Sunday, December 25, 2011

'Tis The Season

My dad once said something interesting about religious holidays. He said that Christians have our celebrations backwards. He wasn't talking about the rampant materialism of Christmas, or the flavorless pastel sweetness of Easter (though he is plenty bothered by both of those). He was talking about the actual religious services that go with these.

Have you ever been to a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day church service? We sing joyous hymns, everyone wears bright colors, the church is sparkling and bristling with twinkle lights, holly wreaths, and glittering Christmas trees.

Have you ever been to a Black Friday or Easter church service? The Black Friday service is more depressing than an actual funeral, often lit only by candlelight in a sanctuary draped with black cloth. Even the Easter services, celebratory as they are, are decorated with lilies, flowers that are traditionally used in funeral or memorial services. Yes, we use the flowers of death to celebrate the gift of life.

My dad said that Christmas should be the sad, somber day. Christmas is the day that Christ gave up His divinity* and became Man. Christmas is the day that His days became numbered. Christmas is the day that He began His walk to the cross, the day that our sin was so great that God Himself was forced to leave His kingdom and enter the Hell we had created just so that He could save us from ourselves.

Easter, on the other hand, is the day that all of that ended. Easter is the day that Christ was able to shed His physical form and ascend once more to His rightful place at the Father's side. Even Good Friday should be a day of rejoicing, for it is the day that "it was finished".

But there's just something about Christmas. I think Vienna Teng expressed it best in the first line of her "Atheist Christmas Carol": It's the season of grace coming out of the void. Even atheists get it: there's just something about Christmas.

And i know that everyone always says that we should keep the Christmas spirit going all year long. I agree. I hate that we go into this goodwill frenzy from November 25th through December 26th, and the rest of the year we look out for number one. But somehow, other priorities always seem to assert themselves, and we think that we can make up for it during the Christmas season. So go ahead and get all frenzied and joyful and spend way too much money on other people. Just for once. Because there's something about Christmas.

So this year, i hope no one is reading this. This year, i hope you're all with loved ones, celebrating traditions and peace and love. This year, i hope everyone sacrificed a little to give someone something that they really needed. Or even just something they really wanted. Or even just a necktie. This year, i hope that everyone knows that someone loves them. This year, i hope we celebrate with enough tinsel and glitter to keep Ke$ha supplied for life.

Because there's just something about Christmas.

*Yes, Christ was fully God even while He was on Earth. But He was also fully man. We can have a debate about this if you want, but it ends up being like the old "Can God make a rock big enough that even He can't lift it" question. The point is, Christ made sacrifices to walk among us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nothing to See Here

Yesterday, i turned 22.

Yawn.

Kid birthday parties are fun. You get to play games, and wear party hats, and your mom is responsible for the whole thing (including clean-up). All you have to do is be alive for a certain amount of time.

The thirteenth birthday is great, because you're officially a teenager. Sixteen is cool, because you get to drive. At eighteen, you get to vote, smoke, buy lottery tickets, and pierce or tattoo anything you want. And at twenty-one, you get to drink.

That's it, unless you want to rent a car (25) or run for president (35).

I suppose in some ways, this birthday was an occasion. It was the first birthday i had away from home. It was also the first birthday i had in my office (though it was not the first time that i worked on my birthday). And, since i own a car that i rarely drive and have no desire to ever be in politics, this birthday marks the beginning of an era: the era where birthdays don't matter.

I'm not saying that i won't still expect cake and Facebook well-wishers. I'm just saying that from here on out, i don't want to have a birthday party unless my age is a convenient fraction of a century (25, 50, and 75, for those of you not mathematically inclined).

Fortunately, my boyfriend is amazing, and this year's birthday celebration consisted of him cooking dinner for me. He made antipasto, garlic bread, bacon-wrapped scallops, mashed potatoes, and chicken marinated, crusted with spices, and wrapped in prosciutto. For dessert he made rum cake with walnuts. He also gave me jewelry, and we spent the weekend watching The West Wing, cuddling, and . . . doing other things. What more could a girl want?

Monday, December 19, 2011

202-456-1414

My parents started watching "The West Wing" when i was in middle school. By high school, i had started watching it with them, and it wasn't long before it became a favorite family activity.  My brother and dad and i still engage in quoting wars on Facebook, going through basically every line of dialogue from the first four seasons (the last three had new writers and weren't nearly as good). I own the full DVD collection of all seven seasons and watch them on a loop when i do homework or chores, the same way that other people put on music.

There is one particular episode where a new character, Ainsley Hayes, is introduced, and the President wants to hire her. Ainsley gets the call from the White House as she is programming her caller ID. She presses a button, freezes, and whispers, "202-456-1414". Her friend asks if it's an agent. Ainsley replies, "It's the White House."

One evening, my mom and brother and i were watching this episode. Intrigued, my mother asked if we thought that that was really the number for the White House. My dad was out of the house, so we had no adult supervision. My mom took my phone, dialed the number, and handed the phone to my brother.

Operator: "White House. How can I help you?"
Adam: "Oh. Um. Uh, wrong number. Um, sorry." *hangs up*

My dad gets news headlines sent to his phone. Whenever there is breaking news, he gets a text right away. When we called him to tell him what had happened, he "forwarded" us a fake headline about a terrorist cell suspected in Crumpton. My mom panicked, i yelled at her for using my phone, and it was Adam who pointed out that Dad was probably playing a practical joke.

So yeah. That really is the number for the White House.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Overheard in the Office 6

"When I went to Messiah for homecoming, I accidentally broke this girl's nose. And apparently, to her that said, 'I love you'. So she's been stalking me ever since."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Secret Santa

Yesterday was our office Secret Santa gift exchange/Christmas potluck. Through a bizarre turn of events, i somehow ended up with two gifts (no, i didn't rig the drawing. I swear. In fact, i almost got left out of the gift exchange all together. I swear i didn't rig it. Shut up.)

Anyway, one gift was a gift card to Amazon, which was awesome. The other one was a framed photograph of me.

Let me explain, because that sentence comes nowhere near the glorious awkwardness of this gift.

My Secret Santa took this photo from my Facebook:

"No, don't take a picture! Gah, i look so ugly!"
Just kidding. This was from my senior photoshoot.
He then took a photo of himself and photoshopped it like this:

"Friends are the Family you Choose".

Once my gasping laughter had subsided, he explained that the real gift was the frame.
"Girls like frames."
". . . girls like frames?" i asked, confused.
"Yeah. Girls like frames. I had a girlfriend once. I know what they like."

I really wanted to write a funny punchline to go with that, but as Emily once told me, "Sometimes the facts need no commentary." This is my life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

winning

It was Saturday night, and my living room was one sip of wine away from a lesbian orgy.

One of my roommates used to sell sex toys from a company called Athena's. Although she is no longer an active representative (or "Goddess", as Athena's calls them), she still had lots of connections within the company. She and my other roommate decided to host a ladies-only party this weekend.

If you've never been to a sex toy party, think of it like a Tupperware party, but with fewer casseroles and more glitter and lube. It started out slow, with things like "Body Dew" (an oil that you mist onto your skin after showering to give yourself a healthy glow) and exfoliating scrubs. Our goddess for the evening, Juliet, demonstrated each product. For some, she chose a volunteer (usually me, since i was sitting next to her), and for some she simply passed around the sample and let everyone try it for themselves.

After the more innocuous beauty products, we moved on to pheromone-infused colognes and something called "Nipple Nibblers". This is a chapstick-like product applied -- you guessed it -- to the nipples. It is supposed to make them perky and produce a either a cool or warm tingling sensation. The exact effects differ from person to person. It is also flavored, for . . . well, for nibbling. For the Nipple Nibblers, Juliet passed the jar around and had each of us apply a small amount to our nipples. In the living room. With everyone else.

This was the last part of the evening with any pretensions to delicacy and innocence. Other tester products were given to girls to take into the bathroom, from whence they returned wreathed in smiles and sat back down awkwardly. And then we got to the toys. Let's just say that i no longer have any questions about anal sex or the different varieties of female orgasm and leave it at that.

At the end of the demonstration, we retired to the kitchen for penis cake and more wine, while girls went one by one into the living room to do their ordering privately. As hostesses, we were entitled to a discount rate based on the amount our friends had spent. Like commission-based store credit. Since one of my roommates was still entitled to her Athena's discount and i was not really in the market for anything, the whole credit went to one lucky roomie.

