REMEMBERING HIGH SCHOOL – Marilyn Armstrong

I had no choice about what high school I’d attend. In New York, unless you were going to one of the four or five special schools for performers (that’s where “Fame” came from, the New York School for Performing Arts) or the few for math and sciences and there were a couple of others, but I don’t remember them anymore, you went to your local high school.

In my case, Jamaica High School. Built to hold 1200 students, it housed nearly 3,000 when I was there. It’s closed now. I think they have turned it into some kind of museum.

Jamaica High School

It was five stories high with the choir loft at the top — five stories of stairs to climb and no elevators. I was in a cast my final (senior) year, so I had to be homeschooled for nine months. They sent an actual teacher to the house. I learned absolutely nothing at home but to be fair, there wasn’t much to learn that I didn’t already know, at least from a studies viewpoint. Most of the learning took place in earlier years. But homeschooling did let me meet some interesting and odd people.

Music was always with me. I was a serious piano student. It had nothing to do with high school since I studied privately. I was in the chorus, not the choir. I didn’t think my voice was good enough or strong enough for the choir. My alto voice was okay, but I would have had to study to make it better and stronger. I was so wrapped in piano, I didn’t have time.

That, and of course, writing.

I was always part of the “junior genius” crowd, but my grades didn’t reflect it. I coasted. I did well in things that I liked, not very well in others. I still won two national merit scholarship as well as the Westminster Scholarship (based exclusively on test results — NOT my grades).

They wouldn’t give me the money because my father earned too much. I never understood how they could do that. I thought I had earned it, but even after I got married, they STILL based it on my father’s (not my husband’s) income. Times have changed, but I was furious then and remarkably, I’m still annoyed.

High School, really

It didn’t make as much difference in 1963, though. Colleges were surprisingly inexpensive. Hofstra, where both Garry and I went, was for him just $17/credit and for me, just $42/credit. Now, it’s very expensive. Unimaginably expensive.

I wanted to study music. It wasn’t what I was best at. I was always a better writer, but I loved music. The piano also wasn’t the right instrument for me, but I didn’t know that until years later. I was tiny when I started studying and still tiny when I reached my “full” growth. The piano was big and my hands are little.

It never occurred to me until I was years into college that I could change instruments. By then, I was drifting back to what I was good at — writing. I never worked as a professional musician because I wasn’t good enough. I was good, but the difference between “good” and “good enough” in classical music is gigantic. Good gets you gigs at a piano bar. Good enough gets you concerts. Better than good enough and maybe — if you are lucky — the world is yours.

I didn’t want to teach piano and certainly didn’t want to play in local bars, but I thought maybe I’d write a great book. I sort of did, but I sort of didn’t. Define “great.”

They didn’t teach instruments in my high school. They didn’t even teach them in college. You still needed a private teacher and my teacher was miles away and I didn’t drive. I did what I could on my own, but I needed a teacher.

We didn’t have a senior prom in High School. It was canceled because no one signed up to go. Nor were there parties to celebrate unless they were small and private. The school was divided by race, class, where you lived, what your extracurricular activities were, and whether you were Jewish, well-to-do-white, poor white, Black, Hispanic or Something Else.

My grades weren’t great, but my IQ was ridiculously high. I’m still not sure what that means in terms of the life one lives. Most of the super smart people I knew, in the end, lived fairly normal lives. The people who made billions were not necessarily the ones with the highest IQs, either. They were the ones with the most determination and focus, something tests don’t measure.

Hofstra in 2014

Nonetheless, I won the two big merit scholarships. There was a ceremony in our auditorium where the Principal pointed out that MOST OF US deserved the award, with an evil eye sent to me and my best friend Heidi — another under-achieving winner.

I think the people who miss high school are people who had a special relationship with it or someone in it. For me, it was something I needed to survive until I got to college. I really enjoyed college, though. It wasn’t just studying. It was social and spiritual and the people I met there are still my friends today.

