Category Archives: Tuesday on the Soapbox

Anything from politics and current events to strange and beautiful life philosophies.

Momentary Meditations

momentarymeditations
There are blessed moments I encounter–moments of living neither in the past or future, but in the massive and yet ephemeral present. Being aware of each second clicking by, the cool freshness of the air being drawn into my nose. Taking time to truly feel the grass blades tickling my flip-flop-clad feet, and to smell the light sweet scent of azaleas and wildflowers in the front yard. Sensing the mobile curvature of my spine as I hunch above a keyboard or stretch back against the computer chair. Knowing how the smooth plastic computer keys will give way just enough under my fingers to produce a letter on the screen.

It’s an odd, electric kind of feeling, as if a shade has been drawn up from over my eyes and I’m finally seeing life as it is. In these few seconds, thought and intellect give way to feeling and instinct, just for a little while. I can appreciate the visual beauty and symmetry of tree branches and buildings around me, pause to hear random harmonies of birdsong and traffic, weaving together like the woodwind and brass sections of a giant unseen orchestra. Touch and smell become many times more important; suddenly, I am aware of how soft and lovely the shirt I’m wearing feels against my skin, and realize that the breeze is blowing a faint wonderful scent of food cooking from a restaurant down the street.

These moments of sensory feeling and glimpses of present peace are usually rare for me. Too often I live in a world of past guilt and anticipation of the future, and I’m insensitive to all this wonder going on around me. (I think we all have days like that!) Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a shell of myself, “living” without really feeling it, while my brain is somewhere else entirely, worrying, fretting or just going around and around without solving anything. Often it seems like I’m actually forcing myself to relax, and yet my brain is resisting every second of it.

Momentary meditations on the world around me, actually sensing the environment around me, actually hearing and seeing things outside my own head, manage to snap me out of the foggy dreariness I usually shuffle through, make me feel more alive. It’s often not an instinctive thing, either; I have to shift my mindset, and hush my inner monologue. (Amazing how much more life can filter into your brain when you actually let yourself experience it rather than letting your brain talk over it!)

If you’ve never had one of these random moments of clarity, it can start as simply as looking around you and really seeing everything. I hope this post can be one of those moments for you–then, you might find that a shade has lifted from your own life.

Politics: Remember “United We Stand, Divided We Fall?”

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Right now, the political climate in America is like trying to live on Venus–unbearable for most humans. In this highly-polarized, overheated atmosphere, we daily suffocate on sound bytes while trying to breathe in the facts and figure out what we believe to be true. The crushing gravity of “us vs. them” echoes through every broadcast and article produced by either side. “Our” side is always obviously right and true. “Their” side is always corrupt and hypocritical.

In light of this, George Washington’s counsel against political parties in his farewell address rings bitterly true. With all this pointless bickering between political parties, we have done a better job dividing ourselves up than any other conquering nation could ever do. The reason most countries aren’t picking an open fight against us these days is because we are like an animal mutilating itself, tearing at its own feathers and skin, trying to scratch out its own eyes. Seems like impossible imagery, I know, but that is what is happening. We lose all respect for our fellow Americans when they tell us they are part of the “other” political party–instead, we stop listening to them and stop seeing them as an actual human being, because they happen to disagree with us politically.

My Personal Experience with Political Divisions

Take my situation, for instance. I’m a registered Democrat, which is about like saying I’m a registered Satanist where I live in the Southeast United States. I am a speck of blue in a sea of red; I cannot share my political opinions as “Democratic” beliefs anywhere I go, because it will immediately start a firestorm. I, instead, have to be careful to keep the word “Democrat” completely out of it, because as soon as most people from my neck of the woods hear that, they just stop listening.

I have been personally called “baby-killer” because of the pro-choice movement associated with “my” party, even though I actually don’t like abortion at all; I have been accused of supporting illegal immigrants over my own fellow citizens, and contributing to the “nanny state.” Yet I am what most people would call a “bleeding-heart liberal,” because I support things like welfare, education, and healthcare. (At least, I think “bleeding-heart” is the proper term. I’m not even sure which derogatory label fits me anymore.)

But We ALL Have Trouble with Divisiveness–Even Me!

My negative experiences, however, do not make me the greatest listener when a conservative point of view is expressed. Some such opinions are expressed with such caustic verbal acid that I can only take so much before my ear canals begin to burn. Other opinions strike me as so horribly wrong that I can’t even begin to comprehend what logic produced them.

Around here, for instance, I’m usually hearing nasty racial epithets about President Obama, or endless whining about either the “socialist” healthcare system, or how much deficit the government has run up in passing stimulus bills. Meanwhile, I sit there and silently fume that George W. Bush ran up just as much deficit ordering the Middle East wars, and that my own father, who’s worked hard all his life, has also benefited greatly from that “socialist” healthcare. My mind is utterly closed to these people while all this is going on–I hear nothing of what they’re saying after a while, and it’s hard to even view them as people of sound mind. Thus, I’m no better than the people I’m trying to listen to, because while I’m trying to be an “objective listener,” the rage is bubbling up the back of my throat, just waiting for a weak moment to burst forth from my lips and say something I can never take back.

