30 July 2016

Wild Geese / Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-Mary Oliver

Needed to rediscover this masterpiece tonight - I think you did, too.

20 July 2016

Technology, Education, Utilty, and Isaac Asimov

From Zen Pencils: Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot

(Slightly Relevant Preface: I LOVE Zen Pencils. I LOVE ZEN PENCILS. For those unaware, ZP takes inspirational quotes and turns them into inspirational cartoon posters. It's as if ZP cartoonist Gavin Aung Than read my bookmarked tabs on Chrome and my delicately transcribed journal epigraphs and created cartoons featuring literally EVERY favorite quote I have in my arsenal: Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot, Terrence McKenna's Nature Loves Courage, Rilke's Live the Questions, Frida Kahlo's Strange Like Me, Max Ehrman's Desiderata, and so, so many more. I could - and probably will - write a post about every single one of the quotes featured on ZP and how that quote has helped me through some dark moment in life.)

A recently featured ZP was Isaac Asimov's A Lifetime of Learning. Asimov is pretty prolific. Aside from the fact that he published over 500 (yes, five hundred) books in his lifetime, in a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers, he basically predicted what the mother-effing Internet would become. He said, "Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time…"
From Zen Pencils: Asimov basically predicting the what the Internet would become decades prior.
Today, we can learn at our own pace, on our own terms, using the computers in our homes for reference. That sounds an awful lot like YouTube tutorials. That sounds like Lynda.com. That sounds like online college courses. That sounds like Google. The point is, he saw and predicted what he hoped the Internet ("computer outlets in every home") would become for us. More than that, he hoped that the automation of mundane informational tasks would in turn make us more creative, engaged humans. In other words, he hoped that technology would be used to its full capacity.

Today's Zen Pencil was, to be frank, something else I've grappled with for the past five years. I've been ruminating a long while now over how I can help my future students to grasp the wonder and grandeur that is a Smartphone, tablet, and laptop. It's the most powerful tool they will ever own (with the exception of their minds). They have the ability to look up virtually ANYTHING. How deep is the Red Sea? How many satellites currently orbit the earth? How old is Alex Trebec? You don't even have to type the whole question before Google autofills it for you. No one seems to understand the labor that used to go into answering simple questions (let alone complex ones). We have such a gift, and I fear that students don't see it. Hell, I think most adults don't even see it. But, (un)fortunately, I'm a middle school teacher, not a world teacher. (I've made peace with this.) What I seek to do is help my students see their technology as one part entertainment to three parts utility.
From Zen Pencils: Asimov's A Lifetime of Learning
Technology is a utility. The Internet is vast - perhaps infinite. It is at times amazing, other times awful. It is distracting and focusing, catastrophic and helpful. It is literally everything. I go down so many rabbit holes on a daily basis - some useful and educational, some (more than I like to admit) completely useless. I have had to learn how to wire my brain to use my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook as more than just a vessel for distractions. It takes extreme discipline to do this. It takes hard work and dedication. But it also leads to a valuable life, at least by my own self-declared, scientist-artist-hybrid standards.

I'm rambling. Clearly, I haven't thought very clearly about this blog post. I am so passionate, and that passion is overriding my judgement. I will leave you with the quote that stuck with me the most, the quote I hope to drive home to my students. May you also be inspired.

It seems to me that when it's time to die - and that will come to all of us - there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well. That you had learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There's only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try and grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, they can at least do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.
From Zen Pencils: Asimov's Lifetime of Learning
Namaste, students of the Universe

24 April 2016

(Seriously) Easy Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

I've always had a complicated relationship with coffee. I go through bits where my body can handle it and I soak up the caffeine and feel pleasantly a-jitter. Then there's other times where I accidentally consume 3+ cups in one day and if I don't repeat that same amount the following day I get crazy withdrawal headaches and feel miserable. When that happens, I must reset my system, cutting out coffee (not caffeine entirely - I switch to the maté I should have been drinking all along) for at least 2 weeks and feel much better. In March, I cut out coffee completely. I would be lying if I said that my entire life did not vastly improve: I slept better, I thought clearer, and I felt more in control of myself. Unfortunately, right now I'm struggling to get a full night's sleep, running on whatever I can to get me through these final days of school and subbing before summer, and coffee is once again my crutch, my OTP, my savior.

