19 August 2009

five simple rules...

I know the school year has officially started when I find myself at our before the year inservice, at variant places over the south bay. Usually, these things are not that different than going to the dentist, except the dentist recognizes her activity will cause you pain, and they drug you to make the experience a little better than the beginning days of dentistry, where they just yanked that shit out of your mouth. Inservices are uniquely painful, usually, because it's like a really large, undisciplined classroom in it's preparation, a variety of things that make me wish I was somewhere else. This time however, it worked out a little different.

The president of the school was talking about some reflections on what makes for a happy life, and these really caught my ears. They were very simple things we should be considering everyday, but for some reason, we let the pace of our lives and our own self-interests get in the way of what allows us to truly be happy. I will provide the list of things and a little about how we can access these concepts.

1. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses.

I was watching this new show on ESPN called Homecoming. The show brings heroes of the sports world back "home" to where they grew up and started their climb up the mountain of success. The episode in particular that sticks in my mind was one in San Francisco, CA that brought back Jerry Rice, a man who has affectionately picked the nickname the GOAT- stands for Greatest Of All Time. Rice would openly admit he wasn't the most talented player, he wasn't the fastest, but he did hold one advantage over others, he was just willing to work harder than they were, and figured he'd work so much harder, that it would be hard for them to catch up...and he was right. Rice holds pretty much every major scoring and receiving record in the NFL. When asked what it was that he regretted most, he said, without a hint of hesitation, "I wish I had stopped and smelled the roses. I spent so much time working, I never stopped to appreciate my work."

This makes me think of my life, and the almost entirely singular focus of keeping all the obligations on my plate as their best. It does mean we have success. A lot of success. But sometimes, I have to remind myself to just stop and appreciate what we have while it's happening. An example of this for me was at the State Tournament this year, where we had a team in the quarters and a team in the semifinals. As we were advancing through the tournament, I had to stop and think back to the last year, where I had a team in the final round of the State tournament, but found myself having a hard time enjoying it, as it was frustrating to "get so close and miss the ring." I thought back to how disappointed I felt, even though we had reached a place our school was really happy about, the debaters were dancing on Cloud 9 (literally, after the tournament is the Dance, which they had no problem cutting a rug at), and all should have been well...except that I let my competitive streak get the better of me, and had taken any joy I should have had for the kids, and for the program, reaching unprecedented heights.

2. Relationships with family and friends matter most.

This is something we all tend to forget, or maybe a better word is take for granted. It's not our fault, most everything in our society is meant as an immediate means of self-gratification. Because of this, we are usually pretty protective about keeping our jobs. I have met many a family that, in their quest to make sure they had enough money to make their lives comfortable, they lost touch with each other, and let their relationship go down the drains. It sounds pretty simple, but at the end of all of this, the things don't matter. There's a saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. What it should be is keep your friends close and your family closer. It's the relationships in your life that shape you, make you the person you become. The people in our lives, the ones that provide the stability we all need to survive at least, and thrive at most, are the ones we take the most for granted when we're pursuing our goals. We make the assumption they will always be around, and always be there giving us strength. We sometimes forget these people have their own issues...the hip hop band pharcyde says in their song "Runnin"

there comes a time in every mans life/when he's gotta handle shit on his own/you can't depend on friends to help you in a squeeze/they got problems of they own.

