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


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


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.