blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Not angry, but passionate...



The following is a compilation (with some editing) of a few Facebook posts made in response to a comment made about community colleges. In the end , I don’t think the poster meant anything negative in what he said, but it got me thinking and feeling like I needed to respond. It also touched a nerve of a former student who worked very hard to earn her degree and who took a little umbrage at the possible implications of what was said. The first comment was that community college is “thirteenth grade” – which is a long-standing term that, as you will see, is not a positive one. I responded with an adamant no, which prompted the following phrases:
  • It is the middle ground of teaching between high school and large universities across the nation.
  • They give you a drastically larger amount of leeway in community college.
  • It is essentially an extension of high school. 
  • You can take community college courses in high school
  • It is the 13th grade. It's a stepping stone.

So, this is my reply…

First, let me say that I've been teaching at a CC for 10 years, meaning I’ve stood in front of around 140 classes full of something close to 1,900 students. I think it’s important to know where I’m coming from so that you can understand that I’m speaking from experience and observation and a fair number of conversations with and about students. With all of that floating around for close to a quarter of my life, I am confident saying that I don't think you are right - at least not for every student.

Students come to a community college for countless reasons and while some of them are of the stepping stone variety, I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to say that it’s a middle ground that is just an extension of high school. The four year schools clearly don’t look at them that way. For instance, if Johnny Student gets his Associates at a community college and has been attentive to his courses and educational path along the way, then he will transfer as a junior. It's not really less than the four-year at all if that student is using it to completely replace the first two years of a four year degree and that four year institution fully accepts their work at the CC as equivalent to two years in house. If the classes were just an extension of high school, those large universities you mentioned wouldn't take the transfers - they wouldn't deem the courses good enough for credit at their institutions. Not all of the courses or all of the universities, of course, but enough of them to imply that the four years aren't particularly worried about that leeway you seem to think exists in the community college classroom.

That said, I'm certainly not going to deny that for some students, it is most definitely used as a way to get more ready for a four year; however, making a blanket statement about what purpose it serves for ALL students is inaccurate and rapidly becoming more so. Historically, community colleges often served that role and only that role, no doubt.  The fact that they were (and in some places in the country still are) called junior colleges is a testament to that. That, however, is hardly the role of the CC in today’s world of strapped economies, increasing costs of college, and the decreasing number of available jobs for new graduates or long-time workers. This shifting landscape has completely altered the role and purpose of the community college in the world of education. It’s not just one thing anymore and it doesn't serve just one kind of student.

For some of our students, it better prepares them for the university experience, as you said. For others, though, it's just plain cheaper or close to home. They've worked at a company for decades, but are laid off and their only option for job re-training of any kind is the local CC because they have a family and can’t uproot. For others, it's that the CC has a fantastic program that is just what they want. Maybe they want to go into Music Recording or Conservation or even go somewhere that has an award-winning Woodsmen’s Team or a burgeoning Viticulture program. For still more, it makes it easier to get into the four year because they've already proven themselves at a significantly lower cost.  If  Jane Student enters into a joint admissions program, she will gain automatic entry into SUNY Geneseo if she successfully completes two years at FLCC.  One is much easier to get into, but the other accepts those two years as good enough.  Others go to a CC because they are entering a field where two years is enough to move forward in a career. You just can’t label or pigeonhole all the myriad of reasons a student chooses a community college. It’s not just the traditional aged high school graduate anymore, with or without college credit going in.

This leads to another thing that you said that’s true, but not the whole picture. You most certainly can take CC courses while in high school, but you can also take Syracuse University classes (through SUPA). Additionally, Advanced Placement classes and exams in high school will give you college credit as well - regardless of whether your destination is a four year or two year. They aren't college classes, per se, but they are college credit that will 'take the place' of a class in college, so the end result is similar.

In the end, it may just be that we disagree simply on a semantics level or on a level of scope, but I firmly believe that referring to CC in one way for all students is limiting. If you believed I was offended, perhaps you were right. Perhaps I sensed judgment because I've faced that judgment before. If you knew anything about the history of the community college struggle for legitimacy and respect, you would know that the 13th grade phrase has been used for a terribly long time as a derisive, dismissive, and demeaning way to refer to CC. Those who work there and have given their hearts to the mission of the community college tend to feel the need to chime in when it gets used.

