Saturday, July 31, 2010

Saturday Night Musing

I really like the idea of meeting new people and expanding my circle of friends. In fact, if I hadn't indulged in that idea the past couple years, I wouldn't have some of my closest friends. It's good to be open, friendly, receptive to new people and experiences!

But I'm fiercely loyal. And sometimes it's so nice to be surrounded by people you love and trust and who love and trust you back. To be yourself and know that it's good enough? Man, there's nothing better.

Friday, July 30, 2010

D, All of the Above

When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.

~ Flannery O'Connor, from Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

When I was a kid, I loved standardized tests. Twice a year, we took the California Achievement Test, and I relished the chance to fill in those bubbles, to have the answer to a question simplified to one of four answers. (In the Montessori classroom, answers were never multiple-choice; tests never required us to color in tiny circles using #2 pencils). I did pretty well on these tests, too, scoring in the top 5% of my age group.

The exception? Reading comprehension. I never scored nearly as well in reading comprehension as I did in math or language. The question read, "What is the author's purpose?" and the answer was supposed to be "to entertain," "to persuade," or "to inform." It had to be one of them. How was I to know the author's purpose? Couldn't he have more than one aim? What if I were both entertained and informed by her passage? I felt like I was missing some kind of trick.

The same thing happened when I tried to identify the theme of a story or fiction excerpt. How could I sum up the meaning of a story in one phrase, apart from the elements of that story? Give me three-hundred words, I'll tell you what we can take from a story, how you can pull meaning from it, but don't boil it down to one of four choices, none of which are adequate.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered Flannery O'Connor in college. Her characters, her settings, her plots are so ripe with meaning. For her to acknowledge that theme and story are inseparable validates my suspicion: standardized tests are bunk!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another School Dream this Morning

Instead of the rather corporate classroom, with its long rows of tables, white board in the front and windows in the back, we were in a traditional classroom with chairs that did not roll. I had the students move their chairs into a circle and asked them to stand on top of them.

Alas, I woke before I found out what happened. What was I going to ask the students to do once they were on the chairs? Would they have to share something? Would they answer a question? Would I stand on my own chair? Were we all going to jump off?

In the past seven or eight years, I've had countless "school dreams." While I've been in many different types of classrooms--Montessori preschool, traditional and parochial kindergarten and first grade, and for-profit college--my dreams about these schools are pretty similar: me, caring and interested, but feeling out of control.

This--leaving the classroom--might be harder than I'd thought.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Complicated and Uncomfortable

Nana turns 90 this December. She's lived alone in the same house my dad was raised in since her husband died over fifteen years ago. She prides herself on her independence; not only is she able to drive and take care of herself, she's still what she calls a "productive member of society," baking cookies and coffee cake for her friends and neighbors (and granddaughter), stuffing envelopes for her church.

This week she visited a friend of hers in Kentucky, "Sally," who now resides in one of those "assisted living" places. Here's Sally's typical day, according to Nana: in the morning she gets up and dressed, eats breakfast, plays cards, and returns to her room to freshen up; in the afternoon she has lunch, rests for a bit in the room, and then has cocktails (Sally likes cosmopolitans); finally she eats dinner, plays cards, then returns to the room to go to sleep. By "room" I mean something resembling an apartment, complete with a tiny kitchen, living room area, and separate bedroom. Nana says that someone comes in to clean and change the sheets: there's nothing left for Sally to do.

My grandmother could not live in one of these places. She tells me, "Don't let me go there - I'd die of a broken heart!"

We read an article in class about "slow medicine," the idea that instead of providing elderly (those 80 and older) with drastic, expensive, and invasive treatment, doctors and their patients should have a conversation much earlier about what kinds of life-saving action, if any, they want taken. The article compares quantity of life to quality of life but also makes the point that tests and life-saving measures in older patients often make things worse. I recently heard this referred to as extending death, rather than prolonging life.

Anyway, I love visiting her on Sundays. When my brothers and I were little, we spent the whole weekend there. Saturday evenings, we'd get our hair washed in the sink, we'd watch Lawrence Welk in the family room, and we'd sleep between our grandparents in their pushed-together full beds. Sunday mornings, we'd all go to their church (where I'd try to count past one-thousand without having to start over) and then our parents would come and we'd all eat brunch. I can't imagine visiting her for hours on Sundays at a nursing home. When she was in the hospital and then recovering at a nursing home, she was so feeble and depressed. She couldn't do anything for herself or for others, feeling at best useless and at worse a burden.

