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Relationships and Going Places
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More on Relationships & Going Places

Articles

Ferida Wolff, Blending In: My husband and I went on vacation to a place both foreign and familiar to me — the Middle East. The foreign aspect was that I had not been in that part of the world before. The familiar part had to do with my paternal family. My grandfather came from Palestine and my grandmother from Syria. This set the stage for an adventure that both surprised and delighted me

Margaret Cullison, One Memorable Friend: I met one of my most memorable friends at a time when I needed a good friend. I’d just moved to the San Francisco Bay area and, while still unpacking the moving boxes, my husband told me he wanted a divorce. After thirteen years of marriage and four children, we’d drifted apart but still his announcement knocked me off balance

John Malone, Sailing, Part One: It wasn’t until we began sailing in weekend races at the Pymatuning Yacht Club and won the handicap trophy that Papa stopped trying to be in control and let me handle the boat my way. We were notorious for having loud arguments out on the lake, so loud and prolonged that other boat owners used to joke, “Here come the Malone’s, sailing on hot air again!”

Roberta McReynolds, Treasure Hunt: Mom withdrew into a prison of continuous sorrow, leaving her surviving young child isolated in a world lacking the nurturing and affection I needed to thrive. A full circle of generational grief had been completed and another cycle was in motion

LOVE AND MARRIAGE IN RENAISSANCE FLORENCE: The Courtauld Wedding Chests

London's Courtauld Gallery is presenting an exhibit that include the gallery's world-famous pair of painted marriage chests (cassoni), commissioned to celebrate marriage alliances between powerful families. The chests themselves were decorated with paintings that told moral stories, a way to deliver behavioral messages in an age where there were not other ways to disseminate those societal concepts.

The exhibit presents three online films that can be accessed at the site and conducted by curator, Dr. Caroline Campbell. Here's the introduction to the wedding chest exhibit:

"A marriage in 15th century Florence was not primarily about love or religion. Instead it was a dynastic alliance between powerful families.

"To celebrate these marriages, pairs of great chests, lavishly decorated with precious metals and elaborate paintings, were commissioned. These items – now generally called cassoni – were often the most expensive of a whole suite of decorative objects commissioned to celebrate marriage alliances between powerful families. They were displayed in Florentine palaces and used to store precious items such as clothes and textiles.

"The painted panels set into the wedding chests tell fascinating tales from ancient Greece, Rome and Palestine, as well as from Florentine literature and more recent history.  These beautifully told stories were intended to entertain as well as to instruct husband and wife, their servants, children and visitors.

"This exhibition is the first in the UK to explore this important and neglected art form of Renaissance Florence.  The exhibition is focused around two of The Courtauld’s great treasures:  the pair of chests ordered in 1472 by the Florentine Lorenzo Morelli to celebrate his marriage with Vaggia Nerli. These are the only pair of cassoni to be still displayed with their painted backboards (spalliere).The unusual survival of both the chests and their commissioning documents enables a full examination of this remarkable commission.

"The Courtauld cassoni  are displayed alongside other superb examples of chests and panels. Discover the stories behind these chests and gain rich insights into Florentine art and life at the height of the city’s glory."

 

Articles

Julia Sneden, The Green-Eyed Monster as Constant Companion: Perhaps it’s human nature to look around and wish for something you don’t have. The alternative would lend to a kind of smugness that is at the very least unattractive, and at the most, would lead to a kind of stasis. If there were nothing to envy, there would be no reason to grow and change

Kristin Nord, Alaska: "You don't land at the end of the road without a reason": Drifters, gamblers, adventurers, dreamers and an astonishing roster of wildlife. This is the last great frontier, to a great extent, and it lives up to that billing with its unfolding stories

Quote of the Week from AskOxford.com

"If you are afraid of loneliness, don't get married."

Anton Chekhov (18601904), Russian dramatist and short-story writer

(Editor's Note: We're not endorsing the playwright's observation, just passing it along.)

