Celebrating Fifty Years

There are always those milestone years that we reach that bring everybody together to celebrate that milestone. They come pretty quick when we are younger: the first time we hit double digit, when we become a teenager, when we turn sixteen and are able to drive, when we turn eighteen and legally become an adult, and when we turn twenty-one and can drink at bars. When we are these ages, we get excited about the days and we look forward to the moments that make it memorable, whether that is a birthday cake, a set of car keys, a new ID, or a collection of empty shot glasses paid for by our friends.

As we get older these milestone years come less and less and eventually they only come every ten years. At first, it is still fun to hold these celebrations, and we try to return to our younger days to prove that we are still young. We quickly learn that time is not working in our favor at this time, and we cannot return to those old ways, and we must think of new ways that we can celebrate the passing of time in our lives. For some people it is the rush to spend the money that we have collected over the years, but most of these outrageous purchases end up being dismissed as a display of our mid-life crises. Others of us create a challenge that reflects the age we are turning while making it obtainable at the same time. It is that step towards a new beginning that shows the world that we are still able to be a factor in our remaining years. It is a show of strength and endurance that reflects the struggles we have been through with our time on Earth.

My brother is hitting one of those milestones today. He is turning a half of a century old, and there will be all of the trappings of such a milestone. There will be a party where friends from all over the world will gather together to celebrate. They will share drink and food, and people will celebrate his fifty years. There will only be one thing missing from this equation, my brother. He will be close by and we will all be sitting on his driveway to wave at him every once in awhile as he makes his occasional presence, but for the most part, we will be celebrating without him. He will be trying to achieve a milestone of his own, fifty miles on his fiftieth birthday.

This will be quite the achievement, and a commend him for making this attempt. He started early this morning on his first five mile loop that will send him back to the front of his house about once every hour. At that time, he will drop off a group of people who ran with him to pick up another group to do another five miles. This way he gets to spend a lot of time with his friends and family on his birthday while trying to prove something to everybody that will not leave him with a weird purchase, or send him to hospital for the poor choices he made. And after he is all finished all of his loved ones will be there to celebrate not only the achievement, but the fact that he has turned one year older. I hope that in a couple of years, I, too, can accomplish something as meaningful as this, but in the meantime, I wish him the best of luck on his ordeal, and I will be there to cheer him on as he finish his epic task.

Teaching to the Test

I am now one of those people who is over the age of thirty and living in their parents’ basement. This is not because I am a jobless bum, but rather because I am in-between jobs and in the process of moving from one country to another. My stuff is sprawled over the basement as I sort through what I should take and what I should leave behind. I have to make predictions about what my life will be like in the new country that I am moving to, and what I will need for clothes and for entertainment. Most of this is old habit as I have learned much from past experiences about how to stay informed about my sports teams, and watch their important games, what television shows I can access, how many books and new music will keep me engaged until I can make my way back to the United States, and most importantly how I can engage with my new fellow colleagues. I am excited about the change, and nervous, but not as nervous as I was when I made my first leap to a different country six years ago. The whole reason I don’t feel the same kind of fear of what I was getting into during that first time is because I have lived through it before, and I know a little bit of what I should be expecting. I am prepared. There is something about being prepared and how that helps to reduce stress in your life.

It is part of what I have been doing this past week. Every day, my alarm has been waking me up, so I could crawl over to my computer, hop on to Zoom, and participate in a workshop for a class I will teaching for the first time next year, AP Literature and Composition. I knew a little bit about the class from teaching in an AP school for four years, but I had a few questions that I needed answered to make sure that I could give my students the support that they will need. I have been looking at different lessons, and different texts to use in those different lessons. It has taken me back to my college days and all of the literature classes I took back then. I am sitting in a room with like minded people who love to read and talk about what they read, and it has been fun to engage with texts in this way again. But we have also looked at many students’ essays based on the prompts they might encounter on the test, and we have gone over what the College Board will be looking for when they grade them. It reminds me of the drudgery I go through any time I have student plop a completed essay on to my desk and the task I have to go through in order to grade them all and get the feedback to them. Granted, these are the higher end students writing literary analysis and for the most part, they are engaging and well written. Also, most of these essays were written in a time period of only forty minutes, so they do not take that long to grade. But I appreciated the opportunity to look at this final product because it helped me understand where I need to get my students in order to be successful in this class and on this exam.

This gets me to one of the biggest discussions that teachers have when they are assigned to one of these classes with a big exam at the end of it. Should I be teaching to this test or does that do my students a great disservice because I am not preparing them for the more important thing, life? I do believe that this is an important question to examine. If I am being honest, there will be very few of my students who will need to know how to to write a good literary analysis essay in order to be successful in life. There are very few professions that need to know how to do this, so why should I spend so much time nurturing this skill within my students? Wouldn’t the time be better spent exploring the ideas presented in the literature and having my students talk about these issues to become better citizens after they have graduated from high school? Does the test actually measure their ability to do this, and why do a bunch of dead white males hold the keys to this kind of profound thinking?

But then again I look at the reason I love literature so much, and why I want to instill that same kind of love into my students. There is a reason that the most successful people have the ability, desire, and ambition to read a large amount of fiction in common. Every story that they read teaches them the capacity to understand the world from a different person’s point of view. They get to live hundreds of pages in the mind of another person. It is the true definition of empathy, and this ability makes successful people great leaders and amazing innovators. The ability to dig deep into a piece of prose or poetry and analyze it in a way that is profound and purposeful. This may not be a skill that an engineer or a lawyer might need to know, but it is something that a human being needs to know. And though it is important to have a profession in life, it is also important to be able to practice that skill of empathy so you can have those connections in life that are meaningful.

Can I reach that level of understanding by teaching to the test? Normally, I would say no, but I do believe that AP Lit is a different class. It is a skills based class. I will be teaching students how to write effectively, and writing effectively is nothing more than an act of thinking effectively, so essentially what I will be teaching students is how to think effectively, and if they can do that then they will be successful on this test, and this test will allow them to reach that level of understanding that they need with others so they can be empathetic and successful. Why wouldn’t I then teach to the test? It is what I should be teaching anyways.

