"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

an important mystery has been solved!!!

over a month ago, i posted this tweet:

the foot in question greatly disturbed me, to an alarming degree; it created in me some nagging, paranoid fear of an expanding unknown natural world, a cruel, heartless world in which creepy-looking, unidentifiable feet are violently severed from their bodies and horrifically displayed in my work parking lot.

here is a crappy photo of a crappy cell phone photo of the aforementioned foot (i haven't figured out how to download photos off my cell yet, sorry). the poor quality of the photo greatly dilutes the creepiness of the foot; you cannot see, for instance, the bleached bone protruding from the scaly green flesh, the torn tendons, the little curvy nails, sharp and pointy at the ends of the toe pads. 

but, just as i'd forgotten about the foot, Ben and i went to Golden Gate Park and spent an afternoon hiking and walking around Stow Lake. there, by the water, to my great surprise, disgust and horror, i saw the feet again, this time walking towards me!

all around us, these strange birds i had never before seen. they were a weird cross between a chicken, a duck, and a lizard. they had small, fat black bodies, with weak-looking wings, white beaks, red eyes. and those feet! they looked like a strange chimera of chicken and an iguana. and they enjoyed coming close to us! we'd never seen birds like these before, and we were terrified.

well, tonight, i learned what they are! i found this book online, The Birds of Golden Gate Park, by Mailliard:

i had to look pretty hard, but finally, towards the end of the water fowl section, this description:

"Can be confused with no other Park bird"
"feet lobed, greenish"

yep, that's the bird! what we saw was a Coot, or mud-hen. also, that solves the mystery of the foot i saw in the parking lot of my work... but not how it got there. my guess, after watching the seagulls get hostile with the coots, is that maybe a seagull attacked one, ripped off its foot, and then carried the foot, in its beak, further inland, dropping it in the parking lot near my car. *shudders* nature can be strange.

further question: is this where the phrase "ya old coot!" comes from?

i mean, really, can anyone look at this and honestly tell me they are not creeped out!!?
aaaggggghhh the toes!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday is a disturbing reflection on our society, yes, but have you seen the Justin Bieber fragrance ads?

i hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (and for those who don't celebrate, i hope you had a peaceful Day of Mourning). i am personally extremely thankful for my family and friends and my physical health and well-being and clarity of mind. i'm especially grateful for the latter, as the day of giving thanks quickly gives way to the day of rabidly consuming everything in our paths.

Black Friday, truth be told, scares me shitless. never do i have less understanding or compassion for humanity than when i think of hoards of people trampling and ambushing each other in the malls for the sake of bargains and/or sport. it really is terrifying.

when people decide to camp out in a public square or park in the name of democracy, choose to care for each other, educate one another, engage in dialog, and live cooperatively, it is deemed a "health and/or safety hazard" and immediately pepper-sprayed or dismantled or demonized. but, when people choose to forgo family dinner to camp out in front of big box superstores the night before things go on mega sale, it's understandable? that makes no sense to me whatsoever.

on to other salient points: have any of you seen the Justin Bieber fragrance ads? i saw one for the first time a few months ago, when i was shopping for sweaters at the mall. 
what i simultaneously love and am repulsed by, is the oh-so transparent marketing scheme. the fragrance, obviously marketed to young teenage/tween-age girls of Bieber Nation, is being sold by the eponymous little pop tart Justin Bieber, who will make mega, un-godly bucks this holiday season peddling and inflicting this sugary sweet hormone juice on our unsuspecting populace.

what i love/hate about it is that there's no smidgen of pretense: Justin Bieber and his handlers/marketing machine know where the money is. of course they're not going to bother making a fragrance or aftershave for mini-dudes. the mondo money is with the itty-bitty ladies. so, of course, when i saw this ad for the first time at the mall, my initial thought was "hm, how weird, Justin Bieber made a fragrance for girls?" but of course he did!

and not only will it sell, it will sell like hot cakes (hot cakes with Justin Bieber's face on them, that then want to fuck you! those kinds of hot cakes!) because this is the precise thought process that goes into buying a bottle of Bieber's lady scent (so hilariously packaged in a bright pink blossoming flower):
it is not, as it would be with other celebrities who have fragrances (see: Britney, Gwen Stefani, J.Lo) "i want to smell like Bieber."
it is, "this is what i want to smell like if i want to be fucked by Bieber."*

and that is why i feel particularly depressed on this eve of Black Friday.

*additional thoughts: does the perfume actually smell like Bieber? does the perfume ostensibly attract Bieber to its wearer because he likes the smell of himself? or because it's the smell of money? 