Articles

Rose Mula, L’Antico, the Sicilian Confucius: No one who has ever heard it can forget the poignant, Passau du tempu ca Berta filava, or The time for Bertha to weave is ended,” roughly equivalent to “Make hay while the sun shines,” but probably means that synthetic fibers and automated machinery have replaced the loom, so Bertha had better take a crash course in computer programming if she expects to find another job

John Malone, Hitting Bottom: Rather than continually apologizing for my behavior and then doing the same things over again, I was able to change my behavior, gradually and painfully. I still have to struggle every day with my inflated ego, my anxiety, my need to show off, to be right and to make you wrong

The new rules of female friendship and communication

The English Social Issues Research Centre prepared a report, The New Rules of Female Friendship and Communication, which could be equally applicable to the United States. What follows is the preface to the report:

The nature of friendship — By Kate Fox

Homo sapiens is a social animal. As a species, we are designed to live in small, stable, close-knit tribes or communities. In modern Western cultures, since the industrial revolution, there has been a significant rise in social isolation — in the fragmentation of traditional communities and kinship networks. More of us are living alone, often in big cities, working long hours and experiencing a profound sense of alienation and insecurity. But the need for social bonding, the 'tribal' instinct, is a deep-rooted part of human nature, hard-wired into the human brain by our evolutionary heritage, and there is convincing evidence that individuals in post-industrial societies are striving to re-create these community bonds, forming 'neo-tribes' and 'pseudo-kin' relationships.

These new social support networks are often based on shared interests or values, rather than kinship or local ties, but they effectively mimic the traditional kin/community networks. This trend, which I have called The New Collectivism, is particularly evident among young people, who are increasingly pre-occupied with a need for security and a sense of belonging – an intense, albeit often unconscious, longing for more primitive, pre-industrial patterns of social ties, interdependence, cooperation and social cohesion.

This longing may perhaps be even more acute among young women than young men, as the female of the human species is, if anything, even more 'social' than the male. Studies consistently show that women are more proficient than men at all forms of communication — verbal and non-verbal — more socially skilled, better at spotting and 'reading' the nuances in people's reactions and behaviour and generally more interested in people and relationships. This is evident even among new-born babies, before social conditioning could possibly have any effect. Baby girls, from as young as a few hours old, are more attracted to faces, while baby boys are more interested in looking at shapes and patterns — and baby girls maintain eye contact two or three times longer than boys. The nature of human friendship reflects the fact that for almost all of our evolution as a species we were hunter-gatherers. With division of labour, men hunted, women gathered. As far as evolution is concerned, modern industrial societies only happened in the last ten seconds or so on the evolutionary clock and really do not count. Human brains and behaviour are shaped by millions of years as hunters and gatherers and the basic wiring is still the same as it was in the Upper Palaeolithic period — the Stone Age.

Male bonding was absolutely essential for hunting. Hunting requires teamwork, which requires cooperation and, above all, trust. Male bonding was all about building that trust. This was also essential for warfare – our ancestors were fighters as well as hunters. Men who were not necessarily related to each other had to form bonds that were strong enough for them not only to hunt together effectively but also to trust each other with their lives in tribal warfare – and ultimately to die for each other if necessary.

Females, as gatherers and with responsibility for bearing and raising children, also had a critical need to build cooperation and trust with other females. A woman in childbirth or with young babies was highly vulnerable and in need of protection and support – cooperation with other females, both in gathering food and in childcare, was essential to survival. Female bonding in hunter-gatherer societies was mostly of a more ad-hoc, informal, less organised type than the male variety, conducted alongside other tasks such as gathering fruits and roots, preparing food, looking after children etc., rather than as a separate, ritualised activity. And while trust was essential, it was perhaps somewhat less of a dramatic life-or-death matter than trust among male hunters and warriors. Female friendship — based on cooperation, reciprocal helping and sharing of day-to-day tasks — and child-minding, providing care and support around childbirth, during illness and at other 'weak' or defenceless times, required a different kind of trust: not so much 'I will risk my life for you' as 'I will care for you'.

Although we no longer face the same dangers or lead the same harsh lives as our Stone Age ancestors, all the same bonding instincts are still in place, and friendship is still a vital part of our lives — perhaps increasingly so in this age of urban alienation and anomie. Despite significant blurring of the distinctions between male and female roles in modern society, 'male bonding' and 'female bonding' are in still in some ways quite different. Male bonding tends to be more formal and organised — every known human society has some form of men-only clubs or associations, special (often secret) male-bonding organisations or institutions from which women are excluded. Female bonding tends to be done more quietly and informally than the male variety, without all the fuss and bother and setting up of fancy clubs. Women just bond: we don't seem to need all the props and trappings, pomp and ceremony, sports and secrecy and silly names and funny handshakes. All women need for bonding is a couple of chairs and a pot of tea — maybe not even that.

