Cleaning Mindfully

Part two of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses a few of my life aims, how I came up with them, and how I have set out to achieve them.

Living a Life of Example, Living with Intention

In my last post, I discussed the concept of Be, Do, and Action goals, and how creating these help someone find and create a life of purpose. These goals help you become type of person you’d like to be. Be goals help form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Be goals are aligned to our self-affirmations and life purpose. Be goals remind us why our Do goals are worth achieving. Action goals are how we achieve our Do goals. Here’s a cleaned up version of my Be, Do, and Action goals.

Pared down example of my purposeful circles.
A few examples from my purposeful circles. In the center circle are my Be goals, including Be a good example, Live intentionally, and Seek and share enlightenment. The middle ring has Do goals, Presentable and Well-read, Read a lot. The outer ring has crispy behaviors, the Action goals. These are Create a cleaning schedule and Read 20 or more books a year. I also have reminders off to the side about what Be, Do, and Action goals are.

Two of my Be Goals included living a life of example and living with intention. (I’m not sure if “life of example” is the correct way to put it, but that’s what I came up with for now.) One way I thought of to be a good example was to be presentable; this is my Do goal.

Being presentable can mean many things, I tried to brainstorm about how to achieve this. One action I came up with was cleaning. I liked the idea of cleaning, but it was a bit vague. To create my action goal, what the professor calls a “crispy” behavior, I needed to be more specific.

What I came up with was a cleaning schedule, which has so far turned out pretty well.


Japanese porch

Why Cleaning

I chose cleaning as helping me achieve my life purposes of living with intention and living a life of example for two reasons.

Meditation is all about being intentional and focusing your mind. Taking a meditative approach to cleaning, seemed like a great way to put that goal into action.

The other reason is that a clean home is presentable. I wanted to feel that if anyone walked at any moment, they could see I had a clean and presentable home. It was a great example and reflection on the type of person I want to be.

Cleaning and Mindfulness

The cleaning schedule borrows from the cleaning examples I found in the book A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind. The monk who wrote the book explained that his monastery uses a particular schedule for certain activities like when to shave their heads or mend their clothes.

I heard about the monk and this book after attending the Japan Society Talks event Clean House, Clear Mind: A Buddhist Monk’s Wisdom, on Wednesday 27 March, 2019.

1:02:10

The book, which I read twice, focuses on cleaning as a meditative practice. It gives advice on how to clear the mind when cleaning.

When I first read the book, I was obsessed with cleaning. And I did feel lighter having dusted everything and wiped everything. It’s amazing how much and where dust accumulates.

After the online course, I was able to connect cleaning with my personal values. Seeking to solidify specific actions to help me live my values. My cleaning schedule consists of 2 calendars and a separate inspiration page.


Schedules for a Clean Home and Mind

To create the calendars, I used InDesign. The fonts are Letter Gothic Std and Garamond. I created generic versions, so they can be downloaded for your own use.

Daily and Monthly Schedule

The first schedule lists tasks to be taken care of on a daily basis and monthly basis.

Schedule for daily and monthly cleaning tasks.
Monthly or daily cleaning events

Day to Day Schedule

The second schedule includes tasks that track close to the advice in the book. I split the 3 and 8 days into tasks focused on increasing light and reflections.

The second set of tasks, for 4 and 9 days, includes events focused on fixing things and more cleaning activities, like vacuuming.

Schedule for tasks that should be completed on the third and eighth day, and those on the fourth and ninth day.
For cleaning events that are scheduled on days ending in 3, 4, 8, or 9.

Inspiration Page

I thought it was important to keep in mind the mindset for why cleaning mindfully is important. The book refers to Zengosaidan which is a Buddhist concept focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.

Zengosaidan inspiration focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.
Zengosaidan inspiration

Put all of our efforts into each day to live without regrets. Live for today without grief for the past or worry about the future.

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

The longer you neglect to remove the impurities of the heart, the longer it will take to remove them.

Shoukei Matsumoto, “A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind”

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

Building a Purposeful Life

Part one of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses the course I took which helped set me on this path, concepts from the course, and a brief overview of the course activites.