I fell into the CC world by accident. It never occurred to me to attend one when I graduated for just the kind of reasons you listed – I had 17 credits of AP, a couple of scholarships, and had eyes on my Masters. I went straight to the four year and spent twelve and a half years earning a Bachelor’s, then a Master’s, and finally a Doctorate. Looking up the job availability at a community college was a moment of inspiration and when I got the job, I was thrilled and excited. It has only gotten better since then. I sometimes get asked, in a tone of disbelief and even judgment, why I don’t teach at a four-year since I could make more money and publish and a variety of other opportunities if I did. The one thing I would lose, however, is the focus on the student. All the students – no matter why they are there, what their abilities and limitations are, or where they go once they are done. That’s what matters…that’s what will always matter.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Trying not to dwell...

I spent about 15 minutes on this...I did not over think it or shape it or do much with it except let it out.  I suspect I will regret that later and perhaps rework it...but not right now.

A shadowy presence in my mind, lurking
Blotted out most of the time when I’m occupied
Time with friends, errands to run, chores to do
But then, under the glow of a supermoon
And the quiet hum of tires on the ethereal highway,
It comes back to me in a wave of melancholy
It does that sometimes, less often than the pain
Sometimes it comes as anger, but not tonight
Tonight it came out of nowhere dressed in sadness
Like a shadow in the night, a cloud in the sky

It came and I was reminded not just that I hurt
But it softly reminded me how and why I am broken
Not in a way that stops me from loving life
Not in a way that shatters dreams or saps hope
Not in a way that leaves me crippled and lost
But just a little less than whole, a little bit flawed
Just little broken like a chip in a glass figurine
A rough edge that time smoothed out but did not erase

This time it comes to me in numbers that prick my eyes
And roll through my mind like an insidious code
The 11th day of the 8th month
The 38th minute of the sixth hour after noon.
The temperature was 78 degrees.
His speed was over 50, mine was less than 5
A quarter percent of his blood was alcohol.
It was the tenth day after I bought the car
The first car I’d ever owned
The third month I’d had my license.
Now I spend forty dollars to have my bones cracked
Hoping it will hold for four weeks until I return
I had five shots driven into my spine for no relief.
I was twenty three and it has now been 19 years
I cannot remember and I cannot forget

But don’t mourn for me – the shadow will pass
The chip will remain, but I’m not really broken
When I smile I mean it, when I laugh I feel it
The moon is beautiful tonight and I am alive.
Alive.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Pressed between the pages....

Lately I have been going through boxes in my attic that are full of things that I've carried from place to place over the span of my life.  They are mementos of times gone by and include everything from greeting cards and scrawly art projects to tiny clothing I once wore and ticket stubs with fading ink.  Next to the tub from which I am pulling things is an empty one where I put things I want to keep holding on to.  Some things go in there automatically - tiny shoes, my first doll, cards and letters from grandparents who are no longer here with us.  Some things I dwell on...touching the past in a tangible way and reveling in the memories once more.  Not all the memories are good, but they are all significant in some meaningful way and are part of the mosaic of who I am.  Products of my past.

A sampling...

A card given to my grandfather from my grandmother.  Inside she expressed her love for him in her elegant script and touching it brought tears to my eyes that turned to laughter.  She closed her inscription with the phrase "have a nice day" and that adorable innocence is how I remember her. I may never know if she was really cheating at Yahtzee or just forgot how many times she rolled...

Piles of letters written by my mother whenever I was away - summer camp, school trips, college, student teaching abroad.  She wrote of all the things that were happening in her world, leavings with a splash of home in the midst of whatever strange experiences in which I found myself immersed.  She signed every single one of them "Love ya, Mom" in her familiar hand.

A program for a Meatloaf concert and numerous ticket stubs.  My brother was my concert buddy - still is on a smaller scale.  We would go, for instance, to the Downtown Festival Tent every year to see REO  Speedwagon...even the year that I had just gotten out of the hospital following surgery on my jaw.  So many other concerts that it seemed only fitting that when I graduated from college, he gave me two tickets to see Boston's Walk On tour.  The Meatloaf concert was a deal - I'd go see Steve Miller with him if he'd go see Meatloaf with me. We both loved both concerts.

