Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge -- Meaning Making and Magic

It's with great sadness that I see what I woke up expecting to see: the skepticism that drenches us when something magical happens.

There are so many layers to the ice bucket challenge, trying to hold them in any sort of logical container, bucket or brain, seems like misconstrued meaning making to me.

***

I remember being about seven or eight years old, and going to bed on Christmas Eve.  In my room, alone, unbeknownst to my parents, I hung a brown paper bag from my desk.  A makeshift stocking that I secretly smuggled to my room.

I remember THINKING that Santa wasn't real…I couldn't wrap my head around how he, in reality, could make it to every house in one night; on the other hand, my prepubescent mind was hedging bets for what I FELT could be real.

I was ashamed of having these thoughts, even at this young age, so I hid them from parents who, I assume I thought at the time, would squelch my hopes and dreams and desires for something other than rationality to exist.

So, in essence, my (little secret) brown paper bag oddly became a scientific test to see if something non-scientific existed in my world.

I, of course, woke up the next morning to a brown paper bag.

And I was sad.

***

On one layer, there is the actual disease, which personally, has not touched my life.  I can't begin to understand the pain and grief of the people and family members who have dealt -- or currently deal -- with ALS.   I have felt loss and pain and suffering, maybe we all have, but I have not, personally, experienced watching someone slowly succumb to a disease.

On another level is charity, and the idea of awareness raising…and simply giving to something that is outside of yourself no matter if it is for ALS or something else.  But we can also think about charity cannibalism and limited funding, and one charity now usurping another.  We could go to the human condition and get into bigger systems, other things this challenge may or may not represent: The ice bucket challenge IS and ISN'T about ALS: it could be about water conservation, water rights, and potable water.  Other issues start feeling preyed upon, so there is a reaction.  Don't they matter, too?

Then we have social media…and the idea of how powerful it can be…a way of connecting people around a purpose.  And/Or connecting people to a self.  And/Or the way it can bring people down.  Trolling.  Tearing people apart from a safe distance through the veil of an online persona.

Then we have the idea of giving, and should charity be something privately done or publicly shared.  By using social media, does the ice bucket challenge (1) enhance, (2) diminish, (3) enhance AND/OR diminish any of the following:

  • Making it about the self: "Look at this great thing I did!"
  • Making it about the act: "Look! I poured water on myself!"
  • Making it about awareness:  "Look at this cause you might not know about!"
  • Making it about influence: "I did it, so could you!"  
  • Making it about shaming: "I did it, why aren't you?"
  • Making it about bullying: "I did it, now you do it, too!"

Maybe all.  Maybe none.

Questions about questioning the motivation of other people are then called into question (that's a lot of questions): Are people just throwing ice on their head BUT missing a/the/my point of doing so?  Are they doing it instead of donating?  Are they doing it and donating to something else?  Are they doing it AND donating to ALS?

What am I/you/we really doing here?

What is this really about?  ALS? Charity, in general?  Ice Water?  Social media?  Following?  Connectivity?  The human condition?  What? What?

And of course there is the pointlessness of it all.  This means nothing.  It is nothing.  There is no meaning.

A spectrum of possible countless permutations…and does someone else's point necessarily need to be my own anyway?

***

Personally, I keep coming back to what it means to me: the anger I felt when I started seeing the ANTI voice come in, and more importantly, why I even felt anger in the first place.

I keep thinking about that little boy, going to bed, and waking up to this world. Was it different?  Was he?  Was it A and/or B? Neither?

Just because there wasn't anything from Santa in my (little secret) brown paper bag, doesn't mean Santa doesn't exist.  Just because my experiment failed AND succeeded doesn't mean I  finished learning about it at that moment in time.

What I do know is that my tolerance for something bigger than myself, bigger than my rationality, and bigger than my senses is growing.

That idea is confounding to say the least.

I don't need to negate magic to make myself feel better, or make the world more tolerable/understandable for me, even if part of me wants to do that.

There is something so chillingly frightful and delightful about pouring a bucket of ice water on my head today, if I physically do it or not.

There is goodness.  There is cruelty.

There is charity.  There is selfishness.

My (little secret) brown bag was empty and full.

BUT IT WAS FULL.

And therein lies the magic.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ironman Boulder #5 -- So You Think You Want To Do an Ironman?

 How I Have Felt All Week
So you think you want to do an Ironman?

After I got off the bike, I headed to the changing tent.  I ran, ok... jogged, ok...walked, ok...limped around the Boulder High School track to my transition bag; to my surprise, there were still many other bags on the ground.  I figured I would be one of the last ones, but apparently not. I made my way into the tent, sat down to get my run gear on, reached into my bag, and instantly recoiled my hand.

A hot goop covered my clothes, my food, my entire bag.  I was exhausted from one of the hardest bike rides of my life, and couldn't for the life of me figure out what I had just touched.  

Did someone take a crap in my bag?

Nope. 

My Vaseline had exploded.

***

When I woke up race-day morning, I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to do the race, and that this would somehow let everyone down.  I didn't even have a picture in my mind of who this magical everyone was, but I knew, KNEW, deep in my heart, that if I didn't race they would be supremely disappointed in me.

And this was because of my neck.

Multiple alarms expertly set to go off at 4:00 AM around the house were not needed.  I was woken up at 3:00 AM by my neck.  My cemented-in-place neck.  

I thought to myself, Self, do you need to be able to move your neck to do the race today?

When I answered myself that I did, indeed, most likely need to move my neck at least one time during the next 24 hours, I grew a little concerned.  What the heck was I going to do?  

So I did what anyone would do in my situation.

I panicked.

***

So smooth. And scalding.
I was so seasoned, so expert, so knowledgable about triathlons, you see, that I knew not only to put Vaseline in my bike-to-run transition bag, but I knew to include a big ol' vat of it.  I was leaving nothing to chance; I wanted to cake every single inch of my body to make absolutely, 100%, without a doubt certain that nothing, not my nipples, not my thighs, not my ass crack, not my penis, NOTHING would chafe.  Yeah.  I was *that* smart!

Perhaps it was the elevation, the heat, the universe wanting to prank me, but there was an absolute Dexter-esque-crime-scene-level of Vaseline coating my bag, and I looked at the exploded petroleum jelly in awe, poking and prodding at it with my fingers like someone checking if a stovetop was turned on or not.   



***

I instantly started doing neck stretches to try to help my body or mind or whatever it was to loosen up.  The last thing I needed was neck issues unless I could somehow hold my breath in the water for over an hour without ever turning my head to breath.

That probably wasn't going to happen.

So, my immobile neck combined with my absolute abhorrence to eating early in the morning and my need to try to, um, expel, everything from inside my body before the race was a triathlon within a triathlon before the race even started:

  • Stretch stiff neck
  • Eat 
  • Poop
And none of these things were going well.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?

***


Honestly, it was pretty warm.  I was fairly certain the Vaseline must have been bubbling and boiling moments before, and so I needed to make a decision at the worst possible time.  My brain wasn't working at all.  I had just gotten off a bike ride that took me an hour longer than I had planned.  I was cramping.  And I was fairly certain I might die, right there in that transition area, next to a jar of petroleum jelly, in a tent filled with sweaty, naked men.  

