Thursday, May 27, 2010

Almost there.

As I leave for Ireland in the coming days, I have less baggage to carry than I would have one year ago. I've been a light packer for a long time now, but never in my adult life have I carried less with me as I traveled than on this trip. Because this trip I am 54 pounds lighter. Given that the limit for luggage weight is 50 pounds, this means I am slightly more than one whole suitcase lighter. If only that meant they allowed me an extra 50 pounds for souvenirs on the way back.

I recently went back to look at older pictures, including the pictures that finally motivated me to start Weight Watchers last October (the one on the left above is The Picture). I'm pretty excited about the change, and can't wait to have good pictures to bring back from Ireland! I can't measure my self-worth based on how I look, and I don't base my perceptions of others' worth on their looks, but it's hard to deny that I feel a lot more confident now as well as healthier. And I certainly don't dread looking at pictures of myself like I used to. So it's all to the good.

Now I just have to hope I have the luck of the Irish when it comes to keeping it off during a month of travel!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Language Police

All the recent talk about the new rules for textbook curriculum out of Texas has me fairly steamed as folks who know me well will be unsurprised to hear. The old "it's not biased when it is our view" line seems to be rearing its head. However, I'm not so biased myself (not that I'm unbiased, mind) that I see the problem being caused only by the right. In fact, there is a larger problem of both ahole wings of the political spectrum unduly influencing the terrible, toothless way that our children learn about history. A couple of excellent books come to mind that highlight this bipartisan ineptitude:

1) "The Language Police" by Diane Ravitch is an excellent look at how these things have crippled education from the left (in California) and the right (in Texas). These two states are shown to be responsible for a large part of the material covered in the entire nation's textbook choices because these two states purchase the most number of books. Money talks--there's a history lesson for America. Ravitch is a former Assistant Secretary of Education.

2) More commonly known is "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen. This is a more narrative book, retelling the common stories of American history in a more historically accurate way as compared to the way history textbooks cover them. Loewen argues that the toothless and boring telling of history in K12 history textbooks is a result of left- and right-wing groups taking the complexity of events out of children's hands. As a result, children are unable to develop critical thinking skills and an ability to understand current events from any kind of accurate historical context. He is sometimes kinder than Ravitch, arguing that the review boards may be "well intentioned." I would argue otherwise...on both sides. Loewen is a former history teacher.

3) "A People's History of the United States" is another classic by Howard Zinn, but this one is not as impartial. :) Zinn was a strong social critic and activist, with a heavy tilt toward the left. However this book is meticulously footnoted and strongly argued. He also has the decency not offered by many left- or right-wing authors to lay out his bias at the front. He said in the introduction that his book is no more impartial or neutral than any other textbook or history book..but it's no less so, either. All history books take a perspective, but the perspectives he writes about--of the downtrodden, the losers, the poor--are rarely truly covered in more traditional history books.

Today is Geek Pride Day. Here is a sampling of my geekhood. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Now I'm feeling all bloggy, so I'm writing again. I feel compelled by two recent events to think through some things.

First off, an old friend from high school mentioned my rather cynical Valentine's Day entry, both to confirm my feelings and provide me with some new perspectives to think through. I really appreciated the response, and it has helped as I've mulled it over. I'm feeling a little less cynical.

Then, around the same exact time he was writing, I was hanging out with some friends--the twins' mom and dad, actually! Yay, twins! Anyway. We were talking about my lack of serious dating potential in the area, and I was set to be all jaded as usual, and then my friend said something nice. She told me that she had hope for me and what lays ahead. It made me feel good.

It took a few days for those two events to collide, but they've just done so as I've partially drifted off to sleep and back into wakefulness. In my jaded Valentine's Day post, I said how I hated when people tell me to be patient or that "it will happen" because it sounds so condescending to me. Yet, when my friend told me she had hope for me, I felt really good. I got to wondering what the big difference is between those statements that would lead to such different emotional responses on my part.

It is this:

The former statements feel condescending because they sound like the kind of thing you would tell a kid who wants a new toy. "Just ask Santa and you'll get it!!" We always say stuff like that to kids, along with telling them to ask God, or to be patient, or whatever. I interpret all these things in the same way.

The latter is not condescending because it sounds like the speaker's own personal feelings of hope and positivity on my behalf. It's not a pat on the head but a statement of personal conviction or positive energy toward how the speaker sees my fate. I interpret that as similar to a more adult compliment or statement of faith in me as a person who is capable of great things...and deserving of having great things happen to me.

I teach my students about how communication is part intention and part interpretation. I argue that interpretation is more than half of meaning making in interpersonal interaction. It's the primary force, actually, at least in my opinion. So while the intention of speakers in both these categories of statements are the same ("Chin up, Dena! Great things may be in store for you!"), their interpretation by me--and hence their practical meaning--is radically different. One instills a sense of camaraderie, the other a sense of superiority/inferiority.

So if you're looking to cheer up a single friend (or anyone about anything!), think through the interpretations of your words. What might you say to help them persevere? Try expressing your own personal hope for their future.


Saturday, May 15, 2010, was a day of universal balance. Three things happened that symbolized the true essence of existence in my little version of the world.

1) My friends' twin babies were born. The start of new life, and more importantly new life that I will be able to spoil and cuddle, began on Saturday. The twins were long expected and eagerly anticipated (not least of all by their mom who lugged them around all those months), and I can't wait to be part of their lives.

2) I watched several students I know graduate from college, finally ending their childhood in a real and significant way. While technically they have been adults for several years, it's that college graduation and entrance into the career world that really makes the transformation complete. In the coming weeks, months, and years, they will be building their adult life, along with all the intensity and randomness of the middle years.

3) My great uncle, Leonard, passed away. Mere hours before the emergence of the sweet new babies who entered the world, the world lost a great soul. Uncle Leonard was sweet, kind, and loving. He and his wife have been like a third set of grandparents for me my whole life because we celebrated Leonard's and my dad's mutual birthday every year. Leonard gave great bear hugs and loved to tease. His absence from the world is the world's loss.

All three of these things happening in one day makes me keenly aware of how time waits for no one, that we're not in control of the meandering life cycle, and that each phase of life has its small place of importance in the ongoing line of history. But even its importance is overshadowed by the relative brevity. We are who we are for as long as we are, and when we transition from life on earth to whatever comes next, we know there is someone (or, in this case 'someones'!) who will replace us and carry time forward.

In my life, right now, these new babies are delightful symbols of life moved on after the loss of another life I loved. They mean to me that I have to keep moving through the cycle in the same way that my uncle Leonard did before me and that they will after me. Leonard would love this connection of life as much as I do. Because he understood that's the balance of things.