Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Office party

Diana took one last look in the mirror before heading downstairs. Grown up clothes, make up, jewelry, even a spray of her very best perfume. She couldn't look or feel more unlike her normal self if she tried. Casting a longing look at her comfy jeans and sweatshirt she took a deep breath and put the smile on her face she knew was expected and went to give last minute instructions to the babysitter.

"Oh, Mommy! You look so pretty! Like a princess!", Taylor beamed at her mother.

"She is a princess, she is my princess." Jason gave her his best smile and held his hands out to her. Diana and Jason did a small twirl around the living room to the delight of their two little girls.

"You are like Beauty and the Beast! Mommy is Belle and Daddy is the Beast!" Faith squealed as Jason started to chase her around...

"The Beast?? How about Prince Charming? Grrr.....I'll show you Beast!"

Diana watched her girls and their father with a genuine smile on her face. Why couldn't they just stay home and do this all night? Why did they have to leave and go to the party at all? But she knew better than to suggest it. The party was important to Jason. And if it was important to him, it was important to her.

"Jill, the girls can stay up until 9 tonight. But only if they are behaving themselves. If they give you any grief you can send them to bed as soon as we leave. They are hoping that you will want to watch The Little Mermaid with them and Taylor would like to show you she can make the popcorn herself. "

Diana rattled off the instructions to Jill on bedtimes, bath times, stories, emergency contact numbers, even though Jill had been the go to baby sitter for the girls for the past two years. They always had fun together and Diana was grateful that they had one more year with Jill before she left for college. But going over all of the instructions made her feel better about leaving while at the same time gave her a few more minutes before she had to go.

"Be good, girls, we will see you in the morning."

Jason and Diana doled out kisses and hugs and headed off for their party.

As they settled in to the car for the drive to the restaurant, Jason turned to Diana, "You really do look lovely. You still take my breath away."  Diana smiled and felt the blush creep up her neck. Jason was so sincere in his love for her and the girls. She knew she was lucky. She really did appreciate everything about their lives together and the choices they had made as a family. But that wasn't going to help her the first time someone asked, "And what do you do?" The "stay at home mother" answer was always a conversation stopper.

She had tried to jazz it up over the years but the witty domestic goddess type replies weren't for her. She knew there was no such thing as "just a mom" but it didn't help her feel any less self conscious when Sophia one of the other attorneys in Jason's office said it. "Oh, and this is Diana, she is a stay at home mom. Can you imagine how wonderful that must be? To not have to go to work everyday? To be able to be just a mom?" Jason didn't understand why this had upset her. After all she was a stay at home mom.

They decided when Taylor was born that she would stay home until the girls were both in school full time then they could re-evaluate. Both she and Jason had been latch key children and they wanted something different for their girls. They could afford to live on just Jason's salary and Diana had wanted nothing more than to be a wife and mother for as long as she could remember. It wasn't a popular choice and only her closest friends knew it, everyone else thought she was going to miss coming to work everyday. Her boss had even told her that she would hold her position for 6 months, long enough for her to grow bored with baby talk and be ready to come back to the office.

But Diana had never grown bored with baby talk. She was in her element. She loved everything about staying home with Taylor and when Faith arrived on the scene just over a year later she loved that as well. Taylor had been a peaceful child, easy going, calm. Faith was not. She was their wild child from the very beginning. And Diana loved having them both. The challenge of finding things that would hold the interest of calm, reserved and oh so grown up at 5 1/2 Taylor and the wild whirling dervish 4 year old Faith. And she was good at it. The girls were happy and healthy and well behaved. The house was clean. The meals were healthy. She and Jason had a good, strong marriage and still genuinely loved each other.

Jason looked over at her, "What are you thinking about? You look so serious."

Diana smiled, "I was just giving myself the Stuart Smalley you are good enough pep talk."

"You'll be fine. Just be yourself. If Sophia thinks you are 'just a mom' tell her you are designing a whole line of Hallmark Cards for 'just a mom' and maybe she should consider getting one for her mother this year."

