Acting My Age – Take 2

time

While it may be cliché, it is nonetheless true: the older you get, the faster time passes. As I was walking to work this morning, I became keenly aware of this very concept on a number of levels. The first happened as I was thinking about writing this blog. I realized I hadn’t blogged in a little while. As it turns out – it’s been six months! Those common and all-too-real words popped into my head: “Where did the time go?”  Like everyone else I know, my life is filled with an endless variety of things which take my time and run away with it. Some of these are wonderful – my time with my grandson, my oldest daughter’s wedding, working on my yard. But some of them are not as enjoyable – my hour-long commute twice a day, a job that is financially rewarding and emotionally draining, and my seemingly endless struggle to balance the things I need to do against the things I want to do.

As I was making my brisk walk from the parking lot to my office (about two city blocks), I became very aware of both time and age. There had been an accident on the freeway which had slowed me down considerably, and I was feeling frustrated at being late when I had every intention of arriving early.

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It felt as if some unseen monster was taking a bite out of my valuable time pie, and I grew tense and angry. When I finally reached the parking lot, the temperamental machine required three attempts for me to make my payment. More time wasted, more frustration. By the time I parked and gathered my things to start walking, I could feel the tightness of anxiety in my chest and across my shoulders. My jaw tensed, teeth clenched, I started my walk toward work.

A few paces ahead of me was a young woman making her way to her office as well. She wore the requisite uniform of a young executive: a grey skirt, pale yellow blouse, grey sweater, and tennis shoes so she could walk faster on the uneven sidewalks. A leather bag hung from her shoulder, the heels of her beige pumps sticking out from one side. She stared straight ahead with fierce determination as she prepared to storm across the intersection when the light changed. Her hair was pulled back in a tight twist and I tried not to laugh as I wondered if her brain felt as tight as her hairdo.

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

As I watched her launch into the cross walk and move with quick, steady strides, I developed a kind of sadness for her. She was speeding up her world and rushing through time in a way she would one day come to regret. I instantly felt myself slowing down. I lost the urge to rush to the office building and instead took a moment to enjoy the shade of the trees that line Main Street. I listened to the clacking and squeaking of the light rail train that rounded the corner to head to the university. I watched a robin hoping along the steps to the great grey building that is now a courthouse, but that I remember as a kid as being the huge post office we came and visited in fourth grade.

I found a good pace and realized that the young woman who’d been hard-charging ahead of me had disappeared into a building. I thought about her uniform as became aware of my own choice of clothing for the day: white, knee-length shorts; a reddish shirt with an imprint of the Hindu deity Ganesha on it; a beige sweater (it gets cold at my desk), and gold sandals to match my gold jewelry.

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There was a time I would have dressed exactly like that young woman. It would have seemed appropriate. Uncomfortable, but appropriate. All the time that has passed by me has brought with it the opportunity to dress how I want. I’m happy to have landed in a place where suits and skirts aren’t expected – but even if they were, I’d put my own spin on the uniform.

I realized another thing as I reached my office this morning: I’ve survived enough work environments to know that being true to who I am is far more important to me than trying to conform to what I think others expect of me. It’s far easier to relax (usually) and to allow the world to just be what it is than to allow myself to get upset about things over which I have no control. I didn’t cause the accident that slowed traffic, and I surely couldn’t speed that up. I didn’t cause the silly parking payment machine to be persnickety and uncooperative. Allowing myself to become frustrated by it was a waste of energy and time that I could better use somewhere else.

This is truly one of the benefits of learning to act my age. And the Ganesha tee-shirt doesn’t hurt either.

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Love & Loathing

While I have a book that bears this title, I’m not really writing about Borderline Personality Disorder, or the book today.  I’m applying this term to modern technology, or to be specific, about my computer.  The cursed (pronounce this curse-ed) machine is possessed of demons.  Actually, according to the tech guy at P.C. Laptops, the motherboard is kaput.  I’m having to use the computer where I work.  Not such a big deal, except I hate going to work on a day I don’t have to be there.

Modern technology, such as computers and iPods and such, is certainly one of humankind’s most amazing achievements.  It allows us to speak instantly to people who live hundreds of thousands of miles away, provides us with instant information on any subject our minds can conceive of, helps us to work quickly and effectively at our jobs.  Unfortunately, technology is not perfect, and when a computer breaks down, the individuals who rely on that technology are left to flounder about in dismay.  That’s me, a flounder, flopping helplessly about.

I rely on my computer on a daily basis.  I check e-mail, I write, I do my preparatory work for teaching, I check in with friends; my computer is deeply integrated into my daily life, and now I don’t have it.  It’s exasperating. 

I’ve actually been writing in notebooks that I bought for my kids for school, and then today I broke down and came into work so that I could access the internet.  I’m hoping to have this dilemma resolved by the end of the week.  The problem is that if you replace the motherboard, you also have to replace the processor, because our motherboard is so old they don’t make it anymore.  Then we have to upgrade the RAM so that it will handle the processor.  Even doing all that, there’s no guarantee things will work smoothly, because so many of the components in our computer are nearly five years old (practically dinosaurs in computer terms).  More than likely I’m going to have to buy a new computer, and I’m still trying to pay for two kids to go back to school, and for the other one to start college.

