When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Childhood Teasing

I am in no way advocating teasing, which has become a form of bullying in today's works. When I was a kid, teasing was name-calling, rude comments, verbal abuse meant to diminish a kid's self-esteem and help the teaser feel superior. It was mean, but it was also easy to ignore if you had social support from friends and/or family.

Bullying, on the other hand, was more than picking on someone verbally. It involved physical harassment, beatings, threats. You or your property had to be touched in some way in order for the behavior to be considered bullying.

We don't condone violence any more, so we have had to elevate the verbal teasing to "bullying" because that's all that's left to uninformed children to assert their dominance and increase their self-esteem without actually improving themselves. I wonder if "dirty" looks will become the next generation's form of bullying now that we (society) are combating teasing. Every story has at least two sides.

But I digress. This post is supposed to highlight the positive outcomes that a childhood of teasing can bring, if one is willing to stetch their optimism muscles. Again, I am not condoning maltreatment of any kind toward anyone. I wish the world saw all people treating each other with mutual respect. I also wish we could truly learn to judge behviors separately from the person. That said, let me share what I have finally chosen to accept from the teasing I received as a kid.

I was picked on mercilessly by my two brothers--one older & one younger. Their favorite target was my weight. They came up with hurtful names for me and frequently enjoyed turning them into little songs to be sung ad nauseam. I could have taken the predictable route and become anorexic. That would have saved me from a lifetime of scorn that almost all overweight individuals experience. I did not, though, and I am still overweight and all too conscious about it. What the teasing did do, however, was to create an extreme level of self-consciousness or self-awareness. I decided that I didn't want to give anyone any reason other than my girth to ridicule me. I made sure that every bit if my body was always clean. I always chew gum after my meals to make sure that no food sticks around. I am conscientious in my bathing & restroom habits so that I do not produce an offensive odor. I keep my face as clean as possible to keep acne at bay. Even my ears are squeaky clean so that I rarely have any wax or dirt in or around them.

Because I am overly sensitive to the stereotypes surrounding fat people (yeah, I actually used the "f" word!), I am also very self-conscious of my eating habits. I don't like to eat in front of others. The last this I want is to bring back the memories of school kids (and my brothers) calling me a pig (or various other appellations) because I dared to eat. Now, when I am compelled to eat in front of others, I try to limit my portions to the minutest amount and I am all-too-aware of table manners. I try to do everything I can to divert attention from myself.

Speaking of diverting attention, that's the other conditioning I received from the non-weight related teasing. My family wasn't rich. We never had more than we needed. Kids at school loved to pick on others whose clothes or backpacks, etc. showed that they weren't from upper middle class. Looking back, I find this incredibly ironic as I went to the cheapest Catholic school in El Paso and the median income of the city itself was just above the poverty line. My parents gave up a lot for our education, but that didn't matter to kids who only knew how to bring others down in order to lift up themselves. So, after a while, I learned to be as inconspicuous as possible. I also learned that working hard to achieve something (grades, creative endeavors) has greater rewards than recognition.

Today I try my best to work from the background. I would rather be thanked by 1 person out of hundreds than be noticed by everyone. In fact, any recognition for my work, although much appreciated, is also very embarrassing because I don't want to be recognized. I don't want to be noticed. I don't want the limelight. Too much happens to those whom everyone is watching. And while they appreciate your greatness, people are also quicker to point out the flaws of those in the spotlight. If you don't beleive me, then just look at any newspaper or magazine or biography that mentions a famous person. No one is untouchable in the forefront.

In all, I have experienced a lot of psychological and emotional hang-ups. I took a lot of blows to my self-esteem and I continue to have many days that I don't want to be around myself. And yet, I did learn the value (and the potential power) of being in the background. I probably would not have figured that out if I hadn't been teased so much as a kid.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Growing up Geek and Not Knowing It

I never really stopped to consider what it was to be a geek. As a kid I never thought I would associate with geeks, mostly because I did not realize this was a "type" of person. I had a vague notion of what a "nerd" was because there were a few movies showing the stereotypical coke-bottle-glasses-wearing weirdo who was obsessed with computers (or fantasy, or facts, or science, or...) and panties. I knew these individuals were not supposed to be popular, though they were expected to run the world after high school or college and take their revenge on the pretty people. The term "geek" never really made it into my vocabulary until my first DragonCon in 2007. Even back then, I did not really consider myself a geek by the modern, accepted definition of the term. It was when I started talking to the other DragonCon attendees, and sharing my stories of childhood with my daughter, who completely embraced her inherited geekdom instantly, that I realized I had always been a geek deep down inside, I just never knew it. This could also be one of the myriad of reasons why it was so hard for me to find friends among the "normals" until I got to college early through a math & science academy.

