Sunday, July 31, 2011

ungrateful, bitch?

This weekend has been "the experience of a lifetime," truly. I'll begin writing this, though if it turns into a rant I may scrap it or come back and edit it at a later point in time. I'll try not to get too far off topic, though. :)

Last weekend, my mom's computer screen died. If you read the last blog (hint, hint) called "failure," you'll know all about that experience. Well, my mother had requested that I come "home" again this weekend to help her pick out a new computer (laptop). She also promised that I could pick out my birthday present (a pair of "real" headphones). So, Friday evening I took the Metra out to the suburbs. Within an hour of being there, I got into a fight with my mom AND my dad. Not the same fight--but awful all the same. I was seething pure rage, and couldn't stop sobbing. Thankfully, an old friend came and picked me up around midnight. We stayed out most of the night, and I strolled through the door around 4:30AM. We ate tacos (haha!) and then sat in a park, and looked at the stars, and talked for about 3-3.5 hours. We talked about everything--life, school, family, philosophy--it was absolutely what I needed. I came back home and slept, recharged for the next day (Saturday). On Saturday, I found out my mom was working both Saturday AND Sunday. I asked her why she made me travel out to the suburbs over the weekend if she was busy anyway--when was I supposed to go help her shop for this computer? She said she effed up, that she had forgotten she was scheduled to work on Sunday, and that we'd figure it out. Best Buy is open until 7PM on Sundays, and she only had to work until 4PM, so her plan was to go right after work.

In the meantime, she asked me for help in finishing up her schoolwork. She had to submit an entire portfolio for one of her classes by 11PM on Saturday night. At 9:50PM, I informed her that the program would lock her out after 11PM, if that's when the due date was set. She was unaware, and started cursing. Then, she asked me for my help. What was I supposed to say, no? So, I offered to help her. I thought I would just be typing assignments, since she still hand-writes all of her assignments before typing them. I typed one, and then she typed one. While she typed hers, she asked me to do one of the assignments for her. Yes, that's right, my own mother was asking me to do her homework for her. I don't think I've ever done someone else's work to that extent before. Sure, I've done the majority of the work in group projects, but this was different. My mother put her own, and only her own, name on this assignment. I, however, wrote the entire thing.

It was not a long assignment--just a one page reflection on her "philosophy" of teaching students with special needs. I wrote down my philosophy, and hoped she agreed. At the end, instead of thanking me, she simply pointed out that I left a typo near the end ("fins" instead of "finds"--not an easy one to catch). As it was, she only submitted the assignment two minutes before she would have gotten locked out of the program. She left the room, and fell asleep on the couch. But she didn't leave the room before yelling at me. I had checked out several things at Best Buy early in the day on Saturday, so that I could prepare myself for taking her shopping on Sunday. I had found about 3-4 computer models that were acceptable (in her price range, decent hard drives, processors, RAM, and so on), and I also found a pair of headphones with which I completely fell in love. After she submitted the work (on my computer, nonetheless), I asked if she'd like to see the headphones. After one quick glance, she snottily said, "Humph, you can show me headphones but no computer models! I see where your priorities are!" and then she left the room.

I was a little more than peeved, at this point, but I kept my cool, and went to sleep. I had awful dreams about her, but at least I didn't say anything to her face that I wanted to--then, I would have had even deeper problems.

Sunday morning came around, and she agreed to go to Best Buy shortly after 4PM. Before she left for work, she said something along the lines of "I want to talk your birthday surprise over with you at Best Buy, I think you'll be happy." I asked her why she could't tell me at home, and she said she didn't want anyone to overhear it. So, for those of you who know how curious I am, you know that all day this killed me--would I get the headphones? Would she make a further mess in my life? Who knows? I was nervous, but excited. Shortly after 4, she got home from work, and (after she changed, had a glass of iced tea, etc etc) we headed over to Best Buy.

On the way into the store, she mentioned that, because I had saved her all sorts of money (oh, yeah, I ordered all my brother's textbooks for school online this weekend--with my card, and had them shipped, saving around $200 compared to what she'd pay at his school), she decided she could go ahead and get me the headphones. She had originally wanted to spend about $100 on me, and then when I saved her $200, she realized she could probably spend $300 on me. Well isn't that nice! I was ecstatic.

We first stopped to look at the headphones ("Oh wow, all I hear is bass!") and she was sort of impressed, though still stressed about the $300 price tag. Then, I led her back to the computers. I showed her what I had it "narrowed down" to, and then I proceeded to talk a bit about each one, in terms that she (hopefully) could understand. I even had another customer (actually 2-3) asking me about computers, having me compare them, and giving them my opinion on different models. I guess I sounded like I knew what I was talking about (ha! No really, I do know a little bit about computers...). My mom was happy with her choice, and we made the purchases. While checking out our items, the salesman talked up the headphones I had picked out. He said that he had a pair, and loved them, and gave me a few "start up" tips and so on. I appreciated his advice; however, my mom had already told me that I'd have to wait until my birthday to get them. Actually, she wants to have a "party" in the suburbs the weekend following my birthday, and I'd have to wait until that time (or so I assumed, as I won't be traveling out there before that time). So, I politely thanked the man, and told him that I'd definitely take his advice--in four weeks, after I obtained the headphones. He looked at me strangely. I explained that they were a birthday present. He pretended to understand, and wished me the best.

On the way home, things took a turn for the worse. My mom started berating me for how ungrateful I am. "You have everything you want, and you can't even wait a few weeks so that I have something to wrap for your birthday? You think you should have this now? What have you done to deserve this?" I choked back the angry tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

Well, let's see, Mommy dearest. This weekend I:
-made a trip to the suburbs in rush-hour traffic, because it fit YOUR schedule.
-ordered $240 worth of textbooks, without you pre-paying me, and saved you about $200 in the process.
-cleaned my turtle's tank, bought new litter, and rearranged things so that he doesn't smell (something my parents promised to do when I moved out...).
-wrote an entire assignment that I will NOT get credit for, and helped you submit it minutes before the deadline.
-let you use my computer, so that you'd even get the stupid assignment submitted on time.
-sewed your son's shoes back together, so he can continue wearing them (they've only been broke for three months now...).
-looked through over 20 laptop models, and did a price/quality analysis, so that you could get the best deal for the money you were willing to spend.
-spent 2+ hours downloading and installing everything you needed on your computer, and even tried to provide over the phone support once I left/was on my way home.
-did NOT ask you once for money for food, pet supplies, or anything.

And I don't deserve anything? Do you know that the entire weekend, she didn't even thank me for my help, not once?! She did call me ungrateful about 20 times though, because I wanted to take my birthday present home three weeks early. Because in those three (four) weeks, I'll actually have a long commute to work, and one of my earbuds blew out this week; travelling on the el without headphones is pretty much hell, especially the 1.25 hours it takes me to get to work (and back). Basically, by the time I get my birthday present, it'll be time for school to start, and (though I'll still use them a lot!) I won't get a "marathon" listening session like I would if I were to take them on the el. I tried to point this out, but apparently this made me even more ungrateful.

It's like I can't win with the woman. All I did this weekend is give--give to her, give to my dad, give to my brother--and she couldn't even do one favor in return for me! Once I left with my dad to come back to my house, she started talking about me behind my back, to my brother. She was definitely talking smack, and Doug would not have it! (Man, I love that kid. He truly has my back). She started in on how ungrateful I was for "everything", and my brother wouldn't have it! He looked her in the eye, and said, "She worked for you all weekend, she doesn't have her birthday present yet, and she's not 21, what exactly should she be grateful for right now?" and he's absolutely right! My mom then turned and yelled at him, but he stood his ground and backed me up across the board.

