Sunday, May 07, 2017

Of Presence & Absence

I have decided that the real value of a blog is that it makes it possible for a person to dissect themselves.  A scientist interested in learning more about a particular organism might take tissue samples, mount them on a slide for examination, carefully preserve the samples, and then view them under a microscope.  Similarly, a blog captures samples of an author's thoughts and feelings over time, immobilizes them, and preserves the samples for future exploration and analysis.

I find it interesting to observe what I once thought, how I articulated it, what it meant to me in the past, and what it now means to me in the present..  Even more intriguing is the awareness that my thoughts at any given moment are so deeply connected to the contexts in which I find myself embedded and to the people, places, and media I am "consuming."

Perhaps the "real" story is lodged somewhere in the layers between what is present and what is absent; between what makes one feel alive, and what one chooses not to feel; scattered across different audiences, distributed among different tools.  Presence plus absence equals essence.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Constellations of Universes

"In reality, every ego–so far from being a unity, is in the highest degree a manifold world, a constellated heaven, a chaos of forms, of states and stages, of inheritances and potentialities. As a body everyone is single, as a soul never." (Hermann Hesse)

This quote made me think about a letter that was attached to one of the trees on the hill outside the Pentagon after the bombings on Sept. 11th. It said something to the effect that the person who had died was filled with a million universes that the world would now never have the privilege of knowing or exploring. I wonder if the author of that letter had read Hermann Hesse?

As I think about the things I am learning about quantum physics, I realize that Hesse was much more correct than he may have realized about this idea of multiple worlds, inheritances, and potentialities. His comments regarding the soul are also interesting to me because I have realized that it is only in relation to other people--in service--that we can discover who we really are, and that our souls yearn to connect.


So many people operate from this philosophy:

"Success sanctifies the means" (Gilder, 2008, p. 43).

Yet it begs the questions, "What constitutes success?"  How we define it changes what qualifies for sanctification, no?  And then there is the small problem of "the means."  The connotations could take us into the realms of mathematics, or people of "small or meager means," or into "instruments, paths, processes, and tools," or into unkindness.


Gilder, Louisa. (2008). The age of entanglement: When quantum physics was reborn. NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

A String of Happiness

A string of happiness
Draped itself
Around her life

A row of 5 shiny days
Like tiny blue moons

Pulling on tides of probability.

- Cherice Montgomery

Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Reflections on Creativity

I am in the middle of a book called The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius.  It was suggested to me by a neuropsychologist whom I met recently through a colleague.  Although I wouldn't necessarily recommend the book, a few ideas came to mind as I read it that I thought were interesting:

1)  The ability to recognize and reconsider relationships is at the core of all creativity.  (I am reminded of Hofstadter's (1995) comments about the critical role that variations on a theme play in creativity.)

2)  Novel approaches to perception, observation, interpretation, and representation are essential components of creative production.

Perception - What falls within the scope of our awareness?  What do we notice?  I believe this to be heavily influenced by our openness to new experience, and by the depth and breadth of our prior knowledge and experience.

Observation - How deeply do we immerse ourselves in both our internal and external worlds?  To which features of those worlds do we attend?  How many layers do we consider?  To what extent are we attuned to the relationships between those layers, or to the dynamic interactions between them?

Interpretation - On which resources do we draw as we seek to understand our experiences?  Do we consider what we have observed from multiple perspectives using a wide variety of heuristics?  Do we look at both individual and systemic factors?  Do we consider sociocultural contexts?  Are our interpretations non-linear, dynamic, flexible, and fluid enough to accommodate change?

Representation - How do we attempt to represent our experiences, our questions about them, and our conclusions?  Do our representations acknowledge that they are necessarily incomplete?

3)  Much research on creativity has highlighted the important role that unstructured down time plays in creativity.  However, that may be because it facilitates unstructured thought.  Andreasen (2005) phrases the idea in this intriguing way: "I would hypothesize that during the creative process the brain begins by disorganizing, making links between shadowy forms of objects or symbols or words or remembered experiences that have not previously been linked" (p. 78).  This might explain why children seem to "lose" their creativity as they progress through school.  Perhaps the highly structured nature of schooling (and the type of thinking it reinforces and rewards) precludes engagement in the types of cognition responsible for creativity.

