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Education Revolution

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Education has been on my mind a lot lately. Specifically, the state of most education systems in the world.  A pretty hefty subject, but it seems to have continually cropped up within my social networking sphere the past couple months.

I ran across two of William Deresiewicz’s essays, one titled “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” and the second, “What are You Going to Do with That?”  Both gave me a lot to think about, in terms of my own educational history, the paths I’ve chosen to take along the way, as well as the outward factors that influenced those decisions.

The two essays reminded me of another I’d read years ago when I was seeing M, who was very education-focused, as he was the co-owner of an ESL school.  I learned a lot through M, and he pointed me to the essayist, VC, and entrepreneur Paul Graham.  The essay I remember is the one entitled “How to Do What You Love.”

At the same time that I was discovering these articles, I also came across the wonderful RSA Animate series.  I saw the video on changing Education Paradigms:

 

And immediately went in search of more information on Sir Ken Robinson.  That was how I came across his two TEDTalks on radically changing the education system:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

And finally, another TEDTalk, this time by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs:

Random thoughts:

I agree, quite emphatically, with all of them.  I have only my personal history and observations to draw on, but I believe the education system is irreparably flawed and in need of radical change.  While I was trained and cultivated throughout my childhood precisely to succeed in the linear model of the current system, it was rarely a satisfying experience except when I took those classes that completely deviated from the norm.

From William Deresiewicz’s essays I find a lot that strikes a chord in me, along with a bit of residual bitterness and dissatisfaction with my college experience.  But it is equally true that I’m grateful for opportunity to go to college without incurring nearly the level of debt that many of my peers faced after graduation (before disowning me for the second time, my mother almost completely covered my academic fees).

Although it was an unpleasant experience at the time, I now see that event – being disowned and the withdrawal of financial support – as probably the most useful in helping me break free of my mother’s influence over my future and my decisions.  I saw clearly her overwhelming desire to simultaneously see me as an adult and keep me continually semi-dependent on her, in the often distorted way that parents define and express their love.

I was also able to feel less guilty about breaking off the path she’d so carefully cultivated for me ever since I was born.  I have since made a lot of pretty crazy decisions, like driving across the country without knowing where I’d end up.  I’ve made my share of mistakes, of course, but in the long run I’ve been incalculably happier than I think I ever would have been with the options that were laid out for me by familial precedence.  I am constantly amazed that things seem to be working out, and this is, I believe, because of the narrow model of success I’d been taught.

Now, whenever I see my family, my mother often remarks that I will likely be the one with the lowest degree in our household.  I never have a response to that, but I sincerely cannot believe that the pursuit of an advanced degree is the right choice for me right now.  Still, it’s hard to take her sometimes scathing comments, even though I understand her motivation is to shame me into “making more of myself.”

I came to another realization while reading and listening to all of these thoughts: I have, since entering college, felt a kind of self-loathing and sense of being a fake or fraud for enrolling at such a prestigious school.  Although my primary interests lay in the arts, especially in graphic arts and design, and despite the fact that I endeavored to take an art class almost every term, I never put much weight on the talents I had in visual media; it wasn’t a real or useful life skill.  Yet I also never felt compelled to pursue more lucrative options.  I defaulted to biology, because at least I was also interested in ecology, and because Jane Goodall had been my childhood idol.  It was also a safe choice that my family could accept – biology could mean a path to a medical field.  But I never felt truly immersed in the material except during labs or outdoor excursions.

It’s only now, two years out of the academic sphere, that I can finally admit to myself how much more I’m actually interested in things that fall under the often-stigmatized heading of “skilled labor” – things like woodworking, metalcraft, and leathercraft.

There are also other views to take on the people I’ve linked to and what they have to say; a look at the comments sections of Mr. Deresiewicz’s articles is telling of the scorn people feel for an academic scholar criticizing the system that helped shape his career.  And I could argue that most of the people I knew personally fell outside the kind of privileged students he describes.  But I also have to admit to having a circle of friends who were more the exception than the rule at our school.

