When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, May 11, 2012


 Yes, I am thankful for squirrels. Perhaps it's my strange experiences, perhaps it's just the friends I've gathered over the years. It's certainly affected by Pixar's Up, but that was just more fodder for the joys of squirrels (and before you argue with me, I know there were no actual squirrels in Up, but the lines forever cemented them as a part of my life).

I'm willing to bet that anyone reading this post has some kind of story to tell or can think of a squirrel they've come across at some point in their lives. I'm going to relate a couple of semi-rambling stories of my own, in no particular order, just to show you (and me, really) how much I've been influenced by squirrels. This list is nowhere near comprehensive and, much like the squirrel and the attribute I identify with most, it is relatively random and not overtly organized. That, by the way, is what I love most about squirrels and the idea of a squirrel. They jump all over the place in no apparent pattern. They skitter quickly and then sit and relax, only to take off in a new direction once again. And they are not always looking for food. Sometimes they just wander for the sake of doing something. This, by the way, is what my mind is like. Being a mental nomad means my mind has a tendency to wander around, sometimes returning to an earlier thought, sometimes venturing way out into the unknown for no particular reason, sometimes just relaxing long enough to find energy to take a 37-degree turn and wander off again. So, if you can handle it, let the wandering squirrel tales begin (and feel free to share your own squirrel tale in the comments).

Many college campuses are populated by squirrels. I don't like to think of them as rodents, even though they technically are. They are certainly fascinating to watch. The first college I attended was UNT in Denton, TX. It was there that I formed my first real friendships. I'm extremely introverted, not attractive (fat automatically means I'm ugly based on my personal experiences and the way I was treated by others), and occasionally overly verbose, so it's no surprise that I didn't have too many friends before I turned 16. Oh, yeah, I went to UNT as a junior in high school. It was quite an experience to be away from home for the first time, especially since my family was all I really had. I talked to kids in school, but after school the only ones I had were my family. That, by the way, is how I determine whether or not someone ends up in the friend category versus the acquaintance department--if I only interact with you in one type of situation, then you're an acquaintance, but if we interact outside of work/church/whatever, then you might be moved into the friend realm. Getting back to UNT...I wasn't the only high school student who skipped those last two years of traditional high school for an opportunity to start college early. TAMS (Texas Academy of Math & Science) was designed for that purpose. My graduating TAMS class had about 200 of us. I ended up befriending a small handful. I guess it's a lot easier to make friends when your fall-back (my family for me) is hundreds of miles away. Okay, okay, I'm getting to the squirrels, I promise. Anyway, even with friends I still managed to take random moments to watch the squirrels on campus darting around doing their squirrelly things. Sometimes my closest friends noticed me and joined me in watching them--yes, weird people are drawn to other weird people, go figure. David seemed to notice my fascination more than the others. He even used the squirrels to help me get rid of one of my bad  habits. I'm a almost obsessive gum chewer. I have been since I got my braces (ironic, I know) in the 7th grade because I became overly self-conscious and paranoid about bad breath and food stuck in my teeth. Unfortunately, gum doesn't retain it's flavor forever and my jaws get tired after too long, so I used to spit it out into the grass. I was thoughtful enough to avoid sidewalks because I've stepped in many wads myself and didn't want to do that to anyone. However, the grass isn't always the best place either. David tried to convince me that I needed to throw out my gum in a proper receptacle. When I didn't see the harm in what I was doing, he pointed out that a squirrel could inadvertently pick up my discarded gum and choke on it. "Do you want to be responsible for killing that squirrel," he'd say while pointing out one after I spit out my gum. I didn't really believe it would come to that, but I got his point. In fact, that was probably the only New Year's resolution--to dispose of my gum properly--that I've ever kept for any length of time. No, I don't spit my gum out on the ground, any ground. So, thanks David and the UNT squirrels for breaking that nasty habit.

Another squirrel experience at UNT lead to my significant dislike of April Fools Day. [Wait! This is supposed to be a gratitude blog! There's no hate in thankfulness!...I'll get to the silver lining, I promise.] The first time I really had cable was when I went to college. It was never a necessary expense for my parents, and that was probably a good thing. We spent enough time watching TV as kids without 100s of channels. My greatest personal discovery on cable was the Cartoon Network. I happen to have time after classes to watch shows like Johnny Quest (the newer version) and the Cartoon Cartoon offerings [another post for another time, I assure you]. Well, I only had 1 class (or maybe no classes, I honestly can't remember) on April 1st that year and I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon of watching my favorite shows. I turned on my TV in the morning and I saw a "Screwy Squirrel" cartoon playing. I thought, "This is kinda neat. I get it, it's an April Fool's Day cartoon. How cute." Then the show repeated immediately after finishing. I knew sometimes channels repeated shows back to back, so I though nothing of it. After over an hour (I'm naively optimistic sometimes) of watching the same cartoon--I was doing homework, too, okay!--I started to feel aggravated. I went to lunch with my friends and told them about my day. Of course they laughed at me and explained that I had fallen for an April Fool's joke. My optimism, however, hoped that it would only last the morning and I would be able to at least catch Johnny Quest before my night class--3 hours of physics is easier to sit through when watching cartoons beforehand. Unfortunately, the Screwy Squirrel played right through Johnny and everything else that day. So, I don't care for April Fool's Day. The silver lining is that I am more cautious when people tell me things that are shocking, extreme, or somewhat unbelievable. I am more likely to look for more data before deciding to believe. So, in a weird way, thank you, Screwy Squirrel, for leading me on a path toward critical thinking.

This post is perhaps getting too long, so I shall try to wrap it up with just a few more points about the influence of squirrels in my life. For one thing, the picture above was taken on the campus where I am currently employed as I was on my way to my office. I saw this little guy munching on something and I just had a moment in which I felt compelled to stop and see what he was doing. He was munching on a large mushroom by the edge of the sidewalk. I stopped to snap a picture, he (or she) almost ran away, but proceeded when he noticed I wasn't going to chase after him. It turned into one of those days that I just took my time with things and decided to stress less about my always growing to-do list. While I spent my Star Wars day working the entire time and not getting to the fun I had planned, at least I was able to accomplish my work without frustration or anger. Thanks squirrel!

I use "squirrel" often in my class, too. Remember in Up every time Dug or the other dogs were distracted. They would say "Squirrel!" and look away, then come right back to whatever they were doing before the interruption. I do the same in my classroom. When we get off topic I will say "squirrel" and then redirect the discussion back to the point. Squirrel moments are nice in class because it breaks up the monotony--even fascinating subjects like psychology can have long lecture moments. I think it helps my students express their thoughts, also, if I allow a few squirrel thoughts to run wild in the classroom. When too many are set loose, we just reel them in and move forward. It lightens the mood and they can see that I am a human being, as well.

Okay, rambling is over for the moment. I'm putting my squirrelly mind to another task. But, I always have squirrels around me to keep me on my toes and looking for new or rediscovered things to interest me. Perhaps I can share more squirrel tales, perhaps I'll forget. But I bet you can think of your own squirrel stories now.

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