The similarities between male and female friendships are, however, more important than the differences. For both sexes, friendship always was, and still is, a form of reciprocal altruism that assimilates non-kin to kinship roles. In other words, it is a kind of give-and-take sharing and trust-building by which people who are not related become honorary brothers and sisters. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the SIRC study both male and female respondents emphasised trust and loyalty, always 'being there' for each other and 'being oneself' as the principal and most vital elements of friendship. This is the kind of unconditional acceptance, allegiance and support that is normally associated with family, but that we also expect from our 'honorary' brothers and sisters, our friends.

It has perhaps become a bit of a cliché to say that 'friends are the new family' – and although there is some truth in this statement, it is a bit too glib and not entirely accurate. Friends have always been a kind of family – friendship has always been about treating non-kin as though they were blood relatives. There is nothing new in this: we have been doing it since the Stone Age.

Copyrighted by SIRC

The Rules of Love (Supposedly Brought from King Arthur's Court)

Andreas Capellanus (late 12th cent.); Treatise on Courtly Love (Excerpts)

1. Marriage is no excuse for not loving.
2. He who is not jealous can not love.
3. No one can be bound by two loves.
4. Love is always growing or diminishing.
5. It is not good for one lover to take anything against the will of the other.
6. A male cannot love until he has fully reached puberty.
7. Two years of mourning for a dead lover are prescribed for surviving lovers.
8. No one should be deprived of love without a valid reason.
9. No one can love who is not driven to do so by the power of love.
10. Love always departs from the dwelling place of avarice.
11. It is not proper to love one whom one would be ashamed to marry.
12. The true lover never desires the embraces of any save his lover.
13. Love rarely lasts when it is revealed.
14. An easy attainment makes love contemptible; a difficult one
makes it more dear.
15. Every lover turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
16. When a lover suddenly has sight of his beloved, his heart beats wildly.
17. A new love expells an old one.
18. Moral integrity alone makes one worthy of love.
19. If love diminishes, it quickly leaves and rarely revives.
20. A lover is always fearful.
21. True jealousy always increases the effects of love.
22. If a lover suspects another, jealousy and the efects of love increase.
23. He who is vexed by the thoughts of love eats little and seldom sleeps.
24. Every action of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.
25. The true lover believes only that which he thinks will please his beloved.
26. Love can deny nothing to love.
27. A lover can never have enough of the embraces of his beloved.
28. The slightest suspicion incites the lover to suspect the worse of his beloved.
29. He who suffers from an excess of passion is not suited to love.
30. The true lover is continuously obsessed with the image of his beloved.
31. Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men, or a man from being loved by two women.

Texts on this Chaucer page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)

Articles

Joan L. Cannon, Am I Wearing Out My Welcome? Remember that your newfound cyber-pal has a life too. Don’t treat a new correspondent as though they already understand a) your family background, b) your phobias, c) your pet peeves, d) your most cherished dreams

John Malone, Amha Goes to the Inauguration: Born in a remote Ethiopian village, Amha had been sold by his father to a traveling trader, survived in the mean streets of Addis Ababa and now stood with his adopted father witnessing a historic event on the Mall

John Malone, As I Look Back: Is this perhaps just a case of the criminal returning to scene of the crime? Or am I searching for answers about the real meaning of my life — the good, the bad and the ugly?

Ferida Wolff, A Christmas Blessing: The musicians begin playing and a sweet, haunting sound suddenly comes from the band. The song is suspended in the air, shining like the crystal ornaments on the Christmas tree. A hush settles on the residents

Online Report: Teens Online

Digital Learning: A MacArthur Foundation project has released " the most extensive US study on teens and their use of digital media show that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online — often in ways adults do not understand or value." The five year project was launched "to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life."