Divided = Defeat!

This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I’m talking about, and it can’t go on. “United we stand, divided we fall” isn’t just a pretty platitude–we’re doing a great job of defeating ourselves as long as we continue not listening to each other and not supporting each other. American conservatives and liberals actually need each other, in my opinion. The conservative party is generally a party of doers, our military might, our sword. The liberal party is generally a party of thinkers, our social conscience, our shield. Liberals need conservatives to shake us out of our reverie and remind them of what needs doing rather than what needs thinking about. Conservatives need liberals to restrain their might and remind them of what needs more thought rather than action. (It’s not that there aren’t some thoughtful conservatives and some strong-willed liberals–this dynamic I describe simply seems to be the current general attitude of each party.)

If we tilt too far to either side, or only listen to one side’s arguments, we will be weakened, as we are right now. If we, however, start listening to each other’s ideas and stop name-calling like first-graders, we might actually get something positive accomplished.

Rediscovering The Library

rediscoveringlibrary
In this age of frugal living/careful spending, I’m surprised when I hear some of my friends talk about “buying” the new book everyone’s talking about. I’m surprised–not because I’m surprised at people reading, but because I buy almost no books anymore. Instead, I’m a regular customer at the library. Want to know why I made that change? Read on to find out!

My Background in Reading: Extensive

For most of my life, I’ve been a voracious reader, tackling numerous books in a week sometimes (if boredom was striking hard). It didn’t hurt that I grew up being taken to the library a few times a week, too, always marveling at their large book collections. It was a wonderful place to explore, and I enjoyed checking out the mountains of books I inevitably wanted to read every week.

High School: A Gradual Moving Away from Reading

Somewhere in high school, however, I lost the will to read for pleasure. I credit it to my AP and honors literature classes and general college prep, which demanded so much reading outside of school hours that after I was done with homework, the last thing I wanted to see was a printed word. I, who had loved books from childhood, virtually quit reading for pleasure until the summer before my sophomore year in college.

I instead found myself playing more video games and being on the computer more often, needing more pictorial and interactive ways to relax instead of having to stay focused on more words. It was so unlike me, in retrospect, but at the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

College: The Change Back (Mostly for the Better)

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college changed things drastically, however. Due to an ex-boyfriend’s casual dismissal of me, I ended up very sad and lonely most of that summer, languishing, feeling like I had no purpose.

But soon enough, I got tired of sitting at home crying, and finally I got up the courage to venture out and buy a few books to read at a nearby bookstore. Suddenly, it all came back–why I had loved reading. It had helped me to escape a world I had had enough of! So I began collecting more and more books, reading them and putting them aside, sometimes to reread them, sometimes not, for the next 8 years.

Uh-Oh…Now the Mountain of Books is in My House…

But you can guess what happened. These days, I’m virtually swimming in a sea of purchased books. My bedroom is stuffed with them, there are boxes upon boxes in the hallways, and still there are books in the floor. It’s a picture of my brain and my life. I love information, I love reading, and I still find myself looking at the bookstore and wanting to buy a lot of the books I see. But, with the new problem of storage, I just didn’t want to have to deal with picking them up off the floor and trying to find places to put newly acquired books for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, a Solution–The Library!

Then, a brainstorm. As I sat at the library using their wireless Internet one afternoon a couple of years ago, I looked around and it struck me–why am I not using this library card I have in my purse? Why don’t I just check out the books I want to read, and then bring them back in 2 or 3 weeks? DUH! Knowing how fast I read, I knew I’d be done with at least one book by week’s end, maybe more.

So I rose from my chair and pecked around in the fiction section a bit until I found a couple of books that interested me. I have been enjoying the library’s privileges since, reading 3-4 books every 6 weeks or so (depending on how hectic my schedule is). Once I’m finished with them, I can return them and let someone else enjoy them, and they aren’t lying around cluttering up my house any further. Plus, I’m not spending tons of money on books I might not even read again. I have rediscovered the library–rediscovered one reason why it is so wonderful.

Don’t Let Your Library Go to Waste!

But libraries are vanishing fast–even our local library may not be around much longer, and that saddens me. As a money-saver, as a time investment, and as a place for free Internet that isn’t a loud coffee shop, it’s perfect for me and many other local folks. Yet libraries all over the country (and possibly, all over the world) are still having to deal with budgets shrinking, less visitors, almost no income, and lack of new books to put up. I think it’s awful.

Many people have commented on this issue, with some folks saying libraries as we know them won’t be around much longer anyway. Others are saying libraries are struggling and failing to meet a new technological need rather than an informational one. And some say that libraries must update technologically to offer the same kinds of community help that they used to.

I believe that yes, libraries as mere storehouses of books are not the informational resource they once were–the Internet has taken that place. But the library is still a free/almost free source of Internet and printing facilities, as well as a safe place for families and communities to come together. (Not to mention that they are generally QUIET…yay!) I think the world definitely still needs libraries–their ageless serenity is a refuge from the outside world, a home away from home.