We're planning a co-ed (or Jack and Jill, to use the Athena's parlance) party for February. Right before Valentine's day. So that couples can . . . I can't think of any more polite euphemisms. It's so couples can get sexy with one another and singles can get sexy alone. Carissa, you are totally invited.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Letter to My Boss

Dear Dick,

You are not as charming as you think you are. Stop trying to use your obnoxious laugh to get me to do things for you. I am your assistant. It is my job to do things for you, and your staccato chuckles are not making it any easier. Stop before i punch you in the throat to make that noise go away. Furthermore, charm is not an adequate replacement for competence. Trust me when i tell you that people will like you better if you actually do your job.

Condescension does not help people understand you. It pisses them off. Even the people who are honestly too dumb to know what you are saying will understand that you are being condescending and will hate you forever. Maybe the problem is not the other people. Maybe the problem is you not understanding the various challenges associated with being an adult and having a real job.

Where the hell are you? You have no meetings or appointments today, you just got back from vacation last week, and i have not seen you all day. I need to talk to you to get guidance on my latest assignment. Your employees need to talk to you to check in on their weekly progress. People in other departments need to talk to you so that they can better support our department and improve conditions in their own department. You are a pretty important cog in this machine. When you go AWOL, the entire organization suffers. We need to know where you are. If you want to work from Starbucks, fine. But at least tell me that that's what you're doing. If you are not in this office by noon, i am putting "WANTED" posters all over campus with a picture of you photoshopped to look like Waldo. You have been warned.

Finally, and i cannot stress this enough, you need to do your job. Two months ago, i gave you an invoice. You needed to sign off on the expense and put the correct account number on it. You emailed someone in a different department to ask them which account number to use and she responded that the expense came out of your department, not hers. You then sat on your ass for two months, eating my candy and laughing loudly as you asked me to finish your outstanding Visa statement (i was still waiting on half a dozen receipts from you). Finally, when the neglected expense had become urgent, you went back to the woman from the other department and tried to make her fix your problem. Guess what, asshole? It's still your problem. And if you had taken care of it when you were originally asked to, you wouldn't be in trouble now.

Do. Your. Job.
Sincerely,
Diana

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

clubhouse

When my cousins and i were younger, we were pretty much inseparable. Me, Agelseb, Adam, and "Lynn" hung out all the time at my grandmother's house. We were constantly forming clubs around various activities that we wanted to be involved in. Usually, they were not activities that we actually were involved in, just activities that sounded exciting. Like our detective club. I think this one was my idea, because it happened during my elementary (ha. pun.) school Sherlock Holmes (told you there was a pun) phase. Anyway, i had a "detective kit" that included such essential items as a magnifying glass and notebook. I don't remember what else it had. But my cousins and i were convinced that we could be detectives, and that opportunities for exploration and crime-solving were around every corner of the tiny, historic, Colonial town we grew up in.

The various club activities are far too chaotic to list here (and by that i mean that we once pretended that there was a mystery in my grandmother's neighbor's house, but there really wasn't, and that that was the only thing we ever did as a club). The point is that, since we were constantly forming new clubs for various activities, we needed a meeting place. We dreamed of a treehouse, or a secret cubbyhole in the attic, or an underground lair. But since we lived neither in a Disney after school special nor in a Bond villain paradise, we were forced to be content with the space under my grandmother's stairs.

That is, until Agelseb and Lynn were struck with sudden brilliance: why not buy a house? The idea occurred to them after seeing a "For Sale" sign in town. They called the number and set up an appointment for 8:30.

How on earth my cousins (who couldn't have been more than six or seven at the time) actually managed to convince the realtor that they were in the market for a house is beyond me. Even they are not totally sure why he thought they were adults. But on the day of their showing, they hid behind a bush on their way to school and went off to the house. The realtor never showed, and their clever ruse was discovered when the school called their parents about their whereabouts. Later, it was discovered that the realtor had been laboring under the mistaken impression that the appointment was for 8:30 pm. I'm not sure how this was discovered. I am sure that my cousins were strictly forbidden to ever call any numbers that they saw anywhere without asking a parent first. And all future club activities were held in the space under my grandmother's stairs.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things I Have Learned In My First Semester of Grad School

1. Never assume that being the least experienced person in the room makes you the least qualified.

2. Always ask for clarification BEFORE beginning an assignment.

3. Alcohol really does soothe the pain temporarily.

4. Sleep is overrated.

5. Food is overrated.

6. Spending time with friends is overrated.

7. Crying is underrated.

8. Carry chocolate with you at all times for emergency energy boosts and/or mood stabilization.

9. Never assume that other people are doing their work. Even when they are in your group. Even when they won't get their degree if they don't do their work. Even if you threaten them with grievous bodily harm.

10. If you have to choose between an accomplishment and your mental health, choose sanity every time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

classy as shit 2

Today, i was eating a LeanPocket for lunch. Yeah, i know. Back to LeanPockets. Anyway, i was standing outside and talking to a friend, and when i took a bite, a huge glob of cheesy chicken goodness fell out on my sweater.

I looked at my friend, looked at my sweater, and proceeded to eat the LeanPocket filling off of my cardigan.

classy as shit 1

Last night, i got home at 10:30 after a late class and a trip to CVS for a binder and hot chocolate mix. I knew i'd be up late with homework, and i was also starving, because i'd only eaten a small sandwich and a bowl of soup at 12:30 and had had nothing but M'N'Ms since.

The meal was lovely: steak, mashed potatoes, and sauteed asparagus. I had a California white wine to go with it.

But since i was already so tired, and would already have to wash so many dishes, i wanted to reduce my workload as much as possible.

So midnight saw me sitting at the kitchen table, writing lesson plans, and swigging wine straight from the bottle.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Brother Was My Pimp

In my junior year of college, i was struggling. Tuition had been increased, and due to my parents' recent divorce, it was difficult to get help from them for loans. Lately, they had been arguing over who should be responsible for my school bills and who should be responsible for my brother's. Meanwhile, he and i were caught in the middle with threats from our schools of not being allowed to return in the spring. Not only was i scared of the humiliation of getting kicked out because i couldn't pay bills, i was also reluctant to put my education on hold. And i really, really, really, really, really, really, really didn't want to have to move back in with my mom.

Adam and i were complaining to one another over text one night. I was getting pretty worked up.
I said, "I don't care. I'm not going back to that house. I'll live in the train station and sell my body for sandwiches."
Adam replied, "Sandwiches? Come on. You're not quite steak material, but you can do better than sandwiches."

There's nothing like family to boost your self-esteem and remind you of your true value.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Other, Not Less

Settling does not necessarily mean settling for less. Sometimes it means settling for something else.

Let's say that you had spaghetti for lunch. Now you are at dinner with some friends, and you are trying to decide between chicken Parmesan with ziti and chicken fettuccine alfredo. Assuming that both dishes cost the same and have the same calorie counts and nutritional value, which one do you pick? You really want the chicken parm, but you talk yourself into the alfredo simply because you had spaghetti for lunch and you feel like you should have something other than marinara sauce.

This is settling. Not because the chicken parm is objectively, inherently better than the alfredo, but because the parm is what you want.

I have a friend, "Morgan", who is really interested in this guy, "Cal". They dated in college, and after breaking up became best friends. For years, Cal has been in love with Morgan, and in the last few months she has started to fall for him as well. But the last time that they broke up, Morgan's mother attempted to comfort her by saying, "Well, at least now you won't have to worry about having ugly kids." Now Morgan worries about what people might say when they see them together. She worries about the judgement and derision of their friends. She thinks he's attractive, but she worries that others won't. And she worries that her mother will worry about having ugly grandchildren.

Morgan loves Cal, but she is trying to talk herself out of the relationship because she thinks it will be settling. The truth? Choosing anyone but Cal would be settling. Cal is a great guy, and she wants to be with him.

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of our choices because we think that they look like they could be better. We think that we should have a different job because the one we have now doesn't pay very well. Never mind that we are living our dreams. We think that we should be dating a different person because the one we are with is not very glamorous. Never mind that they are the love of our lives. We think that we should choose a different option on the menu because we've had marinara sauce three times this week already. Never mind that marinara is our favorite.

We settle all the time, but not always for less. More often than not, what we are settling for is simply something other than what we really want.

Monday, November 21, 2011

the road not taken

In high school, i took an ethics and philosophy course called "Understanding Our Times" or something like that. We learned about a lot of different perspectives and approached major world issues from those perspectives. All through a massive conservative-Christian homeschooler lens, of course.