Diana laughed, Jason always had the cutting line at the ready, she always thought of it later at home. Another thing that bothered her about these events. If only she was as witty here as she was later when she had time to think.

As they walked in to the restaurant they were met by Mr. Aldeen, one of  the senior partners, "Oh, Diana, I am so glad you are here. Mrs. Aldeen and I were just talking about you. We are expecting our first grandchild this year and our daughter is hoping to be able to stay home with her. Would you mind terribly if we gave her your number so she could talk to you about what to expect? Of course you and Jason will sit with us tonight so we can talk about babies all night with someone who understands how excited we are." As Diana turned to smile at Jason she couldn't help but notice the look on "just a mom" Sophia's face. It might not be a bad night after all....

More stuff I made up

Okay, today's "stretch yourself" challenge was to write about something I normally wouldn't and just write then post.  So what you are getting is a short story (very short) about a stay at home mother on her way to an office party with her husband.  I wrote it in 45 minutes.  Did very little editing (as you will most likely be able to tell) and then put it out there for you all to see.

The names got me...again...I swear I spend more time coming up with names for my characters than I do the rest of their personalities.  It's amazing I was able to name my child...though that could explain why he has a very large number of nicknames...

Anyway...I bring you..."Office Party."

Monday, February 13, 2012

This bugs me....

Last night at dinner Brent and I were discussing my latest venture in to Weight Watchers. Understand we were discussing this over a pasta dinner at Olive Garden. Anyway as I was convincing myself that using the majority of my bonus points at the beginning of the week on a meal I had been craving for a month was perfectly acceptable Brent pointed out that I had already lost 4 of the 10 pounds I wanted to and I was only 2 weeks in. I then said, "Well I might go for 15" and he replied, "You are such an ant!" And yes...yes he is right...

A few weeks ago I went to a seminar on the brain and habits and will power. One of the stories that the speaker used to illustrate how addictive personalities work was the old ant and the grasshopper story. You all remember this one from your childhood right? The ant worked all summer storing away food for the winter while the grasshopper played and ate and enjoyed the sun. Then winter came and the grasshopper had to beg the ant for some food because he had wasted the entire summer frolicking instead of planning. Or at least that is generally the message of the story. That the ant is the virtuous one. Well this guy had a different take on it.

See the ants of the world can't do anything in moderation. The grasshoppers of the world are much better at seeing that life is happening all around them and changing rapidly and they can have a little bit of this and a little bit of that and enjoy without over indulging. Now you can be an ant about some things and a grasshopper about others as well. Me? I am an ant about a lot of things but masquerading in a grasshopper existence. But moderation is a trick for me that I have a hard time mastering.

Last week I was talking with a friend of mine about a particularly rough day they had had that week. It was the sort of day that nobody would blame you for going out and getting blind drunk at the end of it. Instead they chose to drink iced tea when they went out. The reason was they really felt like they needed the drink so they didn't have it. I laughed and said, "You sound like me!" and they made a horrible face and said, "Trust me, that wasn't lost on me." Ha! It's funny because it's true... See the day that I feel like I need a drink the most is the day I am least likely to have one. I don't like anything to ever dictate what I do. Alcohol is one of those things. When I was younger I drank a little too much. I don't consider myself an alcoholic because I can still drink in moderation when I choose to, but I don't choose to very often. Generally I just don't drink at all. I will go for literally years between drinks. And then it's a rare time that you will see me have more than two. It's just not in my comfort zone. I am an ant. I don't do moderation. It's all or nothing.

