Thursday, February 28, 2008

Salute to Janis David Cooley

Black History Month

The House of David

A Family History

by Janis David Cooley, Ed.D.

This is a salute to Janis David Cooley who I had the good fortune to become acquainted with in the early part of the year 2005. We had regular contact several times a week for several months during which we engaged in some interesting conversations.

I think she would be pleased I chose this Black History Month of February to write about her as she was very proud of her African-American heritage. She was well aware she told me, that with her light skin she could easily have passed as white, as others had suggested she should consider doing, but chose not to do so.

She presented herself to me as an obviously well-educated, attractive older woman, friendly, personable, and warm in manner. A delightful sense of humor was often quick to surface as I came to know her.

One day she quite enthusiastically told me she had been writing the history of her family and was now in the final process stages of self-publishing the book. She was in the midst of her final editing of proofs. A few weeks later she announced with great relief this step was completed, the corrected proof's returned to her publisher, Xlibris, for initiation of the actual printing process. During subsequent weeks of waiting to receive word her book was finally published, she spoke of her gradual increasing anxiousness to see the finished product of her labors, but clearly was trying to remain patient.

I would come to learn the pages of Janis Cooley's book chronicles individual family members' lives. A few pages graphically arrange names in family tree fashion. Short biographies and pictures of numerous family members fill other pages. She adds informative commentary about her personal and professional life including various moves with her husband beginning in Chicago, eventually to the east, then west coasts. Most recently she had been continuing to provide English essay writing assistance for a Chinese and a Cuban senior high school student to enable their passing their necessary tests, which they successfully did.

She notes in her book, "Virtually all of my African-American forbears were slaves until the end of the Civil War in 1865." Her historical accounts confirm the rightful pride she expresses in her ancestors wide range of achievements -- including some who became theologians, others, educators as did she.

She also recounts unique experiences with descriptions of some occasions when others assumed she was white, or forgot she wasn't -- the comments they made, even the questions she was asked as a white skinned black woman, an African-American. We had laughed together incredulously as she relished telling me some stories of those instances, or about other situations such as she relates in her book. I couldn't help thinking how we often find humor where pain can sometimes rest just below the surface.

Wilberforce University receives special attention in a few pages, since it played a significant role in her families life and her own early years. They lived in the Ohio town the University website reports was "named to honor the great 18th century abolitionist, William Wilberforce." Formed in 1856 the University describes itself as "the nation's oldest private college historically black."

This educational institution had been established " provide an intellectual Mecca and refuge from slavery's first rule: ignorance." The University in west central Ohio was a major destination point in The Underground Railroad, for slaves escaping "the yoke of slavery" preceding the years before the Civil War (1861-1865.)

I recall my mother telling me she had been told by her parents, who lived during slavery years, of a nearby house in her Northern Ohio farm community that had been a safe haven and rest spot for slaves on freedom's journey headed toward Canada via that virtual railroad. There were numerous such safe houses in Ohio and quite a few in various other states.

The author smiles at me in the photo on the cover of her book, exactly as I prefer to remember her on the occasion before I last saw her. Our last encounter was a late Friday afternoon when I took a few minutes before leaving for the weekend to see if she had yet received word about her book, or wanted to have a brief chat.

Much to my surprise she was not sitting up at her computer, or planning her next activity in the retirement community where she resided, but was reclining in bed. I learned later she had played Bridge in the morning, but after returning to her room around noontime began to feel unwell.

When I looked at her, I sensed by her expression she seemed somewhat perplexed that she didn't feel well. Her wan, unsmiling facial appearance, and soft weak tired-sounding voice strongly indicated to me she was fatigued or more. Medical care had been provided, she said, and that she needed nothing, but I immediately re-confirmed that fact with staff. I did not linger with her, as her drooping eyelids suggested she might sleep. Sleep she did ..... later, in the very early hours of a new day ..... forever ..... on July 9, 2005.

Two weeks later word was received from her publisher the drop shipment of books she had ordered that many of us had wished to purchase was ready for mailing. She never saw her book in final published form -- The House of David, "A Family History" by Janis David Cooley, Ed.D.

I am reminded the words she wrote which appear on the back cover of this slender 93 page large-size paperback are much the same words she once said to me:

"This book is primarily for my family, because I want them to be aware of their marvelous background and hope that they will keep up the good work. A secondary purpose is the hope that people of other races will read it and realize that their ideas about black people are wrong."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Rule of Threes

Deliberate Technique ... Phenomenon ...
Coincidence ... Superstition ... Secret Force?