I recently completed a new online course. It was very different from my usual string of courses. It was a self-improvement course, focused on neuroscience and public heath. It’s called Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most. It’s taught by Vic Strecher, of the University of Michigan’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine, on Coursera.

Course certificate, Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most. – https://www.coursera.org/learn/finding-purpose-and-meaning-in-life

The course has a 4.8 rating with over 1,000 reviews. Here is what Coursera provides in the description.

In this course, you’ll learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life…. By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don’t be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

Not only did I finish the course, I’ve started making changes. This first post covers the concepts and course topics. The next will be about how I applied the concepts and design artifacts I created to help me achieve them.


Socrates voor zijn huis, Reinier Vinkeles (I), after Jacobus Buys, 1792 – Find at Rijksmuseum

A Central, Self-Organizing Life Aim

The course focuses on helping students find a purpose in life. It’s important to point out it’s a purpose, not the purpose. A purpose in life is “a central, self-organizing life aim”; a predominant theme in a person’s life.

The lessons guide students by introducing topics in Buddhist and Greek philosophy, such as the “true self” known as atman (Hindu/Buddhist) or daimon (Greek), and connecting those concepts to brain function and the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex, VmPFC. The VmPFC is the part of the brain that is involved in processing information and our emotional response.

We return to the VmPFC often in the course, to understand our neurobiological responses to stimuli and how behavioral practices like Loving-Kindness Meditation can lead to a positive sense of self, which can help lead to positive behavioral outcomes.


Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2019 August 4
Rumors of a Dark Universe
Image Credit: High-Z Supernova Search TeamHSTNASA

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

We also learn what it means to have a purpose and discuss concepts in existential philosophy by thinking about Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

We even learn about what Stanley Kubrick, who was apparently a big fan of Nietzche, and (loosely) 2001: A Space Odyssey have to say about purpose:

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference…our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick, 1968

Obviously, I have to have the music. 🙂

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Dudamel · Berliner Philharmoniker
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Gustavo Dudamel, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 28 April 2012.

There’s a very interesting article from the Houston Symphony on Richard Strauss’ musical interpretations of Nietzche’s book and philosophy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which has the same name as his famous orchestra piece.

In describing the music, the Houston Symphony writes, “Kubrick was not too far off the mark in using the piece’s opening to score a sunrise from outer space; Strauss indeed intended it to depict the mountaintop sunrise that opens Nietzsche’s book. The opening motif in the trumpets has been called the ‘nature’ or ‘world riddle’ motif; it recurs throughout the piece as a symbol of nature’s indifference and mystery.”


skuawk.com

What Kind of Cook Are You?

One of the important lessons is that while it’s important to seek knowledge, it’s also important to have guidance in that pursuit. To seek knowledge with purpose.

There’s an analogy used in the course, to help compare the pursuit of knowledge with cooking. We really can’t all expect to become master chefs before we ever start cooking. But we also can’t expect to have any efficiency or safety in a kitchen with no training whatsoever. The same is true for the pursuit of knowledge. An unintentional pursuit can lead down dark and dangerous paths; meanwhile, we can’t spend all our time studying for the next exam.

The question, What Kind of Cook Are You, is an existential philosophical question about the pursuit of information that is meant to focus on the importance of intention and balance. Learn enough so that you can seek out recipes and follow them, but also learn enough that you can deviate from the recipe without ruining the food or burning down the kitchen.

Image of flowers in golden light, showing sense of calmness
pexels.com

Golden Rules

I’ve often heard about The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — either at church or Girl Scouts. And while it’s a great concept in theory, in practice, it’s kind of self-less and you end up getting mistreated a bit.

The course brought up a new version, which I think is a bit better.

The Reverse Golden Rule: Do not do to yourself, what you would not do to others.


skuawk.com

Being Purposeful

As I mentioned above, the course often refers to the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortext, VmPFC, to understand, explain, and change our how a life purpose can improve life outcomes in positive ways, from a biological, psychological, and behavioral perspectives. The course focuses on how our own thoughts and behaviors can be reinforced. However, we often we don’t achieve our goals to “do better” for 2 reasons: they haven’t been tied back to our purpose and they don’t represent what he calls “crispy” behaviors. That is specific actions to be put into practice. We often make goals that are just a little too vague.

skuawk.com

Finding Your Purpose

These goals are called Do, Be, and Action goals. And the course helps the student think about and create them by, again, focusing on existentialism. Existentialism acknowledges human mortality, which many people don’t like to think about. However, by considering that life isn’t forever, we can use this inevitable fact to not freak out but to channel our life towards having a purpose – a central, self-organizing life aim.

