In Absence: Wisdom Learned from the Gaps

When I was in college I had a crush on a girl.

No . . . not that kind of crush. ;) I had a crush on a group of women who would have been the popular kids in high school–the girls with brains, beauty, and all the guys. Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect bodies, but also intelligent. They would have been the presidents of their classes, or the head of important committees. They were the people who traveled in the center while I remained on the fringe.

I admit, in what I now perceive as pathetic puppydom, I clamored for the attention of all of them, but of one person in particular. She gave it to me, while trying encourage me to perfect myself–to lose weight, to be less shy, to exercise more, to take risks. I lapped up her attention like a dog eats treats. I was there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on, or when a boyfriend broke up with her, even sometimes when she needed a little extra spending money.

Truly pathetic.

It’s only now, years later, that I am able to see through the blinders of who they were and the thrall they cast on me. I was willing to do anything to spend time with them, and I tried to improve myself to be worthy of their attention.

Of course, eventually someone would cut me down, telling me that nobody would really want to spend time with someone who was not confident or came of depressed a lot of the time. I was working on that, seeing a counselor, trying to become a better me-0 but now I realize that they, perhaps unintentionally, kept my doubts and dismay alive. By having someone like me follow them around, glorifying their existence, it made them shine all the brighter.

I wasn’t completely stupid. When they truly cut me apart I would say “I don’t need them.” I had other friends, I had the theatre, I had really difficult major and an extremely challenging school. I focused on work and projects, making sure I never ate at the same time as them and was always busy.

If I did that long enough they would come looking for me. She would come looking for me.

Many of them went to different programs during Junior year, but I didn’t for numerous reasons. That year I thrived, I expanded new (healthier) friendships, I grew in confidence.  When they returned they didn’t have me as completely ensnared any more. I didn’t need them as much. But She in particular, still needed me.

When a woman in a position of power started harassing Her in the hopes of forming a relationship, She would run to me for help. I gave her advice, I played the middle man to try to soothe tensions, I helped solve the problem.

I thought we were best friends, but learned the truth after college when She never kept in touch. She didn’t even invite me to her wedding, when she invited everyone else.

Sometimes that still hurts.

But, looking back on that time from so many years ago, I learned something important. I learned that in absence, I am strong. I grew in strength when I allowed myself time alone, time away, time absent.

I’ve never allowed myself to be sucked in by the sheen of popularity again. I built walls around myself, entering friendships cautiously and carefully, tired of being used and hurt.

Then I started blogging.

In this strange world of the blogosphere, friendships form on the basis of words. We can only trust our instincts and the words written by people to find and form connections. We never know if someone is representing themselves in complete honesty, or creating a character which they share on-line.

That hasn’t stopped me. I’ve tried to make connections anyway, meeting people, in a virtual sense, who fascinate me even if we don’t agree on everything. I’ve connected outside of the blogs as well, a couple of times in person, but mostly over e-mail and/or Facebook. I admit to being seduced by some of the glitter of the popular kids here, the ones who have followings well beyond mine and manage to maintain their momentum. I made efforts to connect with some of them, but only maintained those connections if I felt they were real.

But how does one know its real, unless you meet in person?

As you know, a few weeks ago I decided to take a little time off from the regular blogging. I needed to re-evaluate everything in my life. I am at a crossroads and have yet to decide which direction I am heading. So I’ve only written a few posts. I have read some (although I admit not many–I apologize if you feel neglected) and commented here and there.

As should be expected, my numbers dropped.  A part of me felt saddened by the drop, but recognized that people don’t have time to read through the archive of my work if I am not producing new works. My absence did not, does not, change the fabric of the blogosphere–and I should not expect it would.

However, the longer I didn’t write, the more I began to wonder if my blogging even mattered to any of the people I’ve met here.

I know the answer. A few people have dropped in for comments, or said hi on Facebook. A few people have reached out through e-mails. And yesterday, the fabulous Victoria from Victoria-writes reached out to me when she had a little Wobble starting with the words, “How are you? I miss your blog posts!”

Magic words that made me realize that I have indeed created friendships with my words.

I know that someday, perhaps far in the future but someday, I will take the trip to England that I have always wanted to take. I will wander into a lovely coffee shop with decadent pastries and I will meet my long-time friend and blogging buddy, Victoria.  She will, of course, by then be a famous author, but she will make time in her busy schedule to meet with me. Offer our delicious treats we will discuss the trials and tribulations of writing, as well as our lives and our families, and the other things that connect us. I can see it now, and it makes me smile.