So now let me ask, who's the ungrateful one? Yes, I know my mom has it hard, I know that she thinks her life sucks...but if she'd look past the end of her nose she might be able to see that she's making the rest of us miserable!

I know I take advantage of people sometimes (I think we all do), but I try to always keep myself in check a bit (quite a bit) better than that. I guess now I wait for the "birthday faerie" to decide to bring me my present...

"At least you have something to look forward to" ungrateful bitch.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Goodbye, Goodnight

I just got home from a goodbye/going away party.

I know, I know, I should be "used to" friends moving away, with college and everything, but I can honestly say that this person moving away is really getting to me.

I'm actually losing two really important people in the next few weeks. Joel, a tutor at Family Matters, is moving to the east coast on Monday. And, my coworker/boss/friend Jenn is moving to West Virginia mid-August. I'm sure I'll blog again closer to when Jenn tonight I'm going to focus on Joel.

Joel is the tutor I have always wanted. Haha, that sounds strange, I know, but I don't think I could sincerely ask for a better tutor than Joel.

I remember the first time I ever met Joel--he seemed different: nervous, intimidated, but eager to help at the same time. I met him quickly, and threw him into a room with his student. Joel had a particularly hard role to fill-he was taking the place of a tutor who had to leave suddenly. Joel was definitely up to the task, though I had my doubts at first. He checked in with me several times without his tutoring session--I was as encouraging as possible. After a few sessions, he and his student started to bond a bit more (I mean, as much as a 30something year old male tutor can bond with a 12-13 year old teen boy).

Both Joel and his student appear quiet to the outsider. They seem shy, maybe, or just...different. Looking back, I don't think we've paired a pair (haha English, I hate you!) better than Joel and his student. They were both procrastinators that realized the value in doing hard work to get yourself somewhere in life. Joel could follow a lesson plan to a tee, but he also knew how improvise when needed. Joel was also usually the first tutor to submit comments and recommendations to me for the following week's planning. Joel stayed on task, and on schedule. He let me know weeks ahead of time if he had to miss a tutoring session, and would reschedule on another night (convenient for both him and his student). Joel grew a lot as a tutor, and a person, during his time at Family Matters. When he saw how tight-knit a community we had the opportunity to be, he went out of his way to re-organize "Morseland nights" to try to build relationships between tutors. I can truly say that some of the best nights I've had have been spent with the Family Matters crew: Me, Joel, Jenn, Gretchen, Brad, (and later) Christian and Bridget.

Being at Family Matters, and with this crew especially, makes me feel at home. Even this summer, we had a great time playing frisbee (despite the fact that the first time we played, my hand turned black and blue and swelled up like a mofo! Excuse my French...), going out for food (and drinks), and tonight, at Joel's going away party. Tonight, I hadn't seen Gretchen, Christian, Bridget, and Joel in a long time, but we caught up quickly and enjoyed hours of conversation (and food and drinks...see the pattern here...hah). Gretchen and Bridget both gave me a big hug (Lana! How are you! We've missed you!) and Christian and Joel gave me the one armed "hey what's up" squeeze. It was so good to see them... I've spent most of my summer working, or waiting for people to get back to me on hanging out... and I guess I forgot how much I missed spending time to them, and how much it means to me to have such a cool group of people around. They even asked about the guy I was dating the last time we saw each other...which was a really nice touch, one that I appreciated greatly. It's one thing to ask about me--they know me--but to remember to ask about someone they've only met a time or two--well, it shows how much they truly care.

Wow, amazing how I went from singing Joel's praises to singing the crew's praises. I think that's mostly because I see us as a unit--a piece of which is moving away bright and early Monday morning.

I'm still sad--I don't know if I'll ever see Joel again. Isn't that crazy? We don't think about this too often, but "each time" you see someone could be your last. I didn't think that the last time I saw my poppy (Father's Day) would be the last...and alas, it was. I don't know which is better--not knowing, like with Poppy, or knowing--like with Joel. I can't guarantee I'll ever see him again, and I can't guarantee I won't, either. I do know that I'll always hold him in high esteem; a person like Joel is not easily forgotten.

The song that comes to mind most when I think about people leaving (especially people that have significantly impacted my life) is this one: here, "For Good" from Wicked.

"It well may be that we may never meet again, in this lifetime, so let me say before we part. So much of me is made from what I've learned from you. You'll be with me, like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine, by being my friend."

Goodnight, and goodbye, Joel. You've been a true friend, an amazing tutor, and an excellent role model. May you encounter only the best on the east coast.

Monday, July 25, 2011


For those of you who know me, and know me well, you'll know that I hate failure with a passion. I use the word "hate" sparingly, and I can honestly say that failure is one of the things that truly boils my blood. Due to this fact, I avoid failure at all costs, sometimes pushing myself beyond reasonable means to achieve success. Some call it crazy; I call it driven. At any rate, knowing and recalling that piece of information about me will help you understand this post all the better.

Saturday morning rolled around all too early, and I awoke to the 'ding' of my phone going off. I had received a text message. "Woo!" I thought to myself, "maybe someone's asking if I'm free today! If so, the answer is yes!" I half begrudgingly, half excitedly rolled over to grab my phone off the nightstand. I opened up the text message and read: "Laptop has hardware error! Crap!" The message was from my mother. At this point, I was a little peeved. She hadn't texted me in days, much less called to check in on me. And then, she wakes me up on Saturday morning, before my alarm, with a problem? Ugh. Trying to lighten the mood, I sent her a message back saying "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

Not minutes later, I had a response back that read: "Call me on house phone!" Yes, ma'am? I'm sorry, I don't take orders pre-wake up on Saturdays! I slowly returned her message, asking for a minute to wake up before I called. I quickly got up, used the bathroom, and grabbed a glass of water. I headed back to my room, where the temperature is much more bearable, and dialed the age-old number. The phone rang once; on the second ring, my mother answered it. "Hellowehaveaproblem" was how I was greeted. I had her talk me through it, and assumed she was getting the "black screen of death" (similar to the blue screen of death).

She described the problem as "a white screen turning into black, with a blob that grows." Now, I'm not sure how you, reader, describe computer problems, but in case you were curious: this is not an effective way to describe a problem. Again, this pointed to black screen of death. I have in my possession a Windows Vista install CD, as well as Microsoft Office 2007. It's not the newest software, but it is what my mom's computer has installed currently.

I looked at my options.

This upcoming week is my mom's last week of school. She needs her computer to finish up her class work; as a college student, I understand this better than anyone. I could a) be a bitch, and say "wow, how unfortunate! That really sucks, and good luck getting your work done. Or, I could pick option b) I could quickly dress, head out to the suburbs (via train), and wipe the computer clean--reinstalling all of the programs and such. I offered her the latter, and she agreed. I could tell she was desperate.

At the time, the following phrase flashed through my mind: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I've never really liked this phrase, and so in my life, I've often substituted it with "Do unto others as you see fit; let everything you do reflect the most you can do." Ok, so it doesn't sound quite as good as the original, but it reflects my views on how I treat others a lot better than the original phrase does.

I boarded the Metra just over an hour later, and by early afternoon I was eating lunch in a south suburb. After lunch, I decided to take a look at the computer. This is what I saw:

Uh oh. Not quite what I had expected. If you remember the description from earlier, the one I had criticized so harshly...well, it fit the bill, that's for sure! Clearly, this was not the typical "Uh oh, Windows broke..." error. I did a double, triple, and then quadruple take. Then, I began what every good computer technician does when he or she is in above his or her head...I started to google.