There’s an app the instructor has called Purposeful by Kumanu™, to help create those Do, Be, and Action goals. I didn’t use it, I created the diagrams using a drawing program. But to get there, you start asking introspective questions about yourself, such as:

  • What are causes you care about?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

Literally, there’s an earlier part of the course where you think about what you want your headstone to say!

Pencils on a yellow background

Create Do, Be, and Action Goals

Ultimately the answer to the introspective questions above help to generate your Be goals. The type of person you’d like to be. Your atman, your daimon. These will form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Do Goals: Next, you take these Be goals and ask what you have to do to enact those Be goals. Those are your Do goals.

Actually, the course makes a point to mention that many people start here and stop here. Rather than tying their goals to a life purpose, it becomes about achieving this goal. Like wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, vs wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, because ultimately the person is lonely and doesn’t want to be.

Action Goals: Finally the question becomes what action to take to enact to achieve those Do goals. These are the Action goals. And these should be specific and achievable goals.


To clarify, creating these goals is not a one-day activity. The course has the student ask themselves these questions frequently. By the time these concepts shows up, you already have a bit of a list and you’re primed to accept the ideas. I even spent time after the course completing this work.

Also a person can have more than one facet of their life in which to create their life purpose, including work, retirement, school, family, and even military service.

I highly recommend the course. As one reviewer said, “Vic is an excellent professor who just connects so well with the students even from the computer screen.” It’s not an in-depth neuropsychology course, nor is it a philosophy course. It provides enough information to support the course content, and enough to continue researching independently if that’s a goal.


As mentioned in the intro, I’ve split this post into two. In the next post, I’ll go into 2 of my Be Goals and how I turned them into crispy behaviors focused on cleaning.

Until then, here’s a video of the sun.

Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 August 19
The Sun Rotating
Video Credit: SDONASA; Digital Composition: Kevin M. Gill

Featured Image: Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 November 17. A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way. Image Credit: NASAKrista Trinder

Psychology, Education, Women’s History, Medieval Literature, and Wine & Beer: A Shortlist of Future EdX Courses

This year I’ve taken some fantastic courses and I’m really excited to take something else. I’m not exactly sure I know what to sign up for — but I do want to be as excited for the new course as I have been for my previous courses.

I scribbled down this little short list of courses and it’s been sitting on my desk for weeks. I’m going to share them here so I can throw away this paper.

Even though I make these lists, I still end up taking courses that aren’t listed. I see something interesting and watch one video, and then end up in the whole course! For instance, I came across multiple courses on Islam, a business “MicroMasters” series from Bangalore, India, and two courses from Harvard. One on rhetoric and another on money and ethics. So, who know what I’ll get into. Actually, I’m already taking 2 other courses right now.

Most of the courses below have a preview video, so I’m including it.


Psychology of Activism: Women Changing the World

Smith College – SmithX

Learn what motivates prominent women such as Gloria Steinem, Loretta Ross, and others to become involved in activism in this political psychology course.

https://www.edx.org/course/psychology-of-political-activism-women-changing-th

For obvious reasons this year, I thought this might be a good course to consider.


Intercultural Competency in Education

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Do you want to learn practical skills to become interculturally competent and aware as an educator? Take this course and learn to develop strategies to deal with identities in a fairer and more coherent way.

https://www.edx.org/course/intercultural-competency-in-education

After I took that Gender and Intersectionality course, I thought this might be another course to become more informed about intercultural issues. It’s actually more of a course for educators, but you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to teach something new.

I’m not surprised the University of Iceland has a course like this. The more I learn about Iceland, the more impressed I become!


Women Have Always Worked, XSeries Program

Columbia University – COLUMBIAX

Explore the history of women in America.

https://www.edx.org/xseries/columbiax-women-have-always-worked

This is a 4-course series. These XSeries of courses are meant to provide a deep exploration of a topic. They’re really a semester or a full year’s worth of education. Each individual course is broken up into like 8-10 weeks sections, so it’s pretty substantial. EdX estimated 10 months to complete all four courses, but if it’s your only course and you’re not doing anything else, you could get through it much faster.


