me? 

Was I in one of those “it was good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for them” kind of modes?  In reality, that isn’t my style.  It might be a function of the fact that I grew up in the sixties and don’t accept any credos as gospel. I’ve long been an advocate of progressive education and finding better ways of learning, even for my own brain.  My reaction wasn’t from being anti-progress.

Why #2 – Why would not learning cursive make a difference?

My penmanship is not all that great.  I do have my moments when I take my time and it looks decent, but it is nothing to write home about (couldn’t resist that one!).  That doesn’t matter.  What I do have is a way to put words on a piece of paper in a graceful manner that is unique to me.  About fifteen years ago I rediscovered the luxury of writing with a fountain pen and have been addicted ever since.  There is something about putting ink on paper that makes cursive as much art as it is communication.  It is expression.  How does a keyboard become expressive?  Even bad penmanship is a statement.  A reflection.  What do our children lose when they no longer have that form of expression?  A clever avatar isn’t the same.

Why #3 – Did learning cursive do something for me?

Okay, it’s not a “why” question, but you get the point.  Don’t be so freakin’ anal.

Anyway, I started answering that the discipline of practice was important, but that is wrong.  I do not remember the time I spent practicing my cursive writing.  There are memories of violin lessons and cotillion dance lessons.  I even remember the first time I counted over 100!  It felt like I had crossed a barrier and that there were no limits.  But I couldn’t quite remember the process of learning cursive.

I do remember feeling the achievement when I finally did pull it all together.  Writing cursive was the first adult skill I ever accomplished.  It was the one thing that I watched my parents and older siblings do that I envied.  When I learned to write cursive, I felt accomplished, equal, and armed with an actual skill.  I had pride in the achievement.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was all mine.

Why #4 –  Why would the schools want to stop?

Cursive writing is a discipline.  You have to sit still and practice.  A whole class has to have paper and pencils and time to just sit and repeat the same mechanical rhythm a few hundred times to become proficient.

Lord knows I have sympathy for teachers.  They get duped in our culture. Honest, well intention men and women go into the profession to educate and motivate children and what they get most of the time is administrative goop that makes it hard to just teach.  Yes, it is simplistic, but this is my blog, I get to be that way.  Teachers already have so many daily criteria to meet that is overhead something had to drop.  An intellect in some agency looked around and saw a whole generation of kids using smart phones and the idea that no one writes anymore struck a chord.  Drop cursive and teachers get back hours of time every week that they can use to complete their lesson plans and other overhead.  Plus, schools don’t have to supply practice paper.  Even better, parents have one less thing to worry about.

Yeah, I’m a bit cynical and maybe I’m exaggerating.  But I always look for the ulterior motives in any agency action.

Why #5 – Why is learning keyboard skills as a priority bad?

And there it is.  We have not only taken a right of passage and self expression away from our children, we have now burdened them with potential trauma.

Let me explain.

I learned to type my freshman year of high school in 1967.  My sister was a professional secretary and she recommended it to me.  It is a skill I have used forever.  Plus, the class was full of girls, so, what can I say?

In that class I learned keyboard skills (yes typing is the fundamental keyboard skill) from an instructor who taught it for a living.  He showed us the touch type method, correct posture, how to hold our hands, how to strike the keys.  It was far more intricate and time consuming than learning to write cursive.  I remember spending hours at home on my sisters old manual Smith-Corona typing the same exercises over and over.

Okay.  So, what about the trauma?  I have been typing on typewriters and keyboards since 1967 and have never had wrist trauma.  My sister has typed for a longer period of time and far more than I will do in my lifetime and she has no wrist issues.  Why?  Because there is a correct way to hold your hands and sit when you type.  Carpal tunnel syndrome seems to be rampant these days.  I would suggest it is because most people typing on keyboards don’t know how to hold their hands when they type. Right now my wrists are elevated, not resting on the laptop, and I am striking down at the keys.  It takes a little to get used to, but it is easy on the wrists.  Like any sport, it takes practice and you have to develop the muscles.   Wait, doesn’t that sound like penmanship?

Are teachers being trained in proper keyboard mechanics?  The right angle and technique to hold the hands?  The proper height for the keyboard? The proper posture for the back and position of the feet?  How often to take a break and refresh the muscles?  Probably, not.  I doubt there will be a regimen of touch typing practices to refine techique.  To be honest, I know quite a few people who have hacked two-finger typing into a skill, so touch typing as I learned may not be a necessity to become proficient.  If not, then what is the alternative?  Does each kid figure out their own way? Is it up to the teacher or the local educational institute?  Sounds like a recipe for failure.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am an IT guy and I am totally comfortable with new technology and my computer.  I live most of my work day in front of a screen crafting brilliant and insightful emails and presentations through the portal of my computer’s keyboard.

So many options, so little to say!

Even with all of the techno options available, I’m glad that I know cursive.  It is a default for my writing.  I never am at a loss in a power outage or if my Internet provide goes down.  My notebooks are not subject to viruses or crashes, although they can be decimated by coffee spills.  My penmanship provides a crude form of encryption, so it insures some degree of privacy.  No one thinks to steal a notebook these days.  I do make copies of the important stuff and file those.

When I look back, every book I have written starts with a pen on a page.  I’ve written more than I published and there are files of backstory meanderings that sprang from my mind to the page at the most inconvenient times and places all because I had pen in hand and something to write on.  In cursive.  Like a grown-up.  My cursive writing is a celebration of my thoughts, an artform of communication.

What do you think?  I’d love to here from you.