Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Lesson Learned from the Ant

I'm the kind of person who looks at things, events, and other notables, then wonder how it applies to myself. Selfish? Perhaps. But I'm, also, the person actively looking for the lessons in life. 
While helping my students figure out what they are going to place on their vision boards, I flipped a page in a magazine and was drawn to the picture of an ant. There was nothing overtly special about the picture; it was that of a small red ant and I believe there was a phrase below it that read something like this, "To be big, start small" or something like that. I don't remember exactly.
Now the way I teach the students to go on their vision board picture hunt is to cut out anything that touches them in any way, don't think about it, just cut it out. So I quickly extracted this picture of the ant for my demonstration and explained why.
Have you ever watched an ant? I mean, really watched an ant? This tiny, fragile, and, seemingly, expendable creature is actually quite fascinating. One day, I came across an ant struggling up a wall with something for the colony in its grasp. Some mysterious force of wind (me) came and knocked it off the wall, causing the ant to drop its goods. 

Did the ant scurry away, scared of being blindsided by an obstacle? No. It simply picked back up it's package and proceeded to crawl up the wall again. And again, the mysterious force of wind (me) blew it back down. And the ant picked up its package and struggled back up the wall again. And yet again, the wind blew and the ant returned. The next time I blew it down, the ant paused, appeared to consider its situation, wiggled its antennae and, within seconds, a couple of ants showed up and the three of them moved up the wall with their food. I, magnanimously, let them go and put them out of my mind. 

Then, years later, there I was holding up this picture of the ant before my students when that story returned to me as well as the significance behind the moment. The ant demonstrated tenacity, fortitude, persistence, strength, purpose, and, well, faith. No matter that the ant was knocked down time and time again, time and time again the ant rose back up, holding on to its dream food, determined to bring it to its realization destination. Even when all seemed hopeless, the ant called in back up and along came help. 

Something as small as that ant taught me a big lesson-- one I am still trying to learn. This year has been the year of knockdowns. That mysterious force of wind has blown me down over and over again and, emotionally, beat me up. Staying down is so tempting because, if I never get back up, I don't have to feel the hurt of falling down but I've got to be like the ant; I've got to believe in what I'm doing and where I'm going. And, eventually, I will get there. 


Proverbs 6:

6Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
7Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
8Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
9How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

Proverbs 30:
24There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
25The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
26The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
27The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
28The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Caine's ARCaDE: A Inspirational Tale of Imagination

While doing my normal job of doing nothing but reading articles online for hours on end (great way to live life, eh), I came across a story of a 9-year old boy, Caine, who fashioned himself a functional arcade almost entirely out of cardboard. That's not the most interesting part, though, it is quite a feat. The part that really interests me is that this kid created something he believed in; he worked at it every day for the entire summer, perfecting his "machines", pouring his heart into what brings him joy. 

I love his imagination, persistence, and positivity. It's inspirational. I also love that the filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick, who happened across this little boy's establishment, created this film and, in turn, generated over $150,000 to pay for this boy's future education (video of the cardboard check being presented can be seen here). It is also no small thing that his father supported Caine's endeavor, even thought he did not 100% believe his son would have customers. Big kudos to his dad for that because, oftentimes, parents are the first wrecking balls of dreams. 

After reading about this young man's story, watching the film (see below), then reading a comment posted on the Caine's Arcade Facebook page, I realized the problem with my life. The commenter asked, "How come people having the most fun also have the most success." It was such a duh moment. I'm not having fun, therefore...Therefore, I am in need of a lifestyle revamp. But how to change my life? How to have fun on an extremely tight budget? Where can I find enough cardboard? 



This was posted on the Facebook page: 
"BIG NEWS: To help us help more kids like Caine, the Goldhirsh Foundation is matching donations to Caine's Scholarship Fund dollar-for-dollar (up to $250,000) to help us incubate the "Caine's Arcade Foundation" - which will help find, fund, and foster creativity and entrepreneurship in young kids. 

For this reason, we have raised the goal of Caine's Scholarship Fund from $100,000 to $250,000. Every dollar you give to Caine's education will now help us to help even more kids. #winwin #teamcaine

And we feel proud, and so should you!" 

So if you want to donate, click on over to Help other kids foster their imagination. 

Imagination is more important than knowledge.


Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities.
L. FRANK BAUM, intro, The Lost Princess of Oz

We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
J. K. ROWLING, speech to Harvard Alumni Association, 2008

What is now proved was once only imagined.
WILLIAM BLAKE, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

If you want more quotes on imagination, go here

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Difference Education Makes

A few minutes ago, I was drafting an entry for a teacher contest on an education website. The contest entry was to "to share how education has influenced your life, either through your own experience or through the difference you made in a child's life."

Here is what I wrote:

In 4th grade, our school counselor, Dr. White, visited for Career Day. She told us a little bit about what she did as a school counselor then opened the floor for questions. My hand shot up into the air: "If you don't work in a hospital, why do we call you ‘doctor’"?

Dr. White smiled, "It's because I went to school and studied for a long time. You can do that, too, then everyone will call you doctor." I liked the sound of that and told her I would do the same. "Promise," she asked. I nodded. Later, I looked up what it would take to get my doctorate degree.

Little did I know, Dr. White had saved my life; I had no inkling of the kinds of dips life could take, that, over the next seven years, I'd survive a molestation, a turbulent mother-daughter relationship, a botched suicide attempt, a rape and the resulting pregnancy.

Even given those circumstances, I always had in my head the promise I made at the age of nine. It gave me the drive to push through the dark times, to keep moving forward even when my knees threatened to buckle under the burden of my problems. Because of that promise, I not only graduated from high school with one child, I, also, became the first woman in my family to graduate from college. 

I still haven't achieved fulfillment of that promise but I am working towards it. In the meantime, after, somewhat, unwillingly beoming a teacher myself, I use my position in my students lives to be their encouragement, to give them hope, to be that beacon in the darkness that often surrounds the adolescent years. Just last week, I had an ex-student on Facebook that I was the first person to let him know that college was a possibility for him. It was then that I truly realized what a blessing it is that we are in one of the most influential positions to be so positive and so encouraging to so many young people. That makes the constant struggle against the government and its ridiculous policies worth it. We are the difference is so many people's lives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quite a Quote

Happiness (Alfred D. Souza)

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time … and remember that time waits for no one…

So stop waiting
until you finish school,
until you go back to school,
until you lose ten pounds,
until you gain ten pounds,
until you have kids,
until your kids leave the house,
until you start work,
until you retire,
until you get married,
until you get divorced,
until Friday night,
until Sunday morning,
until you get a new car or home,
until your car or home is paid off,
until spring,
until summer,
until fall,
until winter,
until you are off welfare,
until the first or fifteenth,
until your song comes on,
until you've had a drink,
until you've sobered up,
until you die,
until you are born again
to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy…
Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

"The world lies in the hands of those that have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams - each according to his or her own talent."
— Paulo Coelho

"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
— Paulo Coelho

Biographically Me

Sooo...I've been writing. Well, not recently. But here's an excerpt from an autobiography I was working on.

            For years I thought of running away and consoled myself by writing letters to the father that was never there for me.  I painted him into this shining knight that was going to one day just come and make me his princess and just shower me with love, love, and more love.  He was going to erase everything bad in my life and I would get to live out my dream of being wanted.  I grew to realize just how much of a fairytale I’d created- but I never consciously considered suicide.  Until the day in which I dashed about my aunt’s home scrounging for anything and everything that would make me sleep away the pain that Band-Aids could never fix.  It was another day of exile.  So when I got back to my grandparents’ house, I continued hunting around for potent medication to swallow along with the small treasure of sleeping pills I’d unearthed at my aunt’s.
            My younger cousin noticed what I was doing and managed to wrestle the Tylenol IIIs with codeine that I had taken from my grandmother’s supply.  He flushed them down the toilet with a triumphant smile on his face and I pretended to be upset.  When I was alone I quite simply took more from the bottle in the cabinet.  The phone rang.  It was my mother.  As I listened to more of the same- stern unforgiving words, expressions of disappointment, and appeals for me to change- I’d made up my mind.  Any doubts that remained about what I had planned to do evaporated.  After hanging up the phone, I filled a glass with water and swallowed handfuls of the pills I’d pilfered.  Not exactly sure of how dying would feel and not wanting to experience any of its physical pain, I went into the room I’d become familiar with over the past few years and laid me down to sleep.
The next morning I woke up in a state of disbelief.  The sun was shining.  The early morning birds were singing their morning song.  And I was up in time to get ready for school.  It seemed like a joke all too cruel.  I felt absolutely normal considering the dangerous cocktail I’d ingested only hours before.  I know that I should have been grateful- I certainly am most thankful now, but at the time I was furious.  I had prepared myself to die and that death had been stolen from me.  I was condemned to serve a sentence of life.
            No one but my cousin ever knew what happened that night.  For the next month I just existed.  My mother, finally at her wit’s end with me, took me to see a family therapist.  The therapist asked several questions which I answered honestly in a wish-I-wasn’t-here type of voice.  It was some time before she asked me if I’d ever tried to commit suicide.  I paused over the answer because the truth of the matter was that I did commit suicide.  The sleeping pills were about a month past their expiration date but the number of Tylenol IIIs alone should have been enough.  Resigned, I answered her question in the affirmative.  Diagnosis:  major depression.  Recommendation:  hospitalization and Prozac.  Great.  Just great.
            From there my life just seemed to snowball.  First it was the unexplained failed suicide.  Then the hospitalization with the crew from the Young and the Hopeless. Next came the rape.  Followed by the phone call confirming the pregnancy resulting from that rape. Add to that a family who looked down on me once they found out about the pregnancy.  Then top it off with the fact that I was still in almost daily conflict with my mother.  All this within 4 months at the tender age of sixteen.  And, thanks to the Prozac, I couldn’t feel a thing.