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” said Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine researcher and the report’s lead author. “There are myths about kids spending time online — that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

  • There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity.
    • Adults tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction.
    • Youth understand the social value of online activity and are generally highly motivated to participate.
  • Youth are navigating complex social and technical worlds by participating online.
    • Young people are learning basic social and technical skills that they need to fully participate in contemporary society.
    • The social worlds that youth are negotiating have new kinds of dynamics, as online socializing is permanent, public, involves managing elaborate networks of friends and acquaintances, and is always on.
  • Young people are motivated to learn from their peers online.
    • The Internet provides new kinds of public spaces for youth to interact and receive feedback from one another.
    • Young people respect each other’s authority online and are more motivated to learn from each other than from adults.
  • Most youth are not taking full advantage of the learning opportunities of the Internet.
    • Most youth use the Internet socially, but other learning opportunities exist.
    • Youth can connect with people in different locations and of different ages who share their interests, making it possible to pursue interests that might not be popular or valued with their local peer groups.
    • “Geeked-out” learning opportunities are abundant — subjects like astronomy, creative writing, and foreign languages.
  • Two page summary (pdf);
    White Paper - Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (pdf)

     

    Articles

    Joan L. Cannon, A Plea for Imagination: Surely, there is a real danger to what we like to call civilization when so many people appear to have lost the ability to imagine ... if only to learn how to fear something that may not yet be evident, if we are to prevent it

    We recently had a letter from a reader praising Ruth Jobrack Abramowitz's article, The Clothesline. We're posting the link to that article once more for those who may have missed it in 2007.

    Ferida Wolff, Mom's Jewelry: What I loved best of all was a bracelet with milky stones that my mother called moonstones. I will know that no matter how beautifully a jewel glows, it is the human spirit that truly shines

    Kissing a Frog

    We found this maths essay when trying to find something unique for Halloween ... we had purchased a witch doll kissing a frog, if you must know.  

    Kissing the frog: A mathematician's guide to mating by John Billingham, a Professor of Theoretical Mechanics in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Nottingham

    After introducing the original fairytale, Professor Billingham posits another way to play the selection game. The paragraphs and link that follow are from +Plus Magazine:

    How attractive is my frog? Kissed Too Soon?

    I'm told that when men meet women, they sometimes rate each other on a scale of 1 to 10. Of course, mathematicians are far too intelligent and sophisticated do this. We rate people on a scale of 0 to 1. In our original mathematical model, all we could do was compare one possible frog with another. The numbers didn't mean anything in themselves; they just told the princess whether one frog was "better" than another. Let's change the fairytale slightly so that the 100 frogs are now labelled with numbers drawn randomly from those that lie between 0 and 1, with the handsome prince having the highest number. What's the princess's best strategy now?

    Well, the princess now has much more information to use. There is a highest and a lowest number (0 and 1), and the frogs' numbers are uniformly, but randomly, distributed between the two. If the first frog to hop out is numbered, for example, 0.99, then she knows it's a top quality frog, and could well be worth a peck on the cheek. What if the first frog is numbered 0.8? Is that good enough to kiss? It turns out that the best strategy is, as anyone aged over 25 knows, to start with high standards, and then lower them as the frogs keep on coming. We're meant to be doing some maths here, so by "standards" I mean that for each frog there is a number, called a decision number, below which the princess shouldn't kiss it (here's how to calculate the decision number). If the frog is numbered above the appropriate decision number, and is the best frog so far, she should kiss it. This strategy nets her the handsome prince a whopping 58% of the time. In fact, if the first frog is numbered 0.99, she shouldn't kiss it, because the first decision number for 100 frogs is about 0.992. She's more likely to find Mr. Right by holding out for a more attractive frog.

    The best-looking frog ... but he doesn't fancy me .. and I don't know why not!

    There are lots of other things that we could add to our mathematical model to make it more realistic. For example, in real life, if you kiss the second best frog, you don't have to stay in the enchanted forest. Unless you're an incurable romantic who thinks that there's just one perfect person out there for you, you can be very happy with frog number 2. Maybe you're more interested in avoiding a very bad frog. What's more important, making sure you bag frog number 1 or avoiding frogs 51 to 100? The strategy you should choose depends upon what you're trying to achieve.

    Read the rest of Prof. Billingham's math essay at the Plus Magazine site

    Articles

    Julia Sneden, On the Nose: Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low; an excellent thing in a woman — King Lear, Act V. Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a rising pitch and increasing nasality in the speech of American women?

    Jane Shortall, Madame's New Chapter: A visiting friend to the Ariège Pyrénées remarked that it made him feel as if he had stepped back to the 1950's: the slow pace of life, taking every day as it comes, enjoyment of small things and good food and wine

    Margaret Cullison, Third Time's Charm: Even though we’d been together awhile, I’d been single for over 25 years, and I hadn’t forgotten how I’d yearned for another go at marriage. The time had come to stop being afraid to try again

    Ferida Wolff, Shhh: Three decades have passed since I had full charge of a child. I hoped I remembered my mothering skills. How different could it be? I wondered

    What Beach Did You Choose?