So as I prepare to take the leap to a new country again, I have been taking some time out of packing and getting the supplies I will need to be comfortable in this new country, I will take a little time to make sure that I am also prepared to teach this class for the first time. It will allow me to get my students to the place where they will need to be in order to be successful not only on the test, but life as well. I now look forward to the new school year with anticipation because it will a great one filled with a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to get to it.

Things

I am already thinking about winter. It was one of the chores that I knew I had to do while I was in the United States because I knew that the clothes I had shipped to Jordan from Thailand would only be appropriate during the first couple of months out there, and then I would need some long sleeves, pants, and hats. I had some of that stuff in Thailand because my thought was we would travel to cooler places to get away from the tropical heat, but then, Covid. So I do have a weeks worth of clothes that will allow me survive in those conditions, and they are not for the really cold temperature that Amman can sometimes get to.

So this is why I have been thinking about winter.

Growing up in Colorado, and visiting Oregon often means that I do have these clothes, but I pushed them in some boxes and bags and left them in storage some place in one of these two states, and even then, I am not sure where I left them in those states. It has been a little game of hide and seek so far this summer, rummaging through this box and that one trying to find what I know is out there, and yesterday, I went to my storage unit in Colorado.

Lo and behold, I found the missing clothes among piles of things that I am not sure what they are anymore. This little game made me realize what has become of my life, and my things as they are strewn across the world. Of course right now I am living out of bags and have to rummage through them every morning to find the things that I need to be a part of society. I have some rare discs and records tucked away in a closet at my parents’ house, and a couple boxes of random stuff at my in-laws’ house. And somewhere, en route, there is a shipping container full of more stuff and things finding its way to my new place in Jordan. I have truly become a man of the world, and like a teenager does in their room, I have left myself wherever I just happen to drop it.

While looking at my stuff, and all of the places where it is, I am constantly thinking about a story I taught a couple of times early in my teaching career by D.H. Lawrence called “Things”. It told the story of a couple who started taking teaching jobs overseas. Of course, they did not want to bring all of their stuff with them, so they put some stuff in storage here, and other things in storage over there. They bought art and mementos along the way, but they did not have a place in their house to display them, so they stored those in other countries. They ended up having places all over the world to hold their stuff for them. I now thing of that story and realize that I am now living it. (I will put a link to the story at the end of the post if you are interested to read for yourself.)

There are a couple of themes that could be looked at while reading this story, but the one that stuck with me and the one that I always return to is how we no longer own our possessions, but instead they start to own us. Part of the lives of these characters was to tend to their things, and I am participating in the same ritual. Some of these things are easy to attend to; whereas, others are going to be a surprise when I return to them years later. I will have forgotten that I have some of these things, and it will be like a return to Christmas when I find them again. But it makes me start to wonder how much of it I really need, and how much of it I can give away.

My wife and I always talk about going to the storage unit every summer and reorganizing it to move to a smaller storage unit, but something always comes up that makes us put that off for another year. Basically, it is easier to maintain my things than to deal with them, but someday I will have to deal with them. Until then, I will just lock the door to the storage unit, push that box in the corner of the room where I found it, and track my shipment over the internet until it arrives, and I will continue to play this game with my things.

“Things” by D.H. Lawrence

Show Off Those Guns Vaccinated People

No, we are not wearing bandaids because we got boo boos, and most of the time my workout routine does not highlight the definition of my arms, but this was an exciting moment. It was that final step that we needed to take to get back to the lives we wanted to live, and not one where we are stuck indoors all the time. It will make a little bit easier, but it won’t get to that perfect place until the rest of the population does their parts and gets vaccinated as well. Then the masks will be able to come off, the restaurants will open again to full service, and the one I am looking forward to the most, travel will start up again. Everyday, the country inches closer to that goal of herd immunity and I can’t wait until it gets there. As of the writing of this post, Oregon (where I am at right now) has 58.1% of the population vaccinated, Colorado (where I will be next) has 57.4%, and the country of Jordan (the place I will be moving to at the end of the year) is at 21.7%. Those are some exciting numbers. It does not mean that I will get to see that goal of being able to travel around the world freely anytime soon, but at least things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Getting my second shot almost didn’t happen too. I had an appointment scheduled at 11:00 yesterday, and the place I was going to called me up at 9:30. Their refrigerator broke the night before, causing their vaccine supply to be spoiled. At first, I didn’t know what to do, but after getting on the phone and calling a couple of other places, we were able to find one that had the same dose that we needed and we could walk right in. The pharmacy we went to was a little busy, but we were still able to get in and out within a half an hour. It showed me how easy they are making this for everybody, and if people want to get back to life as normal, they need to go in and get their shots. This way the United States government can send more vaccines to other countries. The world will get that herd immunity that is needed to make it safe again, and we can put this pandemic behind us.

I will be honest. The second dose hit me a lot harder than the first dose did. After the first shot, I only had a sore arm which made it hard if I slept on one of my sides, but after taking the second shot, I got a little bit of a chill, and a wicked headache that made sleep hard for one night. It was a little uncomfortable, but it made me realize how terrible it would be if I contracted the real Covid-19 virus. It also lets me know that the vaccine is working. After a restless night’s sleep and a couple of cups of coffee in the morning, I am feeling a lot better, and I know that it will only be one day before I can get back to feeling normal. It is a small price to pay to know that I am safe and that I will not be spreading the disease to other people that I come in contact with.

So there is only one thing left for the rest of the people to do. If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, go out there and get it. Push the numbers up and get to that herd immunity rate. Let’s get the world operating again, and let’s quit hearing these death reports and stories of people stuck indoors. Go get that bandaid and show off your guns proudly, knowing that you have done your part pushing the world to the place where it needs to be.

The End of Quarantine

As the United States edges closer to the 4th of July, and the Joe Biden goal of having 70% of Americans vaccinated by then, certain states are opening up again, and people are taking advantage of this fact by leaving their homes. I am one of those people who are excited to get out of their homes and be a part of society again, but for the time being, the state I am in has not yet reached its goal and it has not opened up yet. It might take awhile too. According to Our World in Data at the time of writing this, only 50.4% of Oregonians have been fully vaccinated with 57.1% of them receiving one dose. It is behind that magic number for herd immunity, but there is hope as the number of cases continues on a downhill trend even with the threat of the Delta variant creeping into the count in many places in the United States.

