Monday, February 10, 2020

everyone doesn’t like chocolate

The first time I ever said that sentence out loud it was punctuated with a question mark.
Everyone doesn’t like chocolate? 

I’d like to tell you I was very young when I came to this important piece of learning, but I was probably in college.  For my entire life up to that point, it was beyond my comprehension that a living, breathing human being wouldn’t love chocolate just as much as I did.  I mean, it has so many great qualities.  It tastes wonderful, of course, but it’s also smooth, creamy, soothing, sweet, pure, and life-giving.  Milk chocolate is a food created for human enjoyment.  The temperature at which the flavors of chocolate are the most powerful just happens to be the average temperature of the human mouth.  As a child I loved chocolate and I would eat it as often as possible.  Everyone in my family loved chocolate too.  In fact, I didn’t know of anyone who didn’t absolutely love it.  Until I met someone who didn’t love chocolate.

Having met tons of students, over the years that I’ve been a teacher, I now understand that not only do some people have allergies and diets that prevent them from enjoying chocolate, but some people just downright don’t like the way it tastes.  It just isn’t their thing.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  It’s not wrong for people to not eat chocolate.  It really doesn’t have any impact on me at all other than my fading disbelief.  I guess if anything, it creates a better situation for me since that’s one less person I’ll have to fight the day after Christmas/Valentines Day/Easter when all the chocolate goes on sale at the local grocery store.  More for me, right?

Coming to that realization in college that everyone doesn’t love chocolate didn’t change how I felt about it.  It didn’t make it taste any worse and it didn’t change it’s nutritional value.  It didn’t lessen my cravings for chocolate and it certainly didn’t lower my chocolate intake.  I still really love chocolate. 

I remembered that everyone doesn’t love chocolate during the last year and it’s become an important piece of knowledge for me.  I’m a teacher at a university and if you know anything about me as a teacher, you know it’s important for me to relate to and interact with my students.  The classes I teach are difficult classes that require a lot of physical labor and effort in addition to a great deal of mental activity.  I understand that these classes are not great fun, so I try to counter that by doing fun things in class and allowing students to have some fun as well.  This is not an original idea, of course, it’s one I stole from Sesame Street just like every other wanna-be entertaining teacher did.  You mix the learning with a little entertainment and boom, you get students excited about education. 

You can be a tough, no-nonsense teacher as long as you mix in a little fun.  This has been my not-so-secret weapon since I began teaching 18 years ago.  I’ve been brutally honest with my students and haven’t pulled any punches with my grades and expectations.  But I also laugh with them and listen to them and talk to them about life.  The way I teach is an extension of my personality.  I believe that’s how it should be.  But you know what?  Not every student loves me.

Perhaps it’s narcissistic to compare myself to chocolate, but it’s an analogy that seems to work in my head.  You see, I know that not everyone likes me.  And even some who do like me – they just don’t connect with me.  I’m just not their thing.  But I try so hard to be fun and likeable, that it’s hard for me to accept this very reasonable truth.  Most students are socially adept enough to not let you know that they don’t like you.  I appreciate the effort that goes into something like that.  People who are like me, who hate social functions, know exactly what it looks like when you put on the smile, you make the small talk, and you just hope the situation is over soon.  I’ve recognized that look on some of my students’ faces over the years. 

Most days it’s easy enough to notice that and move on.  You notice that students gravitate to a different professor and you salute them for doing so respectfully.  You notice that some people don’t like you and you go on with your day.  But some days you get caught up in the rip tide of wanting to make them like you.  You get this idea that you can change their mind if you’re really nice and positive and eventually when you come to your senses that that sort of thing never works, you’re already miles out to sea. 

Teachers have to have thick skin.  We stand up in front of a group of humans who have every reason to be critical.  Some of us are even in the business of actually teaching the humans how to be critical more effectively! We are easy targets.  Our mistakes and mental lapses are public.  They see us misspell the word on the whiteboard.  They see us struggle with our software during a presentation.  They see us lose our temper when the straw finally breaks the camel’s back.  Some of us have almost no sense of fashion and every stain, every pimple, every bead of sweat running down your forehead is spotlighted, highlighted, and pointed out.  I’m lucky to have a sense of humor and a sense of self-worth that keeps me from crawling into a hole every night and never coming out. 

Even still, there are days when you notice the next student in line is faking that smile and probably wishing you didn’t exist and it just becomes too much.  You feel the salt water pulling you as you wonder what it is that you did to make them hate you.  You wonder if you just said something funny or kind if they’d stop hating you.  You wonder if you can win them over.  But you can’t and now the shoreline is gone and you don’t even know what direction to swim.  You’re lost in despair and self-doubt. 

