Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I'm Sure It Isn't Leprosy....

I have nothing profound to say, no cute story to tell, no wisdom worthy of imparting. I don’t even have a point, so if you read to the end, remember, I told you so. What I do have is a right thumb which is numb on the tip and has been for two straight days. Normally, and for no real reason, I would automatically think of leprosy, much in the vain of Thomas Covenant, only with far less drama and zero alternate worlds.

Leprosy seems horrible, so of course I expect to contract it, though I can’t say I’m in a high danger zone for such an event to occur. It just seems like my luck. And who can argue luck, right? Luck is like religion, though I refuse at this time to extend the metaphor further. I choose not to offend either the luck crowd or the religious crowd by any attempt at cleverness with my words.

I love everybody, so let’s forget I mentioned luck, religion, or leprosy. And forget Thomas Covenant, too, ok? I met some folks with very strong feelings concerning the Unbeliever and they seemed quite serious.

So, not offending, not telling interesting stories, nor contracting leprosy, but, and here is where someone might think I have a point, my thumb. It remains numb to the touch and all I can think is, disregarding the leprosy, perhaps my thumb has decided on its own to emulate my heart, cold and unfeeling. I might be in a position where I am a great big, numb hunk of meat, devoid of connections to anyone and anything. And it started with my thumb, folks.

I guess you can say, I will soon be as numb as a pounded thumb.

Was that too much? The joke too obscure, too obvious, just plain dumb? It was strictly organic, building as I wrote and just popped out, all fully formed. But it wasn’t my point. All kidding aside, my thumb is numb and I’m not sure why. I guess if it suddenly falls off, I’ll know it was serious and then I’ll really regret the joking attitude I took while writing this.

Soldier on, folks, and I guess I can only attempt the same. (And see, there really was no point, so don’t get mad, because I did warn you).

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Future of Teaching (is me?)

I can’t help but yawn. The rain makes the classroom dark, especially in this tech happy world when lights are off more often than on. The cold temperature, upper thirties at best, makes the day a little more dreary. The lecture tips the balance, creating soul-deep yawns the students see behind my feeble attempt to block with a closed fist.

I’m bored.

If I’m bored, what hope is there for the students? I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life looking at a clock on the wall, waiting for the final bell to ring, all while my brain operates at the level of a juiced up turnip. I have a countdown of days left for my student teaching obligation. Each day I cross off is one more victory, one more weight lifted.

But then, what happens when I’m a teacher, the chief architect of future young minds, the dispenser of knowledge, the wizbang in charge of the whole shebang?

I want to engage students. The question is simple; do I have the ability, the training, the creativity, to actually reach students, to turn boredom into active engagement? I mean, I hope I do, but really, until I get a classroom of my own, how will I really know? How will I know if spending a year trying to earn the right to teach will be a year which turns me into an individual who can teach? Will I even want to teach when the time comes when I am given a job to do so?

One question I have the answer for is the kind of teacher I want to be if given the chance. I want to be the teacher who excites students by being legitamitely excited about teaching. It is that pesky second question, the question of capability, that keeps my ops pressure up, my nights long with obsessive doubt. 

Am I a teacher? Or am I a pretender, a potential black hole of boredom, sucking all joy from the lives of future students?

The day I find out gets closer and all I'm left with is, "who knows".

Friday, October 25, 2013

After All This Time, My Heart Beats The Same

Early morning and for the first time in a long time, I am forced to sit and do nothing. No responsibility as I ride in the back seat of the car on the way to a conference. Usually I drive everywhere, but I'm carpooling and rather than randomly Pin in Pinterest, her I am, typing one finger at at a time on my iPhone.

Side thought- am I a hipster for blogging in the back of a Subaru on an iPhone? A fanboy? A tech geek? I need a label, quick! Otherwise, how can keep keeping on?

Anywho, here I am, uncategorized, rolling in solitude at seventy miles an hour on the highway and it is odd to be alone in my head after is long. Graduate school is draining, my new baby (another month!) is taking up what brain waves are left, and somehow life keeps going in a forward direction. 


I could complain that there is no time, that I'm stressed or that I just need a break. Then I realize that I have this moment. I have a beautiful wife, a great family, a dog who keeps me on my ties and a baby on the way. 

Who should complain under those conditions? I have a moment. I think I'll roll with it, down the highway, me in my head and feeling good.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The "Giver" and Precision of Language

I admit to never hearing of the book "The Giver" by Lois Lowry before last week and yet now it seems I can't escape this text as my observation teacher kind of, sort of assigned me the reading Monday for my next observation in her eighth grade class. For those of you who have read the book, you may remember the section where the protagonist Jonas asks his parents if they love him and in return, they admonish him for using imprecise language. Instead, they suggested that 'enjoy' and 'proud' were more appropriate, more precise.

