Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Year?

When I watch old movies or see old pictures, I always try to figure out when the people would have been born and who in my family would have been their age, or alternatively how old my family members would have been when the movie was filmed or photo taken. I like to connect distant and abstract things with more tangible and concrete things in my life, and this is one way of doing that. I once was watching an old movie with a guy I was dating and mentioned that my dad would have been two or three when the movie came out. The guy thought it was really weird that I would think that. That's when I first suspected we might not be compatible. Turns out I was right, but that's beside the point.

What really gets me in a twist, though, is knowing that someday people might do that with pictures of me. They'll think, "Man, this old lady was born in 1977. I can't imagine." What makes it all worse is that I have this lingering fear that they'll find my old pictures in some dusty old antique shop in a box of old pictures that no one wanted. Because, honestly, who would want photos of Old Spinster Dena after I'm gone? I'm probably going to be in some random person's decoupage project of antique photos.

Basically, then, whenever I start down this mental path it turns into that existential angst and a question of what is the damned point of anything? Why fight for survival when it's all so temporary anyway, and when no one will care that we lived in another 70 years. No one will know that there was a Dena Huisman who taught at a university in Wisconsin unless they happen across a picture or an old computer file with my name on it.  I'll just be another of the millions of anonymous passers-by in video footage, another person who happened to live a long time ago and who happened to have walked in the path of a camera.

Just another bit of historical ephemera.

So, you know. Happy 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


This semester has been a long one. I've had more ups and downs than typical, but I don't know whether that's me or the semester. Personally, I've been struggling to stay on top of the emotional game. I've had several really high moments, but also some of the lower moments of my life, too. I've been rewarded with some of the best and most dedicated students....and...some woefully undedicated ones.

I am a nerd, admittedly. I enjoyed school all the way through, and I still am wildly crazy about learning new things and thinking. I love being intellectually challenged by friends and family as well as by books and movies. Sometimes I think people see me as too argumentative or forceful in my opinions, but it's not because I want to push my thoughts on others. It's because I want to be pushed and prodded to be clear in my own views. I want to be sure I'm thinking with all the views possible in my toolbox, you know? I don't want to be guilty of formulating opinions that are easy or based on half the available information.

So it is a mystery to me why others aren't the same way. Maybe that's arrogant, assuming the world should be like me, but I don't think so. It seems like the most common and powerful thing in the world to be curious, to try to learn, to take advantage of every opportunity to be better, smarter, more informed. I don't see this as necessarily tied to formal education, though I'm obviously a big proponent of that, given my job. :)  Some of the smartest, best informed people I know have little to no college experience. They just engage in the world and its available information.

This semester, I have seen much more disinterest and lack of effort than ever before in my students. I still have a lot of great ones who do try, but it's harder to keep focused on them when I'm seeing so many more problems. Of course, it's frustrating to grade mediocre work, but that's nothing. The real disheartening thing isn't giving out low grades, it's the lack of caring, the lack of trying, and the lack of desire to learn. It breaks my heart, and I fear if it continues it will make me unable to continue in my job. I can only emotionally handle so much of it.

If you have kids, encourage their curiosity. Build into them a sense of passion for figuring things out, for working hard, for trying. If you're an adult, build into your life more passion for those same things. America is falling behind the rest of the world in intelligence, education, and life satisfaction. These things are not unconnected, but they are avoidable if we stop accepting and rewarding mediocrity.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lasting Impressions

I remember walking past Mitch and Sue, my Sunday School teachers, on Christmas Eve service in about 4th grade. I was a shy kid, and I often preferred adult company to kids. I liked to be treated like a grown up and to have conversations. Mitch and Sue, a couple I'm guessing in their mid to late 20s, were pros at this. And when they smiled and waved at me that Christmas Eve, I remember being so pleased. They were grown-ups who were my friends.

The church we went to until I was 11 wasn't particularly small, but there were very few kids my age and the only other girl was a snooty snoot from the wealthy kids' school. Most of the other kids were hit or miss on attendance, but the Huisman family was not. Unless visiting relatives, we were there every Sunday. That meant, as often as not, I was the only kid who showed up for Sunday School.

Mitch and Sue were always there waiting for me, and then we waited together to see if another kid would show up. They would ask me about school, what I was learning, what I was reading. They were sooo cool.

One time when no one else showed up, they invited me to go to Mr. Donut, a chain donut shop, with them. I must have asked my parents for permission, but I don't remember. I only remember sitting in the back seat of their car, talking about my school as we passed it and how I got to walk home by myself. Then I remember sitting at a stool at the counter of the Mr. Donut. I got to pick out my favorite: a cake donut covered in a hard frosting shell and stuck on a stick. I preferred mine with pink frosting and sprinkles, connoisseur that I was.

And there we sat. Just me and my buddies, Mitch and Sue, shooting the breeze and having a donut at the counter on our stools. Like grown ups.

One could probably argue that this wasn't the best use of church time. Other Sunday School teachers I had certainly were more likely to stay on lesson plan and to force me to memorize my Bible verses. But what Mitch and Sue gave me as Sunday School teachers was less about the intricacies of the Gospels and more about the lived expectations embedded in the messages of the Gospels. Be good to others, even small others. Be gentle and loving and respectful. Be generous with your time...and your donut money.

Truth is, I couldn't tell you the names of any of my more structured Sunday School teachers, save one (Fern Swanson, bless her heart). Mitch and Sue are really the only ones who made a lasting impact because they valued me as a person and loved me as their Sunday School student. They were excited to see me at Christmas Eve and showed me with that friendly smile and wave as I passed, which is more than any other teacher had ever done, but all just like Jesus would do.

But I bet Jesus would have let me have two donuts...