It turns out that my parents may have had the seeds of geekery buried within them as well. However, they come from a generation that had no notion of such things. I kind of had a notion that my mom had the potential to be a geek. After all, it was she who had the family sit together on Saturdays to watch Star Trek the Next Generation. It was also my mom who showed us the original Star Wars trilogy so many times I began to think that she would have married Luke Skywalker if my dad hadn't come along first. My mom is not a technical Trek geek. She doesn't nit-pick technical impossibilities or try to figure out the possible (or improbable) science behind alien species. She taught us to look at the human story behind the episodes. She highlighted for us how this science-fiction world actually illustrated real-world issues like acceptance of homosexuality, intolerance of races, prejudice, discrimination, and what it means to be human. Her favorite character is Commander Data, not because he was an android, but because it was through Data that we discovered the essences of what it is to be human. Star Wars was always about the Force and finding the right path to do what was right for the greater good. It was also about finding yourself and coming to terms with all aspects of yourself--the good and the bad. This is what my mom showed me, though it took motherhood and studying psychology for me to realize it.

My father is a little bit of a different story. He was always the practical one (at least, that's how I saw him as I was growing up). He didn't seem to encourage fantasy. He always struck me as someone who preferred to live in reality, except when he was watching cartoons. My dad watched a lot of cartoons, especially old ones like Popeye and Scooby Doo. If it was animated, he would watch it. He started to draw the line, however, when the animation was no longer for kids. He won't watch animated shows that are crass, crude, violently graphic, or "adult" in nature. He has a pure heart in that respect. What really surprised me was when I realized that my dad also liked science fiction. Like my mom, he did not look for the reality in the shows; he did not try to find the plot holes caused by improbabilities. I guess science fiction was his way to express his fantasy without leaving behind reality. I didn't realize he liked science fiction until I started watching Doctor Who with my husband and daughter. I knew of Doctor Who because I remember my dad watching it on PBS. I remember sitting and watching with him, especially the Tom Baker episodes. In fact, the first time I saw another person as The Doctor (when I was a kid) who was not Tom Baker, I thought my dad was watching a completely different show. I was too young to pay attention to the larger story. I was in it just for the episode, so I missed a lot as a kid. I also remember my dad watching Twilight Zone marathons whenever they came on. We didn't have cable for much of my childhood, but when we did, he would watch many marathons of shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Dream of Jeanie, and Outer Limits. It took me so long to realize that my dad may have been a geek, or at least a sci-fi fan, because I didn't know enough to connect the dots.

My mom worked days and my dad worked nights for most of our childhood, so there weren't too many moments we spent as a family. [I have 2 brothers, 1 older and 1 younger than myself.] Also, when my older brother was about 12 or 13, he started to focus more on friends and girlfriends than family, as is the "normal" way for most people, so there was only a relatively small window of time that I can recall as "family" time (I'm not counting family vacations). A couple of the other shows we watched as a family, that I now realize fall under the science-fiction genre, included Air Wolf, Knight Rider, and the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series. I remember sitting down as a family to watch the Superman movies, also.

Thinking back on it, I did get quite a bit of exposure to science fiction. I also got a lot of exposure to fantasy through Disney, which was another thing my mother gave us heavily with our annual trips to Disneyland and watching many Disney shows and movies. I just never realized that this meant I was growing up geek. I did expand into my own geeky interests, mainly in literature, picking up authors like Tolkien and Crichton without any influence from my parents. I spent much of my teen years trying to "find my people," as my mother told me when I went off to college. I couldn't understand why I didn't seem to fit in with the other kids in school or my neighborhood. My older brother had plenty of friends, but the geek influence also bounced off of him--he's a "normal" person and it works for him. I did finally find "my people" among other geeks. We not only had similar experiences, but the people I met in college introduced me to even more geek genres like anime and gaming. I still didn't realize that we were geeks, but I began to feel like I may have stumbled upon like-minded individuals. As I stated earlier, the whole geek thing didn't really hit me until our first DragonCon. Interestingly enough, my little brother seemed to more fully embrace his geekdom (or maybe I just noticed it) after he went to his first DragonCon in 2008. Now I know who I am and I know that I am not alone. My daughter may not fit in with the mainstream "popular" kids, but she's growing up in a world where she knows that she will have a welcome place among like-minded souls. Plus, she has found a couple kid geeks close to her age, so she doesn't have to grow up as alone as I did.