About Time

Today, George Zimmerman has been charged with 2nd degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Today, George Zimmerman has turned himself in. Today doesn't feel like a victory. A child is dead and the justice system may as well as killed him. It is a justice system that allows regular citizens to wield guns in their cars as if all people on Earth are certifiably sane. It is easier to get a gun than it is to (legally) get a driver's license. It is, also, a justice system that allows people to say they feel threatened even when they, themselves, are the threat; even when they, themselves, stalk a young man (too tall to be called a boy, I suppose) with a car; even when they, themselves, disobey the police; even when they, themselves, get out of their car with a gun; and I repeat, even when they, themselves, are the threat.

A man, slowly following you through a neighborhood, at night, gets out of his car with a gun. What would you do? Adrenaline tells us to fight or flight. Trayvon, a human being in the eyes of the law, of God, did what anyone might have thought to do-- defend himself. So even if Trayvon did reach for the gun, as Zimmerman says, that would mean it was visible and out in the open. Everyone knows that if you have a gun out in the open, you better know how to use it. Trayvon, from Miami, would know that rule. Trayvon, from Miami Gardens, would know the real danger a gun poses.

Given the grasping straws that we call facts in this case, it only made sense to, at least, arrest the guy. And, today, we finally have that arrest but the police didn't do it; Zimmerman did it himself. So, no, it doesn't feel like justice has been served. All I feel is that now I can stop holding my breath only to drag in oxygen before clamming up again because I don't think, given the shoddy work of the Sanford police, that Zimmerman will get that conviction-- not of 2nd degree murder.

And, should he get released, it's guaranteed that all hell is going to break loose.


Monday, April 9, 2012

C.R.A.S.S.: Child Sexual Abuse

Children Really Aren't Sex Symbols

I guess the only way to talk about this subject is to simply begin talking about it. That in itself would be doing more than is normally done. So let's talk about it and by 'it' I mean sexual abuse, more specially child sex abuse. This type of abuse begins either before you form a sexual identity or while you're in the midst of sexual formation. This type of abuse rocks your mind, tilting it from its innocent rotation into an everlasting balancing act, teetering on the fine-wire separating normal from the not-quite and definitely not. This type of abuse not only perverted my childhood but, also, robbed me of my youth.

My fingers hover over the keys as I ponder how much to reveal, how much to say about what happened to me and how I, in turn, ended up. This is my blog, yes, but it's far from being an anonymous one. My face is on some of my videos. My students stalk me. My children may one day find this. And that last reason is all the more reason not to stay silent. Because silence kills. Silence destroys the soul; it eats at the mind driving a person to drink or to snort or to dive off buildings seeking a high, an alternative that would make all the memories temporarily suspend in time, almost as if to disintegrate along the trail of yesterday.

My high was sex. It always comes back to that. Sex. That's where it started. Sex.

My uncle's girlfriend's son was slightly older than my approximate age of 7 (maybe 8) and was always leading me into a game of house, a game that would result in his hands on my body, his lips on my lips, his spit filling up my mouth (your look of repulsion would hardly match the one plastered to my face as I type this). He was so light-skinned, my child's mind considered him white and conjectured that all white men must kiss nasty. One day, he thought to take the game of house all the way to the next level. I don't remember what I was thinking; I only remember that I was flat on my back and he was over me, poised to enter, when my uncle opened the door. I remember my uncle freezing as he took in the scene. I remember getting up off the floor. I remember nothing from that point forward but I'm pretty sure that what transpired between my uncle and this "cousin" had to be labeled child abuse.