An envelop full of high school graduation documents showing various accomplishments in the face of what I have increasingly come to see as a very difficult time in my life.  People sometimes say that high school was the best time of their lives.  Not me.  I never felt I fit in anywhere and yet it was a formative time that laid the groundwork for all the successes that came after.  In the face of adversity (of, honestly, a very mundane kind), I made it.  That envelop represents that to me.

A book of early poems.  Oh, they are so wonderful in their juvenile awfulness. The childish scrawl, the teddy bear cover...all of it.  Painful rhymes, choppy rhythms....but there are nuggets there that, again, laid the groundwork for what I think is better, wiser, stronger poetry of which I can be proud.

These things are all special to me - and there is so much more.  I am thinning the collection some.  There are things whose importance has been lost in time and the fog of the past.  There are things of which I am ready to let go.  There are things that just seem silly now.  But all of it begs the question of what will it all mean someday when I am gone?  I think of this sometimes when I find myself shifting through a box lot at an auction with my dad.  Old letters and postcards in flowing script describing someone else's faraway home in a faraway time.  And I'm not sure we value the paper of now as we value the paper of old.  So perhaps it will all someday be recycled and pass out of time and space.   For now, though, they will stay close to me and mine, weaved into the person I am, the person I was, and the person I will someday be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

That Which Does Not Kill Us...

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING....SENSITIVE TOPICS HEREIN.

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

So, there is a registered sex offender living next door. All that separates our house from where he lives is a hedge and the driveway into the cemetery. I know he is there because we received the mandatory letter from the police department with most of the relevant information. I looked him up on the registry and, to get the more unpleasant details out of the way early, this is what I found out: he is a violent offender whose victim was 12 years old. He is a level 3 risk and was charged with forcible compulsion. Quick searches online revealed that he plead out, which explains why he only received five years. He will be 34 this month. He is mandated to attend anti-violent and anti-aggression counseling. He is prohibited alcohol and is not allowed to drive. He has a curfew.

This particular type of crime repulses me to no end. I would wager than any decent human finds it be one of the worst things we can imagine. The violation of a child and the utter destruction of that child’s innocence are beyond our ability to comprehend on any rational level. Regardless of how horrific his own background might have been, there seems to be no possible way to excuse his behavior. It wasn't a mistake, as a drunk driver might say. He didn't do it to feed his starving family, as a thief might say. He wasn't a mislead youth, as a vandal might say. It wasn't self-defense, as a murderer might say. His behavior is the action of a depraved human being who – at our kindest – we can say has an illness of the brain. None of the public documentation indicates this to be the case at all, but I am willing to concede that it is possible. Even that, however, is not enough for me to feel anything but disgust. As a woman living in a rape culture, as a human being with a heart, as someone who was once a child…I just cannot shake off the utter revulsion I feel when I consider what he did. I try not to.

All of this leads me to an interesting place of discussion. Our justice system is a flawed thing, no doubt. But it is the system that we have and I’m not sure I have a better system in mind to replace it with if I could. So, we have to fight it when it is unfair, and we have to make do with what it gives us. This man is on probation and living next door in a neighborhood where the school bus stops directly across the street from his residence. Young girls, female runners, and countless walkers flow through the cemetery steadily as it is a great place to get away from roads and traffic. This is frightening to me. All of it. Our justice system says that he has paid his dues. He should be, in some ways, just another citizen with a couple of extra hoops through which he must jump. But even the documentation identifies him as having a “high risk of repeat offense” and acknowledges that “a threat to public safety exists.” The recidivism rate of sex offenders has always been thought to be high. This is public information. So, what do we do?

I don’t mean on a personal level. I am always careful of my person and now will be more so. I’m fairly certain that JDB won’t actually run him over with the car. His house is easy to avoid and foreknowledge is forewarned. Not for nothing, this is why they tell us he is there. For our protection and the protection of our children. 


But, (if you are feeling up to it), spend a few moments reading the comments on this kind of story anywhere on the Internet or listening to people discussing a crime of this nature and the barbarism is truly shocking. So many terrifying things come from those who are angry and feel helpless when encountered with a story of the abuse of a child, sexual or otherwise. When society isn't victim shaming, its collective heart breaks and its blood boils to contemplate, in any way, crimes of a sexual nature.  It is a truly damaging crime that is all too prevalent and under-reported in a culture that seems steeped in factors that feed it. But the violent threats and suggestions of how to solve the problem of the rapist are rarely palatable and often are disturbing in and of themselves. That said, I also firmly believe that the people who let such suggestions enter their public discourse could never actually follow through. It is a coping mechanism. I have heard it as such, I understand it as such, I have even had such thoughts myself.