I don't know if the Geek bubble will burst in my life time (i.e. if geeks will no longer have the popular power they enjoy today thanks to true geek celebrities and many wannabe geeks out there). If it does, I at least know where I stand and I won't change it for anything. I'm very grateful to my parents for exposing me to fantasy and science fiction, and for doing it in a way that helped me find the human substance behind all of the flashy effects. It doesn't matter that I did not know I was a geek when I was a kid. It matters that I was, and I still am, a geek at heart.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Toxic People

A toxic person in my life recently maliciously told me to "write one of [my] rose-colored blog posts," so I decided to take them up on the challenge.

In truth, there is very little I can say about toxic people beyond advising all others to avoid them. A "toxic" person is an individual who seems to thrive on spreading hatred, anger, dissent, and all-around negative emotions to everyone with whom they come in contact. In my experience, the vast majority of people (if I had to throw out numbers, I would estimate 97%) are NOT toxic. Yes, there are times when someone is feeling depressed or frustrated and they might inadvertently try to bring others down. However, these are generally temporary circumstances. A truly toxic person engages in such behaviors more than 60% of the time, sometimes with very little motivation beyond getting whatever it is that they want (an ego boost? manipulation? sense of power?).

The greatest thing I encounter from toxic people, aside from boiling blood before I calm down, is the activation of my stubborn streak. Any time someone attempts to malign myself or someone for whom I care deeply, I decide that these are behaviors I do not wish to pursue myself. I stop and think about how horrible I feel around these people, these emotions, and I take a close look at my behavior. Sometimes I recognize that I may have unwittingly been using similar tactics, not necessarily out of spite, but most likely out of selfishness, forgetting to think before I act. So, when I see someone trying to use a guilt trip on me, or slinging slurs, or trying to bully me into something, or behaving in a selfish immature manner (acting their dress/shoe size instead of their age, i.e. in a socially developmental level at least 10 years behind their biological development), I stop and evaluate my own behaviors. If I notice that I may have used a similar tactic on others (it's all too natural, sometimes, to try to manipulate someone with a guilt-trip), I immediately mend my ways and vow to avoid those thoughts and behaviors in the future.

In essence, after I decide to avoid a toxic person until they can treat others as humans instead of objects, I take a closer look inside and make adjustments to my own behaviors. The last thing I need is hypocrisy. Challenge met: I can, indeed, find a positive life lesson from a toxic person. I just hope it helps me become a better mother, wife, teacher, human being along the way.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Disney's Girls Have Much to Teach

The Walt Disney Company has been criticized from the very beginning for just about every decision they make. The more recent backlash regarding Merida from Brave is just another drop in the ocean. Honestly, as the Internet meme states, "Haters gonna hate" and there is very little you can do about it if someone decides that they don't like something. The ugly fact is that that is their personal problem and they need to find a way to deal with it, not try to force others to change. Truth be told, any symbol or image or word can be interpreted in a variety of ways. That is one of the beauties of humanity--we each have our own unique way of looking at things and on some plane they are all valid. And, sometimes "a cigar is just a cigar;" sometimes you don't have to find deeper meaning in an image or thought to appreciate it for what it is.

Before I delve into my defense of feminism in Disney, know that I will be focusing on primarily the human-driven animated films. That means that the animal films such as Dumbo, Jungle Book, Aristocats, etc. will not come into play in my arguments, though you might be able to add to my points with them as illustrations. I am also examining, from my memory of the films, mainly Disney animated theatrical films, with two of the three human-centered Pixar movies (the three are The Incredibles, Up, and Brave) thrown into the mix. I'm going to divert from my usual paragraph format and just present a bulleted list of the positive messages found in Disney's leading ladies.

Note that my definition of feminism is a belief that ALL individuals should be treated fairly, regardless of gender, race, creed, etc. No one group of people should be given preferential treatment for any reason. There are positive qualities in both the feminine and masculine. The only thing that makes them feminine or masculine is the fact that we expect one gender over the other to display that quality more often; that does not preclude the other gender from possessing said characteristic. I believe, as Carl Jung, that each individual has both a male half and a female half, some just choose to express one over the other, sometimes both are expressed, or a neutral/neither expression occurs.

