Emerging on the other side; Backpack firmly in place

I let this space go quiet for over a year. It wasn’t on purpose at first. Then it was. I haven’t been on Twitter either for a while, in a similar pattern.

Four years ago this month, my life as I knew it fell apart: at 40 yrs old, I lost my job that I passionately loved, I lost my marriage of 11 years, I lost my home, I lost my financial status, I lost my sense of security and at the same time had to project security for my son while we lived in the upper room of my parents’ house as I scrambled and clawed over the next years to try put my life back together.

Four years later after all that loss, I have gained myself.

I started this blog in the midst of that scramble. Trying to find a way to, as Alexi Murdoch puts it, just breathe. I started strong and went for a while. And then I think the little cracks in my heart just needed some quiet exposure to the oxygen of time. In the last couple of months, I have felt the slow stitching up of those cracks and their gaping holes closed up.

There is a road I’m back on – and I’ve taken my jedi master’s words to heart: Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try.

TESB-Yoda

No matter what life throws at you, you are made of the strongest stuff of the universe, and time IS actually on your side because it is not contained in days or years, but in your heart. You can do this thing, whatever it is. Because on the other side is not the thing. On the other side is you.

I have found myself on the other side of the thing.

WTF, Match? My First Month of Match Adventures…

I haven’t blogged in a while – been a bit busy the last month: my son turned 11, I published my first book, I completed my 2nd masters and am defending my thesis this week, and finally, after two years of unemployment/underemployment I got a full time job!  Also, I had to go see Star Trek Into Darkness three more times (total of four viewings so far…and probably not done) and Man of Steel once (so far….).   And in between all that exciting activity, I signed up for a Match.com account.  Yes. I did.  And so far…

deanclosingcomputer

I have been single for two years (you may have noticed the similar time span as the events above. Yes: I was laid off, my marriage ended, and I lost my house all within the same three-month time span two years ago (let’s not talk about 2011 though).  I figured that because things seemed to be starting to move again in my life, maybe I should, you know, “get out there.”  I was inspired by one of my author heroines, Anne Lamott, who said her year on Match wasn’t so bad. I can do this too!

ClintYes

But after a month… WTF, Match? I know I’m not like some super-match candidate, but come on.  It could possibly be my weird age group. Being a GenXer can be a little awkward these days – we are in our (early!) 40’s but still think we are the young ones in society.  I’m stuck right in that too-old-for-OkCupid-too-young-for-OurTime stage.  Available men in my age group seem to either not use Match or Match feels this sort of thing might be attractive to me:

He shares the same birth month!
Like you, he’s not a smoker.
You are both social drinkers!

Wow, Match.  Way to pick three solid bases for a dating candidate!  I especially like the exclamation point !!! after the fact that we might have social drinking in common.

Cheers

Then there are the self-descriptions.  Evidently men my age are far more verbose than I have been led to believe (by my own 11 year marital experience or by popular culture). They LOVE to talk about themselves! Match clearly says to keep it brief, but these self descriptions are like page-long novellas.

…ain’t nobody got time for that.

Also they love camping.  LOTS of camping. Oh and anything outdoorsy. Hiking, camping, swimming, beaches, camping, windsurfing, camping…

Now, I’m always up for a great hike.  My last hike was at Lake Tahoe, and it was beautiful!  But I stopped camping a while ago… after, oh, I gave birth.  After that experience, I decided for myself the one small thing I could do for myself was that I would do everything possible to sleep in comfortable beds from then on.  Giving birth doesn’t really have anything to do with camping or even comfortable beds, but frack on a rack, give me a break – don’t I deserve a comfy bed?

hellyesgiv

I’m not sure what the attraction men my age have to the outdoors at such an intense level.  Perhaps it’s some sort of conventional wisdom that tells men over 35 that they appear more vigorous and young if they are windsurfing?  Not sure – but my bio indicates nothing that would lead Match to believe (in any logical algorithm) that I would enjoy extended periods of time accumulating sun burns, bug bites and/or poison ivy. … What? Too anti-nature? Sue me.

what

I’m not too proud to admit it, yes, I’m an indoor geek.  I do enjoy the city life, and while I have nothing against the country…or the outside in general… Is there not ONE match to be found with someone who would prefer a good game of Castle Panic or a Star Trek marathon to extreme ultra endurance base jumping?

stormtrooper

The most disturbing discovery so far though: they seem to love giving back rubs.  Not kidding. By my count, at least 3 out of every 4 “matches” Match.com comes up with for me are super into back rubs.

Idontlikeit

I’m sorry but I would rather go on a first date NOT knowing you creepily want to invade my personal space.  Not that I’m against physical contact – I don’t have THAT bad of social anxiety – but come on.  Just thinking that someone believes their best advertising point is back rubs just gives me the creepazoid shivers.