With all of this going on, I have reached the two week mark of arriving in the United States. And I know that there was not a hard rule in the United States about what incoming people to the United States should do with quarantine, but that did not stop me from doing a self-imposed quarantine. Why? Well, because it was the right thing to do. Granted, if you have been reading this blog lately, you know that it wasn’t a very strict quarantine where I stayed inside all of the time. I did go for a daily walk, but I was in a good position where I did not need to be around anybody on these walks, and I was never in close contact with anybody. The only time I have been inside with a group of people was when I got off the plane as I went into a local Target to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccination. I think I did a pretty good job of making sure that if I brought the disease into the United States, I did not give it to anybody else and caused this pandemic to ravage on further in this country.

But I think that is part of the problem with the United States. There are some policies that if they had made a little different, it might have stopped the spread of this disease from being so bad, and with the recent push to get vaccinated, more of the country might have been open right now. I know a lot of people would claim that hindsight is 20/20 and if we had only done this, that, and the other thing than things would have been better, but how could we have known to do these things. All you have to do is look at what other countries did to know that there could have been ways of lessening this impact.

First off is to look at who was being let into the country. The borders should have been locked down, and people should not have been allowed to come and go. Many countries locked down their borders, such as New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. All of these place had their first initial jump, but as soon as they got that under control everything flatlined. The only place that had another jump was Taiwan, and it happened around the same time that they opened up their borders for travelers again.

Looking at my three examples show that they all have something in common. They are all island countries, except for Singapore but it is close enough to being one, and it would be easy to lock down these countries. What about the ones with border butting up to other countries. If you look at Vietnam, it closed its border early in the pandemic, and has it very difficult for anybody to enter that country. For the most, they have done a very good job of keeping this pandemic under control until recently. The numbers have gone up for them, and it is probably due to the fact that they can’t control every inch of the border allowing a case or two to slip through, and any time this happens, the rate of infection will go up. It is still at a manageable rate though. If looking at a longer border, Canada would be a better example. They have been very strict about who can come in or out of the country, and even though they have had a lot more cases than these other countries, they have all been at a very manageable rate, and the impact this disease has had on this country is minimal.

All of this brings up the question of quarantine, and how other countries handle this issue that helps to minimize the problems of Covid-19. The United States does not have a policy. They do not even really screen people who come off of planes to make sure they do not have the possibility of carrying the disease. It is a free as you will kind of attitude as soon as you get off of that plane. Of course, they pull over the random individual to check to see if they have the disease to say that they are doing some form of testing, but this screams the same type of racial profiling that can be seen in their prevention of terrorism on planes. The sad reality is that this disease does not pick a certain race or nationality to attach itself to, and anybody can get the disease. It will slow things down, but everybody needs to be tested and quarantined.

It was a night and day experience when we flew into Doha, Qatar for the first leg of our flight as opposed to Seattle. Before getting off the flight in Doha, all of the screens froze, not matter where you were in the movie you were watching, and an informational video going through the steps of how to quarantine, and how to help those that you might be quarantining. It went through where to place the person, how to sanitize objects they might have used, proper glove and mask use, and cleaning procedures. It even designated which bus you would take to get to your quarantine location, whether that was a national or a visitor. The contact that a person was allowed to make with people when they got off the plane was non-existent. Qatar was making sure nobody brought this disease into their country.

The quarantine time was two weeks for people flying into Qatar, and this is the typical quarantine period for most countries. Some countries, such as South Korea and Qatar allow people to stay in their own homes if they live in the country, but a lot of other countries have required people to stay in a quarantine hotel which they pay for. This is the case for Thailand, the country we just came from, and I do believe that they are exploiting people a little bit, but it is a way for them to keep their economy running. A person can chose on what level of hotel they would like to stay in, based on how much they are willing to pay, with the more expensive one providing certain amenities and better food.

Vietnam is taking this to the extreme. They are so worried about an outbreak that they are requiring people to stay in a quarantine hotel for three weeks on arrival which they have to pay for, before moving on to their own homes for two additional weeks. I know there have been a couple of cases of people getting out of quarantine and then testing positive for Covid, but they are rare, and a five week quarantine period that would cost a couple $10,000 to go through seems a little excessive.

But all of these things would not be necessary as much anymore if the government can get people to participate in the third most important thing, getting vaccinated. This is the one thing that will allow us to get over this pandemic, and the faster that the country can get to herd immunity, the faster we can return to a more comfortable lifestyle. Certain countries are already bypassing the quarantine period for people coming into the country if they can prove they have been vaccinated, such as my next stop, Jordan. And there are a lot of countries that are working hard to get as many people vaccinated this summer so they can open up schools and business at an introductory level in the fall.

This is where the United States is driving me crazy. People are looking for an excuse not to get vaccinated and complaining about the restrictions at the same time. Yes, there were a couple of missteps when it was first rolled out almost seven months ago, and there were some legitimate concerns, but we are long enough through the process to indicate that those concerns have been addressed. The people who have been arriving at the hospitals with severe cases of Covid all have one thing in common, they have not been vaccinated. I also find that these are the people who are the most vocal about opening up the country again. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the country open, and not have a protected population at the same time.

The vaccine is available to anybody living in the United States right now, and it just sits on the shelf waiting for people to come by and get their shot. America is the only place in the world that has this problem. Where I came from just a couple short weeks earlier, the people there would do anything to get vaccinated, and return to a lifestyle consistent with what it used to be like before all this started. I stayed in my home for two months waiting for that moment that I could get back to the United States so I could receive the vaccine and be able to breathe a little easier. I am not quite there yet. I still have one more shot left to receive, but I am happy about being able to return to society safely and responsibly, and I hope in the coming weeks, more American take that plunge. This way, more people around the world will be able to get vaccinated, and life can return to one where we don’t have to think about quarantine or the shutting of borders.

The Importance of a Break

I have a good friend who grew up in Britain, and he is always making fun of my work habit. Growing up, I was taught that hard work and constantly pushing myself to accomplish the things that my company or organization that I worked for would make me a valuable member of society. I pushed myself so hard sometimes that I would feel worn out at the end of the day and would work for long streaks without ever taking a break. There was one time when I was earning my teaching degree that I had a streak of 28 days in a row where I commitments with either work or school. In my mind, this made me important.

