On Expectations and Hypocrisies and Footwear

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It’s back to school season, but I won’t be heading back into a classroom this year. I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head in connection to that statement, that fact, but I can’t find one that’s regret. Not even a small one, hidden under a pile of the others. Or maybe blown up under one of the eaves of my mind.

I know, in our judgmental, “do it for the kids” society, I sound like a monster. Teachers are supposed to care. They’re supposed to nurture and support and they’re always supposed to want to keep coming back for more.

But teachers are also supposed to just keep taking it. Because they’re all lazy and greedy. Because they just want to hoard supplies and take the summers off. They need to be watched and constantly assessed and graded and monitored like prisoners. And Star Lord help them if they complain because they’re the ones who signed up for the job, right? They could have been doctors or lawyers or engineers or stock brokers, but “those who can’t do, teach, ha ha ha.” Amiright?

They’re Joan of Arc with a nuclear death cannon.

I sometimes feel like having “teacher” on my resume is a little like admitting my past job was with the mafia. Perhaps that might even make me a little more attractive to certain industries. “Oh, it says here you managed money laundering. Just so happens we’re looking for a new branch manager here at Bank of America.” Whereas teachers now occupy some twisted social realm between martyr and supervillain. They’re Joan of Arc with a nuclear death cannon.

So, if I’ll never be able to get another job without first joining the mob, why am I not going back to school? What kind of lazy, entitled bootstrap-less monster am I?

The short answer is that I couldn’t. The long answer takes us through the recent tragedy of Robin Williams and the hundred thousand posts about depression with a detour through episode six of The Mindful Creator podcast.

My first few years teaching, I worked tirelessly to find creative ways to reach students who were not only non-traditional, but were locked up — literally incarcerated — during the time they were in my classroom. Some students I saw off and on for years until they aged out of the system. Some I saw once, for a few days or weeks, and never again. Some students went to programs and thrived only to fall apart again once back on the streets. Some may have made it. I’ll never know.

I’ve known teachers who worked in correctional and/or alternative education for years, sometimes whole careers. I worked with several of them. The light and effort in their eyes slowly died during the time that I knew them, though they still did as much as they could, or were allowed. These are teachers who have memorized stacks of supplemental workbooks and materials because they either don’t have enough textbooks, don’t have the right textbooks, or aren’t allowed to use the textbooks (for a number of reasons). They can design a month of lessons adapting mid-year algebra concepts so kids tenth graders with barely-third-grade math skills can understand them. Teachers who can get murderers and gang leaders to carry on an intelligent discussion on Of Mice and Men or get excited about They Iliad.

But the last three years I worked with them, I watched them die a little inside every day. New standards, unreasonable expectations, requests that compromised safety and security, a revolving door in facilities that left classrooms unsafe, the constant insecurity of the staff that remained, rumors, teachers moved across the county in the middle of a semester… It wore on them. And they stopped talking and joking in hallways and around the copier in the morning. They started counting down the days until retirement or retired early or just went home each night to drink until they passed out.

For many years I did a good enough job of compartmentalizing. My coworkers and I made the sort of terrible jokes you hear from cops and firefighters and EMTs and coroners. We found the humor because it’s how you cope with being surrounded by darkness. And having a never-ending stream of children who rape and steal and kill; who abuse drugs to dull their pain or who molest little brothers the way someone molested them; who sell weed for their grandparents or steal pills from their grandparents or beat the crap out of their grandparents; who climb on furniture and scream or tear their hair out at the root and laugh; who interrupt lessons to ask if it’s okay that their boyfriend is forty-five or to explain how that the problem with crack isn’t that it might lead you to being nearly killed by a John you stole from but that it ruins your looks; who want to stay clean so the state won’t take their next baby or who need their GED already so they’ll be done with high school before the next baby comes…. You know, that kind of thing. So much of it is common stories in schools these days. But like police officers and firefighters and EMTs, you need to know your coworkers have your back. And if you know they don’t, it’s a level of stress that makes the job unbearable.

We’re a country obsessed with the idea of “manning up” and some level of personal responsibility and survival-ship that assumes life must be, not a daring adventure as Helen Keller once suggested, but an arduous battle. If one is not at constant war with sloth (while yet somehow celebrating by binge-watching on Netflix and eating anything with the phrase “meat stack” in it) and privilege, one is doomed to be entitled and whiny, a “pussy.” (Because to be feminine is to be weak, we’re told, which might be why so many hate teachers as their clipart image is a wizened crone of a woman, not “hot” enough to still have use, but that’s another kettle of ranty fish.)