    The Natural Defences Resource Council has issued their yearly guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches:

    NRDC's annual survey of water quality and public notification at U.S. beaches finds that pollution caused the number of beach closings and advisories to hit their second-highest level in the 18-year history of the report. The number of 2007 closing and advisory days at ocean, bay, and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 for the third consecutive year, confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk.

    Beach water quality standards are more than 20 years old and rely on outdated science and monitoring methods that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses such as gastroenteritis, dysentery and hepatitis along with respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that the incidence of infections associated with recreational water use has steadily increased over the past several decades. With the population in US coastal areas growing, we can expect to see more Americans getting sick until the sources of beachwater contamination are addressed. Both the EPA and the federal government must strengthen protections for our nation's beaches.

    Visit the Beachgoers Water Quality site. Here's the NRDC list of surveyed states:

    Alabama | Alaska | California | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Illinois | Indiana | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New York | North Carolina | Ohio | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | Texas | Virginia | Washington | Wisconsin

    Articles

    Ferida Wolff, Sister Perceptions: Was it time to see each other through new eyes? It wouldn’t be easy. Our assessments were entrenched over decades of automatic thinking. We had to get out of the past and let go of our childhoods

    Roberta McReynolds, Last of the Cat Tribe: Mike knew there wasn’t any point in discussing whether the kitten was staying or not. I offered Mike the naming rights. His inspiration was from the exploits of the last survivor of a Native American Nation known as the Yahi

    Julia Sneden, Musings on the Grand Life: Multigenerational contact provides a depth or resonance to any child’s development... It’s not all sweetness and light, of course. There are bound to be what my grandmother called starchy times

    Travel Articles

    Before you go to China ....

    Joan James Rapp, Part Two of Yin and Yang on the Yangtze; A Senior Adventure in the “People’s Republic of Steps:” China is a beautiful, fascinating country, a contradiction of ancient wonders and modern technology. Just because you missed seeing it in your salad days does not mean that you can’t have a memorable journey now

    Joan James Rapp takes us on the road again, this time to China: Yin and Yang on the Yangtze; A Senior Adventure in the “People’s Republic of Steps,” Part One

    Trends In Marital Stability

    Excerpts from the study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers:

    The much-cited claim that one-in-two first marriages will end in divorce will likely end up being realized for those who married in the 1970s. Thirty years after these marriages 48.9% of them had ended in divorce. However, the more recent data give us greater confidence in forecasting that subsequent marriages are less likely to end in divorce. Indeed, the divorce probabilities of the 1990s marriage cohort are now only a little above those who married in the 1960s, for a similar marriage duration. It is worth noting that these cohorts will likely live longer than previous cohorts, giving them a longer period of time to be “at risk” of divorcing. Thus, declining divorce probabilities at each year of marriage yield a reasonably clear forecast of longer and more stable marriages, although rising longevity complicates any assessment of the relative likelihood of marriage ending by divorce rather than death.

    If the divorce rates show declining divorce and earlier longitudinal data supported a story of decreasing divorce then why were so many analysts (including many leading family scholars quoted in the press) easily mislead to believe that divorce has been rising? One possible reconciliation is based upon stock-flow dynamics. While it is difficult to find data on the stock of ever-divorced people (most surveys only ask about current marital status), examining the currently-divorced population ... shows that the number of people currently divorced has continued to rise long after the divorce rate peaked; indeed the population of current divorcees appears to have leveled off only in recent years. Changes in the stock of people ever-divorced people reflect the rate at which people divorce and the rate at which those already divorced die. Analyses of the stock of those whose current marital status is divorced are further affected by the rate at which the divorced remarry. Only in recent years are those whose marriages dissolved during the period of highest divorce rates approaching the peak years of mortality. This explains why the stock of divorcees has continued to rise even decades after the flow of new divorces slowed.
    Indeed ... the risk of divorce, at least as measured relative to the married population, peaked in 1979. And while the decline in marriage is also surely part of the reason for the fall in divorce, our analysis ... shows that those marriages that did occur were less likely to end in divorce. However... the proportion of the population who are divorced continued to rise through the 1980s and 1990s, and has only begun to level out in recent years. Thus, despite lower divorce rates and greater marital stability today, a larger proportion of our social networks are divorcees than at any point over the past century.

     

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