There should never come a time in life when you have to handle shit on your own. I will go out on a limb, and say something pretty obnoxious (really, you're gonna be obnoxious, get outta town...). Most of my friends would consider themselves pretty smart people, and for the most part, they are. But one of the curses of smart people is the belief that they need no help, that they are capable of getting it done without help. It has taken me years and years to figure out there are just some things you should not have to handle alone, and that your support group, your family and friends are there, and they want to help. How worthwhile was your life if you die alone, because you've drawn no real connections with anyone? Those relationships are the most important

3. People like and appreciate you more than they'll ever let you know.

I make my students write personal eulogies in my speech class. It allows them to project themselves into the future, and imagine where they will be the day The Man Upstairs (God) calls them home. It also allows them to reflect on what they would like people to think about them when they die, and in that, is the required self-reflection of "do i deserve to be treated the way I would like to be treated? Won't I have to change, be more reflective, more giving and forgiving, to really justify being treated that way. The Golden Rule goes a long way...
..the example given was actually applied to a eulogy. When you go to a funeral (and if you haven't been, be thankful) , a variety of people will go to the podium, to give a eulogy or some reflective words on the kind of person they were. Most of us aren't fortunate enough to hear the wonderful things people think about you, but do get to hear all the gossip and back-biting. I've always thought it was some type of ironic justice that makes it so that, at the time when people are sitting back and reflecting on the kind of person you are, and saying things that if you heard would put a permanent smile on your face, why you have to be dead for that to happen. It's the reason you should never go to bed mad at anyone that matters to you. I can't imagine anything worse than the guilt of unspoken emotions to someone you can no longer see, who is no longer around.

4. Life isn't easy.

It isn't. So much of what we do in life, we do because it's easy. I'm really not one to talk, as I have a degree in a field many people find particularly difficult- Chemistry. For some strange reason, it always came pretty easy to me, so I decided to major in the field, after much encouragement from every person who knew I had this skill. Get your degree and get paid was the general reasoning behind it, and there were almost no minorities in the hard sciences at that school (or, really any non HBCU's) and they offered me a ton of scholarship money to get my science degree. That being said, my undergraduate experience was a relative blur, where I spent almost no time in classes doing things I enjoyed (one of the benefits of college, I've been told) and instead spent a fair amount of time in labs and doing write-ups for things I couldn't have cared less if you'd actually paid me to care less. After I graduated from college, it occured to me I had wasted a ton of my time, doing things I didn't enjoy to take the easy route (which, I ain't gonna lie, makes me seem smarter than I actually am), rather than sucking it up and studying how government and philosophy...
...in the same way, we all do things every day to make our lives easier, at the expense of a concerted effort. I coach debate, and one of the things that has stunned me over the last 10-15 years is the overall skill sets of high school students. The top of the HS circuit is making as nuanced and advanced arguments as at least half of the college community. That being said, the increased skill sets of the kids have made them, for lack of a better word, scared to get into actual, back and forth discussions. Many kids will go as far as thinking of an answer to an argument they would make and then choosing to not make the answer, not because the answer is unbeatable, but because there is an answer, and they want to argue things their opponents don't have anything to say. This is actually, ironically, not a debate, as it requires a two parties engaging in a dialogue.

Mom always said being an adult was "being forced to choose between two shitty options, and choosing one." This is because life ain't easy.

5. You make your lot in life.

I know I have a hard time with this. Sometimes, I find myself being down on how life has gone for me. I recognize that, in the finer scheme of things, my life is pretty phat. I'm employed, I have a significant other that loves me, and it's definitely reciprocated, i live in a safe place, I like my job, etc. But when the little things go wrong in life, it's these times when I wonder why every bad thing in life happens to me. In the game of poker, there are a number of times when the cards will be flipped over, and you'll find yourself way behind. What do you say? One time, just one time!! And sometimes, that "one time" actually happens, you get the last 9 in the deck to have your 9's over Q's full house beats my nut flush. But most of the time, as the math would seem to indicate, you'll lose that hand. But, because the game is a game of chance, it's possible to be on the top end of the hand, have a player in a two-outer (only 2 cards in the deck will let him/her win the hand), and they can catch their hand...all day...and there's nothing you can do about it. You can get mad about it, and complain constantly about how unfair life is for you, or you could look at the other side of it...1) you are playing a game, which you can stop, 2) you have enough disposable income to spend it on a game of chance and 3) by the math, this should work out in your favor over a large enough cross-section of the game.