The Medieval Iceland Sagas

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Learn about the Icelandic Sagas, the characteristic literary genre of Medieval Iceland comprising roughly 40 texts.

The Medieval Icelandic Sagas

https://www.edx.org/course/the-medieval-icelandic-sagas-2

I’ve put this one on a short list because Icelandic sagas came up during the Gender and Intersectionality course I took. And, I’ve decided to take as many courses from the University of Iceland as possible. (There are only 6.)


World History of Wine

Trinity College – TrinityX

Explore wine through the eyes of a historian, as you learn about the “old” and “new” worlds of wine, including how its taste and quality has changed over time.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-world-history-of-modern-wine

I read a book earlier this year about world history through 6 drinks: wine, coffee, tea, spirits, beer, and cola. This seems like kind of the same thing, but specifically using wine.


World of Wine: From Grape to Glass

University of adelaide – adelaidex

Learn about the principles and practices of how grapes are grown and wine is made. Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned oenophile, you’ll learn to confidently describe wine appearance, aroma, flavour and taste.

https://www.edx.org/course/world-of-wine-from-grape-to-glass

A few years ago, I started learning more about wine. I thought this might be a great course to learn more.


Science of Beer

Wageningen University and Research – WageningenX

Are you interested in more than just the taste of beer? Discover what’s in your beer, how it’s made and marketed and the effect it has on your body and health.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-science-of-beer

Beer is so common, yet hardly discussed seriously. This course seemed like a good opportunity for that.

Unlocking Your Employability: An Edx Course from the University of Queensland

I was having a conversation the other day about job hunting strategies. I mentioned how I’d recently taken a new online course and had learned some new and unique approaches to share my past experiences with employers. I’d also learned that there are certain qualities all employers look for, though not every employer priorities these qualities equally.

The course, Unlocking Your Employability, is available from EdX and taught by two career coaches from the University of Queensland in Australia. The course frequently uses interviews from students, graduates, and employers to help explain many of the concepts. There’s also a mock interview.

In all honesty, the course is geared towards college students and recent graduates but I think the lessons could be helpful for experienced people as well. I’ve been working for more years than the intended audience, but I still learned quite a bit.

Overwhelmingly, the course focuses on teaching students how to reflect on past experiences, and to use that reflection during job hunting to demonstrate how the individuality of each job seeker is valuable to employers.

So here are some concepts I learned. This is will be a reference for me, too.


What is Employability

The first part of the course is focused on introducing and defining the term “employability”. I have to admit that I had not heard this word before and it took me a while before I really understood the concept.

Sharing Skills vs Employability

In my experience, when it comes to job hunting, much of what I’ve come across on job hunting strategies focuses on sharing skills and describing “what you did” on a project. One of the employers in the course distinguishes between employability vs employment outcomes, which is a closer concept to what I’ve come across. Employment outcomes is focused on just getting hired, not maintaining a job or emphasizing employee effectiveness.

Employability is about: finding a job, maintaining work, and being effective in the workplace. The course follows the path of reflecting on experiences to convey employability, and using those experiences to be an effective employee.

As the course is focused on employability, there’s more emphasis on the longer term goal of maintaining employment. The course does not emphasize skills growth. The course assumes the student, or job seeker, already has the skills. Instead the focus is on reflecting on your own individual responses in relation to your work and life experiences, and connecting them back to work.

The course focuses on identifying defining moments which can be used to build an employability narrative, which is conveyed to employers using the SEAL method, as discussed next.


STAR vs SEAL, and Behavioral Interviews

One strategy I’ve come across numerous times focuses on use of the STAR method when it comes to sharing your employment experiences. I typically see this advice given to help job seekers prepare to answer behavioral interview questions or even how to describe a project in their portfolio. If you haven’t come across this before, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. The idea is that when an interviewer asks a behavioral question, the interviewee gives an answer in the STAR format.

