Thursday, May 28, 2009

Preparation & Improv

My work week is over, and I can honestly say I am exhausted. The preparation is intense! I feel like every moment, I have been researching, creating handouts, creating lessons, and reading intensively.

In a very short time, I am trying to learn a whole new field, a new organization, and many new people all at once.

Yet, even as I prepare, I am very thankful that one of my professors last year taught us that teaching is improv. I have had to change things and wing it already, over and over, in response to students' needs, changes in the class, other factors.

I went in the first day with one plan, but after meeting my students and learning more about their particular needs, I had to revise my plan. They are all going into MBA programs, so they're highly educated in their first languages, and they all are interested in business, commerce, banking, and investments, not to mention entering American institutes of higher education.

The second day my class size doubled, so I needed to get to know more people, and then plan day 3 accordingly.

I am so tired. I have not stopped thinking 100 miles an hour for a week.

And then there was getting to know an idiosyncratic copy machine, meeting new co-workers, setting up a new office, doing lots of paperwork.

Also this week, I had other commitments scheduled for every available hour: meeting with my son's independent study teacher, driving out of town to take my other son to dinner to celebrate his graduation from high school, and going to a dinner party at a professor's house.

I enjoyed everything immensely (except maybe the school meeting), but I'm sure looking forward to a couple of days off.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Life is Short, Eat Blueberries

Image from
What's going on in our family is that my sister had a double mastectomy last week and starts an especially toxic form of chemotherapy next week.

She lives far away, and I can't be by her side. I feel remote and haunted, but she is handling it with this incredible grace that I don't know quite how to describe.

I can't seem to stop thinking about cancer, its insidiousness, sneaky and horrible like random violence. Yet I have not even dared to go to a website and study it the way I study literally every single other thing that affects or interests me.

It is on my mother's side of the family, this cancer potential. My mother's sister, Ruthie, died of breast cancer 20 years ago. Ruthie's son, my cousin, Lane, died of stomach cancer 10 years ago. My mother survived breast cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation 6 years ago.

And now my sister. She had a clean mammogram in July, found a suspicious lump in March, and here we are now.

My sister is a warrior, a petite, shy woman with a gun and knife collection that would shock you. From the start of all this, she has seen cancer as an enemy, something to be attacked calmly and methodically, something that can't be allowed to glimpse any weakness.

She's a Girl Scout whose motto is preparedness and survival, so she spent the weeks leading up to her surgery arranging every practical thing so that she could survive afterward.

And she has this huge faith in the strong arms of God holding her up and the bigger picture of which this life is only a tiny part.

My mother called me last night, and I felt myself turn back into a frightened child. I asked her, my voice small, "Mama, how do I keep from getting cancer too?"

I have my instructions now: vegetables and exercise, regular mammograms, eating breakfast, adding blueberries into my cereal, the usual list. Follow my dreams and be happy because life is short.

Life is short and we are all precious! I hope you are all taking good care of yourselves, dear readers, adding blueberries to your breakfast cereal and following your dreams.

*Good article about anti-cancer healthy eating.
It says:
  • Turmeric (one of the main spices in curry)
  • Green tea (more than 3 cups a day)
  • Veggies & fruits (5 or more a day)
  • Less meat (12 ounces a week)
  • Fewer sweets (try fruits and berries instead)
  • Agave syrup (instead of sugar)
  • Omega-3 oils (olive, canola or flax seed)
  • Watch out for cancer-causing growth hormones in meats and dairy
  • Try to eat organic if possible.
  • Get more exercise

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blessings in Disguise

Map from
Still no word on the Big Job, but there are still threads of optimism here. Getting that job is how I can afford to keep this house, so over the summer, I will be looking for very cheap housing and piecing together an income from several part-time jobs.

Perhaps all this is a blessing in disguise, as things so often are. With a less perfect job, with a less beautiful home, I will feel less tethered to this place, more free to pursue dreams outside the area, outside the country even.

Even as we speak, my resume is on someone's desk in an international school in Sweden. I plan to put it on many desks over the next few months, beefing it up in the meantime with more relevant experience: teaching English as a Second Language.

Starting Tuesday, I will be teaching Advanced Reading to foreign students who want to enter HSU. My students will be adults from around the world and from a wonderful variety of linguistic backgrounds. To prepare for this, I've read everything I can get my hands on.

