When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28, 2012 Squirrel of the Month

Again by request from my daughter, the July 28, 2012 Squirrel of the Month is Scrat from the Ice Age movies.
My daughter's drawing of Scrat, based on the McDonald's happy meal toys for Ice Age 4
What in the world could Scrat possibly teach us? Well, can you think of any character with such stubborn perseverance? He's been chasing his beloved acorn for 4 movies (and a few shorts)! He's given up love for the nut. Normally meek, Scrat turns on the major fighting moves any time his acorn is threatened. He is single-minded in his purpose to pursue his acorn and keep it safe from others. Of course, sometimes his obsession causes problems for the other characters in the Ice Age world, but that's a small price to pay, I'm sure.

So, thank you, Scrat, for teaching us that it is vital to fight for your goals and keep pushing beyond reality in the pursuit of happiness (or a good nut).

Friday, July 27, 2012

My [Seemingly Under-Appreciated] Husband

NOTE: This post may seem a bit rambling, as my mind is wandering a bit. It does not mean that my feelings on the subject are any less diminished.
I have known my husband longer than my daughter. (I'm pretty sure that in 99% of cases one tends to know the father of one's child longer than one knows the child.) Yet, I rarely mention him in this blog. I am not ungrateful to him. I don't set him out of my mind. I know it may seem that way, especially to people to know me, but part of that is just my typically solitary nature. Nonetheless, it's past time for me to include him amongst my list of gratitude-inducing phenomena.

I met him within my first month at Florida Tech, at a FITSSFF (FIT Society of Science Fiction and Fantasy) open game day. Honestly, I don't think he even took notice of me until our second semester there. We started to interact a little more, especially when I moved into the same dorm because a single room became available. I prefer my own room to sharing with a roommate, especially as I really never meshed well with roommates. He was pretty sweet, even though we were more casual acquaintances at the time. How many people would drive a girl they barely knew and her friend out to a job interview, about 1.5 hours each way? He did. And if he hadn't, then I would never have been able to work at Universal Studios the summer between my junior and senior years. I probably might not have ended up on the school paper, either. He told us all about working on the paper on our way back to campus. Initially I was sold on the idea of getting to move back into the dorms a week before everyone else so that I could avoid the chaos that is freshman orientation (for reference, this is in 1999, right after ending my junior year at FIT and before coming back for my senior year). No, before you start judging me, I did not befriend my future husband just because he had a car. True, I was without my own vehicle, but I did not see him as a resource to be used. He has always been a person to me. I saw him as a friendly acquaintance, then as a friend the more I got to know him. He introduced me to a few people who became friends as well, most of them through either FITSSFF or from The Crimson (FIT school paper) staff.

Throughout college I was always ahead of my [future] husband. I transferred in with two years of credits at the time that he was starting out as a freshman. We were both the same age, though, so I felt more advanced. I liked that thought. I even managed to stay ahead of him until we made our move to our current home. I graduated with my first master's degree when he got his bachelor's degree. And I finished my second master's degree a year before he finished his master's degree. I even got a semi-professional job, something that looked like the start of a potential career, while he was finishing up his degree. It felt great to be ahead of the game for a while. Things have turned around quite a bit, but that's to be expected with the natural progression of maturity. Before I get ahead of myself, I suppose the curious might be interested in how we moved from casual acquaintances to dating, etc. It's not a fantastic story filled with drama and redemption and moving moments, but it's mine to tell.

We started dating after a series of late-night Kubrick movie watching sessions. I would not necessarily recommend this method for attracting girls, by the way. I remember falling asleep during 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also remember missing the "plot" of most of the Kubrick movies because I couldn't keep my focus; it was usually after 1 a.m. when we watched them. I'll be honest, I can't even remember which movie we were watching when we shared our first kiss, but I do remember that it was afterwards we decided that our friendship was growing. Many of our friends at the paper wondered what took us so long to become a couple, as we spent so much time together. To be fair, a lot of that time was spent working on the paper itself. I guess I just didn't realize how much time we hung out beyond that, especially since we never had any classes together. I was studying psychology and he was working on ocean engineering.

