Friday, October 8, 2010

Do What the Monty Python Boys Say

Well, after a little over two months of being virtually unemployed, I have finally found myself a job. It isn't necessarily in my field and it's not going to make me a millionaire, but it's got a lot of small bonuses that I appreciate, one being that it's a place I go every day and complete tasks for which someone then hands me money. I think I need some tasks to complete and I definitely need someone to hand me money.

I'm taking over the job from a good friend who is moving on to bigger things. While we were training together, I said, "I hope you don't think less of me for taking this job." (We are the kind of friends who can say such things to each other) She looked at me like I was crazy, as people often do, and said, "Why would I think less of you for taking a job that I was just doing? I would think less of you for sitting around doing nothing and not taking what was offered to you." And of course, she was right. But I still had my doubts.

I tend to look on the negative side of things. People who know me well will say this is a gigantic understatement, so maybe I should rephrase that. I almost always look on the negative side of things. I would, of course, like to say I'm just cautious. Careful. Realistic. And I am those things. But I am also wary of getting too excited about anything, lest it disappoint me or make me feel like a fool. And I suspect that's not the optimum way to live.

When I was younger, I remember getting unbelievably excited about things. I would pack for camp two weeks in advance, checking and rechecking my list for accuracy and completeness. I would wake up three hours early for a trip to St. Louis and drive everyone to the point of madness by asking "When are we leaving? How much longer? Are we there yet?" fifty times more often than the average child. I couldn't wait for summer because I just knew it was going to be awesome, every time.

Something happened between now and then. I no longer have the same level of excitement and anticipation about anything, be it a job or a concert. I'm usually able to muster it by the time the event comes around, but leading up to it I'm usually filled with thoughts of what can and probably will go wrong. I like to be pleasantly surprised when things go right, rather than be sure that they will only to be disappointed when they don't.What happens between childhood and adulthood to cause this phenomenon?

I guess now we have choices. As children, we don't necessarily choose our emotions, we just let them wash over us and bathe in the glory of innocence. As adults, we have seen more, been disappointed more, and can spot the pitfalls that we once fell headfirst into. This wisdom, although welcome and necessary, can cause us to be "...cautious. Careful. Realistic." Which is all well and good, but we can cautious, careful, and realistic ourselves into not enjoying anything.

It appears, then, that we must choose to be excited. Enthusiastic. Happy. We are forced to choose our paths, which is pretty exciting itself when you actually consider it. So I'm going to break from tradition this time and choose to be excited, enthusiastic, and happy about this new little venture in my life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

That Kind of Music Just Soothes My Soul

I said earlier today that if I had one impossible wish, it would be that I could sing like Stevie Nicks. There is magical? about her and her voice. I love everything about her. I love her with early Fleetwood Mac; no matter that they were all so high that they looked right through the crowd into oblivion. I love 80's era solo Stevie, with her big hair and her strut across the stage to "Stand Back." I love duet Stevie, rocking out with Tom Petty and singing sweetly with Don Henley. I love comeback Stevie, reunited with the band and giving me three of the greatest shows of my life. I love spinning Stevie, tambourine shaking Stevie, cheesy 80's video Stevie, young Stevie and old[er] Stevie. I love that she got her heart broken and is so obviously still in love with Lindsey-if only when they share the stage.

Bands today just don't have stories. Fleetwood Mac has a hell of a tale. I think there are about sixteen different versions of "Sara" out there, all with different references to the band's many personal entanglements. Rumours is one of the greatest albums in the history of music. Stevie, Lindsey, and Christine contribute completely different types of songs yet each one somehow undeniably produces the Fleetwood Mac sound. John inconspicuously rocks his bass in the shadows, quietly giving "The Chain" one of the best bass lines in music. And Mick. Ah, Mick, with his crazy eyes and ten minute drum solos. 