The way I had always envisioned myself going.  

But here were my choices:

A. Quit because my Vaseline spilled and felt like it had already been used in a porn scene
B. Go run a marathon WITHOUT Vaseline and be a bloody mess within the hour
C. Coat myself in 90-to-100-degree-spilled-transition-bag-Vaseline and run a marathon
D. Coat myself in 90-to-100-degree-spilled-transition-bag-Vaseline and do my rendition of Deliverance


When you don't know what to do, ALWAYS choose C….no matter how much D is squealing your name.

***

I got my neck stretched, food down, and poop out…and was ready for the swim.  Thankfully, Ironman was trying a new way of starting: self-seeding.

Old Way:
  • Wave 1: Professional Men
  • Wave 2: Professional Women
  • Wave 3: Everyone else, which meant people (meaning, women…or men borrowing pink swim caps) would pull and scratch to pass me in the water.
New Way:
  • Wave 1: Professional Men
  • Wave 2: Professional Women
  • Wave 3: Sub-one-hour swimmers
  • Wave 4: 1 hour to 1:14 swimmers
  • Wave 5: 1:15 to 1:30 swimmers, etc
I really enjoyed this way of starting.  Everyone still had 17 hours to finish; your individual time simply started when you, personally, got in the water.  Also, no one (meaning, women) scratched me, pulled on me, or dunked my head in the water.  In fact, the entire swim, start to finish, was quite peaceful.

I spent the past six months practicing my swim more than anything else and more than I ever had before.  And although I'm still not fast (compared to what?), I left the water refreshed, not exhausted, even at one-mile of altitude.  Also, since it was a fresh-water swim, I was able to "purposefully" take in extra fluids before the bike and run.  I gulped my way right to the swim finish, hitting the higher end of my predicted time.  I was going for between 1:20 and 1:30…and I hit 1:30 exactly (on what I clocked as a 2.6 [not 2.4] mile swim).

My neck issues behind me, I felt like I was set up for a groundbreaking day.  I wasn't tired at all!

***

To my surprise, there was something quite un-erotic about rubbing hot Vaseline all over my private parts in front of panting, stinky, naked men. 

I thought I might make a show of it, and just gyrate my hips a little bit, just a little, and make a few extra dollars in tips before my run, but I decided against it.

***

The first part of the bike ride was freeing, and I really felt like this entire race was coming together.  The first miles were spent how they typically are, passing all the non-strong-bikers who are good at swimming. 

But something incredible was happening.  The altitude was again not bothering me (so I thought), the weather was staying at a cool(?) 81 degrees, and 1/3 of the way in…I was averaging about 18 mph.  My nutrition was on, my breathing was great, and my energy level seemed to be increasing once my heart rate settled in.  

I.

Felt.

Great.

I hit the half way point of the race slowing down just a tad, at 3:15.  My goal was to do the entire thing at 6:30 and if I had a bad day (because of altitude) 7:30.

I was right on track.

***

I didn't know how I was going to ingest my new flavors of Vaseline-flavored Gu, Vaseline-flavored energy bar, and Vaseline-flavored salt, but I did contact my lawyer about patents.

I also asked if he thought Vaseline would sponsor me on my next race…he said No, but that they may be liable for shitty vat making.

***

The next 56 miles were some of the most grueling of my life.  I had never cramped while on a bike before…

As I hit the turnaround to head to home…my entire goal was to have my mileage match the temperature.  I thought that would be a good mental game to keep me occupied.  Getting to 80 miles would put me about half-way there!

Unfortunately, my plan didn't work…because the temperature kept going up…and it was getting harder and harder for me to win my game:

  • 85 degrees
  • 90 degrees
  • 95 degrees
  • 100 degrees!
And once that happened, another triathlon level of things started to occur in my body:

  • My stomach started sending me fun little messages that if I put any more food in my mouth, I would be wearing it momentarily thereafter.
  • My forearms…MY MOTHER F'IN FOREARMS were cramping from changing gears.  WTF?
  • My quads were cramping.  Have you ever tried to ride a bike with cramping quads?  I don't recommend it…mostly because (a) it's dangerous and (b) it sucks.
According to WebMD, here are the signs of dehydration, which I may have been suffering from:


  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased urine output


If you don't want to read all that, here is a visual representation:

The Ironpug involves sleeping, then eating, then eating while sleeping.

I can't explain, nor would I like to relive, ever, the last few hours of that bike ride.  I was in serious physical, mental, and psychological pain.  But I made it. It took me much, much, much longer on the second half…but I made it in 7:22, somehow still under my "bad day high end" and I was still, technically, alive.

I dropped off my bike, wished for its incineration, and got ready to run.  A marathon.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?

***

There were a couple of people quitting while inside the transition tent, and that seemed like a good idea to me.  It would be so easy to let my day explode.  My cramping quads were with me.  So were my throbbing feet.  And my headache was telling me to stop…let alone the fact that my stomach was about to commit anarchy….any second.

***

I can't say that marathon was the crowning achievement of my life beyond the fact that it was the crowning achievement of my life.  Nothing went the way I had planned, but I made it!

So you think you want to do an Ironman?  That run course was like a war zone.  There were people passed out and/or vomiting everywhere.  Pushing themselves to the limit.

Anyway, before the day started, I figured at the worst, the run would take me 5:30…but was fairly certain I could hit 4:30 with how my training had been going and all my invaluable experience.  Ha!

Sadly:
  • It was really, really hot!
  • I finally felt the altitude.  I couldn't breathe for the first two hours.  All I could do was gasp.
  • My quads were constantly cramping
  • I couldn't eat anything.

I started doing math (ack) and tried to figure out how I could (a) finish and (b) survive.

  • If I tried to do a nine-to-ten min/mile pace….I knew I was going to cramp too much and not finish.
  • If I walked the entire thing at about a twenty min/mile pace, I knew I wouldn't finish in time.
So, I went for the middle, and tried to do a fifteen min/mile pace….which I had never done before, so I had to figure out what that was.  

It turned out if I jogged about half a mile and walked about half a mile, that got me to about fifteen min/mile.  This was enough to get me in on time AND not have my body fail me.

The highlights of that hot, Hot, HOT run were trying:

  • Not to cramp
  • Not to vomit
  • Not to pass out
The first time I almost passed out was when I tried to drink some chicken broth that was hotter than the Vaseline from my transition bag.  It scorched my mouth and throat.

When they asked if it was too hot, all I could muster was "Um, yeah…I wink eh i a wiwwle woo ha."

I then handed them my tongue and told them to return it to me after the race.  

***

I eventually got it together in the transition tent and decided that I would attempt to complete the race.  The Vaseline didn't matter.  

It was an annoyance.  Not the end of the world.  

It was a funny story.  Not the story.  

It wouldn't be my excuse.  It would be another thing I overcame.

***

I EARNED this shit.
I finished.  

It took my longer than I thought it would, but I now realize that altitude and heat together (maybe even separately) are no joke. 

I learned that there is something off with my nutrition when the heat gets turned up…and that I most likely need extra salt and fluids….even more than I think I do.