One of the topics we discussed was feminism/gender roles. A lot of it was . . . less than empowering. Things like how to use your gifts and passions and skills to serve your husband and your Lord (in that order?), and how deeply fulfilling it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

Let me be clear: I am NOT knocking traditional gender roles or stay-at-home moms. Those things CAN be enormously fulfilling and wonderful. Women should be able to do anything they want to do, including staying at home and raising kids, without anyone trying to vilify their choices. But what i can't stand is when the more conservative sides attack the more progressive sides by glorifying the wonder and joy of child-rearing. It is wonderful and joyous. But it's also a whole lot of work. And not everyone is cut out for it. And that is okay.

However, this program did say one thing i appreciated. It was talking about women trying to choose between post-secondary degrees or work, and staying home with their kids. And it said that the choice is not permanent, that you can always choose something else down the line if you find that you are not being totally fulfilled.

You can have it all. You just can't have it all at once.

You can get a master's degree and work for a few years. Then you can take time off to have some kids. Then, once the kids are in school full-time, you can go back to work and/or school. Then when retirement comes around, you can hang out with the grand-kids. You can switch careers, you can collect degrees like rare coins, you can take time off to homeschool your kids or pursue your dream of being a musician.

You can have it all.

I was a psych major in my freshman year of college. I had always loved English and wanted to be a writer, but somehow it had never occurred to me to actually study writing. Besides, God wanted me to study psychology and work with teenagers.

But in my sophomore year, i added an English minor. And in my junior year, i added an English major. I went into my senior year with a double major and every intention of being a psychologist.

And then i "decided" to be a teacher.

But i still struggled with my choices. From a purely practical standpoint, had i really wasted four years of time and energy to get a psych degree that i would never use? From a spiritual standpoint, had i misinterpreted God's instructions for me or had He changed His mind? I still believed that God wanted me to have that degree, but why?

In February of my senior year, i was putting together a presentation for some prospective honors students. I was organizing a slideshow of accomplishments of current honors students. I needed a photo of each student, so i was perusing Facebook profiles. I was scanning through photos of "Caroline", who was also a psych major and who had come in with me as a freshman. I had had lots of classes with her and we were friendly, but i didn't know her very well. I did know that she had dropped out of high school and worked to get her GED, meaning that she was highly self-motivated. I also knew that she had been on track to graduate a year early, but that she had instead taken some time off of college and simply graduated on time. I suddenly felt led to talk to her about these choices.

I sent her a quick Facebook message telling her that i admired her courage and self-awareness. That lots of people needed to take time off but were afraid that people would judge them. That there were probably lots of people who judged her, who called her a quitter, who said that she was lazy and unmotivated. That the truth was that she was extremely motivated, and brave, and strong, and that i had an enormous amount of respect for her.

Her reply was humbling, inspiring, and illuminating.

"You have no idea how much this means to me. Your uncanny ability to see into a situation you don't know much about, and somehow still know a lot about it just blew me away.

Your encouragement made my day, but in all likelihood, my week and month as well. I have been through a lot these past four or five years, and need a reminder every now and again that I'm braver than I give myself credit for.

And I just wanted to let you know that I believe you made the right choice in switching to Psychology. If nothing else, this message proved it to me. I've heard fantastic things about your writing, and am sure that you would have made a great English teacher or whatever you had planned -- but I am supremely confident that you will make an even better therapist or whatever it is you wish to do with your insight and talent.

Who knows, maybe you could become a professional therapeutic note writer, and help other people make it through this crazy life as you just did for me. :)

Thank you."

In a rush of insight and understanding, i realized that there are a lot of people out there who need someone to notice them. Statistically speaking, the people who need therapy the most are the ones who have least access to it. Sometimes, all a kid has is a teacher who asks them to hang back after class so they can say, "Are you okay?"

I realized that i could always go on to get more psych degrees and "use" them, but that i would already be using my BA every day, in every area of my life. I might be the only person who bothers to ask a kid what is going on in their lives, or who shows an interest at all. I might be the safe haven, the refuge, the advocate, the role model. I might be the only thing standing between my students and utter despair.

I can have it all. I just can't have it all at once.

I can always double back later on and take an alternate route. I can only take one road at a time, but that doesn't mean i can't take them all eventually.

I can have it all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Overheard in the Office 5

E: You're on top, so I'm blaming you.
N: I wasn't on top. Darrell was on top. I was under him.

Aunt Sis

When i was nine, my great-Aunt Sis moved into our house. She is mentally disabled. I can't be any more clear than that; she was diagnosed as "mentally retarded" in the early 1940s, and has not ever been evaluated since. I have my own theories, but that's a post for another day. Or maybe a doctoral dissertation. Something.

Anyway, she is an amazing person in so many ways, and she has been a blessing in my life. Although at times she is frustrating, and although there are moments when her disability makes her nearly impossible to be around, i love her dearly.

Below is a song that my dad wrote about her (to the tune of). I will provide annotations after each verse.

I have too many shoes to count,
My hair is flaming red.
There's money in my bank account,
No matter what I said.
My skin is cold,
And I'm so old,
You'll wonder if I'm dead;
But don't call me "Sis"!
She has hundreds of pairs of shoes. No one knows where they all come from.  
One of my uncles used to say that she had red hair. It's actually silver-white, but the joke stuck.
She has a small fortune, but can't grasp the concept of a bank account. Since she rarely has more than a few bucks on her in cash, she always says that she is poor. 
Her hands are always ice cold.She is pretty elderly, and we often tease her about her age. 
She usually insists on a title, like "Aunt" or "Mrs."
Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!
"Gamma" and "mannerosis" are both nonsense words that she sometimes says. 
Dusty rose was her favorite color when she first moved in, and many of her apartment furnishings were in that shade. 
She likes to pretend that she is a nurse. 
"Flip my lip off" and "green grass grow" are two of her nonsense phrases.
My uncle smells like boiled eggs,
My aunt did this to me!
I want to use the same bag for
My second cup of tea.
My sugar's made of chemicals,
My food is all fat-free,
But don't call me "Sis"!
She has a nephew (who she calls her uncle) who she always insists smells like boiled eggs. 
"Look what my aunt did to me!" is what she says when she has done something wrong and wants to avert blame to a different (imaginary) person. 
"Same bag" is another phrase. This one has a backstory, but it's too long for this post. 
She only uses artificial sweeteners and insists on fat-free or reduced-fat foods.

Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!

Bagels, cuppachina, yogit, 
Coffee cake, and tea:
These are the only kinds of food
I need inside of me.
Whenever I get near a store,
I go upon a spree.
But don't call me "Sis".
She loves bagels, cappuccino, and yogurt. Sometimes she can't pronounce words correctly. 
She also loves coffee cake and hot or iced tea. 
And shopping. She LOVES shopping.
Gamma gamma, mannerosis,
Everything I own is dusty roses.
On Thursdays, I'm a nurse
And when I flip my lip,
The green grass grows!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Don't Have Birthday Parties Anymore

When i reached my tenth birthday, my parents insisted on throwing me a huge, impromptu party. They made a big deal over me reaching double digits. I was excited, too, but got the distinct impression that they were more excited. I didn't understand why until several years later, when my mom was telling stories about what a weird child i had been.

Apparently, when i was very young (maybe two), i told my parents that i would not live past five. I don't remember this, nor do i have any idea where that notion might have come from.

You hear stories from time to time of a child with an "old soul", wise beyond their years, and not long for this world. The child is generally aware of their limited time on earth, and often drops hints or gives warnings to their family about this. The child's predictions generally turn out to be tragically spot-on.

So, understandably, my parents were nervous. They awaited my fifth birthday with fear and trepidation, and my sixth with inexpressible hope. By the time my tenth birthday rolled around, they were beside themselves. I guess they figured they were out of the woods.

Well, joke's on them. I'm still going to die one of these days. Probably.

Damn. No wonder they didn't want to homeschool me.

After that my parents pretty much gave up throwing me birthday parties. I guess they figured that the mere fact of my continued existence had been celebrated enough.

I would get together with the same group of friends for pizza and junk food every year, but it was never anything more elaborate than a sleepover with presents. I had one "real" party when i was fifteen. We ate flan and i got my first cell phone. I worked on my sixteenth birthday and then i went to New York for the weekend (with my mom, Agelseb, and Agelseb's mom). My seventeenth birthday came right before my big Europe trip, so i don't think i did anything. For my eighteenth birthday, i pierced my bellybutton. For my nineteenth, nothing. And for twenty, i got my first tattoo.

