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Disturbing the Universe

The musings of author Christina Knowles

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February 2015

The Illuminating Task of House-Naming by Christina Knowles

SunflowerRecently, my husband, Randy, and I decided our house needed a name. Why not? After all, lots of homes have names: Tara, Downton Abbey aka Highclere Castle, Wuthering Heights, Pemberly, and, of course, Manderley, to name a few. But we don’t live in a castle, a plantation house, or a seaside mansion, so why does our house need a name?

The British seem to have started this tradition of house-naming when wealthy landowners named their manor houses, country homes, and castles. However, the idea caught on and quickly spread through the middle classes and commoners. Before house numbers as addresses, there were house names. So it is not completely without precedent that my husband and I decided that our simple, middle class home of the past six and a half years should finally be given a proper title.

This seemed a simple enough task—but that was before I realized that there is a certain psychology behind the naming of one’s home. There really is, at least, this is my theory. I sat down to make a list of choices. I thought I would come up with some ideas, show them to Randy, and we would eliminate the ones on which we could not agree, compromise, and choose one which we both liked. Simple.

As soon as I started my list, suddenly it seemed so important to get it right. I mean, we couldn’t go around calling our house something ridiculous like Shady Acres or ostentatious like Knowles Manor. It would be embarrassing. The name should reflect who we are and the way we like to live.Hollyhocks2

That’s when I realized that naming has a lot to do with psychology, and, in fact, the house we choose to live in and the way we decorate it reflects what’s important to us, who we are, or how we want to depict ourselves to others. More than just reflecting it, it reinforces what’s important to us, and what we want to focus upon.

Think about it. Is your house sparse with a large piece of exercise equipment in the living room, or a bike parked in the dining room? Is it elegant and aloof? Is it warm and cozy? Inviting? Covered to the ceiling in art? Filled with souvenirs of adventures and maps covered in pushpins? Is it sleek and modern? Tasteful?

My husband and I are homebodies. He is a musician, a composer, and I am a writer and an artist. Our house reflects our lifestyle. It’s on the small side, warm and cozy. It’s filled with books, art to the ceiling, and music gear everywhere. It has comfy furniture, a fireplace, and lots of fuzzy blankets. Outside, there are flower and herb gardens, vegetable gardens and berry bushes. There are stone paths and wild flowers. We like to spend time at home, and our home reflects this. Our home reflects us. We couldn’t just name it anything. Talk about first world problems.

Nothing seemed right. Still, I made a list:                    Chacho

  • Serenity Hall
  • Haven Hall
  • Meadow Muse
  • Artist’s Haven
  • Melody Muse
  • Poet’s Haven
  • Peaceful Gardens
  • Hollyhock Chalet

I ran them by Randy. “Hall” was pretentious and implied big. He also wanted to eliminate anything that was specific to just one of us, so we struck from the list anything to do with music, art, or poetry. So, we ended up with this:

  • Hollyhock Cottage
  • Hollyhock Chalet
  • Hollyhock Place
  • Meadow Muse
  • Serenity Cottage
  • Serenity Haven

We couldn’t make a decision of this importance quickly, so we waited. The more time that went by, the more the name Hollyhock began to resonate with me. In the summer time, we have huge hollyhocks that tower over our fence. They grow beautiful and huge each year, and every summer they seem to bloom in different vibrant colors than the year before. Also, our house reminds me of an English cottage on the outside, so finally, we chose Hollyhock Cottage as our home’s name, and this summer we plan to plant hollyhocks in the front yard and put our house’s name on a little sign.

HollyhocksIt was Hollyhock Cottage that said what we wanted it to about us—a simple cottage with a beautiful wild flower that grows enthusiastically and strong, even with little pampering. It stands up proud and tall, but is not grandiose. It’s a little ragged around the edges, but still lovely. It’s tenacious. Hollyhocks last all summer and struggle to survive even after the first snow falls. It comes back new and resilient every year. Just like us.