And don't get me wrong - I love coffee. There is something romantic about pouring heavy cream into a hot cup of coffee, sipping it slowly as the sun rises and reading a good book. There is something romantic even about a bad cup of coffee. There is something romantic about catching up with a friend in a coffee shop. (Side note: I recently read and listened to this badass old podcast on NPR featuring Steven Johnson about how coffee houses can be held accountable for major advancements of the past 3 centuries.)

My boyfriend and I discovered the Califia brand cold brew coffee last year. That lead us both down an artisanal, overpriced rabbit hole of cold brew coffees. We've tried them all, even the Stumptown on nitro at Whole Foods. And we loved them all, very deeply. But they are fucking expensive, as I'm sure you all know. Like, Starbucks expensive. And packaged in plastic bottles, which I refuse to purchase.

Our solution: homemade cold brew coffee.

It's almost embarrassing to post this "recipe" on here because it's not really a recipe so much as it's a guideline. And it's so easy you're going to want to slap me silly for even having the audacity to devote a whole post to this. But, as promised, here it is.

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

  1. Step One: Get a glass, air-tight container. I was so blessed to find these amazing glass Stagioni milk bottles at the Container Store. They were so cheap - like, $3.99 - and I have definitely got my money's worth.
  2. Step Two: Fill your glass jar about 1/3 full of freshly ground coffee of your choice (today, it was organic hazelnut from Sprouts).
  3. Step Three: Fill the glass jar with cold, filtered water (straight from your Brita) until there is about 2 inches of space left at the top.
  4. Step Four: Shake the heck out of your jar until all the coffee is mixed around with the water.
  5. Step Five: Fill in the remaining two inches of air space with filtered water.
  6. Step Six: Place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours (can leave in the fridge for up to 48 hours).
  7. Step Seven: When you're ready for your first amazing cup of homemade cold brew coffee, strain the coffee grounds (using a French press or strainer - I don't have a French press, and my fine mesh strainer does the job).
  8. Step Eight: Dilute your coffee concentrate (and yes - it will be CONCENTRATED) with hot water (for, um, hot coffee) or cold water with ice (for the cold kind of coffee). Add milk or cream or coconut milk or almond milk or drink that shit black - the world is your cup of cold brew coffee - enjoy it however you please.

19 March 2016

Sagan Saturday: Pale Blue Dot Poetry

I was introduced to the work of Carl Sagan about 4 years ago, and since then I have had a posthumous crush on this incredible astrophysicist. Prior to reading his work, I never imagined that I, an English major and lover of beautiful prose, could ever digest and understand (let alone be moved by) a scientist's writing. The first time I picked up a Sagan book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, my life was forever changed. His words and ideas investigated the very issues I myself have wrestled with for years. I began to understand science as a framework through which to deal with life - not in this cold, factual way- but instead through this eloquent, we-are-all-connected-to-each-other sort of way. By understanding the Laws of Thermodynamics that govern our Universe on a small and large scale, I have begun to accept that everything is unfolding as it should. Through Sagan, I have come to know and understand myself better by knowing and understanding the world, the Universe, and how I fit into it.

Carl Sagan's beautifully eloquent and awe-inspiring speech reflecting on his time in space, Pale Blue Dot, is one of my all-time favorite videos (right up there with NDT's Most Astounding Fact - which also inspired my own poetry from the transcript).

In this humbling video, we hear Sagan discuss his emotions experienced while turning back towards earth from deep space and seeing the planet appear like a small "mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam." Consider that image for a moment: our Universe is so vast, so large, so infinite that our seemingly large Earth, full of everything you have ever known or will know about anything - appeared as small as a piece of dust floating in a ray of light. This thought gives me chills and makes me feel so ... what's the word? ... humbled.