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11 11:11:11

so, did you do it?

luckily here at work, my desk phone clock, my computer, and my cell phone were all set a minute apart, so i got three consecutive shots at 11:11. i closed my eyes and gave thought to every single member of my family, thinking about the last time i saw them and what i will make sure to do the next time i see them again (give them long, powerful hugs, make sure to hold their hand and tell them how much i love them). for some reason, a lot of my thoughts turned to food - the last time i went hiking with my Uncle Donald and how he and his wife packed sandwiches for us on the hike and how sweet a gesture that was, thought about the last time i went to my grandma's house and my aunt Su Yuan made soup for everyone, and how i had a migraine that day and couldn't enjoy it as much as i wish i could have because it would have made her so happy, and i thought about the last time i went home for the holidays and visited my dad at his office one day and he offered me a little grape juice box from his office fridge, the way he's always done since i was a little kid.

and i thought about the warmth of a hug, how good it feels to hold someone you love close to you, and how every one of my family members' hands feels in my hand - my mom's hand is fat and soft and warm and strong, and my dad's is rough and dry but also somehow gentle and comforting, and my dad's mom's hands are papery white and wrinkled in delicate folds like tissue paper from a gift, and my mom's mom's hands are so much like my mom's that they are virtually hand twins, that i just know mine will be like that too one day.

and then i thought about Cal, my brother, and how i hope he's happy and i wonder what he's doing right now, and how when we were kids i did so much for him - i used to get all the other kids on the playground to help me plan a birthday party at recess for him, because his birthday was always during the school year and he was always jealous that mine was right after Christmas and everyone was home for my birthday. now that we're adults it's hard to be a big sister to him sometimes, but i'm going to go home this year and do something nice for him.

and finally i thought about myself. i've been really sad and negative lately, so i tried to imagine myself the way i used to be, the way i want to be, which is smiling, laughing, happy, face lit up with so many great ideas and a joy for life. if i can think it, maybe i can be it.

so in this magical minute that stretched into three, i counted my blessings, thought about my family and friends who are so far away, thought about the good things i've done and the good things still left in me to do. i thought about this moment, this small moment in the entire geological timeline of the earth's existence. i thought about time and how it's a construct and really has no meaning. but this moment, alive and awake in it as i was, was a gift, a fleeting gift i will never get back, so how can i spend it in the best possible way? who are all the people i want to imagine in this moment with me, even though they aren't here?

a minute (or two) of magical thinking

people who are close to me know that i am not religious and i'm maybe not even that spiritual, but dammit, do i believe in numerology*!

that's why tomorrow, 11/11/11, for the one minute of 11:11, i will concentrate all my energy into thinking just positive, well-intentioned, powerful, hopeful and generous thoughts. it's harder than it sounds. but for that one minute, i'll do it, and hope that you'll join me, and maybe magical and wonderful things will result (you've just spent a whole minute intentionally using your brain to generate positive vibes – that in itself is a good thing). you've got two shots at this (if you don't abide by the military way of telling time), so make them count**! 2 whole minutes of extraordinary positive energy being sent out into the universe by a bunch of people at once!

let's make brainwaves!

*in elementary school, probably for at least a solid year, if not more, i would make a wish/positive intention every day at 3:33 pm, and 12:34 if i caught it. seriously, a whole year. it was a year of magical thinking.

**seriously, i've already set my alarm for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

learning a practice of love

when i was a teacher in Los Angeles, i had lots of students who were maladjusted to being at school, an environment that necessitated, sometimes forced, their interaction with a diversity of people, an environment that challenged them to try new things EVERY DAY, while possibly sitting next to someone they couldn't get along with, or even got along with too well. i learned more about human nature in my two years of teaching than i have learned my entire life.

one invaluable thing i learned was that everyone, from the teacher's pet to the disaster student who wreaks havoc on your classroom, is just seeking some validation. everyone needs solace in some redemptive quality in themselves. oftentimes, because we're too insecure and damaged from a history of neglect and emotional abuse. children are especially sensitive to every event in their lives, because these events are closer to the surface of memory, and because children use each moment to learn and adapt and adjust.  

the moment that changed my pedagogy life was when i did a functional behavior analysis (FBA) in my first year of teaching, as part of a grad school project. the FBA is basically a glorified checklist that you use to observe a student's behavior in an attempt to understand the purpose, indeed, the meaning, behind the behaviors. for my project, i chose my student Marvin, who had a range of bizarre behaviors that seemed to come out at random: he would frequently come disruptively late to class, get out of his seat and come to the front of the class to stand near me and mock my lessons, he would throw pencils at other students, he would sit at his desk with both fists in his mouth and his eyelids turned up in grotesque self-amusement, he would bark like a dog and scream and bang on his desk and stomp his feet and laugh maniacally at the hell he was raising. frequently, his behaviors were so disturbing i would react more out of fear than frustration. so, i followed him around one day, went to all his classes, armed with my FBA chart, on which i listed all his behaviors, and made checkmarks by them each time i saw them occur, and in what setting or following what types of stimulation. at the end of my observation, i was horrified to discover he only behaved this way in my class.