Time moved forward. Details will not be filled in here. We became engaged in his junior year, my first year of grad school. A little over a year later we were married and our daughter was born. My parents loved him from the get-go. My dad said "I was wondering when you two would get together" after I told my parents about our dating. My in-laws took quite a few years to get used to me. I think they have since warmed up to me. For the record, I never saw my in-laws as the stereotypical evil people who hate anyone who steals their children away. They are people. They may think and do some things differently from what I was used to, but this provides me many opportunities to expand my horizons.

My husband's career has moved forward, while mine managed to stall [see "I Am Adjunct" post]. He has expanded my horizons. He took me on my first cruise, introduced me to Dragon*Con, helped me find and accept my inner geek. I know I can be annoying and frustrating to him. I know I test his patience with my lack of home-making skills. I know I seem to pour too much focus elsewhere. I know I don't always show my husband of 10 years all the love and attention he may need. Not showing the feelings does not preclude them from existing. He is a good father and a wonderful provider. There are times when our daughter feels like she doesn't get enough time with her daddy and times when I feel overwhelmed by my expected contributions to our family. Yet, he is always there to take some of the stress off my shoulders when I absolutely need it (like at the end of a semester when I go into hyper-grading mode and just need to be left alone to work). He is valued at work and even more valued at home. I thank God that he sent me a man who is sweet and understanding and still has the ability to bring me back down into the depths of reality when I need it. I love my husband. I can see myself with no one else. I may appreciate other men's attractive facades, but I will always come back to my husband. I'm pretty sure he loves me too, or he's at least comfortable enough with me to keep us together as a family.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Webster, Why Did We Ever Forget You?

I am sure that almost every American, and many other people around the world, have heard the name "Webster" at some point in their life. Webster's has even become synonymous with "dictionary" for many people. I am also sure that fewer people realize that Webster--Noah Webster, to be precise--was a real person living during the infancy of our nation. He made it his life's work to travel throughout the budding United States in order to gather information on all of the local languages spoken throughout the new nation. He noticed that, while the majority of residents spoke English, the versions of English spoken tended to have enough variations that is was sometimes difficult for people from one state to converse clearly with people from another state. Throughout his research he realized that our new country needed a unified language if we were to become stronger and work together to grow. So, he set out to create the first English dictionary based on "American" English. From his dictionary he created his speller.

Webster's Speller is a book, written by Noah Webster in the 1780s, with the last revision in 1824, that was used in schools around the country to teach children (and some adults) everything about the English language. The book was so exact, so complete, that it was used in all classrooms from first grade through high school. It is written in progressive lessons, beginning with the alphabet and each letter's sounds and ending in reading exercises for high school-level readers that include moral and citizenship lessons. Like most people who have ever opened a textbook, I thumbed through the book to find simple lessons to teach my daughter so that she could be brought up to speed. See, she was never properly taught phonics and, as she apparently has a minor speech issue, this has been holding her back significantly in her reading and writing and spelling. She does wonderfully in all her other subjects, but her spelling and reading scores were not up to par for her real level. Her comprehension is great, she just stumbles over words sometimes, often making some up as she goes because she doesn't recognize them. She never learned the tools for basic reading or the rules for combining sounds into real words. That's why I bought the Speller.

I decided that I would take my daughter through Webster's Speller from the very first lesson, even though she already learned the alphabet a few years ago, and go forward one lesson at a time until school started. I don't intend to stop until we start school. Even if we do not make it to her current grade level (she'll be starting 5th grade in August), I want to fill in as many gaps as I can. We began to make progress. I started with the first lessons/tables, which were handwriting lessons in cursive and print for each of the letters. We moved on to the tables of basic syllable sounds. I pronounced them, she repeated. Then we began single syllable words. I read them, she wrote them and spelled them out loud. Before we moved on to the next lesson--disyllabic words--I noticed that I made the same mistake most textbook readers make. I skipped over the "fluff" to what I thought was the "meat" of the book, in this case I was only concerned with the lessons. Yesterday I decided to actually read the "fluff" and I am extremely glad that I did.

Noah Webster wrote his book like a true lecture. It reads like a teacher attempting to educate his class in all of the preliminary nuances and rules of the language before you get into the lessons themselves. If you had a really good math teacher, then you learned the vocabulary of math (quotient, dividend, etc.) before you practiced that skill. It seems boring, but it is actually incredibly helpful in not only knowing HOW to do something, but also understanding WHY you do something. Understanding the WHY gives you the capacity to comprehend what exists and to build new things from these springboards. Yeah, it's fun to build a Lego set following the instructions and you feel proud of yourself because you could recreate the set as it was designed on the box. Yet, if you know why certain pieces work together then you can create new designs that are stable and artistic from the same set of bricks. The same thing goes for math and language. I am just saddened that it took me so long to figure this out.