The trouble I’ve had with this advice is that there’s never any instruction provided on how to translate a past experiences into the STAR format, in a way that’s actually meaningful to me. Or an employer. It’s always seemed that it’s just focused on telling the story of what happened, not providing an answer that’s meaningful to employers.

SEAL is the reflective method taught in the course. SEAL stands for Situation, Effect, Action, Learning. SEAL focuses on helping job seekers take a past experience, from work or life, and reflect on it in a way that can be used to convey employability to employers.


Prep for STAR-based behavioral interviews using the SEAL method

The best way to prepare for behavioral interviews is to prep ahead of time using SEAL. The course identified four questions employers are likely to ask in behavioral interviews:

  • Tell about overcoming a challenge
  • Dealing with conflict in a team
  • Managing competing priorities
  • Showing initiative

The idea is to think of specific situations that can be used to provide SEAL-based responses to the above questions. Once you’ve got those responses, it’s much less of a challenge to convert those responses into a STAR format. I’ve already started to use the SEAL method to shift my explanations of past projects towards a more reflective approach.

The key to choosing a situation to use in SEAL is to focus on an experience where you learned something. I really liked this approach because it means I’m able to take a situation and turn it into a learning experience that shows off some of my personal capabilities. The SEAL method can transform even a negative experience into something positive.


Identifying Defining Moments to Build an Employability Narrative

An employability narrative is the sum of each person’s individual experiences. It’s not just recapping a story of a series of experiences. When you’re hired by an employer, they’re getting the sum of your experiences not just your skills.

The experiences can come from anywhere, not just jobs. These can include:

  • Defining moments (that maybe had a big impact on your job outlook)
  • Key development opportunities (such as a volunteer or teaching experience)
  • Capabilities and strengths
  • Passions, values, beliefs

I think it really helps to spend time reflecting on this in order to build the narrative ahead of time. This part has been harder than I expected; it can be difficult to view yourself objectively.


Employer Expectations and Professionalism

Employer Expectations (aka Core Competencies)

Early in the course, the instructors provide a list of 10 expectations employers have for graduates (or employees). As they described, the list doesn’t change much.

This list probably looks pretty familiar. It’s in nearly every job ad, in one form or another. NACE calls these career competencies, if that helps to clarify. The list of employer expectations can be used by job seekers, using the SEAL method to share examples, and to convey capabilities and strengths.

Professionalism

These core competencies are not the same as professionalism, which focuses on workplace behaviors. The 4 aspects of professionalism identified by the course include:

  • Punctuality; Arrive on time
  • Dress appropriately
  • Work well with others; Team work
  • Communication; speaking appropriately

In addition, one of the employers (a nurse) interviewed in this section identified or explained a few other traits, which still fall under the above categories: positive attitude, introducing yourself, not arguing; think of how you address people. These fit under communication and team work. Obviously, some of these will be more important for some jobs vs others.

When I thought about this list, I have to admit that these are not what I would have identified as professionalism. Probably because I assumed professionalism was mostly focused on technical skills. And the course asked students to reflect on unprofessional behaviors we’ve witnessed as well as our own behaviors that we’d now classify as unprofessional.


Career Transitions and Wrap-Up

The last sections of the course focused on putting it all together, even including a mock interview. That was interesting because we were asked if we’d hire the interviewee and then discuss why or why not on the course forum.

There was also a section on discussing opportunities for continuing education. I guess this post is pretty biased towards the sections I found most interesting. Clearly I don’t have a problem with continuing education.


Reflections

The end of the course includes a course evaluation. Some of my thoughts about the course:

I learned more about the qualities that make someone employable, not just professionally but also personally. I also learned about qualities that define professionalism, which no one has ever explained to me before.

I’ve always considered myself to be professional, but I’ve developed a bad habit of being late to many different types of appointments. Most articles about lateness talk about the idea that being late as a sign of disrespect. But if you’re late to everything, including events that have no one there but yourself, that doesn’t make sense.

However, putting it into context that being late is an unprofessional behavior, well that’s not something I’d heard before. I’m sure that this habit has hurt me educationally as well as professionally. Now that I know, I will work harder at not being late because I don’t want people to think of me as unprofessional.


Initially, I did not appreciate the course that much, probably due to not understanding employability. But by the end, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase a verified certificate of completions. It wasn’t too expensive ($59) and I don’t want to lose access to the course materials.


