A few things I wish I’d learned the easy way (part two)

     If you are wondering what this post is about and why it is called part two, it would be swell if you took a look at yesterday’s post.  Of course, I could just tell you that I’m passing on a few things I’ve discovered the hard way so you don’t have to.  I could even mention that on Sunday, I discussed poor vision, dumb cats, and boobs…but I think I’ll let you figure it all out for yourself.
4.  Avoiding conflict is not a long-term solution.
     Don’t get me wrong.  This is the secret to surviving the holidays and prolonged car trips.  I should know.  My family used to drive across the country every year with six people, a cat, and a very bad dog crammed into the car.  I learned how to get changed without flashing truckers, how to read inappropriate books without attracting any attention, and most importantly, how to keep my mouth shut.  Most of this I gleaned from watching my sister do it all wrong.
     One heated altercation ended abruptly when she rolled down the window of the Gran Torino and sat in the sill clinging to the car-top carrier.  Dad didn’t even slow down.  As we careened through the mountains with her ass dangling off the side of a cliff, I made a mental note:  never do what she had done.  I figured, why risk life and limb just to make your lousy point?  What good is making your parents so mad that they won’t pull over to make peace and/or save your crappy teenage life? It’s not like she got her way or anything.  (F.Y.I.:  She’s alive!  And she’s not crappy; I meant that being a teenager feels kind of crappy sometimes).
     While the lesson here seems obvious now–avoid confrontation while piled in the family truckster–I processed this lesson in a much broader sense.  I came to the unfortunate conclusion that conflict was to be avoided at all costs and inany situation.  Though I was probably only 7 or 8 at the time, it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to re-evaluate.
     There are plenty of times when I still suck it up.  I continue to do whatever is necessary to endure five days in the car–like buy a plane ticket instead.  What I am saying is that over a long period of time, avoiding conflict is bad for the digestive system, the quality of life, and the very relationships you are trying to protect.  If you are afraid that broaching a topic might drive a wedge between you and someone you love, remember that your silence has already formed a wedge.  Avoiding the truth ensures that real connection cannot occur.
     Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
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A few things I wish I’d learned the easy way (part one)

     You’re probably smart.  Well, you can read, anyway.  That’s something.  You probably listened to your mother, finished what you started, and paid your bills on time.  Or maybe you’re a dog owner.  The disciplined kind.  You kennel Fido at night so no one needs to worry about life and limb.  In that case, you may find the information below completely superfluous.  Feel free to add a few lessons of your own to the list for my benefit.  But for those of you who insist on learning things the hard way like me, I thought I would contribute my two cents over the next couple of days.  Perhaps it will save you some trouble.
     I’ll start with a simple one.
1.  Black cats are hard to see at night.
     Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But it didn’t occur to me until after a number of very unfortunate incidents.  I bet my cat wishes I had figured this one out faster as well.  Maybe folks who are near-sighted should not be allowed to adopt black cats.  Still, it might behoove her to avoid lolling on the stairs or around the base of the toilet after dark.
     I would make a snide comment about Darwinism here except that she is often quite charming, and reasonably intelligent about other matters–like how to get the mouse cage off the top shelf, for example.
2.  Projecting self-confidence may have less to do with Dale Carnegie and more to do with proper carriage.  
     Despite years of ballet and constant admonishment from my mother, my terrible posture endures.  I naturally slump and slide my neck out like a chicken, and though it drives me crazy, I cannot seem to fix it. When I do actively focus on alignment it makes me sound and feel more confident, and it is amazing how people respond.  My theory is that this is the physical side of “acting as if.” (My apologies.  That phrase bugs the crap out of me, too.)
     What seemed to get good posture off the back burner was when my exasperated yoga teacher finally said:  “It’s not about pulling your shoulders down or back; it’s about leading with your sternum.”  And as I was trying to internalize her words, I realized that what she was suggesting actually feels like sticking your boobs out into the great unknown.  What’s more, it works.  Everything magically falls into place.  Seriously, if you have them, it’s worth a try.
     Unfortunately, I have also discovered some truth in “the bigger, the better,” and the first time I stood up straight and wore a wonderbra simultaneously, the response was a little frightening.  My jokes were funnier, my comments carried more weight.  Both men and women complimented me profusely and asked, “What’s different, though?  Did you change your hair?”  That was all a bit depressing, so I shelved that wiry contraption, but I guess it’s useful information to have in case of an emergency.
     Extra bonus of better posture:  fewer lectures from the cranky chiropractor.
     Downside:  It’s hard for me to concentrate on what I’m saying while working so hard to align the spine.  Now I look smarter, but sound insipid.  Oh, well.  See #3.
3.  Deep down we are all a bit shallow.
Now I should probably parent a little.  More tomorrow.

Looking for the Cure

It’s pretty sad that I am already experiencing writer’s block a mere 3 days into the Post-a-Day Challenge.  Luckily, I happened upon this nugget of wisdom as I was fishing for inspiration on other folks’ blogs:  “Writer’s block isn’t hard to cure.  Just write poorly.  Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.” -Seth Godin

While Godin does have a point, I’m not completely convinced it’s necessary to write poorly in public–and I have a hunch that my readers might have some reservations as well.  Consequently, I will take this moment to write a bunch of crap in my little notebook instead.  You’re welcome.