My whole understanding of English, a language that I tend to struggle with even though it is my primary and almost exclusive language (except for a few words and phrases in other languages that I know), has suddenly grown exponentially. It was all because I decided to go back and read out the paragraphs preceding the lessons. I read the explanations of the sounds of each letter of the alphabet and the distinctions of the types of letters [bet you didn't know there were 3 types of letters, not just 2!] and why each letter fell into its respective category. For those of you who debated this, Y is always considered a vowel, but it can act like a consonant or diphthong. And I found out that the letters are not classified arbitrarily but, rather, based on the mouth movements and opening/closing of the vocal chords required to say their name. When I read this out to my daughter I could see the same light bulb go off in her brain as I felt in mine. For a very intelligent kid in speech therapy, this is a vitally important lesson if you ever expect progress to be made.

We now know why letters are pronounced certain ways in words based on their relative position to other types of letters. In fact, the only letter that Webster states you have to "just be sure to memorize" [quote is a paraphrase of actual wording, but they are used for emphasis] is the letter g because sometimes it doesn't play by its own rules. Every other letter has exact rules that are followed in American English words. Yes, the rules more complicated than Russian, for example, but that's because English uses fewer characters to convey more sounds. In the attempt to simplify the written part of language, English actually made it more complicated to decode. However, it CAN be decoded. The problem is that we stopped teaching people the basic decoding rules.

It's no wonder high school graduates have difficulty reading and spelling! They were never taught the fundamentals. Even phonics, which I have come to understand as a watered down memorization version of comprehensive language education, is no longer being taught in schools. Many education programs have moved on to "whole language," but this only teaches rote memorization of words. The human capacity for straight rote memorization is significantly limited. True understanding comes from comprehension of the rules and tools used to build more complex information. Rote memorization dumps the information into our semantic long-term memory. Skills, including rules for math and language formation, are stored in our implicit memory. We know that implicit memory almost never fades, yet semantic memory is subject to numerous recall failures. So why did we stop building implicit memory? Perhaps it was because it was seen as boring; people don't want to waste time learning when they can be spoon-fed answers. Comprehension is not regurgitation. It is adaptation. The human mind was designed for adaptation, not simply regurgitation.

Think of it another way. Some people can "cook" because they follow the recipe. Occasionally they may experiment and add some new spice because they are curious, but they don't understand why the new spice changes things. A true culinary genius, however, has learned the chemical reactions of different substances, understands how certain ingredients like yeast or baking soda function, so they are able to create novel dishes that not only taste well but that also don't explode or kill you. The same can be said of language. Okay, you can be literate. You can remember the sequences you were taught. You can read the words on the page because you remember the familiar symbols from your earlier education. But if you understand how and why the pieces go together the way they do, then you can recombine them in a new logical sequence and create something new that still works in the preexisting realm of the language.

Language and communication are so very important for our very existence. Don't believe me? Think of any major invention, philosophy, profession, art, etc. and communication was involved. Also imagine your world if you could not communicate at all, if you were 100% reliant upon yourself for absolutely everything and had to "reinvent the wheel" each and every day. I am baffled that we have become so lazy that we don't bother to really understand the fundamental rules of our language so that it will work more efficiently. I don't know why we removed Webster's Speller from schools. Maybe somebody's knickers got all tied into knots when they read the "moral" lessons at the end of the book and didn't want their little Johnny to think like that. For whatever reason, we need to bring it back. We need to have a new generation of thoroughly educated individuals, not just bubble fillers and "good testers" going through the motions. I am so glad I discovered this centuries old textbook. I just really wish others could share in its wisdom as well. I suppose I could find solace that, in a world of 7+ billion people, most of whom now speak English, there will now be a couple who actually understand English.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Invisible Man Has a Few Loose Ends

Note: I try to be spoiler-lite in my book reviews. It's hard to talk about a story without letting some details slip, but I also don't want to reveal too much so that you can read the book for yourself and make your own judgements.