This idea is still a part of who I am. Rarely do I take a day off from work. Granted, as a teacher, it is actually more work to take a day off from work than it is to show up sick and just work through the pain. Of course, my thinking about this has changed with the recent pandemic, and I have since taken a few days off when I have had a cold, but even then it was a struggle.

One of the benefits of being a teacher though is having these times throughout the year where I get to take an extended break. With my work ethic, this does not mean that I stop working; it just means that I have more time during the day for myself. As an English teacher, I always have a stack of student writing that I have to chip away at, and during the summer, I have to read the works I am planning on teaching and coming up with ways that I can get my students to connect with them. But this only takes a couple hours a day as opposed to the ten to eleven hours I work on a normal school day.

If my British friend was reading this right now, he would be laughing at me and calling me a fool for putting so much effort in to an employer that would turn their back on me as soon as I decided to move on to another location. And I hate to say it, but he would be right. There are many other people that dedicate a lot of their time and energy to their profession. A lot of these people happen to come America because they are all chasing for that elusive dream that they have been told is out there. They just have to give a little bit more of themselves, and push a little harder in order to get it. What they do not realize is that this dream is already right in front of them, and as long as they accept that they already have what they are looking for, they won’t push themselves so hard to get that other things that the great American Dream is trying to sell us on. I would be a happier individual if I could only just accept this fact.

It shouldn’t come down to how much money I make in order to determine my happiness even though this is the thought that has been sold to me at a very young age. It also is sold as me working hard to make money for others so they could throw me bone from time to time and I will feel important. Another way of looking at it is trickle down economics. I work really hard to make money for somebody else, and it is not really about my happiness or how much I enjoy the work I am doing just as long as another dollar is made for the man on the top of the ladder.

But this is where my British friend comes in. Just not him, but all of the people I have met over the years from Europe. They have a different kind of thinking there. It is not about how hard you work, but how much you enjoy the work that you are doing. Now I know that there is not a single job out there where there will be a task that you will have to do that you will not enjoy. Being an English teacher is this way. I am not a big fan of reading developing writing about the same subject over and over again. It is really painful. But there is a payoff in the end. I do enjoy watching my students develop as writers as they slowly start how to get to that level as a writer that will make them successful in life. I enjoy talking about literature and thinking about the bigger ideas presented by the greatest writers in history. I love connecting students to reading and watching them become lifelong readers. I just love consuming media in general and I enjoy talking about how to consume it with an active mind.

This is where the problem comes in. For all of the things that I love that feed me energy to continue to do the job I am doing, the routine and humdrum existence of my job are enough to wear me down after awhile and make going to work a chore rather than a joy that I always hope it will be. I need a break from the routine to look at thing with a new perspective. I need to put the humdrum aside for long enough so I can get excited about all of the other aspects of the job that I love. For this reason, I need those breaks that so many people view as a benefit as opposed to something that I need in order to maintain my sanity. It is what allows me to be the effective and engaging teacher that I know I can be. 

But this is not the same attitude that a lot of companies in the United States take. They want to get the most out of their employees and they will do everything to make sure this happens. Yes, they will give them a couple of weeks vacation throughout the year, and they will close down for national holidays, but otherwise, they expect their employees to be there most of the time. This is taken up a notch in Korea too. They have their employees working ten hour days, and forcing them to spend their downtime with their bosses outside of work. They are not given much time off to recover from their hard work and they are constantly pushing themselves to do bigger things and more of them. The reality of the situation is that Korea has the most work hours out of any nation, and also the lowest productivity rate during those hours. Their workforce is overworked, and this is evident when you see the amount of effort they put in to get their job done. They spend more time scrolling through their phones rather than completing their tasks. If they were given more free time, they might actually spend that work time being more productive.

There is the other end of this spectrum as well. Scandinavian countries give their employees on an average three to four weeks of vacation time per year with Sweden claiming that the average worker there only works a six hour work day. Looking at the quality of life index and the rate that people are happy in that country, and you will see that most people are happier here than anywhere else in the world. It might be because they have a healthy balance between work and life where they do not have to feel stressed out about getting those little things done during the day and still have time to enjoy with other people. Now, I have never lived in any of the Scandinavian countries and only visited there for about two weeks over ten years ago. I cannot say if this is the reality of the situation or not, but I am willing to find out.

Basically, my point is that we are all happier when we take time off and enjoy the world around us. We all have stressful jobs, and working as a high school English teacher is no exception. Even though I still do work during those periods that I am supposed to be off, I value that time and look forward to it every time it comes close. I also find that I am more productive and a better teacher when I get back into the classroom after an extended break. I know this goes against the bottom line for a lot of companies, but if they started to do the same for their employees, they also might find a change in the work force production.

Work Identity

My class has been talking a lot about identity lately and how we determine what our personal identity is. It is not something new that I have taught, but it has been something that I have thought a lot about recently, especially the way that we go about shaping our identity. It got me thinking about how many adults determine their identity, and for most, at least the ones that I come in contact with, it is connected with their job.

I know that this should not be considered a great new revelation. People have been talking about how this has been a fact for many years. It is the first question that many people ask of each other when they first meet outside of the work place which is rare considering that most of the people we associate with come from within the work place. If I really think about it, this is even something that is ingrained is us from our college days when we question asked of many of our fellow students was what their major was, or another way of putting it, what they planned to make of their future careers.

It is strange that we tie so much of our identity to this part of our lives, yet it is the one things that most of us would love to get as far way from as soon as we can. It is also not all of us that place this much importance on our jobs, but I do believe that this is the minority out there. It makes me wonder how these people are able to leave this aspect of their lives behind, and what it is that they shape their identity around.

The obvious answer to that is their family, followed by their accomplishments. But that is still looking at our identity through the lens of another person in order to define who we are. When are we able to define ourselves through our own understanding of our identity, and not through the lens imposed on us by society? Has anybody ever come to this true understanding of self? I’m sure that there are a few who have throughout the course of history, but those are rare and I am also betting that are the more influential people the world has ever known.

