Musings on a Friday Blessing


There are a lot of things going on in my life right now that I could complain about: it’s a rainy day, with plans thwarted, mini-stresses, and plenty of inconveniences that should make me grumpy. But when I woke up this morning, I felt inexplicably happy and at peace. Maybe because it is Friday, I feel more like celebrating than grousing. I have many reasons to feel blessed and thinking of those blessings seems to me like a good way to start the weekend. So, instead of the rain outside today, I take a picture of a sunflower rising.

Today I must focus on finishing my theory chapter of my dissertation. I’ve set a deadline for myself to finish it by Sunday night so I can give it and my Intro chapter (which is already more or less complete) to my committee. Such relief it will be to have that finished, because once it is complete, I’ll be doing data entry for a (long) while. While that probably sounds tedious–and it is–it’ll be a nice break from the craziness that has been this past year. Plus, it will also give me the requisite mental space for getting back to my manuscript in the evenings. One more set of revisions await completion, and once those are ready, I can send my manuscript off to agents and publishers!

On Saturday, I’m holding a Thank You BBQ for my students and I’m really looking forward to it. They’ve done fantastic work this quarter as research assistants and they deserve a little party in their honor. Plus, I really do enjoy my students as people. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to know them better as individuals, and let my hair down so to speak, so they can know me better too. At this stage in their careers, they should know I’m rooting for them and happy to support them any way I can.

I have an awesome, amazing, wonderful husband who brings me joy and giggles every day. This little slice of bliss has become even more important than I imagined. It gives me a safe foundation where when everything else in my life goes to sh*t, there is a space where I can come home and say, “Life isn’t so bad”.

I have amazing friends. Even though almost all of them are far away–and one is due to leave soon and another is going halfway around the world!–they are all incredible people to know and love. I feel extremely happy for them as they embark on their new journeys and I feel lucky to have them in my life. I’m looking forward to the celebrations in their honor, bitter-sweet though they may be.

Now that the data collection phase of my research is done, I can work almost entirely at home. This makes my little heart go pitter-pat. Working at home is the shiz-nit because you can wear whatever you want.

And last but not least, it’s FRIDAY and I’m just about to enjoy a good cup of coffee. Sounds like bliss to me.

Transitioning to Tweens


Yesterday, I attended a younger sibling-in-law’s sixth grade graduation. The principal gave the typical speech about “the challenges ahead”, advising them to always think critically, be themselves, and not be pressured by their peers. As an educator and socially responsible person, I’m nodding “yes, yes, of course, sound advice that is”, but as someone who has suffered through and survived junior high, I found myself thinking I could have used an entirely different set of advice before embarking on that adventure/tragedy that is junior high. Oh, the social awkwardness. So this is the non-parent/principal-approved list of advice I wish I had gotten when I was 13. To the adults out there: what advice would you like to have gotten before going to junior high? Feel free to add your own to the list!

The (Alternative) Guide to Junior High School

1. Don’t pop your zits – As satisfying as it is, you never know when you’ll pick the wrong one and just get a bloody mess and scars for your efforts.

2. Yes, it’s true. The social hierarchy does depend almost entirely on the clothes you wear. The sad truth is it is so easy to move up the hierarchy but the kids at the top almost never deserve it and yet the kids at the bottom don’t realize how such tiny, inconsequential, superficial things determine their fate. It’s not a matter of “following the crowd” like your parents warn about; it’s a matter of social survival.

3. That said, it’s not worth caring much about the social hierarchy in the long run. Most of the popular kids end up barefoot and pregnant before adulthood, and the nerds and geeks come into their own and end up being the really cool people you want to know right around college.

4. Avoid being in photographs at all costs. You’ll only want to burn them later because a) hormones and braces are evil, and b) 7th & 8th graders are just not the best judges when it comes to make-up.

5. These are the years you discover sarcasm, rolled eyes, ineffable boredom, the joy of cussing and general negativity. Embrace it with your peers, but realize every one else finds it supremely annoying.