Bonus!

The section on professionalism reminds me of this 1950s video I saw on YouTube called ‘Office Etiquette’. The video is about a young woman who starts a new job after taking some type of typing training course. She spends the rest of the video reflecting on the lessons the typing instructor shared. Many of the lessons focused on employability, competency, and professionalism, though that’s not what they were called.

The instructor gives a little speech that her students seem to remember by heart: First of all know your work. Enjoy it, but also the people you’re working with. Be considerate of them and be considerate of your employer.

I guess this kind of speech meant a lot in the 1950s. To me it sounds a bit vague and kind of corny. I prefer the much longer and clearer lessons of the Edx course. But the overall points about professionalism and core competencies are still the same, even if the communication isn’t so clear.

The video is 13:15.

Old Time TV: Do’s and don’ts film portraying ways in which office etiquette contributes to success in office relationships. Follows a young woman who is seeking her first secretarial job and shows examples of good (and hilariously bad) on-the-job behavior. (13:15)

Resources:

Unlocking Your Employability: https://www.edx.org/course/unlocking-your-employability

The Wikipedia definition of employability is available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employability

Career Competencies on NACE (National Association for Colleges and Employers): https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/

The University of Queensland, Australia: https://www.uq.edu.au/

Month Notes, May-July 2020

Just a mini list of all the stuff I’ve been consuming/doing. Portfolio updates, books, and courses.

Portfolio Updates

I’ve made several adjustments to my portfolio. I’ve already started another post detailing the changes, so I won’t go into much detail now. But one change was to update the website index page. Instead of the yellow and dark gray, with Courier font, I updated the page to stick with all Inter font and emphasized the portfolio link. I may change it again, but I prefer the gradient gray over the yellow.


Courses and Educational Film

The Dynamics of Desegregation

Over the past few months, I’ve been watching The Dynamics of Desegregation which is available via my local PBS station. This series originally aired in 1962 and 1963 as a 15-part “intensive study of race relations in the United States.” It is hosted by Thomas F. Pettigrew, PhD, who was then Harvard psychology professor. He is now at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

3 MOOCS

In the past few years, most of the online courses I’ve completed have been about tech, business, or design. While I find these courses valuable for work, I do sometimes wonder what I’m not learning. Serendipitously, due to the lockdowns, ClassCentral sent an email about courses and I decided to try some new topics. Here are three courses I’ve completed, or almost finished:

1. ChinaX: Creating Modern China on EdX

I’ve always been interested in Chinese history, but this is truly one of the most interesting courses I’ve even taken, anywhere. The 5-parts are:

I suppose I selected this course on modern China because I have been hearing about the country so much in the news media and from government officials, who I assume are biased. I wanted to form my own opinions about the country. I also took it because I know the history of modern China had a communist period. Supposedly the country is still communist, but given the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard about the growing wealth in China, and how aggressive China is towards developing technology, I wasn’t so sure.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating course. I highly recommend it. This series is Part 2. Part 1 is about pre-history of China and the earlier dynasties.

2. Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society on Coursera

This course is from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s focused on the design of physical artifacts. I really enjoyed the breakdown of solving design problems by breaking them down into separate issues and using charts to deciding which prototype to progress into the next stage. It’s much more professionally focused than the others.

Given the circumstances, where I’m not really going out and not able to talk with friends, I did not attempt to create an artifact. But I did appreciate the lectures and hopefully I can come back to this in the future.

3. Sheep in the Land of Fire and Ice on EdX

“This short course discusses the sustainability of sheep grazing in Iceland and explores how history, socioeconomic factors and environmental conditions have shaped the management of grazing resources.”

I tell anyone who will listen about my dreams of farming sheep and/or goats. When I saw this short course from the University of Iceland, on a topic related to sheep, I figured I  should try it.

What I learned is that because Iceland’s soil is volcanic, it is prone to erosion when the native plants that keep the soil together are destroyed by overgrazing or by too many sheep that simply crush the plants. There was more information about the history of Iceland, sheep farming, and geography. Needless to say, I will never be a sheep farmer on Iceland.

You can also learn more at sheepfireice.org.