My reading list this week:
  • The Art of Critical Reading
  • Delta's Key to the TOEFL Test
  • USA Customs and Institutions
  • Introduction to Literature
  • Tutoring ESL Writers
  • Teaching Reading Vocabulary
  • Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching
  • Issues in Second Language Acquisition
  • Timed Readings

Friday, May 15, 2009

Out of the Frying Pan

Wednesday I finished my semester's masterpiece, "A Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching Academic Literacy to ESL Students."

But there was no time to catch my breath after finishing that big paper. The very same day there was an all-day teacher training to attend, a crash course in the nitty-gritty details of teaching composition at our university.

There are seven of us, brand-spanking-new university teachers, colleagues I will be seeing a lot of come fall.

It is the strangest thing, this university life. There is no permanence to it; people come and go-- your classmates, your colleagues, your students.

Half of my graduate program cohort is graduating tomorrow, and half of us have another semester to go. The people without children blazed through, while the parents are doing it at a different pace. A couple of my undergraduate friends are graduating too. All in all, I have seven friends graduating.

The energy is building on campus, as you can imagine. As I was driving away today-- from the second all-day teacher training session-- the traffic was unpleasant, out-of-towners doing erratic things at all the intersections. I was happy to get out of there.

There will be no more of those trainings again until August, until which I have to plan out my class, plan each day's lesson, write the syllabus, choose the readings. The powers that be have assigned us a textbook from which to choose readings. I had different ideas, but I think I can make this work.

For summer work, I am applying at the Immersion English Language Institute, where I hope to teach English to foreign students. I never did hear back from CR, after submitting the best resume, cover letter, references and transcript of my life, they never even called me in for an interview. I am still not sure what to make of that.

So life moves forward. I will be glad when the festivities of graduation, the receptions and parties, are over so I can breathe the huge sigh of relief that I survived yet another semester of grad school. One more class and a thesis to go. I'm tired.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Image from
In case anyone wonders what's become of me, it's finals week at the university. For those in my program, this means long, arduous research writing.

The deadline is coming up Wednesday, and I am very close. What a job! I have read a gazillion pages of research and am attempting to synthesize it into something that will not only have value in this class I'm taking, but can also serve as a section of my upcoming thesis.

There is so much meta-thinking going on that my head is spinning: I am writing about academic discourse, while writing in academic discourse, etc.

Not only that, but because this is ESL (English as a Second Language) pedagogy I'm writing about, I must use a new and unfamiliar citation and formatting style, APA as opposed to MLA (American Psychological Association style is used in the social sciences, while Modern Language Association style is used in the humanities).

I have so much sympathy now for my little stressed out freshmen at the end of the semester trying to format their portfolios according to these seemingly esoteric rules!

Completing this paper is one of those accomplishments that will go unsung, no matter how much work I have devoted to it. No matter how many times I have compared it to labor, as in childbearing, there will be no beautiful creation afterwards to share with my friends.

There will be no glorious work of art to show, no bounteous garden to feed my friends, no delicious meal to spread out on the table and fill our bellies. Just a little stack of 17 pages, covered in typed text, too boring even to ask my friends to read.

Like the labor itself, the fruit will be visible only to me; I mean, the insights and connections made while writing it this paper.

The good news is that after this I have only one more class to take plus the task of writing the 50-75-page thesis, which after this, will have 32 pages of raw material to get me started. Yippee! My master's of arts grows ever closer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Online Sociability

Image from
Remember not too long ago when I posted about my "gnat-like concentration"? My ever shrinking attention span was becoming a concern to me. It was limiting my ability even to write in the relatively easy forum of The Bitten Apple.

Never mind the many-paged seminar papers in which I am to contribute something real to my chosen field.

With this in mind, I'd like to share an article a colleague of mine recently shared with me: "What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades.

Among college students, Facebook users' GPAs are a whole point lower than those of non-users. Why is that? Although FB users see no correlation, researchers think there is a link, although they can't say whether it is cause-and-effect or whether Facebook use and lower GPAs are two symptoms of another issue.

In other words, does Facebook make us procrastinators who are prone to distraction, or do we use Facebook because we are procrastinators who are prone to distraction?

Either way, neuroscientists are associating Facebook with diminished mental abilities.

According to an Oxford University neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield:
Social networks like Facebook are "infantilizing the brain into the state of small children" by shortening the attention span and providing constant instant gratification.

UCLA neuroscientist, Gary Small warns of
"a decreased ability among devotees of social networks and other modern technology to read real-life facial expressions and understand the emotional context of subtle gestures. Young people are particularly at risk for these problems, he writes, because 'young minds tend to be the most sensitive, as well as the most exposed, to digital technology.'"