but after looking at my notes, i began to detect a pattern. Marvin had one of the lowest reading levels of any student i had in any of my special ed classes - he was barely above a kindergarten reading level despite being in the 6th grade. in all of his English classes, i noticed him being suspiciously quiet, almost unnoticeable. he only occasionally tapped a peer on the shoulder, or ripped at the edges of a textbook, but all while the teacher was turned around. Marvin was trying to avoid being noticed in the classes that would require reading, something he was bad at, insecure about, and ashamed to be exposed for. Marvin was, however, strong in math. in fact, he was one of the strongest in my special ed class. he was quick, usually accurate, and excited. he was almost always the first one done, the first to raise his hand, and then the first to freak out if i didn't call on him (which i tried not to do ALL the time, in order to give other students a chance). i then considered my math class, and the way i usually conducted them - short group teaching, individual practice, followed by a review of answers and more practice*. it became painfully clear to me that Marvin's disturbing behaviors were not completely his fault, he was trying, in the only way he knew how, to get my attention for something - maybe the one thing - he did right and was proud of.

the reason this changed my life, you see, is because it revealed a fallacy of an unexamined assumption. we're told, or assume, that people who act unreasonably or irrationally are just weird and/or crazy, and should be ignored (at best), shunned, or reprimanded. never are we told to reach out to these people, to embrace them, and try to understand them. when i realized that Marvin was just seeking my attention for something he felt proud of (granted, in the worst ways imaginable), all i had to do was give him a little bit of my time every day to listen to him, applaud his accomplishments, and give him validation in an otherwise unforgiving and indifferent world. it was so simple, and yet, so revolutionary, because it goes against everything else we're told in our culture.

what we have to understand is that people behave in strange ways all the time. sometimes words are not enough to give voice to deeper longings, or are too hard to say. sometimes you give someone a gift, because you don't know how else to say you're sorry. or you reach out to touch someone's hand, just to let them know you're so happy they're alive. our culture can be so isolating that we forget how to talk to one another, and when we make efforts to reach out to another human being, it feels revolutionary.

learning to see through Marvin's destructive behaviors and understand what he was trying to say by them, helped me move away from blame-placing, to a more compassionate, understanding, and forgiving approach to my interactions with others. it's not always easy to practice, heck, it's not always easy to remember, but trying to hold in my head and heart the conviction that all people are, like me, struggling to be loved and make meaning out of their lives, and the least i/you/we can do to make a difference is to love a little back.

The toughest thing is to love somebody who has done something mean to you — especially when that somebody is yourself. Look inside yourself and find that loving part of you. Take good care of that part because it helps you love your neighbor. --Fred Rogers

*the lecture-style, banking model of teaching is an obvious first-year teaching mistake. the problem is it's so common and assumed that even this critical pedagog was fooled into thinking it would work! in my second year, i greatly improved my pedagogy by adopting a student-centered, rather than teacher-centered, method of instruction. i still gave mini-lectures, but incorporated multiple manners of student engagement and participation, even though my mini-lectures were only about 10 minutes long. i worked my butt off trying out activities, and inventing new ones, and the best idea i ever had: allowing students to work cooperatively to solve problems together. wow, what a difference a year of mistakes makes! in my second year, all my students were OVERJOYED to come to class, i never had anyone be late, and my second-year Marvin, a girl who was, of course, named Angel and had a predilection for animal print hoodies, never derailed my class (despite running around the room stomping her feet and clawing the desks and grunting) because my other students were enthralled with my lessons, loved what they were learning, and didn't want to stop. the best part of this story is that the culture of learning and positivity in my class was so strong that Angel eventually realized the best way for her to get attention in class was to do well in class. i succeeded in turning her around bit by bit, but issues Angel had in another class caused her to get expelled from school.

free falling

I opened my laptop this morning to check the weather, and this is what I saw.
I fell asleep watching the documentary Transcendent Man, about Raymond Kurzweil. I highly recommend it, fascinating and alternately dark and hopeful. Funnily, I was watching it last night because after watching two episodes of Breaking Bad, Season 4 back-to-back, I was too scared to sleep. Somehow, dystopian robot futures were calming after watching normal humans break down into remorseless criminals.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

a scientific inquiry into the varying experience of sunsets over time

Some data:
The sunset time for Fremont, CA (94538) for today, Wednesday Nov. 9, 2011, is 5:01 pm PST.
The sunset time for Los Angeles, CA (90034) is 4:53 pm PST.
The sunset time for Syracuse, NY (13203) is 4:46 pm EST.
The sun sets in Oxford, OH (45056) at 5:28 pm EST.
In Lexington, KY (40512), the sun sets at 5:31 pm EST.
And in Miami, FL (33101), it's 5:34 pm EST.

I'm sure there's a scientific explanation for the variance, like the earth's tilt on its axis and the rotation in relation to the sun, but I'm going to leave it to more scientifically-inclined minds than mine to furnish those reasons. (Did you see how I gave zip codes instead of latitudes and longitudes, which would have proved infinitely more useful in answering this question? Although I did try to arrange those cities in order from North to South.)

All I know is, it gets dark disgustingly early now, and I was correct in thinking that, when growing up in the Midwest, the falls were never so dark, nor the days so short (and unfulfilled) as they are on the west coast. It was not just nostalgia playing a dirty mind trick on me.