I found out that nVidia made the video chip residing in the laptop. I also read up on the million dollar suits against nVidia for manufacturing faulty chips! Uh oh, I thought, I might be in over my head. I decided that my next step would be to clean out the fan. Maybe the computer was just overheating, and that's what was causing the faulty monitor. I popped open the back of the computer, and found a load of dust, dirt and lint! Ew! I got out the vacuum (haha!) and my dad helped me vacuum out the computer. This is some of what we pulled out:

I put everything back together, plugged everything in and...voila! Not a thing happened. I sighed deeply. I consulted with a computer-science friend, and he said that my problem was one of two things:

1. The video chip malfunctioned.

2. The monitor malfunctioned.

To test this, I took an external monitor, from the old desktop, and plugged it into the computer. I expected it to do one of two things. Either it would show me Windows starting up (indicating just the monitor on the laptop was bad), or it would show me the same white/black screen (indicating the video chip was bad). Unfortunately, neither of those things happened. Ugh! What the hell was going on? I wondered. The external monitor didn't even seem to pick up a signal from the laptop.

I talked to yet another computer-science friend (how lucky I am to have smart friends!) and he said it was likely the video chip, and nothing could be done.

However, the first friend recommended a process called "tealighting." I thought this sounded sketchy, and it is! Basically, what you do is find the video card/chip in your computer, and then light a tealight candle (the kind that sits in a small metal cup). Then, you put the candle on top of the video card, and let it burn all the way through, until all the wax is melted. This is supposed to reflow the chip and has worked for some people to get the video card to work.

Well, last ditch effort, here it is! I performed a google search (several, actually) to find tear downs of my mom's laptop, and located the video-board. Getting to this item required a complete tear down of the computer...much past what most tutorials recommended. However, I accepted the challenge. Here are a few of the steps I remembered to photograph:

Finally, I found that for which I was looking! Here it is!

Finally! It had taken me nearly two (if not more) hours to tear down the computer, and I was very relieved to finally have the correct piece exposed so I could begin the tealighting process. I found a candle (thank goodness my mother has a ton of them!) and set it up. I told my mom and brother that I felt like I was in church, lighting a candle for the computer, and I should probably say a prayer. I made the sign of the cross backwards, and with my left hand (a sign if irreverence if ever there were one) and everyone laughed. We lit the candle, and then waited. Here's what we were looking at!

I sent the above picture to my friend, who had recommended the tealighting process, and all of a sudden got a frantic instant message back that said "Uhmmm Lana, I think you have it in the wrong place!"

Oh. Shit.

You see, I had completely flubbed up. I successfully located the S-Video board. This is NOT the same thing as the video chip/card, which runs the graphics on your computer. The S-Video board is for the connector cable that can run from your TV to your computer. You know, the one that we've never used? Yep, that one. I tore down an entire computer only to find the wrong thing.

Begrudgingly, I blew out the candle, and asked where exactly the correct video chip would be. I found it here:

Of the three "squares" that you can see in that image, the video card is the one all the way to the right. It was actually right under the fan, this thing:

I had removed this hours before, and it's very easy to access. This was the video card the candle must affect.

How could I be so stupid? I spent hours tearing apart an entire computer, only to find out that the part I was looking for was near the top all along! I have never felt so stupid. I mean, I recognized the fact that I have never taken any formal computer classes, and quite a few people would have probably said "fuck it" and not even attempted to fix it; however, I'm not one of those people. Great, I thought, now even if the tealighting does work, I likely won't be able to get it back together!

I sat in fury while I watched the candle burn. The candle almost represented how I felt. I had started out a strong, solid candle, and working on this computer consumed me (as the fire was consuming the wick and wax of the candle) and I was burning down to the bottom. My solid confidence had melted and liquified, and was in great danger of spilling out at the slightest provocation. I was furious with myself; I had only myself to blame for the error, and took full responsibility for it.

At last, the candle burned out, and I removed it from the video chip. I began the reassembly of the rest of the computer, reconnecting wires and the like, until I had everything placed in nearly the same fashion in which it started. I crossed my fingers the entire time (figuratively, of course--crossing them literally would have made my already impossible job even more impossible!) and hoped for the best.

I had to wait until later on Sunday to put the rest back together, because I needed to go buy thermal paste to go between the video chip (and cpu and the other "square") and the heatsink. I act like I actually know what I'm talking about--I don't. I do know that silver conducts heat, and we wanted to put silver in between those two things so that the heat could successfully be vented out of the computer. Beyond that, I'm clueless.

I think the worst part about this not working is that my mom, and the rest of my family, put their faith in me; I proceeded to let them down. The part that's "even worse" is that I put my faith in myself...and I still failed.

After we went to Radioshack (woo!), I came home, applied the silver paste, and finished up the final touches on getting the computer back together. Surprisingly (sort of), it looked like ... a computer! Ta-daa! I had it all put back together. I turned it on (and breathed a deep sigh of relief that all of the LED lights aligned...) and waited with bated breath.

The "engine" whirred, and the fans came on. The "doot doot doot" sounded aaaaand...the screen turned white.

Then, slowly, the screen faded to black.

I had successfully restored the computer back to the condition in which I found it.

Sigh. Deep sigh. Bite tongue. Don't cry. Blink blink blink. Clench teeth. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Lick lips. Go back to clenching teeth cause here come the tears. Blink blink. Don't look at them or you'll burst into tears. Try ctrl+alt+del and see if it changes anything. It doesn't. You knew it wouldn't. Lick the roof of your mouth. Swallow. They're waiting for you. You have to tell them everything. What do you say? You're the one looking at the screen stupid. They're figuring it out.

"What's going on, Lana? Does it work? It's okay if it doesn't, you tried your best..."

Yeah. My best. But what happens when your best isn't good enough? I tried and I failed. And, because I couldn't fix the computer, now my family is basically computer-less, and they watched me try and fail. My family is not used to seeing me fail--they're used to success, and being able to celebrate me. And, in cases like this, they're used to benefiting from my success.

But that didn't happen.

I looked up to my mom with the most deeply apologetic eyes I could muster. "I'm sorry, Mom. I couldn' just didn't... It's not fixed."

"It's ok, Lana. You tried, I saw you try. You didn't give up, when a lot of others would have. And, you saved me a lot of money by looking at this at home rather than having me take it into a shop. I appreciate all of your time and hard work."


I saw Harry Potter 7.2 on Sunday with my brother. One of the lines that I wanted to share here, I can't remember, but another one I can. Dumbledore said this to Harry during Harry's dream sequence/trippy moment. He said something to the effect of "It is our choices, not our abilities, that define us."

Wow. Stop. Take a step back. I finally got what my mom said (and always has said) about "trying your best." It's poorly worded, as it is: trying your best. But, I finally understood that making the choice to try is what defines you, not the ability to succeed in whatever you decide to do.

Talk about being hit with a ton of bricks.

All my life I've depended on success in carrying out my decisions. I pride myself on being decisive, knowing what I want, and knowing how to succeed. I do my best for both others and myself. And just then, for a quick moment, with this computer in front of me and my family encircling me, I realized that making the choice to help meant far more to them than any functional computer I could have given them.

This is what I learned this weekend. I hope I can keep this thought alive in the back of my mind in the future. :) I guess sometimes it is true, what "they" say: you learn the most from your failure.