6. To the A students: If the choice is between doing homework and hanging out with your best friends, more often than not, opt for friends. You only need to test well to get into advanced classes in high school (and even without that, you can petition)…other than that, NOBODY looks at your grades from junior high. Fun times and hilarious memories are far more worthwhile.

7. Guys, as much as it might seem cool to act like a badass, you’re not fooling anyone. Except maybe yourself and other wannabes.

8. Girls, ALWAYS have an extra tampon/pad, even if it’s not that time of the month. You never know when emergency or disaster will strike you or a loved one.

9. Eighth grade dances are not like the proms you see on TV. Imagine all the girls on one side and all the boys on the other side, insert awkwardness and music compiled by people three sheets shy of cool, and you have the first half of an eighth grade dance. In the second half, when people start actually dancing, awkwardness increases exponentially as everyone realizes they have no clue how to dance. Successful slow dancing requires being able to rotate slowly in a circle, while weaving from side to side, without stepping on anyone’s feet or dress. This can be hazardous when people’s feet and arms are out of proportion from the rest of their bodies thanks to growth spurts and when boys are a head shorter than girls but girls must still find a way to rest their heads on the guy’s shoulder.

10. Romantic relationships will probably be the most dramatic, soap operatic, and short-lived of your entire life. Two survivor rules: 1) Dating your best friends’ (ex)boy/girlfriend is so not cool. No, it’s not like they’re not going to get married, but it is a code-of-honor issue among friends; 2) Don’t freak out when your friend gets a bf/gf and spends less time with you. They’ll be back eventually when they discover how much of a dweeb their bf/gf was.

And above all:
Nothing that happens in junior high is the end of the world (though it all seems like it), and so remember: This too shall pass.

Fashion Forward?

My research involves spending a lot of time on high school campuses, which beyond making me relive tedious high school classes, observe dramas worthy of soap operas, and cringe at the gangly awkwardness, gives me a good synopsis of teenage haute couture. I got to see the hipster movement filter through the popularity ranks. I saw the proliferation of 90′s plaid cut in 80′s mod and I witnessed the mass resurgence of Uggs paired with Daisy Dukes. I know I’m getting old when I look at these kids immersed in the movement of purported irony and think out loud, “You kids don’t know what you’re talking about. In my day…” With those three words “in my day” I’m transported from young and hip to old and geezerly.

Still I don’t say this too often. My initial dismay has worn down and I’m starting to like the look of the flat-footed, knee-high boots over skinny jeans, and I can appreciate the concept of the movement even if fashion flew ahead of thought on this one.

But I met my match today. I saw someone who made me channel my inner New Yorker and my senses were appalled. I saw a girl with barbell piercings in the middle of her cheeks. Now I have nothing against piercings at all. And I have nothing against multiple piercings. Depending on the piercing and the person, I think they can be quite flattering. But this little chicklet had an eyebrow piercing, two nose piercings, piercings on her top lip, piercings on her bottom lip, and one piercing in the center of each cheek. And those are just the ones on her face. Granted, a piercing in the middle of your cheek is no more or less arbitrary than one on your eyebrow or tongue or ear. But I’m sorry; teenagers have acne. And when your piercings are warring with your zits for space on your face, you’ve done something wrong.

What happened? Did she give up on a smooth complexion entirely and instead decide to rival the moon’s surface? Did she think that a surplus of bright shiny metal balls would draw attention away from the bright shiny red ones? What would possess a person to do that to themselves? Does she really look in the mirror and think, “Hey, I look good”?

The logic in this fashion statement is beyond me. Although, having gotten my rant out, I suppose something might be said for being able to squirt your soda out of multiple orifices with one good belly laugh.

Is it Really the End of Empire?