Food is another piece. I am back on Weight Watchers because I gained back more weight than I am comfortable with after my last round of weight loss where I lost way too much weight. Now why did I lose too much weight last time? Because I am an ant.  I was very strict with my diet. Followed my allowed points to the letter, rarely tapped my bonus points and never counted my activity points. So the weight just fell off. I was a super success story for the brand. But the problem was I hit what my original goal was and kept on going. Every week in the meetings I was listening to nothing but "lose, lose lose!" messages and since I could keep losing, I did. I am an ant. Trying to get back to moderation wasn't working for me. Then I finally saw a picture of me and really got how skinny I had become. Not slim, not healthful looking, but skinny. So I added back on the weight. And then added back on some more. Then the warning bells hit and I realized I was on the slide to putting it all back on so I needed to put on the brakes. Back on Weight Watchers but this time THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT! That's what I told myself. I wouldn't be as strict, I would use my bonus points, I would use my activity points, I would take off just 10 pounds and then stop and re-evaluate. I would do it online so I wasn't listening to the lose message at meetings. And then the first week weigh in came and I had lost 3 pounds. Okay, it's a first week and that sometimes happens, it doesn't mean I was too strict, and the second week I won't lose anything and that will be okay. So I allowed myself a few more treats the second week and I lost just over a half pound.

And then the big test, dinner out last night. Like I said, I had been craving it for a month. I went in knowing I was going to use a big chunk of my bonus points for the week. I was ready. It was very good. All of it tasted wonderful. I enjoyed it very much. Until I got home and figured out just how many points I had used. Forty four points. On one meal. I get 26 for an entire day. My ant brain went in to melt down. I already know my basic workout schedule for the week and how many activity points I will get from that, but I found myself adding in the points for two a day workouts...I could fit in one round in the morning like normal then add in another in the afternoon. As I told a friend online, I started to freak the fuck out.

I had already been planning this blog in my head. The whole ant concept just struck home (a lot of things in this seminar were amazing, if you ever have a chance to go to a presentation by the Institute for Brain Potential I highly recommend them) so the blog had been writing and rewriting in my head for a week. But now I was in full blown ant mode and I needed to take a step back. So I started to calm down a little. Rethinking what I was doing. Go back to repeating to myself that that is what bonus points are for. That I hadn't blown anything. I was fine. I had a week until my next weigh in anyway and most likely by that time I wouldn't even notice the blip. Okay. things are fine again...

Then the unthinkable happened. My computer died. Tried to do a BIOS update that Toshiba said was needed and it bricked my computer. Brent tried to fix it, no luck. I looked online and discovered with my model laptop it is a widely reported and known issue and the only fix is to send your laptop back to Toshiba and have them fix it and return it. Two or three weeks without my computer. Now for most people this is a moment of well hell..for me it was a moment of SHIT! And since I had been in full blown ant mode already about my diet I was apparently coming unraveled at the seams. I say apparently because Brent kept making calm down noises in my direction and I didn't really think I was being uncalm yet...but apparently I was.

So my ant brain is racing. I need to write. I have a blog already formed in my head waiting to be born, I have two more short stories working that are ready to hit the folder. I have a photo challenge I am in the middle of that I don't want to abandon. I have...I have...I have... So I took a deep breath and left the office. Went out and started reading a magazine on the couch. So I won't have my computer for a few weeks, no big deal. Brent set me up as a user on his system so I can blog (obviously) and write and post pictures and do the things that sooth my ant brain. But it's not my setup. It's not as comfortable. It's not as familiar. So I won't be online as much as I normally am. Which is good for expanding my grasshopper tendencies. Time to do a few more things in a day than chores, computer time, work or work out. Who knows what I will discover.

Then obsess about.

I am such an ant....

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Story follow up...

Okay, so yesterday I took the deep breath and posted a small piece of unfinished fiction for you all.  First off I want to thank everyone for reading it and giving me feedback. I appreciate it so much.  Secondly I wanted to clear something up....