I admit I didn’t try terribly hard. Most things came to me easily. I had a great memory (unlike now). The hard work came after school. At work. When I had to learn Systems Analysis in two weeks. I needed to know them to do the work I did — so, I learned them. I thought my brain was going to explode.

Little Theater – WVHC 1963

Long after college days were done, one of my bosses was a Ph.D. in Higher Mathematics from M.I.T. I commented that I hadn’t really had to study in school. He laughed. He said that was the thing about M.I.T. Everyone there had been able to go through school without studying. At M.I.T., you studied or you dropped out. It turns out, there ARE schools where you really have to study. I suspect when you get into hard sciences and math, that was also a different story. History is a lot easier to remember than physics.

I was lucky insofar as not only did I grow up in an area full of every kind of person, but my mother urged me to get to know them. She wasn’t just a liberal in-name. She meant it. I don’t think she thought I’d marry someone of a different race, but doubt she’d be surprised.

She knew I dated men of various hues and aside from occasionally pointing out that babies from mixed marriages might have a hard time, she didn’t say anything else. It took me a long time to be comfortable as the only white person in a group of darker people — until I realized no one cared except me, after which it was much easier.

It’s funny looking back into the early sixties. All the things we were striving to do seem to be in the process of being undone. I’m not sure where we are going or with whom we are going. I’m hoping I live long enough to live the difference.

FACTS AND TRUTH #FPQ – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #30

From Fandango:

Comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness” a dozen or so years ago. Truthiness, Colbert explains, is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s similar to when Comedian Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact; I just know it’s true.” These describe a situation when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.

American novelist William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”

So, to today’s question:

First of all both truth and facts matter and if they don’t, then I’m not sure anything matters.

Searching for truth is not identical to searching for facts. Facts are information while Truth is more about “meaning.” Sometimes they are the same and sometimes, they are a bit different. It depends on what you are seeking. But facts are certainly a component of Truth.

I had a brief conversation with a woman with whom I was once friends and she told me that everyone in the media lies. I pointed out that in all my years of living with Garry, never had he leaped out of bed in the middle of the night to stand up in front of a camera and lie to the people.

It doesn’t mean that reporters don’t sometimes get it wrong. They are human. Shit happens. But they make (discounting Fox and friends) their best efforts to get it right and apologize and make corrections when they are wrong. People in media TODAY still get fired for lying. Apparently, lying is okay if you are the president, but not if you’re a reporter.

After I said my piece, she paused a while and then she said: “Does it matter?”


If honesty, facts, and truth don’t matter, then what exactly
does matter?

Above and beyond survival, without truth, facts, evidence, and science, then our last few thousands of years of human development are meaningless.

What you want to be true, what you “feel” is true can have great emotional impact to you, personally, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids and think smallpox was a myth, it matters. When thousands of kids get sick because you and others decided what you erroneously believed was more important than the health of the elderly, the “too young to be vaccinated,” and the immunity-compromised, it matters. Especially to those who die by your choice.

I think everyone is obligated to look for facts, evidence, and the truth of things. Finally, I think one’s intentions to be honest matter even though intentions can go awry.

When William Faulkner said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other,” I’m pretty sure he was being ironic.

BEWARE OF MAN! – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC – Beware of Man!

Harking back to yesterday’s long discussion of ARE YOUR VALUES WORTH A SONG AND A MOVIE? – Marilyn Armstrong which was based on Fandango’s Provocative Question #18:

Man (as opposed to a woman) should not lead a nation. Men are unsuited to the task. A man can be seduced by the size of a breast or beer.
A woman cannot.

A Talmud Legend relates the remarkable tale of how Alexander the Great searched for and found the gates of Paradise on Earth. Upon his appearance, however, he was not greeted knowingly by the Guardian of the Gate. The story reveals that even the most powerful, well-known or ‘great’ men need to be humbled, just like all of us on Earth need to be.