Whether libraries will ultimately come to house technology as well as books/in place of books, or whether they become cultural centers or something else entirely, I believe that communities still need them to serve, and will need them as long as there are social humans. Libraries were not only my refuge in childhood, but have become a newfound haven in my adulthood. And I think it can be that way for others, too. I just hope more people rediscover their libraries soon, so that this experience I’ve had doesn’t just become part of history!

Leveling Up in Life

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These days, experience-based games like World of Warcraft are very popular. Players of these games generally play through many quests, defeating enemies, dedicating many hours to “leveling up” their character, getting ever closer to the top level, where they no longer have to gain experience, and they are fully powered-up and epic in battle.

Does this sound familiar to people in the modern workforce? To me, it reminds me a lot of the “rat race”–the constant striving for promotions, raises, better hours, more vacation time, more leadership, etc. People play games like WoW to escape work, or so I thought, but instead they seem to be duplicating the same conditions in play as in work.

Life Today = Meeting Goals Rather Than Having Experiences

We generally live our lives, these days, like it’s a goal-oriented game rather than an experience. Stopping and smelling the roses went out of our heads a long time ago, replaced by a drive to get “the most” and “the best”, all in “the fastest” time. Students who take AP classes to get college credits while still in high school are hailed as “go-getters;” collegiates who manage to get through a four-year degree in three years or less by taking classes during the summers (and even winters) are praised for their “academic drive.” And people in the modern workforce who advance rapidly through their chosen field or company are looked on with favor.

This drive even extends down to our children, sad as that sounds. No longer can kids just go outside and play at random games; now, they’ve got to be learning all the time with “educational” games. They’ve practically got to know how to read and write before they hit kindergarten, otherwise they’ll be considered “behind.” (Not knocking educational games, but surely there’s time enough for them to just be children, too?)

This Used to Be My Life, Too

I lived like this, trying to “level up in life,” for a long time. I was one of the “bright” kids in my school, a girl who was going to get out there and be somebody before she was 30. I picked up on things very quickly, was fast, accurate and (usually) neat in my preparations; I got good grades and participated in all sorts of activities, and so I got honors and won awards. I took that same drive into college, obtaining my BA in English with Magna Cum Laude and a slew of other academic honors. I even advanced into my ill-fated teaching career with that same attitude, pushing to get my Masters in Middle-Grades Education in 2 years so I could go out into the world and make money doing what I supposedly loved.

But where did all that drive and ambition get me? I ended up crash-landing back at home, recovering from severe depression and suicidal feelings. All that pushing and stressing and struggling, and it had gotten me no honors this time, no rewards. I couldn’t teach anymore; I just simply wasn’t made for the job, even though I had worked so very hard to achieve it. So I began to question this “most/best/fastest” way of life. What had all my striving been for, in the end? What had I been doing with my life all those years I was working to become something? There are quite literally years of my life I barely remember except for vague memories of working my butt off writing papers or completing tests, all to get “somewhere better”–a better college, a better job, etc. I thought I was doing it right, living a correct life.

My New Life: All About Experiences

In the wake of my capsized teaching career, in which I had faced death at my own hands, “leveling up” in life didn’t seem as important anymore. I began to focus instead on rebuilding my charred inner world, trying to salvage what I could of my life and my interests. And, in fact, I rediscovered myself among the ashes, and began to write my novel as a way to pull myself forward. I began to live life as I had never experienced it before–weeks of just BEING rather than DOING, just writing rather than publishing, just playing the piano rather than performing, just being with friends rather than being constantly “busy.”

Some people might look down on me for this, maybe thinking I’ve become complacent, lazy, and unmotivated. Nobody’s said anything to that effect, of course, but since I spent such a large part of my life driving ahead at 80 mph, it feels very strange to be going suddenly 30. Or maybe I’m still a bit paranoid about what “other people” think of my life, worrying that people will think I’m not as smart as I once was, or that I just don’t care anymore.

But this new speed of life is far from “not caring.” Actually, in a way it feels like I’ve dropped an addiction: an addiction to perfection, to needing to be the absolute best, fastest, and most. Some days I’d like to care about that stuff again, because it felt somehow normal to be addicted to that lifestyle. But I know that if I start caring about it, it’ll be as virulent as any addiction, taking over my life again before I know it. I don’t have to chase after every success if the chase is going to dehumanize me and strip me of joy; I have to chase after the successes that are important to me. And right now, just living is enough of a success, considering I was contemplating suicide not too long ago.

Am I Enjoying This? YES!

Now that I’m not so worried about “leveling up” in life, I find myself able to enjoy my life. Sure, days aren’t as action-packed as they used to be; sure, I’m not doing a whole lot these days beyond writing, singing, blogging, designing, and gaming. But…I’m okay with it. I don’t have to get to the next level of my life soon–I think I’ll just roam around in this game and explore a bit, enjoy the level I’m on right now.

Virginity in the Modern World

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Being a virgin in an increasingly sexual world is kind of weird, to say the least. Most American women my age (late 20s) have already either married and had kids, or they’ve at least experienced sex even if they’re not married. Not to mention that Westernized media (TV, music, movies, Internet) tends to hyper-focus on anything sexual. Anything on TV or in the movies seems like it has to have some kind of sex scene or nudity, ostensibly in order to keep viewers’ attention; in music and online, the more sexual innuendo (or blatant references, more like), the more hits and downloads you get.