Peace, until next time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When "put up and shut up" isn't a good idea.


I regret to inform you that the ethical values of our country are being flushed down the toilet.


Wait wait wait! Where does this come from, you ask? I just finished reading this news article from the Huffington Post about Atlanta schools. If you have time, I highly recommend you go read that before continuing with this blog. If you'd like to skip that, I'll try my best to pull the key parts of the story for you here (or at least what I'll be talking about).

A new investigation has found that teachers and administrators in Atlanta, GA were changing student responses on standardized tests, allowing students to look up answers on tests, allowing and encouraging "dumb" kids to cheat by peering at "smart" kids' answer booklets, and so on and so forth. Now, students are entering middle schools at a 1st grade reading level (yes, go ahead and throw up, I did) and parents and their new teachers are upset at the horrible game of catch up they're being forced to play! The article goes on to describe the ways in which administrators instructed teachers to cheat, or allow their students to cheat, and in turn how teachers did not / could not speak up against the unethical practices before their very eyes.

As a future teacher, my first response to this was WHAT THE HELL?!

Excuse my French.

As a teacher, I make an active oath to engage my students in the classroom daily. I hold myself, the students, and their parents responsible for any and all learning that takes place under my direction. As a teacher, I proactively set the best example possible for my students, in hopes that they too will be able to not only find an adequate place in the world, but learn the value of enrichment through work and reinforcement of practice. I'm committing myself to the lives of many, knowing that although not all of my future students will achieve the success they want/need, that most of them will, and that all students have the preliminary potential to be successful.

And, as a future teacher, I think that gives me the right to say, WHAT THE HELL, ATLANTA? Don't get me wrong, it's not only Atlanta. Other districts in other cities are undergoing similar investigations this very moment-all suspected of cheating, in one way or another, on standardized tests.

Again, what the hell?

Let's take a look at everything that is wrong with this situation.

1. First and foremost, students are not learning. What is the purpose of going to school? To LEARN. If learning is not taking place, the schools are failing.

2. Teachers and administrators alike are setting a BAD example. What can students take away from this experience? Teachers and administrators are teaching students that it's "ok" to cheat when it will give you something of significant value in return (like the ability to progress to the next grade level). This is NOT how the real world works, folks! Sure, I agree that I see a lot of scandal, and a lot of cheating going on, especially in the political world. However, being honest and true will get you miles ahead in the real world; lying and cheating will only (eventually) get you caught.

3. The blame is being passed on from person to person. Parents and students blame the teachers for allowing the cheating. The teachers are blaming administration, saying they were forced to encourage cheating because they administration demanded it, and the teachers didn't want to lose their jobs. The administration blames the local/national government, for setting such high test score standards and enforcing such harsh repercussions for scores that do not meet state/national standards. The government is blaming...well, the government is blaming pretty much everyone but themselves, saying that teachers wanted students to be held more accountable and parents wanted students guaranteed a "good" education--hence the development of the standardized tests (thank you Bush and NCLB, though testing standards were in place even before then, if you cared to know). Because everyone involved is partially to blame for a problem like this, it makes the problem all the more difficult to resolve.

4. Ethical standards are non-existent here. I don't care what philosophical values you hold, really, but take a look at yourself and ask yourself the following: According to my moral code, when, if ever, is cheating ok? I can almost (note: almost) guarantee you that about 95% of people would agree that, in a situation like this, cheating is most certainly NOT ok. I admit, there have been a few times in my life where I have lied and/or cheated in order to obtain a better result for myself in the end. I cannot remember a time when I did that in my education, however! As both student and teacher, I value content knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking skills greatly and refuse to compromise myself in order to "get ahead" a little bit faster. Again, what kind of example are we setting for kids?

In the theme of keeping things educational, I'd like to share one of my favorite quotes with you, and it goes like this: “The more that you read, the more you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr Seuss.

If we continue robbing our students and children of the opportunity to learn how to read, and read well, ... well, let's just say they won't be "going" anywhere anytime soon. As a lover of humanity in general, I can only say that I hope our government and administration figures out soon that this is NOT the way to bring up young children.

And, because I genuinely dislike purely negative things without any ideas for resolution, here are my ideas for how to resolve problems like these:

1. Put any teacher/administrator that openly admitted to cheating in a psychiatric counseling program. Take this from the wages they would have earned. It needs to be a 6 week (at least) intensive program. This should also include at least the equivalent of 1 professional development course.

2. IMMEDIATELY enact remediation programs for students whose test scores have been altered. Have them take a proficiency test, to gauge their REAL level of competency, and then group them into similarly abled classes. Hire professional teachers/tutors to work with them.

3. The state and national governments need to hold councils to assess and reassess the testing system we have in place currently. Tests such as the ISATs and Iowa Examination of Basic Skills tests need to be analyzed by qualified doctors of education (there are a few good ones here, at Loyola!). Actually, you could even have folks like NCTM (National Council for Teachers of Mathematics) look at each section of the test (there are also councils for reading, science, and so on--I'm just blanking on the acronyms). I'm sure they'd be glad to help get the country back on track.

4. All "reward and incentive" money obtained by districts and administrators/teachers that was received due to inflated and or false test scores needs to be returned to the district, and used to pay for the remediation tutors (mentioned in step 2 above) and to hire new teachers/administrators to replace the folks that cheated/did not undergo the counseling in order to return to their previous job function.

5. Schools need to hold parent/community meetings in order to inform parents of exactly what happened, how far behind their child/ren is/are, and what is being done to rectify the situation. This will involve both administration and parents being the "bigger man"--accepting what is done, apologizing, and trying to move on in the best interest of the children.

6. Students need to understand the depth and breadth of the situation, and how they were cheated out of an equal learning opportunity. Students need to understand that any and all cheating in which they participated is ethically wrong, and that essentially they learned nothing from the process. Students should understand that schools are trying to catch them up to speed, and that if they and the teachers work together, student achievement is still possible.

Last, but not least, to the teachers:

I can assure you that 90% of you became teachers, why? To help other people; because, like me, you have a burning desire and passion to encourage and support as many students as possible, because you see potential in EVERY set of eyes, not just some of them, because you recognize that some students don't receive adequate support at home, and you'd like to ensure that they, at the very least, receive support in school, that you have a high regard for education and knowledge in general, you are a lifelong learner, and you never have turned your back on your education. This is why we become teachers--so now I ask you, WHY did you give up? Why did you not speak up when administration encouraged you to lie and cheat? No job is worth the trouble you're facing now (being fired, losing your license, and so on). So, I beg you, please do NOT put up and shut up. Remember the fiery ambition you had as a recent college grad--and reobtain it! Remember that you are in this for THE KIDS, not for the money or any other reason.

Emiliano Zapata, leading figure in the Mexican revolution, once said, "Prefiero morir de pie que vivir siempre arrodillado." (Losely) Translated, this means, "It is better to die standing than to live a lifetime on your knees." Though he said this almost a century ago, the message still rings true today. As teachers, we are called to "die standing," to sacrifice everything we have in exchange for our students' advancement and success. Allowing administrators to tell you to cheat? Well, that's living a lifetime on your knees, folks. But standing tall, and standing up to injustice? Well, that just might be a morir de pie.

And trust me when I tell you, it'll be worth it. :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I may not be Einstein, but...