But that does leave us with the very real dilemma borne out of a general quandary regarding what we actually can and should do. On one hand, he paid his dues (regardless of whether or not I think it was enough) and as long as he continues to do what he is supposed to do, he should be allowed to continue on unmolested. That’s what makes people like us better than people like him. We can rise above our primal instincts which call for him to suffer unendingly for what he has done. We have to believe in the system of a civilized society where we understand that if we gaze too long into the abyss, we eventually become one with the abyss itself. 

But, that leaves us with the problem of what to do. He must work – but who will hire him? He has to live somewhere, but who wants him as a neighbor? And if he is repeatedly and continually ostracized by society, isn't that more likely to drive him to more criminal behavior? What about the conundrum of Broward County, Florida? In 2009, a registered sex offender was begging to be arrested again because there was absolutely nowhere for him to live that was within the confines of his probation. Protecting the public is paramount…but don’t we, as human beings with hearts, have some duty to other living creatures? No matter how reprehensible their behavior has been? When a dog is rabid, we euthanize because we cannot cure what ails him. Problem solved, albeit painfully. Where do we draw the line? Especially since, no matter what your views on capital punishment are, a death sentence has collateral damage that is often overlooked.

This is something I feel uniquely sharply because one of my greatest strengths is also one of my greatest weaknesses.  Empathy.  I kill no creatures if I can at all help it and I often find myself pulled into the emotions of others to the point where I run the risk of drowning in them. When I don’t drown, it is a good thing not only for me but for whoever has leaned on me in a time of need. When I do find myself slipping, it can be heartbreaking, exhausting, and agonizing. It also makes me feel this whole topic rather keenly. Wasps can kill me – as I said in my last blog – and yet I won’t kill one. I’ll capture it and put it outside. If it were to sting me, I would know that it was just engaging in its own nature. As long as we avoid one another, that nature can continue, unabated and unharmful for both parties.


But what about my neighbor? Is the letter from the police department the cup placed over the wasp?  Do we simply  live and let live? Hope he doesn't repeat offend? Find comfort in the litany of restrictions placed on him? Trust the system? Especially since the recidivism rates may not be quite as bad as public opinion thinks they are? Does the percentage even matter? I cannot put any other sort of cup over him and let him outside, so I have to learn to be safe.   I cannot engage in self-torture by dwelling on his crime and I cannot sentence him for one he has not yet committed.   
We must, for the moment, co-exist.  Some small voice, however, knows the guilt will sit heavily on me if that next crime should come to pass. Not because of any rational sense of wrong doing but simply because of a zone of proximity that will leave me feeling as if there must have been something I could have done.

In the meantime, I will simply say that I don’t have the answers. I just know I’m more careful and I have added another bullet to the pro column of reasons to move to the country. Which will not solve the larger problem; it will only make it not my problem. Because that is what we do when we don’t have the answers.  If there are too many wasps, we run.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Black, Yellow, and Deadly

Summer is amazing.  It's full of energy and life in a way that no other season can match.  But there's danger, too.  Oddly, enough, though, the danger of summer was captured for me one October afternoon.  It's one of perhaps three times that I've had what I call a near death experience and it is the one I remember most acutely.

As I said, it was October and I was helping mom clean up the kitchen.  It had been warm and there were still mosquitoes out...I had at least one bite on my ankle.  This would become more interesting as the day wore on.  I threw something away and was pushing the garbage down into the bin when it happened.  Just a tiny prick on my thumb between the first and second knuckle.  I gasped a bit and looked down, only to see him sitting there.  He was black and yellow and somewhere looked angry, sullen, groggy.  It was, after all, October.   I said something to my mom and she was surprised - she had apparently killed him and thrown him away earlier.  It would seem he was more resilient than that.  It was a lesson to be learned.

There was not much fear yet.  I had been stung a long, long time ago and had had a terrible reaction, but it was so long ago that there was some level of buffer.  I had become complacent in those long years.