I have no insight or grand conclusions. This stuff is complicated and uncomfortable. But I told her that I wouldn't let her go into one of those homes if she doesn't want to go. Hopefully we never reach the point where that seems like the only option.

* * *

Since my last day teaching and since my last grade was turned in, I've now had four consecutive days off work. I reread some of my writing samples and added a couple sentences to my application essay, but besides that I've used this time to visit family and reconnect with friends. Starting tomorrow, I'll devise my plan for the next few weeks

Edited to change "quantify" to "quantity." It's never too late to proofread!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Agreeing to Disagree

I came of age when postmodernism was all the rage. You know, because we all see things from our own unique perspectives, we each have our own version of what's "true," and no "truth" is more valid than the next. It's an attractive philosophy, particularly when you've been taught one narrative your entire live; postmodernism challenges that narrative.

As I've written before, postmodernism was extremely attractive to me. But at some point, I found myself tearing apart things I believed to be true; what was the point but to become extremely skeptical and, ultimately, cynical?

But one of my least favorite phrases to come from this fad is "agree to disagree." You know, I think this, you think that, we'll never reach consensus so let's let it lie. We are each entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own truths. Then again, when we have fundamental disagreements about religion, higher powers, and the role of government, we can't expect to find consensus, can we?

I went out for drinks with my conservative friend. We tried and tried to stay away from politics but it seems we couldn't help ourselves. Oh how I wish I were smarter and knew more and could rebut quickly things I strongly suspect to be inaccurate. But instead I found myself saying, "Ooooooooooooh. New topic. No common ground."

Ah well, we had fun with our margaritas...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I thought I was smart, but then I played trivia.

My brothers, mom, and I played trivia at a local pizza place and ended up in fourth place. We missed questions about Wagner operas, the locations of forts, and the slogans of kitchen appliance companies. We also missed one about the various animals recorded to create the voice of Chewbacca (walrus and rabbit, among others). My brothers seemed particularly annoyed that I missed the questions in the literature and art categories (the answers, which I didn't know, were "Captain Flint" and "Stendhal Syndrome," respectfully).

This is us last Thanksgiving.

And just a quick note: I am sickened by the Shirley Sherrod incident. It epitomizes everything wrong with media today as well as illustrates something many have suspected for months while I resisted: that the Obama administration is too willing to concede to the Right and that it refuses to stand up for its own principles for fear of... what? whom?

But today, he signed into law sweeping financial reform. This is just one of many legislative victories achieved in a very short amount of time, ones of significant impact. So I'll continue to drink my kool-aide, thank you very much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's All About the Cardigan

My manager is encouraging me to get my Masters in Library Science and become a librarian. She says I was born to be a librarian, though I think my thick-rimmed glasses and fondness for cardigans has her biased. Actually, there are a lot of attractive things about the MLS degree, and they are many of the same things that attracted me to the education degree. They are unselfish degrees that allow me to gain and share knowledge, to help people access information. I strongly believe libraries remain a vital resource for our community, and I see us adapting to meet the needs of that community. But I see the role of the librarian changing significantly. I'm not sure what she or he will look like in twenty years.

Anyway, I had an awesome day at the branch today. Lots of friendly people, and no (loud) complaints about our checkout machine.

Got up at 5:30 this morning. I think I'll go to bed while the Reds are still playing, so I can listen to the rest of the game.

Edited to change "reds" to "rest."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Some Quick Hits

My last day went well. A few students told me how much they enjoyed the class on their way out, and I feel better about this last quarter than I did about any previous one. I was more organized, engaged, and responsive. Still, I don't have any regrets, and I can't wait to move on to what's next.