Today, I learned something, and I thought I'd share it with you all! Of course, I can't really tell you this without telling you the story behind it, so bear with me. I'll try to make it as interesting as possible. :)

Today I was talking to my mom, and we got on the subject of finances. I told her I was trying to dig myself out of the hole that the month of May left me in, and she responded by saying she wanted to help me out during my student teaching. My mom knows that I can't/won't usually take financial help from them--they have enough of their own issues--but she did insist on helping me during student teaching. That will be great, seeing as I'll be teaching all day every day from September through December, and not getting paid a dime. As a side note, my mom also had to quit her job during HER student teaching (way back in the 70s). I won't be "quitting" mine all together, but I will be restricted to night/weekend hours, and that will majorly limit the amount of money I can actually make.

ANYWAYS. The point came up that I have a bit of credit card debt to pay off, and my mom started in on her rant about how "awful" credit cards are, and how they snowball, and how I'm getting myself into serious trouble. My mom had to watch my dad declare bankruptcy in the 70s because of his immature misuse of money, and she doesn't want me to do the same. My dad didn't make enough money to pay the minimum payments on his credit card(s), so he defaulted. Since then, both of my parents have been very anti-credit card people.

I must say, not having a credit card (and therefore no credit score) has screwed me over in some major ways. My interest rate on my student loan (taken out freshman year) is astronomical. My sophomore year included me being denied a student loan (because of lack of credit) and almost having to drop out of school. Thankfully, I got my act together and now I have two credit cards, which I use regularly and also pay off (or at least make payments towards) regularly. I've been very responsible with them, and I have never tried to go over the credit limit, nor have I been late with my payments. I'm trying to build myself a good credit score so that I have half a chance at financing anything in my future.

Well, today I decided (for once) that forfeiting the fight (aka listening to my mother complain about my credit card use) was worth more than fighting about it, so I listened to her constant warnings about how much debt I'd be in. She brought up the interest rate on the card, which she said must be close to 30%. Okay, THAT I could not take, so I corrected her in saying it was only 18%, thank you very much. She moaned that that is still "way too high," and that I'll end up "in serious trouble soon enough." I realized at this point that I realistically have no idea how my credit card interest rate works. I mean, I have only ever been charged $5-15 in interest charges per month--for the amount that I owe/have owed them, I definitely didn't see how that was 18%! I expressed this to my mom, who said, "Oh, they must be calculating it wrong." I went on to tell her that what I'm charged each month is only ever a little over 1% of what I actually owe. She told me that a) I'm crazy, b) I must be reading the bill wrong, and c) she's sure they're charging me 18% of what I owe each month.

But that doesn't really happen.

Upon getting off the phone with my mom, I became more and more curious as to what I actually DO pay each month! I logged into my (hopefully secure) accounts online and found the information--just as I had recalled. "Ok," I told myself, "there is something here that you're STILL not getting! Figure it out, dummy!" At that opportune moment, my roommate walked into my room. For those of you who know my roommate, you know that he's close to godly in most things math and science related (and if he's not, he sure does maintain the image well). Anyway, I expressed my concern, and he quickly said, "The 18%, that is APR, right?" "Yeah," I replied.

"Do you know what the A in APR stands for?" he asked me.
"Annual!" I replied happily! I still didn't get it though...

He looked at me for another moment, and said, "Think about what you told me. You pay a little over 1% each month. What's 18/12?"

"1.5!" I replied. And then it hit me.

If you already know how this works, or figured it out before this part of the story, I apologize. My brain clearly seemed to be switched to "off." Finally, it turned on!


Sigh. In case you didn't follow, the 18% is distributed throughout each month of the year. So, you never pay 18% of what you owe any given month; rather, the interest is calculated in such a way so that over the course of a year, you'll pay about 18% of what you owed, on average. (Ok, please excuse my non-math terms, but that's how a non-finance person would understand it.) You can actually read all about it here. Just like I did! They offer a cute little formula (ha ha) to help you figure it out. Basically, this is what did it for me:
An effective annual interest rate of 10% can also be expressed in several ways:

0.7974% effective monthly interest rate, because 1.007974^12=1.1

9.569% annual interest rate compounded monthly, because 12*0.7974=9.569

9.091% annual rate in advance, because 1/1.1=1-0.091

So, the system does NOT work in the following way: I owe x. After month one, I owe 1.1825x. After month two, I owe 1.1825(1.1825x) and so on! That's crazy and I'd owe tens of thousands of dollars by now!

And all of this, this discovery, led me to recall one important quotation that I heard a long time. It was said by the dear old Albert Einstein, proclaimed math and science genius. He said, "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." Well, I don't know how things worked in Mr. Einstein's world, but I don't think that's how things work here. Take this as an example. My mom's theory was that I paid 18% of my debt, plus a minimum payment, each month. The facts (what I'm actually charged) didn't fit her theory. So, she tried to change the facts, saying that I was reading the bill incorrectly, or the company was miscalculating (something I think Visa rarely does, ya know), but guess what?

The facts don't change.

And I think there's an important lesson that one can take away from this encounter (or at least I am doing so). Sometimes, you just have to admit when you're wrong, and change your way of thinking. Not everything works the way you want it to; sometimes, you make a decision based on a theory you have, and the facts just don't seem to agree, so you have to go back and modify that decision, or change it entirely. I think that's so important to keep in mind when trying to figure out "what to do" in life--you can't always change the facts, but you can change the way you think.

Until next time. :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

directions (not north, south, east, and west)

Think of the word directions. What's the first thing that comes to your mind? Some might think of cardinal directions (though not so much anymore, thanks to GPS). But I'd say the second most common, if not most common, initial thought would be: a set of steps to follow in order to accomplish something. The dictionary defines directions as: instruction or guidance for making, using, etc.: directions for baking a cake.

As a teacher, I am all too used to giving students directions. One of the modern theories on that is that teachers should give students less directions--this is an active belief of experiential learning (that is, learning by experience rather than through text or demonstration). Well, let me tell you, although I am a fan of experiential learning, I am also a huge fan of directions.


Let's think about what the intent is behind a set of directions. As a teacher, I give my students directions to ensure their success. As an "expert in the field" (still getting used to that...) I have studied in depth as to how students learn best, and what will ensure the transfer of meaningful knowledge. I've spent the last three years learning all about the mind and how it works, as well as different ways one can employ when teaching another person. I've proved myself time and time again by writing lesson plans and carrying them out in a classroom setting. I give my students directions so that they will both know what I expect of them and be able to rise to meet and exceed the standards I've set for them. This is all done in their best interest, to make the classes and lessons most meaningful to them.

And, I must say, on average all of my students have done very well with following directions.

Which leads me to my question: do adults just forget that they too should follow directions?

Let me explain. My "day-job" (ha ha) involves processing applications for an online tutoring company. One part of the work includes a "free response" from a tutor--that is, people applying to be tutors are directed to write one to five personalized paragraphs about their qualifications and previous experiences teaching and/or tutoring. After explaining what exactly we want, we then direct tutors to not submit their current resume. We tell them that applications containing a resume will be returned to them for resubmission.

In order to become a tutor, you must be at least 18 years of age, and it is generally assumed that you can read (after all, this is all done online, via computer, where you need to read letters and words to even stumble upon our webpage). So please please please someone explain to me WHY I still receive applications that are simply a resume? Are the tutors just that masochistic that they want to set themselves up for failure that far in advance?

Or is it simply that they didn't take time to read the directions? Just as any good teacher would, we put the directions on our website to ensure our future tutors success. So, why is it then that so few of them take time to read the directions and follow them? It seems to me (and this is just a hunch) that tutors would be saving both us (the content reviewers) and them (the tutors) a lot of time and hassle if they just followed the directions in the first place.