Yet we’re also a country devastated by the loss of Robin Williams (and countless other actors and musicians and artists in general who have fallen prey to mental illness, something damn near impossible to battle alone forever). So we’ll tell each other “you’re not alone” and post the suicide prevention number on all our Facebook statuses. And we’ll turn and bite the head off a blogger who suggested people pick up the bigger pack of markers for their kid’s teacher. (Seriously, the comments in that post explain a lot about how we, as a nation, view our teachers.) We’ll scream to send refugee children back across dangerous borders to near-certain death. We’ll tell young mothers to “get a job” and decry food subsidies (even for the working poor) and we’ll threaten succession and revolution over the idea of supplying citizenry with basic health care. Which tells me what we really mean is: Why didn’t you get help, famous person I was entertained by, but please just go die quietly, anonymous poor person I don’t know.

Let me reiterate that one.
What we basically say to one another, collectively is this:

Why didn’t you get help, famous person I was entertained by?

Please, just go die quietly, anonymous poor person I don’t know.

This is the message we put out there. If we don’t mean it, we need to change it. Collectively. Starting now.

So when Berni Xiong talks about walking away from her corporate job because she wanted more, because she felt she had something else to offer, but that it left her full of doubt because she broke free without a trust fund or a venture capitalist or a reality show backing her up… I find part of me nodding and part of me horrified. I know too well about walking away from a “sure thing” I know was killing me. I know, too, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” anymore, whether it’s in teaching or corporate sales, that we’re all on shaky ground. And maybe it was the shaking ground that made me step away without a solid road map.

I stepped away because I was surrounded by broken, paranoid, drowning people who would pull me down with them if I stayed. Because it’s just too hard to wage a war on all fronts at one time. I stepped away because I was allergic to my antidepressants and I wasn’t getting enough exercise and I left each day so exhausted from bad* stress that it was a struggle to get through basic chores and errands. I stepped away because I had to.

See, I’m actually very good at a lot of things. I’m no expert. My interests are too varied to be an expert. I have a degree in business and a degree in criminology. I’m still certified to teach both math and English and I’m qualified to teach martial arts, too. I write. I make and sell candles. I shoot photos and, after almost twenty years of trying to talk me into it, the husband convinced me to mat and sell some of those, too. I paint when the mood strikes. And one soon, I’m going to finish sewing those dresses I started.

It’s easy to forget you’re good at things when people tell you daily how terrible you are at existing. Anyone who didn’t make the superlatives list in high school can probably understand that. And, of course, if you have previous experience with being told you’re not good, it gets easier to believe.

For now, I’m going to go knock out some of my to-do list.

And if my bootstrap pulling isn’t up to your standards, well, it’s because I mostly wear flip flops.

 

 

 

*Note that I distinguished “bad” stress because it’s quite different to spend a day busy doing something you care about or that holds meaning and spending days being degraded by administrators, literally threatened by students, the subject of a rumor mill among some coworkers, and a sounding board for other distressed coworkers. When my job was filled with the “good” or “normal” stress of finding the best materials and methods to reach my students, of remembering all the accommodations for each new kid and adapting to each new mood swing from the students, I felt energized.

Review: Thomas Pluck’s BLADE OF DISHONOR

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It’s been a while since I did a review (that isn’t on Criminal Element).
It’s been a while since I read this book, so…parallels. *twirls in chair, gets dizzy*

Blade of Dishonor is riotous good fun and it has a little bit for nearly everyone. Plus ninja.

Pluck expertly weaves men’s action adventure pulp from the days of dime paperbacks, a modern love story complete with a competent and compassionate female who needs more help than she’d ask for (& gives as good as she gets), gritty WWII historical fiction, and ninjas.

It has a little romance, but not enough to get steamy about and if you’re looking for the sort of dry, literary tome you can hold over your hipster friends’ heads at the next raw-vegan pot luck at your rich friend’s loft that’s been decorated with thrift store cast-offs and road finds by a professional decorator, this isn’t it.

If you’re looking for a good beach read, airport companion to keep you awake while you wait for Delta to find your plane, something to hide under your keyboard at work and keep you entertained when you’re supposed to be making spreadsheets… This is your book.

Pros: Fun, not-demeaning pulp that passes the Bechdel Test, kicks ass, includes a fascinating subplot/parallel story about WWII. Ninja. Samurai. Explosions. It’s like Kill Bill sort of. (Who am I kidding. I still haven’t seen that. Just read the damn book.)

Cons: Probably won’t impress your lit snob friends quite the same way as reading obscure Taiwanese poets in the original language.

Bottom Line: Why are you still here?