There are some who might claim that a popular band like FM is just that: popular, but with no real substance, heart, or true talent. Those people are wrong. If you can't see that Lindsey "No Pick" Buckingham is a true artist with his guitar, you know nothing about the instrument. If Stevie can't bring you nearly to tears with her rendition of "Silver Springs," well, your heart just might be made of stone, mister. If you don't think Christine McVie's "Songbird" is one of the most beautiful songs ever penned, you may have a few screws loose. If John's quiet dignity and dedication to his craft don't impress you, I'm not sure if anything would. And Mick Fleetwood puts every fiber of his being into those drums. If you can't see his heart, you have no soul. Mick's got soul.

Rumours is probably the first album I ever picked out of my mom's vinyl collection and put on the turntable. That's how I discovered all the music I still love today. Those album covers are as representative of my childhood as any photograph, and probably more so. Those old songs make me feel like a child again, and make me long for a time that I don't even remember. Sometimes I curse the fact that I wasn't around when all this music was actually getting made, but in a way I'm luckier than those who experienced it firsthand. Now, I get to hear all the history, bond with older folks who love the same music I do, and see how far those bands have risen (and fallen). I'm lucky that so many of my idols are still around and putting on shows so I can hear the songs I know and love with a group of people who also know and love them.

Many have tried to steer me away from my classic rock roots, but I don't think I'll ever change my ways.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Got Nothing Against a Big Town

 I feel like I've been on kind of a quest lately to find the beauty in the place I'm from. Well, I guess it's not really a quest, because that's more like the die-hard effort made by Clark Griswold to get his family to Walley World. Mine is more of a...noticing. I've been taking "the long way home" recently (when I have the gas!) and so many times I've wished for a camera to document the sometimes beautiful and many times strange or unusual things I see in the area where I grew up. Tonight I happened to have one.

This shadowy figure is a dog. In a bar. In Missouri.
For those of you who aren't familiar, I live in the very southwest corner of Missouri, within about 20-30 miles of the borders of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. It's called the Four-State-Area by those in the know (when I was a kid, I thought the Tri-State-Area in the northeast stole their moniker from us). I grew up with Jim Jackson giving us our Four-State news at 6:00 and 10:00 (still does), going down to Elk River or Big Sugar Creek in Mac County (still do), and searching endlessly for the Spook Light over by Seneca (never found). Tonight, I had the pleasure of going with a good friend to a favorite local restaurant, Undercliff Grill and Bar (yeah, the one with the dog).

If you're very clever (or went to the website), you might have already surmised that Undercliff was built, yes, under a cliff. Actually, it's more so built into the cliff. Builtintocliff doesn't have quite the same ring to it, though. Anyhow, Undercliff is a family-owned business that serves great food and drinks either inside "under the cliff" or outside at the patio bar, "The Hangar," where you can pal around with the local dogs.

As you can see, bikers are welcome. Tonight, we ran into a couple we knew who had gone on a ride a couple days ago and lost the wife's sunglasses on the highway somewhere between town and Undercliff. She is the kind of woman who buys "real" sunglasses, not Panama Jacks from Wal-Mart. We sadly reported that we hadn't seen them but would keep an eye out. What I appreciated about the wife tipsily explaining that she hadn't lost any in a really long time and the husband soberly muttering under his breath, "two months ago," was that they actually had faith that they might find them. And I love that about where I live.

Here's wishing she finds her sunglasses...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

Well, it was bound to happen. After a week of going strong with seven consecutive posts, the day I decided I just didn't feel like posting arrived...followed by fourteen more. But at least it was an even two weeks (my brain only functions well with neat, round numbers).

I just don't have a whole lot going on to write about at the moment. For the first significant amount of time since I turned 16 and was forced into my premier job as buffet attendant at a hideous chain restaurant, I am unemployed. It was a conscious choice made to get out of an extremely dysfunctional work environment, and I can honestly say I don't regret it for one moment. I would never recommend quitting a job without having another lined up, but in this instance I know I made the right choice. A huge weight was lifted, if the smaller one of near total poverty was added. I love my night job, but teaching part-time just doesn't pay the bills.

Perhaps this person's teacher should have been paid more...or less.