It reminds us that we are regular people with extraordinary dreams; we have purpose, we are persistent, and we ardently embrace each season of our lives. So, in the end, naming our house was astonishingly difficult and strangely enlightening. I highly recommend it.—Christina Knowles

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10 Mind-Bending Epiphanies That Changed My Life by Christina Knowles

epiphany1) I’ll never be all caught up. Getting caught up in getting caught up is like a hamster running in a wheel. It’s pointless, so stop trying so hard. Now I make a few daily goals, but getting done with everything is no longer on the list. Knowing it is impossible sets me free to just stop and relax once in a while.

2) Pain is our friend. Whether it is physical pain or emotional pain, it is a signal that we need to do something different. It is the catalyst for change. Embrace it.

3) To some extent, you are already doing what you want to do, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Let’s be honest for a second. We can’t make ourselves do anything we don’t want to do for any length of time. Otherwise, we’d all be thin, healthy, and adept at meditation. So, the fact that I’ve been a teacher for 15 years must mean that some part of me actually wants to be a teacher. The same is true for all the rest of my habitual behavior.

4) I’ve believed lies most of my life, but because of this, I don’t know if my current beliefs are also lies. We grow up listening to and believing everything our parents or authority figures tell us. Then we find out that much of what we learned and believed is not true. We read, discover, and form our own ideas and teach them to other people who grow up and realize that much of what we taught them is not true. Who really knows the truth?

5) Marriage doesn’t have to be work, and shouldn’t be. People who tell you how hard marriage is and how much effort you have to put into it have bad marriages, so don’t listen to anything they say. Who would want to be married if it made your life more difficult? Evolutionarily speaking, the whole point of marriage is to make life easier. Don’t fight nature. Marry someone who is easy to be married to.

6) You don’t have to worry—I’m serious, you really don’t. Worrying is a choice. Sometimes we unconsciously begin to worry, but as soon as we realize we’re doing it, we can choose to stop. I know it’s cliché, but worrying never changed anything except your mood and physical health for the worse. There’s no point, and I’m too busy for pointless things. Whenever I start to worry, I allow myself to imagine the worse thing that can happen. It’s pretty ridiculous and funny, so it snaps me out of worrying pretty quickly, which leads me to number 7.

7) The only people who are stressed are people who care too much. I love the saying, “I don’t know about my bucket list, but my fucket list is getting pretty long.” The quickest way to stress-free living is shockingly not meditation—I’ve tried that. It’s saying, “Fuck it.” If something is going to cause my stomach to turn to knots, I realize that it must be something over which I have very little control, so I choose to not care about it anymore. I realize this is not possible in every case, especially when it comes to the health of loved ones, but as I understand number 6, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.

8) We can love or hate anyone, regardless of what they are like. Almost 50 years of life has taught me that loving or hating someone is more about me than it is about them. I have learned that I am capable of loving the most unlovable person once I learn enough about them to understand their perspectives, what made them like they are, what is important to them, what they fear and for what they hope, and see them as they see themselves. Conversely, I can despise wonderful people if I choose to see them only through their faults, mistakes, or little annoyances.

9) Everyone is mentally ill, but then mental illness is normal, so no one is mentally ill. It seems like everyone has some sort of neuroses, depression, or anxiety today, so much so, that it’s hard to find someone who is not depressed, bi-polar, who does not have OCD, ADHD, addictive behavior, or some nervous disorder. It’s like allergies. Almost everyone has one. So doesn’t that make it the norm? And if it’s normal to have these brain malfunctions, then are they malfunctions? I’m not talking about serial killers here—serious sociopaths. I’m speaking of all the little idiosyncrasies that are now so common. Didn’t we always have them? We just didn’t label them and medicate them in the past. Get over it; you’re normal.

10) Death is not a big deal to the person who is dead. As a person who has serious doubts about the existence of an afterlife, I’m not worried about it. When I’m dead, I won’t know it, so what’s the big deal? Bury me, cremate me, throw me in a ditch. Who cares? I’m not there anymore. Sure, my life will be over along with all my potential, all my hopes and dreams, but again, I won’t know it, so what’s all the fuss about?