Pay for Performance

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We talk in this country a lot about “pay for performance” like it’s a thing we actually do and like it’s a perfect system.

Mostly, what we do is pay people what they’ll be desperate enough to accept in exchange for their labor, but that’s not completely accurate either.

We act like contracts are a terrific thing for people like basketball players and CEOs, but they’re a terrible, evil thing when they’re for people like teachers and city engineers. Those, “lesser” people should be judged on their “performance,” often some arbitrary test or scoring system. We don’t mind contracts for artists like musicians and writers, but we want them to settle for the least possible and we still kind of begrudge them a little for “selling out” instead of “staying true” to their art or “doing it for the passion” or some other hokey nonsense.

You know, I caught part of the NBA finals game last night. None of the commentators I heard suggested the players get out there for free out of love for the sport. (Though, plenty of people think the players in the NCAA should do it for free and eat the cost of any resulting health care. Don’t even get me started on health care, but I will say this: a very dear friend is alive today because of “Obamacare” so you bad mouth her having insurance, you’re cut off.) And, given that the first half of the game, the Heat played like a high school team who’d eaten too many pot brownies, if that was the arbitrary test we judged their performance with, they’d have all been fired and replaced with cheaper workers from Indonesia or at the very least some kids fresh out of college who have nothing on their resumes but school projects.

Of course, “but they came back to within seven.” And “but they just had a bad night, you gotta look at the whole season.” (Kind of the same argument teachers gave when everyone wanted to judge their whole “season” on one test three-quarters in that could be affected by roughly 1800 variables per kid. “But, they came closer than they ever have.” “Several of the kids were kept up by a shooting and manhunt in their apartment complex last night.” “Almost half my students are homeless; they’re stressed about other things!” “Look at all the progress and learning we did all year!”)

Now, CEOs you can get rid of on a whim after a bad earnings report or a failure to fire enough workers or whatever. And maybe the bad earnings was due to an excessively snowy winter, which kept more people in and decreased their discretionary budgets. Or maybe the bad earnings was due to a housing bubble burst or a student loan bubble growing.

And so all the pundits dissect the whys and you shake your head and oust the guy. Who has time for excuses, right? Just get rid of them and find another cheaper — oh, wait you plan to pay the next guy MORE? What are you doing? This isn’t how things are done. At least we won’t have to pay this guy anymore. Oh, you mean we have to pay him a massive golden parachute for screwing up? It’s in his contract. Oh, well then. It must be done.

Besides, he’s a CEO so he’s being paid for his prior performance. Or his being special. At any rate, there’s surely some reason the talking trolls on CNBC can come up with that explains why this guy was worth more than the combined salaries of everyone he fired plus a yacht.

We might need that yacht because if we don’t drown from the rising sea levels, we’re certainly going to drown in our own hypocrisy.

Recipe: Fettuccine with Pink Sauce & Garlic Bread & Asparagus

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I got super-hungry at the dojo and all I could think about was pasta. Luckily, I wasn’t supposed to be teaching or learning, just standing there so Sensei could film himself doing the yellow-belt moves for a big documentation project he’s doing for his 5th degree. Thus, in between takes, I googled alfredo and vodka sauces.

I ended up starting with this recipe from Vegansaurus. Now, because I A) didn’t have a fresh bulb of garlic — I have no idea where it went — or a red onion, but I did have a bunch of crimini mushrooms and fresh basil and B) I’m terrible at following directions, I ended up slightly modifying all this.

My version:

  • Jar of “classic herb” marinara (from Whole Foods)
  • Leftover quarter box of chopped tomatoes from the last time I used some (I keep them in old sauce jars for up to a week)
  • Approximately 1-1/2 cups of cashew cream (you can use Vegansaurus’s version if you want — I again went rogue)
  • Nutritional yeast — let’s estimate 3/4 of a cup
  • 1/2 cup vodka (Not a big vodka person so all I could find was Three Olives Lemon or Skyy Vanilla so I went with the Lemon)
  • 1/4 cup wine
  • About 5 basil leaves
  • Maybe 10 crimini mushrooms
  • Garlic powder
  • Oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil

I started with the sauce and tomatoes and vodka and wine in the pot on low while I cut up the mushrooms and soaked the cashews (I used about 3/4 of a cup). Other recipes I’d seen suggested soaking the cashews for a half hour as opposed to six, so mine ended up soaking about forty minutes because I got distracted along the way. I have a pretty good food processor, so if you don’t, you may want to soak longer.)