I couldn't have imagined I would have found myself reflecting and writing on the inservice theme...who knew?

13 August 2009

it's the end of the summer as we know it...

...and I ain't fine about it. I have no idea where the time all went....it seemed like just yesterday that I got back from Alabama in as positive a fashion as one could return from Alabama, leading into the beginning of my summer. All in all, it was a pretty eventful time, with the biggest event this activity called: nothing. This summer, I took the advice of my man, Ron Livingston in one of DD's classics, Office Space. When asked what he would do if he had a million dollars, he said he would "do nothing." this was the first summer I did nothing since I was 11 or 12 years old.

There was always something to be done in the summer- the mandatory SAT preparation class, the debate camps, the math camps, the summer accelerated programs, sometimes just being sent to camp while my parents traversed the world- it was always something. I really envied a lot of my friends growing up, as they got to do whatever they wanted to do with their summers. One of my friends had parents that would leave the minute the summer started to go on some sort of semi-world tour, Asia one summer, Africa another, the "Cradle of Civilization" another summer. This left my friend, at 13, 14, 15, alone in his home, no parents in the country, much less the house. It was absolute freedom, and I loved, loved, LOVED going over to his house. The first, and most obvious reason, is because my parents had NO IDEA his parents were gone for the summer, which meant I could stay the night (or two, or three) and there was no checks, at all. Even if you're a pretty good kid, that's the kind of shit that can get you in trouble. Most of the major parties held in the town, at all, were held at this kids house, and the police department was a frequent visitor at the house. There was more than one occasion where me, as the sober one of the group (contrary to popular belief, my drinking problem didn't start until i was actually 21- don't get me wrong, we all just had different preferences, and I could cope better when I was "not right" than most of the other foolios I hung out with.

There was even the summer of the Boy Scout Jamboree- the decision my mother called "the dumbest shit i've ever heard." You see, my mom was against the Boy Scouts. Not for the clearly PC reasons that many have turned their collective backs on the organization- but because "the Boy Scouts taught you shit that didn't help you live in the world you live in- it's for some world of fucked up kids much whiter than you." She never pulled punches, and thus neither do I, so if you need someone to cast blame on, well, here you go, although me being an asshole makes it easy to just blame me. Well, the Boy Scout Jamboree, apparently, is relatively stringent with regards to the consumption of illgeal, illicit, smokable products, and so when they discovered that I had, in what was one of my dumber moments (in my defense, I did take the fall for a friend, who, in no uncertain terms, would have been sent to military school had he been discovered to have been smoking in general, and they already thought I was a bad influence, and I, to this day, am not sure of the reason). Long story short, there are Department of Forestry sheriffs, the head of Boy Scouts of America, me and my parents having a LONG conversation of the dangers of smoking in the woods (never mind I wasn't 18, or the potent smokable wasn't legal, or that we actually started a fire when my compadre thought we were were lost (paranoia) and said we needed to start a fire (it was 88 degrees) and he didn't want to freeze (it was 4:10pm). Ironically, or maybe justly, it was the fire that got us caught, as that was when the Department of Forestry was called.

Maybe it was because of these things, or maybe because I'm teaching now and feel I deserve the time off, driving my desire to do nothing. I did have a summer gig lined up, and when it fell through, I made the decision to not look for another gig, and to enjoy the summer for what it was. a ton of free time with limited obligations that I put off like pretty girls put off dorky guys. I had all summer to blog and I think I had less than 10 entries all summer.

I did, however, tighten up my poker, get much better at NCAA 10 and Fight Night 4, and do a ton of nothing. It. Was. Awesome.

Not looking at going back to work...

02 August 2009

The trade-off...