Thinking about that makes me start to understand better the importance of identity. It something that I see all of my high school students struggle with, and I am sure that this is something that is typical for all people their age. But I am also starting to come to the realization that it is not only exclusive to them, but to all people of all ages. It is a struggle for all of us, and what makes it even more difficult is the changing landscape of our lives and how they automatically changes the essence of our identity.

The best I think that any of us can hope for is to come to an acceptance that this change is constantly happening and be happy with the identity that we have on any given basis understanding how it connects to the identity that proceeded it. It is what I have begun to strive to do, and I have found a certain amount of peace within myself because of this perspective.

Or maybe I should quit teaching such philosophical ideas in my class and I won’t have these deeper thoughts causing me to have an identity crisis. But then would my class be as interesting, and what would their identity be?

Back to the New Normal

            I have talked about my struggle before. Is it fair of me to talk about my travels while so many people are under lockdown around the world? Would this just make them angry, jealous or depressed? Would it do more harm than good?

            I could never decide if I should just wait until things opened up again before I started posting these stories again, and in the meantime, look towards other things I could write about while waiting for that moment. Things changed a little bit on this latest trip though. The day after we left, a large outbreak of Covid cases came out in Surat Sakorn, the province just southwest of Bangkok, and there was always talk of locking the country down again, making sure that its citizens were safe. During the first mention of the outbreak until this moment, I had to keep one eye on the news while keeping the other eye on my vacation. Well, the news came in the other day that they would restrict intra-provincial travel starting at 6 AM on Monday morning, and we were relaxing on the island of Koh Lanta on the southern tip of Thailand, a twelve-hour drive from our home. It meant that we needed to pack things up, get up early the next morning and take the drive back to our home before we got stuck somewhere far away from the comforts of home. It was Thailand’s turn to join the rest of the world as they braced itself for the fight against the second wave of Covid.

            There were mixed emotions when this announcement was made. The uncertainty of what to do fought against doing the right thing even though it was not something that we would enjoy doing. Logic prevailed and we joined the rest of the people who made their ways back to their homes to do their part. We had to cut our vacation short by a couple of days, but it was a small price to pay in order to make sure that we and those around us were safe. And I really can’t complain because while a lot of other people were not allowed to partake in those travel experiences, I had been enjoying life on a tropical paradise. But I realized that there was another thing that I should also be grateful for, the fact that the threat of a lockdown loomed over our heads the whole time we were on our trip.

            I know that sounds like a weird thing to appreciate, but hear me out because it changed the way I vacationed.

            A semester of school for a high school teacher is an exhausting experience, and by the time I put in that final grade, I am spent. I need those three weeks off to get my energy back and change my attitude. We have usually travelled to someplace relaxing to start our break off, and we have spent that time sitting around doing nothing of any importance. It has usually taken a week for us to get the courage to go out an explore our surroundings. I would not consider that time wasted because it is needed to get our heads straightened out.

            We were not given that opportunity this time around. Just knowing that our vacation could be taken away at any moment made us look at it in a different way. We needed to make the most out of our experience because the probability of spending time locked away in our home without anything to do loomed over our heads. It meant that if somebody offered us a kayak or paddleboard, we took them up on the offer. If there was a cave in a mountain that we could climb up to, we took on that challenge. If there was a choice of where to eat at for dinner, we did a little more research to make sure that we would not be disappointed in our choices. We sucked out the marrow from our vacation because the bone could be snatched away. In other words, we did not take the moments for granted.

            I cannot say that I have done this on my recent travels. Before Covid hit, I would happily move from place to place and every once in awhile take in everything that the place had to offer. I had become a little complacent with my travels, but Covid rejuvenated in me the reasons I loved travel in the first place and forced me to get out there are experience it in that way again.

            It takes me back to that struggle that I had when I first started writing about my travels, and now that I have thought about it, I am glad that I have made the choice that I have made. It demonstrated the ability to make the most out of every opportunity given to me. If this is the only thing that I take from this world-wide pandemic, I believe that it is an important lesson to learn. And I know that it might be hard for everybody else to see the same thing when they have been stuck in their homes through the holiday season, but I hope that they can see this as well.

            Before the world went into lockdown, people just muddled their way through life, rarely appreciating those moments that were given them, and making the most out of them. This does not mean just travel, but any moment where they could look back at with fondness. It could even be the smallest moment that is happening in your life right now, playing a game with your loved ones, taking a walk and waving to a neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or a sunset, or even sharing a laugh over a Zoom call. Whatever small thing it is, I have learned to savor it, for it might be some time before I get to have a moment like it again.

            I know I have been lucky with where I ended up and how well the situation has been handled in this country, but it had finally come to an end. This does not mean that I should be mad that this has been taken away from me; I should be happy that I was given the opportunity in the first place.

            I hope you can see that as well.

P.S. I was in the middle of putting a couple of other posts together before I was given this news to return home. My plan is to finish these posts and release them in the coming days, but understand that the trip is over and these are things that have happened before the lockdown took place. I am at home now, and I do not know when I will have the opportunity to get out there in the world again, but when I do, I will make sure to share it with all of you.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please enjoy those moments when they are given.

The Long Goodbye

I have always hated goodbyes. I am so bad at it that I will linger at certain places a little longer, holding on to mundane conversation just so I do not have to say that final word and take my leave. I have even spent nights at people’s homes, so I could wake up early and sneak out of the house before anybody starts to stir just so I can avoid doing this.

It is not because I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of goodbye, not at all. I could not begin to fathom a world in which nobody utters that word. Society would turn into a place where everybody was so self-centered because they would not care about ever seeing someone again, or a place where we would start to gather in clumps because we would never be able to depart from one another.

The second idea does not work because we all eventually have to take that leap and say goodbye. Society would become stagnant if we never said goodbye. We would see only that small group of people and share the same ideas over and over again until we reached the point that we thought that we were original and not just another rehashing of an idea that has already been spread amongst ourselves a million times before. The conversations would be the same because there is nothing new to say if we stay within the same group of people. And nothing would ever get accomplished because we would be too busy holding onto that mundane conversation to go out and get something accomplished.