4)  Creativity is linked to the development of linguistic proficiency.  Language teachers and their students are quick to assume that a large vocabulary is a prerequisite condition for any sort of creative composition in another language.  A quick look at the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 2012 seems to support that. Yet consider the implications of this statement: "It is likely that one factor contributing to literary creativity is having a lexicon not only large in quantity of words but also rich in associated meanings for each word" (Andreasen, 2005, p. 67).  How frequently do we explicitly engage students in developing associative networks of MEANING around the lists of vocabulary words we insist that they memorize?  It is not uncommon in older textbooks to see words categorized by parts of speech (such as nouns, adjectives, etc.).  At best, we may categorize the words topically (i.e., foods) with a few subcategories thrown in (fruits, vegetables, beverages).  However, textbook drills seldom connect the words to meaningful contexts, much less engage students in exploring layers of meaning associated with the words.  As a result, we severely limit students' ability to create with the language they are learning.

Andreasen, Nancy C.  (2005).  The Creating Brain:  The Neuroscience of Genius.  NY:  Dana Press.  ISBN 1-932594-07-8.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Dance

Anchored in the sand
Of shared understanding,
She scooped up a handful of notes,
Letting them flow through her fingers;
He patted them down with his feet
In syncopated splashes of skill.

Comfortably connected,
They waded deeper into the music
Swaying and swirling
To the rhythm of the waves
Which ebbed and flowed around them.

As they danced, she slowly realized
Just how far she had drifted
From the glittering shores
Of her best self—

A scintillating sandcastle
Sparkling in the sunlight
Of sudden insight.

She closed her eyes
Before the next wave of doubt

Came crashing in.

Cherice Montgomery - July 13, 2012

Sunday, January 08, 2012


I almost wrote today . . .
After a year away . . .
Perhaps tomorrow . . .
I'll have something more to say . . .
But I guess I'm still not brave enough

Cherice Montgomery

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Playing at Poetry

Restless thoughts
Tumble noisily 
Through the halls of her mind,
Jostling one another 
As they race 
Toward fun and freedom

Most shrug out of the words
Zipped around them
As they spill onto the playground,
And, like unruly children, 
Resist lining up 
In tidy rows of prose 
When the day ends.

Pushing and shoving,
They trickle back inside
Leaving a stillness behind
In which unfulfilled possibilities
Echo in the wind
Like the squeak of empty swings.

Cherice Montgomery, August 5, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Exploring Giftedness

  • Conversations with gifted adults 
  • Discussions with friends about the problems of their highly sensitive children
  • Personal interest in creativity, improvisation, innovation, and productivity
  • Questions about the differences between "bright" and "gifted"
  • Questions from gifted students about how to manage professional and social interactions
  • Questions from student teachers and mentor teachers about how to motivate gifted students (especially underachievers and “fast finishers”)

The quotes that follow highlight some of the issues that impact people who are gifted, along with some of the tensions they encounter as they try to make sense of their lives within the social and cultural contexts in which they find themselves embedded.

Talents ~ Time

“Although they try to cram 27 hours worth of living into a 24-hour day, there simply isn't enough time to develop all of the talents and interests that they may have" (Webb, 2009, p. 9).

Intensity ~ Isolation ~ Intimacy
"Gifted adults commonly have the experience of being 'out of sync' with others but not understanding why or how they are different.  Jacobsen (2000) describes how people came to her in her clinical practice with a vague sense that they were different; others had told them repeatedly that they were 'too-too'--that is, too serious, too intense, too complex, too emotional, etc." (Webb, 2009, p. 19).
"From the moment she arrived, it seemed that none of her co-workers was interested in making her acquaintance.  Conversations never included her; in-jokes left her completely in the dark; people fell silent when she came near a table in the lunchroom or a fountain in the halls.  At first--and still--she tried to believe that it was because she was young, she was frail, she did not make friends easily.  But actually, right from the start, she knew it was because she was an ambitious woman with remarkable scores from the best school on the planet; because she was curious and wanted to learn and wanted to be excellent, which would threaten all of them, make them all look bad (Card, 1978/1987, p. 207).