Her note made me realize that despite distance, I still have wonderful friends out there. As I was typing this, I got a message from a college friend (not one of the golden girls, a true friend) asking if I would like to try to get together sometime (she lives about 1 1/2 hours from me).

In absence I am learning what kind of friends I really want, and really need. In silence I am slowly discovering where I want to take my life, even if I am still unclear of the path. In not writing, I am writing, as I find new ways to form my words and new reasons to write them.

I still have a long way to go, but I am no longer the girl blinded by blonde hair and fairy dust.

I am present in my absence.

I realize now I may never be the center of the popular crowd, but I am content on the fringe, with the small group of friends who support, question, challenge and inspire.

There are many of them.

A fabulous couple!

The Value of the Arts, the Proof is in the Anecdote

Ahem!

Excuse me while I climb on my soapbox for a moment. But, while I am getting it ready, please pop over and read this article from the Tucson Weekly.

I’m ready. Are you?

Did you read the article? Well, if you did, good job. If you didn’t, it basically discusses a study conducted by one of my former (and fabulous) professors and another colleague, both of whom I admire for many different reasons. Their study looked at the long-lasting affects of drama and speech programming in high school on people’s lives, and to no surprise at all, they discovered lasting important effects.

To put it simply, the arts helps people become better people. The arts help people think, empathize, become public speakers, and grow in multiple ways.

And yet, what is the first thing the politicians want to cut rather than give up their cushy tax breaks? The arts.

We are headed, my friends, to a catastrophe with a society of people who cannot communicate in person, cannot empathize with each other, cannot think beyond the test or the rules, because the artist in them has been squashed at an early age.

Theater has made me the person I am today. That is obvious. But, even if I had chosen another career path, my experiences in theater as a child and a high school student would still have made me who I am. I learned to speak up. I learned to question and challenge. In some ways participation in theater has made me a stronger writer. I learned to express myself in new and wonderful ways. I saw people saved by theater, people who would have ended up going down a dark path in life.

I’d love to hear what effect  participation in arts/drama/speech programs had on your lives? Share the anecdotes to fight for the power of the arts.

Stepping down from my soapbox now. Thank you for listening.

Anything Goes at Brockton High School back in the day. I'm there!

Satisfaction with Mediocrity

Math Cards Icon

Image by Sagolla via Flickr

I just turned in my grades for the past semester.

As usual, my emotions are a mixed bag: relief that I finished (early this semester); frustration at myself for what I didn’t accomplish; elation because of the few students that I actually reached and saw shine; anger at the students who were willing to scrape by in mediocrity.

This last feeling is the most frustrating for me. I have seen it in numerous situations lately; not just in the classroom but in people’s general attitude toward life . There seems to be a willingness to accept the mediocre. Why work for an A when a C will do? And, if you don’t get the A, then of course it is the fault of the instructor, never oneself. If you are getting less than a C, particularly an F, you can always beg for withdrawal as long as you can come up with a heart-wrenching explanation for why you never bothered to attend class or turn anything in. I am giving lots of “F”s this year.

I gave an assignment for students to create a portfolio of their work. “Lay it out nicely,” I said. “This will be useful for you in the future. Create something that you would turn in if you were applying for a job. Create a cover, label your images . . . etc.” I get a collection of images labeled with a blue pen. The cover is notebook paper, blue handwriting scribbled across.

I give the students the opportunity to create a final that is interesting to them, where they can latch onto whatever intrigued them throughout the semester and pursue that topic. I set guidelines, but I allowed. I get, an odd mixture of well thought out work merged with half-accomplished efforts.

This is not just a refection of the school I am at, but a general attitude of students today.  They want knowledge handed to them in the simplest way possible, and then they want some kind of guarantee that all of this work will lead to a lucrative job. I cannot give those guarantees, because I would never hire them. If I owned my own company, I would only want to hire people who are willing to put something more than mediocrity into everything they do. I want to work with people who can find inspiration in anything, so that they do it all with joy. I want to work with people who are not satisfied with a C.

I wonder if this is a reflection of American culture. Have we become so complacent that we are somehow “the best” that we no longer strive to become better. I hate to think that the best we can do is middle of the road.

What do you think?

Making Connections with Words A Powerful Tool in Education

My Alma Mater, Brockton High School, has been in the news recently.