And of course we could never go on living a life where we just moved on without saying that all important word before we moved on. That word gives us a sense of closure to those moments that we have spent with those individuals. It gives importance to those moments that we get to share, and wraps them up into a nice tiny package that we can carry around with us to open up when we feel the need to revisit a happier time when we were with people that we cared about. Oddly enough, it is that goodbye that allows us to open up that moment again so we can work backwards to that single snapshot that we hold with such high regard. Many times the snapshot that we look back to his that final hug and the utterance of that word, goodbye.

And there is always that ultimate sense of closure that we all have to reach at sometime in our lives. How will that moment play out if there is no loved one there to say that word to, or who can say it to us with our final passing? Will that mean that the life we have lived is not worth the time that we spent on it because that all important word is not hovering over the air to document the moment? Is it the word or people to say it to that gives life meaning?

This leads to the ultimate question: if I understand the importance of this word so much, then why do I hate goodbyes so much? I think it is because of the importance that this moment has causes me to despise any time I am forced into one of them.

A great example of this comes at the end of the school year at my current school. It should be a time of rejoicing because the whole faculty has pulled together to deliver another great school year, and help so many students move on to that next stage in their lives. The grades have all been recorded and the final comments have been chiseled into the stone of the PowerSchool gradebook. There is nothing left for us to do except enjoy the warm weather of the summer and get back to the lives that we left behind in the little corners of the world where we are from. But there is one more thing that we have to do before we can cut loose and enjoy our time off. The whole school gathers out in the front of the high school as people load on to various buses that we whisk them off to the airport and new adventures, and we have to say our goodbyes. There are many hugs given and buckets of tears that are shed as some people are faced with the reality that they may never see some people again even though they have been a significant part of their lives for so long.

I can definitely see why these people would like to have that moment of closure in their lives, but for me, it is really uncomfortable. All of a sudden, people who I did not think that I had that big of a connection with come up and try to find that moment with me. The embrace that we engage in feels a little forced as if it were not meant to happen in the first place. Do not get me wrong, I do feel sad that these colleagues of mine are moving on to different parts of the world. There were moments that we had shared that I will be able to bring up again someday when I want to smile, but they are people that I worked with and I do not need to hug everyone of them goodbye. Some of them were very good friends of mine, and I made sure before they left that I had their contact information so we could get together again when we find ourselves in the same part of the world, but still it felt awkward to make a big deal of their leaving. They wanted to leave, and I was happy for them because they believed it was the right decision for their lives. I should not consider myself to have such a large ego that I need everybody to stick around to prove that I have some worth in some people’s lives. They need to have the right to make these decisions on their own and I should not be considered when that decision is being made.

This might be viewed as being callous, and uncaring, and this might come from all of my years growing up in Denver. I know many people think of this city as an up and coming one that is constantly growing bringing many people from all over America to try and find a job there, but this was not always the case. Back in the 1980s, Denver was still considered a cow town by many people when they thought about the place, and there was some truth behind it. There were many places that had not been developed yet, and if you walked out of my house when I was really young, you only had to walk a block before you reached what everybody in neighborhood fondly called the field. Today, that field is non-existent, and I would have to hike a good twenty miles through city and suburbs before I came to a place that was even remotely like what I knew from my childhood. When I was growing up, Denver’s economy was based solely on oil, and when the bottom dropped out of that industry, so did the economy of Colorado. People started to move away in droves. Houses were sold way under the buying price, and I had to learn at a very early age how to say goodbye to my friends.

This education of loss continued on in my college years. I got a job at Olive Garden, and if you want to see people come and go on a regular basis, you should work in the restaurant industry. People are always looking over the other side of the fence at how green the pasture is over there. They constantly hop over the fence and take a role over there. But what they do not realize is that there is always another fence to hop over. When you work in the restaurant industry, you can stand on the rail of the fence you have found yourself on, and look out over all those pastures, and see familiar faces at all of the places. Every once in awhile, one of those familiar faces will come over and say hi to you, and you will reminisce about the times you were on the same side of the fence. It is nice to talk about the old times, but it is not the same friendship that you had when you were together. In fact, it is only a matter of time until those friendships start to fade away, and you will remember the face but eventually forget the name. It is not because you did not have good times together. It is because you have moved on in life, and you can only make the assumption that they have done the same thing, and they are now making new memories with a new group of people.

The goodbyes that people expected were always delayed in the restaurant industry because we were always expecting to see each other again. I was once again trained how not to have that moment that by this time in my life had become something that was an awkward and uncomfortable experience. It were these behaviors that I learned earlier in my life that make it difficult to say goodbye to those that I have come close to, especially when I know that those people will no longer be a central part of my life. Facebook and other social media sites have been created to take a little bit of the pain out of this bite. I can still pay attention to the major changes that are happening to many of the people I have at one time considered close friends, but seeing updates on a computer is not the same as creating those memories that made the relationship so meaningful in the first place.

Does this make me an awful individual because I never learned how to have a meaning goodbye? Some might think yes, and they would be able to make a strong case for my behavior as being selfish. And the more I think about it, they are probably right. But it is a selfishness that is rooted in the time I get to spend with those special in my life. I don’t want those moments to end; therefor, I do not wish to deliver that final goodbye. I believe by never saying it, the moment will last forever.

My students would be angry at me for making such a statement. The whole purpose of giving a goodbye is to give closure, and I am always talking to my students about how important that closure is in what they write. It is great to leave you readers wanting more, but if that is the case, the end should satisfy their audience enough to make them feel that satisfaction of flipping over that final page. This is the purpose of a heartfelt goodbye. We all have to move on in our lives, and there are times where that goodbye is necessary. If we stayed in those moments all of the time, we would never be able to grow as individuals. There is a time where we need to cut those connections off, not because we did not enjoy them, but because it is time to move on. It still does not make it any easier to do, and I will always still have a problem making it come out as meaningful as it really is in my heart, and I guess this essay is an attempt to start that process. It might take some time to reach its intended audience, and many of them might never even read this, but I do want those people to know that the experience has been great, and I have grown a lot of memories that i have gathered that I will always cherish. But there will be a time when I will need to say goodbye, and this is the start of that process. The date and time may be a long way off in the future, but it will eventually come.

Let us just consider this as my long goodbye.