So I am currently relegated to the world of White Rain shampoo, 59 cent stale store brand bread, and giving up those little luxuries like dryer sheets. I now keep track of my gas mileage and can calculate down to the half gallon how much I will need for the week. Hair appointments and the purchasing of new clothes or makeup have come to a grinding halt. I've started cutting coupons. In short, I have become my mother.

USE COUPONS: You'll carry around wads of fifties and look just like Katie Holmes
And it's actually kind of fun. I sort of like going to the store and seeing how much food I can squeeze out of five dollars. I've started picking up the free Wednesday paper instead of waiting 'til I mow to curse at its unsolicited presence in my yard (not to mention the little game I've been forced to play lately called, "How Long Can I Go Without Mowing and Still Avoid Becoming the Neighborhood Pariah"). I channeled Kramer the other night and (literally) cheered my car on home, praying the gas would hold out and feeling triumphant, like I'd won something, when it did.

"...further to the left of the slash than anyone ever dreamed!"

This isn't to make light of the situations of people who are in true, abject poverty. I'm lucky that I have a nice place to live with a very low amount of bills, and I'm extremely thankful for the small income that I'm still bringing in (not to mention the friends who have helped me along the way, but that's a whole other post). As long as I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and running water, I count myself as pretty well off. I know there are millions of people out there who are truly hurting, and I'm sure they don't think of it as a fun game when they're trying to figure out how to feed their families. But since I only have myself to worry about, I can laugh about the days I've eaten peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon for lunch and two heels of bread and butter for dinner, and I'm thinking maybe I'm in exactly the situation I need to be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm So Tired

When I started this blog, my goal was to write something every day, but...I'm so tired. Enjoy the video. You'd better, because as Paul puts it, "It's the bloody Beatles White Album, shut up..."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Have to Live like a Refugee

When teaching non-native English speakers, there's always the occasional laugh or awkward exchange; for instance, my students couldn't stop giggling the other night when I kept saying "sheet" (as in "worksheet") since they would instinctively pronounce a similar word with a long "e" rather than a short "i." But on Monday, I had a more sobering encounter with words.

We were practicing introductions and talking about yourself, which included a video and worksheet packet entitled "Immigrants and Refugees Tell Their Stories." The video told the story of Biba, a refugee from Bosnia now living in Chicago. When I handed out the accompanying worksheets, one student asked the meaning of "refugee." Since my class has been together for a year now, they're pretty comfortable with me and each other, and don't hesitate to speak out when they know the answer or can help another student. Before I even got the chance to begin to explain, the entire class broke out in a cacophony of Spanish, explaining what a refugee was to the one student who didn't know. He quickly got the message, and not one student asked why someone would have to refugee. They already knew.

This may not seem that remarkable, but knowing my class and some of the things I have to explain, it made quite an impression on me. There are many cognates in Spanish and English that are seemingly self-explanatory that I still  have to define for them. But I was clearly not needed in this case. Biba, the woman in the video, spoke very simple English and could only describe the situation in her country by saying her home was "broken." I explained to them that this meant much more than the simple term used, and I got the nods of comprehension that every teacher longs for and many times doesn't get, not because I'm a great teacher, but, again, because they already knew.

I don't know most of my students' personal immigration/refugee stories, and it's not my job to ask. My job is to teach them the language so they can carry on their lives here as well as possible. Many times during class, tears well up in my eyes when I see someone trying their hardest or when a struggling student suddenly "gets" something. I know other kinds of teachers have the same experiences, but as an ESL teacher, I think it hits me so hard because I know some of the prejudices and obstacles they have to face that we as natural born citizens just can't understand, and to watch them work so hard when I know there are people out there who direct a lot of negativity toward them just kills me.

I would challenge anyone who has anything nasty to say about "those people" who "need to learn English" to come to my class just once. Watch them rush in, of their own free will, dog tired after a twelve hour day at a factory, to sit in a classroom for three hours. Ask them about their families who are at home while they're in class. Listen to them speak to me as respectfully as they would their boss, or their mother. Look at the presents they've bought me, when some can barely afford a notebook for class. See them help me clean up the classroom without being asked. Hear them say "Thank you, Teacher," after each and every class. Talk to my student who just earned citizenship how much money and time it cost her.