In my original post about writing with a friend I talked about her being brilliant and I stand by that statement, but I wanted to make clear that I am not really comparing my writing to hers.  We are very different stylistically (at least so far) and also are just different people so our writing will be that way as well.  So, yes, I think she is brilliant and I am honored to call her a friend of mine and to know that she will be by my side through these first few steps in to the big bad world, but no, I don't think I am less than brilliant because of her writing.  For anyone who really knows me you all know I am pretty sure I'm a genius...and I look very young and thin. ;-)

I picked up a creative writing class online at the beginning of this year and was talking to a friend about it a few weeks ago.  She asked what I thought and I had to admit I wasn't really enjoying it that much.  It was pushing me to write a little more, topics and subjects are given and you write a small piece, and that part I appreciated but the focus of the class is finding your voice in writing.  I told her that one thing I felt I already had was my voice.  Brent and I have talked about it as well and I told him the same thing.  I feel as though if you are reading my blog, nonfiction writing but still my writing, you always know it's my blog.  My voice is pretty clear.  I find that is the same in my fiction pieces.  I have tried switching it up a little but I am more comfortable with my own style, obviously, so I always revert back to it.

Now the really great thing that came out of posting yesterday is that you all agree!  That was the biggest piece of feedback that I got.  That you all know and recognize my voice.  I cannot tell you how great that was to hear. See, I think I am pretty funny. Not hilarious gut busting funny but subtle snide funny.  I crack myself up when I am writing. But I also know that one person's "funny" is another person's "I just don't get it."  Do I expect everyone to find my writing funny?  No, I really don't.  But just knowing that there are those of you out there that do makes me happy.  So thank you for that.  

So here we go.  Mostly my blog will still be filled with the random thoughts that pop in my head on a daily basis, but there will be some more fiction thrown in here and there as Dana holds my hand and pushes me out into traffic on this one.  I might even post some of the things I tried to make NOT sound like me and see how you all like them...except I am worried you will like them more and then I will have an existential breakdown forcing me to rediscover who I truly am...or I will tell you all too damn bad and go back to writing what I like. It would be one of those two for sure...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Facebook Frank

Frank found out he was getting a divorce the same way most of his friends did. It was the day his Facebook status read: “Frank Allen is a lying, cheating bastard who should learn to log out of Facebook before he leaves for work.”

It had started out a fairly typical Monday morning. Frank had logged on to Facebook before leaving for work then realized that he had coffee and doughnut duty for the morning staff meeting. He had closed his laptop, dashed out the door and made it to work with treats and time to spare. Settling in for the first meeting of the day he didn’t give his computer at home a second thought. Then the first text came at 10:05, “Dude! Check your Facebook account!” Within twenty minutes he had 24 more texts. By the time he was able to get out of the meeting and log on he had 65 comments on his new status. That was the beginning of a very long day. Followed by a long night. Then a long week. Then a long year.   

Frank and Beth Anne started couple’s therapy and tried to make a go at patching things up. It was during their first few sessions that Frank learned what had happened that day. As soon as he had left for work Beth Anne had opened his laptop and then his account. Seems she just knew something was going on and she was determined to find out.  It didn’t take her long. Frank had never deleted a single email exchange between himself and his girlfriend. The more Beth Anne read the madder she got until she changed his status, called a lawyer, packed a bag and went to stay with her sister. She was still mad enough at him three weeks later that she didn’t speak to him outside of the therapist’s office. They had even negotiated the time for the counseling sessions via text messages. 

At first Frank thought that they might work things out. He felt that being in counseling with Beth Anne would help fix their issues. His friends that had been through divorces tried to warn him that what he thought the counseling sessions were going to be weren’t what they were going to be. But Frank was optimistic. And he made the mistake of believing the therapist when she said that her office was a “judgment free zone.” That in that space he and Beth Anne could tell the truth and deal with tough problems and they could, if they did the work, come out of this stronger. Well Dr. Bell might have been working in a “judgment free zone” but Beth Anne was not.

It seems as though the answer to “Why did you have an affair?” should not have been, “Because I felt like I deserved it.” But he did feel that way. Or at least he did at the time. Now he wasn’t as sure. 