With all of this swirling about in our culture, sometimes it makes me wonder–does virginity really have a place anymore in society? Is it even something important anymore?

Going Off My Own Perspective and Experience (or Lack of It, in This Case)

The reason I wonder this is because virginity is still important to me. Now, I’m certainly no prude when it comes to sex–I know mentally how it all works, and I’m not without desire and attraction. Knowing that all this hyper-focus exists about a subject I don’t have any practical experience with does makes me feel a bit out of the loop, though. I’m not used to not knowing…but I’m personally okay with that right now, because it’s part of my personal beliefs to be a virgin until I’m married.

And yet, I consider myself a feminist, too, believing in equal treatment of the sexes; I do not consider my beliefs on virginity to be a contradiction of feminism, because I believe male virginity can be just as important for a man’s sense of self (more on that later). I am aware that the whole custom of the “virgin bride” arose out of a paternity concern on the part of the husband throughout history; the men wanted to be sure their heirs were truly theirs. But now that the era of hereditary dynasties and such has largely gone by, Western societies don’t socially fixate on a woman’s sexual status quite so much, and for the most part, we as women are more in control of if, when, with whom, and how often we have sex. (It’s not completely there yet, as Steve Harvey’s overtly sexist commentary on “women’s precious jewels” clearly depicts, but it’s progressing.)

Growing up in the American Southeast as I have, however, I have seen the morals of the “Bible belt” firmly in place throughout my childhood and early adulthood. It’s still generally understood around here that if you’re a “good girl,” you’ll remain a virgin until after you’re married–old traditions die hard, I suppose. There’s not nearly so much societal judgment that falls on a girl’s head for “disobeying” this social more as there used to be, but there can still be whispers and ugly rumors. This is likely one unconscious reason that I have chosen to keep the V-card (to use the modern parlance), though there are plenty of temptations out there for even the most stolid of women.

But what about virginity is so important? Personally I feel that my virginity is a part of my identity, but not a permanent part; it is a marker of my commitment to my future. My boyfriend of several years views his own virginity similarly; we are all but married, and yet until we are actually married, we are both waiting. (I might be getting a tad impatient right now, LOL, but I’m abiding by his wishes and my own convictions.)

The Modern Meaning and Use of Virginity: More About Self, Less About Reputation

This use of virginity seems to be rather rare; virginity has long been seen as either a commodity (for women to give to men) or as a hindrance (for men). Furthermore, female virginity used to be (and in some places still is) a requirement for marriage, and the loss of it before marriage meant shame and even death. But I find that staying a virgin until marriage nowadays has three mostly-ignored benefits, for both genders:

  1. you largely escape the concerns of STDs
  2. you don’t have to worry about being a single parent of a child you weren’t ready for
  3. you get to experience sex first with the one you really love

With HIV and other STDs running rampant, this is a health concern as much as a cultural and spiritual concern; you can’t be too careful with your health! And certainly being responsible about bringing children into the world is just as important–waiting until you are (more) stable, capable, and ready for a family helps. But waiting so that you and your future husband or wife can learn about intimacy together seems like the most compelling of the three reasons, at least for me. I don’t know for a fact, not having experienced sex yet myself, but I view it as such a vulnerable act that I wouldn’t want to attempt it without knowing and trusting the man I’m with. And I don’t see this as a female-only mindset, as I mentioned before; male emotions and well-being are worth protecting and nurturing, too, despite the fact that male virginity is often discounted as part of being a “loser.”

Why do I place equal value on female and male virginity? Because relationships in general are acts of vulnerability and trust–you are sharing your emotional and mental self just as you share your physical self in sex. I am now as guarded about my emotions and well-being as I am about my physical body, having been hurt before, and I’d dare to say many people have experienced that same kind of heartache and broken trust. Sex, however, often aggravates underlying relationship problems rather than alleviating them, especially if given too casually. Couldn’t virginity for both parties (or at least abstinence from sex too soon in the relationship, if one or both people are not virgins) ensure that we build the strong emotional and mental connection first, so that physical intimacy later is just icing on that cake?

A Few Closing Thoughts

I certainly don’t have all the solutions to the emotional and social problems that have cropped up around sex in our society, but I do believe that for both genders, sex can be frightening if one or both of the people involved feel pushed or rushed. And our culture is really not doing a great job of depicting unhurried, true loving intimacy based on a solid relationship. I’m not saying that everybody’s got to wear a purity ring till you’re married, but staying a virgin could protect you from the emotional pitfalls of a relationship as well as the more obvious physical ones. It has certainly functioned that way for me thus far.

Respect Your Teachers

respectyourteachers
(Note: This article is written mainly from my personal experience of public school teaching in the United States, but from what I’ve heard from friends who have lived in or visited other countries, the experience of teaching and being taught seems to be very similar across the board these days.)