I learned that biking while cramping is dangerous at the time.  But fun in retrospect…because you get to bike in fun patterns you never imagined before.

I learned what a fifteen min/mile run pace feels like…and how that can be just as hard as a sub eight min/mile pace.

I learned that scalding hot chicken broth is not a good idea.  Ever.

I learned that anything is possible with enough training, determination, and desire.  

I learned that Ironman does have the perfect slogan.

I learned stiff necks, and cramps, and hot Vaseline can be aspects of a porn video OR an Ironman.

But I mostly learned more about myself and how I struggle to be in the moment.  Judgment, fear, cynicism can be like a record on repeat in my head, and simple things like singing "Because I'm a Puppy" to the tune of Pharrell's Happy can get me through some really dark times…and really, if that is all it takes…then, what am I complaining about in the first place.

So you think you want to do an Ironman?  That won't cut it.

You have to know you will.

And you will.  

Eventually. 

You will.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Ironman Boulder #4 -- That John Denver is NOT Full of Shit, Man

Welcomed by multiple days of torrential -- yet brief -- thunderstorms, Colorado has me reminiscing about Ironman New Zealand 2012, AKA The Race That Wasn't a Race, But Then Was Again, But Just Half as Long, But Still Really Windy and Choppy and Crappy.  Its friends call it Paco.

Mountains and Shit



Regardless, I've made it to Broomfield, Colorado, and have been greeted by scenic views, more Subaru Outbacks than Toyota Pri-i (the obvious plural for Prius), a ridiculous amount of bowling alleys per capita (if I've done my math right), and a pug who refuses to poop east of Las Vegas.   -- Insert craps joke here. --

***

I'm clearly staring at the last person I killed
Maybe it's my murder, I mean, training mask, but the elevation hasn't been too awful thus far.  I had the feeling I would be gasping for air (more than I normally do) while I exercised, but things seem decent.  I DO wish I was wearing my training mask when that about-seven-year-old menace kept swimming directly into me today at the Boulder Reservoir, though.  *In a muffled Bane voice* Calm down, little girl.  Now is not the time to fear.  That comes later.

I don't think that would be TOO traumatizing for her….but really…there is only one way to find out.

***

A fun fact about Ironman Boulder -- just in from the false advertising department -- as of now, they have ADDED about 1500 ft. of climb to the ride and another 200 ft. to the run.  These are not absolutely terrible things to do…but I do kind of feel like this was a bait and switch.  And since they were so good at doing this…I kind of also feel like Ironman Boulder pulled a master bait and switch at that.  Yeah.  Pun.

On the bright side, I am pleasantly surprised to be staying right near a place called Golden Bear Bike Shop here in Broomfield, CO with previous ownership connected to Berkeley, CA.  They are clearly not known for master bait and switching.  But they do fit right in with the new marijuana laws.  You get a free gram with every tune up (do I need to put KIDDING when something is that ridiculous?).

My bike and I are going out for a Rocky Mountain High ride tomorrow. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ironman Boulder #3 -- Sensing the End

I'm sitting here on a Tuesday morning, and my legs are throbbing.  I took yesterday off, but still…my body, maybe my mind, needs a rest.

I have a few more weeks of physically building before I start to taper, but there is such a tremendous sensation of guilt that builds along side the exercising.  There is more, always more, one could do…another mile, another swim, another hour here or there.  And that is what is so interesting about training for something so intense: you can't do it right….but you can do it wrong.

Over the past two weeks, I have swum over 10 miles, biked over 300, and run over 50…but at a certain point, those just become numbers.  Why do these things?

***

I was about ten miles into my Sunday long run.  In about a mile, I was going to turn around and cruise into the final three miles back to the car.  Almost time for a large glass of recovery chocolate milk.

It was hot, my legs were swollen and overly filled with lactic acid because I stupidly sat during my seven-mile refueling point.  Running on stiff legs if just terrible.

I was at the bottom of a small hill, maybe just a 1% decline…starting to prepare to run up the other side.  1% inclines on late Sunday afternoons might as well be Mt. Everest.

SPLASH

I look at the ground and I see an exploded water balloon. Inches from my feet.

***

I met some interesting people during all this mileage the past few weeks.  Some nice people.  Some mean people.  When you are in the pool for hours or on the road for a few more, you are bound to run into others doing "their thing" for "their reasons."

One gentleman -- who I literally swam into -- was a 300+ lb. man in the pool at the YMCA.  He was clearly new to pool etiquette and for some reason swam into me instead of sharing the lane.  When I queried about why he was in my lane instead of on his side, he retorted, I always look where I'm going.  Don't you?

No, I responded.  I'm usually looking down.  I don't look where I'm going.

***

I was running in La Jolla, so when I looked up to see where the water balloon came from, I was staring into multi-million dollar mansions.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what must have been a sixteen-year-old-ish kid running for cover.

I see you, jackass!  I yelled out.

Silence.

Real fucking funny! I scream again.  He just hides…and I imagine him giggling behind his fountains and cast-iron gate.

I click stop on my watch and I wait.  Legs throbbing more now.  Skin boiling, I don't know if from the heat or out of frustration.  And I stare. Waiting for him to make the next move.

***

I was about half-way done with a 100-mile San Diego to Long Beach ride a few days ago.  I was stopped at a light, and a professional or semi-professional triathlete rides up next to me.  You can always tell when they do it for a living.  It's not just the bike or the outfit or the lack of body fat that give professional triathletes away; it's the sound.  I can always hear them coming; there is just some special way they ride their bike that just sounds so different.  They sound like something I cannot do.

This triathlete comes up next to me and comments about my Ironman New Zealand shorts.  He asks me about New Zealand, and says it is his dream to do that race; the one he has always wanted to do.  And I feel like such a poser because I don't do races like he does…and I don't have the heart to tell him I signed up for IMNZ the year they cancelled and changed it to a 70.3 because of inclement weather.  I just tell him, It was very windy.  And it was hard.

Yeah.  He giggles.  No matter how perfect the weather, they are all hard, man.  Giggle.

And he cycled off much faster than I could ever go…and he is out of my eye line in a matter of minutes.

***

I kept waiting for that water balloon kid to come out.  I yelled.  I taunted.  But he didn't budge.  Maybe he ran inside.  I hit start on my watch, and I continued on with the final mile of my run until I hit my turnaround point.

I fumed while I ran and thought about all these things I could have done…no…WOULD have done…if he had just come out.  I started thinking about aspects of work and school...all the parts of my life that annoyed me or didn't go my way.  Things I could do differently…no…WOULD do differently if only.  If only.

My watch beeped…and I only had two miles to go.

Then I heard the ocean, just to the west of me.  And I felt the throbbing in my legs and back…and I thought about how I had to put my head down, because when I get tired, my form gets bad and I run with my head up and start to lean back.  I had to focus.

And I thought about T- waiting for me…in just a few more miles…I would see her again…and get to tell her about my day, and she would try to understand the words if not the experience. And I realized that I wasn't angry anymore because none of that mattered. All I wanted was some chocolate milk.

Beep again.