I had one more birthday party, when i turned twenty-one. I got together with Agelseb and our old friend "Fay", and we bought lots of alcohol and watched a movie and then took our drinks out to the hot tub. And then Fay got very drunk and began complaining, in a very bad fake British accent, about how much her life sucks. When Agelseb and i tried to comfort her, she told us she was tired of us treating her like she was dumb (we weren't) and that she knew more about the Real World and Life After College than we did (she doesn't), and that there was nothing she could do to fix her sucky life (bullshit). And then she went to bed, leaving the next morning before either of us woke up. And then she didn't speak to either of us for the next several months, until her boyfriend broke up with her and she needed someone to hang out with again.

So, yeah. This year i will be working on my birthday again. My boyfriend is supposed to cook me dinner or something. Whatever. As long as i can avoid either Jersey Shore-style drama, premature death, or awkward social interactions, i'm happy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Prostitots

You know what i'm talking about. Those little tween girls (though i've seen them as young as four years old) who wear skin-tight camisoles with flouncy mini-skirts. The girls who walk around in groups of 3-6, wearing booty shorts with words on their asses.

Prostitots: little whores in training.

When did little girls stop wearing awkward overall/dress things (jumpers? is that what they were called?) with t-shirts underneath? When did it become okay for a fourteen-year-old to sport multiple piercings and highlights? When did children become hyper-sexualized?

I read somewhere once that teenagers are a fairly recent phenomenon created by cultural shifts. It used to be that you were either a child or an adult. Then, suddenly, there was this whole new category: young people who wore their own fashions and listened to their own music and used their own slang. Teenagers, who still needed to ask Mom and Dad's permission to borrow the car or go out with friends or buy things, but disdained the company of "kids". They were their own sub-category of humanity, and they were here to stay.

But lately, it seems to me that we are moving back into two categories. Childhood seems to be disappearing. Even baby shoes, absurdly cute in their tininess, are no longer available only in simple primary colors. Now you can get baby Converse sneakers, skull-emblazoned slip-ons, and even shiny silver baby Uggs. I know adults who shop in the kid's department, not because they have childish taste in clothing, but because children's clothes look like what adults are wearing.

I remember wearing some truly hideous clothes as a child and LOVING them. I remember long-sleeved shirts with ruffled hems, stirrup-pants, and a hot pink nightgown decorated with rainbow colored envelopes. I remember a bowl cut, disastrous bangs, and hair that reached all the way to my (decently covered by loose-fitting, high-waisted jeans) behind.

I also remember being thirteen, having my first job, and being able for the first time to buy my own clothes. I remember my first-ever pair of hip-hugger jeans and how proud i was that i had picked them out and paid for them all on my own. I remember plucking my own eyebrows for the first time, picking out my own haircut, and learning to put on makeup.

These were all important developmental moments for me. These days, moments like that happen almost as soon as a child is able to walk. Sometimes before, when a parent thinks that her daughter is cute in a mini-skirt.

She's not cute. She's horrifying.

Let your kids be kids. Because when you don't, we end up with twenty-two year old women who want to wear Disney princess wedding gowns and can't leave the house unless something they are wearing sparkles. And that is almost as embarrassing to see as a fourteen-year-old with a "My Boyfriend Thinks I'm Studying" t-shirt.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Tell I Need a Life #8

This morning, i was trying to play solitaire, but my cat's tail kept getting in the way of the screen and blocking my view.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

moments

*NB: This post is about my brother, and it is real. Though i may occasionally make light of the situation, this is my coping mechanism for my own personal grief. My tone is in no way meant to mock the reality of my brother's injury or future prospects, or the suffering of others in similar situations.

When someone has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has been heavily medicated for several weeks following, you don't talk about their cognitive function in terms of days. They don't have good days or bad days. They have moments.

This weekend, John and i went to Maryland to see Adam in the hospital. Physically, Adam's recovery continues at miraculous rates. Mentally and emotionally, it goes in fits and starts. It's hard to say with any confidence whether he is improving or not.

There were moments when he knew exactly who we all were and what was happening. There were moments when he was able to calmly discuss his medications, his pain, and his future plans. There were moments when he would do his PT exercises, or practice swallowing, or work on his breathing tests. There were moments when he would simply sleep.

There was also a moment when he began to speak Chinese into an imaginary telephone. He interrupted the conversation from time to time to ask my dad questions in Chinese; he would then say, "Wait. Let me ask them." Eventually, he ended the conversation and told us, "They're on their way in the car. They'll be here in a few minutes." And then he fell asleep. None of us speaks Chinese, but my dad knows a few words and was able to confirm that Adam was indeed drawing on the memories of the Chinese he'd studied in college.

There was a moment when he announced that the TV had told him that he would be giving birth soon. It also gave him a list of names. He became distressed about his pains and medications, afraid that the baby might be injured. He was soothed only when we told him that we'd consult with the doctor about it. He never made reference to the baby again.

There was a moment when he spoke Chinese to me, insistently repeating the same phrase over and over until i finally repeated it back to him. He told me to remember it (i forgot it almost instantly), and then began to consult with me about some issue.
"Who in your family speaks Chinese?"
"Just you, buddy," i told him.
"Really?"
"Yeah."
"Well, who writes?"
"Who writes . . . Chinese?"
"Yeah."
"None of us do."
"Really. Well, okay."
At this point, my dad interrupted to ask Adam if he knew who he was talking to.
"No, not really."
My heart stopped.
Dad continued, "Okay, can you see her? Turn and look at her. Does she look familiar?"
Adam turned. "Yeah, kind of. I know I've seen her before. Is it . . . Ashley?"
"No, i'm Diana."
"Diana," he repeated. He didn't recognize our youngest sister, Ruth, either, but knew Lizzie, the middle girl. He knew my dad and remembered his name, and our mom's name as well.
"Okay, Soldier," my dad said calmly, "How many sisters do you have?"
"Three."
"Do you know their names?"
"Ruth, Diana, Lizzie," he said obediently.
It was several minutes before i could speak again.

There was a moment when he woke up and tried to leave, and we had to tell him -- again -- where he was and what had happened to him.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

things that won't be exciting to anyone but me

OH MY GOD.

I have written three fan letters in my life. The third one was to The Bloggess, who is basically my idol/the person i want to be when i grow up.

AND SHE RESPONDED.

I'm pretty sure we're going to be best friends forever. Just look at this email exchange:

Jenny,
I discovered your blog a few months ago and became instantly addicted. (Seriously. Have you figured out a way to transmit crack and/or heroin through the internet and directly into peoples' eyeballs? Probably. I know how dedicated you are to scientific pursuits.)
Anyway, I have learned about your squid-fear, and I know that people send you squid-related links all the time. Apparently, there are actually people who voluntarily study that shit. It's a crazy world we live in. So it's inevitable that there would be lots of pictures/articles/videos/facts on the internet about squid. (Is the plural "squids"? I feel like that's the kind of thing I should know, since I have a degree in English creative writing. Balls.)
But while there should reasonably be plenty of academic and speculative information available about squid(s), so that right-thinking people can find out how to avoid and/or kill them, I found something today that seems to be to be totally unnecessary, not to mention mean-spirited. It also seemed like a direct attack on you, so I thought the best thing to do was inform you immediately. I've always been a big fan of Archie McPhee, what with their bacon-flavored chapstick and absinthe bubble gum, but if they've decided to make an enemy out of one of my favorite bloggers, I'll have to take my business elsewhere.
The link below will take you to the squid bag. I'm sorry to do this to you, but I thought you should be warned. 
http://www.mcphee.com/shop/products/Hungry-Squid-Bag.html 
I'm here for you if you need to mount an attack on Archie McPhee. I mean, they're in Seattle and I'm in Boston and you're in Texas, but I'm sure we could coordinate something if necessary. 
All the best,   
Diana Lark
Jenny's response: 
At least it's cheerfully terrifying.  :)
Do you see that smile? Clearly, she realizes that we are kindred spirits. We both have anxiety disorders, so this friendship will probably take some time to blossom fully, but i'm patient. A friendship like this is worth waiting for.

I swear i'm not a stalker.

Shoulds

"Live as if the world were what it should be to show it what it can be."

Okay, so the quote is from Angel. Don't judge.

Also, the wording is a little awkward. But that's because it's tough to jam big concepts into bumper-sticker sized nuggets.

We don't live in the world we should live in. We don't live in a world where people do all the things they should do and never do the things they shouldn't. It would be great if we lived in the world of shoulds, but we don't. Not collectively, anyway.