In a time when the news about school is usually depressing (murder, suicide, school shootings, bullying, failure, etc) this was good news: with a lot of hard work and commitment the school was able to turn around from being the lowest testers in the state to the top 90%.

Many people suggest that this is somewhat miraculous because the school does not represent the so-called ideal that people argue for today. It is not a small school. It’s huge! When I went there, there were around 6000 students. Numbers have dropped, now they have only 4300, but that is still larger than my college.

So what did they do that was so drastic? It is simple really (in its logic, not in the amount of work). They added reading and writing to EVERY SUBJECT!! Yes folks, a radical change, encouraging people to read and write actually helps them learn.

This story has really been resonating with me since I heard it. Not just because it is my school, or because the principal Susan Szachowicz was one of my favorite teachers in high school, but because of my own experiences in the classroom. For the past 5 years, I had been teaching Freshman Composition classes at a small Liberal Arts College. I enjoyed it, except for the fact that so many of my students were not good writers (even though I wasn’t teaching the lowest level classes). Even more of them were not good readers. They could read, but they had no interest in it, and found it difficult to understand or find meaning. Some of them did not know basic grammar.

Now, this is not an attack on the public school teachers. I know that they work hard under trying circumstances. Rather, I think this was a symptom of something greater–the idea that we as a culture are not making young people understand the value of learning or the connections between what they learn and real life.

I usually began those classes asking if anyone thought writing was unimportant. It never failed; I had several students who would argue that they would never use it, because they were accounting majors. or business majors, or science majors, or physical therapy majors or whatever. My goal was always to prove them wrong. We would talk about how reading and writing would play a role in almost any job or just in life in general. Of course, someone would always come up with a couple of examples where they could function without writing–like a porn star.

When possible, I tried to have at least one assignment where the students could choose a topic that interested them to research, read, and write about.  Usually that was pretty successful. One of my accounting students chose to explore how research and writing might fit into accounting. She was very surprised at her results, when she discovered that writing does play a role in accounting.

Back to Brockton High School. By incorporating writing into every subject I believe they are doing several things: 1) encouraging reading and writing, a valuable skill;  2) showing even the most reluctant students that communication is important; 3) making subjects interconnected in a way that they truly function in the so-called real world. You need math as well as words to function in our society.

I believe that when you connect the material to the interests of the students, and show how everything is interconnected you create an education program of true value. Our world functions on the connections we make between what we know and what we don’t know.

John Dewey said “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” By allowing the students to see how language plays a role in sports, in math, in science BHS has allowed them to become thinkers and to grow as learners. They may not all succeed, but they are being given the tools to succeed.

The lesson to be learned from this is not that big schools are better or all schools must do this program to succeed. The lesson to be learned is that, through hard work and focusing on the true needs of the students, education can succeed. Kudos to Dr. Szach and BHS for understanding that low test scores does not give educators the right to give up, but rather creates the mandate to try something new.

When I Was Young . . .

 

The child is grown, the dream has gone.

Image by just.Luc via Flickr

 

“. . . I walked to school in snowstorms, uphill  both ways.”

Okay, not really. But, I spent all day Saturday directing a group of high school students in a play for the Inge Center’s 24 Hour Play Festival, and my experience there have made me reflect on the differences between high school students today, and high school students when I was one of them. I’m not thinking of this in the “What’s the matter with kids today” kind of way; rather I’m wondering what’s the matter with our society that has allowed young people to grow up so much faster and harsher.

Now, I admit, I was a naive goody-goody when I was in high school, so maybe my perception of reality isn’t a true one.  The students in my play did something that I would never have even thought of in high school; they made lots of sexual innuendos and told dirty jokes with me (a total stranger who is also an “adult”) in the room. I went along with it, trying to be the cool teacher in the room I guess, but I don’t know if that was the right thing to do.

I remember being a senior in high school when some male friends made reference to a sex act and I consciously made an effort to hide my embarrassment from them. I still remember the feeling of shock and maybe a little shame that I was so naive. Okay, I get it, people were having sex when we were in high school. But still, I don’t recall those jokes ever happening in the presence of adults.

The plays from the festival also reflect some kind of difference in society. Of the five plays, four of them were dark and dealt with issues ranging from incest to murder to psychological meltdowns. They were well written, but I did not expect that mix of topics from high school students. I thought there would be more humor . . . boy was I wrong.