The Problem with Modern Politics

A lot of Americans freak out about sports. They take one of the major sports and follow the moves of every player and every team. The find the team that they love the most, and they will live or die by how well that team performs. If their team actually wins the championship, they will walk around for the next year proudly displaying the gear that they have bought to commemorate the moment. If they have a losing season, they hide in their homes licking their wounds and praying that the next year will have a better showing. They become so devoted to their teams that sometimes they turn a blind eye to some of the team’s faults. If there is a player that is a thug and continues to have problems with the law, they turn a blind eye knowing that the player will continue to win games for them. If the team raises ticket prices, or plays games with the city so they can get them to build a new stadium, the fan will quickly forgive the owners as soon as the season starts up again. Even though there are some problems with this model, it is easily forgivable because after all it is only a sports team, and in the long run, they do not really matter the much. The problem comes with the way many people take this same approach with politics today.

The country is divided. I think that is one thing that all people can agree on. It is even evident when you look at Facebook and media outlets. They both cater to one side or the other, and as they promote their side, they look upon the other side as villians. This type of promotion is the same thing that happens with teams during the local sports casts on the nightly news. If I am sitting at my home in Denver, I do not expect the local sportscaster to talk about how great the Oakland Raiders are at this time. I want to know the details behind the Broncos’ next game and why they should destroy those black wearing bastards from California. There is a divide there, and the promotion of the rivalry adds to the fun of the event. I should not feel this same way about the politicians that are running the country. I should not feel an instant love for one of them because they play for a certain team and instantly hate the other because they do not play for the same team. I should instead maybe disagree with a policy of theirs and voice my opinion on it in order to influence the person to see some middle ground that might benefit more people. It should not be one side or the other.

But we have picked our teams, and we want those teams to win at any cost. It shouldn’t matter if what they are doing is right or wrong; it should only matter if our team is beating the other one. The teams have even gotten to the point where they have mascots, colors, and emblems that people can wear around to show which side they are on. This way if we see a person on the other side, we can talk in a low voice with our friends on the same side and make snooty statements how those people are so disgusting. We even come up with names to bring down the other side, whether it is an uneducated redneck or bleeding heart liberal. They are used just to boost up our feelings that we are cheering for the right side.
I witness this all of the time. A great example is the WalkAway Campaign that was taking place over the recent Fourth of July holiday weekend. The premise of this campaign was to have certain people tell their story about how they were no longer a bleeding heart liberal in order to become a card carrying Republican because they had finally found the error of their ways and had finally chosen the right choice. I had a friend on Facebook that kept on promoting this idea in hopes to sign up more people just to prove that he could reach a certain goal by the end of the Fourth of July. I don’t know if he was able to make it, but he spent all day writing post after post in hopes that somehow this would convince people. The sad thing is that this really had nothing to do with changing people’s minds. It was more about collecting people who had already made up their minds about how they felt about politics so they could feel like they belonged to some kind of group. Never once in his campaign to I see anything that had to do with hard policy, or explaining why the choice was a better one. It had more to do with saying that because the person chose do this, it would mean that they were not a Socialist, and the government would no longer waste money on silly policies, none of which were actually mentioned. There was a lot of name calling that was going on, and bandwagoning, but the posts were never long enough to establish anything intelligent. It felt like sitting in the home crowd stands at a sporting event and less about an intellectual discussion about what could be done about the current state of affairs.

I also saw this at a party that I went to. It was an afternoon bar-b-q and the festivities were winding down. Parents were gathering their children and sitting on the front porch getting ready to head on home. A person who had just moved into the neighborhood looked to be having what was a house warming party. He had a smoker set up at the edge of his garage billowing smoke into the banner of cheap plastic flapping American flags. Comments were made about how he was going to burn down the house until he walked out on the driveway wearing a cowboy hat, a wife beater, faded bermuda shorts, and boots. Someone one the patio shook their head and said, “Oh that explains everything. It is sad that this neighborhood is being taken over by the rednecks.” It was an automatic assumption that had nothing to do with the person and who he might have been. It was just based upon the clothes he was wearing and the stereotypes that we associate with somebody that dresses that way. It was easier for the people to sit among the people who were like minded on their porch and talk about the person instead of walking across the street in a neighborly way, introduce themselves to this new member of the community, and get to know them a little bit. It would just be like me walking down the street and seeing somebody wearing an Oakland Raiders hat and instantly feeling hatred run through my veins because they made the Broncos look so silly during their last game. I would never sit down with this person and have a beer with them because they obviously picked the wrong team to cheer for. It would be easier to find those who are wearing orange and talk about how much we hate the silver and black.

I know that there are people from both sides of the aisle that look at both of these stories, and when they look at the one about the other side they feel disgust that a group of people could act this way, and that justifies them and the team that they root for. They will say that they know exactly what this says about the other side, and that they are in the right. But in reality, they should look at both sides in disgust because this behavior is awful. This is the type of behavior that takes place at football games and causes fans to throw D-sized batteries at people who are cheering for the opposing team, or for fights to erupt over the silliest things like what color shirt a person wears at a certain time. The way this country is run should not be about whether the person waves a flag with a snake on it, or whether they have a degree from a certain university hanging from their office wall. It should be about a careful considerations of the issues that the country is facing and having civil and intellectual discussion about what we can do to solve that problem instead of standing by some silly ideology that slowly tears the country apart.

This ideology has spread beyond the two parties involved, and has seeped into the issues that they should be trying to solve at this time. It is no longer about what we can do to solve the problem and trying out various things until we are able to come to a solution that actually makes the country a better place to live. Instead, we stand by the platform of our parties and yell and scream that what we want done is the right thing to do. When the screaming and shouting has finally quieted down nothing has been done to solve the problem and it continues to get worse.