He had worked hard to get to his position at work. He had put everything in his life toward making a success out of himself. He and Beth Anne had been married for ten years. She hadn’t worked for the past three. They didn’t need the money from her job so when she was passed over for a promotion she had wanted and said she felt like quitting, Frank told her to go ahead. Frank was proud of this.  He felt like it was a gift to Beth Anne. Beth Anne said she thought it was his way of saying he didn’t think she would ever amount to anything in her career.

They had never had children. When they got married neither he nor Beth Anne wanted them. Frank hadn’t changed his mind but Beth Anne had. She swore she had talked to Frank about wanting children now but Frank couldn’t honestly remember her seriously saying she wanted them. And even if she had made the passing comment about maybe now that she wasn’t working they should rethink having kids Frank knew she would miss her freedom too much if they did. Apparently this made him controlling and demeaning in Beth Anne’s eyes.

The affair started innocently enough. If by innocent you mean seeing a woman in your office and thinking, “I bet she’s a hell of a fuck.” and then actually getting drunk enough at the bar one night after work to say it to her face. And her being drunk enough to take you up on the offer. If that’s what you mean by innocent then yes, it started innocently enough. She wasn’t a subordinate; she was a manager from another branch in for a weeklong face to face meeting. She and Frank just took the face to face part a little further than it was intended. They had kept up the affair for the past 6 months. Mostly via dirty emails and phone calls and a few clandestine meetings when she needed to visit the home office or he could get away for a day off. Frank had discovered there was nothing hotter than the drive to a Holiday Inn on the edge of town.

Yes, he felt like he had earned this little bonus of the job. He worked hard. He was successful. He was still attractive. He gave everything to Beth Anne, a house, income, free time to do whatever she wanted, why shouldn’t he get a little reward as well? He hadn’t been unfaithful to Beth Anne in the previous ten years. Or not like this. There had been the odd one night stands here and there while he was travelling, and there was the woman in Vegas during a buddy’s bachelor party, but this had been the only long term affair. This confession did not go over well in the "judgment free zone" either.

After a month of twice weekly sessions he and Beth Anne decided to divorce. She couldn’t get past his affair, or pattern of affairs as she now put it. And he couldn’t get past the fact that she had logged in to his Facebook account. Dr. Bell seemed to think that this was the lesser of the two issues, and that Beth Anne’s breach of trust was caused by Frank’s behavior. Frank didn’t agree. He asked for forgiveness. He told Beth Anne that it was over between him and the other woman. And it was. As soon as Beth Anne found out about the affair Frank’s girlfriend dumped him like a bad habit. She was also married and didn’t want to be caught up in the crossfire of his dissolving marriage. It seems as though Frank was just a fun distraction for her, not a lifelong commitment. At first Frank was a little insulted, but then had to admit to himself he would have done the same thing if their situations had been reversed. He tried to share this with Beth Anne in the “judgment free zone” but it seems as though the fact that he didn’t even love the woman he was ruining their marriage over was worse. He just couldn’t win.

The divorce went as smoothly as a divorce could go. There were no children to fight over. They sold the condo in the city and the lake house and split the profits. Frank offered to make alimony payments since he didn’t think Beth Anne could get a job that would pay enough to support her shoe habit. Beth Anne called him a condescending prick and turned it down. His buddy’s thought this was good news, but it just puzzled Frank. Even when he thought he was being nice he was misunderstood. 

He got a new smaller place even closer to work and went on with his life. Within 6 months Beth Anne had a new job as a museum curator and was dating a man with a net worth three times Frank’s. They ran in to each other at a function once and as Frank was sizing up her date Beth Anne leaned in and whispered, “Don’t worry, he could never compare to you.”  Frank had started to smile when she followed it up with, “Thank God.”

Story Time!

Okay, so you know those times when you open your mouth and later you sort of regret it?  This is one of those times...