And I finished.  And I jumped in the ocean.  And I let the cool, cool waves wash over me as I sunk my head into the salty water.

It burned my eyes.

And I could hear the seagulls…and I really saw them...they were flying and gliding on the wind.  Doing what seagulls were meant to do.




Friday, February 14, 2014

Grading Grading

I have promised (others!) to write this blog for almost a year.

I am not the first person to have these thoughts…but these are my take on them.  I also understand the counterargument.  I do.  Honestly.  I really do.

This is my grade of grading.

***

Imagine it is the first day of an introductory college course you have to take.  You have to pass AND learn the skills in this class to be successful later.  Your degree and future job depend on it.

For the people reading this blog, imagine this course to be something like taking Chinese. Or Calculus. Or Shakespeare. Or Nuclear Engineering.  Or Physical Education.  Think about your Achilles heel.  That subject your entire life you have been told time and time again, You need improvement on X.

Think about how you feel the first day of this class.  The first reading. The first quiz.  The first paper. The first test (if you stay in the class that long).

And you are scored.

Consistently scored on something new to you.  Hard for you.  Foreign to you.  Something you have a complex about.

And you get classified.

You are a D student.  If you try really hard, maybe you are a C.  You.  As a person.  Become this score. This thing.  This letter.

And that first failing score of the semester sends you down your spiral again.

Why even try?  Why even go?

Welcome to American Education 101: Survival of the Fittest.

***

Let's take running a mile as a metaphor to explain more fully what I mean:

After lecturing to you about running for a week, I say, "OK…next week is our timed mile." 

You dread timed miles. DREAD THEM.  If you had more time, you would be happy to attempt the mile…but the timing, really makes you anxious.

And I assess you. Not only on completion…but how you look doing it.  How well you ran it.  Were your arms pumping correctly?  Was your cadence right?

You may feel this is unfair.  You may feel like completing the mile is enough.  And why do your arms matter anyway?  You are new to running…and you never even noticed what people do with their arms before…this has to do with your legs, doesn't it?  That's what they told you in high school.

You even put a lot of work over the weekend preparing for this mile….but that wasn't enough time.  You hadn't been running for years…and a couple days of prep just weren't going to cut it.

So, I watch you run this mile…and rate it (with my rubric, hopefully) as a D.  

This is the life of a majority of native and non-native-English-speaking students entering community college English courses.  Most enter not ready to face the rigors of college-level reading and writing assignments, so they are placed in pre-college prep classes.  Statistically, if this happens, they most likely won't get a college degree.  This is not a condemnation of high school.  This is a reflection on a system -- K through university -- that is focusing on the wrong things.

And I'm tired of it.

So, I am doing something about it.

**

Grading is unfair.  It is.  When you put a score on an introductory student's initial drafts, it often demoralizes him/her…and honestly, it demoralizes me as an instructor.  If they don't do something correctly, they lose points.

Cause and effect.

This often leads to students and instructors looking for formulaic writing approaches: easier to teach, and easier to score.  If you are "good at school," this system is awesome for you.  If you are good at being told not think, this system is awesome for you.

But what about everyone else?

I just don't think grading is the only answer to student improvement.  On the other hand, mentorship and feedback are key!  In fact, it is part of a four-step process to student acquisition of new material that can lead to student autonomy and engagement (informally noticed by me, not deeply researched by me with stats and figures…yet.).

The Learning Process (I didn't invent this idea)

  • Step 1: Notice
  • Step 2: Think 
  • Step 3: Output
  • Step 4: Feedback
In my opinion, students struggle with non-content-based-life-skills such as metacognition, how to read and think critically, self-efficacy, and self-esteem because there is no time for teaching "that stuff" in my classroom.  I need to get through this material.  Students should just know how to do that, anyway.  That isn't my job.  

There is time to perform, though.  

There is time to get things right.  

There is time to reward those students who learn quickly.

There is always time for that. 

***

Why would a student take a chance -- try something new -- if they are only assessed on knowing, and getting things right.  Only using a scoring-based-instructional-model hinders creativity in my opinion, and a possible outcome may be robotic instruction: 

  • Write a five-paragraph essay
  • Put your thesis here
  • Use this transition word there
  • Every assertion has two supports
Why did writing become an easy-to-assess assembly line…where each essay looks like the last?  Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for formula; I'm not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater…but should formula BE the classroom, and leave room for nothing else?  Do we have so little faith in students and teachers…that the result is creating a line-worker mentality:  Don't think. Regurgitate. Know the rules. Follow the rules. 

Carrot and stick.  Carrot and stick.

That is not my classroom.  I want things to be muddy.  I want there to be mistakes.  I want my students to take chances.  I want them to notice things for themselves.  I want them to experiment.  I want them to be confused at times.

And, most importantly, I don't want to punish them for doing these things.

I want to encourage it.

***

The past few years, I have experimented with removing POINTS/SCORES from the initial drafts of my pre-college, ESL-student work.  Some students resist at first.  Some never stop.  But why would I assess something, with a score, when the student is new to it?  Sadly, why have they been so programmed to expect it?

GRADE ME.  RATE ME.  TELL ME (IN POINTS) WHO I AM.

To return to our metaphor, why would I assess your running of a mile, with a score, if this is your first time running a mile in ten years, or you have been a swimmer for twenty years and are trying to "translate" into running now.  I don't think these are times to assign a score.  These are times for feedback, in words, in support, in conferences, in modeling, in coaching…but not a grade.  No points.

Why are we so quick to judge right away: THIS is a C.

Why is it so hard to remove the label? 

***

What I have noticed is a different conversation with my students since I have removed these scores on initial drafts.

I am no longer asked why they got a D.  I am no longer confronted with tears.  I no longer feel like I am demoralizing someone new to the field of academic reading and writing in English.

I am asked now, "How do I improve X?"  "How do I explain my ideas better here?"

The conversation has been reframed and:

  • I notice NEW and UNIQUE forms of writing.
  • I notice I don't get the same paper from the same student all semester.
  • I notice my students are writing differently than their classmates.

My process for writing assignments (which I continue to hone/think about/develop every semester), is as follows:

  • I will not assess -- with points or scoring -- the content of written work until the end of the semester.
  • Throughout the process, I provide points for: completion of drafts, submission of drafts on time, submission of self-reflections on progress, and following directions.
  • The students receive extensive written and oral feedback, mentoring, and tutoring on each draft.
***

Teacher voices:

Voice: Oh no…does that mean everyone can get an A on an assignment? Is this a reflection of their "true ability level?" 

Response: Not everyone gets an A….but I have a lot fewer failing scores; that's for sure.  And what is their true level, I ask?  Do YOU, reader, want to be GRADED on your first mile of the semester?  Would you not prefer to practice for months to get your skills up to speed, as it were, before I assess you with points?  Would you prefer to focus on your score or improving your overall health?  Don't forget, in our PE class, we are also going to be working on swimming a mile and biking for fifty.  Do you want to be failing all of those things along the way, too?  

Voice: I don't have time to give that level of feedback that many times. 