A great example of this is what is going on with gun violence right now. It is obvious that there is a problem with an increase in gun violence in America right now. It is not only happening in our schools, but it seems to be happening everywhere. The death rate by the use of guns is higher in this country than any other place in the world. I do not think that anybody can deny that it is problem.
But the real issue is the solution to the problem. Both sides have come up with solutions that are so extreme that they really not a solution to the problem. One side has stirred up a whirlwind of fear while they other has tried to maintain that same level of fear. Everybody that has investment in the issue is so afraid that something terrible will happen that they have moved to an area that no longer makes sense. Study after study shows that adding more guns into a community only increases gun violence. Giving teacher guns is an absurd idea. Most teachers do not want to own a gun or have one in the classroom. It should not be a part of their job to protect their students in this kind of fashion, and in an industry that it already strapped for cash, this is not the best way to spend that money. Also, everybody can think back to their high school days and think about that one kid that if they found out that there was a gun in the classroom, they would try to find a way for getting it for themselves. And I don’t want to even think about the teacher that will eventually lose it and come to the realization that they could use the gun to maintain the discipline of their classroom. This is not a good solution, but many people have jumped on this proposal because this is the one that is promoted by their party as being reasonable.

The other idea of taking away all of the guns is also absurd. This is a hobby for many people, and they should have the right to responsibly participate in it. If they want to go hunting with a rifle they should be allowed to. If they want to take on target practice at the shooting range, then that place should open to them. Also if we took away everybody’s gun, would everybody be willing to give up their guns, and how would that change the power dynamic in this country? Would the people who want to be responsible with this power be turned into a victim that they unfairly asked to be?

There needs to be a solution to the problem though, both sides would agree with this. But they are both so adamant that their solution that the extreme that their side tells them to believe is the only way that they can think about the issue. Neither side is willing to budge because if they do then it will mean that they are not buying into the ideology of their side, and because of this neither side is willing to compromise to come up with a better solution to the problem. This way the problem persists and in some cases event gets worse because we are not willing to put the ideology aside and look for something that makes sense and makes all sides happy.

This also means that both sides need to give a little bit to make sure that the solution happens. But both sides of lived so long with their fallacies in logic that they believe that if they give in a little bit, the lies they have been telling people come true. The greatest fallacy that is told is the slippery slope fallacy. There are many of our politicians that believe that they can predict the future. They believe that if they give in just a little bit then it means that they are going to eventually have to give in all of the way. But this goes against the logic of compromise. Both sides need to make concessions in order for a compromise to work, but in order for the concessions to made in the first place there has to be some logic behind them that allow the solution to the problem to be able to present itself. Once the solution has been put into action, then they can sit back and see if it works.
This is what is going on with the current gun laws. They are obviously not working even though there has not been many school shootings in awhile, but that might be because the stress of school has not gotten to the students yet and has caused them to want to do harm to other kids that they see on a daily basis, but nothing has changed about the way we do things, and the violence is going to return before the end of the school year. Statistics show that it is going to continue to rise until something is done, and just turning a blind eye to the problem and hoping that it will solve itself is not a reasonable solution to the problem. New laws need to be made that make the majority from both parties happy, and not just one over the other. Then while those same lawmakers sit back and see if gun violence has gone down because of the changes then we can be happy that we are moving in the right direction. If on the other hand, the violence stays the same or even gets worse, then those lawmakers need to get back together and work towards a new compromise to see if they can bring about the change that needs to happen.

Right now, that compromise is not happening. The lawmakers sit at their desks at work next to their ideologies and refuse to do anything. They know that if they can pull out that ideology around every election then it no longer matters if they did anything or not because the ideology is what keeps them in office. And the ideology is getting even easier and easier to wave around because it is no longer about presenting an idea that is for the greater good of society, but is instead just a direct opposition of the other side. It is easier to say no to something than it is to come up to a real solution to something, and for some reason the voters are enamored by the No so much that they no longer look for the solution. The No comes in many different shapes and sizes. The No is a negative ad campaign that everybody complains about but still listens to. The No is the quick witty one liner that the politician comes up with during a debate that everybody is so excited to repeat. The No is a nickname that the opposition gives to their opponent so that everybody can think that is who that person actually is. Every time there is an election in this country there is so much hatred being thrown around that by the time the election is over we have a hard time thinking that our society can be run in any other fashion.

If you don’t believe that Americans are not negative people just turn on the news from either side and don’t look for the stories that are being presented but see if you can find how they are trying to put somebody down. If you have chosen the news that caters to the opposition of what you normally lean to in order for you to feel as if this justifies your opinion that they are nothing more than propaganda, then turn on the propaganda you normally watch to see that they really are no different. If you watched your favorite form of media first, then look at the other side to see that they are no different.

This is the key to understanding the current problem with the United States. The side you have chosen is not the good side. I can say this with absolute clarity because it doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. This constant bickering between both of these sides is what is tearing this country apart. Both sides claim that they are completely different, but there is not much difference between either of them. They both hold on to their ideology while claiming that the other side is devil incarnate. Because of this their fighting is the thing that become the most important to all the people who glue themselves to their televisions and newspapers so they can see the latest development in this real life drama. It no longer becomes about making sure that the United States solves the problems that it is going through. It is now about which side can shout the loudest and stand by their absurdity the longest. It needs to end. The ones we vote into office need to get back to governing and we need to hold those people accountable without worrying too much about which side they are coming from. So in this upcoming election, if you see that there are ones who are begging for your vote that hold on to these principles that are slowly destroying America, you can not let them have your vote. It should not be about which party they represent because if we wish to have party politics go the way of the dodo then we have to stop following it ourselves. If that means voting for the side that you don’t normally vote for because that candidate is the better man who will actually accomplish something, then you should vote for them. You could take it even further by voting for a candidate from a third party that does not prescribe to a certain ideology, but instead will look towards fixing the problems facing the United States today. Nothing would scare the current lawmakers right now than to show them that the rest of America no longer buys into their silly ideology by electing a bunch of third party candidates that have nothing to do with their dumacity.

The only way that we can stop the thing that is tearing apart the United States is to stand above it, and do the thing that makes us, as a society, different than any other place in the world, think for ourselves. We need to think more when it comes to politics because it is reason and logic that will help solve the problems of the country, not passion that is spurred by ideological rhetoric. Passion is a great thing if it is associated with sports and wanting your favorite team to win the biggest prize, but that is not how we should make decisions that affect millions of people. It shouldn’t be about fighting for the right team. It should be about fighting for the right thing to do, no matter which team the person carrying that idea comes from. We need to stop fighting for a political side, and start hiring the people that will go in there and get the job done that needs to be done. Only then can the United States reach the greatest it claims to have.

These issue are further illustrated in Tag A Cautionary Tale, now available at Amazon.com.