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In her book Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps, Kelly Williams Brown mentions a strategy her mother used whenever her children got into one of those pointless arguments in which siblings are known to engage. The first child who opted out of the argument by saying, “Drop the Banana” was rewarded.

As adults, no one is going to give us a treat if we decide not to engage in circular discussions that do nothing but raise our blood pressure and eat up our time. Still, the reward is the peace that comes from knowing that we really don’t have to engage and can simply move on.

So I declare that from now on I will drop the banana by

  • not responding on Facebook to a comment that is factually ignorant, illogical, or just plain mean. I have enough experience now to know that I won’t change anyone’s mind. I will simply hide that post and, if necessary, unfriend the person. (This does not apply to serious discussions where people actually think about what other people post.)
  • refusing to engage when someone complains about a friend, relative, boss or colleague if the complaint is the same one the person has made for the past several months or years. Once again, it’s pretty clear that no one is looking for an actual solution here.
  • realizing that just because someone wants to bring up the same issue over and over again, I am under no obligation to respond each and every time.
  • stating that my silence does not mean agreement. It simply means that I am no longer participating in the same old gripe sessions.
  • refusing to believe that my self-respect has any connection with other people’s bad moods and, therefore, does not require a response.

How will you drop the banana?




Hugh Duguid

Math and Natural Sciences



by Voltaire


I am currently reading Candide by Voltaire. I last read part of it five decades ago and thought to revisit it. Even though it is 200 years old, it is relevant today, in my humble opinion.

There is an Asian tale about a farmer who took a break from a long day in the fields. As he sat down, he saw a rabbit run into a stump and break its neck. Taking the rabbit home, he cooked and ate it.

“Ah,” he said. “This is how life should be.”

From that day on, he sat by the edge of the woods waiting for another rabbit to run into a stump. Obviously, things did not turn out so well for him.

There are several lessons that can be learned from this story:

  • There really is no substitute for hard and steady work.
  • Do not mistake a random incident for fate.
  • And if you’re a rabbit, look where you’re running.

But in any case, keep working on your goals.




Jessica Rabb

Math and Natural Sciences


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

 By Elizabeth Kolbert


This book makes a strong case for us being in the middle of an event that happens, on average, once every billion years. Unfortunately it is the extinction of most organisms on the planet and this time it is due to human activities. We can’t prevent this unless we know why it’s happening. So I recommend you read this book to save the world.


I am taking a beginning piano class. Now, as some of you know, many beginning skills courses are actually full of people who are not true beginners. Spanish I has its share of folks who took high school Spanish. The same for French. And in my beginning piano class, there are folks who play other instruments and have taught themselves some piano.

Then there’s me. Now I do own a keyboard that I bought from a starving musician a few years ago. And I have a few teach-yourself books, and I can play “Silent Night” or “Greensleeves” if I’m given enough time. (About thirty minutes at my current rate.) But I have never studied music, know nothing about music theory, and now realize that I’m going to spend quite a bit of time unlearning my own quirky finger positions on the keyboard.

Then today, when my colleague was trying to tell me how to know what key something was written in, I realized I had done all my homework wrong. I went back to my office and stared disconsolately into space for several seconds.

I tell you this, not to make you pity me, but to tell you that I too am a beginning learner. So these study tips are not gathered back from the Stone Age when I was in college but from my very real attempts right now to learn piano.

So here goes:

  • Space out your practice. Do some every day. Don’t try to cram everything into one learning session. So far, I have worked through a lesson a day. Now I could wait until next Sunday night and try to do six lessons at once. But I know that I will not be ready for class that way. And that is true also for history, psychology, or any other class you’re taking.
  • Evaluate yourself. At the end of each practice session, I make notes about what I need to review or learn. For example, the music theory part of the book is totally new for me. So I make a little time to review that more than the other parts.
  • Have the attitude of a learner. There are some other true beginners in the class. And there are some people who are about my age. But I am the oldest true beginner. And I have to admit that it would be easy to get discouraged. After all, who wants to look like an idiot in front of people young enough to be your children? But my goal (and it’s been on my bucket list for years) is to learn the piano, and this is the best way to do it. So I’m going to concentrate on what I’ve learned each week and chart my own progress instead of worrying about how I appear to the others.

Here is the basic truth I try to remember: Learning means making mistakes and practicing (a lot). So let’s make the most of the semester together!




James Needham

Math and Natural Sciences

Although it’s more of a novella than a book, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy has stuck with me since reading it in college:  write your own obituary, then try your hardest to live up to it.

This is the first day of classes here, and it’s nice to see new and returning faces, full of hope and anticipation. One of the nice things about working in a college is all the beginnings we have: every few months a new semester and a new start.

So in the spirit of beginning anew, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotations:

“All things are difficult before they are easy.”–Thomas Fuller

“We cannot start over but we can start now & make a new ending.”- Zig Ziglar

“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.”Barabra Sher

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”–Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which, more than anything else, will determine its successful outcome.” William James 




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