It struck me (as I smoked my cigar and sipped some Jameson's on my front step- which leads to some of my best thinking, at least it seems so), that this particular passage ties together our first two class sessions for this course. What I mean is the diverse definitions given by everyone when discussing the question of "What is love" and the demonstration of how precision plays such an important roll in reliability as it relates to rubrics.

While precision may be an ideal, at what point do we sacrifice  the variability of who we are as humans for the sake of a result reproducible by everyone? In other words, 'enjoy' and 'proud' may be more precise, but then does that mean the more ephemeral and harder to define, love, must be set upon the alter for sacrifice? Are reliability and precision worth the loss of love?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stuck in the Middle of the Education System

Too dumb for college, too smart for the workforce. Feel Like a Michael Jackson song, just stuck in the middle.

I was hoping that having had some recent experience with college last Fall, that would ease my transition into graduate school. The results thus far have been poor. A two week course to start things off and I’m supposed to learn all about educational psychology? Two tests, a paper and an oral group report all in those two weeks, too and if you don’t think my head is spinning, then let me tell you, I can confirm a speedy revolution, folks.

Maybe it is the early morning work schedule, the attempt to cram forty hours of work into each week plus attend class (an hours drive away) and deal with all the regular day to day stuff. Getting up at four hasn’t been easy and after more than a month, it doesn’t appear to be getting easier any time soon. I remember a day when I could stay up for two days straight and still have a bit of brain power to function.

Now I need a nap at noon time or I get cranky.

Yesterday at work, I spent fourteen hours agonizing over a take home test/ paper that is due today. There was minimal explanation and though in the past I would have powered through- I mean, come on, fourteen hours on one paper?. Yesterday I couldn’t seem to get out of my own way. Maybe I have reached my upper limit of education. Maybe my mind is full-up.

Or maybe I’m just a maintenance man at heart and I should forget this masters program in education. I should be mopping classroom floors instead of standing on them and pretending to be a teacher.

Or maybe, like any endeavor, you just have to suck it up, put on the blinders, and do the best you can.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Building With Words

Sometimes I build things with my hands, wooden constructions from utilitarian to what might loosely be described as artistic. I would characterize myself as an an advanced putterer or an amateur with low ambition. I find a satisfaction in building benches, bookshelves and the like because, unlike writing, there is a quantifiable end product.

Does my bookshelf hold books, are there streaks in the finish, is it level? If a bench falls apart when I sit on it, that means the bench is a failure. With splinters in your ass, it is impossible to tell yourself that you made a masterpiece. In other words, delusions for a carpenter, whether amatuer or professional, are nearly impossible to maintain with any credibility.

Not so with writing.

In my life, I’ve written some atrocious prose that stubbornly I believed was inspired. Now, I have never allowed the conceit of perfection to color my assessment of what I write, as I am far too critical of my skills to go that far, to imagine that I can produce a work that is Great. Yet, writing is such a personal pursuit that the failure of the words is a failure of the writer, the two so entwined it is impossible not to infuse, and confuse, meaning and worth where none exists, simply to avoid failure in one and thus proving the failure of the other. More simply, if my words stink, then I too, as the creator, stink.

Where I work when at work
With writing, it is impossible to pull out a ruler and say, yes, this sentence is exactly the length and dimension I need to support the next sentence which I have carefully measured as well. Certainly there are those writers who do write with a formula, who are successful with cookie-cutter novels that read like factory produced replicas only with a slight variation of color. I enjoy many such authors, in fact. But rarely do I ever remember anything particular about such books and still, even those mass produced series have an intangible essence that must come from the writer, independent of structure.

The essence of the writing can’t be forced upon a work just like with carpentry, where application of force destroys the final product every time. Lately with my writing, there has been far too much force, and with that, too many delusions that the end result is unaffected. There is a definite line between perfectionism and honesty, but I don’t think I’m being hyper-critical of my recent output.

If my writing were a bench, I would definitely have the need to pick more than a few splinters from a sore backside.

But Folks, frustration aside, I’m okay with the reminder: don’t force writing, a stubborn woodgrain or life. Take a deep breath and drive on.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Running In March In Maine

I knew I went out too fast, but this was my year.

Every year for the past fifteen years was going to me my year and every year I begin again, thinking the same thing, thinking that I would run and not embarrass myself, that I would recapture the speed I once had (slight as it was) and that this is my year would be true. I was a fervent January believer and unfortunately, a March failure. Or sometimes I would last until July, delaying until the big 3k on the fourth to realize that, no, this was not the year after all.

The deceit sometimes lasted through the summer into the fall, but a lie can only last so long with the cold truth of the finish line time mocking in cruel digital numerals. Those finish times told me with no remorse that I was in fact fat, had no endurance and possessed a lazy work ethic.