"But without a real friend, it was only a pretense, and I never could let my playmates know anything about me.  I studied them and wrote stories about them and it was all of them, but it was only a tiny part of me” (Shiras, 1953, p. 29).

". . . it is a Soul-devastating experience to sacrifice one's authenticity in order to belong" (Silverman, 1988).

“It’s wonderful to be able to talk to another person my own age and have them get everything I say, snap!  Just like that!  No matter what I talk about . . . . She doesn’t know exactly the same things I do, of course, but she understands everything” (Shiras, 1953, p. 56).

Complexity ~ Creativity ~ Contradictions ~ Constraints

"For gifted children, nothing is as simple as it seems.  They see clearly that the answer depends on the context--they see endless shades of grey" (Gifted & Talented Services of Australia, 2007).

"Sensitivity . . . without a developmental outlet turns into irritability” (Mika, 2002).

“The external structure that they are steeped with becomes contradictory or meaningless when confronted with articulate, conscious individual experience” (Webb, 2009, p. 11). 

“They may also find themselves feeling angry because they feel powerless to make the changes that they see as needed” (Webb, 2009, p. 16). 

Depth ~ Defense Mechanisms ~ Dedication

“Control kept him from showing any emotion at all, though he longed to cry out with the agony that tore at him inside.  My walls are deep, but can they hold this? he wondered . . .” (Card, 1978/1987, p. 180).

“‘Ansset, what is your song?’  He looked at her blankly.  Waited.  Apparently he did not understand.  ‘Ansset, you keep singing our songs back to us.  You keep taking what people feel and intensifying it and shattering us with it, but child, what song is yours?’ . . . . The object of Control was not to remove the singer from all human contact, but to keep that contact clear and clean.  Instead of a channel, Ansset was using Control as an impenetrable, insurmountable wall.  I will get over your walls, Ansset, she promised him silently.  You will sing a song of yourself to me.  But his blank, meaningless face said only, You will fail” (Card, 1978/1987, pp. 48-49).

“‘Oh you sound so sweet.  I can see where Ansset learned it.  A machine teaching a machine.’  ‘You misunderstand,’ said Esste.  ‘It is pain teaching pain.  What do you think the Control is for?’” (Card, 1978/1987, p. 42).

Development ~ Disintegration ~ Depression

“One must first disintegrate before one can reintegrate at a higher level, . . . .” (Webb, 2009, p. 14).

“However, this new mental schema may be only partially successful; these individuals may find themselves aware of inconsistencies and pretenses within their new way of thinking, though they may try desperately to convince themselves otherwise. They experience, then, only the dissolving part of the process—without reintegration at a higher level—leaving them with negative disintegration and the accompanying conflicts and negative emotions. Worse, they are unable to return to their previous unthinking way of being (“the rung bell”)” (Webb, 2009, p. 12).


The following video clips, webpages, essays, and books highlight some of the challenges and experiences associated with giftedness.
  • Apple (posted by PeterGreen125).  (2006, April 26).  Think differentYouTube.  Retrieved from

  • Onodera, Shun.  (2008, April 4).  Gifted.  Retrieved February 14, 2010, from
  • Orion Pictures Corporation.  (1991).  Little man tate 2Little Man Tate.  Retrieved February 14, 2010, from

