Thoughts at my worst and best

When your best is just not "great"
Here's the crux and source of my angst.

[I know it has been the longest time since I've posted anything here; but I realize that in my daily life, I have been missing this reflective outlet which has long buoyed my spirits and had given voice to my thoughts. I need to get back into the habit of writing these personal reflections to help me process the journey that I have taken so far in this program]

In a moment of self-aggrandizing I feel that I am pretty good at some activities (i.e. reading, teaching, doing content analysis, listening, etc.). However, what I have come to realize and what has stunted my self development is this feeling of despite putting my best efforts out there, I am not great at anything and as a result I have no chance of ever securing an academic job. What is the point of working so hard to eventually not be able to apply what I have learned towards my future career? That is the fear that I have. Yes, I once felt that earning a PhD for the sake of knowledge was reason enough; however, reality speaks the truth and is also a harsh mistress and if I do not find a position that can readily use the skills I have developed these past three years then perhaps all was for naught.

I do understand that the old adage that "there is always someone smarter, better looking, etc. then you; and the converse is true, that you are the foil to someone else's ambitions" yet I feel more and more that academia expects perfection, expects the best of your work all of the time, and making any mistakes will cost you dearly. Can I really be a great advisor? A great teacher? A great researcher all at the same time?

I've come to learn that I am not the best at multi-tasking and yet, our multi-modal world has demanded that we do indeed master this way of living or else risk being left behind.

I think in this angst ridden post, I am trying to convey that without a direction to strive towards I am merely drifting and relying on past achievements to carry me through in life, when what I need to do is cultivate my present and present activities. What must it take for me to finally realize that I need to get my act together or else I risk losing what I have been working towards during what some say is the prime of my life? I hope that I will have the foresight to avoid such a terrible fate and to take this introspection to heart and change my life for the better.

On being thankful...
This past weekend has made me realize how truly fortunate I am. My advisor and I found out about a possible fellowship I could earn on Friday. During the weekend, Monday, and today she has graciously put aside some time out her busy schedule to help me with my application. She is an amazing person for doing this and I am beyond glad that she is my advisor. It's times like these that makes you wonder, why me? Why are so many willing to help me? Throughout my childhood, my parents' friends have always taken a liking to me and would give things to me out of the blue, like toys, candy, or sometimes even money. When I ask my parents why this is happening, they say it's because these people want to encourage me to keep doing well in school. As I started high school, I met many people throughout the four years, and many of them were willing to join the club I help start and to support me when I needed their support. I saw even more evidence of this through college, my masters program, where I was teaching, and to my current situation. I am so, so appreciative of everything and everyone. My only fear is that I have not been as kind as those who have been towards me. I'm never sure if I have done enough to show my appreciation. I really hope the best for everyone and I want to thank everyone for their support for understanding me and for forgiving me for long absences in correspondence.

Another chapter is about to close
For the past six months I have been actively apprenticing as a scholar and researcher. I never felt that way until now. I am trying my best, yet also not trying my best, to do well here. I definitely have not put my best foot forward and will take these past quarters as learning opportunities. There are so many conflicting messages as I talk to my peers and the faculty. I am certain that I still want to do this, but I just hope I am still allowed to do so. I feel my redeeming qualities are that I am making good progress in my research project and I have improved this quarter. I guess when you don't do so well, the only way to go next is up!

As I think about my past experiences here, I am starting to realize that graduate school definitely is a unique experience. A masters program, well at least the one I went to, cannot compare. There are times when you feel so disoriented you're not sure what to do. There are ups and downs every day and sometimes you feel as though you can't do this for another four to five years, but I think I can do this, I just have to be tougher than I have been. I also need to make sure that I am doing this for the right reasons and that I take care of my self more.

I think finding a good support network is important and supporting each other would be the way to go. We all want everyone to do well and so we need to make sure that those who struggle get the help they need and to appreciate our time here. It really is a philosophy of humanity that I would like to operate under. Appreciate the time you're here, appreciate those around you, and take care of each other. I hope that I will continue to feel this way.