As far as stereotypical damsel-in-distress "girly" characters that seem to incredibly irk feminazis, I've found really only three in Disney's animated movie history--Cinderella, who relies on her fairy godmother to "rescue" her from a bad life; Aurora, whose prince is the most pro-active of the princes, other than Aladdin, and who is fated to simply wait for him to save her; Snow White, who is saved not only by her perfect prince, but also by her friends. So, I won't add these three to the bullet list, as they DO show the old-fashioned idea of "beauty must wait for her rescue." The rest of the female leads show a lot more initiative. Keep in mind, however, that even these three females are not entirely two-dimensional in personality. Cinderella has forgiveness and patience, Snow White has kindness and obedience, Aurora has imagination and hope to add to their characters.
  • Alice (Alice in Wonderland, 1951): Shows the power, and price, of curiosity. Willing to explore on her own, learns to be careful what you wish for
  • Wendy (Peter Pan, 1953): A motherly figure. Shows that a parent can be caring and provide rules for children without diminishing their love. Also stands her own against other females.
  •  Eilonwy (The Black Cauldron, 1985): One of the youngest princesses portrayed (she's somewhere around 11 or 12 in the film), has spunk and sass. Does complain about her conditions a bit, but also has her own source of magical power and uses her wits to trick the witches into performing a good deed. Trust and intelligence are her main strengths.
  • Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989): Curiosity, openness, acceptance, fighting prejudice, adventurous. Opens the eyes of her prejudiced society to the potential of another world. SHE rescues the prince! Finds other ways to communicate. The acceptance and desire for harmony is highlighted much more in the animated television series of the 1990s.
  • Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991): Intelligence, "unconventional"--doesn't satisfy herself with just looking for a husband and settling down. Wants to explore, sacrifices herself for her father. Stubborn, stands her ground against other stubborn characters. Judges others by their personality and heart, not their looks. Actions speak louder than words!
  • Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992): Independent, refuses to remain sheltered, proves she has a mind of her own. Puts off marriage in order to "find herself," but does not discredit love. Kindness is combined with authority and leadership. We see so much more of this in the television series.
  • Pocahontas (Pocahontas, 1995): Independent, adventurous, sees value in ALL things on the earth. Willing to sacrifice herself for her ideals (and for love). Pushes for peace and understanding over war and hatred.
  • Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996): Spunky, sensual, strong, fighter, smart, clever. Puts the welfare of her people before her own concerns ("God Help the Outcasts"). Kind, gentle, accepts people as people, regardless of their outward appearance. Judges others based on their behavior, not status or looks.
  • Meg/a.k.a. Megara (Hercules, 1997): Very strong character in terms of personality. Starts out super-feminazi (bemoans the idea of being seen as a damsel in distress), but accepts the feminine along with the masculine. Learns that love doesn't make you weak, it can make you stronger. Stands up for herself, fights for her beliefs, doesn't put up with nonsense. Keeps chauvinists in their place. A street-smart gal who has been burned before and is more cautious and wiser because of it.
  • Mulan (Mulan, 1998): Blatantly obvious crossing of gender lines, yet she is still able to maintain some of her feminine side. Runs away for noble reasons (selfish reasons in the deleted scenes), proves herself as "one of the boys," puts the greater good above herself, persists in the face of sexism. Very intelligent, a natural leader, loyal, caring.
  • Jane (Tarzan, 1999): Female intellectual. She isn't just following Daddy around, she is also studying and documenting what she finds on the excursions. Proper, genteel, natural educator. Defender of her philosophy, but also willing to learn from others. Adaptable, protector personality.
  • Chicha (The Emperor's New Groove, 2000): Not a major player in the film, but a major influence on the characters. Strong, loving mother with an authoritative parenting style--balances love and affection and child's personal growth with guidance and structure. Pushes when it's needed, let's others find their way when she knows they can. Puts up with a LOT of stuff that other parents wouldn't tolerate, and with a good humor, too.
  • Kida (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, 2001): Physically and mentally strong warrior, protector of her people and her culture. Not satisfied with the status quo, wants to improve her people's lives. The ultimate defender, willing to sacrifice herself for her people, will do what is right.
  • Lilo (Lilo & Stitch, 2002): Possibly the first "geek girl" in Disney lore, in the modern sense of the term. Very independent, innocent and yet knowledgeable due to life's hard knocks. Pretty tom-boyish and also shows feminine qualities in her care for others and her desire to be welcomed into the fold. Mainly wants to be accepted for who she is, and accepts others for their quirks. Who else would adopt (and love) a destructive weird looking alien as a part of her family? Judges people based on their behaviors, not appearance, tries to see the good and/or potential in just about everyone. Many of her androgynous traits--balance of the masculine and the feminine--show up more in the television series and subsequent sequels.