  • Tolan, Stephanie.  (1996).  Is it a cheetah?  Retrieved June 24, 2009, from
    • Some studies indicate that the brains of gifted individuals may function more efficiently as a result of differences in structure and organization.  For example, more dense gray matter in the prefrontal cortex and more white matter tracts may facilitate attentional control, critical thinking, decision-making, working memory, and other executive functions (Navas-Sanchez, et al., 2014; Nestor, et al., 2015; Sousa, 2009; Tetreault, Haase, & Duncan, 2016). A thicker corpus callosum (Barbara & Kerr, 2009) may enable a more efficient use of cognitive resources and more integrated cognitive processing across the two hemispheres of the brain (Jaušovec, 2000Jin, et al., 2006), while thicker myelin sheaths around individual neurons and more synaptic connections may facilitate faster cognitive processing.
    • Some research suggests that people who have been classified as "gifted" may be especially sensitive to certain kinds of stimulation.  These sensitivities have been classified into five major domains:
      • Emotional (often displayed as deep emotional attachment, extremes, or intensity)
      • Imaginational (frequently expressed as a penchant for fantasy, imaginative play, inventiveness, and visual forms of cognition such as imagery or metaphor)
      • Intellectual (regularly exhibited as high levels of concentration, intense inquisitiveness, metacognition, and abstract thinking that focuses on analysis, synthesis, or theory-building)
      • Psychomotor (typically manifested as excess energy and enthusiasm, impulsivity, rapid speech, and physical expression of emotional tension through competitiveness, compulsiveness, nervous habits, or workaholism
      • Sensual (often visible in attention to aesthetics, the derivation of pleasure from sensory input, and overindulgence during periods of stress) (Fielder, 1998; Webb, 2009)
    • These "heightened levels of awareness, energy, and emotional response" are a NORMAL part of the developmental trajectory for "gifted" individuals (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Tolan, 1996; Webb, 2009). However, the feedback that many gifted individuals receive while living life on a daily basis tends to send the message that much of what is at the core of who they are and what they care about is completely abnormal (Tolan, 1994).
    • This message is reinforced by the fact that the development of "gifted" individuals often occurs asynchronously, with intellectual development typically preceding social and emotional development.  Thus, these individuals are frequently "out of sync" with the rest of the world in general, and their same-age peers in particular.  Although most gifted individuals are very aware of this fact, many blame this lack of synchronicity on personal deficiencies or idiosyncracies rather than recognizing that it is a very "normal" part of giftedness (Clark, 2002Fielder, 1998; King, 2009; Tolan, 1994; Webb, 2009).
    • Educators also frequently fail to recognize the psychosocial tensions that such asynchronous development produces.  Teachers typically focus on qualitative differences between the knowledge and skills of gifted individuals and those of their peers, failing to realize that they are physical manifestations of less visible phenomena, such as marked differences in the focus of their interest and attention, in their energy and concentration levels, in the rationales underlying their goals and motivations, in their thoughts and interpretations regarding the world, and in the way they represent their understandings (Shavinina, 2008; Tolan, 1994).  Educators who do not recognize these qualitative differences between gifted individuals and the other students in their classes may adopt approaches to managing gifted students that require them to do more difficult work, in larger quantities, at a faster pace or of higher quality that that required of their peers.  The needs and behaviors of gifted individuals are also frequently misinterpreted for similar reasons, and both teachers and employers may find such individuals difficult to engage, difficult to manage, and difficult to understand.
    • The personal challenges associated with the heightened sensitivities that many gifted individuals experience include managing intense emotional reactions to daily events, finding outlets for an overabundance of creativity and/or energy, inadequate intellectual or sensory stimulation, insufficient emotional intimacy, intense perfectionism and self-criticism, and setting appropriate boundaries for self and others (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Perrone, et. al, 2007; Rinn & Bishop, 2015; Streznewski, 1999; Tolan, 1994; Webb, 2009).
    • Major life events or stresses frequently catalyze displays of hypersensitivities in most people, but such displays tend to occur more frequently, last longer, and manifest more intensely in gifted individuals.  This often intensifies the aforementioned difficulties with interpersonal relationships among family, friends, teachers, and employers, and may even lead uninformed health care professionals to misdiagnose these individuals with attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, neuroses, or other psychological problems (Azpeitia & Rocamora, 1994; Mika, 2002; Streznewski, 1999; Tolan, 1996).  