Here are some other ones that made my top ten of Nope (spelling original):

I would love to listen..I’m not an alcolholic, I’m not a felon, and I’m not a jerk to women..I’m a pretty normal guy and very easy to get along with…

thumbsup

Oh and here’s a great one that I think is supposed to be meaningful and intuitive…but I’m not sure (spelling original, again):

I am a rock, loyal, compassionate, expressive, intuative, and I am ever delving for development as a person. I still maintain those warm feelings created by a snowy Christmas Eve; my heart is young. My contingincies are few. Nice is what comes to mind foremost. I look for someone who can expand my horizons of understanding what is all around us.

IceCube

This one makes it clear that I have my work cut out for me:

Sultry music, like Norah Jones or Adele, works for me. I’m not much of a dancer, but when properly motivated I’m up for most anything. If you make it fun, I’m there.

While I can sometimes (rarely) be in a mood to love me some Norah or Adele, this is usually me in the car:   

DeanCarDrums

So sorry, not gonna be able to do the heavy work on that slow dancing for ya.

Just to wrap up this little session, I got this doozy sent to me today:

I find it sexy when a woman is articulate and can have a conversation. It is surprising at how many people actually don’t do well at that.

no, no, no...

Look, I’m not that complicated. I am not super young, but I’ve got a few things to recommend me. No, I don’t camp. But I do know the words to Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” — so there’s that.

I’m just not quite convinced Match has this whole “matching” thing down.

highlevelsofbs

Maybe I don’t need to use this Match thing!  My life is fulfilling! I can fill my time with more interesting things! 

I wonder if I have any new blue links on reddit…

And that was Wednesday….

SO, to sum up today’s news…

  • Boston Bomber caught on video!
  • Boston Bomber arrested!
  • Ricin sent in letter to the President!
  • Margaret Thatcher’s funeral!
  • Wait! There is NO Boston Bomber yet!
  • But now that everyone’s at the Boston courthouse, Bomb Threat!
  • The Ricin guy is from Mississippi!
  • The murdered Texas District Attorney & and his wife were murdered by the wife of the justice of the peace!
  • The Senate is voting on reasonable gun regulation!
  • The Senate voted DOWN reasonable gun regulation
  • There is no news in Boston – the FBI says so!
  • President Obama is ANGRY in the Rose Garden, and Joe Biden might punch someone
  • The Ricin letter guy might be identified!
  • The President is REALLY RIGHTEOUSLY ANGRY, w/ Gabby Giffords and Newtown parents standing next to him. Uncle Joe may still punch someone.
  • The Ricin Guy is arrested!
  •  Aaaaaaaaand, Texas explodes.
Your Move, Thursday.

Engage

DC Comics: Superman Would Be Very Disappointed

Things are starting to unravel at DC Comics… well, maybe only just a little.1stSuperman

But the unsurprising consequences of Orson Scott Card’s ascension as writer for the new Adventures of Superman have now begun in earnest.  Today it was reported that Chris Sprouse, the illustrator who was assigned to Card’s first Superman story, has now withdrawn from the project.

According to USA Today, Sprouse said:

“The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with…”

The problem is the controversy surrounding Card’s anti-gay stance.  Let’s be real, it’s not so much his “stance” as it is his very loud activist leadership against the equal rights of Gay Americans.  As I wrote last week, Card stands for everything Superman is against.  Sprouse didn’t make any specific comments regarding Card himself, but his refusal to work with him on Superman is a pretty large statement itself.

It’s harder and harder to justify DC Comics’ decision here.  Will it be more difficult for other devoted Superman illustrators to work with an author who represents the opposite of their hero’s values? Does DC really want to alienate thousands of fans and readers by continuing on this path?

The controversy will probably get DC lots of sales for Card’s first story, but at what cost to the legacy of Superman? 

The Super Symbol

“But Mom, I WANT to Learn” – The Continued Adventures of Unschooling

I wrote previously about the introduction my 10-year-old son and I have had to unschooling this year.  The first half of the school year was punctuated mostly by my own insecurities. I admit it, I’m mostly a traditional-style teacher, and fully believe in a free, universal education for all children.  So it has been a bit of an uncomfortable transition for me to observe my son extricate himself from the vestiges of institutionalized education that simply.  It started as an experiment, because I had no personal experience with the idea of removing a child successfully from a school system.  I’d certainly read that it was possible, but this would be a discovery process the whole way for me.  I had spent many of my previous years as a teacher trying to adjust the system for my students, rather than consider removing my own child completely from it.

I first heard of unschooling about seven years ago. I was looking for ways to reach several of my high school students.  These students were smart – they were brilliant, but they simply did not fit into the square peg that was the traditional school system.  They didn’t fit for different reasons: two were homeless and had trouble jiving with the assumptions and values the system put on them; one was so beyond high school she probably should have gone to college at age 14 or 15; two were artists (one a musician, one a painter) who clearly felt trapped by the four walls around them; and one was a 16 year old girl who could already take any kind of car engine apart and put it back together and fix whatever was wrong with the car.  So how do I, just another one of their teachers – teaching history, of all things that felt irrelevant to them – find a way to engage them in their own learning (and hopefully avoid dropping out)?  So I researched.  I found John Taylor Gotto and his books Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and Weapons of Mass Instruction.  Then I read Grace Llewellyn’s Guerilla Learning and The Teenage Liberation Handbook.  I began to adjust my teaching away from my training and towards a more relationship and choice-based model.