Response: I hear you.  Maybe we should have fewer students.  Maybe we should have fewer classes/instructor.  Maybe not every class should be sixteen weeks (schools vary by district) for every student (maybe some need less time, others more).  If we were concerned about improvement and not about maximizing the bottom line, maybe our entire educational system could be set up differently.

Voice: You are being unrealistic.  Students must be graded.  This is the way we have done it for years.  They are graded in all their courses.  And in life.  At work.  They get financial aid and scholarships and transfer based on grades.  

Response:  I cannot argue that. All I am doing is delaying the grade, not removing it entirely.  Also, I am not in control of all those things you mentioned above.  What I am in control of is creating a learning environment that attempts to accept everyone and not only the ones who would pass regardless of what was in front of them.  

Voice: Easy for you to say.  You are just an English instructor.  You can't do this in a REAL course like math or physics or history or engineering or science or…or…or...

Response:  I have not walked a mile (connection intended) in your shoes, nor you in mine, most likely. I'm not saying every situation is the same…just like not every writing assignment is the same.  Again, I didn't say we should remove ALL grades and ALL formula.  I'm saying this is what I did.  For me. In my class.

***

Assessment, with points, is one of the worst parts of being an instructor (IMO).  Especially in introductory courses, I don't see the utility in penalizing students for growing and thinking and trying along the way.

As of today, right now, this is my attempt at fostering life-long learning. 

Grade me.  Disagree with me.  Give me feedback.  Try it yourself.  

Whatever you do:

  • Notice
  • Think 
  • Output
  • Feedback
I just did that here.  And now, it's your turn.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Adventures in Babysitting

The good news is that everyone lived.  The bad news (for me) is I, once again, made a complete ass of myself.  The better news (for you) is I am going to share what happened.

***

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine said she needed help.  She needed someone to pick up her two-year-old son from daycare by 4:00 PM.  I LOVE this kid, been around him tons of times…and he is awesome.  I said I would be happy to help under one condition: she had to guarantee that he would not poop for the hour I needed to watch him.  My assistance has its limits, after all.  These limits clearly include not touching, smelling, or interacting with feces unless (a) it's mine (b) it's my dogs' or (c) it's been placed on a doorstep and lit on fire.

She promised  he would be as empty Philip Seymour Hoffman's (alleged) heroine needle (too soon?) or as backed up as the line to get into the men's room at a Justin Bieber concert.

She loves similes apparently.

Admittedly, poopy diaper or not, I was still a little apprehensive about picking up her son.  I guess I get "a little neurotic" when "the health" and "well being" of "another person's child" is in my "hands."  But I figured as long as I could keep air quoting AND didn't have to change a poopy diaper, nothing could go too wrong.  Nope.  Nothing.

***

I left early and diligently followed the directions to the address she gave me.  In my mind, I was expecting some large facility with a gate and a fence and a receptionist.  Why?  Who knows.

So, when I instead found myself in the middle of a neighborhood, my neuroses instantly took over:

  • I'm lost
  • I just stranded a two-year-old.  
  • He is definitely out wandering the streets RIGHT NOW!

***

Even though I was certain I was lost, I figured I would at least give the address his mother gave me a try.  Why not, right?

When I went to the door and rang the doorbell, the worst thing possible for someone like me happened.

No one answered.

I rang again.

Still nothing.

At this point, I really worked myself up into a tizzy.  I got out my phone to call my friend to apologize for leading her son into a life of crime within a Mexican drug cartel.   But then I heard it. Another car pull up behind me.

My heart soared as I noticed this vehicle had a car seat in the back.  And I did some quick deduction in my mind: Car seat = child or baby monkey.

I assumed it would NOT be a baby monkey.  This time.

Consequently, I figured these people must know things about daycare centers and children and picking said children up properly.  They also probably knew how to keep two-year-olds out of prison.

***

They got out of their car, and started walking towards me.  I was so completely frazzled that all I could muster was, Am I in the right place?

Now, keep in mind, I had never met these people before in my life.  They have no idea who I am or what I am doing there.  I could have been asking about a daycare center…but for all they knew, I might have been asking about a crack den.  So, they responded, Well, that depends.  What are looking for?

And, I shit you not, the following came out of my mouth, in retort: I want to pick up children.

As those words hung in the air, a sour look came over their faces…and I wished I could have lassoed them back into my mouth.  But I couldn't.  They just hung there.  And I stammered to self-correct, Um. I mean. Child.  A child.  My child.  I mean.  My friend's son.

These two women both laughed out loud at me…and pointed about five inches to the left.  One of the women, through a giggle, said, You just walk in right there.  Through the gate. The one with the daycare sign on it.

***

When I walked through the gate, I noticed two children playing in a sandbox, and I figured one of them must be my friend's son.  But I didn't see him.  So, I stared at these two children.  And they stared at me.  We just stared at each other.

Not creepy.  Not creepy at all.

Through the back door of the house, I notice a woman walk out holding another child in her arms.  She sees me staring at the two children in the sandbox and politely queries, Can I help you?

Now, I am still recovering from the crap that happened out front…and realize how awkward I must look at this moment.  So, I try to rectify this situation in a calm, cool, and collected fashion: Mark.  My name.  Pick up.  Friend said. Here.  Her son.  Here.  Me.  Mark.  

I only wish I were joking.

Anyway, she just laughed and laughed.  I now realize she is holding my friend's son in her arms.  Ohhhhhh…Hi, Mark!  Yes, J-- told me you were coming.  She also mentioned you don't like poopy diapers.  So…let me change him before you go.

***

I feel my face getting bright red…I didn't figure my friend would mention my poop-free desires…which flusters me even more.  I'm about to apologize when one of the kids in the sandbox, a little three-to-four-year-old girl, yells at me, ARE YOU HER DAD?

Me: Who?

Little girl: ARE YOU HER DAD?

Me: Who do you mean?

Little girl: ARE YOU HER DAD?

Me: I don't know who...

And she violently and abruptly points to the mid-twenty-something-year-old woman changing my friend's son's diaper,  HER!

Two things:

  • I don't believe this little girl had figured out how to modulate her voice yet…because everything was full force and loud.
  • F you, little girl.  I don't have a 25 year old daughter.

The daycare lady now responds, No, he is not my father.  My father's name is Mark…but this is a different Mark.

Then the little boy, also about three, pipes up, Are you her dad?

Me: Nope. Still not her dad.

Little boy: Do you have kids?

Me: I have dogs.

And then this little boy gets the most confused look you could possibly imagine.  His eyes widen, and he hopefully asks, Your kids are dogs?

Me: Well, they are like my children.

Little girl: I USED TO HAVE A DOG BUT NOW I HAVE A CAT!!!!!!

My first thought was maybe her dog ran away because she was always YELLING at him…but before I could find out, the daycare lady said my friend's son is all ready to go…and was incapable of pooping.  She then asked, Do you need help with the car seat?

*** Flashback ***

Earlier in the day, I picked up the car seat from my friend.  She put it in my car and attached it to the seatbelt.  I even asked how to use it to double check that (a) I could get him into the car seat and (b) I could get him back out of the car seat.

My friend gives me grief for asking how to use the car seat.  I feel like an idiot.