When you’re in school, your teachers are the people you love to hate. They seem to thrive on assigning tons of homework, giving terrible lectures that you find hard to listen to, and punishing the kids who even barely step out of line. Maybe there’s one in a thousand teachers who do things differently, but those are a precious few. Most of the teachers use stock worksheets, old assignments that aren’t even relevant to our daily lives, and they themselves seem stuck in a time warp.

Did I get the picture right? This is pretty much what I remember from being a public school student. Of course, there were teachers who stuck out in my memory as being awesome, vibrant educators, but most of them stuck to the books and didn’t like students deviating at all from their plans. As an “out-of-the-box” thinker, I found myself out of place in their classrooms.

Only when I endeavored to become a teacher myself did I see what really went on in public school classrooms, and how much each of those “boring” teachers must have suffered. Here’s what I found out while trying (and ultimately failing) to become a middle-school teacher:

Teachers are pressed for time, all the time.

There are simply not enough hours in the day to do what a typical teacher must do. Most teachers must rise before the sun, eat alone (usually on the way to work), and get there just in time to have a precious few minutes to think before the chaotic rumbling mass of students washes into the classroom like high tide. Then, you don’t have a spare moment to yourself until whenever the school day ends, because you have to be either teaching actively and keeping the kids busy, or you must be consistently vigilant for kids screwing off not doing their work, copying each other’s papers, or vandalizing school property. Even your “planning” time is not your own–this is when endless meetings are scheduled, or when parents waft in on the tide as well, asking about their kids. You also might get a principal or assistant principal dropping by to ask you if you can take “5 minutes” (usually more like 30) to do something for them.

And the work day does not end when you hobble out the door on sore feet! Once you get home, there are likely crates and boxes full of papers to grade and return to the students. Say, for instance, that one double-sided worksheet you assigned to all four classes takes about 10 minutes to grade per sheet. Multiply that by about 80 or 90 (the number of students most middle- and high-school teachers teach) and you get how much time it takes to grade all of that single worksheet. (It equates to about 15 hours. Don’t get me started on long papers and research projects. Just…don’t.)

Now, you might think that all a teacher has to do to reduce this load is to assign less homework. Students would like that, right? Certainly the teachers would! But that leads me to reason number two to respect your teachers:

Teachers are held to extremely high state and national standards.

There are these magical little documents called “Standard Courses of Study” that basically tell you what you’re supposed to cover in your class. (Here’s North Carolina’s Standard Courses of Study as an example.) There’s one for each grade level and each subject. My grade level and subject area was 7th grade Language Arts, so I had to teach what the 7th grade Language Arts SCS told me to teach.

These documents are generally written in a dialect called “Vague Legalese” that you are supposed to decipher as part of your never-ending day. If you don’t follow these guidelines, it is intimated that the dire consequences of less than 70% of your student body passing its End of Grade or End of Course test is the unhappy result. When your students don’t pass the EOG or EOC, it automatically means you’re a bad teacher, even if your students didn’t do their work and/or didn’t try.

Plus, your superiors will check up on you regularly to make sure you’re teaching along the guidelines. You have to be able to justify every lesson plan, every assignment, every breath as being part of the SCS. And you have to assign a certain amount of work, otherwise evaluators will get after you for not allowing your students to practice what they’re being taught.

And what if your student decides not to do any of his or her work? That’s your fault, too. See reason #3 to respect your teachers, below:

Teachers get punished if a student fails their class because the student refused to do his/her work.

Teachers can suffer a salary drop or even lose his or her job because a student decided to screw off in class (which usually leads to the student failing the End-of-Grade or End-of-Course test). All that the numeric grades and test results show is that a student performed poorly, and that he or she was taught by a specific teacher, not WHY the student performed poorly. This system is (SLOWLY) changing, with hopefully more humanized input in place in a few years, but it is far from perfect. Meanwhile, teachers saddled with kids who will not work and parents who will not motivate their children have to try to be miracle workers before that dreaded day in May.

Teachers also have to be law enforcement officers, prison wardens, marketing representatives, and PR representatives.

Not only are teachers supposed to be masters of their subject matter, but they also must:

  • teach their subject matter efficiently and quickly, no matter what kind of distractions and interruptions they encounter;
  • police their classrooms (and the hallways outside) for bad behavior, cheating, vandalism, and other such delinquency, all while trying to teach;
  • lead their classes silently to recess, lunch, and the library so as not to interfere with other inmates–I mean students;
  • argue successfully for school and classroom grants to get the materials and technology they cannot do without but are not given because of budget cuts;
  • deal with the public, in the form of parents and guardians who might or might not be prepared to listen and help with what the teacher needs done at home.

As a budding middle-school teacher, I felt constantly pulled in about 100 different directions while trying to teach. There were literally earmarks on every second of my time as a teacher, no time to think or plan. When I got home from teaching every day, I was jumpy and frazzled, as if I expected to be rousted out of my seat (or my bed) to take care of yet another catastrophe in the making.

Teachers have to deal with angry students, other disgruntled teachers, and more often frustrated parents.