There are those of us who do live in the world of ideals. There are people (you may have met one or two in your life) who always do the right thing. They are righteous without being self-righteous, understanding without being condescending, superior without being conceited. They seem genuinely confused by the presence of evil in the world. They may understand evil as a concept, and may realize that it is possible for supernatural influences or large groups (nations, corporations, political parties, etc) to commit evil acts, but evil on an individual level is inconceivable. Why would a person do things that they shouldn't?

Here's the thing: we should all be a little bit more like that person. We should all be better than we are, and we should all expect the best from one another.

But one of the most important things i have learned in my life so far is that, while you should always expect the best, you also need to be prepared for the worst. You should expect people to treat you fairly and to behave with honor and respect, but you should prepare to get screwed by everyone you meet.

You don't have to live in reality if you don't want to. You can live in the world of shoulds. But most sane people live in reality, so if you ever want to have anything to do with another person, you need to at least be able to navigate through reality.

There is only one person whose behavior you can control, and that's you. It doesn't matter how other people behave. You should still do the things you should. The best you can hope for is that your behavior will inspire (or shame) others into behaving as they should. Prepare to get screwed, but expect that you won't be. Live as if the world were what it should be to show it what it can be.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Overheard in the Office 3

"It goes both ways. You can put it in one way, and then you can flip it around and put it in the other way."

Philosophy of Education, Part 4

My Foundations of Education class required an essay on my personal philosophy of education. The syllabus listed no page number requirements. When we asked the professor how long it had to be, he simply said, "Explain yourself."

Mine was six pages long and is reproduced here, section by section, for your edification and reading pleasure. Part 1 can be found here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.


What is my role as a teacher?
                As a teacher, I must help my students to be prepared for whatever lies ahead. I have to be aware of my students’ skills, abilities, and passions so that I can help cultivate their strengths and guide them to success and fulfillment. I must ensure that I never denigrate any student’s desires or goals, but find constructive ways to encourage them to reach for more.
Through personal, one-on-one encouragement and general modeling of my own life choices and where they have led, I can and must show my students that their lives are in their own hands to do with what they will. For better or for worse, we all have some measure of control over our futures. It is in my power to endow my students with a sense of the great responsibility and privilege that they each have: the freedom of choice. The choices are not always good or easy, but they are always present.
I must also teach them ethics and life skills, whether by direct instruction or by indirect modeling. The method of instruction will be partially dependent on the rules of the school. Some schools may not allow me to give explicit moral instruction, even if asked directly to give my opinion on an issue. But by striving to keep my two selves congruent and by always being honest with my students, I can at least show them how honesty, openness, and self-awareness have impacted my own life. Even if I rely on direct instruction, however, I can never try to force my own ideals or convictions on my students. All I can do is share my opinion and model my own beliefs and attitudes.
My final point is the most obvious of all: I must share my passion for my content. As a teacher, it is my job to share not only my knowledge, but also my enthusiasm. As an English teacher, I will encounter many students who find reading boring. I will encounter many who struggle with reading because English is not their first language, or because they are hampered by a learning disability. I will encounter students who do not care about parts of speech, who hate to write, who can’t be bothered to read anything that doesn’t feature vampires or wizards or whatever the current literary trend is. And I must teach them all Shakespeare and Dickenson. I must teach them all to avoid passivity in their writing. I must teach persuasive essays, analytical essays, and research essays. I must teach many forms of creative writing and adaptation. All of English language arts and literature are in my hands, and I must strive to pass as much as possible to my students.
But teaching a subject is not only about passing along information. It is also about sharing a passion. Not every student I encounter has to leave with a deep appreciation for Shakespeare. But they should all understand why I love him. I must make it clear that, while this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there is nevertheless great value in the study of literature and language arts. There is value in being well-read. There is value in being a skilled writer. And no matter the path your life may take in the future, the study of English is not a complete waste of time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

six months

Today marks six months that i have been dating my boyfriend. No, it is not our "six month anniversary". Anniversary means the annual recurrence of a significant event. You can't have an anniversary until at least a year has gone by. And no, it is not our "monthiversary", because that is a stupid non-word, no matter what Urban Dictionary tells you.

"Overzealous". Even Urban Dictionary thinks you're dumb.

But six months isn't nothing. That's half a year. That's a whole summer and part of the fall. That's half of my first semester in grad school and half of his first semester as a teacher. That's him directing three shows and me taking on a real job. That's me meeting his family and both of us coming up with excuses to avoid my family. (Kidding. Sort of.) That's me teaching him to knit, him giving me something to write about, me introducing him to the deliciousness of dried apricots, him buying me absurd amounts of flowers. That's both of us moving into our own apartments and becoming real, (mostly) self-sufficient adults.

There's this kid who works in my office and has a crush on me. He is also in the fall musical, for which John is the musical director, so he knows us both. This kid (we'll call him Tad) will often chat/flirt with me while he does some tedious task like stuffing envelopes. Tad often asks questions about my relationship. Recently, he asked me if John makes me a better person. I said that he did. Tad asked how.

When i was younger, i used to sing all the time. In the shower, while reading, while driving, while cooking, while doing laundry, while doing homework. I'd walk around the house singing, or wander in the backyard singing. I sang constantly. But when i got older and left the house, i discovered that this was a weird thing to do. And then i went to college, and between the re-affirmation of the weirdness of that habit and the personal devastation of my parents' divorce, i lost the desire to sing.

Three and a half years went by. I sang when required, in chapel worship services, and occasionally i'd absentmindedly chime in to whatever was playing on my iPod. But by and large, the music was gone from my heart. I was kindly coerced into joining the worship team on my church (church people are really good at friendly coercion), but i sang out of obligation and guilt, not joy.

Then John came along and it was like the sun came out from behind a cloud.

I started singing again because the joy had been returned to my life. But when John told me again and again how much he loved to hear me sing, i began to sing for him.

I also rediscovered my silliness. From about the age of ten onward, i took myself very seriously. They say that those who will be young when they are old must be old when they are young, and when i was a child, i was often called an "old soul". Plus, you know how every group of friends always has an anchor, one rational person to keep things stable? That was me in high school. Being the oldest child and the most mature of my friends combined to make me believe that my stability was one of the best things i had to offer. When i started dating, boys would generally tell me (sometimes sincerely) that my steadiness and maturity were some of the things that had attracted them to me. (They probably didn't even notice that i had huge boobs. Teenaged boys are usually far more interested in serious, sincere girls than their shallow, goofy friends. The fact that i was a C cup when all of my friends were nearly As was just a coincidence.) And then there was the divorce, and i had to be a parent for my siblings, and then i was in college and had to achieve things there, and then i moved into my new apartment and had to be the "dad" all the time.

Except for the occasional sugar-high, therefore, i was serious pretty much all the time. And then i started dating John, and he is absolutely ridiculous. I could create a whole separate blog just to tell stories about John. Let's just say that, while it has been well-established that i can't be left unsupervised or taken out into public, John is no better. We sort of take turns being the other person's caretaker.

But that's the thing: he showed me that silliness does not necessarily equal immaturity or irresponsibility. You can be a fully-functional adult and still be carefree and goofy. I still pay my bills on time. I still go to work every day and am productive. I still complete my homework assignments, wash my dishes, and take care of my cat. I just do it while stubbornly taking a detour to walk in the dirt, or loudly singing nonsense ad-libbed songs, or wrestling John back into bed so i can have a few more minutes in his arms before he has to leave.

In so many ways, John has brought joy into my life. He has helped me rediscover parts of myself that i thought i'd put away for good. In the last six months, i have been happier, healthier, and more fulfilled than i can remember being at any point in the last eleven years. And if we break up tomorrow, i will still be a better person for having known him.

In only six months, he's made me a better person, and he's done so in a way that ensures that my self-improvement and growing happiness will continue long after he is gone (if we break up, which i'm certainly not anticipating at this point). And if, somewhere far down the road, we get married, i know that my life will continue to improve because of his presence in it. He hasn't changed me. He has made me more "me", a better and truer and more grounded version of myself.

Being with him is easy. And not easy in the sense that there's no work involved. It's easy the way that writing poetry is easy: even when i'm sweating blood because i've spent the last three days trying to fix the meter in one line, it never crosses my mind that this is difficult or boring. And even if i wanted to, i couldn't stop writing poetry. It's just something that i do, something that i can't imagine not having in my life. It's worth the effort, and even the toughest parts are euphorically enjoyable.

Here's to the next six months. And the six after that, and the six after that, and the six after that . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Philosophy of Education, Part 3

My Foundations of Education class required an essay on my personal philosophy of education. The syllabus listed no page number requirements. When we asked the professor how long it had to be, he simply said, "Explain yourself."