It occured to me, one of the things I enjoyed most this summer, was not writing in my blog. I was under the impression that, during the summer, when I had copious amounts of time to do, well, whatever with, I assumed all of this free time would allow me to write to my heart's content. However, what I figured out about myself this summer was, as much as I sometimes enjoy writing, I gained an almost sick satisfaction out of not writing, to the point that sometimes, I would be sitting around, with what I thought would be an excellent blog topic, but instead turned on the XBox or the DVD, and decided to do something considerably less productive, albeit more entertaining for me (at least in the short term). Now that the school year is rapidly approaching, and I have a list of things to do on the never-ending "to do" list, it seems that writing in this will be easier. Who would have ever imagined it would be easier to manage your time when you have actual events you can't just blow off becasue you don't feel like doing so (for example, I think I've needed a haircut for the last week, and I live within a quarter of a mile of the place that cuts my hair (I believe people call them "barbers"), but yet, have found neither the motivation and/or the need to get it done.

I decided to go up to a debate camp I used to work at, to visit some friends (this may speak of the hum-drum that is my life, that I go to visit a debate camp, and would consider it "fun"), and a couple of us decide to go out to dinner (this was more complicated than we would have imagined, as the place we went to eat was closed. As in, not open for business, no menus, gutted kitchen closed. Apparently, the establishement had gone out of business on Thursday (this is on a Saturday) and would be re-opening on Monday, with different food, but open nonetheless. So we decided to go to another location...but while at the table, waiting for food, my friends seemed to really be enjoying not being on the campus, working with the kids, and that any time they could get away would be greatly appreciated. And it's not as if they don't enjoy working with the kids. Actually, I think it's quite the contrary. They really do enjoy what they do, and do it with a high sense of pride in their work/obligation to their craft. I think this applies to all teachers. Anyone can show someone how to do something, but the act of teaching is more than that. It requires giving part, sometimes more parts than anticipated/expected, of yourself to insure that the students are the recipients of all they deserve, and that they, as teachers, have done all they can to improve the education of even one student....I sometimes forget of the trials and tribulations of working at a debate camp...working with high school kids for between 12-16 hours in a day can really wear you down. I really like doing it, but it really is like performing, all day long. As a teacher, you really don't get to wear your emotions on your sleeves, and when you're having a bad day, you've pretty much have to botle it all in. It's the reason why, after numerous days on the staff, I would walk the mile and a half to get to the closest bar. At the beginning, I justified it to myself as i just needed to have a beer, and drinking in public wasn't a legitimate option for me, as I wasn't in New Orleans or Las Vegas. But afetr awhile, I noticed I began looking forward to the almost 45 minute walk to the bar, as it offered me some solitude, which was hard to come by in a common living situation. Once I arrived at the bar, I was in the normal world. Nobody would ask me any questions about the affirmative. Nobody would ask me if I had given the debate on substantial any real thought, or if I thought the states counterplan would devistate this domestic topic. In fact, nobody would ask me anything. This. Was. Awesome. It meant, for an hour a day, I was allowed to be anonymous, and I really enjoyed it. I was allowed to have a beer and chat up the Giants with some random guy sitting next to me (and state my allegiance for my Twins). I was allowed to eat peanuts and throw them on the floor. I was allowed to play as much Outkast on the jukebok as I cared to, knowing it made some of the white women uncomfortable. But more importantly, I was allowed to be human, if only for an hour.

After about 45 minutes, I took them back to the campus, where they both jumped back in, head first, to an almost insane amount of work, refreshed, and feeling like they didn't miss a stride. As I drove home, I remembered how much I loved throwing myself into the job, but I also remember how much I hated not getting time to "stop and smell the roses", which is the very point of theses highly intensive, work driven, results oriented summer camps. And I realized, I didn't miss it. The part I missed, I can do, on my own, and it's more effective (the research part). And the rest of the good just doesn't seem to outweigh the bad, which is just losing your life for the exact block of time you're commited to filling. It's 6:45, and if I was there, I'd be working right now. But instead, as soon as I finsih this sentence, I intend on watching the Simpsons....