  • Nani (Lilo & Stitch, 2002): Independent, dependable, reliable. Works hard, perseveres, single "parent" who cares enough to put her needs aside for the greater good of her family. Although sometimes exasperated, works through her frustration to do the best she can for those she loves.
  • Captain Amelia (Treasure Planet, 2002): Come on, this one is easy! A female captain! Excellent leadership, straightforward, very clever, keeps a tight ship, fighter, quick wit, nimble mind and body. Rational personality concerned about the safety of her vessel and crew above all else. Even respected by her enemies.
  • Sarah Hawkins (Treasure Planet, 2002): The ever-suffering single mother, abandoned by her husband to raise a now-teenage boy by herself. Smart, personable, business owner and operator. Great customer service, people skills. Although frustrated, out of concern for her son's future, still keeps pressing on to keep things afloat.
  • Helen Parr/Elastigirl (The Incredibles, 2004): Yes, another strong mother figure [I hope you don't have anything against moms!] Flexible physically and mentally (that's why the creators chose her powers for her role). Peace-maker, supporter, chose to give up her career to provide a stable home for her children. Willing to run out to rescue her husband, both literally and emotionally. Protects her kids before all else. Witty and patient.
  • Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009): Too much focus has been made of her race. Like all the other Disney females, she is more than just the color of her skin or her gender. A three-dimensional, fleshed out personality. Hard-working, persevering, take-no-nonsense, tolerate no laziness. Expects people to be rewarded based on their merit and their effort, not their birthright. Not afraid to get her hands dirty, will do what it takes to work her way through her problems. Very independent and self-reliant, also supportive of others.
  • Rapunzel (Tangled, 2010): Definitely not a stereotypical "girly-girl," runs around bare-foot, defends herself with whatever is at hand. Believes the best in everyone (sometimes too much), but not too trusting or naive. Gets extra points for maintaining all that hair but never crying about it! Curious, intelligent, observant, quick learner, mostly honest, innocent, heart full of love. Good diplomatic skills, unselfish.
  • Merida (Brave, 2012): Tom-boy, strong, agile, excellent hand-eye coordination. Too-obviously anti-feminine, at least on the surface, but comes to appreciate (eventually) the value of feminine qualities. Strong-willed, independent, stubborn, eventually opens her eyes to other view points. Possibly the most selfish of the Disney female protagonists, unfortunately. This is my main problem with the people complaining that Merida "was a good role model for 'normal-looking' girls before her make-over." I would not want either my boy (if I had one) or my girl to put their selfish needs before others. Being unselfish is not an undesirable feminine trait, it's a Christian ideal and the world would have a lot fewer problems if more people stopped thinking about themselves first at the expense of others.
  • Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, 2012): Actually a princess, though not yet included in the "club" with the rest of the Disney princesses. A "tough cookie" along the lines of Esmeralda and Meg. Puts a positive spin on her solitude, picked on and bullied and teased, but still forgiving in the end. Defensive sense of humor, but not displacement-oriented. Natural racer, just wants to prove herself. Androgynous personality, shows care and concern. Doesn't want to hurt anyone, just wants a fair chance to show her abilities. Full of spunk and confidence.
  • Commander Calhoun (Wreck-It Ralph, 2012): Very strong leader, take-no-spit from others, fights for what she needs to, intelligent and competent. Once bitten, ever cautious, still capable of feeling love even though she is a bit afraid at first. Beautiful can be strong.
Maybe WE should stop perpetuating the stereotype that all beautiful women are supposed to be helpless and only the less-than-perfect can fend for themselves. It is possible for beauty and brains to coexist in the same person, male or female.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I suppose, given the nature of frustration, it is hard to believe that anything positive could come from it. The definition of frustration has no negative aspects, at least on the surface. Frustration is an emotion we feel when a goal (need, want, desire, etc.) is blocked by something or someone. Internal frustration comes from our own doing--lack of skill, poor choices, etc. External frustration comes from something outside of our realm of control. Nonsocial frustration stems from an inanimate object that is not directly linked to a person, such as a dead battery or lousy weather. Social frustration occurs when the actions or presence of another person seems to be blocking us from achieving our goals--too many people in line, someone driving too slowly, the person who bought the last copy of the game you wanted right before you could snag it yourself.