And by seeing this so often, every day of the week, it makes me wonder. Is society just getting that much dumber? Or do people just generally have that much of a lack of regard for directions?

Or, do they simply not understand why directions are placed there?

When I receive a set of directions, providing they make sense and seem meaningful, I am thrilled. To me, directions mean that someone out there cared enough for my well-being that they went ahead and told me what was expected of me so that I could be successful in completing a task.

Think about it. If you were baking a cake, you wouldn't just set the sugar, flour, eggs, milk, and other stuff in a pan and pop it in the oven, right? No, you would follow the directions to ensure that the cake tasted really yummy! So too should you follow directions given in other areas of life--they are there to ensure success.

Trust me, I'm a teacher.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cosplay, aka Philosophy of the Day, aka I Love You, Doug

So, today I had the chance to join my brother downtown for an anime convention (I think?) called SoyCon. Now, I have never been particularly into anime, manga, or even most videogames...but I went out of love for my lil bro--because man I don't get to see him often enough! He was really excited that I'd take time out of my day to come see him (awh). Well, upon arriving (after I finally found him--you wouldn't believe how many people out of 500 have pink "hair!" :P) I felt...let's just say, out of place. Everyone was dressed as their favorite character--they "were" that character. Even my kid brother, Doug, was not Doug today...he was Marluxia from Kingdom Hearts (forgive me if I spelled any of that wrong). He had a long, bright pink wig, and carried a six foot scythe. (Yes, it was taller than me.)

Let me just tell you how amazing of an experience this was. Doug went to SoyCon in a group of about 5-6 people; two he knew well, and they each brought a friend/sibling. Doug was acquainted with a few other people that showed up...but the entire group consisted of (reportedly) 500 people. And you know what? They all got along. There was such a large sense of community...even the "enemies" from the shows got along, took pictures together, and exchanged "life" stories. They ate together, laughed together, sang together (albeit sometimes badly), walked together, and just...were together.

And yet...I didn't quite fit in.

I was one of the only ones that was not dressed in a costume/character outfit. I was one of the only non-cosplayers. I came dressed in my normal attire--jeans, flipflops, a nice shirt. Pretty, but definitely "Lana," not any other character.

Then tonight, out of the clear blue, my brother texted me. Philosophy of the day! as we like to call it; sometimes it's Thought of the day or Aha! moment of the day, but today was philosophy of the day--one of the favorite parts of my day, especially coming from folks like Doug. Anyway, without further ado, here's the philosophy of the day:

Once you know who you are, you can be whoever you want to be. Ties in with good cosplay.

Anyone who ever discredits high schoolers, particularly sixteen year olds, as rebels without a cause, kids with no sense, no life experience...well, let's just say you haven't met my brother. I love my brother so much--he provides insight to life and the world when I can't see past the end of my nose. Every time I'm stuck in a rut, it never fails--I can go to Doug and gain a whole new perspective. That might be strange for most brother/sister relationships...but Doug and I are close. We've been through "so much" together--physically, emotionally, and even just in our minds. We're two peas in a pod; he's pretty much the only person in the world that I know will always be there for me--not just because we're family, but because we're best friends.

I started thinking about Doug's philosophy, and you know what, he's completely right. I've always considered myself grounded; I know who I am, what I want, and I know how to get it (for the most part). I work my ass off, and I achieve. And, I do know who I am. However, that's as far as I go--being me. To me, I can only be me, because that's...who I am. (I hope that makes more sense when you read it than it does just typing it.) I am comfortable being me because I know me.

On the other hand, Doug is mature in ways I may never be. I think so many of us are comfortable in being only ourselves--we get wrapped up in this, in our image, in who we are, and we forget we can be different things to different people.

To me, Doug will always be my little brother. Despite the fact he has about a foot on me these days (the kid's gigantic!), he will always be the little brother that I wanted to trade in for a sister, the baby boy whose diaper I learned how to change, the baby boy I'd wake up at 4 am to feed with Dad, the toddler who bit me right on my butt, the preschooler that broke his leg and wouldn't walk on his cast til I showed him how, the kindergartener who knew how to read ahead of his class because he wanted to read the same books as his big sissy, the second grader who played Abraham Lincoln and gave one of the most beautiful renditions of the Gettysburg Address I've ever heard, the fifth grader who played basketball to fit in, the sixth grader who played Elvis in a school musical and nailed it--down to the hip movements and all, the seventh grader who joined Adult Handbells at church so he could spend more time with Mom and me, the 8th grader who soloed in the school musical despite being made fun of, and nailed an acapella solo using falsetto part of the time, the 8th grade valedictorian of his class, who gave a clear speech encouraging his classmates, the 9th grader that started high school with so much pride and joy, who remembered that "A's are great, B's are good, but fun beats them both," the 9th grader who auditioned for and made it into the Madrigal choir and didn't mind shaving his legs so he could wear tights ("We're men, we're men in tights!"), the 10th grader who began voice lessons and became one of the best basses in choir, the 10th grader who started doing stand-up and improv comedy with school, the 10th grader who wants to be a writer, or maybe a cultural anthropologist, the 10th grader who can bring me to tears with his poetry, the rising 11th grader taking a stab at AP classes, the rising 11th grader working his butt off to finish his summer reading...

And most importantly, the 11th grader who has loved me so beautifully for the past 16.5 years, without regard to how crappy of a sister I've been at times. (Is it a bad thing that I'm balling my eyes out right now at all these memories? No, it's not, what are memories for if not to recall such beauty and be amazed yet again?)

And to me, that's who my brother is, that's who my brother has always been. And I realize that he's not that person to everyone...and that everyone has a different experience of Doug. And of you, and me, and everyone in the world--no two people experience the same person in the same way. Even similar people, for example both of my parents, they each experience me differently. And today, seeing Doug (I mean, Marluxia) cosplaying today with his friends--to some of them, he is Marluxia. And he is this person because Doug is one of the few people that truly knows who he is. Therefore, he can be whoever he wants. And, he is.

And it dawned on me in that moment that I can see this in two different ways, and the following is the way I want it to be understood:

I am a person, one singular person, and each person who knows me experiences a different me, but they all experience "Lana." And, this is because I choose to be me. Despite the fact I may choose to act differently in different situations, I generally stick to the same morals and ethics to which I subscribe.
Doug is a person, one singular person, and each person who knows him experiences a different him, but they don't all experience "Doug." And, this is because Doug chooses to be Doug, Marluxia, and a number of other characters.

In short, some people think of cosplaying, hell even acting, as an escape for people who aren't comfortable with themselves, and want to change certain things. However, I challenge you to think of it as this: people who act, people who cosplay, people who are comfortable enough to the point where they will put aside "themselves" and take on another persona entirely--they are not weak or escaping; rather, they are strong. They see what all life has to offer them, and they choose to experience it to the fullest.

I challenge you to step outside the box. Do something that's not "you" for someone, or with someone, or more importantly, for yourself. You'll be surprised at how strong you are. <3

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

on origins and holding your ground.

Well well well, I finally did something "productive" with my summer and finished a book! My fantastic younger brother had recommended The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. He read it for an English class in high school (one that I hadn't) so I thought I'd check it out.

To give you a "brief" summary (come on, it's a 400 page book!), I'll edit the wiki summary and cut it down even more for you (ok, if you want to hear more, read it already!):

The story begins on Wang Lung's wedding day and follows the rise and fall of his fortunes. As the House of Hwang slowly declines due to opium use, frequent spending, and uncontrolled borrowing, Wang Lung, through his own hard work and the skill of his wife, O-Lan, slowly earns enough money to buy land from the Hwang family. O-Lan delivers three sons and two daughters; the first daughter becomes mentally handicapped as a result of severe malnutrition brought on by famine. During the devastating famine and drought, the family must flee to a large city in the south to find work.