Distraction the First: Asparagus

I rinsed the asparagus, trimmed the ends, and put it in a pan with olive oil and a “salt-free Italian Seasoning” I got from Whole Foods one day when I was feeling lazy. Oddly, I have all the seasonings in it already taking up space in the cabinet, but…whatever. I put said asparagus in the oven on maybe 300 and nearly forgot about it.

Distraction the Second: Bread.

You can make your own or you can buy a baguette. Or you can skip the bread. Hubby wanted bread, so I hacked up a handful of the basil leaves (not the ones in the list above) and put them in one bowl with some garlic powder and olive oil. (Yes, I know it should have been fresh. I have no idea where the bulb went. Blame the cats.) In another bowl, I put some more garlic powder, a crapton of parsley, and a little rosemary in more olive oil.

Distraction the Third: Mushrooms

I washed them and cut them.

I threw the soaked and drained cashews in the food processor with about a half-cup of water and a half-cup of almond milk (all water would work, too) and about a half-cup of nutritional yeast, some more garlic powder, and the five basil leaves. Now, the basil leaves make the cashew cream very, um, green, obviously. That’s on you if you want to add them or not. I just happened to have a LOT of basil handy.

I added the cashew cream, the other quarter-cup of nutritional yeasts, red pepper, oregano, olive oil, and probably more garlic powder to the red sauce and turned up the heat a little. Then, I split the sauce in two because the husband hates mushrooms. One pot got all the mushrooms and a lid.

Clearly, there’s no mention of pasta except in the title because I assume you can choose your own pasta and follow the boiling instructions. I used fettuccine. You could use penne or linguine or fafalle or I suppose even alphabets if you’re into that sort of thing, though the sauce might be a bit heavy for that.

While the mushrooms cooked down and the other one got creamier, I spooned some of the olive oil and herb mixtures on sliced bread and popped them in the oven. Then I remembered I had a tomato I needed to eat, so I sliced that up and added it to the basil-topped bread while it was in the oven.

I served the pasta with the plain sauce on it in a big bowl and left the mushroom version off in its own bowl, but I’m glad I made the mushroom version, too because yum.

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The Great Testing (or Why Martial Arts is Harder than Grad School)

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(Note, this is not about Joelle Charbonneau’s terrific YA book The Testing, but it’s good, so if you’re into Hunger Games and Divergent and The Giver and that general idea of kids in a world turned dangerous by the downfall of our current social-media-based society, you should go read it.)

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Tomorrow is the first black belt test at my dojo. As one of the earlier students, (I might be the longest-running adult student by a month or two), I’m proud of the school and my Sensei and the other candidates, all of whom reached brown belt before I did, even if just by a few weeks. It’s been almost two and a half years. I’m a slow learner when it comes to this sort of thing, physical things. The guy who showed up a few months after me got to brown belt several months ahead of me. It’s not a race, but he definitely has not only an inherent talent and athleticism I envy, but he lacks a lot of the other life obligations that kept me from practicing as much as he did, too. (I don’t so much envy that. It sounds kind of lonely and I’m glad he has his dojo family for support.)

I’ve never been much for announcing my future tests and hurdles. Not the real ones anyway. I don’t think I told anyone but the husband about the big essay test I had to take in lieu of the thesis (that fell apart due to a lack of quality data) to get my master’s degree. Not until after it was done, I’d passed, and it was over. And the master’s degree was honestly easier, to me, than getting to brown belt — never mind whatever happens tomorrow. (I’m sure my athletic dojo buddy would disagree since reading a stack of criminology theory books, a bazillion articles about restorative justice and the school-to-prison pipeline, social justice, and advanced statistics for the social sciences doesn’t really seem like his thing.)

But that’s the thing. There’s this theory that women who grew up being praised for high achievement that comes from “talent” (as opposed to trying hard or practicing) tend to shy away from things that are challenging, things they might get less-than-perfect scores in. This is held up an excuse or explanation (frankly, I prefer explanation over excuse because I find “excuse” fraught with judgement, but I’m nuts, so…) as to why so many young women opt out of STEM classes and majors. I don’t know how much truth is in that theory. It’s a theory of human behavior, which is held to less rigorous standards than theories in the “hard sciences.” Theories of human behavior are based on aggregated data, but acknowledge exceptions at both ends of their own bell curves, along with the myriad of possibilities they couldn’t or didn’t test. Scientific theories are essentially truths as we know them, tested and retested until the majority of scientists believe it, baring some undiscovered thing that negates the theory.