Mine was six pages long and is reproduced here, section by section, for your edification and reading pleasure. Part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

What is important to learn in school?
While academic and life skills are of unparalleled importance to survive and thrive in the world,  school is not just pure academic achievement or meeting immediate survival needs. Since most people spend their formative years in school, that is where we all learn how to socialize constructively with one another, how to follow a schedule and respect a deadline, how to obey authorities beyond our parents, and how to make decisions about our identities, lifestyles, and morals. Some would argue that teachers should not teach morals or social skills or anything beyond textbook information within their own subject, but the fact is that kids learn a lot more from the behavior of adults than from their words.
Even if teachers decline to explicitly instruct their students in socialization or cultural sensitivity or deference to authority or ethics or anything not directly related to their own subject, they must be aware of their own attitudes, behavior, and demeanor. Kids will pick up a lot from their teachers’ nonverbal instructions, and will observe the way that all adults handle themselves in everyday life. It is important to be aware that we are role models, and to ensure that our words and actions coincide. Nothing will make a child lose respect for an adult faster than catching the adult in a lie.
Rogerian psychology places a high emphasis on “congruence”, or the agreement between a person’s perception of themselves and the reality. Very few people are exactly the person they’d like to be, but those who freely acknowledge that they are a work in progress are far more likely to be liked and respected by their students than those who deny any incongruence and claim to be in total control of who they are. You must be sure that the face you show your students is really yours, because you will not be able to fool all of your students all of the time. All it takes is one slip and a student, a class, or an entire career could be lost forever.
Be aware of and honest about your own faults and weaknesses, while working hard to better yourself. Admit fallibility and hope for greater congruence. And always encourage your students to be equally honest and self-aware in their own lives. During the school year, you will spend nearly as much time with some of your students as their parents do, and in some cases more. You are equally responsible for their academic, professional, and personal futures.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just because no one died this time doesn't mean i had no reason to be afraid.

So i recently went to Maryland to see my brother and the rest of my family. I roadtripped down with Agelseb and Adam's girlfriend (we'll call her Vicky), but i flew back to Boston.

Here is what i wrote in my journal on the plane:

Guy next to me on the plane has a teardrop tattoo. Holy fuck.

Just barely made my flight. Like, i think they held the plane for me.

Teardrop Tattoo Guy is filming out the window of the plane. I think he's filming the wing. He's holding the camera by his head so that people walking past can't see it but i can see the screen if i sit just right and he's filming the wing.

Shit. Am i going to witness an act of terrorism?

Okay. I didn't die. I may have been overreacting slightly. It's been a very stressful week.

Also, i accidentally left my phone on for the duration of the flight, and we didn't even have any turbulence.

Teardrop Tattoo Guy really did film the wing of our plane the whole way from Baltimore to Philadelphia. Probably doing research for a future attack or something. Maybe. Or maybe he was just taking a film class.

Philosophy of Education, Part 2

My Foundations of Education class required an essay on my personal philosophy of education. The syllabus listed no page number requirements. When we asked the professor how long it had to be, he simply said, "Explain yourself."

Mine was six pages long and is reproduced here, section by section, for your edification and reading pleasure. Part 1 can be found here.


What does it mean to be an educated person?
                Being educated means having a strong foundation of basic knowledge, as well as passion for and a deep knowledge of at least one subject. For most people, there will be at least a few years in their lives when they will have to be entirely responsible for themselves, with little day-to-day support from their parents. Whether microwaving canned soup in a dorm room or working a three jobs in order to make rent, most people have a few years where they have to feed themselves, get themselves out of bed in the morning, wash their own clothes and dishes, and be held accountable for all of their mistakes.
Everyone should have a basic understanding of insurance (health, home, and auto), banking (savings and checking accounts, loans and interest rates, and investments), and credit (what it means to have good credit and how to get it). Basic life skills and survival information are important for everyone to have.
The argument could be made that in today’s high-tech world, where everyone has a calculator on their cell phones, math is of little use to anyone who doesn’t actually want to be a mathematician. However, the ability to perform simple calculations without the help of technology could be exactly what you need to impress your boss, your college admissions counselor, or your date. Additionally, sometimes technology malfunctions. Nothing is foolproof, so it never hurts to have a backup plan. Every person should be able to do simple mathematics, if only to be able to calculate the tip at a restaurant.
Every person should be able to communicate clearly in written form, if only to be able to write letters or emails to loved ones who live far away. There is no profession in which strong written communication skills will be regarded as a handicap, and very few in which they will not be regarded as a positive asset. With the wide availability of word processing software and web-browsers that come pre-equipped with automatic spell-check, it is easy to think that spelling, and even grammar, no longer need to be formally taught. Again, however, it is risky to rely too heavily on technology with no backup plan. Furthermore, even the best spellcheckers are not perfect. A word spelled correctly but used incorrectly may not be caught. Obvious grammatical errors are usually marked as such, but the more subtle nuances of written communication cannot be programmed into any software. It is important to be able to express yourself without sounding like an idiot, whether you are writing a proposal to your boss or writing a note to your child’s teacher. It is difficult to take someone’s ideas seriously when they are poorly expressed.
Every person should be able to read fluently. Whether entertaining themselves with spoof articles online or perusing serious scholarly journals, reading is the key to every door in life. A person who can read can teach themselves any subject. They can get academic degrees or simply do some light reading about a subject that interests them. Reading opens up whole new worlds of entertainment, information, and achievement. Parents can form bonds with their children by reading with them. Children can find their own academic enrichment online or in a library. And people of all ages can entertain themselves with comic strips in the newspaper, or humorous blogs online, or Shakespeare.
                Finally, in addition to basic self-care and the three R’s, schools should strive to instill passion and a sense of purpose in each child. Whether that passion and purpose lead the child to multiple doctoral degrees or to volunteering at a non-profit organization or collecting garbage, schools should ensure that every person is intellectually, socially, and emotionally prepared to follow their dreams. No child should feel that any dream is above or beneath them. Nor should they feel that intellectual achievement and interest must necessarily lead to higher education. Why can’t an electrician be interested in literature, or a truck driver passionate about physics? Academic subjects can be pursued as hobbies. What matters is not that every student who likes chemistry goes on to win a Nobel Prize. What matters is that every person has interests, passions, and talents outside of their everyday professional work, and that they are encouraged to pursue and develop those interests and talents.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Philosophy of Education, Part 1

My Foundations of Education class required an essay on my personal philosophy of education. The syllabus listed no page number requirements. When we asked the professor how long it had to be, he simply said, "Explain yourself."

Mine was six pages long and is reproduced here, section by section, for your edification and reading pleasure.


Why is education important?   
Everyone is not born equal. Some kids are smarter than others. Some are burdened with physical disabilities that make learning more difficult, such as visual impairments; psychological disabilities, such as ADHD; or learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Some are born poor, cut off from documentaries on cable TV, research opportunities afforded by high-speed internet, and learning enrichments such as tutors, extracurricular opportunities, and trips to museums and musical or theatrical performances. And there’s nothing we can do about any of that.
                But there are some things we can control, and we owe it to ourselves, our students, and our world to give every child access to education. Some day, someone will find a cure for cancer. Someone will find an environmentally friendly, completely affordable fuel alternative. Someone will end world hunger and bring about world peace. The next Bill Gates or Marie Curie or da Vinci may have been born already, but without access to a quality education, these children may never realize their true potential. Of course, not every child will be a da Vinci. Some will be limited by ability, some by interest. There are people who find their greatest joys and deepest fulfillment in more “humble” careers, like construction or managing a convenience store. No one who really wants to be a landscaper should be pushed to become a surgeon. But no one who really wants to be a physicist should be forced to become an electrician. We should be limited only by our desires, not by money or opportunity.
                Education cannot be equal, but it must be fair. There are some kids need extra support, whether something as simple as meeting with a tutor once or twice a week or attending a special school for their whole lives. Some need extra challenges in order to help them meet their full potential. Some simply need accommodations, like textbooks in Braille or audio form, or a printed copy of the teacher’s lecture notes. Education cannot be handed out equally to all students, because not all students are equal. But education must be fair, because very little else in life is. When we have a chance to bring justice to an unequal situation, we have a responsibility to do so. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

So, what is there to do around here?

I've taken a quick trip down home to see my brother. His girlfriend came too. She has only been to Maryland once, and not to visit Adam. She has never been to our house or met most of our family.

As we sat at the dining room table, she doing homework and me reading The Bloggess, she asked what there was to do in our town. And could not stop laughing as i answered her.