I never told anyone about that, not until a relative of mine and I were one day talking and she told me what she, herself, experienced at our "cousin's" hand. She'd never told anyone either but she displayed some of the classic symptoms and still kinda does to this day, as do I, as well as a whole host of other people, including celebrities.

There are dozens upon dozens of celebrities who have been singed, burned, or consumed by their history as a victim of sexual abuse. Below are a short list of celebrities and prominent people who have come out in the news about this skeleton in the closet. Each highlighted name links to their respective news story.

Teri Hatcher, actor, abused by her uncle.
Sugar Ray Leonard, boxer, abused by his coach at 15.
Todd Bridges, actor, abused by a family friend.
Roseanne Bar, comedienne, abused by her father-- among other things.
Mickey Mantle, baseball player, abused by his half-sister and a number of other people, female and male.
Carlos Santana, musician, abused at 10.
Senator Scott Brown, politician, abused by a camp counselor.
Mary J. Blige, singer, abused by a family friend at 5.
Rhonda Begos, Milwaukee Bucks's House Band singer, abused at 10.
Chester Bennington, Linkin Park singer, abused as a youth by an older man.
Vanessa Williams, actor/singer, abused at 10 by an older female.
Tyler Perry, director, abused at 5/6 by an adult male neighbor and, later, other men and a woman.
Mo'Nique and her brother (who's also her abuser), actor/comedienne, age 7.
Bai Ling, actor, abused as a teen by Chinese army officers.
Laveraneus Coles, NFL player, abused by his step-father.
Tori Amos, singer and founder of RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network), raped at knife-pointed by a repeat offender and murderer.

Oprah, a victim/survivor herself (raped by a relative at 9), brought over 200 men, who had been sexually abused as children, together for a show one November and here are a few stories from those men. You can also watch the full show here on her website.

And it's not just happening here in America; it's happening across the pond too as pointed out by this article in the Huffington Post UK.

Child's Revealed Abuse Symptoms & Signs

One day, last week, I was looking at a few clips on ABC's The Revolution (a life-changing show with a weight-loss component to it, a show I had been in the serious running for back in November 2011-- alas, I was sent home before boot camp. Sad face) when I came upon the clip below. This clip features Casey Jordan, a criminologist, going over some of the signs to watch for in a child who has been abused. One particular phrase stood out: "...gaining a lot of weight and trying to, especially with young women, make themselves as unattractive as possible, baggy clothes, invisible, they want to disappear, they don't want anyone to notice them or see them as somebody who could be attractive or a sexual object. That's a big clue too."

And that's just what I did after later getting raped by another "cousin" at 16; I hid behind a layer of fat, wearing baggy unflattering clothes, not caring about my hair, often leaving it unkempt. I hung out with the guys so I could be just one of the boys and not one of the girls they would wolf-whistle to. But, as I found out, the fat suit didn't detract my suitors, it only encouraged them to seek me out for clandestine meetings. I went from being a sex object to a sex secret. And I allowed it to happen. I gave in to what I thought was inevitable. I couldn't disappear; they still saw me. So what I created as protection became my prison; my fat suit only made me invisible during the day and all-the-more visible as a target during the night. So I took control-- I said who, where, and when. No longer would I be the victim. But I was still as emotionless a participant as the day my womb was pillaged and planted.

Can Remove All the Shame & Sorrow

Now, sex is just the way I coped with the fallout from my sexual victimization. Other people cope in many different ways. As you may have read in the linked celebrity stories, many of them handled the demon that lived in their closet with drinking, drugs, and other destructive behaviors. Luckily, I never turned to drugs or alcohol but there was something just as potent, sex. However, there is something more powerful than that, grace-- more specifically, God. Now I'm not trying to push off my religion on you; I'm just sharing how I make it through, how I forgive myself for my past because, at the end of the day, we survivors can only be called survivors when we learn to forgive ourselves, to free ourselves from guilt or shame.