Certainly, I was one of those little girls who was praised for the things I did well, that I had a natural aptitude for, that I got straight As in. And as a lazy little human, I tended to drift toward the things I was good at. I liked gymnastics until I got tossed out for being too tall being the only one they had to adjust all the equipment for. Being too tall would have held me back from progressing too far, so there’s that. No amount of practice would make me shorter. A lot more practice might have made me a better dancer when my parents signed me up for that. Instead, I felt like a dog on the first day of obedience training. People wanted me to do things, but I couldn’t figure out what. There was yelling and hand gestures and miming and none of it made any sense. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be a dancer. (Most of them are short, too; makes them easier to toss around.) I kind of wanted to do karate, but little girls back then didn’t do that and, to be fair, I’d have probably quit that, too, at the time because I lacked coordination for almost anything but hanging upside down like a bat and dropping.

I did take a lot of science classes in high school, possibly because by then my form of teen rebellion involved sleeping through classes — hard and easy — so I had a reason my grades were average (or slightly above, but usually by accident). If you’re pushing back against the perfectionism of your AP class peers (even if you’re not totally aware that’s what you’re doing), you’re not likely to give a shit if your science and math grades aren’t all 100s. By not attempting perfection, and by mostly sleeping, though, I silenced myself as effectively as the other students did by deciding I was unpopular. I could actually go whole days at school without saying anything, unless I muttered to myself.

Women often find themselves in spaces were they are silenced, either overtly or subversively. And, even if one doesn’t “buy in” consciously, it becomes a learned behavior. In companies, offices, and other workplaces, there’s often a hierarchy of women who are allowed to speak or speak out and there are numerous unwritten rules about what they’re allowed to say and when. Maybe because I slept through that period of school when you’re supposed to learn all these social cues or maybe because I didn’t have enough friends to teach me or maybe because I was rebelling against my mother’s perceived silence, I had a bad habit of breaking all those little taboos. I’d point out illogical strategies and offer suggestions and ask too many questions. And I’d inevitably be deemed least-likely-to-advance-beyond-smallest-cubicle.

Education, further taught me that no one wants my opinions, thoughts, research, or ideas. No one wants facts or data that isn’t supplied by testing companies and the DOE. No one wants creative thinking even if they ask for it constantly. They want all “out-of-the-box” thinking done in a smaller box next to the big one. Even my friends over the years, have implored me to “just shut up,” “don’t say anything,” “be quiet and pretend they’re right,” and “just play along.” And I still suck at it, but the more I tried to be silent, the worse I felt about myself.

What the hell does all that have to do with martial arts?

Well, I took up “karate” at the ripe old age of 35. Most of the women my age who show up there are dropping or or picking up their kids. (Karate’s in quotes because the particular style I ended up finding and liking isn’t just “karate” but that seems to be American shorthand for “martial arts.”) It was something I’d wanted to do and I found a school and a style that I liked. (It’s a blend of Kempo Karate and Gung Fu, so it merges the hard and the soft and it shares lineage with Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.) I found people who, so far, accept my eccentricities. And my questions get answers. (Still trying to find the will to scream and shout things when punching and kicking. Seems all those years of attempted silence mostly affected the little kid in me who thought screaming was the MOST FUNNEST THING EVER!)

I have some doubts about my ability to do this. (Apparently my “bitchy resting face” isn’t aggressive enough, so I need to work on a “angry beaver face” or something before tomorrow.) I’m the oldest of the candidates by five years. And he’s ten years older than the next oldest. Of the three adults, I’m the lightest. Good for being thrown. Harder to do the throwing. I have to be twice as fast and twice as flexible to overcome the lack of bulk-derived power. Reminding myself to yell when executing moves means I have fewer brain cells left to remember the damn move.

And I’ve developed some sort of performance anxiety that’s related to the public, physical aspects of it. Write thirty pages of essays on criminology in the comfort of your home office? Sure. Stand in front of a group of people and perform complicated hand gestures. AGH! *freezes, cries, scratches arm off* I’ve always hated public speaking. High school drama class, college public speaking class, and eight years of teaching didn’t do anything to assuage that. Weird, but true. Plus, that old pre-school perfectionism has reared its ugly little head. I find if I can’t remember the precise sequence of things, I tend to freeze and do nothing–on tests or when being watched. When practicing, I have no problem with just doing some random thing that seems to work and then acknowledging that I fucked it up.

So, tomorrow:

  • Make angry face
  • Yell
  • DO Something even if it’s wrong
  • Try to do the not wrong thing
  • Breathe

I’m pretty sure there will be crying. Either way the test goes, I’m pretty sure there will be crying. (It’s the easiest way to put a release valve on all this anxiety, plus I might be a little PMSy if my math is right.) There you go. That’s my “scary face.” Weakness, please. Nothing scarier than a screaming, crying, angry woman with ninja weapons.