The legend goes as follows:

Once arriving at the gates of Paradise, Alexander the Great knocked persistently on the doors and demanded to be let inside. An Angel finally came calmly to the entrance and asked ‘Who is there?’

Alexander boldly announced, “It is I, the Great Conqueror and Lord of the Earth. Open the gates.” The Angel (to Alexander’s surprise and disappointment), said “We know him not. This is the Lord’s gate, only the righteous enter here.”

Incapable of persuading the Angel to allow his entrance, Alexander the Great prepared to go. Unwilling to leave the gates without some sort of token for his accomplishment for at least discovering the location of the abode of the just, he bravely asked the Guardian of the Gate for a gift. Granting his wish the Guardian gave him a small valuable item and said, “Take this, may it prove useful unto thee, and teach thee wisdom, more wisdom than thou hast acquired during thy ambitious expeditions and pursuits.”

Realizing the gift was nothing more than a piece of bone, Alexander the Great was angered and threw it down to the ground. An accompanying wise and learned man hastened Alexander to reconsider the value of the gift from the abode of the just and offered to weigh it upon the scales. Alexander allowed the wise man to do so. On one side was placed the small fragment of bone. The other side was filled with gold. No matter how much gold continued to be placed upon the scale, the fragment of bone outweighed it. The more gold put onto the scale, the lower the bone sank.

Confused, Alexander asked what could outweigh the bone. The wise man proceeded to show him and covered the bone with dust from the ground. Instantly, the side of the scale with the fragment flew up.

It was realized, “The bone was that which surrounds the eye of man; the eye of man which naught can satisfy save the dust which covers the grave.”

How, then, can a MAN lead a nation when nothing can satisfy him except his own grave? Beware the greed of man. Beware man and his hormones, his endless need for dominance, his demands for power and proof of his superiority. He will never be enough. He can never have enough.

Beware the creature who is a man!

WHEN ONE INFINITY IS BIGGER THAN THE OTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

College was not, as it turned out, particularly useful for practical stuff. Although I learned a reasonable amount, it had a tendency to be the kind of thing that makes great conversation while playing Trivial Pursuit rather than while trying to figure out your household budget for the month.

Consider the subject of infinite sets. I am not a mathematician. I’m okay with arithmetic and I can figure out a basic, algebraic equation if you give me enough time and scratch paper … but otherwise? Unless it’s part of a computer language, I’m at a loss.


Finite versus infinite sets. Equipotent sets. Countable sets. Example!

I remember infinite sets because it was similar to trying to understand time travel.

An infinite set is any combination of numbers that has no end. There are lots and lots of them. All positive numbers, like 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 … and obviously, you can keep counting until the moon turns blue and the world is exhausted.

But what about an infinite set of all negative AND positive numbers, so they go back forever into the minuses as well and forward into the positives. Forever and a day. Without end. That would be twice as big as all positive number … but equally infinite.

There can be infinite sets of only numbers which divide by three or cardinal number and any bizarre combination of fractions. They are all infinite. But some are bigger than others.


Finite and infinite sets. Two sets have the same cardinality when there is bijective function associating them. Cardinality is reflexive, symmetric and transitive. Countable sets: a set of all integers, set of even numbers, positive rationals (Cantor diagonalization) Set of real numbers between 0 and 1 has the same cardinality as a set of all reals. Computability of functions.

How can one infinity be bigger than another infinity? Apparently, universes are sort of like that and now, my brain is due for an explosion because I can’t keep this kind of information there.

Our personal numeric world consists of shockingly finite numbers. That’s one of the amazing parts of retirement. You have what you have and you will never have more unless you hit the lottery or have an extremely rich relative planning to die and leave his fortune behind for you.

Retirement income just “IS.” It won’t get bigger. Retirement income pretty much stays the same while the world trundles on. Life and the universe may be infinite, but retirement is not.

It’s just a thought to ponder if you feel like pondering.