I am beginning to realize that I feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world, having worked a difficult three years, and to go back to school, it truly is almost an ivory tower. I feel like I do need to be connected to the outside world more. Perhaps volunteering would be a good idea. Also, I need to really support who I am. Creativity wants to escape but I've been stifled by just a lot of inactivity. I hope then to really create a better space for myself.

A pale glow of light illuminated his face in a fountain of water. He glances at his facade on the still surface and detects a small glimmer behind the auburn irises. As dawn is about to break he blows out the candle, almost depleted of its waxy structure. Gray tendrils of smoke curl up towards the sky. He breathes in deeply and tries to savor the smell of apples lingering in the air. He looks down and sees the faintest glow of Helios' chariot slowly ascending in the sky. As life resumes from its daily slumber he wonders what troubles the gods and the human race has caused today. He murmurs a few incantations and seven square panels of crystal materialize in the air. To his immediate left he sees the effects of Zeus' mood swing as Europe is deluged. To his right he sees Poseidon's temper actualized in tsunamis and earthquakes. What concerns him the most is the panel immediately in front of him. He sees Hate's and Fear's underhanded work among the populace. Though minor gods themselves, they have reeked the most havoc as they whisper coercive messages and manipulate the minds of the impressionable humans into fearing their neighbors and fellow citizens. Their sister Xeno, hardens the hearts of humanity and clouds the mind to believe that there are some who are supreme to others. How spiteful these humans are. Don't they know that they are all the same to the gods? They are but mere play things, thinking they are masters of their fate. Yet, not all is lost.

Thought and Imagination have long sought ways to create a new world. A world made ugly by their previously failed attempts at the beginning. Beings outside of the realm of reality, though ever present in the minds of all. As of late, Imagination has become frail and weak, but she is resting in hopes that she will regain her strength. Her brother on the other hand can never sleep for more than an hour each day, as he must attend to all minds created. There have been many times when he encounters a mind so deranged he knows not how to heal it. Other times he is delighted to find a mind so beautiful that he urges his sister to personally nurture it. Currently he is trying to shape the minds of the young, but he is starting to feel that shaping the minds of the elders who nurture these emerging minds would be more effective. He grows weary and slumps down on his knees and plunges his head in the fountain. As he communes with the sacred waters of the cortex and as his tears of frustration mingle with their brothers and sisters shed every day, he lifts his face out of the water and lies on his back, closing his eyes. As he naps, his own mind is working at rapid speed and ideas after ideas spring forth as whispers, dew, ether, and rays of light. Because he is in the Unworld, his thoughts do not always reach the other side. When they do breach the barrier they randomly come into contact with open minds. As these minds are touched they become seeds to what can be. Hope, a liaison between both worlds helps as much as it can, but a whale can only do so much. At the end of his nap, Thought wakes up and contemplates the future of humanity and the gods. In the end, he just hopes all of his ideas, be they warped or clear, will one day help sustain this race of peculiar actions and motives. He truly believes there will be change for the better...they have to be for the sake of the world.

Coming into my own...
Slowly but surely I am becoming more adept at what I am doing. It's usually a matter of motivation and concentration that determines whether I can produce good work. It's usually the case that if I'm not interested in what I am doing, I won't focus on it as well as I should have. I am more convinced now that I should accept this as human nature and to not chastise myself too much over this. Far too often, I blame myself and get upset at my own foibles but what good would this do? I need to act upon it if I want to change for the better. I made some adjustments this quarter that has me in a better position to do well, but there were still some instances where I could have worked harder, or rather smarter. I am carving a niche for myself in my department though and I am beginning to feel much more acclimated. The task at hand for the near future though is that I need to figure out what I can specialize in and direct my research towards that endeavor. Furthermore, I also need to treat any assignment given as important and not something that I can treat lightly. I hope that as each quarter passes I become better at what I can do. It is this process of enculturation that is crucial for my success and I look forward to pushing myself to achieve the understanding that is necessary to be considered a credible scholar and researcher.

What I hope for...
I realized that our goals can be muddled from time to time. Recently I am being reminded that my intended goal for further study is for the betterment of society and not necessarily for the betterment of my self (per se; tough any success for my self will transfer to success for the people I aim to help). I am happy to report that my first quarter as a "real" graduate student certainly has been enlightening and has shown me that hard work is the key to success. Pure talent can only go so far and my efforts thus far are adequate but not enough.