The quote I stole from his transcript is a different part of his speech. Here, he's talking about how scientists are not considered eloquent (ah! how I used to feel) because they know how the world works and that mystery of beauty is gone. The quote begins: "It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery - " The following poem is the rest of that quote, broken out into line breaks to make the speech become a poem. May you be inspired and moved in such a way that I myself have been.  
But is it not
to understand
how the world actually works —
that white light is made of colors,
that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light,
that transparent air reflects light,
that in so doing it discriminates among the waves,
that the sky is blue
for the same reason that the sunset is red?
It does no harm
to the romance of the sunset
to know a little bit about it.
Rat Beach, Torrance, CA - 13 March 2016


31 January 2016

Hate your job? QUIT!

"This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, QUIT."

I discovered this poster a few years ago on Brainpickings. I was just entering my quarter-life crisis, and I was struggling in every way imaginable - emotionally, physically, psychologically. I had a fantastic job, doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do. I was trained properly, the work was challenging and engaging. The people were good to me. On paper, I was climbing the proverbial career ladder, making all the right proverbial moves up the right proverbial steps. All this, and yet, I felt dead on the inside.

So I moved on. I moved on to a place that was the furthest from what I wanted, but I spent 10 months convincing myself that this was good for me, that I would come out ahead, that I would start to love it like I had once hated the taste of chipotle peppers and now love them, or how sauerkraut used to be my worst nightmare and now I snack on it. I stayed 10 months, until finally my therapist told me to leave because my mental wellbeing was more important than any form of resume-embellishing, promotional potential.

And I moved on again. This time, at this place, I hit my wall. It was in this job (being general because I don't want to offend anyone) that I not only learned the value in loving what you do, but also loving the people you do it with.

I needed an escape route. I scanned the job postings I was qualified for mindlessly and nothing - I repeat NOTHING was what I could picture myself doing long term. All I could picture was myself becoming a teacher and thriving in an environment of ideas and learning and knowledge. And I know that some people grow to love their jobs and that yes, this could have happened to me, but I wasn't interested in trying to love my job anymore.

So, I fucking quit. 

I am not naive. I understand how blessed I was to be able to just quit - I didn't have any huge overhead: no kids, no huge bills to pay. I didn't have any plans. I do have a supportive family that allows me to live rent free, cooks and cleans for me, and hugs me when I cry. I have the best boyfriend in the world who helped me to see that killing myself at a dead-end job was sucking the life out of me.

Before and after I quit, I spent hours reading and writing and imagining what my Best Life looked like. My Best Life was discovered after daydreaming about what kind of job I could see myself doing every day for the next 30+ years. Did I see myself sitting at a desk (regardless of how fancy the view and how comfy the chair) writing and editing? Every day? For 30+ years? Did I see myself engaging students in foundational skills and helping them to be the best they could be? Every day? For 30+ years? I wrote and I questioned and I discussed and I observed and I wrote-questioned-discussed-observed some more.

It wasn't black and white, hardly anything in life ever is. I had so many fears and questions and negative future fantasies about what was going to happen. But I put them aside for small moments at a time and began taking steps toward going back to school. I took the CBEST, I applied to school. I spent hours talking to my teacher friends about their jobs, pluses and minuses and curriculum and administrators and students and parents. And all this just further reaffirmed that I was doing the right thing, and that I was doing it at the right time.

Flash forward a year and a half. I'm almost done with my credential, subbing on my days off of school, I student teach next fall, then I have a whole new set of skills to enter an entirely different industry. I have to remind myself to be patient, but I am overall crawling-out-of-my-skin ecstatic at the prospect of having my own classroom.

I am not advocating that y'all go quit your jobs and come teach. Let me repeat: I am not advocating that if you hate your job that teaching is for you. Teaching was something I wanted to do, deep down, since about second grade. It is not an easy job. It is not going to be all sunshine and roses and student notes saying what a wonderful teacher I am. What I am advocating is this: if you find yourself like me, slowly dying at your work desk each day, don't waste time waiting for things to get better. They might, but they also might not. Spend every free moment you have imagining and writing what your dream job would be - in any industry. And take the baby steps you need to get there. Above all, know yourself well enough to know when enough is enough.

Be patient. Be honest with yourself. And if you hate your job, please, quit.