This is the part of the job that literally scared the crap out of me–sitting face-to-face with a parent who, for instance, refuses to hear anything about how his/her child threatened another student with scissors held at the throat, threw a desk across the room and broke it, and tried to climb out one of the windows. (This happened to me, every part of it…and I wish I was exaggerating.)

You can feel utterly without support sometimes, because if even the parent isn’t willing to ally with you, who will? Certainly the misbehaving student would like nothing better than to see you tossed out on your behind. Plus, the legal systems usually side with the complaining parent, which leaves the school system with their hands tied–they cannot help you either. And your fellow teachers can only vouch for you so far; sometimes you have no witnesses except yourself and a classful of rioting kids.

Lastly, and possibly most frustrating of all:

Teachers must do lots of outside work that they don’t get paid for, at all.

Taking (and paying out of pocket for) continuing education classes, in the form of more books to read and more videos to watch in your nonexistent “spare time,” instructing you on how you’re teaching all “wrong” and these programs can help you teach “right?” Yep.

Tutoring kids before and after school, whenever THEY find it convenient to show up, for no extra pay? Yep.

Attending endless hours-long unpaid meetings in the summers about meetings we’re going to have later, all while you’re trying to set up your classroom, order new books, throw away books that kids have written curse words and drawn lewd pictures in, manage your old assignments, find updated assignments, print off new material, learn new school software, implement new technology/repair old technology, etc.? YEP.

Paying for books and classroom supplies out of your own pocket because your school’s budget is so drastically cut that they can’t afford to even buy one extra book, extra printer paper, or paper clips? YEP.

Staying at school from 7:30am until 7 or 8pm each day grading papers (or taking it home)? YEP. (Sometimes I ended up staying up till well past 3am grading!)

I was expected to do all this AS WELL AS teach during the day, and for all this work, I was projected to receive about $30,000 for what would have been my first year of teaching (the 2009-2010 school year). This would have been my gross salary as a middle-school educator in North Carolina with a Masters’ degree. According to this graph about what public school educators make, I would have been on the extreme left of the bell curve; NC teachers really don’t get paid worth doodly, especially when compared to other states (and other countries). But when you take into consideration the standard of living in various places, many teachers end up living right around the POVERTY LINE. I WISH I WAS KIDDING.

This is the Job Teachers Do!

Teaching is one of the highest career callings, and once upon a time I aspired to it, only to find that I was definitely not strong enough. The best teachers do all this with grace, but for most of us, this sounds pretty overwhelming. I know it was for me. Respect the people who do this job and don’t go absolutely batpoo crazy…they’re truly born for it!

Pain Can Change Us

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When we hear of torture that makes people reveal secrets they would never have revealed otherwise, some people might say “Well, they’re just weaklings. Why couldn’t they last through the pain and just keep their mouths shut?” But the prevalence of pain relievers in pharmacies across the country and around the world seems to say that we humans actually don’t have a lot of pain resistance.

This LiveScience article, The Pain Truth, calls pain a “silent epidemic,” and it certainly is–it’s an epidemic that is downplayed and even trivialized by those who do not suffer pain as often. Pain is not merely a physical symptom of illness; it also has an emotional component of suffering, which in long-term cases leads to personality changes and life changes. I have experienced these firsthand.

My Personal Experience with Chronic Pain

Pain has been a constant companion of mine for several years, with old lower-body injuries galore, headaches and migraines, and random shooting pains that seem to have nothing to do with any injury at all. I didn’t realize how much my personality had shifted to deal with these various pains, however, until we discovered and began to treat some of the pain sources.

Getting rid of my constant burning headaches with chiropractic therapy opened my eyes first. For the first time in MONTHS, if not YEARS, I was able to go about my day without having to spend at least part of it lying in bed trying to tame a headache. How liberating! And how surprising! I could finally live without having to constantly endure the “ice pick” in my temple. Some of my friends and family commented on this change, saying that they were glad to see me smiling again–I had been suffering such pain for so long that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t smiling much anymore.

Other effects of pain on my personality were subtler, but only just. I was much more irritable and more easily frustrated–after all, my life was being controlled by a force I couldn’t stop, so anything else that slipped out of my control was that much more infuriating. Plus, with the lower-body pain, I had had to shape my life’s day-to-day rhythms carefully so that my ankles and knees would not get aggravated with too much activity/standing per day. (Usually, standing in line for 10 minutes = ankles are DONE for the day.)

Pain had, in essence, transformed me into a cranky, isolated, less active version of myself. I hated this change, but I literally could not do anything about it until at least some of the sources of pain were treated. And that, I think, is universal for all pain sufferers.

Why Pain and Its Personality Effects are Not Well-Understood

Unfortunately, pain is a feeling and not an observable condition; even scans of your body cannot see the sensation of pain, only can see potential causes of it. And others cannot feel your pain as you do–thus, they cannot truly have empathy unless they have suffered the exact same condition.

Some folks, however, don’t even make any attempt at empathy, telling chronic pain sufferers to “suck it up, take an Advil and quit complaining,” etc., not understanding or caring how insensitive and insulting they’re being. (These kinds of people are just about as infuriating as my chronic pain itself.) This dismissive attitude only adds to the mystery and confusion around pain, since some people just don’t experience it as much and therefore cannot understand why it affects us so strongly.