In my continuing quest to read the source material for Universal Studios' "classic" horror/suspense films of the 1930s-1940s, I picked up H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man. I was a little reluctant at first because I found it very difficult to keep my focus through War of the Worlds. I anticipated a similar difficulty with The Invisible Man, but I was pleasantly surprised. It helps that each chapter is relatively short and the writing is in "cleaner" language, without too much overt description. My surprise ended, however, as I progressed through the story because it left me feeling like I had just watched an air-headed sitcom rather than a moving drama.

Like Dracula, I came into this book with some knowledge of the story, as I vaguely remember bits from the movie and other versions of the story. Interestingly, this original version seemed much simpler than the cinematic translations. Although it takes place over a four-month time span (I'm not counting the exposition of Griffin's back story, which is covered in a chapter or two), it feels as if it covers only a few days. Most of the action also occurs in two different villages, yet it reads like it all happens in the same place.

Though he is the subject of the story, Griffin (the Invisible Man) is not really the main character per se. That distinction does not really seem to fall to any particular character. True, we end up learning the most about Griffin. Yet, even his character is not completely fleshed out. Perhaps it is do to his manic nature--I use this expression in the strict psychological sense, as he does exhibit many behaviors of someone suffering from the mood disorder Mania--that it is hard to grasp his motivations for his behaviors. Just when I felt I understood what he was trying to accomplish through his invisibility, Wells throws in a curve ball and Griffin changes his purposes. This is probably where the movies diverge the most. They tend to portray him as a "mad scientist" bent on discovering something for the sake of pure science and stumbling upon consequences he didn't think about. The literary Griffin doesn't seem to have a real straightforward purpose for his actions. Yes, he wants to make a name for himself. Yes, he wants "revenge" against an "unfair" world. But he comes across as a child playing with a chemistry set (Ooh! What do these chemicals do?) instead of a true researcher.

None of the other characters are described beyond some basic physical and minute personality characteristics. When things go wrong and people are hurt or abused or robbed, etc., I really didn't feel anything beyond the basic "that's not right" sensation. There was no one in the book to sympathize with. There were no real heroes. Even Griffin was not much of a villain. Honestly, what he needed was a good psychiatrist. True, he became homicidal towards the end, but I'm sure with some therapy he could have controlled most of his outbursts. Money seemed to be part of his problem, but at first you believe he's well-to-do, and it isn't until the second half of the book that you find out that he never had any money to begin with. Could this be why he went on a rampage? Not really. This plot point was left hanging wide open.

Other plot points were left as loose ends as well. We do find out what happened to Griffin's elusive notebooks, leaving the story open for a potential sequel. But, it was left open, meaning that  we can only guess whether or not their present owner ever deciphers them. We never find out enough of Kemp's back story to see his complete connection to Griffin. If they were just at university for two years together (Kemp was older) and they weren't roommates or in the same classes, then why would Griffin think he could confide in the brushing acquaintance? There is also the question of who is telling the story. It's written almost as if a reporter were putting together an expose for a magazine. Yet, if that were the case then there ought to have been some mention of said reporter somewhere in the text. Also, if it were a report or article, then you would not get the kind of details we did in the book. The voice of the narrative just didn't fit with any method I've experienced before. The biggest plot hole, to me, was the cause of the Invisible Man's manic behavior. Movie versions state that the transformation into invisibility, mainly the chemical reaction with his brain, is what drives him mad. Yet, Wells never really implies this. There are hints of mania before Griffin's transformation in his back story. Maybe he becomes crazier after becoming invisible. Maybe it doesn't really change him that much. There's really no way to tell the way it was written. Perhaps Wells wants the reader to believe the pursuit of invisibility itself is madness.

As far as monsters go, Griffin is definitely scary because of his unpredictability. He is a pure monster in that there is really nothing about him that makes him sympathetic to the reader. His mania makes him a frightening foe. He is one of the most selfish characters I've ever read and he doesn't even seem to care as much about his survival so long as he gets what he wants. He throws juvenile temper tantrums that would be funny if they weren't so damaging to others. Sometimes I just wanted to grab him by the scruff and slap some sense into him. At least the other characters' reactions to his terrorizing are human, even if they themselves are cardboard versions of people. The panic and fear of the villagers does successfully come across in Wells' writing. But since there's no one to really care for, I ended up with the "at least I'm not as bad off as those poor schmucks" feeling.