"Well, in the next town over, there's a movie theater. It has five screens. There's a bigger theater about 40 minutes away.

"When i was in high school, the kids would all get into their pickup trucks, drive down to the shopping plaza, and smoke and drink until the cops came and told them to leave, because they were loitering. Then they'd drive a few hundred yards to the ice cream place and do the same thing until they went home to bed. This happened three or four nights out of the week, minimum.

"The town with the big theater also has a mall. And some restaurants.

"Other than that, there's the internet. Or cable. We read a lot . . ."

She nodded, still laughing, and said, "Okay."

I grinned. "Yeah. That's why i don't live here anymore."

None of the above activities were in any way exaggerated for comic effect.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Overheard in the Office 1

"Well, I'm part ninja."

Because ninjaness (ninjanity?) is a heritable trait. Just like ethnicity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Adam

Miracles do happen. I believe in that with my whole heart.

But when all you have left to hope for is a miracle, it seems a slim chance.

Adam is still in surgery. They are trying to repair damage to the nerves in the anterior spine. Some nerves are severed and some are only bruised. The doctors do not expect that he will ever regain full use of his legs, though minimal function is possible.

I can't imagine a world where my brother is not able to walk. I can't imagine a world where he is not able to run. Ever since i can remember, he has been running and climbing and exploring and working and fighting. I think he'd rather be dead than be limited.

My friend Colleen told me about a friend of hers who was a Marine and was badly injured two or three years ago. He had a chunk of his head missing and doctors said he'd never walk or talk again. Apart from slurred speech and a scar, you'd never know now that anything happened.

This is the very definition of a mixed blessing: Adam is alive and home and will never be able to go back into active duty. He is in good health overall and will recover and be here and safe. But he won't be the same person anymore, and that will be hard for him to handle. And it will be hard for us to watch him struggle to accept his new reality.

The prayers and support coming in from all sides have been overwhelming, in the best way possible. I believe in miracles, but that's all i have left.

When i visited Adam before his deployment, we went to lunch and he paused before we ate to bless his food. A few months prior to that, he had told me that he was an agnostic. I was struck by the occurrence, and later wrote a poem about my brother who still prayed over his food, even though he was no longer sure if he was praying to anyone or anything at all.

I'm not Catholic, but i've been lighting candles for Adam every day since i got the news. There's something about this kind of event that blurs the lines between faith and religion. Suddenly, what matters is that you have something to hold on to. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I just want to see my hope alight.

We were both trying to hide from the camera. We were not entirely successful.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Marry Your Best Friend

Charles and i met for the first time when we were both still in diapers, but it wasn't until 4th or 5th grade that our friendship really began. We got off to a bit of a rocky start (when we were six, i punched him in the stomach and he cried, and then i told my four-year-old brother to headbutt him). And when we started spending more time together, in 4th and 5th grade, we were just entering the "opposite sex has cooties" stage of development. He spent a lot more time with my brother than with me, and i spent more time with his sister (who was a good three or four years younger than me) than with him.

After completing 5th grade, Agelseb left public school and began homeschooling with us. This is when she and Charles began to be friends. Their friendship was likewise hampered by the gender differences, but by about 7th grade we had all gotten over that. Coincidentally, it was about 7th grade that Charles discovered girls.

Being one of the few girls that Charles never developed a crush on, i ended up being his confidant for many years. He would go through ups and downs with various girls, sometimes liking five or six at once, and totally without hope that any of them would ever consent to be his girlfriend.

In high school, he went through a series of extremely short-lived relationships, including one that lasted less than 12 hours.

In high school, he also developed a crush on Agelseb.

Inconveniently, it was the year that she moved onto the boat. Even more inconveniently, she was only interested in him as a friend.

Charles' crush lived on, though it would wax and wane depending on whether some other girl had distracted him temporarily. We all remained friends, despite sundry awkwardnesses associated with hormones and emotions, and when i graduated from high school and took a year off, Agelseb and Charles grew closer than ever.

The summer after my freshman year, i lived at home again. Agelseb and Charles and i spent lots of time together that summer, but i was beginning to feel a pull from the World. I felt restless and unhappy in my hometown, and they did not share that feeling. We didn't fight about it or anything, but we all understood that i wouldn't be spending much time there in the future.

Two summers later, i was living on campus in Quincy and working a summer job. Agelseb visited a few times, and once she vented for nearly two hours about her frustrations with Charles. I was not the least bit surprised when she told me that she was in love with him. At the beginning of the fall semester, Charles came up to visit us, and a little clever managing on my part had them agreeing to date each other that very weekend.

Their relationship underwent some weird adjustments at that time. For example, we'd all been friends for years, and thought nothing of cuddling on a couch, or even sharing a bed if necessity dictated. Charles had shared Agelseb's bed at the beginning of the trip, but once they decided that they should date, he moved to the couch. As friends, it was totally normal to say "I love you", but once they started dating that stopped abruptly. Charles didn't want to say "I love you" until they'd been dating for at least six months.

However, they successfully navigated the roadblocks and maintained a tender and loving (and combative) relationship for two years before they broke up.

I don't yet know if they'll ever get back together. What i do know is that their friendship, while initially making dating awkward, enabled them to get through a lot of difficulties. It also made it easier for them to coexist after the breakup. They're at the same school right now, and neither of them really knows anyone else yet. For better or for worse, they're all they've got.

Love comes and goes. Friendship is forever.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

purple heart

This week, my brother was driving a mine resistant tank and ran over an IED (improvised explosive device). He has several fractures in his vertebrae and had a concussion that led to a temporary loss of consciousness. So he's coming home early. I don't know how he is or if he'll go back to Afghanistan after he heals. I don't really know anything right now.

During the promotion ceremony to Lance Corporal

Friday, October 7, 2011

anxiety

I have generalized anxiety disorder. I have never been formally diagnosed by a mental health professional, but i know enough about myself and GAD to see it, and others who have been diagnosed with GAD have confirmed my suspicions. Plus i took an online test, so, yeah.

This means that i live most days with what i like to call a "functional level of anxiety". I'm almost never totally calm and happy and relaxed, but it doesn't really get in the way of my life. Which is why i've never bothered to be officially diagnosed, or to go on any kind of medication.

See, i really feel like no one should ever take any kind of medicine at all for any reason unless their issue is preventing them from living a normal life. Why would you put chemicals into your body and brain if you don't have to? Is your cholesterol at a life-threatening level? Go ahead and get a prescription. Does your bipolar disorder prevent you from even going to therapy? Get a prescription.

But people have a tendency to go for a quick fix. "I feel sad today and have for a few days now, so I'll pop some antidepressants until I feel better." Why not M'N'Ms? They taste better and you can chew them. And they won't alter the chemistry of your brain until you become dependent on medication to get out of bed in the morning.

Prescription drugs, particularly psychiatric medications, change the very structures of your brain. If you don't need them when you start taking them, you will create a need for them. This is why i get pissed off when people put their six-year-old children on Ritalin. Their brains aren't even finished being formed, and you're giving them something that could alter those brains forever. Guess what? The long-term effects of ADHD medications are unknown.Some kids grow out of their ADD/ADHD. Some don't. And some of the ones who don't honestly need a medication in order to get through the day.


And that's okay.

If you are unable to get through the day without help, please get help. There is no shame in admitting that you can't do everything on your own. And this is coming from a girl who won't even ask for a ride to the grocery store, and will instead walk a mile each way in the snow and ice, carrying heavy grocery bags on the way back (and that is in no way an exaggeration). If you need help, get it.

Anyway, my anxiety rarely interferes with my life in any way. Occasionally, i'll have a mini-anxiety attack. For 30-90 seconds, i'll be on the verge of tears for no real reason. But i can focus and power through and be okay. Sometimes i'll have to step away from my desk for a minute and find a quiet corner where i can breathe deeply and put my head down. But these attacks are infrequent, coming perhaps once a month. They in no way affect my ability to live my life.

But this week, i had three major anxiety attacks in five hours.

My functional level of anxiety comes with a range. Some days, i am more relaxed. Some days, i am more stressed. But even in the midst of my mini-attacks, i tend to stay within this range. I'll be right at the top of it, but i'm in it.

Tuesday, i was at the top of my range. Maybe slightly above. I was tense and anxious, but pretty much okay.

Wednesday, my anxiety spiked to a level i can't remember hitting since high school. It climbed steadily all day, peaking right before my class. I walked into the classroom, put my things on a desk, and walked out again. I found a quiet corner and cried for a few minutes. I was trying to breathe, trying to figure out whether or not i could even go to class. Finally, i decided that since i'd have to go back eventually, if only to get my stuff, i should try to sit through class. I decided to stay until i couldn't. I remained tense, shaky, and disoriented.