Within a few moments after the sting, the mosquito bite on my ankle began to spread into a full hive that ran nearly to my knee.  It itched.  I felt other hives begin to form and I mentioned them to mom. She sent me up to take a bath in baking soda to relieve the itch.  I may have taken some Benedryl even then, but I don't remember.  I don't really remember any fear at this point, except perhaps the vague stirrings somewhere deep inside.  Somewhere I couldn't place or even identify.  Not yet.

That changed relatively quickly because as I sat in the bath, I could feel my throat begin to close.  I remember licking my lips as the fear became steadily more insistent and my tongue dragged over lips that were beginning to swell.  Eyes, ears, tongue.  I scrambled out of the tub and called down to my mom in a voice edged with the beginnings of panic.  She told me to take my contacts out and get dressed.  Her thought process was far more rapid than mine; she could see my eyes, the swelling and perhaps the fear, too.  Moms know things.  They sense things.  At least mine did.

Later, I learned that there was a different hospital we could have gone to, one that would have been faster and easier.  Mom took me to the one she knew, though, and for that I can't blame her.  She never liked expressway driving so she took me to Thompson.

I don't really remember the car ride...except I remember coughing.  It was getting harder to breathe and I couldn't focus on anything.  My hands were cold, my arms were laced with blotchy hives...the fear clawing at me in ragged breaths drawn between lips turning blue.  I suspect my mother drove faster than she had ever driven up to then or since.

We arrived at the emergency department and mom half dragged, half carried me inside.  She said two words as they came to us, "wasp sting" and they became a blur.  I was in an exam area with a needle in my arm before my mother saw a stitch of paperwork.  I don't remember much - needles, 2800 mg of Benedryl, a blood pressure of 60 / 40, a doctor telling me that when I came in,I was about 10 minutes from a coma.  From there, death.

These days, I carry two Epi-pens with me.  Adrenaline which will not get me out of harm's way, it will only stave it off until I get to a hospital.  I've been stung by a bee since that day, but it only put me on crutches for a week with an angry infection and stretch marks across my ankle.  That hasn't reduced the vigilance; it just focuses it more tightly on what I call the heavy hitters - wasps and yellow jackets.  You see, that's the thing about allergies to stinging insects...I really have no way of knowing if I am more allergic now or if I've grown out of it as I've gotten older.  The only way to know for sure is to get stung again.  So, I am careful.  I remember the fear.  I try hard to not become complacent again.   I have people who help me with that and while I may act exasperated when I am reminded, I get it.

I'm not sure I have any profound words to change the experience into something larger than what it was.  I know I almost died that day and I know my mother paved the way for me to live and while some details are fuzzy, I will never forget the fear and the slow withdrawal of myself from anything around me.  I don't remember parts of it because parts of me were already letting go.  I can still see my blue-tipped fingers in my mind's eye, still see the hives blotting my wrists in awkward patterns.  I remember enough to know I was lucky and in good hands.

We all have these kinds of memories etched into our minds...they remind us how fragile life is and how amazing it is that we draw breath each day and can run through the flowers and walk along the lake on a beautiful summer day.  Some of us just have to remember to bring our Epi-pens along to guard against death in tiny packages of sullen black and yellow...







Friday, June 13, 2014

What's In a Name...

Today I will talk about names.  Names are powerful things.  In a book I am currently reading, the author draws on old magic wherein the knowing the name of a thing gives one a certain power over it.  Sometimes, this is a dangerous use of dark magic and sometimes it is something more subtle and beautiful.  But always, it is power.  From Rothfuss to Rowling to Rumplestiltskin, there are countless examples from fiction, fantasy, and folklore that tell of the power of names.