This is one time that I would recommend the movie over the book if you're looking for character depth. If you're looking for a series of chaotic fights and unsubstantiated anger galore, then read the book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Turn Signals: Because Average Humans are NOT Telepathic

Living in Florida for the last 14 years, I have come to appreciate the invention of the turn signal more and more each day I get behind the wheel. For some reason, many drivers seem to believe that I and other drivers can read their minds. We somehow have this magic ability to predict when someone wants to come into our lane or turn onto another road. We do not. At least, I do not. I rely heavily on other drivers to use their turn signals to communicate their intentions. If I don't see a turn signal on a car ahead or behind me, then I assume the driver intends to keep driving straight in their current lane. I use my turn signals to indicate my desire to change lanes or travel in a direction other than straight ahead. I have found that my turn signal, when used properly, gives other drivers time to make room for me in the lane or to slow down behind me as I turn, thus avoiding accidents.

Drivers, please continue to use that handy little blinking light. It really helps keep accidents down. And using your turn signal for an extended period only makes a trusting soul like myself ever so nervous, as I keep expecting you to make your turn or lane shift, so I drive slower behind you in the hopes of giving you room. There's a nifty feature in almost every modern car. Not only can you see a little arrow light up on your dash board when you activate your turn signal, but you can also hear a rhythmic click or beep or thump or sound of some sort that lets you know your signal is still active. I very much appreciate drivers who deactivate their signals once their turn or lane change is completed. I very much appreciate this sound feature myself, as sometimes I forget my signal is still on or the turn is not complete enough to automatically deactivate the blinker. The sound lets me know that I need to communicate with my fellow drivers that I have completed my maneuver and I will not need to enter their space at that moment.

Yay for turn signals and thank you ever so much for those of you who use them. If you are unfamiliar with the operation of this nifty invention, then I suggest you peruse your car's owner's manual so you too can enjoy the benefits of driving communication.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Original Sources Are Sometimes Better Than Modern Interpretations

I don't like vampire stories, as a rule. I tend to shy away from them whenever possible. I will admit to a brief liking of the movie "Interview with a Vampire"--I was a teen and had a short-lived fascination with Brad Pitt after seeing "Legends of the Fall," so I can be forgiven. But I haven't really been able to get into the whole vampire craze. You will most likely never catch me reading a Twilight book. I'm not judging those who do. I do know that the premise does not appeal to me. So, I was a little reluctant to read Dracula by Brahm Stoker. I'm really glad I did, though.

Why did I pick it up in the first place if I don't like vampires? I got this crazy idea to read as many of the source materials/novels that formed the basis for the old classic movie monsters from Universal Studios. I happened to have a copy of Dracula that I picked up during one of my book-buying binges many years ago. I thought I should at least give it a shot since it started this whole vampire movement. I don't remember if I actually ever saw the 1930s Dracula with Bela Lugosi in its entirety, though it's been referenced in so many movies, shows, books, etc. that I feel almost as if I have. I do vaguely remember bits and pieces of "Brahm Stoker's Dracula" with Keanu Reeves, mostly because this version was spoofed in a Simpsons Halloween special. Therefore, I did not go into this reading with a clean slate, but a mostly ignorant one at least.

It did take me a while to get into story, as the language is a bit different from what I'm used to reading or hearing or speaking. Then again, as I tend to be quite verbose myself, I could begin to relate after a while. I do love the novel approach of writing the story as a collection of journal and diary entries. At first I thought the entire book would be from Jonathan Harker's journal, but I was pleased when it switched perspectives. Stoker did an excellent job of infusing each journal with the character's personality while still maintaining the flow of the story. You don't worry about missing any story while one character is narrating and you don't have to deal with overlap as journaling characters interact. I would have very much liked to learn a little more background on Dr. Van Helsing and Renfield, however. These two main characters were left shrouded in mystery still. There is a website, Dracula Bites, that attempts to fill in some holes or imagine more background information for the story.

I'm sure some people will complain about the perceived sexist issues in the story. However, you must remember the time in which the book was actually written. This is Victorian England and society, especially middle-class and high society, was quite different from our modern post-sexual revolution American ideas. Even so, Mina Harker is a surprisingly strong individual who embodies both the feminine ideals of caring and tenderness and the more masculine trait of a quick analytical mind. I also like the touch of strong faith she has, even though no character ever seems to go to a church service of any kind. Still, there is more to religion than ritual meetings. It's nice to see the protective stance that the men take toward Mina, while she does her best to make a contribution to their efforts to take down Count Dracula. She does not want to be a pretty bauble under glass. She wants to be a part of the team. And she proves to be a valuable team member indeed.