I find that when my stress level begins to skyrocket I experience much more frustration than usual. Maybe it just gets to me more when I am more mentally vulnerable. At the moment, I am experiencing all 3 forms of frustration. Social frustration is coming from people parking in my designated spot at work and someone walking off with one of my textbooks from my office. I am also finding social frustration in the form of demands (pressure, really) from work--end-of-year paperwork and grading coming around because students are turning in work and people are requesting administrative paperwork all at the same time. It's just the nature of the job, I know. But my goals--finish all my work so I can take a mental break--are pushed back further every time someone else makes a demand/request for something from me. A more recent source of social frustration, which blends with a nonsocial, technology related source, is the lack of printing abilities at my office at the moment. It appears that someone has managed to monkey with the settings on the office PC and the printer is no longer responding. In other words, I cannot print anything for my classes at the moment.

My nonsocial frustration sources are time (my second archenemy; gravity is my main nemesis), uncooperative electronics, and a misbehaving car. There never seems to be enough time. I know most of this is because of my choices--see internal frustrations below. It doesn't help, though, that time is finite and deadlines don't move. In the realm of uncooperative electronics, my phone has developed a tendency to randomly "click" (it's a stupid "smart" phone with a touch screen) on things or to refuse to let me select things in the middle of the screen. It also has a nasty habit of draining its battery 10 seconds after I turn it on after my classes (I turn it off during class to try to set a good example for my students, or at least not be a hypocrite in front of them). My car functions all right, once it does start. The problem is it refuses to communicate with the key fob. The car is designed for key-less entry and ignition, so long as the key is within a certain distance. It sometimes takes me a few minutes, combined with creative language and facial contortions, to get the buttons on either the car or the key fob to respond. I'm beginning to wonder if I have an electromagnetic pulse running through my blood that is interfering with both the car's electronics and my cell phone.

Internal frustration is probably the biggest culprit at the moment, mostly because I have no one to blame. Only I can shoulder the responsibility of the decisions I make. I feel as if I haven't been planning things well enough so that I could handle the work load. I should (an irrational word, to be sure!) know better. After all, I've been in the particular position for the past 5 years. I've had the same work-cycle for enough time that it ought (another irrational command word!) to be easy for me to plan far ahead so all my little ducks are in a row and my stress level becomes more manageable. I could find many excuses to deflect some of the responsibility away from myself. There have been significant changes to class schedules and such made this year, many of them this semester. However, if I had been prepared for a normal year, then it is possible I should have been able to tackle the new stress with little extra effort. Yeah, that didn't quite work out so far. Yes, I am disappointed with my apparent inability to juggle my workload, my duties as a mother, my housekeeping responsibilities, and my requirements as an adult in a committed relationship. I'm a work in progress, to be sure; very slow progress.

So, where's the silver lining? That's the point of this blog, isn't it? Well, here it is. Frustration often provides an opportunity for creativity and expanding my view of the world. When I am blocked from a goal, such as the printing situation mentioned above, it forces (encourages, really) me to find an alternative route to accomplish what I need to accomplish. This also helps me appreciate more the resources I have at my disposal that I do not always use. For example, I don't usually print anything in my classroom because I typically make many copies for my students of most of the things I print. However, when all I need are a couple of pages, such as the sign-in sheets so I can take daily roll, I am ever so grateful to have the printer in my classroom. In the case of the missing textbook, I found I was ever so thankful that I happened to have a copy at home. True, I now have to lug it around with me to get work done in the office, but at least I can still work. Internal frustration often leads to my reexamining my attitudes. Often when I find myself becoming angry with my poor choices, realizing that only I am responsible for them, I also realize that I can change them. That's a very empowering, albeit sometimes frightening, thought. I have the choice to get angry at myself or to do things differently. I also start to realize that not all of my internal frustration has to be solved by myself. I do have a social support network that I can call upon to help me when I have too much on my plate. I sometimes swallow my pride and delegate (sometimes I actually ask) some of my tasks to others (usually my husband and my daughter, usually household-related tasks) so that I can concentrate on those tasks that only I can do. For example, I can ask my husband to wash the dishes or make dinner tonight so that I can have more time to finish my lecture notes. I also have a loving daughter whose hugs help much of my stress and frustration melt away.

Frustration, especially when I feel overwhelmed beyond my mere mortal capacity to handle any more and the universe continues to shovel it my way, can sometimes lead to a shut-down. I don't mean I'm headed for a mental breakdown. I certainly hope not, though the cold that is tickling at the back of my throat may promise to slow me down. I mean it's probably time for me to reboot my thinking and time management. This is usually the time in my stress cycle that I whip out the 4-mile long to-do list, extend its length my a factor of 5, and start slowly and methodically chopping it down. It will be a while before I make my way through the mire of the frustration and resulting stress that I am in the midst of at the moment, but I WILL start to methodically climb my way out of this muck and find my sanity once again.

I have faith that my freedom is just around the corner and the "clear skies" will last at least long enough for me to optimistically plan for my next cycle of workload/work-life stress--summer classes!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Using Parcheesi to Review Catholic Catechism

I have a tendency to make odd connections between two seemingly unrelated subjects in my efforts to gain understanding of the universe around me.I do this with just about every TV show I watch, making connections with psychology (sometimes it's just in a vain effort to find a reasonable excuse to show the program in my classes). I also sometimes make connections with games and life lessons. A couple years ago, when I first taught CCD ("Sunday school") at my parish, I ran into a two or three weeks when I knew I would not have too many kids in my class--it was spring break time, so most of them were out of town with their families. I did not want to teach an in-depth lesson to just a few students. One of my personal pet peeves is having to repeat myself, though you wouldn't know that to watch me teach, as I feel I repeat myself too much because there's always someone who wasn't paying attention. Well, we were in Lent and we had just finished learning about the seven deadly sins and their counter cardinal virtues (I use Spongebob to bring this lesson home). I wanted the few dedicated students to have a break from lecture, but still learn a life lesson. I decided to use Parcheesi as an illustration of our life path and how we can sometimes face setbacks on our way to heaven. Like my students, you might have to open your mind to metaphorical thought to follow me. And I did use this "life lesson" recently with my 7th and 8th grade CCD students this past week.