This was challenging with 180+ students each semester. I began to design plans that included the students choosing their own topics within the subject area that they were interested in.  I learned to differentiate for learning styles and abilities. Five years after my first quest, I had changed even test-based curriculum like an AP course and inserted into it as much choice, creativity and self-learning opportunities as possible.  I found that my students engaged and became more deeply critical thinkers the more they got to choose from their own interests as they learned.  The more they had ownership over their own education, the more interested they were in learning. 

It might seem that this would have been easier for me as a Social Studies teacher – the topics by nature can often be broad, and for most districts there are no high stakes test restrictions in Social Studies.  But there are still required standards, and even with AP courses, and I was still able to infuse the standardized curriculum with some choice and student ownership. Core subjects bound by specific curricular requirements still have room for student choice.  Especially at the secondary level, where I teach, the continued emphasis on removal of choice, bending students to industrial models of factory learning, and assuming that they will benefit best from 7 hours of sitting up straight in wooden desks drilling for standardized exams often seems to be achieving the exact opposite of success.  So much so that these same tests continue to be mediocritized to accept lower and lower scores.  Students aren’t rising to any challenge of rigorous skills, they are clinging to the least possible effort that will get them through the system.  And teachers are beginning to do the same.

Even as a ten year old, my son had already begun to follow the “least possible effort” pattern.  Despite his innate curiosity and love of learning, he would face school like an automaton.  The difference between the months he was out of school and the school year became remarkable.  In the summer, he worked on projects, built machines, illustrated his own comic books, researched how to make stop action films (and then made 30 of them) and he played and played…and played.  The school year would start and he would lose interest in reading except for what was required, he brought home math worksheets, finished them in a few minutes and stuffed them back into his backpack, and he would resist as long as possible his required drilling of spelling words every week.  He was bored and he became depressed.  His appetite and his sleep were affected.  And he stopped playing.  He went to our local public school.  We tried a magnate school for arts and sciences (where, evidently, they decided the “arts and sciences part didn’t start until 6th grade), and we splurged on private school.  The small private school worked best because he didn’t get lost in the crowd.  But he’d skipped a grade and the teachers said they would try to differentiate and give him work that might challenge him, but it rarely happened.

And then, I got laid off.  My district ran into a massive budget deficit and had to RIF over 80 teachers, including me.  Then, my son’s small school closed because they couldn’t get enough enrollment (for the same reasons the public schools were laying off teachers).  I found myself in the odd position of having the opportunity to be at home with my son – a pattern we had never found ourselves in his entire life.  So we decided to experiment.  I was grateful to find in my city a “free school” (not monetarily free – it does have a small tuition), based on the Albany Free School model of a democratic space for children who have left the traditional education system.  So he has been attending there three days a week, where he works on projects of his own choosing, goes on weekly field trips, learns consensus-making and democracy skills with other children of all ages, and where he plays.  At home, the other four days of the week, he also plays.

I was worried at first. I thought there might be something lost without regular math drills or designated reading projects.  I worried that he might “fall behind.”  My traditional teacher habits weighed heavily – I missed being in school, and I wondered if he would.  But he didn’t.  And the evidence of my son’s joy tempered my worry.  He wants to try something new?  He researches on his own, gathers information, analyzes it and makes a plan.  He works on video game designs.  He engages in scientific experiments, on his own at home, and at school with friends.  He reads books, or graphic novels, or instruction manuals for whatever he’s trying to learn or is interested in at that moment.  He wants to figure out how to do something?  Inevitably, someone has already made a video on how to do it and uploaded it to YouTube.  And if he just wants to take a break and have a light saber battle in the living room – he just does it.  He has shed the heavy layers of the old school system like they were extra pounds just weighing him down.  He is six months out of a model he (and I) had tried to unsuccessfully mold himself to for seven years.  And he is thriving.

Yesterday, driving home, I asked him how things were going with his friends at the free school.  He said that he thought some of them just weren’t interested in learning new things, “but I’m learning new things, because I WANT to learn, Mom.”  So he isn’t learning a rote list of spelling words every week.  But tomorrow he’s teaching me how to make recordings for his own video game design – that he learned all on his own.  It’s time I learned something new, too.

Catchphrases.

Me: “we should have a catchphrase”
The Kid: “what’s a catchphrase?”
Me: “it’s like a unique thing we say to each other that’s like a code – it means something to us but no one else”
The Kid:“why do we need that?”
Me:“well all the great partnerships have catchphrases. And in the case, for instance, of one of us getting trapped by a group of ninjas, we’d have the catchphrase to leave in a secret message for the other person to track down the ninjas.”
The Kid: “ok. How about our catchphrase is ‘my mom is weird.'”
Me: “ok, we can just brainstorm it for a while.”

 

Fresh Starts

New Years… Fresh Starts… Risks… Adventures… Hope… Forward… Bigger Pictures… Renewals… Motivation… Unexplored Pathways… Open Unexpected Doors… Self Trust… Vision… Determination… Begin.