From the results I've received this quarter in terms of grades suggests to me that I need to read more carefully for retention and application, and not merely for gist. I also need to be more serious in the endeavor of research. I must admit that I did not have my heart in graduate school this quarter. I did not necessarily enjoy one of my classes, cared for two, and had no opinion about one. I also felt I was in a haze for most of the quarter...not really sure about what it takes to do well in my program. I did not necessarily flounder about, but I do not believe I took full advantage of everything that was offered to me, especially time. I am fortunate enough to be able to have control over the time I am given outside of attending classes and lab meetings. That is, my other peers have TA classes and Research appointments that mandate they log certain hours, they have no control over this, so I should be thankful that I am given my own time to structure. Therein lies the problem for this quarter.

Given free range of my time, I find that I easily mismanage it. Why this is so, I'm not sure. It could be because I am still acclimating to being back in school or because deep down I would rather pursue other interests than what I am doing at the current moment. Is this normal? For someone who quit a very stable job to be in something that he thought was his dream and not to pursue it really questionable to me. However, I do hear a little voice in the back of my mind that says I shouldn't be too hard on myself, yet not to waste this opportunity.

I resolve then to make a stronger commitment to this endeavor. I will take my work more seriously, even if I feel low at certain points, I will continue because in the end, I truly believe I can do this. However, I cannot do this alone. I draw strength from my family already...but my new friends and the faculty will also be assets. I hope to take things more seriously and to do as well as I can in subsequent quarters.

Investing in this endeavor with my time now will pay off in the long's hoping to a better quarter next year and to a wiser self.

On Death and Passing
I've experience the passing of several people I've known in my life quite close in dates. With each passing I found myself struggling with how to react and to comprehend what has happened. The first death was of my grandmother. A person whom I only knew through stories and pictures until I met her for the very first time in the Summer of 2004. Though my time with her was brief, I learned more about her and knew that I loved her for giving me the greatest gift of all, my mother. I also learned from her that her secret to longevity, for she did live for 104 years, is positive thinking. Every day she recounted all of her good memories and times she spent with family and friends. In a sense, she counted her blessings and she made an effort to appreciate the beauty of life and living and she did not permit the evils of sadness to cloud her memories. I would like to think that when she passed this past September, she did so with a clear image of her happiest memory. To me, it reconciled for me, how to let go and heal. With my grandmother, I was mainly worried about my mother's mentality, and to this day, I still think she is grieving privately, but is getting better with it everyday. Do we necessarily get over grief? Perhaps, but I think for some people, it keeps that person alive for them.

With the passing of a family friend's mother, I am reacting differently. I've been blocking the shock with laughter by watching funny shows, but I know that the fact still remains that someone is gone. My Buddhist instincts have kicked in and realize that this is a natural recourse in life, but it still chills me to the very core. I am reminded by a Buddhist story, where a woman is distraught over the death of her new born and asks the Buddha if he could bring her baby back to life. He agrees, but only under one condition. If she can bring back one person who has never experienced death in their life, then he will grant her wish. Eager to do so, this young woman travels from village to village and door to door, inquiring whether anyone has never experienced the death of a loved one. However, at every house she encounters, death either had recently visited or pained memories of those who have passed resurfaced. After her third village, this young woman, returns to the Buddha with an understanding that has taken many a lifetime to comprehend. Death is a part of all our lives, it touches the rich, the poor, the slovenly, and the conscientious. It doesn't matter who you are, death will eventually encroach upon your life. With that said, this is how I cope with death, the understanding that it happens to all of us, but my current problem is that it has made me feel a little shaken up. It has made me realize that there is still so much I would like to experience in my life, before it's taken away.

There are some key experiences I would like to have before it all ends. For me, the one thing I would really like to have is to fall in love, with an equal, a person who I know will accept me for who I am, and I her. Someone who does compliment and complete me and someone who I can't imagine life without. Unfortunately for me, either these ladies have already been spoken for or that I'm blind to the ones who are not. I think it's just that I haven't really found the right one yet, and I'll leave it to fate to bring me where I will go. I think I hide my loneliness through work and a cheerful facade, but I am beginning to realize that I do not feel complete yet. Only time will tell if I will ever feel complete.