I made it through the class and started walking home. Another attack came. This time, instead of crying, i found myself struggling to draw breath. I was shaking and choking. I'm not sure how i made it all the way home. All i know is that, just when my house came into view, i remembered that i had recently found an ice cream sale and stocked up. (Side note: over the last year and a half, there has been an ice cream sale every time i have encountered personal pain. I feel like it's God's way of saying, "Here. I love you. Have some ice cream. It will be okay.") I laughed a little, remembering those many weeks and months of clinging desperately to hope and Haagen-Dazs, and went into the house.

A little while later, my roommates and i were chatting in the kitchen, and i started to feel another attack coming on. I tried to focus and power through, but one of my roommates noticed me staring intently at nothing (actually, i was staring intently at her left boob, but i wasn't aware of that), and asked if i was okay. My concentration broken, i began shaking violently and sobbing. It was like every muscle in my body was so tense that it was vibrating. This went on for a few minutes, and then it went away.

Here's the thing: Tuesday, i was at the top of my range. Wednesday, for no reason i can figure out, i went off the chart. Thursday, i was back to the middle of my range, maybe even slightly below.

I've had stress in my life the past week or so, but no more than i have in years past. College is stressful, and i have definitely broken down once or twice. But i was always able to pinpoint a reason, which means it was a normal breakdown and not an anxiety attack. There was nothing i could think of that could have triggered what happened. Maybe it was just a collection of little things that hit at a time when my brain chemistry was off. I don't know.

The point is, this week was the first time that i ever thought about trying a prescription. These attacks came out of nowhere. And while afterwards i was fine, i have no guarantee that tomorrow i won't be a basketcase again. I don't know what happened or how to predict it. I don't know what to expect tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Agelseb, part 2

When we were fourteen, Agelseb's parents decided to sell everything and live on a sailboat. True story.

They sold their house, quit their jobs, and drastically downsized their furniture, books, and knick-knacks. The really important and sentimental stuff was put in storage in a shed in my back yard, and a surprising amount of stuff was put on the boat. A 41-foot sailboat has a shocking amount of storage space.

And then they were off.

It was really hard on Agelseb, and she fought it as long and as hard as she could. Imagine being fourteen and taken away from all your friends and family. And it wasn't even like she was moving to a new town, where she could settle in and make new friends and call or email us regularly. They'd be living on a boat, moving around all over the place for three years. And electricity would be both expensive and hard to obtain, so electronic communication would be scarce, and even postcards could only be sent when they were docked somewhere.

Plus, Agelseb and her parents all three suffer from some degree of sea-sickness. So all in all, not a totally awesome plan.

41 feet is not a whole lot of space. It's less when an angry teenager is sharing it with her parents and a dog. It's even less than that when it's a boat, because there's no yard or cars to store extra stuff, and no way to leave the house and get away when you need some space. Your entire world is those 41 feet. On the bright side, they spent a lot of time in warmer climates, like Trinidad and Puerto Rico, so they could be out on the deck or in the water most days. But everything gets damp when you live on a boat, so there's always a faint mildew smell and sometimes your stuff gets ruined and what if you just want to have a milkshake or something? You know that you can't really freeze stuff on a little sailboat? You can't take long showers, either. And in addition to spending your time on schoolwork all alone, you can't go to the mall afterwards and you have to get up late at night to take your turn on watch. Yeah, that's real. It's not just something you have to do in the movies. There are still pirates in the world, not to mention storms and other boats and so forth. Someone has to be on watch at all times. Even if all three of you are puking your guts out.

I visited once, along with Aunt Sis. We stayed for about a month. The boat got even smaller, and our misery was added to by the fact that Aunt Sis is mentally handicapped and didn't really understand why we couldn't turn on the air conditioning. She complained a lot, but we all love her so we did our best to 1) accommodate her requests and make her comfortable and 2) ignore her whining.

Eventually, they decided to cut their trip short. Money was running low, Agelseb had come back for an extended visit and was resisting the return to the sea, and the call of the ocean can eventually be tuned out. They plan to write a book one day, but in the meantime, they pretty much have the monopoly on cool icebreaker stories. Not to mention that Agelseb, while still partly wishing she'd never gone, did appreciate the opportunity to live on a boat and sail the coast of North, South, and Central America. Plus she rarely takes things like hot running water and high speed internet for granted.

Monday, October 3, 2011

You shall not pass!

One of my duties as an administrative assistant is to answer the Director's phone. His line rings on my phone, and i can decide whether or not to forward the caller on to him.

Most of the people who call are vendors that he doesn't want to talk to. Here's what happens: the Director meets a vendor at some kind of event. They exchange cards, because it's the polite thing to do, even though the Director has absolutely no intention whatsoever of ever doing any kind of business with the vendor. He tells the vendor that we're all set for now with whatever service he or she is trying to sell us, but that we might be in the market again in (x) months.

(x) months later, they call again. Only this time, they are talking to me.

Knowing that the Director has no interest in their business, i fob them off with lots of excuses about "he's in and out of the office a lot, so it's hard to get in touch with him by phone", and encourage them to give me a message to pass on. They usually opt to call again later, at which point they talk to me again.

Today, the Director advised me to keep it up as long as i can. "Wait until they're sending you flowers and tickets to exclusive events. You can decide how to proceed from there," he said, winking.

He went on to explain that lots of vendors know that the people they actually want to talk to have "gatekeepers" whose job description basically boils down to "keeping the knucklehead stuff off my desk". They are the ones who decide which calls and messages get passed along and which do not. Therefore, many vendors will try to butter up and befriend the gatekeepers in the hopes of getting passed along to the Boss.

I had no idea there were such great perks with this job.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

normalcy is relative

The thing about having been homeschooled is that you're not necessarily more sheltered than everyone else. But you always think that you are. You live in a constant state of anxiety, convinced that there is a whole list of normative experiences that everyone else in the world is having and that you are not, and that this lack of normative experiences will seriously impede your development.

Here's the truth: there are certain universal normative experiences. Things like being nervous about your first kiss, or realizing for the first time that your parents have the capacity to embarrass you, or passing an exam. And there are some people (even non-homeschoolers) who miss out on some of these normative experiences. Yes, socialization is different for homeschooled kids.

But i'm beginning to think that missing out on normative experiences is, in and of itself, a normative experience.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why I Can't Go Out In Public

Today, my boyfriend and i went out to lunch to celebrate five months of not trying to kill each other. Or at least, of not succeeding in our attempts. And also because i was hungry and it was lunch time.

While trying to demurely sip my miso soup, my hand started to tremble, because i was super hungry and i get shaky when i haven't eaten enough. Plus there's a tiny tremor in my hands already so being hungry makes it way worse.

Google images
So instead of returning the spoon to the bowl and waiting for my hands to stop shaking, i tried to bring the spoon to my mouth super fast before i spilled the soup. But it was one of those huge Asian soup spoons so there was a lot of soup and i couldn't take it all in one bite. Plus it was still really hot, and when it touched my tongue my hand jerked violently and soup sprayed across the table (most of it landing miraculously in the bowl). Then i started laughing and accidentally spit out a piece of seaweed. As my boyfriend looked at me sympathetically (no doubt wondering how big of a jerk it would make him to break up with me because he suspects that i am mentally handicapped), i gave him sad puppy-dog eyes and said, "You know the worst thing about what just happened? It's not the first time that this exact thing has happened to me in this restaurant."

Then we were walking back to my office and had to take an alternate route because there was some road/sidewalk work going on. I didn't notice it right away and almost walked into the giant patch of dirt and loose rubble and traffic cones. John pulled me away (like you do with a small, not-very-bright child) and said, "Don't walk in the dirt!" (He said it in a cheery, warning way. Not yelling. You can't tell the difference when you don't have vocal nuances.)

I tried to say that i didn't mind walking in the dirt, but somewhere between my brain and my mouth those words got tangled up in my pigheaded streak and manifested themselves as "But i WANT to walk in the dirt," and i let go of his hand and took one step on the dirt and then went back. Again like a small, possibly mentally handicapped child.

He just looked at me and said, "You only did that because I told you not to, didn't you?"

I glanced down coyly. "Maybe. Yes. Maybe."

And then when we were outside of my office, standing on the (very public, high-traffic) sidewalk, i tried to unzip his pants without him noticing.

It really is a miracle that he hasn't dumped and/or killed me yet.