That’s why I’ve written this article and added my own personal experiences; pain can have a huge effect on your personality and indeed your whole life, especially if it goes a long time without being treated (as mine did). Pain is not something that only weak people feel or talk about–it’s a human condition which causes suffering (both emotional and physical), and so it must be treated seriously.

Warmer Temps, Warmer Mood

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It’s amazing how much the coming of spring affects my mood. Even though I know I’ll hate the hot weather when it arrives (usually in late April for us North Carolinians), I can’t help but enjoy the warmer breezes, sunnier days, and slowly leafing and budding plants. It feels like something in my spirit unfreezes–something unfurls and reaches for that first touch of sunlight that bears real warmth.

Could this be Seasonal Affective Disorder? Maybe. But maybe I’m just a springtime creature, reveling in the earth coming back to vibrant life after a long winter of icy weather and a dull outdoor color palette of browns, whites, and grays. When the woods around our house begin to yawn and stretch with birdsong and warm sun rays every year, I awaken with it, and wear my short-sleeved shirts with abandon (and without a coat). Soon, spring will bring waves of pollen blowing into our faces, and later it will leave us with humidity that won’t let even the least bit of sweat evaporate, but till then I will enjoy little buds of color slowly appearing on every bare branch, and the first brave green sprouts dappling across the front yard.

Exercise: Not My Idea of Fun

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I’m currently 5’8″ and nearly 300 pounds. Yep, I said it. And traditional exercise, which has been touted as THE way for me to achieve fitness, is not fun for me, for a variety of reasons:

My Beefs with Traditional Exercise

  • Boring – nothing to think about but how much pain I’m in, how much this stinks, how much I’d rather be doing ANYTHING else (such as getting a root canal)
  • Isolating – none of my friends do any kind of exercise that I can get into, and none of them do what I’m interested in
  • Painful – everything hurts/gets sore very easily, and I hate the breathless, about-to-die feeling I get

A Little History: I USED to be a Thin, Active Little Girl

To understand how and why I’ve ended up this way, you have to know some of my background. I’ve been a fat girl longer than I was a skinny girl, but I do remember the days of being bone-thin. I was tall and fairly lean through most of elementary school–I played basketball during the school year, swam a good bit during the summers, and played both outside and inside. I also didn’t sit down to dinner long enough to really eat much, though I never went hungry, either. (As an extremely selective eater from early childhood, I chose foods based on texture almost more than taste, and ended up eating from a very limited palate which has persisted to this day.)

What Changed: Emotional Associations with Exercise, Onset of Puberty, and Injuries

Starting in fourth grade (age 10), however, my level of activity began to change, albeit slowly. I was cut from my basketball team because I had lost much of my speed to a foot injury and hadn’t really improved my playing skills. But to be honest, I had started losing interest in playing sports–I knew I wasn’t very good at physical activity, and I was beginning to be picked on for it. I just never was fast enough or quick-reacting enough, though I could pull off a surprise basket on occasion. As a result, I started doing more indoor, sedentary activities with my newly freed time.

By fifth grade, I had the basics of my adult hourglass figure in place. But fifth grade was also the year I entered weighing about 90 pounds and left weighing 145 pounds, with little to no change in my diet and regular P.E. exercise just as I had had for the previous 5 years of elementary school. This same body change has happened to all the women in my extended family–rapid weight gain and a radical body shape change around puberty, much more significant than other girls’ body changes. (I have wondered, in the years since, whether some form of endocrine imbalance or some form of hypothyroidism might be to blame, but most doctors seem not to know what we’re talking about, despite having a body of anecdotal evidence covering several lives and at least four decades.)

With womanhood barely a year away from me at age 11, puberty had thus backhanded me with an entirely new body–one I quickly learned to hate, just about as quickly as the other kids learned to tease me about it. My “muffin top” and “rolls” earned me so many jeers and so much physical abuse that I eventually quit trying to do much in P.E. at all. (Wouldn’t you have, if every time you so much a dribbled a ball some idiot would run over to you, grab the ball out of your hands, and smack it against your stomach hollering “FATTY FATTY FATTY! HAHAHA!”) Exercise, as a result, became less associated with fun and freedom, and more associated with pain, humiliation, and anxiety.

I gained about 10 pounds a year after puberty’s horrible 50-pound prank, and by college I battled to stay around 230-240 pounds. Several incidents, however, led to even walking being painful; going to class in the ice and snow led to repeatedly injured ankles and knees, which I could not get treatment for without having to WALK to the campus infirmary. (Explain that one to me!) Having always had weak ankles and flat feet (thanks to heredity), the injuries did not heal properly, which has left me with constant pain while walking. I even have a handicapped sticker, one which I am grateful for but wish fervently that I did not have to use as often as I do.

Would I Like to Exercise? Yes! Does Any Exercise Interest Me? NO!

The thing that annoys me the most about traditional exercise is the heavy emphasis on pointless repetition of mind-numbing activities. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be “training muscles” and whatnot, but it is as maddening to me as doing 30 identical math problems for homework. It’s a huge attack of “same stuff different day”–there’s nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing challenging mentally.