I have a friend who writes.  I have known she writes for a long time but had never had the privileged of reading anything of hers. This weekend that changed.  She sent me a message on Friday letting me know she had set up a blog account and would be posting pieces there.  Okay, this was such good news!  And being the supportive friend that I am, and also needing a little push to get some of my fiction out there, I told her we could write together, oh wouldn't that be fun!  We could pick different topics and stretch our creative chops.  Sounds like a great idea right?

Well it turns out that she is freaking brilliant!  Don't believe me?  Here is her first blog piece.  Take a minute, let it soak in.  How great was that?  So now I am faced with the choice...do I laugh and tell her I was just kidding or take a deep breath and post something of my own?

Well I did a little of both.  I sent her a message basically letting her know that I was so not in her league...and then dusted off an old piece that I have had kicking around in my head and on my computer for a few years.

Now you all get to meet Frank.  His story has been sitting half formed in my head and then on the computer for ages. I think he fits in with another group of short vignettes I have written but I am not sure how. And I'm not sure what else to do with him. When you read the piece (which is much longer than most blogs I post) you will notice it just sort of ends. I have more to write with him, but I am not sure which direction to take him yet.  Will he follow a path of self discovery and become a decent human being? Will he become even more unlikable and unaware? What happens next? These are things you would think I would know since I made him up.  But I don't yet. So what you get is the introduction of Frank.

Be kind.

Friday, February 3, 2012

More words...

So I know I've already sort of covered this topic here and here, but apparently I have more to say about words and their use. How do I know I have more to say? Because the world keeps throwing examples at me and my "blog brain" keeps writing this, over and over...so out it goes!

If you haven't read the two blogs I linked in the first line; quick synopsis is I swear, A LOT, and I also think that you need to watch your use of racial and sexual slurs. I realized not long ago that I missed another word use that really bothers me in how common it's become and that's what triggered this blog. I will get to that in a moment, but I am going to start with tone.

Isn't it amazing how a word can be just a word until someone changes the tone? I had someone throw the word "perfect" at me the other day. Now perfect is a wonderful word. It can mean so many things and they are mostly good.  But the way it was used at that time was as a finely sharpened knife to slip in between my ribs straight to my heart. It was tossed out as a weapon. And it hit its mark. Amazing how tone and intent can change things isn't it? Which was my point in the first blog I linked.

So that was one thing that pinged in my head again that I need to write this blog. Words. Intent. Then a few days ago a friend of mine used the word "fag" in a comment on my Facebook status. I thought for a long time about calling him out on it, but didn't because he is gay. It's that same thing I talked about in the other blog. If you are part of the community and you use it does that make it okay? I don't use it. I use gay, homosexual, lesbian. I don't use fag. Just because I have heard it used in so many ugly ways. I also don't use fag-hag, which I think is just a nasty and bitter phrase no matter who is using it. But he is gay, he does use the word fag, he obviously doesn't mean anything negative by it, so I ended up not saying anything. Until now, but it's my blog and I will ponder if I want to...

Which then brings me to my last point. The one that started this blog pinging around in my head even though I kept trying to reason with my "blog brain" that I had ALREADY written about words and language. TWICE. But apparently I have more to say so here we go...

A few weeks ago I was talking to C about his classes. He has one instructor in particular who has word issues. He is that sort of militant feminist you only seem to find in college settings. And bookstores in Portland, according to Portlandia... Anyway...he is one of those that uses person instead of man. Like fireperson, policeperson, and would most likely want to spell women with a y. Womyn. You know the type? The ones that take a serious issue, like gender inequality, and make it insane.

So anyway....C was telling me about a conversation this instructor was having with one of the women in the gaming program. She was talking about a game and that she had been "raped" in points. He stopped her and proceeded to lecture her about the use of the word rape in such a context. I had to admit to C that I am really uncomfortable with the casual use of the word among gamers and the general population myself. It bothers me. A lot. The act of rape is a violent, scary, horrible offense. We don't have any other word to use to describe what it is. There is nothing we can say that can invoke the terror, the pain, the awfulness of the act. To take the word and use it to mean that you paid more at the car dealership than you wanted to, or you lost a lot of points or gold in a game, it bothers me.