While in the city, O-Lan and the children turn to begging while Wang Lung pulls a rickshaw. Wang Lung's father begs but does not earn any money, and sits looking at the city instead. One time, his son brought home meat he had stolen. Furious, Wang Lung throws the meat on the ground; believing that if they kept stealing, his sons would grow up as thieves. O-Lan, however, calmly picks up the meat and begins cooking it again; representing that she preferred health to honesty. When a food riot erupts, Wang Lung joins a mob that is looting a rich man's house and corners the man himself, who fears for his life and gives Wang Lung all the money he has in order to buy his safety. Meanwhile, his wife had stolen jewels from another house, hiding them within her clothes.

Wang Lung uses the money to bring the family home, buy a new ox and farm tools, and hire servants to work the land for him. In time, two more children are born, a son and a daughter. Wang Lung is able to buy the House of Hwang's remaining land. He is eventually able to send his first two sons to school and apprentice the second one as a merchant. As Wang Lung becomes more prosperous, he buys a concubine named Lotus. O-Lan dies, but not before witnessing her first son's wedding. Wang Lung and his family move into town and rent the old House of Hwang. Wang Lung, now an old man, wants peace, but there are always disputes, especially between his first and second sons, and particularly their wives. Wang Lung's third son runs away to become a soldier. At the end of the novel, Wang Lung overhears his sons planning to sell the land and tries to dissuade them. They say that they will do as he wishes, but smile knowingly at each other.

Ok, so you're like, great, another family novel about growing up. Well, sort of, yes. But what made this novel different from others I've read and enjoyed less? Was it the characteristically honest first person narrative? Was it the hardships endured and overcome? Was it the love/hate relationships between fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, brothers, sisters, and their spouses?

I can't honestly say that I liked the novel due to any of this, but rather from what I took away from the novel as a whole. Call it a "lesson learned," if you like, though I'd rather call it a "lesson revisited." Several lessons went streaming through my head, actually, so I'll jot them down here:

1. I am going to get old.
Ok, so, I texted this message to a friend upon nearing completion of the novel, and the response was: What are you, 8? Are you just realizing this? And the answer is no, I've always "known" I'll get older, but it was one of those "push it to the back of my mind" type of thoughts, not something that I greatly considered. And now, coming up on my 21st (and last important) birthday, I'm seeing it ever the more clearly: I am going to get OLD. And I don't mean "old" as in a college graduate. And I don't mean "old" as in, I'll turn 30. I mean elderly, I'll pass up 65 (assuming I'm around that long), and I will be OLD! I'll be retired.

And then it came to me: What am I going to do? I generally pride myself in being very future oriented: I have a plan, I'm getting through school (graduating in 10 months! woo!), I'm going to teach, I'm going to get a Master's in Curriculum Development and Administration, I might even do a few political things (education wise) here in the city... But realistically, all of that takes me to 35, MAYBE 40. And what will I be doing after that? I was really upset, so I talked to my roommate about it (if anyone reading knows him, you'll know why this is funny/ironic) and he just stared at me, and said something to the effect of: "Of course you don't have a plan. How could you even predict something like that? You gotta just keep your mind open and take it as it comes. The only thing you can be sure of is that 1. you'll be here and 2. you'll have your education (and any abilities, ie: teaching, associated with it). Yep, that's it!

And, for the most part, the same thing happened with Wang Lung. The novel opened when he was about 18, on his wedding day. And, it traced his life through (almost) his death, around age 70. That's over 50 years! And, Wang Lung did NOT have a plan. He knew that 1. he was a hard worker, and 2. he would survive, but never once did Wang Lung make any future plans. In fact, numerous times he referenced making more spur of the moment decisions, even when they could affect his life greatly (for example, moving from his land to the city). And, I suppose this opened me up more to the idea that, as much as I take comfort in having a 'plan,' that life doesn't always work that way, and that we can lead thoughtful, productive lives without always having an end in mind. Thanks, Wang Lung.

2. Your origins are important. Recognize them, honor them, but don't become obsessive about them.
Wang Lung is often referred to as a 'country bumpkin' because he takes great pride in several things: honoring the gods, his land, and his family heritage (and improving his financial state for his descendants). In the end, usually there are good times when Wang Lung is faithful to his family and the land, and there are generally worse times when he is not faithful to the land, letting other things get in the way of him and the harvest he is producing. Now, don't get me wrong, I am NOT advocating or suggesting that I go to the country and buy a farm. No, no, urban, or at least suburban, is the life for me right now. However, for Wang Lung, the land is more than just "land;" he comes from the land, he lives off the land, and when he dies he will be put in the land. And, I have to say, having such a devotion to one's origins is truly inspiring. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I had in my life that would be similar to Wang Lung's land, and I came up with the following: family and education. I mean, Wang Lung takes pride in his family, and when it comes right down to it, he values the land oftentimes more than he values his own blood relations. However, I think that my origins lie more in my family (not only for having produced me on a literal level, but also for having brought me up and encouraged me to think and be successful) as well as my education (which I suppose has done the same).

In other words, I think your "origins" can consist of what bore you (literally and/or figuratively) as well as what your means to success is; for Wang Lung, his origin was the land: he tended the land, it brought him revenue, and he knew no else. For me, however, it has (thus far) been my education; I have studied, I have been endorsed for work and teaching others, and I know no else. I can't say that is entirely a good or bad thing, but I am thankful for my origins nonetheless, and respect them to the nth degree.

3. Hold your ground, no matter what others think.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Wang Lung greatly values his land. And, I truly believe that one of the things that made him successful was the fact that he held his ground (no pun intended... ha... ha...) and he did not give up his land! Even when he was forced to go to the south and pull rich people around in carts for just pennies a day...he uprooted his family before giving up his land, because he knew that the land was the constant in his life that he could and would return to.

And I guess what I'm saying (and I'm rather tired, so I'm planning to say it quickly and go to bed!) is that in "today's day and age" (whatever the hell that means), no one is truly willing to hold their ground for something they believe in.

Well, that's not entirely true, but hopefully you understand what I mean. I recently blogged (or talked about, or something) the value and definition of "forever" and how it's basically meaningless today because people are generally afraid to commit (look at the bankruptcy rates, divorce rates, what have you). And, I think what I mean by "hold your ground" is that once you decide on something...stick to it! Let me give you a really bad/amazing example from my life:

I entered college as a Biochemistry major. What does that mean? It means I really love science! Ha! No, really it means that I wanted to study chemistry and (to a degree) how it interacts with the study of biology, and that in that course of study I would fulfill all pre-medical requirements and apply to medical school to become a cardio-thoracic surgeon (again with the planning thing). Well, I held my ground (or that ground, at least) from my sophomore year of high school until half way through my freshman year of college, about 3.5 years. And ground, my "land" if you will, well, it changed. Listen to this part, it's important: Throughout the novel, Wang Lung had a constant piece of land (that which his father owned before him) and then he kept on buying more and more land, so eventually he owned nearly all the land in sight. And, if you'll let me draw the comparison, my family is my original land. My education through elementary and middle school was buying a little more land. Then with high school, I bought some more land. Then in college, I bought yet a little more land, and with that land came a change in goals. I no longer wanted to be a surgeon, but rather a teacher; more specifically, I wanted to be able to teach the math and science that had influenced me greatly enough to cause me to have the desire to become a surgeon! Though my land was growing, I held onto it firmly.