"Questioning Threes Significance" elicited some comments to my previous post's speculative ramblings about whether or not certain numbers might have special meaning in our lives. Some readers mentioned select numbers other than three, as did a younger friend who said her number was "777" -- to what do all those digits apply? I recall a time period when 13 seemed to be a lucky number for me with its frequent emergence in unexpected ways i.e. a house number. Do we discover more than one number for each of differing situations?

Maybe our "number" changes over the span of our lives. Do we select experiences that associate with our number? Does our number somehow dictate what the total of those events will be? What is the significance of these multi-digit numbers in this scheme?

The numbers topic came to mind simply because I happened to notice those "threes" about which I wrote. I thought this subject offered one way in which to acknowledge the time lapse since I had last written here. I wanted to affirm I had not yet abandoned this virtual corner in the blogosphere before someone tried to establish squatter's rights. Does such happen with blogs? I have so many questions about so many subjects besides numbers.

I've been aware of 'three' groupings throughout my life, having heard such sayings as "Third time is a charm," "Everything happens in threes." I began to wonder about others experiences with three and what this 'rule of threes' is all about -- deliberate technique, phenomenon, coincidence, superstition, some 'secret force'?

The "Rule of Threes" is a concept commonly used in one form as a means for describing structural organization. This concept's origins are debatable, but creating categories of threes with their subsequent extensive employment in a multitude of ways has occurred for centuries. Categorization is used to facilitate information storage and retrieval in our brain, a way to help us better understand the world around us.

Among the variety of articles on this Rule is an essay by freelance writer Yves Barbero with the following quote which, since the source was unknown, he attributed to Kilroy, who has been "...around since at least World War II." (Read some interesting stories about Kilroy's identity HERE.)

"The common man sees the world as nature sees it,
yes and no, good and evil, on and off -- the
artificer, the scholar, the intellectual sees the
world in threes, and makes a full time occupation
of explaining the unnatural."

The classic example Barbero cites for this "three-fold division Sigmund Freud's id, ego, and superego." He notes Freud "...may have warned that this division was a shorthand convenience for psychoanalysts, and not distinct elements in defining personality, but generations of practitioners have made a priesthood of guarding these intellectual icons."

Barbero's essay describes one broad use of a threes system as including "religious, social, scientific" applications, most of which many of us are probably quite familiar i.e. the religious Holy Trinity. He demonstrates how we can devise our own divisions of three just as some scholars do. His essay uses the examples he provides to analyze issues associated with teaching creationism and evolution within a school science curriculum. The purpose here is simply to examine the more common well-known uses of the "Rule of Threes" most of which utilize deliberate techniques.

We begin from birth categorizing information received through all our senses, gradually becoming able to associate words to these groups i.e. milk evolves into food which includes sub-categories of beverages, etc. Eventually we're incidentally introduced to 'threes' as I think of the nursery rhyme category inclusive of the group designated animals, such as, "Three Blind Mice," "Three Little Pigs," and "Goldilocks" featuring three bears. This often unconscious organizational behavior continues throughout our life with new information we receive, though the 'three' grouping matters little for much of it.

Currently we're immersed in categorizing activities we can characterize as political. Candidates seeking to be our country's next president are speaking extensively with rhetoric designed to elicit our support and vote. Methods are employed to impact our emotions, increase the likelihood certain speaker words are noticed and remembered. Here, the speaker's rhetoric may use a 'threes' technique emphasizing a thought by repeating a specific statement or question three times, sometimes with increasing loudness, and changing inflection. They want us to remember: "I promise real change" ..... "I Promise Real Change" ..... "I Promise REAL CHANGE!"
("Mother Pie" provides several excellent posts analyzing political techniques being used in this current political environment beginning with her Feb. 13th post.)

Learning techniques often include the belief three repetitions are necessary for new information acquisition and retention. This idea is also prevalent in hypnosis when the susceptible, submissive candidate is perceived to have assimilated the proffered message, by demonstrating its use in observed behaviors. Often the success of the actual hypnosis is at least partially attributed to the hypnotizing process that has incorporated use of this 'threes' concept.