Ok so occasionally I will have to use this blog as a forum to vent about my students. As much as I love them and I love teaching, they do seem to continually find inventive ways to shock/disappoint/dismay me and force me to ask: what the hell is this world coming to?!
Now, there is always a mix of bright, inquisitive students, and then not-so-bright, bored students and you go into the classroom kind of expecting that. That’s all just the nature of the game. But there are some trends I’ve been noticing, and I think might be getting increasingly worse as time goes on and these are extra-special problems that give me pause:

1. Self-entitlement: many students these days seem to hold the belief that just because they turned in an assignment they automatically deserve an A. I call it the “But-I-Studied-So-Hard-Why-Did-I-Get-a-C?” phenomenon. Well…did you go to lecture? No… Did you participate in section? No…. Well maybe that might have something to do with it. I think they’re so used to getting As in high school with little to no effort that they automatically assume the same amount of effort will yield the same results in college. They seem to forget that everyone else here in college were also A-students, so the competition becomes somewhat greater. And I think this trend is cycling its way out into every day life as well. I remember when a good tip used to be 12%, and for average service, 10%. But nowadays you’re miserly (aka it’s your fault) if you give less than 18-20%. And now there’s tip jars in all the coffee bars and smoothie joints…it’s like why do I have to give you a tip for just doing your job? At least in a restaurant it makes sense because the service contributes to the quality of the experience. But in Starbucks, as long as I get what I ordered in a cup and not, say, all over me, basically the quality of the experience is not overly subject to the quality of service.

2. A Lack of Resourcefulness: It seems that many students, when they encounter a challenge, too often just throw their hands in the air and don’t know how to deal with this. Maybe they’ve been babied their whole lives and were able to get someone to do it for them? I dunno. But it worries me because when they go out into the job force they are certainly not going to impress employers with the lack of initiative or ability to roll-with-the-punches. For example, last week in class (International Relations) I ran a simulation where the students got to role-play and pretend they were actual negotiators from the UN, US, and various other countries/organizations and try to come to a resolution in dealing with the aftermath of genocide in Cambodia. It was a fantastic experience and went really well, but before the simulation started, when I was prepping the students for it, I got some questions that really stumped me. One student asked, “Ok, so what happens if I prepare all my arguments and responses, and come in totally ready, but somebody says something that I totally hadn’t thought of. What then?” … What the heck was I supposed to say to that??! Welcome to the real world? Maybe you should have prepared better? I hope you can think on your feet? I mean, duh! There’s a reason these negotiators are highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals and not just the average Joe-Shmoe on the street.

3. Lack of responsibility: So my basic point of view is that these students are all adults and are capable of making decisions themselves. It’s up to them to decide whether or to show up to class and to participate. They are totally free, as long as they are willing to take responsibility for their choices. If they sit in the back of the room and sent text messages all day long, fine, but then they can’t complain if they don’t get credit for participation. But some students don’t seem to quite grasp this notion of “responsibility”. For example, my professor overheard two female students talking as they walked on campus, and one of them was explaining that last night she was trying to study for a midterm and her boyfriend was over and he kept trying to have sex with her, but she really needed to study. He argued that he really needed to spread his seed. [yes, I know...] So she was like, “Well what could I do, he really needed to spread his seed!” So she had sex with him and then they fell asleep. She woke up at 9:45 and realized she had slept through her midterm. So she went to the professor and told the professor about how her boyfriend really needed to spread his seed and how it prevented her from taking the midterm, and could she take a make-up exam or something? Turns out the professor said no, and so the girl complained to her friend: “How unfair is that?”

I’ve learned just to teach to the students who really do want to learn and try to forget about the students who are just killing time until they get their degree and get out. Obviously I don’t make this distinction in the classroom, I only do it mentally for my own personal sanity. But sometimes the next generation really scares me. It really feels like it is the end of empire.

Actually I really feel we’re at an extremely critical juncture, where we have the choice between politics-as-usual, and a whole new direction: change towards America’s true potential and promise. Do we want to be just a hegemon and a selfish aggressor, or do we want to be a leader and an inspiration? We’ll see if Americans are really ready for change as this crazy election unfolds…

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