Starting Out
In Catholicism, we believe that the best way to start out on your path to heaven is through baptism. We strongly encourage baptism of infants so that they can make their way through life, with the help of their parents and godparents, from the beginning with a clean start. Sometimes a person does not get the opportunity to receive baptism in infancy. Sometimes they have to wait until later in their life. Not everyone gets to start off at the same time or under the same circumstances.
In Parcheesi, everyone has to start out on a roll of 5--either an actual 5 or a 1+4 or 2+3. As with baptism, some people get to start out early (the dice come out favorably) and some people have to wait quite a while before the right roll comes along.

The ultimate goal in life for Catholics is to reach Heaven so that we can be united with God. For some people this path is easy and smooth. For others, it is fraught with temptation, peril, "bad luck" and poor choices. We all go at our own pace through life, determined by a myriad of variables that include our own decisions.
The goal in Parcheesi is to make it "Home" with all of your animals. We hope to be reunited with our loved ones in Heaven, just as our little elephants want to all make it to their Home zone. Some players will be able to make it quickly, some will face many obstacles (in the form of dice rolls and other players' choices, as well as their own decisions) on their journey home.

Blockades and Obstacles
We face many obstacles in life on our way to heaven. Sometimes our path is blocked by temptation. When we sin we send ourselves back on our path. We can get back on the path through Reconciliation and penance. Sometimes our path is blocked by the decisions of others. Other people can stand in our way and try to prevent us from doing good (or just avoiding evil) by offering temptation or by trying to force our hands. Sometimes they do wrong to us and we want to avenge that wrong. This, too, can become a divergent path toward sin. One of the main lessons of Catholicism (any Christian faith, actually, as it comes directly from Jesus) is to treat your fellow humans with compassion, to be considerate of them, to do no harm. Unfortunately, sometimes it is easier said than done as we stumble along and lose sight of our end goal--getting into Heaven.
This is actually the main reason I decided to use Parcheesi in my CCD class. The game is set up to create opportunities to block other players in the hope of getting your animals home first while you stall others. Unfortunately, a blockade requires you to keep two of your pieces permanently in place, meaning the most you can do is get your other two pieces home while you block everyone else. We cannot move forward in the game until the barrier is removed. Just as in life, when we try to create a barrier for someone else, it ends up biting us back. Plus, as Parcheesi is a competitive game, creating that blockade often inspires the other players to do the same thing to you. And, when another player "captures" one of your animals, it has to start all over again. This parallels the idea of penance. Once the proper dice roll comes up, you can start back on the path to home in the game. Once you have completed your penance, you can regain your sanctifying grace and return to your path back to Heaven.

Decisions to Cooperate or Compete
We come across many opportunities in life to either work with our fellow humans so that everyone can benefit or to try to maximize our personal benefit at the expense of someone else. It is not meant to be an easy pathway. If life were simple or obvious, then Heaven would probably not be much of a reward because you would not have worked for it.
Parcheesi is set up the same way. Some players try to be cooperative with others, setting up truces and making deals to not interfere too much with each other. Unfortunately, like many truces in life, a better one may come along. Alliances and loyalties may shift. After all, the end goal is ultimately to get your pieces home, to get your soul into Heaven. I suppose we might be selfish by nature, or we just haven't found a way to make cooperation maximize our personal benefit. Cooperation always seems like we have to give up something from our realm so that another person can be raised to the same level. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and most people's idea of fairness is whatever profits themselves.

One other random parallel I noticed between Parcheesi and Catholicism is numbers, specifically the number 7 and the number 12. There are 7 spaces from your start to the next safe space. When your animal is on a safe space (a lotus), it cannot be captured (sent back to start). There are 7 sacraments, 7 deadly sins, 7 cardinal virtues, 7 seals of the apocalypse, and probably many more sevens throughout Catholicism. Parcheesi also has 7 spaces within your home path, which are the last spaces you need to climb before your goal. The game board has a total of 12 lotus spaces. This can be used to remind students of the 12 apostles. Okay, that last one was obvious, but remember, I use this to teach and remind my students about our faith.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Common Cold: A Calling Card from the Universe

I abhor being sick. I don't care for the feelings of powerlessness or lack of control that comes with any sickness. While I don't get sick too often (no more than once a month), and I rarely become seriously ill ([knock wood] I've never had the flu or missed more than one day of work for sickness, and even then it was a day I went home early), I don't particularly care for any down time from illness. I see the common cold as the wuss of all diseases. You are nowhere near your deathbed. People rarely have any sympathy for you because the virus will run its course in short order, yet they don't want to get anywhere near you for fear of catching it. What I personally despise about a cold is the congestion. I have issues with breathing, and anything that impedes my already sub-par breathing abilities just becomes a major thorn in my side.