Last night, just three of us did the wine tasting. After dinner we met some more people to see "Inception," the latest thriller directed by Christopher Nolan. Most know him as the director of the last two Batman movies, but I remember him mostly for his 2000 film, "Memento." That movie followed a man who was unable to store new memories. He was constantly writing notes to himself for when he'd forget, just five minutes later. "Memento" illustrated how much our memories are tied to our identities; without memory, who are we? "Inception," likewise, explores the human mind by focusing on our minds and our dreams. Nolan is clearly fascinated by how we think, dream, create, and by the interplay of consciousness and subconsciousness. I also recommend one of his other lesser-known works, "Insomnia."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Next Quarter

My last classes meet on Thursday. Every once in a while I catch myself thinking, Oh next quarter I'll... or I should hang on to this! I can share it with... And the feeling is bittersweet when I realize that, no, next quarter I won't be teaching.

There is so much that I'll miss about it and probably foremost is, strangely, the accountability: I have to be prepared, I have to know my material, and I have to assess students fairly. I get to tell stories and listen to theirs. For twelve hours each week, I have a captive audience. This has been both exhilarating and daunting.

I'll return to teaching someday, whether as an adjunct in a community college or university or as a leader for an informal writing group of five-year-olds or fifty-year-olds.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Life is an unanswered question, but let's still believe in the dignity and importance of the question."

~ Tennessee Williams

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Common Ground

Last week, a friend responded to what I thought was a rather innocuous statement about wanting the country to "go a little faster" with what I thought was a reactionary, alarmist, tea bagger/Ayn Randian diatribe. This was a shock, to say the least, and judging by how much I've thought about it and replayed it, the whole exchange has me troubled.

My friend wept for me because I sound like I advocate revolution. I don't want an individualistic democracy where citizens pull themselves up by their bootstraps - I want socialism, she said. After all, progressives are really socialists. I want a dictator and loss of freedom. She asked me to explain myself. She wrote, I see the danger you don't see.

Normally I would have discounted such a reply. I would play it off to ignorance and fear. But me and her, we've known each other since our freshman years of high school, I've vacationed with her and her family, and I know she's smart and reasonable. I couldn't discard the reply.

I told her that I'm not calling for revolution. There's an on-going debate over the role the government plays in our lives, and it's the push and pull between the two sides that allows our country to change, adapt, and correct itself. I may not always like the direction it's going, but this is why we have elections. I thought this was a reasonable and even simplistic remark, but even this came off as radical.

This was not just a political debate between friends; rather, it illustrates one of the biggest problems our country seems to have--despite so much common ground and common goals between us, two distinct world views divide us. And because of the corrupting influences of money and power, our leaders are unwilling or impotent to bridge that gap.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is a test. I've connected my phone to the blog so I can update via text. Promise not to abuse it!

The End is in Sight...

The end of the quarter always brings excitement and anxiety, both on my part and the parts of the students. Most classes are structured (my own included) such that the last couple weeks are weighted heavily. Final papers, final exams, these things will count for upwards of 40% of the final grade. I get stressed, anxious, keeping track of assignments and grades, making sure I fairly account for all of the students' work. And students get stressed, anxious, turning in so many assignments that are worth so much while keeping up with their demanding core nursing classes.

This morning I went with my dad to the downtown library to use their grant resource center. One of their computers has access to myriad foundations that award grants to organizations such as my father's, a database that we can't get to from the branches or from home. It was exciting to get just a snapshot of how many philanthropic groups there are supporting non-profits, and it made me all the more anxious to finish the quarter and move onto the next stage.

Edited to fix the link to my dad's site!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Another Wedding...

I've written before about the rather counter-cultural community in which I grew up. We were Catholic, yet championed the rights of gays and lesbians; social justice (at least in my eyes) trumped church doctrine any day, including Sundays. And friendships I established twenty years ago still hold today.

Saturday night I watched one of those friends marry. Cocktails and appetizers outside in the afternoon; buffet dinner at seven; ceremony at dusk. It was a lovely evening, so fitting for my friend, her family, and her (now) husband.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Quick hits

Thursday I woke up at 2am (having gone to bed at 11pm) and could not fall back asleep. I was not a chipper zombie. Last night I went to bed at 7:30 - it was still light outside - without setting my alarm. I woke at 5:30, chipper as could be, and finished planning for today's classes.

Twelve hours later, I'd like to crash again. But I have beer to sample and appetizers to nibble.

Just two more weeks! I just ask for the discipline necessary, once the teaching ends, to do what I want to do.