What the article fails to mention is compulsivity, which I'm sure predates Facebook use, but contributes to its level of use. It is hard to resist the compulsion to check regularly for changes and updates. Often enought, there is something new there, just enough activity to keep you coming back.

I have equated Facebook with a constantly ongoing party. And when I have work to do, late night writing or research on my computer, it is like being the little kid sent to bed while the adults are still partying away downstairs.

And instant gratification is a cultural characteristic these days, isn't it? Instant gratifications defines us as a culture. Who do I mean? Americans certainly, but perhaps all Westerners, perhaps all who live in the developed world.

I do agree that is radically reduces one's attention span. Facebook is easier to digest too because entries are shorter. Blogs, on the other hand, are often long, demanding more time to read. Now with Twitter, you can make constant, pithy updates about your life, from any mobile device.

I do know that homework (which for me always involves some difficult, long reading, often online) has been harder than ever this semester. When I get bored and want to stop reading, it is just so easy to click over to another window. Likewise, writing, always done with the internet open, is hard to concentrate on.

But there is a benefit too! I have found old friends, cousins, cousins' kids, and colleagues, and I feel as if I am involved in their lives. I know about when they go on a fun trip, when they're sick, when they're working on a project. I know who has a sense of humor!

This good stuff does translate to real life, as I have discovered, when seeing people in person again. I pondered this fairly recently too in "Alone, Not Alone."

I could say more, but my break is over. Time to get back to work.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wisteria Envy

Photo courtesy of capemary
When I first laid eyes on this house back in August, it had a big, wild, untamed wisteria draped across the big front porch. That was a selling point for me; I fell in love immediately.

We signed the lease and came out to our new little rental to find that the wisteria had been brutally chopped back to a nub. I nearly cried.

To my continuing dismay, it still has not grown back. With all this rain, with everything else blossoming, I thought for sure it would come back. I looked closely at it this afternoon, and there are little budding leaves there; it's not totally dead.

Yesterday, I saw a beautiful photograph of my boss's porch, taken earlier this week. Wisteria flowers frame the view heavily. It's lush and gorgeous, and it makes me sad about my wisteria that never had a chance.

I wonder what I can do to rescue it? As soon as this paper I'm writing is all turned in, I am going to plant some flowers, beautify my front porch, make it an idyllic place to hang out on summer days for as long as I am able to live in this house.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Arts Alive

Apparently, I will do just about anything to get out of working on my seminar paper (which is due in just 11 days) -- even venture out all alone on a rainy night to Arts Alive in Eureka.

I was fortunate enough to meet the famous Kristabel at a gallery downtown. Even though we had just met, we fell into each other's arms like old friends.
After that, I went meandering around town under my red umbrella. It was marvelously cool out, but a little stuffy inside the stores, so I kept moving.

Here are a few of the sights I saw:
These two geese inexplicably reside in Old Town Eureka.
They'll kick your ass if you come too close.

I did a little window shopping. Evening gowns in pink silk; a girl can dream, I mean, in case I get invited to the Academy Awards or something.
This bagpipe player added a certain moodiness to the rain-wet evening.
Eureka Books: I noticed again how beautiful the facades are on these buildings in Old Town.
Seen from the vantage point of the fountain, crowds of young teenagers congregate.
Is it a wharf? Is it a boardwalk? Is it a pier? What is it?
This place is going for the boardwalk theme, with this cool new fortune-telling machine, like in the movie Big
The water in the Bay was as still as glass.

I like the juxtaposed signage here, the lingerie and sex toy shop sign with the old sign is still just under it.

Some other interesting things I experienced:
  • Licorice ice cream, mmmmm.
  • A young woman standing outside the closed Restoration Hardware store, unsuccessfully hawking her paintings for a dollar.
  • An amazing presentation inside Los Bagels about artists who have gone blind, how they've coped, how they've continued to be creative.
  • A really bad singer with an accordion.
  • A rocking band inside the shoe store, not getting any attention because the feng shui of the venue was so bad.
  • The chocolate shop, too crowded for me to buy a truffle, darn it.
  • The high energy that rolls off middle-schoolers like waves of electricity, wow!
  • The unused doorway of the travel store, where I once found a small wad of cash years ago.
  • A new yarn shop as cozy as a cottage, with two ladies peacefully spinning yarn and a nice old man asking if he can offer you a glass of wine.
When the sun went down, I went to the Co-op for delicious, exotic groceries including a Meyer's lemon that I intend to do something delicious with tomorrow. Exotic grocery of the day: "So Delicious" coconut milk yogurt.