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a gratitude blog? I'm getting to that. As my older brother used to say, "first worst, best last." Sometimes I find it easier to find the silver lining if I get all the "doom and gloom" thoughts out of the way. So, what could be the upswing of a wussy yet ostracizing cold?

Every once in a while I actually take a step back and ask myself just that question. After much deliberation, I figured out that sometimes a cold is my body's way of telling me that I need to relax. I don't mean vegging on the couch or playing games all day. I mean actually resting. When we get sick, be it from a simple cold or from a more serious illness, one of the greatest demands our bodies make on us is for SLEEP. Our bodies actually get a lot of maintenance and repair work done while we sleep, which is why it is so essential for mental and physical health. The more stress we experience, the harder we push ourselves, the more likely we are going to get sick. This isn't just rhetoric, there are actual medical and psychological studies showing a very strong relationship between stress, socialization, and illness. There is even a whole field of psychology--psychoneuroimmunology--dedicated to studying the link between mental health and physiological health.

In my moments of insightful wisdom, I realize that I often get a weak cold when I have more on my proverbial plate that I can intelligently handle at the time. The sickness generates a mindset of "it can wait" and I put off everything for a day or two while I get some apparently much-needed sleep. I do not completely shut down, but I do step back significantly. I pull out my Plan B so that I can feel like I accomplish something during my work day (I teach, so this is usually pretty easy for me to do) and I slip into organizing mode. True, dishes may pile up and the laundry might get pushed off for another day while I am napping. However, once I feel better, once I regain my physical AND mental energy, I can quickly catch up on things with a History Channel or psychological crime drama (Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU are great) marathon in the evenings or on a weekend. I watch a lot of History Channel while doing chores; that's what fills about a quarter of my Tivo. Of course, I would not be able to do this if it weren't for the support of my husband. After 11 years of marriage we have learned a lot about quietly adapting to each other. We are lucky enough that we usually do not get sick or stressed at the same time. Sometimes there is a day or two of overlap, but we often stumble our way through with relative ease.

So, the next time you get a cold, it might just be the universe (or at least your body) telling you that it's time to take a little break.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Feeling Alone

[NOTE: This post is not a cry for attention or a request for a pity party. It is a truly reflective post on the topic of loneliness.]

Every few months I go through a lonely mood. I get the feeling that no one really cares to know what I'm up to or what happens in my life. I start to feel as if I have no friends (that's not hard to do, since the few people I do call "friend" live out of town/out of state in relation to myself) and no one to talk to about anything on my mind. It is during times like these that I have come to appreciate tools such as this blog or an old-fashioned journal. I used to slip into a depressive slump when I realized that my daughter did not care to hear what I had to say. I used to feel self-pity when I thought no one wanted to be around me because their lives were so much more important or fascinating than my minuscule blip of an existence. Thankfully, my perspective has morphed as I continue my journey toward self-actualization (look up Abraham Maslow's theory).

Today I sensed that this is the beginning of another one of my lonely sessions. Yes, at first I was truly upset (and a little peeved) when I felt that no one cared about me. After some reflection, however, I decided to not let it bother me. That's right, I took a page out of Maslow's (and many cognitive theorists') book and chose to react differently. I choose to see this session of loneliness as an opportunity to quietly contemplate things in my daily life. I refuse to see it as a threat to my self-esteem. This is also an opportunity to be more observant of other people's lives. You can see much more when you blend into the background. Plus, as no one really cares what I am doing, I am free to work on surprise/secret projects without having to worry about hiding things. I can hide in plain sight when no one cares to see.

I truly am thankful for this lonely time. As an extreme introvert it gives me much more time to recharge my batteries. I have to talk in front of 80+ students every day as a part of my job. And while it is only for about 2.5 hours each day, that social interaction is quite draining for me. With alone time I can take the opportunity to sift through my thoughts each day and "breathe" without worrying about more social interaction. True, I do still miss human contact during these moments (ALL humans are social creatures and require some amount of social interaction with other humans), but I think this will be a good "vacation" for me to organize my thoughts and get some things done.

I'll just be blending here into the background until someone needs me or decides that they want to pay attention to me again. Until that time, I'll be sorting through my thoughts and trying different perspectives to interpret the world around me. With 7+ billion people on the planet, I'm glad I'm not the one that everyone's scrutinizing; that's just too much anxiety I don't need (ever).