    • A number of studies have noted a strong correlation between giftedness and perfectionism.  Gifted individuals frequently set goals for themselves based on their intellectual capacity rather than on what may be developmentally appropriate or realistic given their chronological age.  They may also evaluate their performance in comparison with that of their associates (who often tend to be older or more accomplished than they are), irrespective of the criteria that would be considered realistic given their lack of experience with the particular field they are exploring.  They may also become so accustomed to success at an early age due to their well-developed cognitive skills that they question their own intelligence when confronted with failure--a phenomenon known as "the impostor syndrome" (Perrone, et. al, 2007).  However, when the “positive energy” of perfectionistic tendencies is harnessed in productive ways, such tendencies can become great resources for personal development.  Some research suggests that the ability of gifted individuals to accomplish this is tied to whether or not they adopt a resilient approach to failure (King, 2009; Perrone, et. al, 2007; Silverman, 2007).   
    • The hypersensitivities that typically accompany giftedness are especially problematic for females, many of whom are keenly aware of the gap between who they are and what society expects them to be.  The message that their "appearance and sociability" are the primary source of their value to society pervades historical traditions, permeates the media, and is perpetuated by textbooks in which well-known male "experts" blatantly characterize women as inferior.  Gifted girls are socialized to believe that they are less capable than men, and many begin to lose confidence in both their abilities and in the validity of their perceptions as they reach puberty.  Such perspectives are often further reinforced as high-achieving women interact with competitive men in male-dominated fields and workplaces.  Gifted women also lack widely-recognized, high achieving female role models to counter that message, and those who are courageous enough to ignore the message face strong social sanctions when their interests and behaviors deviate from traditional roles and expectations for females (King, 2009; Perrone, et. al, 2007Silverman, 2005; Tolan, 1994).  Thus, gifted females are often faced with a continual choice between intellectual fulfillment and social acceptance.
    • Finally, it should be noted that although the characteristics of giftedness persist throughout the lifespan, the lives of many gifted adults do not necessarily manifest those characteristics (in terms of career accomplishments, eminence, salary, or personal achievements) (Rinn & Bishop, 2015; Streznewski, 1999).
    • In summary, gifted individuals frequently experience the world in qualitatively different ways from their same-aged peers. Their extreme sensitivity to their environment, their capacity to handle conceptual complexity, and their resultant skill in a variety of domains enables them to absorb vast quantities of intellectual, emotional, and sensory input.  As a result, they require adequate challenge and stimulation in order to avoid boredom and frustration.  Additionally, the sensitivities of gifted individuals kindle a variety of interests, fuel a passionate commitment to pursuits they value, and spark intense reactions to life’s events.  On the other hand, such sensitivities (in conjunction with the perfectionism that tends to be highly correlated with giftedness) position gifted individuals to be acutely aware of incongruity between their own beliefs and actions, as well as injustice in the world at large.  When their vision for the future or themselves exceeds their existing ability to implement it, they may become discouraged or even clinically depressed.  Furthermore, because few others are likely to share their passions and intensities, gifted individuals (especially females) may feel forced to sacrifice who they are in pursuit of emotional intimacy or social relationships.
     References/Further Reading:
    • Azpeitia, Lynne, & Mary Rocamora.   (1994, November).  Misdiagnosis of the giftedMensa Bulletin.  Retrieved January 24, 2010, from 
    • Barbara, A., & Kerr, B. A. (2009).  Encyclopedia of giftedness, creativity, and talent.  Sage Publications, Inc.
    • King, Lance G. (2009). The importance of failing well: An exploration of the relationship between resilience and academic achievement. The University of Waikato. Retrieved March 28, 2010, from
    • Shavinina, Levinia V.  (2008).  A unique type of representation is the essence of giftedness:  Towards a cognitive-developmental theory.  The International Handbook on Giftedness.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands:  Springer Science & Business Media.
      • Sousa, D. A. (Ed.). (2009).  How the gifted brain learns.  Corwin Press.
      • Tetreault, N., Haase, J., & Duncan, S.  (2016).  The gifted brain.  Retrieved from
      Other References

      • Card, Orson Scott.  (1978/1987).  Songmaster.  NY:  Tom Doherty Associates.