Luckily, many of us have life preservers in the form of past students who have become friends and encouragers.  They have the perspective now to see what kind of teacher and what kind of person you really are and many of them are even thoughtful enough to let you know.  One recent swim I took with this rip tide had me way out looking for the shore when I got a message out of the blue from a former student.  The student was starting her second semester of grad school in the Northeast several years after her college graduation.  The note was short and sweet and probably only took a minute to type, but I have to tell you, that note rescued me. 

Everyone isn’t going to like chocolate and that’s ok.  Chocolate isn’t for everyone.  It’s ok that I’m not either. 

The former student’s note got me thinking.  We’ve all had at least one teacher that stands out in our memory for one reason or another.  What if we also took a minute to type out a note of thanks and encouragement to that teacher?  Who knows what an impact such a note might have.  Who knows how that note may rescue someone lost at sea.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

in the year 2020...

One day in May 2012 I woke up and went for a 3.1 mile run.  The next day I woke up and did it again.  After a few days in a row, I decided I was going to run a 5K every day and see how long I could do it.  6 years and 2 months later I only stopped running after a surgeon cut me open and made me promise I’d take a 6 week break from running.  The day I was released back into the wild, I drove home from the surgeon’s office, put on my running shorts, and ran the 3.1 miles. 

When I decide I’m going to do something, it’s not easy to change my mind.  You could say I’m goal oriented or maybe it’s willpower.  I could easily argue that neither of those is true.  What you see from over there is often very different from what is actually true in here (in my ridiculous head).  Go ahead and put a doughnut in front of me and ask me about willpower. 

Today I’m close to 1 ½ years into my new 5K everyday running streak.  It’s become such an expected thing in my daily routine that from over there where you are, it may seem like running is easy for me.  That maybe I just hop out of bed every morning super excited about going outside in the 5:00 am pitch darkness to run 3.1 miles in the pouring rain while praying I don’t get sprayed by a skunk.  Over here on the inside, the truth is that many days I wake up and don’t want to run.  It’s going to be cold or muddy.  There are dangerous wild animals out there. It’s going to hurt.  My bed is warm and cozy.  The point is, you’re not alone in having those discouraging voices making you feel like it’s too hard to do something.  Every day I have to make myself get up and go out to run.

my running trail view

I mention this during the first week of the new year because I have some things I want to do this year.  They’re not resolutions or even good goals, but they are things I want to strive to accomplish this year.  I’ve decided to share them with you in an attempt to be open and honest about the struggles involved in trying to be a better human.  If you see the struggle and realize that my brain’s arguments about why I should not run are similar to your brain’s arguments about why you shouldn’t run, then maybe there’s room for you to be motivated or inspired.  I mean, I don’t take the time to share running posts on here or on Instagram just so you can know I ran.  Nobody cares.  The point is to show you that you can run too.  To hopefully inspire someone to take a step toward a healthier life.  So let’s have a look at that list. 

-exercise every day
-practice gratitude
-sketch/write in my sketchbook every day
-eat better
-get in exhibits
-read every day
-choose positivity

Exercise every day. 
Of course I plan to continue running every day.  Running is so good for every part of your body, especially your brain.  Mental health, emotional health, and physical health all benefit from regular running.  I’ve discovered that for me, it’s also a good idea to include other exercise into my weekly routine.  I did T25 workouts with Sean T for a couple of years before stumbling across something called PIYO, a combination of pilates and yoga.  It really helped me with stretching and strengthening my ankles, knees, back and abs.  I drive a lot, and I spend a lot of time hunched over a drawing table or a welding table, so PIYO has significantly reduced the number of back aches and spasms. While this is already a part of my week, I got pretty slack about doing PIYO during the fall semester.  I need to get back on the wagon because I know I will feel much better physically.

Practice gratitude. 
This is another thing I was able to incorporate into my daily routine last year.  It helped me so much.  I’ve read countless books, articles, and quotes about how to have a happy and fulfilled life, and every single one advises that you practice daily gratitude.  I’ve got this down to a quick and painless activity. I jot down more than 10 things I’m grateful for while I enjoy my morning coffee.  Coffee almost always makes the list of course. I want to continue that practice and give it even more careful consideration this year.

Sketch/write in my sketchbook every day.
I love to sketch and doodle, so you might think this would be a breeze. But on the busiest of days it seems the last thing I have time to do is to stop, sit, and be quiet with my sketchbook for a few minutes.  I’ve made an effort lately to do this every day, but it’s definitely not a daily habit yet.  Sketching is such a powerful way to record ideas. Writing about the day helps me to process and remember important information.  I want to do a much better job with that this year.