Regardless, I can personally attest to being the recipient of all the stereotypical comments one hears made to smart people who don’t pursue the well-trodden path: I’m not applying myself, I’m wasting my talents, my degree, and my future, I could succeed if only I were more motivated, I’m making a huge mistake.

I believed all of that, and I was weighed down by the belief that I was being intentionally self-destructive and the belief that I was a failure not only to my family and friends but also to my own intrinsic potential.

 

Reading these essays and watching the TEDTalks, as well as hearing stories every now and then about others who’ve also taken unconventional paths and were successful – using a much broader rubric for defining success – continues to encourage me and help me believe that I am, in fact, capable of a successful, happy life, even if the path in front of me is only vaguely defined and involves a lot of bushwhacking.

 

Categories: art, geekpost, hope, life, links, school, video

Pretty pretty whip pictures

November 6, 2010 7 comments

Because I have been too sick the past few days – ever since Max left on Wednesday, in fact – to process his visit and write about that, or about much of anything else, I’ll substitute thought with pretty pictures instead.  When I was up in Seattle for Paradise and staying with Max a couple months back, we took a short side trip to David Morgan’s store.  There, Max gifted me with my very favorite kind of gift – raw material for creating something with my hands; in this case, it was a whole, black-dyed kangaroo hide.  And perhaps he wasn’t expecting anything in return for that, but in my mind the fate of that roo hide was very clear: to become a whip to gift to him.

For weeks after I returned from Seattle, I didn’t touch the hide, except to inhale its heady scent now and then.  It was beautiful, strong, and supple – and like a blank canvas, I was afraid of making that first stroke, the first cut into the hide. I made some test cuts from the free bag of scrap leather I’d also picked up at David Morgan’s instead, and I instantly fell in love with how beautifully and smoothly the leather cut using my lace strander.

But finally, with Max’s arrival only days away, I unrolled the hide and began putting together the parts for his whip.

Above is the shot-loaded core, a tapered strip of leather 33 inches long, duct-taped into a cone and filled with #11 lead shot.  Here, I am getting ready to cut out the bolster to wrap around the shotbag.  Various implements and tools of note, from left to right: tape measure, glass jar of aforementioned lead shot, nitrile glove with which to handle the lead shot, pens for marking the leather, a paper funnel for getting the lead shot into the shotbag, bonded black nylon thread for the whip’s braided cracker, utility knife, duct tape, Aussie lace strander, and scissors.

Other things I used that aren’t shown in the photo: staple gun, tacks, electrical tape, and sewing thread.  Oh, and a tiny strip of paper that had various measurements on it for adjusting the width of the strander.

I should also note that the shotbag and bolster were cut from a long strip of soft leather gifted to me by the lovely Sparrow, whose beautiful leatherwork and craftsmanship are an inspiration. Thank you, Sparrow!

Once I’d begun the process, things went fairly smoothly and quickly, and I felt the whip coming together much more easily than with my first attempt.  I did hit a minor learning curve with the lace strander but got used to it after a few trial runs.

I am ecstatic to be able to say just how happy I am with the finished product.  It is not an exaggeration that Max’s whip is exponentially better than my first whip, and it is completely satisfying to see the lessons I learned from my whipmaking experiment translate into a better product the second time around.

There is a pure, giddy joy in learning a craft that involves using my hands.  As much as I enjoy my digital hobbies and the skills and learning that those require, I will always treasure being able to create a physical object for another person to enjoy tactilely.  (And, as it turned out, this particular object would be enjoyed very tactilely on me.)

But enough words. Here are some quick photos I took before handing the whip over to Max.  I wish I’d taken more of the entire thing, as I didn’t end up getting any pictures of the braided cracker or any detail shots of the heel knot.  I will have to remember to take more photos the next time I see Max.

 

Categories: geekpost, links, love, photos

It gets better

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

In response to the recent suicides related to anti-gay bullying, Dan Savage set up the It Gets Better project on Youtube a few weeks back.  The idea is for those who have gone through bullying and homophobia themselves to reach out to LGBTQ youth by submitting their own videos.  I heard about IGB early on, both through Savage’s podcast and various social media outlets.

The response has been generally supportive, though there have also been dissenting, questioning voices as well.  And then counter-responses to those.