Also, if the idea of “ninja weapons” excites you, you should read this while I freak out. And I think if I’m still a brown belt on Sunday, I might actually be more okay with it than my Sensei, who seems to think I’m prepared enough to put me in front of the 10th degree Shodai. No pressure. Right?

Epilogue: I passed and I’ve never done anything harder. 

ADD without the H

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I’ve been going through, sorting, and packing up the thousands of books that have found their way into my world. I came across this paragraph that I’d underlined — quite boldly, too. It describes me, not the all-the-time me, but a big part of me.

These are the daydreamers. These are the kids–often girls–who sit in the back of the class and twirl their hair through their fingers while staring out the window and thinking long, long thoughts. These are the adults who drift off during conversations or in the midst of reading a page. These are the people, often highly imaginative, who are building stairways to heaven in the midst of conversations, or writing plays in their minds while not finishing their day’s work, or nodding agreeably and politely while not hearing what is being said at all. They steal away silently, without the noisemaking of their hyperactive brethren, but they steal away just the same.

From page 153 (Parts of the Elephant chapter) of Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood.

To be fair, I still do this quite often, but I most often “check out” when I feel trapped by something that doesn’t have anything to do with me, that I can’t change, can’t fix, can’t be bothered to understand.

The friend who babbles about his hard life hiring nannies and arguing with the maid? Yeah, I’m plotting stories in my head. The meeting where I learn we’re supposed to be using books we don’t have? Can’t do it… I’m mountain biking in my mind. The pep talk I’ve heard before? I’ve changed the station in my head to vacation planning. The drunk friend telling that same story again? I’m off to consider snippets of dialogue.

Hours can pass in this unfocused state. Lots of interesting thoughts pass by, I can be engaged in a lot of creative enterprises, but relatively little gets done.

From page 154 of the same book.

This, I’ve mostly overcome. I let my mind wander when I feel like I’m wasting time not wandering. (Listening to the same story again, listening to unrealistic or impossible requests, driving…) And I carry paper and pens around with me everywhere so that when I break from wandering I can take notes on anything I found out there in my head that I need to keep. Perfect story opening? Goes in the notebook. City we might want to visit one day? Notebook. How to fix a giant plot hole? Notebook. A candle scent I want to buy and try? Notebook. Marketing idea for GISGOV? Notebook.

Which means, all that wandering actually makes me more productive. Keeping track of what I find gives me a list, a source, of imaginative ideas to choose from when I have the time to focus.

As far as “coping” goes, I figure it’s the best of both worlds.

Since childhood, the person with ADD has felt a chronic sense of frustration with failure. Underachieving all along, accused of being stupid or lazy or stubborn, finding the demands of everyday life extraordinarily difficult to keep up with, tuning out instead of tuning in, missing the mark time and again, living with an overflow of energy but an undersupply of self-esteem, the individual with ADD can feel that it is just not worth it to try anymore, that life is too hard, too much of a struggle, that perhaps it would be better if life were to end than to go on.

It is heartening how valiantly people with undiagnosed ADD try in the face of their despair. They don’t give up. They keep pushing. Even when they’ve been knocked down many times before, they stand up to get knocked down again. It is hard to keep them down for good. They tend not to feel sorry for themselves. Rather, they tend to get mad, to get up, to have at it again. In this sense one might say they are stubborn: they just don’t give up. But they remain depressed.

From page 157.

While unflattering, this is is pretty true, too. I’d say a lot of my frustration comes from the years before I figured out all those ways to cope, a feeling of having been “left behind” that gets exaggerated by feeling like I’ve “wasted” a lot of years in education without seeing any kind of payoff that looks good on a resume. I mean, teachers use all those skills employers want: multi-tasking, data analysis, managing human resources, problem-solving, critical thinking, technology, etc., but it’s often hard to convince someone they actually translate. (Trust me, I came from the corporate world before teaching — teaching’s harder, but there’s no real room for “advancement.”)

Maybe this also explains why, now that I’ve found it, I like my martial arts training. Falling down and getting thrown are part of it, but so is getting back up, trying again. It’s also pretty cool to learn that, as awkward as I’ve always been, I can execute a pretty cool weapons kata or three. (Besides, exercise keeps the depression demons at a distance most of the time and gives me a way to fight them when they do come knocking.)

(For the record, The Dropkick Murphys and The Young Dubliners do nothing for keeping hyperactivity at bay.)

Is it Autumn Yet?

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I’ve written more blog posts in a notebook than I have on my laptop. Since those things don’t type themselves, for now I’ll leave you with a snippet of a Weezer lyric.