Eat better. 
Some of you are laughing right now.  I know, I deserve that.  I eat a LOT of sweets. At this moment I have 7 different types of sweets sitting on my kitchen counter in the “DO NOT TOUCH MY STUFF OR YOU WILL SUFFER” area.  I also have a large bin in the pantry filled to the brim with chocolates and candy bars.  (I may also have no less than 3 assorted chocolate boxes and a couple of 2 pound canisters of chocolate covered almonds in the pantry.) For breakfast I’ve been enjoying Cinnamon Frosted Flakes with my truly decadent morning mocha. That or waffles. If you know me at all you know about all the waffles; my blood type is maple syrup.  But over the last couple of years I’ve started eating vegetables.  I use the word “started” because before that, I ate zero vegetables.  None.  A couple of years ago I gave up soft drinks and then sweet tea. Now, besides my coffee, I only drink water.  I try to avoid fried foods if possible, and in the last year I’ve made a conscious effort to try things I never would have tried before.  Like brussels sprouts.  Who would have thought I’d like those?  Yet somehow I do. I’ve noticed that what I eat is directly tied to how I feel.  I can feel all that ice cream I eat the next morning when I run.  If I eat poorly, I feel sluggish and yucky.  When I eat well, I feel good.  I guess you don’t have to be very smart to figure out that eating better is better for you.  So this year I’m going to refuse more doughnuts and try to lower my intake of sweets while opting for healthier choices. 

Get in exhibits. 
I know this is a terribly stated goal, but you’ll just have to get over it.  As a practicing studio artist, I need to be participating in exhibits each year.  It’s important for many reasons and actually a requirement of my job.  Galleries don’t exactly come to your studio door asking for you to send them your work, so there’s a lot of personal responsibility tied to this one.  I first have to get off my butt and make new drawings and sculptures throughout the year.  Then I have to send my images and information out to people either asking for exhibits through proposals or by entering juried exhibits around the country.  I don’t have a lot of control over people saying yes, but I can play the numbers and just enter shows frequently. 

the academic bookshelf

Read every day.
I keep a book by my bed. While I don’t open it every night, I do make progress through the book each month.  Some nights I barely make it through a page before nodding off.  I’ve been reading books with school and others for fun, which has led to some interesting thoughts and conversations.  Many of the benefits of running are similar to those of reading.  Reading is something I need more of.  Right now, our family is reading through the Bible. We are reading the whole Bible in a year, which requires that we read a chunk of words every day.  Hopefully between that, school readings, and fun books, I’ll be able to read at least a little every day.

Choose positivity.
Negative information streams to us in many ways from global and personal sources.  Just keeping up with current events to stay informed can leave us all feeling a bit overwhelmed at times.  I think it’s a good idea to decide for ourselves what we allow to enter our brains.  If TV news or the feed on the screen you’re holding leaves you feeling hopeless and in despair, maybe it would be a good idea to set some limits on your level of interaction with that media.  If interactions with friends or family members consistently leave you feeling bad about yourself, maybe set some limits on those interactions as well.  When you have a choice, maybe choose to engage with information that will leave you more positive. Garbage in, garbage out, right?  I mean, if the food I eat affects how I feel, surely the influences and input I allow into my life will have a similar impact on my emotional and mental health.  So guarding what goes in is one part.  The other part may even be more difficult and even more important. Guarding what goes out.  In any given situation, I may have no control over what is happening to me, but I can still maintain control over my response to it.  When a negative situation arises, I can choose to call people names and yell and curse, or I can choose positivity.  I’ll admit that sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s a choice, but more of a reflex.  However, it is a choice.  I can choose to show love and compassion to those who offend me.  I can choose to look at the bright side of a situation.  I can choose to be positive and hopeful and in doing so, I can make my life better.  This is a daily struggle because what I want to do is fall into self-pity and anger and stomp around like a child.
wisdom stolen from the internet

None of these will be easy to keep this year.  All of them provide significant challenges and struggles of their own.  I know I will stumble, fall, and fall again.  I will also succeed.  I’ll succeed by getting up, brushing myself off and moving forward again.  And hopefully I’ll actually reach many of these goals and better my life too.  As I fall and as I succeed, I will also share the experiences with you.  I hope to check in a few times this year and give you an update on where I am with each goal.  Maybe you have some goals, resolutions, or changes you want to make this year.  Feel free to share those with me, and let me know how you do.  I can promise you we’ll both be struggling together.