As a psychologist, I was originally interested in the take on Dr. John Seward and his representation of psychiatry. I was not surprised to find him representative of the stereotype of psychiatrists during this time period--extremely analytical, curious and dying to conduct experiments, sometimes coldly thinking more about the disease than the patient. At least he wasn't a homicidal psychopath like Hannibal Lector or Dr. Johnathan Crane or a wreck when it comes to personal relationships like many modern therapists in the media (e.g. Frasier Crane, Jennifer Melfi, Ben Sobel, Dr. Leo Marvin, etc.). The fact that he has a life outside his asylum, and yet spends so much time thinking of his patients, gives the impression that he has come close to finding a balance between work and home life. This is rare with many portrayals of professionals of any kind; audiences usually see mostly one side of their lives and only a tiny glimpse of the rest.

I also found the quick friendships and the hunters' general dynamic to be quite intriguing. It's amazing how quickly near-complete strangers became so close so quickly. It's endearing how much they actually cared for one another even as they agreed to face potential death in their endeavors. It is also interesting that expertise and ability, rather than status, lead to a change in leadership as the situation warranted. One could argue that Van Helsing was really in charge, yet everyone, even Mina, had a moment in which they directed the others on one point or another during their work.

One thing that really surprised me was the complexity of the superstition about vampires that is contained in this one book. I always thought that only a few powers were granted to Dracula in the original story (turning into a bat, hypnotizing his victims) and any other powers were inventions of later authors. I also assumed that there were only a few weapons that a vampire hunter could use against the Un-Dead. Nope. Van Helsing details a whole slew of other abilities--and weaknesses--of the vampire all in this one story. I guess what happened in subsequent vampire stories was a trimming down of the superstitions around them.Too bad. In Brahm Stoker's version the vampire is a truly formidable foe. There are many good reasons for the characters to fear him.

Overall, this was not nearly as bloody a story (in body count, anyhow) as one would expect from one of the premier horror monster stories. It's a mental thriller and a subtle mystery. Even if you know the story, as I did, from watching many of the other re-tellings over the years, it is refreshing to go back to the source. I found many plot points left out of the reincarnations that made the story that much more enjoyable. If anything, I can appreciate Brahm Stoker's work much more for its purity after having experienced some of the stories that he inspired in later generations. I can say the same thing for Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, as well. Although, Frankenstein did not have as abrupt an ending as Dracula did. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many people have built upon the mythology that Brahm Stoker began (in media, anyway) with his novel.


Before anyone rails against this post and points out any holes in my sentiment I will come forward and make some of your arguments for you. 1) I only have one child, so I "wouldn't know what it's like to keep getting pregnant", etc., or what it was like to deal with a toddler while carrying a baby on my hip. 2) My pregnancy was not riddled with illness or pain. I had morning sickness for maybe two days. I got heart-burn in my 7th or 8th month, but that was about it. I wasn't even fully aware that the sensations I was feeling around my due date were contractions at the time because they felt like mild cramps. So, no, I can't speak for hard pregnancies or hard labor. 3) My daughter was born when I was 22 years old, so I don't have direct experience with either a teen pregnancy or a late-life pregnancy. 4) I never showed. Almost no one knew or could tell I was pregnant unless I told them; I only told a few people who I felt needed to know, like my teachers as my due date came near and my parents. Therefore, I never had to deal with embarrassing questions or looks. 5) Because of complications my daughter was born via cesarean, so I never got to experience "natural" childbirth with all of the pain and craziness most people think about.

Okay, so in the "my life sucks" game, I don't get very many points for my pregnancy or child-birth experiences. I could pull out other cards to gain some life-suck points. a) I was (and always have been) obese during the pregnancy so my doctors did judge me and expect me to come down with all kinds of illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. b) I did not have insurance to cover me as I was not married, though engaged, at the time I became pregnant [we were married before our daughter was born]. c) I was finishing my first master's degree and working on my second master's degree during my pregnancy, while working on my internship. d) My husband was also working on his bachelor's degree at the same time, so money was not readily available, though we did manage. No, I don't get too many life-suck points. I don't really want them, either. I stopped playing that game a long time ago when I met people who insisted on playing to win and I realized that the "prize" was not something I wanted.