And, when I told my parents of my decision to become an educator, and my father openly rebuked me saying that "I could do better," I went even further in holding my ground by telling him that I wanted to make a difference. As non-religious as I am, I do believe that I have a purpose. Not a predetermined one by some man in the sky, but one that I have set for myself, and that is to change and improve as many lives as I can of those around me. And what better way to fulfill such a goal but by inspiring awe, wonder, amazement, and thought in the minds of children?

So, thank you Wang Lung for reminding me to hold my ground. <3

Sunday, July 3, 2011

carpe diem.

Nothing like writing a blog at 2AM when you can't sleep, eh?

So, I recently re-watched most of season 1 of Community. For those of you who don't know, it's a show "mocking" a community college, but it actually takes a pretty close look at life and relationships between people: friends, teachers/students, lovers, and the like. It's funny (of course, with Joel McHale how could it not be?!) and it often either exposes a part of life we refuse to confront, or "teaches a lesson," so to speak. I recently watched an episode in which the professor of the class was very "Carpe diem!"--albeit, it seemed very fake (he was too happy!). He told his students they would only pass the class if they could "seize the day" (as the phrase loosely translates).

So, throughout the episode, Jeff (Joel McHale) goes on about trying to plan some a way to seize the day.

If you're not laughing yet, or at least chuckling or shaking your should be.

He's planning to seize the day?! Come on now! How do you plan to be spontaneous?!

Well, so as to not leave you hanging (and spoiler alert, for those who plan on watching season 1 but haven't yet), Jeff tries and tries to impress the professor by "seizing the day"...only when Jeff is in the professor's presence! It's so contrived, it's unbelievable. And finally, Britta (Jeff's romantic interest/friend on the show) helps him "seize the day" by pulling him into a passionate kiss in the middle of the quad. The professor sees, and gives Jeff an "A" for seizing the day.

Ok, now by this point, you're probably thinking, "So what? Where the hell are you going with this?" And I admit, it seems a little silly to go into such detail. But this aligns SO much with my life right now! In my life, I see Jeffs, and I see Brittas. And, I admit, for the most part...I am a Jeff.

It's not that I don't like being spontaneous, or doing random things, but for the most part, I have a lot of responsibilities. Welcome to the real world: being an adult, and making commitments. Although I was likely more of a Britta in high school... since I've started college, I've definitely become a Jeff. And, in a strange way, I think that's a good thing.

I can plan, and organize, things to a T. I can schedule and manage my time; when I want to do something, I follow through and make sure it gets done. People looked at my work/school schedule this past semester, and said, "You're a crazy woman!" And (while that is true, sometimes) I'd have to disagree overall. I am a Jeff. I plan to succeed, and the only way for me to do that is by keeping a schedule. I mean, if I "carpe diem'd" all day, I would not get anything done!

And, that's not to say that I don't enjoy being random in general. Why, just tonight I started looking at plane/train/bus tickets to go see a good friend in Pennsylvania. It's completely random, unapproved (though warranted), but I still allowed myself to do it, and am still seriously considering it. However, this is not the general way I live my life.

Although there's a lot to be said for people who do seize the day (they tend to have more fun, at least), I do think there's a lot to be said for the Jeff Wingers out there. Despite being cynical, crude, and sometimes a downright asshole, his heart is often in the right place. By that I mean, he's in it to win it (so to speak), and at the same time he shows a great amount of loyalty and caring towards his friends (that's awkwardly phrased, but it's 2 AM and I really can't think of how to say it better). I have a lot of reasons to thank my Jeff Winger personality. My Jeff-ness (haha) has allowed me to do things like:
-move out of my parents' house
-minimize tuition
-pull my GPA up over 3.7
-pull straight A's the majority of the time
-keep a steady work schedule
-find meaningful work in my field
-hold down 4+ jobs while still attending school
-take the maximum amount of credits in school (gotta get your money's worth!)
-build lasting friendships
-maintain close ties with my family (for the most part)
-build lasting relationships (ha, maybe still debatable. rather, build the potential for lasting relationships)
-commit, and follow through, with things like: hosting guests, attending social gatherings, attending family events, and so on
-write good lesson plans that a) have a timeline and b) are relevant, fun, and creative
-work the same job(s) for more than two years without having to quit, or without getting fired and/or laid off
-commit my time to a family (not just a student) that I tutor
-launch a successful social media campaign, and receive positive feedback from even the CEO of the company for which I work

And so on.

Well, let me pause here and reflect. Lately, I've been in a "poor me" state for the most part. What do I mean by this? Well, the month of June was particularly rough on me. I lost a lot, including a family member whom I will never see again. For the past week, despite amazingly happy developments in my life, I could only think about "the losses" I've "suffered." And now, in making this list, I can see that while I have lost significant things (people, opportunities, relationships, friendships, and the like), the amount of things I still have are so great in number. And, looking at this list, I have to stop myself and ask, "How in the world could you think, "poor me"? Because, let's face it, when it comes right down to it, I have a lot going for me right now. In addition to all that listed above, I'm also getting ready to start student teaching (yay 5th grade!), and getting ready to graduate next spring. Yep, that's about 10 months away right now--crazy, right?

So, while I'm not entirely ready to jump on the carpe diem bandwagon, I can say that at least what I do have is working for me, Jeff Winger style.

Long story short (I know, you're thinking "this is far from short!"--I agree), I'm on the edge of glory (if you haven't heard the song or watch the video--please do so!). It doesn't matter how I got to the edge, whether I seized the day or planned my way here. What matters is that I arrived. They say that life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey. While I agree that the journey is important, I also recognize that if you don't have a destination, you'll never get anywhere.

Because I don't want to leave the song hanging, take another look at it. Sure, you might think it sounds monotonous, like "just another pop song" or (worse) "just another stupid thing from Gaga." But look closely, at the lyrics (I'm going to take out a few repetitions--don't worry, if you listen you'll hear them):
Another shot, before we kiss the other side,
Tonight, yeah baby.
I'm on the edge of something final we call life tonight
Alright, alright.
Put on your shades 'cause I'll be dancing in the flames
Tonight, yeah baby
It isn't Hell if everybody knows my name
Tonight, alright, alright.

It's hot to feel the rush,
To brush the dangerous.
I'm gonna run back to, to the edge with you
Where we can both fall far in love.

I'm on the edge of glory,
And I'm hanging on a moment of truth,
Out on the edge of glory,
And I'm hanging on a moment with you,
I'm on the edge of glory
And I'm hanging on a moment with you
I'm on the edge with you
I'm on the edge with you

Sure, being that it's art, there are multiple interpretations, but here's mine (applied directly to my life, so feel free to disagree): I AM on the edge of glory, and that's a great thing. We all work towards some sort of goal, our own personal glory if you will. And, there comes a time in each of our lives when we are *so close* to it, we can feel it--we're right there. On the edge, if you will. And, it may be just one little thing to push us over the top. One word of encouragement from a friend, one bold action, one kiss or touch, one hater trying to bring us matter what it is, that's what puts us over the edge. Right now, I'm on the edge of glory. I'm starting my last year of school--student teaching will be what puts me over the edge, and pushes me towards glory.

And, I can't wait.

So, to my Britta friends, carpe diem. And, to my fellow Jeff friends... best of luck in reaching the edge.

Peace. <3. Happiness.