11) We choose friends in whom we see what we like about ourselves. People say that when we dislike something in another person, we are really seeing something in them which is negative about ourselves. I don’t know if that’s true, but the converse is most assuredly true. We really do choose friends in whom we see what we like about ourselves. We like them because we have these things in common, and because of them, we notice the best in ourselves.

12) People continue to lie when the best thing in the world is to be known, known by self and others, truly known. In an effort to be accepted, they never can be, and they are subconsciously preventing their own happiness.

Yes, I can count. I said there were 10 epiphanies that changed my life, but then I wrote 12. Well, as a person about to turn 50, I refuse to be constrained by a number. I am a rebel, and 10 sounded better than 12 in the title. But seriously, when I realized each one of these things, it changed my whole outlook on life, for the better, I’d like to think. So mind-bending? Yes, whenever my worldview shifts and things become clear and my life changes as a result, I consider my mind bent. —Christina Knowles

Photo courtesy of cloudfront.net

Peaceful Harbor by Christina Knowles

Lighthouse

To Randy–You are my peaceful harbor.

“Peaceful Harbor”

Through the briny deep, a charter

Struggles in the swell

Until it finds a peaceful harbor

The unbounded crest beats harder

In the distance rings a knell

Through the briny deep, a charter

A cargo of hopes to martyr

In the distance, a chance to quell

For it will find a peaceful harbor

Drifting farther

To a tranquil berth to dwell

Through the briny deep, a charter

With the Fates, will hope to barter

A ponderous destiny to compel

It to that sweet and peaceful harbor

Forecasts presume gales much larger

But Fortune’s will is to propel

It through the briny deep, a charter

Until it finds its peaceful harbor

—Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo courtesy of thedailymail.com UK

The Politically Correct Death of Intellect by Christina Knowles

Tanner Friedman Blog
Tanner Friedman Blog

I consider myself an open-minded person who values diversity and respects the feelings of others, but I am beyond annoyed at today’s expectation that we must filter everything we say through a screen of politically correct speech. This concept emerged from good intentions—the idea that we should treat others with differing ideologies, lifestyles, and religions with respect. Not necessarily respect for the beliefs, but respect for the person. But it has grown from an innocuous courtesy into full-blown censorship, an inability to engage in intellectual debate that muffles free expression and reduces communication to near meaningless small talk. Politically correct censorship is one more nail in the coffin of intelligent civil discourse. I fear the death of civil discourse will also be the death of critical thinking.

Take our public schools for example. The primary job of a teacher is to guide students through the process of learning, and that begins with critical thinking. But nowhere else is critical thinking stifled more than in the public school classroom. We have a million rules against it, beginning with “Don’t offend anyone,” “Don’t discuss anything potentially volatile,” and “Respect everyone’s beliefs.” I’m all for trying not to offend people, and I think we should always respect each other, but our definition of respecting beliefs has become an insistence upon accepting all as equally valid, regardless of how they may be based in ignorance or logical fallacy.

Before anyone misunderstands, let me say that I am not suggesting we disparage a person’s faith, cultural norms, or political ideologies, nor am I suggesting that we try to change them. I’m simply asking what happened to good old fashioned discussion? We seem to be going through an age of anti-intellectualism that is resulting in the dumbing down of our youth. Sure, they know how to play nice, but can they think? In my opinion, we are discouraging independent, critical thought, and unbelievably, they are going along with it.

I have always encouraged students to voice their opinions freely in my class. I have never considered it wrong or inappropriate for students to educate me and the rest of the class on aspects of their religion, regardless of which religion it is. I have enjoyed hearing their political evaluations, their suggestions for change, and listened respectfully to their views on just about every subject. My students have always felt safe doing this, knowing they would not suffer any negative recriminations for whatever their thoughts were or how they may differ from mine or anyone else’s in the class.