*** Flash forward ***

Me:  I would LOVE help with the car seat.

Her: No problem.  Those car seats can be pretty tricky.

And I feel SO vindicated about the previous ribbing I took from my friend about how to use one!  My concerns about how hard it is had been confirmed by someone who deals with children every day!  Ha!

When we get to my car, I open the door, and my vindication quickly disappears.

Her: Oh.  She says.  That's all she says.

Me: Oh?

Her: The car seat is already attached to the car.

And it is then that I realize we were having two very different conversations.  SHE thought I needed help latching the car seat to my car.  To her, THIS act was "tricky."

I thought she was asking if I wanted help putting the baby into the car. To me, THIS was "tricky."

Me:  *Trying to pretend that I don't know that she thinks I am a complete, helpless idiot,* Oh.  Yeah.  We (I actually said we) attached it earlier.

Her: *Silence*

Me: So, maybe you can put him in the car seat?

Her: Surrrrre.




You asked Mark to pick up your son?  Nooooooooooooo!

***

The drive home is remarkably wonderful.  After a few moments of crying when WE put him in the car seat, he calmed down.  He recognized me.  He read his book.  I drove extra, extra carefully.  I felt so proud.  I successfully (?) picked someone's child up.  I transported him across town.  I pretended people didn't think I was a fool.  This was a full day.

But then, we parked.

As I went to get him out of the car seat, I again panicked.  I pressed the harness release and nothing happened.  I pressed it again; nothing happened.  I thought about how fun it was going to be to have a two-year-old locked in his car seat for an hour until his mother came home.  I felt my palms getting sweaty…and my face flush.  I tried one more time.

One side unbuckled.

"OK.  OK.  If I got one side to unbuckle….that means I can do two."

Honestly.  I gave myself this exact pep talk.

I realized I probably just wasn't pressing hard enough on the harness release, so I pressed it again without worrying about crushing him.  Because, of course, if you press a harness release too hard, the child will instantly explode.

BINGO.  It released.  He jumped into my arms…and we got inside without a hitch.  I knew right where her place was, and all I needed to do was take the elevator up one flight up, and we would be home free.

When I got into the elevator, I pushed the wrong button.  I pushed the same floor we were just on, so basically, the doors closed and then reopened.  I started to get out to walk to her door, but even the two-year old realized this was not the right floor.  He stared up at me, and I swear he gave me a look of, "Dude…you seriously are a fucking moron, aren't you."

We got back into the elevator…I pressed the right button…and we got to door.  FINALLY.

***

I realize most of these issues came about because I was just worried about watching someone else's child.  I get that.  But in about a thirty-minute time period, I made a complete jackass out of myself, in front of other people, about five times.

So…who needs a babysitter?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ironman Boulder #2 -- I Fell On My Face

I'm no novice; I've been ambulatory for at least 37 years…and have had the ability to run, without falling, nearly as long as that.  If it truly does take 10,000 hours to master something…I think I'm there.

I still fell on my face last week while running, though.

If I put things in some sort of positive perspective, I should perhaps be proud of the fact that I often DON'T fall when I'm running.  Look at me, the "I Don't (Typically) Fall When I'm Running" Guy!  In fact, I have a nearly unbeatable streak of not falling while doing numerous perilous tasks such as walking to the refrigerator or exiting a Roman bath house.  I may even be some sort of record holder for all I know.  I could be the AC Green of street crossing…the Cal Ripken, Jr. of successful journeys from the super market to my car without incident.

Now, this isn't to say I have NEVER fallen when running before.  Because I have.  A couple of years ago was the only other time I -- without the help of another human being -- have found myself stumbling and bumbling my way to the ground during a run.  It was in the middle of the La Jolla Half Marathon, and I had just run up Torrey Pines.  If you don't live in San Diego or if you have never run up Torrey Pines, let me tell you, falling after such a feat is nothing to be ashamed of.  Well…not *too* ashamed of. 

But this week.  This week was something special.  This was the first time in my life when I ever recall simply running on a perfectly good sidewalk…no bumps…no roots…nothing in my way…and simply losing my balance, toppling over, summersaulting…and SPLAT.  Face meet ground.  Ground meet face.

But this isn't the best part.

I notice, off in the distance, a jogger.  She got to witness this entire comedic event.  When I splatted on the ground, she was probably a good 100 yards away from me…but I know she saw.  And I know -- injury or not -- she must have been cracking up at me.

I have a number of options at this point; I could: 

(A) turn around and run the other direction to save myself the embarrassment

(B) just sit there and then find something extremely interesting on the ground to stare at while she giggles past me

or

(C) get up off my clumsy-ass and simply continue…and say something clever on the way by her.

I, of course, chose C.

I do a quick push-up (in retrospect, it would have been hilarious to pump out like ten…like this was all part of my plan) to stand up.  Give myself a couple of claps.  Laugh.  Dust myself off…and start to run towards the woman who saw me eat shit while simply jogging down the road.

As I get closer to her, I notice she is making eye contact and is giving me a slightly odd look…and when she gets right by me, I raise my hands way in the air like a cheerleader celebrating a touchdown, like this (sans the jump, I swear): 

It took me about thirty minutes to find a non-sexual cheerleading picture.
But that was an awesome thirty minutes.

And I scream: I'M OK!!!!

She just laughed and laughed.

Well, wouldn't you know it, I was actually near the turnaround point of my run, so I veered to the right to head around a building to double back to finish my run (without falling).  It's been about five minutes since I saw my new found friend who was more interested at taking joy out of my possible life-threatening fall than helping a poor, "young," defenseless jogger in distress.  Lo and behold, who do I see, the same lady!  

Now I'm at a loss.  I had already used my A material the first time I passed her.  What was I going to do???

Well, I did what any man would do to save face in a similar situation.  I went back to a winner…

…and as soon as she got close, I screamed: 

I'm STILL OK!

And she laughed again!  She was like my own personal studio audience…but she clearly wasn't ready to participate in such deep and meaningful banter, as she only retorted, "Still running, huh?"

Personally, I don't like when people make a factual statement as a conversational point.  I feel like it's lazy.  Things like:

  • Hot today when it obviously is or
  • Sharp axe when I'm chopping them up into little, tiny pieces.
At that point, you gotta give me more than "Still running, huh?" Especially after I gave her the joy of (1) watching me fall and (2) self-deprecating remarks to boot! 

I'm not your monkey.  See if I ever fall in front of you (on purpose) ever again.

***

Weekly recap

Miles ridden: 74 (long of 40)
Miles run: 16 miles (long of 7.5)
Yards swum: 7500 yards (long of 2500)
Cross training: 1.5 hours
Times I fell on my face: One time

My mind still thinks it is in Ironman shape from last year…my body, not so much.  

In my head, I feel like I should be able to bike for five hours after a two hour swim RIGHT NOW!  

In my head, I know this is possible.  

My lungs and stamina would like to politely disagree with my mind.  So for now, I'm still in the slowly build up endurance phase…before I know it, I'll be able to fall on my face at least five time/week…no problem.

***

I was listening to the radio this week, and they were talking about the topic of discipline.  What it is…why people have it in certain parts of their lives…etc.