I know that some people come here and aren't productive members of society. So are a large percentage of the people who supposedly have the "right" to be here. There are leeches and losers in every corner of this world. I just wish that more people would judge individuals on their own merit, not by the actions of other members of their ethnic group. Or how about we just stop judging each other at all? I know I have enough of my own problems to worry about than whether or not someone else is holding up their end of the bargain. The next time you see someone in a store struggling to get the words out, instead of looking disdainfully at them, try helping them. And if you don't feel they deserve it, the next thing you should be doing is picking up a book and learning a new language for yourself, so you can see just how easy it is.

My surprise birthday cake- with peaches!

Monday, September 13, 2010

You're the One

"...In spite of the care she devoted to each thing she wrote, as soon as it was finished, she cast it behind her with something like contempt, sometimes with rage. Such things were not what she wanted at all. But what did she want? In a different culture, perhaps, she would have been happier..."

-Ted Hughes, from his foreword to The Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1982

The cover of my edition of the journals; notice one side the words, one side the woman...
For anyone who desires to do any kind of writing, it's disheartening to read someone like Sylvia Plath. Even her journals are poetic. Knowing her history, you might want to go in thinking that her entries will be overwrought, melodramatic, or, in the parlance of our times, "emo." Although they're certainly self-absorbed and maudlin at times, they're unflinchingly real and relatable.

As evidenced in Hughes' quote, Plath struggled to find her voice as a writer. This effort suffered from her desire to be published and popular. She often had to tailor or temper her natural style and content to produce what publications wanted. Hughes even went so far as to claim that all but Ariel and the later poems, along with her journals, were the only representation of her true "voice," and that all her other writings were the "waste products" left along the way to finding that voice.

Sylvia and Ted (AKA Bill Pullman's twin)
It's somewhat encouraging that even a literary genius like Plath suffered from those insecurities and produced pieces that were less than representative of both herself and what she was truly capable of as a writer. Hughes explains:

"A real self, as we know, is a rare thing. The direct speech of a real self is rarer still. Where a real self exists it reveals itself, as a rule, only in the quality of a person's presence, or in actions. Most of us are never more than bundles of contradictory and complementary selves. Our real self, if our belief that we have one is true, is usually dumb, shut away beneath the to-and-fro conflicting voices of the false and petty selves. As if dumbness were the universal characteristic of the real self. When a real self finds language, and manages to speak, it is surely a dazzling event-as Ariel was."

It's important to note that Hughes uses the word "dumb" not in the modern sense that we would, but to mean "mute" as was a common understanding of the word in his generation. He's saying that our true selves are silent, and only once in a great while can that silence find an authentic voice and be shown to the rest of the world. It seems that to get by in a society, to get along with others, we must be "false and petty." I find this to be true, particularly in the American culture. Every time I wrote a journal entry when I was younger, I did it with the notion in mind that someday, someone would read it. I was afraid to write anything too "true," too real. I found myself tempering everything about what I wrote, from the technique to the content, out of fear of being "found out." The writing wasn't true to me, but I was afraid to show "me," anyway, so into the garbage it all went.

Tell me about it.
I don't believe a blog is the place to find your voice as a writer, unless your goal is only that of being a successful blogger. Your audience is too wide and untargeted; it probably includes friends and family who may all have you in a certain, different "niche" in their brains, and when you try to write to please everyone, you probably end up pleasing yourself least of all. I've doubted and questioned myself over and over since starting this blog, and I find that the more I write, the less I care what people think of it, as long as it is serving a purpose for me. That sounds selfish, but everything we do in this world is a selfish act. Even when we help others, it often makes us feel just as good as the person we're helping, which is fine. When we have some sort of release or just spend a little time doing something we enjoy, the happier we feel and the more good energy we can put out into the world. You're the only one you really have to please, and you'll never please anyone else if your happiness isn't your first priority.
[Cue end of cliche]

Even Plath wore a bikini