There probably isn’t much that I could say that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of others.  Word of the project has spread virally.  It has sparked waves of conversation and lots of news bytes, has both inspired and angered thousands of people.  It’s moved viewers to donate to suicide hotlines and to reach out to others, while making others realize how much more needs to be done.

To that end, I already see IGB creating change and opening discourse on the topics of suicide and bullying.  On a personal level, it’s incredible for me to see these videos of people talking so openly and intimately about suicide attempts and sharing explicit stories of bullying.  As with so much else in our culture, suicide is so taboo and stigmatized a subject that it’s often difficult to talk this openly about it.

And without the language and shame-free environment to discuss these issues, it makes it that much harder to get help, open up to another, and recognize that you’re not alone.

It’s also true, what the dissenting voices say: it’s not enough, this standalone project, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue, and everyone will be affected differently from watching the videos.  But to have the conversation at all, to insist on having this conversation, is what I think makes this a truly worthwhile cause.

Other resources:

Categories: hope, links, video

Resources for open relationships

October 2, 2010 3 comments

For a few years now, since really starting to be exposed to the poly lifestyle, I’d occasionally come across a blog post about someone’s struggle through dealing with jealousy or time management, and after reading, I’d mentally shrug, think, “Well, that was interesting,” and move on.  Since it didn’t interest me as a lifestyle choice, I never pursued it further, researched the topic, or even asked myself what I could learn from those readings to improve my existing relationships.

Now, fully engaged in a large-ish, complex poly family, I’m much more interested in finding literature surrounding polyamory.  Each time I’ve come across an article on poly in the past few months, I’ve read it more carefully, and made a mental note to bookmark it for later referral.  Except that I never get around to actually bookmarking them, and it leads me to tearing through my mental archives searching for some key phrase or word that can help me identify the article enough to find it via Google.

No more!  I should be keeping better track of these resources as I find them, because I’m certain they will prove invaluable as I continue down this path into nonmonogamy.  Thus far, I’ve collected the following articles, and while I’ve linked to the specific page I’ve read, I have gained a lot from going through these blogs’ archives as well.

[edit: I’ll be adding more links here as I find them]

  • The Special Thing – Kink in Motion talks about her struggle with identifying one of her needs in a poly relationship – that of needing to feel special, and various examples of how that may be played out. This was one of the first poly-related posts I read that resonated with me as I was starting to become more involved in Max’s life.
  • 10 Rules – Another post I read fairly early on, I thought the rules were great and could be applied to many kinds of relationships besides nonmonogamous ones.  Here is also where I was finally beginning to see the fluid spectrum that the word “relationship” encompasses, and how the various forms and rules that governs each are part and parcel of the general spirit of connecting with another person on an intimate level.
  • Jealousy Megapost – I found this through the Poly & Kinky group on Fetlife, and besides having great points to make about jealousy, tacky_tramp also links to other articles and resources to peruse.  In fact, many of these posts link to further reading, which means I foresee a lot of blog-surfing and article reading in the near future!
  • Practical Nonmonogamy Tips – This is a pretty detailed breakdown of the many different forms nonmonogamy can take, the different reasons for choosing nonmonogamy, tips for managing boundaries and emotions, and other resources to turn to.  Actually, I haven’t even finished reading everything here, but I plan on making my way through this because it just seems so helpful.
  • The Broken Refrigerator – I just came across this article and am also still going through it, but I like his metaphor of the broken refrigerator as he goes through the various possible reactions you can have when hitting a bump in your relationship due to jealousy.
  • Marcia Baczynski – This woman was recommended to me after a friend read a previous post of mine on poly.  She does coaching and discussion groups around open relationships of all kinds, and she is also currently offering monthly topic-based sessions that I wish I could afford to attend!  Her upcoming one on October 16th is titled “Managing Jealousy and Making Sense of Your Emotions.”  She also leads a poly discussion group in San Francisco, so I may make it a point to join that.
  • Opening Up – This book by Tristan Taormino has been recommended to me multiple times now.  I have not had a chance to pick it up, but I’ll have to remember to look for it the next time I’m in a bookstore.  I’d like to read a couple excerpts first to see if I should buy it (unless someone wants to lend me their copy?).
  • Polyamory Relationship Success

This is only my starting point, but it’s already given me an enormous amount of reading material to go through.  It is my hope that all of this research will open up pathways of understanding for me – of poly, negotiation, relationship skills, and my own inner workings.