I’ve let students write on their experiences of coming out of the closet as homosexuals. I’ve let a student recount a beautiful memory of a childhood Ramadan celebration. I’ve welcomed students’ presentations on heroes of their faith, Christian missionaries who were martyred for their beliefs, and I’ve allowed students to do book presentations on everything from the Bible to the Wiccan Rede. I cannot fathom how talking about what you believe can hurt anyone, at least short of hate speech. I would not allow any speech that sought to single out for criticism a specific group or disparage another people, so I guess I do believe in some censorship, but the expectations of self-censorship is reaching levels of hilarity, except I’m not laughing. I’m afraid.

This year, for the first time in my teaching career, my classroom debates were a complete disaster. Why? Not because someone said something offensive, hateful, or shocking, but because students were so overly concerned with political correctness that they would barely speak at all. They hedged around every issue, and when their opposition posed a blatant fallacy, in some cases completely wrong information, the opposing team would not point it out. And I know they noticed it, but they would simply change the subject rather than critically discuss an issue.

This generation has been conditioned since their early childhood to be nice, respect all beliefs, and not rock the boat so much so that they are almost incapable of confronting an illogical argument on a topic for fear of offending a classmate. Perhaps, you may think this is a good thing. Well, I don’t believe it is good for anyone.

First of all, we should all have our ideas challenged. It’s good for us. For one thing, we need to know how to defend what we think. Defending our ideas helps us to define why we believe what we do, to look at our beliefs critically, and to see if they stand up to scrutiny. If they do, this only makes us stronger in our beliefs. Additionally, it teaches us how to defend our beliefs logically to others, rather than relying on fallacious arguments. But possibly most important is the growth we attain in our ability to think, judge, and to avoid being fooled by Machiavellian word play. Finally, we learn to communicate effectively—listening, synthesizing, analyzing, and evaluating first, and then returning discourse in an intelligent way that seeks common ground, or at least understanding rather than manipulation. But most of all, when we learn how to confront flawed arguments, we aren’t stifling our reasoning to passively sit in agreement with whatever enters our ear, quietly feigning acceptance.

Everyone needs to learn to evaluate the validity of ideas for themselves without fear of upsetting someone simply for disagreeing. It seems like today, we aren’t allowed to have differing opinions that deviate from the popular view, but instead of fearing attack or retaliation, we fear upsetting someone. Should that really be so devastating? What’s wrong with a little healthy disagreement? We seem to consider every oppositional comment hate speech.

The other day in class, I literally had to stop the conversation and change the topic three times because students were afraid to discuss a topic or point out glaring logical fallacies. In AP Language, one of our main learning objectives is to understand rhetoric, identify claims, appeals, and fallacies, and to counter them with sound reasoning and solid support. Try to teach that in a classroom where everyone is afraid to point out that a girl’s facts are in error when she stated, “The majority of scientists believe the earth was created in seven days because they’ve proven this to be true, while evolution is just a theory; therefore, only creation science should be taught in school,” or another one who said, “Just because the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution doesn’t mean we can have guns now. Those rules are out of date.” Another stated that everyone would rather play video games than read books, so teaching literature in school should no longer be required. Not one student had the nerve to call these students out on their lack of factual information or ludicrous logic. The class just sat there in stunned silence until the group moderator suggested moving on to the next topic.

I sat there in dumbfounded silence because the only thing going through my mind was that intellectual thought had just died, right there in front me, all because we have been conditioned to think that it is taboo to say, “Wait, that makes no sense,” or “I believe your facts are in error.” Why? Because it would be seen as attacking religious or political beliefs when, in fact, it is merely confronting an invalid justification. We see this in the general public’s avoidance of mentioning the word “Islam” in the same sentence as terrorist, as if we are somehow embarrassed for law abiding Muslims, which has the effect of an artificial non-communication dynamic that, instead of solving problems, only hides them, and I fear, has a much more insidious result. We have become our own thought police, co-conspirators in our own re-education, creating a Newspeak to prevent saying what we really think, and in the process, killing our critical thinking skills.

I think we all need to toughen up a little. Go ahead and disagree with me. I can take it.—Christina Knowles

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