I have to ask why? Have events like Columbine and 9/11 taken away innocence at a younger age? Are young people today inundated with images of sexuality, crime, depression, drugs, and murder to the extent that we are raising a generation not capable of enjoying innocent fun? Or am I simply still naive, hoping that the darkness of life can somehow be avoided in childhood.

These kids were great kids; fun, committed to creating good art and exploring things, very intelligent. At the same time, though, they were beyond me. I felt like the nerd in the group of popular kids. So maybe the problem is that high school really hasn’t changed. I don’t really think so though. I think we, as a society, are failing our biggest challenge–that of making the world a better, more peaceful place.

That makes me sad.

“Playful Kiss”

 

WED/THURS - MBC - PLAYFUL KISS  장난스런 키스 (2010)

Image by dramatomy.com via Flickr

 

The other day as I was browsing through Hulu I stumbled on the Korean show Playful Kiss and I got hooked. I found it to be a sweet, fun, quirky romantic comedy about a less-than-smart high school girl (Oh Ha Ni) who has feelings for a genius boy (Baek Seung Jo) who thinks he is superior and shows it.An earthquake destroys Oh Ha Ni’s home and she and her father move into Baek Seung Jo’s home (because the two fathers were close as children).  The show, based on a Japanese manga, reveals those roots (at least in the first 2 episodes) with some moments of pure fantasy.

After watching episodes 3 and 4 last night, I thought about the cultural differences that are reflected in the show. Doing research this morning, I recognized those differences are even greater than I thought. Insight into what others are thinking really made me see that we all perceive things differently. In those differences lies the complexity of our world.

I saw Playful Kiss as a comedy. I’ve even experienced the ever so rare laugh-out-loud moments watching this show. BUT, it is billed as a drama (and I believe that is how it was billed in Korea). If it is a drama, then some of the objections to the show might be legit, but if it is a comedy it looks at the world through quirky rose-colored glasses.

Some of the complaints I read this morning surrounded the idea that the 4th episode showed the Oh Ha Ni as drunk, and because Baek Seong Jo made a sexist (or harassing) comment about her small breasts. This is where culture comes to play. Yes, she was drinking, but under the supervision of the adults. They were celebrating her grades and offered her one drink which, of course, went straight to her head. Now, I’m not saying that parents should hand drinks to all there children. But, how often have American audiences watched as the parent figure on-screen (and in real life) turned a blind eye as their  perfect child throws a wild party that included enough alcohol to poison half the town?

As for the comment about small breasts, it seemed natural given the circumstances (Baek Seong Jo was carrying the drunk girl home by piggy back) especially as girls at that age worry about breasts and boys are fascinated by them. What I found more interesting (and reflective of culture) were the clear expectations that females should clean up and take care of males. Evidence of this appears throughout the show. Of course I notice these things, as I still reflect on remnant sexism that exists in American culture today, but I recognize it for what it is–different cultural values.

I think the show is interesting for the contrast it makes to American values in that the hero is the smartest kid in school (in addition to being cute and talented in every way). Yes, he is wealthy as well, but he is the heart-throb at school because he scores 100% on every exam. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened in American high school dramas more often?

It seems to me that, in this time of technology providing so much access to other cultures, we should really spend time evaluating the things that make us different as well as the things that make us human. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching Playful Kiss and enjoying ever sweet moment.

Do We Ever Really Get Out of High School?

The typical high school show or movie shows the school divided into groups, which supposedly reflects the typical situation in American high schools. Of course, I’ve heard many recent high school grads say that their high school wasn’t like that; they claim their was no division. Even at my last high school reunion, someone I was talking to claimed their were no cliques and that everyone was treated equally. I didn’t reply, but in my head I thought, you would say that because you were one of the popular ones. I was on the fringe of many groups throughout high school, but I don’t know if I really belonged to any of them.

But this blog is not about high school, except that I think that the role a person plays in that hormone-filled microcosm of society doesn’t really change much as we become an adults. Sure we mature, become more confident, make friends from other groups and convince ourselves that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us; but deep down inside we still are the people we were back then. I feel like I’m in high school right now, trying to find a place in a group. I sit at a table in the cafeteria, and the cool kids go to another table. I hang out on the fringe of conversations, not feeling all that welcome to join in. I am shy. I am becoming the me I always was.  I fight against it, but I don’t know that there is anything I can do to stop it. High school is with me now, and always will be.

Any thoughts?

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