The first time I can remember hearing and associating the word with what it really meant was when I was around 12 or so. Now I had, obviously, heard the word and I knew what it meant. But my first "holy shit" moment was around that age. I had cut open my finger and was waiting in the ER with my mother to get stitched up. There was a young woman, maybe 16 or 17 years old sitting near us. I couldn't stop looking up at her. Her face was bruised and swollen. Her lip was split and it would drip blood down her chin that she would wipe up calmly with a towel she was holding that was already red. Her jeans were soaked with blood that I, at first, thought had come from her lip, but now I am not so sure. She moved over to sit near my mother and I and passed us a note, we found out she was deaf and dumb, the note said..."He did rape to me." Shortly after that the police came and she was taken back for her exam and to give her statement. I never saw her again. But I never forgot that moment. He did rape to me.

That's rape.

You all know I had my own experience and it ended up much better than hers. It even took me a long time to classify what happened to me as attempted rape because it didn't go as badly as it could have. But that's what it was. Attempted rape. He tried to do rape to me. It's ugly. It's horrible. It's scary.

So as C and I were talking about it he told me that the biggest issue that he and his friends had with it is that this was an older male lecturing a younger female about the use of the word rape. It made her uncomfortable. I told him I was actually glad that it did and that was really my point. That the word itself hasn't lost all of it's effectiveness yet if  it could still make her feel that way. Yes, men get raped, I know that, but it's generally a man on woman crime. It's not about sex. It's about violence. It's about domination and humiliation. And I don't want the word to lose that power. And it will if we keep using it casually. I don't want to see a day where someone tells you they have been raped and your reaction is blasé because you assume she is talking about a video game or a car deal. I want that word to hold its power.

I realize I am fighting a losing battle here, I see it almost daily on game forums and hear it in conversations about very mundane things. But I still had to write about. To get it out of my head. And to hopefully make a point. Yes, I swear.  No, I don't believe there are "good words" and "bad words".  Yes, I think intent behind a word can change the entire meaning of the word. But I also believe that words are powerful. And some words should be used only when there is no other way to get your meaning across. Don't let a casual use of a word let you ever forget how ugly the act it describes really is.

He did rape to me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Yes, but what do you THINK about that?

As most of you know to prevent my brain from further turning to mush and leaking out of my ears I decided to pick up a few classes this year.  My first thought had been to take some classes at the local junior college.  Then I thought maybe I would audit some at one of the number of colleges or universities in the area.  Then the heavens parted and the angels sang and I discovered Open Courses.  These are FREE courses offered online from top universities around the country. I can pick up classes from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, anyplace I want, pretty much any subject I want and for free and since I am not interested in earning a degree or getting class credit this is perfect for me.  That and the ability to change subjects and universities whenever I want to, love it.

The first thing I discovered is that downloading them all in to iTunes meant that the lecture on the top of the list was not the first lecture so when I started it and was completely lost it was okay...I really was coming in to the middle of a talk and I didn't understand what the professor seemed to think I should because I hadn't heard the 13 lectures before that one. So, phew, sorted out and on to lecture number one.  Shorter lecture, outlining the basics of the class and what we were going to learn.  Then at the end of the class Professor Shapiro reminds everyone to read Eichmann in Jerusalem for the next class. Oh, great!  Since I don't have access to a syllabus I am so glad he mentioned the reading so I could prepare. I find the book at the local library, check it out and settle in to read...over 300 pages!  Before the next class? Oh my...well let's just say that I didn't pick up the next lecture in two days like I had planned but a week later. Another benefit of taking the classes online.