As for my other experiences, I would like to see my parents utterly and completely happy with what we have as a family. Not saying that I can't have a hand in doing so, but I would like to think that at least one of my future actions will be able to set this in motion. Which leads me to my third goal. The feeling that I have found my place in this world, and I'm hoping it's this PhD. Some say not to approach getting the PhD this way, but I do know that I want this. Not just for the rigor involved, but for the personal growth and knowing that this field has a long sustainable history and future that I can see myself as being a part of. It's a big goal, but I think, no, I know I can accomplish with the greatest effort given. What else would I like to experience? How about seeing Caitlin and Troy live fulfilling adult lives? Walking among the very same places that history makers have lived. Athens, Rome, Paris, Beijing, and the list goes on. Of course there are other simple events, such as planting a sapling and see it grow to a beautiful and actualized tree. It's almost is like a bucket list, but I would like to think mine is more of journey of experiences.

Of course every emotion runs through my head and I wonder if I have experienced all that there is, and is it possible that there is no limit to human experience. With that said, I publish these goals to make them real and to serve as impetus to act on them. One day, I would like to see my writing affect a larger audience positively. That, to me, would be one of the sweetest days of my life.

With the summer allowing me some respite from the hectic pace of having a full time job, I have been watching a lot of shows, and one common theme out of all of them is talent, the search for and the lack thereof. What is talent and is it true that everyone has one, and they simply have to find the one that highlights them the best? One would like to think that there is at least one action one is best at, but then, unfortunately, I think people compare and though our best talent may be X, our X may not be as good as another X. Should that be the case, does it matter? In education, the once hot trend was Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In a way, it makes sense, that human beings have certain aptitudes and MI posits there are at least 9 ways to view these aptitudes. Some of us are more adept at say kinesthetics (bodily intelligence) and others linguistic-verbal (writing) and the list goes on. Though many teachers have used this theory incorrectly, it does point to a reasonable way to look at talent. Thus, with all of the reality shows dealing with cooking, fashion (making of and modeling), singing, dancing, designing, and other talents it makes me wonder if everybody eventually makes the most of their talents. If we could all discover what we're best at and be paid to do so, I think we would all be so much happier.

The dilemma here is that sometimes we don't know what we're good at and the pressures of being the best. Meaning, despite our talents we also have to compete with others for the service(s) we provide through our talents. I'm not necessarily saying that talent can't be utilized but with so many others clamoring for the same niche, it sometimes can be disheartening. It also comes down to the context and the audience. I guess for me, I've always wondered what I am good at so that I could use the talent to help me discover my purpose in life. Because I sometimes believe that our talents lead us in the direction that we need to go, however, where does free will come into play, but also opportunity, and chance? It's such a big idea to connect all of these factors into a more coherent thought for myself. Excuse my rambling, but I was inspired by the shows I have been seeing and in anticipation for the Pageant of the Masters event in Laguna Beach, I am becoming a little more reflective about this certain issue. Coupled with the fact that many of my friends, as of late, are really questioning what they want to do with their lives because of the uncertainty in our economy.

For a long time, I always thought my talents were either in my writing or "intelligence" in some form or another. However, I fear that it is never good enough because there are better writers and definitely there are more intelligent people. Yet, I have hope that what I venture to do next in my life will suitably fit my talents and will allow me to hone it to a point where I am happy, excited, and love what I do everyday and at the same time be able to support myself and my family.

Thus, what is talent and do we all end up utilizing it? Do we have to forgo our talents and pursuit other endeavors to make ends meet? If that is the case, how many of us, never see our talents to their fullest extent.?

Writing is an act of Reaching Out
Whenever someone writes in a public journal, I believe it's an attempt to become closer to other people. We are social creatures so it is not a surprise that this would be the case. All of our entries are meant to resonate with someone and so it is one of the most intimate of actions and it is also one of the most ancient of traditions. I teach my students that authors have three main purposes why they write: to entertain, to educate, and/or to persuade. Today's post is to entertain and to educate, and it's merely an update and some thoughts here and there. I find that my dearth of entries is a little embarrassing, as a humanities teacher, I should write more often. Yet, there is so much that we experience each day, it sometimes becomes hard to figure out where to begin and start.