Mastering the Art of Fine

I came from a family where excerpts of Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette were read with alarming frequency at the dining table.  We must have been slow learners.  Though it seems unlikely Amy would have condoned the fork jabbing I got for interrupting my father, I was certainly programmed to follow the rules.  Consequently, I know what I’m supposed to say when people ask me how I am.  But why ask at all if no one really expects a meaningful answer?

There are those awkward moments, of course–standing next to someone too lurky, quick-witted, or dashing for me to concentrate properly–when I find myself saying, “How are you?”as desperate filler.  In such instances, even if I might possibly care about the answer, most likely I cannot even hear it.  I am too busy plotting how to weasel out of my clammy-handed corner without drawing too much attention to myself.

But usually I genuinely want to know.  Therefore I feel some sort of moral imperative to answer frankly.  This can be a very bad idea.

The other day, I was really in the abyss, but I decided to drag myself out for some Culture and Shmoozing.  I have no clue why this seemed important in my state, but I got a sitter and shoved myself into something fancy-ish.  Hurtling across town, I practiced, “Fine.  And you?” in a relaxed and self-confident manner.  I knew I was going to see someone who intimidates me terribly.  Someone who makes me sweat but could totally change my life if I could just get her attention and assistance.  My plan was to have a casual chat, perhaps fawn just enough, and then hit her up for a wee bit of advice and support.

The moment of truth.  She turned and smiled when she saw me.  “How are things going?” she asked.  Guess what?  Not well.  My oldest child is depressed and anxious.  A good friend recently betrayed me.  My projects have completely stalled, my husband is out of town, and everything at home is in meltdown mode.  To top it off, I threw my back out vomiting repeatedly while dangling from the driver’s seat.  (My apologies to the kind people on Reposa Street).  I looked at her and started having an out-of-body sort of moment.  I saw myself manage a weak smile.

“It’s a mixed bag,” I squeaked before disappearing into the crowd.  I figure that’s progress.

Don’t get me started

What is wrong with how public education is structured for kids?

I don’t know where to start with this question.  The original structure of the school day was devised to prepare people for factory work–hence the length of the subject periods, regular breaks, that sort of thing.  Accordingly, as a teacher I had to schedule a certain number of MINUTES PER DAY for Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, et cetera.  Nevermind that good investigations, projects, and discussions do NOT conform to those sorts of timeframes, and that it is much more engaging and meaningful to learn to read through the arts or social studies…or learn to write and do math in order to complete scientific explorations.  The results of segregated subjects and truncated work times are often superficial and interfere with real learning.  How can we ever go deep in any particular direction?

About a decade ago, a study (the TIMMS report) revealed that in Japanese schools, 9 and 10-year-olds were exposed to an average of four topics in mathematics over the course of an entire YEAR of instruction.  That means that children might spend months exploring fractions in a meaningful and comprehensive way.  Furthermore, teachers had release time on a daily basis to plan together and discuss how to reach children who might be struggling, as well as those who needed more of a challenge.  What a concept–teachers could work together to hone their skills.  In contrast, a fourth grader in U.S. schools was expected to cover 35 or 40 topics in the same amount of time, and there was NO paid time to collaborate with colleagues.  Here’s your teaching guide, buddy.  Sink or swim. Oof.  There is nothing lonelier than the first year of teaching.

To top it off, No Child Left Behind forced us to focus an egregious amount of our time and energy on TEST TAKING, particularly in “at-risk” schools.  I was told to throw out most subjects and focus on the very basics of language arts and math.  Seriously.  Oh well.  Funding had already been cut for all of the “extras” anyway: art, music, physical education went by the wayside.  What is the goal here?  Test-taking drones?  To be clear, visual, performing arts, P.E. are all still included in the state standards, they just are not supported by funding, resources, teacher training programs and personnel.  And no one is thinking about your school’s play or integrated visual arts projects when they peruse the standardized test scores in the paper.

To make matters worse, every few years the textbook industry fuels an overhaul and we have to introduce a new math or language arts curriculum:  buy all new texts and supporting materials, get new training, and then, just as we start to reach proficiency with any particular set of materials, we start over with new ones.  Furthermore, the pendulum swings wildly between the pedagogy du jour, when the most obvious truth is that not all children learn by the same mechanism, and we need an approach which addresses many different learning styles.

A friend of mine–a teacher and a scientist–mentioned to me that the way we teach science is all backwards.  “To prepare students to be scientists,”  he mused, “we need to set out questions without knowing the answers.  THAT’S what science in the world is all about.  Pose the questions–better yet, solicit the questions–and investigate together.”  Nevermind, if we set aside time for science, we won’t meet the API goals for this year anyway.

Over My Head

Well, it looks like I may have lost my mind.  Decided to sign up for Post a Day to MAKE myself start writing on a regular basis…mainly because there are only 30 more days until Novel Writing Month!  November’s going to be a fucking self-imposed nightmare, so apparently I’m going to try and stress myself out all through October and use up all of my good ideas before the real writing needs to happen.