We don’t update our blogs
We are trainwrecks

I also need to review Thomas Pluck’s short story collection, Steel Heart. Again, it’s in the notebook. (Which is better than still being in my head, I guess.) In the meantime, go buy it and read it and tell me what you think of it.
(Is this where I put a #cheating hashtag?)

Too Good Pasta Salad

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Someone somewhere mentioned pasta salad the other day and my tiny brain decided WE MUST EAT THAT NOW!

So, let there be pasta salad:

  • Pasta (I used penne cause that’s what was in the cupboard)
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs & spices (I went with tarragon, “salad sprinkle,” ground black pepper, oregano, garlic powder, a little red pepper, minced onion, and a little sea salt)
  • Nutritional yeast (gives it a “Parmesan” tang)
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • Tomato
  • Olives
  • Red onion
  • Artichoke hearts
  • White wine vinegar

I dumped the herbs and spices in a little bowl and coated it in a lot of olive oil. Like, think pile of herbs at the bottom of olive oil pond. Let it sit while you cook the pasta.

I cooked the pasta to a minute under al dente and then used the last minute to figure out how to drain enough water out without burning myself, flooding the kitchen, or dumping all the pasta down the sink. If you’re better at this than I am, do your normal thing. Drained, I threw the pasta in a bowl of ice water to hang out while I cut up tomatoes, cut up olives, and drained the can of artichoke hearts.

While the pasta was cooking, I drained the can of garbanzo beans, cut a little of the red onion into nearly-minced bits and warmed the two on “low” with a spoonful of the olive oil mixture.

Final step: Put the cold (redrained) pasta in a serving bowl with the tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, and garbanzo beans/onion mixture. Sprinkle on a “small handful” of nutritional yeast. Dump in the olive oil and herbs. Splash on some white wine vinegar. Mix. Serve. Eat. Yum.

I’d include a picture but I *may* have eaten the rest of it while typing this so now it’s not so photogenic. Sorry.

The Things I Believe

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In which a rant devolves into a blithering self-help affirmation.

I no longer believe in education. And that’s probably a problem for a “teacher.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe in knowledge and curiosity and facts and experimentation and learning… Just not the commodified product the education industry is peddling. I no longer believe the myth that a degree — any degree — equals a “good job” or that a “good job” is defined solely by ever-larger paychecks. (Though, I also don’t think a “good job” is an ever-increasing pile of meaningless work and other people’s problems and stress for increasingly-smaller amounts of money unless maybe your ideal career is religious martyr or trust-fund philanthropist.) It seems you need a degree for “any” job these days, which kind of makes the whole thing less than special. It’s created a whole new market for the kind of “degree” being sold these days — and make no mistake those things are being marketed like fast food and it takes only slightly longer to digest their content — that doesn’t reward learning so much as the timely payment of tuition, the regurgitation of basic facts in a clicker-run multiple guess format, and the ability to jump through a series of boring, pointless hoops.

My first year of college, I was in the “honor’s college” at my university and one of the classes I took was called “War, Peace, Justice, & Human Survival.” We read a lot of lengthy excerpts from weighty tomes and argued about controversial concepts in person and in essays. Do I think what I did in that class has a direct application in a job? No. Certainly not. Do I think it was one of the more valuable classes I took? Yeah. It taught us to confront topics that can be controversial and to do so in a way that challenges our beliefs without insulting or dismissing them. It taught us to be able to construct an argument from both sides — in other words to better figure out what the other side is thinking — I still find it easier to figure out what another side is “thinking” versus what they’re “feeling.” Feeling is fuzzy and unquantifiable. It also taught us about standing up for beliefs even when they aren’t popular because compliance can lead to things like Hitler. (We covered some other examples but he’s easiest because, really, most Germans at the time were hardly evil. They’d just been sold a bill of lies and they had a reasons to be invested in believing the bill of lies. There were plenty of people of that age working in factories making war machines on both sides who either truly felt what they were doing was right or just needed the paycheck.)

Just needing a paycheck has led to a lot of human atrocities over the millennia. Which is one reason why I’m not so sure we should be locking “education” the idea, the concept, the purpose up in a little cage made of paychecks and resumes and faux certifications that only serve to pad someone’s pockets. (Yes, I want my commercial airline pilot to have taken enough classes and done enough flights to be rubber stamped as competent. No, I don’t care if a “project manager” has a PM or PMI laser-printed certificate on his or her desk. Managing a few projects (even in one’s personal life) can be plenty of “training” for such things.)