Categories: life lessons, links, polyamory

On a lighter note…

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I haven’t been taking as many photos lately, and it’s something I’d like to get back into (among the other fifty things I’d like to get back into).  It always helps to go through a photographer’s portfolio and be inspired to produce similar work.  I just discovered the site of one Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann (1906 – 1999), and I’m smitten by his figure studies and still-life-like portraits.  I love how eerily quiet and evocative the following photo is.

There is this insanely muscular, flexible guy in my yoga class that I’ve been sorely tempted to ask to model for me to do gestural drawings, and I bet he’d be a lot of fun to photograph as well.  The rippling muscle on his back when he’s in a twisted posture is mesmerizing.  (Not that I’d know, since I’m always very focused on my own poses…)  However, I haven’t yet worked up the courage to ask, and I’ve missed the past two yoga classes.

Would that be too weird? I can’t decide.

Thinking now about all those things I want to keep doing but have let fall by the wayside recently, I wonder how I can incorporate at least a few of them into some kind of organized schedule.

If I were a more organized and disciplined person, for instance, I might set up my days as follows:

  • 1 hour of walking somewhere new and taking photos every day
  • 1-2 hours of drawing every day
  • 1 hour of whipmaking twice a week
  • 2 hours of climbing twice a week
  • 1/2 hour of aerobic exercise three times a week
  • 1/2 hour of core/strength exercise four times a week
  • 1 museum visit a month
  • 1/2 hour salsa practice three times a week
  • 2 hours of writing three to four times a week
  • 1 hour of reading every day

It sounds like a lot, but on a weekly basis I could definitely pull something like this off, if I managed my time more efficiently.  In other words, if I just got off my ass more often to actually do the shit I want to do.

Part of the problem, of course, is that I’ve historically gone through phases of intense, focused obsession over a particular interest, one at a time, and this schedule would spread things out across a longer period and give each interest more equal time.

Another problem is that some of those things – like writing and drawing – are more organic, so it’s hard for me to see them as a thing to be scheduled.  But I know that people in those professions will often clear hours each day to devote to their craft, even if it means staring at a blank canvas for most of that time or a ending up with a trash bin full of rejects.

Sigh.  Nothing comes easy.  I need a muse.

Categories: art, links, photos, sundry

Carnalnation whipmaking article

August 24, 2010 2 comments

I recently put together an article on how I made my whip, drawing on the documentation I’d kept on this blog.  Carnalnation just published it today!  It’s old news if you’ve read my blog posts, but the article kind of brings it together, and it’s a little bit more cohesive, so feel free to give it a read.

Categories: links

stopping to think…

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Consciousness itself does not hinder living in the present…. Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present.  It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest.  So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree.  But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities – looking over my own shoulder, as it were – the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown.  And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases.  It dams, stills, stagnates.

Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies.  It is the glimpse of oneself in the storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people – the novelist’s world, not the poet’s.  I’ve lived there.  I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained.  I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, “next year… I’ll start living; next year… I’ll start my life.”

– Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Excerpt from the book I am currently reading.  I’ve loved Dillard’s writing ever since reading “Living Like Weasels,” so it’s really a travesty that I didn’t pick up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek sooner.

And I have to admit to a bittersweet nostalgia for the granite mountains and soft autumn colors of New England that this book amplifies.  I miss the woodlot that I grew up with, filled with its vernal pools, leaf-clogged streams, and constant neighborhood chatter from crows, blue jays, robins, nuthatches, and chickadees.  The hidden messages tapped out by downy woodpeckers by day, and the soul-filling chorus of spring peepers by night.

The solitude that filled me while immersed in those woods is what I miss most, so different from the loneliness I feel trying to navigate the unpredictable, buzzing activity of the city.  The final sentence in this passage struck a deep, deep chord.

The restlessness persists.

Categories: life, links, reflection