Personal

Last time I did a post like this, I mentioned finishing “Flights”, by Olga Tokarczuk. Since then, I’ve finished:

Food-wise, it’s now summer which means I don’t use the oven much. Due to the lockdowns, I also haven’t been buying fresh milk too much. I’ve switched to non-fat dry milk and almond milk because they are more shelf stable, reducing my trips to the grocery. It turns out I really enjoy almond milk in my iced coffee.


Image credit: Hand schrijvend met een kroontjespen, by Isaac Weissenbruch, 1836 – 1912, paper, h 72mm × w 113mm — View original at Rijksmuseum.nl 

(I believe the title is translated as ‘Hand writing with a dip pen’.)

The Escalator

An attempt at a plot development technique called “The Escalator” — from an online creative writing course, focused on plot.

Many years ago, I took a continuing education in creative writing at Rice University. I never took another one, until recently when I got it in my mind to try again. This time, I wanted to look for an online course.

Despite most online courses these days centering on coding or engineering, I found an online creative writing course, focusing on plot development, on Coursera from Wesleyan University. Because I’m not a paying student on Coursera, I cannot submit my writing, so I’m going to share it here.

The assignment from Week 1 is called “The Escalator”. The instructions are below, but the goal is to move the plot along by the use of certain words, like ‘tiger’ and ‘appliance’. It feels a little contrived, but actually these action words really help move things along.


Assignment: The Escalator

Write a scene of 250-350 words featuring a character with one concrete want (a table, a moose, a toothbrush, anything physical is fine!) and one weakness. Use these two features to drive the action of the plot. Set up the story where every other sentence is a rising action. To help you come up with rising actions, use one word from the following list of twelve words in each sentence that has a rising action. In other words: Write your first sentence introducing your character. Make the next sentence a rising action using one of the following twelve words. Write your third sentence, which may introduce the weakness, then write your fourth sentence with a rising action that includes one of the remaining eleven words you haven’t used. And so on.

  • trick
  • memory
  • aboard
  • tiger
  • pretend
  • carrot
  • appliance
  • cage
  • rings
  • crow
  • filthy
  • explode

You must use at least 6 of the 12 words, but you are encouraged to challenge yourself to use as many of the words as possible while still meeting the word count.


Submission: Gold Ring

Abby had recently started a new job after a long period of unemployment. As she found herself in the jewelry department of Bloomingdale’s, she could feel a small part of her explode with pride that she had finally secured full-time work and start living again. 

In the past, Abby had purchased earrings or a necklace to celebrate a new job, but since she wouldn’t get paid until the end of the month, she didn’t have the money to buy anything new. She tried to pretend eagerness in buying the set of pearl earrings the sales girl was showing her and smiled when she looked in the mirror.

As she looked around she noticed the jewelry department wasn’t that busy, but it wasn’t that crowded. She had an idea to somehow trick the sales girl and get the jewelry — by stealing. 

She’d never stolen before and could hardly believe she’d formulated this idea on her own. But after those many months of unemployment and self-doubt —- pinching every dime, and eating rice and lentils every night —- she finally felt like she’d escaped her cage.

Well, she told herself, if she was going to possibly get caught stealing, she wanted to make sure it was worth it. She moved around the glass cases like a tiger stalking prey, making notes in her head of pieces she liked and didn’t. 

Finally she came to a case of rings and asked to view them closer. When the rings were placed in front of her, she cocked her head like a crow, this way and that, trying to eye both the sales girl and the rings. 

The ring she chose to try on was a simple ring of rose gold and opal. She admired how it looked on her finger and tried to remember the moment to form a memory in her mind. 

She hadn’t figured out exactly how she was going to steal it and began to feel her confidence waning. Suddenly, what had been a loud murmur at the other end of the jewelry case exploded into a commotion. A well-dressed man and woman began to yell and scream, hurling filthy insults at each other.

All of the sales attendants immediately hurried over to the couple, including the sales girl who had been serving Abby. 

Like a tiger, Abby pounced at her lucky opportunity. She put her ringed hand in her pocket, picked up her bag and began quickly walking, almost running, towards the door.

Just as she reached the door, she heard a voice call out to her, “Oh, Miss! Oh, Miss!”. But Abby didn’t stop.