Now here is where I start to sound like an old lady so bear with me. The second lecture starts and Professor Shapiro asks a few questions about the reading. While doing the reading we were supposed to keep two questions in mind 1. What two things made you the most uncomfortable about Eichmann's actions? and 2. What two things made you the most uncomfortable about the events surrounding his apprehension, trial and execution? Do you know how frustrating it is to be "in" a class discussion and not be able to discuss?  You have to sit back and hope one of those students made your point. But they didn't. And I got more and more frustrated with them.  These are students at Yale. YALE for goodness sake. And instead of talking about what they thought, what made them uncomfortable, they were reciting back passages from the book. Now, this is fairly impressive in and of itself, to retain what you read and be able to pull it out, but it's not what YOU think.

I had to take a deep breath and remember that this is an introductory class. These are freshman. They might be freshman at Yale, but the are still 18 or 19 year old kids. And we haven't taught them how to think. Yes, you heard me. We fail our kids all through school on that level. We teach them how to take standardized tests. We teach them how to spout back the facts. But we fail at teaching them to THINK. And these kids showed over and over again that they had no idea what they thought about what they had read. It would take the professor three or four stabs at an answer with one student just to get a glimmer of something he could run with. And I could just imagine the hundreds of notes being taken out in the lecture hall of students trying to copy down what they were supposed to have thought....

You all know that C is extremely intelligent. But here is something you probably don't know. He flat out failed a TAG test he was given in the second grade when we lived in Colorado Springs. Or he would have had he not been taking it one on one with the TAG specialist as an experiment she was running on profoundly gifted children. She would ask a question and he would give an answer. It would be the wrong answer from what the test said was right. So she would ask him why he thought that was the right answer. He would explain it and she would have to admit that his answer was just as correct as the test answer. Her theory was that a lot of kids who are brilliant get labeled as having "test anxiety" or being "bad at tests" when really it's that the tests are too rigid. They don't accommodate thinking. Yes, they are easier to grade, but no, they don't facilitate teaching our kids to THINK about why an answer is the right or wrong answer. Dates, math problems, State capitals, these are all things that have a right and wrong answer. But themes from stories, lessons from history, these are not things we should be telling our kids the meaning of.  These are things we should be listening to them tell us what they think. Then questioning them as to why. And then why again.

Every parent of a toddler knows the dreaded Why? phase of development. When every answer is met with Why? It's exhausting. But it's so important to tell them why. And then to turn around and ask them why all the rest of their lives when they are telling you what they think or even more importantly what they KNOW. Why? Why is that right? Why do you feel that way? Why? Why? Why?  Only when they can answer why will they really know what they think.  Being able to defend your position means understanding why you have taken that one.

We were lucky with C in that he went to a middle school that facilitated deeper thinking about issues. Not just taking a test and spouting back answers but WHY? Now I wrote last year about a group of parents who were unhappy with their children not making the cut to get in to Summa, and these parents won the "it's not faiiiiiiirrrr" argument and now the admission criteria is much broader.  I am not happy with the decision on one hand.  The difference between 99th and 97th percentile is larger than you think and as the parent of a 99th percentile kid I know the need for schools and classrooms for kids like him.  But on the other hand if it gives more students a chance to learn how to think about issues instead of just learning the answer the test is looking for then that's a good thing.

C's high school also had great teachers that taught thinking.  He also learned how to take standardized tests over the years.  Learning what the expected answer is instead of what could also be the right answer.  And he faced the same issues in his freshman classes last year at school that I did in my online class.  Frustration with fellow classmates who didn't understand the difference between, What did you read? and What do you think about what you read? Big difference. And an important one.

Parents out there, teach your kids that there are right and wrong answers and there are answers that are just theirs alone.  The important part is WHY?

Oh..and as a follow up to the class room syllabus. I found it online after the second lecture just by chance Googling the professor's name.  And I discovered that the reason why he thought nothing of assigning a three hundred plus page book to read over a weekend for a class was that he only assigned a few chapters....oh....well the whole book was interesting anyway. Lots of things in there to think about....