And I was a year older. Teenage legs can overcome deficiencies that thirty and thirty-five and now thirty-six year old legs could never hope to defeat.

But then January arrived and that whisper began in my head, a regular new year companion. I was going to fly, I would be relevant; my year was this year.

March in Maine is a bad bet weather-wise for a road race. The first day of spring this year we were dumped on with more than a foot of snow. Three years ago, the Flat Top 5k, the first race I will consider to run, was held on March 27th and the race results describe the weather as: clear, 20 degrees, brisk north wind. March is a tough bet on which to risk a weak runner’s soul.

The race gods were kind this year, though. Sunshine ruled, a light breeze blew and the temperature was a solid 45 degrees. Conditions were near perfect.

But I went out too fast.

I had a plan, and man, I really wanted to believe in myself this year. Give me straight seven minute miles, let me have a solid race. I had the jitters. Before the race I complained of pain in my feet, I had a lousy week of practice when I thought I had broken my foot on the treadmill eighteen minutes into the run and nearly was carried off the machine into the sheetrock wall. Just a bad cramp, but damn it hurt.

Race days are not friendly for me. I think of all the bad things, think that maybe I’ll forget how to run, will trip at the start, will throw-up, mess my shorts, have to drop out halfway through and then be forced to walk in shame, my number a clear identification that I thought I was a runner but clearly was just a pretender.
I’m a complainer, as my wife so accurately points out. That isn’t a cruel statement, or intended as hurtful. My natural tendencies are far more hurtful than the truth spoken out loud with a combination of love and frustration.

I can be my worst enemy.

The yelled, “Go!” put me into the center of my fears, surrounded me and nothing was left but to run. So I did. The slow runners who, for some reason, always place themselves toward the front of the start pack and who have no intention or ability to actually run fast, were immediate but expected obstacles.

A far colder run at the Flat Top 5k
I start right but am met by a solid mass of mostly chubby, older women, one of whom has a tattoo on her left calf that represents one of the local running clubs. My annoyance is immediate because she should know better than to place herself so far in the front, then act as part of a wall for runners behind- all ink and no sense is what I think before sliding to the left. The left is hardly better, though.

We have another group of athletes in our small community, those of the crossfit persuasion. I’ll give them props for their dedication but in a race, there’s no way any of them will run fast enough with seventy pounds draped over their shoulders to justify clogging up the start. Annoyance is changed to a laser-focused anger as my options dwindle.

I go extreme left, now, where spectators drift onto the road and cones and signs mark the course. I narrowly miss a collision with a man named pete who washes windows in town and would probably curse seven ways to Sunday if I had made contact. He certainly didn’t try to avoid me. Or anyone else.

A quarter mile into the race and I’m free, free and I know I need to consider pace. Oh god, I need to put on the brakes because there’s Mr. Jordan and he’s faster than me and I shouldn’t pass him. I tell myself to slow down and you know, I just can’t, as stupid as I know my pace is, that going this fast will wreck my race.

I love going fast.

I lost my mind in that first mile. I was fast but my legs had more and my body was mine to do with as I wanted and wanted to go fast; finish-line be damned!

6:05, :09, 6:11, :12- Jesus, I thought. 6:16, :17, 6:18 and there I am, forty-two seconds too fast. I feel giddy even as sanity creeps in. I do the math, judge my training, try to n\make a rational decision.

The turnaround on the out-and-back is in sight. Halfway. Still too fast. Survive or burn-out? My two options at this point. Which should I choose? I make no conscious decision. I don’t want to make that choice; one feels like suicide while the other too much like my usual response of failure in the face of a challenge.

With a mile left there is no choice. It is early in the year, my base mileage isn’t enough, my body has given what it could and all I’m left with is my questionable mind, my critical inner self telling me to give in, my tendencies that have proven failure is a tougher foe than me time and time again.

Somehow I tell my mind to get the hell out of my way, to shut up, to stop being such a goddamn whiner and I gut out the last mile, exactly on pace, a final seven minute mile forced on me by fatigue and a first mile only a crazy man would consider running.

I feel too good about the 25th place or the respectable 20:53 to mention being smoked in the final 200 meters by a woman who obviously ran a saner race and just wanted 24th place more than I did. And I’ll skip the metallic taste in my mouth that had me bent over a stone hitching post ready to let go of my breakfast without any care in the world of who was watching but holding valiantly on, sparing myself that indignity.

I hate training but love running. Training is that interminable step when you have to force your body to do what you want it to do, what you know it can do. Running is the after, the time when you can go fast, run long. Running is the feel of wind in your hair and all roads are yours to take.

Running is giving up the fear and embracing the love.

I love to love running. Even in March in Maine.