All the testing and certifications and overpriced pieces of paper? They don’t seem to have done that much for graduation rates or getting people into “good jobs” either. Partly because we’ve managed to disenfranchise all the kids who are three generations beyond the American Dream myth, who’ve never seen anyone get a “good job” and have no reason to try in school if that’s the ultimate goal. Partly because there’s a limited supply of these “good jobs” and a huge supply of cashier and barista jobs, far fewer “good jobs” than we have sold these degrees to fill. There’s so much discrepancy at this point that getting a degree almost feels like a $60,000 lottery ticket. You mortgage your future wages on the chance that you’ll have some. It’s an asinine system and I’m not sure I can sell it anymore with a straight face.

Which makes me sound jaded and angry and rudderless.

Here’s the thing, I still believe in things. I believe, perhaps hopelessly or idealistically or foolhardedly, in art. Visual art, aural art, static, kinetic. I believe in books. I believe in paintings. I believe in plays. I believe in independent films. I believe in our ability to seek out meaning in our world through making and exploring art. I believe the biggest, hardest themes are easier to grasp through art. (For example, the little collection of prose poems, Tales From a Child of the Enemy by Ursula Duba does better at explaining what it meant to be German during and after World War II and how the propaganda lived on than any textbook I’ve encountered.)

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I believe in nature. I believe in sunsets and sunrises, in warm days and snowy nights. I believe in the majestic beauty of a mountain range and the subtle (stinky) beauty of the swamp. I believe in sitting on a warm red rock staring out at the valley. I believe in watching the stars twinkle from a canoe. I believe in dragonflies and earthworms and native lizards. I believe in finding myself by not looking so hard. By sitting still and listening to my own head instead of the million and four pundits shouting for airspace.

I believe in exploring because things are there. I believe in reading because books are magic (even when they’re terrible). I believe in running and biking and paddling and being the best awkward martial artist I can. I believe in writing, even when I am convinced my own is a steaming pile of alligator poop. I believe in good food with good friends, which means I’m a fan of kitchen experiments.

I believe in creating. I believe in curiosity.

Greener Grass

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So, this morning I was told, “You know, the grass isn’t always greener.” We’ve all heard this old saw and yeah, sometimes it’s true. But sometimes it’s not just about green grass. Sometimes it’s not about finding what you’re looking for, it’s about finding something else.

Sure, any change involves risk. Leaving a “sure thing” no matter how shaky or shady said thing actually is, feels a little unnerving. Leaving it for the great unknown seems especially crazy. But how unbearable does a thing have to be before you can’t take it and decide the risk is worth it?

Maybe there are two kinds of people with regard to regret: those who regret the things they did and those who regret the things they didn’t do. Perhaps the first kind are more risk-tolerant, plunging ahead into the unknown and making a lot of mistakes along the way. Maybe they’re just more foolhardy. Maybe they’re just under the influence of others. Maybe, for whatever reason, my coworker is this type. The kind to miss what’s left behind more than she likes experiencing the messy adventure of the other.

Maybe I just played things too safe for too long and I want to live on wild side (within limits, of course. I’m still introverted, after all). Maybe I, like the character I wrote about in “Hollow” and “Tricks” and “Addictions,” regret more the things I didn’t do. For me, it’s the normal sort of stuff (why didn’t I take writing more seriously before? Why didn’t I just go for that photography job at the PD all those years ago?) For Davis, it’s the things she failed to report, thing things she didn’t say. And for her, it’s not even so much the people she’s killed, but the ones she hasn’t.

Which, makes her somewhat different than a lot of the characters I’ve read. The older generations of crime fiction characters, the old-school detectives are hard men doing hard things and aside from the glass of whisky after lunch and after dessert and after dinner and after… The newer models are, understandably, broken up about the pain and suffering they encounter or cause. Davis isn’t quite either. She’s broken up by the things she hasn’t done more than the things she has. And because of the things she hasn’t done, failed to do, she ultimately feels more justified in doing the things she does.

Which means, eventually there will be a story where she has to do something she can’t justify. Something she regrets doing.

I guess that begs the question of why I keep writing about a character that doesn’t have her own book series, who isn’t really her own brand. And I guess the answer is, that for the time being, she speaks to me. She’s interesting. And I think she has things to say — even if I have to edit out a lot of her melodrama and posturing. Maybe one day she’ll have a larger platform and maybe one day she’ll have her own novel-length story.

Or maybe the random notes on “Seth” and his new small beach town residence will eventually turn into something.

I do know that if the grass isn’t all that green under you, there’s no sense being afraid of whether there’s any on the other side of the fence or the state or the world. You may find it’s not grass you were looking for after all, but a granite rock face, a dock and a houseboat, a swamp, a pile of sand, a set of Airstream tires…

 

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