What I want to say with this post is, even though I did not have too many problems during my pregnancy, I would still do it all over again. I have heard many people--men and women, but mostly women--say that if women only knew all the "stuff" (often a stronger word is used) that they had to go through during pregnancy, then they would never have sex. Sorry, this is grade-A bull flop. Millions of women, fully aware of the consequences of coitus, still engage in sexual behavior every day. Some don't think too consciously about the consequences, some just don't care. Sex, especially in a loving relationship, has too great an emotional and physical draw to abandon all together. For me, I knew full well of possibilities and consequences. That didn't stop me and I have no regrets. Physical sensations were not even the greatest reward for me. My daughter is. I would go through Hell and back, suffer anything possible, even bad sex, in order to bring her into this world alive and well. I gave up caffeine for her, which was the hardest thing for a grad-student with a full load and a job to do. I don't smoke or drink or do drugs, so there was no worry there. I had to be more careful with my diet, which is never easy for someone who has always been overweight. I did feel like a failure as a woman when they told me they had to perform a c-section, but I didn't care when I heard my beautiful little girl cry for the first time. As we weren't married yet, I knew that there might be repercussions, looks, judgements, etc. for me if I gave birth. I knew that there was a possibility that I might have become a single mother. I knew that there was a chance that I might have had to postpone my second masters degree. However, terminating the pregnancy or giving up my baby for adoption was NEVER!!! an option for me. I chose to deal with anything I had to in order to bring her into this world and care for her for the rest of my life.

I have never told my daughter about my pregnancy in any way to incite guilt for her existence. I would never tell her that my life would be easier or more glamorous or that I'd have more money if I didn't have her. I just can't bring myself to believe that. I find I have a hard time understanding a mother who tells her child "I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it!" when she gets angry at them. I also shake my head at the mother who uses the circumstances of her pregnancy and/or childbirth (e.g. "I was in labor for 36 hours and you can't even wash the dishes for me?!") to guilt their child into something. I don't get angry at my daughter. I get angry at the results of some of her behaviors. I get frustrated with things that she does or doesn't do. I become upset sometimes with things that are said or done. But I am never mad or disappointed with her. I love my daughter more than anything. I cannot imagine a world without her. When I give up my time or my money or anything else for her, I don't do it begrudgingly, but with my whole heart. I do spend most of my non-work time either with my daughter or doing things for her. I do spend just about every free, non-debt associated penny I have on her. However, it's not because I "have to" but, rather, because I genuinely want to. I want her as the center of my life. If that means that my life dreams have to wait until she is older and doesn't need me as much, then so be it. I don't see it as a phony martyr self-sacrifice. It's a choice that I willingly made with my full commitment behind it.

I have not forgotten my husband. Sometimes he does take a back seat to my daughter's needs and I do feel guilty for that. However, I still have her very first (his is the first-and-a-half position, not second, but not quite at first) in my heart. I know I don't always show her that. This is where I tend to fail as a mother. That doesn't change the fact, though. And yes, I believe I would feel the exact same way, and maybe even more so, if I had the most complicated and painful pregnancy every known to humanity. Motherhood for me is not a duty, an obligation, a chore, something I have to do or deal with. It is the most precious gift anyone can ever bestow upon me and I am exceedingly grateful that my daughter brought this gift to me.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I am Adjunct

I am an adjunct. That's a fancy word for part-time college teacher. I'm not a professor. Professor is actually a rank you can reach through certain qualifications at any college or university, not necessarily requiring a doctorate, but definitely requiring a master's degree. I don't hold a doctorate yet--I hope to some day, as it's one of only 2 items on my "bucket" list--so my students don't call me "Doctor" before my name. Most people don't think of "teacher" in the same line as college unless you're talking about training to become a primary or secondary teacher (that's elementary through high school). My status is one that defies traditional definition by most employment standards. I guess I am technically a contract employee, though my position is really too valuable to cut away. I probably valued myself into a corner, honestly, as I am the only adjunct actually employed by the college who is willing to go out to the high schools to teach my courses, instead of teaching them online or requiring the students to come to the college campus. Most other "adjuncts" who teach at the high schools are actually high school teachers, employed by the school district, who happen to teach a college level course at the high school along with the other high school level courses on their docket. These folks draw their pay from the district. I get mine from the college.