There is clearly a line between discipline and insanity…and I often don't know which side of that line I am on.  I know I have the ability to hyper focus on something (like finding a cheerleader picture for this entry), but do I have the ability to take something daunting like an Ironman and have it be PART of my life, and not the focus of my life?  That is an entirely different kind of discipline.  Can I relatively "dabble" in something monumental instead of swim (pun intended) in it?  That is one of the challenges in front of me this year.  I can immerse myself.  I've done that.  But can something overwhelmingly difficult be mentally overcome in smaller (relatively) doses?  

I don't know, but I'm going to find out.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Ironman Boulder #1

Abstract for TLDR Crowd: I wrote some presumably funny shit about triathlons.  And you need to learn how to focus for about one minute.  Oh…I was also the world's largest baby.  So there's that.

***

Darron's mom, who has been more of a mother to me than Darron ever has, asks me about writing ALL the time.  It's nice to be motivated by someone who has known me almost my entire life, and STILL thinks I'm not a moron.  Or at least doesn't think being a moron should hold me back.

She specifically asked if I was going to write a book about the last Ironman I did.  I lied to her and said yes AND that I enjoyed her son's company.  I thought if I were going to lie, I might as well make it a REALLY big lie.

But I thought about it, and I figured I might blog about some of my training experiences THIS TIME.  Maybe people could learn something.  Maybe I would.  Maybe I am blowing more air than a polar vortex.  Maybe.

***
Weekly recap

Miles ridden: 66 (long of 32)
Miles run: 14 (long of 6)
Yards swum: 7000 (long of 2500)
Cross Training: 1.5 hours (including 40 minutes of stupid boot camp training, which is really f-in hard)

You know the only thing worse than getting back into shape after take a few months off?  Getting back into shape twice in about a month.

My original plan was to start training for Ironman Boulder in November.  I did that.  And went through the pain and agony of those initial weeks of mental and physical turmoil…only to get sick.

So, I got to start again a few weeks ago.  I can see why people don't like working out.  Until you get through about four weeks of it, it really does feel like someone is setting off matches in your lungs while sitting on your chest inside of a vise.

BUT…once you get through the first month, it doesn't feel like that at all.  It mostly just feels like all those things but you feel like a puss if you don't do it because now you know you can.

***

I've set some intentions for this race.  Mostly because if I don't find something new to think about when I'm on the bike for five+ hours at a time, I might actually go with my plan to speak with a British accent  at all stop signs.

I'll mention two of them for now.

Intention number one is to try to race between 169 and 175 pounds.  Now, I don't know if this is possible because (a) I think I was born at 175 pounds and (b) last race I pretty consistently stayed between 185 and 192…and I just don't know how I could lose more weight unless I did things like not eat at Red Robin.  But that is just crazy talk.  Anyway.  That is my intention.

Me at two days old.  I'm on the Left.
That is my one-year-old brother on the right.

Another intention is what I am going to call the PP.  Yes.  The PP.  In this case, PP stands for staying present and positive.

Staying Present: It's pretty easy to think about the next hour, the next month, the next Red Robin basket of bottomless fries…instead of being in the moment.  Being in the moment is crucial in so many parts of life, including triathlon training.  I can't worry about yesterday or tomorrow.  All I should focus on is what I am in control of…which is present time.  Self-helpy, but true.  One fry at a time….that's my motto!

Staying Positive: The other half of the P. I don't know if I'll be able to do this, though, since I'm not very good at it (ba-dum-bum).  It truly is easy to go negative when feeling overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or menstrual.  Positive self-talk is a real thing.  Positive self-talk with a British accent might be even more real.  Soon.  Very, very soon.

***

That's it for now.  I guess the only question left unanswered at this point…is who wants to help me with my PP?




Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More Massage Misery

While in the waiting room, I started to sweat, beads dripping off my forehead. I stared at my crisscrossed fingers on top of my nervously-tapping legs. The door from the massage area opened, and a whoosh of air blew onto my face.  It smelled like kitty litter.

"Mark?"  a voice called out.

I looked up.  And I didn't move.  Because it seemed like the great-great-grand-mother of any possible masseuse had just called my name.

I have had what some might call a "bad history" of "massages not going well," so I can't say I was shocked to see Betty White's mom standing in front of me.  But still.  Deep in my heart.  I thought there might be some sort of mistake or practical joke going on.  So I sat there.  Motionless.

"Mark?" she called out again.  And I looked around...and, yup, I was the only man in the waiting area.

"Here?" I responded...in question form.


"I'm -----, and I'll be your masseuse."

Of course you will be I thought to myself.


Now, I'm a somewhat open-minded guy.  So in the moments it took me to walk over to her (about two seconds), ever the optimist, I talked myself into thinking this COULD go well.

She's experienced.  Friendly.  Knows some old-school methodology my mind flashed.

But as I shook the hand of the octogenarian, she didn't seem to have full use of her fingers. Any of them.  They curled into her palms like on someone who was checking to see if she liked their new nail polish.  As I shook her claw, I managed a "Hi."

I followed her back to the massage room, and she walked like she needed hip replacement surgery, her right leg dragging a beat or two behind the left.  I was glad she didn't tell me to "Walk this way" or I would have had to curl over into a hump-backed ball.

While I might not personally understand why a person without full usage of her hands, back, or hips would want to do a job where she has to use her hands, back, and hips all day...that is not for me to decide nor judge.  OK....not for me to decide, at least.

***

After the dead-man's walk to the room was over, she asked me what I would like to have done.  Admittedly, I was a little flustered....so while in the midst of discussing all the places I DON'T like to have massaged...I left one out.  I forgot to say, "Whatever you do...for the love of GOD...don't touch my feet.  I CANNOT stand it when people touch my feet."

This omission would come back to haunt me.

***

Five minutes into the massage it was clear to me that all my previous suppositions about her possibly being experienced and knowing a lot of old-school methodologies were wrong.  Very, very wrong.

She had about two moves:


  • Move Number 1: Move claws up and down back, scratching me with the top of her nails
  • Move Number 2: Rub sunspot-filled forearms on the center of back ever-so-lightly...not enough to massage anything...but just enough so I could feel the bumps on her arms.
All of this was clearly very relaxing.


A little later, after her fourth Move Number 1 and fifth Move Number 2 combination, she asks,

"I'm new at this.  How's it going?  Pressure OK?"

Now, you aren't going to believe me...but I was wrong about the kitty litter smell from before.  I was.  I'm telling you, when she asked me this question, wafts of cat food smell poured down on me...heavier than her hands ever could.  I don't know why her breath smelled like cat food.  I don't believe I was in a Simpson's episode...all I know is what I smelled.

Regardless, I simply couldn't bring myself to let Fancy Feast know that this was possibly the most excruciating thirty-minutes of my life (thus far).  I also didn't let her know that because of her,  I basically had just decided that I would absolutely NEVER, EVER get a cat.  Instead, I simply said "Fine" as I once again wondered why someone who clearly should not be using her hands OR be standing all day would choose to do this job.