Some of you may have suppressed the memory of your abuse but it's permeating your way of life and your relationships. You're angry at the world or just yourself. You can't say no. You keep saying no. You're depressed. You're emotionless. You're victimizing. You're a victim. No matter what you're feeling, staying quiet is not the way to handle this. This system of silence is what keeps the abuse going, it's what gives sexual abuse the permission to exist. But I'm breaking the silence. Will you? 


To share something a friend shared with me: "When I look back on my life, I see pain, mistakes, heart ache, and sadness. When I look in the mirror, I see strength, learned lessons, and pride in myself." 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thirsty Like the White Rose

For Valentine's Day, like many women, I received a dozen red roses from my freshly ex-boyfriend (we had made our breakup official earlier that day).

Horrible I know.

Unlike most women, I hate receiving flowers, especially the cliched bouquet of roses, but, not being one who likes wasting money, I took those ProFlowers roses to school/work, dutifully filled up the accompanying red vase with water and followed the instructions, which detailed how to prepare the flowers.

They lasted a week.

Still, the vase was full of plant-food-laced water. The perfect metaphor for a relationship that refused to nourish itself with the readily available ingredients vital for sustaining life: open communication, honesty, respect, and trust.
Not even a day after receiving the red roses, a student brought me three white roses. I placed them in a smaller separate vase filled with water slightly tinged with plant food, the same food given to the red roses.
The rest of the week flew by and the weekend did too. Upon my return to work, I noticed the red roses wilted a bit but the white roses appeared healthy, despite having devoured every drop of water that was in their vase. I gave them more water but a few days later the vase was, again, bone dry. 

By this time, the red roses had died so I dumped them unceremoniously in the trash and transferred the three white roses into the red vase, which was still quite full of water. But not for long.

Those three white roses drained that big red vase of all fluid in less time than it took the red roses to die. Those three roses wanted to live. Those three little roses fought to live and refused to die. Even now, nearly two months later, they stand in that desert-like vase just as proud as the day they first went in, their petaled heads dried, not a sign of droop-age.
For a while now, I've been a red rose, my shoulders drooping under the weight of living, my head bowed before my burdens. But, today, when I looked at that trio of roses, I realized two things 1) I forgot to give them water and 2) I need be more like the white roses, fighting for life, soaking in all life has to offer, refusing to bow even when no one is there to give me what (I think) I need.

It's time I got thirsty like the white rose.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Impotent Potential

So it happened again. Another kid blurted out in the middle of class, "Why are you teaching". Now, at first, I thought she meant, why did I stand up to help them w/ the songwriting lesson but, when she repeated herself w/ such a look of bewilderment/disappointment, I felt like I was sitting back in freshmen orientation when my mother turned to me and asked me why I picked education and not business as a major. My answer then is my answer now, it was the easiest "choice". I filled out my college/job application, bubbled the first thing I saw, and stuck it in the mailbox. Not too much later, I was accepted/hired.

But, really, the answer is as it was then, I'm too lazy to do anything else. How do I tell a kid I'm pushing that I settled and am not living up to my "potential" yet I'm not doing anything to change it? How do I tell my grandfather that I'm not following his direction, that I've allowed the blanket of complacency to stifle my drive and my dreams?

What I'm dealing with is bigger than procrastination; it's me. I'm my problem. I've spent so much of my life trying to do/be opposite of what people tell me to do/be that it's ingrained in my brain. I've heard, "You're wasting your potential" through all of my school life and, now, 15 years after I graduated, I'm hearing it again from my own students, kids younger than me. But now, (here come the excuses) I have real responsibilities. I can't just up and go jump feet first into the fading flood of my dreams; I have kids to take care of, that I take care of-- all by myself. I've got bills that need paying: rent, insurances, internet, food, car, etc. I can't just abandon ship. That's not what a real responsible adult does. Besides, those kids need me as a teacher; I can reach them and be there for them through their times of need.

But what about my needs and my responsibility to myself? I don't know. Am I entitled to even think that way? I don't know. Would my kids be better off with a mother who's struggling to fulfill a dream instead of one who's just struggling to fill their bellies?

I just don't know.

Yet, I teach my students to aim high. I demand near academic perfection from my kids (I'm afraid I'll be stuck at my current salary and my oldest is off to college in just two years so he needs to pull his weight to make sure scholarships come his way). I tell my colleagues to go for their desires, to place their talents in areas that feed their passion. Meanwhile, I sit on my bed with the glaring computer screen as my only source of light, counting the pennies that comprise my paycheck while trying not to think of the bills, which exceed my income, that are due.

I really need to practice what I preach.