For me, it works on other levels as well.  We use our given names everywhere (in Pulp Fiction, isn’t it Bruce Willis’ character who says we are in America, and names don’t mean….well, you get the idea).  I don’t think that’s entirely true, but there is a certain amount of familiarity with the names we carry on our birth certificates.  Perhaps that is why it feels like there is power in the bestowing of a name that is accepted by the one who is named.  The giving of a nickname, a pet name, a role name, or the choosing of a name is not something often entered into lightly.  I’ve thought about this a lot lately – partially due to the need to name the kitten that is currently fiercely battling a stuffed mouse under my chair.  Perhaps because of the Baptism I recently attended or the student I have who was brave enough and strong enough to give himself a male name to better reflect who he felt like inside.  Perhaps I’ve always loved names as a writer and a gamer and someone who loves words in general (who amongst you writers and games doesn’t know what I mean when I say a name must have The Ring?)  My husband is more frequently known by the character name from the game in which we met than he is by his given name.  My best friend is called Raven for a million reasons, all of which are fitting and funny and wise and meaningful beyond what I can explain here.  I tend to give nicknames to my dear friends because it ties them closer to me in some way.  Not to sound proprietary, but it makes them mine.  I hate the way that sounds, but I think my readers will know what I mean.  It is a verbal bond – or a verbal marker of a bond that is far more ethereal, in general.   As someone who has long believed that I’m cursed with finding wonderful people only to then lose them, this is a significant emotional investment.  Names of all kinds have power in my world…and if I give you one, it means something.  If you give me one, it means something as well.

That leads me to verbalizing my curiosity about names I’ve gathered over time.  There are a number of reasons for this and a number of names that immediately spring to mind.  JDB has a slew of nicknames for me, Raven has one, my sister has one.  My brother gave me one long ago that he doesn’t use much anymore, really, but it’s still mine.  My father and mother each have names for me, as do my nephews.  And then there are my students.    Many of them call me Dr. T., which is something I like.  Formal, but not.  Kind of like me.  Amongst the larger group of students is a smaller group who, for a variety of reasons, I refer to as my Minions.  They seem completely at ease with this moniker and they consist of students who take every class with me that they can.  They are students who wear the title with something akin to honor and they seem believe they have to earn it and keep earning it.  They work hard; they go above and beyond as students.  And they have given me a name to which I also feel I must continue to earn.  There was a time when the chief among them called me Teacher Lady.  Later, it just became Teacher.  Still later, it was shortened again to Teach.  And then it spread until all the Minions now use it.  I see it in letters, emails, notes on my door, Facebook messages, in the halls and the random places where we meet.  On some level it may seem generic – it is a verb that describes what I do.  I suspect it means a lot more than that and that it carries a lot of weight behind it.  I think.  I’m sometimes not very good at these things. This may sound completely off the wall, but it reminds me of the days when I was called Fang-sama and Sōke (pronounced so-kay).  Which, of course, begs some explanation.

In the game where I met my husband and the people with whom I’ve held the longest friendships I’ve ever had, I played a character that belonged to one of three races.  One race was vaguely Middle Eastern, one was loosely Western European, and the third was based on a blending of various Asian cultures.  The dress, philosophy, culture, and belief system was an amalgamation of mostly Japanese and Chinese cultures of the past.  I chose the third one to play (I was and still am a fan of martial arts movies and even trained Washin-ryu for a little while.  I claim no real knowledge of anything beyond that, I just liked what little I knew).  Since I was the head of the monarchy, which at its largest was 160+ members, it had those same cultural leanings.  We were a role-playing group and so I was my character for many of its members – and I was never anything else.  When they or I left the game, we no longer really existed for one another.  But while we were there, I was Soke – which roughly translates to something like headmaster, head of the family, or even grandmaster.  To some I was Sensei – teacher.  Some went so far as to call me “My Queen” (one still does to this day) or to add –sama to my character’s name.  This last often caused me some measure of embarrassment – for it is an honorific given to one whom is greatly loved, respected, or admired.

Now, this was, of course, in a role-playing game so some amount of hyperbole is to be expected and I certainly don’t personally lay claim to any of those titles or honorifics, though at the time I loved the feel of them in the context of the game.  I was the head of a monarchy and so it was a good feeling to have so many willing to play that role with me and create a vast network of like-minded folks in a game where interactive story telling far surpassed the graphics and story of the game itself. 