***

Towards the end of my time on my stomach, she made a few passes at my feet.  I quickly thought back to our pre-massage conversation...and realize SHIT...I DIDN'T TELL HER I WOULD RATHER STAB MYSELF IN THE BALLS THAN HAVE HER TOUCH MY FEET!

At this point, a normal person would probably have politely asked her to stop, but part of me was actually relieved that all the Move Number 1 and Move Number 2 combinations were over...and she just massaged my feet  for a few seconds.  So I was cool...

...until she had me turn over and decided to give me a twenty-minute foot massage with oil and lotion and scents and all the squishing and touching and individual toe touching.  AHHHHHH!!!!  But what could I do?  I didn't mention it before the massage.  I didn't mention it when I was on my stomach.  And I didn't yet get the tattoo on my forehead that says, TOUCH MY FEET AND DIE, LADY.

So while I listened to the SQUISH, SQUISH, SQUISH of this lady clawing and milking at my feet, I squirmed. Fairly regularly.  Eventually, I guess I squirmed too much, and she inquired: "Ticklish?"  Chuckle. Chuckle. Huh huh huh.

"Yeah.  Ticklish." I replied...imagining myself jumping off a cliff into a pool of lotion with a bunch of faceless people I don't know touching my toes, AKA Hell.

***

My time was up.  She limped out of the room.  I fumbled at putting my socks on over my still-damp and recently-molested feet.  I sat there.  Staring at my shoes.  Wondering how in the heck this actually happened...and what it was she could have possibly eaten for dinner....until I decided to re-retire from massages.

Until I go back for more...because this couldn't possibly happen again.  Right?







Saturday, July 13, 2013

Donnie Darko, Time Travel, Alternate Universes, and Memphis


Mississippi River From the Shores of Memphis, TN
Why Memphis?  

I was asked that before I left.  I have been asked that while here.

Simple questions sometimes have simple answers.

I'll let Donnie Darko explain.

***

Is it a spoiler if I talk about a movie that came out over ten years ago?  Well, just in case:  

***SPOILER ALERT***  

If seeing Donnie Darko has been on your To Do List for over a decade, don't read this blog.  

Anyway, there is this scene in the movie (one of the best movies ever made, by the way), when Donnie asks Frank, a futuristic, time-traveling, rabbit-costume-wearing man, why he's wearing a stupid bunny suit in the first place.

Frank retorts, Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?

ZING!

I have always thought this was a seminal moment in the film, deconstructing who we think we are/what we are supposed to be.  And, in sum, turning perspective on its head.  Moments later, in fact, Donnie ends up burning down Patrick Swayze's house, which seems downright mean, until we find out that this esteemed character maintains a kiddie porn dungeon. I'm not sure what that is exactly.  Not sure I want to know...but it sounds pretty bad.

In the end, Donnie's actions were justified -- depending on how you look at it -- in this alternate universe.  We just needed the proper perspective.

***

Beale Street
Fried Chicken

Her name was Bouvase, and the first time I heard it, I thought she said her name was Blow J.  I figured her name couldn't be a line from American Pie, so I asked her to repeat it.


BOUVASE, B-O-U-VASE.

Clearly, I wasn't the first person to have a problem with it.

I met B-O-U-VASE after a long day of exploring Memphis, Tennessee.  I did everything someone, I presume, is supposed to do.  I went to Graceland.  I ate BBQ.  I had fried chicken.  I went to Beale St.  I watched the duck parade. I went to the Mississippi River.

Check.
Check.
Check.
Check.
Check.
Check.

But what was I even doing in Memphis?  Why had I even come?

***

There is another part of Donnie Darko that I feel is often overlooked involving a minor character named Cherita, who is an overweight, linguistically-challenged, Asian-immigrant student.  Few people give a shit about this character, which is actually ironic!  She is integral to the who the F are we and why do we do the things we do plot!  No, really.  She is!

One of the few things (besides cynicism) I took away from stupidly(?) majoring in English in college is to notice any sort of character sensory removal.  If someone goes blind, loses a hand, can't hear...THIS is something to pay attention to...and later write a fifteen-to-twenty-page paper about.  Hurray!  

Anyway, Cherita has MULTIPLE self-induced, quasi-sensory deficits going on, so we should be watching her carefully.  First of all, she doesn't want people to talk to her; she tells them to chut up when they do.  This reaction is clearly warranted as some other characters (not Donnie) constantly berate her with racial slurs.   Eventually, she dons ear muffs -- even though it looks to be about 80 degrees outside -- in attempt to stop hearing what people say to her since the whole chut up angle doesn't seem to be working.  She ALSO ends up entering the school talent show and performing an interpretive dance, dressed as an overweight-angel-like figure, which leads the audience to snicker at her silent rendition of innocence.

No one, it seems, understands Cherita or any of her not talking/not wanting to be talked to antics.  

Poor Cherita.  Poor, poor Cherita.

Anyway, towards the end of the film, another important moment happens between Donnie and Cherita, when Donnie confronts Cherita and tells her he wishes things could have been better for her.  She, on cue, tells Donnie to chut up as she runs away -- even though he said something nice to her -- dropping her school books in the process.  

What do we discover?  She has WRITTEN (one of the means of communication that she has not lost/removed) Donnie's name on her book cover, showing love or admiration for him (I'm not going the god or god-figure route here, even though she was dressed like an angel during the talent show and Donnie clearly has god-like superpowers in this alternate universe.  I'm thinking teenage crush).  

So, Donnie is left holding her ear muffs in is hands as she runs away, removing Cherita's ability to block out others, but adding to Donnie's!  And we see Donnie wearing them in the next scene...showing a direct, physical connection to Cherita.  Both can be seen as outcasts:  

  • One being a slowly-going-insane, bunny-seeing, man-suit wearing time traveler, 
  • The other an interpersonal-issue-having, overweight-dancing, ear-muff-in-hot-weather-wearing immigrant.

If we look at them from this perspective, they are pitiful characters.

But from another, we can see them as being the only two truly redeemable characters in the entire film (don't get me started on Gretchen).  They, it seems, truly understand each other because when Donnie dies and saves the "real" universe, only Cherita smiles at her alternate universe interactions with her peer/savior.

Get all that?

It just depends on how you look at it.

***

I Didn't Visit This Place.
During my conversation with the about six-months-pregnant bartender, B-O-U-VASE, I discovered many things about her:

  • She hadn't been to California since she was 13, over 14 years she said.  
  • She's divorced. It seemed like her parents were, too.  
  • She'd been to a nude beach before, and didn't like what [she] saw.  
  • She loved Arkansas...the western part, only.  
  • She had been bartending for many years.  
And when I let her know that I don't particularly like tourist spots, and I wanted to go where the locals go...she gave me a knowing smile and suggested some places, and to let Mouse and Beavis know that Bouvase had sent me when I got there.

It should also be noted that she told me not to give any money to crackheads.  And she meant it!  

***

I have enjoyed every second of getting to chat with people I, otherwise, would have never met.  

I have enjoyed eating food I, otherwise, would have never eaten.  

I have enjoyed seeing things I, otherwise, would never have seen.

Why the heck did I come to Memphis? 

I'm not sure that is the right question.  I'm not sure at all.