Additionally, the aesthetically pleasing visual composition with the "three" concept is often used by artists in the creation of their various arts and crafts, such as in determining photo composition. Similarly, actor placement or "blocking," is a system using threes directors use in grouping people on a stage as in theatre plays. More ordinary applications may occur in home decorating, including arrangement of room furniture, table or mantle objects, wall pictures, as additional examples that provide opportunities to implement the 'threes' concept.

The use of threes occurs in writing as noted in the nursery rhymes, but continues into more advanced complex writing forms. Some music is likely influenced by threes. Comics joke delivery incorporates the "threes" concept as do even professional clowns who use the technique in their behavioral actions, one such clown told me recently.

"Survival and Outdoor" website reports U.S. Armed Forces Survival Schools teach

"You can survive three seconds without thinking, three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food or three months without hope."

A less pleasant application of this "rule of threes" is the belief entertained by some that certain unwelcome events occur in threes, usually within a relatively short time period of each other. My husband and I were often reminded of this latter "threes" superstition when some iconic personality departed this life. We wondered, would there be a second? If there was a second death, our interest would heighten sometimes with speculation as to whether or not there would be a third. When there seemed to be the inevitable third death soon after the second, then we questioned whether or not superstition was the appropriate descriptive word for these events. Was this merely a coincidence, a "three" phenomenon – or the result of some secret force?

I continue to wonder about this "rule of threes." I wonder how others might have acquired any notion of "special" numbers, if they entertain such thoughts? Perhaps the possibility that some "secret force" exists is simply magical thinking, a consequence of the idea having been at some time some how implanted in my mind.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Questioning Three's Significance

The Bacteria Wars

I'm bringing this blog into the present by referring to earlier events, beginning with my west coast trip to share the recent past holiday season with a few east coast family members. Requested snow flurries for at least one special day while I was there, disappointingly never materialized. Fortunately, my overall experience, enjoying the company of each other and friends, compensated by providing me much pleasure. This interfered with blogging then and, coupled with other events, has continued to do so since I returned home.

When I began to write this activity up date, I soon recognized repeated instances of experiences somehow associated with the number "three." I recalled my trip, discovering I was missing three small bottles and contents accidentally left at home as a consequence of my hasty departure. Then,I remembered later three successive unexpected medical issues emerged, ultimately exercising considerable influence on some of my behaviors. I suddenly realized the prevalence of "three" seemed somehow to be impacting my life. Three different undesirable bacteria invaded three different areas of my being in three successive unrelated instances, followed by the need to ingest three separate and differing antibiotics. Was there some symbolic significance for me in this number three concept, I wondered?

Could there even be some obscure force causing events to occur in threes? Perhaps this force can be recognized by the influence on my medical state, operating unbeknown to me at the time, as my health matters became more complicated. A bacterial germ warfare was beginning against me. My first antibiotic engaged in combat in one theater of war within my body where bacteria had slowly, methodically and silently grouped to suddenly launch their attack.

Unexpectedly a second bacterial army separate and different from the first, apparently camouflaged, opened another theater of war. A second antibiotic was initiated contributing to what I characterize as beginning an armed forces rescue unit pill parade. Eventually, the enemy armies were finally manageable, enabling me to make my delayed return home where I expected this warfare to end.

Just as the final battles were being fought a stealth group of bacteria manifested itself with a vengeance, opening a third theater of war. The necessary third antibiotic rushed to provide defense. I privately suspect that latter enemy attack group was composed of embedded guerrilla forces active almost as long, if not longer, than those first two covert forces.

These three theaters of war battlefields are finally mostly quiet as the enemy bacterial forces have been roundly defeated and most defense forces retired. I have been reminded during this time of what is true at any age, that physical weakening also affects emotions, other behaviors, might even aggravate clear thinking. I began to realize I was not using due diligence and care with writing, so, I, possibly belatedly, had the good sense to drastically curtail writing activities and computer use.

An edgy attitude had emerged, invaded my writing that was becoming hurried. Email missives were being hastily sent without a second more-considered reading, so they tended to be abrupt, possibly even abrasive. I eventually concluded my writing nothing was best. This decision was later reinforced when a non-blogging long-time friend observed in an email that the "writing doesn't sound like you." Of course it didn't. I appreciated her honest observation, that she took the time to question in a caring manner. Other behaviors and feelings were marginally affected. I have been and am in a much healthier state than how this all may read, so note this has just been my temporary reality.

This experience has stimulated my speculation about "three," its possible significance in my life, if any. I also wonder if others have a symbolic relationship to three, or any number other than three, that they associate with aspects of their own lives?