So, what's so special about being an adjunct? Don't I have any ambition? Am I satisfied being in no-man's land? Isn't adjuncting something for retirees and grad students? Yeah, this is part of what makes me a little harder to define. Although it might help if you read The Adventures of Unemployed Man and took a look at the character Master of Degrees. I could relate to him quite a bit in that I started out teaching at college because it seemed to be the only job that anyone was willing to give me that actually utilized my master's degrees (yes, I have two, an M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and an M.B.A.). The only other jobs I seemed to be able to get were temp positions, even though they were full-time. But, I believe God sends me where He needs me when I'm needed there. So, I continue to teach part-time and at the moment it is essentially my career. The only upward mobility available would be to obtain a full-time position. This was proven not possible at the moment, as I didn't even make the cut to the interviewing stage for the only open psychology position in my department--someone has to die or retire for a position to open. I tell myself it's mostly because I am the only one willing to trek out to the high school. What makes me believe this isn't a delusion? The high school has requested I return every fall/spring semester for the last 4 years. I'll be starting my 5th year at the same high school in August. My boss even assumes that I'll be there before asking me if I want to teach any other classes at the college campus. Plus, if I weren't a "valuable" adjunct, then I wouldn't have a maximum load each semester. The maximum number of classes the college is willing to pay an adjunct for is 4 each semester. I usually get 4 classes each fall and 4 each spring. One semester I had as many as 6 before we realized that they meant 4 total, not 4 simultaneously. See, I often get half-semester courses stacked back-to-back, also. To put this in perspective, full-time faculty have to turn in an "overload" contract if they teach more than 5 classes. Yeah, I'm always just 1 class away from full-time work, though I would still be paid at the part-time rate because of my classification.

Most of the other adjuncts in my department are 1) retirees who teach because they love it and it keeps them busy; 2) grad students working on their doctorate so they can move on to better things or higher pay; or 3) full-time employees at other places who pick up a class or two, usually at night, to keep their knowledge sharp and because they enjoy teaching. I'm one of the only ones who does this for my "living." If I were to get a full-time job or start my "real" career path anywhere else, then I would most likely have to give up teaching. I do have a daughter, after all. As far as ambition, I do have it. As I mentioned, I did try to get a full-time position. I have been job searching, though not actively hunting, for the last 3 years. I even tried to get my certification so that I could get a job at the high school full-time, but the district is just not hiring social studies or psychology teachers. Again, I valued myself into a corner. The school district does not have to pay me, the college does that. The district just pays a fractional fee for the college credit and provides the textbooks for their students. I'm comparatively cheap for them, so why would they want to invest in me full-time? But, I am content with my status at the moment. Want to know why? She's 10 years old and the center of my life.

That's right, my no-man's land status gives me the flexibility to be there for my daughter when she needs me. When I am not actively teaching my classes, I hang out in the adjunct office grading and prepping lectures until my daughter gets out of school, or camp, or whatever she's doing during "normal business hours." I try to get as much done in the office as I can so that I can have more time with her. Most adjuncts come to teach their class, step into the office to make copies or sit for their required half hour a week, and then go home. I sometimes spend as much time in the office during the week as my full-time counter parts. The only difference is that I have to drive to my class during the fall and spring when I go out to the high school. I usually go unnoticed, which is fine by me. Being part-time also means that I'm not expected to show up to department meetings (they're almost always during my high-school classes) or other after-hours functions. I don't belong to the "family" and yet I do. I'm sure I'd be welcomed if I ever did show up, but I choose to spend that time with my daughter. I may not have all the availability of a SAHM (stay at home mom)--I can't really get a substitute since my class is so specialized--but when I'm not teaching I can be there.

We'll see how long this status lasts. I do have some ambition. I do plan on earning that PhD in educational psychology (I'm thinking adult eduction as my focus) and I do plan on eventually working for the Walt Disney Corporation, eventually. God will send me somewhere else when I am needed more there than I am needed here. Right now my daughter needs me to be sane (so the work helps) and available after school, so my part-time no-man's land position as an adjunct fits the bill. It doesn't pay as much of the bills as I'd like, but that's also why I'm eternally grateful for my husband and his support (ALL the types of support you can think of) during this phase of my "career."