Summer is fast approaching. We have about three weeks left before school ends, and essentially before I end my three years as a classroom teacher (for now). I decided to leave the teaching profession for several reasons. One, I wanted to go back to school either this fall or the next, depending on whether or not I was successful in my applications. Two, I found this year particularly difficult in terms of student motivation. Three, I found that teaching may not be my calling, based on how much success I was getting.

I earned a generous scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since graduating from high school that has helped me throughout my educational career. For the past two years I have been on a teaching deferment. I either have to go back to school this year or next year, in order for me to keep this scholarship. So I decided to apply this year and in case I didn't get in anywhere, I would have next year to try again. Fortunately, I was successful and because of reasons 2 and 3 from above, I decided to accept. Thus, this fall I will be attending UC Irvine to pursue a doctorate in education. My particular emphasis is in learning, cognition, and development but I'm also interested in their language, literacy, and technology emphasis. (I would be what the department would call a slasher: LCD/LLT) My main research interests are in teacher learning, interdisciplinary studies, semiotics, and comparative education. I look forward to starting in the fall and hope that I will be able to successfully complete the program and be able to pursue this one particular dream of mine.

Though I harbor a lot of guilt for leaving so early in my teaching career I find that it is probably for the best. Many of my colleagues think I am being too hard on myself, but I really felt that I was failing as a teacher in many ways this year. I will admit that my lessons were usually engaging and thought out, but the results I was seeing were quite disheartening. It stems down to motivation (on the parts of my students and myself). I believe middle school students do go through a challenging period in their development at this age, but it is worrisome that across the board (across the entire school) we have students that constantly put up a front/battle to engage in learning. For the most part it stems from undeveloped skills to be successful, but other reasons have been cited: lack of parent involvement, peer pressure or peer issues, disengagement, and the list goes on.

As a teacher there is so much you want the students to have. I would like my students to be caring and kind individuals who are responsible, try their best in all they do, and love learning, and to have qualities to be successful in life. Yet, can I really achieve that when I have 35+ students in each class and that the school is overcrowded by 500 more students than it was built for? I am speaking particularly of students who came to me at a second grade reading is that possible when they are at an elementary school for at least five years? Of course there are always extenuating circumstances, but I found that despite my best efforts, I have students who do not turn in their homework, who would rather socialize than learn, and who, in general, are defiant.

When I see that what I can offer is not good enough, it makes sense to me that I should leave. Yes, we cannot always reach everybody, yes we can only try our best, but really, I think that students deserve the best and if my best is not working then I cannot allow this to continue. I guess I put this pressure on myself that I should be getting results that a six or ten year veteran teacher has in my short three years, and because I am not, that is why I believe I am not a good teacher. The key idea is that classroom management is important if any teacher wants to succeed yet it is also the one area that many TEPs (teacher education programs) do not emphasize or teach. We learn on the job, because education is contextual. With so many variables and factors at play, I wonder how research can be focused. In the end, I am leaving in hopes that a better teacher can take my place and give students the type of education they need to develop holistically.

One of these days I will sit down and write a longer reflection on my attempts at becoming a teacher and how, even with "credentials" and good training, I feel like I was never the professional I needed to be. I hope in this way, I will find a profession that I can truly excel at, and though I will be teaching in the future, I hope I will be more successful with college students than I was with middle school students. Perhaps one day I will return, but until I feel I have the necessary skills, I will not be teaching middle school any longer, for awhile. I believe some people will not support me in this decision, but I believe it is what I must do.

In the end, I hope that my students will be more successful with other teachers throughout the years, and that they will grow up to be the great individuals that I know they can be.

Seven Pounds
I really enjoyed watching this movie despite the heavy subject it dealt with. Will Smith definitely is a strong actor as is Rosario Dawson. I found the plot quite compelling even though it was confusing at first because as you are watching the movie you're trying to figure out the title and its significance. There are some hints of a theme, but eventually it makes sense and though I found it quite sad, it was also uplifting at the same time. It definitely has inspired me to write about it. So what I want to write will be under the cut, as I don't want to ruin the plot for any readers who happen to read this entry.

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