Sōke and Teach are very different things, but I treasure them for much the same reasons.  They were given to me by people who chose to give me a name that reflected who I was in their life.  It may seem odd to say, but I've always seen a certain level of parallel to gaming and educating.  I play the role of educator, they play the role of learners.  When the game – the class – is over, they move on and so do I.   We all find new games and new experiences and often, our paths diverge, never more to reunite.  I was their professor, but am no more because they have moved on.  They were my students, but are no more, because our time together has ended.  They may never use the knowledge again in a direct way, but I like to think it has impacted them on some level – just as we may never return to the games of our past, but they forever impact the games we play in the future, even if it is a subtle and indirect and obscure a connection.  But some – some stay, the game changes and the characters change, but they remain.  They are the Minions who let “Hey Teach” roll off their tongues with casual smoothness and grins.  They are the ones who still call me Fang-sama and My Queen – despite that we stopped playing the game over ten years ago.

I started talking about names and ended up talking about teaching and students and, to a larger extent, the impact we have on the people around us.  And games.  There may be names I don’t have anymore, but they are in the Record Book of who I am and how I came to be the person writing this today.  So, I will treasure ‘Teach’ for as long as it is part of my current story…and we will see who keeps using it, who finds a new name, and who fades away leaving good memories and a story behind them as they travel. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Like a phoenix, rising...

It took me a long time to determine what to write about.  After all, it has been a long time since I posted in this blog and it didn't feel right to just dive right in without acknowledging that.  It isn't as if I've such a large following of readers that it really matters, but it matters to me.  Therefore, it matters.

I've had numerous conversations and deep thoughts of late that would make excellent blog posts, and I suspect that many of them will become just that as I move into my attempt to do this more regularly.  

I've talked late into the night about fear when it comes to allowing people into my inner circle.  This fear is borne out of the realization that letting them in gives them the power to impact my state of being.  I’m emotionally sensitive and I feel things very deeply.  This can be a dangerous combination.

I've talked about the nature of religion and belief and how I've come to peace with belief systems and organizations built on belief systems and the disparity that oft seems to lie between.  My own is at once deceptively simple and infuriatingly complex.  But I’m at peace with it, and on the edge of a path that might lead me into a journey of discovery.

I've thought a lot about my role as a teacher and how closely intertwined that is to who I am.  I cannot speak for other careers, but I know that for me, this calling is one that cannot be wholly separated from that emotional being I mentioned above.  Teaching exhilarates and exhausts me, excites and exasperates me.  Grading is a terrible time for me – each student who has stumbled, each who has failed is a failure of my own, whether that’s accurate or not.  I’m not sure which ones hurt more – those with wasted potential and squandered time, or those who are just misplaced and have not found what will motivate them.  Some of them so desperately need me and I live in constant worry that I will somehow let them down.  And when I do, it can be devastating.

I've thought a lot about the nature of leisure activities and what constitutes entertainment.  I've noticed a trend towards the bleak in much of what is popular these days and I used to struggle immensely with what makes me so different that I have no wish to watch shows where the biggest question of the week is who and how many will die and whether or not it was a fitting end for the serial killer and the meth addict.  For a long time, I wondered what was wrong with me, quite frankly, that I couldn't take pleasure in these sorts of stories.  And I wondered who was the more odd, me or the vast numbers of the population whose proclivity for this sort of entertainment was so disparate from mine.  And then I figured it out.

I've thought about these things and talked of many more.  I have grappled with friendships just born and those which seem always on the edge of failure.  I've talked about dark psychology and bright futures.  I've thought about poetry and birds, babies and the cold winter, plans and regrets.  I've talked about a world that is changing for the better in the face of tragedies which belie how far we have to go.  Tragedies and tears, love and light.  So many things rolling around inside my head and yet not one of them seemed fitting for the re-inauguration of a blog that means a good deal to me if not to anyone else in particular.  Instead, it seems more fitting to talk of why I am bringing it back to life.

I love to write is one reason; this goes without saying, I’m sure.  The other main reason is that I spend ten months of the year actively feeling disingenuous.  I teach my students to read and to write and yet I do not do enough of either to make it anything more than “Do as I say and not as I do.”  It feels – and has felt – wrong.  I have half read books collecting dust, poems that only get written because I feel the pressure of an annual reading wherein I am in the spotlight and need words with which to fill the room.  This cannot stand.  So, when asked to build goals as part of my post-tenure review, I wrote this as my last goal:

Be a better practitioner of my own craft.

And so, here we are.  Come with me, if you will – and we shall see where my mind goes and whether or not it is of interest to you.  That said, I will leave you with the words of our beloved Maya Angelou, who so recently slipped her light away from the earth...

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Will you listen to my story?