Apparently, I am addicted to my computer.  I’m considering selling my prized possessions just so that I can afford to fix the one I’ve got.  I’m a computer junkie.  What a terrible thought.  Maybe our primitive, cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t have it so bad after all.

Oh My Aching Brain

For the past four days straight, the bulk of my time has been spent grading student papers.  Research papers, persuasive essays, quizzes, tests, final projects – they are all there, and they are all draining me.  I believe my brain has overheated and begun leaking out my ears.imageref(sorry – I thought this was funny!)

I know, I know – “It’s your job.  You get paid for this. Quit whining about it.”

I say the same things to myself, but to be honest, there are times when it takes far more out of me than any paycheck could possibly compensate for.  When I’m reading an essay at midnight and realizing that there are students whom, after 12 weeks, many other essays having been graded, and multiple offers of support from me, they still do not understand how to write a complete sentence.  Students are still turning in papers with the word “then” confused for the word “than” or “their” confused for “they’re” confused for “there” despite two class sessions devoted to these issues.  It is frustrating to see students who most obviously sat down at a computer, spit out a few pages, and turned them in thinking I wouldn’t notice or care.  And then there are those who clearly have some type of learning disability, but since they refuse to tell me about it (which is their right), I can’t ask them because of ethics and legal issues, so their papers look a lot like something my kids wrote in elementary school – and I’m not exaggerating.  What breaks my heart about this situation is that there are so many ways that I could help them; so much that I could do to make this class easier for them if they would just allow me to.

I’m sure that part of their reticence is having been stigmatized by their learning difference through most of their education, they are relieved to be in a learning that doesn’t apply labels to them.  I respect that.  I understand that.  I have two children who have learning disabilities, and I understand the torment of being singled out and identified as “different” or “less than” by teachers, and worse, by peers.  It’s cliche’, but it’s true: kids are cruel.

My students’ reluctance to seek and accept help makes perfect sense to me, but what they fail to understand is that I want to help them avoid further stereotyping and pigeon-holingimageref by helping them to express themselves better through written words.  I want them to be better able to put their own thoughts and ideas on paper in a way that best represents them as individuals.

Let me give you an example that I share with my students.  This is the actual opening paragraph of a paper turned in to me by a student at school for whom I no longer teach. I have not changed spelling, word use, or punctuation, this is exactly as it was turned in to me:

“When i was growing up and to these day, I love to shout riffles, hand guns, and shotguns.  I grew up around guns my hole life.  Me my dad and my bothers would go out shouting all the time. We would also go rabbit hunting and when we were old enough we started deer hunting.  I’m a perty good shout with a rifle but it takes alot of practice just like any other skill or talent.  Here aresome general shouting tips to make you a better shouter if you like to shout guns.  The frist thing you must now      ”

Verbatim – I swear it. 

It’s sort of funny, it’s sort of sad, and as the instructor, it’s definitely frustrating.  But before you think I’m being cruel, I’m not sharing this with you, or with my students, to make fun of this individual.  I share it to make a point.  The minute you began reading that paragraph, you began forming opinions about the writer.  It’s natural.  We all judge the message in terms of its credibility, and its value to us as readers in terms of our own standards of measurement.  Someone who represents themselves so poorly in writing is obviously not to be taken seriously.

When I ask students to tell me who they think this writer is, what he is like, they all say pretty much the same thing.  “Stupid” is usually one that comes to mind.  “Hillbilly” is another.  “Shouldn’t own guns” quite often is followed by much laughter.  When I ask students if they were to receive a resume’ from someone like this, would they consider hiring that person, the majority opinion is always “no!”

And that is exactly the point I try to make to my students.  You are judged by the way you represent yourself in writing, like it or not. 

Writing is a skill, and like any skill, it can be improved.  It takes only a little practice and a desire to be better, but it also takes the understanding and insight to acknowledge that change is necessary.  It is my experience that many teachers in elementary, junior high, and even high school refuse to correct a student for mistakes in the fundamentals of writing.  The students proceeds through grade after grade, never having anyone point out the errors and correct them.  By the time they reach me, they don’t even know their doing anything wrong, and worse yet, a lot of them don’t care.

So the end result is that I wind up caring a lot, trying to impart information that the students should have received six, eight, twelve, or more years ago, and then reading papers that cause my head to ache, and my heart to hurt. 

Seriously, is there a paycheck big enough for that?  Is there a paycheck that takes “I feel like I’ve failed” and makes it better?  If there is, would someone kindly tell me where I go to get that job, because I’m not sure I can take a whole lot more of this.

I’m going back to my grading now.  I’ve got a two inch-high stack left to grade within the next 24 hours.  I have Tylenol by my side, a comfy chair, and the phone at hand to call for pizza should the need arise.  Wish me luck.