And, if my brain is not kept busy, then its only remaining focus is the condition of my body–you know, the straining muscles, the joints in pain, the sweat in my eyes. If exercise is repetitive (and most of the traditional programs out there are), then I end up tense, anxious, and eventually angry that I’m wasting my time doing this stuff and I’m going to waste even more time trying to recover later. (Keep in mind, I have a lot of injuries, so my body normally takes a longer time to recover from exercise anyway.)

How to Solve This?

An ideal exercise routine for me would be:

  • Fun – keeps my mind as well as my body busy
  • Social – involves friends and family as part of a get-together
  • Less painful – I know exercise is going to hurt, but it doesn’t have to hurt this much!

Let it be known that just walking on a track like a rodent in a wheel doesn’t cut it for me, nor for most like me, I’d imagine. I and other people in my same condition want more out of exercise than just doing 10 reps of this and 10 reps of that for an hour or so. Doesn’t that make sense?

Why do people have to die for social problems to be taken seriously?

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I’ve noticed this pattern happening quite a lot in our society. Bullying in schools was not considered a problem until the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. Terrorism was not an American problem until September 11th, 2001. And with the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona came a wave of reaching across the aisle politically that would have never happened had people not been killed. It seems that whatever the social problem we suffer, it takes a death for us to be shocked into doing something about it, whether it be bullying, terrorism, or overly partisan politics.

Have we become that desensitized to other people’s suffering? Are we that indifferent to another’s pain, that only death makes us sit up and take notice of the problem that caused it?

Example: The Columbine High School Shootings and Bullying Awareness

I have personal experience with the bullying issue–from 1990 to at least 1998, I was heavily bullied in school. I got physical and verbal abuse, I was ostracized by the other students, and I had absolutely no friends, no people who would stand with me until 8th grade. The teachers and administrators all told me that I was “too sensitive,” that I needed to “suck it up” because “kids were going to be kids.” Personally, I don’t think being held against the wall by a big guy while his little girlfriend jiggles and pinches your thighs till they bruise was something I needed to “suck up” and “live with.” But I was routinely sent to the office for complaining too loudly about the abuse I was getting in school.

I endured this until 8th grade, when apparently everybody else’s “maturity gene” kicked in and I finally got a few fairly good friends. Then the Columbine High School shootings happened.

I didn’t expect something that had happened over a thousand miles away to affect my life, but it did. Suddenly, I got a call to go to the counselor’s office–the same counselor’s office I had run to in sixth and seventh grades when I was being physically and verbally abused by other students, and in which I had been told that I needed to become “more grownup” and “less sensitive.” Suddenly, there were five adults waiting on me in there–one of the vice principals, all three of the school counselors, and the on-site police officer. They wanted to know, “Is there anybody who’s been, um, bothering you lately, you know, that we can help get you away from? Or is there anybody who’s been mean to you and you’d like us to stop that for you?” All of them spoke as if I was a ticking bomb.

I quite calmly explained that I wasn’t really having any problems at the moment, all the while thinking “Where were you two years ago, when I came to you for help and you told me I was just being too sensitive?” After they asked me if they could help for about the sixteenth time, I finally just said, “I really think it’s sad that kids had to die before you paid attention to the problem of bullying in schools.” The looks of chastised shock I got in response let me know I had hit home with my words at last.

The Aftermath: Anti-Bullying Programs EVERYWHERE…

Nowadays, of course, there’s all these anti-bullying campaigns present all over the nation, and perhaps all over the world. Teachers get trained in how to stop bullies, in ways that I never saw any teacher step up for me when I was getting hurt. Bullying awareness programs and victim support groups have popped up in classrooms, communities, and even churches; the very same people who told me I should just “suck it up and grow up” are now counseling bullying victims properly, acknowledging that they have been victims of social violence rather than just “kids being kids.”

But most of this started after 1999, after 30 students were shot by two guys who had been bullied in much the same ways as I had been. Better late than never, I guess, but it doesn’t make up for the young people who were killed because no one paid attention to the burgeoning problem of bullying. (Note: I do not excuse the two boys for their actions; I am only saying that bullying likely pushed them much closer to making the terrible choice they made, and if preventative action had been taken earlier, they may not have resorted to such deadly, horrific violence.)

Moving Forward: Let’s Pay Attention to the Warning Signs!

My point is that we should start paying attention to critical social problems when they are first raised to our attention, and not just when someone dies from them.

For instance, the 2011 shooting in Tucson shows how negatively charged our current political situation is, that someone would think that opening fire on a public official and the surrounding crowd was a good idea. But there’s been lots of evidence before now, evidence that has been pushed to the side by both parties. Inflammatory comments, highly biased reports, unfair sound bites–and yet all of that has been shoved aside by people who don’t want to even listen to what the other side has to say.

Now, of course, there’s a big push to try to reunite this broken nation in the veils of mourning. My question is: why do we have to witness and mourn death before we drop the “US VS. THEM” banners? Why do we have to wait for a tragedy to remember we’re all humans?